Friday, 30 January 2015

News Reviews: WEEK 5

This week, a few things have been tickling my pickle:

In our office we are quite heavily invested in the decisions regarding how the election debates will be handled, and DC's continual refusal to get involved has been a talking point for us all. Nick Clegg's description of him in this BBC News article seems appropriate.

As a big Neighbours fan (sorry not sorry) I definitely enjoyed reading that Australian schools will receive Sex Education in the form of a new DVD 'Ask Grandad' starring none other than Harold Bishop

And while we're on the subject of Neighbours, here is some good news for Lou Carpenter. 

As a travel fiend, the disappearance of MH370 really tugged at my heartstrings, as I expect it did everyone else's. This week it was officially declared an accident, described as a legal move to enable the victims' families to claim compensation. I'm sure that finding out what happened to them would mean just as much, though.

I love it when there's a tennis grand slam, and especially when Rafa is on his game. This week he crashed out at the quarter-final stage to Tomas Berdych, who was then beaten by Andy Murray in the semis, but my nerves were really tested the previous week during this match... 

And finally, on to Kim Sears' swearing - who really gives a fuck?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

2015 Travel Plans

So following on from my post on my 2014 Travel and Events Round-Up, I figured I would write one detailing my plans for the rest of the year seeing as we are now at the start of it. It will be interesting to see how many of these plans actually pan out before the end of the year, and also I LOVE writing a list.

* My first trip isn't too far away - I am going to Rome for a long weekend in early February with a couple of friends. None of us have ever visited before so we are planning carefully to try and cram in all the sightseeing-y bits as well as check out some awesome restaurants and bars - I have been given the last two as my research responsibilities so if anyone has any recommendations please do let me know! We are also fitting in a six nations match - I've never been to the rugby before so I'm definitely looking forward to that. Will probably need a few thermals though I reckon?

* Not long after that my boyfriend and I are going to Edinburgh with another couple we know. We are staying in the Nira Caledonia (one of my favourite hotels) and I can't wait - I'm excited to re-visit some of the great places we ate and drink at on our last visit. As well as this I want to fit in a visit to the Camera Obscura museum as I have never been, and MOST IMPORTANTLY! Visit our dear friend who has just this week had a beautiful pair of twins. 

* In April I have a birthday. To detract from the horror of this we are going to New York for 5 nights, incorporating the dreaded day itself, and I'm so looking forward to it - I have been to New York an handful of times but not for a few years and I can't wait to get back there. I've already got a few bits planned (such as a basketball game on my birthday) and we're staying in the New York branch of the Ace, so I can't see how this is going to be anything other than awesome.

* Next on the list is our summer holiday. We've decided to have a bit of an adventure this year, and are hoping to go interrailing in June, taking in Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. I need to really start planning this, but I've got the basic schedule down (including train times from place to place) and so the next step is looking at accommodations. I'm thinking a mix of cheap hotels and airbnbs, but any recommendations for this for any of these cities would be welcomed! I've never been to any of these cities before and am definitely excited to explore some new areas.

* In one of the blogs I read - Emma's Travel Tales - she mentioned staying in the Citizen M hotel in Glasgow. Not having Glasgow near the top of my destination list (sorry Emma!) but intrigued by the hotel I had a look at the other locations they have, and Rotterdam caught my eye. I haven't been to Holland since I was young but Amsterdam has never really appealed, and so we're thinking maybe a little weekend away later in the year may be in order?

* My school friends and I all have big birthdays this year (hence the New York trip I am taking) and so we have been talking about doing something to mark the occasion. At the moment the current favourite looks like a little weekend break to Whitstable in September before it gets too cold - beach, fish and chips, pubs and walks. Sounds right up our streets!

* At some point last year I read a post in What Joanna Ate about a stay she had at The Pig. It sounded lush so I got googling, and saw that they have a few hotels in various places. We're thinking about maybe doing a little pre-Christmas trip in December to the one in Bath, probably mid-week to avoid as many people / tourists as possible!

