It’s not often that I have a new beauty brand crush, but after discovering Roger & Gallet, a Parisian brand, earlier this year, I have become a little bit obsessed.
The main reasons why I’m digging Roger & Gallet is because its products feel luxurious, and each carries its own exquisitely rich scent, which lingers on your skin after use.
My favourite product so far is the Roger & Gallet Fleur d’Osmanthus perfumed body oil (£24.50 for 100ml, but definitely worth the money). A little goes a long way with this ultra-nourishing, multi-purpose formula, which is dermatologically tested and contains apricot, sesame and almond oils. Used after a bath or shower, it leaves skin feeling sumptuously smooth and soft. It comes in a handy pump formula, so you can either pump straight onto your body or into your palm. To increase absorption, pump into your palm and warm the oil in your hands first. A couple of drops of the oil in a bath would be pleasant as well, and because of its lovely texture, it would also make perfect massage oil. You can even apply the oil to your hair – spray it directly into your hairbrush before you run it through your tips.
To leave your skin feeling sleek after a shower, the Roger & Gallet Fleur de Figuier gentle shower cream (£9.50 for 200ml) is a must. It’s enriched with shea butter and also soap- and sulphate-free, so it leaves you feeling moisturised, and it is kind to sensitive skin – it hasn’t upset my eczema. It has a divine fragrance, with notes of fig leaves and fig milk, and leaves the bathroom smelling lovely!
A nice-to-have is the handbag-friendly Roger & Gallet Fleur d’Osmanthus hand and nail cream (£6 for 30ml), which is paraben-free and contains apricot oil. It is non-greasy, absorbs fast and keeps your hands feeling smooth. I use it two or three times a day, and it leaves a scent of mandarin and grapefruit that lasts for an hour or so afterwards.
Finally there’s the Roger & Gallet Gingembre Rouge natural spray (£16 for 30ml). Although it’s not as long lasting as I’d hope – the fragrance stays with you for just over an hour – it smells so fresh and a little bit exotic: not quite fruity and not quite floral, somewhere in the middle. I think it’s a great every day, refreshing perfume, as it isn’t too in-your-face.
Those are all the products I’ve tried so far – let me know if there are any other star Roger & Gallet products that I should be hunting out, and I’ll make it my next mission…
“You must go before things change” – that’s what everybody says about the Caribbean island of Cuba. At first I was puzzled at this comment, but I understood it better once I landed on Cuban soil…
The few things I knew about Cuba before I went
•Cuba has an eventful history. From 1492 to 1898, it was a colony of Spain. The rule was brutal, as the native Taino people and the forest were annihilated to clear space for large cattle and sugar farms belonging to a few wealthy owners and worked by slaves. In 1895, the poet, journalist and man who is dubbed ‘the father of Cuba’, Jose Marti, led an uprising against Spain. Although he was killed soon after, the uprising continued. In 1898, the United States entered into the Spanish-American war and Spain was easily defeated, so Cuba was under US military rule from 1898 to 1902, and during this time US individuals and businesses took over much of the land. Wealth belonged to them and the majority of Cubans lived in poverty, without land, proper incomes or sufficient food. On December 31, 1958, the Batista government was overthrown by Fidel Castro, and a socialist government took power. US property was reposessed by Cuba and the US then put up a trade embargo against the country.
•The Cuban government is headed up by the Castros. Raul Castro took over from his brother, Fidel as leader of Cuba in 2008, and while most resources are controlled by the state, Raul is slowly relaxing the rules and attempting to reform the economy. People wonder what will happen once the Castro brothers cease to exist.
•The US detention centre Guantanamo Bay is in Cuba. It’s at the south eastern tip of the island, but there is little other connection between the US and Cuba: the US cut ties with Cuba over 50 years ago.
•Everybody seems to come home from Cuba with cigars and rum.
•You should request a rum slushy at the bar if you’re staying in one of Cuba’s many beach resorts, I was told.
What I learnt and observed whilst in Cuba
•When you’re from the West, entering Cuba is like entering a time warp. Everybody rides in old cars from the 1950s and many buildings are crumbly and old.
•Guantanamo Bay is the only US ‘thing’ going on in Cuba – diplomatic relations are non existent.
•A US embargo that has been in force since the 1960s means that Cuba cannot trade or invest with America, although farm products and medical supplies are allowed. In 1920 though, Cuba was a playground for Americans who owned much of the land.
•There are no American brands in Cuba – so no Mc Donald’s, Starbucks, or clothing chains. There are also very few fast-food joints.
•Cubans aren’t fans of Americans. One hotel worker suggested that the best way for an American visitor to remain inconspicuous in Cuba was to say he or she were Canadian.
•Cubans are not allowed to leave the country without special permission from the government.
•Contrary to popular belief, Americans can enter Cuba, although there’s a bit of bureaucracy involved.
•There are no billboards or advertising posters anywhere in Cuba. As you’re driving along the freeway, you won’t see anything advertised. The only boards you’ll see are those put up by the government, which are propaganda notices and murals of revolutionary Che Guevara, who played a key part in the Cuban Revolution (when Fidel Castro’s army overthrew American-friendly President Fulgencio Batista from power).
•Hitch-hiking is legal, and everybody does it. It’s encouraged. People in state-owned vehicles are obliged to stop and offer rides to passengers if they have space for them.
•The average Cuban earns 5CUC a week – that’s about 58p in GBP. A chef at our hotel said he works 13-hour days for this wage. A 2000 Lexington Institute study found that it would take an average Cuban on a government salary about four days to earn enough to buy one pound of pork, rice, beans, and two pounds of tomatoes, three limes and a head of garlic.
•You’ll rarely find beef on the menu in Cuba. One of our taxi drivers said it was because it’s too expensive, as the government takes cattle away from farmers to be killed, and the farmers have to buy the meat back from the state – farmers aren’t allowed to kill the cattle themselves.
•Cubans know how to dance and do salsa. They’ll put you to shame in no time!
•All Cubans receive free education so the population is highly literate. Healthcare is also free.
•Cuban families are given ration cards which they can use to buy essentials such as rice, chicken, eggs, oil and pasta at a subsidised rate.
•Cubans weren’t allowed to own cars or businesses till recently – they were strictly state-owned till after 2008 when Raul Castro came to power.
•American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway was one of a few Americans who went to Cuba and chose to stay after relations between Cuba and America soured. He spent about 20 years in Cuba, just outside of Havana. His favourite watering holes, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio, still stand today.
•In one of the restaurants I visited in Havana, the idea of vegetarianism was interpreted literally – I asked for a vegetarian pizza and the toppings consisted of carrots, potatoes, beetroot and basically any vegetable the chefs could find in the kitchen!
•A traditional night in for Cubans involves men playing dominoes, smoking cigars and sipping rum while the ladies chat and make food, our tour guide informed us.
•The island generally still runs on dial-up internet – there’s little or no chance of getting Wi-Fi out there.
•Cubans celebrate Christmas Day on the 24th December. We woke up on what we’d deem ‘Christmas Eve’ to a mass feast and a premature Christmas Day – so we got to celebrate it twice – once on the 24th and once on the 25th!
•You’ve got to pay a tourist tax when you leave the country through the airport. It’s 25CUC, so about £15.
•Cuba’s sandy beaches are stunning and the water is very clear, but the mosquitos are a pain.
•Visit the Partagas cigar factory in Havana – even if you don’t smoke or like cigars, it’s worth a visit: a truly surreal experience. The majority of the cigar making process involves manual labour; first you see the women-only room where they sort the leaves, then the rolling, then the finishing. The deep smell of cigars engulfs you as you walk around, and the smoke from employees (staff are allowed to smoke while working and each receives a handful to smoke each day). You’re not allowed to take a camera or any such device into the building so you won’t be able to capture it, unfortunately. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
•For music and dancing: Calle 62 (authentic Cuban music and salsa) and The Beatles (rock ‘n’ roll) bars in Varadero. At the former, locals will show you how to get your hips going and have you up from your seat to dance; in the latter you can rock out to famous songs in an outdoor bar area.
•Sip on fresh sugar cane juice. Sugar used to be one of Cuba’s biggest exports until the collapse of the Soviet Union. We had to travel all the way out to Guama for a taste of the sugarcane.
It’s cool how even if you’re full to the brim, you can always manage to find room for dessert, right?
