Friday, 8 August 2014

Summer in the city

Yesterday I met a friend for lunch from Shake Shack which we ate on oddly arranged benches in St Paul's churchyard, Covent Garden. I then found myself signing up for yoga sessions (at last!), before exploring Seven Dials (where I finally stumbled upon Tatty Devine) bearing a tent. Upon realising how close I was to Soho, I decided to aim for music shops in pursuit of Einaudi. Along the way I encountered Foyles, where I proceeded to lose myself for a good hour or so. These days, I'm not much of a reader beyond Vogue, but I do still love a book shop, particularly when it stocks sheet music in abundance!

Pretty bunting & building in Seven Dials
One of my 'big' plans for the summer was to get musical; be that playing my instruments lots, finding an ensemble to join, recording or even writing my own music! However, for the first time in as long as I can remember, the summer holidays have been beautiful, so my time has been predominantly spent outside! I don't know whether I've not been in a writing mood, or whether being so busy has rendered me too lazy, but it truly has been a wonderful summer so far, with lots of time spent outdoors with family and friends. 

Unusually, I have spent little time alone (perhaps another reason for my written silence), and yesterday was one of my first little lone London ventures after a brief one that came out of running errands the day before.
If the thought of rifling through sheet music for the first time since graduating from my music degree wasn't exciting enough, the fact that said sheet music was stored in draws stacked so high that I had to climb a ladder to locate Bach's Partitas for violin really set me off! Up and down I went, gathering scores for pieces I've always dreamt of playing, and finally picking up a manuscript book (mainly for nostalgic purpose, although I think in the back of my mind I'm hoping I might put it to use).

From Foyles I let Google Maps lead me to Kings Cross by foot with several of my own diversions through various gardens and squares along the way. While most diversions were merely scenic routes, one which captured my attention enough for a sit-down was the Calthorpe Project, a fantastic community garden (quickly becoming one of my favourite things as well as rose gardens) where I was pleased to find lots and lots of children playing, pretty ceramic benches, a stream complete with little bridges, plants for sale and a compost heap!

Once well-rested, I continued my journey only a short distance (if it weren't for closed pavements and my desire for a cold drink leading me into a café (determined not to find myself in a Starbucks) where the proprieter was more than enamoured by my tasseled dress) to Camley Street Natural Park, which I had discovered after hours from the top of a viewing platform currently located behind Kings Cross St Pancras the day before. As I had missed opening hours the day before, the decision had been made that this was where today's adventure would lead me.

Possibly one of the most surreal places I have visited in London so far, the Natural Park is located in an old coal yard along the Regent's Canal. It has been transformed into a nature reserve where you wander through woodland and around a pond and meadow. While sitting on a bench surrounded by greenery, I could never have imagined that I was in Central London!


Today, I write from Kenwood House, Hampstead, where I have spent the afternoon moving freely between reading Vogue, writing, and napping following a lazy morning at home. This evening I intend to food shop and make something yummy while I watch a film. Gosh I love the summer holiday!


For once I've decided not to ramble on about every single adventure I've had this summer, so here are a few pictures from some of them:





1. When I climbed up The Wellington Memorial
2. A statue in the rose garden in Hyde Park
3. Three statues in the rose garden at Hampton Court
4. Little Venice 

A wedding in Cyprus

That ol' 'View From Plane' chestnut.
Memoirs of a lone traveller from Cyprus? The first time I've really travelled alone, it caused mixed feelings. While one part of me was feeling the nerves expected, the other was full of excited anticipation!

It is a truth universally acknowledged (not universally at all, but known to those who actually know me) that I am a huge fan of my own company. Even as a child (now please don't start pitying me here, I swear it has always been solitude by choice) I spent much of my time alone in my room, or I could be found racing ahead or trailing behind on family walks, always imagining. My mind is forever brimming full of goodness knows what, so time spent alone is never dull or lonely, but put to good use to think, and to be.

As most of my writing (or even my writing silences) would suggest, this time in solitude does not come around so often in my adulthood, particularly with my move to London; a city where I am almost never alone!

I begin this post in the restaurant of the hotel. The hustle and bustle of guests visiting the buffet and the waiting staff frantically clearing tables and taking drinks orders means I am not alone, although I am dining for one (and tonight the food theme is France, so the melancholic sounds of the music from Amélie are piping through the outdoor dining terrace). I would almost feel sorry for myself, as dining alone has the potential to be a little tragic, if not for the fact that I am absolutely loving life!

On numerous occasions since my arrival, I have found myself wondering, 'why have I never done this before?' There have often been (and still are, so watch this space...) places I've desperately wanted to visit, but have been unable to due to the fact that suitable travel companions have been few and far between for various reasons, but never had it crossed my mind to just go it alone!

View from the balcony of a lonely hotel room.
Only took me until the last day to realise that I did, in fact, have a sea view!

Beyond the hotel on this occasion, I am not alone. The journey in question has been made for the wedding of one of my oldest friends for whom I am bridesmaid. So in fact, an entire wedding party has descended upon Ayia Napa! Unfortunately for me, my first visit to Cyprus is an incredibly brief one, but already, it has been absolutely magical!

While Wednesday became a full day spent travelling, yesterday (Thursday) was the big day, and what a beautiful day it was! With the first of my friends to be married came my first invitation to be bridesmaid. Mother dearest had very valiantly managed to find a Cadbury purple dress and shoes to match, and with a little adjusting they were good to go!

I've never been 'behind the scenes' as it were at a wedding, so was rather taken aback by how much there is to consider. I don't know if the coordination of every step is usually so precise, but in Cyprus, it certainly was! Also, as much as I've always mocked the Americans for their 'wedding rehearsals' as observed in the films (it's not like I've ever actually been to one, giving me real grounds to mock), I can now see the value of having a small run-through, if only in order that all parties know where to walk (or in my case, totter) and stand... not that we needed one; pros!

