Thursday, 28 July 2016

London: Riding The Slide At The Olympic Park

I'm a baby adrenaline junkie. Last year I went on my first rollercoaster. I've never been a risk-taker, I was that girl aged 17 who couldn't even face driving her car at more than 40mph. But...at age 28 I've finally become a bit of a thrill-seeker. Maybe I've become accustomed to the post-run endorphin rush or maybe it's an antidote from the less glamorous aspects of adult life but the idea of anything a little bit terrifying is suddenly very appealing.

arcelormittal orbit slide

Four years after I did the "Mo Bot" pose (sudden wave of teary 2012 nostalgia) at the bottom of Anish Kapor's ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford's Olympic Park, the structure has been "improved" with the addition of a Carsten Holler slide. And doesn't it look just slightly terrifying?

arcelormittal orbit slide

Tickets are £15 (#thisislondon) and that gets you one slide down at an allocated time and a visit to the viewing platform. The queue for the slide was just long enough that I started irrationally worrying about whether I had locked my flat door that morning and then suddenly it was my turn! You slide down in a giant sack, going through light and dark sections of the slide and I think I held my breath all the way down and then suddenly it's over and you're not very gracefully clambering out of the sack and onto the ground.

arcelormittal orbit slide

Book your ticket here because, come on, we all need a bit of light relief this summer and this is definitely the craziest slide you'll ever go on. Oh, and, remember to wear trousers and long sleeves. I ended up wearing my yoga clothes because my wardrobe is sorely lacking in these items.



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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Life: Being More Confident

I'm not one for 30-before-30 type lists but as I near a big birthday I do have some goals (or should it be #goals?), with the aim of making it to the big 3-0 as the new thirty-something I want to be. First up, being more confident.


When I was at university I often thought ahead to my future life, that life where I'd be a proper adult - a grown-up. Despite actually being twenty at the start of my first year, obviously the next three years were to be part extended adolescence and part training for the actual grown-up that I would surely become. The grown up who (as well as being 5'8 tall and with excellent hair) didn't turn red when speaking to new people and didn't stumble over words when public speaking.

I've never felt like a shy girl, never felt insecure or particularly unconfident but I've always had a nagging feeling that confidence is a "could do better" area for me that I'm a "should have more confidence in her own abilities" type. Coming across as a confident female is tricky (not suggesting its easier for men but there is undoubtably less baggage that goes with it), who hasn't felt that fear upon accepting a compliment, like, oops, have I just made that Mean Girls-esque faux pas and admitted that I actually do look nice today? There's a dangerous line between appearing confident (good) and appearing overly pleased with oneself (not so good).

I've made progress, I know. The consolation prize of no longer being able to look cute on two hours sleep and too many G&Ts is that I can now easily return something to a shop, or refuse to pay the service charge in a restaurant (obviously only when the service is terrible, I'm not mean) and I can easily show up to a blog event solo because I know they'll be someone to talk to or I can just, y'know, Instagram the crap out of the event and slip away as a back-up plan - one that I've never had to actually use because bloggers are always a great bunch.

But last month I found myself with an event scrawled into my Filofax, an event which I knew would be welcoming and which others would have rocked up alone to too. Half an hour before I was due to go I found myself like "Nope. Can't". The thought of walking in alone, the realisation that I was wearing "uncool" pink trainers (because clearly no one would want to speak to a girl wearing pink Sketchers) meant that despite all my intentions of going along and doing something new and fun there was suddenly no way I was going to go. I slumped off home to my empty flat after a day of not actually speaking with my voice in a world where "chatting" actually means "typing emojis into a WhatsApp thread", feeling quite disappointed in myself and also that I'd fallen short of other people's view of me as a sociable, not un-confident person. I love me time maybe more than the average girl but it gets to the point where it's easy to hide behind how much fun you can have alone and how you totally needed a Friday night in alone because you know, you'd had a busy week and were super tired,  right?

