Fun & Faff: Where have I been?

Apologies I got rather caught up in that thing they call life there and didn’t find the time to blog for a little while. What the heck have I been doing you ask? Well, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been…

Working really hard at the day job

I’m working on a massive, and very challenging, project at the moment. It’s all good, but hard work and sometimes very tiring. Some evenings the last thing I’ve wanted to do is look at a computer screen when I get home, hence the lack of blogs.

Building wardrobes

Well, Hubby did this in the most part, but I did help by deciding where shelves should be stacked and drawers should be hung. I’m loving how organised our apartment is just by the addition of this one piece of furniture. God bless you Ikea!

Enjoying afternoon tea at Claridge’s

Oh my! When we first booked this I balked at the cost (£50 per head), but now having been and experienced the magic of Claridge’s, I have to say it’s worth every penny. I’ll do a separate blog post about this soon. But, for now, let’s just say: more cake than even I can eat AND there’s a lady in the toilets who turns the tap on for you and checks the temperature of the water before you wash your hands. Opulent, posh and amazing.

More London-y stuff

As well as afternoon tea, we also strolled around London. Took in Westiminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Covent Garden, Downing Street, Horseguard’s Parade and Buckingham Palace. We also took a spin on the London Eye.

And yet more London-y stuff

Not content with a weekend in the big smoke. Hubby and I returned at the weekend to do a bit more of the touristy stuff. We visited the Freud Museum and the Imperial War Museum and walked for miles.

Catching up with friends and family

‘Cause that’s a nice thing to do y’know.

Watching Keeping up With the Kardashian’s and Made in Chelsea NYC

Because after a stressful day at work you can’t beat some trash TV.

Enjoying having a stay at home Hubby

Hubby took last week off work and it was very nice and indulgent having him look after after me when I got home from work.

Booking a holiday

More on this soon, but we’ll be going away again in a few weeks – whoop, and indeed, whoop!

Boring stuff

Because sometimes you’ve gotta cook, clean and sleep. That’s just life.

So, now we’re all caught up and I’ll be back with some more blog posts very soon.

What have you been doing? Let me know in the comments box.

Fun & Fundraising: Join in the Hope House Zip Wire Challenge

ZipWire

Fancy doing something slightly daring and ever-so-much fun, all in aid of charity? 

Why not sign up for the Hope House Zip Wire Challenge? It’s on Sunday 12th October near to Telford and Bridgnorth in Shropshire, UK. 

We did it last year and loved it. You can read about my experience here

It’s the perfect challenge to shake away the ‘playing-it-safe’ cobwebs without going down the ‘so scary I daren’t’ cul-de-sac and all the money raised goes to a great cause. 

To find out more and register visit: www.hopehouse.org.uk/events or call 01691 671671. 

Altogether now, zip-e-de-do-dah zip-e-de-day. 

Far Away Places: The World Got Big Again All of a Sudden

The Jumbo Jet is often attributed to making the world smaller. Allowing affordable air travel for the masses meant that previously unthinkable far-flung destinations were now potential holiday destinations.

A380

Certainly Hubby and I have enjoyed our fair-share of air travel, not just on 747’s, but also on 777’s, tiny prop planes and more recently the beast that is the A380 (phwoar – yes, I’m a plane geek).  In the past few years we’ve ticked Kuala Lumpur, Borneo, Singapore, Langkawi and Sri Lanka off our long-haul to do list.

Fire Performer Bormeo

Our parent’s are often concerned when we tell them we’re going away. Both Hubby and I come from working class families, for whom international travel still has some essence of novelty value to it. Certainly, I don’t think my mom has ever been abroad. This means we get the same response whenever we tell them we’ve booked our latest travels…

Them: Where are you off to now?

Us: <Announce name of country we’re supremely excited to visit>

Them: Tsk! Why can’t you just go somewhere normal?

Friends have experienced similar conversations with their parents. I get it. I do. Some of the places we travel to seem strange to them. Other times they’re just fearful for our safety, which is sweet. I’ve always thought this was an unnecessary worry until we recently decided to look for the perfect Autumnal break. Somewhere we can go to laze in the sun, switch off our brains and rest our weary limbs.

