Longleat at Christmas

If you are looking for somewhere to go during the festive season which includes animals, a beautiful country house and all the Christmas trimmings, then Longleat Safari is a must visit!

We took my sister along as a surprise for her Birthday and we weren’t disappointed!

The animals

Luckily we visited on a beautiful Winters day – even the sun came out – so all the animals were out and about for all to see!

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You can bypass the Monkey section if you want to avoid any damage to your car! We decided we would take the risk on this occasion and are really glad we did – check out these cute little guys-

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Isn’t he adorable!?

Look how close this gorgeous lion came to the car! Absolutely beautiful!

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Activities

After visiting the huge array of animals at Longleat, there’s plenty of other activities to keep you busy! Ice skating is available and costs £7.50 for an adult ticket – it’s probably best to pre-book these tickets online to avoid disappointment.

If you aren’t an ice skater then try visiting some of the lovely little winter huts surrounding the ice skating rink – they sell lovely winter beverages including mulled cider, mulled wine, hot chocolate and soup!

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The sister and brother in law enjoyed their ice skating session!

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The House

Once you’ve explored everywhere outside it’s time to take a look inside the beautiful house, which has been decorated in a wonderful festive theme throughout each and every room! Christmas trees, lights and decorations everywhere – a Christmas lovers dream!

Throughout the house you will also find live actors dressed as your favourite pantomime characters! I won’t spoil the surprise by posting pictures but they definitely ensure you have a great time whilst exploring!

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The Christmas Tree

Whilst you are visiting you must pay a visit to the famous Longleat Enchanted Christmas tree!

The unique, giant 50ft Singing Christmas Tree, which has over 300,000 individual lights and is the only one of its kind in the Europe, forms the centrepiece of Christmas celebrations in the Stable Yard.

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Once it gets dark the multi coloured light combinations are amazing!

There’s also the Santa Train which is ready and waiting to whisk you and the little ones off to meet Father Christmas and his elves in their wintry woodland home!

New at Longleat Safari Park over the past couple of years is the Festival of Lights, where stunning Chinese Lanterns light up the safari park.

A highly recommended day out for all the family, and just the thing to get you in the Christmas spirit!

You can pre-book your tickets for Longleat online here.

Christmas Pudding BonBons

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Hello Christmas Elves! If you are after a really easy recipe or a great activity to do with the kids then I’ve got just the thing for you! In fact it isn’t really a recipe at all – it’s just a case of cobbling a few bits together – but they do look really effective!

Here’s the ingredients you will need:

-Pre-made chocolate cake (preferably with buttercream centre and topping)

-Red ready rolled icing

-Green ready rolled icing

-100g white chocolate (I use  white chocolate chips)

You will also need one of these little leaf shape icing plungers. I think mine was from Lakeland but you should also be able to find one in places like Amazon or eBay – I saw some in Wilkinson’s the other day too.

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Ok, so to get started, put your cake into a bowl and break it up into crumbs and then re-shape them into twelve little pudding sized balls. I use a cake which has buttercream on top and in the middle because when you are re-shaping it into little pudding balls, the mixture holds its shape a lot better. When you’ve made twelve round little balls, pop them in the fridge to reset whilst you get on with the rest.

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Roll out your green ready made icing and then use your leaf plunger to make holly leaves (you need two per pudding so twenty-four in total).

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Then cut off some tiny little chunks of red ready rolled icing and roll them into tiny little berries. You will need three of these per pudding so thirty-six in total.

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Pop your icing leaves and berries in the fridge for a few minutes (so they don’t melt too much whilst you are placing them on top of the melted white chocolate).

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Add your chocolate drops to a bowl and melt in the microwave (melt them in thirty second bursts and stir before melting even more – it’s very easy to over melt and burn chocolate if you aren’t careful!)

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Stir the white chocolate so there are no lumps and then leave to cool for about ten minutes so the chocolate is just starting to re-thicken slightly.

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Once it is cooler but still runny and thick, start adding your white chocolate to one pudding. Once the white chocolate is on the pudding, add your holly leaves followed by your red berries, then move on to the next pudding. Don’t do all the white chocolate in one go as it will have set by the time you add your holly leaves and berries to the first one, and they won’t stick to the pudding properly.

Let your puddings set for around ten minutes and then they are ready to eat! If you want to store them they should be fine in an airtight container for around five days (if you can resist them for that long! I ate FOUR in one sitting – they are only small after all!).

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Happy pudding bonbon making!

My favourite Christmas Movies!

I love watching Christmas films during the festive season! There’s nothing better than sitting in front of the TV in a warm house whilst it’s cold outside, snuggled up with a hot chocolate and some nibbles, wrapping some Christmas presents with your favourite Christmas movie playing! Here are my favourite Christmas films of all time!

The Polar Express

This one is a lovely family Christmas film! On Christmas Eve, a young boy encounters a train known as the Polar Express, that is on it’s way to the North Pole. There are other children on the train and the film follows them developing their friendship with one another. A Christmas Eve must watch film, especially for those non-believers!

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Fred Claus

Santa has an older brother! His name is Fred Claus!

He is actually nothing like Santa, and has a few brushes with the law which results in him having to stay at the North Pole and help Santa and his elves prepare for Christmas in exchange for money to pay off his debts – not much fun when you hate Christmas because it centres around your brother every year!

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Bad Santa

Two miserable, professional thieves pose as Santa and his Little Helper to rob high end shopping malls on Christmas Eve. But they run into problems when one of the conmen befriends a troubled kid who thinks he is the real Santa (“Your name is Thurman Merman??”) and the security boss uncovers their plot…..

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There’s also Bad Santa 2 but I haven’t got round to watching it yet!

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

On the outskirts of Whoville, there lives a green, revenge-seeking Grinch who plans on ruining the Christmas holiday for all of the citizens of the town……

The Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling creature with a heart “two sizes too small” who lives on snowy Mount Crumpit a steep high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos.

From his cave, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed, he decides to stop Christmas from coming by stealing their presents, trees, and food for their Christmas feast……

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Love Actually

This is my Sisters favourite Christmas film! It follows the lives of eight very different couples dealing with their love lives and is all set in the run up to Christmas in London.

If you’ve watched the film, the scene where Karen (Emma Thompson) realises that the necklace Harry (Alan Rickman) bought isn’t actually for her still breaks my heart every single time I watch it!

I also love the scene with Juliet (Keira Knightley) and Mark (Andrew Lincoln) where he plays Christmas songs and shows her large cue cards which tell her he loves her! Sorry, spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it yet! (Where have you been??!)

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Jingle All the Way

A father vows to get his son a Turbo Man action figure for Christmas, however, every store is sold out of them, and he must travel all over town and compete with everybody else in order to find one.

Every parent has probably been through this nightmare, I know my Mum did several times when we were younger!

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Deck the Halls 

Two neighbours have a big fall out after one of them decorates his house for the holidays so brightly that it can be seen from space. This one is a particularly cheesy one but I do love it! Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito star – hilarious!

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A Christmas Carol

You surely know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dicken’s?!

It has been done and re-done many times over the years (including a Muppet’s version!), but my favourite is this animated version with the voice of Jim Carrey. Bring on the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come!

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Remember to treat everyone with kindness, generosity and compassion, or you may end up like Ebeneezer Scrooge!

Home Alone

This story is probably just as famous as A Christmas Carol!

For those of you who haven’t seen it (not many of you I would imagine!) Kevin, an eight-year-old troublemaker, is forced to protect his home from a pair of burglars (by using some innovative booby traps!) when he is accidentally left home alone by his family over the Christmas holidays.

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An absolute must-watch over the Christmas period! This one will always be a classic!

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

It isn’t often that a sequel to a fantastic movie is as good as the first!

One year after Kevin was left home alone, he accidentally finds himself in New York after he gets on the wrong flight.

Unfortunately for Kevin, the same criminals, Harry and Marv, are also in New York after escaping from prison….

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And my absolute favourite Christmas film of all time……

Elf

A man called Buddy who has been raised as an Elf at the North Pole goes off on an adventure to New York in search of his true identity.

This film stars Will Ferrell and is an absolutely brilliant Christmas film! Even if Will Ferrell films are not your usual cup of tea, I urge you to give this film a try. It is silly and funny and extremely Christmassy and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face!

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Happy watching! I’m off to make a Christmas hot chocolate and to wrap some more presents!

My Christmas Wish List

I am still a big kid when it comes to dreaming about what I am going to get for Christmas! I still remember how excited I felt every time Mum used to say to me and my two sisters “start writing your Christmas lists” so she could start planning and getting what she could as early as possible before the most popular toys sold out!

I admit my Sisters and I were absolutely spoilt at Christmas, and I don’t doubt this is why I still love the festive season today, but we knew how lucky we were and never took any of it for granted. My Mum was a teacher and although this was fantastic because she could be at home with us in the holidays, this meant she couldn’t have time off during term time and of course holiday prices are incredibly expensive during school holidays, so we never went away anywhere – our big annual celebration to look forward to was always Christmas!

Anyway, this year has been a particularly tough one. We sold our house before we had even put it on the market in May but still hadn’t moved at the beginning of November due to ongoing complications with the chain. We spent several months searching for our forever home, whilst also breaking our backs to get ourselves into the best financial position so we looked to be attractive borrowers to our prospective mortgage lenders.

