Happy New Year! My plans for 2018..

You’ll be pleased to know that this blog is going to be a pretty short one! This month has most certainly got the best of me, with moving house, three family Birthdays, Christmas meals and parties, planning, buying and wrapping Christmas presents, Christmas Eve boxes and Advent Calendars, three days in New York and actually completing Blogmas (I don’t know how you guys do this every year it’s almost killed me!) so I think a few days rest has been in order!

2017 was a very busy year, and I am ashamed to say that for most of the agonising months we were waiting to move, we literally just hibernated, didn’t make any plans, went to work and basically just wished our lives away until we could move and start our brand new chapter, not really the best way to live really is it?

Anyway, now all the house move stress has gone, these are my aims for 2018:

-Lose some of my Christmas weight! Yes it is a complete cliche but I have been stuffing my face and neglecting the gym for far longer than just the festive period! The stress of the house move basically made me want to come home, stuff my face and climb into bed! This time last year I had just run a 10k charity run that I had been training for for a few months – I don’t even think I could run 1k without stopping at the moment! To get back to that place would make me very happy! Not looking forward to the gym though – it’s always HEAVING in January with thousands of other people having the same idea!

-Get some house decorating done! We are by no means rushing this as we have a lot that we want to get done, but it would be nice to have a couple of the quick wins done by the end of the year – the three spare bedrooms would be a good start (nursery, guest bedroom and dressing room). This brings me onto –

-Creating my house project book! Although we probably won’t get much actually done in the house, I want to go from room to room, measure up properly and get reading Pinterest and lots of interior design blogs to perfectly design each space – I’m really looking forward to this project! I love Pinterest!

-Go on some good days out! As we have just bought our forever home and want to do lots to it, money is going to be tight for this next coming year which means I will have to say goodbye to my amazing travels for a while! Still, there are some incredible places to visit in this country at a fraction of the cost and I’ve already got my eye on visiting Eastnor Castle, Tewkesbury Abbey, Blenheim Palace, Stonehenge and the Eden Project!

-Start a family! Kind of a major plan! Now the first part of or plan is complete after moving into our forever home, the next stage will be to start a family of our own! Hopefully 2018 will be our year!

I thought this would be quite a big list but to be fair I am happy with everything else that is going on at the moment so there’s not much more to change!

I hope you all have an amazing new year and a fantastic 2018! Make it your best one yet! It’s around a year ago I started blogging and I’ve never met a nicer bunch of people along the way, everyone has been helpful and supportive and really, really kind.

I’m really looking forward to continuing being a part of the blogger community in 2018 as well!

HAPPY NEW YEAR ALL!! xx

A Beauty and the Beast themed party!

If you have read my Christmas Countdown blog you will hopefully remember that I mentioned the themed parties I host every Christmas for my Sisters, my Mum and I. It started out as being just a bit of fun and so us four girls could spend some time together over the Christmas period (and to give us something to look forward to during the “in-between” time of Christmas and New Year) and to be honest it’s just stuck and become one of our regular traditions! My older Sister is severely autistic and especially looks forward to these themed parties, and now we are in a routine of doing them, not doing them would be most upsetting for her, so I’ve kind of pasted myself into a corner really!

Previous themes for these parties have included Harry Potter, Frozen and the Polar Express and, as you have probably guessed from the title of this blog, this years theme is Beauty and the Beast!

We all went to watch the new version of Beauty and the Beast at the cinema earlier on in the year and fell in love with this fantastic film. Shortly after, Primark started releasing all their amazing Beauty and the Beast products and so it seemed fitting that this would be the theme for this years party.

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I normally don’t start buying things for our Christmas themed parties until December, once I have done all my regular Christmas shopping, however, because most of the items in the Primark range were so difficult to get hold of, I grabbed as many as I could each time I spotted some in my local store (even this was difficult because they only allowed you to buy two at a time of the most popular items!)

These parties will always consist of a goody bag which fits in with the theme of the party. The contents vary depending on the theme but it’s fair to say the girls had an extra large goody bag full of treats this year!

Beauty and the Beast shopping bags:

There were so many pressies this year, I had to buy these huge shopping bags to fit them all in! They were £4 each but they are HUGE and at least the girls can re-use them for shopping in the future!

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Inside their goody bags they each had:

Chip coin purse

So cute – and very difficult to get hold of! Only £4 from Primark!

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Chip mug

Again, extremely difficult to get hold of! I’m so pleased I did – they look really effective and are far better designed than the official Disney ones. These are £5 from Primark, whereas the official Disney ones are in the region of £15-£20!

Beauty and the Beast pyjamas

Is there any better place to get pyjamas from than Primark?? Mum and I had the grey pair and my two Sisters had the pink trousers with the blue tops. The tops and bottoms are sold separately – I think the bottoms were £8 each and the tops were £6 each – still very cheap in comparison with other pyjama sets from elsewhere!

Beauty and the Beast socks

They aren’t actually socks but shoe liners – you can never have enough of these can you??

Mrs Potts coin purse

You can’t buy a Chip purse and not buy Mrs Potts to look after him can you?

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Lumiere coin purse

Another coin purse for the collection! I love the design of this one!

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Cogsworth Clock coin purse

And of course not forgetting Cogsworth! I must admit he is my least favourite design out of the collection, mainly because if you watch the films, Cogsworth is a bit of a miserable git and so this big laughing smiling face design doesn’t suit him I don’t think! There is also a Cogsworth Clock available from the Primark collection, but I haven’t managed to get my hands on one yet!

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Enchanted Rose drinking cup

Love this – isn’t it great? And only £5! You’ll pay triple that for a cup similar to this with a plain design! Plus I thought the design was great – you can unscrew the rose from the cup to make sure it’s washed properly and everything!

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Beauty and the Beast slippers

£5 for a pair of slippers! You can’t go wrong!

Beauty and the Beast footlets

I love the slippers but also like these “footlets” that Primark do – they are almost like thick socks but have a non-slip tread on the bottom of them so are ideal for wearing around the house. These are even cheaper at only £4!

Mrs Potts money box

How lovely is she? Primark also make a Mrs Potts actual teapot but I haven’t been able to get my hands on her yet! I think the money box is a lovely idea too though!

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Chip Jumper

I only saw these a few weeks back and I went away and gave it some thought as to whether to get them or not as I had already got so much stuff, but I couldn’t resist! Plus I love how they come in these lovely presentation boxes too!

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Chip Keyring

They can carry Chip with them everywhere they go now!

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Pom Pom bag charm

And this is really cute to brighten up an everyday handbag!

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Bell jar light

I haven’t got mine out of the box yet but thought these would look great on everyones dressing tables! The pictures really don’t do the bell jar justice, they look really lovely.

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Lumiere Tealight holder

And I was lucky enough to get a Lumiere Tealight holder from my friend for Christmas! She certainly knows me very well – I’ve not seen these anywhere!

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So as you can see the girls were all very spoilt and each now have a brilliant collection to cherish! All these Primark items go for a fortune on eBay at the moment so I’m hoping they will be worth even more in a few years time when they are collectors items!

We spent the day unwrapping our presents and watched the new version of the film whilst we munched our way through some delicious party food and drink! Another perfect family themed party!

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God knows how I am going to top this next year though – I think a more low-key party is in order after this years!

Bowood House and Gardens

If anyone is looking for a good family day out, my Mum, my two Sisters and I had a really great day out at Bowood House and Gardens earlier this year.

The only downside was that we had to contend with a torrential downpour whilst we were exploring, but we all still really enjoyed ourselves! We didn’t get to spend as much time exploring the gardens as we had hoped due to the awful weather so I think we will be re-visiting in the future so we can take full advantage! On the plus side it meant the house and gardens were really quiet!

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Bowood House and Gardens is in Wiltshire and is currently home to the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne.

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The house sits inside 100 acres of beautifully landscaped ‘Capability’ Brown Parkland and has been home to the Lansdowne family since the 1st Earl of Shelburne purchased it in 1754.

