Monday, 24 April 2017

Life lately - A big catch up

I thought that I hadn't really been up to much recently and I was in a cycle of going to work, watching TV, sleeping and repeating it all again but that isn't strictly true. Despite cramming in some overtime over the past couple of months I've managed to go on a trip abroad, had a lovely weekend with friends and taken in some culture. I've also got some very exciting family news but I'll tell you more about that later... 

Since moving in to our new home this time last year we have tried to put our stamp on the place and have had some major work done on the house. The roof is now in tip top shape and completely water tight, the front wall has been re-built and is no longer leaning like the tower of Pisa and we have added a splash of colour in some of the rooms to add some personality. I adore the bold blue in the dining room and have added lots of house plants to give the house a more homely feel. 

this s a picture of my dining room with a navy blue feature wall
(photo by Katy)

My friend Emma welcomed baby number two into the world on the same week as her two year olds birthday so we had a little party to celebrate. (I can barely look after myself, no idea how she does it!) Quinn and Caspian are such beautiful little boys, I wished they lived a little closer so I could spend more time with them. 

this is a picture of a cake with a lion and elephant topper



I don't visit the theatre as much as I would like to but I like to think I chose wisely when I do get the opportunity to go. I highly recommend going to see Matthew Bourne's production of The Red Shoes when as it tours across the UK. The Red Shoes is based on the Oscar-winning film starring Moira Shearer, and has inspired generations of dancers with the star struggling to chose between love and success. The show features ballet, jazz and modern styles of dancing, a bold and dynamic set and a wonderful cast. The Red Shoes is not to be missed, I might go and see it again when it visits a neighbouring city.

red shoes ballet

I'll be having a whole post dedicated to my adventure in Tuscany but wanted to briefly say that Pisa is gorgeous, Lucca was so peaceful and the architecture in Florence wowed me. My friends and I had been saving up for a year for a joint 30th birthday trip as we all turn thirty on 2017. We ended up going to Pisa as we were able to get cheap flights there from our regional airport. It was the perfect way to celebrate our big birthday milestone and I can't believe I waited so long to visit Italy. I would love to go back and see more of the region, hire a car and get out to the little towns and villages to discover all the sights, sounds and tastes of Tuscany. 

this is a picture of the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro in Lucca


Three days after getting back from a jam packed and exhasuting weekend in Italy my blogging friends came to stay and I had a much needed lazy weekend. Sarah, Katy and Kim joined me for a weekend of lie-ins, brunch, a day at the beach and a feast in Wahaca, A word of advice, two street food dishes and some sides is more than enough in Wahaca. We thought we needed three dishes each and extras and I could of done with a golf buggy to get me back home after all the food that ended up on our table. I had to slowly waddle back to the train station as my eyes were far bigger than my stomach. I'm forever grateful to have met such wonderful people online, the blogger community has been a wonderful source of support and friendship for me. 

This is a picture of rest bay in porthcawl

this is a picture of a wahaca feast including tacos

I managed to fit in another excursion in April when I headed to London on Good Friday to spend the afternoon with Sophie. The day was filled with catching up, the best food, walking around pretty streets near Hampstead Heath and visiting the home of my favourite poet (is it weird too have a favourite poet?) 

This is a picture of coffee and cake from Gail's bakery London

Keats House in Hampstead was the home of the poet John Keats from 1818 to 1820. It is where he was most prolific and the setting inspired some of his most memorable poetry, including Ode to a Nightingale. It was also where Keats fell in love with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne. The guide was fantastic and was able to bring the stunning Georgian villa to life and summarised Keats life and works. Highlights were Keats's books and the ring he gave to Fanny Brawne for their secret engagement. Whilst I am a fan of his work you can pop along just to enjoy the gardens for free and the house would be interesting to those with an interest in history or architecture. 

This ia a picture of keats house near hampstead heath

After being cultured at the museum and looking at all the beautiful houses covered in wisteria in Belzise Park Sophie and I headed to Franco Manca for a sourdough pizza and pale ale. The prices struck me as pretty affordable compared to other pizza restaurants and the sourdough bases which are proved for 20 hours were delicious. We both opted for a pizza topped with Gloucester old spot ham, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms which rivals my favourite 'The King' pizza from Pizza Pronto in Cardiff. 