I won’t bore you with the details here as this is supposed to be a happy blog, but basically getting into the position we needed to be in after jumping through so many hoops to make our lender happy, resulted in hubby and I working all the overtime we could, including very early mornings, very late nights and entire weekends, working our socks off to get all the bonuses we could and basically selling the majority of our valuable belongings on eBay, and the remainder at car boot sales! It has been incredibly hard work for the past 6 or 7 months, but we knew it would all be worth it once our mortgage was in place and we were in our dream home.

Doing what we have done over the past few months may have broken many couples, but we worked together and pulled it off in the end, which is why we are going to treat ourselves this Christmas! We are also hoping to start a family very soon so once baby Evans’ comes along we won’t have any money for the rest of our lives! So this may be the last Christmas we do get to treat ourselves!

Hubby has asked me for a list of things I would like so he can choose a few from the list and I will do the same for him – this way we both get things we actually want but are still unsure up until the last minute what we are having. I do usually add a few stocking filler surprises as well!

Here are some of the bits I have put on my list which I hope will appear under the tree:

Gold Beats Headphones

I did actually have a pair of in-ear Beats headphones but I gave them to Mum for when we visit the gym as she was getting incredibly bored on the treadmill – needless to say they have never been seen again! In fairness it is quite sweet watching her walk her 3km humming along to Bob Dylan, so I shall have to hope Santa brings me a new pair!

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Pyjamas, Pyjamas, Pyjamas!

I love pyjamas, especially the amazing ones you can get around the Christmas period! You can never have too many, especially when you spend two weeks of December slouching about in them watching Christmas films! The elasticated waistband of pyjamas always comes in really handy this time of year too!

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Game of Thrones season 6 DVD

I know season 6 has been out on DVD for a while now but I didn’t bother buying it because I had all the episodes recorded on our Sky box – unfortunately when we moved we cancelled our Sky subscription so we lost all the recordings! When hubby and I watched season 7 in July/August of this year, we also both said it would have been useful to have re-watched the other seasons again beforehand, as waiting a year (at least!) for the next season takes its toll on your memory of characters and events, so we have said we will spend a lot of time over the Christmas period re-watching the boxsets!

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Lush products

Whilst slouching in my pyjamas (or loungewear as I like to refer to it!) I often spend time using my favourite Lush products like lip scrubs and face masks. In between wearing said loungewear I also am rather partial to a lovely hot bath with a bath bomb or bubble bar, or at the very least a hot shower with a shower scrub or shower jelly! So hopefully Santa will help replenish my Lush stash so I can spend my Christmas holidays feeling really relaxed and smelling delicious!

Sophia Webster shoes

I absolutely adore Sophia Webster’s “angel wings” shoe designs but am yet to be lucky enough to own a pair. I added a pair to my online Selfridges basket once as they offered me 20% off but I stupidly didn’t check out and the offer later expired! I would love a pair of these – I’m not even particularly bothered what colour either – the design is so iconic, as a shoe fanatic I should be destined to own a pair of these incredible shoes!

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Mulberry Bayswater Handbag

A very optimistic present to add to the list but I would love a Mulberry Bayswater handbag! I’ve never really been too keen on some of the colours but I came across a beautiful nude coloured one in my local House of Fraser, a colour that Mulberry refer to as Rosewater! It also had lovely gold hardware which seems to be rarer than the usual silver hardware – it was absolutely stunning! Fingers and toes crossed!!!!!

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Kurt Geiger Notty Wedges

I fell in love with these wedges over the summer and they aren’t exactly the type of shoes you wear in the winter so with any luck the hubby might be able to pick these up in the end of summer sale with a good amount of money knocked off! I’ve never seen any others like this I think they are really unusual – and obviously cost far less than the Sophia Webster alternative!

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Nike Air Max trainers

I started getting a pair of trainers for Christmas years and years ago because once the post-Christmas sales started I would buy some new bits of gym kit ready to start shifting those pounds when the new year arrived! I used to wait to buy my trainers in the sale too but would always miss out on the ones I wanted because they would have sold out of my size. Either that or the ones I had my eye on weren’t in the sale anyway, so I may as well get the ones I wanted early on!

Nike Air Max are my absolute favourite make of trainers – I’ve been wearing them since I was at school! I absolutely love their latest styles – they  are more fashion than fitness really! I’m lucky because I can still fit into child’s sizes so I can get the great colours on offer for almost half the price! I came across these beautiful colours in my local Office store earlier on in the year – fingers crossed a pair of these will be appearing under the tree this year!

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Yes this is a very huge and greedy list but we can all fantasise can’t we??

And of course at the very top of my Christmas wish list is for all my family and friends to have the best Christmas so far – full of fun, games, laughter, good food and drink and family time!! I can’t wait!

Christmas Nutcrackers!

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I did change my mind multiple times about whether or not to write this blog because my obsession with these little guys is probably going to come across as very strange to most people! Please will you still follow my blog after I’ve admitted my weird obsession!

Nutcracker Dolls, also known as Christmas Nutcrackers, are decorative nutcracker figurines which are most commonly made to resemble Toy Soldiers. In German tradition, Nutcracker Dolls are said to bring good luck and to scare away bad spirits. Nowadays the majority of Nutcracker Dolls are decorative and are not able to crack nuts out of their shells.

Nutcracker dolls originate from late 17th century Germany. They were often given as gifts, and at some point they became associated with the Christmas season. Wilhelm Friedrich Füchtner (1844-1923), commonly known in Germany as “father of the nutcracker”, began the first mass production of the Nutcracker design from his workshop in Seiffen in Saxony during 1872. 

Decorative nutcracker dolls became popular outside of Europe after the Second World War, when American soldiers stationed in Germany came home to the US with German nutcrackers as souvenirs. Further popularisation came from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a ballet adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which featured a toy soldier nutcracker. The ballet, introduced to America during the mid-20th century, became a favorite holiday tradition across the US and helped to make nutcracker dolls a Christmas decoration and a seasonal icon across Western culture.

I started collecting Nutcracker Dolls a few years back and so now I have a pretty impressive collection! I’m not really sure what draws me to them to be honest, I think it’s simply because I love the festive season so much and they remind me of all things Christmassy!

Varying from small tree ornaments to large decorations, here is my Nutcracker selection so far:

The Countdown Soldier

This is the biggest Nutcracker Doll I own and is from this years Matalan collection! As soon as I saw his fluffy hat, boots and cape I knew I had to have him for my collection!

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The Bearskin Soldiers

A bearskin is a tall fur cap, usually worn as part of a ceremonial military uniform. Traditionally, the bearskin was the headgear of grenadiers and it is still worn by grenadier and guards regiments in various armies.

These guys are again from this years Matalan collection and are completely different from the rest of my collection! They will certainly guard the presents around the tree very well!

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The Sequin Sword Soldiers

Named as such because of their tall sequin hats and silver swords, these are the only Nutcrackers in my collection who carry a weapon I’ve noticed! These were part of Matalan’s Christmas 2016 collection. They go very well with my Countdown Soldier!

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The M&S Soldiers

These guys were, un-surprisingly, from Marks and Spencer’s and were more expensive than the Matalan ones. They were on the three for two offer but who wants three? My OCD dictates only to buy them in pairs! Still, despite their price I am pleased I bought them, they have lovely crystal detailing on their outfits.

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The White and Gold Nutcrackers

These guys were from Asda and so were pretty cheap! They are similar to some I already have but I loved their hats (which are made from tiny beads) and their fluffy boot and sleeve detail!

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The Santa Nutcrackers

Another set from Marks and Spencer’s which were on the three for two offer, these guys are one of my favourite designs and are different from all the others as they are designed to look like Santa! The little bell they are holding really rings too!

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The White and Gold Very Nutcrackers

As the name suggests, these guys were from Very and came in a set of two – one white one and one gold one from the two photos below – I bought two sets so I had two of each (OCD kicked in again!)

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Plus this lovely Countdown Nutcracker my friend bought for me from her local garden centre!

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The Nordic Nutcracker

He is one of my favourite designs as he looks really traditional, he’s from this years Matalan collection as well! I love his little bag of toys!

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The Morrisons Tree Nutcrackers

I happened upon these in Morrison’s last year and bought a couple of packs! They came in packs of six and were really cheap! They are still packed away at the moment but as soon as I have unpacked them I will add photos of them!

The M&S Tree Nutcrackers

These guys are from this years Marks and Spencer’s collection and again, they were more expensive than the similar ones from Morrisons but they were on the three for two offer and I will say that they do have a working handle and moveable mouth as traditional Nutcracker Dolls have, which the set of Morrison’s ones don’t have!

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Partylite Tealight Holder Nutcrackers

These guys are very different from all my other Nutcrackers but I really love them – they hold a tealight candle in their hats!

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I get the feeling this collection will only continue to grow over the years! Last year at the Gloucester Quays Christmas Market they even had a giant Nutcracker trail! There were ten HUGE Nutcrackers you had to find along the trail, all with different names and colours and designs – it was really good and great fun for the kids!  

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If only I can find out who makes these giant Nutcrackers so I can have two standing guard outside our house…..

And if you love Nutcrackers but the dolls aren’t really your thing, check out these amazing Nutcracker themed items I’ve come across this year –

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My Nutcracker dress from Want That Trend!
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Nutcracker crackers!
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A Nutcracker tin full of chocolate chip cookies from Boots (and on the “3 for 2” offer!)

