Featured

The Classic Treat

Weekends. How precious they are. Come 5pm on a Friday evening the whole weekend lies ahead of you; a glorious 48 hours to be filled with whatever takes your fancy. Yet it can be taken away so quickly, eaten up by ‘adult things’ such as cleaning (who wants to clean midweek?), trips to the tip (after moving into our own home we always seem to hoard copious amounts of cardboard) and catching up with friends who no longer live in one place.

The one question I never seem to be able to find the answer to is why do 48 hours at work never pass by at the same speed? If you can’t slow down time then you might as well fill it with niceties, especially when you’ve been working all week long.

A quintessentially English pastime has to be afternoon tea, which has evolved recently from simple tea, sandwiches, cakes and scones to afternoon tea for men (here’s a few suggestions) and every theme you could think of (there’s even a space themed one).

This year my favourite Disney film was re-made into a live action blockbuster starring Emma Watson and has to be one of my favourite films of the year (I saw it twice). Imagine my delight when I was informed that there is a Beauty and the Beast themed afternoon tea at the Kensington Hotel called ‘Tale as Old as Time’ (click here to find out more) which, you guessed it, serves up treats that pay homage to this classic love story.

afternoon tea

Almost too good to eat? Of course not, all good things have to come to an end!

I’ve tried out quite a few afternoon teas over the last couple of years and what I loved about this one (apart from the theme which just elevates afternoon tea to a whole new level) was that it was served in courses. The first course was savoury: Bite-Sized Venison Pie, Cheese Souffle with Roscoff Onion Pissaladiere, and a Beef Ragu & Saffron Arancini served with Lemon Creme Fraiche.

20171104_141429.jpg

Then they brought out a cute array of Beauty & the Beast themed sweets: Vanilla & Gold Jelly presented in shot glasses with the ever-symbolic rose petal immersed inside, served with cream poured from Mrs. Potts spout; ‘try the grey stuff it’s delicious’ White Chocolate Mousse; Spiced Snow Ball Macaroon; Coconut & Chocolate and a marzipan Cogsworth face cheekily grinning back at you.

This was also served with finger sandwiches (a staple classic) and brioche baguettes with chocolate spread, which made a welcome change to scones.

The overall quality of the items was excellent however some were lacking flavour. The Vanilla & Gold Jelly tasted of nothing and the ‘try the grey stuff it’s delicious’ chocolate mousse again was quite bland, which was disappointing as it was presented beautifully in a Chip mug. However, I’d give 10/10 for presentation and creativity, as all the items linked in well with the film and made the whole experience very fun and Instagrammable. I kept waiting patiently for someone to come out dressed as the Beast, as that would have made my day…maybe the Kensington Hotel could add in an extra part of the package, a meet and greet the Beast! No? Just me? Perhaps not classy enough for SW7…

20171104_143658.jpg

The props were brilliant!

The price of this afternoon tea from 1st January 2018 is £38.50, which has gone up from the £35.00 we paid recently. Some may find this a disgusting price for tea, cakes and sandwiches but I think it’s worth the price tag for something so unique and we easily spent 2 hours there, so you can make a day out of it. Also, the hotel itself is lovely with warm, friendly and attentive staff plus you’re not crammed in like some other afternoon tea venues.

Now to finish it all off, some of my favourite quotes from the film:

“Take it with you so you’ll always have a way to look back … and remember me.” – Beast

“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell!”– Belle

“She warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within.” – Narrator

“Here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him ’til chapter three!” – Belle

I’m always on the lookout for other unique Afternoon Tea experiences so please comment below!

 

 

Advertisements
Featured

The Wandering Path

I’m going to be 26 next month. Not a milestone birthday but one that has got me thinking. I honestly think the ages of 21-30 are some of the toughest years of your life and here’s why…

Let’s reflect:

Ages 0-12: time goes ever so slowly as a kid and those years are filled with excitement, new experiences and hope for the future.

Ages 12-16: admittedly life does get a little tough at these ages (thank you puberty) but you get to see your friends every day at school and even though you have to do exams you’re still hopeful for what the future brings.

