Friday, 17 April 2015

Day "Out Out" of London: Bushy Park

It's hard to believe I moved back to Belfast 3 weeks ago, leaving foggy London behind. (Well apparently heat-wave London now!) The last 3 weeks here have flown by in a very exciting whirlwind of "change of address" forms and trawling through recruitment sites. I can't complain too much, we timed our move to coincide with Easter and felt like we were on holiday at home for two weeks, going for long walks and coming back for tea and chocolate eggs..but now it's all business.

Moving is hard. It's stressful. Job-searches are just a tad soul-destroying, but hey just keep changing your search filters and try again. I could rant on the "categorisation" of jobs, unhelpful job descriptions and reposting of jobs enough to fill another blog, but to some degree I always knew I would have to face this, and just keep plugging away. 

So when we had about two weeks left in London and asked ourselves what did we reeeeeeeeeeeally want to do before we moved away forever, I already felt the need to "pre-charge" my mental state. With a nice long walk, as usual. Maybe some wildlife. And hot chocolate.

We ventured out to one of those "Oh yeah I always meant to go there...."  places: Bushy Park in Richmond upon Thames. It was one of those freezing then suddenly sunny days, with 5 minutes of hail in the middle spectacularly timed with our arrival at the coffee shop. For anyone visiting London or always meaning to get out to Richmond to see the deer, I recommend you to get out and recharge at Bushy Park. It was a more manageable size than Richmond (Richmond Park being great for a full day out with picnic!), meaning you could do an easy walk around it (between meals, which is always my concern), but the coffee shop is well stocked and bright with lovely woodsy views.

But the deer are in Richmond Park..!? - See for yourself - I've definitely heard of animal therapy, but I thought you would need to play with a troupe of fluffy puppies to feel relaxed. Just watching this lot and spending some quality time with the camera was a really good stress-buster - how could you not come away happy?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

How to have the best Ski Mini Break: Verbier

So much has happened in these few short months that I haven't shared any photos of my little Verbier Ski-Mini-Break! I may have mentioned before that it was a lovely friend's Hen Party, and I've loved the reactions to this so far, some people like myself think it's a great idea to do something really different / you've always wanted to do with your closest friends. Others just ask the very important question: "Didn't that mean skiing hungover everyday??" The very sensible Hens, myself included, paced ourselves quite well and made the most of the clean air, the food, the hot chocolate, until the last night. You need to go Out Out at least once in Verbier!

This was a super-organised trip and we go so lucky with the weather, our arrival afternoon was grey and eerie, but we woke up the next morning to the most beautiful blue skies. Conditions were perfect for skiing and for snapping away with my new Nokia Lumia 930 - it arrived the day before we left London (me having spectacularly dropped my old phone at the weekend) and even though I (and the husband) had read up the camera qualities, I was still stunned by the picture clarity.

Checking skis with Sarah our Ski Instructor
I could give you blue sky snowy mountain overload here, but I'll restrain myself. I will also Not be posting the messy "going out" photos, you all know the Hen weekend rules are similar to Fight Club rules! Anyway here is some photographic proof we did actually get out and up the slopes! The Hen Herself arranged skiing lessons for us at different abilities, and if you're planning a trip for next year, this would be my #1 tip! We had a beginners lesson in the morning followed by a free afternoon, while two of the more advanced girls shared another instructor. I felt I came on leaps and bounds in the afternoon, and my big achievement was not only Not Falling, but saving myself from a down-the-slopes-backwards-at-speed near fall! They don't make awards for that?? Oh well.

Me (left) in my big pink trousers! I missed the memo on sexy ski-wear!

We splashed out and stayed at the Hotel Cordée Des Alpes, and the above-and-beyond friendly service really made the trip. From helping us to book restaurants before we had even arrived, to casual advice on the best bars and most of all the great "shuttle" service to our various-abilities ski-slopes, ski-hire centres and even taking us from apres-ski to back to the hotel on our first exhausted evening. I really recommend this for a short ski-break: less time shuffling uphill in your ski-boots means more time on the slopes or relaxing!

