Friday 28 February 2014

Throwback Thursday: London 2012

I will admit I'm not really much of a sports fan, I'm personally not very good at sports and as a rule don't get much enjoyment out of watching them either. 

Living in London during the Olympics of 2012 was pretty special though and it would have been impossible not to get swept up in it along with the rest of the country. 

There was something so lovely about tuning in to the Games on TV and seeing it set to the background of our beautiful capital city - following on so quickly from the Royal Wedding and the Jubilee it was a very proud time to be British.

It was one of the few times we could get away with watching a bit of TV in the office and it was fun to sneak up to the canteen to watch events on the big TV screens and we had an enjoyable afternoon attempting to catch Tom Daley diving whilst doing our work.

I was very lucky to get free tickets to the rehearsal of the opening ceremony thanks to my housemate.  I only found out the night before but jumped at the chance to attend and cleared my diary pretty swiftly to get myself there. 

It was so fantastic to finally get to sit in the Olympic Stadium having watched it slowly be built in Stratford over the years.   Even though it was only the rehearsal the atmosphere was great and there was a real buzz as everyone realised how lucky they were to be getting a sneaky peak.  We were told we could take as many photos as we wanted but not to share them on social media as it would ruin the ceremony that would be going out live a few days later.  At the time I wondered if everyone would respect this but it seems the audience took it very seriously and we were all very careful to keep everything quiet.

We were there for a good few hours watching the main performances with a few bits missed out - I was just as surprised as everyone else when the Queen jumped out of the helicopter in the Bond sequence on opening night.  She certainly didn't do that the night we were there!

My favourite part was the industrial revolution, the way the stage transformed was so incredible to watch and the drums completely surrounding us gave me goose bumps,  I will never forget how amazing it sounded.   That night I felt truly blessed to live in London and to have got a chance to witness something so special.

Like many others I'd also entered the ballot to get tickets for the main Games.  I'd purposely selected lesser known sports and was thrilled to get tickets for the Beach Volleyball.  I was joined by two of my closest friends for a gorgeous day at Horse Guards Parade.  The sun was absolutely scorching and it was a perfect afternoon to grab my new bright Summer shades and enjoy some quality entertainment.

The Volleyball was perfect for someone like me with limited knowledge of sport, it was a very fun event, they were playing cheesy pop that we all sang along to, we were encouraged to jump about in our seats and at one point we even did a conga round the stadium.   Add to this the bikini clad dancers entertaining the crowd between sets and the voice of the X Factor doing some comedy commentary and we were in for a fantastic afternoon. 

Shockingly  I couldn't really tell you much about what happened on the Volleyball Court, I was far too busy enjoying myself joining in with the crowd and marvelling at the beautiful view of London from the stadium. 

It was such a beautiful day that we finished it by returning to my home in Wimbledon for cocktails in the sunshine.

London 2012 is certainly something I will never forget.


Monday 24 February 2014

Brunch at the Malmaison

After reading this you will probably start thinking that every Sunday Simon and I stroll off down to the Quayside to have a lovely time lounging about in smart hotels .. I promise this isn't true, it's just a bit of a coincidence that following our afternoon tea at Hotel Du Vin last Sunday we booked ourselves in for brunch at the Malmaison today.

If you've been reading my blog for a while you may remember that many months ago I went to a bloggers event at the Mal hosted by the lovely Hannah at Raspberry Kitsch where I won "Brunch for Two" in the raffle.  Simon and I decided immediately that we'd save my prize to enjoy in the Winter on a weekend where we felt we needed a bit of cheering up.   After a particularly rubbish week we decided that this weekend was the weekend we'd been waiting for.

The Brunch is pretty famous in Newcastle, it boasts the title of "Biggest Sunday Lunch in Town" and is on at the Brasserie in the Hotel every Sunday from12:00 pm.  Having had many reports from others I knew to prepare myself for a feast so accordingly put on a nice lose swing dress to give myself plenty of room to grow a food baby.

As we really love our food, and knowing that we'd struggle with the "no breakfast" rule we'd imposed on ourselves in the morning, we made sure we booked in at 12:00 pm.  So when we turned up we had very loud grumbling tummies.  Unfortunately the Brasserie wasn't too organised for opening time so we were shown to the bar to wait for them to finish setting up.  It was a little unfortunate as we were so hungry but it was hard to feel too annoyed when we were sat in the beautiful surroundings of the Mal Bar.

