Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A week up North

Sometimes you win £300 on a couples game show and you impulse book a trip to Yorkshire. 

When you time that trip with a birthday, and a long weekend in Middlesborough with your pals, it becomes the staycation that dreams are made of. I am, well I was, painfully unfamiliar with the North - by which I mean anywhere north of London. I've been to Liverpool once, and Yorkshire twice, and I think that's pretty much my claim to Northern fame. Until now. With our winnings, we booked to stay in Appleton-le-Street, a tiny village neatly positioned between York and the North York Moors, for 3 nights before heading up to Middlesborough for another few nights. It was a relaxing, but fun-packed week of sightseeing and wandering and boat tripping, and the greatest introduction to North that I could have wanted. 

One of the main reasons we decided to go to Yorkshire was to go to York. I had fond memories of vikings and forts from going as a child, and Simon had only been once before and spent it caught in torrential rain. So, our first day was spent in York, in beautiful sunshine. It's a lovely city just to be in, wandering the streets, sitting in the Museum Gardens, popping in the shops to buy emergency socks. We kicked off our day with York Minster which, to me, what surprisingly huge and set up as a really impressive tourist attraction. We paid to go round the cathedral and the crypts, and I'm so glad we did because there was so much to see and learn. The stained glass windows were incredibly impressive, but the crypts were one of the real highlights. We discovered one of the coolest, most Gothic artefacts I've ever seen: the Doomstone - which depicts damned souls being pushed into a cauldron by creepy goblins. The 'educational' aspect of the tour was really great, with some of the undercroft having been turned into a kind of exhibition, about the construction of York Minster and the redesign and rebuilding which has taken place over the years. It's a definite must-see if you're in York. After a picnic lunch in the Museum Gardens, we headed down to the river for a boat trip. York Boat had an open top, so we could cruise along the river in the sun, seeing the scenery and learning about some local history. It was a really relaxing way to spend 45 minutes, and a great way to see another side of the city. We couldn't leave York without visiting the fort, and walking the city walls - and did so just as it was cooling down, and the sun was beginning to set. The city walls are such an iconic and novel thing in York, and walking along them feels a bit like being in an ancient adventure playground. From the walls we had amazing views of the city, especially the cathedral, and it was the perfect way to end a really lovely day. We made a GBK pit stop before heading back, because burgers and student discount and the skinniest, tastiest fries, and headed for the Park & Ride. 

Our second day was rainy. Classic the North. Since we were staying just down the road from Castle Howard, and we love a castle, we decided we'd head there for a day of giant houses, impressive gardens and hanging out with pensioners. And that's exactly what we did. We enjoyed wandering round the house, seeing both the authentic bits and, later, unauthentic rooms which had been destroyed by a fire - and learning about it's famed reputation for being the location for the filming of Brideshead Revisited. In a short gap in the rain, we headed into the forest, to the reservoir and the Temple of the Winds - and I wish the weather had held out for longer so we could have done some more exploring of the lake! However, a wet afternoon provided the perfect setting to go and explore the Moors. So we headed off, into the mist, and the grey, and the wind (in the car) for a drive. I love the Moors because there's something so simultaneously enthralling and bleak about them. I feel like I'm being sucked right back in to Wuthering Heights, and always on the lookout for Heathcliff...or a ghost. Instead, we discovered some nice sheep, heather, and a really cool little ford. 

Gradually making our way further north, we spent our next day in Whitby, which was buzzing on its Regatta Weekend. I had quite a distinctive image in my mind about what Whitby was going to be like (think tacky seaside town), but it was anything but. It was a cross between a quaint coastal town and an actual real life place, where people, not just tourists, can spend time. We ventured up the steps, on to the cliff, to Whitby Abbey - the Gothic ruins which inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. We walked around in bright sunshine, but you can imagine on a darker, stormier and quieter night, it would be really eerie and you'd find yourself looking over your shoulder...for Dracula. There was so much going on in Whitby: from fun fairs, to outdoor theatre, to dog shows - and there was a brilliant, welcoming, family atmosphere. Although it was busy, it was a cosy kind of busy, far away from London, where you felt like everyone wanted to be there, despite the rain, and everyone was having fun. 

