Tuesday 31 December 2013

Special Gifts

My favourite presents at Christmas are always the really personal ones that make me smile, they're not always big and flashy but they really touch me and make me smile because so much thought and love has gone into them. 

Here's a little collection of some of the presents that were special to me this year:

My little sister bravely decided this year to make her own presents to save some money.  This is something I wish so much that I could do but unfortunately I'm really not creative enough.  She gave the whole family a bag of homemade goodies including this gorgeous jar of chutney.  As Simon and I are really into our cheeses I'm looking forward to cracking this open as soon as possible.

When I started to lose weight I wrote a list of things to inspire me to get to goal.  They were things that I'd never ever been able to achieve because my size had held me back.  One of these things was to own something from Top Shop.  So for Christmas my sister got me a gorgeous skirt from Top Shop because she knew that it was one of the goals still left on my list.  I loved it so much I wore it on Boxing Day.

My lovely friend Kate loves films as much as me, when I lived in London she was my Film Festival buddy and we spent many enjoyable days dashing from one side of London to another to cram in as many films as possible.   Kate has fantastic taste in films and has known me for so many years she knows exactly what I like.  Quite often for Christmas or Birthday she'll pick out a film for me that I've never seen and I absolutely love getting a new DVD from her.  She is always spot on with her choices. 

This beautiful necklace is from my friend Lauren, she knows how much I love Oliver Bonas, and probably realises how much I miss it since moving to the North East.  She loved this necklace so much she picked one up for herself and one for me.  The girl has great taste!

This chocolate bar really made me smile.  Not only does it sound delicious but it's from "Gnawfolk" and was made in Norwich.  My clever friend Jenny found it for me.   She also managed to hunt down a  Nails Inc cracker, which is awesome as I've been obsessed with Nails Inc for years.  I love the colour of the varnish that was hiding inside. 

Everyone knows how much Simon and I love our afternoon teas so Simon's Mum gifted us with our very own Afternoon Tea recipe book and cake stand.  As my sister also bought me some special afternoon tea forks I'm very much looking forward to us having a go at creating our own!

Silly presents are the best, and these are two offerings from Simon.  Some eggnog to make my very own eggnog lattes as I'm so obsessed with the ones at Starbucks and Cherry Poptarts as he was shocked when I'd admitted that I'd never tried them before!

I got lots of lovely pressies but these are just a handful of my favourites as they feel very unique to me.


Monday 30 December 2013

Driving Home for Christmas

Anyone else feeling slightly podgy around the middle and like they don't have quite enough space in their house for their gifts and sale purchases?   Yep me too!

Simon and I got to spend our first Christmas Day together this year so it was a very special one for us.

We started our break by travelling to Norfolk to stay with my parents at their beautiful bungalow.  I really love going to visit as it's such a lovely house and always looks really cosy at Christmas.  My Mum made the decision a few years ago not to have a Christmas tree so she now keeps her decorations very simple which look great.

Christmas Eve we went to a local bar in Norwich for my traditional drinks with friends.  We always keep it very casual and you're never quite sure who might turn up on the day.   This year I encouraged people to wear festive knitwear and was very happy when people obliged.

Christmas Day I pretty much turned into a kid and we were up at 5:30 am ripping into our stockings.  We were joined at my parents by my two sisters and their other halves, my sister's cat and my Grandma.  It was quite a house full and we had to attempt to squash 9 of us round the dinner table.

I always like to plan my Christmas outfit and despite it being the one day of the year where you don't leave the house and no one other than your family sees you I always like to make the effort to dress up even if by mid afternoon I've had to change into my PJs.  This year I chose my Primark Tartan dress which I bought a few months ago but have been saving for the occasion.  I love this dress, it's appeared on so many blogs and in so many magazines - I still can't believe it was only £15!

Simon also embraced Christmas by wearing the lovely new festive knit that I had got him from Tesco.  I love this jumper and actually bought it thinking that if he wouldn't wear it then I would.

I got lots of really lovely gifts, I'd mostly asked my parents for clothes but also got some wonderful surprises from Simon, my sisters and some friends which I shall probably share in another post.

We spent Christmas evening playing my parent's old Trivial Pursuit that we found hiding away in a cupboard.  It was a little tricky as it was from the early 80s but we had great fun making our way round the board even if it did go on for about 5 hours!

Our time in Norwich absolutely flew and only a few days later we were back on the road to head up to Manchester to spend some time with Simon's family and friends.  We got to have a second Christmas Day with Simon's Mum (and another excuse to wear festive knits) and spent a fantastic evening at a friend's house playing party games which I haven't done in a long time.  If anyone wants a wonderfully entertaining evening I recommend having a few drinks and playing Humm Bug.

All too soon it was all over and we now just have a few relaxing days in our flat before the madness of a new year at work begins. 


