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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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. 




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

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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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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

One Day in Oxford

Oxford is one of the world’s most famous university cities and is quintessentially English. It is steeped in history and it's honey-toned buildings and famous spires are instantly recognisable. Oxford has always appealed to me and I really don't know why I waited 29 years to visit for the first time. I like to think of myself as a bit of a history buff but I'm also a huge book lover and Potterhead so a visit to the city with a fascinating history, world famous library, literary links to J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and lots of Harry Potter filming locations was ideal. 

I set off from my home town of Newport at 07:40am to make the most of my day out in Oxford and the journey took roughly 1 hour 45 minutes. Oxford is really easy to reach by train with direct links from London, Manchester, Birmingham and South Wales. Once I had arrived it was just a ten minute walk to the meeting point of the tour I had booked at the Bodleian Library. The city is small enough to explore on foot but you can hire a bike for around £15 which might help you cram in lots of sightseeing and fit in with the locals who all seem to have a bike. 

This is a picture of the divinity school a Oxford Univerisyt
First up in my jam packed itinerary was a trip to the Bodleian Library – one of the greatest libraries in the world! I pre booked a tour which lasted roughly an hour and enjoyed learning about the history of the university and library and gazing up at the elaborately vaulted Divinity School ceiling. This building was used as a filming location for Hogwart’s infirmary in four Harry Potter films and the room where students practice their ballroom dancing before the Yule Ball. As the main research library of the University of Oxford, the Bodleian is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and is simply stunning. I took so many photos of this place and enjoyed my tour so much I'm going to dedicate a whole post to it at some point. 

This is a picture of the Bodleian Library entrance

This is a picture of the divinity school used when filming Harry Potter

This is a picture of the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

A quick peek around the The Museum of the History of Science was next up on my strict schedule. It houses some curious early scientific instruments and is the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building (it was the original Ashmolean Museum). There are regular tours which take place every Thursday at 2.30pm and 3.15pm and every Saturday at 12.30pm and 1.15pm. Einstein's Blackboard is probably one of the most iconic items in the collection. Physicist Albert Einstein used the blackboard on 16th May 1931 during his lectures while visiting the University of Oxford and his formula remains on the board. 

The golden Radcliffe Camera is probably one of the city’s most photographed buildings. The circular columned library houses books primarily focussed on history and the humanities. I would have loved to have taken a peek inside but you can only enter if you are a student or if you book a spot on the extended Bodleian Library tour. These yours only run on certain days so I recommend planning this in advance if you really want to take a look around.
this is a picture of the interior of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin

After a morning jam packed with sightseeing I popped in to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin for a little sit down and to eavesdrop on a walking tour that was going on. Apparently until the 17th century, the church was used not only for prayers but also for rowdy graduation ceremonies. The Archbishop of Canterbury didn't like this and at all and Christopher Wren was commissioned to erect what became the Sheldonian Theatre to host graduation ceremonies. The church is now reserved for religious worship only.

This is a picture of stained glass panel in University Church of St Mary the Virgin

The covered market in Oxford.

The historical market is a great place to walk through and grab a bite to eat. You’ll find everything from butchers to greengrocers and bakers and baristas serving tasty treats. I recommend Sasi's Thai for an affordable lunch. I had some green curry, crispy pork and rice with a drink for around £7. There are a great selection of cafes here and I picked up a Ben's Cookie here for the train journey home and some pies from the butchers for Martyn. A pork pie is better than a postcard, right?

This is a picture of the large basement in Blackwell's books

After a heavy lunch I decided to stroll around the streets, peeking through the college gates to see the impressive buildings hidden behind and I headed to Blackwell’s Books. The basement is 10,000 square feet and is the largest bookstore in Europe. Bibliophile heaven! I picked up a travel guide for my next trip to Scotlamd and a copy of Wuthering Heights to read on the train home. 

The last stop on my trip was the Ashmolean Museum. It was founded in 1683, this is Britain’s oldest public museum. It recently went through a renovation and displays ancient sculpture as well as an impressive art collection. This is well worth a visit and completely free.

this is a picture of sculpture inside The Ashmolean Museum
 I avoided the costly open top bus tours and opted for a budget friendly, informal lunch which kept costs low but what did my day out set me back?

Total cost of day out

Train from Newport - £12 (I do get a staff discount)
Tour of the Bodleian Library - £8
Lunch - £7
Cookie & tea £2.50
Books: £21.00
Total cost - £50.50

If I return to Oxford I would love to visit a few sights I just didn't quite have time to see including Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford University which dates back to 1546. It has an impressive Cathedral and beautifully manicured quadrangle. I would also like to take a look around the Pitt Rivers Museum which holds one of the world's finest collections of anthropology and archaeology (including shrunken heads) and have a fancy afternoon tea in The Randolph Hotel. You can get a pretty good feel for the city in one day but if you want to see all of the sights and enjoy a pint at Turf Tavern (Inspector Morse's favourite pub) I recommend an overnight stay in Oxford. 

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