Sunset on Langkawi beach

Perhaps we could go back to Langkawi – our Honeymoon destination? After all we are going away around our anniversary? But then we would have to fly with Malaysia Airlines and, well, they’re not having much luck recently. I’ll be honest, it’s more the prohibitive costs that deter me on this one. If I could get a cheap deal my reservations of flying with the superb Malaysia Airlines would disappear and, in my opinion, it’s been poor luck that two of their aircraft have suffered such terrible fate. It’s difficult to say if they were specifically targeted as a brand/country but I’d like to think not and that it could have just as easily been any other carrier. Although obviously, in both instances, it shouldn’t have happened at all.

Then we thought about Thailand. I’ve always wanted to go. Hubby informed me there’s trouble brewing there. I assured him we would be fine transferring in Bangkok airport to one of the tropical touristy islands. He wasn’t buying it. Again, this was a rather expensive option, so I decided to cease my ‘visit Thailand’ campaign.

A cheap all-inclusive package would suit us down to the ground. What about Egypt? But is there still trouble there and, if so, in which parts? Again, high prices put pay to us doing too much research. Instead we stumbled on Tunisia. Prices were good, hotels looked nice and although it seemed to have a polarising Marmite effect on people we were willing to give it a try. Then the US sold Tunisia some Black Hawk helicopters and there was talk of trouble in the run up to the election, possibly throughout Ramadan, within the mountain regions where there were terrorist incidents and on the border where people were fleeing from neighbouring Syria. Suddenly we had doubts and decided to investigate safer options. Safer boring European options where we could either get culture or hot weather – never both.

I hate the feeling that I’m compromising, that I’m worried to travel to certain destinations. I love experiencing new cultures and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, but even for me I find myself playing it safe. Sadly that means the terrorists are winning. They’re making us change our everyday actions and undoing the work that the 747 did all those years ago. The world has gone from being super accessible to somewhat intimidating.

Fab & Fail: Sunday 17th August 2014

Fab List

Getting more organised with my blog. I used to hate spreadsheets, but now I’ve learned to embrace them.

Feeling inspired after reading these words of wisdom. Which one is your favourite?

Dusting off my post-holiday resolutions and getting back on track.

Baby_Turtles_Sri_Lanka

Getting a helpful vote on TripAdvisor for my review on the turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka. I love the idea that I’m helping to shape someone elses travels.

This brilliant article from Gala Darling. I woke up like this. Did you… really?!

Delicious curry from Tesco.

Listening to the rain pour down whilst drinking (decaf) coffee.

Being able to wear my smug face at my day job.

Raspberry Mojito from my new favourite take out.

Days out with the family on the Severn Valley Railway.

My first proper taste of Australian biccies. Do they call them biccies in Oz?

Fail List

Being woken up at 6am on a Sunday morning by chavs causing a whole heap of noise in our car park. Grr!

The day job being so busy that I’ve been indulging in caffeine again.

Feeling sleepy tired, tired but still having loads to do!

Food & Far Away Places: The Fortress, Koggala, Sri Lanka

The Fortress, Sri Lanka

We were fortunate enough to be staying at this fabulous five-star hotel, but even if you’re not, if you’re in the Koggala area of Sri Lanka you can book a table at The Fortress’ restaurant for dinner and many did.

The Fortress has two evening dining options: the main restaurant (Pepper) and wood fired pizza and al a carte Mediterranean-fare offered by Heat.

Pizza

We didn’t actually dine out at Heat during our stay. But that didn’t mean we missed out on trying their tasty dishes. A long day trip to Yala National Park left us sleepy and so we ordered pizzas and strawberry milkshakes on room service. Oh my word – they were divine!

The strawberry milkshake was just the perfect balance of thickness and frothiness, full of flavour and would have put many kitsch diner-style restaurants offerings to shame.

The pizza had the perfect thin crispy base, topped with delicious toppings and lots of cheese. I’m not even that crazy for pizza (don’t judge me) but even I fell hard for this one.

Evening meals in Pepper varied between al a carte and buffet. On some evenings a choice of either was available.

