Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Scotland Mini Tour - Edinburgh Photo Diary

This is a photo of the Edinburgh skyline taken from Calton Hill

I really don't know why I waited so long to visit Scotland.  It is a long journey from south Wales to Scotland but if I can get a 24 hour flight to New Zealand then there is no excuse for not visiting a part of the UK that has so much to offer. It is filled with castles, beautiful lochs and mountains, whiskey and a rugged landscape. Martyn and I had wonderful time in Scotland and we are already planning our next visit for our honeymoon. My trip with Martyn included stops in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oban, Isle of Mull & Fort William and we travelled over 1000 miles throughout our holiday. The first port of call was Edinburgh and I've shared some of my favourite photos below (I took over 500+ throughout my trip) I'm pleased with how much we managed to cram into just 24 hours without feeling rushed. 

this is a picture of the edinburgh skyline

this is a picture of the national monument on Calton Hill

This is a picture of a sunset over buildings in edinburgh




This is a picture of the curved victoria street in edinburgh

This is a photo of graves and monuments in greyfriars kirkyard in edinburgh


This is a photo of the central all in the national museum in edinburgh

this is a picture of the lewis chessmen on display in a museum

This is a photo of edinburgh castle taken from grass market


Stay

We only had 24 hours in Edinburgh as we wanted to cram as much into our Scotland tour as we possibly could. After a mammoth 7-hour train journey from Newport to Edinburgh with CrossCountry we needed a hotel that was conveniently located so we opted for the Premiere Inn City Centre Royal Mile. It was only a few minutes walk from Waverley railway station and all the main sights, it was perfect for us. We dropped off our cases and headed straight up Calton Hill to take in the sights of the city. It was also easy for us to leave our bags there once we had checked out, do some sightseeing and pick them up again before getting our train to the next destination on our trip - Glasgow. The bed was comfy and the breakfast was tasty, not a cool apartment but it certainly did the job for one night.

See & Do

Calton Hill - The first thing we did we we arrived in Edinburgh was drop off our bags and head straight up Calton Hill. The panoramic views from Calton Hill were very impressive. We were able to 
see major landmarks such as Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace and the Parliament, Leith and the Firth of Forth, Princes Street and the Royal Mile leading up towards the castle. Calton Hill is also home to lots of historic monuments including the National Monuments which was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, the Nelson monument and the Dugald Stewart Monument.

Ghost tour - Edinburgh is known as one of the most haunted cities in Europe with a history of witchcraft, grave digging and the plague. There are lots of free tours in Edinburgh where you tip your guide the end and this one was the perfect way to get a feel for the city and its ghostly tales and rich but gruesome history. Who wouldn't want to spend their Saturday night lurking around a graveyard with a group of strangers?

Greyfriars Kirkyard Greyfriars Kirkyard has been the resting place for some of Edinburgh’s most well-known residents since 1562 when Mary Queen of Scots granted the use of the former convent garden as a burial ground. Greyfriar’s is known for its grave robbers but also a faithful Skye terrier, Greyfriar’s Bobby, who watched over his master's grave for fourteen years after his death *sob*. The graveyard is full of hauntingly beautiful monuments but it has also served as inspiration for characters created by J.K. Rowling. Look out for the grave of Thomas Riddle (Thomas Ridell)  - You-Know-Who! Visiting the graveyard was the highlight of my trip to Edinburgh, what does this say about me?...

Victoria Street - This narrow curved street with historic high-rise buildings has an air of Diagon Alley about it. There are lots of shops with pretty, colourful fronts, cafes and restaurants that wind their way down from the Royal Mile to Grassmarket. This was a great place to get a coffee and browse some independent book shops and boutiques. 

The National Museum of Scotland - This really was an impressive building, the original Victorian museum is Grade 1 listed with a breathtaking central hall. Ten new galleries opened in 2016 to celebrate its 150th anniversary year and the varied exhibits suited Martyn and me perfectly. Martyn enjoyed the interactive exhibits focussed on science, communication, and transport (for a couple of train lovers it was exciting to see the two oldest railway locomotives in the world) and I loved the design and Scottish history galleries. VisitScotland has shared some highlights of the collection here but my favourite items were the Lewis Chessmen and panels designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Eat

The Food + Flea Market - Food + Flea is a 7 day a week street food market in the heart of Edinburgh, just off the Royal Mile. The market hosts a rotating roster of street food stalls and there is also a flea market on Saturdays and Sundays. I had a delicious honey chipotle buttermilk-fried chicken burger from the Buffalo Truck and it was a great place to escape the crowds of tourists and chain restaurants on the Royal Mile. 