Dessert is my ultimate guilty pleasure, so it was with great excitement that I headed over to sample the sweet treats on offer at The Pudding Bar, a new pop-up on Greek Street that’s all about afters.
It officially opens its doors tomorrow (Saturday 19th July) for three months, and on the menu are a selection of lovely cakes, puddings and dessert wines.
Before I say anything else, I’ve got to SHOUT about the luscious S’more Cheesecake (£7): a spoonful of it takes you straight to cloud nine. It’s so comforting and moreish, plus you get a scoop of nutty peanut butter ice cream on the side. It’s so good that I will be taking my dessert-obsessed friends back just for this.
The Strawberry Eton Mess (£8) is another standout dessert. The meringue is light and crunchy, and paired with indulgent clotted cream, strawberry mousse and zingy black pepper shards, it’s distinctively delicious.
Also on the menu is Earl Grey Panna Cotta (£6) – for anyone who enjoys Earl Grey tea, it’s sure to be a hit. The vanilla-soaked blackberries that accompany it just burst with joy in your mouth.
There’s also Lemon Parfait, with meringue, candied lemons and honey ice cream, and Choux Buns with chocolate cream, caramel sauce and pistachios.
All of the baking at The Pudding Bar is being handled by ex-Gordon Ramsay chef Laura Hallwood, so we’re in good hands.
Café style cakes and coffee and tea will be served at The Pudding Bar throughout the day, but come 6pm, the wine will be corked open and plated desserts, like those above, will be served (and there is an English Cheese Board for those with less of an appetite for sweet stuff).
The brainchild of friends Emily Dickinson and Pete Cawston, and Oliver Whitford-Knight (who used to work with Emily), the idea of a pudding bar was hatched 18 months ago, but only last week did the trio get the keys to the new place. It’s been a stressful few days for the down-to-earth bunch, as the place “really needed some love”, says Laura. It needed to be painted, the kitchen space fixed up and all interior details sorted within 7 days for the opening tomorrow.
It hasn’t been an easy task, as Pete says: “We’ve had some teething issues so far, with the electricians accidentally sawing through the power cable, for example. Touch wood everything now goes to plan. We hope to change up the pudding every few weeks, too.
“We chose a pop-up because looking at the costs of opening a new place, and getting a lease was working out very expensive. This way, we can trial it and see how well it does. If it does go well, it might become a permanent fixture in London.”
The Pudding Bar has a laid-back charm, with mini staircases connecting three small floors (one of which is the kitchen), with wooden tables and benches, and mismatched chairs and crockery giving the eatery a lived-in feel.
It’s the perfect place to catch up with friends over a few glasses of wine or to visit after dinner (it’s open till midnight most days), and its location is really central. There’s always an excuse for pudding…
Find The Pudding Bar at 26 Greek Street, W1D 5DE. Monday-Saturday 7am-midnight; Sunday 7am-11pm. Bookings: 020 3620 4747
What better way to explore the city than to eat your way through it? As you’re introduced to famous and tucked-away spots, and as you hear new tales of London’s past, you can sample local fare along the way. Plus, you get to discover places you didn’t knew existed, and find new foodie joints to take your friends to. Here are some of London’s best foodie tours. Big tip: go hungry.
Bar crawls are so last year – cake crawls are what it’s all about now. Life is sweet on the Cupcake & Macaron Tour, with scheduled stops at a variety of bakeries and treat-makers including French macaron brand Ladurée and Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant Yauatcha. Mix the food stops with an intriguing history of the Covent Garden, Soho and Mayfair areas – and the chance to discover a ‘secret’ street – and you’ve got a recipe for informative, tasty fun. Opt for an alternative Great British Food Tour or Chocolate Tour if cakes and macarons don’t tickle your fancy.
This tour lets you taste local East End delicacies, fused with insightful commentary about the varied streets, religions and culture. Includes stops for an award-winning bacon sarnie, delectable Bangladeshi Brick Lane curry, traditional English pudding, Jewish bagel and more.
Discover the best spots for choccies in London as you learn all about the art of chocolate making, and gain practical tips on how to taste and recognise the ingredients in the brown stuff. You’ll also pick up a history of the area you’re touring as you indulge. Prepare to scoff a variety of yummy, quality chocolates, and experiment with unusual flavours – like gin, chai tea and peppercorn.
Duration: 2.5 hours
Food factor: Six tastings
Area: Various including Mayfair, Notting Hill and Chelsea
Roast chicken, mega sausage rolls, sliders, slow-roast pork – and something sweet to round off. There’s tons of meat on the menu for this tour: it’s fit for a beast. And as you chow down and venture from swanky hotel to bakery to pub you’ll learn about the history of the east. Mission complete.
Duration: 4 hours
Food factor: Five tastings
Area: Old Street, Liverpool Street
This culinary stroll through Camden will convince you that there’s more to the dining scene of Camden Town than the sprawling market stalls around the Lock and Gilgamesh. The menu for the day celebrates the diverse ethnicities of the area, with coffee roasting, Italian pizza tasting, Cypriot meze, Turkish delicacies, Portuguese pastries, and more. The eclectic story of Camden is intriguing, too.
Duration: 2 hours
Food factor: 5 tastings
Area: Camden Town
Starting in bustling Brixton market, first you’ll sample Caribbean and Portuguese flavours and get a feel for the area’s rich heritage and more recent boutique restaurants. You then jump on a bus (remember to take your Oyster card) down to the city’s oldest and most renowned market, Borough Market, where you’re in line for some ‘gourmet’ food tasting.
Theatrical knife-wielding chefs, delicious freshly cooked dishes, upbeat music and an extensive cocktail list combine to make for a distinctive and memorable dining experience at Benihana.
The Japanese Steakhouse, which pioneers group teppan dining – where your dinner is cooked right in front of you on a hot plate by a flamboyant chef who performs all kinds of dizzying tricks – is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a special 9-course ladies-only menu.
The Keiko Menu has been designed in honour of Benihana’s female CEO Keiko Ono Aoki, who took over the Benihana empire in 2008 after her husband and founder Hiroaki ‘Rocky’ Aoki passed away. The chain has grown from just one restaurant in 1964 to 120 global locations today.
I was lucky enough to have a taste of the limited-edition menu (available till late August) this week, and as the courses progressed, the food only got better – I’ll give a course-by-course breakdown in a sec.
I was bursting out of my jeans by the end of the 9 courses thanks to generous, filling portions, which make the menu great value for money (£30 per person, including a plum wine cocktail and a glass of wine). It also presents the perfect excuse to get together with the girls – especially if you’re not into all this World Cup malarkey!
A birthday meal is also extra special at Benihana. The chefs make it into a massive deal: they surround your table and serenade you with a Japanese version of the happy birthday song, and often you and your group get a free dessert – so perhaps consider making it your birthday destination and make sure the restaurant knows it!
Here’s what you get in the Keiko menu:
Tastes way better than it sounds – just the right side of punchy.
Benihana salad with homemade ginger dressing
Lots of lettuce leaves smothered in a sauce, basically. Crisp and tasty.
Healthy starter plate (rock n roll sushi, tofu with ikura, edamame and avocado)
So pretty! Didn’t know which to go for first; opted for the spoon of tofu. Tofu has a very soggy and wet texture as you’d expect, but combined with the sauce, and when you sip it all down together (don’t try and bite it into two as I did), it tastes best. Sushi was delicious, but it was a massive mouthful. If you manage to eat that in one go, and look elegant at the same time, I’ll pay you £50 – I looked like I’d just put a baby elephant in my mouth. The little red caviar balls on the sushi add an interesting touch too.
Can’t comment – for some reason these didn’t appear on my table, not that I needed any more food!
Prawn and vegetable appetisers
The prawns actually ROCKED MY WORLD; they were fresh, succulent, bouncy, and perfectly cooked. Plus, the chef cut up the prawns with impressive dexterity and speed before cooking them and flinging them through the air straight onto my plate. Cool.
This was served with vegetables and it was soft and light. When we explained to the chef that my dining companion didn’t eat steak (included in course 8), he was very accommodating and substituted her hibachi salmon for the steak, and instead made her hibachi black cod for this meal. All I can say is WOW. Just wow. If you go to Benihana and don’t try the black cod, man, you’re missing out. I think I could eat about 10 plates of that. Irresistibly good.
Chicken crêpe with hoi sin sauce
Reminded me of the Chinese duck wrap, but this was made with chicken and a thicker, sweeter pancake. The vegetables in the pancake gave it crunch and the hoi sin sauce was moreish. Great with the Benihana signature ginger sauce.