And if this isn’t enough for you, check out Paperchase’s Nutcracker collection!!! AMAZING!

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Nutcracker bottle bag from Paperchase

Rocky Road Christmas Bars

 

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My sister absolutely adores these and they are incredibly simple to make! This recipe will make you around 24 delicious squares.

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Ingredients

-125g soft butter

-300g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa solids)

-3 tablespoons golden syrup

-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

-200g biscuits (rich tea, digestive, amaretti, whatever you fancy!)

-100g mini marshmallows

-2 teaspoons icing sugar for dusting

-Edible glitter for dusting

-Snowflake (or other!) sprinkles

Instructions

-Firstly, melt the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a heavy based saucepan. When the mixture is melted, add your cinnamon and stir then scoop out about 125ml of this melted mixture and put to one side.

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-Put the biscuits into a large sandwich bag and then bash them with a rolling pin.

-Fold the biscuit pieces and crumbs into the melted chocolate mixture in the saucepan and then pour in your marshmallows.

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-Tip the mixture into a tin which had been lined with greaseproof paper. Flatten the mixture as much as you can and then pour the remaining 125g of mixture over the mixture in the tray and smooth over the top.

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-Put the mixture in the fridge for at least two hours.

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-When the mixture is completely set, take it out of the tray and cut the mixture into around 24 squares.

-Sprinkle the icing sugar, edible glitter and snowflake sprinkles over the cake bars and viola! They are ready to be devoured!

They are brilliant to put into Christmas themed cellophane bags to give away as presents, or for stocking and Christmas Eve box gifts!

Happy scoffing peeps! xx

Elf On The Shelf

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Buddy the Elf

Meet Buddy! The Evans’ Elf!

I assume you all know the story of the Elf on the Shelf?? If not, let me enlighten you…. Elf on the Shelf is an American tradition which stemmed from the publication of a 2005 book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, which was illustrated by Coë Steinwart.

The book tells a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and who is nice due to his “scout” elves watching the childrens’ behaviour in the run up to Christmas. Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides. By hiding in a new spot each morning around the house, the scout elf plays an on-going game of hide and seek with the family.

The idea of course, is to try and encourage children to be well behaved in the run up to Christmas, and to give frazzled stressed parents the opportunity to shout “the elf is watching! he will tell Santa” six thousand times a day! In order to make it more convincing that the Elves are alive and are watching the little rascals every move, the parents will have to move the Elf and rearrange him in a new location and position, perhaps doing a new activity.

The elves begin watching over the children between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, after which they toddle off back to the North Pole until the next holiday season.

The Elf on the Shelf comes in a keepsake box that features the picture book and your very own scout elf.

Now is the rather strange part…. hubby and I don’t have any kids as of yet! We came about adopting our Elf Buddy basically because there were some brilliant articles and blogs going around about adult themed Elf on the Shelf ideas and I thought it would be a real laugh to do something similar!

Once Buddy arrived I got the usual disapproving “what the hell is she up to now?” look from hubby which only spurred me on to make Buddy’s behaviour even more annoying in the run up to Christmas!

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Happy 1st December
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Snow Angels
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Minion bananas
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Gone fishing
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Only 20 days to go!
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Marshmallow snowball fight!
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Scaling the kitchen!
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Microwaving popcorn
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Helping with the wrapping
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15 days to go! FYI – Don’t use toothpaste on walls – it stains/bleaches the colour!! 
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Sliding down the bannister
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Peek-a-boo!
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Running low on supplies – can you pop to the store??
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It’s ok, I found more supplies!
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Taking a day off, this scout work is stressful!
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Better get ready for tonight! Lads night out!
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Elves annual Christmas party! Hi Dobby!

Then things took a more sinister turn as I arrived home one day and Buddy was nowhere to be seen….it appears that hubby had just about had enough of his shenanigans!

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The next day, poor Buddy was found in the spare bedroom wardrobe! All alone and tied up in Christmas ribbon!!

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Buddy is not one for revenge, but he was not at all happy about this traumatic experience! He felt hubby need to be shown who was in charge!

From having an Elf accident on hubby’s best football shirt…

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Caught short…..

To using hubby’s toothbrush to clean the toilet….

To replacing the toilet roll with brown packing tape…

To trying to poison the hubby with dog biscuits…

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Then eventually things calmed down and Buddy and hubby became friends again just in time for Buddy to wish us a Merry Christmas!

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Yes it is all very corny, but is just a little bit of fun in the run up to Christmas! The hardest part is thinking of all of the new ideas, especially when we are so limited because we don’t have any children’s toys we can use as additional props!

This year was a particularly exciting year for Buddy, as on the 1st December he left an envelope for hubby saying he would get an extra special present that evening as a reward for working and saving so hard this year for our new house. My amazing Mum later gave us each an envelope which said we were off to New York for three days in the few days to celebrate Christmas in style!

We absolutely can’t wait! What an AMAZING Mum I have!

CocoChlo’s Christmas Countdown!

Ok so it’s official! Silly season has begun! You officially won’t get any sense out of me for at least the next 25 days!

In case you haven’t already guessed – Christmas is my most favourite time of year! I look forward to it months in advance and am severely down and depressed once it is over and we move into the long dark cold month of January. I know my love for Christmas annoys people but, in my view, you need to have something to look forward to, and holidays and Christmas are the two things which give me something to look forward to throughout the year!

Christmas for me mainly centres around the fantastic traditions that myself and my family have developed over the years – after all, knowing what you have to look forward to makes you look forward to it even more!

Here are some of the Christmas traditions my family and I partake in year after year and all the other little Christmassy/wintery things which I love about this time of the year!

Advent Calendars:

Hopefully you will have seen my two blogs on how to make the two different types of Advent Calendars we have in the family. If not, you can read about these here and here.

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They take a LOT of time and effort to make but come out again and again year after year and make everyone very happy – all my family members look forward to opening their daily treats out of their Christmas Advent Calendars.

The calendars are filled during November with everyone’s favourite treats and then dropped off a few days before the beginning of December. In the past few years I have had to wrap up some of the treats (not fun! Twenty five presents times six people!), due to prying eyes and pokey fingers! And yes, all Advent Calendar recipients are adults!

Most of the days are filled with the likes of Cadbury’s chocolate mousse snowmen, Malteaser reindeers and tiny Lindt bears, and then an extra special gift awaits everyone for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (past years include baubles for the tree and personalised snow globes).

The perfect start to December!

Elf on the Shelf

Love him or hate him (hubby hates him!) Buddy will always make his annual appearance on the 1st December (apart from those days he is kidnapped and held hostage by hubby! Not joking!)

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Buddy plays a big part in helping to build the anticipation of the festive season, and often has some really good jokes and treats in store. This year Buddy has a particularly amazing surprise for the Evans’ which you can read about in Buddy’s very own blog which is being published in the next couple of days! #sorrynotsorry to all you Elf haters!

Buying our Christmas tree

We always had a real tree when we were growing up – my Mum, my two Sisters, the dog and I would walk miles to go and get one from the garden centre up the road (Mum can’t drive) and we would carry it all the way home, alternating between carrying the tree and walking the dog! When hubby and I first moved out and into our new home, I was over the top obsessed with keeping it clean and tidy and so, for fear of getting pine needles everywhere, I insisted on having a plastic tree for the first couple of years.

After a couple of years with this awful cheap plastic tree I decided enough was enough and we agreed we would buy a real tree the following Christmas. I was pleased to learn at this stage that there were a lot more trees around which didn’t drop their needles, so I was a double happy bunny!

We always get our tree the first weekend of December, which is usually around my Sisters Birthday. We usually buy it the Saturday morning and then get it home and set it up, and let the branches drop and the tree take shape for the next 24 hours.

Then on the Sunday we spend the day decorating it, listening to Christmas tunes and having hot chocolate and other Christmas themed treats! The trees usually get named at some point too….

Christmas shopping

My work organise an annual coach trip to London on the first Wednesday of December which is absolutely brilliant. The coach drops off at two places – Harrods (also ideal for visiting the Museums) and the corner of Hyde Park.

I usually go with my Sister and Mum and we’ve done all sorts during these trips – we took Mum to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland one year, and visited the Ice Bar and Ice Sculpture display, the following year we spent a couple of hours in Harrods food hall and then popped over the road and spent the rest of the day in the Natural History Museum (which we concluded you would need to spend a week in in order to see everything!) followed by a couple of years of good old retail therapy down good old Oxford Street! I always pop into Primark as well to see if I can find any last minute stocking fillers or bits to go in my Christmas Eve boxes!

The beautiful London department store windows are another one of the highlights! My two favourites are Harrods and Selfridges – the designers must spend months in advance coming up with these amazingly creative ideas! Good luck getting a photo of some of them though – they obviously attract an awful lot of people so get in there quick to catch a glimpse!

Festive Days Out

Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light, Longleat Safari Park, Prinknash Abbey, and a ride on The Polar Express – you name it we have probably been there and partaken in their Christmas-themed festivities!

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Christmas Markets

I really love Christmas markets and the family and I have been to several over the years! I don’t go to them to do my main Christmas shopping but to try the amazing food and drink and check out the brilliant arts and crafts people make – some people are so creative!

At Gloucester Quays Christmas Markets last year they opened an ice skating rink and lots of little wooden huts around the outside which served mulled wine, hot apple cider, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts! Just what you need to get into the Christmas spirit, although I do get there very early so I can get around quickly before the crowds arrive! Some places become unbearable at peak times!