Sunday 29 December 2013

Coming Home

As lovely as it is to be away visiting family over Christmas it is always nice to return home and as we began our journey back to the North East this afternoon we were very much looking forward to spending the last few days of the Christmas break in our cosy flat.

Having travelled quite a bit over the break, today's journey was the shortest and we were in high spirits as we started seeing our first signs to Newcastle.

Whenever we have a hire car and find ourselves on the A1 I can't help but ask if I'll be getting a little look at the Angel of the North.  I love the Angel, it gives me goose bumps every time I see it.  My first ever journey up to  Newcastle to see Simon was by coach and we drove straight past the Angel and I was in complete awe at how huge and magnificent it looked against the landscape.

Knowing how much I love her Simon took me on a little detour on the way home so I could see her in all her glory as the sun was beginning to set.

I'll be doing a bit more of a Christmassy post in a few days but for now I leave you with some photos I took of the Angel this evening.


Wednesday 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas

Christmas Eve at last!  I honestly can't wait to spend a nice relaxing week with friends and family!

Wishing you all a very very Happy Christmas with your loved ones.



Thursday 19 December 2013

Saltwell's Secret Keeper

Something I've been excited about for a long time is being able to enjoy Enchanted Parks at Christmas, held every year in Saltwell Park, it promises a spectacular collection of light displays.  Unfortunately last year it fell on a weekend that I wasn't visiting Simon so I missed out.   This year I bought my ticket the day they went on sale and have been looking forward to it ever since.

When the day finally arrived, it was even better than I ever could have imagined it to be, I was so impressed and would really recommend everyone buy a ticket next year.  You will not be disappointed.

Let me set the scene for you ...

After the last visitor has left the Park and the Park Keeper has locked the gates, the Park comes alive with fairies, glowing flowers, fantastic creatures and mysterious musical noises.   It's a very well kept secret that Saltwell Park is Enchanted!

Unfortunately the Park Keeper is about to retire and needs to pass on the keys to a special someone who can carry on his work of keeping Saltwell Park's enchantment alive.   In his hunt for a new keeper the Park Keeper has decided to open the gates after dark to invite us normal folk in to experience it for ourselves for the very first time.  He hopes that he will find someone who he can pass on his secrets to and can take on his job.

Of course the Park Keeper can't keep Saltwell alive on his own, he has some "Familiars" to help him out, part human and part animal with magic sparkly tails.

The evening was truly magical and I was completely blown away by the displays which were not only gorgeous and breathtaking to look at but also teased all of the other senses.  I was not expecting to see so many clever things and hear such wonderful sounds.

We were guided round the park by the Familiars who kept us on the right path and did a great job of entertaining the kids - they really brought the whole story alive.  I actually feel very lucky that this Christmas I've seen real fairies, although I hope that someone has let them out of the jam jars now, they weren't very happy at all about being trapped.

Now, I don't want to give away all of the Keeper's secrets but I will let you into one little discovery that we made.  Enchanted Parks had THE best hot chocolate I've had in a long long time!  There was a little coffee kart parked outside Saltwell Towers and it was the perfect place for a hot chocolate with cream, marshmallows and a shot of caramel.  The lady who served us was very impressed at our dedication to doing hot chocolate properly.

Unfortunately this year's Enchanted Parks is now over, but make sure you get yourselves there next year because you really will have a wonderful evening. 



Saturday 14 December 2013

Christmas Cocktails

There are so many wonderful Christmassy things going on in Newcastle at the moment - Christmas films, festive afternoon teas, Turkey dinners and Christmas markets.  I really wish that I could do all of them but most of my money has gone on pressies this month so I've very much had to cherry pick what we can do in the run up to Christmas with the hope that maybe we'll be able to do even more next year.

I was very tempted to go for a Christmas meal but decided to sacrifice it and instead chose to partake in a few Christmas cocktails.  To make it a bit special I decided that it would be the ideal time to try a couple of the hotel bars in the city that I've been wanting to venture into ever since arriving.  So with the hope of discovering a new favourite place to chill out we donned our finest threads and headed into Toon.

Since moving to Newcastle I have fallen in love with the Malmaison hotel on the Quayside.  So far I've been twice - once for a blogger meet up and then again just before my holiday for a spray tan in the spa.  Ever since first stepping a foot in the Mal I've been wanting to head up to the bar for a drink so I knew this would be our first location of the night.

The Mal Bar is a wonderful little luxury hideaway.   It's dark with the furnishings lighting up the room in rich purples and funky leopard print.   There's a lovely choice of seats to suit every mood - if you're wanting a cosy romantic date with your loved one there are some dark hidden corners, if you're catching up with friends there are big squishy sofas or if you prefer to watch the world go by there are some tables at the windows offering views of the Quayside.

The "Malchemy" bar menu has a good choice of beverages.   I decided on a classic  Pina Colada cocktail whlist Simon thought the perfect way to soak up the atmosphere would be to have some whisky on the rocks.   My cocktail was absolutely perfect.