The main reason for my visit to London was to go and see Don Juan in Soho with Sophie starring my favourite Scot in the lead role. David Tennant didn't disappoint and was both hilarious and captivating with a special mention going to Adrian Scarborough in the supporting role. This play won't be for everyone, especially those under 16 or those easily offended but it was perfect Friday night fun and managed to cram a few comments in that left me pondering the play and its message on the train home. 

This is a picture of the wyndhams theatre in soho where David Tennant is starring as don juan

I've saved the biggest news for last... as you may have already seen on twitter I now have a PUPPY!!!! Little Coco is such a bundle of fluff and excitement and I'm so happy to finally have a little fur baby. He's incredibly affectionate and a joy to be around and he completes my little family perfectly. I can't wait to take him along with us on our honeymoon in September. I've got a feeling my life will never be the same again... 

this is a picture of my dog coco a shih tau


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Gemma
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Sunday, 9 April 2017

Scotland Mini Tour Pt. 3 - Isle of Mull Photo Diary

After three days of long distance train travel across the length of the UK, cramming in lots of sightseeing and the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh and Glasgow, Martyn and I welcomed the change of pace during our visit to Mull.  We left Scotland's largest city behind and made our way west on the train to Oban. Considered to be one of the most scenic rail journey in the world, the West Highland Line offered some spectacular views but I'll talk about this in more detail in the next installement of my Scotland Mini Tour posts which will focus on Oban and Fort William. Once we arrived in Oban we picked up our hire car, got some Scottish food supplies (teacakes, raspberry tarts and shortbread) and took the CalMac ferry over to Mull. Luckily we got the last spot on the ferry that day before they stopped operating due to high winds caused by Storm Doris.

Mull was wild and beautiful. It has a dramatic coastline and excellent beaches, castles and lochs. We based ourselves in a pretty harbour town called Tobermory during our stay. You might recognise the distinctive, colourful houses from the Balamory CBBC show. We were blessed with lovely weather during our stay which made driving on the single track roads a little less scary. I would love to return to Mull for a week in the future, explore more of the south of the island and get a boat over to some of the smaller surrounding islands like Iona. To find out what Martyn and I got up to, where we stayed and what we ate scroll past the photos. 

this is a picture of tobermory harbour with colourful houses

This is a picture of calgary bay on a unny day

this is a picture of calgary bay when the tide is out



This is a picture of Loch Mor on the isle of mull

this is a picture of the exterior of Glengorm Castle,

this is a picture of the view of the sea from Glengorm Castle

This is a picture of the coastline on the isle of mull

this is a picture of the aros burn waterfall in aros park




Stay

Lots of the B&Bs and cute cottages I wanted to stay in were closed because it was the low season or had a minimum stay that didn't fit in with our plans but the Tobermory Hotel ended up being the perfect place for us to stay during our time on Mull. It was set on the waterfront of the incredibly photogenic village of Tobermory and was easy to spot painted in bright pink. It was once a row of fishermen’s cottages and has now been converted into a family run hotel. As you can imagine from a building that is over two hundred years old the rooms were pretty small and the ceilings were low but it had everything we needed for our two night stay. Staff were incredibly friendly and breakfast included some great local produce. (I had my first taste of haggis!) The hotel also had a cosy snug where you can relax and chat to other guests. I recommend booking directly with the hotel for the best rates and a free breakfast.  

See & Do

Calgary BayThis bay was such a tranquil spot with sweeping silver sands, we had the place to ourselves until a solo dog walker joined us. I haven't been to any other beach in Scotland (yet) but I bet this one on the west coast of Mull is one of the prettiest. It rivals some of my favourite Blue Flag beaches in Wales. There’s a car park behind the dunes but a bus also serves the bay. There is a wild camping area overlooking the bay with toilets, a tap and barbecue stands so a perfect place for a pit stop for those travelling in a camper van.

Aros Park Aros Park was a great place for a stroll just half a mile from our hotel in Tobermory. There are fully accessible walks and trails here with superb views of waterfalls and Tobermory. The walks are all fairly short and you won't need a full walking kit to enjoy them, just a pair of good walking boots for the slippery parts. The Aros Park estate once belonged to Alexander Allan, son of a Liverpool shipping magnate. He inherited the land when he was 29 and spent his life improving it and welcoming visitors. The Forestry Commission now manage the park the woodland can be enjoyed all year round.