Fast-forward to a few weeks later and the event came around again. Despite waking up from an extended nap 20 minutes before I needed to leave the house, despite having just returned from a trip to NYC, I told myself that I had to go. I had to at least leave my flat and walk there. No excuses this time. And I did. And I had fun. And I can't even remember what shoes I was wearing or if I was even wearing make-up and walking home I felt a million miles away from the girl of a month before, who was overly fixated on footwear choices to push herself out of her comfort zone.

So that's our "lesson" for July. The only way to become more confident is to just get out there and do something that a confident person would do even if it is a little terrifying because getting some human interaction is a lot better for your soul than WhatsApp and Netflix. And, FYI, the meeting that I was off to was a meeting of the Shoreditch Sisters WI - if you're East-London based then I'd wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Travel: New York, New York

new york city travel blog
That final glimpse of New York City skyline from JFK airport. 
If, like me, you're a committed city person, then New York City is the city. My notes from the red eye back to London of all the little things (full city guide to come once my brain is back in gear):-

~ being downtown on 2nd Avenue, stopping in the middle of the road for the clear view straight uptown

~ seeing the top of the Freedom Tower from the West Village and remembering everything this city has been through

~ wandering around the East Village listening to Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" like its 2005

~ being at the end of a cross street and feeling like you might fall off the end of the earth (or just into the East River)

~ a very strong gin and elderflower martini in Lexington Bar and Books

~ ordering a second one

~ having the city all to yourself in July (everyone else is in the Hamptons)

~ the somewhat varied clientele of bars that let one smoke indoors

~ the San Remo building reflected in the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

~ that where your friend lives is an "apartment" but that the place you call home in London is most definitely a "flat"

~ buying Essie nail polishes in Duane Reade at 2am just because you can

~ Vitamin Water Zero as the perfect antidote to said gin martinis

~ free yoga in Bryant Park, in the rain, realising that the laughter you can hear is your own
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Friday, 22 July 2016

Home: DIY Fragrance Blending

One of the many joys of solo living is scenting my tiny apartment with candles, incense and essential oils. Scents can instantly change our mood, they can be calming, energising or even bring back memories (one whiff of Escada's Rocking Rio perfume and I'm 18 again).


The Bolsius creations kit allows you to pick a fragrance to suit your mood from a range of "pick and mix" fragrance chips which can be used solo or combined into a fragrance cocktail of your choosing (there are some suggestions on the website as a starting point). The fragrance chips are placed in a ceramic diffuser - I'd never used one of these before but loved how fast one tea light melted the chips down into a smooth, fragranced oil and unlike with incense there is no mess or faff. The simply designed diffuser complemented my pineapple collection nicely, too. Once the tea light has burned down the oil slowly solidifies ready to be re-used. Three fragrance chips will provide over 10 hours of fragrance - pretty impressive!

For my first fragrance experiment I chose a calming blend of sandalwood, velvet rose and English lavender combining to make a soothing scent experience. I secretly love the smell of lavender but it can be a bit overwhelming on its own but combined with the rose and sandalwood it's perfect for de-stressing from the day just gone by.



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Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Travel: Porto, Portugal - Primavera + City Guide

porto primavera city guide
Primavera - the music is mostly at night so there's time to explore the city during the day too.
Porto is Portugal's second city - it has a similar look and feel to Lisbon but it's smaller, easy to navigate on foot and very affordable. Oh, and it's slightly less steep but still has the cute retro trams of it's big sister city.

porto primavera city guide
Cliche festival girl.
I visited for the Primavera Festival which is hosted by Barcelona and Porto - I went to Primavera Barcelona in 2014 so it's great to be able to compare the two. Barcelona gets a bigger and better line-up (this year they had Radiohead headlining which would have been an absolute dream) but it's pricer - both the festival tickets and the city itself. The Barcelona festival site is sparse, futuristic and devoid of any greenery whereas Porto's is in a lush green park and has more of a ~festival feel to it, there's really nothing better than sitting on the grass under a blue sky with a cold drink in hand. Both festivals are non-camping so you'll need to find somewhere to stay, get yourself to and from the festivals site each day and bag searches mean that you can't bring your own drinks into the arena. European crowds are quite different to British ones - I felt at both Barcelona and Porto that people didn't really dance much but people are friendly and there's definitely less undesirable behaviour than I've experienced at day festivals in London... If the line-up is your thing than pick Barcelona but if you're less bothered about seeing a certain band then the Porto venue is nicer and the city is more manageable so you can easily do the festival in style and see everything the city has to offer whereas in Barcelona you definitely won't be able to make the most of the festival and see all the sites if it's your first visit.