Buffet starters

Buffet’s were generally very good, so long as you didn’t mind being a bit adventurous. Which, to be fair, if you’re holiday in Sri Lanka you probably should be! The Sri Lankan buffet night was a particular favourite giving diners the opportunity to choose from a vast range of starters (mostly salads), main courses (mostly vegetable curries) and desserts, some of which seemed to have been fancied up a bit for the five-star audiences, whereas others, like Watalappan, seemed to retain their rustic Sri Lankan charm. Sure, there were some dishes I didn’t enjoy and others I loved. But that’s the beauty of buffet.

Sri Lankan curry buffet

The selection was vast (although not ideal if you don’t like your food with some spice) and was continually topped up. It was also presented beautifully, well, where it could be anyway, it’s difficult to add beauty to a curry!

Another evening we opted for the sea food BBQ. We were slightly less impressed with this. The selection of food available is still brilliant and I really enjoyed the lobster and prawn. However, the squid was sadly over cooked and some of the dishes were so poorly explained that I decided against opting for them for fear of making a fool of myself.

Al la carte options were also good and we varied up our choice of dishes across various evenings. Sometimes opting for the fail-safe fish and chips and at other times being a little more daring. I received massive kudos from the waiting staff when I ordered the Sri Lankan curry platter, a delicious assortment of small dishes containing various Sri Lankan vegetable curries. There was one dish that was a little too spicy for me, but otherwise I coped OK and I only go as far as the Rogan Josh at the curry house in the UK!

All meals were presented beautifully and portions were huge. If you’re not that hungry consider ordering a starter as a main, or if you’re semi-hungry, go for two courses rather than three. I only managed three courses from the a la carte menu once during our entire stay and afterwards I felt incredibly stodged and I can usually eat A LOT!

The waiting staff are super attentive and nicely friendly too. Not in your face, but happy to make conversation if you want to. They can’t do enough for you and it can be a bit embarrassing when they race across the room to open your bottle of water because you were about to do it and, well, you’re their guest, you shouldn’t have to open a bottle of water. Despite our assurances that it was fine, we were relieved of water bottle opening duty!

The drinks selection was fairly comprehensive although also quite pricey. I enjoyed some nice Shiraz (Australian, I think) a couple of nights, but often stuck to the local Lion lager or soft drinks. The hotel has a fantastic range of iced teas and non-alcoholic cocktails if you’re not into the booze and a great range of premium international whisky brands, if you are.

In terms of the eating environment, it’s pretty relaxed. Fancy, but not pretentious. You don’t need to dress up, although clothing should be appropriate for an evening meal, not lazing on the beach.

The tables are al-fresco although undercover and look out to the hotel’s pool and the inky dark Indian Ocean. Some evenings a guitar player would strum whilst we ate our dinner.

The restaurant does get busy, so if you’re not a guest at the hotel you may wish to book. The hotel was at full capacity during the second week of our stay so even we decided to make a reservation one evening just to be sure.

Meals are pricey by Sri Lankan standards, more in line with what you would expect to pay in a European hotel. But that’s what you get when you dine in a fancy restaurant.

And, no, we didn’t see anyone order the world’s most expensive dessert.

To find out more about The Fortress, follow this link.

Fabulous rating: 4/5

Far Away Places: Dudmaston Estate, Shropshire, UK

Dudmaston Hall

OK, at just 12 miles away from our home,  the Dudmaston Estate doesn’t technically qualify as a ‘far away place’, but given the fact that:

a.) This National Trust property is far away from some people

b.) I’m yet to come up with a witty f-word for nearby day trips

We’ll roll with it!

Dudmaston marked our first foray into the world of National Trust properties, choosing to go on a Bank Holiday was perhaps a tad foolish. As we drove up the impressive (and very long) driveway we were convinced there must be some kind of massive event taking place. With the exception of a few May Day Bank Holiday celebrations (more on those later), we were wrong. We had simply chosen the day that everyone in the locality decided to descend upon the hall and grounds! To the point where we later found out that some of our relatives visited on the same day as us, also enduring the constant queuing!

