Monday, 23 January 2017

Winter Staycation: An Anniversary Weekend at Hilton Bankside

Have you ever wanted to book a stay in a luxury hotel just to stay in the hotel? That's exactly what we did. When you go on holiday, there are always too many things to do and see, that the hotel can often become your base rather than a real part of the holiday. But booking a trip to a hotel 20 minutes down the road because you spotted a great New Year deal, and because it's your 3 (and a half) year anniversary, is the perfect opportunity to truly indulge in the luxury and make the most of your stay. 

The Hilton Bankside is in a fantastic location: a stone's throw away from London Bridge, Shakespeare's Globe, and almost in viewing distance of St. Paul's Cathedral, you find yourself in a modern, relaxing hotel, hidden from the hustle and bustle, right in the centre of London. Used to slightly more budget hotels, the impeccable level of service at the Hilton was a little intimidating initially, but we very quickly learned to embrace it! We had booked an Executive King room, which was spacious and elegant without being over the top. The dark interior and mood lighting in the bedroom against the clean and bright feel of the bathroom gave a real feel of modern, classy opulence. I was so happy to have a big bath in the bathroom too! The views weren't anything to write home about, but the area was quiet and we weren't disturbed at any point during our stay. 

Booking an Executive room comes with extra luxuries, like complimentary soft drinks and snacks from the mini bar and access to the Executive Lounge. The Lounge offered complimentary afternoon tea, and then canapes and alcoholic drinks in the early evening. We were able to enjoy breakfast in here as well, free from the sometimes slightly manic feel of a buffet breakfast in hotel dining rooms. The Lounge presented a really peaceful space, with just the right level of atmosphere, perfect for a pre-dinner drink or a comfy chair to relax with a book. 

As fantastic as the in-house restaurant looked, OXBO, we decided to venture out for dinner. The hotel is surrounded by a huge choice of restaurants, so we were spoilt for choice. Despite living in London, it felt like a bit of a novelty to be dressed up and wandering along the river on a Saturday evening, listening to the buskers and anticipating an evening of Greek food! Full of feta and baklava, the hotel dressing gowns were calling our names and we headed back to our room. I was ready to enjoy a nice, made infinitely more exciting by the knowledge I wouldn't have to clean it after, before hopping into bed with a cup of tea and a film. The only complaint we had with the hotel was the room temperature. We enjoy a sleep in fairly arctic temperatures, and the inability to turn the temperature down below 18°c as well as a very thick duvet, left us too hot. As a result, we didn't have the best night's sleep but woke ready to enjoy some breakfast. 

The breakfast was fantastic. There was an enormous selection of continental options - from meats and smoked salmon to plenty of pastries to porridge and fruit with every topping you could want! There was also a buffet serving toast, sausages, bacon and eggs, and an option to have any other hot options cooked for you (omlettes, pancakes etc). Full to the brim from a three course breakfast, one too many pastries, and delicious juice and coffee, we headed to pack up our things and check out. Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to use the pool area, but we took a quick peek and it looked really nice though quite busy. Not quite ready to head home, we spent the rest of the morning at the Tate Modern, soaking up some culture only a couple of minute's walk from the hotel. 

All in all it was a fabulous stay, and we had a great time. Despite the quite generous check-in/out times (3pm check-in, 12pm check-out) we wished we'd had more time in the hotel to really make the most of all the facilities. The service was absolutely wonderful, and we were treated incredibly well throughout our stay. A local hotel stay removes all the stress from going away: you know where you're going, you don't feel obliged to go out and can really enjoy the hotel itself, and it's only a short journey home the next day. We're already thinking about where we can go for our 4 (and a half) year anniversary next January, and how we can bring the perfection of a hotel breakfast to our weekend breakfasts at home! 

Friday, 20 January 2017

January: What I'm Watching

Subscription tv services have well and truly made my 2017 (so far). I've had a lot of time to watch tv this month which, whilst slightly depressing, has also been great because I've not had a lot of time to watch a lot of tv for a lot of months. I am so guilty of switching on the tv and watching Homes Under the Hammer or Gogglebox, rather than searching through Netflix or Amazon Prime to find something I actually want to watch. I get option paralysis; I can't make my mind up; and it all just gets too much. I am proud to say that I've not seen This Morning or Judge Rinder once this year and, instead, I've been getting really into all the enriching tv shows that the world/internet/every subscription service has to offer. And this is what I've been watching...