porto primavera city guide
The entrance to Primavera.

porto primavera city guide
Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds - my festival highlight.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the university district, this one here. It was affordable and so nice, spacious and with a balcony overlooking the historic tram route. It was great to have a well located base to have some pre-festival chill out time and to be able to stock up on drinks and snacks and not have to get up early for breakfast! Our host met us to show us around the apartment, explain how everything worked and to give us tips on the city - she was super nice and it was a great welcome.

porto primavera city guide
Original art work on the walls.
porto primavera city guide
Little touches.
I'd recommend one day for exploring the city centre- the station is well worth a visit and there is street art absolutely everywhere of varying qualities. Walk across the Dom Luis bridge to the port producers and take a cable car to street level where the port houses are. The cable car ticket includes a free port tasting but if you are more into port than I am you can do a proper tasting session. Two small samples were enough for me in the sunshine but I actually liked the taste more than I thought I would!

porto primavera city guide
Porto Central Station.
porto primavera city guide
Looking back at the city from the Dom Luis Bridge.
porto primavera city guide
Looking back on the bridge after crossing it.
porto primavera city guide
Look up! Porto's buildings are so unique.
I found the food a bit hit and miss - being in Porto on a Sunday and a Friday national holiday meant that a lot of my starred places on Googlemaps were closed. The Majestic Cafe is mentioned in every Porto guide and while it's a lot pricer than other dining options in the city it's beautiful (and as a Londoner I didn't flinch at a 6e coffee). While the food isn't adventurous, it was tasty and service was great - the architecture and setting are beautiful, it felt like the Porto version of the Wolseley in London with its old school vibe. Full marks to the adffogato here - pretty much the only coffee I drank on this trip so it might well have been a double espresso sweetened with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. There are bakeries everywhere selling the famous custard tarts and the Rua das Flores has a lot of pavement cafes and affordable restaurants.

porto primavera city guide
Affogato and tea at Cafe Majestic.
Spend a second day exploring the outskirts. Porto is a city by the sea but it's not really a "lie on the sands and sunbath" type of beach. We walked from our Airbnb to Serralves for the art museum and beautiful gardens. On a Friday afternoon the gardens were quiet and tranquil - one of the most beautiful places I have seen and there are turtles swimming in the green lake, so magical to see them in the wild. From Serralves its a short walk to the Foz beach where the waves crash onto the rocks and a few brave souls sunbath on them. The Greek-style beach structure looked beautiful during the golden hour sunshine and walking along the sea front before heading to the nearby Parque da Cidade for the festival made for a great afternoon.

porto primavera city guide
The park at Serralves.
porto primavera city guide
Such a beautiful, peaceful place.
porto primavera city guide
Walking along the sea front at Foz.
Our final morning in the city saw us visit the Palacio de Cristal park where you get a great view over the river and the city. It's lovely peaceful spot - not much is open on a Sunday but thankfully the Livraria Lello was. The city's oldest bookshop charges 3e for entry (refundable against a book purchase - many are in English) but its well worth it - JK Rowling lived in Porto and took inspiration for Harry Potter from the store and even though the facade was under renovation when we visited the interior of the shop is beautiful too.

porto primavera city guide
Views from the park at the Palacio Cristal.
porto primavera city guide
Porto's "Crystal Palace".
porto primavera city guide
Inside Livraria Lello - one of those places that indoor photography doesn't do justice to.
Porto is only a two hour flight from London and is on the same time zone. The metro is quick and easy to use - 30 minutes into the city from he airport and single journey are around 2.5e. Porto taxies are very cheap - just make sure you have a Googlemap screen shot of the location to show the driver.