As it was my first day in Cyprus and I didn't want to alter my body clock so dramatically that work would be an even bigger struggle on Monday morning, I decided to get up and out to the beach (after a more than hearty breakfast of course) at the crack of dawn (l exaggerate not. With a two-hour time difference (ahead), it really truly was!)! A paddle, sand between my toes and a lie-down for an hour had me in great stead for the rest of the day. So after a shower, l gathered together my bridesmaid bits and with directions from the receptionist, I was on my merry way!


Could not get over how clear the water was!

When I had asked for directions to Nissi Beach hotel, I was told I would have to 'cross' two beaches, to which I replid 'oh that's fine, I love sand!' However my journey turned into the Laura Brockway version of something resembling a cross between the opening credits to Naked Gun, and a Mr Bean stretch as the catastrophes began...

All was going well; the sun was high in the sky, I had beach and plantlife to the left of me, sparkling sea to the right. The gentle lapping of waves on the shore and the sound of crickets filled my ears... then next thing I knew, the handles of the Topshop bag I had stuffed full of my bridesmaid dress, heels and bag for the day decided to snap. Swooped up by me with impeccable timing mid-fall, I proceeded, clutching (although I'd like to think cradling) it like a baby on my hip as I hurried along (already by this point coming to the realisation that half an hour in this heat might have been a little over-ambitious). Catastrophe number one.
Having been thoroughly spoilt by a man-made footpath up until this point, by which to enjoy the view, suddenly I was confronted by the first beach I would have to 'cross'... (this is already starting to sound a little like We're Going On a Bear Hunt)!

The rather delightful footpath that ran alongside the coast when there were no beaches in its way.

Sunloungers littered the beach, there were inflatables and bodies galore, and couples and families played gentle games of bat and ball in the shallows. Now, elegance is not my thing, so instead of tip-toeing my way carefully around my many obstacles, instead I bulldozed my way through, causing sandstorms as I kicked up sand onto unsuspecting sunbathers, stumbling and tripping my way over everyone and everything. So I headed into the sea, thinking shallow water might be easier for walking than sand, but then proceeded to splash my way through every game of bat and ball, overturned multiple lilos, and probably knocked over a small child or two as they innocently hopped and skipped over the ripples that remained from incoming waves.

Remarkably well in-tact myself (makes a change) as I reached the second stretch of footpath, I thought it best not to turn to see the trail destruction I had left behind, but instead valiantly soldiered on! This time, the stretch of footpath was much shorter, so a similar scene ensued along the next, longer beach (or rather beaches), and all the way into... the wrong hotel.

Catastrophe number three. There was me feeling really rather pleased with myself having arrived bang on time despite my rather traumatic journey, only to discover that the trauma would in fact continue for a further ten minutes or so in my endeavour to locate the correct hotel! By some pretty enormous stroke of luck, my over-confident striding straight into the hotel and up in a lift to the room I was expecting to need to be outside did not end in complete disaster, as the door was open and a maid inside cleaning. At this point still unaware that I was in the wrong hotel, I sent a text to the bride;

'I'm at your room, but you do not appear to be?' (A little too self-assured perhaps?)
'... we are. Where are you??' Came the reply.

So as it transpired, my French is rather excellent, because while I was required at 'Nissi Beach Hotel', I had found myself in 'Nissi Plage Hotel', and plage means hotel, so once I realised this I didn't feel so silly (although the next time I walked to the right hotel and saw the ENORMOUS signs (two of them) above the hotel further along the beach which is where I was supposed to be, I was a little embarrassed), and made a hasty retreat, feeling beyond flustered by this point, to the correct hotel. Even once I got there, we somehow managed to miss each other a few times going up and down by lift and stairs, but we all coordinated eventually!

Hair that was supposed to be clean and dry was a little closer to hot and sweaty by the time I landed on the sofa of the hotel salon, but I had finally made it! The last time I'd had hair and makeup done was actually for the wedding of the bride's twin brother, and it's always a slightly surreal experience. There is something distinctly awkward about being so close to someone you're not about to kiss, particularly when the person in question stinks of smoke, is chewing gum loudly with their mouth open, has a pretty violent method of makeup application (no wonder she slapped so much on, we probably needed it to cover the bruises!) and looks threatening too (I may, or may not have told her how scary she was...). 'Light' makeup was not light at all, particularly by the standards of a non-makeup wearer, but the bride was happy so I was too.

Next (by this point with the first glass of champagne down me), I stepped up to the hair chair. My hair hadn't been 'styled' since it was cut short, so I was not at all sure what the end result would be; another nerve-racking experience! Again I put my foot in it when midway through I exclaimed that I resembled a poodle due to what seemed to me to be excessive back-combing. Thankfully she somehow calmed my Jimmy Neutron-esque hair down and I came away looking like I had LOADS of hair, which was quite impressive really!

Despite the rather unorthodox methods of the ladies in the salon, bride, bridesmaids and mother of the bride emerged looking fit for a wedding, and one might even say pretty if I do say so myself! So with an hour to go before the ceremony, we headed back to the room to get into the dress...

It was ENORMOUS, laid out on the bed like a whole nother person in the room and it took three of us in addition to the bride and lots of holding everything up to get her in, then another team effort to tie it all up! Seeing the first of my friends to get married in the dress was extremely special! Once secure she looked absolutely stunning and all princess-like.

Photos began as soon as we stepped out into the hotel lobby, and so the precision began. The walk down to the gazebo from the hotel was a highly structured operation, with a fifty metre gap left between each person, me in the middle trying desperately to remain on two feet in crazy high heels while holding a bouquet with both hands and at the same time retaining a smile for the camera as opposed to letting the grimace of concentration show. The bride and mother of the bride followed, and as we all reached the groom I don't think there was a dry eye in the house!

