Weekend Escapes

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Exactly one month ago today, I smushed my nose up against the window of my Air New Zealand LA > LDN flight and burst into tears, whilst also giddily jumping around in my seat, as the rolling green hills of England peeked up through the marshmallow clouds. I would never have predicted that the sight of a few fields would evoke this reaction in me; but having spent nearly 7 months out of the country and travelling hundreds of thousands of kilometres (whilst getting in all manner of scrapes) it was the feeling of finally being home. I won’t recap the whole trip here, as hopefully you were glued to Twentysomething Burnouts and know all about the time we shared a bed with the world’s most deadly scorpion or accidentally ended up in a teeny tiny 8-seater tin-can aeroplane with a 17 year old pilot, who spent the whole flight rummaging on the floor for a biro. No? No! Then you better head over there instead of reading these slightly melancholy post-travel-trauma ramblings! Those stories are far more fun!

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Despite spending the last 3 weeks of our adventure in California, and therefore slowly returning to civilised behaviour such as showering regularly, the culture-shock I have had since returning to the UK has been mammoth. Absolutely normal things that I’ve grown up my whole life with such as; flushing toilets, hot water, slippers, CHEESE, public transport with loos on them, PJs, tap water you can drink without dying etc. have been denied of me for so long, that it’s like they are shiny and new. It was absolutely surreal to return to Nick’s parents and unpack my handbag that had been left gathering dust in their attic for the duration of our trip. I opened my wallet and it had a vaguely fuzzy de-ja-vu familiarity, but it looked like it belonged to an entirely different person. Why on earth did I have SO many coffee shop loyalty cards?! At what point had I earnt enough salary to justify having a Liberty storecard? There was also a distractedly half read book of short stories, The Returned boxset that we had watched all but 2 episodes of before leaving and a tick-list of chores for our “Last day in the UK”! All my hopes and fears and excitement about the unknown trip of a lifetime were festering in that handbag, and now I was back. And it was totally over.

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Although it was back to earth with a bump, our first week was at least buffered with a dreamy jet-lag haze. We toured the country visiting our parents and immediate family, getting spoilt rotten and being treated like royalty. I enjoyed eating everything I saw; all the food we’d obsessed about being reunited with whilst tucking into South American delicacies such as a broth complete with floating chicken claw, the thing that directly translated as “soup of the beast” or the myriad of mystery meats we consumed. And then… the victory lap was over, and we found ourselves back in London. I was outraged. Where the hell was my hammock? Why wasn’t I drinking a pina colada at 2pm? We were both having trouble sleeping. I’d wake up on an hourly basis, sweaty and bemused in the pitch blackness, my mind buzzing with anxiety over what country was next on the itinerary and where the bus station was… only to slowly realise I was in Golders Green, not Guatemala. Mornings rolled around, and instead of excitedly questioning each other on what rainforest we could scramble through today or where the Rough Guide reckons we could find a decent breakfast for under a dollar… the sinking realisation crept in that we needed jobs, we needed money and we needed to find a home. These things are way less fun.

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I would be lying if I said it was easy. Heck this is my little corner of the internet and why lie? It’s been absolutely horrid. We’ve spent 7 months in some of the most dangerous and pressured situations in the world, and been cool cucumbers. Back in same-old-same-old familiar London, we were fraying at the edges. The fact is, we have seen things and experienced things that have made us different people to the ones that left London last. I guess that means slotting right back in as if nothing happened, isn’t an option! We caught a train to Brighton, in the hope of flat hunting, only for me to be waylaid by a stomach bug, realise I have a phobia of those mutant massive seagulls, and to be messed around something chronic by estate agents. We skulked back to London with our priorities shifted; how about trying to get jobs before we house hunt. Let’s cope with one mega-dega life thing at a time… and let’s try the one that gives us money, rather than takes it away.

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After living out of 35litre backpacks forever, I seem to now have an aversion to stuff. We’ve both only unpacked about two outfits each, which hang forlornly in an empty wardrobe probably thinking hey where are all my dress-pals? Why do they have to live in a bin liner now! As this blog is testament to, I used to dress with obsessive precision in twin-sets and accessories, but now I just can’t face the amount of choice required to dress myself in the morning if there isn’t just a choice of this OR that. Maybe I’ll become one of those freaky aspirational capsule wardrobe types you read about in women’s magazine? (I’m saying this as someone who hasn’t stepped foot into H&M, Zara or Topshop yet. Who am I kidding.) I’m sure anyone who has ever moved house can empathise how rough life is when everything is in storage / boxes. I momentarily forgot this when I went for my first post-travel haircut (there were actual dreadlocks forming) and had a super chic snazzy do that needs daily blow drying and an hour with the straighteners. If only I could find the box that contains my hair dryer… or straighteners!