We queued to pay for our tickets, which was terribly disorganised, but as most of the National Trust staff are volunteers you don’t really feel you can complain. The queuing wasn’t much better around the house, where we stood inline to move from room to room. It did somewhat spoil our enjoyment, but over-hearing one staff member telling another visitor how they had worked there for 11-years and never known people having to queue to move around the house, just proved that we’d come on an uber popular day, rather than this being a consistent issue.

Our rag on the May Tree

Our first port of call was the May Day Bank Holiday celebrations held in The Orchard, we tied a rag on the traditional May Tree and made a wish.

Morris Dancers at Dudmaston Hall

We watched Morris dancers do their thing.

And then we headed to the house, to be faced with the aforementioned queues. Were they worth the wait? Were they worth the stress? Kind of. Dudmaston Hall is still lived in by a family who allow access to certain rooms within the house, hence some slightly strange opening hours. This lends the house a unique edge. This is a ‘lived-in’ stately home where riding boots loiter on the doorstep and half-drunk bottles of whisky glisten enticingly in the library. It is nice, but it’s not really all that grand.

The history of the hall and it’s owners are recounted through various displays and you get to see into a number of rooms, including a couple of guest bedrooms, as well as climbing the beautiful staircase.

There are numerous art galleries in the final few rooms of the house tour, which, with their mix of contemporary and classical art, ensure there’s something for everyone (as well as something for everyone to moan about). When we visited there was an amazing art installation in the final room, made entirely from cardboard it depicted life in the trenches and, for me at least, was the highlight of the house tour. It has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Dudmaston Lake

It’s the grounds where Dudmaston wows, after all, there are 3,000 acres of them. The best thing about that? Even on a busy day you can still meander off and find your little oasis of peace. We walked around the large lake taking in the stunning views back to the house.

Dudmaston Hall Lake

We came across a stunning view where Big Pool meets Mill Pool.

Big Pool at Dudmaston Hall

We saw ducklings (not the best photo – look for the ball of yellow fuzz in the grass).

Ducklings

We saw bluebells in the woods.

Bluebells

We saw all that was good about spring.

Gardens

We climbed through long grass on hills just to see what was at the top. And, we eventually wound up in the gardens area. Now I’m anything but green fingered. How my long-suffering house plants are still alive is a mystery to me. But these gardens are stunning, even if you’re not botanically minded, and are well worth a stroll.

Me with a red tree

I took a particular liking to this tree. So pretty!

Heading back into the thick of the crowds we decided to grab a cream tea. Not only was it delicious, but because the cafe was so busy it meant we got to share a table with a lovely elderly couple who made us smile.

The May Tree

As we left the May Tree had been raised so our wishes could be carried away in the wind.

Worth a visit? Yes, but skip the house – unless you’re really interested – and pay for entrance to the garden and park. Oh and don’t forget the cream tea.

Fabulous rating: 4/5

Find out more about the Dudmaston Estate here. 

Fulfilment: My Post Holiday Resolutions Five Months On

Remember, when I got back from holiday and I was full of…

Jet lag?

Yes… No…

OK, after holiday, once I’d been to see our ‘Yonce?

Ah, yes, when you made those resolutions? Things you were inspired to do, or try, having seen another corner of the world?

Indeed I did, and the other day I uncovered the page in my notebook where I scrawled them down, so I thought I’d give you a quick update on how I’m getting along.

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Start doing yoga again – You may recall I was reluctant to start this again for fear that too many inversions might aggravate my detached retina. However, my eye surgeon seemed to think it would be fine (although he did tell me to steer clear of martial arts, bungee jumping and sky-diving). Since then? Well I’ve not signed up to any yoga classes as yet simply because the days clashed with other things and there’s no point paying for a term of lessons if you can only attend a couple. I have been doing the odd routine at home though. I’m not where I want to be with my yoga just yet, but I am back to enjoying it every once in a while again so it’s a good start.

Find out my Ayurvedic type – Erm, I’ve done precisely nothing about this. I google local practitioners, look at the costs, worry they’re going to give me an enema and then close the laptop and walk away. Big. Fat. Fail.