Festive Drinks – Coffees, Hot Chocolate and Eggnog!

Most days in December usually feature a trip to Starbucks, Costa or Café Nero to sample this year’s Festive coffee and hot chocolate flavours! Yes, a blog on these is to follow too! Sorry!

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Obviously hot chocolates can be consumed throughout the year but there’s something different about a Christmas hot chocolate! Perhaps it is the lack of guilt you feel when you spray on mounds of whipped cream and tip half a box of marshmallows on top!

A favourite of mine is to add a tiny bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to really make it taste like Christmas in a mug! I buy all my hot chocolates from Whittards – they are the best by far in my opinion! This years flavours I invested in are Dark Hot Chocolate, Praline White Hot Chocolate, Rocky Road Hot Chocolate and Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate! Delicious!

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I am also absolutely obsessed with eggnog! Is there a more Christmassy drink than eggnog!? If Starbucks ever stopped producing their eggnog lattes I don’t know what I would do!

Monin Syrups

If you want to make your own flavoured coffees or hot chocolates, I recommend you take a look at the collection of flavours Monin Syrups have to offer – there aren’t many flavours you can’t get hold of, and every year I struggle to choose which to buy next! I finally decided on Donut, Maple Spice, Amaretto and Macaron flavours!

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Christmas Adverts

Am I the only one who cries at these flipping adverts??? Lost Snowman looking for their partner….in tears, Buster the Boxer jumping on a trampoline…..in tears, Monty the penguin – so cute (in tears), the Sainsburys WW1 truce between British and German soldiers for Christmas Day….hysterical. I really do need to stop watching them to be fair! Anyway, every year they get more and more amazing and more and more heartfelt, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them!

Choosing the Christmas menu!

By the end of October I will have picked up several copies of each supermarkets festive food catalogues! I usually pick them up from Marks and Spencers, Asda, Tescos and Morrisons so we can all look at the full range everyone has to offer!

The family all meet in late October/early November to decide what food we are going to have on the days we are all going to be together (usually Christmas Day and Boxing Day or both). Everyone in my family has different tastes so it is quite difficult to choose things which most people will like!

You can read more about what is on the Christmas menu this year in my “what’s on the menu this Christmas” blog which is published on the 23rd December, but these will give you an idea…

Christmas Jumpers

Since Christmas jumpers came back into fashion a couple of years ago (the cheesier the better it seems!) I somehow now have an array of seasonal knitwear! It would seem I am a bit addicted, as every year they bring out better and sillier designs! Hubby had a jumper last year with actual flashing lights on! Amazing!

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Visits to the Cinema

What better way to get into the seasonal spirit than by visiting the cinema to watch a Christmassy film!!! Past cinema visits have included to watch Frozen, Bad Santa, Black Christmas and Krampus (ok so a couple of them are horror films, but still Christmassy!) This year I already have my sights set on two films – Bad Mom’s Christmas and Pitch Perfect 3! Can’t wait!

If I don’t have time to get to the cinema as I am spending my free weekends wrapping up the mounds of presents, I’ll always have some classic Christmas films on in the background whilst drinking my Christmassy hot chocolate! A blog on my favourite Christmas films will follow in a few days time!

Gingerbread Making

Gingerbread Houses – I love gingerbread but only the home made stuff which is lovely and fluffy and soft – not the hard shop bought stuff that you nearly break your teeth on!

For the first few years I was buying the shop bought sets (basically it was easier because all the pieces were pre-made so I could spend more time decorating them!) but I realised after making them that they didn’t get eaten because the gingerbread was rock hard! So my mother in law bought me a cookie cutter set which meant I could make proper gingerbread and cut out the pieces I needed to make my gingerbread house!

This year I spent the afternoon making gingerbread houses with my Sister and it was absolutely brilliant! We really enjoyed ourselves and it really got us into the Christmas spirit! I hope we make it an annual event from now on!

Christmas Yankee Candles

My family and I always buy Christmas themed Yankee Candles to burn throughout the festive season and I also put one in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes for them to burn the night before the big day. Check out some of this years scents –

Nutcracker Dolls

An obsession of mine! If you are intrigued, a separate blog on these little guys is coming out in the next couple of days….

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Christmas Eve boxes

Unfortunately I am one of those annoying people who has usually bought all of the main Christmas presents and got them wrapped up before December even starts as this frees me up the time to do all of these other amazing things throughout December! I do tend to leave buying little things like stocking fillers until December though.

In December I will also start buying bits and pieces to go in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes! Hopefully you will have read my blogs I released last year on how to make them and what you can put in them – if not you can read about them here and here.

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Last year was the first time I unveiled the Christmas Eve boxes but they were so popular and loved by everyone that I promised I would make them a regular thing. The only thing is, I went a bit mental last year with it being the first year and so everyone got a lot in their boxes in addition to their normal pressies, so this year I asked everyone what their favourite bits were and I have limited it to four or five items, and a few sweets and treats.

Now December is here I will start looking for some good surprises to sneak into people’s Christmas Eve boxes to make Christmas Eve that little bit more special! This year’s box contents will be revealed in my Christmas Eve blog so watch this space!

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Post-Christmas themed parties

The family and I are all very lucky in that we all tend to get at least a week off over the Christmas period. As we are all avid Christmas fans, once Boxing Day has come and gone and we are in the few days between Christmas and New Year, the post-Christmas blues start to set in.

To cheer us up after the main event has come and gone, and to give us something else to look forward to (and OCD organiser Chloe to organise!), I usually throw a small family themed party for my Mum, my Sisters and myself. Past themes have included Harry Potter, Frozen and The Polar Express! This year’s theme is Beauty and the Beast, so I have been scouring eBay and Primark for months and months looking for ideas and treats to go in everyone’s goody bags!

Yes it’s cheesy/corny/childish but it cheers us all up and gives us the chance to spend some time together over Christmas without the added pressure of running around to check the turkey, prepare the veg and grab someone another drink. Plus my older sister Lindsey, who has autism, really looks forward to the parties (and the opportunity to get some more presents, even after Christmas is over!) I’ll do a separate blog about this year’s party so you can see what a great time we had this year!!!

Time off

What could be better than some time off work to celebrate and then rest and re-cooperate?? By the time my Christmas leave comes around I’ve usually got huge lists of bits and pieces I want to get done during my time off! The first few days off are usually Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but after clearing up after these celebrations I always feel really down that Christmas has come and gone for another year, so I like to keep myself busy!

One of the regular tasks which appears this time of year includes sorting through mine and hubby’s wardrobes – throwing out/giving to charity the old stuff, putting aside stuff which needs repairing or dry cleaning, eBay-ing any unwanted valuable stuff and making space for the new stuff we got for Christmas or during the sales! The rest of the time hubby and I spend watching DVD’s or Netflix whilst eating the left over Christmas goodies! I’m afraid the majority of this time off is spent in my pyjamas!

Anyway, this just about wraps up my plans for December! No wonder it flies by so quickly!! And no wonder they call it the most wonderful time of the year!

Enjoy everyone!

CocoChlo’s Christmas Advent Calendars – Take Two!

Ok so hopefully you have read my last blog about how to make Advent Calendars and thought it was a really good idea (hopefully!) but something which is quite complicated, time consuming and perhaps a bit on the expensive side.

The first year I made the advent calendars I made three – one for each of my two Sisters and one for myself – I had hoped to make more but the time and money involved in making them meant I had left it too late for that year.

The following year I decided to make a further three – one for hubby, one for my brother in law and one for my Mum, so all six of us had our own calendars.

I wanted the second batch of calendars to be different from the first (and hopefully more simple to make!) so I set about creating a new design.

Just something to note – some of the pictures in this blog show the original base size, which we decided to cut down after a few days because the calendars were too difficult to move and wouldn’t fit through our loft hatch when they needed to be put away!!! Of course you can have the bases bigger if you want.

The base sizes eventually measured 60cm long by 35cm wide and were again cut out of 2cm thick MDF which I bought from B&Q. I bought a sample size of black paint to paint each of the bases, but of course you can use any colour you want.

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I ordered several small sized Christmas trees from eBay (I think the trees were three foot high). The trees arrived and had a tripod style base which you put the metal rod in to stand them up. The original plan was to fix the tripod stand to the wooden base and then to cover the tripod bit with some Christmassy material (known elsewhere as a “tree skirt”, not joking!)

IMG_7462I tried to glue the tripod plastic base to the rectangle wooden base but this didn’t work very well as not much of the material was flat to the base to be able to glue it. To make matters worse, when I thought I had finished making the trees and filled the advent boxes and started hanging them on the tree, the metal pole acting as the trunk of the tree started to bow under the weight! I hadn’t even put all the advent boxes on so I knew I needed a plan B!

My Mum had recently had a log burner installed in her home so had a huge pile of pre-cut logs which were ready to go onto the fire. I stole a few of these logs and hubby drilled a hole in the centre of the log and we forced the metal rod “trunk” of the tree as far down as possible and then sealed it with very strong glue (we used Gorilla glue but for gods sake be careful with this stuff, especially if you have kids around!) The log we used was around 23cm in height, just to give you some idea.

This seemed to do the trick and held the weight of the Christmas tree just fine so I nailed and glued the log to the black base and let it dry for at least 24 hours.

