Feel Good 100 with Feel Good Drinks

A lot of pretty cool things have happened to me since I got diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015. I mean, chemotherapy was a riot and having a mastectomy and the followup surgeries was my favourite thing, obviously, but those things aside, I’ve been lucky enough to get some awesome opportunities. From having my name featured on a Formula 1 Car, to walking in the Breast Cancer Care fashion show,  joining an army of incredible women and regularly strapping on an enormous boob as one of CoppaFeel!’s Boobettes, to taking the jump and going freelance, pursuing my dreams of writing something that matters (though this may be temporarily on hold), I’ve been so very, very lucky. I’m grateful for all of these opportunities. The last two years haven’t been easy, but they’ve been pretty entertaining on the whole.

And I’ve started saying yes to things I never would have said yes to before. I think I’ve talked about this before, but I just don’t see the point in letting my nerves or fear or apprehension or anxiety stopping me from doing things. I’m pretty lucky to still be here, so why should I neglect opportunities that come my way? There’s a lot of things I can’t do right now (like surf) so why wouldn’t I say yes to things I can do? Even if they rip me out of my comfort zone and plonk me down next a beautiful lake in Malaga, completely naked and surrounded by 99 other naked women, all about to skinny dip in the aforementioned lake, I feel like I have a duty to do them. A duty to say yes. To myself as much as anyone.

Oh yeah. That lake thing actually happened. That wasn’t just some wild stream of whimsy consciousness I went off on there. A few weeks ago, along with some of my other awesome Boobette Babes and a bunch of other women from all over the UK, Feel Good Drinks escorted us out to Spain for their Feel Good 100 project. Their idea? To promote their 100% natural drinks they wanted to get 100 women in a 100% natural environment in 100% their natural state.

So here we were. Women of all shapes and sizes. A handful of breast cancer survivors. Models. Bloggers. Mothers. Every single person with a story that had led them to say yes to this opportunity.

So there I was. In beautiful sunshine in a stunning location with an incredible group of women wandering around with my The Artist Formerly Known as Breast out for everyone to see. Bizarrely, I felt more self conscious of the boob I still have than the war wound that marks my experience of breast cancer, but mostly I felt liberated. With all my wobbly bits and all my scars on show, there was something really honest about baring everything. Probably more honest than I had been with or about my body in a very long time.

Today marks two years since I had my mastectomy. Since the start of my treatment, I suppose. The start of my “triathalon”. In terms of surgery, it’s kind of turned into the Marathon des Sables, with 7 surgeries down and (hopefully) only two more to go. But at the end of this month I’ll go back to having two boobs as my (hopefully) penultimate surgery sees me have an expander implant put under the fat they’ve gathered from my legs and stomach in the past couple of surgeries. It looks like this is gonna be a big ‘un. Another scar. Drains. More liposuction. More bruising. More exhaustion. But I’m here, eh? I’m alive and kicking. Who cares if it works out that on average, I’ve had a surgery every three months for the last two years (I do a little bit. But only a touch).

The timing was really right for me with this campaign. I’m constantly searching for ways to feel alive at the moment and I really did feel alive and grateful for this opportunity. It kind of marked a transition in my treatment as I come to the end of living flat, 22 months after I had my implant removed. It’s the start of the end of my cycle of surgeries (hopefully) and I loved being able to celebrate my body honestly – for what it was before cancer, what it is now and what it will become. I still have so much growing and healing and learning to do.

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You can see the video created by Feel Good Drinks here – and I’d also recommend getting your hands on their infusions range. Genuinely delicious.

Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa

We are all guilty of not looking after ourselves. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times, we have not been raised as a generation of people for whom taking time and giving yourself a bit of self care has been an innate part of our routine. We have to really force ourselves to take the time we need and really, truly relax. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, so when I was offered the chance to go and hang out at The Spa at Bedford Lodge Hotel for 24 hours, I practically had my bags packed before we’d even set a date.