Our penultimate day took us to the Farne Islands, a group of islands located 3 miles off the coast of Northumberland. We took a 3 hour boat trip from Seahouses, around the islands, stopping on the main island for a nosey round, before returning back to shore. The Farne Islands are renowned for their wildlife, and we were lucky enough to see so many seals, as well as many different kinds of sea bird. It was so great, and I'd 100% recommend it. Then, what better way to spend our last day than in Newcastle. A delicious lunch at The Botanist was followed by a wander around the city in the sun. It was the first time I'd ever been to Newcastle, and I hope it's not the last. It was really cool to see the Tyne Bridge, and pop into the Baltic art gallery quickly before it closed. We made a quick pit stop to see The Angel of the North up close and personal on our way back, which was a real highlight. It's such an enormous, iconic and impressive structure - and made me feel like I'd truly been in the North! 

It was such a chilled, fun week of visiting new places, experiencing some of the wonders of the North, and spending quality time in lovely company. It's made me want to go on some sort of staycation every year; there's so much of the UK that I've not seen, and so many amazing places to visit. Next on my list is the Lake District, and Wales, and Cornwall. Oh and Edinburgh! It was a much needed reminder that you don't have to leave the country to have time away, to see new places, and to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Plus, I got a hair braid whilst in York - and that's a sign if there ever was one that you're truly on holiday! 

Big up the staycation, and big up the North. 


Friday, 26 August 2016

Recent Reads #10

Reading makes me feel like I'm home when I'm not at home. But in a better sort of home where I don't have to think or worry about everything, and where I'm living my life through someone else. Reading is comforting and relaxing. Reading is the best thing you can do when you want to feel happy, and comfortable, and normal. I didn't have a huge number of opportunities to read whilst being away, with jam-packed days and evenings spent with friends, but I managed to get my way through a couple of books, sitting in airports, on minibuses and during sleepless nights. So here's a look back at a few of the things I've read recently...

Yes Please - Amy Poehler
So I've never seen Saturday Night Live or Parks & Recreation, and I don't really know who Amy Poehler is. But it didn't really matter. This book was recommended to me as a good plane/holiday read: something isn't too heavy, but isn't mind-numbingly awful. As I've said before, I don't read a lot of non-fiction but I always seem to enjoy it when I do, and this book was no different. It was the perfect travelling read, so easy to dip in and out of, and funny. It even made me laugh during my ninth hour spent waiting in Johannesburg airport. It's a kind of autobiography, but also kind of a 'have some life lessons because I'm a normal woman too', and it was the variety that kept me interested. I imagine that if you are a huge Amy Poehler fan and/or you've watched some of her shows, this book means a lot more to you than it did to me. I still appreciated it for what it was though: an insight into acting/showbiz, an insight into a brave, hilarious and confident woman's working life, a reminder that we're not all perfect all (much of) the time, and a laugh. It's a book that's impossible not to enjoy. Give it a go. 
4 / 5

Together Apart - Natalie Martin
I listened to this book as part of an Audible trial, and I wasn't that impressed (with Audible of the book). Firstly, I think Audible is a bit of a rip off. It's like if Netflix said 'hi, pay this subscription and you can only watch one tv show a month'. Needless to say, I've cancelled my membership. I don't know if my opinion of this book was tainted by the fact that the lady reading it had a really annoying voice, or whether the book just wasn't very good. The book begins with Adam's proposal to Sarah...and the rest of the book is about why Sarah says no. It felt like not a lot happened for a really long time, and then loads was squashed in right at the end. Neither of the main characters are likeable, and it's hard to really empathise with either of them. It was one of those books that I definitely would have put down if I hadn't already paid an Audible subscription, and I wasn't spending 7 hours sitting in a minibus with little to do but listen to an audiobook. An insubstantial novel with horrid characters. 
1 / 5

High Fidelity - Nick Hornby 
This is a bit of a retro one. I saw an advert for the film on tv a couple of months back, and figured it looked good. But I don't really like watching a film before I've read the book...if I know there's a book. So that's what I did, and I thought it was great, and I now want to watch the film. I love Nick Hornby: his books are warm and funny and engaging. His characters share the same flaws as us, and are hilariously and scarily relatable. High Fidelity is about one man's struggle with love, and the exes that made him and broke him. It is through this re-examination of his life and loves, and his time spend wallowing in his record shop, that he rediscovers love, right where he started. Rob asks the same questions and worries about the same things we all do: is she the one? Is she too good for me? Why him? And what am I doing? It's the book of self-discovery and commitment and change and love and selfishness that we all need in our lives. 
5 / 5