Hibachi steak with mushroom served with hibachi rice
A Benihana classic: this was a mammoth piece of steak, and the chef cooked it exactly how I liked. It was tender, juicy and plump. The fried rice was really good too – and again, the chef performed a dazzling trick where he flipped the bowl of rice through the air to land on my table, and not a grain fell out!
They saved the best till last. This unique dessert merges so many textures: the crispiness of the dumplings, the creaminess of the cheese inside and the cold, sweet ice cream with the squidgy strawberries. Divine.
It was a fun night out, complete with flying prawns and knives – and the Keiko menu is satisfying; not only for the food, but also because it celebrates womankind. Power to us!
Thanks to our skilled chef Richie for keeping a firm hold on those knives, and to Oscar from Benihana Piccadilly for looking after us and making our evening so impressive.
It took me 24 years of my life to discover hostels. I feel sad to say that aloud. But ever since my first hostel experience in July last year, and successive stays in other hostels since, I’ve not looked back.
There were a number of reasons why I’d never ventured to hostel territory: the most common being the misconception that hostels are unsafe, dirty places where you only meet promiscuous humans. Bad misconception.
After staying in a variety of hostels, from the party places to the quiet, family-run stays, my train of thought is totally different: why pay £50 a night for a posh and pretty hotel (if you’re lucky) where you’ll spend the night most likely sipping expensive drinks in the lobby, with just a bartender for company? Why do that when you can pay roughly half that price or less, for the company of likeminded others, good conversation and satisfactory amenities [made up for by the fact that you’ll probably have a more memorable and exciting experience]?
Convinced? Here are a few things you should know before staying in a hostel.
Not all hostels are booze fests. Some are, granted. You’ll probably be able to tell by the hostel’s bio: if it says the owners will greet you with a beer when you walk in, it’s likely to be that kind of place.
The so-called ‘free breakfast’ might not be the buffet you expect. You’ll probably get a few stale crossaints, sugary cereal and some milk if you’re lucky. Beggars can’t be choosers. And remember to wash up your crockery once you’re done.
Ear plugs are essential. People snore, slam doors and talk really loudly. Don’t get annoyed: just plug in.
Dorms vs private rooms: pick from four, six, ten or sixteen bed dorms, or opt for a private room if you like your privacy. I’ve always opted for a four or six-bed dorm as it’s way easier to make friends. Also, try and opt for a dorm with a private bathroom – you don’t want to have to trail through a corridor in your towel after showering in a cubicle you have to share with 12 others. You can go for a mixed dorm or same-sex, depending on how brave you are.
Flip flops for the shower. Essential. You don’t want to come home with fungus on your feet.
Kitchen etiquette. Most hostels offer kitchen facilities, such as crockery, microwaves, ovens, kettles etc. Wash up after yourself and label any food you leave in the fridge or else you might find it’s vanished tomorrow.
Most hostels have social areas such as a communal living room, kitchen or maybe an outdoor space. It’s the perfect place to introduce yourself to others and perhaps make some lifelong friends. Make conversation: ask people where they’ve visited so far, how long they’ll be here, where they’re from and the conversation will flow easily. Don’t be shy – you’ll be surprised at how friendly people are and how keen they are to make friends.
Bottom bunk please. If you get the choice, bag the bottom bunk. It’s way more convenient; no climbing stairs, and it’s quicker to get to the toilet and the door!
Take a padlock: most hostels provide lockers where you can stow away belongings. Assess the security of them before putting away all your life’s treasures: sometimes it may be better to carry your bits on your person.
Pick carefully. There are some terrible hostels, but if you choose carefully via sites such as hostelbookers.com and hostelworld.com, and assess the security ratings and reviews, and select wisely, you’ll probably end up in a good place.
Treat your roomies as you’d like them to treat you. I had some courteous party animals sleeping in the beds in my dorm, and although they crawled in at 5am, they kindly used their iPhone torches to seek out their pyjamas and the bathroom before knocking out for the night, with minimal disturbance to me.
Make the most of your hostel. Participate in its bar crawl/walking tour or any activities it offers. They’re probably cheaper than those offered by actual companies, and also a great way to make friends while experiencing a place properly. Often, hostel workers and owners have some of the best recommendations for places to see or eat at, too – chat to them.
People may steal things. If you leave your iPad and your money lying around, don’t be surprised if it’s gone in the morning. Keep belongings hidden and try to get to know your roomies. Whilst travelling in Australia, I met a girl who said her clothes were stolen from her suitcase. It happens. Keep it locked when you’re not around.
Wi-Fi. If you get Instagram/Facebook/Twitter withdrawal symptoms, pick a hostel that gives you free Wi-Fi or an internet connection. It might not be the fastest thing on earth, and it may cut out when you’re half way through posting a picture on Instagram, though.
Towels, luggage storage, laundry, and similar amenities. You’ll have to pay extra for them if you want them. This ain’t the Four Seasons yo. Try hand washing your pants and hanging them on the rails of your bunk instead – or create a makeshift line dryer if you’re smart enough; make a friend and ask if you can store your luggage in their room for an hour or two if you are desperate to save on cash.
Grubbiness. Sink holes plugged up with hair, strange smells and bugs in beds (and worse) are all possible. But if you choose your hostel wisely, and book in advance, rather than just turning up at a place and asking for a bed, you put yourself in a better position to avoid this.
You don’t need a backpack. So far, I’ve always travelled with a suitcase. A full 20kg suitcase sometimes. So if you can’t pack light, don’t worry: you won’t be frowned upon!
Some hostels feel like hotels. The bathrooms are spotless and the interior is fresh, so if that’s the kind of environment you like, I’m sure you’ll find it if you look hard enough. Every hostel has its own character: check out pictures before you book and you’ll get a feel for what it’s like.
If I ever own a café, I want it to be exactly like The Doll’s House. It’s highly unlikely that I’m ever going to own a café, but at this moment in time, that’s irrelevant.
Set up in a converted Georgian house, this cute, quaint and cosy café/tea room is a dream for every girl (or boy!) who ever loved playing with dolls houses. With mismatched wooden furniture and china cups, kitsch touches such as colourful lamps and wall hangings, it’s got a quirky, charming feel.
Home baked cakes, cupcakes, macarons and pastries greet you from behind the counter, and another thing I really like is that the café is also sort of a shop – it’s stocked with unusual, small pieces to purchase, such as baking tools, jewellery holders, mugs and cute notepads, and these items change seasonally. Price tags hang from lots of the vintage furniture in the café too, so if anything takes your fancy, you can buy it.
What stands out at The Doll’s House is its cakes and scones. There are shakes, a variety of teas, afternoon tea and breakfast and lunch dishes too, but for a sweet-toothed person like myself, they don’t really compare. The café is always experimenting with new recipes, so there’s lots of variety, and it also serves gluten-free items.
Staff are helpful and accommodating and although prices may not be as low as you’d hope, the food is of a good quality and portions are generous. This is one of those places to take your nearest and dearest for a uplifting cuppa and a cake – and a place you want to show off to friends visiting from afar.
The Doll’s House is located near the top of Harrow-on-the-Hill: look out for that duck-egg blue door and checkered window. It gets pretty busy at the weekends so if you plan on visiting, book in advance if you can. It doesn’t have its own parking, but there are quite a few spots on the street.
Getting back to that idea about owning a café – even if it never happens, I’m glad my dream café has already been materialised. Good job, Doll’s House.
It gets more sunshine than any other Aussie capital, it has some of the most beautiful beaches (and sunsets) and it’s no way near as boring as some Aussies suggest. Sure, it’s a little sleepy on the outskirts, and its city shopping district is about the size of London’s Leicester Square, but if you’re lucky enough to be visiting Australia’s most isolated capital, there’s plenty to do and see. Grab your sunnies, your sunscreen (you WILL need it) and let’s go… PS, you’ll probably need a car to get around – Perth is HUGE and public transport doesn’t make life too easy, except for when you’re in the city centre. Here are the top 10 picks for places to go/see/do in Perth*:
1. Explore Kings Park
Overlooking the city and the Swan River, this is one of the largest inner city parks in the world – it’s spread over 400.6 hectares; London’s Hyde Park is just 142 hectares: do the maths! Do the tree top walk, take a stroll through the botanic gardens and pack a picnic to enjoy on the endless grassy lawns.