Over half of the house is open to visitors, with the family still living in the remainder. The places you can visit within the house include:

The Orangery

Originally designed as a large conservatory, the Orangery is now primarily a picture gallery, containing the remaining parts of the two great Lansdowne Collections of paintings and sculpture.

The Chapel

Opposite the Orangery entrance are the great doors to the Chapel. Created in the early 19th century for the 3rd Marquess by C.R.Cockerell, the Chapel is still used for special services and concerts.

The Laboratory

Through the doors at the east end of the Orangery is a small room known as the Laboratory. Here, scientist Dr Joseph Priestley, tutor to the 1st Marquess’ two sons, discovered oxygen in 1774! In those days the room was full of scientific equipment but unfortunately all were sold when the 1st Marquess died.

The Library

It was in this room that the great Bowood house parties would meet after dinner to read, play chess, sing, and talk about politics and other topics of the day.

The Sculpture Gallery

Through a small entrance hall at the other end of the Orangery is the Sculpture Gallery, created by the present Marquis of Lansdowne in 1980. Designed originally as a menagerie or zoo for wild animals, a leopard and an orangutan were kept here in the 18th century! Nowadays, the gallery houses pieces from the Lansdowne sculpture collections.

The Exhibition Rooms

A staircase at the west end of this gallery leads to the exhibition room which displays examples of 18th-century and 19th-century costumes. The Victorian Room holds (among other memorabilia of the period) Queen Victoria’s wedding chair!

Also on show in the Top Exhibition Room are the Keith Jewellery Collection, family miniatures, and the Napoleonic Collection. The Napoleonic Collection also came into the family via the 4th Marchioness; it includes Napoleon’s death mask, pieces of gilded Imperial Sèvres porcelain and other unusual treasures, such as Napoleon’s handkerchief!

The Gardens

If you can, try and get on one of the scheduled monthly tours of the Private Walled Gardens.

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Bowood’s Gardens have beautiful sloping lawns stretching down to the lake.  The park includes the Cascade, Doric Temple, Terrace Gardens and for children, the fantastic Adventure Playground!

Sorry for the lack of garden pictures, the rain was so bad I was worried about the welfare of my lovely phone!

A separate Woodland Garden, which hosts Rhododendrons and Azaleas, is open to the public between April and early June every year, according to the flowering season.

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There is an on-site cafe called the Treehouse Cafe which serves lovely paninis and delicious homemade cakes! Plus lovely hot chocolates and coffees which were greatly appreciated after being soaked through to the skin! British weather hey???

Adult ticket prices are £12.50 and child prices are £7.50 – £9.50, and family tickets are also available.

Bowood House and Gardens opens again on the 1st April – choose your visiting dates wisely though as it’s not called “April showers” for no reason!

A Lush Christmas – The Online Exclusives!

So after reviewing over forty items from this years Lush Christmas range I was quite pleased I had managed to try them all despite the bank balance taking a severe hit!

Anyway, the other day I was on the Lush website looking at a products ingredients when on the home page there was a link to “exclusives”, and lo and behold there was another batch of Christmas themed items which hadn’t been released yet! Me being me I couldn’t be without them so I ordered the exclusive items, and it was lucky I did because the majority of them are now completely sold out!

Here are most of the items from the exclusive online range-

Jingle Spells Bath Bomb

I loved the look and the ingredients of this one! This purple bomb with tiny gold soluble stars embedded in it contains juniperberry oil, tangerine oil, fennel oil,  and ylang ylang oil!

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Jingle Spells smells lovely and is a really fast fizzer. It leaves the bath water a beautiful purply/pink colour whilst the little golden stars float on top of the water.

This bath bomb ticks the boxes so far – it looks beautiful, smells amazing and it contains several of my favourite ingredients, so why was I slightly disappointed with it? Because basically I didn’t find it moisturising at all which was a real shame! In fact I would go so far as to say it was one of the least moisturising bath bombs I’ve ever used! Handy though if you want to use a bath bomb as well as wash your hair in the bath water as I think it is unlikely your hair will become greasy in this bath water!

Still, a very pretty and lovely smelling bath bomb, and ideal to buy as presents for people who are new to the bath bomb experience!

Hot Toddy Shower Gel

God as soon as I opened this bottle and gave it a sniff I knew I had made the right choice to buy two bottles!

This literally smells like Christmas in a bottle, and when I list off all the ingredients you will see why! Ready for it? Here goes – ginger infusion, fair trade aloe vera gel, fresh organic lemon juice, fine sea salt, clove leaf oil, patchouli oil, lime oil, cinnamon leaf oil, sweet orange oil and carrageenan extract!

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The shower gel itself is bright with lots of glitter in, however I didn’t notice any glitter on my skin when I got out the shower – even hubby used some and he won’t use anything which leaves him covered in glitter!

The shower gel foams up really well and produces a lovely thick foam which smells incredible! I found the shower gel to be really moisturising as well!

A definite favourite! As soon as I jumped out the shower after using it the first time I went online to try and order a couple more bottles to stock up as they are limited edition, but of course, I was already too late and they had completely sold out! If you can get your hands on a bottle or two of this stuff then do it!!!

Calacas Shower Gel

I’m not 100% convinced this is part of the Christmas range – the terminology they use on the label seems to suggest it would be more suited to the Halloween range!

This shower gel looks great – a darker orange colour at the bottom of the bottle lightening to a bright yellow gel nearer the top of the bottle! An almost ombre effect!

This lovely smelling shower gel contains aloe vera gel, lime oil, olibanum oil and neroli oil – great for cooling, replenishing and moisturising the skin!

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The description on the Lush website says this shower gel will leave your skin smelling like jelly beans! They aren’t wrong! A lovely shower gel but definitely a second best when compared to Hot Toddy!

Christmas Penguin Bubble Bar

This little guy is so cute! I must admit when I first saw him I made an assumption that he was going to have a minty scent, but when I saw the list of ingredients he contained I was surprised but still couldn’t wait to use him!

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Seeing as it is the Christmas holidays and I am feeling particularly indulgent (and lazy!) I couldn’t be bothered to chop up my bubble bars from this Lush order and so crumbled the entire thing straight under running water! It’s the first time I’ve used whole bubble bars all in one go and they did not disappoint!

This little guy is made up of lots of my most favourite ingredients – bergamot oil, sicilian lemon oil, orange flower absolute and sicilian mandarin oil! Lovely!

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I must say I am pleased I used the entire bubble bar as I didn’t find the scent to be as strong as I had anticipated which was a bit disappointing, but still I had a lovely bath full of fluffy silky bubbles.

The bath water was really moisturising, so much so I didn’t want to get out of the bath! Highly recommended if you are after a relaxing yet uplifting bath, that’s if of course, if you can get your hands on one of the little blighters!

Dashing Santa Bath Bomb

I love the design of this one – so simple yet effective! And one of the cheaper bath bombs available at the moment priced at £2.95!

Dashing Santa contains mandarin oil, bergamot oil and orange flower absolute – some of my most favourite ingredients!

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Dashing Santa is a relatively slow fizzer which spews out really thick white and red foam  mixed in with gold glitter foam from Santa’s gold boots!

The bath water goes a lovely reddish colour and smells amazing! For a little guy he certainly packs a punch of a scent!

The bath water is left lovely and silky and moisturising and the scent is incredibly relaxing and lasts a long time after you get out of the bath. I’m glad I bought a few of these to get stocked up because, you guessed it, they are already sold out online as well!

Peeping Santa Bubble Bar

Peeping Santa has been around for a few years but I have never managed to get my hands on one! I was really disappointed when I came across the huge Lush festive range to find that he wasn’t making an appearance this year, so I was over the moon when I managed to get my hands on a few as a result of the online exclusives collection!

I couldn’t wait to try this little guy! He is made with fair trade organic cocoa butter, bergamot oil, olibanum oil, geranium oil and fair trade shea butter with two little dark chocolate eyes!

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As I said above, I couldn’t be bothered to chop up all my bubble bars with this order so I knew I was in for a treat when I used the whole of this little guy for one bath!

The red outer part of the bubble bar crumbles really easily under the running bath water, whilst the shea butter middle slowly melts into the water. Soon the bath is filled with lovely fluffy bubbles and the water soon turns a lovely Christmassy red colour.