The ceremony was short, but in the most beautiful setting! There was then a wait before the evening reception which was spent in the shade drinking water for cooling down and champagne for toasting! The champagne was accompanied by canapes, one of which I of course managed to drop down my dress (fear not, I then licked up the mess with true class)... There was also wedding cake, card games and the hotel cat to keep us all entertained. It was a most lovely afternoon!

If the setting for the ceremony, overlooking the sea with palm trees and brightly coloured flowers all all around, wasn't beautiful enough, the evening reception was in a pavilion right on the beach, a BB buffet while the sun set, the waves lapped the shore and a coastal breeze kept us all cool. Then came speeches followed by a hasty exit from the other bridesmaid and best man (not as dodgy as it sounds, they had a plane to catch and were already travelling together). At this point I decided that the bride needed a wedding day/wedding dress paddle, so dragged her off into the sea (holding her dress up of course, bridesmaid duties!) while the groom stayed on dry land taking photos.

The sun set, and a DJ reminiscent of the one from the wedding reception at the beginning of Love Actually took to the decks for the first dance. After a bit of oohing and aahing, we all took to the floor and danced the night away until heat rendered us useless and we settled for sitting and marvelling at the warmth of an evening in Cyprus before exhaustion from all the excitement of the day led us to bed!




The morning after, despite a continuous stream of champagne over the course of the wedding day, I awoke bright and early for a full day of nothingness in the sun. My day was spent on the beach where I sunbathed, paddled, had an occasional dip, and wrote in the shade of a tree.

On Saturday, the bride and I took to the town of Ayia Napa for a spot of sight-seeing. Almost like a mini Vegas, it really is the most surreal place, like a toytown of nightclubs, bars and holiday accommodation. Yet somehow, in the middle of it all (literally) we managed to locate a rather more picturesque monastery where we found stray kittens, pretty plantlife, chandeliers and shade (our decision to walk into town from our hotels in the heat of the day had left us rather flustered)! As opposed to going back the way we came, we decided to take a circular route, so wandered on to the harbour and back along the sea front, and across beaches (something I was getting to be a dab hand at by this point). Although Ayia Napa is not an area of Cyprus one visits for the scenery, it filled a morning and stretched our legs, and we were back at the hotel just in time to collect the wedding photo proofs!

Sunday came, and it was time to go home. My flight was not until the evening but my hotel was very wonderful with a late checkout, a left luggage room and even a shower to use before my departure! So I spent a final few hours finishing off the tan by the pool, where in true British style, I made the most of hotel Wifi in order to access my SoundCloud as I was at this point, pretty bored of listening to the small selection of songs stored on my phone).

The view from my sunlounger on the final day.

I'm always very sad to leave holidays behind, and even more so when they 've been so fleeting! Sat in the back of the taxi with the same driver who had held up a sign with my name on it at the airport (this excited me beyond belief!), his air-con up ridiculously high, I thought about how much I had enjoyed myself, and how Cyprus had made for an Excellent location. Next stop, the reception at home for absent family and friends, and then who knows who will be next... I do love a good wedding (no pressure ladies)!

Friday, 18 July 2014

A Chap Olympiad, Agnes Obel, and air hockey

Before beginning to write about last weekend, I have first made a page-and-a-half-long list of everything I did... and I wonder why my posts become so long and rambly! Maybe, just maybe, if I want to write about what I do, I need to start doing less.

I am sitting in the airport (in the quiet area with loungers!? Score.) waiting for my flight to Cyprus for the wedding, and realised that as I will no doubt have lots to write about that, I'd better get this one written before it catches up on me! And as I have the perfect opportunity...

Saturday was really quite surreal. The afternoon was spent at the eagerly anticipated Chap Olympiad, a celebration of the sporting ineptitude of English gentlemen. Sporting events included cucumber sandwich discuss and some sort of briefcase relay, and prizes were awarded to those who maintained the perfect trouser crease or an immaculately well-tamed moustache as opposed to those who actually got at all competitive!

The day began at my flat, where I got over-excited and provided china plates, elegant glasses and cucumber sandwiches (to eat) accompanied by Pimms served in a teapot to get us in the mood! A little carried away with food consumption (sandwiches on tiger bread, Sensations popcorn, baked camembert, grilled sweet chilli haloumi and plum tomatoes - YUM), we did not actually manage to start getting ourselves ready until early afternoon (bearing in mind the event began at noon)...

All hair, makeup and hats at the ready (until the moment we stepped outside when all three attempted a Great Escape), we headed off! A great reaction followed us down the street and onto the Tube, where we sat feeling hot, but pretty (hats come in awfully handy for fanning) as we made our way to where the games had already begun.

Slightly unsure of where to go from the Underground, we were soon given a rather large hint in the form of the not so dulcet tones of jazz music as to where we should be. Hidden in private gardens in Bedford Square, we were welcomed by waist-coats, hats of all varieties, old uniform (ooft), petticoats, canes, fans, white gloves and furs galore, many accompanied by proper Fortnum and Mason picnic hampers, and most sitting on traditional picnic blankets or under gazebos, sipping cups of tea and cocktails with a slice of cake; the most surreal but wonderful sight! Of course we made a bee-line for the bar where (still fanning away with our headgear) we ordered more Pimms to keep us going and some more adventurous/lethal cocktails.

Whilst stood in the queue for the bar (in front of a man in a yellow tweed suit? Amazing.) we were treated to the sights of what can only be described as a 'hench man with an unbelievably gruff voice bending metal on (or maybe with?) his crotch'... fortunately the rest of the afternoon took a more civilised turn for the most part! It was spent sipping our cocktails, observing strange goings on in the arena, basking in British weather at its best, engaging in conversation that was probably as far removed from ladylike as it gets (also apparently at an inappropriate volume, as hats do cover ones ears... oops), and admiring (or, quite often, making scathing comments about) the 'general splendour'.

