Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Brunch Club - September: Tom's Kitchen and the Docklands Museum of London

Last Sunday was our next planned brunch club - this time it was my better half's turn to choose our exhibition for the day. Being a boy, he went for the Bridges exhibition at the Docklands branch of the Museum of London, and so I chose Tom's Kitchen in Canary Wharf for brunch.

We headed for food first (of course) and arrived just before the midday rush; it was nice to have a few minutes in relative calm before it started getting busier. I started off with a cucumber, apple and mint juice which was delicious. I am a huge fan of fresh apple juice, but it can often be a bit sharp and so this was a perfect combination as the cucumber and mint tempered any sharpness. For food we both decided to go for a bagel - mine with poached eggs and sausage and his with scrambled eggs and bacon. We also opted to share a couple of slices of toasted brioche, although this didn't arrive until we had almost finished our bagels which was annoying. I found my food fine. There was nothing wrong with it and you could tell all the components were of pretty good quality, but it didn't really taste of a huge amount. My poached eggs were also slightly overdone, but when I say slightly I mean literally 20 seconds so perhaps I am being picky.

We then headed to the museum. Neither of us had visited before so weren't sure what to expect, but the museum was actually much bigger than we had imagined. We headed up to the third floor to where the bridges exhibition started and it was actually much more interesting than I anticipated, particularly as someone who has never shown a massive amount of interest in the history of the bridges over the Thames! Each section of information was really detailed but without being either overwhelming or patronising and I definitely learnt a few bits and pieces. One thing I would say though, is that the whole museum seemed a bit higgledy-piggledy - it wasn't clear where one exhibition finished and one began, and I understand that the point of the museum is that it is a sort of rolling history of London, but we went from reading about bridges to reading about slavery without realising we'd gone from one part to another. It also felt that the bridges section seemed to peter out at a certain point - there was information about the last century, but it was interspersed with sections about other parts (WW1 and WW2 for example), which wasn't exactly what we were expecting or had come to see. That being said though, it was all really interesting and would make a great place to take someone who wanted an overview of London from the last few hundred years.

Entrance to the museum is free. It is walking distance from a couple of stations but we went via Canary Wharf, which is on the jubilee line and the DLR.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Importance of a Playlist

For me, music is a massively important part of my life. For many of my friends this is also the case, and so whenever I am planning an event I will always, always, plan a playlist to go with it. I am actually quite annoying with it, as I get massive rage-eyes if someone tries to skip a track or play their own music. Sure it's irritating to some (most), but I know best on this one. One of my most-fondly remembered playlists is the one I created for a friend's wedding. They had decided to not have an overly fancy day, and for the reception had hired a local restaurant. As they weren't having a DJ or band I offered to make them a couple of playlists (one for during dinner and one for after) and they both went down a storm - the dinner one in particular. The difficulty with this was that it needed to be about five hours long, and so I added favourite songs of both of them, some non-cheesy love songs, as well as a few nostalgic numbers to suit the various ages of the guests. After the couple's first dance I got the second playlist started - starting with Kiss by Prince this definitely got the party going!

I am of the opinion that the music played can make or break a party, and so here are a few of the stories behind some of my favourite playlists (with handy spotify links!)

I am not a fan of Christmas music. I think it really stems back from when I used to work in a hotel events team and so for a solid 6-weeks every year we would hear the same songs night after night after night. So, for me, a Christmas playlist is less about those instantly recognisable cheese-filled numbers and more about classics, covers and Croce (Jim - a family favourite). I also had to include my actual favourite Christmas song - The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (yes, it counts). I made this for Christmas last year, but it will definitely be making a reappearance this time around!

Earlier this year I planned (and pulled off!) a hen-do in Stratford-Upon-Avon for my oldest friend. The whole weekend was a great success, but one of the things that people have mentioned to me since is how much they loved the playlist over the weekend. The main reason I created this was because we were having dinner in the house on the Saturday night and so would need some background music, but I actually loved it so much that I chucked it on at a couple of other points throughout the weekend. As a hen-do is all about celebrating the bride-to-be's single life, most of the songs I put on the playlist where ones that we used to listen to in our bedrooms when we were teenagers, with a couple of more modern ones. The hen loved it, especially as lots of the songs were ones we hadn't listened to in years. This is one I have downloaded to my phone so can listen to while I'm power-walking around!