Tucked away in the Newmarket countryside, about an hour out of London, the Bedford Lodge Hotel is a 4* Hotel with a luxury spa just over the way. You never really think about it until you have to, but having been diagnosed with breast cancer has an impact on being able to enjoy a lot of things, long after you’ve finished treatment, and that includes having spa treatments. Many practitioners are apprehensive about giving treatments to those who have been diagnosed with cancer and often refuse to do so, but over the last few years “Wellness for Cancer” centres have been popping up all over the country, allowing those who’ve had a cancer diagnosis to be able to enjoy a range of treatments, regardless of those mutated cells that tried to kill ’em.picmonkey-collageBedford Lodge is one of those “Wellness for Cancer” centres, so I was invited along to try out its facilities and lemme tell you, this is one of the best things I’ve been asked to do for my blog so far. As soon as I arrived, I immediately slipped into relaxation stations. It was midweek. I was alone. I had absolutely nothing to do and no-one to answer to. My main objective was to try and shake off the busy few weeks I’d had and I planned to do as little as possible.

After checking in to the hotel, I made my way across the courtyard to the Spa. The facilities at Bedford Lodge are extensive – there’s a steam room, a sauna, two “experiential” showers with different settings, an open air hottub on the roof and an incredible hydrotherapy pool. I made sure to try all of them out (more than once).

I was also given the opportunity to try the Bowen Technique treatment – a non-invasive remedial therapy which uses only the thumbs and forefingers to apply very gentle pressure to certain points throughout the body. It’s kind of hard to judge the efficacy of the Bowen Technique treatment having only been able to experience the one, but it was interesting to try something so unique.

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The other great thing about the Bedford Lodge Hotel, gorgeous spa aside, is that it’s home to a pretty incredible restaurant, Squires. Clearly created with food lovers in mind, this restaurant offers the same high quality food you’d expect to find in London, but nestled away in the middle of the countryside. I sat down to a three course dinner with high hopes and I was not remotely disappointed. I tucked into melon and parma ham to start, followed by cod and chorizo with squid ink risotto and finished off with “textures of apple” – a dessert so decadent I felt like I was a Masterchef restaurant critic.

Overall my stay at the Bedford Lodge was the perfect antidote to city living in the aftermath of cancer. It gave me an enforced opportunity to slow down and listen to my body, even though these things combined to remind me my body is still healing. But whether you’ve had cancer or you’re just looking to get out of London for a memorable spa break, I can heartily recommend the Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa

DISCLOSURE: I was a guest of the Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa, invited by their PR Company to do a review, but I wouldn’t be blogging about this place if I didn’t think it was worth its salt. 

Tumour Has It

A letter dropped through our postbox this morning. From the NHS. Addressed to me. I presumed it would be about my impending appointment to pop along and see my surgeon and have my new medical photographs taken (as weird and as funny as it sounds). Alas, it wasn’t an appointment about my boobs this time. It was a letter to tell me it’s time to go and have my cervix checked out.

Women aged 25 to 49 in the UK are invited for cervical screening every three years, but recent information released by Jo’s Cancer Trust have shown that one in three women aren’t attending their regular check ups. Whether is through busy-ness, or fear or apathy, I’m not sure, but one thing I am sure about is that we need to get out of the habit of putting things like this off.

Right now, I can literally think of nothing worse than having a test for cancer and having to wait until the results come back. I’m still pretty traumatised from all of the drama I had when the assisted conception team tried to get my coil out before I started treatment to protect my fertility in case chemo ravaged it completely. I won’t go into details cos it’s a story for another time, but all I will say is they spent about 50 mins trying to get it out, and failed. While I was reminded of the chapter in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues “Because He Liked to Look at It” it was not a pleasant experience for anyone, least of all me.

So yeah. I get that revealing your lady parts to a doctor is not a particularly nice thing to have to do but, and I understand that having a test for cancer can be a bit scary and a bit overwhelming –  but it is imperative. And actually it’s not all that bad. Sounds like a stupid thing to say but the more relaxed you are, the easier it is. It’s a bit uncomfortable but it’s much, much better than the alternative.

According to Jo’s Trust “cervical screening is 80–90% reliable and can prevent 60–80% of cervical cancers. This means that seven out of every 10 cases of women who would have developed cancer of the cervix can be prevented.” Sounds like a pretty useful tool to me. And it’s like always say when I’m talking about checking your boobs, knowledge is power. You owe it to yourself to get checked out, because a healthy cervix is a happy cervix, right?

