Mamma Mia! The Party: a new immersive theatrical and dining experience is opening in August

mama mia the party at the 02 london

A new five-hour Mamma Mia!-themed show, featuring a three-course Mediterranean dinner and an ABBA disco, is coming to the 02 London this August.

Created by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia! The Party is set in a taverna on the island of Skopelos, where scenes of the first film were shot.

Nikos and his wife Kate run this exotic restaurant with their family and friends.

Told through dialogue and ABBA songs, the story evolves and unfolds around the guests as they sit at their tables enjoying a Greek meal.

mama mia the party

The evening ends with a 1970s disco, where you can stay to sing and dance to original ABBA recordings.

Considering how belly-achingly-funny the West End musical was, I’ve got high hopes for this production (though the tickets are definitely on the spenny side).

Find out more and get tickets at mammamiatheparty.co.uk.

 

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Misato’s chicken katsu curry is better than Wagamama’s

 

The long queue outside Japanese eatery, Misato, suggested that the food must be good, yet, looking inside, my confidence waned. Diners were crammed tightly together on basic wooden tables and chairs, and the plain beige walls lining the small space desperately needed some cheering up. It seemed to lack ambience, especially for a Chinatown restaurant. Still, every table was full and diners were chowing down on bountiful portions of sushi, noodle and curry dishes. I decided I had to leave my preconceptions at the door.

Following a twenty-minute wait in the queue, we were seated and quick to order. As the chicken katsu curry promptly arrived at our table, I was alarmed at the presentation. The rice was piled up messily and there was a huge breadcrumbed chicken portion resting on top with a generous drizzle of thick curry sauce. A mixed salad sat beside it all. The meal looked like it had been hastily thrown together by someone eager to clock off from their kitchen duty, but as I looked around, I noticed fellow diners’ dinners appeared in the same fashion.

As I got stuck in, I was pleasantly surprised. The fried chicken was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, and the curry sauce was flavourful. The salad was dressed well and complemented the flavours with every mouthful.

Misato gives Wagamama’s much-loved chicken katsu curry a run for its money – plus you get almost double the portion for less money (£6). Now the rice did not arrive in a perfectly-formed mound as you would get at Wagamama, but the salad portion was sprawling, and the overall taste of the meal was as good as, if not better than that you get at the restaurant chain.

At Misato, it seems the food is cheap and tasty and the portions are big. Our meal for two came to just £18 (payment is cash-only), with drinks and service included – something that’s often unheard of in London. The queue outside Misato is worth the wait and, as that old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. 

Pick your own lavender in Hitchin

hitchin lavender field hertfordshire

As the wind blows, the calming scent of lavender pours in through the open car window. We’re close.

We drive a good few metres forward and then we see it. A gigantic field speckled with the colour purple.

Rows of lavender roll on for miles. It looks even better than the pictures on Google.

We’ve just pulled into the entrance to Hitchin lavender farm and soon enough we’re parked up and making our way through the sea of purple.

lavender field london

At the entrance we pay a small fee (£4.50 for adults, £1 for children) in return for a pair of scissors and a roomy brown bag. It’s time to get cutting.

But of course, first things first: pictures! We can’t help but whip out our cameras and get clicking.

We decide to trek all the way to the top of the hill to get the best view (comfy shoes are recommended).

As we walk amongst the lavender rows, the sound of bees buzzing fills our ears, and the small black and yellow creatures are everywhere (you might want to wear clothing that covers your shins and ankles when you visit, just in case).

pick your own lavender london

The view is spectacular from the top, with the lavender immersed against the great British countryside. We take a long rest and soak up the view.

On the way down we begin cutting. It’s harder than it looks, and we are surprised by how long it takes to build a bundle.

Lavender picking is a great alternative to strawberry or vegetable picking, and it’s only available to do for a limited time of the year (call ahead to the lavender farm to check it’s available before you visit). If you’re closer to south London, you may want to try Mayfield lavender farm instead.

lavender london

It’s lovely to see people of all ages getting stuck in, and on the sunny day we visit, the field is filled with visitors. One newly wed couple has even come to get some snaps for their wedding album.

After a couple of hours in the field we have picked to our heart’s content, but there is still room in our bags to fill!

Tired and thirsty, we head for the farm shop and café where we sip lavender lemonade and feast on cake. On the menu I spot scones with lavender jam, and make a mental note to return to try them. There are also sandwiches, jacket potatoes and lots of cake so you can make a day of it. All sorts of lavender products are also available to buy.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle of city life in London, so a day out in the fresh air in the suburbs, within a beautiful field of purple is ever so refreshing. Give it a go, especially now that the sun is out!

Munch on Indian tapas at Talli Joe

talli-joe-indian-london-restaurant
Cast aside everything that comes to mind when you think of an Indian restaurant – i.e. piles of poppadoms, giant pots of curry and stacks of naan – because Talli Joe is nothing like its counterparts.

Specialising in small plates (read: Indian tapas) and cocktails, this Shaftesbury Avenue restaurant does things with a twist.

In place of table cloths and the dated decor you’d usually expect from your Friday night curry house, is a fresh, vibrant interior with a buzzing atmosphere and a bar area to boot.

Many of the dishes on the compact menu are inspired by different regions of India, from the Old Delhi chaat to the lamb roast from Kolkata, so it’s an experience for your mind as well as your taste buds.

The portions may be small but they sure do pack a punch: the flavours are truly authentic.

You’ll need a minimum of three dishes per person (£2-10.50 each) to feel satisfied – and some could say it’s expensive for what you get (meal for two, with a drink each was £47) – although the food is very flavourful and enjoyable.

Don’t overlook the cocktail menu, which is inventive and intriguing, using everything from masala tea in the masala colada to cashew nut purée in the milk punch.

Service is great, and most important of all, Talli Joe takes advanced bookings… Eat that Dishoom.

Cook your own dinner at Hot Pot in Chinatown

Hot Pot

Credit: Rob Grieg

A new restaurant dedicated to the ancient Chinese communal dining activity known as ‘hot pot’ has opened in the heart of Chinatown.

The appropriately named Hot Pot, a Bangkok-based chain, has opened this first London outpost on Wardour Street.

Hot pot is a process of cooking ingredients in a boiling broth, then seasoning them with a dipping sauce – and best of all, you’re in charge of the cooking (see steps below).

Hot pot is thought to have originated in Mongolia 1,000 years ago, and is experienced at a slow pace, allowing groups of friends and family to cook together and socialise. It has gained vast popularity across Asia.

