Wednesday, 6 April 2016


If you are in need of a quick, easy and delicious recipe to brighten up a weekday dinner or serve to a group of friends look no further than Jambalaya. I have had Jambalaya a few times but never made it myself and we ended up with some spare chorizo so I thought why not give it a go!

To serve four people (with generous portions) you will need:

  • celery
  • onion
  • 2 x garlic cloves
  • tin of tomatoes
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • four skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • king prawns
  • red pepper
  • chorizo (the more the merrier)
  • olive oil
  • Cajun seasoning
  • paprika
  • bay leaf
  • spring onion
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 250g long grain rice

All recipe's differ but I made it easy for myself. I chopped up the chicken and chorizo along with the red pepper, celery, spring onion and onion and stir fried in a big pan on a medium heat in a little olive oil. At this point I also threw in the king prawns and two crushed garlic cloves. Once everything was browned and smelling delicious I added three spoonful's of Cajun seasoning, one of paprika, a bay leaf some salt and pepper (adjust quantities as per your own taste). Once mixed in I added the rice, the chicken stock and a tin of tomatoes.

I put the heat on the pan, turned the temperature right down and allowed the whole concoction to simmer for 20-25 minutes. The result was perfectly cooked fluffy rice filled with delicious ingredients and full of flavour. The washing up was minimal and the preparation time was less than ten minutes. You could easily make this in advance of having friends over and heat up at dinner time. Equally this is a great dish for lunchtime leftovers the following day.

If you want to impress without the hassle I would definitely recommend giving this one a go!

One Year - Twenty Questions

This is an incredibly exciting moment for me! I never imagined my blog would still be going one year later and I never for one moment thought I would get the opportunity to work with so many incredible companies such as Walkabout Florence, Club Gascon, Quilon, and Waitrose Cookery School. It's been an awesome year of trying new restaurants, indulging in new travel experiences and being able to document my life like a diary.

As promised I am hosting another twenty questions to get to know me a little better!

1. How old are you?
I am now 28 years old! Inching closer to 30!

2. If you had to run a business, what would it do?

I would organise holidays and honeymoons for people. A full on itinerary of flights, hotels, restaurants, day trips etc etc

3. When are you at your best?

Probably right after a Barry's boot camp 7:10am workout, my mind is refreshed, focused and ready for the day.

4. If you could fly a plane anywhere today, where would you go?

Sri Lanka, I have been thinking about going more and more these days and I would probably bite the bullet and just do it!

5. If you had a child and they were exactly the same as you, what parts of their personality would you try and change?

I would try and stop them stressing about the future and the next step. It's great to have goals but why worry about what you cannot control or have no power over. I would encourage them to be more spontaneous and let life just happen.

6. Which member of your family would you like to be stranded on a desert island with?

Probably my middle sister. She is pretty practical and would help find food, water and build a shelter. She would know what to do and keep me calm! Also we have a laugh and could tan and chat our time away!

7. Where do you feel most at home?

Fortunately in my flat! I love my home so much, it's warm and cosy and just right for us.

8. If you had a budget of £5,000 for a date, where would you take the person?

I would fly them business class to Paris for a night in a posh hotel and top seats at the Moulin Rouge. I have never justified something so lavish but would definitely give it a go!

9. What is next on your bucket list?

Aside from Sri Lanka mentioned above I am eyeing up Costa Rica and Kerala. I still haven't given up on the Maldives (from six months ago) and am also keen on heading back to Thailand.

10. What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?

It probably wasn't that dangerous but it felt it at the time. Jumping off a bridge in Bratislava! Maybe now I am older I can't handle the fear and heights as well as I used to.

11. If you could hug anyone right now, who would it be?

My Grandpa, I haven't seen him in a while and miss him.

12. What activity helps you feel peace of mind?

Yoga, I am five weeks in with my Mum and I feel so relaxed after a session.