Ages 16-21: exams still loom on the horizon but even though you may be a student you still have your mum and dad to fall back on for moral (and maybe financial) support. You’re at the age where you literally don’t have any money but are still feverishly excited at what passing exams/graduating/starting your first job may bring.

Then you have this period between ages 21 and 30 where so much is expected of you. As soon as you start climbing the career ladder you feel like you need to start achieving more (whether that be by buying your first house, getting married, having kids for example) whilst at the same time you are desperately trying to figure out whether what you are doing with your life is right.

And who knows what is ‘right’? I’ve realised recently that at aged 25 I am still so young and have it all ahead of me. There’s no rush to try and figure everything out and although I don’t want to just ‘go with the flow’, I certainly do not need to start meticulously planning every small detail.

My partner sent me this image a couple of weeks ago and it put everything into perspective:

IMG-20170821-WA0000 (1)

As the image illustrates, there are people like J K Rowling who for years didn’t have enough money and survived on benefits. But she kept on grafting and kept on believing and then she made it big. My view on this is the fact that she didn’t ‘have it all’ in the first place was what kept her so driven because she needed that break. She most likely wouldn’t have had that determination in her early-mid twenties.

The squiggle in this image is sometimes how I feel; a little unsure due to wandering thoughts about who I want to ‘be’.

I’ve finally realised that there is no true path to success and you certainly don’t need to feel like you’ve done it all by the time you are 30. A lot of people find inspiration in other areas of their lives; such as when they have kids or when they’re going through a tough time mentally or financially.

Life wasn’t designed to be mapped out. Think about our cavemen ancestors and how they simply lived day by day, with little choices or decisions to be made. It is the modern world that has made us constantly strive to be better (social media, you are to blame) and there is certainly no problem with ambition (if there was no ambition we would still be stuck as cavemen!) but once in a while it’s healthy to take a step back and think ‘hey, I’m doing okay’.

Please leave your comments below. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on what you deem ‘success’ to look like.

 

 

Featured

The Foot on the Ladder

At the start of this year if someone had said to me that I would have my own house I would never had believed them.

But that’s the crazy thing about life; it can take a turn and lead you down a different path and that’s what is so exciting.

Our house is more than I would have expected for a first time home. Somehow we’ve struck it lucky and have 3 bedrooms, a wonderful garden and enough space to swing a cat in but it has been a product of a number of years of hard work and saving, which is by no means easy.

 

IMG_20170722_123745_345

Our beautiful garden!

We managed to complete on our house within 6 weeks of putting in an offer, which I understand from talking to different people is absolutely crazy!

Getting on the housing ladder is difficult but statistics show that in 2006 just over a third (36%) of all house purchases financed by a mortgage were made by first-time buyers. In 2016, this proportion is estimated to have reached almost half (49%), the highest level since 1996.

So as more and more people strive to own their first home, I wanted to share what I’ve learnt about the whole process…

  1. Get your finances into shape. This is so, so, so important as mortgage lenders have tightened their belts since the financial crash of 2007/2008 and you need to be able to present to them the best financial version of yourself. The best place to start is Clear Score which is free to sign up to and helps you identify areas which you may need to review before submitting your mortgage application. For example, you should be on the electoral roll at your current address and this needs to match on your credit report. If your credit score is not too great then I would seriously consider building this up before starting the mortgage process. I helped my partner go from a score in the 200/300 mark to him now having a score higher than mine just by ensuring he was on the electoral roll for our previous address and clearing as much credit card debt as possible. He obviously learnt from the best 😉
  2. Research. Having never bought a house before I had no clue about what happens in the different stages. The Money Advice Service has some amazing guides which explain the whole process clearly.  This one I found particularly helpful as it broke down the different stages.
  3. Mortgage Broker. For first timers I think it is best to use a mortgage broker. They have access to a wide range of products and as they know the market, they can advise whether your end goal is achievable or not dependent on your budget. The whole mortgage process can be stressful, so we found it great to have a mortgage broker to ‘lean on’ when deadlines were tight. One thing I’ve learnt is that personal recommendations are priceless, as our mortgage broker and solicitor were suggested by family members who had used their services before so they were tried and tested.
  4. Prioritise. You need to sit down and work out what is important to you as there are so many factors to consider when buying a house. We initially said we wanted a property in the country after living in a flat in the centre of town. But it’s important to not become narrow-minded and to view a range of properties, as you may totally change your mind. In the end, we own a property that was built in 2010 (we initially said we didn’t want a ‘newish build’) yet it is a new development that has a village feel, with country walks nearby but a 20 minute drive to the nearest town. The perfect balance! We realised that being in our twenties we need good road links for employment and socialising…living out in the country is beautiful but it would soon become a chore having to drive miles to get anywhere.
  5. Extra costs. Getting on the housing ladder is expensive. It does pay to be organised and sit down to work out how much stamp duty you may have to pay on a property (this handy calculator can work it out for you). There’s also solicitor and mortgage broker fees, council tax (I Googled the property address plus ‘council tax’ and managed to find a rough estimation), removal fees (we luckily had our families help us out which saved us quite a bit of money), decoration costs not forgetting the bills that will start arriving sooner or later! It pays to log onto a comparison site like this one to see if you can bring the cost of your energy bills down.