How to eat hot pot

1. Your chosen broth (five varieties available) is brought to your table. You can choose up to two broths per pan, so if you’re vegetarian and your friend isn’t, just ask for the split pan. Wait for the broth to boil on the burner that is on your table and adjust the temperature with the control button as you like. You will be given a paper bib – it’s wise to put it on because sometimes dropping stuff in or taking it out of the broth can create a little splash. A related note: the meal can get a little bit messy, so this probably isn’t the best place to go for a first date.

2. Head to the dipping station to make your own sauce/s to eat with your cooked ingredients. There are herbs, pastes, oils and seasonings, including oyster sauce, white soy and chopped garlic. I chose spring onions, garlic, soy, a chilli paste – and the barbecue sauce is a must.

3. Cook your chosen meat, noodles and vegetables in the broth (choose from 60 ingredients including lobster selected live from tanks, chicken, seabass, king prawns and tofu). The vegetable selection is especially good. Once they’re done, fish them out from the broth with the ladles provided, dip into your sauces then enjoy.

4. Your broth will become flavoured during your meal. When you find the flavour has developed, drink your enriched broth as soup.

Hot Pot

Credit: Rob Grieg

Price Hot Pot is £8 and ingredients range from £5 (Chinese cabbage) to £27.50 (Wagyu beef).

Before you go Ask to be seated upstairs (pictured above) if possible as it feels a little more spacious and fancier. There’s also a private dining room for large groups upstairs that looks directly out on to the Chinatown gate.

Note: If you sit directly in front of the burner on the table, it is likely you’ll have steam in your face for the whole evening so try to distance yourself a little. It can get quite warm beside the burner, too, so choose your outfit wisely.

Take a bunch of friends or family for a fun and leisurely meal – it is especially good as everyone can get involved, and for once, there’s little chance that too many cooks will spoil the broth…

Find Hot Pot at 17 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6PJ

IMG_6356

Mercato Metropolitano: the Italian-themed foodie space in Borough

mercato_metropolitano_borough-elephant-castle

Pictures don’t do Mercato Metropolitano any justice. Neither does its website. Nor does its unassuming entrance, which is merely lit up by a string of fairy lights come nightfall. You’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there… And that would be a shame.

What is it? Mercato Metropolitano is an Italian-themed casual foodie space slash indoor food market that is open from noon until late into the night.

There’s so much variety, and highlights include: pasta made fresh before your eyes, pizza straight outta Naples, cheeseboards via Champagne & Fromage, gelato, Italian craft beer and a build-your-own tiramisu stand. The latter, which we were intrigued by, involves everything from choosing the biscuity base, cheese (ricotta or mascarpone) to toppings. PURE indulgence.

Mercato Metropolitano is super spacious, cosy and there’s a great atmosphere about it. Plus, it’s not been hounded by the crowds of nearby Borough Market or Maltby Street – yet.

The setup of this space comes fresh from Italy, where it has already been tried and tested, and a lot of the staff working on the stalls are Italian, which adds to the authenticity of the experience. For anyone (you weirdos) who doesn’t like Italian food, I should add that there are also some non-Italian food stalls too.

In comparison to nearby Flat Iron Square, Mercato Metropolitano has a more inviting and warm atmosphere and it is much larger. There’s enough seating inside that you never have to fight for it, and the outdoor space will be wonderful come summer. There’s also a cinema and a cookery school here.

My favourite thing about places like this, including Dinerama, Hawker House and Flat Iron Square (all of which remind me of the Hawker Markets in Singapore) is that you can just turn up and eat or drink; there’s no need to book or dress up and there are few queues. Free entry too.

Don’t shudder when I say Mercato Metropolitano is located in Elephant & Castle (or a really short walk from Borough station), because when you get inside you will feel a thousand miles away.

 

Build your own cheeseboard at Vivat Bacchus

vivat-bacchus-cheese-room-experience

If cheese makes you happy, you need to try the ‘Cheese room experience’ at South African steak restaurant and wine bar, Vivat Bacchus.

At its two branches in London Bridge and Farringdon, you can go into the special cheese room with an expert and build your own cheeseboard (from £14.90). What makes this experience so great is that you can enjoy complimentary tasters of the cheeses before you select them, and there’s a dedicated, knowledgeable ‘cheese expert’ (cheesepert?) on hand to talk you through each variety, where it comes from and how it’s made.

The board arrives at your table beautifully presented with each cheese perfectly matched with garnishes, fruit or nuts and crackers/breads. You can also ask for recommendations on wine and meats (both very high quality) to accompany your selection.

There are ready-prepared cheese boards on the menu if you’re not fussy, but I particularly enjoyed picking out and tasting my own. There’s no need to book for this experience – just walk in and ask.

Did someone say cheese?

Tired of adulting? Head to the grown-up ball pit bar BallieBallerson

Ballie Ballerson Stacey Hatfield October 2016

When you feel tired of adulting in London, there’s an amazeballs place you should go. It’s where you’ll find all the big kids (note: actual kids aren’t allowed), and it involves a DJ, retro-sweet-themed cocktails and, most importantly, a ball pit for grown-ups… Very fitting for a #throwbackthursday, this bar and underground ball pit goes by the name of BallieBallerson.

Disclaimer:

1) You’ll get hit in the face with a flying ball.

2) The pictures you take will turn out blurry.

3) The balls in the pit are waist-deep: you’ll fall in and have trouble getting up again. This will be 10 times more challenging if you’re intoxicated.

4) You might lose things, such as loose change, a shoe, a ring, a phone.

5) Skip the gym: wading through the ball pit can feel like a workout in itself.

6) On your way home you’ll find a squashed up ball in your shoe. Leaving present!

From the cocktails (crafted around retro sweets such as Dib Dab; our favourite was the Bounty Colada) right down to the colourful painted balls and walls, this place has fun at its heart, and the bartenders are a good laugh.

The DJ bangs out tunes as you play/dance in the underground ball pit, and so it feels like a rave when you’re in it. With the low ceiling and dimmed light, it can seem a little dark and dingy down there, however, and the ball pit isn’t huge so if you go at peak time and find more than 18 people in there, it’s a bit of a squeeze. 

The postcode of the venue did catch me off guard. I have FOFOP (that’s fear of far-off places) and BallieBallerson is in that faraway place up north where the Tube doesn’t go: Stoke Newington. But it’s worth the trek – and proving to be so. “The place is just as packed on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening as it is on a Saturday,” the general manager Daniel says. When we visit on Wednesday evening, it’s almost at full capacity by 8pm, and it’s only been open a few weeks.

“Every week we have people lose engagement rings, watches, phones in the balls… One day a girl lost her shoe, so we have to clean the ball pit out weekly to find them!” So before you jump in and release your inner child, dump your belongings in the cloakroom to be safe – or hold on to them really tight.

Daniel says the venue will remain in its current home for another three to six months, and may then relocate, so if you also suffer from FOFOPOCO, watch this space.