I get so confused when people rave about all these excellent funny women, like Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, because I don't know who they are. I don't know how or why I don't know who they are, but they are names that remain a total mystery me and it makes me feel really out of the loop. But now I know who Lena Dunham is: the creator, writer and star of Girls. I'm pretty sure creating your own tv programme, and then making yourself the star of it is the best thing that could possibly happen to you. It's created a sense of urgency, that I need to think of an idea for a tv show immediately so my lifetime dream job is sorted. Anyway. I'd heard mixed things about Girls; it seemed to be a love it or hate it kind of thing. 1 season in (which will probably be 3 seasons in by the time this post goes live), I think I'm on the love it side. I'm a sucker for an all-women comedy/drama/sitcom, but there's something about Girls that feels more real. As much as I wish I could identify with with the ladies of Sex and the City, I feel like my life is much more aligned with the girls of Girls. Girls feels kind of life a reflection of my own life, and those of the people around me: not quite sure of direction, poor choices, trying to follow your dream but being stamped all over by London (or New York) rents, weird men, mental health problems and over-reliance on our parents(' incomes). It's funny because it's real, and it's uplifting because OTHER PEOPLE HAVE THOSE PROBLEMS TOO and their's are probably worse than yours. It's early days, but it's a definite recommend from me. 

If an evening at home isn't spent watching a crime drama, then what are you doing with yourself? Blindspot was a totally new discovery (courtesy of NowTV), and I'd never heard anything about it before. It follows the story of a woman who wakes up, emerging from a bag in the middle of Times Square. She has no memory of who she is, or how she got there, but she is tattooed from head to toe. The series follow her journey with the FBI, discovering that her tattoos are clues to criminal plots and activity. It's quite an unusual concept, and the idea of a woman disappearing and returning having been entirely tattooed against her will, or at least unknown to her, is really subversive. The show definitely has its flaws: it's a bit contrived and, at times, a bit ridiculous. But, it's action packed, fast-paced and actually has a really good plot. With a show like this, there is a huge risk that the episodes become a bit samey, but they've done really well with this one. Whether it's intercepting the CIA, beating a hacker or hunting down a convicted murderer, there's great variety. I love that it has a couple of really strong, awesome female characters - an African American female boss; a kickass, physically UNREAL protagonist, and an analytical, super clever code breaker. I'm pretty intrigued as to where it's going to go, and praying that it doesn't develop into some sort of really predictable romantic encounter. It's got loads of potential, and I'm already excited for this evening so I can watch more. 

M O D E R N . F A M I L Y
If you haven't seen Modern Family then you haven't lived. It is the ULTIMATE ill tv or feelgood tv or I've had a crap day and I need to restore my faith in humanity tv. Modern Family used to be on actual tv before disappearing to the realms of Sky. It used to be on Netflix too and, as I discovered earlier in the year, is still on Danish Netflix (we binged a whole season whilst in Copenhagen). I missed it, and needed it back in my life so I purchased the boxset (and then realised it was on NowTV) and have spent a 25+ hours this month making my way through it. It's just so heartwarming and watchable...and rewatchable. It's unique in that you love all the characters, and you're rooting for all of them; and the character development is so great that you feel like you know them. It's kind of like F.R.I.E.N.D.S in that way. I've still got a couple of seasons left to go, and I hope that the storylines continue to be well thought out and funny, and that the characters grow with the show. It is my absolute go-to chill out tv and, at 20mins an episode, you've always got time to squeeze one in (or one more...). 

I saw an advert for Lucifer on the side of a bus, during a miserable lunchtime wander and thought 'hey, that looks alright'. Lucifer is an Amazon Prime special: a tale of the devil living on Earth, working the the LA PD. I'm not a big fan of sci-fi, but this feels a bit more ridiculous than your average science fiction. Tom Ellis is a great Lucifer: he's charming but sleezy, and just the right amount of flamboyant. But the rest just doesn't really make sense. The Lucifer story, the idea of the Devil living among us, is cool. But the Devil working with the police to solve crimes which seem to just been solved immediately without any real mystery or challenge isn't that cool. I understand that there has to be a continual back story to hold the whole thing together, but it doesn't really work or make sense. I really enjoyed the beginning of the series, and watched the first 4 or 5 episodes back-to-back, but the more I watch, and the more ridiculous and repetitive it gets, the more I can't really be bothered with it. Maybe it's an experiment, and season 2 will iron out these difficulties - but I'm not entirely convinced about it. 

It's not all about the visual though. When your eyes are streaming so much that it hurts to keep them open, a podcast is just what you need. And this is an excellent one...

