Mardi Gras!

Hello fellow travellers and wanderers! Welcome to my latest travel blog which is about the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans!

I have always wanted to go and see the Mardi Gras parades and spend time in New Orleans – amazing history, culture, architecture, food and one of the biggest celebrations on the planet – what more could you want in a destination??

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Lundi Gras

We arrived in New Orleans the day before Mardi Gras (otherwise known as Lundi Gras) and the streets were already alive with people preparing for the big day. We ventured out in the early evening to watch the Uptown Route parades and the streets were already really crowded. We thought we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see much but every  person we encountered was so friendly! People moved aside and made space for us to see the floats going past, and a couple of hours into the evening there was a group of eight of us who stuck together and took it in turns to buy rounds of the world famous Hurricane cocktails!

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We watched the 20 float parade of Krewe of Proteus which depicted the theme of “Ancient Elements of Alchemy” followed by the 32 float parade of Krewe of Orpheus, whose king of the parade this year was none other than Quentin Tarantino! The Krewe of Proteus is the second oldest parade Krewe in the New Orleans Mardi Gras and was founded in 1882. The parade floats still use the original chassis from the 1800’s! The Krewe of Orpheus was founded in 1993 and takes its name from the son of Zeus and Calliope. The Krewe of Orpheus were the first super crew who allowed both male and female riders on the floats.

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One of the most well known Mardi Gras traditions is the throwing of beads and other trinkets.  The throwing of trinkets to the crowds was started in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers and as well as beads, throws include doubloons, cups, stuffed toys and even coconuts! Doubloons are aluminum coins and come in many different colours. They depict the parade theme on one side and the Krewe’s emblem on the other and are collectors items, particularly ones from the Bacchus parade which includes the image of the celebrity king on one side! By the end of the evening we were already laden down with a huge stash of beads, cups, and doubloons! Check out just some of the stash we came away with:

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After a rather long cocktail filled evening we crawled back to the hotel to prepare for next day’s big event!

Mardi Gras 

We were up nice and early for the day’s celebrations – we had pre-booked tickets at the Royal Grandstand in Lafayette Square on St Charles Avenue, directly opposite the Gallier Hall. Tickets were $50 per person but it meant we had a great view of the parades and for an extra $5 each we were given VIP access which included easy access to toilets (you’ll understand how important this is if you ever get the chance to go!).

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The parades started early (around 8:00am) and Mardi Gras starts with the Zulu Parade (keep your eyes peeled for the very special most-prized golden coconuts which are handed out as part of this parade!). “King of Carnival” Rex follows the Zulu parade and is the oldest Krewe of New Orleans and also the founder of the Mardi Gras colours of purple (justice) green (faith) and gold (power). Following Rex was the Truck Krewes of Elks and Crescent City.

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I would highly recommend booking tickets for the grandstand – it gives you a brilliant viewpoint and great opportunity to take photos and also gives you the best chances of catching all the amazing throws and trinkets from the parades! Tickets for the grandstand sell very quickly so book them as quickly as possible!

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After watching the amazing parades we ventured over to the French Quarter to continue the celebrations – if you are a cocktail fan then this is the place for you! Try one of New Orleans’ famous Hurricanes and be sure to have a Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiri – any flavour daiquiri you would like served in an amazing Jester cup! Other drinking options in this part of town include “the strongest cocktail in the world” – so take things steady!

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Things were relatively quiet this year in general as unfortunately the year we chose to go  was the coldest year for 100 years! A couple of extra jackets were bought and as you can see from the pictures, the streets were rather empty and the umbrellas and waterproofs were out!

The majority of people who attend Mardi Gras wear masks during the celebrations and float riders are required to wear masks by law! During our wander around the streets of New Orleans we came across some amazing shops selling the most beautiful array of masks, ranging from simple to elaborate! Some places also sell handmade Italian masks created in the old traditional Venetian style. I had to have one, it would be rude not to!

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Another tradition I knew I wanted to partake in was to try a King Cake!

As part of New Orleans’s Christian faith, the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. We refer to this as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night. Today, the tradition continues as people all over the world gather for festive Twelfth Night celebrations. A popular custom was and still is the baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings, called “A King’s Cake.”