I recently met a pretty special lady called Karen. Karen and I are both part of an organisation called Trekstock, and we’re both lucky enough to be in the group of people classed as “young adults with cancer”. I know right, what an awesome and elite group to be part of!

Karen was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, aged 25. Since her diagnosis and treatment, she’s dedicated a lot of her time to raise awareness of cervical cancer and gynaecological disease. At the moment, Karen’s doing this through her one-woman comedy show Tumour Has It. As we speak, she’s up in Edinburgh performing this show to the masses at The Fringe. Billed as an “honest and hilarious tory of her cervical cancer extravaganza” told “through comedy, storytelling and a poem to Svetlana the Tumour”.

But Karen wants MORE. And I want MORE for Karen too. She’s determined to keep telling her story to new audiences and has turned to Crowdfunding in an attempt to raise enough money to keep her show going around the country when she gets back from Edinburgh. She needs £££ for venue hire, production costs, marketing and promotional materials (including a badge that says the word “vagina”). Her target is £7000 by 26th August.

Here’s a little to do list of things it’d be great if you could think about doing off the back of this post.

  1. BOOK YOUR SMEAR TEST. ATTEND YOUR SMEAR TEST WHEN CALLED FOR SCREENING
  2. Go and see Karen in Edinburgh if you’re there*
  3. Remember that a healthy cervix is a happy cervix, and help Karen raise awareness of cervical cancer and gynaecological disease with her show by helping her Crowdfunding Campaign. There’s a video all about it right here. Find out more about the show on Facebook.

I saw “No More Stage 3”, a comedy show by Alistair Barrie about his wife’s run in with breast cancer the other week and at the close of the show he said “Always keep laughing. Because if you stop laughing, you stop living, and then the cancer has won”. This is very true and applies as much to Karen’s show as it did to Alistair’s. It’s also just a really good motto for life. You can swap out “cancer” for other words including “depression” “terrorists” “Conservatives” etc.,

I’m off to book my smear appointment right now, fear be damned.

*Another of my friends Katie Brennan is at Edinburgh Fringe as well, performing her show Quarter Life Crisis, so go see that too, yeah? Because I can’t and I’d like to live vicariously through you. K, thanks.

2015 Travel Wishlist

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I often refer to myself as a travel lover who stays stationery more than I’d like. I’ve been so lucky over the past couple of years to travel to some amazing places – from Florence to Barbados to Austin and beyond, but all these places have done is fuel my perpetual wanderlust and leave me desperate to see more of the world.

I mentioned Stacey’s blog in my post about the New Forest. Despite having known Stacey for a while, I only just discovered her blog and as such stumbled upon her 2015 travel wishlist at the turn of the year. I loved the post so much, I decided to jump on the bandwagon – so here’s my very own travel wishlist. I’m not sure I’ll get to all of these places in 2015 but if I do that’ll be a pretty good year in my book. We can but dream, eh?

Durdle Door

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I thought I’d start close to home with the obscenely beautiful Durdle Door. You would not look at the stunning blue seas and lush beach and think it was in the UK. In my geographical ignorance as a Northerner, I wasn’t even aware of the Durdle Door until Poppa Purk suggested that, in my quest to find the best beaches in the world, we investigated the South East and West coast. A bit of googling led me to some stunning pictures, and I’ve been dreaming of visiting this part of the world ever since.

Sweden

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A lot of people I know have been to Sweden lately, notably Stockholm, and I cannot deny they’ve made me incredibly eager to explore this part of the world – one that I’ve not even scratched the surface of. Dubbed one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, I’d love to see the boats on the water in the summer or feel the fresh chill in the air in the winter. I’ll go anytime, not remotely fussy.

California

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In September, Chris and I will be celebrating a pretty big anniversary. Seeing as though we haven’t bothered to mark the nine before this one, we decided it might be nice to celebrate them all at once with a road trip around California. None of this is booked yet and we still have a a lot to work out, but the (vaguely outlined) dream would be to start in San Francisco, visit Yosemite, stop in at Las Vegas, drop by Morro Bay and finish up in LA.

Paris

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It’s a long time since I’ve been to Paris. Too long in fact. Living in London, hopping on the Eurostar is so easy and often incredibly affordable if you book in advance . I know Paris often gets a bit of a bad rep as being dirty and over-priced, but I’ve never seen it that way. It’s just Paris – with it’s beautiful streets, stunning architecture and wonderful culture. I’m ever so keen to go back in 2015.