2. Get close to Australian animals at Caversham Wildlife Park
In this small, friendly park, stroke the koalas, wombats and kangaroos (kangaroo feed is provided, too), and see dingos, emus, Tasmanian Devils and more.
3. Go on the hunt for cheese and wine in the Swan Valley
Swan Valley is Western Australia’s oldest wine region. Drive the length of the signposted Food and Wine Trail in search of vineyards, distilleries and fine food, including chocolate and plump grapes.
4. Admire surfers on Trigg Beach
…And have a go too, by booking in a lesson. This is one of Perth’s most popular surfing beaches, so grab a coffee or an iced chocolate drink from the Yelo café, then find a spot on the sand and watch the surfers do their thing.
5. Grab a towel and head to Moore River
A little way out of Perth is this picturesque, popular family-friendly spot. The river is separated from the Indian Ocean by a sandbank, and the contrasting colours make it a postcard-worthy scene. Hire a paddle boat or a canoe, go fishing, go swimming, or just relax and sunbathe. There’s so much to do here, its easy to while away the hours. Locals often bring their picnic blankets, umbrellas and fold-away chairs and make a day of it.
6. Watch the sun set over Cottesloe Beach
Have dinner by the beach as the sun goes down. Barbecues are available, so just pack some bits and fire one up for a freshly cooked dinner by the sea. Sorrento and Scarborough beaches are just as pretty, too. If you’re going to Scarborough, and you’re hungry, check out The Wild Fig for yummy food.
7. Sail or kayak on the Swan River
If Moore River’s too far away, head to the Swan River for some water-based fun. Mind the jellyfish, though!
8. Explore historic Fremantle
With its famous Cappuccino strip, lively markets, restaurants, bars and harbour, Fremantle (locals call it “Freo”) is buzzing day and night. It’s steeped in history too; take a tour of Fremantle prison, which was built in the 1850s, and closed officially in 1991, or roam the heritage listed buildings and you’ll be transported back in time.
9. Party in Northbridge
You’ll find bars, clubs and tons of restaurants in this area of Perth. But why not start your night in Mr Munchies, a 10-minute drive away in Mount Lawley, where you can devour well-priced, delicious sushi with a range of vegetarian options too – hands down the best sushi I’ve ever tasted. Then head over to Northbridge and dance the night away in one of its many late-night haunts.
10. Pick up some souvenirs
If you’d like to see what the city area and central business district is like, jump on one of the three free Central Area Transit (CAT) buses that connect East and West Perth and Northbridge, and do a little sightseeing and shopping if you like. If you’re into tea, visit T2, a super cool tea shop chain.
*With thanks to my fabulous Perth-based family for creating such an awesome itinerary and helping me discover such amazing spots.
You feel a tinge of excitement as you enter the new Dutch homeware store Hema in London’s Victoria Station. All is colourful, bright and tidy, and because it’s new territory (being the first store to open in the UK) you have a real urge to explore every corner. Your exploration won’t be in vain – there’s sure to be something in there you need – or at least think you need – or want.
Hema is like a hybrid of the late Woolworths (*sob*) and homeware chains Wilkinson and Tiger. Everything is in price denominations of 25p, and the average price of an item is £3. Hema has been dubbed a ‘value’ store, but it feels more upmarket than your average Poundland, plus the majority of products are made by or for the chain itself (they’re ‘own-brand’), and they’re not boring at all; they seem of a good quality and have distinctive, cheery designs.
To list everything that is stocked in Hema would probably require a good few pages, but here’s a quick selection: cereal, snacks, Dutch baked goods, kitchen utensils, tea towels, baking tools, craft items and activities, stationery, children’s toys, colouring books, greeting cards, picnic items (and other summery items), kids clothing, towels, face and body products, make up, and my personal favourite; crunchy and gooey Dutch mini waffles… told you there was lots. So whether you’re a keen baker, a parent, a hungry office worker or looking for a pair of emergency flip flops, and you find yourself in central London, chances are you’ll get it here. Location-wise, I think it’s a win.
Later this month, another store will open in Kingston, and then the third will open in Bromley in July. Hema already has more than 600 stores across Europe, and it has become known for its quality and affordability. The question is whether it’ll be able to stand up tall against the many other homeware stores in the crowded UK market.
How to find Hema in Victoria
It’s hidden away in Victoria Place, a little shopping arcade above the mainline Victoria station. Head through the departures hall of the station towards platform 15, toward Victoria Coach Station. On the right side of the departure boards, you’ll see escalators. Go up them and pass Dorothy Perkins, Pret, New Look, and then on your left you will see Hema.
Travelling solo had never really crossed my mind; I mean, why would you intentionally isolate yourself from your loved ones, and what fun would there be in exploring a new place when you had no one to share it with? Getting on an aeroplane alone, dining alone, getting around alone – it all seemed a little too lonely (and scary!).
But it is now – after navigating my way around an unfamiliar country by myself – that I realise how wrong I was. After unexpectedly being made redundant, I figured that there was no better time to up and leave – and at such short notice, there was no way I’d find a travel companion, so I had to go it alone. Within a week of being told I was losing my job, I was high up in the sky, about to start an adventure that turned out to be the opposite of what I expected it to be. I experienced the generosity of strangers, found friends in people I’d never have imagined to, and learnt a hell of a lot about myself, and life itself. That’s why I’m with the camp that firmly believe everybody needs to travel alone at least once in their lives, here’s why:
You’re the boss
If you’ve ever been away with others and not quite seen eye-to-eye about places you’d like to visit, or the amount you’d like to spend, this will feel like a breath of fresh air. You are the master of your plans – you can go wherever you want, do whatever you want, sleep in when you like, and spend how much or as little as you want, without anybody judging you. You get to do what you like to do, at your own pace – no compromises involved – and it’s brilliantly satisfying (and cheaper).
You’re not actually alone
There are hundreds of people who are in the same situation as you – and you’ll meet them along the way. On the plane, at your accommodation (I’d recommend booking into 6-person dorms at hostels as you meet so many people this way), at tourist attractions and guided walks: independent travellers are everywhere. As well as fellow travellers, you’ll befriend shop owners and locals of all ages, often accidentally, such as when you’re shopping, asking for directions, or sitting next to them on a bus. Everybody has a story to tell, and being open, friendly and smiley will mean you get to hear theirs, and share your own. After meeting so many genuine, good people – from the guy who lent me his coat for the entire day as I’d forgotten mine, to the girl who offered to show me around town on my first night, and the local shopkeeper who told me the best place to find cheap clothes – I came home feeling like I’d had my faith in humanity restored. And I’m able to keep in touch with many of the people I met thanks to the wonders of modern technology such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
Face your fears
Ever been too nervous to ask a stranger for directions or to take a picture for you? Too afraid to dine out in a restaurant alone? When travelling, you’ll often find yourself in situations where you’re out of your comfort zone, with no safety blanket and nobody to call on or fall back on. There were numerous times where I got lost, situations where I felt uneasy – and at one point I even ended up in hospital as I’d passed a kidney stone – and whilst these were scary experiences, I’m thankful for them as I learned so much about myself as a result. Travelling independently stretches you; it tests you and helps you discover your self-confidence and self-esteem because you always manage to find a way through (although it may not always feel like it at the time!).
Get to know the real you
No, I’m not going to pull out the overused and clichéd “I found myself” statement. But travelling does involve spending serious time alone with your thoughts, and whilst at times it may get lonely, it helps you learn about yourself, and lets you learn to enjoy your own company. Sounds strange, I know, but you almost get to know yourself from the inside out – you figure out your strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and get to listen to the different voices in your head – it’s the perfect time for reflection and personal growth. I kept a journal throughout my travels, so any time I was alone, I’d fill up a few pages with what I was feeling and what I’d been doing, and I this helped me connect with my innermost thoughts and also helped me to discover what it actually is that I want to get out of life.
Free yourself and your mind
You’re more likely to reach out to others, and be approached by others, when you’re alone rather than when you’re with travel buddies. There’s this overwhelming sense of freedom you get, and it enables you to act out of sheer curiosity – go exploring with new people you’ve just met, embrace a country’s culture with open arms, try new foods – and you find that you appreciate things more. You’re more open to new experiences – when was the last time you jumped into an 80 metre deep lake, just for the fun of it? For me, it was whilst I was travelling – I went with the moment, and with the new friends I’d just met, we all had a swim in the pouring rain. Now I’m home, I’m feeling brand new, and refreshed – I came home to see all my belongings in my room – and realised that I’d lived out of a suitcase for a month and not needed any of the 20 hair products I was looking at now – travelling helps you put things into perspective.