 

2017 for me will always be the year of the house. Hopefully this blog post will encourage you to take the leap, work your butts off and get yourself on the housing ladder!

hard-work-quote-2

 

 

 

 

Featured

The Little Corner of Paradise

Living in a flat with no garden or outside space (although exciting news to follow…) I’ve begun to appreciate how lovely it is to have a garden to come home to. At the moment my garden to come home to is that of my Mum and Dad, who have transformed the space from boring concrete to somewhere to relax and unwind.

I always used to joke to my mum that I’d never be into gardening; I would watch her tend to her plants with enthusiasm and would always think of a hundred and one other leisurely pursuits that I could be partaking in.

And let’s face it, gardening it yet to have it’s cool makeover. Baking has had it with Mary Berry and things like sewing and craft work has had a resurgence. But when I think of gardening I still think of Alan Titchmarsh and the Ground Force days.

But having basked in my parent’s garden in the recent good weather that the UK has enjoyed I’ve come to realise that gardening can in fact be exciting. I suddenly had a desire to share what they have achieved with the world.

Their garden isn’t large and there’s in fact no grass but with more and more first time buyers unable to afford a property with vast outside space (or no space at all if you’re in a city) I thought it apt to share my favourite selection of what they’ve concocted to create their own little corner of paradise.

Reflections

20170618_125026

Mirrors instantly make a space look larger. Once reserved for inside the home, outdoor mirrors are becoming more popular. My parents picked this one up in a local garden centre and I love the shabby chic style of it, as it really fits in with the rustic Mediterranean feel that the garden oozes.

Cacti are a cheap, exotic addition and require little maintenance as they rarely need watering. I in fact managed to kill my recent cactus plant through, I suspect, over watering so less really is more!

20170618_125007

Lights hung around the edge of the mirror give a pretty finishing touch and allows the mirror to become a great focal point when the sun goes down.

Personality

I love the idea of utilising wall space, especially in a garden where ground space is precious.

20170618_125113

Mum and Dad bought this wall plaque when, you guessed it, we went to New York in 2010. It was such an amazing trip and one we all still talk about today.

Instead of staying in downtown New York we opted to stay in Brooklyn, which is (and was unknown to us at the time) very hipster-ish. So in fact this goes really well with the style of the garden; as it’s not all straight lines, greenery and well tended much like the Brooklyn district.

I think it’s great to inject some personality into a garden as a centre piece wall like this will be a talking point for guests and acts as a way to reminisce about the good times.

 

Height

20170618_134943

This was a recent addition to the garden and if space is tight on the ground why not create a mini floral skyscraper and go upwards?

20170618_125120

An old step ladder can be transformed into the perfect place to put pots and the varying heights gives an extra depth to the garden compared to objects all at one level.

Consume

20170618_125108

To grow food that you can eat most people conjure up the image of an allotment. But growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is relatively easy to do and can be done in the tightest of spaces, even on a balcony.

Mum has chosen a selection of herbs as well as a tomato and cucumber plant. The latter is the cutest to grow as it starts out so small (you wonder how on earth it will grow into something remotely edible) and then suddenly there’s this huge cucumber dangling off the plant, defying gravity.

 

I’d love to hear your own suggestions as to how to create your little slice of Eden. Comments are welcome below!

