For my birthday weekend, Danny & I stayed in Manchester’s Northern Quarter at the (almost brand new) Cow Hollow Hotel. For a night of cocktails, cake and Netflix, it was the perfect destination. We arrived in the afternoon and apart from a coffee pit stop headed straight to check in. If you’ve seen the website then you’ll already the interior of this place is insane. Every detail has been considered and for me, that just made it heavenly.
The entrance is bright, the décor beautiful and the staff are amazingly friendly. After a very swift check in process and welcome, we filled in a breakfast notecard (time, beverage choices etc.) and were shown to our room. With the summer weather we are having it was great to have some cooler temperatures inside, plus we slept beneath the ground floor and that helped with both noise and heating (I was worried with it being a Friday night, but it was lovely and peaceful). We stayed in Room 2; the room itself had a modern finish, with a rustic twist. The bathroom opened through two-barn style, white painted doors into a copper finished, slater stone tiled bathroom. The waterfall shower head and ornate oversized mirrors added a touch of luxury, whilst the high ceilings really opened up the space. We stayed in a Standard King Room but you can go Deluxe if you would like a little extra floor space.
The large double bed was super comfy, and rested against an exposed stonewall behind the headboard. Inside we found a flat screen TV with Netflix (ready to go), a Bluetooth speaker, sparkling and still water as well as a few other little bits and pieces. After being handed our key (along with a little bag of sweets, which I happily enjoyed), we headed down the hall where there was a coffee machine at our disposal. Day or night if you needed a cup of tea or a hot chocolate, which for me is definitely a bonus, I popped on my slippers and had my drink in 5 minutes (or I sent Danny to go get it for me). Inside the room you have the bar menu with it’s drinks (as you can get these delivered to your room), a useful stuff card (like the Wi-Fi password) and even one that tells you about all the freebies included in your stay.
Between 6-8pm there were Prosecco and nibbles on offer at reception / the bar area. However we skipped this because of the hotels location, there are so many cool bars on your doorstep. I’d wanted to go to Allotment for quite some time and it was worth the wait. Danny opted for a few ginger beers (not being a big drinker), whilst I tried a couple of cocktails. First up we had the ‘Lemon Sherbet Swizzle’, very refreshing and sweet it was definitely needed on such a sunny afternoon. Then I had the ‘Nutella-tini’, now this really knocked my socks off, sprinkled with hazelnuts it was so smooth I could have easily had 4 or 5 but my bank balance might not have thanked me for that.
Once back at the hotel I stopped by their bar to try one of the cocktails with the help of Danny (who picked for me), a ‘Daisys Gin Cherry’ which was pink and lovely. Then back in the room we decided to order some food for the night and had seen that Pizza Express offered some exciting veggie options, just down the road. A bonus is if you get food delivered to reception, with a note to say which room you are in they’re happy to bring it to you. Our Vegan Giardiniera was delivered in just 20 minutes (from ordering) and it tasted pretty damn good too! We made our way through some comedies on Netflix, made the most of the room’s facilities and then at 10-11pm the next ‘free stuff’ item arrived. This was such a cute little added touch, you have to let reception know and they will deliver it to your room. It’s a crate style tray of glass bottle milk and cookies! It made me feel a like a little kid getting a birthday treat, or when you used to leave cookies and milk for Santa at Christmas.
The rest of the evening was spent watching movies, and luckily the hotel is far enough from Piccadilly gardens that we didn’t really hear too much outside noise at all. I have to say this is the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel in Manchester before and it does make the whole process easier, to get up and go straight out rather than the pain of traveling in was a welcome change. I noticed a few food places to try as well on the walk around the hotel, including Alabama’s who do phenomenal shakes and pancakes. We actually went there the next day but I don’t want to overload this post with information.