I knew before I even used the Peeping Santa bubble bar I would absolutely love it, it is one of the most moisturising bubble bars I have used so far and smells absolutely divine!  The cocoa butter stays on your skin for several hours after getting out of the bath and leaves your skin feeling silky smooth, I’m so pleased I bought three of these little guys when I got the chance!

Calavera Bath Bomb

This bath bomb has been available a couple of times throughout the year as part of the Lush kitchen range but they sold out really quickly and so I kept missing out! As soon as I saw these were available as part of the exclusive selection I ordered myself several!

It’s strange really, when you’ve been ordering bath bombs for a while, you start to learn which ones you will like and which ones you won’t just by simply looking at them without even checking the ingredients! When I saw Calavera on the website for the first time, I knew this was going to be a bath bomb that I absolutely loved!!

Calavera contains lime oil, olibanum resinoid and neroli oil. It’s outer core is beautiful – a white bath bomb encrusted with pink, yellow and blue sugar granules which almost make it look like a geode rock.

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The bomb I tried was unfortunately a bit of a dud as it kept sinking to the bottom of the bath so I had to hold it in place and then crush it towards the end to see its true colours revealed!

It is a very fast fizzer which starts off by spewing out mounds of white foam shortly followed by small strands of pink and yellow from the sugar coating on the outside. Once the middle cracks open, blue and bright green foam starts to pour out alongside loads of marigold petals which were completely unexpected!

The bath water does go a bizarre luminous green colour but the petals floating around the bath are a really lovely touch and the scent is really lovely, this one is a definite favourite!

The water is really moisturising and smells amazing – I think this one should become part of the regular range but until then, I bought five to keep me going!

Bling Crosby Bubble Bar

Lush items which leave everything (including you!) covered in glitter will always unfortunately find their way to the bottom of the review list, basically because I worry about the mess they will make and how long I will be sparkling for afterwards!


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I was feeling lazy and couldn’t be bothered to cut this bubble bar up and put it all in a pot so I crumbled the entire bar under running bath water. The water turns a lovely golden yellow colour and the glitter is really small and delicate. You do end up with tiny bits of glitter on your skin afterwards but it isn’t overpowering, and you will be pleased to know that the glitter just washed away with the bath water and the bath didn’t need a good clean afterwards!

The ingredients in this bubble bar are lovely – lavindin oil, lemongrass oil, brazilian orange oil, patchouli oil, pine oil and gardenia extract – interesting!

Although I like the scent of the bubble bar, I did find it very subtle and underwhelming, and I really do like strong smelling scents. The smell hung around for a while in the bathroom but I couldn’t detect the smell on my skin at all afterwards.

I didn’t dislike this bubble bar but I was a bit non-plussed about it to be honest – I have got a couple more left, but would I buy some again if they were re-released? Probably not….

 

So White Bath Bomb

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this one – it looks like an apple, it smells like an apple yet when you check the ingredients online, not an apple to be seen! Honestly! I triple checked!

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This lovely bath bomb is made up of bergamot oil, brazilian orange oil, rose absolute, orange flower absolute, neroli oil and gardenia extract. Unfortunately this one was also a bit of a sinker at the start but then started to float once the white foam had finished dispersing and the middle cracked open to let out mounds of dark blue foam.

It’s really strange but it is a fast fizzer which really reminded me of apple bobbing, the way it “bobbed” around the water!

Once the middle had completely cracked open, the water turned a lovely blue colour and the scent was like crisp apples. It wasn’t the most moisturising of bath bombs but I did still enjoy my bath – I just think I am overall a bit non-plussed about this one too though!

Very pretty bath art and a good present for people who are new to the bath bomb experience, I would definitely use it again but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was one of my favourites. Shortly after I placed my Lush order online they released this scent in a shower gel format, but to be honest I wasn’t particularly bothered that I had missed out on it!

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Bombardino Bath Bomb

I’ve been fooled by little guys like this before – thinking they are going to be really weak and not much to write home about, but what I find with tiny Lush bath bombs such as Bombardino is that they really pack a cocoa butter punch!

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Bombardino is made up of fair trade organic cocoa butter, soya milk powder, vanilla absolute, sicilian lemon oil, bergamot oil and gardenia extract! Lovely!

So, I tied my hair up so I wouldn’t get it in the cocoa butter rich water and watched Bombardino do his thing!

He’s quite a slow fizzer for a little guy, but soon he was bobbing around the water, releasing little pearls of cocoa butter! I just admit the cocoa butter is the overpowering scent here, and I really couldn’t detect any of the lemon or bergamot oil.

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Needless to say this is one of the most moisturising baths I’ve had – Bombardino is certainly on a par with Butterball and the Christmas edition of Butterball, Butterbear.

Packed full of cocoa butter and oils, this is exactly what you need for those cold winter months! The scent of cocoa butter stayed on my skin for hours after my bath which was really relaxing and my skin felt amazingly soft and smooth. A definite must buy, I hope they will make Bombardino part of the regular Lush collection and, like Butterball/Butterbear, I think it would compliment some of the larger bath bombs which need a bit of a cocoa butter injection!

Yognog Soap

God this soap smells absolutely amazing! I only ordered two and I should have ordered more because it is sold out now!

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Yognog soap is made up of rapeseed oil and coconut oil, soya yogurt, clove leaf oil (really Christmassy!) ylang ylang oil, gardenia extract and is topped with cocoa powder and nutmeg powder! It is literally like Christmas in a soap bar and smells like creamy eggnog!!

It produces lots of lovely thick, creamy foam and the scent only gets better (if that is even possible!) when you are in the shower! Honestly, the smell is so good you almost want to eat it!

I found the soap really soft on the skin and the scent stays on your skin for hours after you use it, in fact, many people commented on the unusual scent!

Please Lush, please make some more products with this scent in future! I love it!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading my “mop up” session of Christmas Lush products! Things will start returning to normal in the new year with the regular line of products being reviewed (and in much smaller doses you’ll be pleased to hear!) I wouldn’t even want to guess how many long baths I have had throughout December trying all the festive Lush products out! That is probably the reason I was so far behind on all of my Christmas shopping and present wrapping!!

A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

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I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! I must admit I do struggle in the days after Christmas – I feel really down and depressed that it’s all over for another year! You look forward to it for so long and then it seems to come and go in the blink of an eye!

Anyway, if you have read my London at Christmas Time blog you’ll know that my Mum, my Sister and I go to London every December to check out all the festivities – this year we decided we wanted to do Afternoon Tea whilst we were there.

We looked at several Afternoon Tea options including Fortnum and Mason and the Ritz and tried really hard to get us into the Tale as old as time Beauty and the Beast themed Afternoon Tea at The Kensington but it was completely fully booked until the end of January!

I eventually came across this amazing Alice In Wonderland Mad Hatter’s Tea Party afternoon tea at the Sanderson Hotel. It looked perfect for what we wanted, and I managed to book it for a special price which included a free cocktail because we were visiting on a weekday!

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We booked for 1pm and the place was empty when we arrived which was really nice – I think we booked slightly early for afternoon tea but after getting up early to catch the coach to London I knew we would all be starving by 1pm!

We sat down and they gave us the selection of their lovely teas – you get a teapot of your selected tea each so we all chose a different one so we could try each others!

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Here was the selection –

White Rabbit – China white silver needles infused with white grapefruit, vanilla and almond white chrysanthemums.

Queen of Hearts – Red Rose congu infused with red rose petals and a hint of vanilla and chocolate.

Mad Hatter – Green tea infused with passion fruit, guava and mango.

Cheshire Cat – Marmalade orange oolong infused with chocolate and hugging orange.

Alice – China black tea infused with hints of blackcurrant, vanilla, caramel, citrus, bergamot, blue cornflowers and blue mallow flowers.

I choose White Rabbit, my Mum choose Alice and my Sister chose Queen of Hearts – all were very different but absolutely delicious! You can also buy the teas to take home with you as well if you choose!