I would love to return to Edinburgh as there really is too much to explore in just one day. I was able to get a good overview and feel for the city but if I return I would love to visit the castle, climb Arthur's seat, experience the local nightlife and stroll around the tranquil Dean Village on the Waters of Leith. 

Gemma
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Sunday, 12 February 2017

London - My Overnight Theatre Trip


This is a photo of big ben and westminster bridge

I took my my mum to see Les Miserables in London last year but it really was a whistle-stop tour. We got the train to London, had a quick lunch, saw the matinee performance and had to travel back home again straight after the show. Whilst we had a wonderful time it was a shame not to be able to see the sights of London and take things are more of a leisurely pace. 

I saw that there was a theatre tickets sale in January and took the opportunity to get the best seats in the house for a bargain price for two of my favourite musicals, Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables (again, new cast this time) and opted for an overnight stay so we would have more time to explore. I was also able to take advantage of a GWR sale and get my mum Advance train tickets for just £15 from Newport to London, bargain. 


This is a picture of the frank pick wall memorial at Piccadilly circus station

If you are a regular reader you will know I love everything rail related so I loved stumbling upon this tribute to the talented Frank pick at Piccadilly Circus station on the way to the theatre. Frank Pick was the man who commissioned some of the most recognisable icons of London Underground’s identity; the Johnston typeface, Charles Holden stations, the roundel and Harry Beck’s Tube map. I'm heading back to London in June to go on a tour of the London Transport Museum depot in Acton. I loved my first trip to the main museum site in Covent Garden a few years ago so I can't wait to go back and discover more in the extensive archives.

Top tip: If you’re travelling into London by train you can get 2 for 1 entry to lots of London attractions, like the London Eye, Tower of London and the London Dungeon, as well as discounts on tours. You need to print out a voucher to accompany your train ticket, I found them here.

My mum and I had a quick pit stop in Chinatown for lunch before taking in two long and highly emotional shows.

This is a picture of red chinese lantern in london chinatown

I know some musical fans aren't really keen on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh but I loved the big, iconic tunes and the impressive staging. There really must be something that keeps people going back to these shows because they still sell out 30 years after they originally opened on the West End. I don't care if I'm basic, I would go and see both of the shows again. I also love A Star is Born, Cabaret and An American in Paris so please don't judge me too harshly.

This is a photo of the queens theatre in London

This is a photo of trafalgar square lit up at night

My mum and I both adored our first Phantom of the Opera performance. Even though the show has been running for 30 years the staging, costumes and songs are still impressive and the high production value is a big contrast to some jukebox musicals that are running at the moment. I think it is the only show to have a 27 piece orchestra on the West End. The whole affair was completely over the top and camp and we lapped up every second of it. Christine is one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre and the talented Celinde Schoenmaker, (previously Fantine in Les Miserables) performed all of the operatic numbers effortlessly. Ben Forster (stage for lurking photo below) seemed to be really confident in this role and has just announced that he will be extending his time as the Phantom for a few more months. I highly recommend going to see Phantom with its current cast, you won't be disappointed. 

This is a photo of Ben Forster (Phantom) at the stage door

After a day of travelling, exploring Soho, Trafalgar Square and Chinatown we headed back to the hotel for a good night sleep singing Masquerade from Phantom of the Opera on the tube.

this is a photo of a room at London Central Waterloo Travelodge

The Travelodge I stayed in was located on Waterloo Road with Waterloo Station just a short walk away. My room had a king size bed with an incredibly comfortable Sleepeezee mattress and plump pillows.  The room had everything I needed for an overnight stay and was much easier to reach after a night at the theatre than my normal West Kensington hotel choice. Check out wasn't until 12pm so I had plenty of time to get ready and enjoy a huge veggie breakfast and coffee in the dining room downstairs before heading out to cram in some more sightseeing with my mum. 