Prague

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A couple of friends visited Prague a few years ago and came back with tales of an incredible European city worth exploring. Flying to Barbados left me with enough Avios points to explore the continent a bit more, so I’m hopeful we’ll make it to the Czech Republic’s capital in 2015. I’ve admired photos of the city’s night lights reflected in the river and the gorgeous bridges across the water for some time. I’d love to take my camera and take some pretty little snaps for my own collection.

New York

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Until I’ve made it to NYC, this city will remain on my list. I’d love to catch a show on broadway, see Times Square lit up like a Christmas tree, watch the activity in the harbour, admire Lady Liberty on her perch overseeing the city – all of the touristy things. And the food. I’d just like to eat all of the food.

Iceland

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I don’t think words are really required when you’ve a photo like this to show off  a place, but Iceland has been on my list for as long as I can remember. When we went to Florence last year, we very nearly chose Iceland instead. I’ve always been captivated by the magnificence of the Northern Lights but I’m eager to bathe in the geothermal pools, go whale watching and witness the geysers doing their thang.

Glastonbury

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This one isn’t so much on the wishlist as on the “definitely going to happen” list. We managed to bag ourselves tickets to Glasto 2015 back in October and I am so, so looking forward to it. This will be my third time at the festival and it’s almost impossible to describe how incredible it is to someone who hasn’t been. I also don’t have many pictures, because I use it as an opportunity to switch off from the world and as such don’t take my phone with me. The snap above is a photo of a photo taken on a disposable camera. I’m not wishing the year away, but roll on June and hanging out in front of the Pyramid.

Of course, whichever of these places I make it to, you can expect to see plenty of photos and hear all about it when I return. I’m still hoping to travel 12 times this year. Maybe we’ll get a couple of these checked off before the year is through.

What’s on your travel wishlist for 2015? Where have I missed?!

I actually cannot believe how the last post I wrote on here went down. Not only did loads of you stop by to read it and leave your comments (THANK YOU!), I manage to get an edited version of it up on the Huffington Post too and for a day or so I was one of their featured bloggers. Which was entirely mad. I cannot say enough how grateful I am for all of the lovely comments online and in real life – you’ve all helped spur me on to get my finger out and write more in 2015. It is, after all, what I do.

The New Forest and a Birthday

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HELLO! It’s 2015! Welcome, pull up a chair, grab yourself a cuppa. Isn’t it nice to be here? I feel like 2014 was an absolute whirlwind, but I’ve already reflected on eight and a bit months of the year in my #25at25 lookback, so I wanted to blog about my most recent adventure instead. Let’s face it, if you’ve been following my blog for the last few months, you’ve had it rammed down your face anyway…

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll probably have noticed that I spent last weekend over in the New Forest. Chris’ birthday falls in early January, so there are rarely many people around for celebrating. As a result, we started going away for a couple of days as a way to celebrate his birthday and start the new year right. Last year, we went to Bath, this year, after a lot of deliberation, we opted for the New Forest.

As a pair of Northerners, that part of the world has always seemed a really long way to travel, but it is in fact, just a short journey from London Waterloo. After the morning climbing the O2 (more on that later) we hopped on a train at around 2.30pm and made it to Ashurst New Forest just over two hours later.

newforest1I can easily say that the New Forest is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in the UK. It’s an incredibly long time since I’ve found myself surrounded by woodland and I loved it. Love London as I do, it’s always nice to get away. Usually when I flee the city, it’s the seaside that I flock to so it was pretty glorious to spend some time clambering in amongst the trees, the deer and the wild horses.

We’d been anticipating good weather all week, so when I awoke on Saturday morning to grey skies and drizzle, I couldn’t help but being disappointed. Regardless, after a delicious breakfast at the Woodland Lodge Hotel, I pulled on my new favourite bobble hat, my walking boots and we set out across the boggy marshes of the New Forest. We stayed in Ashurst, but nearby village Lyndhurst is in walking distance and Brockenhurst which is often described as “the heart of the New Forest” is just 10 minutes away on the train.