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

London Wishlist

It's always the way that when things, people or places are right on your doorstop, you never get round to visiting. When you're living in zone 2 South London, you don't always feel like you're really in London and it's easy to avoid, or simply never get round to, visiting all those places on your list. Over the last couple of years, I've done so many great things in London: visited St Paul's Cathedral, seen lots of West End Shows, been swimming with sharks at London Aquarium - but my to-do list seems to be growing a lot faster than I can possibly keep up with. Weekends out in London are always in competition with weekends in the countryside, weekends chilling at friend's houses and weekends watching Police Interceptors in bed...but one of my 'moving back to London vows' is to make more effort to go out, and see and eat and enjoy being in London whilst I'm here and I have some money to. 

Victoria Park
I love a good park, and I've heard a lot of really great things about Victoria Park...but I've never been. Situated in the East End, kind of Bethnal Green/Hackney area, Victoria Park has historically been known as 'The People's Park', created initially for London's working class. After having received major investment in recent years, Victoria Park is now considered to be one of London's most impressive parks, with lots of recreation facilities, a large lake, an audio trail, and a cafe which supposedly offers a lovely lakeside lunch. I'm keen to head up to Victoria Park on a sunny morning, with my bike and some chums, for a relaxing day of pootling around the park, lunch by the lake and sunbathing and people watching on the grass. 

Rowan's Bowling, Finsbury Park
I'm pretty sure that at least 50% of my childhood school holidays were spent going bowling. I'm positive that at least 90% of the children's birthday parties I went to involved bowling. I love bowling. So a retro American-style bowling alley, complete with bars and an arcade, is my idea of a perfect night out. Where bowling is concerned, the opportunities in London are fairly slim so the famed alleys do tend to be pretty popular. I don't often find myself in North London, and that's probably why I've not frequented Rowan's just yet, but it sounds like it could be the place for Laura's birthday 2k16. What better way to turn 23 than realising that you're not as good at bowling as you remembered, and rediscovering that air hockey is the best sport around. 

Duck and Waffle
I don't really like, or get, fancy food - and I would never spend loads of money on a meal out. However. Every single person I know that's been to the Duck and Waffle raves about it: the food, the views, the experience. From what I can work out, it's a complex booking system with a really long waiting time (unless you want to eat in the middle of the night) so I've never got round to actually booking to go. I will one day though: I will make a reservation weeks in advance, praying that I get a table with a view, and go and eat my first ever waffle (accompanied by duck leg). I have been promised by so many that it's worth the wait, and worth the money...and there must be a reason it's always so busy. 

The British Museum
I have been to the British Museum before, once, when I was in year 4 and studying the Egyptians at school. I remember seeing the Rosetta Stone, not really knowing what it was, but thinking that the hieroglyphics were cool. As a result of this visit, I decided to make some Egyptian crowns for my school project. I feel like my experience today could be slightly different. I am desperate to go and see some more mummies, but I also want to see the Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds exhibition, which explores the recently discovered Egyptian artefacts in the Mediterranean, before it ends in November. I also want to go and see all the sculptures from the Parthenon. I was really keen to visit Athens, having been really interested in ancient Greece and Greek mythology, and then I discovered that so many of the cool artefacts are in the British Museum... The British Museum is on my absolutely must visit before the end of 2016 list!

The Hive at Kew
I've been to Kew Gardens a few times, and I love it there. Summer 2016 has seen the addition of The Hive, a massive structure designed to represent the experience of the bee through a kind of immersive experience. It sounds weird, but it looks awesome. The installation is connected to a real life beehive, and mimics the activity through glowing LED lights and a humming, buzzing sound. The experience is supposed to be significantly improved when it's good weather, since that's when the bees are more active, so I'll definitely have to try and time my visit well. I'm hitting up Kew at the end of September for the Write on Kew Literary Festival, so hopefully it'll be a nice, sunny weekend and we can see The Hive in full swing!

Som saa
Som saa is a new(ish) Thai restaurant, which got its permanent residency in Spitalfields earlier this year. Thai is one of my favourite cuisines, and Som saa seems to do it really, really well - receiving excellent views from locals and critics alike. A few of my friends have been and have only come away with full tummies and absolutely glowing reviews, so I need to jump on the bandwagon! I feel like I've seen so many pictures of such incredible looking Thai sea bass, and I don't think I can go on much longer without sampling it. The restaurant doesn't really take bookings, except for larger parties, so you could find yourself waiting a little while for a table. I think it's probably worth it for some of the best Thai food you'll find in London. 

