Hopefully you have already read my post about The Bush Inn and their famous picnic benches! I’ve been four times this year and am already booked to go for a fifth time!
As soon as I had been for the first time back in March for one of the Spring benches, I knew I would have to come back for the Christmas edition! Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint! Here’s what they were serving for this years Christmas picnic bench;
Turkey and Stuffing roll – (hint – the Pig in Blanket is served in a little pot of gravy – pour the left over gravy into your turkey roll, delicious!)
Potato Wedges – lovely and crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle!
Pig in Blanket in a little pot of gravy;
Deep Fried Brie with Cranberry – I love cheese and it doesn’t get any better than when it is deep fried!
And for the sweets section we had;
Home made Mince Pie – Home made ones are the best!
Christmas Tree Brownie – such a simple but effective idea – i will have to try making these at home!
a Home made Gingerbread Man and a Satsuma – you can’t beat home made gingerbread! Plus you need a bit of fruit to level things out!
A Christmas Trifle – trifle isn’t a favourite of mine but this was lovely
Home Made Churros with a Toffee Sauce and a White chocolate Rocky Road Reindeer
and a lovely mini Hot Chocolate complete with marshmallows!
and a little bottle of cranberry juice to wash it all down with!
Another lovely trip here, I’ve never been disappointed! And for £17.50 per person I think the price is an absolute bargain! If you want to check them out then here is their Facebook page – you can only book the picnic benches by contacting them by telephone but be quick – the picnic benches get booked up really, really quickly!
I can’t wait for our next visit in a couple of weeks!
If like me you are always looking for some interesting and different days out, then I have just the thing for you!
I come from a family who adore animals and although I enjoy visiting farms and safari parks, sometimes they start to become very much the same old, same old.
A lot of these trips out are weather dependent and if you time it wrong and it’s a really rainy day, you don’t even get to see the animals come out of their shelters half the time, never mind actually interact with them! Mind you, who can blame them!?
I came across an advert on Facebook advertising days out with llamas through Briery Hill llamas and, as I had seen a few videos going round on social media showing just how loveable and hilarious llamas were, I thought it would be brilliant to give it a go!
I booked two spaces for my Sister and I to go during our week off together. It was £35 per person and we expected to be part of a larger group of maybe around ten people. We were over the moon when we arrived and it was just the two of us!
We had the whole place to ourselves and received full on superstar treatment!
When we arrived we had a short introduction to all of the llamas, their names, ages and characters. We could then choose a llama we wanted to take out trekking, which was a really difficult decision to make as they were all so beautiful and all so different!
After much deliberating we finally decided on taking Bowie (Bowie was pretty much a dead cert to be chosen, you can see why from his pictures!) and the snooty scamp of the group, Macchiato!
Lisa (the owner) and an employee, Jade, also offered to take Rossi out with us so that we could switch llamas half way around if we wanted to! So we had a really good trio for the day!
After getting the boys all ready to go and giving them a bit of a grooming session so that they could get to know us, we wandered off on our llama trek across the fields and through the nearby woodland.
We picked a perfect autumnal day for it, the llamas were lovely and gentle and stopped a few times for a quick snack (Mr Macciato was renamed Snacky Macky!!)
As you can see, we also had time to stop for a few photo opportunities with them which was great!
After a slow mosey on back to the farm we gathered all 14 of the llamas together so we could feed them.
Cue fourteen lovely looking llamas surrounding you with puppy dog eyes like it had been such a long time since they were last fed! It was a lovely experience.
The owner told us that they were going to soon introduce a new “llamas and lattes” experience and asked us if we would like to be guinea pigs for this new package so of course we jumped at the chance!
We were taken into the dining room of the beautiful house and served a latte with a llama shaped cocoa sprinkling and a llama shaped ginger biscuit! The perfect end to a lovely morning!
The company also offer an afternoon tea or cream tea service after you have been on your llama trek and, judging by the latte and biscuit, we had when we were there, I would imagine this would be well worth paying a visit!
Please check out their website! After visiting them I started following them on their Facebook page which you can find here. I noticed the other day they’ve added three new lovely members to the llama pack! They are called Limon, Rubio and Cirillo!
We shall have to rebook now so we can meet the new boys on the block!!
A hugely recommended day out – plus if you are looking for a great but unusual Christmas present why don’t you book someone their very own llama experience??
Dominique Ansel’s Bakery is another one of my favourite haunts when I am visiting London. I usually catch the coach up to London and luckily for me, Dominique Ansel’s is right over the road from Victoria Coach Station! It’s perfect to fall into here after a long coach journey and marvel at their latest creations!
Their menu is seasonal and often contains limited edition creations which are just out of this world! Here’s some of the tasty treats I have tried here so far;
The famous Chocolate Cookie Shot – a little edible cup made of cookie and filled with a delicious creamy Tahitian vanilla milk. They are served all day and you can buy a pack of the Cookie shots to take home with you as well.
One of the things I really wanted to try when I visited Dominique Ansel’s was their famous Blossoming Hot Chocolate. A delicious hot chocolate which is topped with a beautiful marshmallow flower which unfurls when placed on top and then slowly melts….. delicious.
If you order one of these, have your phone ready to film it, it is fascinating to watch it unfold when the staff delicately drop it into the hot chocolate. This one is a definite favourite of mine and is such a clever idea!
One of the other treats I was really looking forward to trying was one of their Frozen S’more’s.
A honey marshmallow wrapped round Tahitian vanilla ice-cream with chocolate wafer crisps, these babies are then torched and served to order and are much bigger than I had expected!
Could a Cotton Soft Cheesecake sound any more delicious? The Cotton Soft Cheesecake is a ricotta cheesecake which is slightly brûléed on top and promises to be “as refreshing as a cold glass of milk”. It is really light, so an ideal dessert if you are feeling rather full after a main course!
What is better than Mini Madeleine biscuits? Freshly piped and cooked Mini Madeleine biscuits served straight out of the oven!
Really light, fluffy and delicious, these were well worth the wait!
If you are after something savoury, Dominique Ansel also has a lovely range of small and hearty savoury treats too! Although not the prettiest to look at, their Turkey Croque Monsieur is to die for! A lovely twist on a classic roque monsieur, if you like cheesy treats then this is an absolute must try!
As you can tell I am slowly working my way through their menu, but there is still a long way to go yet! How lovely are these amazing looking seasonal treats?? You can check out their latest seasonal goodies on their menu here.
I also noticed on their website that they have recently started serving Afternoon Tea from Thursday to Sunday (12pm to 4pm) so will have to add this to my list too!
If you follow any bloggers on Instagram then I am sure this beautiful pink coloured cake shop in Belgravia needs no introduction! The most popular bloggers with the highest followings have all queued up outside this Insta-worthy building with its beautiful flowered facade at some point!
I first visited in December 2017, so not all that long ago, and have been back a further three times since then. It is certainly one of my favourite London cafes so I will always try to visit whoever I am in the big city.
I looked back on all my visits to Peggy Porschen over the past six months and realised that I have been lucky enough to have visited at different points throughout the year which meant seeing beautiful new displays and seasonal menus each time I visited.
The Valentine’s Day display was one of my favourites, the lovely big heart made of flowers over the door and the other lovely heart shaped displays inside looked really stunning.