I spend so much time daydreaming about travelling the world, it’s easy to forget about the beauty that’s on the doorstep. I’m fairly well travelled in the North, but the South still remains pretty much unexplored. Having discovered the #Take12Trips challenge from Travel Hack via Stacey Fenton, I’m determined to travel as much as possible this year.

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Before we headed to the New Forest, I decided to surprise Chris with a climb up the o2 on the morning of his birthday. It’s something we’d talked about doing for a while and sometimes, it takes a thing like a birthday to make it happen.

I never knew that the o2 (I still always want to call it the Millennium Dome) was modelled on time – it’s 52 metres tall to represent the weeks of the year, it has 12 spikes to represent the months, and it’s 365 metres in diameter to represent the days. When you reach the top after a pretty relaxing climb, you’re treated to panoramic views of the surrounding area, including the cable car, Canary Wharf and if you’ve got a super keen eye, you can just about see the Walkie Talkie and the Shard. We had a blissfully sunny and clear day for it, and I can 100% recommend it. Check us out in our adventurer suits below.

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Life, Lately: Barbados Photo Journal

I was lucky enough to go to Barbados for a week earlier this month. On this rare occasion, I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves (some are from my iPhone, some are from my lovely, brand new Panasonic Lumix camera). Sorry if you follow me on Instagram and have seen these already. Also, I’m a bit obsessed with the sea, and the sky, both of which are particularly beautiful in Barbados. So there’s a lot of pictures of both of these.

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A Brief Love Affair with Florence

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First of all, let me start this post by telling you, I fell in love with Florence this week. As a result, I took a lot of photos and I want to share many of them with you. So get set for a long and picture heavy post filled with an already embedded longing to return. I hope you enjoy it!

Chris and I have been talking about going away in March for years. We’re at the age where we’re not restricted to taking off outside restrictive term times and we’re in the perfect position to pack our bags and take a flight at short notice. So that’s what we did this week. We booked a last minute flight, an apartment through the (highly recommended) AirBnB and spent a few days in Florence.

After the idea of a dream trip to Iceland fell through when prices doubled in the two days before we booked, we were a bit lost with where to go. We toyed with a trip to Berlin but my favourite German tour guide had a lot on her plate, we considered Prague but deemed the weather too much like the dreary UK and we eventually stumbled upon Florence. Knowing little about the city, having never even considered it as a destination before I can honestly say my motivation for booking it came down to one simple motto* – it seemed like a good idea at the time – and it certainly was.

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Florence is a city that’s rich with history, culture, sensational views and indulgent cuisine. From the pizza and pasta of traditional Tuscan fare to the iconic Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and Michaelangelo’s David pitched on the city’s highest point, this city is a feast for the belly, the eyes and the soul.

We flew into Pisa airport, then hopped on a transfer bus into city. Even from crossing the river on a day that was a bit grey and chillier than I expected, being greeted with the view of the city’s many bridges and pretty riverfront certainly grabbed my attention. The river snakes through Florence, splitting it in two halves. We stayed on the Oltrano side of the river, while a lot of the more touristy spots were on the other side. The city is full of typical Tuscan streets, exactly what you’d imagine when picturing this part of the world. Terracotta roofs, wooden slatted shutters in shades of green and roads bustling with people, bicycles and scooters.

Probably the most famous attraction of Florence is the magnificent Piazza del Duomo. It dominates the landscape from wherever you are, much as I would expect London’s St Paul’s did once upon a time. The Piazza is made up of three constituent parts, the baptistery (which was unfortunately covered by scaffolding during our stay, the cathedral (with the cuopola) and the campanille (bell tower).

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We climbed the 400+ steps of both the campanille and the cuopola, but it’s probably not necessary to do both. Though I loved the view from the bell tower, the view is quite restrictive in that there’s a lot of wire to peer through. At the top of the cuopola, the view’s only restricted from the waist down. It’s a bit balky if you look down but not as bad as you might think.

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It’s notorious that I love food so a trip to Florence meant I’d be indulging quite a lot. What I didn’t realise was that the likes of the Mercato Centrale would be like stumbling into my happy place. Despite being surrounded by attention stealing stalls offering gorgeous Florentine leather, the market is an absolute find. Packed to the rafters with stalls offering an abundance of pasta, fruit, sweet treats, mushrooms, cheese, cakes and biscotti, walking around is an explosion for the senses. Bright colours, vibrant textures, pungent smells, busy sounds and tongue tingling sights combine and create something pretty cool.

