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2016 – The Year of Travel

Rather than write a month-by-month account of this year like I did in 2015 and 2014, I decided to focus on one aspect of this year I have loved…travelling.

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Ian and I have been lucky enough to have several exciting holidays this year and all of them hold really special memories from dancing in a Russian nightclub at 1am to drinking mojitos on the streets of Havana to zip-lining through the Jamaican rainforest to sailing around Boston Harbour in the sunshine!

UK

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Not all of our trips have been abroad this year – I love exploring the UK just as much. We had several fun trips to London in 2016 (my favourite being for New Year’s Eve when we went to watch ‘Wicked’), took a mini-break in Wells, went camping in Tewkesbury and celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary on the beach in Devon

Cuba

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Probably my favourite destination of the year, the days we spent in Havana were amazing. I have wanted to visit Cuba ever since I studied Caribbean Literature at university and it was such a fascinating trip. We wandered the streets drinking mojitos and daiquiris and admired the beautiful classic cars cruising along. I am desperate to return.

Jamaica

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We spent a day here and it was as cool and as chilled-out as I was hoping. We went through the rainforest on zip-wires before enjoying jerk chicken and Red Stripe beers on the beach.

Grand Cayman

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An interesting place to visit and a beautiful destination for a beach holiday. I didn’t see much more than the beaches but we certainly had a lovely, relaxing day here dipping our feet in the Caribbean Sea.

Mexico

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We had a great tour of the island of Cozumel where we squeezed in a chocolate factory, the beach, tequila tasting, an artisan market and fish tacos and margaritas! It has pushed mainland Mexico to the top of my to-visit list.

France

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I spent a long weekend in a beautiful house for my best friend Cat’s hen weekend earlier this year. Maybe not the best-planned trip, but we enjoyed an awful lot of cheese, champagne, macarons and a day in Aix-en-Provence.

Berlin

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Ian and I had a mini-break here and experienced our first (and disastrous!) AirBNB. Despite a rocky start with our accommodation, we had a fab time exploring the city, stopping off at several beer gardens.

Sweden

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A couple of days in Stockholm have started off an obsession with the Scandi countries, somewhere I hadn’t really visited before. We didn’t have long here but did get to visit the Vasa Museum, eat cinnamon buns, wander through the Old Town and see a beautiful sunset.

Estonia

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I finally made it to Tallinn and it was as beautiful as I had hoped. Quaint, cobbled side streets, castles and lovely, old buildings, I really liked it here.

Russia

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I never thought I would be visiting Russia but we spent a day exploring St. Petersburg and I was really taken with it. It is a spectacular city, with vast, iconic buildings steeped in Russian history. We managed to see most of it plus a good amount of people watching on the main street through the city, the highlight being the stunning Saviour of the Spilled Blood Cathedral.

Finland

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I absolutely loved Helsinki. We stumbled upon several small markets and wandered along the port. I fell in love with the interior shops and am determined to return and savour some of the local restaurants.

Boston

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Our final trip was a week in Boston. We love visiting the States and both really enjoyed Boston. It was a cool time of year to visit to experience Halloween and the run-up to the presidential elections and we managed to watch an ice-hockey and a baseball game as well as sampling a lot of lobster and local craft beers.

That was actually a really fun post to write as I love looking back through old photos and remembering when and where they were taken. I really do believe that travel broadens the mind and money spent on adventures and experiences is never wasted. Here’s hoping for many more escapades in 2017! xxx

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Travel Diaries – A Week in Boston (Part Two)

Day Four

Our fourth day in Boston started with my first ever cronut! Man, this was delicious.

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We got the train to Salem which was about 40 minutes away. I have to say that we were both kind of disappointed by it. You would think that Salem, a place renowned for its spooky heritage, would be great around Halloween but it was all a bit try-hard and tired. There were some street performances which were fun to see and the graveyard and memorial sites were interesting but there were too many witch museums and haunted houses – all claiming to be the original/ scariest/ most authentic.

We had a walk along the coast before visiting Salem Beer Works. Here we did two beer flights, working our way through some East coast beers and some seasonal specials. I had a delicious cinnamon beer and a fruity one with real blueberries floating in it. I think there was a fairground and parade that opened in the evenings in Salem which may have been better to see.

After returning to the city, we found a bar to watch the Liverpool game then headed to TD Garden for our first ever ice hockey game. We were watching the Boston Bruins who are meant to be quite good but ended up losing. However I was happy as we got to see a fight within the first few minutes followed by regular scuffles throughout the game!