I had seen their Valentine Day collection of cupcakes on Instagram a few days before I visited and I’d already set my sights on their limited edition “Be Mine Peggy Loves Lulu” chocolate heaven cupcake in honour of Lulu Guinness! It did not disappoint!
I wish I’d had room left over to try one of their strawberry and champagne fluttering hearts too….maybe next time!
I didn’t arrive at Peggy Porschen’s until late when I went for my Easter visit, hence the poorly lit photos – sorry! Still, it looked lovely and Spring-like, and after a long, cold, dark Winter it was perfect to look at and start thinking about the warmer days which were on their way!
As I arrived so late they had run out of some of the cupcakes I’d got my eye on but it wouldn’t be Easter without an Easter nest cake would it?!
It was at Easter I also discovered Peggy Porschen’s beautifully decorated biscuits! Aren’t they stunning?
And even better I can get these home in one piece, unlike the cupcakes (don’t risk buying them and then walk around London all day with them – trust me, I’m speaking from heart-breaking experience!) I also bought a couple for family and friends as Easter gifts which they loved!
The Summer theme was really the most impressive so far! Beautiful Wysteria and Roses and beehives everywhere! The pictures really don’t do it justice and it was the busiest I have ever seen it! At one stage there was a queue all the way up the road to be seated outside in front of this stunning display.
I couldn’t wait to visit after I saw the amazing goodies they had as part of their summer collection but unfortunately they were completely out of stock of all the lovely bee-themed biscuits I’d got my eye on! I’m pleased they have been so popular but was gutted I didn’t get to try them!
I did, however, get my hands on the wonderful Beehive cupcake I’d wanted to try, and I really can hand on heart say that this is the best cupcake I have ever eaten. It was a chocolate cake with an organic blossom honey centre and is topped with a delicious honey meringue buttercream. I wish I could have bought a box of these to bring home with me but the cakes are so delicate, there was no way they would have survived the three hour coach journey home coupled with the crazy heatwave Britain has been experiencing! I hope I get the chance to go back again whilst this is still on the menu!
Look at these other beautiful summery cupcakes they had on the menu whilst I was there; all made absolutely perfectly.
After visiting for the first time last Christmas, Peggy Porschen’s has now become one of our must visit places when my Mum, my Sister and I visit London as part of our annual Christmas shopping trip.
Peggy Porschen’s at Christmas is an absolute treasure trove of beautiful cakes, biscuits and even the most stunningly decorated gingerbread houses I have ever seen! It really was a Winter Wonderland and, seeing as Christmas is my favourite time of year, this has to be my favourite theme of all.
The Christmas cupcakes were stunning, my favourites were the Bejewelled Chocolate cupcake and the Jolly Gingerbread cupcakes. Unfortunately they didn’t look as stunning by the time I’d got them home after carrying them around in a box all day but they tasted delicious never the less!
The Gingerbread Houses were the most beautiful (and the most expensive!) I had ever seen. I wish I’d had the courage to buy one but they were so stunning I don’t think I could have brought myself to break it up and eat it!
So, hopefully you can see why it appears on many peoples bucket lists to visit when they are in London! If you can get there early first thing when it isn’t so busy, I’d highly recommend popping in – it looks far more beautiful in real life!
It wasn’t until I saw the 2008 Colin Farrell movie “In Bruges”, a black comedy about two Irish hitmen hiding out, that I had even heard of this Belgian town! I went from first hearing about it, to adding it onto my “absolutely must visit” list less than half an hour into this film…
Seeing this town used as a backdrop for this film was almost a distraction from the storyline itself. The film, as it’s title suggests, does an incredible job of showing Bruges at its best – the beautiful architecture, the stunning Belfry and the wonderful little old bridges. Soon after we had watched the film for the first time, we were booked on a long weekend to go and visit Amsterdam and Bruges! In fact, we were booked to go on this trip in the May and enjoyed it so much that we booked up to go back again only a few months later in the August!
You always have to take care when you first see a place in a film and decide it is the next place to visit after falling in love with all the Hollywood imagery and effects. You are either going to visit somewhere and find that it completely exceeds your expectations and the film represents it exactly how it is. I’ve found this to be true with Las Vegas, New York and Thailand (Thailand as in Leonardo Dicaprio in “The Beach”.) I’ve also been bitterly disappointed with some places I’ve visited after seeing them featured on the silver screen (spoiler alert – Hollywood is an absolute DUMP in real life!) so I really didn’t know what to expect on my arrival here.
I’m pleased to say that it was everything I had hoped it to be, which is obviously why I booked to go back so soon! It is a beautiful city and in my opinion completely under-rated.
Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
Grote Markt is the largest of Bruges’ two central squares. It is full of beautiful architecture and buildings which have real character – here you will find some Nineteenth century gabled buildings along three sides of the square, and the fourth side features the breathtaking Belfort. There are horse drawn carriages galore within the square if you would like a whistle stop tour of all the main sights. Perfect on those bright and sunny days but beware, they are expensive, as most touristy trips tend to be!
Whilst here we went for lunch on the square and sat outside so we had a beautiful view of the Belfry. We had been pre-warned that the food would be expensive but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. We sat in the sunshine and had a lovely lunch and some drinks whilst admiring the views and people watching, so well worth it I thought! If you are put off the prices in Grote Markt then if you walk a few streets away from the square you will find places with more reasonable prices (but not as much of a view, obviously!)
Anyway, after our pit stop and refreshment break we went on a mission to explore as much as we could during our short time here! Here are some of the main sights that Bruges has to offer;
As the Belfry is Bruges most famous landmark it would be wrong to start with anything else! It features heavily in the In Bruges film and storyline. It is a medieval tower from the 13th Century and used to house a treasury and municipal archives. The city archives were very sadly lost in a huge fire in 1280, and the tower was largely rebuilt.
The poor Belfry has actually been subject to three fires over the years, the last one was in 1741 when the wooden spire was destroyed and never replaced. If you want to go all the way to the top you can, and you would be a braver person than I am! Friendly word of advice – if you are planning on going to the top of the tower, DON’T watch the In Bruges film before you go!
There is a fee of 8 euros to climb the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower and it stands at 83 metres (or 272 feet) high! It is at the South end of the Markt (you can’t miss it!) and is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm. You don’t have to do the entire 366 steps all in one go, as on the way up to the tower you can stop at various levels to see the old bells and watch the big bell and see the carillon in action. There are a total of 47 bells which make up the carillon, and they ring every quarter of an hour.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood
Even if you don’t have time to venture inside here, it is worth visiting just to admire the dark gothic and romanesque exterior!
The basilica consists of an upper and lower chapel and is dedicated to St Basil the Great. The lower chapel was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style and the upstairs chapel was built in the Gothic style in the 16th Century and houses a venerated relic (the physical remains or personal effects of a saint which have been preserved to be used as a memorial for them). The relic is of St Basil the Great and was brought here by Count Robert II from Caesarea Mazaca in modern day Turkey, or Cappadocia, Asia Minor as it was known then.
The basilica is also famous for housing a phial said to contain a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ on it. This was rumoured to have been brought to the City by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th Century second crusade, however recent research found no evidence of the relic being in Bruges before the year 1250. The phial is made of rock crystal, there is gold thread wound around the neck and the top is sealed with red wax. It is then encased in a glass fronted gold cylinder. I wish we had taken the time to go in and see this now!