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Weeks in, and we’re appreciating some parts of being back in the big smoke. Our friends have been incredible, rallying round and doing nice things like cooking us dinner, buying us coffees and letting us watch Game of Thrones at their house. Yknow, the life essentials! We also had a much needed London-tourist day on Wednesday. We both had first interviews for jobs we really want in the morning. I had left before Nick, so when we met up on The Strand later we cracked up upon realising that we had dressed identically for our interviews! We were both wearing his-n-hers beige macs with black shiny brogues.

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In our uniform; we marched over the Thames, stopped for a Wahaca burrito on the South Bank, checked out the skate park demo, saw some nice new street art and then tottered over the bridge to the British Museum for an afternoon of Ancient Egyptians and Medieval British bits. There is something so soothing about the museum. One of the things Nick and I bonded over when we first met, is that when we both moved to London penniless and brand new, we would both come to the museum after work (separately, we were still 5 years off meeting!) and spend hours roaming around in the last hour of the opening, as the gallery staff start to politely shoo you out. I’d come to the museum and sit surrounded by these incredible artefacts and give myself pep talks. Seven years on and it still has that welcoming, everythings-going-to-be-ok… ok? vibe for me when I visit!

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And this weekend I did the thing to make you appreciate London the most… leaving it! Nick was in Berlin on a stag do (a four day one, which I think is a little intense!) so I came to my most precious Norfolk getaway, and timed it to catch my Gran and Mum at the same time. On the Saturday my aunt drove us out to Overstrand, a coastal village about 20 minutes from Cromer. We picked up fresh dressed crab which we devoured for picnic lunch, and then marched out onto the beach. Despite the blistering winds and chilly temperatures, I felt so proudly British to join the families who were stubbornly paddling, sitting in deck chairs or attempting Frisbee regardless. A family favourite tradition of ours is to hunt out balemites amongst the flint and the pebbles. They are rare little fossils, but there is a treasure trove of them to be found if you peek hard enough. We clambered up past the coastal path where, during the bad winter storms, every beach hut between Overstrand and Cromer was whisked into the sea!

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I’m not sure if it was the sea air, the brisk wind or being surrounded by my family, but by the time we got home and I crawled into bed (all toasty because my gran still remembers to put an electric blanket on for me a few hours before bedtime!) I then slept for eleven hours and when I woke up I felt settled for the first time since we got back.

Oh yeah! In other bee-life news you may have missed if you haven’t followed the travel tales, I am now engaged! It happened like this and I am very lucky indeed. On Sunday morning I woke up and my mum had bought me my first Bridal magazine instead of an Easter egg. Does this mean I am officially a grown up?!

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I am not sure what will happen next. Where we’ll live, where I’ll work or what gallivanting I will be blogging about here. But please bear with me, and in the meantime I turn 30 in two weeks (agh!) so I will be sure to be getting up to a few antics to celebrate this most grand of old ages. Over on Twentysomething Burnouts we will also be finishing up the last of our California exploration, and a few other behind the scenes bits, so that blog is far from over!

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I’m going to end the post with some lyrics from a song that has meant a lot to me recently. Whilst travelling I just had an iPod shuffle that had to entertain and occupy me on every 10, 20 and 30 hour bus journey, every sleepless night, every long flight. I kept it permanently on the shuffle function and despite it getting drenched on our dramatic Colombia > Panama boat-mare, it is still going strong. On the penultimate day of our travels, I turned the shuffle function off, and decided to play the ipod from start to finish (we had a long Megabus ride from San Fran to Los Angeles). The first song that came on was one I had NO idea was on there, and that the shuffle function hadn’t played once in the whole seven months! It was like winning the lottery. A whole new song out of 331 that I had heard hundreds of times each! It is by a very talented man who releases under the name Adem, and it’s called Everything You Need. The lyrics really felt appropriate at the time I discovered it, driving through the California dust bowl, and have been really comforting since we got home.