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The cocktail arrived shortly afterwards and I was a bit worried because they said it was gin-based and I am not a fan of gin but the cocktail was also delicious – they said it was a Sanderson special so I didn’t get to find out the ingredients!

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Then the amazing food started coming out…. Here’s what was on the menu –

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Smoked salmon scotch quails egg with caviar and cream cheese

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Stack of King of Hearts ham and parmesan croque-monsieur

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Cornish crab bridge roll with dill, lemon, creme fraiche and avocado and White rabbit cucumber and cream cheese sandwich on pesto bread 

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Queen of Hearts rose and strawberry jammy dodger 

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Mocha chessboard gateau

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Tweedle Dee lemon curd financier 

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Mad March Hare vanilla pocket watch macaroon (my favourite!)

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Chocolate and Pistachio Blue Caterpillar 

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Wonderland Marshmallow Magic mushrooms

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Mad Hatters Lost Carrot and Fennel Meringue (hidden away in the “grass” in the teacup on the top – two little red shell shaped meringues – really cute!)

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Alices Cinnamon, apple and peach “Drink Me” potion

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And if that isn’t enough you also get Sanderson’s warm scones served with Cornish clotted cream and fruit preserve!

The staff asked us if we were celebrating a special occasion and we said we had decided to do it because it was my Sister’s Birthday the Friday before and it was my Mum’s Birthday the following Saturday, so they brought them out this beautiful slate with two delicious pieces of cake on and Happy Birthday written in icing! How lovely!

A really lovely afternoon – the hotel is beautiful and the staff were amazing. I would definitely re-book to go back here again the next time we pay a visit to London!

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Sudeley Castle Spectacle Of Light

As my sister’s Birthday is the 1st December, we always try and do something a bit different on her Birthday or the weekend closest to it. She is definitely a winter baby and loves this time of year so we generally tie in her Birthday day out with something that is Christmas themed as well! Past days out have included a trip to Longleat Safari, ice skating at Cribbs Causeway and of course for her last milestone Birthday, an amazing trip to Iceland!

Last year I came across an event which was being hosted at Sudeley Castle called the Spectacle of Light. Last year was the first time they had hosted such an event and as several of us have been meaning to visit Sudeley Castle for some time, this event looked perfect for the occasion!

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The event is hosted after dark, and the Castle and grounds are lit up and decorated for a wonderful spectacle of light and sound. You follow a trail of light around the stunning castle grounds, magical gardens with majestic trees and into the romantic ruins where ideal photo opportunities await you! Music is also played as you wander the trail!

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We attended on the 1st December last year, but this year the dates span from the 8th to 30th December 2017.

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After you are done exploring, the café is open where mulled wine, cider and hot chocolate are served alongside other winter warmers like soup and hotdogs.

Entry times for the event are every half an hour from 5pm until 7:30pm – when we went last year we booked the latest entry time of 8:30pm, however they contacted us a few days before to ask if we could arrive for 8pm as they were short on staff – it looks as if they have reduced the amount of entry times this year as a result.

When we wandered the trail it was extremely quiet and peaceful, there were only a handful of other people who were there with us which made it all the more special! The weather was perfect December weather as well – cold but dry – we were very lucky on this occasion as I would imagine it to be a very different experience in the torrential rain!

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If you pre-book your tickets online you can also save 10% on the ticket prices – adult ticket price is £15.75 per person (normally £17.50) and child price is £9.90 (normally £11.00). Family tickets are also available.

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A typical walk will be approximately 60 -75 minutes, although if you wish to stay longer you are very welcome.

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According to the website, they have some new additions to the event this year including an “amazing kaleidoscope of illuminated parasols, an enchanting tree energising its sparkling roots and a friendly roar in the tower dungeon!”

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A highly recommended event, particularly for you budding photographers! We were slightly disappointed that our tickets did not give us full access to the Castle as this is a separately hosted event, however this just meant we were looking forward to re-visiting the Castle again in the daytime to see all that it had to offer!

CocoChlo’s Christmas Day

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a lovely day! I’m sat here in front of the TV feeling extremely full, surrounded by amazing tasty treats and am admiring all the beautiful presents I’ve received from my amazing friends and family.

I got up relatively early to do all the preparation for Christmas dinner but found I had plenty of free time this year just because of one small change – I cooked the turkey overnight last night so it was ready this morning! Friends have done this for years – I’ve never done it but I am definitely a convert now! It saved me loads of time and worry about whether the turkey was cooked and saved me loads of space in the oven so I could cook all the other bits and pieces! I will definitely do the same again next year!

We only got the chance to open a couple of presents this morning before people started arriving, I am incredibly lucky and got the Mulberry handbag and Tiffany perfume I was after! Completely unexpected and a real surprise! We decided we were going to save the rest of our presents until the evening when everyone had gone home so we weren’t rushing.

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Hubby then popped down the pub with a couple of friends whilst I cooked and prepared the rest of the dinner – this year I didn’t leave the kitchen as we only moved house a few weeks back and I’m still not used to using the oven and hob yet so was being over cautious – especially when there’s twenty different things to cook for Christmas dinner!

Anyway, I must have done something right because all my timings were pretty much spot on and everyone loved this years Christmas menu! As usual I bought way too much food and everyone ended up going home with huge doggy bags!

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Our canapés – BBQ Pork Belly Squares and Asian Chicken Lollipops
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Brie and Cranberry parcels
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Our amazing mediterranean platter
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Our yummy turkey, the first time I’ve cooked a roast in our new oven! It even had Christmas Spiced Bacon on the top (see below!)

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And our second meat was this amazing Christmas spiced gammon, ready to carve and eat (should the worst have happened with the turkey!)
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I don’t like Christmas cake myself but they always look so pretty don’t they?
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These bite-sized mini mince pies went down well with everyone!
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The Santa Stuck in the Chimney cake was AMAZING! A red velvet fudge cake inside, probably one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten! And I’ve eaten A LOT OF CAKE!
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See what I mean? It tasted amazing!
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These chocolate mousse glitter pinecones went down a treat too! So pretty!
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Everyone went home with a lot of cheese! This amazing “Cheese” cake was from Tescos and was made up from Cheddar, Red Leicester, Stilton, Wensleydale with cranberries and Brie! Yum!

For place cards I bought these amazing Reindeer cake pops with little name tags, aren’t they lovely?

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And for favours I bought these lovely Nutcracker and Gingerbread Man bottle bags from Paperchase and filled them with Lindt truffles –

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Every year my Sister and my Mum buy me beautiful flowers to say thank you for hosting Christmas dinner, this year my Mum bought me a beautiful Christmas pudding flower arrangement from Marks and Spencers and my sister bought me a stunning snowglobe style flower arrangement (also from Marks and Spencer’s). I say this a lot but the photos really don’t do them justice!

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plus my Sister popped into Tesco’s to get some last minute Christmas bits and came across these beautiful Nutcracker flowers so she just had to buy them for me! I’m absolutely spoilt!

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The day completely flew by which is always such a shame, I hate it when it gets to the point where people have to leave! Especially today as we had a bit of a mini storm going on outside so everyone got soaking wet and blown away in the storm on the way to their cars! That will teach them not to leave won’t it!?

After everyone had gone, laden up with doggy bags and left overs, we finally sat down and opened the mounds and mounds of presents we had from friends and family. There was definitely a Nutcracker, Harry Potter and Beauty and the beast theme going on with my presents! My friends certainly know me very well! Here’s just some of the lovely gifts I had from friends and family-

Lots of sweets and treats:

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Elf cake Pop’s from Popalicious cake pops!

SO.MANY.PYJAMAS!!!! My favourite!

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And this brilliant Pusheen T-shirt! Pusheen is my spirit animal!

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Plus lots of smelly stuff, perfumes, bath bombs and hair treatments!

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Looking forward to using these! Anyone else used Philip Kingsley stuff before?

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Plus I was also given a pair of gold Beats headphones and BOTH pairs of trainers I wanted! I’m so lucky!

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All this followed by a short doze and nibbling leftovers and cheese and biscuits on the sofa whilst watching Christmas TV makes this my perfect Christmas Day!