Breakfast was delivered at 10am exactly (when we asked for on our note card at check in), again on a beautiful little wooden tray. Two brown bags tied with bows, accompanied by cute brown paper take out cups. As we delved inside we found fruit, pastries, granola, yogurt and sugars for our coffees. Once we had finished and tided away our stuff it made sense to head out into Manchester for the day, although I would happily have stayed in bed. It was honestly absolutely brilliant, I couldn’t think of a more perfect birthday night in. Talking to Danny I think we will be staying again nearer to Christmas so we can spend a day exploring the markets, drinking hot chocolate before heading back for a festive film night (which I know he will hate, the scrooge). Looking forward to seeing you again soon Cow Hollow.
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Hey, so it's been a while... This last month I've been busy at work and hitting the gym pretty hard, plus planning some exciting things for June. Instead of trying to push myself to write content, I took a break, I've been exhausted for a few weeks and just wanted to focus on myself. However, I've got lots to share! I've been busy planning an action packed birthday month, starting with Birmingham Coffee Festival, I'm doing Rough Runner 15K next weekend, followed by a week in Barcelona (lots of content from that trip I promise, including some video stuff because I've been practicing my editing) and finally a weekend in Manchester with Danny (on my actual birthday). We'll be staying at the Cow Hollow Hotel, I've been so excited for this month to start and it's finally here!
BACK TO BIRMINGHAM
It's been 18 months since my last visit to Birmingham, I had a friend that used to live here so I visited fairly regularly. It had definitely been too long and what better excuse for my return than a Coffee Festival at the Custard Factory. After possibly too many cups of coffee (is there such a thing?) and a couple of vegan cakes, I hit some of my favourite spaces, camera in hand. (Read about my previous Birmingham trips here).
A BULL IN A COFFEE SHOP
I caught the train down from Crewe a little after 7AM (booking this earlier in the month meant it cost me just £14 return), the Coffee Festival didn't open until 10am, but this meant I could wander around an empty Birmingham city centre. I've never seen the place quiet before, when I've been around on the weekends it's usually buzzing with people. It was beautiful to wander around without the stress of bumping into anyone. Once I had finished awkwardly trying to film my very first ever vlog intro, something to look forward to seeing, I headed straight for the Custard Factory. Getting there early gave me time to photograph the Custard Factory and its amazingly quirky creative vibe. It's a collaboration of street art, graffiti, sculptures... seriously though, if you are into that sort of thing you need to check this place out! Not to mention the independent retailers and the people who run them, it was great to talk to individuals who make up this creative hub, whether they're making coffee, cakes or craft beer.
When the doors opened at 10am I quickly joined the queue, this was made up of more casual coffee fanatics (like myself), professional bloggers and writers, and people who ran other independent coffee shops. I love taking trips like this on my own because it allows me to people watch (unapologetically), and slip in and out of other peoples conversations unnoticed (Danny was working so he couldn't come with anyway). It also helped me to get some of the best photos I have in a long time. When I'm on my own I constantly have my camera on, because I don't have to be conscious of neglecting whoever I'm with. I've found recently I'm much happier behind the camera, as my confidence has grown I've learnt to embrace other peoples gazes. It usually leads to people asking me what I'm doing and that's a great way to meet new people and network.
Having worked as a barista over almost 5 years for 3 different coffee shops, I can certainly say I felt right at home. The smell of coffee brewing just takes me to my happy place. It's funny how a shared love for something makes connecting with people so much easier. I chatted to a few people, both those attending and those who were showcasing their products. One woman compared it to Amsterdam Coffee Festival, a few artsy looking types also had their faces hidden behind different sized camera lenses, another guy was doing some market research and I overheard a group of guys discussing the latest Doctor Who whilst casually sipping there cold brew. It was clear their was an exciting mix of people that you wouldn't normally all see together.
Over the last few years my taste has dramatically changed. I've gone from drinking black coffee (especially when dieting), to lattes. From semi-skimmed milk to coconut or soy, I've also quit adding any sugars (apart from the occasional shot of vanilla). The event catered to all tastes, but I found myself at the Alpro stand first. Sampling a golden soy latte (turmeric in case you were wondering) and a coconut cinnamon chocolate, both undeniably delicious. I followed those up with a stop at 200 Degrees, for a flat white with their blend described by the barista as 'strawberry shortcake'. It was strong, dark and definitely fruity. Next, living up to my expectations was the oat-some latte, oat milk is such a great alternative that works for me because I find dairy a little too sickly.