You severed your ties
Left us all behind
You said all your goodbyes
To everything you need

You severed your ties
Re-forge them… make it right
Come back with open eyes
To everything you need

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Last week was a killer. Due to various zz work/health/life woes I had spent quite a lot of the week fretting and stressing and slowly losing my mind at my desk. Add to that the fact I wore KNITWEAR three times, and a thermal once. It’s JUNE. Anyway all the more reason that my annual mother-daughter foreign adventure couldn’t have been better timed. This year we chose Lille. Our criteria for the trip had been:

  • Somewhere we could reach on the Eurostar (we’re train geeks)
  • Not too far to travel / no connections
  • Reasonable weather
  • Walkable once there
  • Delicious Food / Wine

And Lille stepped up perfectly! With the trip taking only 1.5 hours from London (it takes me longer to get home to Yorkshire..!) and we also really lucked out, with glorious 25 degree+ sunshine every day of our trip. We stayed Friday – Sunday in the Hotel Flandre Angleterre , now usually anything containing any word  resembling “English” has me envisioning horrific Brits-abroad images of lobster skin, faux fry-ups and posters of Beef Eaters. Luckily there was non of that in sight at our cheep and cheery little home-from-home. The staff were all so endlessly patient and friendly, and we had a light blow out in our room, which they fixed about 5 minutes after us asking! Upon arrival we instantly stumbled across the best water feature either of us has EVER seen, which sits outside the Gare de Lille (the Eurostar train station). If you took an initial look at the shallow concrete pool filled with questionable looking water, you could easily just pass on by with your nose in the air. However, every 15 minutes or so, water vapour steams urgently out of pipes around the pool! There is a wooden decking you can go stand on and be immersed in clouds of water.  It doesn’t feel wet, just cold and refreshing and lovely.

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Safe to say we spent about an hour scampering around, pretending to be in Jurassic Park or some misty Sherlock Holmes style London night. Aside from this, our first impressions were of “New” Lille, eg the bits around Lille Flandres which is the central station. I remember feeling twinges of disappointment at the sights that greeted us; huge commercial centres, casinos, sprawling shopping malls and modern student apartment blocks. Not exactly the France I had dreamt of. We had to kill a couple of hours before we could check in, so set off to the Parc Henri Matisse where we sat planning an itinerary using our guide book and a set of tips from the Eurostar site. Although in theory the park was pretty with lovely tunnels into overgrown greenery and an adventure playground, we felt quite intimidated walking around. Like most very-central urban parks it suffered from being full of some slightly unsavoury characters and we did get approached a couple of times and had to scuttle off. It wasn’t a great start… but don’t worry it gets aLOT better. There are much prettier green spaces, so if you visit I’d give this park a miss.

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After we dumped our bags, we headed towards the Grande Place and suddenly Lille transformed into everything I’d have dreamt of. We passed really quirky French houses, with beautiful wooden shuttered windows, gaping wrought-iron gates and cute window gardens. I also made an AMAZING discovery about Lille – it’s the home of Speculoos! You may remember I got obsessed with Speculoos whilst over in New York, as Nora had tipped me off about purchasing some “Speculoos Cookie Butter” from Trader Joes. I came back with a jar of it (cursing myself for not buying 20 jars) and the rest is an addicts history. Whilst pottering around we replaced lunch with… a MASSIVE ice cream. I’m so glad my mum is a giant kid at heart too. I had a scoop of nutella and a scoop of speculoos ice cream and it was beyond good. The Grand Place is so beautiful, where we spent a lot of time gazing at buildings and the amazing statues that dot the tops of the architecture. There was always something lively going on there too, it’s quite similar to the main square in Bruges.

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After walking 8 miles (I wear a FitBit and am a bit of a QS junkie but even so I was gobsmacked that we’d walked so far) we decided we’d prefer to take another mode of transport than our legs to explore. We hopped on an open roof mini-bus tour from the Tourist Office, it cost 10 Euros and consisted of an hour zooming around all of Lille with an audio tour and a nice added bonus of TV screens set up to show you the inside of all the key buildings. I have to confess a combination of all the walking, ice cream and hot hot sun shining on my noggin’ did mean that I snoozed away for twenty minutes of it… but my mum assured me it was a very thorough tour. Woops! After a freshen up and extended disco nap, we decided to take a punt on a restaurant I had seen from the mini bus (in the bit I was conscious for) and thought had looked pretty dreamy. Luckily, it was! Le Petit Barbue serves traditional French cuisine, and damn good wine. A helpful girl at the Tourist Office had recommended we try Carbonade which is a traditional French slowcooked beef stewed with Speculoos (!) and brown sugar. We also got a portion of brown shrimp Crevette & frites. The food was so delicious, every bite was perfection as we sat outside in the setting sun looking out onto the lawn with a beautiful golden angel statue towering over us, supping local red wine.