Featured

The Aching Feet

Bank holidays are not to be wasted. I’ve realised that as I’ve got older. Annual leave at work is precious and an extra day off work needs to be utilised to it’s full potential.

Well, I went that one step further and booked off the Friday. That equals 96 glorious hours to pack full of whatever takes your fancy.

I was that annoying person at work who when someone says on the run up to a long weekend ‘thank God it’s Friday tomorrow’ and I smugly retort ‘it’s my Friday today’.

And off I sauntered arriving home to pack up the cool box and gather the last minute essentials before my partner and I whisked ourselves away on a long weekend. You thought for a minute there perhaps we were on our way to Luton airport. Barcelona? Paris? Brussels? But it was the mention of a coolbox that made you doubt yourself; a coolbox doesn’t quite fulfill the definition of hand luggage…

Yorkshire was the destination of choice. Not exactly hip, not exactly cool but we’d considered somewhere in Europe and that doesn’t always equate to ‘getting away from it all’, which we’d decided was high up on the priority list. After all, we’d been on an All Inclusive break in April and couldn’t wait to no longer see the same faces on that trip (read The Fly & Flop), so in fact we knew we wanted the complete opposite.

My partner’s parents had been to Crossbill Cottage twice before, so it had come highly recommended. After nearly 3 and 1/2 hours in the car (including a bumpy ride down a dirt track with suicidal pheasants wandering fearlessly in front of the car) we arrived at our accommodation for the weekend. As soon as I stepped out the car I knew we had made the right choice: tranquility and escapism with only the sounds of nature basking in the evening air.

Waiting for us in the cottage was a welcome pack of bread, milk, chocolate brownies and fresh eggs laid by the resident hens:

20170526_154452

20170526_154506

We nicknamed this dashing cockerel Charles, as he had a rather regal look about him

The next morning after filling up on scrambled eggs and toast we set out on our walk with an end goal firmly in mind: food.  We had been told about the Lordstones Country Park and with a rough idea of the direction we were headed and our trusty OS map (did you know that you can hire these from your local library?) we set out, greeted by rolling countryside and cows and sheep  dotted among the hillside. We even saw a cuckoo, which my partner pointed out is quite a rare find!

About 20 minutes walk from the cottage we stumbled across The Wainstones, magnificient rocks that jut out of the landscape. Of course we couldn’t resist a hike up to the top which provided us with uninterrupted views of the Yorkshire countryside and with it being a beautiful day we could even see as far as Middlesborough and the distant sparkle of the North Sea. Lots of people come to the area to rock climb if that’s your kind of thing!

20170526_113212

After a long, arduous hike over a very large hill we descended (what goes up has to come down, much to the sadness of my tired legs) and continued on our journey, with the lure of a burger firmly planted in our mind.

The Lordstones Cafe is nestled away in the Yorkshire countryside (it even has grass and flowers on its roof to blend in with the natural surroundings) and offers a great place to eat for walkers, bikers, hikers, motorcyclists and friends and family from the local area. Even dogs are welcome in the outdoor seating area.

As both of us are avid burger lovers, we went for ‘The Beltie Burger’, a homemade chargrilled beef burger served with dry cured bacon, Yorkshire cheddar cheese & caramelised onions, served in a brioche bun with fries.

It didn’t disappoint:

20170526_132752

During our stay we also managed to fit in: a drive around other parts of the Yorkshire Moors National Park where we turned off the engine and enjoyed the eerie silence, a day trip to Whitby for customary fish and chips on the beach and a 12 mile walk (round trip) to a local pub (local round there literally means 4 or 5 miles away) for a carvery roast dinner where on the walk back we managed to get lost in a field, had to backtrack and walk down a lane with about 30 sheep ‘baaing’ at us, plus we ended up high on a hillside walking precariously close to the edge, whilst being able to see the cottage but having to walk all the way around the edge, scrambling down the Wainstones before finally reaching the home straight!

It certainly got the blood – and adrenaline – pumping. Plus for all you FitBit lovers out there I managed to walk the most steps I have ever done since records began, a whopping 23,000 steps = result!