After that comes the fun bit! The decorating!

To decorate the calendars I got most of my bits and pieces on eBay – these are the items I ordered but of course you can decorate yours however you want –

  • Glitter star toppers in red, gold and silver (£5.99 each)
  • Wooden names for the bases (the prices of these depend on how many letters each name has, for example, £3.00 for five letters and £4.20 for seven letters)
  • Red, gold and silver glitter paints (£5.69 each pot)
  • Red, gold and silver glitter LED candles (£5.99 for a pack of 12 in one colour)
  • Velcro dots to attach the LED candles to the felt (£3.65 a pack)
  • Pack of 25 Advent Boxes (£10 from Next)
  • A set of two glitter reindeers in gold, silver and red (£4.00 for the pair)

I painted the wooden names with the glitter paint first of all – a word of warning, you may want to put an undercoat of a matching or contrasting colour underneath your glitter paint as it took many many layers before it started to build up the glitter colour. To be honest, even after several coats, I still wasn’t particularly happy with the colour and amount of glitter, particularly as this paint is quite expensive.

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Once you have painted the name plaque, glue it onto the base alongside your other decorations like your reindeer and LED candles.

I also bought a pack of battery operated fairy lights for £1 from the Poundshop and wrapped them round the tree to make it look a bit more authentic!

Then fill your advent boxes with whatever you fancy (see below for some ideas!) and then hang on your tree ready to be found!!!

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CocoChlo’s Christmas Advent Calendars – Take One!

My love for Christmas goes as far back as I can remember!

I have amazing memories of Christmas from when I was younger, we always made such an effort in our house to enjoy and celebrate the festive season. One of my favourite memories were the giant Christmas advent calendars that my Dad made for me and my two Sisters.

We had a calendar each and they consisted of sections of round plastic tubes which had been cut to size and glued on top of one another into the shape of a Christmas tree. Once the sections were filled with treats my Dad would cut out circles on different coloured paper and number them one to twenty-five and then stick the circles onto the pieces of pipe so we would have to break through the paper to get our presents. We had these calendars for years until eventually they fell to bits and my Sisters and I started going through the awkward teenage years where basically we thought everything like this was childish and stupid, so Mum gave up on the idea for a while.

A few years ago my Sisters, my Mum and I were talking about the Advent Calendars and I thought it would be great to make some new ones for the three of us, just like we had when we were younger. Although I wanted the idea to be similar, I wanted a new design which was better than the last ones!

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My quest for materials began at B&Q which is usually my go-to place for materials for projects like this! To start off making your Advent Calendars you need the following materials –

  • Three lengths of square brown guttering 6.5cm wide (these were £6.28 each)
  • A sheet of MDF wood for the bases and the sides 2cm/20mm thick (£15.43 for the sheet)
  • Black paint to paint the calendar bases (I didn’t need a lot of this paint so I bought three sample sized pots which were £3.10 in total).
  • Green “tree” coloured paint – you need quite a bit of this so I bought a 1 litre tub as I wanted to do a couple of coats.
  • Felt numbers 1 to 25 (£3.75 per pack)
  • Felt and fabric glue (I bought two as I knew I would need a lot)
  • Brown felt

To make up the Advent Calendars you need to –

  • Cut your base – we cut ours 60cm long and 35cm wide. I’m lucky enough to have a husband as a carpenter so the cutting stages were relatively straight forward because we had the right tools. If you don’t have the right tools it is best to make a note of all the sizes of cuts you need and when you buy the MDF, request that the store cuts it into the sizes you require – I know that B&Q definitely offer this service and this will save you a great deal of time later on.
  • Paint your base black (or whatever colour you have chosen)

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  • Cut your sides – one will need to be slightly longer than the other so that they join at the top (think ceiling coving joints!). The sides are 80cm long and 7cm wide.
  • Cut the back triangle – this is one of the trickiest parts as if this doesn’t measure correctly, the sides won’t fit properly. The triangle is 54cm along the base and is 80cm high where the two angles reach the point.
  • Glue or nail the sides to the back panel – if you are choosing glue you will need very strong glue for this purpose – again I was lucky enough to have a husband with a nail gun for this part!
  • Once the sides and back are securely together (or the glue is dried), paint the sides and back panel green. They may need a couple of coats, but this all depends on the type of paint you have bought (matt or silk etc) and of course the shade you are painting it.

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  • Once the bases, backs and sides have all been painted and are completely dry (I would probably leave for 24 hours to be sure), you need to attach the base to the side and back panels. I’m afraid you will have to use nails for this part of the process, as any glue would probably not be strong enough to hold the weight.
  • The next stage is to make up the little advent boxes to fit inside the “tree”. Cut up the brown drainpipe into twenty-five 6.5cm by 6.5cm squares – you may have some casualties during this stage as unfortunately the plastic does have a tendency to crack! Try and go as carefully as you can – you should have some drainpipe left over in case of any mishaps! The edges may be sharp so you might need to rub them down with sandpaper before you go any further – annoying and time consuming I know but you don’t want sharp edges where little hands will be poking about!

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  • Once you have twenty-five perfectly cut squares – arrange the squares together in the following formations (bottom to top)
  • A row of five
  • A row of five
  • A row of four
  • A row of four
  • A row of three
  • A row of two
  • A row of two
  • A single cube
  • A single cube
  • Once you have arranged them they should stack in your advent calendar like this:

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  • Once you have arranged them, glue them into rows side by side (do not glue them on top of one another just yet!)
  • Once the squares are in this order, cut the brown felt to size and glue the felt across the tops of the rows of squares and allow “flaps” of felt to fall over the front of the cubes (to cover up whatever little surprises will be placed inside!)
  • Once all the rows or single squares have been covered in felt, glue the rows of cubes on top of one another to form your pyramid shape.
  • Once the pyramid of boxes has had the felt added and is completely dry, you can add the felt numbers to the calendar flaps using fabric glue. We did ours in order starting at the bottom left and working our way up to the top in a snake like fashion, but of course you can dot your numbers anywhere you like. At the end they should look something like this –

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Once the numbers are dry, glue your pyramid into your advent calendar frame.

The hardest bits are now over, now for the fun bit which is decorating your calendars!

To decorate the calendars I got all my bits and pieces on eBay – these are the items I ordered but of course you can decorate yours however you want –

  • Glitter star tree toppers in red, gold and silver (£5.99 each)
  • Wooden names for the bases (the prices of these depend on how many letters each name has, for example, £3.00 for five letters and £4.20 for seven letters)
  • Red, gold and silver glitter paints (£5.69 each pot)
  • Red, gold and silver glitter LED candles (£5.99 for a pack of 12 in one colour)
  • A pack of plain wooden snowflakes in various sizes for the sides of the calendars (£7.65 for a pack of 60).
  • Velcro dots to attach the LED candles to the felt (£3.65 a pack)
  • A set of two glitter reindeers in gold, silver and red (£4.00 for the pair)

I painted the wooden names and wooden snowflakes with the glitter paint first of all – a word of warning, you may want to put an undercoat of a matching or contrasting colour underneath your glitter paint as it took many, many layers before it started to build up the glitter colour. To be honest, even after several coats, I still wasn’t particularly happy with the colour and amount of glitter which ended up on the wood, particularly as this paint is quite expensive.

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I then glued the wooden names to the bases and the snowflakes down the side of each tree.

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I got these packs of LED candles and attached a candle to each space on top of the rows of the pyramid, like so:

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You can glue the LED candles on if it is easier – I bought a set of little velcro dots and attached one onto the bottom of the candle and one onto the felt so they are attached securely but you can still take them off and on. If you do glue the candles on, remember you won’t be able to switch them on and off as the on/off button is on the bottom!

I glued my two reindeers on the base of the calendar and cut a V shape into the base of the star tree topper so it slotted onto the point of the calendar and could be glued in place.

Then after all this I began buying all the bits and pieces to go in them! Chocolates, Sweets, Mini Games, Bubbles, Christmas Tree Decorations, Snowglobes and Treasure Hunt clues – you name it, we have probably had it as one of our Advent Calendar presents! Here’s a few ideas – you can get treats like these from all major supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks and Spencer’s and Tescos:

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog about my Advent Calendars, this was the first design I did – keep an eye out for the second design I created which is far easier to put together if you don’t have a lot of the appropriate tools to hand!

Happy Advent Calendar planning!!!

 

 

The Naked Marshmallow Company

If you are looking for a lovely Winter treat then check out this amazing idea!

I love all the American programmes which show everyone sitting round the camp fire toasting marshmallows and making S’mores, but unfortunately, living in the UK with such unpredictable weather all year round, its a risk trying to partake in marshmallow toasting even in the Summer!

Anyway, now you can toast marshmallows all year round with this amazing Marshmallow Toasting Kit from The Naked Marshmallow Company!

The kit costs £19 and includes any two packs of their gourmet marshmallows, with each pack containing eight marshmallows.

You can choose from five different flavours – Vanilla Bean, Candy Floss, Strawberry Cream, Chocolate Orange and Salted Caramel (if you want to order additional flavours you can add more boxes at £4.25 each). They have even got a Christmas range of flavours out at the moment too, such as Gingerbread and Candy Cane!

The marshmallows are made in the UK and are made from fair-trade sugar and have no artificial colours or flavours in them.

