Wednesday 29 April 2015

Frock Swap - Char's Dress

I will admit, Char's Frock Swap dress was the one I was most nervous about. With its bright coloured clashing pattern and lose fit, I knew it would probably take me way out of my comfort zone.

If ever there was a lesson about not judging a dress before you've tried it on, this was it! As soon as I pulled it out of its package and put it on, I instantly felt at home.

This dress is the ideal "play date" dress.  Remember the long hot Summers when you were a kid? For me they were spent playing outside with friends, climbing up hay bales, running away from angry Norfolk farmers and rolling about in mud. This dress is made for fun adventures in the sun!

Running about without a care in the world, this dress made me feel free, made me want to take off my shoes and socks and return to my childhood. This is the beauty of how sometimes fashion can capture your imagination. 

I didn't want to overstyle the dress, it's such a statement in itself. So I wore it with a simple straw hat (if I'd had a straw basket that definitely would also have made an appearance!)

Throwing some neutral coloured pumps on my feet I was sure not to wear socks, knowing that this dress would make me want to feel the grass between my toes.

The large pockets are perfect for collecting things - a home for shells, pebbles and wild flowers - every play date dress needs a place to store treasures.

As the sun disappears to make way for the night the dress goes perfectly with my pink cable knit jumper. Keeping my arms warm until Mum calls me in for dinner.

I love this dress for transporting me back to such a carefree time in my life. I hope it brings Donna the same joy it brought me when I package it up to send on.

Make sure you take a look at how Erica, Char and Ally styled the dress. 

How would you have styled this?



Monday 27 April 2015

Visiting York

It's been quite a while since Simon and I have had a weekend away without being tied up with commitments.  So when the Travelodge invited us to spend a weekend with them we were really happy and thankful for the excuse to spend a relaxing weekend together.

We had a few cities to choose from and opted for York. Only an hour away from Newcastle, it's where we had our second date, where we spent our first ever weekend away together and, let's face it, it's a beautiful city.

Our home for the weekend was the Travelodge Central. Around a 20 minute walk from York Station, yet we insisted on hopping into a taxi on arrival as we were desperate to get to our room in time for Gogglebox.

We often stay in Travelodge hotels, they tend to be the cheapest of the budget hotels, are always in convenient locations and, although pretty basic, are comfortable and clean.   Our trip to York was as much about chilling out as it was exploring and we spent a lot of our Friday and Saturday evening relaxing in our lovely cosy room watching TV.

Our room in the York Central hotel overlooked Clifford Tower and the river, quite a view to wake up to in the morning.   Simon actually walked out of the bathroom one morning to find me climbing over the furniture just to get a better look.

We slept well although, as is often the case with city centre hotels at weekends, we were woken in the early hours of Saturday morning by returning party animals but the bed was so comfortable we drifted back to sleep in no time. 

Without an on site restaurant we had a Travelodge Breakfast Box each in the morning. The boxes are available to collect on Reception and cost £4.95. 

This is a brilliant little box for a city break.  You get a choice of two and they are stuffed full of goodies like muffins, cereal bars, yoghurt, cereal and orange juice.  When you just want something light before setting off on your adventure this ticks the box.  If we had wanted something more substantial there is a Wetherspoons attached to the hotel which is always a great place to head if you want something super greasy and cheap. 

Now that Spring has arrived I took the opportunity to wear something season appropriate with my floral trousers from Tesco that I got for my birthday. I also finally wore my white jacket that I got from Warehouse last year. It's been sitting in my wardrobe all that time because I was too scared about it getting dirty! 

Wanting to beat the crowds we began our day with a quick look round the shops.  Whilst York has a good amount of shops, I'd never want to spend too much time in them as the city offers so much more. 

Fenwick was our main port of call with an enjoyable look round the designers playing the game of "one day when we have spare money".  It wasn't all window shopping though and I did make one rather large splurge when I bought my first ever high end lipstick, Chanel Rouge Coco in Adrienne, a beautiful nude colour.

It was a warm and sunny Spring day in York so we didn't have too much on our agenda and happily mooched about on the Shambles, York's most famous cobbled street.

I love the cute shops that line both sides of the street and it's the perfect place to browse for books, sweets and treasures. 

At 11.00 am we were booked for a tour at York's Chocolate Story, an attraction I've walked past a fair few times but never visited.  The admission price is £10.50 and not knowing much about the tour I have always wondered if it's worth the ticket price.

Now I'm going to tease you a bit because all I'm going to say is that we had a really great time! You'll have to pop back to the blog on Friday for a full review. 