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I hope you’ve all had an amazing day full of love and laughter with your families and friends! I’m looking forward to Boxing Day when I usually have a good clear out of my wardrobe to give unwanted items to charity and to put away all my lovely new presents!

Merry Christmas everyone! xx

CocoChlo’s Christmas Eve

I can’t believe it’s here already! The best day of the year! I actually prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day – there’s no better feeling than the evening of Christmas Eve when you finally sit down and everything is wrapped and prepared ready for tomorrow! Here’s how my favourite day of the year unravelled in 2017 –

We usually get up early and bundle the two dogs in the car and drive up to Painswick Beacon for a lovely long Christmas Eve walk. A few years ago some fellow dog walkers chose a beautiful big tree along the dog walkers path and started hanging baubles and decorations alongside photographs of their beloved dogs who have passed on.

It’s such a lovely tribute, putting their pictures where they enjoyed frolicking in the woods and chasing across the golf course to annoy the golfers! We added a tribute to our dog Scampy who died in 2006 – he was such a lovely dog and was incredibly loyal to his family of us girls!

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After our long walk we come home and have some breakfast – usually bacon rolls or Christmas morning muffins – and then we will start going about our day visiting people and dropping peoples presents and Christmas Eve boxes off (there were a LOT of Christmas Eve boxes to drop off this year!)

We visit several of our good friends on Christmas Eve, and some of these friends we struggle to catch up with for most, if not all, of the year! So it is great to catch up with them and hear how they’ve been getting on for the past few months/year.

I have a lovely lunch at my friends Mum’s house, I’ve known this particular friend for a VERY long time (since we were about five years old!) so it is great to catch up with her lovely family and my beautiful god-daughter. Her Mum buys all these amazing cheese bakes which she puts in the oven and we then eat with fresh bread and bread sticks! Delicious!

By the time we have been round to everyone and dropped off all the presents and/or Christmas Eve boxes, it us usually around 5/6pm, so we finally get to settle down at home and watch our Christmas movies and have some party food, and open our own Christmas Eve boxes! It also gives me a chance to have a bit of a tidy up and to start preparing some food and drink bits and to decorate the dining room table ready for the guests tomorrow.

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Here’s what we had in this years Christmas Eve boxes:

Yankee Candles

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Christmas Pyjamas

I normally get one set in my Christmas Eve box but had an Elf set and a Grinch set this year!

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Plus some matching Grinch slippers!

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I also had some lovely Gingerbread Men tea light candles, rose gold reindeer tea lights (which went really well with my existing reindeer set!), some lovely salted caramel chocolate pinecones from Marks and Spencers, a pegasus ornament to hang on our Christmas tree and a sparkle and fizz chocolate bar from Marks and Spencers!

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Between us, hubby and I also had the entire set of hot chocolates from Wilkinsons – regular hot chocolate, white hot chocolate, gingerbread hot chocolate and marshmallow hot chocolate! Yummy!

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To make things easier, we normally cook a batch of party food for dinner tonight, so we can graze at it over the course of the evening!

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Then, at around 10:45pm, we walk up to our local church to attend Midnight Mass which usually starts at around 11pm and finishes just after the bells chime for midnight. We’ve been going for several years now, only missing it one year when I was feeling unwell, and I regretted not going for the whole of the following year. We aren’t particularly religious, we didn’t even get married in a church, but we are incredibly lucky. We have more than we need, we have an amazing family unit and all our family are currently in good health, we don’t have to worry about how to pay bills or where the next meal is coming from like some poor people out there have to, so we have a lot to be thankful for. Going to Midnight Mass is our way of saying thank you for everything we have had over the past year and to hope for as much good fortune in the year to come. It also gives me a chance to think about those friends and family who won’t be spending Christmas with us because they are no longer with us.

We usually get back around half midnight and go straight off up to bed so we can get up early the next morning to start preparing for the big day!

I hope you all have a magical Christmas full of love and laughter – MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! xxx

What’s on the menu this Christmas?

One of my favourite aspects of Christmas is the incredible food you can buy this time of year! I have to say my favourite place to buy food from for the festive period is Marks and Spencers. In my opinion they overshadow all the other supermarkets and consistently bring out new, exciting and unusual products year after year.

For Christmas Day we will usually choose three or four canapes which I leave out for people to pick at whilst the main meal is cooking away. If the boys have been down the pub for a couple of pints before lunch they are usually rather peckish by the time they come home so they look forward to these!

This year for our canapés we are having Asian chicken lollipops, BBQ pork belly squares and Brie and Cranberry parcels (all from M&S) and a lovely Antipasti platter from Tescos which consists of grilled vegetable antipasti, marinated slow roasted tomatoes, Spanish olives with cheddar cheese, pitted Halkidiki olives with lemon and garlic, feta stuffed peppers, roasted and salted corn and roasted and salted broad beans! Delicious!

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We then have our starters – one is usually fish and the other either meat (we don’t have any vegetarians in the family). Past starters have included individual baked Camenbert’s with a range of toppings, gold flaked smoked salmon, cheddar cheese souffle’s, prawn cocktails, pate, and an amazing Lobster Thermidor!

This year we have actually chosen three starters as we couldn’t decide and everyone wanted to try a bit of everything! We have gone for –

Cornish Cruncher cheese and cider bakes (with breads for dipping):

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Smoked salmon bauble terrine:

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King prawn and poached salmon terrines:

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Then onto the main course which is usually the trickier bit to select – we have a half and half split in the family of who likes turkey and who doesn’t, so when there are between 8 and 12 of us having Christmas dinner – I will usually cook a turkey and one other meat (usually either lamb or beef wellington). Everyone likes different vegetables and condiments so we start off with a big list which basically includes everything you can think of and then this is usually cut down a bit after people compromise on a few things! I don’t mind cooking such a huge range of things if people like them but the issue I have found with cooking so many different things is a) getting the timings right so they are all cooked at the same time and b) keeping everything warm whilst you are serving the starters, cutting the meat etc. It really was becoming quite tricky so after having a meltdown one year because the sprouts were stone cold, I decided we had to start limiting our choices slightly!

We have gone for a plain turkey crown this year (no stuffing or bacon) but I am going to add this amazing looking Christmas spiced bacon on top of the turkey! Yum!

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After moving into our new house only a couple weeks ago, I was worried about trying to cook two meats in an oven I was still getting used to, and in one which is much smaller than my lovely range oven I had to leave behind at the old house, so in the end I choose this amazing looking gammon joint from Marks and Spencer’s – all cooked and ready to eat! Easy peasy!

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Add in pigs in blankets, sage and onion stuffing, yorkshire puddings, peas, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower cheese and green beans and we have a feast fit for a king!

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I’ve also bought some delicious bread sauce (Mum’s favourite) and cranberry and port sauce to top it off with.

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Then onto the best bit – dessert! We usually end up with a HUGE choice of desserts because again, everyone likes different things! Everyone always takes home a doggy bag of desserts to eat later and I freeze what I can and slowly work my way through them!

For the past three years one of the choices has been the “penguin party cake” from Marks and Spencers! We fell in love with it the first time we had it – the sponge was so light, and the buttercream and icing were delicious! We have bought it every year since and were really hoping that M&S decided to bring it back again this year, but it didn’t feature in their Christmas food catalogue! I tweeted them and they confirmed that it wouldn’t be back this year unfortunately! [insert very sad face emoji!)

This year is no exception on the dessert front and I’ve gone totally overboard AGAIN. I will be eating these until Easter I think!

Santa’s stuck in the chimney cake – really looking forward to trying this one!

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White chocolate Snowball Wreath (with raspberry compote inside!)

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Chocolate pinecones – I saw these last year but stupidly didn’t get any! Aren’t they lovely?

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Salted caramel yule log – I’m OBSESSED with salted caramel flavoured things so this looks like it was made for me!

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Mini Mince pies

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Then, believe it or not, I actually serve a course of cheese and biscuits! This year I think I got an absolute bargain buying this cheese “cake” from Tescos! It was £30 and weighs almost 3 kilos and consists of Coastal Cheddar, Red Leicester, Blue Stilton, Wensleydale with sweetened dried cranberries and blueberries and St Endellion Brie – so something for everyone’s taste!