Each king cake has a tiny baby inside (generally plastic now, but it’s possible the baby might be made of porcelain or even gold). The tradition of King Cake Parties have evolved over time, and the “lucky” person who receives the slice of cake with the baby is asked to continue the festivities by having the next King Cake party (or at least purchasing the next cake for the office!).

Originally, king cakes were a simple ring of dough with a small amount of decoration. Today’s king cakes are much more festive. After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.

They were sold out in most places but I finally managed to get my hands on one! Yummy!

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What an amazing couple of days in New Orleans for Mardi Gras! We spent a couple more days in New Orleans afterwards and because we saw and did so much I’ve written a separate blog on this which I should be able to publish quite soon!

I would love to go back, I loved it so much but also hopefully the next time the weather wouldn’t be freezing and throwing it down with rain!!! Despite the dreadful weather, this was one of my all time favourite trips and favourite destination!

Popalicious Cake Pops!

Hello fellow Unicorn fans! Have I got the perfect blog for you!!

Check out these beautiful Unicorn Cake Pops from Popalicious Cake Pops – an incredible find which I came across on Instagram! I couldn’t believe the amazing detail on them, they looked such good quality!  I was even more over the moon when I visited their website and found I could order them online and have them delivered – one of the things I’ve found so disappointing with some online bakeries is that they advertise all their lovely products but then won’t deliver or will only deliver in the London area!!

As soon as I saw pictures of the amazing Unicorn Cake Pops I knew I had to try them! They sell a range of lovely treats so here’s what I have sampled from their delightful range so far:

Unicorns Rock Cake Pops

Look at the detail which goes into each and every one! The cake pops are beautifully designed, and absolutely flawless, it must take ages to decorate each of these! I wish I was this creative!

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Unicorn Cake Pops

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You’ll be pleased to hear that they taste just as good as they look!

Inside these two types of beautiful candy covered cake pops (if you can bring yourself to eat such a lovely creation!) is a lovely moist chocolate cake.

Rainbow Sprinkle Cake Pops

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I couldn’t wait to try these! Outside they look like a straightforward pastel coloured cake pop but inside is an amazing moist rainbow cake! I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I ate nearly all of these in one sitting – for research purposes obviously!

Other treats aside from cake pops are also available including –

Unicorn cakelets

The cakelets are also made up of moist chocolate cake covered in a candy coating, hand decorated and finished with a sprinkle of glitter – ideal to give as gifts, I bought a set of these for my sister as a present – I knew she would love them!

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Vanilla Rainbow Cakelets

Amazing moist rainbow cake surrounded by a candy coating with sparkle and sprinkles!

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Chocolate Sprinkle Cakelets

These have the same moist chocolate cake inside as the Unicorn Cakelets and are covered in a candy coating with sparkle and sprinkles on top!

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Some of these incredible goodies are even available in gluten free options. The range is ideal for childrens’ parties and although the online shop is only showing the unicorn range at the moment, if you check out their gallery you will see all of the other brilliant designs they have completed for their customers including My Little Pony, Mr Men, and my absolute favourite which I hope they bring back this Christmas – Elf On The Shelf cake pops!

All the items I ordered arrived quickly and safely packaged so they wouldn’t get damaged, I’ve ordered from some online bakeries and the “protective” packaging certainly leaves a lot to be desired!

You can follow Popalicious cake pops on Instagram (popaliciouscakepops) and on Twitter  (@popaliciouscake) and their cake pops are also available to purchase through Not On The High Street.I’m hoping this means they are inundated with orders – they certainly deserve to be!

I already can’t wait to put in my next order!

Barcelona Bliss

***Update 18/08/2017 – Thinking of everyone affected by the horrific terror attacks which took place in Barcelona yesterday. We all stand with you – there’s no place for terrorism on Earth. Sending you all love and best wishes.***

I have been to Barcelona twice now with two different sets of people and ever since then I’ve been trying to persuade my sister, brother and law and hubby to come back with me for a third visit!

Barcelona’s influence in commerce, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world’s major global cities.

I spent four days in Barcelona both times I visited, and easily filled all of my time with the amazing sights and activities this fantastic place has to offer! Some of the highlights of my trips to Barcelona include:

Barcelona Cathedral (The Gothic Cathedral)

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia is the Gothic cathedral and and is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen. It was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century. The roof features some incredible gargoyles of a wide range of animals, both everyday animals and mythical creatures.

The cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, co-patron saint of Barcelona, a young virgin who, according to Catholic tradition, suffered martyrdom during Roman times in the city. The body of Saint Eulalia is entombed in the cathedral’s crypt.

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The inside is very grand and ornate, but also very tasteful and beautiful.

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The Columbus Monument

The monument is a 60 metre tall monument to Christopher Columbus at the lower end of La Rambla, but in my opinion is relatively easy to overlook! It was constructed for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888) in honour of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas. The monument serves as a reminder that Christopher Columbus reported to Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V in Barcelona after his first trip to the new continent.

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Port Vell

Port Vell translates to ‘Old Harbour’ and is part of the Port of Barcelona. It was built as part of an urban renewal program prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. and is now a huge tourist attraction, containing shops, bars, restaurants and a cinema. It also holds Europe’s largest aquarium containing 8000 fish and 11 sharks!

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Sagrada Família

The main reason I wanted to visit Barcelona was to see this incredible building!!

The Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The construction of Sagrada Família commenced in 1882.

Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, in fact, when Gaudí died in 1926, the basilica was only between 15 and 25% complete.

In October 2015 it was announced that construction is now 70% complete and has entered its final phase (the building of six huge towers) The towers and most of the church’s structure are to be completed by 2026, which marks the centennial of Gaudí’s death. Visitor entrance fees currently finance the construction, which has an annual budget of 25 million euros!

Gaudí’s original design was for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. The Evangelists’ spires will be topped with sculptures of their traditional symbols: a winged bull (Saint Luke), a winged man (Saint Matthew), an eagle (Saint John), and a winged lion (Saint Mark). The central spire of Jesus Christ is to be topped by a giant cross with a total height of 170 metres. The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world.

The Church will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South.

Nativity Façade

Constructed between 1894 and 1930, the Nativity façade was the first façade to be completed. Dedicated to the birth of Jesus, it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of elements of life. The three porticos are separated by two large columns, and at the base of each lies a turtle or a tortoise, to represent both land and sea. In contrast to the figures of turtles, two chameleons can be found at either side of the façade, and are symbolic of change.

Each portico represents a theological virtue of Hope, Faith and Charity. Four towers complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint (Matthias the Apostle, Saint Barnabas, Jude the Apostle, and Simon the Zealot).

Passion Façade

In contrast to the highly decorated Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is plain and simple, with bare stone, and is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton. Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the façade was intended to portray the sins of man. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker.

The Passion Façade is supported by six large columns. Above is a pediment (triangular part of the façade), made up of eighteen bone-shaped columns, which form a large cross with a crown of thorns. Each of the four towers is dedicated to an apostle (James, Thomas, Philip, or Bartholomew).

The scenes sculpted into the façade may be divided into three levels. The lowest level depicts scenes from Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion, including The Last Supper, Kiss of Judas, Ecce Homo, and the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus. The middle level portrays the Calvary, or Golgotha, of Christ, and includes The Three Marys, Saint Veronica, Saint Longinus, and a hollow-face illusion of Christ. In the third and final level the Death, Burial and the Resurrection of Christ can be seen. 

Glory Façade

The largest and most striking of the façades will be the Glory Façade, on which construction began in 2002. Dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus, it represents the road to God: Death, Final Judgment, and Glory, while Hell is left for those who deviate from God’s will. Purgatory and death will also be depicted, the latter using tombs along the ground. It will include seven large columns dedicated to spiritual gifts and at the base of these columns there will be representations of the Seven Deadly Sins, and at the top, The Seven Heavenly Virtues.

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Interior

I don’t even know how to begin describing the inside of Sagrada Familia! The ceilings are high and the decoration and designs made me feel like I was walking through a beautiful forest, with the canopies of the trees protecting me from all the elements. It was absolutely breath-taking…

 

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It has been a while since I have visited so I can’t wait to go back again to see what progress has been made on Sagrada Familia!

Park Güell

The park was again designed by Antoni Gaudí. The park was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. 

From the park’s high point it is possible to view the city, with the Sagrada Família and the Montjuïc area visible at a distance.

Within the park you can find:

Gaudi’s House

Casa Museu Gaudí was the residence of Antoni Gaudí for almost 20 years, from 1906 till the end of 1925. On 28 September 1963 it was opened as a museum.

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Hansel and Gretel Houses

The amazing Hansel and Gretel style houses, again designed by the famous architect  Antoni Gaudi.