Word on the Water, London Bookbarge
A bookshop on a boat. Is this the dream? I think so. I've been following this boat for a while, metaphorically, and was thrilled when it finally secure its space at Kings Cross after a long battle. The bookshop is open from midday - 7pm every day and, I think, only closes when the weather is particularly bad. Not only do they sell a huge and varied collection of second hand books, Word on the Water is renowned for playing live music from its roof and organising poetry slams. It's such a clever, novel idea and I really hope it's well supported because it would be a huge loss to London's canals if it couldn't survive. So, on that note, I will make it my priority to head over, meet some other bookworms and add to my already overflowing bookshelf! 

Crystal Palace Park
Starting and ending with a park! Crystal Palace Park sounds like London's lost theme park to me...because it's full of DINOSAURS! The dinosaurs are one of the first ever attempts to make full size model dinosaurs, based on Charles Darwin's ideas of what dinosaurs would have looked like. As a result, they look a bit funny - but I think that makes it even better. The park is also home to a fishing lake, a maze and a farm, so it sounds like an entire day full of great, outdoor fun. At only an 18 minute drive away from my new flat, I think this is going to become one of my new, favourite London parks and a regular weekend pastime. 

London is so full of exciting, interesting and unusual places to visit. 
Have you been to any of these places? What did you think? What are your favourites?

Monday, 15 August 2016

Happy Mondays #27

I have spent 97% of the last week watching the Olympics. Perhaps 98%. It's been intense. Olympics aside, it's been a pretty busy week actually. The beginning of the week felt like it was spent dashing between different meetings with different friends: coffee with one, before another coffee with another, and dinner with another. Then the end of the week came, and I crashed, and I got a sinus infection, and I spent the weekend confined to the sofa, popping Sudafed and, you guessed it, watching the Olympics. So apart from my disgusting summer cold, it's been a nice week of catching up with lots of friends I've not seen for way too long, and preparing for Simon's birthday week pt. 1 and some time away, hanging out on the North York Moors, and visiting friends up North. 

The things that have made me happy this week...

1. A trip to the Horniman Museum with Lisle
The Horniman Museum had long been a South London mystery to me until last Monday. Hidden away in the depths of Forest Hill, it's described as an anthropology and natural history museum...with gardens. We started off with natural history, exploring a large room rammed with taxidermy and models of animals (most of it was quite good!) One of the big highlights was the huge walrus sat in the middle of the room, as well as the extensive collection of birds and, my personal favourite, orangutans. Although the museum and gardens are essentially free, there are a couple of paid exhibitions (your visit would be a pretty speedy one if you don't go to these), so we paid extra to see the dinosaurs and go to the aquarium. The dinosaur exhibition was a bit of a let down, comprising mostly of fake dinosaur eggs and some bizarre art of dinosaurs feeding their babies. Having said that, there was a huge sandpit, craft and dressing up opportunities for kids - so maybe I was just too old to be there. The aquarium was definitely worth a visit, and we saw some really excellent frogs, jellyfish and seahorses. Last on list was to check out the African Worlds and Favela photography exhibitions. The photos from Rio were really great collaboration, poignantly representing the life of young people living in Brazilian favelas. The African Worlds exhibition was not quite as impressive; it had a very strong colonial feel, and was a bit of a strange mish mash of artefacts. A lovely lunch in the cafe, and a wander round the gardens, we left some very happy people. A definite must-see if you've got a spare few hours in South East London. 

2. Drinks & catch ups with friends
I've shared apple juice, peppermint tea, G&Ts, sweets and dinner with friends this week, and it's been wonderful. Since returning from South Africa, my schedule has felt pretty jam-packed and it was nice to make some time to catch up with friends I've not seen for months. I love that feeling when you see friends you've not seen in almost a year, and everything is the same and normal and you get on just like you always did. And that's pretty much what this week has been about. I always leave these friend dates making vague plans for the next time we'll see each other and, often, it doesn't quite work out in the way you hope it does. I'm determined not to let these meetings be as infrequent, and to make time for the dinners and theatre trips and picnics that we talked about, and not let real, grown-up life and work and study and job-hunting always get in the way! 