We tried four out of the five regular flavours (no-one likes chocolate orange in our family unfortunately!) and all of them were AMAZING! I have honestly never tasted more delicious marshmallows, even those I’ve bought from food festivals and markets!

Each kit comes with eight bamboo sticks and a non-toxic, odourless, smokeless gel burner which will burn constantly for two hours. If you don’t burn it all at once you can simply pop the lid back on to extinguish the flame and then use again whenever you fancy!

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The kit also comes in a gift box with a little printed guide on “how to toast the perfect marshmallow”, so is ideal to give as a present – if you are giving as gifts you can pay an additional £2 to have the burner label personalised as well!

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My favourite flavour was the candy floss one (closely followed by the salted caramel!) but the vanilla bean and strawberry cream were favoured by other guests so the flavours obviously cater for all different tastes too!

Even better, when I placed my order, standard delivery was free! I’ve gone to checkout on several online bakeries and food websites to find that the delivery costs are extortionate, so this was a real added bonus!

The family and I really enjoyed using the kit and I would definitely buy it again, and buy it for family and friends as presents – it’s certainly something a little bit different!

Just don’t forget to put your burner on a heat-proof surface! The last thing you want is to leave burn marks on your furniture!

If you want to take the toasting marshmallows kit one stage further, you can also order their marshmallow S’more’s kit! The kit contains eight marshmallows, eight Graham Crackers, three Hershey chocolate bars and of course your gel burner, eight bamboo sticks and a guide on how to make the perfect S’more!

I’ll definitely have to try this kit next time I put an order in!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I assume you all did most of your celebrating over the weekend seeing as Halloween awkwardly falls on a Tuesday this year!

We didn’t celebrate this year as much as we normally do – we are all packed up and ready to move house! We were hoping to be moved out well in advance of Halloween but unfortunately everything (including all my Halloween decor!) is still packed away in boxes eagerly awaiting our moving date….

I found it really depressing that we couldn’t decorate or throw a big party like we normally do every year, but I still had a great time having a small Halloween celebration with my Mum and Sister’s over the weekend!

We carved pumpkins and made apple tea light candles which was really messy but good fun! I made a puking pumpkin which Mum wasn’t very happy with!! Sorry Mum!

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We then watched Hocus Pocus! What a brilliant family Halloween film!

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Whilst we were watching Hocus Locus we toasted marshmallows! Yes, indoors! I bought us this amazing toasting marshmallow kit from the Naked Marshmallow Company! I’m not going to talk too much about it or post too many photos because I think a separate blog is in order for this brilliant kit! Watch this space….

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I also did my yearly goody bags for family and friends and treated myself to some fantastic Halloween treats!

The Pumpkin and Frankenstein goody bags were from good old Marks and Spencer’s! They were also in the three for two offer! Bonus!

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Our family love Yankee Candles so it would have been wrong not to include some lovely autumnal scents in this years goody bags! The scents I used this year were Crackling Wood Fire, Autumn Night and Fireside Treats! Perfect to light on a cold, wet autumnal evening! The Autumn Night one is burning away on the hall shelf as I write this.

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I used good old Marks and Spencer’s again for the Goody Bag sweets – check out these Percy Pumpkins, Freaky Frogs, Zombie Owls and Scary Spiders!

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For the adult recipients I thought these Crystal Skull Vodkas were brilliant! You can get them in several places but the cheapest place I found them were from the Drink Shop as they were in the sale!

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The vodka is made by Dan Ackroyd and contains no additives, sugar, or citrus oils – the emphasis on this product is its purity. Was I sold by this? Not really – I literally bought them because they are in an amazing skull bottle which is perfect for Halloween!

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These little guys have been in our Halloween gift bags for as long as I can remember!

Plus I also found these great chocolate lollipops from Marks and Spencer’s (again on the three for two offer).

I got these amazing cake pops and other treats from Popadoodledo! They were so well made and so tasty I think I will do a separate blog on this brilliant company too! I can’t wait for her Christmas range to come out!

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Check out these white chocolate fingers with white chocolate “blood dip”! Brilliant!

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and these little guys, believe it or not, are mini Oreos covered in white chocolate!

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I also treated myself to these extra special treats from The Whimsical Cake Company through Not On The High Street, aren’t they stunning? Almost too good too eat…. almost.

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Some lucky people had some extra special chocolate from Hotel Chocolat because they will only eat dark chocolate (you know who you are!)

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I especially loved this Hotel Chocolat Yumpkin! Tasty dark chocolate and vegan friendly!

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How cute are these tiddly little dark chocolate vampires??

Plus some lucky recipients also got some Halloween themed Lush Cosmetics products! You can read more about these in my “A Lush Halloween” blog which was published on Sunday!

So as you can see we were all a little bit spoilt over the Halloween weekend! Sort of makes up for not being able to decorate the house properly and have a big party, but not quite!

We should be in our new house for next Halloween so I’ll have to push the boat out on next years party instead! I’m thinking something along the lines of this amazing house I found on Pinterest

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Not sure we would get many lovely Trick or Treaters though!

 

Halloween in the Evans’ house!

Wow I really love the autumnal season! Yes the days get cooler but you still have the occasional bright sunny day with that fresh autumnal breeze, ideal for going for long walks with the dogs, and the best part of autumn of course, has to be Halloween!

Now I don’t ever need an excuse to have a party and to celebrate with friends and family, so needless to say, Halloween is always a big event in the Evans’ household! The celebrations usually continue over the entire Halloween weekend, with the first event being a good old trip to the cinema on the Friday evening of Halloween weekend to watch the latest scary horror film! Past films include Insidious and Paranormal Activity – several evenings of no sleep and jumping at every sound the house makes usually follow this!

On the Saturday of Halloween weekend I spend the day decorating the house with all the spooky decs! I have a LOT because every year I come across more decorations I like and I just can’t resist adding them to my collection!

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The real focus of the decorating is the dinner table! Sometimes I host three course dinner parties and other years I just set the table up with buffet food so people can help themselves if we have a lot of party guests!

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Every year I also make up goody bags for family and party guests – these boxes I came across on eBay are brilliant! I bought a load in orange and black and just printed off some spooky pictures, add the persons name and they are ready to be filled with sweets and treats!

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Aside from sweets, I also buy other bits and pieces to go with the goody bags, such as these brilliant spooky balloons (99p each from Clinton Cards) and these great orange flowers complete with Scary witch (from Morrisons).

You can read about what appeared in this years goody bags in my Happy Halloween blog which is being published on Tuesday! I can’t give the game away before everyone has had theirs and ruin the surprise!

If we are having guests over for Halloween parties we usually insist on them wearing Halloween outfits! Some of the outfits we’ve seen over the years have been absolutely amazing! So much time, effort and money has gone into them – so most years I will award a trophy to the best dressed guest! Check out some of these scary characters!

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To keep the guests entertained we usually do a few games and activities – we tried apple bobbing one year – it didn’t end well so we scrapped that! Yearly activities usually now include pumpkin carving and the standard party drinking games!

After our normal yearly Halloween parties, most of the day after is spent clearing up and rescuing the earrings out of the toilet and trying to get the red wine out of the curtains (yes – really!!) but we usually put aside some time to finish off our Halloween weekend with something spooky such as a visit to Frightmare. Frightmare takes place a few miles away and has become so popular over the last few years that the tickets sell out within hours for some of the most popular dates! Each year is a different theme and each ticket gets you entry to five different attractions including the Haunted Hayride, Séance, the Offering, and Caged!

I highly recommend getting tickets if you can – it’s a brilliant event which is really well planned and of course is absolutely terrifying! If you are a bit nervous and think you might not be able to take part in the full experience, they also offer Slightmare, which is a toned down version of the main event!

Have a great Halloween weekend everyone!!!

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Halloween Eats!

Hooray! It’s finally Halloween weekend! I’ve got some great things planned for this weekend but it wouldn’t be a real Halloween celebration without my favourite Halloween recipes I make year after year!

Ghost Cakes

All you need for these is your normal cupcake recipe (vanilla, chocolate, whatever you fancy) and a set of dariole moulds (usually sold in a set of six). Dariole moulds are quite difficult to get hold of in everyday shops, so try somewhere like eBay or Lakeland.

Make sure the dariole moulds are greased and lined and fill to about two-thirds full to allow the cakes space to rise. Once the cakes are cooked, allow them to cool and then carefully remove from the moulds (you might need to cut a bit off the base so that the cakes can stand upright) then all you need to do is roll out some pre-made royal icing and fold it over the top of the cakes so that it looks ghost-like! Add two raisins or dots of black icing for the eyes and voila!

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Welsh-rarebit Ghosts

These are so easy!

Just buy yourself a ghost-shaped cookie cutter and cut ghost shapes out of any type of bread. In a saucepan add 225g of strong cheddar cheese, 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 2 teaspoons of plain flour and cook over a low heat until melted. At this point you can even add a couple of tablespoons of your favourite beer if you like! Stir the ingredients until they become paste-like.

Toast the one side of the bread, then spread the rarebit over the non-toasted side and brown off under the grill. Only down-side to these are they do need eating straight away after they have been served, but they go down brilliantly as a drunken party goers midnight snack! Delicious!

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Chocolate Frogs

Easy-peasy! Buy the mould from Ebay, choose what chocolate you want to turn into frogs (I use dark chocolate, milk chocolate and cookies and cream chocolate), melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave (do 30 seconds then stir and repeat until all the chocolate is melted) and then pour into the moulds and leave to set.