13. What is the best thing about you?

I am not afraid to try new things. Whether that's taste a new food, travel to a new country or take a leap of faith in a life experience such as a new job or moving home. I am fearful and I do worry but I always push myself to give things a go.

14. What hobby do you wish you'd taken up ten years ago?

Probably Tennis, it is such a sociable sport and looks really fun. I can play but nowhere near well enough, maybe one day I will enrol in lessons.

15. What is your happiest school memory?

Winning the Senior Sports Award at age thirteen. I had worked so hard and had beaten girls in the sixth form, it was a great feeling.

16. What would you do today if you were completely fearless?

Give up my job and travel. I would love to take a year out but with a good job and a mortgage I am too nervous to leave it all behind and come back to nothing.

17. When was the last time you spent the day doing exactly what you wanted?

Easter weekend! I was away in Florence doing what I wanted, eating what I wanted and drinking what I wanted!

18. If you drew a timeline of your life, what years strike you as the happiest so far?

This is a tough one as I enjoyed school so much. However, I would say ages twenty five to now have been my happiest. I am on the property ladder, I am married to the love of my life, I am travelling the world, spending time with friends and family and have a career I really enjoy.

19. Do you believe that the world is random or that things happen for a reason?

Definitely that things happen for a reason.

20. What happens to you after you die?

I get deja vu a lot, I think you may live your life over and over on repeat.

Marriott Spa Day

My Mum recently came across an offer via Buy a Gift for a spa day. The deal was £75 per couple for full use of the gym, pool, sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi as well as luxury robes at any UK Marriott hotel. A thirty minutes massage and a fifteen minutes mini facial were also included per person. We decided to book it with my two sisters and the four of us selected Marriott, Bexlyheath as it is driving distance from my sisters home.

We arrived at the hotel and discovered parking is free for guests, which was great. Check in was quick and before we knew it we were in our gym kit using the facilities. The gym here is quite small, think three running machines, three bikes etc etc. However, it had everything you could need with air con, water and plenty of TV / music channels to choose from. We spent about an hour working out before changing into our swimwear.

After a few laps we decided to relax in the Jacuzzi until we became prunes and then had a quick whizz around the sauna and steam room. The spa facilities here are nice, they aren't Champneys quality but you are not paying top spa prices. They are however, clean and functional and adequate for a half day of entertainment and at £37.50 each you cannot really complain!

The best part of the day was pulling on our fluffy dressing gowns and relaxing pool side on sun loungers with lunch. Lunch did take an hour so ensure you order with plenty of time. We stuck to sandwiches, we had a turkey club with French fries, two cheese, bacon and caramelised onion and one tuna melt Panini. There was a burger and salads and some other main dishes to choose from. Sandwiches started at £5 each, which again wasn't a bad price. They were hot, tasty and filling.

Post lunch it was time for our treatments. Included in our package was a thirty minutes neck, back and shoulder massage followed by a fifteen minutes mini Decleor facial. The treatments were lovely and the forty five minutes felt satisfying and relaxing. The rooms were dimly lit with soothing music and the therapists were kind, friendly and well trained!

All in all we were at the spa for around four hours. It was lovely to work out, catch up and have some pampering all together. It wasn't super five star luxury but it was also clean and effective and certainly reasonable value for money. If you fancy some time with a friend but cannot manage the hefty prices of certain UK spa's then this Marriott offer may be for you!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Eating in Florence

Being situated in Tuscany, Florence is an incredibly foodie city! After hours of research and some advice from our air bnb hosts we settled on the following.

Lunch @ All'Antico Vinaio. Simply type the restaurant into google maps and you will find your way. It's a short walk from the main sights such as the Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi. Or you could follow the mass crowd carrying sandwiches!!! Queues can reach 30 - 45 minutes during peak times. We arrived at 12:15pm and waited around 20 minutes. There is a main restaurant and two sandwich bars across the street from one another. They are exactly the same so join the shortest line.