After an hour, I was practically buzzing so I switched it up with some cold brew coffee, and began collecting business cards and printouts for my desk at work. Living the life of a designer does mean I'm particularly sensitive to printouts, but thankfully there wasn't a poorly kerned logo in sight. In fact I was pretty impressed with the packaging for a lot of the products. I was starting to get hungry so I decided to look for a sweet fix, Big Fat Slab was the stall I ended up choosing. They had doorstop sized cakes that were all vegan! I treated myself to a dark chocolate flapjack, a dark brownie and the most delicious carrot cake I've ever eaten. It's safe to say there are none left now as I am writing this. OMBAR also caught my eye, with their offering of chocolate. The organic dark chocolate bars were beautifully packaged, with flavours ranging from lemon & green tea to 90% cocoa. I even got a handy tote bag which came in handy the rest of the day.
My last few stops included a latte art stand, where a very skilled barista was creating colourful patterns (clearly too pretty to drink). I observed the mini masterclass, it's something that I never quite perfected as a barista myself. The more I walked around the venue, I found coffee infused cocktails, offerings of homemade flavoured fudge and even reusable cups. From Cakesmiths to Hundred House Coffee, it's a good job the samples were small. After exceeding my usual daily dosage by about quadruple, I ventured back into the city centre.
24 CUPS OF COFFEE LATER
The IKON gallery is a must see for me (it's free), I'm always interested in seeing what is considered modern art at their latest exhibits. It's a fair walk from The Custard Factory (I covered 9 miles in total over the day), but you do walk through the city centre, so there's plenty of stops you can make along the way. I passed street performers, bikers, dinosaur hedge sculptures and oddly enough a bunch of people kayaking (or canoeing, I'm not sure of the difference), in the river along side the longboats. The IKON had a digital themed exhibition on which was right up my street, it's always hard to describe things like this as every one will have a different opinion, but there are usually a couple of different exhibits on, so maybe one will take your fancy. I liked it, especially the first floor artwork by Langlands & Bell, titled Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe, which included pixelated typography and photography. It was a little abstract but I liked that it challenged your mind to make sense of what appeared illegible at first, my favourite piece read 'Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind'.
I stopped by the Bullring shopping centre for lunch and a little retail therapy. I prefer shopping alone because I'm definitely a browser, I love to take my time and try things on, which can be a time consuming process. With just a couple of hours until the train back I grabbed a quick milkshake from Eds (seriously yum), then hit some shops. There's no end to the options, whether you're looking for clothing, tech, a good book or a sweet treat, they've got you covered. I couldn't resist a stop in Victoria Secret, especially as there was a SALE on. I also have a mix of vinyl at home that I've picked up from Camden market (Queen - Don't Stop Me Now), Manchester record stores (The Stranglers) and occasionally HMV, who I bought Chvrches new album from just last week. The HMV here had such a large stock, I'm surprised I managed to just leave with Lorde - Pure Heroine. The Game of Thrones and Baby Driver soundtracks were very tempting indeed.
Reluctantly, I headed back to New Street Station with less than an hour to kill until my train back up north departed. A hot chocolate in Pret tied me over, while I updated Instagram stories and looked through my camera roll. The footage I'm happy with but it isn't until I start editing, that I know what works and what doesn't. There's usually a few standout clips but that's why it's important to film as much as possible. That way you can cut out the bits that don't cut it. It definitely was worth the trip and knowing now that it's pretty much like getting on the train to Manchester (an hour is easy to do), I will be planning more day trips into Birmingham. Maybe a weekend to Leeds and Sheffield too, because I just haven't seen enough cities in the UK. It's such a creative hub, with some great food spots and bars that I'm sure Danny would be happy to come check out with me (as long as I supply him with regular coffee).
I'm going to keep an eye out for future events at the Custard Factory. They do film screenings and artsy events, or even the christmas markets would be a treat to experience. Plus I've been meaning to check out the record festivals at The Custard Factory for ages and now I think the next one I will definitely be popping down for, but until then Birmingham...