Day 5

The next morning, we were up and out early for a tour of Sam Adams craft brewery…yep drinking before 10am! This was a great little tour where we found out a bit about how the brewery started and worked our way through some samples.

Afterwards we got the T to Chinatown and had the best lunch. We ordered a Mongolian hotpot which came in a split bowl filled with two different types of stock, placed on an electric hob on the table. Separately, we had plates of fresh vegetables, raw prawns and beef, cooked rice and some noodles which you drop into the stock and allow to cook. This was a bit messy but a really fun lunch!

We did a spot of shopping that afternoon then headed back to TD Garden, this time to watch Boston Celtics. This was our first basketball game and it was really fun. There was a bit more atmosphere than the previous night (and it wasn’t as cold!) and we won too! We also had free t-shirts as it was the first game of the season.

Day 6

Our last full day started with a big walk along the river. We had some lovely  views of the city and wandered down Charles Street to Boston Common to enjoy pumpkin-spiced lattes in the park surrounded by squirrels.

We decided to have a final blow-out seafood lunch and I had read good things about The Barking Crab. We started with clams and prawns in garlic butter then I had a lobster roll and Ian had a mixed seafood platter. You really do have to indulge in seafood in Boston – it was so fresh and tasty.

I had been building up to a Sephora visit so I sent Ian back to the hotel and indulged in an hour of me-time, coming away with quite a hefty bag which I will share soon!

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For our last night, I had booked us tickets to ‘Rise of the Jack ‘o’ Lanterns’: an art exhibition made entirely of carved pumpkins. We went out for Mexican first then headed to the show.

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It was really amazing to see the skill involved and the exhibition took place in a darkened room which really added to the atmosphere – I took a lot of photos…

Day 7

We were travelling home today so spent the morning packing before a trip to the Boston Public Library. This is such a beautiful building and it had a really cool map exhibition too.

We had our final meal at 5 Napkins Burgers where I had one of the tastiest burgers of my life topped with smoked onion and rosemary relish and melted gruyere cheese…wow!

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I don’t feel I can write about a trip to America without mentioning the result of the elections this week. In the UK, Trump was presented as a total buffoon with Hillary as the voice of reason but when we were in the States, the constant adverts on TV painted a very different picture with Trump being a ‘true American’ whereas Hillary was a ‘criminal’ following the email scandal. Ian and I even remarked that it looked like quite an even race between the two of them which is why I wasn’t totally surprised at the result.

However, that isn’t to say that I am not completely gutted at the result either. I hope Trump has enough skilled, sensible and experienced people around him to keep him in check but bigger than that is the message of sexism, racism and homophobia that I feel has triumphed. Polls have shown that young Americans mostly voted in favour of Hillary so you can only hope this is just a four year blip in the history of a country that I truly love to visit.

Travel Diaries – A Week in Boston (Part One)

After a busy week back at work, I have finally found a spare evening to start writing up our amazing trip to Boston last month. I had always wanted to visit New England during Fall and Halloween and this trip did not disappoint. As well as the seasonal joys of everything being pumpkin flavoured (beer, coffee, doughnuts…you name it!), it was fascinating to see the final run-up to the US elections and enjoy some amazing seafood. I also tried to master the Boston accent which was a little less successful!

Day One

We flew from Heathrow Terminal 5 with British Airways and it was a pleasant enough flight. I watched the films Money Monster, The Shallows and Finding Dory all of which I would recommend for different reasons. We landed in the evening and got a free shuttle from Logan Airport into Boston then a taxi to our hotel.

We stayed at The Chandler Inn Hotel in South End and I really liked it. South End is seen as quite a hip, cool area and our hotel was surrounded by beautiful brownstones. We were about two blocks away from the T (Boston’s subway system) which made it really easy to get around.

I was struggling to stay awake at this point but managed a short walk around the neighbourhood to pick up some essentials – pizza, root beer and M&Ms!

Day Two

Well, I was awake at about 4am on our first morning and itching to get outside and start exploring! We started with another walk around the surrounding area to get our bearings and delight in the pretty window boxes most houses had. It was a beautifully sunny, crisp autumn day and my first impressions of Boston were great.

For breakfast, we headed to The Pour House for eggs and homefries which would keep us going all morning.

I love a good bus tour and really do think it is a great way to see a city, especially if the tour guide is a local. We did a trolley tour and struck gold with our driver who was hilarious and had lots of funny tales about the city. Boston is a very historical city and we saw all the main sights with a little bit of history thrown in too.