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Whilst on the subject of cheese, I bought this lovely item from Marks and Spencer’s for several of my cheese loving friends – isn’t it great? It’s called in a pear cheese!

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Then the easiest part is usually the drinks! Everyone knows what they like and to be honest I have given up on making surprise cocktails and punches for the guests because they tend to stick with what they know they like!

Some of the most common drinks we partake in during the festive season are Apple and Cinnamon Martinis (apple juice and cinnamon flavoured liqueur – Smirnoff do a good one with gold bits in it!), Snowballs (Advocaat, lemonade and a splash of lime juice), Amaretto sours (amaretto and pre-mixed Finest Call sweet and sour mix – I tend to order in bulk from Syrup’s and Stuff as they do case deals on the Finest Call range) and of course Prosecco with chambord, limoncello or Popaball’s Rose gold shimmer for processo!

Anyway, as it’s almost Christmas Eve I had better go and start prepping! Two more sleeps to go!!!

Christmas Cornflake Wreaths

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Now the kids have broken up from school for Christmas, if you are looking for a really fun, easy and cheap treat to make then this is ideal!

To make the Cornflake Wreaths you will need:

-100g soft butter

-200g mini marshmallows

-125g cornflakes

-1 teaspoon of any flavouring you would like such as vanilla or orange – my favourite is almond!

-Spinkles!

To make the wreaths –

Put a piece of greaseproof paper on a surface ready for the wreaths to set on later.

Put the hob on a low heat and melt the butter and marshmallows in a large pan. Stir continuously until the ingredients are combined.

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Take the pan off the heat and add any flavouring you want to use.

Add the cornflakes to the pan and crush them as you stir them so they are easier to shape later on, I find the smaller you crush the cornflakes the easier it is to shape them.

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Make sure all the cornflakes are covered in the marshmallow mixture.

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When the mixture has cooled down slightly, pull off a ball of mixture around the size of a golfball and flatten it on your baking paper – sounds easy right?? This is the hardest bit as it is REALLY messy! The kids will love it! Even flattening it is hard because the mixture sticks to EVERYTHING!!! Be prepared to get covered in goo!

You should end up with nine or ten wreaths after you’ve fought to flatten them onto the baking  paper.

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Once you’ve done this, use the end of a spoon to make a hole in the middle so they look “wreath-like”.

Fairly soon after you do this and before the mixture sets, you need to decorate your wreaths! Do this however you wish but I do find that red and green holly and berry decorations look really good, and I also add a few white stars on them too!!

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Finally, sprinkle on some edible glitter and leave them for an hour or so (if you can!) to allow the mixture to set and then indulge!!!

New York at Christmas Time – Day Three

We didn’t have any major plans for our third day in New York as I didn’t know how much ground we would cover yesterday and whether we would need a couple of hours to catch up on things we missed yesterday!

We started off the day by walking north to make our way to Central Park. We stopped by the Plaza Hotel on the way (the hotel Kevin stays in in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) to take some photos – hubby said if we were lucky enough to visit New York again he would like to stay here next time!

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We then stopped and had another tasty breakfast at a café on Columbus Circle! It was AMAZING!

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We then crossed the road to visit the Columbus Circle Holiday Market which was another market I knew I wanted to visit. The location is great – perched in between the hustle and bustle of the city and yet also on the edge of Central Park.

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I really loved this market, lots of lovely stalls and the food stalls were amazing! Check out my poo emoji and little lamb macaron I bought while I was there!

There was also a stall selling giant S’mores and the most amazing hot chocolates I have seen!

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After our visit to the market we went to visit Central Park and spent a good couple of hours walking round to see all that it has to offer. Here are some of the amazing things you can see in this massive park:

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Central Park Zoo

We visited Central Park zoo the first time we visited New York, so we didn’t visit this time. Still, it is a great day out and well worth visiting if you get the chance. You’ll find over 130 different species ranging from Snow Leopards to Tropical Birds in here! Prices start at $18 per adult ticket.

Wollman Rink

This looked like a lot of fun and was much cheaper than the rink at the Rockefeller Center (starts at $12 per adult). The rink also seemed bigger and far less busy too!

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Wollman Rink was opened in 1949 and has been a favorite attraction of Central Park ever since. In the autumn and winter, ice skating at the rink is one of the most popular things to do in Central Park. It’s lovely to skate with the city’s skyline looking down on you!

Loeb Boathouse

The iconic Loeb Boathouse offers boat rentals and gondola rides, as well as a very exclusive expensive dining experience!

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Calvert Vaux designed a wooden structure of the boat house that would last from 1873 until 1954. The beautiful, two-story, Victorian structure was eventually torn down, but its original purpose was carried on by its replacement, now known as the Loeb Boathouse.

Carl M. Loeb opened the new, red brick and limestone Boathouse in 1954. In addition to its traditional functions, the new Boathouse is also the site of the Boathouse Restaurant.

Pilgrim Hill

We wanted to visit here because this is where everyone goes sledding when there’s thick snow on the ground! We were hoping there would still be some snow when we got there but unfortunately it had all gone! Still a very pretty place though!

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Alice in Wonderland

Located just north of the Conservatory Water at East 74th Street, Alice in Wonderland stands eleven feet tall in bronze, surrounded by the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and a few of her other friends!

The Dairy Visitor Center

The Central Park Dairy, which now serves as an information center and gift shop inside the park, was originally intended as a source of fresh milk for children in the late 19th century.

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The Dairy was constructed in 1870; at this time, fresh milk for children was difficult to find and desperately sought after by parents. The Dairy was built at the southern end on the park, originally the children’s section, to provide milk and snacks for children in the cool and relaxing atmosphere near the Pond.

Plus there is loads, loads more to do in Central Park than this, you can easily spend a couple of days in Central Park checking out everything it has to offer!

After a few hours and a LOT of walking around Central Park we walked back towards the hotel and stopped off at Times Square where I checked out the “it’s always Christmas” shop! There has been a Facebook video going round which showed footage of the inside and outside of this amazing store so I was really pleased I got to visit!

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I also spotted this amazing little cupcake store on Times Square called Baked By Melissa. They sell adorable little bite-sized cupcakes in some amazing flavours! I bought a pack of six but wish I had bought more! They are only bite-sized after all!

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I also went into a brilliant deli and bought a rainbow bagel which had almond butter in! Delicious!

After a pit stop to stuff our faces we ventured on down to Macys Department Store. I wasn’t too bothered about doing any shopping as you could spend all day in this amazing store, but I wanted to visit their Christmas department which is called Holiday Lane! I’ve seen a Facebook video of Holiday Lane too so I knew it was going to be spectacular!

I have never seen so many beautiful trees and decorations and stuffed toys and wreaths and Nutcracker Dolls! I really was in my element!

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After a long final day we visited Times Square and splashed out on a HUGE slap up meal at Applebee’s which is one of our favourite American restaurants. I love the pretzels with beer cheese dips for starters and four cheese macaroni cheese with chicken on top, absolutely delicious!

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The perfect end to a perfect holiday! Our three nights here went so quickly but we all got to see things we wanted to see and do things we wanted to do, and most importantly we got to spend time together. A truly magical place this time of year, if you ever get the chance to go, grab it with both hands!

Until next time New York!

New York at Christmas Time – Day Two

We were all up earlier than I had expected us to be (stupid jet-lag!) but this meant we could get ready and be out stomping the streets of New York as early as possible and cover more ground.

We put the TV on as we were getting ready and were mortified to hear that there had been an attempt to set a bomb off only a few streets away from our hotel but thank god no-one was seriously injured or killed. I take my hat off to the authorities who have to deal with terrible situations like this – they are all so skilled and well trained and professional throughout and I have to say, despite being only a couple of streets away from where disaster could have struck, I never once felt unsafe knowing the best of the best were out there protecting us all. I think it is fair to say that terrorism failed in more than one aspect that day.