The hotel location is perfect for a stroll along the Southbank where will find the National Theatre, the London Eye, and impressive views of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. A short walk across the river leads you to Trafalgar Square, Soho and Covent Garden. 



After stroll along the river Thames, sightseeing at Westminster and hitting the shops in Covent Garden my mum and I decided to pay our first visit to the National Portrait Gallery. We came face-to-face with the people who have shaped British history, from kings and queens to musicians and actors in the form of paintings, sculpture and photography. As former history student I was excited by everything I saw, dashing around the museum proclaiming 'John Keats!' 'Dylan Thomas!' and 'Anne Boleyn!' like an art crazed lunatic. The collection is truly impressive and free to visit.


This is a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth I

This is a picture of the national portrait gallery

I had such a wonderful time on my midweek theatre break and it was novel to spend some time away with my mum as this is something I really don't do often enough. We were really sad to leave and only really got the scratch the surface of London. We are already planning our next trip, I want to see Dreamgirls and my mum wants to see Wicked or the Lion King. My next theatre trip is to see Don Juan Wyndham's Theatre starring David Tennant which I'm very excited to see after reading some comments about the play from Tennant in The Times this weekend. If you're already thinking about what to get for your mum this Mother's Day I think I think a theatre trip would be ideal if you really want to push the boat out. 


*I was provided with a complimentary room and breakfast at Trvaelodge but all words and thoughts are my own as always.
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Gemma
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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Berlin - My favourite museums

Berlin is a perfect city to visit if you love culture, art and museums. Berlin has over 170 museums and galleries and even has a Museum Island where five impressive museums are nestled together in  the middle of the River Spree.  I visited a lot of the museums that are well known on my first visit to Berlin during a college history trip in 2004. On my second visit to Berlin I wanted to spend some time learning about something other than the build up to the Second World War and explore unusual and less traditional museums. 

There are a great selection of museums in the city devoted to subjects like Jewish history, LGBT culture, German film and television, technology and so much more. There’s even a museum dedicated to the  currywurst (my all time favourite street food) but here are some of my favourite museums in Berlin.

German Museum of Technology Berlin - Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin

German Museum of Technology Berlin - Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin

The German Museum of Technology (Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin) is a perfect if you're a train lover like myself but also has exhibits about other forms of transport, cameras and computer technology. The museum is located on part of the old railway yards near Anhalter Bahnhof.

As you approach the museum you will notice a huge bomber attached to the roof which was used in the Berlin Airlift. The museum is set over four floors and is an impressive space. The lower floors are dedicated to ships and maritime history and the upper floors are focussed on aviation. 

As you can imagine Martyn and I headed straight through to the railway exhibitions as soon as we arrived. The railway exhibitions and  housed in two railway turntables/roundhouses. Displays include locomotives and rolling stock from the early days of rail in Europe right through to an experimental locomotive used for the development of the ICE high speed train. There was even a nod to Merthyr Tydfil in Wales with a wagon from the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks, where on 21 February 1804 the world's first locomotive-hauled railway journey took place. 

The exhibits are presented in a  really engaging way and there is enough to see to keep you busy all day, the visit was a real highlight of my trip to Berlin. Admission costs 8 Euro (discounts for concessions) and is open Tuesday-Sunday.

German Museum of Technology Berlin - Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin


German Museum of Technology Berlin - Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin


The Ramones Museum Berlin

I normally plan the itinerary for holidays that I go on with Martyn but this one one place he insisted on adding to the list. The Ramones Museum Berlin is the only museum of its kinds in the world devoted entirely to the 22-year history of the New York punk band The Ramones. The museum's founder is music journalist Flo Hayler who spent time with the band members and soon began to collect anything and everything to do with the Ramones and built up a vast collection of memorabilia. 

All of the items on display are presented in English and are loosely split into themes. Many of the 500+ objects were donated or owned by band members themselves. There are a signed pair of jeans worn by Johnny Ramone, rare posters, set lists, microphones and promote items from the bands long history. The Ramones museum is a must-do for fans or just those interested in punk and music history.  The museum houses a small café where gigs take place across the year and it a great place to enjoy a sit down in  a cosy armchair after a day on your feet seeing all the sights of Berlin. 