15 minutes later we were shown to our table and the waitress was really accommodating when I asked if we could sit at a table I'd spotted in the corner.  It's a pretty small restaurant and in some areas the tables are quite close together so I wanted to make sure we had a nice little comfortable area to tuck ourselves into.   It was really great that the waitresses were very aware of the amount of space they had to work with and they made a great effort to seat everyone comfortably with the most amount of space possible in between the different parties.  I certainly appreciated not having to share my brunch with complete strangers (living in London for so long I know how this can very easily happen if tables are too tightly packed together).

The epic feast begins, as so many other meals do, with starters.  Having a bit of a sweet tooth, starters are not something I usually get that excited about, but these were starters with a difference - an all you can eat buffet at the Chef's Table.  My eyes popped out of my head when I saw it, it was a greedy person's paradise and I didn't know where to start or how I was going to stop myself from just hoovering up everything in sight.  I settled on some freshly cut bread (with loads of butter!) with salmon and prawns and then ordered some waffles from our lovely attentive chef who immediately started to work on the batter and told us he'd bring them over to our table.   The salmon was easily the best I have ever tasted and I'm so glad I managed to get myself a nice little heap of it.  Just as I'd finished polishing it off the Chef arrived with our waffles which he'd generously covered in maple syrup, it was so yummy that Simon actually spent the rest of the afternoon muttering "waffles waffles waffles" to himself ... I think he may have a new obsession!  Despite feeling a little full I did then return for one more slice of bread, but only because I really felt the need to cut myself a nice chunk of cheese and try some chorizo.  Unfortunately even we couldn't manage to taste everything that was displayed on the Chef's Table, there was also the offer of omelettes, pancakes, pasta and soup but we didn't want to overindulge before our main course.

I've been out for "brunch" with friends many times where we've ended up debating whether to order lunch or breakfast.   Luckily the Mal caters for both with the perfect menu to suit every taste.  For those preferring lunch there was a great menu offering the Mal Burger, Moules Frites, Fish Cakes or even a Sunday Roast.  Wanting an authentic brunch experience Simon and I decided to order from the breakfast section of the menu.  Swapping roles for the afternoon Simon chose the Eggs Benedict and I had meat, meat and more meat with the Mal Full Breakfast complete with sausage, sweet cured bacon and rump steak which I had cooked rare.  It was so lovely, the perfect amount of food. 

Dessert is usually my favourite part of any meal, but this time I'm afraid it was outshone by the Chef's Table .. I think it'll be a while before anything impresses me as much!   Simon went for the Hot Fudge Sundae which he enjoyed but was a little disappointed that his fudge wasn't hot.   I opted for the Mal Hot Chocolate as it had appealed to my curiosity when I quizzed the waitress about it.  It was the Mal's dessert version of a hot chocolate - white chocolate and vanilla ice-cream served in rich liquid chocolate and topped with marshmallows.  It was very good!

We had a fantastic time and it was just what we needed after a particularly hard week.  Thank you so much to Hannah and Beth at the Mal for organising such wonderful raffle prizes - we loved it! 

Brunch at the Mal costs £19.95 per person and I'd urge you to go and give it a try.  More information is on their website here.

If anyone is looking for me I'll be over here in the corner having my post brunch nap.


Friday 21 February 2014

Throwback Thursday: Suffolk Owl Sanctuary

Throwback Thursday seems to be something that has become really popular recently and after seeing it feature on my friend Lisa's blog I've decided to start my own version of it to introduce you to my life before Newcastle.

I've always been someone who's gone out exploring at weekends with my camera in tow, even before the days of digital cameras, and I thought it would be fun to share some stories with you of my life in London and, before that, Norfolk.  Who knows I might even throw in some silly childhood stories whilst I'm at it.

Unfortunately for the moment I don't have an "About Me" page to provide you with any background to my LBN (Life Before Newcastle!) so for now here's a very brief summary of what I've been up to.  I grew up in a little village in Norfolk where I remained for 27 years before getting a little bored of my country lifestyle and deciding to move out of home and go find adventure in London.   Living in London was absolutely amazing and I'd say that everyone should go and experience living in a big city for a few years if they can.  I lived there for 5 years before meeting Simon and relocating to Newcastle in 2013.