Video Update Coming Soon.
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This weekend, I put down my laptop for a change and went out for an evening in Liverpool with my sister. If I go out now it's less about clubs & shots and more about cocktails & good food. I find myself craving new things and experiences so I try not to eat at the same places, which often means looking at Instagram food posts, to see where people are going.
For this outing we booked a table at The Alchemist, I've been dying to go here for ages and it did not disappoint. Our booking was for 5:30pm (only thing was I forgot the Grand National was on as well so it was lucky we booked a table ahead of time), we arrived into Liverpool with the sun shining, which I couldn't quite believe and in 15 minutes we found ourselves at the venue.
The interior was beautiful but I was instantly distracted by the gorgeous menu design, sorry my Graphic Design nerdy-ness is rearing its head again. I mean seriously though the menus where all printed with these delicate, detailed illustrations. A mixture of skulls and butterflies, science and nature I must have been admiring these for at least ten minutes. The gold and cream tones just gave it this ornate look and feel, I wanted to borrow one but was sure they'd notice, maybe if I'm brave enough next time.
The drinks menu is particularly impressive, especially when it's displayed as a periodic table of elements. However, this table has some serious science going on behind the scenes to create these incredible drinks.
We started with cocktails because I had heard this was a must at The Alchemist, it was the main reason I booked to go in the first place. However, I wish I had done a little more research there were SO MANY choices it made it difficult. My first drink was a Lightbulb Moment - this contained Gin, mint, Ginger Beer and was the perfect accompaniment for food, it was light and refreshing with a spicy kick. The drink came frothing in a beaker mounted on it's own little tripod, I was waiting for someone to pull out a bunsen burner. Once the drink stops bubbling away it's safe to pour into the glass and enjoy, which I certainly did!
Next up was the Bubblegum Daiquiri, this was like any frozen daiquiri but I had never seen a bubblegum one before so thought I'd give it a go. It was pink and sweet (as to be expected), there was an addition of popping candy that made it stand out. You don't need desserts here, the drinks themselves are more than sweet enough, especially with options like Key Lime Pie, Solero & Screwball (all on my list for the next visit).
Finally we had the Red Dead Zombie, this was blood red, bubbling like some kind of witches brew. With dragonfruit thrown in, it looked both delicious and deadly. Again, you had to wait for the drink to settle and when it did, I realised that it was also glittery. This one had more of a kick with two types of rum & orange liqueur, it was certainly strong!
Onto the food, my sister never goes too exotic with her food choices, she knows what she likes. We shared some of the popcorn chicken nibbles that was served with a cajun mayo (absolutely delicious, just a shame there weren't more of them), we ate them so fast I didn't take a picture. Then for our mains, she went with the beef burger and a side of fries, it looked amazing when it arrived and she definitely gave it a thumbs up, the fries were hot & crisp whilst the burger was very juicy and perfectly cooked. I went for the Popquorn Fajitas, as I've been eating more vegetarian foods lately (I couldn't tell you the difference they tasted like chicken to me). This was served quite theatrically, on a hot plate, the waitress poured the sauce over the mixture of vegetables and Popquorn, then I was left to assemble my meal. It came on a large tray with a selection of mini plates including guacamole, salsa, sour cream, cheese & lettuce plus wraps on the side. I've never been quite so full, the selection was delicious and it meant I could build the wraps exactly to suit my taste and eat some of the vegetables straight from the hot plate.
There food menu was very varied too, there were plenty of vegetarian options and I am already craving the Katsu Chicken, Ramen Dishes & wish I had ordered the Macaroni Cheese Bites! I saw plenty of plates pass our table, each looking more delicious than the next. I may see if Danny fancies a visit next month...
My experience was amazing and I will definitely be back! Even if it's just to try and make my way through the amazing table of drinks. The place is perfect whether you want a sit down meal or if you just want a bar to go and have a couple of drinks.