Glengorm Castle - Glengorm Castle is an impressive 19th-century house built in a Scottish Baronial style. The grounds offer views over the Outer Hebrides and the islands of Rum and Canna. We were lucky enough to heave clear blue skies during our visit and had a wonderful outlook over the Atlantic before the rain came in and we had to dash back to the car. The castle is a private home and B&B but there's a coffee shop open to the public from Easter to November. 



Gemma
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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Scotland Mini Tour Pt. 2 - Glasgow Photo Diary

After a wonderful but brief 24 hours in Edinburgh Martyn and I got a train to the next stop on our mini tour of Scotland - Glasgow. Before my visit I imagined Glasgow as a city with faded Victorian grandeur and knew of it's music scene but beyond that I didn't know what to expect when visiting. When I arrived I found beautiful architecture, galleries, a great food scene and plenty of things to see and do. The city reminded me of Liverpool which also has a mixed reputation but I have to admit I enjoyed my time in Glasgow more than Edinburgh and would recommend Glasgow to anyone asking for a UK city break recommendation. I fell in love with the beautiful West End which is where we spent most of our time. I need to head back at some point for at least 72 hours to even begin to scratch the surface of all there is to see, do, eat and drink in Glasgow. 

This is a picture of the river clyde in Glasgow

This is an exterior picture of the Riverside Museum in Glasgow

This is a picture of a locomotive and tram on exhibition in the Riverside Musem

This is a picture of a subway poster at the riverside museum



This is a picture of the interior of the kelvingrove galley and museum



This is a photo of kibble palace at the glasgow botanic gardens




This is a picture of the pastrami burger at bread meats bread west end

this is a picture of poutine, chips gravy and cheese curds

Stay

As we were staying in hotels for eight nights during our Scottish adventure I wanted to try and keep costs down. If we paid around £80 each night we were away costs would start to spiral with food and admission to attractions added to that so I opted for a budget hotel in the city and splashed the cash later on in the trip at B&Bs where there was less choice in more remote locations. The Ibis Glasgow City Centre was a bargain at around £25 a night for two people. The hotel was located close to Charing Cross station which has links to the mainline and underground which we made use of during our stay to head to the West End of Glasgow. The hotel was also close to plenty of pubs, clubs and restaurants on Sauchiehall Street and just a 10 minute walk away from Buchanan Street which has a great selection of shops and Victorian architecture. The room was basic but large and and we got two good nights sleep here. 

See & Do

Riverside Museum - It was inevitable that Martyn and I would end up visitng The Riverside Museum which is home to over 3,000 objects that focus on transport and details Glasgow’s history as maritime powerhouse. With both of us working in the railway industry we are are always drawn to transport museums like the ones we have visited in London, York and Berlin. The Riverside Museum has everything from skateboards to bicycles, vintage cars and locomotives, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang even makes an appearance! My favourite part was the  recreation of a Glasgow shopping street from the early 20th century with its own subway station and the cafe and pub gave a snapshot into the lives of the people of Glasgow. The Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum is an impressive building inits own right and was voted 2013 European Museum of the Year. The Tall Ship is also moored next to the museum and is a great nod to Glasgow’s shipbuilding heritage. Time seemed to run away from us in this museum and we spent a good few hours in there, there's just so much to see and take in. 

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum This building was equally impressive as the Riverside Museum in terms of architecture. It houses more than 8,000 objects over three floors including 17th-century Dutch and French Impressionist art. I found the Charles Rennie Mackintosh & the Glasgow Style Gallery particular interesting (when you're in Glasgow you want to see Glaswegian art and design) and there's a World War II Spitfire hanging from the ceiling. It also has a collections of armour and a vast natural history collection so there's something for everyone. Like many of the museums tin Glasgow it was free to enter. 

Glasgow Botanic Gardens - An unexpected highlight of my time in Glasgow was the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. It is located in the city’s West End and houses in impressive variety of plant collections which are housed in a beautiful wrought iron glasshouse called Kibble Palace. Kibble Palace was designed by John Kibble and is a calm retreat in the middle of a busy city. Some New Zealand ferns have lived there for over 100 years, pretty impressive.


Gemma
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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Scotland Mini Tour Pt.1 - 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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