After our tour, the only thing on our minds was chocolate and we weren't going to be happy until we'd had some!  Luckily the Chocolate Story have a Chocolate Cafe attached offering delicious cakes, milkshakes and chocolate fondu.  We decided to order hot chocolates and they were the best we've had in a long time! The good news is you can walk into the cafe from the street even if you haven't been to the Chocolate Story.

With our tummies full of chocolate we were happy to see the sun shining and didn't wander far before we found ourselves stopping to watch a man up a ladder escaping from chains! York has some fantastic street performers and, they are handily positioned right near ice cream and crepe carts so a good place to stop and relax for a little while.
Of course you can't go to York without admiring York Minster and the perfect blue skies made it look extra special.

We didn't venture in this time as we've done it before but if you are ever visiting make sure you climb to the roof for great views.

As the sun was still shining we had to visit our favourite spot in York, the Museum Gardens. With a few great sandwich and cake shops close by and its own ice cream cart the gardens are a great place to chill out in the sunshine.

With the Travelodge being positioned right next to the Clifford Tower and me loving a good view we decided to take the opportunity to climb it. 

The Clifford Tower is an English Heritage site and admission costs £4.40 for adults .  There are some interesting facts about the Castle on the ground floor that you can read before beginning your climb. 

The stairs were a little tricky to navigate as they were spiral so possibly not an adventure to partake in if heights make you nervous.

Luckily, Simon and I have climbed so many towers recently we're like mountain goats!

The 360 degree view from the top was beautiful, the highlight obviously being York Minster which we could just see peaking out over the roofs.

After all that climbing it was time to head back to the Travelodge to get changed for dinner. 

Woah there! You mean I had a whole day out with no cake?! Yep you read that right! We wanted to save ourselves for dinner.  I do, however, have a York tea room recommendation so be sure to read about our previous trip to Chloe's of York

After managing to wear my white jacket all day without getting it covered in newly bought lipstick, chocolate or dirty old castle, I decided to be extra brave and also wear it out for dinner. This time with my Primark skinnies, white lace top from Oasis and my bright floral shoes from George.

I hope I'm not the only person who can't resist taking a selfie in hotel room mirrors!

We headed to Missoula for drinks followed by Jamie's Italian. I'm yet to try the Jamie's in Newcastle and several friends had told me to try the restaurant in York as it's the best Jamie's in the North. They weren't wrong! 

Thank you to Travelodge for giving us the opportunity to return to one of our favourite cities. If you haven't explored York yet make sure you book yourself a trip and I can definitely recommend the York Central Travelodge hotel for a cheap and comfortable city break.

Want more?  Read my previous blog posts about Afternoon Tea at the Cedar Court Grand, York and Our Anniversary in York (featuring the City Wall Walk, Star in the City and cake at Chloe's of York)

Travelodge gave us 2 nights free accommodation at their York Central Hotel and we climbed the Clifford Tower with our English Heritage Press Pass.   All other expenses on our trip we paid for ourselves.

Friday 24 April 2015

Putting the Castle into Newcastle!

I could definitely forgive you for not realising there is a medieval castle in Newcastle, mainly because Simon didn't realise it himself until I arrived in the Toon and announced on one of our first North East dates that I'd like to visit it!

You may have staggered past it during a night out at the Bridge Tavern, you may have rushed by as you were crossing the High Level Bridge or you may have vaguely noticed it on your approach to the Vermont Hotel.  

Well let me tell you now, Newcastle Castle is one of my favourite places in the city to visit.  It has something for everyone whether you're a budding historian, want to learn a bit more about our beautiful city or simply want to enjoy one of the most breath taking views in the country.

The Castle has recently reopened after a renovation so we were invited inside for a little play (cos let's face it who doesn't dream of being a brave knight or a beautiful princess!) and to take a look at the new exhibitions.

The Castle is made up of the Keep and the Black Gate and costs £6.50 for adults and £3.90 for children.

Introductions over, let's take a little peak inside!

It may look small from the outside, but Newcastle Castle is very deceptive!  When you enter, you soon realise that the building is a maze of dark tunnels, beautifully preserved rooms and winding stone staircases.  I have a pretty awful sense of direction so exploring was even more of an adventure for me!

We started our quest by learning about defence in the castle.  We resisted the urge to play with a cross bow (definitely not a toy!) and carefully studied a North East map set up with battle strategies.

It was hard not to get room envy in the reconstruction of one of the "solars", the private chambers of the Keep.  It would have been occupied by one of the officers and it looked so snug.  I would happily  snuggled up by that fire with a book.