So!  Today I'm taking you back to 2011 and we're going to talk owls! 

My friend and ex London housemate Lauren really loves owls so one weekend I took her to my folks house in Norfolk for the weekend to meet my family and go on an adventure to see some of her favourite feathered friends.

Having sold my car when I moved to London it had been many years since I'd been behind the wheel but I knew in order to get the most out of our trip I really needed to hire a car to get us around.  It was my first time driving in years so I was very nervous as I kangaroo hopped out of the "Enterprise" car park and down the road.   Luckily it soon all came flooding back to me and we had a lovely time driving about the Norfolk countryside in the sunshine.

Our travels took us to Stoham Barns which is home to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary.   The Owl Sanctuary is supported entirely by voluntary donations and admission charges and plays an important part in owl care, rehabilitation and conservation.

The Sanctuary is a beautiful place to spend the day with lots of open green space providing places to picnic, a woodland walk with bird hide and red squirrels and a fantastic gift shop which is owl heaven.

We had a wonderful time strolling around chatting to the owls and completely fell in love with Cecil, a very talkative little chap who was wearing, I kid you not, feathery chinos!

Ah just seeing his cute little face and trousers makes me want to go and visit him again!

We ended our day by watching a demonstration which was very impressive, we were told lots of facts about the birds kept at the Sanctuary and saw some examples of how clever the big falcons are at hunting their prey.  Our favourite part was when an owl flew over the audience, he swooped so low we could feel his wings on our heads.

I hope you've enjoyed my first Throwback Thursday ..... I'm looking forward to seeing what I can find in my archives for next time.

Monday 17 February 2014

Afternoon Tea at Hotel du Vin

I've been a bit of a lucky girl this week, Simon treated me to an afternoon tea and provided me with the opportunity to tick another place off my list.  I decided to opt for the Hotel du Vin, another of Newcastle's top hotels that I was yet to have a nosy in.

Yet again we had a beautiful sunny Sunday so we made the most of the nice weather and strolled to the hotel to get some fresh air.   The hotel is situated on the City Road, just up from the Quayside so it was a nice walk with some lovely scenery.

Hotel du Vin is the former home of the Tyne Tees Shipping Company, a beautiful grand red brick building.  The hotel boasts a lounge, cosy bar, bistro and courtyard which I am definitely adding to my list to try in the Summer - with plenty of outside sitting it'd be the perfect place to drink cocktails in the sunshine.

The good weather meant that I happily put on a dress without worrying about being too cold or turning up looking like a bedraggled rat.  I opted for my Primark finest with my favourite comfy boots.

We had our afternoon tea in the lounge, a room full of comfortable plush red sofas, leather chairs and a welcoming fire.  It was one of the nicest rooms I've ever had afternoon tea in and we had a really enjoyable few hours chilling out in the peace and quiet discussing holiday plans, family news and obviously talking about our favourite afternoon teas.

The menu offers a variety of afternoon choices including G'n'T, fizz and cocktail options.  We decided to go for the traditional, costing £13.75.   Whilst this is a little cheaper than other hotel afternoon teas we were left a little disappointed.  The afternoon tea wasn't as lovely to look at as a lot of others we've had, the top tier of cakes were very beige and whilst we enjoyed the Victoria Sponge the toasted coconut and flapjack style biscuit weren't very exciting or colourful.    We were also a little surprised to see only one scone each.  Whilst it was nice not to leave totally stuffed, part of the joy of afternoon tea is the moment you first see your cake stand crammed full of cakes, and unfortunately this one didn't really deliver.

That said the food was perfectly nice, the room was cosy and comfortable and the staff were really friendly.  So whilst I don't think we'll be returning for our cake fix, we'll definitely be giving the Bistro a go at some point.

There are 15 branches of Hotel de Vin across the country including some of my favourite cities - Edinburgh, Bristol, York and Cambridge.  I'd be really interested to hear if any of you have visited any of the others.

I leave you with a beautiful photograph of the Tyne Bridge from our walk home.  I'm usually stuck in the office when the sun is setting so don't often get to experience it.   What a beauty!