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We kicked off Saturday by taking a pearl of wisdom from the guide book (which applies to any city really) by not opting for the expensive hotel breakfast buffet. Instead we wandered up to the Grand Place and went to the original Paul bakery. You may have visited the Paul kiosks in London, and this is where they all began! We tucked into a giant plateful of pastries, mainly of the chocolate variety, and a warm baguette to smother in salty French butter and confiture. As France isn’t very decaf friendly I just had to order a hot chocolate which was basically a cup of molten green & blacks. Beyond sinful! We ate their both days as it was too good to resist.

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Saturday was one of those rare, sparkly, shiny gems of a day where everything went right. We got seats at Paul, despite it being heaving, and the sun was out and beaming on us as we embarked on our 20 minute stroll through “Old” Lille (cobbled streets, quirky buildings) to the city’s “green lungs” which consist of the Zoological Park and Bois de Boulogne which sit snugly up against the river. We started off at the Zoo, which is worth going to in the morning, before it’s swarming with families. The zoo was hands down the best zoo I have ever been to in my entire life. Considering I still have Valley of the Birds post traumatic stress disorder I was really nervous about another foreign wildlife enclosure encounter, but I was to be proved entirely wrong. Every animal was happy… gleeful infact! Each animal had public facing elements to their cage, but also vast space hidden from public eye. The zoo sprawls for miles and has just about every animal your heart could desire; red panda, the biggest owl EVER, tortoises, snakes, gibbons, pelicans, rhinos, alpaca, zebra… did I mentioned its FREE! FREE! Considering you can pay £20+ to get into London Zoo which looks bleak in comparison. I also discovered my all-time new favourite animal. This my friends is a mouse-deer. Two worlds of cute collide to create the perfect pocket pet.

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The best part of the zoo by far was the white-handed gibbons. Usually you go to a zoo and see the huge monkey adventure playground and absolutely no monkey action. In fact the last time I was at London zoo, the gorilla was sat miserably trying to put a Hessian sack over his head, it was pretty heartbreaking. In Lille the gibbons were on FIRE! They were so happy, scampering around and playing, feeding and playing in the sunshine. It was so joyful to watch and we were hypnotised for an hour just staring. As we left the zoo, another primate in the zoo started making a low grunting noise, which set the gibbons off on a mad moment of squawking and shouting. This carried on for at least 30 minutes, and wherever the other primate was he was sure winding them all up a treat. After the zoo we went for a huge walk around the Bois de Boulogne, through forest and woodland canopies, riverside paths and wildflower meadows. It was so idyllic, and of course we got lost so had some extra walking around time that took us to the old city wall ruins and then a random military base. Eventually the noise of all the fun at the fair quavered through the air and, despite the fact it was a funfair meant for tiny children, we decided that since no one knew us and we didn’t speak the language, we’d have a go on some of the rides! Not before stocking up on fairground treats too – Nutella waffles, ice cream & hand-spun candy floss.

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After a truly perfect day, we were worried our final meal in Lille had a lot of expectation groaning on it’s shoulders. We headed for Old Town again and if you go, I’d recommend you eat here rather than New Town. The narrow winding streets are packed with restaurants, all of which looked tempting. We headed to the Rue Saint-Jacque and found a tiny little traditional restaurant, which incredible bric-a-brac covered walls and even stuffed lapan on the window sills! We were very happy to see the other Lille-special on the menu that we had been told we HAD to try; welsch. It’s basically the BEST welsh rarebit you’ve ever eaten in your life, served bubbling away in a deep dish. My mum opted for one with a local cheese called Maroilles and I boldly opted for a mega stinky blue. They came with fries and a fresh lettuce salad and although we were groaning after consuming a vat of cheese between us, it was so tasty. We had to practically roll each other home though.

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On our last morning we walked to the outskirts of Lille centre to the weekly flea market held the in residential area at Quartier de Wazemmes. I’ve been to plenty of markets and souks in my time but this was by far the biggest! It must have been over a mile long, with stall after stall of heaped spices, fresh herbs, fruit & veg, north African clothes, cheeses, knock off electronics, religious materials, antiques etc The smells are as impressive as the sights, and we must have looked like cartoon characters following our noses around to the most tempting stalls. The market is chaotic, slow moving, jam-packed down every strip of stalls. Your senses are absolutely plunged into market madness, and it’s a real experience. The nicest part was that we were the only tourists! I didn’t hear any accents other than French, and you can tell it’s mostly visited by families flocking there to stock up and bargain hunt. I was on the hunt for a nice Breton style top as it is true, French people LOVE a striped top and I had serious style envy. Sadly there wasn’t a stripe in sight at the market so I left empty handed and obsessed with tracking down the perfect stripe. I’m currently lusting over this Claude Pierlot number thanks to Wish Wish Wish’s recommendation but even IN the sale, it’s a little over budget. If you find yourself in Lille over a weekend – then the city centre shuts up on a Sunday, so Wazemmes is really the only thing you’ll find to do.