3. Flat prep
The more stuff I organise (or Simon organises) in preparation for flat of dreams life, the more excited I get about getting our keys and moving in. This week I've made a start of the necessary enormous clear out of things I don't like/need/want, filling up black sacks and charity bags and starting to pack my things in boxes ready to move. It's funny what things you end up accumulating over the years: I've found train ticket stubs from Milan, revision timetables from my A Levels, a lot of shells collected from god knows when, and plenty of clothes I forgot I had and wonder why I bought. My list of necessary and unnecessary, affordable and unaffordable, homeware is ever growing and I'm putting off actually buying anything until after our little staycation next week so I don't preemptively bankrupt myself. I can't wait to start moving all our things in, and making our little place our own. I very kindly received some little houseplants from my lovely friend Heather this week, so now I have big plans for a flat jungle. The opportunities are endless. I can't wait!

4. Holidays
The sun has been out for several consecutive days, I've got cheery bright orange nails, and I am feeling summery. Whilst I love sitting out in the garden, with a book and a beverage in the sun, it always makes me wish that I wasn't in Sussex but Spain, or Italy, or somewhere sunnier where I can swim and don't have to spend 50% of a sunny day hanging out washing. So it's just as well Simon and I will be jetting off on holiday ONE MONTH TODAY for 6 days of chill and fun and sun and beers and sightseeing. Boy oh boy am I excited. If that wasn't enough, we've got a trip to Yorkshire to look forward to this week! I'm looking forward to some nice walks on the moors, to day trips, to hotel breakfasts and to catching up with lovely, lovely friends. YAY! 

Happy Monday! x

Saturday, 13 August 2016

London Favourites

I've spent the last three years in and out of London, mostly sitting on delayed Southern trains, travelling in and out. In a few short weeks I'll be moving back up to London, properly, for real adult life - i.e. flat and job. And I'm pretty excited about it. Having the flexibility to go in and out of London as I please for the last year has been wonderful, and given me the freedom and the escape I needed to learn to love London, and appreciate it for all of the things it has to do and offer. As a Londoner, you often spend your time desperately trying to avoid anything remotely 'touristy' because it's expensive, and full of people who just don't understand the London etiquette. For me, it was when I started becoming a tourist in London again that I remembered how to love it. There's being a tourist and going to Madame Tussaud's and M&M World and going to the Hard Rock Cafe...but there's also scope to go out, and do things, and see things, and fall back in love with London. I've been compiling a list of my London Favourites to share with you: the things I love about London, and the things that are making me excited about being back. 

Nunhead Cemetery 
London is full of historic cemeteries, and I love them. For an afternoon out, an excellent tour and the chance to see some famous graves, including those of Karl Marx, George Eliot and Alexander Litvinenko, Highgate Cemetery should be your go-to. However, if you live South, and you're looking to be transported out of London and into the forest, Nunhead is my favourite. It has a real air of Gothic darkness and gloom, containing enormous monuments and graves in amongst the overgrowth. It is also home to some quite impressive war monuments, as well as a working cemetery with many recent burials. It's popular with dog walkers, and you're guaranteed to see at least one friendly dog who wants a stroke on your wander round. The views are also worth a mention. At the highest point in the cemetery, between the trees, there are lovely views into Central London, with St Paul's Cathedral being the main focal point. The cemetery is open to the public every day, as well as offering guided walks, exploring anything from local wildlife to a tour of the crypt and chapel. 

Miss Tapas
Whilst you're south of the river, and in the Peckham area, head to Miss Tapas - London's (the world's) finest tapas. Owned by one half of South London's super-restauranteur-power-couple (Frank @ Mr Bao is the other half), Blanca is the most wonderful host, serving consistently excellent and authentic Spanish food from this small, independent restaurant. The restaurant is located just seconds from Peckham Rye, and is really popular with the locals. It's not possible to make bookings, so make sure you get there early to secure yourself a table - or be looked after at the bar until one is ready. The menu changes regularly, so it's important that you keep going back to make sure you get a chance to try all the new dishes! The patatas bravas are the best I've ever had, and you have to order the Presa Iberica de Bellota. I promise it's the best pork you'll ever eat. The dishes come out quickly, as they're ready, so you're never waiting long for food. Plus, it's easy to order more if you're still feeling peckish. I've never had any room left for dessert, and finished off every meal with a glass of sherry - a Miss Tapas signature. 