Well, you only live once (YOLO, as us cool kids say), so give it a shot – there’s no harm in trying! I only went away for a total of a month, but that was enough for me – you don’t have to go away for a long period to benefit from this experience. It isn’t actually as scary as it seems, and if you go with a YOLO attitude, you’re more open to saying ‘yes’ to every new experience or opportunity. And again, it’s something I’ve taken away from the trip and am applying to life now – say yes to everything you possibly can! Obviously, use your common sense in a foreign country, do your research beforehand and be safe at all times, but remember give spontaneity a go, too!
My friends have seen that I – the least independent person of all who still has her laundry done by her mum – managed to survive a solo trip abroad, and a couple have been inspired to already take the leap and go away by themselves… If I did it, you can do it too – don’t let fear hold you back.
Rainbow clouds of powder enveloped the air at Battersea Power Station this weekend as Holi One Festival took over.
Over 10,000 revellers partied under the sun, and smothered themselves – and everybody else – in coloured powder to a countdown every hour until 10pm.
As if someone from above were sprinkling Rainbow Dust (the old school, sherbet straw sweets) over the grounds, the air was vibrant.
With booze, food and thousands of kilograms of coloured powder, it was a messy day (in all senses!) for all.
Inspired by the Hindu festival of Holi, which takes place in India to celebrate the arrival of spring and create a sense of cheer and togetherness, Holi One Festival put on a magical display – and emulated this atmosphere.
Complete strangers exploding colour over one another; laughing, dancing, making new friends, and going home with multi-coloured faces and hair: it was a happy time.
You’ll feel fully immersed in Mauritian culture at this lively outdoor celebration on Sunday 18th August at Down Lane Park in Tottenham, as it brings you traditional cuisine from the island of tropical paradise, plus a host of entertainment including dancing and live performances from some of the Mauritius’ biggest musical stars.
Kick back and enjoy the feel-good Sega music that Mauritius is famous for. With its colourful Creole (broken-French) lyrics and rhythmic sounds, it’ll transport you to Mauritius’ sun-kissed beaches.
Having legalised prostitution and marijuana, Amsterdam can be considered Europe’s equivalent of ‘Sin City’. But while it may be home to the Red Light District and numerous ‘coffee’ shops, there is so much more to see, do and (most importantly!) eat than most people normally realise.
In such a laidback, tolerant society that’s swamped by cyclists and paved by canals, the transport links are fantastic and always on time, and most people speak English, which is very handy. It’s clean and friendly, although it’s definitely not cheap. Here are my top picks for places to visit and things to do in Amsterdam.
1. Take a bike tour
If you’re a newbie to the city, I’d definitely recommend you start your vacation with one of Mike’s Bike Tours. We took a 3-hour city tour, led by a very helpful guy called Stuart. He peppered recommendations for things to see and titbits about Amsterdam’s history and the Dutch way of life throughout the excursion. It was incredibly useful as it helped us get our bearings right, and we got to feel the wind in our hair as we swooshed through the city. We also learned that the best way to get around Amsterdam is definitely by bike, just like the locals!
2. Design your own Magnum
A chocolate lover’s paradise: at the Magnum Pleasure Store you can design your own Magnum ice cream (picture below) and watch it being made before your eyes. Take lots of pictures of it, and then devour – Instagram can wait!
3. Visit the women behind windows
I was taken aback by the Red Light District. I did not anticipate the openness and casualness of it. I felt like it degraded womankind and made a mockery of equal rights. But enough about what I think: I suppose no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a walk through the narrow streets of the District, where you’ll find rows of small shop windows, and in each window will be a semi-naked prostitute attempting to entice punters to pay them a visit, literally! It was mildly comforting, however, to hear about the security measures put in place to protect these women – inside their rooms they each have a set of alarm buttons, for if they feel in any danger to alert the police. Still, very unsavoury stuff methinks.
4. See how cheese and clogs are made
A forty-minute bus ride out of the bustling city brings you to Simonehoeve Cheese Farm and Clog Factory. You’re given a warm welcome at this family run business, and the traditionally dressed owners provide a guided tour of their factory and demonstrate the machinery used to make clogs (image below). There’s also an opportunity to taste various cheeses, wine, Dutch sweets, and try on clogs – we bought a small, personalised pair with our names on. It’s a pleasant, half-day outing. If all you want to do is try different cheeses, then visit Henri Willig Cheese & More in the heart of Amsterdam – there’s always a lot to taste – and it’s the best way to buy.
Even if you weren’t big on history at school – you can’t miss this. You’re transported back to a chilling time, and almost relive it as you make your way through the actual house in which Anne Frank lived and wrote her diary. There are various videos, drawings and artefacts to refresh your memory or bring you up to speed on what went on, and it’s thrilling stuff. Queues whirl round the streets to get into this place, so either pre-book or get there early or just before closing time. I’m about to reread Anne Frank’s diary after seeing this.
6. Enjoy the greenery
Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s main city park – so it’s just like what Hyde Park is to London. It’s a pretty and vast space, and you’ll often find the Dutch barbecuing, picnicking or enjoying a spliff here. It’s aptly named Vondelpark (pronounced Fondelpark) because once the sun sets, it becomes legal to have sex in the park! A funny – yet true – fact, but don’t worry we didn’t catch any of that hanky panky. Don’t let it put you off either – it’s a lovely space and well worth a visit, even if it’s just a walk through it.
7. Scoff yummy Dutch pancakes
Very close to the main central street, and beside the museum district you’ll find the cute little De Vier Pilaren Poffertes and Pannenkocken Restaurant. Go there for breakfast or for dessert and enjoy the finest Dutch pancakes and poffertjes (left). Taste the banana and chocolate pancake, it’s delicious – and the poffertjes are plump and tasty too.
8. Have a laugh at quirky condoms
There’s a ‘Condomerie’ near the Red Light District that specialises in funky and unique condoms. From Pokemon to farm animals, it has got condoms in all shapes, colours and sizes: it’s a fun stop.
9. Go and see a windmill
We went and sat under the De Goooyer Windmill, in a brewery where they make their own beer. It was a nice opportunity to take pictures with the windmill, which is massive in size.
10. Taste a scrummy homemade apple pie
Winkel 43 has become famous for it’s homemade apple pie (pictured below). It’s a nice little café, with tables spilling out the street. The apple pie is a treat.
11. Make your own falafel
Moaz is a chain of falafel restaurants around Amsterdam. It’s centuries old and it operates a bit like Subway in England – you construct your own falafel and decide what goes inside. Fillings are often unlimited so you can keep topping up if you like. We have a similar restaurant in London (although it doesn’t provide unlimited refills!) – Taboon, in Golders Green (London). Perfect for lunch.
12. Browse Van Gogh’s work
The Van Gogh museum provides a great insight into the life of the famous artist. With four floors of paintings and work from him and his co-artists, it’s an art lover’s delight. Included in the collection are the Sunflowers and Bedroom paintings. Enlightening.
13. Tuck into Belgian fries
By far the best fries I have ever tasted – no exaggeration – at Chipsy King they are cooked Belgian style so they’re crunchy and crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. I wish there was a Chipsy King franchise in London; I would be their top customer!
14. Go flower-watching
We visited Amsterdam outside of tulip seasons, so the closest we got to real tulips were the wooden souvenirs. Still, Bloemenmarkt flower market is nice to pick up flower bulbs, venus fly traps, and to have a mooch at souvenirs to take home. If you’re lucky enough to go during the period when tulips are springing up, I’d insist you visit Keukenhof Gardens, it’s a picture perfect, magical place at that time of year.
15. Have a brick-oven special pizza
On the off chance that you’re craving Italian food in Amsterdam, take a trip to De Pizzabakkers. It has the thinnest brick-oven pizzas, and they’re very tasty.
There’s plenty of other stuff to do in Amsterdam too:
-Hunt out a bargain: visit one of the many flea markets: Albert Cuyp market, Dappermarkt, Waterlooplein and more.
-Go on a history trail: visit the art and culture museum, Rijksmuseum.
-See how beer is made: at the Heineken experience.
-Watch the world go by: simply sit along the wall of one of the canals and have a little peace and quiet.