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And there we go, that’s Lille. I felt like in 2.5 days we saw pretty much everything we wanted to (we aren’t really museum people, but I could see there were tons if you are) and it was just the right amount of time to soak everything up. I’d highly recommend a weekend in Lille to anyone. It was remarkably cheap – we did a cheapy train+hotel Eurostar deal, and I spend about £70 in total over the whole weekend and that included a little Sephora spree. As it’s so walkable there are no transport costs, and Paul bakery’s prices makes it hard to spend over a fiver in there. Lille’s finest quality is that despite it being on the Eurostar, it hasn’t started pandering to tourists. We barely saw a menu in English, there wasn’t a single tourist shop (no “I heart Lille” tees to be found) and we saw no hen do’s or gangs of ladz (sadly unlike Bruges and Prague). It has its problems (it smells of wee, basically all the time in the centre, and I saw 4 men just peeing in broad daylight on the street…) and the homeless issue was quite tough to take in. Obviously I live in London so it’s not new to me, but with that in mind I was still shocked by some of the scenarios and we only saw one police officer the whole trip, which makes me wonder if it’s just a situation that’s being ignored. That said, these are issues that any large city has to some degree, and Lille certainly will go down as one of my favourite weekend excursions. It really did have it all.

And next? Well despite having only been to France twice in my whole life, I am visiting it twice in two weeks! On Monday I jet to Nice, to spend a week in Cannes. Sadly this one isn’t a wine-and-cheese fest, it’s for work. I will spend 80% of the week in a conference centre BUT… I will try to escape and take some snaps of palm trees and beach parties when I can. Bon voyage (again)!

 

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This time last week I thought I would be in London this weekend, pottering around a market or watching Django Unchained and zooming about on the tube. Actually, I am back home in Yorkshire! During the week I spoke to my Mum and had a sudden urge to pay her a post-birthday visit. I started scrabbling through the pages of my already-scrappy 2013 paper diary and with a heady combination of Morocco holiday, NY & LA working weeks, a 30th, an engagement party and two hen do’s (suddenly realising that I am so that age!) I wouldn’t have been able to get back to Yorkshire until April at the earliest, so quickly booked myself a ticket for this weekend and here I am.

It is never a hardship for me to come back home. I’m fortunate enough to remain extremely close to my parents so any real-life time (rather than Skype time) is always much appreciated and only a 3 hour train ride away. I also still get massively homesick for the village, the city, the country and the NORTH that I grew up in and feel like I breathe easier the second I walk through the door to the home I have lived in my whole life. I’m sure nowadays it’s quite unusual to have only had one family home and I appreciate that I’m very fortunate to still be able to bluster in full of London stories and tense work shoulder stresses and dump myself on the sofa and be in the first and only proper home I have ever known. Now that I visit at the age of 28, being well and truly moved out for approaching a decade, it’s sometimes almost like going to a museum of memories. In every part of every room I have existed as a baby, a toddler, a child, a teenager… and sometimes the ghosts of yourself in days gone past creep upon you when you least expect it. I’m a nostalgia sucker anyway and constantly pick the scabs of good and sad times gone by, but the anonymity and scale of London makes it far easier to avoid triggers of past times and constantly recreate yourself and your life. Once you are back in a land of everything familiar and covered in layer after layer of people and moments and heartaches and experiences it’s like opening the floodgates to everything that’s ever happened to you.

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So I seem to have transformed myself into a SNOW HUNTER! This time last week my whole weekend revolved around snow, and this weekend… despite London swooning away in positively balmy sunshine, I have been back out in the snow as about 7 inches fell overnight here. It was my mum who suggested taking the sledge (!) so we bundled up with some serious knitwear (and showing her increased intelligence, my mum opted for waterproofs too, whereas I typically had to slope home with a soggy bottom and jeans dripping in thawing snow). The amazing thing about this snow day was the bright blue sky overhead. I’ve got used to the claustrophobic low mushroomy London sky this week, so it felt like we were somewhere far more exotic and piste-like than Bradford. The snow was so incredibly deep that my first attempt at sledging involved me sitting on the snow, moving about a foot, and then sinking. Clearly my weekly 5k run/pilates/swimming regime has not shifted enough of those Christmas pounds yet!  We had to adopt a very scientific approach to creating a proper sledge route which involved compacting the snow down with our wellies and then sledging over and over again until it was super-speedy and slick. I am definitely a far worse driver than my mum though, as I kept nosediving into snow banks and twice the sledge stopped and I carried on going, getting some classy derrière friction burning.