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The view of the city from Palazzo d’Michealangelo is, as already mentioned, pretty spectacular. Lovely Georgina who I work with (and who blogs over on Life and Lashes) recommended climbing up there to watch the sun set, and I must admit, it was a stellar recommendation. As the city’s highest point, the view is pretty spectacular and that combined with a drink in hand and the lovely guitarist who provided the soundtrack to our sunset(s – we went twice) is a real treat. We headed up there at around 5pm, so had a good hour or so to take in the view and watch the sun go down in one of the most picturesque settings I’ve ever been to.

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I think these were the highlights from my trip, but it’d be all too easy for me to just carry on chatting about my new favourite city, so I’m going to leave you with a couple of tips to keep in mind and a few last photos (prize if you spot which one is NOT in Florence). If you’re planning to visit Florence, and I think you should), I hope these are helpful!

  • Check out the gelateria on the corner of Lungarno Soderini and Lungarno Guicciardini. I can highly recommend the chocolate mousse. I almost passed out it tasted so good. This is one of the cheaper gelateria’s we found, but it’s certainly not the poorest in quality – quite the opposite in fact.
  • Don’t visit Florence and expect to be able to watch what you eat. It’s not every day you’re surrounded by irresistible pizza and pasta of the highest quality, ice cream that’s so creamy you find yourself daydreaming about it and a range of cakes and sweet treats you could never have even imagined (rice cakes like you would not expect/believe)

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  • Be prepared to walk. Florence is easy enough to see in three or four days, but if you’re going to do that, you need to do a lot of walking. Over the 2.5 days we were in the city, we walked over 75,000 steps (which is over 53km). Admittedly, we didn’t walk them very quickly and several of them were up the Campanille and the Cuopola, but I am very aware of my legs right now. And I walk a lot anyway.
  • Think about going in March. Admittedly, we were lucky with the weather, but I understand the city gets almost suffocatingly hot in the summer months, as well as incredibly busy with tourists. We saw big groups of American teens on Spring Break as well as a few groups of tourists from other places around the world, but we didn’t feel engulfed by tourism, allowing us to see the city at its most natural.
  • Check out Tratorria Zaza in Piazza Mercato Centrale for delicious and super reasonable seafood (we paid 16 euros for half a lobster – say whuuut!), O’Munaciello on Via Maffia, 31, in the Oltrarno area for superb pizza in a really quirky setting. There’s also a restaurant in the square by the Santa Maria Novella with red and white tablecloths and a gramophone at the front which does amazing pasta and cracking canteloupe with proscuittio.

*Thanks Dad. A motto to live by if ever I heard one

A Lovely Little Trip to Bath

ImageTaking a momentary step back from 25at25, I thought I’d write about something else for a change. On New Year’s Day, Chris and I headed out for a wee birthday trip. Somewhat delicate from a night of saying ta’ra to 2013 and welcoming in 2014 with open arms, we headed off to Paddington (the first of a trip of firsts) for a short visit to Bath.

As a Northerner, the south west of the UK isn’t a part of the world I’ve visited very much. It’s an awfully long way from Northallerton to Bath, but it’s just a short train journey from the Big Smoke and it’s a journey absolutely worth taking.

Despite arriving in the pouring rain on a fairly subdued Wednesday at the turn of the year, it didn’t take long to see that the reputation that precedes this pretty little city is fully deserved. Packed with history, stunning architecture, plenty of places to enjoy good food and numerous attractions to help you unwind and relax.

We stayed in the Halcyon Hotel – located in a lovely Georgian Townhouse just a few short minutes walk from the train station. The nature of the building means that the rooms are small, but ours was certainly kitted out with everything we needed. We didn’t spend much time in the hotel (or Bath itself really), but the lovely comfortable bed, perfectly heated room and all round facilities were exactly what I was looking for when I booked. I booked direct and paid the pretty price of £75, which included a good continental breakfast.