City Farms 
Farms aren't only found in the countryside. In fact, some of the best farms (I'm talking petting zoo kind of farms) I've ever been to have been in London. My most recent find, and arguably the most impressive city farm, is Mudchute Farm in the Isle of Dogs. For a start, it's huge, and home to an exciting collection of cows, pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys, llamas and all the small animals and birds you'd ever expect to see on a farm. Despite being overlooked by Canary Wharf, it doesn't feel claustrophobic or an unpleasant place for these animals to be, instead providing large spaces for them to graze. It hosts regular events, including a weaving workshop that I'm keen to try and go to, and offers lots of family fun! Although it was closed when I last visited, Mudchute Farm also has its own farm shop which I definitely want to sample next time. Surrey Docks City Farm is my other, older favourite. It's much smaller, but there are a lot of goats, and they're my favourite. The layout is much more open, allowing for more interaction with some of the animals and the opportunity to feed them. I'd definitely recommend heading there in the Spring to see the lambs, and watch them being fed. After you've seen all the animals, pop into the cafe for some lunch or a slice of cake; I recommend the fresh mint tea! 

Sky Garden
I visited the Sky Garden for the first time a few months ago, and I was really impressed. London is full of rooftop bars, but very few are 155m up, open 7 days a week all year, and free to enter. Although entry is free, you do have to book in advance (weekends & sunrise/sunset get booked up quite far ahead) and, as such, you take a bit of a risk with the weather. I was lucky that it was a bright, clear evening when I visited, and we could see for miles. The views were quite something: London looks even better from above. Being able to stand out on the viewing platform soaking up the sun definitely helped make the visit so enjoyable. The bar serves a huge range of soft and alcoholic beverages, and was creating some pretty delicious looking cocktails! I was expecting the drinks to be crazy expensive, but pleasantly surprised by the 'normal' Central London pricing. The only slight disappointment for me was the 'garden' element. Sure, there's a few rockeries and stuff, but I was expecting something a bit more exciting and jungle-esque. For a full review and some pictures, check out my post

Another rooftop bar worth a mention is Frank's Cafe, an annual pop-up bar situated on the top floor of a Peckham multi-story car park. It doesn't sound that glamorous, and it isn't, and that's what is so nice about it. The car park level is covered in benches and trestle tables, providing seating for hundreds. It does get really busy at weekends, and on sunny weekday evenings however, so I'd recommend heading up straight after work and avoiding peak weekend times to avoid the queues and grab a seat. It's a really nice, communal way of drinking and socialising, made even better by the spectacular views over London. The views extend from the London Eye, across Central London and the City, to the Shard, Canary Wharf, and as far as the O2 - so you really do see the length of London. The drinks are reasonably priced, and I hear the food is pretty good this year, so pitch up with some friends on a sunny afternoon, eat, drink and don't leave until it gets too chilly to stay. Frank's is open until 1st October this year, so you've got plenty of time to make the most of it! 

Hyde Park
A little cliché perhaps, but Hyde Park is my favourite London park. There are better (and more) dogs in Regents Park, but there's something about Hyde Park, with the Serpentine, the Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, and all the hidden, secluded spots - perfect for a sunbathe, picnic or afternoon reading - that makes it extra special.  One of my favourite things about London is its relative abundance of open green spaces, and the opportunities it presents to escape the cityscape for a little while. I have fond memories of evenings spent wandering in Hyde Park, afternoons Boris Biking and eating ice cream, and post-exam picnics with friends. I'm looking forward to working just down the road from the park come September, and the chance to take a break from the office at lunchtime, see some dogs and get some fresh air. 

The Horniman Museum 
The Horniman Museum is a brand new favourite, having only visited for the first time last Monday. Ambitious plans to head to the British Museum for a morning of Egyptians were hindered by useless public transport, so the appeal of a short bus journey to the Horniman Museum at Forest Hill won us over. I had few expectations, and they were pretty much all surpassed. Arguably, the museum is comprised of a slightly unusual combination of collections and exhibitions: think Natural History Museum meets Wildlife Photographer of the Year meets London Aquarium meets 'hi, remember colonialism'. It was great though. There is a huge, and quite hilarious, collection of taxidermy, an exhibition dedicated to dinosaurs (largely focusing on dinosaur eggs), an amazing collection of photos taken in Rio, a mini aquarium and gardens with a great view over London. It was a lovely way to spend a morning, and I'll definitely be going back one day. 