Book tickets here.

On cloud nine with candy floss and ice cream in Covent Garden

Candy floss ice cream London Covent Garden

After the hype of ice cream cookie sandwiches (Blu Top, Chin Chin Labs) and ice cream macaroons (Yolkinmacice), now Londoners can get soft serve ice cream – basically posh Mr Whippy – served in a candy floss cloud, thanks to new dessert cafe Milk Train.

Located just behind Covent Garden, Milk Train offers three flavours of the ‘premium’ soft serve (£3.50-£3.95) – vanilla, chocolate or matcha – and charges £1 extra for the candy floss cloud. There are lots of toppings and sauces also available at extra cost, (50p) or choose from the menu for a pre-selected combination.

It might all get a little bit messy, but it sure is a lot of fun. In one bite I was transported back to the days of cheerily scoffing candy floss at the funfair as a child. The soft serve was really tasty too, however it does melt very quickly so don’t spend too much time taking pictures for your Instagram feed.

The lovely thing about this place is that everybody leaves clutching their ice cream with an even bigger grin than usual!

Find the Milk Train on Bedford Street, WC2E 9HA.

Warning: queues possible and sugar overload very likely.

Beer and Buns in Liverpool Street

hirata buns beer and buns liverpool street london

Japanese beers (and sake) and fluffy buns (and wings) are the order of the evening at Beer & Buns. And they come with an extra side of fun – foosball and pinball tables… and sake bombs.

sake bomb beer and buns liverpool street london

Sake bombs (pictured left) require a little bit of explanation – a shot of sake arrives balanced on chopsticks above a glass of beer. You’ve got to knock on the table to get the sake to drop into the beer [*splash*] before downing it.

If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, the frozen margaritas are highly commended, and there’s whisky, cocktails and lots of beer available too.

Food-wise, buns are the obvious choice – the signature chicken bun was our favourite – and there are also duck, roast pork and veggie options. The menu is quite meat-heavy: the fried chicken wings are great, but super messy (thankfully they give you hand wipes), and there are a selection of sides. The beauty of dining here is that it’s all very informal and hands-on.

Beer & Buns is a cheap mid-week eat (there are offers on food and drink and the foosball tables are free to use). It also works as a casual date night spot and is buzzing with suits on a Friday night.

asahi japanese bar beer liverpool street london

For both food and drink it’s a pay-as-you-go bar service. The service was really quick when we visited, which had me questioning whether the food is pre-prepared and reheated, but nonetheless it’s a cheap meal and it does hit the spot.

 

Refuel at Pump Shoreditch

nosteagia bubble waffle london

Popcorn chicken, bubble waffles, chilli cheese fries… street food is made seriously fun at Pump Shoreditch.

The mini street food market square, which is housed on the site of a disused petrol station on Shoreditch High Street, sees vendors rustle up tasty and eclectic delights from small colourful huts all day (11am-11pm).

Fill your arms with all the food you fancy before taking a seat at one of the many benches available and tucking in.

pump shoreditch food market

If you’re familiar to the east, Pump is a a smaller-scale, snug version of Dinerama/Street Feast, but with a host of different food stalls, and it’s small enough that you won’t lose sight of friends. It’s mostly sheltered, but can get breezy so you’ll probably need a coat, at least until the weather warms up.

makimayo fried chicken pump shoreditch

Eat your way around the stalls: start at Makimayo, which takes fried chicken to a whole new level. We chose the chilli mayo-drizzled chicken (£5) and the Gangnam chicken (pictured above); both were finger-licking good, although the latter was quite spicy. Next, pick from Italian/Venezuelan/Peruvian/Japanese/Argentinian dishes before finishing at Nosteagia for bubble waffles (£4.50 each). A Chinese variation on the dessert waffle, the distinctive shape will impress, as will the fact that it’s made fresh in front of you. Choose your toppings (Oreo, strawberries, chocolate, cream, peanut butter, etc. Coco Pops is an option too!) and enjoy. They’re soft yet crisp to the bite, -and surprisingly light – a great way to round off the eating extravaganza – just make sure you leave some room for them!

nosteagia bubble waffle shoreditch london

Winter exploration: a day trip to Bristol

bristol ice rink

The biting, chilly winter winds have arrived in full force, work Christmas parties are fast approaching and the festive hype is beginning. It seems about the right time to slip into the Christmas spirit – and that I did, while outdoor ice skating this weekend in the city of Bristol.

One of Bristol’s festive attractions, the recently-opened At-Bristol Ice Rink gives visitors the chance to skate around a small-scale rink, with feel-good festive such as Frozen’s Do You Want to Build a Snowman, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car and Frank Sinatra’s New York playing in the background. When we visited on Saturday afternoon, it was mostly full of young children and families. What’s great about its location [for a family outing] is that it’s beside both the planetarium and the aquarium, and the harbour.

ice skates on iceFor festive food, we made our way to the German Christmas markets located in the heart of Bristol’s shopping area in Broadmead. Rows of traditional wooden chalets selling traditional German Christmas decorations, gifts and food combine with Bavarian-style beer houses to create a buzzing atmosphere. It’s a great place to while away an hour or two sampling festive food – from hog roasts, crepes and waffles to spicy mulled wine and cider.

On my to-do list for the day was a more hands-on, creative festive experience offered by Bristol Blue Glass, a renowned company that makes and sells glassware in the city. For a limited time it is offering a special glass bauble blowing experience that sounds intriguing and rewarding.

Time was running out, so instead of visiting Bristol Blue Glass, we took a detour for a free dose of culture (and to warm ourselves up!), by heading to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, in the hope of finding something by graffiti artist Banksy, who was born in Bristol. As you enter the museum, you find Banksy’s famous ‘Pink Angel’ sculpture, an angel with a paint bucket slung over its head, and pink paint trickling down its body. Much of the rest of Banksy’s work is dotted around the streets of the city, so street art and graffiti tours have become established as a must-do when visiting Bristol.

death exhibition bristol museum

Whilst at the museum we also queued for a short time to make it into the ‘Death: the human experience’ exhibition. As a society we’re quite reluctant to talk about death and dying – it’s not something I’d choose to start a conversation about – which is why this exhibition, which is on until March 2016, was particularly eye-opening and insightful. It was a ‘pay what you think’ exhibition, so as you exit, you’re able to decide how much you enjoyed it and what you’d like to donate – a smart idea, I thought.

st nicholas market bristol

St Nicholas Market

Hunger struck again, so we made a beeline for the artisan food stalls in the covered section of St Nicholas Market. This is an unmissable foodie stop and the laidback, cool vibe of the city really comes through. Independent retailers selling everything from fresh made-before-your-eyes falafel to Jamaican specialties, smoothies, or pies and gravy from local favourite Pieminister, make this is a brilliant and quirky stop. The other areas of St Nicholas Market, which were established as early as the 1700s, contain stalls selling everything from artwork to jewellery and vintage clothing, so the area is great for exploring, and picking up a few unusual bits and bobs.

st mary redcliffe church bristol

St Mary Redcliffe Church

pieminister pie shop bristol

Hearty fare at Pieminister in St Nicholas Market

Before heading back to catch the train home to London from Temple Meads Station, we stopped in at the strikingly beautiful St Mary Redcliffe Church. It’s a masterpiece of gothic architecture, which has been around for some 800 years. Look out for one of the stained glass windows in the east end of the church that depicts Noah’s Ark, with 22 species of animals in pairs.