St. Salvator’s Cathedral
The cathedral is one of very few buildings in Bruges which has survived all the ages with no damage. It was originally built as a parish church and was not given cathedral status until 1834.
The newly defined cathedral underwent significant changes after that to make sure it looked more cathedral-esque, and a fortress like Romanesque style tower 99 metres high was built.
This is a really beautiful neo-gothic style building which was actually built in two stages the first stage was between 1887 and 1892 and the second stage between 1914 to 1921.
The building was originally used as a government meeting hall until 1999 and is now used mainly for exhibitions.
Church of our Lady
We didn’t have time to actually visit here properly and go inside which was a real shame. Even in the distance looking at the beautiful spire you could tell what an impressive building it is. Its tower is 122 metres in height and the building is the tallest in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the WORLD!
Even more annoying, I learned after we had got home that inside you can find Michaelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” sculpture in the transept, believed to have been the only sculpture by Michelangelo to have left Italy within his lifetime. We really should have taken the time to visit here properly!
The Old St. John’s Hospital
This, as the name suggests, is an old medieval hospital which was founded in the 12th century. It is located next to The Church of our Lady and houses some of Europes oldest surviving hospital buildings. Today part of the hospital buildings houses the popular Hans Memling museum.
If you have the time to take a boat trip during your visit to Bruges, you’ll get some spectacular views of the Church and the Old St John’s hospital en-route. The trips only cost around 10 euros and can take you to places in the town that you otherwise can’t reach! The pictures of the Church of our Lady and the Old St John’s hospital are spectacular from the water.
If you have time, also check out the well preserved old city gateways; the Kruispoort, the Gentpoort, the Smedenpoort and the Ezelpoort.
And of course, no trip to Bruges would be complete without window shopping at some of the famous Belgian chocolate on offer! Oh, and waffles, you MUST have some Belgian waffles whilst you are here!
Bruges is ever so easy to get around, the train station is only about 2km from the town centre and the train station adjoins the bus station. Local buses can take you from the train station to the town centre or there are plenty of taxis around if you prefer.
Although we visited Bruges both times during the summer months, the weather was still very unpredictable! The first time we visited it was very dark and cold and the rain didn’t stop the whole time we were there! It was no fun trying to capture some good photos in this awful weather, however, the second visit to Bruges with glorious sunshine partly made up for this! Always plan ahead and check the weather before you go – it really can be one extreme to another!
A really beautiful place which is well worth a visit – I would love to go again, but would like to actually stay in Bruges this time, rather than just do a day trip here. A day just isn’t long enough to explore and uncover all that this place has to offer!
The story which ended in me buying this coconut and fig hair mask is identical to the Sand and Sky Porefining clay mask I bought – I came across an advert for it on Instagram and, as I tend to do with all these other fabulous looking products I come across, I took a screenshot of the advert on my phone to remind me to order some at a later date.
I was spending the week in London doing some training, and as the course was finishing at around 4:30pm every day, I had plenty of time to mooch around and do some “window shopping”. I walked past Harvey Nichols and instantly the amazing cosmetics display caught my eye! I hadn’t realised they were a stockist of several of these products I had come across on Instagram such as Coco & Eve, Sand & Sky and Winky Lux – I had always thought you could only order these items exclusively online!
Anyway, I went in to have a closer look and as soon as I saw the Coco & Eve hair masque I’d had my eye on for the past few months, I knew I had to get one!
The super nourishing coconut and fig hair masque is a five in one treatment which restores dry and damaged hair, improves hair texture and shine, hydrates and deeply conditions, treats split ends and tames frizz and promises to transform your hair in only ten minutes.
The treatment is sulphate free, phthalate free, paragon free, colour safe, gluten free, cruelty free, PETA approved and 100% vegan!
The benefits of the masque are:
The masque rejuvenates and revives parched hair, damaged by heat, styling, dyes and the environment.
The masque deeply conditions to replenish lost moisture to hydrate.
Improves texture and shine for silky soft hair.
Restores hair to its virgin state to treat split ends and tame frizz.
And all of this you can feel and see after just one wash.
Check out the fantastic ingredients in the masque;
Raw virgin coconuts from Bali add shine and softness to the hair. They also strengthen and repair the hair by preventing hair breakage and split ends. The coconut also helps prevent problems such as dandruff.
The essence of fig and shea butter work to moisturise and detangle the hair without making it heavy and weighing it down.
Linseed improves the gloss and texture of your hair so it’s silky soft to the touch.
Argan oil treats split ends and tames frizziness to make your hair more manageable whilst adding gloss and shine.
Anyway, so as soon as I got home from London I couldn’t wait to try out this new masque. I am a huge fan of intensive hair treatments in the form of masks, my favourite to date is the Redken extreme intense treatment, however I have to be careful with these types of treatments as my hair is so greasy. I find the treatments usually work really well but the following day my hair feels weighed down with product and gets far more greasy far more quickly.
I also have to be careful with these products because I do tend to end up using far too much! It’s hard to decide how much of this product to use – I don’t want to use loads unnecessarily and waste it, but I should think I need to coat all of my hair in product in order for it to work, it is a mask after all!
I do have long hair so I decided on a decent half-palm-full of product to start me off, and this seemed to cover fine. The difference in this masque is the inclusion of a “tangle tamer” brush, which you brush through your hair after you have applied the product. I thought this was a really good idea and would make sure the product was easily spread and covered all areas of the hair! Make sure when you have finished brushing your hair through that you don’t end up with a load of product stuck in the bristles of the brush though!
I left the mask on for ten minutes, despite my eagerness to leave it one for far longer. With other intensive masks I tend to leave them to work as long as possible, and often leave them on overnight before rinsing them out in the morning! I wanted to see if the product delivered the results it promised after the ten minutes it quoted before I decided what I thought about it though. The website advises that I should use the masque once a week as I have greasy hair, and those with dry hair should use the masque 2 to 3 times a week.
After ten minutes I washed the mask off, it washed out of my hair very easily and didn’t leave any residue, which is something I do find with some of the other makes of masks. As I was rinsing it out my hair felt lovely and smooth and soft so I was really looking forward to seeing the results when I had dried and styled my hair.
You can buy your hair masques online here. The masques cost £34.90 each, I haven’t used a whole tub yet so I don’t know exactly, but I would estimate you get around ten uses from one tub.
The ONLY downside I have found with this product is, as useful as the tangle tamer brush is, I don’t think it is necessary to include one in every single set which is sold. I think they could be an optional extra if you would like one, but otherwise I think we need to consider the fact that they are plastic and after the third or fourth one you get, and after leaving one in your handbag and one in your car and a spare, I think we may find any extras just being thrown away which isn’t very good!
Otherwise, I am in love with this product and will definitely be replacing all my existing hair treatments for this one as soon as I have finished using them! It is easy to use, lightweight on my hair and the results are impressive after just one ten minute use!
I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville – the home of Country and Western music!
Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and we visited as part of our big tour of the deep south of America so unfortunately our time here was pretty limited. In fact, although we spent roughly the same time in some of the other locations such as Memphis, Chattanooga and Tupelo, Nashville was the one place I really noticed that we wouldn’t have enough time to see the vast majority of the sights this fantastic place had to offer.