Hint: do these a couple of days in advance a few at a time, don’t rush them and don’t put them into the fridge to get them to set – changing the temperature too quickly will make the chocolate go white and although it doesn’t do you any harm to eat, it doesn’t look very appetising and your frogs will look mouldy!

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Shattered Glass Cupcakes

These are really popular at my parties, people always comment at how great they look!

Take your normal cupcake recipe, again any flavour you like, and make the cupcakes as normal. When you go to ice the cakes, use a plain vanilla buttercream or cream cheese as these look the most effective.

A couple of hours before the guests are due to arrive, begin making the shattered glass. The glass needs to be made last minute as when it is left on the cakes for long periods of time, the glass begins to melt and doesn’t look anywhere near as effective. The recipe for making the glass is basically the same as for making caramel, you just don’t leave it cooking as long so the liquid stays clear.

Put 275g of granulated sugar and 175ml of water in a small saucepan with high sides and bring to the boil whilst stirring to make sure all the sugar has dissolved (keep kids well away from this!). Reduce the heat to medium/high and leave to cook until the mixture starts to go golden brown around the edges. This can take a while – around 15 to 20 minutes but keep an eye on it at all times! As soon as this happens, remove the mixture from the heat and pour onto a rimmed baking sheet, tilting the baking sheet slightly as you pour so it spreads evenly and makes a thin layer. Be REALLY careful at this stage – this mixture is incredibly hot!!

Let the mixture cool so it hardens (around 30 minutes). Once the mixture has set, twist the baking sheet slightly and hit the mixture with a rolling pin to crack it like glass (again be careful, these shards can be as sharp as glass) and start adding the shards to the cupcakes.

To finish off, drizzle a blood like mixture over the top of the cupcakes (I make runny icing using royal icing sugar, water and red food colouring, but you can also use jam or cherry preserves etc – I even found pre-made red runny icing in the supermarket last year).

Serve up the cupcakes straight away and watch jaws drop! Oh and teeth break if they don’t go steady on the hardened sugar!

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Mummy Hotdogs

Love these! I could eat the whole lot!

Again so simple to make! Buy a tin of hotdogs, buy a pre-made pack of croissant dough, unroll the dough and cut into thin slices to use as the “bandages”, wrap the dough around the hotdogs to look like mummys and put them in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the dough starts going golden brown and the hotdogs are cooked. For the eyes, add two dots of mustard! Really tasty!

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Rice Krispie Pumpkins

I’ve only made these once and they didn’t turn out quite as expected (I didn’t use enough orange food colouring!) but again they are very easy to make and are quite effective! Make up your normal batch of Rice Krispie cakes, add orange food colouring, shape into a ball shape and decorate the eyes, nose, mouth and stalks with black and green ready rolled icing.

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Witches Fingers

There are a couple of recipes for Witches Fingers on the internet – both sweet (Almond Witches Fingers) and savoury (Cheesy Witches Fingers). Both are really effective and very tasty!

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Almond Witches Fingers

Peanut Butter Eyeballs

These are quite easy to make but take bloody ages to decorate so be warned!!! I took a batch of them into work for my work colleagues a couple of years ago and they went down really well though! The recipe does make a lot, which is probably why they take so long to decorate! Find the recipe here.
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I hope this has given you some ideas of some easy but effective Halloween treats! I’m off to start working my way through the bowl of sweets we put aside for the trick or treaters!

Have a great Halloween weekend!

UncommonGoods.Com – an unusual gift givers delight!

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My favourite item on the site so far – this set of four Agate Coasters – beautiful!

For those organised people who are already thinking about this year’s Christmas gifts – if you are stuck for ideas or fancy something really different this year then I have got a brilliant website for you!

I start my Christmas shopping really early, not just because I have so many people to buy for, but because I am not one of those people who leaves it until the last minute and then hits the stores with a massive list and basically grabs whatever is left on the shelves! I like to give each present I buy some significant thought to ensure I am buying something the person will love and either use regularly or treasure forever!

As the years go on it is becoming harder and harder to find such unusual gifts for people. Trends change really quickly and as soon as someone has introduces a great idea, it is not long afterwards that the market becomes flooded with copycat ideas and everyone ends up with one of these latest gifts or gadgets under the tree.

This is where Uncommon Goods comes in!

The website is an American website but they make it incredibly easy to shop online from the UK. All prices are quoted in Pounds sterling and all the duties and taxes are calculated at the checkout – so you know exactly how much something is going to cost and aren’t left with any outstanding fees surprises when the item is delivered! Uncommon Goods also keep the international shipping rates as low as possible so you aren’t stung on delivery costs which, on some websites I’ve used, end up costing more than the item itself!

I’ve spent lots of time searching through this brilliant website – there are hundreds and hundreds of amazing gifts to choose from, it was really hard to whittle it down to just a few but here are some of my favourites from the following Uncommon Goods collections:

Perfect Christmas gifts for her

I love this necklace which reads “do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and make a trail” because I first came across this quote on a plaque in Las Vegas at the New York New York hotel in 2009 – I loved it then and I’m so pleased I came across this!

Travel Stub Diary – ideal for storing tickets, maps, postcodes and any other memorabilia you’ve collected from those special places you’ve visited.

I LOVE snow globes – how beautiful is this cherry blossom snow globe?! My sister adores cherry blossom so she might find one of these hiding under the Christmas tree this year!

Bath salts are always a firm favourite – I love these Chakra bath salts in these bright cheerful colours!

How elegant is this wine tasting flight? Ideal for a girls night in to give guests the opportunity to sample different wines!

I’m not normally a fan of mugs but how cute are these little owl mugs?? I hosted a Harry Potter themed party recently – these would have been ideal for it!

Check out this amazing Elwood unicorn mug! There’s also a matching bowl! You can’t go too far wrong with anything unicorn themed as a present at the moment!

This woven wine tote with glasses is a great idea for picnics or even when just sitting in the garden – no more knocked or kicked over wine glasses when they are put safely back in this woven tote!

These cocoa butter truffles bathtub soaks look good enough to eat but you will have to settle with using them in a nice hot bath instead! Ideal for relaxing with during those cold winter months!

I love this set of three loofah scrubbers! The embedded loofah is made of dried gourd which is a natural skin polisher.

Perfect Christmas gifts for him

Check out this whiskey wedge! Simply make the “ice slope” from the mould to keep drinks cold but with minimal dilution.

This bottle loft is brilliant and definitely something hubby will be adding to the Christmas list! It looks really impressive and saves space too!

My father in law loves guitars and has built up quite a collection over the years so these coin guitar picks and guitar themed socks will probably end up in his stocking this Christmas!

Carrying on with the music theme – these two are great for music lovers! Check out the record clock and record bowls! There’s also a matching doormat if you’d prefer…

If you want to avoid having ice in your drinks altogether then these nautical whiskey stones are brilliant! Simply freeze them and add them to your drinks to keep them cool and prevent watered down drinks.

How unusual is this stone drinks dispenser?? I’ve never seen anything like it before! Probably why it appears on the UncommonGoods website though!

If food is more of a perfect gift for the man in your life, how about this brilliant beer jelly? It comes in a set of four preserves which are infused with craft beers!

Or these boozy Jonboy caramels? A set of three in absinthe, whiskey and fleur de sel flavours!

Perfect Christmas gifts for Mum

I was really looking forward to rifling through this section of the website because I love choosing special presents for my Mum!

I really love these birthstone wishing balls – each one comes with 52 slips of paper for you to write down your wishes, memories or accomplishments every week of the year! Coil them up and put them in the tiny hole near the base and they become a permanent part of the display! Stunning!

Continuing with the birthstone theme (this features a lot in my choices I’ve noticed!) is the birthstone jewellery dish – ideal for Mum’s dressing table!

I also love this Nordic tea light trough – really cosy looking and relaxing!

I love this molten sculptural bowl – probably more for myself than for someone else! The base is the root of a gamal tree and it can be used as anything from a vase to an unusual wine decanter. Absolutely beautiful and utterly striking.

I thought these wine cork candles were a brilliant idea! Really effective, they come in a pack of 12 to keep you going for a while.

How unusual is this real sugar maple leaf night light?? It is preserved in 24 karat antique gold so it retains its delicate shape and veins, and is stunning as an ornament in the day and a night light in the evening.

Sorry… birthstone related gifts again! But believe it or not these are SOAPS! Aren’t they great? They are all handmade and look just like gemstones, I would like one of each in my stocking please Santa!

My Mum loves her herb garden, and so these brass herb plant markers are a perfect present for her!

Or how about this slow brew iced tea maker?! A great idea if your Mum enjoys her iced teas whilst working in the garden!

 

If this hasn’t been enough to convince you, UncommonGoods also have a really admirable mission statement, and are working hard to make sustainability a key part of their business. They are constantly working to make UncommonGoods more environmentally friendly and more socially responsible.

Here are just some things UncommonGoods focus on as part of the everyday running of the business:

Handmade, Recycled and Organic Products –

“We’re committed to offering you a creative and exciting merchandise assortment and are working with our suppliers – from artists to small manufacturers – to make their products in a more socially and environmentally responsible manner. Since our founding, we’ve featured products that contain recycled components and have not sold products containing leather, feathers or fur – we’re committed to selling products that do no harm to people or animals.”