We headed to the Underground Gin Society afterwards for a few drinks, which is right around the corner so definitely nip in there if you can. The bar is relaxed, and we found it to be pretty quiet which was a welcome escape from the madness building in Liverpool (which is to be expected on the weekend). The music was great and they even had some typography on the walls that I couldn't resist snapping on my way out.
I definitely think I need to start exploring Liverpool & Manchester again more, I used to visit nearly every week while at uni but you find working life makes it a little harder. I do have plans to try All Star Lanes in Manchester next with Danny! That should be happening in the next couple of weeks, who doesn't love booze & bowling (what a perfect combination), so keep an eye out for that review coming up!
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With the whole Australia hold up thanks to Chewies mishap (he's doing fine now), I was feeling a little blue. For me travelling plans are something I always have in place whether its 8 days, weeks or months in advance, I love having an adventure to plan for. I'm already making them for the next 12 months, Australia & Trek America 2019 are officially happening!! However, after the delay for my Australia adventure (October will be here before I know it), I couldn't help thinking my summer calendar was a little sad. This simply wouldn't do, especially with my Birthday being bang in the middle of the year, I figured I needed a new plan.
My sister who I travelled to Amsterdam with felt the same and so we agreed we both needed some sun. This led to a back and forth of where we both wanted to go, she wants beaches, I want cities, she wants sunshine & shopping, I want culture & sightseeing...
Eventually we came to a conclusion - BARCELONA!!!
We've just booked our next destination, and we're staying in a gorgeous 4 star hotel for the week (which I am majorly excited to shoot in). I couldn't be more excited, or more gym motivated! I'll be taking all my new kit including the camera and tripod. With a rooftop pool to check out, I'm bound to be shooting some sunsets poolside not to mention a timelapse of the city. There's some beautiful hidden spots a few of the bloggers I follow have kindly shared which will be the perfect escape from the crowds.
The city is a haven for architecture, history and culture, I can't wait to get on that plane in just 9 weeks time! It also gives me an excuse to do some holiday shopping, get some serious gym workouts in (Barcelona body in the making) and I've been looking on GetYourGuide.com at the activities we can start booking. The summer is looking seriously exciting, I will be turning 25 after we get back but I'm planning a little weekend escape closer to home for that. I don't think you can ever have too many plans, at least that's the way I like to live my life. Planning one adventure at a time...
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Last weekend, I took an unexpected trip back down to London (after just visiting a couple of weeks ago). Friday morning at 5.21am, I was sat on the train heading down to a place I’d consider my second home. This trip was for Carnaby Fashion Festival and with London Fashion Week taking place I took advantage of the sights to get some 'outfit of the day' style shots done.
We arrived in Euston at 8am, whilst most Londoners were busy heading to work on the tube, we walked from the station down to Benugo’s (next to Vogue House) for a welcome breakfast and spot of wifi. The plan was to get the action camera out as well as snap some colourful city shots for my photography portfolio (also known as Instagram). I began in Carnaby the amount of typography and artwork around this city is incredible, every time I visit I always spot something new, even in places I’ve been to a hundred times. There was a vibrant wall I noticed on arrival, painted with palm trees (not sure how long it's been like this), I took a little outfit shot in front of. Not going to lie I did look a little like a powder puff, with my pink fluffy top (Zara) and the Pom Pom trainers (Topshop).
Next I ventured into Liberty for a nosey at their Christmas section, only to stumble across their very impressive stationary section. I’ve been really into print illustration lately and found myself drawn to the huge selection of humorous and sarcastic cards on offer. After a good hour (or two) of window shopping, and a couple of Christmas baubles later, we headed down to try out the new Farm Girl Café! (I went here last time, but this store is brand new and opened the week after my last visit) I was served the most adorable chai latte (who doesn’t want a puppy with there morning coffee) while the place bustled with excitement for the following day of donut decorating and glitter roots!