A day isn’t enough to see everything that Bristol has to offer – and the hilly city can really bring the tiredness out in you – but on my list of things to see for next time is:

  • SS Great Britain, the world’s first luxury cruise liner. Restored and reinstated to where she was built, you can climb aboard and explore everything from the posh first-class cabins to the cramped workers’ quarters and the engine. It gives an insight into Bristol’s maritime history – and its past as a port, which stretches back to 1051.
  • M Shed has a permanent exhibition that charts Bristol’s history for a fuller picture, and there are also pirate tours to explain Bristol’s part in the triangular slave trade.
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge, which can be considered the defining image of Bristol, sits spectacularly on the cliffs of the Avon Gorge. It was built by great Victorian Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the same man who created the SS Great Britain, and the Temple Meads Station.

If you’re thinking to visit Bristol on a budget, here’s a list of attractions with free entry:

  • Arnolfini
  • Arnos Vale Cemetry
  • Blaise Castle House Museum and Estate
  • M Shed
  • The Georgian House Museum
  • The Red Lodge Museum
  • Bristol Cathedral
  • Spike Island
  • The Architecture Centre
  • The Matthew

Beside the seaside: a day trip to Hastings

hastings beach

The last time I uttered the word “Hastings” was when I was aged 13 and bored silly in a history class at school. You guessed it – I was studying the Battle of Hastings, which, I only recently discovered didn’t actually take place in Hastings – it took place several miles away, in Battle (Hastings was the nearest, largest town, so it earned the name). Something they failed to mention at school, or perhaps I wasn’t paying attention.

old sweet shop hastingsMy preconceptions about Hastings, therefore, were somewhat skewed: I’d imagined a boring little place stuffed full of historic sights and history types wearing ghastly walking shoes. What I found, though, was refreshing: a pleasant seaside town with a good mixture of old and new, and plenty of options for the hungry visitor.

Ideal for a day trip, Hastings is a bit like Brighton’s much younger, less polished sibling. It’s a little rough around the edges, but very family- and dog-friendly, and there’s something for history buffs and non-history buffs alike.

In 2016, Hastings Pier will reopen – it was party destroyed by a fire in 2010 – and the town will also celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in September and October, with a big arts festival and lots of events planned, so it could be a good time to visit.

To help you get an idea of what there is to see and do in Hastings, here are some ideas:

tush n pats fisherman rolls stall hastings

Tush and Pat’s Fisherman Rolls stall

Wander down Rock-a-Nore Road

Hastings is home to one of Britain’s oldest fishing fleets – fishermen have worked from the shingle beach, known as The Stade, for more than a thousand years. If you wander along the seafront, past all the children’s amusements, you’ll reach this section. Freshly-caught fish is sold from small sheds, and here you’ll find the historic black net shops that are unique to Hastings. They look a bit like towering beach huts – but they are actually made using half an old upended fishing boat. Split over two or three floors, fishermen used them to store their nets, ropes and fishing gear.

Pick up a Fisherman’s Roll

Stop off at Tush and Pat’s ever-popular stall in front of the net shops, which sells freshly made Fisherman’s Rolls. They’re incredibly tasty and cheap, and the queues for them are continuous. The rolls are famous – even Jamie Oliver has visited  – and while we were there, the locals were stopping for some: always a good sign. “I like mine with vinegar and lemon on top,” reveals co-founder Tush.

west hill life hastings funicular railway view over hastings country park

Tightly packed houses on terraces carved out of the rock to East Hill

Go up the East Hill Lift

Right across the road from Tush and Pat’s stall is the entrance to the East Hill Lift. It is the steepest funicular lift railway in Britain and provides access to Hastings Country Park, which stretches across five kilometres of cliffs and coastline. Go up with a picnic (or some fish and chips!) or buy an ice cream up top and enjoy the views. Follow one of the park’s many walking routes, or perch on one of the benches and enjoy the scenery. If you don’t want to take the lift up to the park, there’s a hidden set of steps, known as Tamarisk Steps, located between the Dolphin Pub and The Fish Hut. Follow the little alley, and you’ll find the stairs that take you to the top.

 

Get your art fix at Jerwood Gallery

Overlooking the beach, and situated within The Stade is the Jerwood Gallery, a relatively new addition to the town. Opened in 2012, the gallery, which displays contemporary and modern art, is considered a jewel in the crown of the Hastings cultural scene. It’s a great escape from the hustle of the promenade.

hastings old town george street

Hastings Old Town

Explore Hastings Old Town

It would be very easy to while away a few hours wandering around the quirky boutiques, pubs, cafés, vintage clothing and antique shops in the Old Town. It’s arguably the most charming part of Hastings. Start on George Street and work your way further inland – and don’t miss the treasure trove that is Butler’s Emporium, it’s set in a shop that dates back to the 1800s.

Something for the kids

Along the seafront, there are a host of activities for the kids, from trampolining and go karting to mini golf, football, boating, and more. There are lots of places for ice cream and sweets too, of course! If it’s raining, the Blue Reef Aquarium located along the promenade can take little ones on an undersea safari. Wannabe pirates may also be intrigued by the Shipwreck Museum.

hastings seafront promenade

Catch a movie at Electric Palace

Electric Palace is an old fashioned, charming independent cinema run entirely by volunteers. It has a quirky line up – making it an entirely different experience to your usual Vue or Odeon.

view from west hill cliff hastings

Historic Hastings

Check out Hastings Castle, the first castle built in England by William the Conqueror. It is situated on the West Hill and can be accessed via the West Hill cliff railway located at the top of George Street. Hastings Museum & Art Gallery is also nearby – set in a manor house away from the Old Town and up above the seafront, it displays art and offers the chance to learn about the local history of Hastings.

Battle Abbey

Stop off at the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings: Battle Abbey. Learn all about the invasion of William The Conqueror and stand on the site where the future of England was determined. It’s mostly all outdoors so make sure the weather’s good when you visit.

Southeastern Rail trains run direct from London Charing Cross to Hastings.