Where are your favourite places in London? What do you recommend? 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Happy Mondays #26

I think this is the first Monday morning of the year that I've woken up sweaty, so I guess that means it's officially summer now and I'm really happy about it. Three pretty chilly weeks in South Africa, and missing the infamous British heatwave, made me worried that I'd missed summer forever and it was only a matter of time before my tan faded and was replaced by my knitwear. BUT ALAS NO! Today I get to enjoy London in the sun, which is the best kind of London (unless you're on the tube, at work, battling tourists) and I'm excited. Last week was a week of estate agents, lusting over homeware & life admin. I hope this week is one of sun, friends & countryside weekends. 

This week I'm happy because...

1. I had a lovely day out with my Nan
Lots of my fondest childhood memories are of days out with my Nan: going to the theatre, going to the seaside, visiting every National Trust property within a 20 mile radius. In the last couple of years, it's gradually been reduced to a lunch date here, a dinner date there, or an afternoon sorting out the mess Windows 10 has inevitably created on her laptop. A day out to Eltham Palace in South London was well overdue, since both of us had spoken about wanting to visit for a long time. Run by English Heritage, Eltham Palace was a medieval palace transformed into an elaborate, Art Deco mansion by the Courtald's in the 1930s. It feels very homely, but very Gatsby - a guesthouse come party venue. We were both really impressed with how well it's been kept and restored, and learned lots about the house and the family with our free audio guides! We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and catch up in the conservatory and a wander around the gardens and rockeries before heading back to Sussex. It was a really lovely day, and Eltham Palace is definitely worth a visit if you've ever got a spare half day in South London! 

2. Orange is the New Black season 4
I really enjoyed the first 3 series, but found myself struggling with the beginning of series 4. I started watching it before I went to South Africa, but wasn't nearly as gripped as usual and, as a result, didn't binge watch it in 48 hours. I decided to have a break, and leave the remainder of the series until I came back. It got better, and yesterday morning I watched the final two episodes, and oh my god. I was not ready for my favourite character to be killed off at 9am on a Sunday morning. I'm not going to lie, it was an emotional morning. I wept into my cup of ginger tea, and lost my appetite for my anticipated bacon sandwich - opting for a simple piece of toast instead. I felt guilty that I doubted the series, and Netflix, at the beginning of the season because that was an excellent ending, if not a totally traumatic one. It has so cleverly set up so many story lines and questions and relationships for the next series: what's going to happen to Sofia? Will Healy be back? Will Dia shoot him? What will Caputo do? Why is Taystee so badass? I like that the series is running so many good stories that don't revolve around Piper and Alex (because they suck), and I can't wait until the new series next year! 

3. A scorching Saturday
I was in bed by 9.15pm on Friday night (watching OITNB) and wide awake at 6.45am on Saturday morning. It was already really warm, and the sun was beaming through the gap in my curtains, and I decided it was going to be a good day. I made myself breakfast, and returned to bed to eat it, returning to OITNB grip. The best thing about waking up really early at the weekend is that you feel like you've had a really leisurely morning by 8.30, and you have so much day left. I had a nice day in the sun with my mum, chilling in the garden, barbecuing, and shopping for Cava, sandals and workwear. It turns out that it's virtually impossible to buy work trousers and/or skirts that fit if you're really little, but it also turns out that Aldi sells good Cava (but very little else). You could say that it was a day of monumental discoveries. Either way, I finally invested in some sandals, I ate many a sausage, drank many a G&T and topped up my tan - and that's what I call a Saturday well spent. 

4. The Olympics 
I  l o v e  The Olympics. I am not an athlete, and I know very little about sport, but I would happily sit and watch The Olympics for two weeks solid. It's not that I'm especially patriotic, and I don't really care how many medals Team GB win, but there's something about watching all of these athletes at the top of their field that just blows my mind. They can just run so fast and jump so high and swim like a giant human fish. I know we're only on Day 3, but I don't seem to have managed to catch the most thrilling events yet. I feel like I've seen a lot of archery and hockey. I need to step up my game, check out the schedule and commit to some hardcore watching! 