Once the games were over and winners announced, we noticed the construction of the dancefloor taking place and got very excited! As soon as drinks were finished, we took to the stage for a lot of hip swinging, foot flicking, arm flailing and jazz handing, much to the admiration of two ex-naval officers (amongst others, I'm sure), who decided we'd be the ideal candidates to show them how it's done. Oh dear.

With perfect timing (and not before a highly romantic/anti-climatic marriage proposal was made), the rain came. So we took our cue to leave, waved goodbye to the Chap Olympiad until next year and set off for Somerset House.

I've wanted to go to a gig at the venue for a long time, and I think Agnes Obel in such stonking (yep, I just used the word stonking) weather made it a pretty perfect experience!

Having gone straight from an event with strict 30's dresscode to an open-air, standing gig, to say I felt a little over-dressed would be a huge understatement. As we joined the queue, I wished for a big sign explaining my situation, as there was an awful lot of staring going on (made even worse by a near-miss with a familiar face from home territory which is always something I strive to avoid having made my break for freedom in London). Had I not been wearing the hat all day, I might have chosen to tone down the outfit with its removal, but feared that the hat-hair would cause even more stares, and for all the wrong reasons!

Assured that I would blend right in once we were lost amongst the crowd, we ventured in. Having found a good spot and then stood in it for all of 5 minutes, we were suddenly accosted by an overly enthusiastic pair of American Express representatives (not that we realised this for the majority of our encounter). 'Have you taken your selfie yet'? There we stood thinking to ourselves 'do we really look like the sort of people who take selfies'? Knowing looks of disapproval were passed between us as we shared this thought. 'You don't have to take it yourselves', came the response when we gave a simultaneous 'no'! Next thing you know, the guy's taking our photo with my phone, I've uploaded it to Twitter with some hashtag I don't know the meaning of, we've got VIP access to an indoor bar with free champagne and a £20 ticketmaster giftcard, and said photo then appears on the big screens either side of the stage so everyone can see what a fantastic time we're having (or how awkward we look when sprung upon to have our photo taken)... I think it was worth it?

Turns out the indoor bar, at least, served dual purpose, as we did not think much to the support act, Laura Doggett, whose singing voice left us rather dumbfounded given her stature and the sound of her speaking, which I will describe as 'contrasting', so as not to sound too highly critical. To be fair, I do still intend to give her the benefit of the doubt and give her recorded stuff a listen, as maybe it was the whole live 'experience' that was too much for me... so we hid inside with champagne and olives until the storm had passed, then emerged once again in anticipation for Agnes Obel.

A far cry from the vocals that preceded her, Agnes Obel makes me melt a little. I found myself announcing 'this one's my favourite' at almost every song, before resigning myself to the fact that I really just like them all!

She had two cellists and one violinist on stage with her and her piano. All three providing haunting vocal harmonies, and unusual effects drifted from their instruments, each one more powerful and spine-tingling as they worked their way through the set. Agnes spoke sweetly to the audience between each song, offering the small stories behind her music, and expressing her enamour at the venue and us, the audience.

Following a truly magical performance, we were carried out from Somerset House in the tide of the crowd and across Waterloo Bridge to the Southbank, still hypnotised in some way, and not really wanting to just go home where it would all be over. So we had a wander, with the desired effect being almost like wanting food to settle, only in a musical sense instead (or, you know, some more romantic simile; I'm excellent with words)...

The craving for pork scratchings took over for the third time that day, and with Wahaca in sight serving not only pork scratchings, but also Magaritas, our feet knew where to take us. Catastrophically, upon our arrival we were informed they were no longer serving, so we found ourselves on a mission doomed to fail which took us beyond the London Eye. Here, we did not locate pork scratchings, but instead happened upon a well-hidden, enormous amusement arcade and AIR HOCKEY... which we played, of course.

NB please bear in mind that this whole time we were still donning Chap Olympiad costume. I have no doubt it was quite the sight to behold!

Saturday was just the most surreal day! Nevertheless, if Saturdays were frequently spent in such a way, I would be more than happy. Sunday took a more real turn, with salt beef sandwiches (ENORMOUS and incredibly tasty) from Borough Market, drinks in The Shard, a visit to Barbican for the Digital Revolution, Polo Bar for tea to relieve chronic indigestion/the hangover and Liverpool St station for Burger King. Real as it may have been, it was still equally as pleasant, and probably requires a post all of its own. However, as at this point, I am perched in a low-growing tree on a beach in Cyrprus, frantically finishing this post off in order to begin writing about my adventure here, I just leave you with that succint list and safe in the knowledge that Sunday was the perfect way to round off a fun-filled, frivolous weekend!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Friday, Satunday, Sunday

For the past two weekends, I have finally managed to free up time, to the extent that I haven't even needed to know what time it is (taking after my father who has the wonderful tradition of taking his watch off at the weekends so that time is his own). It's been glorious!

This weekend looked a little like this...

Friday night took me to London Zoo for 'Zoo Lates' where we spectacled at tiger cubs, meerkats, a pile of otters, llamas and an overwhelmingly large proportion of all-male groups (who knew men would be the sort to fancy a trip to the zoo on a Friday night?)...

Giraffes are the best. Especially when they go all bendy!
Spot the tropical butterfly...
Saturday was more of a Satunday as I like to call them. I had a bath, spent the entire morning on the sofa catching up with New Girl, played my violin, got householdy bits done, and baked red velvet cheesecake brownies... Nigella eat your heart out.