Anyway, on a brighter note, off we went on Monday’s adventure. We walked a good twenty minutes to go and have breakfast at Broadway Café – we always have breakfast here at least once during our trips to New York. It is a brilliant place with so much choice, I challenge you not to find something on the breakfast menu that you like! If you get the chance you must pay them a visit!

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup and omelettes, oatmeal and sausage sandwiches, we carried on walking South down Broadway, admiring all the shops and window displays.

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On our way to the Financial District we came across the Flatiron building – such an amazing design! It was originally called the Fuller Building, is 22 storeys high and was completed in 1902. The name “Flatiron” comes from its resemblance to a cast-iron clothes iron. The building is often described as “one of the worlds most iconic skyscrapers and a quintessential symbol of New York city.” It is certainly very amazing to look at!

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We eventually arrived at Washington Square Park, which looked beautiful as it still had some snow on the ground. The park is a 9.75 acre public park in Greenwich and is one of the best known parks of New York city. At the northern gateway of the park you will find the Washington Square Arch (in the second picture).

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We also stopped off at Sugarhut and spent a fortune on sweets! I have never seen so many different types of sweets and treats! I was like a kid in a toy store! You don’t get sweet shops in the UK anymore really do you? It’s mainly the supermarkets you have to get your sugar fix from!

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We carried on walking down Fifth Avenue for a few more miles until we reached the Financial District and One World Trade Center’s Freedom Tower. The last time we visited New York in 2013, they were still building here and we all said as soon as the observation deck was finished that we would come back to visit.

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One World Trade Center (also known as WTC of Freedom Tower) is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex. It is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and is the sixth tallest building in the world! The new skyscraper stands on the site of the original 6 World Trade Center building. The building’s architect was David Childs, whose firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) also designed the Burj Khalifa and the Willis Tower.

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Construction of below-ground footings and foundations for the Freedom Tower began on 27 April 2006, and when we visited Ground Zero in June 2009, all work was still being completed underground at this point. One World Trade Center became the tallest structure in New York City on 30 April 2012, when it surpassed the height of the Empire State Building. When we visited New York in May 2013, the work which had been completed was incredible – the Tower was almost complete and the final component of the Tower’s spire had just been installed, making the building (including its spire) reach a total height 1,776 feet! The building is 104 standard floors high, but has only 94 actual stories. The height of 1776 feet is deliberate, as it references the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. The building officially opened in 3rd November 2014, and the One World Observatory opened on 29th May 2015.

The tower has a three-story observation deck which is located on floors 100–102. The actual viewing space is on the 100th floor, but there is a food court on the 101st floor and a space for events on the 102nd floor. Admission to the Observation Deck is $39 and is well worth the price.

Once you have passed through security you enter a lift which takes you up to the 102nd floor. During the lift journey, screens on the walls of the lift light up and show you how the skyline of New York has developed since the 1900’s. Once you leave the lift you are escorted into a theatre type room which shows another video of New York, its residents and its developments over the years. The video is extremely moving, and once the video has finished, the black back drop lifts up and shows you a beautiful outlook of this amazing city! I cried at the time and thinking about it again as I type this it has made me tearful again! It was so moving and very tastefully done.

You then leave the theatre room and explore the observation deck where you can take some absolutely amazing photographs from all the viewpoints of the city. Keep an eye out for the Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty and of course the incredible Empire State Building.

Photographs really do not do it justice, the view is exceptional and I could have stayed there all day looking out at this amazing place.

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We didn’t visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on this occasion as we visited on our trip during 2013, however I urge you to go and visit if you get the chance. I will cover more on the Memorial and Museum in my next New York blog which I hope to publish early next year.

After our amazing (and very emotional) visit to the Freedom Tower, we wandered down further into the financial district to see Wall Street and it’s infamous “Charging Bull”. Despite being to New York a couple of times before, we have never got around to seeing him so we were pleased we got to this time!

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We then started making our way back up Fifth Avenue towards our hotel and on the way we visited the Union Square Holiday Market. I was really looking forward to this market but to be honest I was rather disappointed. There were nowhere near as many stalls as I had expected and I couldn’t find any of the stalls I had ear-marked to visit which was a real shame! A very pretty market in the centre of Manhattan but I left here empty handed!

When we visited Union Square market I had made a note to visit a nearby bakery/restaurant called Union Fare, I am so, so pleased I did in the end because I managed to get hold of one of their famous Red Velvet croissants (a red sweet flavoured croissant filled with a delicious cream cheese flavoured filling) and a Birthday Cake croissant (a croissant with multi-coloured sugar strands running through it filled with a white Birthday cake flavoured filling which is again filled with colourful sugar strands)! Delicious! I also bought a very colourful Sugar Cookie which I saved to eat later on when we got back to the hotel!

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As we continued on we came across Gingerbread Boulevard in Madison Square Park.

Gingerbread Boulevard features a life-size Gingerbread House, with ginger “bricks”, a “frosting-covered” roof and is covered in candy canes, gum drops and more.

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You get to go inside the house where there is a fire lit and a fully-decorated Christmas tree. Inside are TV screens which show the Gingerbread Man decorating his Christmas tree and then running past the windows of his house – it’s probably more for the children but we enjoyed it and thought it was really cute!

It was a bit of a surreal experience but a really good laugh and a great photo opportunity! Plus the house smelt absolutely delicious! We didn’t have to queue to go in and there was no charge so I would highly recommend visiting Gingy in his Gingerbread house if you have the chance!

After finally getting back to our hotel (after a Dunkin’ Donuts stop on the way!), we checked our phones which said we had walked the equivalent of a half marathon!

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We decided we wanted to go back to the Rockefeller to do the ice skating tonight (even after walking all that way!) as the forecast was rain for the next day, so after a quick rest at the hotel we wandered back over to the Rockefeller Center.

It was far quieter tonight than it had been the night before which was great. We managed to get into the last ice skating slot of the evening which was from 10:30pm until midnight, and we only had around a 45 minute wait to get onto the ice which I didn’t think was too bad considering you can’t pre-book tickets. I think the slots of an hour and a half are a bit long as the ice skating boots were really uncomfortable and it isn’t the biggest rink in the world but anyway, another amazing experience ticked off the bucket list!

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After ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre we headed off back to the hotel and walked past Saks Fifth Avenue – I knew they would put on a spectacular show but I didn’t imagine something as incredible as this! The theme this year was to celebrate 80 years of Snow White so the window displays were all Snow White themed and then on the front of the building was a spectacular light display which went off every hour or so alongside music from Snow White such as the ‘hi ho hi ho’ song! It was truly incredible.

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I know now why they call it the city that never sleeps! By the time we got to the hotel we were all absolutely exhausted!! I was worried we would sleep in the next morning and lose precious time on our last day because we were so tired!

New York at Christmas Time – Day One

What an amazing past couple of weeks my family and I have had! My husband and I finally got to move into our dream home, we celebrated my Sisters Birthday, my Mum’s Birthday, had our annual trip to London and two themed afternoon teas and to top it all off, we spent three nights in New York!

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The day we moved (Friday 1st December), we were at my Mum’s house in the evening, celebrating my Sister’s Birthday with some cake and champagne when out came four gold envelopes, each containing a note saying how hard we had worked this year and as an extra special Christmas present, Mum had paid for the four of us to spend three nights in New York!

Everyone was (and still is!) absolutely dumbfounded! What an incredibly amazing and perfect present, all four of us have always dreamed of going to New York over Christmas!

We left on the 10th December and battled our way to Heathrow through the most terrifying snow storm I have ever seen! How we all made it to the airport in one piece I will never know! We were lucky we had an early morning flight because even as we were sat on the plane watching it be de-iced by a giant robot, I sat there thinking to myself they are definitely going to cancel lots of flights today due to the snow!

Anyway, we got away on time and around 7 hours later (and after my husband watching Home Alone nearly four times on the plane journey, not joking!) we arrived in the Big Apple!

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We were staying at The Roosevelt Hotel on East 45th Street and it looked absolutely stunning inside! Huge Christmas trees and decorations and wreaths and baubles, a really lovely hotel. I have been lucky enough to have visited New York three times over the last 8 years and this is the best hotel I have stayed in so far, I would definitely stay here again.