Now I just need to stop spending money so I can afford it all...

Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review: Jamaica Inn - Daphne Du Maurier

A couple of friends and I recently started a Facebook book club, which is exactly the same as a regular book club except we don't meet at the pub and talk about the books over wine (so not quite as good, then). The most recent choice was Daphne Du Marier's Jamaica Inn, so I thought I'd copy it here rather than only having it on the wasteland that is Facebook!

I will preface this by saying that I have never read any other Daphne Du Maurier books, and I didn't watch the recent BBC adaptation of this, so I went into this not knowing at all what to expect from the story or writing style.

So, first of all I will say that I felt like I knew where the story was going from quite early on. I felt like we were always supposed to suspect the vicar, although at the same time I felt like Du Maurier was trying to trick us into not suspecting him? It was almost like a triple bluff - oh he's weird looking he must be evil, but then why would we judge someone just because of that, oh yes he's evil after all. I also didn't ever feel like there was any jeopardy in Mary and Jem's relationship; when he was carted off after the fair it just seemed to me like it was a pause in their relationship rather than a potential end to it.

In terms of the characters, it was clear that Mary was written as a strong and capable women (I think probably "plucky" is the right word??!?) particularly when looking at the time this was written. This was really easily seen in the fact that the only other female character we got to spend time with was her Aunt Patience, who I felt was only really there for two reasons; firstly to highlight how independent Mary herself was, and secondly to show how downtrodden and lost a woman can become purely by her situation or circumstance. 

One of the main things I noticed was how many references there were to the fact that Mary wasn't a man, and how much this seemed to mean to the other characters. There were so many sentences starting "if she were a man" or "as she was a woman" to suggest that she wouldn't be able to do something, but I personally felt that Du Maurier wrote this too many times to really mean it - it was as if she was purposely being sarcastic to try and highlight how ridiculous it is that Mary was judged to not be able to do certain things just because of her gender. The fact that Mary's character was written to have walked 9 (?) miles in an evening and then ventured into the inn by herself in the pitch dark, but then was not 10 minutes later found to be too weak to go in again. I wonder whether Du Maurier was trying to show the double standards that exist, without being too overt about it.

Overall I definitely enjoyed this more than I thought I would - it's not one I would have ordinarily picked up but I found it easy to read and wouldn't balk and reading another book by the same author in the future.


Anyone else read this one?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

My 2014 Travel and Events Round-up

So, this is a bit delayed. Sorry about that.


* My best friend and I travelled to Dubai to stay with a friend who was living there at the time. As this wasn't our first visit there we had a better idea of what we wanted to do and we allowed ourselves a bit more down-time this time around. We still, of course, managed to get a few of the Dubai must-dos packed into our trip such as a Friday Brunch, eating at expensive places, and drinking in nightclubs surrounded by slightly awkward people. We also spent some time this visit though meandering around, reading, and sitting on the beach. I definitely won't be visiting Dubai again any time soon (as we no longer have a free bed there!) but I will always have fond memories of our visits. I have written a bit about some hints and tips for it all in my Guide to Dubai.

* I turned 29 this year, and my boyfriend and I decided to go away for the occasion. It was our first trip away together and seeing as he had never been on a plane before (I know, ridiculous) we decided to stay in-land for this trip as I didn't want to have a nervous wreck ruining my birthday weekend!! We didn't really need much time to decide where to visit, as I was super keen to visit the Nira Caledonia in Edinburgh again after staying there for one night for a wedding about 18 months before. The hotel was just as lush as I remembered and it was just a lovely way to spend to celebrate (or not!) On my actual birthday we climbed Arthur's Seat, hung out in our room, and then went out for a super lush dinner. You can read all about it here. We're going back in March and I cannot. wait.