'Red velvet' cheesecake brownies
(a whole tube of food colouring later and they still looked pretty brown to me).
Sunday was perhaps a little less like a Sunday than it should have been. I don't know whether I felt like I needed to make up for the lack of Saturday the day before, but Sunday certainly went at a slightly less relaxed pace. Went on a shopping mission for next weekend's 40's escapades (watch this space), had lunch in Green Park, finally made it as far as St James' Park, continued on to see Nelson's nose, sat in Trafalgar Square listening to French bands in honour of the Tour de France, got lost again trying to find Belgo for Belgian beers, and then walked home from Dalston for pizza, not a roast. (There was obviously lots of travelling of different sorts in between those locations, unfortunately I can't apparate).



Good weekend if I do say so myself!

Monday, 23 June 2014

All the fun of the fair!

Monday morning and I am wishing I had somehow managed to fit in a full day of sleep before the return to work (maybe a three-day weekend is the way to go?). This weekend, I met Newcastle and experienced my first hen party. Needless to say, I am exhausted!

I headed up pretty much straight from work on Friday night, and really rather enjoyed my three hours on the train! As I'm sure is apparent, I love to travel, but I'm always saying to people that I have a slight feeling of guilt that ultimately there is an awful lot of my own country that I haven't seen! Such a long train journey, however, took me through some new parts of the country and although I didn't stop, it was still very exciting! I can now say I have seen Durham Cathedral (if only from the window of a train)...

I always forget how very flat most of London and all of Norfolk is, so to be met with a Travel Lodge sitting on such a steep hill that the 'ground floor' we were staying on was from the outside of the building actually 3 stories up was quite the shock to the system! Something I was expecting, but could never have expected to be quite so true, was how friendly Northerners are... but they really are! Once off the train I actually felt more lost than I usually do in foreign countries, but in no time I was greeted by a taxi attendant who soon got me headed in the right direction. Once out of the taxi, I popped into the Tesco I had spotted nearby to equip myself with champagne, and was allowed to go in front of several men in the queue for the checkout for no apparent reason (I wasn't looking good, this was me after a full day at work followed by 3 hours on a train)!
The thing I was most nervous about was meeting a group of people I'd not met before (my skills in the art of socialising tend to be a little lapse), but I received a warm welcome from all even as the late-comer (very poor form from the bridesmaid) and we were all soon acting as though we'd known each other for years! As soon as I was made-up and had some Apple Sourz down me (classy), we braved the night.

We decided on a bar call Florita's, which was a circus bar with 'entertainment' (this consisted of a woman failing to walk on stilts and another who alternated between fire-eating and wielding a grinder around), the constant thudding of house music and for some reason, a 'live' saxophonist (which reminds me I forgot to mention the live violinist in Barcelona... bizarre)? The atmosphere was good, and we did get free bottles of champagne, but I think the tone was set when we were told on our arrival that they would not allow us entry in our 'fancy dress'... we were just wearing sashes over our normal clothes. I wonder whether hen parties send people into a bit of a frenzy?

After a surprisingly sound night's sleep in a Travel Lodge, we managed to rise at a pretty reasonable time in order to venture out into Newcastle for the day. Having missed breakfast in the hotel, we were suddenly struck with a craving for McDonalds, so made a beeline for the town centre in the hope that we would find one there. It didn't stand out to us as they usually do, but we did eventually locate one (with the help of an elderly lady who clearly sensed that we were lost so took pity on us,  but seemed a little disappointed when we were told her we were looking for McDonalds and not a point of cultural reference) and satisfied the cravings!

Having awoken feeling sprightly, food slowed us down, so it took us a while to summon the strength to get up and out again! Nevertheless, we managed it eventually, and went to see what shopping Newcastle had to offer! Having made a few worthy purchases, it was time to pay a visit to the travelling fair that happened to be there when we were; perfection!

My most frequent encounters with a funfair have been in Kings Lynn at The Mart, which opens on Valentines Day every year (highly romantic). Although I absoltely love fairs and would happily go every year, there came a point where it was less socially acceptable to be seen there/concern grew over who or what one might bump into there, so I stopped. It was therefore quite magical to be able to wander around one, concerning myself only with the excitement, and not with the potential for unfortunate encounters.
I really am a big kid, hypnotised by flashing lights on spinning, swaying, bouncing, whirling, twirling rides, the smell of sweet things in the air and the sound of throw-back music and that 'fairground voice' that calls out to you, tempting you to 'buy your tokens at the cash box for the next ride'... magical. Although my only experience of a funfair of such magnitude was Goose Fair in Nottingham at night when I was much younger, this one still brought back memories of all kinds! Rides seem to have this crazy effect where you can't stop laughing the whole time you're being vigorously jostled about, I mean, who can be unhappy in such circumstances? Highlight of the weekend for me!

Call us crazy, but Pizza Hut followed (probably better after than before), where we all went to town on the salad bar and stuffed ourselves with pizza. All of us defeated, we then trooped back to the hotel armed with pizza boxes, which seemed to cause quite a stir through the streets; 'give us some o' your pizza love?!', 'you gonna share that with me'?... no.

VIP at Tiger Tiger was booked for 9, so we made a pretty early start (although having said that, there were people dolled up to the nines when we were eating our pizza, so perhaps it's the done thing when in Newcastle) to the club. At this point, the only other people in the room we were in were another Hen Party and a Stag Do... need I go on? Unfortunately, for some reason, my stamina was appalling over the weekend, so I made an early retreat to bed, and as a result missed some pretty dramatic happenings which I was filled in with the next morning.

A leisurely check-out time and not so late to bed meant Sunday breakfast was possible, so we filled ourselves up before making our way to the train station for home. The Travel Lodge was in a really lovely location, right by the river. I did manage a sneaky view or two (one when we invaded the Tesco next door to stock up on food for lunch on the train) of bridges and water, but a walk along is definitely something I need to return for!