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We even tried once going down together in the sledge and recreating Cool Runnings. Luckily there weren’t too many people around to see two fully grown women trying to fit onto a tiny piece of plastic and whooping down the hill! Can you see how hideous my wellies are? They are bright neon pink with yellow Mr-Blobby spots and I can very clearly remember buying them when I was 15, so its a good job my feet haven’t grown. That’s another thing I love about my family home, there’s always the odd old item around for emergency weather. After haring up and down our sledge track for a good half an hour, I was scampering about like an idiot and DROPPED my iPhone in the snow! The snow was so deep that it instantly covered the spot where my phone had fallen in, like a vortex. I am ashamed to say that I think I reacted with the speed and fear of a parent who’s child has just fallen in a lake or something! I dove head first and dug dug dug until I found my (white – helpful) phone and ripped the cover off, trying to get the melting snow to stop creeping into all the nooks and electricity ports. After giving it a big wipe with my jumper and blowing on it a bit,  it miraculously seems completely fine? I am aware that after 5 minutes buried in melting snow this should not be the case… so really hope that in a few days it doesn’t die a death, but its charging away and sending messages and happily posting my 1000th photo to instagram, so perhaps I got really lucky.

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As we were leaving there was a mum with two toddlers setting about a sledging session herself, and I was really tempted to point out to her that she could very well still be doing this in her sixties with her grown up kids if she was anything like us! Considering I had no idea or plans to be here this weekend, it’s definitely turned into a memory I’ll always treasure and never forget. I better go retrieve my clothes that are drying in various places all over the house and go get an afternoon bath (such a guilty pleasure) and attempt to finish my current book. I’m reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern which fits well and truly into the modern fairy tale genre that am a total fiend for (if you haven’t read any I’d recommend Of Bee’s & Mist, The Man Who Rained & The Snow Child). Sometimes a book comes along that just captures your attention and heart immediately, and The Night Circus is definitely one of them for me. The writing style is incredibly evocative and uses every sense to ensure you feel that you not just reading about the circus, but that you’re actually a part of it too. It so vivid that I’ve had three dreams about being at the circus from the book now, and quite like the way it’s dominating my sub concious slumbering (way more fun than dreaming about keynote presentations and VFX job jargon). I’ll be quite sad when I finish the book but I have to stop dawdling as I am falling way behind in my pesky 51 book challenge.

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Hello 2012! I meant what I said, I really have returned to the land of Bee blogging, life has just been getting in the way a little bit. First it was all Christmas chaotic and then my first week back at work involved far too much desk-lunching and squinting at my computer screen, and not enough 11am drinking and living on a diet of roasted peanuts, turkey sandwiches and cheeselets for my festively conditioned body! Despite these pesky blog-obstacles, I have a really good feeling about 2012, and all the exciting adventures I will have to write about.

Anyway one thing sure to kick my ass into some Sunday afternoon scibbling (ok typing) is the fact tomorrow is my biggest blog-fan’s birthday. She has been a dedicated reader, a fan-email sender and all round eagle eye on all things Like a Skeleton Key. And she is… my mum! (This probably = minus cool points for some people, but she is the coolest fan I can think of having) So this little update is especially for her. When I mentioned I might blog about this trip we took, she said ooh I better watch my Ps & Qs if I’m going to be written about. I don’t think I have ever heard her utter more than a flip and she needs to be pretty raging to even drop one of those, but feel free to read this imagining that she swore at everyone she encountered and I’ve edited it out, it might make for a funnier read.

My mum and I have a tradition of going on a couple of weekend breaks every year. We’ve been known to pack ourselves off to chic Euopean locations like Paris… Bruges… Liverpool… Manchester… and this year her pick for a weekend jaunt was (drum roll) Nottingham. Yup, I know. I have to say, although it sounds very nice and all, I did give it a bit of a nose crinkle and furrowed brow as it’s a city I just didn’t know very much about – let alone what on earth we might find to entertain her there for three days. I’m glad to say, I was proved very wrong to be so doubtful.

We stayed in a standard Premier Inn, costing about the price of a round of drinks in London (!) per night. I am a big Hotel fan so found the room pretty swell even though it was no-frills. And of course I was chivalrous and gave my mum the double bed whilst I slept in the pull-out kiddy bed contraption that kept threatening to munch me everytime I so much as tensed a muscle in my sleep.