-Get your lunch from a FEBO machine: it’s an interesting concept; there are self-sufficient units that behave a bit like vending machines dotted around Amsterdam, but they dispense hot food like croquettes.
-Visit the animals: at the Artis Zoo
Told you there was more to Amsterdam than weed and naked ladies.
For those wanting to dip their little toe in the craft revival, Homemade London has recently unveiled a string of £10 ‘Mystery Workshops’.
What sets these sessions apart is their spontaneity – you won’t know what you’ll be making till you arrive on the day! Each hour-long event takes place on a weekday evening, and in that time you’ll create something to take away with you, no matter what your skill level.
I’m allowed to divulge that the first few workshop activities have included jewellery making, personalised mugs and drawstring bags and machine-stitched notebook covers.
Founder and owner of Homemade London, Nicola Barron, says: “It’s a pleasant, intimate evening with a party spirit. People love the sense of mystery and the workshops provide instant gratification as you come away with something you’ve made with your very own hands. It’s a 60 minute session, so it’s not full-on, either.”
Nicola is very hush-hush about what the coming workshops will entail, so I can’t give you any clues, but each week there is a different activity and theme, and dates for future sessions are only released a couple of weeks in advance.
What started off as an experiment, Nicola says, has turned into something quite popular. “On the whim I just posted on our website that we’d be doing a few mystery workshops and within two days they were fully booked, so we started to arrange a few more! It’s great because we can trial new craft techniques – we even test new cocktail recipes so people get drinks, and they come away with something they’ve made.”
A mid-week pick-me-up, and something to take home and show off to friends? I’m in.
Glamping is camping with added glamour and luxury. It combines the fun and freedom of camping with a few home comforts, so it’s great for ladies who can’t do without their hairdryers, and fellas who can’t go a night without their electric toothbrushes. With glamping, you can bypass the long, fiddly process of setting up a tent, and you feel less like you are slumming it for the night because you’re staying in a stable, ready-constructed, cosy tipi, cabin or yurt. Plus, you have the added peace of mind that you’ll be able to kip comfortably (hopefully!), rather than on a potentially uneven grassy plot.
Popularised by some of the cast from The Only Way Is Essex, glamping is ideal for days when it might be rainy or cold, because you have the little niceties including a stable roof over your head, a full-length mirror (phew!), a bed with a mattress, power supply and kettle. I’m really selling this, aren’t I? But, I should add, however, that glamping doesn’t guarantee that creepy crawlies will be kept at bay!
Having never attempted camping before, glamping was a positive introduction to the concept. The toughest part was preparing for the trip, i.e. deciding what to take and what kinds of meals to cook – but thanks to advice from friends and family, and a little bit of Googling, we managed to over-pack, which, in my book, is better than being unprepared! I’ve compiled a camping checklist for those considering a trip.
I was slightly weary of using communal showers and toilets, but thankfully the facilities at the campsite we stayed at (Lee Valley Campsite, Sewardstone) were very clean and just a short walk from our cabin. Still, I’d recommend you take a pair of flip-flops for when you go for a shower – you don’t want to catch any verrucas! I’d also keep some toilet roll handy, just in case – and a torch, if you’re the kind to need the loo in the middle of the night. The campsite even offered a laundry service; provided taps for drinking water and shared sinks for washing up, so it felt like all bases were covered on our stay!
Meals for camping
You have to plan your meals in advance if you’re not intending on leaving the campsite once you arrive, so we did a big supermarket shop the day before we left, and stuffed all the bits into cool bags. We decided on:
Lunch: Vegetarian and meat sausages and burgers. We’d cook the sausages and burgers on the barbecue, and caramelize some onions on the stove.
Dinner: Gnocchi and crusty bread. As gnocchi is vacuum packed, it’s ideal. All we needed was a tin of pasta sauce and an onion to cook and then mix through it.
Dessert: Raspberries, strawberries, banana and chocolate for fondue. We had mini fondue sets at home and seeing as the chocolate only required a tea light candle to warm up, the fondue was very self-sufficient, albeit a little messy!
Breakfast: Eggs, beans, waffles, mushrooms and pancakes. We bought bottles of ready mixed pancake batter, into which we only needed to add cold water, and then shake. A little bit of a cheat but minimum fuss and mess – highly recommend!
Snacks: Mini cheese and onion and sausage rolls, dried fruit and crisps.
We’d packed a camping stove and also managed to get our hands on an electric, plug-in cooker, which was very practical. While some of the others in the group were tempted to nip off to a local café for lunch, the cooking part of the glamping was one of my favourite and most rewarding experiences – I felt self-sufficient and rather proud!
The week before we went camping, we made our own piñata to play with. It was very easy to do; all you need is flour, water, newspaper, some coloured paint or tissue paper – instructions here.
We also took some board games and were lucky enough to have balmy weather so we spent the majority of the evening outside our cabin, on our own picnic tables and blankets and the large picnic tables already provided by the camp. Our campsite did not allow us to have open fires or else we would have enjoyed roasting marshmallows. As the night became chillier, we took our games indoors, into the light of the cabin.
After a great day in the outdoors and evening around the barbecue I was looking forward to a warm, comfortable night’s sleep in my sleeping bag. As much as I would like to say I had a pleasant night’s sleep, I didn’t. We had a few incidents with bugs falling on our pillows, gigantic spiders and disturbingly loud noises from creatures scratching or scurrying outside of our cabin keeping us up (you can tell I’m a city girl at heart, can’t you?), but the other half of our group in the other cabin slept fairly well.
Even though I enjoyed convenience and little luxuries provided by glamping, not being able to get to sleep at night was a big put off. I’m left wondering whether I would have had a better kip in a tent, and should try ‘proper’ camping before I made a judgement. That might just have to be my next challenge, if I’m brave enough…
It’s a simple idea: you submerge yourself in a pod full of salty water; your body floats effortlessly on the surface of the water – and you experience the (slightly strange) feeling of weightlessness. The only hard part is getting your mind to silence, so you can truly relax.
The solution in the floatation tank creates an environment similar to that of the Dead Sea, and floating is supposed to have all sorts of benefits such as pain relief, alleviation of stress, reduced blood pressure and improved sleep.
How it works
Enter Floatworks London Bridge and you’ll be asked to complete a consent form that basically tells you that you’ll be entering the floatation tank at your own risk – what a way to put the frighteners on a weary first-timer!
When your appointment time comes around, you’ll be lead you to a somewhat dull treatment room, in which you will find a floatation tank and a shower cubicle. Shampoo and conditioner are provided, as well as slippers, a towel (£1 charge), a neck pillow (for use when floating), a small sachet of lubricant (for use before entering the tank, to cover over any skin abrasions so as to minimise any irritation on contact with the salty water), ear plugs (to prevent the water entering your inner ear) and a spray bottle of water (in the event that you get the salty water in your eyes or mouth).
The receptionist will give you five minutes – to get undressed (it’s a lockable, private room so there’s no need for prudence), take a quick shower and enter the tank – before he or she dims the lights. Soothing music plays at the beginning and end of the treatment, to signal the start and finish.
Inside the floatation tank
After you’re in the treatment room and the music goes off, you’re left to your own devices. I entered the tank and tried to figure out how I should position myself. At first I sat up and felt the floor of the tank, to get a feel for how deep it was – it wasn’t deep, and the water was lukewarm rather than hot. Then I attempted to lie down on my front, but remembered that the water wasn’t supposed to go near the eyes, so backtracked to lie back in the water. My body immediately bobbed to the surface – a very strange feeling! The weight of my head did make my neck feel quite strained, but the neck pillow helped to alleviate this pain. Then came the dilemma of where to put my arms – by my sides or behind my head – I preferred them behind my head.
To add to the fun, I remembered that I could close the lid of the tank, and I could even turn off the light inside it. Although I am quite claustrophobic, I tested the lid. Enclosed in the tank, the treatment felt cosier, and there was no longer a breeze from the treatment room, so I felt warmer and a little more comfortable with the top half of my body bobbing out the water. With the tank closed and the light off too, I was in complete darkness and it felt a little scary, so I fumbled for the switch and turned the light back on. It did get a little too hot for my liking with the lid on – and my fear of being stuck inside led me to open the hatch again. My heart stopped for a millisecond as nothing happened immediately after I’d pressed the button to open the lid, but then there was a whirring sound and the lid slowly lifted off. Phew!