I was really pleasantly surprised by Newcastle, with it's unusual mix of architecture and overly friendly residents. It was a real treat to be a tourist in my own country for a change and I can definitely feel some more weekend trips coming on!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Barcelona

Over half term, a spontaneous trip was made to Barcelona. It's a city I've been wanting to visit for a while, and it was a lot of fun, but it wasn't quite what I expected!

When ma and pa had paid a visit and returned with relatively mediocre reviews, my response was that it must be a city more suited to 'young people', and I'd say that's probably quite accurate; the issue is that as 'young people' go I'm not all that young, at least not in the mind so in terms of my likes. Barcelona was fun, really fun, but it's not exactly the most attractive place in general.

If Gaudi does it for you then you might disagree, but my argument would be that beyond his quirky creations, there isn't a lot else that stands out to the eye. I admit I was a pretty huge cynic when it came to Le Sagrada - not only did it not blow me away, but I then found myself to be concerned about the cost of it all, and less than impressed to think that by the time one side is 'complete', the scaffolding will probably still remain in order to repair the crumbling mess that the other side will become. Admitedly, we didn't go inside (so there's reason number 1 to go back), so maybe I missed a trick.

Now I've seen a lot of it (mainly from the comfort of an open-top bus), it's good to know where I would return to if I were to go back. This time I feel that there was a lot of weeding through the rubbish in order to find some nice bits.

Barcelona was beautiful for the fact that it is a city with a proper beach (although for some reason (please don't judge me) I did not know this), which is something I don't think I've really experienced before. Unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side and most of the time the rain came down, but we did manage one morning and one evening on the beach and both were lovely (and the morning even resulted in tanlines - YES skin)!

Another place I could happily spend a sunny day was Park Güell, one of Gaudi's designs. The view was pretty spectacular, and it was nice to see greenery and colour (perhaps it was just because of the rain, but Barcelona seemed to be lacking in grass, in exchange for an abundance of grey)!

I'm not entirely sure how or where to begin, as before we had even taken off, there was drama aplenty caused by a case of 'mistaken suitcase identity', which meant enlisting most of the staff at the Duty Free and the security at Gatwick to track down an elderly lady (actually it turned out she wasn't even that elderly, so we're not entirely sure what her excuse was) who was clearly very confused (to put it nicely). I must say, they were pretty on point and managed to track how down in next to no time. Once she had sloped back, head hung in shame, to return the suitcase, we headed for the champagne and caviar bar to calm the nerves and delighted in seafood platters. It's times like these that I totally condone being at the airport in plenty of time!

We were staying in a hostel in Barcelona, in a girls dorm because we thought it would be quite fun... upon our arrival at about 11pm, the room was in darkness and EVERYONE WAS IN BED!? So we snuck around, making our beds, trying to figure out under-bed lockers, and getting ready to venture out to meet a friend who happened to be in Barcelona at the same time as us (that was pretty exciting) to drink gin a-plenty.

Our first morning was spent on the beach, soaking up rays and trying not to get swept over by the current in the freezing cold sea! Once our tummies started to rumble and the sun went behind the clouds, we headed inland to a tapas bar that had been recommended to us by a friend of my friend. We were advised to get there as close to opening as possible, as it was very popular. It was also a little tricky to find, but thankfully we made it in what felt like perfect time, as although it was indeed already buzzing with people, there was a small space at the counter for us to prop ourselves up. We both marvelled at the selection of tapas, the atmosphere and the price of cava, and tried to imagine the existence of such a place in Hoxton. We couldn't. When the bill came, we were even more enthralled, as a bottle and two extra glasses of cava and several plates of AMAZING tapas had come to a mere €20! Obviously we made the unanimous decision that we would return!



From the tapas bar, we moved on to do a little sight-seeing. We had been invited to a DJ set in a location nearby that evening, so we decided first to scout out where we might have to head back to. We didn't find the exact location, but we found the general area, and figured it wouldn't be too hard to find later... oh how I laugh now.

We wandered the streets relatively aimlessly. By this point it was trying to rain, and we had to head back out quite early so didn't have long before we'd need to return to the hostel to make attempts at sprucing up so we wouldn't stick out like sore thumbs at a Marc Jacobs party. Of course, real rain always has marvellous timing, and on our way back the heavens really opened! The Brit in me was armed with a waterproof sports jacket (yep, I own one of those), but the lashings of horizontal rain were still enough to soak through my bottom half. With such a tiny luggage allowance, 'evening outfits' had been left behind (although I had managed to squeeze in one pair of heels, which I would later regret), and at this point I feared that my ploy of turning day into night was not going to be appropriate if I was still soggy. [Un]fortunately, during the day we had had decided to go shopping anyway, as we weren't entirely sure that 'day to night' outfits were going to be quite enough for us to blend in... I hope my sarcasm is quite clear enough!

Shopping in Barcelona, home of Zara and Bershka was not at all bad. H&M, as always, provided plenty to choose from, but it was new shoes from Stradavarius (had to make a purchase, it's a shop named after a violin!?) that turned a day-time outfit into something a little more classy (that was until we were drenched having wandered around in the rain for an hour... more on that later). Thankfully, when in Europe, rain and warmth happen at the same time, so by the time I awoke from the nap that I just seemed to fall into as soon as I was on a bed, I was relatively dry!

It was recommended to me that while in Barcelona, squid ink paella had to be consumed. So we chose this evening to give it a go before funds ran too low! We found ourselves in a restaurant by the marina and close to the venue, where in addition to our squid ink paella (which, by the way, actually stains your mouth!), we also drank sangria and received complimentary champagne in flutes with insanely long stems; stems so long, in fact, that they had to be placed in a jar to stand up, and were not at all easy to drink from, as you (I) kept knocking the table and each time were (was) struck with fear that they would smash at any moment. The waiter really didn't seem to want us to leave, but we'd been advised to make a pretty early appearance at this party to benefit from the open bar, and were already an hour later than suggested.