* So, as I mentioned, previous to 2014 my boyfriend had never been on a plane. When we got together I made it clear that this would need to be rectified, and so we decided to plan a mini-break with a short-haul flight. I, obviously, have a ridiculously large holiday list but my better half doesn't. On pressing him to a ridiculous extent he finally said that he'd quite like to visit Norway. Done! I said, furiously googling Oslo. And so it was done - we visited Oslo in June for a long weekend and had a great time. As I said in my write-up, the only reason I wouldn't put it top of my list again is just because it's so pricey. As a city it really has it all - it's clean and friendly with great restaurants and bars and loads of culture and it should definitely be on people's lists for some point in their lives.

* In July I went to Wales with my boyfriend and parents. Everyone who knows me knows how much Wales is deeply (deeply) embedded in my heart, and so a visit is of no surprise to anyone. This time we stayed at Aberglasney Gardens (my second stay there) and you can read all about it in my post on A Week in Llandeillo.

* For the first time in my life, in 2014 I travelled abroad for work. I was asked to join a couple other members of my team for a trip to Cannes, and going in September meant we had a few belated days of gorgeous sunshine. Although we were there 3 nights, most of the time was spent in non-blog-worthy meetings, and so I decided to combine the best parts of our trip into a 24-hour experience there. You can read all about it here. Fingers crossed I get asked to go again this year...

* Needing a bit of sun towards the end of the year the boy and I decided to book a November holiday. All we wanted to do was read, sleep, sunbathe and eat, and so an all inclusive seemed like the best option. We eventually decided on a Thomsons Egypt package after much deliberation and the whole holiday (staying at the Jaz Aquamarine in Hurghada) was exactly what we were looking for. I didn't write it all up in the end as most of it would be "today: I sunbathed" but there are definitely a few things you should know in advance about etiquette and visas (Sharm is one of the only two places in Egypt you don't need a visa for - Hurghada you do but purchase at the airport upon arrival) which are definitely worth googling before you leave.

* During my week in Wales earlier in the year my mum and I visited The Corran hotel. I loved it so much I told the boy that we should visit ourselves at a near point in the future. As the end of the year started to draw close we started to think about staying for new years, and as soon as the idea was in our heads it was basically booked. I only recently wrote about it so I won't go into it all again, but the trip was exactly what we needed to give ourselves a rest from the world and relax before having to go back to work. I love that part of the world so it's an easy sell for me, but for those who haven't visited before I would say: go, go go. You can read about my reasons for this in my post A Food-Heavy Few Days in Wales.


I am a planner. Even when I'm not planning anything I'm planning something, and this year was no exception.

* The main thing I arranged this year was a hen-do in Stratford-upon-Avon for my oldest friend. There were 14 of us and so I booked a cottage within walking distance of the town and we all had a stupendous time. This was such a big event of my year I wrote two posts about it; one on the weekend itself, and one on how to Plan the Perfect Hen-Do. It was definitely one of the best things I did last year.

* For me, summer equals planning parties and barbecues. I wrote a bit about some of my go-to BBQ recipes (simple ones, natch) here, and also wrote about The Importance of a Playlist at such events here.

* My boyfriend's birthday is two days after Christmas and, as such, he hasn't really ever got into the whole idea of a birthday party. This year I decided that was all going to change and so we had a little party. I cooked a ham (delicious, if I do say myself), whacked on a playlist (of course!), created a birthday cocktail, and welcomed too many people into my house. The perfect way to spend a birthday.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A Food-Heavy Few Days in Wales

This year my boyfriend and I decided to spend New Years in Wales. There were two reasons for this - the first and obvious one being that WE HEART WALES and the second being that then we already had an in-built excuse for any dreadful-sounding New Year celebrations we were invited to. So, once we had decided this was the plan there was only really one place we would stay in - The Corran hotel. I visited it earlier in the year with my mum for the day and used the spa and restaurant, and after being shown around some of the rooms I knew that I would have to come back to have a snooze there.