With thanks to the Visit 1066 Country East Sussex tourist board for the invite to Hastings.

Roof walking: climbing up the O2 arena in Greenwich

“Nobody likes a cry baby,” jokes Ross, our climbing instructor, “so if you feel nervous, just hold it in, OK?”

We’re about to clamber over the roof of the O2 arena in Greenwich, and Ross, our Scottish accented, bearded guide, has us chuckling from the off, which pretty much sets the tone for the next eighty minutes.

Before we set off, we’re made to sign a waiver (“You’re doing this at your own risk”, la-di-da…), and piled into a room to watch a safety video. At this point, it feels like I’m back on a school trip, but the difference is that there are people of all ages – from teens to families to those in their forties and fifties – and in actual fact, the safety video isn’t yawn-a-minute stuff, it’s quite hilarious and insightful.

It’s here that I learn about the clever symbolism that’s contained in the design and structure of the Millennium Dome (as the O2 Arena was formerly known) – for example, there are references to time, with 12 masts of the dome representing the months of the year and the hours on a clock face. The dome is also 52 metres tall – representative of the 52 weeks of the year, and it’s 365 metres wide, representative of the days of the year.

I also discover that the dome is located close to the meridian line, which has a longitude of zero (0° 0′ 0″), and every place on earth is measured in terms of its angle east or west from this line.

After the briefing, we’re given a pair of climbing shoes and a gilet to wear – gilets are given out in the warmer months, but full-sleeved, thick overalls are available for winter climbs. What’s great is that both have a dedicated pocket for a mobile phone or small digital camera, so you can take a few snaps when you reach the viewing platform at the middle of the climb. We pop all our other belongings into a small box, tie our hair back, and climb into our harnesses as instructed.

As we approach the start line for Up at the O2, there’s a photographer waiting to take our pictures. It’s a nice touch, and it gives us a chance to show off our climbing gear. Before the first step, we’re clipped to a railing that runs the length of the climb, so we feel secure at all times.

As we begin the ascent, we notice that the walkway is super bouncy (although you’re told not to bounce!), it’s like walking on a mattress. The photographer is available again to take pictures as you set off, if you want.

The climb is not that strenuous, although you do break out in to a small sweat at times, as the climb height can go up to 30 degrees. It’s good exercise and you can go at your own pace. Plus it’s not at all scary, so suitable for those who may have a fear of heights. Now I understand why Ross joked about us being nervous – there really isn’t anything to feel nervous about.

After about 15 minutes of climbing, we reach the viewing platform that sits at the middle of the climb. Here, you can unclip and have a walk around, take pictures and enjoy the view. Ross let us take all the pictures we wanted before pointing out landmarks and sharing interesting facts.

As the O2 is so far east, the main landmarks in sight are the buildings of Canary Wharf, the Olympic Stadium in Stratford and the Emirates Air Line cable cars. Further in the distance, you can see the Gherkin and from one point, you can apparently spot Wembley Stadium, although we didn’t see it.

“In terms of the view, the best climb is the one which takes place at sunset in the winter months,” says Ross. We’d opted for a 5pm climb, and although it was an overcast day early in September, it was very windy up on the viewing platform.

We spent about 20 minutes on the platform. I couldn’t help but feel that some sort of bar, refreshment or entertainment provision at this point would make the experience better.

Anyhow, what goes up must come down, and it’s a little steeper on the way down than the way up. As you finish and unclip the safety equipment, it’s a great feeling. “You’ve just walked over the ceiling of a big building,” jokes Ross, and we all give each other a round of applause.

We take a look at the photographer’s pictures – they’re great, but at £15 a pop, I’m happy to make do with the shots I took on my iPhone.

All that fresh air is sure to have us sleeping like babies, but for the meantime, we really need a hot cup of something to warm us up.

Hydro-spinning in Chelsea

hydrofit bike underwater aqua spin chelseaWorking out at the gym fills me with dread. I’m a self-conscious person, so the idea of exercising in front of others – while trying to look semi elegant as sweat drips down my forehead – really makes me cringe.

So when I was invited to Chelsea’s Hydrofit spa, which offers an aqua spinning workout in the privacy of individual Jacuzzi pods – I was practically skipping there, bikini in hand.

The unique sports concept, which originated in France, involves riding an exercise bike while submerged in a special hydro-massage hot tub. Water jets in the bath generate a steady supply of oxygen atoms to promote natural exfoliation of the skin as you cycle, and the workout is said to help tone the legs and banish cellulite as well as enhance blood flow around the body.

The experience

Arriving at the sleek Chelsea Hydrofit, I’m lead past the juice bar and massage and treatment rooms downstairs into one of the luxury cabin rooms, each of which has a TV and wireless headphones to keep you entertained as you exercise. Drinking water and a towel is provided, too. I strip down to my cossie before being given an extensive explanation of the technology and what to expect.

Hydrofit aqua spin hydro bike chelsea battersea sportsI’m given Croc-like shoes to wear for grip on the pedals, and clamber in to the pod before the door is shut and the water level starts to rise, only ever reaching as high up as my waist. The cabin offers a choice of four chromo-therapeutic lights – I’m shown how to change them, and advised to choose one that takes my liking. I opt for red, which is said to promote vitality.

The timer is set: 30 minutes left, and the jets are bubbling around me, producing a tingling feeling around my thighs. I stick the headphones on and tune into the music channel on the TV before me. At first it’s a bit odd as your downstairs half is warm and upstairs half is a bit chilly, but that soon changes as it’s time to start pedalling.

I’m told to alternate between fast and slow speeds for maximum impact, but it’s not that easy: bike resistance is 12 times stronger in water than air, so it’s a bit more intense than a usual spin session.

One of the lovely Hydrofit assistants comes in to check on me when I’m 10 minutes into the 30-minute session – she encourages me to go faster, and rise up off the chair to help. I reach a maximum of 36km/h, but average on about 26km/h the whole time.

I’m sweating soon enough – it’s uncanny that the upper half of my body is wet with perspiration, but my bottom half is already wet!

Normally I’d be bored senseless sitting on a bike for this long, but with the TV on in the background, I start to get into it. It becomes a game of how much water I can splash around the pod, and I also have a play with the intensity of the jets. I don’t dare touch the bike resistance button though. At 18 minutes, I’m doing a bit of clock watching as my legs are tired, but 30 minutes in and I’m told I’ve burned a minimum of 300 calories. Hooray.

My legs feel strong, and I’m feeling less stressed than when I arrived. I have a quick shower (optional) before heading upstairs where a refreshing juice is waiting for me at the bar.