From Pinterest

Buddhism – Again, I’ve not done much in terms of this since getting back from Sri Lanka (unless you count pinning inspirational Buddhist quotes onto my ‘Sayings I like’ board on Pinterest? Or stroking my cotton bracelet given to me by a monk). That said, there’s a Buddhist group meeting in my vicinity from 3rd September, so I’ve added it to the calendar and will pop along to see what it’s all about. For some reason I feel quite nervous about it which is completely daft. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Learn how to make sushi – Nope, not done anything. Well, I’ve eaten a bit of sushi and found a really good place at Merry Hill to buy fresh sushi, but nothing in terms of making my own, sorry!

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Master eye-liner – I have purchased some gel eye-liner. I have even gone so far as to apply it on a number of occasions, but that’s not to say I’ve mastered it just yet. Oh no, far from it. Look out for a blog post on this very subject in the coming weeks!

Learn to swim – We’re thinking of going on holiday again in September. How amazing would it be if I could confidently jump in the pool and complete a few lengths? To be honest, I’d settle for wading in and completing a couple of widths! My nearest leisure centre now only hosts adult swimming lessons on weekdays, which for full-time worker – like me – is useless. I have found some courses not far away that I may try. I just want to source some prescription goggles first. Being nervous of water AND not being able to see properly might be more than my worry-wart brain can cope with. I’ll be looking to source those in the next month.

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Eat more healthy – Well I did try. I wouldn’t say I’m massively healthy at the moment, but the desire to get back on track with the salad and vegetables is still there… it’s just that the pizza and cake is more tempting…

So, that’s where I’m at five months in. Baby steps, but not great shakes – right? I’ll keep you updated on how I progress through the rest of the year.

How do you make sure you stay on track with your goals?

 

Fab & Fail: Sunday 10th August 2014

The Fab List

Lipstick in the shape of a shooting star from Anna Sui. Seriously, do I need to say more..? If only they were a bit more, erm, affordable.

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Olivia Palmero copying my fashion savvy. Seriously where I go, others follow… maybe.

Essie Button’s vlogs. It would seem that I go through fads with my choice of YouTube entertainment, right now I’m loving Estee and Aslan’s vlogs – such a cute couple.

Hubby allowing me to watch two-hours of the Kardashian’s, even though he hates it. I needs me some trash TV every once in a while. It’s my way of switching my brain off.

The Fail List

Washing

This washing-up brush thing. The idea is that you fill the handle up with washing-up liquid which is slowly dispensed through the sponge as you wash-up. I’ve known loads of people rave about them and I wanted to love them, but the liquid keeps leaking out and the brush just isn’t getting things clean enough, plus it’s really easy to cut the sponge when you’re washing up knives. I’ll stick to my bumper pack of sponges for 59p please, ta!

The fact that I am now so old and boring that I managed to write an entire paragraph about a washing-up brush. Seriously, I need to get out more!

My memory card bosted (that’s Black Country for breaking in case you didn’t know). Can anyone recommend anywhere good and cheap to buy a replacement?

A stressy week at work.

Fiction: Book Review – The World According to Clarkson by Jeremy Clarkson

The World According to Clarkson

Let’s face it, Jeremy Clarkson is the king of foot in mouth. He’s the prince of digging himself a hole and then jaunting off to get a JCB to dig himself in just a little deeper. He’s like many men of ‘a certain age’ throughout Britain – opinionated, but not necessarily always right and very rarely politically correct.

This book, which is basically an anthology of his Sunday Times columns, proves this point to a tee. Clarkson takes on topics including new-build properties encroaching on his precious countryside, the lottery and how he is a complete failure at anything of a green-fingered nature. Sure, it’s an easy read, and it’s amusing enough, but I guess I expected it to be funnier. There were a few times when I expelled air, or tutted in amusement, but actual laugh out loud moments were few and far between.

Mr Clarkson does have an excellent writing style, his prose sounds like him, it’s short, it’s punchy and he manages to convey a whole argument into not very many words at all, but it’s just not that amazing. Flicking through the book to write this review, I’m struggling to remember what some of the pieces were even about. And I guess that, again, makes him like those other men of ‘a certain age’ – caustically opinionated, but thankfully forgettable.

Passes the time, but not going to change you life.

Fabulous rating: 2.5/5