I couldn’t wait to visit, mainly to learn more about the history of country and western music, as Nashville is known as the centre of the country music industry, earning it the nickname “Music City”.
Although it was very limited, here’s what we managed to squeeze in during our short time here;
The first point of interest made me chuckle – the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge – also known by the locals as the Dolly Parton bridge due to its two rather large humps….
RCA Studio B is a recording studio which was originally known as RCA Studios. The studio helped to revive the popularity of country music and establish Nashville as an international recording centre.
The recording studio is a single-storey building with offices at the front, but the area of the studio and control room has a second storey which contains an echo chamber.
Famous artists who recorded songs at Studio B include The Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and the one and only, Elvis Presley! In her 1994 memoir, My Life And Other Unfinished Business, Dolly Parton told the story of how she was rushing to her first recording session at the studio in September 1967 and, rushing to make the session on time, drove her car through the side wall of the building. The spot where her car impacted the building is still visible even today!
Daily tours of the studio are offered by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the tour guides have some fantastic stories to tell which have been gathered over the years – including Elvis Presley banging his head on a low hanging microphone during the recording of “Are you lonesome tonight?” The sound of him doing it can still be heard on the original recording they play for you!
We also visited the Nashville Parthenon which is in Centennial Park. It is a full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens and was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Today it is used as an art museum – it is really impressive to look at!
I don’t even really know how to begin explaining the amazing Country Music Hall of Fame! It is absolutely huge! It is one of the world’s largest museums and this is obvious as soon as you step inside! You could spend weeks here looking at the memorabilia and reading the information contained within one of the world’s most extensive musical collections.
Here are just a few of the incredible items and collections you can find inside;
Elvis Presley’s gold cadillac – the 1960 Cadillac was customised by Barris Kustom City of North Hollywood. The exterior sheen is due to its 24 carat gold plate highlights and forty painted coats of a translucent mixture of crushed diamonds and fish scales called diamond dust pearl. The interior includes a gold plated television and a record player with automatic changer!
Taylor Swift’s crystal covered guitar! Swoon! The pictures didn’t do it justice at all!
Elvis Presley’s 24 carat gold leaf piano (starting to see a theme here!) I don’t think this is actually here anymore, as news articles seem to suggest it sold in an auction to the Hard Rock Cafe for $600,000!! I’m glad I got to see it whilst I was there!
Plus rooms and rooms and rooms of memorabilia from hundreds and hundreds of Country and Western music stars, including Roy Rogers, Patsy Montana, Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Red Foley, T. Texas Tyler, Spade Cooley, Merle Travis, Hank Thompson, Cindy Walker, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, Keith Urban, Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Patsy Kline, Tammy Wynette and infamous names like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton…. the list goes on!
After spending a good few hours here we continued to explore this amazing city and came across the Johnny Cash Museum.
God, I really regret not visiting here but I don’t know how we would have had the time!
It features the largest and most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world, and is located in the heart of Downtown Nashville. It is one of only six attractions in Nashville to receive the coveted AAA Gem rating and is ranked the number 1 music museum in the world by Forbes, Conde’ Naste and National Geographic Traveler – if you get the chance – GO!
Walking the streets of Nashville is amazing feeling. It is so relaxed, and everywhere you look are shops selling Cowboy hats and Cowboy Boots, or really expensive guitars.
There are bars open everywhere with live music being played and even street sellers selling famous Moonshine! The stuff looked lethal so no, we didn’t have any!
There’s so much to see and do here, its easy to see why people love it and call it the home of Country and Western music! I just hope I get the opportunity to go back some day!
For all of you who love a good old Afternoon Tea, have I got a treat for you! This is no ordinary Afternoon Tea, it is called a Picnic Bench and is piled high with delicious home-made treats, and it can only be found at a place called The Bush Inn in Hereford.
I have been meaning to visit here since towards the end of last year after seeing their amazing Winter Picnic Bench doing the rounds on Facebook, but with the house move going on and loads of family events, I just didn’t get round to going!
My friends husband booked for them to go as a surprise for Valentines Day and as soon as I saw the photos I knew I had to go as soon as possible! My friend booked the four of us in at the end of April and I was counting down the days until we could go!
Anyway, we booked just in time for their Spring range of picnic benches, and the food on offer was all of my absolute favourites!! I couldn’t believe it when the menu was released, it was like it was made especially for me!
Here’s what the Spring picnic bench is made up of:
Chicken burger with salad
Mozzarella stick with salsa
Basket of seasoned waffle fries
Mini macaroni cheese
Mint Aero cheesecake in a shot glass
Citrus jelly in a shot glass
Mini jam jar of passion fruit posset
Rocky Road slice
Lemon Victoria sponge cake
White chocolate coated cake pop
all served with a mini bottle of Berry Fizz and a Mini Mojito!
A vegetarian version is available on request – this option is a nut roast burger as an alternative to the chicken burger and everything else remains the same as it is all suitable for vegetarians.
You can only book by calling them directly (01432 830206) and 24 hours notice is required – although be warned, they only serve their picnic benches for a couple of hours a day (12pm to 2pm Tuesday to Saturday, 6:30pm to 8:30pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fridays 6:00pm to 8:30pm and Saturdays 5:45pm to 7pm) and so places sell out extremely quickly!
The price is £16.50 per person which is an absolute bargain for the amount and quality of food you get per person, I have paid double this for a posh afternoon tea which left me feeling hungry afterwards!
They don’t have a specific website but if you are on Facebook you can find their Facebook page here.
I highly recommend paying a visit if you have the opportunity! I will definitely be coming back! The seasonal picnic benches they have are brilliant. The Easter one they served recently looked delicious and the Winter version they had last year looked incredible so I would definitely like to try another seasonal one at some point! They are currently considering doing a Summer Picnic Bench and a Royal Wedding themed Picnic Bench in May to celebrate Harry and Meghan getting married – sounds a great idea to me!
I hope most of you have been made aware through one way or another that the week of 26th March to 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Week. I’ve seen several fantastic fund raising schemes this week to raise funds for the National Autistic Society, which is such a worthwhile cause, so well done to you all!
Autism is a bio-neurological development disability which generally becomes apparent before the age of three. It impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communicative skills and cognitive function. Individuals with autism typically have difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction.
So why is this cause so close to my heart? Well because I have been living with a family member with autism for my entire life! I am the middle one of three Sisters and my older Sister, Lindsey (aka “Lindsey Pinsey” or “madam” on some of her stroppier days!) was diagnosed with autism at around four years old. Officially diagnosing her was no easy task – Lindsey is 39 this year, and so back then, autism wasn’t very well known of, and was even more rarely diagnosed. That aside, my Mum visited a total of 26 doctors before Lindsey was finally diagnosed by the 27th professional she met, who was a psychiatrist! Hard to imagine these days isn’t it?