So next time you are considering a weekend away spare the Yorkshire Moors a thought. We initially had considered going to the Peak District (as for some reason when I think of walking and nature I think of there) but due to there being nowhere available for our dates we had to re-think and I’m so glad we chose Crossbill Cottage.

There’s so much of the UK that I haven’t explored and I feel guilty that I’ve been to some far flung destinations without even checking out what’s on my doorstep, so I definitely need to change that.

But I think that’s always the way whatever nationality you are. I remember someone telling me that Australians love exploring Europe, which I thought was crazy given how large and expansive their own country is and how long and painful the flight is to get to Europe!

We are so lucky to be able to explore a lot of the UK simply just by jumping in a car/train/bus and we definitely need to make the most of that.

I’d love to hear about your favourite UK escapes in the comment box below.

20170526_110712

Who needs Barcelona?

The Fly & Flop

aj-garcia-225308

All Inclusive holidays. For some the idea of luxury; for others they couldn’t think of anything worse.

Having spent a week in Lanzarote at the Elba Lanzarote Royal Village Resort (which is a great place to stay, I’d recommend it) on an All Inclusive package I can now see why many holidaymakers like to fly and then flop.

That is to fly to a destination on a package break, lie on a sun lounger and do absolutely nothing for a whole week (well, apart from lifting the odd cocktail to your lips, the odd occasional swim and eating your body weight in food).

20170509_203450.jpg

Soaking up the sun on our terrace. My dress is from New Look and the sunglasses are from TK Maxx. But I’ve been eyeing up the gorgeous sunglasses at cool Aussie brand Quay for some time now…

I’m not 100% sure whether fly and flop is for me. Firstly you end up seeing the same people for breakfast, for lunch, by the pool, at dinner. And secondly it does get repetitive; you almost get sucked into a bubble in your resort where the outside world is a blur.

Also, you almost lose the sense of exploration and adventure that is felt when visiting a new city or place. That feeling where you wander aimlessly but often stumble across some hidden gems as a result of your lack of direction and purpose.

And there’s no getting lost in a hotel resort when absolutely everything is signposted!

So are you thinking of an All Inclusive holiday?

Well let me help you make a decision by reviewing my top 5 reasons to go and not to go on an All Inclusive break.

For

1. Food! Glorious Food! Prepare to put on weight on an All Inclusive break. I love a good buffet and having been to Las Vegas last year I know a good buffet when I see one. I think an All Inclusive buffet steps, dare I say, up from Vegas because you can have buffet breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Where else can you have pasta among paella and bacon eggs followed by a chocolate brioche?

2. Not having to carry around money. Having been away on a holiday with my partner it can get irritating to always have to work out how much of the bill we each need to pay. Then there’s the dilemma of constantly keeping track of how much of your funds are left. With an All Inclusive break you only have to flash that wristband, make your order and enjoy. Simple.

3. Feeling safe. I’ve travelled to places like Thailand and Brazil before and there is something a bit nerve wracking about flying and navigating your way around a foreign and far-flung country. With an All Inclusive package holiday you are taken care of, from the minute you step off the flight to the minute you board the coach back to the airport.

4. Drinks. ‘If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain’… then truthfully you might need an umbrella because you may catch a chill! But in all seriousness, pina coladas were one of the highlights of my holiday. Being All Inclusive they were of course unlimited and could be, to some extent, ‘free’ if you drunk enough of them (NB: divide cost of holiday by number of pina coladas drunk to see how you score. If the figure is higher than the cost of the holiday per person, then you’ve really done your holiday right. And also may be in A&E awaiting a new liver).

5. Activities. There’s no need to step a foot out of the complex if you don’t want to and an All Inclusive holiday is the chance to try new things. Most large All Inclusive hotels arrange an ‘animation programme’, where they arrange activities like water aerobics, Zumba, archery and football. We rented out the tennis court twice during our stay and had great fun so you don’t have to lounge about all day if it doesn’t suit you.

Against

1. Familiar faces. When you’re living, sunbathing, drinking and eating within the same complex you’re bound to see the same people. Again. And again. We overheard a couple on the plane saying they were going to our resort and we always seemed to be seated near them at dinner. I like to people watch but it’s hard to exercise that hobby when the people don’t change!