Saturday 15 February 2014

Chocolate Faces

I love love!  Yet I was still planning on doing a post about how daft Valentines Day gets and how it exists solely to encourage us to waste money and make single people feel awful about themselves (I was single for a very long time before meeting Simon so I really know how much 14 February sucks when you're on your own!)

Despite this being the first Valentines we're spending together in the same city we decided to keep the day very simple and cheap.  We agreed not to buy each other presents, got each other free cards from Smiths using our O2 Priorities app and shunned over booked restaurants for dinner at home costing us a grand total of £7.50.

All we want for our night is to spend time together in our flat eating mussels and chips followed by a cherry and almond dessert, away from the distractions of our mobiles and social media and snuggling up on the sofa watching DVDs.

Every year my Facebook news feed is full of photographs of my friend's Valentines celebrations and some times it does feel like a bit of a competition.  Who got the nicest piece of jewellery?  Who got the biggest bunch of flowers delivered to work?    Love isn't about presents or claiming in your  Facebook status that your partner is more perfect than everyone elses. 

Now for the confession ... I caved and bought Simon a present, therefore I'm kind of contradicting a lot of what I've just said.  What can I say - I'm weak!

So I'm here to share it with you all as I think it makes the perfect present for so many occasions.   A fellow blogger I was talking to recently on twitter said she had ordered some for her wedding favours which I think is a fantastic idea.

I'm talking about "My MMs" where you can personalise your own M&Ms with a picture of your choice.  It's a great gift for the chocolate lover in your life and who doesn't want to see their face on their favourite candy treat?  All you have to do is go to the website, upload a photo of whatever you like from your computer or Facebook account and then you also have the option of writing something profound to put on your sweets and picking your favourite colours.

I chose to have mine and Simon's faces on his sweets and picked some Valentines packaging and, to keep with the theme, pink and red chocolates.

The website has lots of different colours and packages to pick from including simple bags of sweets, birthday boxes and wedding boxes.

I think they make such a lovely fun gift.


Wednesday 12 February 2014

On Yer Bike!

If there's any hint of sunshine over a weekend in the Winter I am the first to grab my coat and run outside to play in it.  I'm not a huge fan of dark Winters and despite taking my Vitamin D with my breakfast every morning it's never enough as nothing beats the feeling of the warm Winter sun on my face.

We recently had an absolutely beautiful Sunday here in the North East.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun was lovely and warm - it was the weather where, no matter how daft you might look, a warm wool hat and sunglasses really are an essential combination.   It was the perfect excuse for a stroll down to the Quayside and along the Tyne to the Cycle Hub for a coffee.


Before I continue I should probably point out that I haven't been on a bike ride for at least 15 years and although I quite like the idea of going on one I'm yet to be brave enough to give it a go.   Luckily you don't need a bike to chill out in the Cycle Hub as they also welcome pedestrians who secretly wish they were cyclists.

The Cycle Hub is on the banks of the River Tyne with fantastic views of some of Newcastle's iconic bridges.   They have outdoor seating which I've already got my eye on for the Summer months.

The Hub is a little bit of everything, as well as a café they also have a bike shop, bike hire, information centre and repair workshop as well as organising events and guided bike rides.

It's the perfect place for cyclists to stop for a chat over coffee and cake as it's situated in the middle of the Coast to Coast route.  The atmosphere inside the café is very friendly and I love how the cyclists all greet each other and exchange stories of their cycling adventures.   After a while I began to feel envious, not to mention a little guilty.  They were all happily tucking into cake that they would be burning off whereas I was stuffing cake and lounging about.

As our bellies got the better of us we decided that rather than have lunch the cakes in the Hub were just too tempting so we skipped lunch in favour of sweet treats.  I had a caramel latte with a slice of chocolate cake and Simon opted for a mocha with a chocolate shortbread biscuit. 

As I was tucking in my mind did begin to wander off on an adventure. It is pretty easy to find yourself very tempted by bike riding after a few short moments in the Hub.  Some of their self guided tours look fantastic and incorporate some of my favourite places in the area.   The 14 mile ride from the Angel of the North, past Saltwell Park and onto Tyenmouth looks particularly good, although maybe I need to get myself back onto a bike first before making any grand plans to become the next Victoria Pendleton.

Anyone else beginning to love the fantastic sneaky shots I keep taking of Simon just as he's biting into his food?  Aren't I mean?!


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