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So, we got checked in and had a quick shower and got changed and out we went! Our first stop was the amazing Bryant Park Winter Village which wasn’t far from our hotel. I couldn’t wait to visit this Christmas Market – it looked like the biggest and had loads of amazing food stalls I wanted to try!

It got dark as we were there so the buildings were all lit up above you whilst you were wondering around the market drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate – it was amazing! There’s an ice skating rink here and plenty of bars and restaurants surround the market too.

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Whilst I was there I indulged in some chicken from Chick N Cone which, funnily enough, is bite sized pieces of chicken in a waffle cone! I tried the Cinnamon Maple flavour – it was the best tasting chicken I have ever eaten! I wish I had bought two!

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My Sister tried some Mexican Tacos and the boys had a New York Cheese Steak sandwich (they ate these too quickly for me to catch a photo of them!)

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I also tried some truffle mozzarella sticks – god they were to die for!

Next we moved onto the dessert stalls – my Sister and I bought three filled Churros to start – one was filled with Dulce De Leche (caramel), one was filled with Boston Cream Pie (kind of a crème pâtissière filling) and the other one was filled with S’more (marshmallow and chocolate filling) – again, amazing! I do love Churros!

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I was also really pleased as I managed to get hold of two pots of cookie dough from DO whilst I was there – I follow them on Instagram and love their colourful cookie dough flavours and designs! I had a Birthday cake flavoured cookie dough and their limited edition Winter WonDOland cookie dough! Yum!

After a couple of hours (and a couple of drinks!) at Winter Village we wondered over to the Rockefeller Center to see the infamous Christmas tree and to go ice skating.

On the way to the Rockefeller Center, the streets of New York are lined with beautiful festive decorations and lights everywhere. It really is a magical place this time of year!

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When we arrived at the Rockefeller Center we were all speechless! The Christmas tree is absolutely stunning in real life and is HUGE! It is covered in multi-coloured lights and sits happily above the skating rink whilst people skate below!

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Aside from the spectacular tree, there are also lots of other beautiful statues and decorations at the Rockefeller Center to celebrate the festive season!

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Unfortunately, the skating rink was booked out to a private party this evening so we had a stroll around the Rockefeller Center and took plenty of photos before making our way back to the hotel for the evening. In hindsight, we should have left visiting the Rockefeller Center until the following day as it was absolutely HEAVING with people (as it was a Sunday) so you couldn’t get a very good view or take many good photos!

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If you visit New York for the first time I would highly recommend visiting the Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock viewing deck. We have been to New York twice before and done the Top of the Rock both times so we didn’t do it again on this occasion, however the views are incredible and you can visit both during the day or at night – I would recommend visiting at night if you can, as you can see the Empire State Building lit up in all its glory! I would also recommend pre-booking Top of the Rock tickets online as queues can be huge and the last thing you want to do is waste time hanging around in queues when New York has so much else to offer!

There’s also a huge selection of shops and restaurants within the Rockefeller Center for you to visit, and right outside you can also find Radio City Music Hall – their Christmas Spectacular show is infamous across the globe!

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We were exhausted by the time we finally got back to the hotel but couldn’t wait for the next day’s adventures!

What an amazing start to an incredible few days in New York!

 

London at Christmas time

London is such a brilliant place to visit around Christmas time – not so much if you are one of those headless chickens running around trying to source last minute Christmas presents, but if you have Christmas all wrapped up and have the time (and patience!) to explore and see what this city has to offer during the festive season then you are in for a treat!

My Mum, my Sister and I go on a day trip to London every December, here’s some of the amazing things we have done over the last few years:

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

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This place is like marmite – I’ve spoken to people who absolutely love it here, and likewise, people who absolutely detest it! Winter Wonderland opened on 17th November this year and is open for six weeks until 1st January 2018.

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It is free to enter Winter Wonderland and inside you can find a wealth of things to do including –

Ice Skating

Winter Wonderland’s ice skating rink is the largest outdoor rink in the UK and is open from 10am to 10pm. Ice skating sessions run every hour on the hour and each session lasts for 50 minutes.  Adult prices start at £9.50 and child prices start at £7.50.

If you are unsteady on your feet you can also ask for the help of an Ice Guide – a trained ice skater who can escort you and your group on the ice – a really great idea but they don’t come cheap (£35 an hour on top of your skating ticket price!)

Magical Ice Kingdom

This has a different theme every year, the year we visited it was the theme Merlin and the knights of the round table and it was absolutely fantastic!

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Merlin
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One of the Knights of the round table
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The Sword in the Stone
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My favourite is this beautiful unicorn and her baby!
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And the grand finale was this absolutely incredible ice dragon with glowing eyes!!

Definitely well worth a look if you have the time! There were loads more characters to see and the pictures I have taken seriously do not do them any justice! This years theme is called Deep Sea Adventure and looks just as amazing! Adult Ticket prices start at £7.00 and child’s prices start at £5.00.

Bar Ice

You may have already seen my blog on the two Bar Ice bars you can find in London, if not you can read about this great experience here. One of the Bar Ice’s can be found at Winter Wonderland but obviously can get very busy so make sure you pre-book your tickets!

Plus loads more including the Giant Observation Wheel, The Sooty Christmas Show, Zippo’s Christmas Circus, Cirque Beserk, Cinderella on Ice and of course the stunning stalls selling everything from Mulled wine to Churros to Christmas Decorations to hats and scarves!

Outside of Hyde Park, we usually visit:

Oxford Street

My favourite shopping street! It is obviously very busy this time of year but do your best to stop along the way to check out the amazing Christmas decorations which line the streets! Regent Street always looks really pretty too!

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Oxford Street
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Regent Street Angels

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Department Store Windows

Have you ever watched the film “Mannequin”? It follows a guy who, with a lot of assistance from a mannequin which comes to life when no-one else is looking, is a Window Dresser, and together they design these amazing department store window displays which have people travelling from miles around to come and see.

Classic 80’s film and the department store windows this time of year always remind me of it!

Anyway, each year there is a bit of a battle between the different department stores to have the best dressed window displays. The ideas they come up with are amazing and must take them hours and hours to create. Here are some of the highlights we came across this year:

Harrods

A bit of an unusual one this year! An Instagram friend told me its because they were designed by Karl Lagerfeld and this seemed to make a lot of sense! I’m still unsure whether I like them or not….

Selfridges

I loved Selfridges windows this year! Really fun and eye-catching! Bouncing Santas, Robins and Christmas Puddings and a suit made of sprouts! What more could you want?? Oh yes, a “Nutcracker Queen” surrounded by her Nutcracker soldiers on the balcony above the escalators! That will do!

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Plus we loved the massive hare and fox which appeared in the H&M windows this year!

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Department Store Christmas departments

I don’t tend to do much shopping in the department stores, I’ve usually got everyone’s presents by now and the temptation is to spend far too much if I start wondering into areas like Saint Laurent or Alexander McQueen! What my sister and I do tend to do is head straight for the Christmas themed sections within the department stores to check out the decorations and displays! In some of the bigger department stores it really is like walking into a Winter Wonderland!

This year I encountered a life size singing Reindeer (only £4,500!) and a huge Nutcracker Doll (only £1,250!). Better start saving I think!

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Department Store Food halls

Harrods Food Hall at any time of the year is absolutely incredible but team it up with all the Christmas flavours and goodies they have to offer and I really am in heaven here!

Selfridges also has a great food hall but I do prefer Harrods. In actual fact I think that the food hall in Selfridges Birmingham is better than the Selfridges in London – far bigger and far easier to find everything!

Peggy Porschen Parlour

This year we also managed to visit the amazing Peggy Porschen Parlour in Victoria! It is one of the stunning places I have ever visited, the photos really don’t do it justice.

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The inside is just as beautiful as the outside, and each and every product sold here is crafted to perfection.

If you have the chance, check out the outstanding Gingerbread houses they sell – if I had bought one of these I really don’t think I could have brought myself to eat such an amazing creation!