For a baby shower I organised last year I created a game of baby bingo. For this I put together a playlist of songs with the word baby in the title (foregoing a few - I'm looking at you, Baby Got Back). The bingo turned out to be a huge amount of fun, and the playlist was just the right level of classics and cheese to continue to be our soundtrack for the rest of the afternoon.

For my friend's wedding I made her a little playlist of love songs for her and hubby to listen to afterwards. I tried to pick songs that were a bit different (again leaning towards our teenage indie tendencies!) but still utterly utterly lovely, and I think I got it just about right with the ones I chose. Maybe I'll use this one at my own wedding if that day ever arises!

Anyone else with me on this one?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hotel Pet Peeves

We've all been there. Got to the hotel room only to find something infuriatingly amiss. Of course, there are a few perfect hotels (see some of my faves here...!) but more often that not they'll be lacking in something. These aren't the things that are deal-breakers, but when you're on your holibobs you want literally everything to be literally perfect. So, here are some of my hotel pet peeves...

* No Hairdryer!

Self-explanatory. Hairdryers in hotel rooms are one of those things that are just so expected you don't even really think to check in advance any more. It doesn't even have to be particularly good, but it sure beats walking around with damp-frizzy hair all day...

* Awkwardly-placed plug sockets

When you're in a hotel room, you want to be able to charge your phone next to your bed. That is just a fact of life. How am I supposed to comfortably snooze my alarm if I have to get out of bed and cross the room to do so?! You also need to have a plug socket near a mirror for your hair straighteners. That's just common sense.
[The same goes for lights switches not by the bedside]

* Uncomfortable pillows

I can survive in a hotel without 1000 thread count sheets (I mean, I do every other day of my life). BUT - lumpy / flat / shapeless pillows can ruin a night's sleep, which will run the next day, which will ruin your holiday. Fact.

* Extra charges for towel hire

I'm rolling my eyes as you're asking me for this.

* WiFi Charges

Not everywhere has wifi - that's fine, I guess. Your prerogative. Places that have wifi and then want you to pay extra for it? Eurgh.

* Shower plugs that don't drain as quick as the water flows

Bit of a personal pet-peeve this one, but I hate hate hate standing in my shower water. Hate it.

* No full-length mirror

How on EARTH am I supposed to know if I look human enough to leave my room if I can't see myself in full view?!

[Disclaimer: I am still totally in love with going on holiday, and always, always, will be.]


So, during a recent hotel stay I encountered two of the above pet peeves! I thought it is time to name and shame (or, hopefully, name and fame [does that work?]) some offenders

- Manchester Malmaison: no full-length mirror AND no plug sockets by the bed!
- Premier Inn, Angel Islington: plug socket only by one side of the bed - very inconvenient for people who don't like to clamber over each other to be able to use it!
- Park&Suites Prestige Cannes Croisette: no full-length mirror!

Feel free to add your own below…!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

My Favourite Hotels

I have been super lucky in my life that I have had the chance to travel a bit more than the average person. I've never done the backpacker thing, and the longest I've ever been away for in one go is 3 weeks, but I feel like I have seen a lot of places, cultures and people that a lot of people don't get the chance to.

Along with having an ever-growing destination list to tick-off, there are certain places that have a permanent place in my heart - these are the places that I just KNOW I will re-visit time and time again during my life. And along with this there are certain hotels that I will re-visit time and time again. I have been super-fortunate to be able to stay in some really amazing places, so here is my list of my all-time five favourite hotels. I have alphabetised them as I don't want to pick favourites!

I think this may be the first hotel I fell in love with instantly, right upon arrival, and then continued to love more and more as my stay continued. Situated a couple hours south of LA in the desert of Palm Springs, the Ace Hotel is a welcome haven from the ridiculous temperatures. It has a sort-of hipster vibe but not in an over-the-top way, and both the rooms and the facilities are everything you could want to relax and unwind in. The reason I loved the Ace Hotel is because of the freedom you have - it's not stuffy or pretentious and people come and go as they please. The poolside cocktails are delish, and the King's Highway diner is the perfect place to grab some food. Make sure you stay on a Monday night for Bingo and Trivia - both are now run by Bella da Ball after the lovely, lovely, Linda Gerard sadly passed away earlier this year. I've been to the Ace in Palm Springs twice now and the second time I purposely arranged the visit so I could play bingo with Linda again. Super super glad I did.