Eventually we escaped his not so evil clutches, and went in pursuit of the party. I'm not entirely sure how to explain the debacle that prevailed. All I know is that Barcelona squares are confusing, and even the locals had no idea where we needed to be. So, we wandered the streets for AN HOUR, getting more and more bedraggled in the rain (which refused to stop, but instead turned into a pretty ferocious storm) and me feeling less and less like I wanted to make an appearance, in a desperate attempt to locate where we were meant to be. Extreme frustration thankfully subsided to masses of relief when at last we landed ourselves at the door (by which point most people were leaving, not arriving), and when faced with a mirror it transpired that I didn't even look anywhere near as bad as I felt, so that was quite a comfort. The venue in question was some sort of office space with pop-up bars and a roof terrace with beautiful views across the marina (well, we'd already got soaked through, why not continue the trend in the open air?). The footage of the advertising campaign on a big screen lit up the entire dance-floor, which was less satisfying, but it was a great set as always, and we made the most of it having finally arrived!

Before home we found ourselves in a bar for another 'foreign exchange', shall we say? This one was more short-lived; a taxi was hailed and bed happened.

The next morning saw our last full day in the city, and we decided we'd go in for the hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tour. I think we may have been slightly more fatigued than we realised, as although we were expecting to be leaping on and off, never mind hopping, we actually end up sat on the bus for about 5 hours, alighting once. Impressive - we certainly got value for money!

Our stop was at Park Güell, which I'm glad we did! Honestly, beyond La Sagrada, I'm not entirely sure where else we should have stopped... the view of everywhere from the bus was perfectly adequate, at least when the roof wasn't up to shelter us from the rain - red tarpaulin isn't so interesting, it has to be said.




By the time we got off for our final stop, our legs weren't entirely convinced they could remember how to work, but we did manage to wander back to the hostel, this time to find the lights on and loud American teens in the room... suddenly the dark and sleeping people didn't seem so bad.


Once the initial shock had subsided and we began to grow accustomed to the accents (I'm not saying we enjoyed them, I think it was just a case of them becoming easier to drown out somehow), we actually decided that we would accompany them and some more amenable Canadians on a night out organised by the hostel. Once suited and booted, down to the bar we went for our free shots to kick-start ourselves into going-out-mode (as I like to call it). The club in question was on the beach, and had such a good atmosphere. We had arrived at a time I would consider super early, so were a little concerned that it would be pretty dead, but in fact it turned out to be quite the opposite. We made a beeline for the bar upon our arrival (not to return as drinks were so expensive), and as soon as our drinks were finished, the dancefloor was packed and we were sorted for the rest of the night! Though they may have been expensive, drinks were also pretty (very) good value for money, as my Tequila Tonic was a lot Tequila, and very very little tonic, so the night is a bit of a blur, but I can definitely say that it was a lot of fun. Made me realise I literally couldn't (and still can't) remember the last time I had been out just for a club night as opposed to for an event. I think I'd reached the point of thinking I'd 'out-grown' club nights, but since my return have wanted another one to occur very soon!

Check-out of the hostel was at 10am, which having been the last stragglers the night before, was a pretty massive struggle. Nevertheless, we heaved ourselves up and out for one final day of exploration before bidding farewell to Barcelona. I had a huge intrigue for the 'Barcelona Gherkin', as I decided to call it, so we began our exploration at the base of the city to discover what the building really was. From there, we had a closer look at La Sagrada, and along the way passed some other interesting buildings and sights.
Unfortunately, with the weather at its worst, it seemed that by lunchtime, everyone had decided to shelter in the market off La Rambla, so we were unable to stop there for tapas. Perhaps it was the hangovers, or tiredness, or by this point hunger, or the persistent rain, but we then struggled to find somewhere else to eat and sort of aimlessly wandered, unsuccessfully, for what felt like forever. We did manage tapas, but not the tapas we'd wanted, so I guess that's something to go back for?


I think the overall verdict is probably that Barcelona would be a very different place in the sunshine. It was, as I began with, a very fun place to spend a few days, and I'm sure I'll return in the future. Let's see!

Friday, 6 June 2014

The month of May

As May was spent catching up on April's holiday extravaganza, I thought it best to condense some of the best bits. Admittedly, I was half expecting to be able to do this at the end of May itself before it could be rendered totally redundant, but it seems I have slowed down my writing pace, so instead I bring this to you now, in June. It may well have been easier to just pretend May didn't even happen, but I couldn't have people thinking I spent an entire month indoors, particularly not when there were two bank holiday weekends and a half term holiday to account for!

The first bank holiday weekend kick-started the month, and, as always, I managed to pack plenty in! The Friday night saw myself and my school colleagues venturing out of familiar territory and to Angel, where we danced on a male-dominated, illuminated dance floor. Not sure I'll be doing that again, no one needs to see my face that clearly...

On the Saturday, I made my way to Norwich. I'm so glad I decided to keep my hairdresser there as my appointments are providing the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and check-in with the Fine City. It's always nice to experience a little fresh air and a lot of sky and to come away from the hustle and bustle for a while (even on a busy day in Norwich the city feels practically empty to me now). While last time I had failed at the art of coordination, and managed to see no one and do nothing besides sort my hair out, this time saw my return to some favourite haunts, which in turn saw my missing the last train (to be fair to me, it was CRAZY EARLY... although no, I didn't check), but hey, at least I was having a good time!
Following my being late to bed the night before my journey, I set off at a relaxed pace and arrived just in time to go straight in to the hairdresser. My usual stylist was unavailable this time, and the prospect of someone different always fills me with dread. Nevertheless, she was of a very similar nature; not too much pointless chit-chat, and not too crazy with the scissors (I really am very easy to please)!