Mum wasn’t very well treated during her attempts to find out what was wrong with Lindsey, which is why she ended up being passed from pillar to post, and doctor to doctor. As Lindsey was my Mum’s first child, many professionals put her worries down to being an overly concerned mother, and when Mum tried to explain that Lindsey would cry all the time and sounded like she was in pain, my Mum was told “well, babies do cry”! The lack of knowledge about autism at this time and the lack of help Lindsey received undoubtedly made a difference to Lindsey’s development. Children with autism do have the ability to progress, but early intervention is key, and unfortunately this is something Lindsey didn’t receive from health care professionals when she needed it most.
Lindsey went to a main stream school, I don’t know how she felt about school as it isn’t something she ever talks about nowadays. It is pleasing to see that there is so much more choice these days for parents as to where to send their children to school in order to get the support they need, and specialist schools seem to be becoming more and more common, which is great.
Lindsey currently lives in supported accommodation with three friends she has known for a very long time. They have rota’s to get all the house jobs done, including the washing up and cooking the dinner, but there is always someone there to supervise them. It is great that she is part of an arrangement which encourages her to be as independent as possible every single day. During the daytime she catches the bus and goes to a day care centre where they undertake all sorts of activities, including planning for the annual Christmas musical that they perform for friends and family at the beginning of December!
She comes home to visit once a month and stays at Mum’s house from the Friday to the Sunday and very recently has started spending one of those nights alternating between me and my Sister’s houses too. Until she started doing this I never really understood what Mum meant when she said it was tiring having Lindsey at home, but it really is! You have to keep an eye on her all the time, not because she will hurt herself but because she’s off wondering and opening cupboards and drawers and finding treats I’ve hidden away for special occasions! And don’t even attempt to leave the washing machine and dryer full of clothes! She will be in there trying to sort them all out and finish them off! Not got any washing liquid to finish the washing? Lindsey doesn’t care! Not got enough to put a whole load in the dryer? Lindsey doesn’t care! Very expensive designer item that can’t go in the tumble dryer? Lindsey doesn’t care! In the dryer it will go! Like I said – madam!
This isn’t because she wants to upset anybody, it is because it is simply part of her routine. This is what she does when she is at home, so the small fact that it is someone else’s home is of no matter! The first weekend she came to stay with us, we said we would have a takeaway as a treat. I told her she could choose and she said she wanted a KFC and so it began that every time she came to stay with us for the night, she had to have a KFC as it became part of the routine. At my Sister’s house it is fish and chips! I think she’s got us wrapped around her little finger!
We haven’t started doing it this year yet because the weather has been so bad, but when she is home for the weekend and the Spring and Summer starts to arrive, we do take her out on day trips too. We’ve been to all sorts of places over the years but she especially enjoys the farm parks with all the animals! She seems to enjoy herself when she is there but doesn’t ever say much at the time (or for several months after that for that matter!)
I think the lack of communication is the hardest thing to cope with. Even if she reacted badly or inappropriately to something, it would make things so much easier if she would talk to you about it, tell you how she felt, rather than the emotions building and building and then eventually turning into a meltdown. We have had some bad experiences of visiting some places which were either louder than we had expected, or involved a lot of singing and dancing and crowds of people. I don’t want to dwell on them because, even after all this time, my Mum, my Sister and I do find them overwhelmingly upsetting – in particular, if the meltdown is at a place Lindsey had asked to go to in the first place! Even after all these years we are learning the hard way about things Lindsey does and doesn’t like. Lindsey reaching meltdown is not a good position to find yourself in – she has violent and wild outbursts and will run off without considering traffic or people around her, and she is so incredibly strong! There’s no chance of physically moving her or restraining her in these situations so she doesn’t hurt herself once she has reached this stage. Luckily, as we learn more about the things that Lindsey dislikes, these meltdowns have become far fewer.
The second thing I find really hard is how Lindsey compartmentalises every aspect of her life. If it makes it easier for her to get through every day then of course this is fine, but she gets very anxious and upset when two separate sections of her life cross over. She has particular rules and behaviours for her “life” in the supported living house and other rules and behaviours for her “life” with us. So, in a nutshell, some things are acceptable in one place and not the other. This is hard to deal with when she merrily goes on holiday and to the cinema with her friends, but finds these exact same situations with us to be too stressful and upsetting. It’s hard to deal with but as long as she is happy, I should be happy too.
I think it’s great how things have come along in the past three decades, and how autism is now a globally recognised condition. Check out some of these interesting facts about autism:
As if it isn’t bad enough that autistic people have to suffer with autism itself, autism sufferers often also suffer from many other medical conditions, including but not limited to asthma, allergies, epilepsy, digestive disorders, continual viral infections (Lindsey gets these a lot), and feeding and sleeping disorders.
Lindsey is rarer than most – autism is diagnosed in four times as many males than females.
Autism is increasing – it is reported that in the United States, as many as 1 in 68 children will be affected by autism.
Around 40% of children with autism do not speak at all. Around 25-30% of children with autism have some words early on and later lose them. This was very much Lindsey – when she was younger she was the typical bossy older Sister and on some occasions you would struggle to shut her up! As she has become older, her speech has become less and less, which is very sad.
Autism greatly varies from person to person, and no two people with autism are alike.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder, yet is the most underfunded.
So if you would like to learn more about autism, or donate to such a wonderful cause, you can find more information from the National Autistic Society here.
There is a very interesting video on the home page which highlights what autistic people deal with each and every day of their lives – it is certainly worth a watch!
I never used to make an effort for Valentine’s Day, hubby and I always used to get each other a nice card, but I was never really sold on all of the red fluffy toys, fake red roses and red underwear! I love eating out but Valentine’s Day means all of the restaurants are absolutely jam-packed and are usually offering some sort of set menu, and I find that I don’t like the majority of food they have on offer!
So, to be honest, we usually stay at home and have a nice dinner together. My usual go to place is Marks and Spencers for their dine in for two Valentine’s Day offer for £20, which always has a nice selection of things we both like.
Last year I made a bit more of an effort and bought some lovely red roses for the dinner table, bought us a lovely three course meal and made us up a gift bag each with treats and presents in. We had a real nice time last year so I wanted to do something similar this year again.
Anyway, here are some of the lovely treats and presents which have caught my eye for this years Valentine’s Day:
Marks and Spencers chocolate heart filled with chocolate ganache and decorated with gold leaf – £3.00.
Marks and Spencer’s chocolate hearts (4 pack) – £1.50. I thought these were lovely and really reasonably priced so I bought a few packs for my friends to put in their Valentine’s Day gifts bags!
Marks and Spencers Pink Himalayan Salted Caramels – £6.00. I gave in and bought these for myself! I had a peek inside the box and they look really pretty! Can’t wait to try these! Let’s hope I can resist eating them all before Valentine’s Day!
Marks and Spencers red Love You Heart – I love these little chocolate hearts – and they are only 50p each!
Morrison’s Heart Marshmallow Biscuit lollipop – £1.00. This didn’t last long after I bought it! I loved the fluffy mallow inside!
Dr Oetker Heart Marshmallows – £1.00. I found these in Morrison’s but I’m sure other supermarkets will sell these too – perfect for a Valentine’s hot chocolate!
Morrison’s Valentine’s jammy heart biscuit – £1.00. Hubby scoffed this one before I had the chance to hide it!
Morrisons gingerbread hearts – £2.00 for this bag of one big gingerbread heart and three small gingerbread hearts.
Hotel Chocolat Salted caramel hearts – £3.50 – delicious!