The view from our "penthouse" at Hotel La Cordee
Hotel room details: need more glass sculptures

Speaking of relaxing, I can't believe none of us took a photo of the bathroom (aside from my un-symetrical tile photo above!). After our early start - including 4am. champagne and healthy brownies en route to the airport - we still managed to fit in a ski's-fitting, a quick beginners recap lesson and a little mulled wine at Le Rouge. By 7pm we were exhausted but determined to perk ourselves up for a big dinner, and what better way than a quick sauna and a long rainfall shower? Bliss. Even better after another full day of ski-ing and a failed hungover attempt at skiing the following morning! Instead we spent a couple of hours before our airport shuttle having lunch and swimming / jacuzzi-ing and steaming ourselves at the beautiful but nearly empty hotel spa, and my muscles were very thankful.
The hotel lobby décor - vintage skis

Hotel bath product winning
We couldn't believe how smoothly such a short break went, and how relaxed we returned from what was an action-packed hen-do, and we're already discussing Verbier reunions next year. If you're planning a trip, here are a few tips from the well-travelled hens:


STAY: Cordée des Alpes
LUNCH: Carrefour
DINNER: Al Capone  / La Grange


Tips for a skiing mini-break:

  • If you're getting an airport-to-hotel transfer, make friends with your fellow travellers - it can make 2 hours fly by.
  • Research your eating options before you get there, and make reservations for dinner - your hotel may help if you ask kindly!
  • If you are renting skis / ski boots, you will need to get fitted, so allow time for this on your first day. Some sites may offer to drop them to your hotel, but don't be mislead, they won't do anything without your measurements - safety first.
  • Ask if your hotel has a shuttle or taxi service - this will save you a lot of time and energy.
  • Book a ski instructor for your first day, ahead of your trip - they'll get you up to speed quickly, and can offer advice on slopes for your level for the rest of your stay.
  • Plan in some time to recharge before a night out - whether it's a long shower or a quick Jacuzzi you'll feel refreshed when you dress up again.
  • Don't forget your sunglasses and SPF!
Clear the way!
All photos taken on my Nokia Lumia 930.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Are you Anti-Ageing yet?: Body Shop Nutriganics

Since I hit my mid-twenties I've been gifted a few specific anti-ageing products and testers. Many of us probably incorporate a brightening eye-cream into our routine with a vague worry of looking "tired-old", but still use Skin Type labels to shop for our cleansing and moisturising products.
My daily moisturiser up to now has had other more pressing tasks than ageing: in my teens I shopped "for oily skin / reduce blackheads", in the cold Edinburgh uni years I only bought "for sensitive skin" and moving down to London's chalky waters searched for the richest "for dry / dehydrated skin". So hitting my 29th birthday and realising that I categorically am no longer in my mid-twenties, I knew I had to kick this up a gear and make the move into the next aisle of skincare. Except I was so overwhelmed at the volume of products on offer I would stand with 3 or 4 products looking at the fine print, before purchasing nothing and telling myself I had to "research more" before investing!
On an unrelated outing to The Body Shop I stumbled across this little wonder. I'm a sucker for packaging at the best of times, but you can't beat a clear message saying exactly what you want to see: "FIRST SIGNS OF AGEING". Granted the Nutiganics range has been designed for "women typically aged 30-40 years" but what's the harm in getting in there a few months early?
So how different does this anti-aging moisturiser feel on the skin? Considering that in its simplest terms anti-aging products should restore and help retain moisture in the skin, I knew that my dry skin would appreciate this, but worried that the "luxurious 12 hour moisturising" would feel greasy or heavy. I needn't have worried. The Body Shop have created a pump-action cream that sinks into your skin and makes it feel soft with no greasiness throughout the day. This is a real comfort to wear during the day, to the point where the anti-aging properties now feel like a bonus, not something to be endured!
Have you any anti-ageing tips for your 20s / 30s, or are you carefree and wrinkle-free?

Friday, 10 April 2015

Why you should take up climbing (without a rope!)

 Firstly please excuse the slightly blurry photos - a mix of phone and camera shots but with unsteady chalky hands!
Chances are you have heard of indoor climbing walls, but I'll bet your first thought would be "You're sure  that rope is going to hold me?" You may not be familiar with Bouldering then: climbing without a rope. Madness, you say! My thoughts exactly. So why why why?

Because according to this video Bouldering is Awesome, or I'm thinking it will be when I transform into a hybrid monkey / gymnast. But in all honesty I can say the sense of achievement from completing one climb is unreal - and it does make you feel awesome. 
When I first looked at the climbing walls, specifically intended for bouldering, I did think to myself: that's not so high, that's fine! It did help to see non-beginners scramble slowly but deftly up and down again, and on occasion jump or fall onto the padded floor and stand up without injury. Easy peasy. But for a gal with a slight fear of heights, very little sporting confidence and the upper body strength to do just about one push-up, this was a different challenge.