On the first day we just pottered around the town centre, which is really easily walkable and has some pretty areas to explore, like the old Lace Market and Hockley. I had the joy of introducing my mum to Shakeaway! I think these milkshake bars are quite common down South, but I’d only ever had the pleasure once before so was thrilled to stumble across one in Nottingham’s central square. I opted for a chocolate chip, dime bar and cheesecake special. (Mum opted for ‘just chocolate, just normal chocolate please’ ! Probably their easiest customer of forever) Mine tasted delicious, but also like diabetes in a cup and gave me the sugar-jitters for about 3 hours after; which was seriously badly timed with me having to pop into Primark to buy a cardigan. I had forgotten (tut, despite being Northern) that anywhere outside of London doesn’t have the protective smog jacket of stinky warmth, and so was in need of extra layers.

All set with my new chunky mustard knitwear (I am obsessed with mustard this year after never ever wearing anything that colour before. I’m like a magpie and now own so much mustard coloured clothing it might need it’s own drawer in my wardrobe. It’s a worry) I was ready to do some more exploring. We headed out of the city centre towards the Nottingham Trent campus, where there is an Arboretum. I didn’t know what this was, so to the uncultured, it’s basically another word for park. It was definitely worth a look; it had a nice lake, muchos ducks, ornamental gardens, exotic birds to peer at, a little maze and lots of leaves to kick. I think if we’d had longer I would have ventured out on the tram to Wollaton Hall & Park because it has real life deer and as previously mentioned, I love a good deer spot.


If you do find yourself in Nottingham, I think the best recommendation I received (via the power of Twitter) was Lee Rosy’s Tea Room,which is tucked away in the backstreets of Hockley, nestled between some nice independent art and music shops. They serve hundreds of different types of tea and a plethora of yummy cake goods. Not so good for lunch, as it’s just basic sandwiches on offer, so perhaps better as a good excuse for taking afternoon tea like a fancy person. The tea room was bustling but had a really nice atmopshere and very friendly staff, and was a great place to sit supping from our seemingly never ending pot of tea and reading books for an afternoon. They also stock tea to buy online here. I bought my boyfriend some lapsang souchong for Christmas (and a yellow submarine tea infusor, how cute is it?!) and it was really nicely pacakaged and tasted just as good at home without a nice waitress to brew it for you.

The more I write, the more wholesome and twee our Nottingham trip seems! I was going to say we did do one thrill-seeking, adrenaline pumping activity… but it was taking a ride on the carousel in the city centre. Ok, so we were definitely the only people on there over the age of 8, but it did go really fast and was dead scary, honest.

I’d definitely take a trip back to Nottingham. It was cheap, it was cheery and if nothing else takes you fancy – it’s probably the only place in the world where you can ride a carousel horse named Grandma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Normal service will resume shortly I promise. I went home, and had lots of adventures including seeing The Decemberists (definitely up there with one of the best gigs of my LIFE, and I hate audience participation!), saw my friends beautiful baby and didn’t make it cry once, sleepovers and sleeptalks with old friends, being faux French with Kerry, witnessing an 8 year old order a cappucino in Starbucks (!), dancing to Rhianna in 4 inch heels (something I do not do on any sort of regular basis), eating ice cream with a spoon in my friends car whilst spotting stars in the middle of a moor, pink wine and pink cupcakes and lots of fresh Yorkshire air.

I headed out on a countryside stroll with my mum, who ended up dragging me through tunnels, wading into rivers and teetering down cliff faces (ok, steep hills). She will now be forever known as action-mum…

Since I got back to London I’ve been feeling homesick. There’s something so soothing about walking walks you’ve done since you were a child and so many of my very best friends are there, that it’s hard not to do a bit of pining when I’m back hundreds of miles away from all that again. Then my grown up job exploded into chaos and I have worked so hard and so many hours this week I’ve burst a bloodvessel in my eye.

Hot stuff!

 

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Carrying on my monthly weekend-escape resolution, this weekend I hopped on the very slow train to Stoke on Trent. Luckily I’m reading a brilliant book right now (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters) and so six hours travel time means I’m nearly finished it. Now I’m sure S-o-T doesn’t conjure up the most exotic visions in most peoples minds; but it’s the home of my best friend, so I’m becoming pretty well acquainted with it. Saying that, most of the weekend usually revolves around sitting in her lovely house cooing at her cute cats, chattering a hundred words a minute, watching Airline episodes from the 90s, listening to Wing covering ACDC and drinking frangelico. So, we could be anywhere really!