The museum is open 10am-10pm 7 days a week and for €6 you get entry, lifetime membership, a pin badge and a beer/soft drink to enjoy as you wander around the exhibits. 

The Ramones Museum Berlin

The Ramones Museum Berlin

Tränenpalast - "Palace of Tears"

This museum was the last stop on our trip before heading to the airport to come back home. The Palace of Tears is the former border crossing station at the Berlin Friedrichstraße S-Bahn train station, On this site East Germans said tearful goodbyes to their family members and visitors going back to West Germany from 1962 until 1989. The exhibition opened in 2011 and its aim is to remind visitors of the consequences and harsh reality of the German separation behind the Berlin wall. In the museum you can view original artefacts, documents, photographs, audio and video recordings which illustrate the experiences at the check-point and bring to life how difficult it was for Berlin families separated by a wall was was virtually erected overnight. This is an excellent modern history museum which is free to visit and both interesting and emotional. 

Tränenpalast

Tränenpalast

Tränenpalast

If you want to read more about my trip to Berlin you can find the rest of my posts here.

Gemma
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Friday, 20 January 2017

Wedding Preparations

When Martyn proposed back in December 2015 I started to plan an extravagant festival style wedding in my head straight away and bought a dress for the big day shortly after. We bought our first home within three months of the engagement and all the focus swiftly shifted to what colour the carpet would be in the living room and furnishing the house and my focus drifted away from the wedding. 

With just 240 days until the wedding I thought I had better get my backside into gear and actually start getting all the essentials in place like booking the ceremony venue, giving notice and printing invitations. I'm now in full on planning mode, pinning everything in sight and jotting down all my ideas in my wedding planner I picked up in Paperchase. 


My initial fantasy wedding ideas have been tamed a little as I have a tight budget and would prefer to spend money on my home rather than just one day. Martyn and I have decided to opt for a wedding in Cardiff and I hope it will have a chic, modern feel and it will be pretty intimate with around 60 people attending in total. 


As part of my preparations for the wedding I had a good google trying to find out other brides top tips about pre-wedding beauty routines and how I can look my best on my wedding day. I won't be doing any fad diets, getting botox or a fake tan but I do want my skin to look as good as possible and for my hair to be healthy and shiny. I just want to be me but radiant, not a new person or set my self up to fail with unachievable goals.

I have always had problem skin (adult acne is pretty rubbish) so I want to do all I can to get to grips with it before the wedding and to have confidence in how I look on my wedding day. After reading so many wonderful things about the La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo Anti-Blemish Cream I had to try it. I've been using it for two weeks now and it has already reduced redness and marks along my jawline where I typically see breakout in spots so I'm suitably impressed. 

I'm also going to take some simple steps to improve my skin such as being super strict about removing my make up every night, exfoliating my face and body a couple of times a week and applying plenty of moisturiser. I've also started drinking green tea for it's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which I hope will help brighten the skin and reduce acne. Lots of the steps I'm taking are incredibly simple and obvious but I've never really been one to pamper myself or get any beauty treatments so the wedding is the perfect excuse to start focusing on myself and fix all the things that have been bothering me for a long time.



I work odd shifts so don't really have the time to get a professional manicure but I have started to apply a nail strengthening polish so I have neat and presentable nails. I won't want any photos wearing my wedding band with the state my nails are in currently...

Unfortunately I was one of the teenagers that over plucked their eyebrows (why did we think this was a good idea in the early 2000s?!) and I have a large scar in my right brow where I needed stitches after a nasty fall as a child. I've been reading up about Advanced Tricho Pigmentation Treatment as an option for improving the appearance of my brows. The treatment can be used to achieve full looking eyebrows and help to disguise any scarring in the brow area. Rather than a tattoo or tint the pigment builds upon existing eyebrows for a defined and fuller look. I've been playing around with brown pencils, powders and tints for a long time and hope to have my brows perfected before the big day. 

In the UK, sunlight doesn't contain enough UVB radiation in October to early March for our skin to be able to make vitamin D. During these months we need to get vitamin D from foods or supplements. Vitamin D is helps to maintain healthy bones and teeth and studies have shown it can help with conditions like depression and joint pains.


If you have any skincare tips or know of any useful wedding resources please feel free to share them in the comment section below. 



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Gemma
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