Dotted around the Castle are lots of boards with bite sized facts about each room and what you can see.  It's the perfect amount of information to digest and we learnt lots of interesting things.  I'm no historian and don't really like being overwhelmed by dry facts and figures so I certainly appreciated the fun and interesting way that history came alive in the Castle.   For those wanting a little more information, there's also an enjoyable short film to watch where local historians take you through each room of the Castle.

My favourite room of the Castle was easily the Royal Chapel.  It was stunning!   Perfectly formed arches with the most beautiful architecture.

This was the room where visiting Royals would have come and it gave us gooesbumps to think that we could have been standing in the very spot where royalty had stood.

Newcastle Castle is beautifully preserved making it easy to imagine what the Castle would have been like in times past.  We learnt on the video that people had carved their name in the wall of one of the rooms during the Civil War and we could easily find the markings for ourselves as soon as we entered the room - amazing!

For me a huge part of visiting the Castle is the great present you get at the end as you reach the top of the 99 stairs and step out onto the roof.

The roof offers THE best views of the city and I think there's many people out there who don't realise it making it one of Newcastle's best kept secrets!

I could quite happily spend an entire afternoon sitting on the roof in the sunshine admiring my beautiful city.   

As always my attention was very much focussed on the River Tyne.  Looking down towards Gateshead you get a very special view of three of our bridges - the Swing Bridge, the world famous Tyne Bridge and the UK's only tilting bridge, the Millennium.

From the photo below you can see that between the Keep and the Black Gate there is, rather strangely, a railway line.  

The Victorians got a little over excited with the arrival of steam trains and, rather cheekily, built a railway line right through the middle of the Medieval Castle! 

Although several buildings were lost to make way for the rail line, these days the two sit happily side by side.   Next time you're in Newcastle Central Station waiting for a train take a little look down the track towards the city and you'll see the Castle sitting pretty in the middle of the railway lines!

Things definitely look even better from above and I was pretty reluctant to ever come down.  

As we made our way out of the Keep still feeling giddy after that stunning view, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride for Newcastle! 

Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit the Black Gate but that gives us a perfect excuse to return soon.

Next time you're strolling around the area why not pay the Castle a visit?

We were invited to look round Newcastle Castle free of charge but weren't obliged to write this review.


Wednesday 22 April 2015

St Ives Snapshots

Unfortunately our adventure down to Cornwall for my best friend's wedding was rather short, we had to get back because of work commitments and a limited budget.  

We did however get about 2 hours to mooch around  St Ives before we began our epic journey back to the North East.  

We were staying at the wedding venue, Treganna Castle which was a short 10 minute walk to St Ives. 

With no time for paddling, food or sitting about, here are a few snapshots we managed to take before heading off to catch our flight back to the North East.   

I've been lucky enough to enjoy a few holidays in Cornwall over the years and it really is my dream destination in the UK.   On a hot sunny day Cornwall's perfect blue sea, beautiful beaches and exotic palm trees make it very close to paradise.

From the hustle and bustle of  St Ives, to the quieter beaches and cliff top walks - our short trip down to the South West coast reminded me how beautiful Cornwall is and how I really need to get myself back for a longer visit as soon as possible.

Monday 20 April 2015

My Best Friends Wedding

A few weekends ago I got to enjoy a day that I've been looking forward to for a very very long time, the wedding of my best friend!

I'm obviously not going to share anything personal from the day but I'm really proud of the pictures I took so wanted to share a few. 

Their beach themed wedding was at the gorgeous Tregenna Castle in St Ives and although the journey from Newcastle to Cornwall was rather long it was worth every second of the journey down.

I was very honoured when I was asked to be a bridesmaid.  I got to wear this gorgeous Tiffany blue dress, which gave me the excuse to wear my glittery peep toe heels that spend most of the year sitting untouched on top of my wardrobe. 
I'm not sure I was terribly good at being a bridesmaid - I kept losing my flowers in favour of my DSLR, but I'm so proud of the lovely photos I took so I'm hoping she's forgiven me. 
The bride looked gorgeous in her dress and it made me feel so warm and fuzzy to see my best friend looking so blissfully happy. 
I was also really chuffed to be asked to do a speech. I was very nervous and worried I'd be too emotional and end up not being able to finish it but I was determined to give it a good go. I embarrassed us both by telling the room about how we'd met round the back of our local radio station in the 90s, waiting for the boyband 911 to come out, told the story of how she met her new husband and made both of us start blubbing when I explained what a special lady she is. The speech got laughs and a few tears so it was pretty successful. 