As we live pretty far away, we decided to drive up the day before we were due to check-in and stay somewhere cheap nearby so as to not waste one of our official holiday-days in the car. We chose the travelodge in Llanelli (Llanelli Cross Hands) and I don't know if it's been recently done-up but it was super clean and comfortable and cleverly laid-out and I would deffo stay there again if we did something similar in the future.

Anyway! I had, of course, done my research as to where we should eat that night, and after doing some googling it seemed that if we could only go to one place then it had to be Sosban Restaurant by the docks. We drove up and were instantly impressed - the restaurant is inside a huge old building (I think probably something to do with the dock when it was fully-operational) and I guess might not be to everyone's tastes (why?) but I loved it. They were still running their Christmas menu, which was around £20 for two courses, and I chose soup for starters and lamb for mains. The soup was butternut squash and parmesan and - no lie - it was one of the best soups I have ever had in my life. So utterly creamy and delicious, and went perfectly with the (homemade?) bread that accompanied it. I practically licked the bowl clean (I probably would have if it was too awkward a shape to get my head into). My lamb was equally tasty, tasting exactly like how lamb from Wales should taste - strong and fragrant and tender. I can't say I know a huge amount about the restaurant scene in Llanelli (I expect it's not huge) but next time I'm in the area there will be no research required.

The next morning we headed off towards Laugharne, making a little detour to Llanarthne for breakfast at Wright's Food Emporium. We had both eaten here before on our previous visit to the area and were excited to return. We both went for breakfast baps - mine with bacon and black pudding (picture on my twitter) and his with bacon and black pudding and also sausage. Exactly what we needed to refuel and do some more driving. This is such a gem for the area and seemed pretty busy with local customers. I know that if I lived nearby I would be spending most of my weekends breakfasting here. Probably best that I don't, then.

We then carried on our detour trail for a quick stop at Carmarthen to pop in to the market to pick up a couple of food bits. As it was between Christmas and New Year a lot wasn't open yet, but from the butchers to the right of the entrance we picked up scotch eggs ("these are lush they are"), corned beef roulettes and welsh cakes.

After all that food-based fannying around we headed to The Corran and were shown to our room. We were staying in room 4 in the main house and coincidentally were in one of the rooms I was shown around (and loved) when I visited back in the summer. The rooms are utterly lush. They're split into three sections - one for the bathroom, one for the bedroom, and one for the living area. It was such a novelty to be in a hotel room but actually have loads of space, and not have to sit on the bed 100% of the time. We spent the afternoon wandering / clambering up hills around Pendine, and then headed back for dinner. After a prosecco / beer in the bar we ordered our food and wandered through to the restaurant and took our seats. The restaurant is an absolute delight - one wall is floor to ceiling windows so in the summer the light in there is just amazing. In the evening the lights inside against the night sky make for a wonderfully atmospheric dining room. We had decided not to do anything fancy on NYE itself and instead have a nice meal the night before, so we allowed ourselves to indulge with our food choices. I went with roasted squash, hazelnut and parmesan risotto to start and pheasant and duck for main, whereas the other half opted for scallops and then lamb. Everything was cooked to perfection and beautifully presented, and the waiters were all on the top of their game. It was a bit pricey due to the time of year, but I'm pretty sure they usually have a set menu available for the evening.

We also had breakfast twice and afternoon tea once during our stay, both of which were tasty and with plenty of variety (including local options). As it was NYE when we had the afternoon tea they were doing it slightly differently to when I had visited before, and had all the options out on a table for you to help yourself. Although I was initially dubious about this it actually worked really well as it meant I could scoff as much food as I liked without everyone knowing that I had asked for seconds and thirds and fourths.

The Corran is going to make its way into my top five hotels. It's such a relaxing environment, the staff are all totally professional and it's in such a beautiful area. The food we had was all interesting and delicious and I didn't eat anything I wouldn't eat again. The whole trip was full of well-chosen food options (thanks me!) and, in fact, I think I might just repeat the exact trip again in the future.

On our way home I scoffed my scotch egg from the market and the butcher hadn't lied, it was totally lush.