An added extra with this bus tour was a mini-cruise around the harbour. This was really fun and gave us a different view of the city…plus they sold beer on the boat!

That afternoon, we visited Quincy Market where there is an amazing selection of food vendors. We wandered past the mouth-watering stalls before deciding on clam chowder and lobster rolls for lunch. We ate this whilst enjoying an Acapella contest! It wasn’t quite Pitch Perfect but very cool to watch.

We caught the last of the autumn sunshine at Boston Common (where there was a cute kids pumpkin decorating event happening) before going to Octoberfest, a beer festival complete with pumpkin beer, pretzels and live music.

Day Three

Our third day started with bagels at Berkeley Perk Café followed by a trip across the water to Cambridge. I had really wanted to visit Harvard University and we had a great tour from a student. I found the history fascinating and the grounds were beautiful…almost as pretty as Birmingham Uni!

We headed back to Quincy Market for lunch, stopping at an amazing little farmers’ market on the way, and had lobster mac and cheese in the sunshine before an afternoon of shopping, trying a Blackbird Bakery doughnut and burritos for dinner.

Restaurant Review – Beerd at Colston Hall, Bristol

Last week, Ian and I went to watch Romesh Ranganathan’s stand-up show at Colston Hall in Bristol. We both went straight from work and due to Friday night traffic, didn’t leave ourselves long to grab a bite to eat before the gig. Luckily, we had a recommendation to try Beerd which is located in the venue and specialises in two of our favourite things – craft beer and pizza.

It is quite a small space but we managed to find a table to peruse the beer menu. There is an impressive selection here, all available in half, two-third and pint measures. I had a can of Session IPA from Fourpure Brewing Company which was a lovely, hoppy beer.

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Our food arrived in about 20 minutes and I was more than ready to tuck in. I ordered from the specials menu and had a calzone filled with ham, mushroom and ricotta. It came with a salad which was both underdressed and full of onion so I left most of it. The calzone however was delicious…like a beautiful, Italian pasty!

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We ordered a side of hot wings to share which were very tasty although should have come with a side of blue cheese sauce like they do in America (sidenote: I plan on ordering a portion of hot wings every day we are in the States later this month!)

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Ian ordered a really good pizza which came with beef brisket, Bath Gem ale chipotle sauce and pickles. Now, I am a big pickle fan but have never had it on pizza and I have to say it worked really well with the BBQ-style toppings.

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I would definitely go back to Beerd next time we go to a comedy or music show in Bristol. The menu is simple but really good, especially if you are a beer or pizza fan.

Sunday Summary #41

Life

It has been the perfect, crisp autumnal day today and I am praying this weather holds out for the rest of the week as I’m off on a residential trip with school and I am not a fan of standing about in the rain for hours on end!

This week I have been over to Bristol twice. Once to watch Bristol City with my bestie Lu (we won and we had Cornish pasties and hot chocolate with cream!) and again on Friday to watch Romesh Ranganathan who was brilliant.

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I’ve also had a hen do this weekend which involved learning the Thriller dance and dressing up followed by a girlie day with my Mum, shopping, lunching and attending a fashion show…a pretty great weekend!

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Food

Before watching Romesh, Ian and I tried out Beerd at the Colston Hall which specialises in craft beer and pizza. I had a lovely calzone and will try to write a proper review soon.

I also made a delicious apple crumble which we even enjoyed for breakfast one morning…pudding for breakfast should be a thing!

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Beauty

I finally got around to reviewing my latest Birchbox this week and have enjoyed playing around with the Model Co highlighting trio.

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I’ve also been testing a new cleanser. I picked up this one from Boscia which is an oil that emulsifies on contact with water. It is gentle but effective at removing my eye make-up and I may pick up a full-sized one when we visit the States (and a Sephora!) later this month.

Fashion

I picked up a new pair of brogues in Matalan last weekend and have been wearing them non-stop. They are quite masculine in design but are comfy, go with everything and I have had lots of compliments on them too.

Finally, I am feeling quite inspired fashion-wise at the moment as I attended the final show of Bristol Fashion Week at Cribbs Causeway this afternoon. Presented by Henry Holland, it showed you really accessible ways to wear the current trends and I *think* I may have found my new winter coat too! FYI, the trends to look out for in Autumn/ Winter include: military, sports luxe, oversized, pastels, gothic, mismatching prints, animal print (especially leopard) and velvet. I really loved this fashion show and we got a great goodie bag too!