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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

London: Visiting 19 Princelet Street

The timing of my visit to 19 Princelet Street felt very appropriate. On the last day of Refugee Week and two days after a certain referendum result, this unassuming building in Spitalfields held one of its rare openings and I am so glad that I tore out a page in the previous week's Time Out as a "something to do on a Sunday afternoon".

19 princelet street museum
The building is currently scaffolding clad as it undergoes repairs but here's what it looks like
 Behind the (currently scaffolding-clad) façade on a quiet side street off of Spitalfields Market is Europe's oldest museum on immigration. The building was once a synagogue and despite it now being in a bad state of repair and needing major renovations it is still beautiful. The museum charts the history of immigrants to the Spitalfields area from the Huguenots in the 16th century to Bangladeshi immigrants in the 1950s and to the present day. The displays make use of historical artefacts and a project by the children of a local school who reflect London's current diversity to show how immigration has shaped this city and made it what it is today.

22 Princelet Street
The museum staff are on hand to explain the exhibits more fully and everyone I spoke to was so passionate about the museum and its work - the very building itself is testament to how London has changed and adapted itself to its changing communities. Entry is free but donations are encouraged - all of the staff are volunteers and extensive work is required to protect the fragile building and preserve it for future generations. Photographs inside are not allowed but that only makes the experience of passing through the dimly lit rooms, hearing the whispers of fellow visitors and feeling all the memories that this building holds, all the more special.

Immigration and the reactions to it are not new issues - London has always been a city that people from all over the world have come to for a whole range of reasons, where they have made homes and built lives. Even the earliest immigrants faced hostility for taking jobs and driving down the cost of labour. Nothing is new.

19 Princelet Street is next open on Sundays 4th and 11th September. I would recommend arriving early to queue and to spare some change on the donation, £3 is the minimum suggested but you can give whatever you can afford. The Facebook page is updated more frequently than the website and you can also follow the museum on Twitter for updates.

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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Travel: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast is a city that, prior to visiting, I knew very little about other than snippets on Newsround in the early 90s (oh the days when news was distilled into a friendly ten-minute segment before Blue Peter!).

Visiting on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday the city feels like somewhere undergoing a lot of change, the Titanic Quarter feels pristinely new and the nearby Titanic Studios make, amongst other things, Game of Thrones putting Belfast firmly on the cultural map for millennials. Have a read of my review of Titanic Belfast here.

things to do one day in belfast

The area around Queen's University is great for a wander and for café-hopping. From traditional student grub to Scandi coffee shops, there's something for every taste - we popped into Maggie May's which sells good old-fashioned hangover cures in the form of cheesy beans on toast and milkshakes. Minus any hipster pretence the prices are super low and service is friendly (they have soy milk for the coffees so my three day craving was satisfied - the little things!)

things to do one day in belfast

The Botanic Gardens were resplendent in the sunshine. The palm house was particularly beautiful and worth braving the humidity inside for. The gardens lead on to the Ulster Museum which is an architectural fusion of old and new - the ornate frontage transforming into brutalist minimalism. Inside the museum touches on the history of Northern Ireland as well as artefacts from all around the world and temporarily art exhibitions. Entrance is free and its the sort of place where half an day or just an hour can be spent happily.

things to do one day in belfast

things to do one day in belfast

Finally, dinner - I thought Home restaurant looked good when I'd checked the website the week before (fussy diner here) but it surpassed all expectations - with a gluten free, veggie and "skinny" menu alongside the regular one there really is something for everyone. It's so rare for me to go to a restaurant and like the sound of more than one thing on the menu but at Home I wanted the entire vegetarian menu - eventually I decided on a small portion of the chili tofu and a small super salad on the side. All dishes are available in two portion sizes which makes it a great way to try two things or to share if that is your inclination (FYI, I don't share food).

things to do one day in belfast

Belfast International airport is very close to the city centre and the short flight makes this a great weekend city for those of us with frequent flyer inclinations.
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Monday, 4 July 2016

Food: Hello Kitty Secret Garden Afternoon Tea At Cutter & Squidge

My Hello Kitty love affair started as a child when my father, working for a Japanese company, would bring home kitty emblazoned sweets, trinkets and plushies. More than twenty years later, my affection for the cat with no mouth is as strong as ever. On a Saturday afternoon, cat-shaped food and copious amount of tea proved to be the perfect fuel for putting the world to rights with my best girls.