H E R O I N E . A D D I C T S
I am proud to call one of my best friends a heroine addict: a strong, female character enthusiast, not a drug-riddled existence. Emma et al. have developed a new podcast series celebrating fabulous women, real and fictional, past and present. It's early days, so you've only got 2 episodes to catch up on so far, before you can become a regular listener. The first episode takes a look at Buffy as a heroine. I think Buffy was a little bit before my time, and I've never really seen it - but I think that meant I enjoyed the podcast even more. Not only was I able to listen in on a discussion about Buffy as a heroine, it was a learning experience about the character and Joss Whedon more generally. Similarly with episode 2, and WWE fighters, the Bella Twins. I never knew that women were anything other than accessories in WWE, so this was a bit of an eye opener. Go and check them out

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Finally Finding 2017

It's the third week of 2017, and I'm only just seeing it. I was struck down. Thankfully not by the hand of God, because that's so 2016 and I haven't quite reached that superstardom status. Yet. I have been struck down with germs, with laryngitis, with flu, with liquids coming out of my face constantly. I went from total absence of voice straight to 'squeaky dog toy', totally missing out the sexy husky phase. I have lived off marmite, tinned soup and ginger tea...and penicillin. I watched 3 seasons of Modern Family in almost 3 days, and have seen more films than I did in the whole of 2016. I've slept, a lot, and woken up either in pools of my own dribble or choking my own saliva. I've never been so thankful for the 2 blankets, hot water bottle, and 100 pairs of socks I received for Christmas.

It has not been glam. 

But the end is in sight. I could taste my own dinner last night, and I'm not in an uncontrollable state of confusion about whether I need a cold flannel or a hot water bottle. I am ready to emerge from underneath my cosy pug blanket and stick my New Year's Resolutions up on the wall, and start 2017 for reals. 2016 was a year of big change: I started it a student, living at home, and finished it a graduate, at work, and living in my own (my landlord's own) flat. 2017 is going to be a year for more change, for continuing building a platform for myself...and for maybe changing the direction, shape and style of that platform. 2016 was a year in which I wanted to do more things for me but, after an epic summer of total me time, slightly got lost amongst long working days and train delays. So in 2017 I'm going to reign that back in, and remember that I love doing stuff that isn't just planning my packed lunch, sleeping in and browsing Oliver Bonas. 

Every single year, I wish the same few things: that I would read more, that I would worry less, and that I spent more time outdoors. Those things remain, and probably will forever, but specifically this year, these are the things I would like to achieve: 

1. Cook one new thing every single week
Since starting work, cooking has become my no.1 relaxation method. After a week spent mostly sitting down, I love pottering about in the kitchen at the weekend. It gives me something to concentrate on, and stops me thinking about the stresses of the week. It's an opportunity to be creative in a totally productive way (I can make all the dinners for the week), and it means that we don't live off the same few meals. I've already sat down with a pile of cookbooks and marked out a bunch of recipes I'm keen to try, so I've just got to work my way through them!

2. Take up some form of regular exercise
I am not fit. I do a lot of steps...through the tube station, wandering aimlessly around Waitrose...but very little that's going to make me a pinnacle of health. I want to be one of those people that does a thing, be it running or boxing or dancing or yoga, because I feel like once you start, you just do it and you don't think about. And I need exercise to be part of my actual routine to make sure I continually do it. My aim is to get up and run somewhere one morning at the weekend, and hopefully make the most of the lighter evenings in the summer. I'm also really keen to get back into dance, meet some new dancing pals, and get toned. 

3. Do at least one fun thing every weekend
I love a chilled weekend, I do, but there's nothing worse than going back to work on a Monday having done nothing but watch tv, laundry, cook a week's worth of dinners and slob all weekend. I know we all need down time (I definitely do), but sometimes that down time absolutely needs to be going somewhere and doing something. Even if it's just popping into the Kent countryside for some fresh air and a long walk, or going to the cinema, or for dinner, I'm going to make sure I make the effort to pop on some lipstick or some walking boots, or something that isn't leggings and a massive jumper, every single weekend. 

4. Travel somewhere new
I really want to go to New York. I want to live the Gossip Girl life, and go and see The Colour Purple on Broadway, and I want to drive in a giant loop to Vermont and back via Niagra. But money. And time. So it's just as well that I also really want to go to Jersey. Simon adopted me an orangutan from Jersey Zoo for Christmas, and I am desperate to go and visit my honorary baby. I also want to go to the Lakes, and Krakow, and Paris, and Slovenia, and have a relaxing long weekend somewhere nice and sunny. I'm being ambitious. 