Hotel Chocolat Raspberry daiquiri hearts – £3.50 – I bought a few of these for friends and family and put them in their Valentine’s gift bag.
Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate heart melts – £5.50 – got these for Mum as she only likes dark chocolate! I hope she likes them!
Waitrose gingerbread hearts – £2.00 – these little bags of pink iced gingerbread hearts are lovely.
And to put all these lovely sweet treats in I bought these lovely gift bags from Clinton cards for £2.50 each
If food and sweet things aren’t really your thing – how about some nice Valentine’s themed jewellery? These are just some of the lovely items I’ve come across in the last few weeks –
Rose detail chain bracelets from ASOS – £8.00 – great for a Beauty and the Beast fan! They’ve also got matching hoop earrings and a set of five rings!
I love these Ted Baker Crystal Heart earrings – £29.00 from ASOS!
Or, this handy “LOVE” ring holder from Next for £6.00?
Who knew they did Valentine’s themed handbags?? These are my favourites so far:
This heart coin purse from ASOS is only £8.00 – bargain!
How cute is this SkinnyDip heart crossover body bag – again from ASOS and only £30.00 – I love the faux fur detail!
If you are willing to spend a bit more on a Valentine’s themed bag then I love this red Dune heart bag for £65.00.
And, believe it or not, Valentine’s Day SHOES!!!! I love these Mistress barely there sandals from Dune for £85.00.
Plus I’ve spotted these gorgeous babies on Instagram and I am desperate to get my hands on a pair! They are by ALDO but for some reason they don’t stock them on their UK website????? My quest continues! They do them in red too…
If you are having a cosy night in then what about some Valentine’s pyjamas?? There are hundreds to choose from on sites like ASOS, Very, Next, Boohoo…. the list goes on!
My absolute favourites are these Mr and Mrs Pyjama sets from Next – £22.00 for women’s and £24.00 for men’s. I’m so disappointed as I went to order these for hubby and I but they are completely sold out in the men’s sizes! Gutted! I knew I should have ordered them when I first saw them!
And if all of this doesn’t float your boat this Valentine’s Day, I’ve reviewed the entire Lush Cosmetics Valentine’s Day range and I can assure you there is bound to be something from their collection which you will love! My blog on their Valentine’s range goes live tomorrow to mark the big day, so watch this space!
As my sister’s Birthday is the 1st December, we always try and do something a bit different on her Birthday or the weekend closest to it. She is definitely a winter baby and loves this time of year so we generally tie in her Birthday day out with something that is Christmas themed as well! Past days out have included a trip to Longleat Safari, ice skating at Cribbs Causeway and of course for her last milestone Birthday, an amazing trip to Iceland!
Last year I came across an event which was being hosted at Sudeley Castle called the Spectacle of Light. Last year was the first time they had hosted such an event and as several of us have been meaning to visit Sudeley Castle for some time, this event looked perfect for the occasion!
The event is hosted after dark, and the Castle and grounds are lit up and decorated for a wonderful spectacle of light and sound. You follow a trail of light around the stunning castle grounds, magical gardens with majestic trees and into the romantic ruins where ideal photo opportunities await you! Music is also played as you wander the trail!
We attended on the 1st December last year, but this year the dates span from the 8th to 30th December 2017.
After you are done exploring, the café is open where mulled wine, cider and hot chocolate are served alongside other winter warmers like soup and hotdogs.
Entry times for the event are every half an hour from 5pm until 7:30pm – when we went last year we booked the latest entry time of 8:30pm, however they contacted us a few days before to ask if we could arrive for 8pm as they were short on staff – it looks as if they have reduced the amount of entry times this year as a result.
When we wandered the trail it was extremely quiet and peaceful, there were only a handful of other people who were there with us which made it all the more special! The weather was perfect December weather as well – cold but dry – we were very lucky on this occasion as I would imagine it to be a very different experience in the torrential rain!
If you pre-book your tickets online you can also save 10% on the ticket prices – adult ticket price is £15.75 per person (normally £17.50) and child price is £9.90 (normally £11.00). Family tickets are also available.
A typical walk will be approximately 60 -75 minutes, although if you wish to stay longer you are very welcome.
According to the website, they have some new additions to the event this year including an “amazing kaleidoscope of illuminated parasols, an enchanting tree energising its sparkling roots and a friendly roar in the tower dungeon!”
A highly recommended event, particularly for you budding photographers! We were slightly disappointed that our tickets did not give us full access to the Castle as this is a separately hosted event, however this just meant we were looking forward to re-visiting the Castle again in the daytime to see all that it had to offer!
London is such a brilliant place to visit around Christmas time – not so much if you are one of those headless chickens running around trying to source last minute Christmas presents, but if you have Christmas all wrapped up and have the time (and patience!) to explore and see what this city has to offer during the festive season then you are in for a treat!
My Mum, my Sister and I go on a day trip to London every December, here’s some of the amazing things we have done over the last few years:
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
This place is like marmite – I’ve spoken to people who absolutely love it here, and likewise, people who absolutely detest it! Winter Wonderland opened on 17th November this year and is open for six weeks until 1st January 2018.
It is free to enter Winter Wonderland and inside you can find a wealth of things to do including –
Winter Wonderland’s ice skating rink is the largest outdoor rink in the UK and is open from 10am to 10pm. Ice skating sessions run every hour on the hour and each session lasts for 50 minutes. Adult prices start at £9.50 and child prices start at £7.50.
If you are unsteady on your feet you can also ask for the help of an Ice Guide – a trained ice skater who can escort you and your group on the ice – a really great idea but they don’t come cheap (£35 an hour on top of your skating ticket price!)
Magical Ice Kingdom
This has a different theme every year, the year we visited it was the theme Merlin and the knights of the round table and it was absolutely fantastic!
Definitely well worth a look if you have the time! There were loads more characters to see and the pictures I have taken seriously do not do them any justice! This years theme is called Deep Sea Adventure and looks just as amazing! Adult Ticket prices start at £7.00 and child’s prices start at £5.00.
You may have already seen my blog on the two Bar Ice bars you can find in London, if not you can read about this great experience here. One of the Bar Ice’s can be found at Winter Wonderland but obviously can get very busy so make sure you pre-book your tickets!
Plus loads more including the Giant Observation Wheel, The Sooty Christmas Show, Zippo’s Christmas Circus, Cirque Beserk, Cinderella on Ice and of course the stunning stalls selling everything from Mulled wine to Churros to Christmas Decorations to hats and scarves!
Outside of Hyde Park, we usually visit:
My favourite shopping street! It is obviously very busy this time of year but do your best to stop along the way to check out the amazing Christmas decorations which line the streets! Regent Street always looks really pretty too!
Department Store Windows
Have you ever watched the film “Mannequin”? It follows a guy who, with a lot of assistance from a mannequin which comes to life when no-one else is looking, is a Window Dresser, and together they design these amazing department store window displays which have people travelling from miles around to come and see.
Classic 80’s film and the department store windows this time of year always remind me of it!
Anyway, each year there is a bit of a battle between the different department stores to have the best dressed window displays. The ideas they come up with are amazing and must take them hours and hours to create. Here are some of the highlights we came across this year:
A bit of an unusual one this year! An Instagram friend told me its because they were designed by Karl Lagerfeld and this seemed to make a lot of sense! I’m still unsure whether I like them or not….