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

“We understand that by producing a catalog we use the earth’s resources. We try our best to minimize that impact by shifting more business online, limiting how many catalogs we mail, and printing our catalogs on either recycled paper (virtually all of which is from 30% post-consumer waste) or paper sourced from FSC certified forests (which are harvested in a sustainable manner).”

Better To Give

“Giving back is important to us and we want to share this passion with our customers. That’s why we created the Better to Give Program in 2001, which allows you to select a non-profit organization to receive a $1 donation from us at checkout. UncommonGoods has donated over $1,000,000 since we created this program.” Learn more about this here

B Corporation

“UncommonGoods is proud to be a founding member of B Corporation, an organization created to help customers understand the social and environmental impact of their purchases. The B seal means that a company has met the standards outlined in a comprehensive screening questionnaire, which evaluates a company on issues ranging from providing a living wage, to lessening their impact on the environment, to giving back to the community.”

So as  you can see, they are a wonderful company to purchase from!

Happy shopping – I’m sure you will find some truly amazing gifts for your loved ones from UncommonGoods! I would love to hear from you about your fantastic finds! Don’t forget to sign up to their website – secret sales are available to their email subscribers only!

A fly-by trip to Florence

We visited Florence as part of our grand tour of Italy and to be honest it was the place I was looking forward to visiting least, as I was really excited about finally getting to visit Rome and Venice. It turns out I was completely blown away by this beautiful place and it ended up being my favourite out of all the places we visited in Italy during our trip!

We did a walking tour of the centre of Florence with a local guide who was brilliant – he really enjoyed talking to us about his amazing city and was so knowledgeable. Our walking tour around Florence included stops at these wonderful places:

The Church of Santa Croce

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The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the burial place of some of the most famous Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, and it is therefore also known as the “Temple of the Italian Glories.”

The construction of the current church, to replace an older building, started on 12 May 1294. The Basilica became popular with Florentines and it became common practice for greatly honoured Florentines to be buried or commemorated there. As time progressed, space was also given to other notable Italians from elsewhere. For 500 years, monuments were erected in the church including those to:

  • Leonardo Bruni (15th-century chancellor of the Republic, scholar and historian)
  • Dante (buried in Ravenna)
  • Galileo Galilei
  • Giovanni Gentile (20th-century philosopher)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli by Innocenzo Spinazzi
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The tomb of Galileo
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The tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci

You can read more details about the Church of Santa Croce here.

Outside the Church of Santa Croce you will find the statue of Dante. Dante was a major Italian poet of the late Middle Ages and the statue was erected in 1865 to celebrate the 600 anniversary of his birth. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. 

You can read more about Dante and his work Divine Comedy here and here.

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Dante Museum

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The Casa di Dante is a three floor museum which shows the life and works of the great Italian poet. The original building was rebuilt in the first decade of the twentieth century right where the family homes once stood and where in 1265 Dante was born.

The First Floor covers the life of Dante and medieval Florence, the Second Floor continues with the life of Dante and his exile and the Third Floor covers the Divine Comedy, including original editions of this amazing work.

It’s a very interesting museum, and the entrance fee is only €4 per person!

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)

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I will always remember the first moment I saw Florence Cathedral and Bell Tower. We had walked through the winding streets of Florence with our local tour guide learning about the city’s history when we turned a corner and walked into an open area with this beautiful building right in front of us with the sun beaming down on it. I remember gasping aloud and turning to my Mum who was a few paces behind me and saying “oh my god!” She looked at me for a second and then walked forward into the view of the cathedral and then said exactly the same thing! The Duomo Cathedral and Bell Tower along with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are probably the most breath taking buildings I have encountered on my travels!

The camera I had with me for this trip was rubbish but believe me, I think even photographs taken with a top of the range camera would not do this building justice! It has to be seen to be believed!

The exterior of the Cathedral is covered with marble bands in various shades of green and pink and bordered by white. These marble bands had to repeat the already existing bands on the walls of the earlier adjacent baptistery the Battistero di San Giovanni and Giotto’s Bell Tower.

The Cathedral was the location of the murder of Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici. He was assassinated on Sunday, 26 April 1478 by Francesco de’ Pazzi and Bernardo Baroncelli as part of the Pazzi conspiracy (a plot by members of the Pazzi family and others to displace the de’ Medici family as rulers of Renaissance Florence).

Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower)

Giotto’s Campanile is a free-standing Bell Tower that stands next to the Cathedral and the Baptistry of St. John. The structure is square with 14.45 metre sides and it is 84.7 metres tall. You can read more about the Bell Tower here.

The Dome

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The Cathedral’s dome remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This huge piece of work (3,600 metres² of painted surface) was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and wouldn’t finish until 1579. 

The Baptistry (Battistero di San Giovanni)

The Florence Baptistry (also known as the Baptistry of Saint John), is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128. The baptistry is an octagon shape, which was a common shape for baptistries since early Christian times. The number eight is a symbol of regeneration in Christianity, signifying the six days of creation, the Day of Rest, and a day of re-creation through the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of incredible bronze doors! The east doors were dubbed by Michelangelo the “Gates of Paradise.” These doors consist of 28 panels, with the twenty top panels depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The eight lower panels depict the eight virtues of hope, faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence. They are really beautiful but you can only get so close due to the gates – I’m sure up close the detail on them would be all the more incredible.

Dante and many other notable Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptised in this baptistry.

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The Academia Museum (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze)

The Gallery of the Academy of Florence, is an art museum which is most well known for being the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. The Academia has housed the original sculpture since 1873. It also holds other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings.

I really wanted to visit the museum but we were very rushed for time and the queues to the museum were very long so we didn’t get the chance to visit. The museum itself is very vast and so we would have needed a good few hours to get round and see everything inside. Very disappointing but a good reason to go back again one day!

There were, however, some great statues outside the museum which we thoroughly enjoyed looking at, including a replica of the statue of David, and the Fountains of Neptune.

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Replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David
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The Fountains of Neptune

Florence is such a beautiful place full of fascinating history and is definitely somewhere I would love to re-visit to spend more time here. You could spend days just visiting the fantastic museums and even more time absorbing all the wonderful culture and friendly and relaxed atmosphere! It is worth going just to see the incredible Cathedral and Bell Tower, if Florence is not already on your bucket list then I highly recommend adding it – and placing it somewhere near the top!

When in Rome…

I have always wanted to visit Rome, it is definitely another place I need to re-visit so I can spend more time exploring (and to take better quality photos than the last time I went!)

It was only when I was researching Rome to write my blog that I realised how much I had missed during my short trip. I think, unlike other places in Italy like Venice and Florence, it is partly due to the fact that many of the attractions are quite a distance apart, and not within walking distance of each other. Here’s some of the amazing places I visited during my time in Rome –

The Colosseum

The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city. It is built of concrete and sand and is the largest amphitheatre ever built. It is certainly very impressive to look at! Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under his successor, Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).

The Colosseum is estimated to be able to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was originally used for gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles, however it ceased to be used for entertainment purposes during the early medieval era.

It is easy to see why the Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions! 

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Arch of Constantine

I can’t believe I took such an awful photo and didn’t get in a better position so the arch wasn’t blocked by the trees! I’m so annoying sometimes!

The Arch of Constantine was built on the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, in 315 AD. The arch was built to honour the victory of Constantine following the Battle of Milvian Bridge that took place in 312 AD.

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The Domus Augustana

The Domus Augustana is the modern name for the so-called domestic wing of the Roman Palace of Domitian (92 AD) on the Palatine Hill.

This was the principal residence of the emperors in the city from the late first to the third centuries A.D.

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Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is a beautiful fountain in the Trevi district which was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing just over 26 metres high and 49 metres wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

In January 2013, it was announced that the Italian fashion company Fendi would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain – the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history. Restoration work began in June 2014 and the fountain was reopened on the evening of November 3, 2015. The restoration included the installation of more than 100 LED lights to improve the night time illumination of the fountain – the main reason I want to re-visit Rome is to see the results of these amazing restorations! I bet the night time photos of the fountains with these LED lights will be spectacular! 

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Vatican City

Vatican city (Citta del Vaticano) was built over the tomb of Saint Peter and is the smallest state in the world.

Inside the Vatican city you can find 11 Vatican Museums which include Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and Vatican Gardens – a place full of large and small gardens, fountains, a fish pool and an enclosure for rabbits!

Arguably the most important building in Vatican City is –

St Peter’s Basilica

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, more commonly known as St. Peter’s Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. 

Catholic tradition claims that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Christ’s Apostles and also the first Pope – Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. Construction of the present basilica, which replaced the Old St. Peter’s Basilica from the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

St. Peter’s is famous for its public worship functions, especially those attended by the Pope. These events have been known to attract audiences of between 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square.

St. Peter’s is one of the four churches in the world that hold the rank of Major Basilica – all four of which are in Rome!

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The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was top of my list of the places to see when we visited Rome but the queues were so long we just didn’t have the time to fit it in so I was really disappointed. I do hope to see this beautiful creation one day!

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michaelangelo between 1508 and 1512, and particularly “The Last Judgment” which was painted between 1535 and 1541.

Many people visit Rome for a long weekend but after doing all my research I don’t think a weekend is long enough to see everything that this amazing place has to offer! Definitely one for the “re-visit” list  – I’ll have to ask hubby if he fancies paying a visit!

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!

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!