5. Go to the theatre more
I live in London, and I love the theatre, and I hardly ever go. It's an absolute travesty, and isn't caused by anything other than my own lack of organisation/drive/sorting myself out (and the fact it is stupidly expensive). This year I promise to go to the theatre more, whether it's to see the funniest people I know performing their new play (24th & 27th January, London Bridge, go and get your tickets immediately), or it's hitting the West End. I have tickets for the Kite Runner and The Glass Menagerie, and have obviously registered for Hamilton pre-release. I quite fancy An American in Paris, and would go and see The Lion King and Book of Mormon again at the drop of a hat. 

I'm kind of looking forward to it. 
Let 2017 commence (properly). 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016: A Year in Review

2016 has gone and got itself a bad reputation. The loss of some national, and international treasures; continuous reports of global unrest, terror and disaster; and some pretty unexpected and tragic votes and elections. There are plenty of people who will be glad to see the back of 2016, to turn their backs on it, and to do their best to forget it. But not me. Because global, political, cultural and social tragedies aside, in a very selfish way, I've had a pretty excellent year. When I think about this time last year, and how things have gradually changed, progressed, throughout the year, I realise how different it all is - and how much happier I am, both to be here and have been through it all. 

This time last year I was in the midsts of dissertation and coursework; I was preparing for my final proper term at university, and quite frankly counting the days, months, weeks I had left. I was in a constant battle between wanting to work hard and do really well to make sure I had done everything I could to make the most of my degree, and also just pretty fed up of it all, and thinking about all the things I could have spent the last 3 years doing instead. But I did it. I handed in my dissertation, and I was happy with it. I sat my finals, and achieved the grade I felt like I deserved. It was a feeling of freedom, and relief that took a while to adjust to, but one I've become accustomed to and feels like a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I graduated with my friends, and surrounded by my wonderful family. I said goodbye to UCL forever, more than ready for the next chapter. 

And I was lucky that this next chapter simply presented itself to me, unexpectedly. I started my first graduate job in September, and I have successfully completed 3 months of adulting. If you'd told me 12 years ago, when I was pretty much bed-ridden, living off a diet of sausage rolls and gingernut biscuits that I'd be doing 12 hour days, with only 4 weeks holiday a year, I don't think I would have believed you. Being offered, and starting, a new job is a huge achievement for anyone. It's an adjustment, but it's exciting and rewarding too. For me, it feels like an even bigger accomplishment: a lifestyle I feared I'd never be able to cope is now one I've simply become accustomed to. It's taught me that I'm capable of more than I expected, and to focus on what I want to do, what I can do, rather than what I can't do. 

I moved into a really nice flat with Simon, and spent my first paycheck primarily on homeware. For the first time in forever, I feel like I have two homes, two places I love being in, and feel relaxed in, rather than a multiplicity of houses that I flit between. I spend my free time on the phone to Tesco customer service complaining about my delivery, or to Foxtons about why I'm being scalded every time I turn the tap on. But it's kind of ok, because people treat you like a grown up, with rights and reasonable requests, rather than the bratty self-entitled student label you acquired by many at university. We have somewhere we love coming home to every evening; and somewhere we can chill at the weekends. Gradually it's becoming more and more homely, full of knick knacks and photos and memories, and it's really bloody cosy. 

2016 was to be the year I travelled more. I went to Copenhagen and Croatia, and made the terrifying decision to spend a month volunteering in South Africa. Now, it feels like a distant memory, like it never really happened - but I know I'm a braver person for having gone. Sure, I was terrified but a couple of years ago I never would have gone. I got on a plane (crying) and I went. There were great bits and there were not so great bits, but I can definitely look back on it with rose-tinted spectacles and remember all the great times, and all the amazing people that I was so lucky to meet. I did the thing I was really scared to do, to prove I could do it, and I am so glad I did. 

 I developed more, better, perspective. I feel like I know much better what is important to me, and who is important to me. What I want for now, for 2017, and for even further into the future; and who I want to be there with me, to spend time with, and to really invest in. I feel like I have one of the biggest support networks I've had for a long time, and I am so lucky to have lots of kind and caring people around me. I'm also having more fun. I have less free time than ever, but somehow I am happier, and more productive, and more carefree than I've been for a while. 

2016 has certainly not been everyone's year, but it's been mine. 
2017, you've got some serious competition.

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