Photo Credit: La Perla | Thermae Bath Spa

Credit: La Perla | Thermae Bath Spa

I have no idea how I stumbled upon La Perla – a quirky and unique tapas bar located really close to the abbey – but I’m so, so glad I did. We snuck in at around 6pm and were given a complimentary glass of champagne for being the first guests of 2014 (sorrynotsorry to the guys who hesitated just behind us). I’m often a bit wary of being let down by tapas as I’d say it’s probably one of my favourite foods , but the traditional Spanish feel of La Perla with a hint of modernity put me at ease pretty quickly. It’s a bit like stepping into a really inviting cavern with a really welcoming and comfortable feel – which I know doesn’t sound the best, but it felt like we’d found somewhere really special.

The food was divine. From classic patatas bravas and albondigas to perfect corquetas de jamon (a personal favourite) and the insanely tasty Cocktail de Cangrejo (crab with a passion fruit chutney – this was a taste sensation) La Perla offers everything with a twist of personality and a touch of luxury. It was a blogger 101 fail not to have taken pictures of this delicious food – because it possibly looked even better than it tasted, but I was overcome by wonder and shovelled it in my face as quickly as possible. Hindsight’s pretty excellent, so I’ll try to remember this next time I blog about food. If you want to see it though, you should just pop to Bath. It’s totally worth the visit for this tapas bar alone. Promise.

As we only visited Bath for just over 24 hours, we didn’t manage to squeeze a whole lot of other stuff into our visit. We popped to the Roman Baths which were educational (obviously), surprisingly interesting and really lovely to stroll around. I only wish we’d been able to get in the baths for a full Roman experience – but we had to force ourselves into the suitably luxurious Thermae Bath Spa just around the corner for two hours of swimming, steaming and general relaxation.

After a pretty sickly Christmas and what’s been a fairly frantic year, it was really nice to just slip away for a night and see somewhere completely new. Bath’s gorgeous Georgian architecture, lovely atmosphere, friendly locals and accessibility from the Big Smoke make for the perfect quick getaway – and I’m so glad we did it.

My two cents on Austin, TX

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I arrived in Austin, Texas on the 23rd September. I’ve been here a little over a week, and I’m falling a little more in love every day. Though this isn’t my first visit to this lovely little place (I was here for a flash in April), I was given the chance to spend a fortnight here on a work trip.

From the people (who are friendlier than even the warmest of Northerners) to the vibrant yet relaxed atmosphere you feel as you roam through the streets and the sensational food scene that’s evident on every block, Austin feels to me like an incredibly unique city. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as at home so quickly as I do in Austin. Even London took me a little longer to adapt to – and that’s not to say I don’t love the big smoke.

It’s not caught up in being a city like London, it’s not busy or suffocating like I find our capital from time to time. It’s home to a leisurely pace that’s very much concentrated on nurturing awesome live music, extensive (but not obsessive) exercise and tasty Tex-Mex food at the top of a tower of culinary delights. From the outside, it seems like it has the perfect balance of everything.

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Hopdoddy is home to the best burgers of your life, while Barton Springs is the perfect place to make the most of the glorious sunshine this part of the world is lucky enough to receive or take a refreshing evening dip. Zilker Park is a welcome breathing space that transforms once a year into the state’s biggest music festival. Congress Avenue is a lively hub of activity while the city’s Trail allows you to wander along the Colorado River and take in gorgeous views of an exceptionally pretty skyline.

When I arrived, jet lagged, groggy and with a vague recollection of a whirlwind visit in April, I’d forgotten what Austin felt like. Breezy, fresh, warm, buzzing, hungry (maybe that was just me), and cready to offer up whatever you want to make of it.

I feel like there’s something here for everyone – but I can’t be sure if that’s just because this is my only experience of the USA, and really this is just what it feels like to be in the land of the free. I guess it doesn’t matter right now, because Austin is where I am right now – where I am lucky enough to be right now. I’ve still got so much more to experience as well – notably three days of incredible live music before I fly home on Monday.

Anyway – that’s my two cents. Bottom line? Austin is pretty awesome. Make sure you check it out if you get a chance.

And hey, it’s WEDNESDAY tomorrow. You know what that means? Video blog #3 for #25at25. Goodness only knows what will happen after last week. Pop back anyway. And if you’ve any suggestions for challenge 24 and 25 (yep, I’m still struggling), let me know!