This is a bit of a funny one - when we arrived the hotel didn't have our expedia-booked reservation, and then put us in a room for our first night that really wasn't up to scratch, promising us a better one in the morning. I was so cross about it all but then when we moved to our new room all was forgiven. This hotel isn't anything fancy or expensive (especially by Paris standards) but the rooms were lovely and clean and actually moderately spacious, and I loved the little juliet balcony. We were staying in the Latin Quarter (which I think I would do again on a return to Paris) and this hotel was in the perfect location for this - right opposite a Metro station and walking distance to the city centre. When we stayed there it was mid-way through a renovation and so there was no restaurant so I can't comment on this - and the price will probably have increased now as this will have all been finished - but I would have no hesitations in staying here again.

I've stayed in the Nira Caledonia twice now - once by myself the night before a friend's wedding and once for a weekend away with my boyfriend. Both times I had the most wonderful stay - the beds are some of the comfiest I have ever slept in and I love all the boutique-touches the hotel offers - I'm a massive sucker for green and black chocolate in the fridge and classic fm playing when you enter your room. Although I haven't had dinner at the hotel we ate breakfast there every morning on our last stay and the food was all so delicious I think we might try the dinner menu on our next stay (in March, hopefully!) I wouldn't stay anywhere else in Edinburgh.

I stayed here a few years ago on a family holiday and just had the most relaxing time. The staff were all so friendly and accommodating and nothing was too much trouble. The rooms are large, the pool is amazing, and the sun loungers are super comfortable. Malaysia is one of those countries that you could feel a bit unsure in, but the hotel were great in arranging excursions and giving us advice on where we should visit. I also had a wonderful morning in the spa, part of which was spent having an aroma bath in an outside (private!) bath. One of my best ever holiday memories.

Now, I know I have mentioned comfortable beds already in this entry but without a doubt the bed I slept in at the Sunset Marquis was the most amazing bed I have ever slept in in my life. I stayed here for 3 nights with my sister last year, and having only stayed in LA once before (and doing it budget-style) I was a bit apprehensive about what hotel to choose. I'm so so so glad we made this choice though because it was just perfect - not too fussy or pretentious (my number one concern for LA hotels!) with amazing staff who did anything and everything they could to make our stay perfect (including paying a taxi fare for us one night when we were a bit, hmm, sleepy to pay it ourselves). Although I love California if it weren't for the Sunset Marquis I'm not sure I would stay in LA again, but next time I return to the west coast I will 100% be re-visiting, even if it is just to sleep in that bed again!

Monday, 1 September 2014

August and September

Although this post is brought to you from my desk at work, I am wishing it was brought to you from my bed, in my pyjamas, with a hot chocolate by my side. Having taken a day off work last Thursday to recover from a cold, I have now picked up another one and am sitting here being annoyingly-sniffy. Bring on next summer.

So! This month kicked-off with one of the most exciting things - my oldest friend's wedding. It was an awesome day; everything went as planned and everyone had a lovely time. I obviously drank too much but hey, with a free bar what did they expect. It was the perfect day after months of talking about it, and also resulted in the best selfie of all time.

Also this month I have eaten at The Port House, Brioche, the Bleeding Heart Bistro, Bianco43, Bonedaddies, Canteen (once for brunch, once for lunch), Rosa's Thai Cafe, St Bart's Brewery (for a Christmas menu tasting, obv), and MEATmission (for national burger day). I went to the Virginia Woolf exhibition and the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery, the James Bond exhibition at the London Film museum, the Festival of Love at the Southbank Centre (blogged about here) and the wedding dress exhibition at the V&A. I attended a beautiful pickle's first birthday party, to which I brought a delicious and wonderfully-decorated Konditor & Cook cake. I also went to one of the Brief Encounter screenings at the Royal Festival Hall, which was accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Maybe all the above is the reason I haven't read much this month - I finished The Art of Travel and moved on to H is for Hawk. I'm struggling with it a bit though as I'm not loving it. I'll persevere though! I'm still watching Desperate Housewives (now on season 7) and we've also been watching Life on Mars.

I've been a bit slack on the blogging front though, only putting finger to keypad twice - once to write about My Favourite London Restaurants, and the second to write-up our first Brunch Club. I also joined Bloglovin', but I'm not sure I'm really making the most of it at the moment!

Next month is my sister's birthday, which will have to be celebrated with too much drinking. I'm also hoping to book a holiday or two, which I obviously can't wait for!!

As for today, I think I'm going to drag my sorry butt home at lunchtime and treat myself to some Itsu on the way. Where's this Indian Summer I've been promised?!