There is a small menu but the main idea is to pick your meat and almost let the guys decide what else to go with it! They will ask if you like something before they add it to your sandwich. All sandwiches are served on warm, freshly baked ciabatta. I had salami, mozzarella, grilled zucchini, mushrooms, rocket and tomato. The hubby had lashings of rare roast beef, grilled zucchini, mushrooms, rocket and tomato. Both were absolutely delicious and incredibly filling. They are wrapped in paper and plastic to prevent the inevitable dripping down your hands! This sandwich was worth the queue! They serve wine too! So grab a sandwich and glass of vino and copy the crowds by siting on the pavement for a well deserved lunch break.

Sandwiches are 5 EURO!

Wine @ Enoteca Pitti Gola. Ensure you make a reservation at this teeny, tiny wine bar opposite the Pitti Palace. We had a glorious little table tucked away in the corner among the thousands of bottles of wine on display. They have a very short but sweet menu whipped up by a chef with incredible experience. We had a cheese stuffed fried artichoke to share followed by a truffle risotto and veal ragout with homemade pappardelle. There were also meat boards, cheese boards, salads and other pasta dishes to choose from.

The best part though is the wine. We asked our friendly waiter who spoke perfect English to select the best wines for our food. I tried four generous glasses of white and the hubby had four glasses of red. We were given the chance to try each wine before committing to a full glass. Wine starts at 4 Euro per glass and they recommend not only delicious, mouth watering samples but none of the ones they freely chose for us broke the bank. Including purchasing a 30 EUR bottle of vino, our total bill was £105. You can't really complain at a bottle of wine, two bottles of water, eight glasses of wine, two main courses and a starter for that price, especially given the surroundings, service and quality.

This honestly was a wicked evening and one we would recommend to anyone visiting the city. They have a wine club, which ships to the UK and they do a wine pairing with tasting menu, which can be pre booked in advance for groups (served downstairs in the cellar) or others upstairs in the main wine bar.

Dinner @ Vini e Vecchi Sapori. Again, ensure you reserve this restaurant, you will need to phone so maybe ask your hotel to book on your behalf. The restaurant is a short walk from the Piazza della Signoria and just up the road from the Gucci museum. This is a very traditional Italian restaurant. They won't open until 7:30pm as before this they have their family dinner. The restaurant is small so be prepared to be on tables with other couples / families. English also isn't great but they do try really hard.

Food is served in a traditional three course Italian style. However, we both opted for two and were very full. I had the mozzarella and prosciutto to start whilst the hubby tucked into a generous portion of duck papperdelle. I then followed with the duck papperdelle and he went for lamb cutlets with potatoes. The papperdelle was so buttery, melt in your mouth and delicious. Definitely the best pasta I have ever eaten. The food here was home made, traditional and tasty. The menu had a large selection of pasta and gnocci as well as meat options so I do believe there would be something for everyone.

The dessert selection is small and we were too full so opted for two rounds of limoncello's instead! The entire bill including a bottle of water and a bottle of Chianti was £65. This was really good value for money in Florence! If you want a laid back, no frills and traditional experience then this restaurant is somewhere you should not miss.

The food in Florence was pretty reasonably priced at all of the above and the Mercato, which I described in my previous blog post. We definitely found it cheaper than London and significantly cheaper than both Venice and Rome. Equally the quality and selection were incredible, you were spoilt for choice and I can imagine couldn't go too wrong in this city. Being in the Chianti region the wine is also incredible and can be found at inexpensive prices. If you are a foodie and enjoy good wine you will not be disappointed in Florence.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Easter Weekend in Florence

The hubby and I recently spent the Easter weekend in Florence. We flew return with British Airways to Pisa, which is less than a two hour flight from London. On arrival in Pisa we grabbed a bus ticket (sold at lots of stands in the airport) for the one hour long coach ride to Florence. There are two bus companies, both are a similar price and both are timed to fit in with flight schedules. We paid 7 EUR 50 per person, which isn't too bad for a transfer.