Hydrofit provides a personal and comfortable experience – sort of like visiting a spa and the gym in one go. I leave feeling light and energised – I wonder if it has something to do with those fancy red ‘chromo-therapeutic lights’…

The next morning, my bum hurts a bit, but other than that, I’m right as rain.

hydrofit water bike aqua spin

What’s great about Hydrofit is that you don’t need any specific workout gear to take part – swimming gear will do – and you also don’t have to worry about your body being presentable – it’s just you and the machine *WIN*, although if you do wish to work out with a pal or partner, duo luxury cabins are available, too.

Hydrobiking is considered to be a low-impact, cardio workout that doesn’t provide too much stress to joints, so it’s great for people with injuries. It also stimulates the body’s lymphatic system, thereby improving metabolism in the long run.

One of the Chelsea Hydrofit staff, Michela, tells me the Hydrofit workout is great for people “looking to tone up, lose weight and banish cellulite”.

The Chelsea Hydrofit branch has five luxury cabin rooms, and its next outpost, opening in Battersea in the coming weeks, will have four.

If you’d like to give it a whirl, you can get 50% off your first booking by mentioning ‘The Curious Londoner’.

Ballin’: a pop-up ball pit for adults in Hammersmith

I’d always hoped that someone would invent a soft play area specifically for adults – you did too, right? Well, the clever folk over at creative agency Pearlfisher have sort of answered our prayers… They’ve created a ball pit for adults in London to frolic in.

The 30-person pit is somewhere you can relive your childhood memories, play to your heart’s content, and have a right old balls-up! It’s for big and little kids alike, and what’s more, it’s totally free to visit!

After thrashing around in the 81,000 white balls for a good hour and a half, we were feeling content, albeit tired (it really does take it out of you!). We came away with enlarged smiles and lots of hilarious slow-mo videos to show for our activity.

The lovely lot at Pearlfisher are also donating £1 for every person that visits to nominated charity Right to Play, so you’ll be having a ball (excuse the pun!) for a good cause. The installation is only around till February, so get in there before it closes.

Plan your visit

Address: Pearlfisher Gallery: 50 Brook Green, W6 7BJ

Open till 13 February 2015,  Monday-Friday, 10am – 5pm

Find out more information about the interactive winter art installation Jump In!

 

Jump in! is an interactive art installation that promotes the transformative power of play.

Studies have shown that play can bring about extraordinary results for creative thinking, which is why design agency Pearlfisher has partnered with charity Right To Play this winter to champion the transformative power of joyful play, in order to educate and empower children facing adversity.

Update: Now that Jump In! has closed, here are some alternative “play” activities for adults: rock climbing, Oxygen freejumping and hours of fun at Playzone Portsmouth.

A blissful Ayurvedic massage at Ayurveda Pura

ayurveda pura spa greenwich abhyanga massage

The feeling of hot oil being trickled all over your body is like no other. The only comparison I can make is that of a chunk of Galaxy caramel slowly melting in your mouth. Mmm.

It is in an ayurveda abhyanga (sorry for throwing these two words at you so soon – I’ll explain in a second) massage that you are smothered in heated oil – and it is what makes the experience so very luxurious and relaxing.

I had no idea what ayurveda was or what an abhyanga massage would involve until minutes before I was about to settle in for one, but it turns out that it is actually really interesting stuff. Here’s why:

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical system that believes everyone has a different mind/body constitution, made up of three different types of energies: Vata (air), Kapha (fire) and Pitta (earth), which are determined by your genetics, diet and lifestyle.

What’s your type?

People who tend to be slim, light, enthusiastic, creative, friendly and energetic generally have a dominant Vata. If people have smooth, oily and warm skin, are intelligent, ambitious, fiery and goal-orientated, they have a strong Pitta. People who have a dominant Kapha are easy-going, calm, truthful, loyal, patient and nurturing.

Although each of us has all three forces or “doshas”, most people have one or two that predominate. But as conditions such as diet, weather, lifestyle, stress and emotion change, so does the balance of the doshas. If they become imbalanced, then illness or disease can result in the body and/or mind.

The goal of Ayurveda is to identify a person’s ideal state of balance, determine where they are out of balance and offer natural interventions such as meditation, diet, aromatherapy and massage to rebalance the doshas.

The Abhyanga massage

After arriving at Ayurveda Pura, a treatment centre in North Greenwich owned by award-winning Ayurvedic Doctor Deepa Apte, I was greeted by the soft-spoken entrepreneur herself, as she took time away from her busy training academy to give me a quick one-on-one “dosha” consultation. After quizzing me on my sleeping habits, diet, and illness history, she took a feel of my pulse and a look at my tongue before classifying my basic constitution as majority Kapha-Pitta. She diagnosed an imbalance in my Vata. Symptoms of a Vata imbalance, she explained, can include anxiety, insomnia, dry skin (tick), constipation (tick) and difficulty focusing (tick). She also said something that freaked me out a little: if there was ever to be a problem or disease in my body, it would likely be on the left hand side of my body (time will tell, I suppose!).

I bid the soft-spoken Dr Apte farewell before being left in the soothing hands of spa manager Colette. She told me to strip off and put on those weird paper pants, (they were surprisingly comfortable), before she returned to commence my Abhyanga massage.

First she slathered my whole body in heated herbal oil (the oil is specific to your dosha imbalance) before beginning the body massage, which involves long, sweeping strokes. It was incredibly relaxing and gentle – whereas sports, deep tissue and Swedish massages are more intense, involving cracking and de-knotting – this is much smoother and you don’t feel any pain the morning after.

Your whole body tends to be exposed throughout the treatment rather than under a towel. It was the first time I had my chest and breast bone massaged, too, which I wasn’t expecting. It was one of the most relaxing massages I’ve ever had though, and I’m tempted to sign up for another already.

An Abhyanga massage has a host of benefits too: it nourishes the body, increases circulation, calms the nerves, promotes better sleep and gives you softer and smoother skin.

You’re absolutely soaking in oil after the treatment – and it feels really nice, strangely – so you take a shower, before being welcomed back to real life with a herbal tea. You feel lighter emerging back into the Ayurveda Pura reception and Café, which serves a host of Indian curries and snacks, and the weight of the world isn’t as large as it was before you entered the treatment room. Bliss.

 

Ayurveda Pura offers a host of ayurveda treatments, products and teas designed by Dr Apte and her team. Find out more at ayurvedapura.com.

A day in beautiful Bruges

Romantic cobbled streets, narrow lanes, little bridges and canals greeted us as we arrived in the charming little medieval city of Bruges.

It was easy to see why Bruges is often known as the ‘Venice of the North’ after ambling the canal paths, and it felt like we’d stepped back in time as horse-drawn carriages navigated the small streets, and intricate architecture and antiqued buildings flooded our view.