The Hello Kitty Secret Garden Afternoon Tea is the first official Hello Kitty pop up cafe in Europe and being at Cutter & Squidge means that all the products are hand made and 100% natural. The afternoon tea is available until 31st August and you can book here (by the looks of things it's very popular so I'd recommend getting a reservation ASAP!).

hello kitty afternoon tea london cutter and squidge
Cutter & Squidge, Soho
hello kitty afternoon tea london cutter and squidge
Kitty's Chocolate Mud Pie
hello kitty afternoon tea london cutter and squidge
Looking like I'm about to start reading the Hello Kitty News
hello kitty afternoon tea london cutter and squidge
Cheese scones with cream cheese and red pepper relish and coronation crackers - nice to have savoury scones to offset all the sweetness and these were served warm - yay!  
hello kitty afternoon tea london cutter and squidge
Not the best photo but cat-shaped sandwiches were such a cute touch! 
Apologies for the grainy photos, the tea is served in the basement of Cutter & Squidge's cafe and the lighting is not optimal for photography. I don't want to ruin the surprise of what the afternoon tea involves so the above is just a sneak peak (you get a lot more than what I have pictured). Served in bamboo steamers to reflect Hello Kitty's Asian origins the tea is vegetarian save for the smoked salmon sandwich which you could ask to be left off and substituted for more veggie sandwiches. All items are replenished on request and any leftovers can be packaged up for takeaway. While I don't want to give away the tea itself I do want to share my thoughts because, you know, knowledge is power and forewarned is forearmed, even when it comes to cute kitty cats.

What I loved:- The novelty factor is obviously a huge draw for this tea experience and the whole bakery has been decked out in Hello Kitty style. The basement has been decorated and is super cute - it's a small area but doesn't feel cramped, even when our table was laden with tea and food. The service was better than some high end hotels, drinks were topped up quickly and the food items we requested more of were brought out without delay (I sometimes feel like afternoon tea establishments begrudge you asking for an extra sarin!). There was always a waitress on hand for flagging down when we needed something and they were super friendly (despite being very busy) and happy to take photos of us. The food itself was great - a little different to a standard afternoon tea but all the better for it. Despite being heavy on sweet treats the scones are thankfully savoury (and were lovely) and the sweet foods were not overly sweet, I wasn't expecting to like the pink lemonade or the famous biskie but neither was sickly sweet and while afternoon tea isn't exactly virtuous this one didn't leave me needing to nap for the rest of the afternoon.

What I less-than-loved:- Our table wasn't ready when we arrived at 2pm for our reservation but we were given somewhere to sit and our welcome drinks of pink lemonade. I knew that there was a table turning policy (an incentive not to arrive late!) and after an hour we were warned that our table would soon be needed. This didn't come as a surprise and I understand how incredibly popular this tea is but just a warning if you are used to long leisurely afternoon teas where you can sit around for a while until the sugar rush wears off - this isn't one of them! £40 per person is not cheap but for the quantity and quality of food its not bad, again, its a novelty experience and I think the price is justified but its very much a cafe setting and not as luxurious as a hotel afternoon tea of the same price. The menu mentions ice cream which didn't materialise but we didn't lack for food and, as previously mentioned, the timescale is quite tight so by the time you've marvelled at the cuteness, taken photos and eaten the last mouthful its time to leave.

 If you're a Hello Kitty fan I'd totally recommend this tea - I still have a smile on my face while writing this and a small dose of cuteness goes a long way.
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