We thoroughly enjoyed our little taste of the bar and will certainly be returning soon.

Once our drinks were finished we reluctantly left out comfortable seats and headed out into the cold to our next location.

The next hotel I picked was the Vermont which towers over the Quayside.  I've always thought it such a mysterious, grand looking hotel and was really curious to see what it would be like inside.

It didn't disappoint,  there are two gorgeous lounges to choose from.  The first is very light and comfortably decorated in blacks and creams.   The second, the one that we decided to head to, is the Redwood Whisky bar.

The Redwood is a fantastic place to spend a Christmas evening, there's a roaring fire and classic Christmas decorations to compliment the dark wood furnishings and leather sofas.

I was really happy to see that they had a few festive drinks added to the menu so I opted for a Snowball which I haven't had in years whilst Simon fully embraced the whisky experience by having his first ever try of JD and Honey.

I really enjoyed my time at the Vermont, and am now pretty obsessed with getting myself up on the roof.  They have recently opened the Sky Lounge and Gardens, a bar that sits on top of the hotel with amazing views of the Tyne Bridge.   Unfortunately it appears that it is only available for private hire, although anyone liking the sound of it they are holding some New Years Eve festivities there this year.   I'm really hoping that one day I'll get to go and have a look, I really love climbing for great views and it seems that this one is probably one of the best views in the city.


Monday 9 December 2013

Go West

I really love exploring the UK and it's something that I've always done.  Growing up my Mum always very much championed us exploring our own country before hopping onto an aeroplane.  When I was young I didn't really understand, my friends were all off to Spain whilst we had walking holidays in the Lakes .. looking back now though I'm very thankful.  Now that I have my own money it's fun to go off and explore the world but I will forever be in love with the UK.

This weekend Simon and I took a little road trip.  Having been without a car for many years we loved every second of having our beautiful hire car.  We started our weekend in Wigan for a family wedding before moving to Oswestry for an engagement party. 

Quick shout out to Simon's cousin Holly who makes the best cupcakes I have ever tasted and we all know I have sampled a fair few cupcakes in my time.   She did an amazing job of preparing all of the food for her own engagement party and the room looked absolutely gorgeous so I thought I'd share a couple of pictures.

Having a little look at the map before leaving we couldn't help but add a few more excursions on to our trip and both picked an extra place to squeeze into our schedule.

I chose the beautiful Roman town of Chester.  I hadn't been since a short stay with my family years ago and had always wanted to return but never found myself in the area. 

If you haven't been before I highly recommend you visit next time you are venturing west, Chester is absolutely stunning.   The architecture is gorgeous, there's something extra special about going into a New Look that's housed in a beautiful building.

There are lots of streets to explore, city walls to walk, and it is the only city in the UK to boast "rows" - shops that are based on levels.  Many of the ground floor shops are below street level and so are accessed by little staircases which makes everything feel like a bit of an adventure.

Chester has a fantastic collection of lovely looking restaurants, bars and tea rooms, I spent much of the afternoon wishing that my belly had the capacity to allow me to go on a "lunch crawl".

Simon's choice was a trip down Memory Lane.  He moved about a lot as a kid and most of his favourite memories are to be found in the West Country, in a beautiful little town called Much Wenlock where he went to  High School and the nearby tourist haven Ironbridge. 

Ever since we started dating Simon has told me all about Ironbridge and how much he'd like to take me so being only 45 minutes away it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

For those interested in a bit of history Ironbridge is the birth place of the industrial revolution as it boasts a 30m cast iron bridge dating back to 1779.

When I arrived I was expecting just a bridge and a crowd of tourists taking photos, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the town itself is very picturesque and has a lovely little street full of quirky little gift shops and restaurants.   I actually did a squeal when I found a cupcake shop, much to the amusement of the owner who was sitting in the window.

I really wish we could have stayed a little longer as the fairy lights draped across the buildings gave the promise of a beautiful town at nightfall but unfortunately we had to get back on the road.

Our drive back to the North East provided us with a beautiful sunset which just finished off a lovely weekend perfectly.

 The West is definitely somewhere we will be returning for a visit, I feel like our quick trips only whet my appetite .... I want more!

Friday 6 December 2013

Through the Christmas Window

Every family has their own Christmas traditions.  Well, here in Newcastle we have a tradition of our own.   The Fenwick's Christmas Window.

For the past 40 years Fenwick have been delighting kids and adults alike with their Festive window display.  This years window was unveiled to big crowds at the end of November and has proved very popular with large queues forming down the street to get a glimpse at the magical display. 

I took the opportunity of going for a look when I had a day off work to go Christmas shopping, 9:00 am on a Monday morning is probably the best time to have a stroll past as it's so busy every other time.

This year's theme is the Enchanted Forest and the windows take you through various fairytales before finishing in Santa's Workshop.

The display is the largest Christmas window display outside of London and is an absolutely delightful tradition that will hopefully continue for many years to come. 


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