Although the couple don't live in Cornwall, it's their special place as the Groom loves surfing, they both appreciate the beauty of the coastline and love the Cornish lifestyle.
As well as the super cute cake toppers there were lots of nods to the seaside at the wedding. I particularly loved the shells hidden away in the flowers and the glittery starfishes the bride wore in her hair. 
Of course I have to mention the food and I think this was the best wedding food I've ever had with plenty of local dishes to enjoy. We had scones with jam and clotted cream with the welcome drinks, huge pieces of battered fish and chips for the Wedding Breakfast and Cornish pasties hot from the oven in the evening. 
The day passed in a flurry of catching up with old friends, dancing to boyband classics and playing in the photo booth.
I was so sad when the celebrations were over but luckily my little sister is also getting married this year so I only have 5 months to wait for another special day. 

I just wish every weekend could be so special!

Friday 17 April 2015

The Botanist Roof Garden

For many years now I've been rather obsessed with roof top bars, especially ones that offer fruity cocktails and beautiful views.

When I lived in London, my local in Wimbledon had the most amazing roof bar and every sunny weekend I'd rush up there as soon as the pub opened to grab myself a spot. That haven for sun worshipping is one of the things I miss most about my life in London. 

So when I heard that the Botanist (still the hottest bar in Toon!) was going to be opening a roof bar, I was excited but trying not to get my hopes up too high in case it didn't live up to my expectations.

Last week I was invited to the VIP launch night and finally got to have a look round the new space in what was definitely the most anticipated event of the year so far. 

I should have known that the Botanist, creators of the only indoor magical tree in Newcastle, would not let me down!  As soon as I stepped foot on to the roof I knew that Newcastle finally has itself somewhere perfect for those loving views and sunshine. 

It had been a rather warm Spring day here in the Toon, so we were thankful to be handed the Botanist's signature cocktail in an ice cold glass as we arrived.

 I've enjoyed one of these bad boys before and they are so refreshing (Elderflower, Mint and Jasmine are such a beautiful combination) a very good place to start if you can't decide which cocktail to have first. 

I sat still for all of about 2 minutes enjoying my drink before I left poor Simon looking after our table so I could go for a proper explore of the beautiful garden.

As with the Bar and Restaurant downstairs, the Roof Garden is a feast for the eyes. Decked out in the familiar rustic style, I loved the fairy lights and little hideaway huts perfect for a cosy night out with friends.

There are plenty of seats with picnic benches and white garden furniture dotted around the roof as well as some more open spaces for those that prefer to mingle and get noticed.

The bar is lit by hanging lanterns whose golden glow looks really beautiful against the dark wooden counter below.  It's finished off perfectly with little wooden bar stools for those wanting to watch the master cocktail creators at work.

Live music has become a much loved feature of the Botanist and on VIP night we were treated to a live acoustic set featuring so many of Simon's favourite tunes I had to put up with him singing in my ear all evening!  There's something really lovely about enjoying live music out in the fresh air and I can only imagine how great this is going to be on a Summer's evening.

Taking a moment to tear my eyes away from the beautiful bar I peered through the crates of bright green plants adorning the window sill for an aerial view of Grey Street, one of the UK's most picturesque streets. I've always appreciated the historic buildings that line the road but seeing it from above makes it that little bit more special.

It's definitely beneficial to look up when you're strolling around Newcastle and from the roof of the Botanist you can truly appreciate the tops of the stunning buildings like you never could before.  The green clock peaking out over the top of the bar is the roof of Emerson Chambers (home to Waterstones), it's so beautiful yet I bet most people walk past it without ever really noticing it. 

With our Botanist Cocktails drained we turned our attention to the drinks menu.   I ordered a Rose Wine, perfect for slowly sipping whilst doing a spot of people watching. 

Simon had a Samuel Adams which he enjoyed so much he quickly ordered himself another.

As it began to get dark and the bar was lit by the beautiful fairy lights I had my nose back in the cocktail menu and ordered a Strawberry and Cucumber Breeze .   It always takes me such a long time to decide which cocktail to order at the Botanist because they all sound so amazing.

What had started off as a "quick drink after work" soon became a happy evening of excited chatter and we found ourselves really not wanting to leave this beautiful space.   Eventually we had to, so reluctantly pulled ourselves away, praying for a hot Summer that will allow us many long evenings in the roof top garden. 

Be ready to shout it from the Roof (Garden) ... NEWCASTLE IS THE PLACE TO BE THIS SUMMER!   With the restaurant booked up every Saturday until June and the queue for the bar getting ever longer I can only imagine that the Roof Garden will also be a huge hit.  So I'll see you all up there .. I'll be the one racing you to the top of the stairs to bag a seat in the sun!

Want more?  Read my previous blog posts about Date Night at the Botanist and Cocktails at the Botanist

We were invited to a VIP Launch night and got our first couple of drinks free ... however we enjoyed ourselves so much we stayed on and splashed out on extra drinks!
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