I loved Selfridges windows this year! Really fun and eye-catching! Bouncing Santas, Robins and Christmas Puddings and a suit made of sprouts! What more could you want?? Oh yes, a “Nutcracker Queen” surrounded by her Nutcracker soldiers on the balcony above the escalators! That will do!
Plus we loved the massive hare and fox which appeared in the H&M windows this year!
Department Store Christmas departments
I don’t tend to do much shopping in the department stores, I’ve usually got everyone’s presents by now and the temptation is to spend far too much if I start wondering into areas like Saint Laurent or Alexander McQueen! What my sister and I do tend to do is head straight for the Christmas themed sections within the department stores to check out the decorations and displays! In some of the bigger department stores it really is like walking into a Winter Wonderland!
This year I encountered a life size singing Reindeer (only £4,500!) and a huge Nutcracker Doll (only £1,250!). Better start saving I think!
Department Store Food halls
Harrods Food Hall at any time of the year is absolutely incredible but team it up with all the Christmas flavours and goodies they have to offer and I really am in heaven here!
Selfridges also has a great food hall but I do prefer Harrods. In actual fact I think that the food hall in Selfridges Birmingham is better than the Selfridges in London – far bigger and far easier to find everything!
Peggy Porschen Parlour
This year we also managed to visit the amazing Peggy Porschen Parlour in Victoria! It is one of the stunning places I have ever visited, the photos really don’t do it justice.
The inside is just as beautiful as the outside, and each and every product sold here is crafted to perfection.
If you have the chance, check out the outstanding Gingerbread houses they sell – if I had bought one of these I really don’t think I could have brought myself to eat such an amazing creation!
I HIGHLY recommend you visit here if you get the chance! We are definitely re-visiting the next time we are in London!
So as you can see, we have some real adventures on our annual trips to London, which don’t always include Christmassy themed things (The British Museum and The Natural History Museum for example).
Our annual trip to London is one of the Christmas traditions I really look forward to and I hope carries on long into the future!
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!
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.
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!)
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….
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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…
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!
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 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 –
An obsession of mine! If you are intrigued, a separate blog on these little guys is coming out in the next couple of days….
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.
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!
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!!!
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!
We booked a trip to Stratford Upon Avon through my Sports and Social at work – the trip was arranged on the weekend of the food festival but my Mum, my sister and I have been wanting to visit all the other sights here for a long time so this trip seemed perfect!
We paid for a full story ticket which gets you entry to the five different places – Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft. Full story tickets are £22.50, or you can book online for a 10% reduction in ticket prices – book your tickets here. We booked our tickets on the day because we had been saving our Tesco Clubcard points to put towards the the entrance fees – and even better, Tesco Boost means you can get £10 worth of vouchers for only £2.50 of your Clubcard points – excellent!
The tickets are good value for money, as they are valid for a year from the day of purchase, so you can revisit all these places as many times as you want. Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft are all within walking distance so we spent the day at these three places. Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage are a short car journey away from the town centre, and the leaflet on Mary’s Arden’s Tudor Farm says you could spend up to a day here so we agreed to visit these last two places on another day!
We had a great day visiting Stratford, here’s what we found out during our Shakespearean adventure –
We visited here first and were amazed at this beautiful old building! When you first enter the house you walk through the Shakespeare Centre where you can see how Shakespeare has been interpreted and enjoyed over the centuries. In here you will find wonderful artwork, memorabilia, a timeline of Shakespeare’s life and Shakespeare’s First Folio.
After the exhibition, you can walk through all the rooms in the house where Shakespeare was born, including his fathers glove-making workshop. The house is a 16th Century half-timbered house. It is believed that Shakespeare was born here in 1564 and spent many of his childhood years here.
The house itself is quite plain but was considered to be a substantial dwelling in those days! William’s father John was a glove maker and the house was divided into two parts to allow him to run his business from the family home.
The ownership of the house passed on to William upon the death of his father, however William already owned New Place by this point, so the property was rented out and converted into an Inn known as the Maidenhead.
Once the family line had come to an end, the house was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair until around the 18th Century. Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott are among the notable people who have visited the house, and many of the signatures of it’s famous visitors still remain on the windowpanes. In 1846 the house was bought by the Shakespeare Birthday Committee (today known as the Shakespeare Birthplace Place) for £3,000, and restoration work began soon after.
The garden at the back of the house has been specially planted with flowers and herbs that would have been known in Shakespeare’s time.
Whilst you are out in the garden there are some amazing actors performing the works of Shakespeare. They take requests if you would like them to perform your favourite Shakespeare piece too! My Mum requested a scene from Macbeth and the gentleman performed it beautifully!
Shakespeare’s New Place
The house actually no longer exists as it was when Shakespeare lived here, which is a real shame. The original house, as it stood at the time, was the largest dwelling in the borough, and the only one with a courtyard. It was built in 1483 by Sir Hugh Clopton and originally had ten fireplaces, five gables, and large grounds. The footprint of Shakespeare’s New Place is marked in bronze within the paving.
William Shakespeare bought the house in 1597 for £60 (a LOT of money back then!) During his ownership of New Place he wrote 26 of his 38 plays and had his sonnets and other poetry published.
Shakespeare died in 1616 and the house passed to his daughter Susanna Hall, and then his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, who at the time had recently remarried after the death of her husband Thomas Nash, who owned the house next door. After Elizabeth died, the house was returned to the family of the gentleman who had built it, the Cloptons.
In 1702, John Clopton dramatically altered, or practically rebuilt, the original New Place. A further owner of the property, Reverand Francis Gastrell, applied for permission to extend the garden. His application was declined and the tax payable on the property increased (due to its size) so Gastrell unfortunately demolished the house as a result.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust acquired the property in 1876 and today the site of New Place is accessible through a museum within Nash’s house, the house next door. The entrance to New Place marks the spot where the main door in the Gatehouse once stood.
Whilst there you will see the Gatehouse where you’ll cross the threshold where Shakespeare’s front door used to be, the Strongbox, the Globe, the Well, the Golden Garden, the King’s Ship, the Armillary Sphere, along with –
Play Pennants and sonnet ribbons
His Minds Eye
This beautiful sculpture represents Shakespeare’s creativity and the effect his genius works had on the world.
Shakespeare’s Chair and Desk
All of Shakespeare’s works began at a humble writing desk – here you can take a seat in the great man’s chair.
The Great Garden and the Mulberry Tree
The Great Garden houses a beautiful sculpture trail featuring sculptures by Greg Wyatt. All of the sculptures are based on Shakespeare’s most famous works.
The Mulberry tree is believed to have grown from a cutting of the tree planted by Shakespeare himself.
The Greenwood Tree
A beautiful tree sculpture, you can pay to have one of the leaves on this tree dedicated to whoever you want – there are only 300 available leaves though and space is running out! Click here for more info! The photos don’t do it justice!
The Knot Garden
The house next door to Shakespeare’s New Place was built about 1530 and has now extensively renovated to house the Shakespeare’s New Place exhibition. The exhibition is over two floors and there’s also a viewing deck which is worth visiting for views of the garden.