Enough pitying myself and back to Bouldering: In simple terms this is climbing (outdoors or indoors at a training centre) without ropes or harnesses, over a very padded mat. Height isn't the focus here, but skill, strength and balance - as you can see in the photo below some "walls" jut at odd angles and scaling a "cave" ceiling is a challenge in itself. And there are challenges  - competitions and teams even!

The first time I went I was feeling pretty confident, then I got about 1 metre off the ground and was stumped. How can I possibly reach my foot up there? There is no way that tiny bump can support me. A combination of friendly coaching from the ground and firm direction of "which leg goes where" and perseverance, forced confidence and nervous sweating on my part got me to the top and down again.  I came down from one climb elated, from another shaking with nerves but so proud that I got through it.
This may just be me, but this was just as much a mental exercise as a physical one. Each attempt even changed my perspective a bit -  I needed to quiet myself and focus, I needed to trust others, I needed to push myself. And I enjoyed giving help back, guiding others to their own success.

So here are the reasons I'll be going back for more:

  • To put core strength to the test - I'm hoping to build this gradually through regular weights or pilates, and I can't think of a more fun way to see it progress.
  • To improve balance and flexibility - when you see bouldering done right, climbers can look like gymnasts they move with such grace!
  • To challenge the mind - trying to remember the sequence another climber has successfully completed is harder than it looks, especially when you're balancing half-way up a wall!
  • To improve confidence - both in yourself and in others. You can keep tackling the same wall until you get it right or move onto a new challenge, but you will be amazed when you push yourself!
I took these photos at BoulderWorld Belfast with some very talented and supportive friends, and the husband is hooked! Would love to hear from anyone else who has discovered climbing!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Leaving London Behind

Last week I left London behind to start a new chapter on another little island.
We moved to London at the end of 2009, and it's been a fun-filled (and work-filled) 5 years, but we always felt that our Time in London was a phase. Even when we settled into fulfilling jobs, a flat in a nice area, and a lovely bunch of friends, it still felt a bit like I was there on a trial.
It's difficult to explain to some, I've found that people either completely understand the "It's just not Home" feeling, or look at you with "You can't have DONE everything yet though!?" in their eyes through a well-meaning smile. I understand that too. Being tired of London is not the same as being tired of life, but rather realising that you shouldn't be compromising on your ideal "everyday life" because that's just how things have turned out.
For those lucky enough to have family, friends, a career and their ideal home all in one city well done! But for me (and him), it was never going to fall into place. If you don't want to travel on the Tube, or you don't want a £500,000 basement flat, you move a little further out of London. No-brainer. If you want to be near your family in Northern Ireland? You move even further out, but you can learn to appreciate what you're giving up and what you're gaining.
Already the horrible tube journeys and long working hours are fading, and soon I'll think of leaving London like ending an action-packed holiday. So here's a few of my London experiences, and my one piece of advice that wherever you live, imagine you won't be there for long, and appreciate it!

London Architecture:
Travelling underground you can miss so much of the beautiful city. I only took this snap of St Pancras because there was a Tube Strike forcing me above ground!
Play the tourist, and venture out in search of History. This amazing staircase was completely quiet on our trip to Hampton Court Palace.
Between packing and leaving for good we ventured up to the new SkyGarden on Fenchurch Street, and took in the whole cityscape.

 London Culture:
Exhibitions are a great excuse to meet a friend you haven't seen for a while, even better if they can explain the work at the Tate Modern.
You have to try it all at least once, no matter the weather, at the Notting Hill Carnival.
One of my favourite things about London may be a bit blasphemous - how easy it is to get to Paris!! Breakfast on the Eurostar, Croque Monsieur on arrival.

London Events:
We picked a good 5 years to be there! Despite seeing people camping out days ahead for a good spot at The Royal Wedding, we thought at the last minute we might as well try to get into the centre to be part of the atmosphere at least. Could not have been more surprised when we walked right up to a handy little clearing on The Mall and saw the whole procession!
Making the most of various events at Somerset House, including the trends roundup at London Fashion Weekend.
We were also there for the (oddly quiet on the commute) 2012 Olympics, although my most vivid memory is being very hung-over watching the Opening Ceremony on repeat the morning after... This passing of the torch was snapped on my way to work! The whole summer had a great atmosphere, Londoners may seem busy and unfriendly, but give them a good cause and you really notice a difference.