Half way through the treatment
After all that initial excitement, I felt a little bored, and wished there was a clock in the room to tell me how long was left of the treatment. But then I remembered that I was in this place to relax – and so came the battle to switch off my thoughts and internal chatter. I feel like it took me half the session to achieve this. Focusing on my breathing – in, out, in out – helped to clear my mind. By the end of the treatment I felt like I had actually drifted in and out of consciousness for a while. I was a bit cold for a duration of the treatment (probably because I had the lid of the tank open for the majority of the time I was inside it), but also because the water is kept at a lukewarm, rather than hot temperature. This is to ensure that the air and temperature are balanced so that while floating, the feeling of water beneath the body fades and your brain is tricked into thinking you are suspended in the air. Clever!
When the music sounded, signaling the end of the treatment, bits of my body had salt crystals stuck to them, my hair felt gooey and my fingers a little prune-like. A few of the grazes on my skin, and my eczema had stung relentlessly throughout the treatment, so I was glad to get out of the tank. It was then that I understood why they advised visitors not to shave prior to the treatment. I was relieved to take a shower, although my long hair required two rounds of shampoo and conditioner before it felt clean.
Overall, I did feel refreshed after the treatment… it’s a bit like taking a long bath, I suppose! I don’t know if I’d do it again, but then again, it could be that the magic happens the more you visit…
Contrary to popular belief, Brussels sprouts aren’t famous in Brussels. Turns out, they were just cultivated there many years ago, and were therefore named after the Belgian city. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move onto what Brussels is really good for – beer, chocolate and waffles. Yes, totally shamazing, mouthwatering chocolate and waffles, and so many different varieties of beer that you really would be silly not to sample a selection – if not all of them! (Peach beer was my favourite, do give it a whirl.) As well as the chocolate, waffles and beer, Brussels’ speciality is handmade lace, and it’s also very well known for bringing us comics including the Smurfs, remember them? I should probably also give ‘frites’ a mention. These are chips that are double fried and served with mayonnaise, and eaten by most Belgian folk. So if you see fritteries on almost every corner in the city, you’ll know why!
Brussels is the perfect location for a quick weekend break as there’s lots to do and see. It’s a very multicultural place and getting around isn’t too difficult: choose from the train, bus or tram – get a travelcard and you’ll be able to use all three. Oddly, if you venture away from the central area, especially at night, you will notice that the streets are very deserted – there is literally nobody around and many restaurants are closed – even on a Saturday night! It seems that most people are tucked up in cosy bars and pubs – you guessed it – drinking beer. Here are my suggestions for places to visit in Brussels.
Sample Belgian cuisine at the many terrace restaurants and cafés lining this huge, central square and wander the cobbled streets as you appreciate the historic surroundings (especially the Town Hall, information below) – and you’ll begin to see why the Grand Place is listed as a world heritage site. You should expect prices to be fairly inflated in Grand Place as a result of its central location.
The Town Hall
Admire the stunning architecture and detail of the sculptures adorning Brussels’ Town Hall. Also known as Hotel de Ville, this is the most striking building in Grand Place.
Beside Grand Place you will find this famous (and amusing!) landmark depicting a naked boy peeing into a fountain. The tiny bronze icon has been humouring visitors since 1619, and was initially a fountain supplying drinking water to the city’s dwellers. Now it’s one of Brussels’ top attractions and on special occasions, is dressed up in different outfits – some of which are on display at the Museum of the City of Brussels. Manneken Pis will definitely bring a smile to your face! And if you like this kind of thing, you can visit Jeanneke Pis – the ‘sister’ of Manneken Pis – featuring a statue of a girl squatting and urinating into a fountain!
Take the time to enjoy a delicious Belgian waffle at Biscuiterie Dandoy café, located just a few minutes from Manneken Pis. The waffles are light, a little bit crispy, and incredibly tasty – I’d never tucked into such a lovely one. Biscuiterie Dandoy is well known for its biscuits, baked goodies and chocolate too, so do stock up while you’re there.
Sample Belgian chocolate
Brussels isn’t just the capital of Europe; it’s also the chocolate capital. It’s here that I got a taste of real chocolate. It was mind-blowing, and I’m not exaggerating – I’d go back to Brussels just for it! There are many top-class chocolatiers located close to Grand Place, the most celebrated shops being Godiva, Neuhaus, Wittamer and Mary Chocolatier. The chocolate was so divine that eating Cadbury and Galaxy once I’d arrived back home wasn’t nearly as satisfying. *Sad face*
Boston Steak House
You must try this Belgian chain restaurant that specialises in great grilled meat. Offering everything from steaks and burgers to ribs, it is good quality food, with large portions, and it’s reasonably priced, too. I opted for the grilled chicken, which was tender, flavoursome and moreish. I wish they had a branch in London!
Palais Royal (The Royal Palace)
Although the Queen and King no longer live at the palace, they have their offices there. I wasn’t too taken aback by the palace’s appearance because it seemed to be very run down; the walls were no longer white, instead a dark greyish colour, so it almost looked a little dingy. In the summer, the palace is open for public tours, and visitor reviews seem to suggest the inside is much nicer than the outside so be sure to visit when it’s open. Opposite the palace you will find The Royal Park, also known as Brussels Park. Like much of Brussels’ other green spaces, it is maintained very nicely and there are always events taking place inside it, so do take a walk through – it’s a very pleasant, charming space. Josaphat Park in Schaerbeek is a smaller beautiful park worth visiting if you get a chance. It’s a charming, romantic space, located on the outskirts of Brussels, in a residential area. It has a quaint lake, lots of walking routes, and offers donkey- horse-rides too.
Cinquantenaire Triumphal Arch
Erected in celebration of Belgium’s independence, this is the world’s second largest arch, after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The arch forms the centrepiece of Parc du Cinquantenaire – yet another pretty green space in Brussels. Located in the same vicinity are various European Union buildings (as Brussels is the capital of the EU). If you’re intrigued by the world of the European Parliament, you should visit the free Parlamentarium.
This atom-like structure is incredibly deceptive – it looks very small until you get inside it. Nevertheless, it offers plenty of photo opportunities from the inside as well as out. You have to pay to ascend the Atomium, but in return you get panoramic views across the city skyline as well as entry to exhibitions within the structure. Thankfully there are lifts to take you up and down, and between the spheres, but a fair amount of walking is still required. Go on a clear day for a good view, but don’t expect to see anything spectacular – sadly there aren’t that many massive landmarks you can spot from above the city! If you hate heights, it’s probably not advisable to go up (it’s 102m high), although you may be tempted by the pricey bar and restaurant at the top.
Located at the foot of The Atomium is Mini Europe, the only place where you can take a whistle-stop tour of most of Europe and its most fascinating attractions, in just a couple of hours. 350 of Europe’s most popular buildings and monuments are recreated in miniature form, and visitors can take a somewhat cheesy, animated tour, although an entrance fee does apply.
Rediscover your childhood heroes
Did you know that Tin Tin, Snowy and the Smurfs are all cartoons that have emerged from Belgium? Artists from the country created these childhood heros. There are comics painted on random walls across Brussles – take the walking tour and try and spot them or visit the Comic Strip Museum where you’ll be able to see original sketches and memorabilia.
Brussels is a lovely city, and offers something to please everyone. If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, don’t miss the chocolate, the waffles and the beer. Nom, nom, nom. Over and out!
Spending a weekend in Copenhagen (København, if we’re being proper) in December was enough to get me properly in the mood for Christmas. Colourful lights lit up the streets and shops; Christmas trees were blanketed in snow; and mulled wine (or gløgg as the Nordics call it) was flowing all day and night.
This being my first trip to Denmark, I was most impressed by the popularity of cycling – even heavy snow didn’t deter the Danes from getting on their bikes! Bicycles litter all street sidewalks and they’re rarely secured (unlike in London, where every bike is chained!). This says a lot about the Copenhagen – it’s a very safe place, and the people are incredibly kind, and helpful. The fact that the majority of the population speaks English is a massive bonus too. The transport system is great; the buses and trains are fairly regular, and the bus drivers were so helpful. The food isn’t exactly cheap, and there is much less variety for vegetarians, but there are plenty of cafés, restaurants and watering holes to try. If you’re traveling to Copenhagen in the winter months, especially December, it’s essential that you take snow-proof, warm clothing. Here are my recommendations for places you should visit if you take a trip to Copenhagen.