We were meant to do useful things like (her) wedding planning today, but instead we just watched The Wrestler. I can’t believe it has taken until now for me to see that film; as usual I got sick of the hype around it and the missed the boat entirely. It was so beautiful and I thought the ending was esquisite. If you’ve not seen it, it is definitely worth a Sunday afternoon screening.

On the way home I ate my first Easter snack! Remember my posts on Top 5 Halloween snacks and Christmas Sandwiches? Well both of these seasons have got NOTHING on Easter confectionery and I don’t even mean zz mini eggs or the creme variety. If you haven’t noticed yet the shops are going wild with chocolate mostly based around two things: 1) bunnies and 2) caramel. Two of my favourite things! I’m going to use this blog as an excuse to buy every one I see and write about them in great detail. Oh it’s a hardship.

 

 

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Part of my new years resolutions this year was to have a bit less of a stressed stretched money attitude, and the obsessive need to keep weekends free for boring things like chores and emails and boxsets. So I have been plotting a lot more escapes out of the big smokey city and luckily have lots of friends and family and fancy folk who want to do just the same!

Last weekend me, my cousin and her boyfriend packed up a car with blankets and nibbles and a speaker and drove down some VERY dark scary roads with 270 degree hairpin bends (!) to the little coastal village of Winchelsea, East Sussex which is just next to Rye and Camber Sands. We had hired a super Street Car but the lights were a little dazzling to say the least, so grumpy drivers kept tooting and flashing their lights at us about it. The combination of this and the pitch black roads had me convincing everyone there was a body on our roof, or an axe weilding maniac hitching a ride on the back, or some other Urban Legend type scenario!

Anyway, we arrived at ‘Pebbles’ beach cottage safely with limbs and lives intact and as you can see, it couldn’t really be any quainter.

Once there, we lit a fire and many many tealights and settled into the comfy sofa. We had a martini-making expert in our midst so plenty of them were shaken and stirred and supped which led to some late nights and sore heads!

The weekend was so idyllic and felt like it lasted forever, there is something about sea air, totaly darkness at nights and silence except for squawky seagulls and pounding waves that you can’t help but relax around!

& Because we were coastal, I wore my amazing new swallow (seagull?!) print jumper which was £11 from TESCO of all places. They really have upped their fashion game, I just couldn’t walk past this without putting it into my basket along with two green peppers and a tube of toothpaste!

Now I am back, my flat is a sty and I have 1001 chores to do but it was worth it! I am now busily booking a Mothers Day weekend in Bruges for me and my mum, so if you have ever been or heard anything about it… please do share! My knowledge is limited to chips&mayo and waffles. I’m sure there is alot more on offer than just that!

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Hotels are one of my favourite things, EVER. Growing up in a big family, hotels just did not feature on the radar of life. All holidays consisted of being crammed into log cabins or country cottages or youth hostels. I don’t think I stayed in a hotel for the first time until I was 15, on a school trip to London! To most people this is probably ridiculous but this period of denial means that hotels = Christmas to me. Growing up and seeing them in movies (Witches! Home Alone!) they seemed like this unobtainable dream that only really wealthy or proper grown up people got to experience.

Even first discovering Premier Inns was a joy, so cheap yet you still get a little kettle and sachets of hot chocolate and a TV and sheets you don’t have to wash yourself. Now I have stayed in a few hotels with work and weddings and other things like that, the excitement still doesn’t go away. However I have started getting more of a refined taste; understanding that paying just 10 or 20 pounds more to stay in a non-chain or more boutique hotel can bring joys like a ROBE! and a nice big bath, or being able to order chips at 3am if you want to.

I think I love the anonymity. The idea that thousands have people have stayed in your very room. Who were they? What were they doing? Were they happy? I guess the prospect of staying in a bed that has been slept (er and more maybe!) in by other people every night might gross alot of people out but it fascinates me and my over active imagination. There is something so peaceful and nicely lonely about hotel rooms. I have a collection of hotel photographs which I will save for another day, as they are part of a shh secret project… soon to be revealed.

Today I am in the Abode Hotel . This hotel is a double winner because my work are picking up the bill, as I’m here on business (love saying that, it still sounds ricidulous that someone would pay me to do any kind of business. Adulthood is mighty stealthy).

My room is beautiful. Green vintage tiled walls, pink button tiled bathroom, free BURTS crisps! and a ginormous bed that I don’t even take up 1/4 of.

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