London Scenery:
Even when you feel it's just too hectic, there are places you can go to get a real sense of perspective. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich has great views over the City.
I was lucky to live so near to the River Thames for a couple of years, it even encouraged me to go running along the banks once or twice, Made-In-Chelsea style.
The Royal parks to the SW of London are great for a "fresh air" day and some deer-spotting, best accompanied by a picnic in Summer, or a cosy dinner in Richmond when it's cold.
And finally, the spectacle that is London Nightlife:
Organised fun at Bacanal, London is great for constant events and ways to meet new people - this doesn't just apply to dating! I joined a group of girls who similarly had moved to London for work and were looking the meet new people, and was very lucky to have found great friends for life!
Great performers on stage and beyond, whether you fancy dinner with your burlesque show, circus performers with a cocktail or have the patience for a dress rehearsal of Cirque-Du-Soleil, you will be entertained.
Say yes to whatever, even a Nokia phone launch - we somehow ended up dancing to Deadmau5 on a Wednesday in Brixton...!
If you're living in London or planning a trip, I hope you make the most of it! I couldn't fit 5 years into a blog post (and definitely couldn't even start on the food!) but I've already pencilled in a visit back to the Big City in June!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Cosy Ski Lodge at Coq D'Argent

Only a week and a bit to go until the London girlies and I jet off to Verbier for a hen party on the slopes! I haven been skiing since school ( eek 10 years ago??) but am in good company as I'm thankfully going with two beginners and two pros. I've been saving as a bit of a birthday and 'leaving London' treat to myself, and I'm going to miss these girls when we move back home!
It's such a grown-up and glam hen-do idea, but I wouldn't expect anything less from this particular bride-to-be, and as a bit of an "appetiser" she suggested drinks at Coq D'Argent's winter terrace, Lodge D'Argent.  

We chatted about Christmas, new jobs, guys and clothes and of course Wedding- and Ski-prep...! The very thoughtful Hen also made a batch of chocolate truffles from scratch as birthday gifts (a few of us oddly have our birthdays within 3 weeks of each other). I'll have to get her recipe, although I can't promise the mixture would ever make it into truffle form, I'd be too tempted to eat from the bowl!

All the chat worked up an appetite, and we asked for the food menu. Having heard only that Coq D'Argent was a great place for classy dinner and drinks, I did have a sneaky peek at their website and the main menu food looks stunning. The type of plate you'd feel a bit bad disturbing as it looks so pretty, you know? So I really wasn't expecting to see so many cosy comfort food dishes on the Lodge menu. I have to say they weren't your basic burgers - check out these deliciously messy venison burgers, with warm pear relish, and it was Croque Monsieur's rather than toasties.

I didn't get a great shot of the interior (exterior?) but here's a little teaser, make the most of the last days of winter and head up and out to Lodge D'Argent. The blankets and fur throws are ready and waiting!


Monday, 16 February 2015

London Lately: Choccywoccydoodah

Ok deep breath I have to share this one quick before the chocolate embargo starts...! Get thee to choccywoccydoodah before the blogosphere kicks into bikini countdowns for another season. Hidden away (as much as a big red chocolate shop can be) off Carnaby Street, its the perfect place to reward yourself for a day on Oxford Street well spent (or if you're just window shopping, reward yourself for not spending?)

I was too busy drooling to take photos downstairs, but imagine for your delight edible chocolate birds, terriers, and for those of you who don't fancy chomping on a chocolate budgie, don't fear. Stacks of mystery sweetie bags are piled high around the shop - what would you concoct if you had a sweet shop as a kid? A giant bag of rocky road? A giant bag of chocolate covered popcorn? A bouquet of chocolate covered marshmallows? You get the idea...
Unable to choose, we were "saved" by the sight of a "Café" sign pointing upstairs to catch our breath. Until the waitress brought over the menu. Oh the decisions! I restrained myself - ha! - and had the most silky chocolatey white chocolate hot chocolate with the works - liquid love. Little sis on the other hand went tactical, and ordered the chocolate dipping pot, served with teasers of all the goodies downstairs. Chocolate popcorn - why is this not a bigger thing!?


One of your five-a day...
I did remember to take a few snaps on our begrudging way out, while they would obviously make the most gorgeously feminine wedding cakes the drama of these two really caught my eye. Would love to know the correct occasion for a cake like this!

Even that succulent looks delicious.

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