Tivoli Christmas market
The main reason we’d traveled to Copenhagen was to visit a gorgeous Christmas market, such as that at Tivoli Gardens. We certainly got what we were after. Tivoli Gardens was transformed into a picturesque, intricate and magical winter wonderland. The park was showered in delicate Christmas lights; there were Christmas themed decorations and Christmas trees dotted around everywhere; and there were even reindeer and a Santa Claus. As well as rides to amuse young and old, mouthwatering aromas floated from every foodie stall. As much as you may try to capture the magic of Tivoli in a picture, it’s impossible to convey it properly – you have to witness it for yourself. Visitors must pay an entry fee, and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to get carried away and spend, spend, spend!
The Little Mermaid
We started off our sightseeing journey by going on the hunt for the statue of The Little Mermaid. It originates from a book of the same name, by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The statue is very small in real life, and to be honest, a bit of an insignificant let down. She’s hidden away beside the water’s edge, so don’t be fooled by any maps, which suggest she’s inside a park – you’ll be going on a wild goose hunt, just like we did!
The Gefion Fountain
This is the Danish equivalent of Rome’s Trevi Fountain. It features statues of four oxen, driven by legendary goddess Gefjun. Unfortunately, the fountain is not as impressive in winter: the sprinklers are turned off and the fountain is iced over because of the cold.
The Marble Church
Also known as Frederik’s Church, this stood as a ruin for about 150 years, until it was finally completed in 1894. The dome is absolutely humungous, and breathtaking too. It stands very tall – scraping Copenhagen’s skyline – and is so beautiful and intricate. Entrance is free and it’s well worth visiting – just to see the detail of the inner dome – it’s spectacular. Considering how old the church is, it’s amazing that it still looks in tip-top shape!
Right across the road from The Marble Church is this gigantic palace on-looking a courtyard. This is the Queen’s residence and it is patrolled by guards. Every day there is a public changing of the guards’ ceremony at noon in front of the palace. We were lucky enough to visit when the Queen was in residence (signalled by the flag being raised and the changing of the guard ceremony being accompanied by the guards’ music band).
This was one of my favourite spots in Copenhagen. Nyhavn was established in 1671 by then Danish king Christian V, who wanted a gateway from the sea to the city. Gorgeous, brightly coloured houses line the harbour (the scene is a bit like that from CBeebies children’s programme Balamory!) – and it’s so picturesque. Overlooking the canal are bars and restaurants, and in December, a Christmas market too. The place is very lively, both day and night, and restaurants continue to provide outdoor seating, even in the winter. I especially liked that the restaurateurs had thoughtfully left blankets out on seats for visitors – what a nice touch!
Beside Nyhavn is Copenhagen’s largest pedestrian-only outdoor shopping street. With everything from Topshop and H&M to Chanel and Mulberry, it’s a shopaholic’s dream!
Copenhagen Opera House
We didn’t make it inside this beastly beauty, but were taken aback by its architecture from afar. It has one of the largest canopy roof structures in the world – it’s almost as large as three football pitches!
Vor Frelser Kirke (The Church of Our Saviour)
In my opinion, this is one of Copenhagen’s most elegant landmarks. What’s more, visitors can climb the Church’s unique golden spire for excellent views of the city. You must pay to climb the 90-metre tower (400 steps!), and don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easy climb. It’s very steep and narrow – and quite terrifying at times. There is no lift to take visitors up so it’s definitely not for the elderly, those with mobility issues, or those who are claustrophobic or afraid of heights. We went on a rather busy day, and there were large numbers of visitors wanting to go down as well as up. In a dimly lit, confined staircase, this resulted in lots of congestion and it didn’t feel altogether very safe!
Ole Steen Lagkagehuset
One of the finest bakeries I have ever visited, this modernist space sells everything from fresh bread and pastries to cakes and biscuits. Interestingly, it operates on a ticket based system – you must enter the shop, pick up a ticket and wait for your number to be called before you will be served. One Danish speciality to try is the popular chocolate-coated marshmallow (a flødeboller) – it’s a melt-in-your-mouth, gooey treat.
The National Museum of Denmark
This presents such a large, varied and rich mix of exhibitions, that I’m surprised it’s free to enter. Insightful and fun, there’s plenty to see and learn. It takes you right back through 10,000 years of history – a must-see.
Copenhagen is a beautiful place; the architecture is great, the pastries are lovely and the Danes are a friendly bunch – I’d definitely recommend a visit!
My sister got married a few weeks ago, and as is customary, my father was to give a speech at the wedding.
I could tell that he was very daunted by this responsibility, and so a couple of days before the big day, I asked him how he was getting on. He showed me a few lines he had scribbled on a piece of paper. They went along the lines of: ‘it gives us great pleasure to be here for the union of Kate and Ryan’. Next sentence: ‘we’re delighted to be here to witness this special day’. He clearly wasn’t getting very far with it, (although he was on the right track, bless him!) so I decided to stick my oar in, and ended up writing his speech for him.
Below is a tweaked version of the speech, with a few bits removed. I hope it helps anyone in need of a bit of inspiration. (I should add that the speech went down a treat; my father had so many compliments about it that he joked he’d start to offer speech-writing classes to anyone who needed them…!)
Here is the speech:
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of my wife Sally and I, I would like to welcome you all to this very special occasion, to celebrate the marriage of our daughter Kate to Ryan.
We would like to begin by thanking Liz and Daniel for their fine son Ryan, and we would also like to officially welcome Ryan to our family.
It’s great to see family and friends here, especially those who have made a special effort to be here, so thank you all for coming. A massive thanks to everyone who has given their time and effort to help make this day such a lovely occasion. And let us think of those who can’t be here today.
Today I gain a son-in-law, he gains a wife, and my bank manager starts talking to me again…
Kate looks lovely today, doesn’t she? It is hard to find the right words to express how I feel today – extremely proud is an understatement. Kate you have achieved so much and grown to be a beautiful, outstanding young woman. You have been the perfect daughter. Kate, you spelt perfect wrong!
Despite your phases of getting your eyebrow pierced and trying to hide it from us, sitting in your room and blasting the horrible sounds of the Spice Girls [Sing: I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want…] and spending all your weekends in the West End getting up to mischief. Still, they made you who you are today I am proud to call you my daughter and I know Ryan will be very proud to call his wife.
Ryan, as Kate should have explained to you a few weeks ago, this is the beginning of another kind of headache. But thank you for getting us all here today – Kate always insisted she was never going to get married, so this is a great feat. I remember when you told us about your proposal once you came back from China – Kate was so happy she had tears welling up in her eyes. Ryan, we’re glad Kate has found a partner in you.
I would also like to ask you Ryan, what did you do to the shopaholic daughter we raised? A while after she started seeing you, all the shopping trips died down and she wasn’t buying clothes every weekend. Whatever you did, we thank you!
Final note to Ryan, as you probably already know, Kate is going to harass you until you buy her a cat, we know, we’ve heard it for the last 24 years, so good luck with that one!
Last but not least anyone here who wishes to help out a happy but now poor father after paying for this wedding, please feel free to give a donation in cash, cheque or bank transfer.
I know that Ryan has chosen well and wish him and Kate everything they need for a long, happy and prosperous future together.
So ladies and gents, I’d like to ask you to raise your glasses for Mr and Mrs Moolie.”
After swapping my BlackBerry for an iPhone last year, I was left feeling slightly lost without my hundreds of reminders popping up on my screen every hour, telling me to pick up the washing, make a booking, return my library books…
The reminder facility offered by the iPhone through its Calendar and Reminders app, wasn’t sufficient and wasn’t my fulfilling my obsession for being organised and on top of things; it was very long-winded to enter or add an entry, had reminders that couldn’t be snoozed, and I felt they didn’t ‘pester’ me enough. Thankfully though, after scouring through the App Store and downloading and testing lots of reminder apps, I found gold: the app, suitably named, Alarmed.
Alarmed is an all-in-one alarm, reminder and timer app that is very easy and quick to use. It provides pop-up reminder alerts that can be snoozed and auto-repeated; timers to countdown as well as up; an alarm clock facility as well as a Nag-Me feature which repeats timers every minute until they are acknowledged.
Alarmed is the main thing (as well as my diary) that helps me to organise my life, and I would be lost without it – I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s free! Get it for yourself here.
Oh, and there goes my reminder to make my lunch for work tomorrow… Ciao for now!