Hope you all have happy Mondays, and lovely, sunny weeks! X

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Happy Mondays/Tuesdays #25

Happy Tuesday! I forgot Monday was Monday. Miss me? Miss this little ray of sunshine every week? Well I did, but in these last 4 weeks I'd had so much to be happy about and grateful for, and it's kept me going through the South African winter, plane delays and exhaustion. But I'm home now, back to reality, and I've never been so happy about it. After 3 weeks of being surrounded by people (albeit lovely people who I really miss being surrounded by), coming back to my own space, some time to myself, and my own room was the dream. I've had a lovely week of pottering, and running errands, and sorting out my life and enjoying my own company. My time spent away helped me put things into perspective a bit, and has made me realise how lucky I am - compared to poverty-stricken South Africans, blind wildebeest, and friends who don't have things as easy I do. It's also just given me a bit of a refresh. It was a break from everything, and a chance to go and do something completely different. Now I feel like I've got the energy and the desire to come back and hit the ground running and make the most of the time I have before I have to be an adult, and go to work every day. So you could say this is one of my happiest Mondays yet...

1. I got to eat real food
I have been hungry for an entire week. I don't really understand why, because I ate normally in South Africa... Maybe it's just the excitement of being able to eat food that isn't beef and rice, and my stomach adjusting to the plethora of eating options available to me. My first meal back was a bacon sandwich at Heathrow, and bacon has literally never tasted so good. I was so excited to have a proper, home cooked meal that evening, and one that was really hot, rather than lukewarm from being sat out on a counter. I was reunited with my one true love, Robinson's lemon squash, and I hope never to be separated again. I went to Cafe Nero and got one of those confusing coffees with loads of things in it, just because I could, and I've eaten my way through countless bowls of cereal, homemade cranberry muffins and satisfied my need for fruit/salad/vegetables. I'm pretty sure I put the 8lbs I lost whilst away back on by day 3. 

2. I got to see everyone again 
It wasn't until I got to Heathrow arrivals and saw Simon there waiting for me at 5.30am last week that I realised how much I'd missed him. It wasn't until he looked after me all day, made me food and gave me snugs that I realised how much I'd actually missed him. It wasn't until I got back to Sussex and my mum had changed my sheets for me and made me dinner, that I realised that I'd missed her - or until I had a 5 hour long catch up with my Nan that I realised I'd missed her too. Being away, and being busy, and being surrounded by people, I felt like I'd not had much of a chance to miss people. And that was great. But I loved the feeling of coming home to everyone, telling them all about my trip and distributing the presents I'd bought, and it made me think that I had missed them after all. We spend so much time trying to escape 'normality' and being unsatisfied with what, and who, we've got, that sometimes going away, and being without those things and those people, is exactly what you need to make you appreciate them. 

3. I got a flat
Hi, I'm Laura and I'm a real life grown up who has to pay rent without a student loan, and council tax. It's pretty exciting (and expensive) over here. In my mind, moving house is my least favourite thing to do. You have to go and look at loads of flats, some of which are disgusting (and have 1 bedroom with a family of 8 currently living in it), some of which are in areas you want to live, some of which are glorified cupboards, and some of which will bankrupt you in the first week. You then have to spend ages talking to estate agents and filling out forms and giving them your life savings. Then you have to actually pack up and move all of your stuff. get to have a massive clear out and go through all your stuff and find things you forgot you had; you get to have a massive eBay selling spree to try and reclaim some of those savings you've burnt; you get to work out where all your stuff is going to go in your new place; you get to go on a MASSIVE IKEA SHOP; you get to make everything pretty, and nice, and cosy...and then you actually get to live in a nice little flat with your boyfriend and soak up all the wonders of adulthood. I'm so happy/relieved/excited. 

4. For the first time in a long time, I feel pretty chill
You know when people talk about going away, and going travelling, and finding themselves and it all sounds like a lot of crap? Well, it kind of is a bit, but I feel like there's also some truth to it. I didn't go to South Africa to find myself, or expect to have some sort of epiphany, but I do feel like it was a bit of an adventure and I've returned a better version of myself. I mean, it was only 3 weeks but, coming home, I feel so much more chilled out and generally less anxious about life. I enjoy feeling like I'm in control, and being in Africa where you had virtually no control over what you were doing, when you were doing it, what you were eating, where you were sleeping made me realise that, actually, sometimes it's just fine to go along with stuff because it'll probably be ok. If your driver doesn't turn up until 3 hours after he's supposed to, sure it's annoying, but it's not actually a big deal. I'm glad I've been able to bring some of that mentality back with me, because it's so easy to be sucked back into everything as it was before once you've returned to your 'normal' environment, and I hope that I can continue being more chill, less worried and happier. 
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