Once out of the hairdresser, I met a friend from my teacher training and found myself ordering a cocktail at The Ten Bells (notorious for particularly lethal combinations) before I'd even really had time to think about the fact that I was probably actually still hungover from the illuminated dancefloor (plenty of Dutch Courage required). Writing this such a long time after the event, I'm now frustrated because I can't remember what I had to drink, and I was going to be an advocate of it... never mind, maybe it will come back to me. It had gin in it anyway, which is never a bad thing! After the one drink, my powers of persuasion sprung into action and I managed to convince my friend that I needed to visit more places, which meant more drinks, which meant a car needed to be driven home to remove barriers.


In the meantime, I stumbled into the Travel Agent (I hope not literally) and got locked in in order to spend far too much money on flights for the summer before meeting my friend again.   

The next port of call was the Bicycle Shop where tequila and tapas were the order of the day (yum!). From there we headed off to Franks as I was suddenly in the mood to cover as many favourites as possible. Sadly (well, for me anyway), Franks is always crazy popular these days so a seat is hard to come by without a wait. In the mean time we graced Bedford's with our presence. Although I only ever seem to end up in there when Franks is full, I actually quite like the charm of Bedford's; who can resist a proper wooden beam? Upon discovering that we would still be required to wait at Franks, we gave up and instead moved on to The Playhouse for some outdoor seating!

It was here that I decided it was probably best to head back for a train before my arrival into London would be too late. So once drinks were finished, I headed back along Prince of Wales to the station... where I discovered the last train had been and gone. Having explored all possible options (including a taxi, coach travel or the bus back to Kings Lynn), I wound up on a sofa where back-to-back episodes of Pokémon were watched until 4am. Best Saturday night!

Sunday finally saw a London visit from my little brother, so I was up and out of Norwich nice and early in order to be ready for his arrival! Unfortunately, I had made a blunder and told him I was stuck in Norwich, so his own departure from home was far more, shall we say, relaxed? He eventually landed in the early evening and we ate pizza (complete with polystyrene base) and drank beer in preparation for Hospitality.

The last time I was at a Hospitality event it was at Building Six at the O2. Having hated on this venue the first time I visited, I absolutely loved it for Hospitality, with its multi-levels making for great views and incredible sound system. This time Hospitality was at Heaven, where they used to have a residency. Upon discovering that Heaven was Britain's largest gay club, I was a little unsure what to expect, especially with 3 males in tow. Nevertheless, the venue was one of the best I have been to, with so much space for manic helicoptering (those who have seen me dance will understand), viewing platforms and a more than adequate soundsystem! Didn't manage to make it to 6am, but we did survive til 4ish, which we didn't think was a particularly bad effort at all!


The following weekend saw a rather different musical experience and a spontaneous trip to Trafalgar Square to see the LSO perform some Prokofiev. It was a wonderfully surreal experience! To be in such a large space with so many people yet for there to be so much peace (apart from for the sound of trundling road sweepers and low-flying planes swooping by every now and again - oh, and the sound of our own incessant giggles that just would not stop!?) was really quite magical. To top it off, the sun even made an appearance - thank youu London!

After a quiet weekend that followed (got to break up the madness occasionally?), the next bank holiday saw my return to Norwich for the end of the NNF. On Saturday night I was hypnotised by Lavinia Meijer playing Einaudi and Philip Glass on the harp in St Peter Mancroft. After a few pints with pork scratchings from Sir Garnet (Lady Garnet's namesake pub) and with a tummy full of food from The Grosvenor, it was an incredibly tranquil experience! I don't think I've ever truly experienced a solo harp performance, but I will definitely be seeking another in the future; so magical! Still in a bit of a stupour, we lasted just long enough for a cocktail accompanied by tea and bread and oils at Frank's (all the food/mixing of everything was a pretty big regret for us both that night, and again, upon reading this back I can see why) before calling it a night.

An intentional walk along the canal this time on the quiet weekend in between the madness.
This time my Norwich stop over was planned, as Sunday I experienced a mighty roast at The Reindeer (as if their pork scratchings weren't enough to blow me away already). Food was pretty unneccessary for the rest of the day. Just, wow. Before roasting, I took a stroll (probably did that the wrong way around) and finally managed to sneak in the Plantation Gardens which certainly didn't disappoint! They have a real 'Secret Garden' feel about them, and particularly so when adorned with enormous pieces of material (the cynic in me may have wondered why someone had hung their towels out to dry) hanging from the walls at the far end of the garden, setting a rainbow backdrop for the rest of the garden, which was still lacking some colour so early on in the season.


Sunday evening back in London was a pub crawling, aimless wandering kind of evening - a lovely end to another pretty hectic weekend! (I even saw a baby fox; pretty exciting?)

The next day marked the start of half term, and a first full reunion since graduation with some very special friends was an excellent way to begin! (As I write this, I am suddenly aware of my alcohol consumption and feeling less sorry for myself regarding the state I am in by this point following half term and the weekend just gone... oh dear.) We met at Southbank and, as usual did a remarkable amount of wandering (although thankfully there were no injuries sustained this time). Somehow we ended up inside The Shard (pretty special) and then carried on to China Town for food because 'it's not that far'... when will I learn?! The best kind of friends are those that you can not see properly for almost two years and yet still feel like you were all together yesterday. Beautiful day!


May was busy! But, as ever, I had so much fun and it was really wonderful to manage some catch-ups with people not seen in far too long. So far, June is already proving to be pretty fun - think I've got that summer feeling (bring on the 6-week holidays)!