Hypostyle Room

The great entrance stairway leads to the Hypostyle Room, which was designed to be the market for the estate. It is made up of 86 columns and the ceiling is formed of small domes constructed using the traditional technique of clay bricks decorated with original tile-shard mosaics.

The Salamander

Gaudí’s multicolored mosaic salamander, popularly known as “el drac” (the dragon), is at the main entrance.

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Other places in Barcelona also worth a look are:

Casa Batllo

Casa Batlló is a renowned building located in the centre of Barcelona and is another one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces.  The local name for the building is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), as it has a skeletal organic quality.

The Olympic Stadium

Originally built in 1927 for the 1929 International Exposition in the city (and Barcelona’s bid for the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were awarded to Berlin), it was renovated in 1989 to be the main stadium for the 1992 Summer Olympics. The stadium has a capacity of 54,000 (67,007 during the 1992 Olympics), and is located in the Anella Olímpica, in Montjuïc, a large hill to the southwest of the city which overlooks the harbour.

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Camp Nou

Camp Nou has been the home stadium of FC Barcelona since its completion in 1957.

It is the largest stadium in Spain (seating for 99,354), is the largest in Europe and the third largest football stadium in the world in terms of capacity.

As part of your tour around Camp Nou you visit the changing room, pitch, presidential box, press room, and the FC Barcelona Museum.

You can book your tickets for tours of Camp Nou here.

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Palau Real de Pedralbes (The Royal Palace)

The Royal Palace is a building in the district of Les Corts. From 1919 until 1931 it was the residence for the Spanish Royal Family when they visited the city. It houses the Museu de la Ceramica (ceramic museum), Museu Tèxtil i d’Indumentària and Museu de les Arts Decoratives (interior design museum), and is the permanent seat of the Union for the Mediterranean.

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Isabella II showing her son, Alfonso XII, by Agapit Vallmitjana i Barbany

As you can see, Barcelona is a wondrous city full of amazing architecture, fascinating places to visit and incredible photo opportunities! Make sure to add it to your bucket list! I’m going to keep on trying to persuade someone to come back with me again for a third visit!

Rainbow Roses

I was never really a “flower person” until I came across these incredible roses!

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My husband stopped buying roses for me several years ago as the last time he did, it was a few months before we were about to move into our first home. He brought home a lovely bunch of white roses and I remember saying to him “thanks so much babe, they’ll look lovely when we move into our new home in a few months!” He looked at me in the strangest way, and then said he didn’t understand? The lovely bunch wouldn’t be alive in a few months time! I smiled at him and tapped the bunch of flowers on the dining room table and said “of course they will be babe, these flowers are plastic!” He then had no choice but to admit that he had grabbed them from a petrol station on his way home without even looking at them and like I say, I tend to have to buy my own flowers nowadays!

I know I say this a lot in all my blogs but again, these photos just do not do these flowers justice! They are known as “Rainbow Roses” or “Happy Roses” and each rose is completely individual. The roses are created in these spectacular colours by splitting the stem and dipping each part in different coloured water. The colours are then drawn into the petals resulting in a multicolored rose. The drawback to this? It means that Rainbow Roses don’t last as long as regular roses which is an incredible shame.

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Rainbow Roses were initially quite difficult to get hold of – I’ve always ordered mine from Flowers Delivery 4 U and they’ve always been beautiful when they arrive. I often get emails from them offering up to 40% off all of their bouquets which do include the Rainbow Roses so I can order them for nearly half price! Prices start at £39.99 for 6 Rainbow Roses all the way up to £219.99 for 48 so take advantage of any discount codes you can get your hands on! I have also seen at least two deals on Groupon for Rainbow Roses from Flowers Delivery 4 U as well so its worth checking there for a good deal too!

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Rainbow Roses are starting to become a bit more common now – Tesco’s were selling single Rainbow Roses for Valentines Day and even places like Lakeland (yes they sell flowers online!) are selling bouquets with Rainbow Roses in them!

I’ve bought a couple of Rainbow Rose bouquets for friends for their Birthday’s and they absolutely loved them – it’s a real surprise to open the delivery box and find such an unusual colourful display!

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More recently I have also come across Rainbow Lillies and Rainbow Chrysanthemum bouquets on a website called Blossoming Gifts! I will have to give them a try as well!