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Sunday Summary #38

Life

Well I’ve survived the first week of term with minimal side effects apart from a slightly hoarse voice and a few dark circles under the eyes! It has been a week of readjusting to huge to-do lists, early mornings, packed lunches and savouring the weekends.

Our driveway is now complete and I love it. It makes a real difference to the front of the house so I now need to get some nice pots and plants to add to the final look.

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We finished watching The Night Of and it really was one of the best dramas I’ve seen for a long time with such great actors (my favourite is the New York lawyer). We are going to start watching Stranger Things tonight and see if it was worth the hype.

My brother came over this weekend and we enjoyed watching Liverpool beat Leicester quite convincingly.

Finally, with a week to go I have set up a Just Giving page for the 5K Pretty Muddy run that I am attempting to do next weekend. I’ve never done anything like this before and am strangely nervous yet excited about it but if you did want to donate then the link is here.

Food

Our village pub ordered fish and chips on Friday night from the local takeaway so we went up to show our support.

I also couldn’t resist a box of Krispy Kremes even though the plain original glazed ones are my favourite!

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I love how food and drink can remind you of a holiday and Ian found an ale that we tried last year in Washington DC. This Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale is lovely and just the right amount of sweet.

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Beauty

I had my hair cut and coloured this weekend and asked for lots of white, cool-toned highlights. It never feels like ‘me’ when it’s straight so I couldn’t wait to wash it and release the curls again today!

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I’m not quite ready for the autumnal reds yet so decided to go for a bright, coral on my nails this week.

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Fashion

I picked up a pair of ‘ankle grazers’ in Primark this weekend which, being short, are pretty much the ideal length jean for me!

I’ve also embraced the embroidered trend with this beautiful t-shirt.

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I have been looking for a pinafore dress for ages and think I found one I like in New Look. I tried it on with a cropped top underneath but it was so hot in the changing rooms, I got all flustered and had to leave! Thinking of ordering it online to try it on at home.

Finally, not strictly fashion but something I will be ‘wearing’ for the next few months. Ian’s Mum knitted me a mermaid tail blanket which is the prettiest, cosiest item to keep warm inside as the temperature outside drops.

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Sunday Summary #36 and #37

Life

Hello! It’s been a while since I sat down to write but things have been pretty busy.

Firstly, we have been on a mini European cruise visiting Sweden, Estonia, Russia and Finland. I had such a great time and will be writing a blog post about each place soon.

Sadly, my summer holidays have come to an end so I have been trying to get my head back into work mode again and get my body used to 6:30am starts! I did however enjoy my last day of freedom today and met friends for a morning of food and shopping at Frome Market where I had the most amazing meatball sub too.

We’re also having our driveway done which has meant further chaos at home but it is almost finished and so worth it.

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I mentioned in my last weekly post that our village pub was closing. Well, things have moved on quite a bit and the villagers have taken over! The pub has reverted back to its previous name of The Kings Arms and will be staffed by local volunteers for drinks until a buyer is found. I am a firm believer that you should support local businesses and we will be continuing to visit on a weekly basis.

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I finished watching all 6 series of Sex and the City and even squeezed in the two films…a summer well spent!

We finished watching The Five (a good British drama with a slightly far-fetched ending) and are now watching The Night Of which is excellent!

I also finished the two books set by my book club this week and have started reading The Sister which is set in Bath.

Food

We ate really well on holiday! In Stockholm I had the most delicious traditional lunch of an open prawn and egg sandwich on rye bread followed by a cinnamon roll.

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On our ship, there was an abundance of seafood including unlimited prawns and caviar. There was also lots of pickled food and since coming home, I am addicted to gherkins!

I was quite partial to honey beer, served in Estonia.

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With the return of the Great British Bake Off, I have found an urge to bake again. I made a pink grapefruit drizzle cake last week and am planning a lemon and blueberry cake this week.

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I was browsing through my blog for some food inspiration this weekend and found the recipe for a really simple paella. I made it again and it was so tasty!

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Beauty

I raided my drawer of beauty samples and minis for our holiday and fell in love with this Verbena body lotion from L’Occitane en Provence. A fresh, lemony scent, it was a perfect summer product.

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Ian earned some serious husband points this week when he came home with a new bottle of Essie nail varnish for me. Cabana Boy is a lovely pearlescent grey which I wore all this week.

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Fashion

I bought another pair of my favourite Topshop jeans this week in a slightly darker shade for Autumn. These Lucas jeans are the perfect fit and I wore my last pair all summer.

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There’s not much else to report on the fashion front as it’s that funny time in between Summer and Autumn where you have no idea what to wear!