The coach drops you off at the main station in Florence (S. M. Novella). The train station is walking distance to the centre of the city and therefore most hotels. We decided to rent an air bnb and stayed at this magnificent apartment in the centre of town. Check in wasn't until 5:30pm but this worked for us due to the long journey from London via Pisa. The apartment was small and cosy. We had a shower room, comfy lounge area, well equipped kitchen and then a mezzanine double bed with sky light. The whole apartment was incredibly well laid out, beautifully designed and superbly managed in terms of space available. For £201 for three nights in this expensive city I can thoroughly recommend this as an accommodation option.

The apartment was less than a ten minutes walk from the train station and across from the Mercato Centrale where we spent plenty of time. One evening we had pre dinner drinks of apple martini's and Chianti Reserva. Another evening we tried wine, pizza and a fillet steak with potatoes and on one very cheeky occasion we had breakfast of mozzarella and tomato on ciabatta. The market had so much choice of food ranging from pizza, pasta, chocolate, mozzarella, cured meats, burgers, fresh fish and meat cooked to order as well as drinks from cocktails to a huge selection of wines. It was clean, it was modern, it was always busy and bustling with a wicked atmosphere, it is open from 10am - midnight daily (even on Easter Sunday), it was reasonably priced and it meant you could try loads of different fresh foods. For those that are interested the market also housed a state of the art Italian cookery school.

We only really had one day in Florence as we spent Easter Sunday trekking through Cinque Terre and Monday in Pisa. The main sights we wanted to see were the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which was beautiful and offered stunning views too. We also went to see the Statue of David at the Accademia. I would recommend pre booking tickets for this as the queue was phenomenal. No visit would be complete without a visit to the Duomo too. This cathedral is quite simply incredible, we did queue for free entry although it is far more impressive from the outside. Aside from these we simply wandered the mainly pedestrianized streets marvelling at the architecture and basking in the sunshine. Getting lost in Florence was definitely my favourite part of the weekend, especially regular stops for Prosecco or Aperol Spritz!

As we were flying from Pisa we decided to make a stop here. Trains run every thirty minutes from Florence to Pisa Centrale and tickets can be purchased in English on the many machines at the station. Remember to validate your ticket at one of the green machines on the platform as otherwise you will face a sixty Euro fine. The train journey takes around one hour and there is a left luggage stand at Pisa Centrale. It is then a twenty minutes walk down to the leaning tower. We only had a few hours here so we pre purchased tickets for the tower. It was great to climb up as not only is the view amazing but you can really feel the lean inside the tower! We also visited the cathedral, which was included in our tower entry and had a little wander around the city. Food options aren't great in Pisa so don't get too excited but it's worth a short visit when combined with arrival or departure. Pisa Airport is then a 5-10 minutes bus ride on the PisaMover bus from Pisa Centrale, which costs 1 EUR 30 per person and departs every ten minutes all day long.

Florence was an incredible city. It was absolutely breath-taking and 100% worth a little weekend visit. You are also on the door step to Tuscany so there are a range of wonderful day trips to take as well. If you like architecture, food, wine, countryside and sunshine then book yourself a flight!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Cinque Terre Trek

The hubby and I were recent guests of Walkabout Florence, which is a small tour operator offering a small number of very unique one day trips in the region. The tours are all quite different and include a cookery school, wine tasting and driving Fiat 500's through the Tuscan countryside. I do believe there is something for everyone at this company and being specialised they offer personalised service and aim to cater as best as possible to the individuals needs.

We selected the incredibly popular and highly regarded Cinque Terre Trek. Ensure you reserve online in advance as these day trips are busy and ours was completely full. The tour began at 7:45am with a meeting at the train station before boarding the coach. We drove for around two hours to the Cinque Terre region. The journey included a rest stop for toilets, coffee and snacks. Our two tour guides Fabien and Martina kept us entertained the whole way with facts about Cinque Terre and pointing out highlights on the journey such as the marble mountains.