We were particularly impressed by the ultra-romantic Lake of Love (formerly Minnewater Lake), and its elegant resident swans.

lake of love bruges

The Lake of Love (Minnewater Lake)

The many lace shops dotted around the city – reminiscent of the city’s lacemaking tradition – were bursting full of intricate homewares, and, of course, Belgian treats were at every corner: chocolate, waffles, frites (chips, double fried, with mayonnaise squirted on top), mussels (‘moules’), beer, and more.

And it was in Bruges that I discovered the real way to enjoy hot chocolate – the best hot chocolate I’ve had yet – at The Old Chocolate House.

hot chocolate bruges belgium the old chocolate house

A unique hot chocolate experience at The Old Chocolate House, Mariastraat 1, 8000 Brugge

‘The place to be to drink the best hot chocolate’ is the slogan for this cosy little old fashioned cafe and chocolate shop, and I’m so thankful for stumbling upon it. When you enter, you walk straight into a chocolate shop, but a set of stairs leads to a lovely antiqued tea room upstairs, complete with stained glass windows, dim lighting and vintage table covers.

The hot chocolate is an experience in itself – first you choose a combination, for example, the type of chocolate (white, milk or dark) and then the combo you want with it (chilli, ginger, marshmallows).

A huge mug of steaming milk then arrives, with a mini whisk, and a separate tray full of chocolate drops to mix in – as well as a biscuit and a selection of individual chocolates from the shop downstairs.

You whisk in the amount of chocolate you want before slurping away. We were full up after drinking half the mug, so perhaps order one to share. I cannot recommend this place highly enough, and what’s great is that it wasn’t even expensive.

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A horse-drawn carriage ride is a common mode of transport to navigate the small streets – and it is one of the best ways to get a glimpse of the city. Boat tours along the canals are equally popular, and also another great way to see all the beautiful architecture. We chose to spend the day on foot, however, and got ourselves lost among the tiny streets – but that’s how we discovered some of the prettiest spots.

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There were a variety of museums dotted around, such as a lace museum and beer museum, along with various canal-side eateries and drinking holes where you can dine with a view.

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Getting there: We took the ferry over from the port of Dover to Calais, and then got a coach to Bruges. The ferry ride took about 2 hours, and the coach from Calais to Bruges took about 2 hours, too. A quicker and simpler way to get there would be to jump on the Eurostar.

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Beautiful Bruges is easily doable in a day – but for a more relaxing experience, consider an overnight stay.

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Tip: wear comfy shoes (there’s lots of walking on cobbles!) and perhaps something with an elasticated waistline (there’s so much to eat!).

I’m off to try and get hold of the film In Bruges, to see if Bruges looks as pretty on the big screen as in real life.

Dag! (That’s good bye in Flemish, FYI.)

Icing with the experts at Biscuiteers

biscuiteers icing cafe london notting hill

When you hear the word ‘biscuit’ what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A digestive? A cookie? Perhaps a good old HobNob or gingerbread man? I’d always thought of the humble biscuit as a comfort food, something to satisfy my sweet craving or to dunk into my tea, but when I discovered Biscuiteers, a London-based biscuit gift business and boutique, my entire outlook changed.biscuiteers icing cafe class workshop london

IMG_3653Biscuiteers has reinvented the idea of the biscuit, as something that’s glamorous and something that should be cherished. It has, basically, pimped biscuits – all Biscuiteers’ hand-iced treats are not only yummy, but beautiful, too. The collections are spectacularly inventive; there’s everything from superhero-themed biscuits to designs featuring cats, flowers, butterflies, cupcakes, tiaras, balloons, high heels, teddy bears, tea cups, wine bottles and more (plus personalised ones on request).

Ever since Biscuiteers opened its biscuit boutique and icing café in Notting Hill back in 2012 – a gloriously cute shop where you can browse and buy the biscuit collections, enjoy them over a cuppa, or ice your own – I’d told myself I’d make time to visit, or take a friend for a special occasion. [Regular readers will be well aware of my fondness for girly, cute places to hang out in London, such as Homemade London and The Doll’s House.] Shamefully, I didn’t make it down to Biscuiteers till this week – two years too late – but I visited for a special two hour vintage birthday icing class and came away with a pretty box filled with biscuits I’d iced, a big cheery smile and a desire to make sure all my friends knew about it.

biscuiteers biscuit icing cafe workshop teaching school london

The icing class

I arrived at Biscuiteers bright and early to browse all the pretty collections they had in the store. I was welcomed with a hot cup of tea before being led downstairs to the ‘School of Icing’ where the class would be taking place. All I knew before I arrived was that I’d be icing a variety of jellies, french fancies, doughnuts, sundaes and a battenburg or two, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

There were four other ladies also taking the class – a tourist from Japan, a mum planning to make cookies for her kid’s birthday, on the hunt for inspiration, and the other two ladies were sisters celebrating a special birthday – and by the end of the two hour session we’d all had a good laugh and I’d made a couple of new friends.

We were each given a lovely cotton Biscuiteers apron to wear (which we were able to take home with us) and our teacher – and head icer at Biscuiteers – Lorena, was a great coach. She whizzed us through simple and slightly more advanced techniques, and taught us the correct way to hold a piping bag, and how to do ‘flooding’. She was always happy to lend a hand or answer our questions and it was great to get to know her too; she told us her background was graphic design, and that she mainly resided at the Notting Hill boutique to work on any bespoke orders, while the rest of the Biscuiteers icers are based at a bakery in Kennington, and they usually get through about 150 biscuits a day. biscuiteers icing cafe london

We each iced 10 biscuits and one gingerbread man in the workshop, and we got to take them all away in a lovely collectible tin and decorative box.

The workshop required a good amount of concentration, and it was fairly quick paced, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours, and – after my perfectionist tendencies were put to the side – I found it quite relaxing. The group size was perfect as Lorena was able to pay us all attention and correct any mistakes we were making. We all came away really satisfied and proud, and with a few surprisingly simple decorative techniques up our sleeves. The certificate we were given at the end, along with the gift bag, apron and tin, were nice touches and make for great keepsakes.

In the spirit of the Great British Bake Off, I’m pleased I can now say I’ve got in on the action and had my turn at creating a few mini masterpieces! But equally, the classes are ideal for special occasions, or rainy days!

If you don’t want to push the boat out and go for a full on icing class, you can drop in to the Biscuiteers icing café, where you get to ice three biscuits unaided for £15 (probably ideal for days out with kids, or a quick pick-me-up) – it’s a great way to switch off from the world for a little bit, except at the end where you’ve simply got to Instagram your beautiful creations! Find out more at biscuiteers.com.

Fun bachelorette and hen party games: tried-and-tested!