The Signet Ring
Ok, as promised above, I said there was a story behind this! In 1810, nearly 200 years after Shakespeare’s death, a gold 16th century “WS” initialled ring was discovered by labourers in nearby field next to the burial ground of the Holy Trinity Church. Signet rings were used to imprint a personal seal on a blob of wax. It was very common in those times for even ordinary people to possess their own seal. The ring itself shows very little wear, suggesting it as relatively new when it was lost by its owner.
It has not been confirmed that the ring belonged to William Shakespeare, however looking at the evidence it would appear to be pretty likely. The Holy Trinity church was William Shakespeare’s local church, he was baptised here and is now also laid to rest here. It has been suggested that Shakespeare lost his ring whilst attending his daughter Judith’s wedding, which took place at the Holy Trinity Church in 1616. Shakespeare died later that year.
The document you see in the bottom right picture above is William Shakespeare’s last will and testament. These documents would usually be “sealed” with wax and then the owner of the signet ring would press the ring into the wax, thereby leaving behind their initials on the document. Shakespeare’s will was amended and the words which originally read “hereunto set my hand and seal” were amended to read “hereunto set my hand” and the document signed by Shakespeare instead, presumably because he couldn’t find his beloved signet ring when the time came to sign!
Is it Shakespeare’s signet ring? It certainly looks likely!
This historic Jacobean house is where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna lived with her husband, the wealthy physician Dr. John Hall.
The main part of the property was built in 1613 – it is a really beautiful timbered property and was even used as a school in the mid-19th century.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased the property in 1949 and opened it to the public in 1951.
John Hall was a great physician and his case notes were published in a text book and used by doctors for many years after his death in 1657.
Dr Hall had a preference for treatments made from plants, herbs, animal extracts, gemstones and rocks, as opposed to other physicians who would practice blood-letting or astronomy.
Upstairs in the property you can find a brilliant exhibition called Method in the Madness which explores medicine in the lifetime of Dr John Hall. Don’t forget to check out the syringe from the 1500’s and the uroscopy station!
Holy Trinity Church
I couldn’t wait to see this beautiful church – and it did not disappoint!
Located on the banks of River Avon, the Holy Trinity Church is considered to be one of England’s most-visited Parish Churches and is the site where William Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 and buried in 1616.
A “Church on the banks of the Avon in Stratford” is first mentioned in the charter of 845, signed by Beorhtwulf (Bertulf), King of Mercia. This church would have been a wooden construction and it is likely that the Normans replaced this with a stone building, however no trace of either construction remains. Building on the present limestone building started in 1210 and the building was built in the shape of a cross.
The Church is approached along an avenue of lime trees, said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles.
The church is accessed through two 15th century doors. On one of the doors is a sanctuary knocker where fugitives would grab the ring to seek 37 days safety before facing trial.
The original nave would have been shorter and lower than at present. Between 1280 and 1330 the tower was built and the nave’s rebuilt to include side aisles.
The Clopton Chapel
Hugh Clopton became the Lord Mayor of London and was a great benefactor to the town. He completely rebuilt the Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross and provided the stone bridge over the Avon which carries his name, and the traffic, to this day. He had a magnificent altar-tomb built in the then Lady Chapel but was, in fact, buried in London. After the reformation his descendants claimed the chapel as their own and it now contains the finest renaissance tomb in all England. The Clopton Chapel was recently professionally cleaned, revealing the beauty of the painted decorations.
The Grave of William Shakespeare
In 2016, Channel 4 broadcast the results of an archaeological investigation of Shakespeare’s grave. The team used ground penetrating radar equipment to try and establish what lies beneath his mysterious looking gravestone. This equipment allows a below ground level scan to take place, without disturbing the burial site.
For years historians and archaeologists have argued over the burial site – questioning the size of the stone which is far too short for adult burial and which doesn’t even have a name engraved on it, only a chilling curse which reads:
“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
The key findings of the investigation included “an odd disturbance at the head end” which investigators believe shows that someone has disturbed the grave and removed the head of Shakespeare. It is rumoured that his head was stolen by trophy hunters in 1794 – I’m sure I wouldn’t risk stealing anything from that grave with such a curse engraved on it!
The ground penetrating radar also showed that William Shakespeare, his wife Anne Hathaway and other members of the family whose grave stones lie beside his, were not buried in a large family vault deep underground, but in shallow graves beneath the church floor. William Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s graves are actually less than a metre deep!
The graves of both Shakespeare and his wife were found to be significantly longer than their short stones which makes them the same size as other family stones.
There was no trace of any metal in the graves which suggests they were not buried in coffins (as coffin nails would be apparent) but wrapped in shrouds instead.
Following on from the missing skull, investigators visited another church around 15 miles away where, in a dark sealed crypt, was a mysterious skull which had long been rumoured to be the skull of William Shakespeare. The team were granted access to the vault to scan the skull which revealed the skull to belong to an unknown woman in her 70’s when she died, so the mystery of Shakespeare’s missing skull still remains.
All very interesting and spooky stuff!
So as you can see we had a great day out in Stratford – we learned so much and are looking forward to visiting the final two places which our tickets grant us access to which is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm. I hope these places are as fascinating as all of the other places we’ve visited during our Shakespearean adventure!
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, 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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
We live literally down the road from this beautiful place but have only this weekend got round to visiting it! I visited here around 13 years ago when member of my husbands family got married but didn’t have the opportunity to explore it properly.
We thought about visiting after a a report was shown on the news that it was the time of the year where their famous snowdrops make an appearance. They tell you when they are all in bloom to keep a look out for the particularly tall Galanthus Atkinsii which was discovered in the 1800’s by an estate worker.
So what is Rococo? A style of art and architecture originating in France and and Italy in the early 1700’s, rococo was a development of the baroque.
The Garden’s restoration was led by Lord and Lady Dickinson and started in 1984, at which point it was a wilderness of trees and brambles. The Garden became a charitable trust in 2012.
We visited on a Saturday and arrived at around midday. It was already rather busy by this time but we didn’t have to wait long to get tickets. Tickets are £6.20 per adult but if you choose gift aid entry tickets they are £7 each and Painswick Rococo Garden can claim much more tax back from the government if you choose this option.
They provide you with a map when you buy your tickets but to be honest you don’t need it. You follow the walk paths around the gardens and along the way you come across the following:
The Fish Pond
Plus you will also see Beech Walk, The Gothic Alcove, The Bowling Green, The Plunge pool, The Kitchen Garden and finally; the Red House which is where wedding ceremony’s are hosted.
I’ve seen mixed reviews about the on site cafe at Rococo Garden – we were willing to give it a try but it was jam-packed from the time we arrived until the time we left (which must be a good thing I suppose!) so we didn’t get the chance to try it on this occasion.
Overall a very nice day out which gets you out in the open air and gives you the opportunity to take some lovely photos. We all said when we were there that its the type of place which you could visit several times a year and it would be completely different dependant on the season.
Another thing I thought was brilliant was they hold events such as an Easter Trail and Shakespeare performances of As You Like It (30th June 2017 and 1st July 2017) and A Midsummer Nights Dream (21st July 2017). I really think my sister and I will come back for the Midsummer Night’s dream performance!
Find out more information about visiting Painswick Rococo Garden and the events they have on here.