On arrival the group were split into two so there were around twenty guests to one guide. We began our trek in the small village of Manarola where we had time to admire the view and given a little free time to wander around the town. We then boarded a train to the village of Corniglia. On arrival we did have a four hundred step climb or a shuttle if really needed. However, the climb was taken at your own pace and the reward was spectacular coastal scenery.

Next up was lunch! The restaurant had a large open air but covered terrace overlooking the sea. The view was incredible. We began with a mixed fish appetiser. There was an octopus and potato salad, seabass and potato puree, mixed seafood salad, anchovy in olive oil and a fried anchovy. It was genuinely delicious and gave the group a chance to try new dishes. The main course was fresh pesto pasta with potato and green beans. The portion wasn't huge, however, once we began hiking again I was quite relieved! There was plenty of fresh, natural water and ciabatta too.

After lunch the real fun began! We started the trail to Vernazza. The hike was one hour and twenty minutes although we were allowed to go at our own pace. If you stuck with our wonderful guides there would be rest stops and further information. However, we took the opportunity to break off from the group and have some time to ourselves. We did the whole hike in about forty five minutes, which meant we had plenty of time for a large glass of white wine produced in the Cinque Terre region on arrival in Vernazza.

Do not be nervous of the hike, you really can take this at your own pace. It's up, it's down and it's flat in certain areas and there are plenty of places to rest and take photos and enjoy the views. The path is a little uneven and rocky in parts so definitely wear walking boots or trainers. You are exposed so a rain coat, sunglasses and sun screen will be necessary depending on the weather. There were plenty of people around of all ages and fitness abilities so it really isn't anything to panic about. The Walkabout guides will keep you well informed of the journey and help whenever needed.

From Vernazza we took a train to Monterosso where we decided to find a small wine bar and check out the regions Limoncino. This is made from baby lemons and is stronger and sweeter than the familiar Limoncello we Brits are used to! From here we boarded a boat to Riomaggiore. The boat was a little choppy but it did give us the opportunity to marvel at what we had hiked from another perspective. The area really is beautiful both from land and the sea. This village is famous for fried seafood but as we had train issues and therefore a later than planned arrival many shops had run out of the super fresh fish. We did, however, find some other amazing delights so were not disappointed.

Next up was a short train journey to board the coach and take the one hour and thirty minutes drive back to Florence. This is a long day, we left at 7:45am and arrived at 9pm. With fresh sea air and hiking you will be shattered. However, the guides gave us some great late night dinner options on the journey back and enabled us to nap if we needed. All in all this is an amazing day out of Florence. It's great to get out of the city and experience another region. Going with a group and guides brings the area to life and keeps you on a tight schedule needed to encompass all five villages in one day.

It is worth noting that the Walkabout guides will give you a short briefing at each village to ensure you can maximise your time. They pointed out the best organic gelato's, taught us about the white wine produced in the area and where to taste it, the local delicacies of fried fish, cheese filled doughnuts and various cakes. They highlighted the best two towns for lemons and encouraged us to try certain products such as fresh lemon juice, lemon slushies' with vodka and limoncino. There is then free time in each village to wander, relax, take photos and experience the guides recommendations. You can spend time alone or with new friends made on the journey or with the guides themselves. All train tickets, boat ticket, coach journey and lunch are included as well as the guides obviously. The villages are not expensive, wine was on average 5 EUR per glass and similar for a portion of gelato or a limoncino, all of these are on your own account but won't break the bank.

The guides will also point out rest rooms and water fountains along the entire route so all of your comforts will be taken care of.

Walkabout Florence are an amazing tour company, you will so impressed by taking one of their tours. We hope to return and experience a wine tour but can thoroughly recommend Cinque Terre. I think a little piece of my heart has been left amongst the vines, olive trees and fishing villages in the region. It was magical and providing you have average fitness is more than manageable as a day out from Florence.

Thank you to Walkabout Florence for hosting the hubby and I.