A few months ago, I took on the responsibility of organising my sister’s hen/bachelorette parties. Yes, I used the plural – ‘parties’ – because the madam decided that she’d have one hen party abroad (for those who could make it to another country) and one nearer to home (for everyone else who couldn’t) – apparently it’s the new thing to do.

Having only ever been to one civilised hen party before taking on this mammoth task, I was a little lost for ideas, so I had to be inventive.

I wanted to share the games I researched, and created, to help those ladies who are stuck in a similar rut – with a hen party to organise, and a limited amount of time to get it together! Remember, the main aim of the party is to make a fuss of and embarrass the bride-to-be, while entertaining her hens.

Give these heart-shaped bubbles to each of your hens – they’re cute and chic, and a nice memento of the night! Or you might like these or, alternatively, these naughty ones

Hen party games

-Wedding-themed memory game: If the hens don’t know each other too well, this is a quick way to break the ice. The first hen starts by saying: ‘My name is ______ and I’m taking a _____ to [bride-to-be’s name’s] wedding. So if the hen’s name is Sally, and the bride’s name is Mary, Sally would say: ‘My name is Sally and I’m taking a sausage to Mary’s wedding.’ We played it so the name of item also began with the hen’s first initial, so Sally took a sausage, and Laura took a lizard. The next hen has to repeat Sally’s item, and add one of her own, etc.

Get this badge set so each hen has their own. These badges are cool too

-Interesting fact: This is another great icebreaker but it takes some preparation. In the run-up to the hen party, ask the hens to tell you an interesting fact about themselves. Then, at the party, read out the fact and ask the rest of hens if they can guess who it relates to. We had some hilarious revelations: one hen was a member of a medieval re-enactment group, one liked to drink tea in between a drinking session, another owned 60 pairs of shoes – you get the gist!

-Pin the willy on the bloke: A variation of the traditional Pin the Tail on the Donkey game – simply replace the donkey with a hunk, and the tail with a willy. I did a DIY job with preparing this – I just stuck lots of pieces of paper together and drew on a life-size hunk, then used Blu Tack to secure to the wall. Draw or print off a cartoon willy, cut round it and use Blu Tack to give it a sticky back. If you don’t have time, just buy the game. Blindfold the hen, swivel her round a few times and then let her pin the willy. We wrote the hen’s name on the spot she pinned to compare performance!

What’s in your purse? The hen with the weirdest things in her purse is likely to win this game. Hens get points for the items they arrived at the party with – so, for example, as the host, you would ask: ‘Who has a receipt for shoes in their purse?’ and all those hens who have one are awarded 20 points. You can make a list of a range of things, such as: toothbrush – 5 points; picture of partner – 5 points; condom – 10 points; PMS medication – 15 points; spare underwear – 20 points; a pen which isn’t black or blue – 10 points, etc. The hen with the most points wins!

-Mould the best willy: Arm some of the hens with Play Doh, and challenge them to model a willy. If you’re feeling really adventurous, get them to do it blindfolded, or with their eyes shut. The rest of the hens then vote the winning model.

-Pass the bouquet: This is just like musical chairs, but it uses a bouquet. Get your hands on false flowers, or real flowers if you fancy it, and you’ll need one of the hens to control the music. Get everyone else to stand in a circle with their back to the centre, and while the music plays the hens have to pass the bouquet to the person next to them. The person who is holding the bouquet when the music stops is eliminated, and the last person standing is the winner!

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Inflatable selfie picture frame

-The biscuit game – You’ll need a packet of digestives from the supermarket for this game. Get hens to bite the best heart, bouquet or willy shape and compare the results at the end – awarding prizes for the best willy, biggest willy, or biggest heart, for example.

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Inflatable props and accessories

-Mr & Mrs Quiz – Get the groom to fill out a quiz, and the bride-to-be to guess his answers. Turn it into a drinking game by making her take a shot for every answer she gets wrong. Here is a list of questions I gave to the groom > Questions for groom.

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A cute keepsake for the bride

-How well do you know the bride? Craft a multiple-choice quiz for the hens, about the bride-to-be, which she has answered in advance. Split the hens into teams and get them to guess the answers. Swap sheets at the end and get the teams to mark each other’s answers – the winning team receives a prize! Here is the quiz I created for the bride to fill in > How well do you know the bride? Quiz questions. Then you can get the losing team to do some dares – here are some outrageous dare cards

-Bridal pictionary: Based on the well-known Pictionary game, for this you need pieces of paper and pens. Think of wedding-related words, such as rings; flowers; bride; champagne; cake; music; wedding dress; 27 Dresses; bridesmaids etc and write them on small pieces of paper. Split the hens into teams – perhaps ‘The Bride’s Team’ and ‘The Groom’s Team’ and get them to take turns in picking a word and attempting to draw it using pictures. The team that guesses the most correct answers wins.

-True or false: Gather 10 to 15 facts about the bride-to-be. Half should be true and half should be false. Get the hens to try and decide which ones are true!

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Prosecco pong – beer pong’s classy sister

-I Have Never – drinking game: One hen starts by revealing an ‘I have never’ statement such as ‘I have never eaten a whole box of chocolates’ or ‘I have never lied about my age’. Those hens who have done this – who have eaten a box of chocolates, or have lied about their age – must drink. Then the next hen says what she has never done, etc.

-Scavenger hunt and to-do list: Give your bride-to-be a list of items she must acquire, and a set of tasks she must complete during her hen party. If you don’t want to be too cruel, you can add that she can nominate her hens to do some of these for her. Items to collect could include: a business card; a condom; a phallic-shaped item and boxers. Things to do could include: get a guy to buy you a shot; get a photo with a man in uniform; get a guy to dance for you, etc. The prize of the game is a lifetime of memories. Click to see the ‘Bride to be to-do list’ and the ‘Bride-to-be’s list of things to collect’

-My first kiss: Get the hens to go round and reveal details of their first kisses… Prepare for lots and lots of giggles.

Themes for hen nights

It’s great fun to set a dress code for the hen parties. We chose nerds, where we wore oversized glasses, braces, knee high socks and drew on zits. We also dressed up as Disney characters – we coordinated so we were all different characters, from Cruella de Vil and Pocahontas to Snow White and Minnie Mouse. For the final night we dressed up as animals – so the girls wore animal print dresses and tops, and some wore ears, tails and I got hold of some face paints, too.

Easier themes would include cow girls; angels and devils; fairies; neon; James Bond and The Only Way Is Essex! If you’re looking at hen tat to buy, sashes, whistles, mini bubbles necklaces, Hen Party name badges and willy straws really went down a hit! If you want to go OTT, you could get an inflatable willy, mini tiaras, glow sticks and a bride to be veil. Have a happy hen x

Use these bits and pieces to accessorise the party:



        
        

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