2. Screaming kids. If you go to an adults only hotel then this will obviously not be a problem but All Inclusive does attract families because of the ease and convenience. Whilst our hotel did have an adults only pool and restaurant we preferred the choice of food in the main buffet and in order to get this variety you need to endure kids running around and making lots of noise. One poor kid was all alone at the pancake station and I ended up serving her a pancake because she couldn’t use the tongs. I don’t hate kids but I don’t really want to have to be getting involved with babysitting on my holiday!

3. Varying entertainment. Whilst the activities are a plus point (point 5 above), the entertainment in All Inclusive complexes can be cheesy and of a poor quality. If you don’t like tribute acts, circus shows and kids discos and are hoping for something to keep you occupied in the evening, then it may not be for you. I missed wandering around a town looking at the bars and actually being able to make a choice, rather than only having the option of whatever is on that night.

4. Routine. There’s not really any room for spontaneity in an All Inclusive hotel. Dinners are set times and it can sometimes feel a bit regimented. If you like to have a fry up at 1pm in the afternoon because when you’re on holiday you deserve whatever your heart desires, then perhaps stick to that self catering break.

5. Cabin fever. Whilst the hotel resort is likely to be large, you do feel a bit caged in as all of your waking minutes are spent in one area. Some people like to hire a car on holiday but there’s not really point doing this on an All Inclusive break because you’d miss out on the lunch and drinks you’ve paid for.

Do you prefer All Inclusive or Self Catering? Let me know in the comments below!

The Dating Game

The Dating Game

jez-timms-207948.jpg

Dating. I’m sure it never used to be hard in the ‘old days’.

When young, often the image of dating conjured up the scene in the film Grease where each girl is selected by a guy and whisked off their feet for a romantic dance. And no one was left behind.

The reality in the 21st century is a far cry from the portrayal of American High School Sweet Hearts at a 1950’s Prom.

But perhaps we do need to revere the fact that we have so much choice. We no longer have to rely on the talent within your village or town. Not only do we get to select a postcode, we get to select a radius.

Now fast forward to the Bridget Jones’ era. Then fast forward even further to the invention of Tinder and you arrive to the era of modern dating.

Or so you thought…

Tired of Tinder? 

Tinder was created in 2012 so is not even ‘so last year’ but more like ‘so 5 years ago’.

Modern dating moves quickly, so if you are hooked on dating apps but bored of just swiping then look no further…

Hater

Rather than matching on likes, you can now match on hates. Sign up  (only available on iOS at present) by using your Facebook and the premise is simple: you are presented with numerous topics and your job is to decide whether you hate it, love it, like it or dislike it.

The categories are updated daily and the app will start finding matches for you, whilst also giving you a compatibility rating. Like Tinder you still use the swipe left and swipe right function to filter out those you’re interested in and those that are a downright no.

This app seems like a fun, novel way of generating conversation starters. There also seems to be a bit of science behind it all; the creator Brendan Alper read in a study that people who dislike the same things form closer bonds with each other.

Lime

If you like to keep fit then Lime may be the app for you. Lime focuses on matching up people with similar exercise levels and by syncing the app with Google’s Fitness App or Apple’s Health App you can easily see fitness data, such as how many steps that person has done that day. Because, er, that is of greatest importance apparently…

Do not fear, the swiping element has not been lost in this app. Both individuals need to swipe right in order to connect with one another and you can easily see at any given time who is nearby. It even shows you how many steps away that person is. Can that be described as a little stalkerish, perhaps?

Time to throw away that gym membership and get moving?!

Bristlr 

Connecting those with beards to those who want to stroke beards

Dating apps have officially become incredibly niche. Love ’em or hate ’em, beards are here to stay (although if you hate ’em then perhaps the Hater app is the one for you. You can then match with someone who will never crave the desire to grow a beard and you get to live happily ever after, bristle free).

The first question that the  Bristlr site asks you is ‘do you have a beard’. And off you go – this one doesn’t mess about.

Focusing on beards does seem very specific and the fact their website states that the founder created it as a joke does lead you to question how likely it is to find love. But with over half a million connections made, it shouldn’t be laughed at.

Just pray that you don’t connect with this guy:

filip-mroz-176696