A few shots later and it was lunchtime, so I picked Benito’s Hat (burritos, nachos, tequila & rum, what more could a girl want) you can't go wrong here! The food is delicious and for the price you get pretty generous portions too. We actually bumped into Josh Widdicombe, a comedian/ co-host on ‘The Last Leg’. He was so lovely, and it turns out I know where the cool kids eat (he features in my blog briefly). Whilst strolling down Oxford Street we came across so many creative displays. My favourite being Topshop! They had models walking the runway (mini treadmills to be precise) right in their windows. Every 15 minutes the models switched out and we got new outfits to drool over.
The rest of the day included a trip to Selfridge’s Food Hall (the most amazing peanut butter cupcake ever was found here) and more walking, snapping signs and typography. This often confuses people as I tend to find the more abstract or obscure things appealing to photograph, you won't find me snapping selfies in front of Big Ben. We headed to our hotel, after a food and fashion filled day. I was functioning on 3 hours sleep (thanks to a long shift and early train, bad combination) and it was certainly taking its toll on me. A hot bath and nap were both desperately needed! The hotel we stayed in was absolutely stunning, very old fashioned with ornate windows and staircases over one half and some modern décor used to expand the space in the middle (Crown Court Hotel).
More Issues Than Vogue
For the second day, I decided to do something a little touristy, while we were just a few stops away from Baker Street, it only seemed fair to stop by Sherlock’s house. There’s so much history in London and I don’t often visit the more touristy hot spots because I prefer to avoid the crowds. This is why I’ve never stopped off in Trafalgar Square since I saw it when on my first London visit, I prefer getting lost in the side streets and walking when I can, you can miss some gems by just hopping on the tube between locations.
I purchased a new pair of Autumn boots on my trip (it was fashion week after all so I needed to look my best), and took to chance to get another candid shot (shown top). The setting was perfect, a piece of board covered in ‘GUESS’ advertisement pages, some torn and peeled back, it created a very edgy backdrop for my outfit of the day. I didn't do too much shopping on this trip, it was more about capturing the city through its artwork and architecture, I'm at my happiest when I'm out snapping away, my camera in one hand and a coffee in the other.
Heading down Regent Street, I found Maddox Gallery off a side street, they had created a huge bouquet outside there window which could have made it easy to mistake them for a florist (I wasn’t the only person who stopped by to snap the stunning window display). We passed multiple street performers and singers who had more talent that I could hope to in that department (pretty sure I’m tone deaf), who just brightened up the city and showed the variety of artists that occupy the huge creative hub that is London. It was a particularly sensational Saturday on the streets, vibrant in the culture on offer.
I found potentially my new favourite shop for gifts called ‘Sass & Belle’, they offer the cutest little creative knick knacks and I left with an adventure notebook for my upcoming Trek (matching my passport cover I ordered from them online last month). It will be handy to jot down little comments ready to write my blog on my return from the states. Another couple of coffee breaks along the way, including a Starbucks (basic I know) stop off for the seasonal Pumpkin Spice (I even treated myself to the loaf cake this time). It was getting into the afternoon, my camera was filling up and we headed back to Euston to catch our 4.45pm train.
On the walk back to Euston I passed by a group of people painting a shop front in a rainbow of colours ‘Watch This Space’ in bold font across the front. I don’t know what shop is coming but I got very excited about the prospect. We got to Euston with an hour to spare, I filmed the people coming and going before it was time for the train journey home. I’ve said this again and again, London never disappoints! It doesn’t matter if you go with money burning a hole in your pocket (there’s no better place to go shopping) or if you go simply with a camera and some spare change for a coffee, there’s plenty to see and experience.
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
With 23 days to go before Trek America I think the next few weeks will involve packing and staying up North for the time being. I plan on a trip to the Vegan Food Festival in Manchester this weekend, not sure how well that will fit in with my holiday diet but if it’s vegan it’s healthy right?
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It's a lazy Sunday afternoon and I'm finally getting chance to write this post after editing all morning. On Friday, I took a 5am train down South with Danny to start our weekend. It's no secret that I absolutely adore London and miss it often, but trips like this make me appreciate it's uniqueness so much more. The day began with a 4am wake up call and all of the coffee (can't say Danny was too impressed by this), before heading to the station to catch a 2 hour train ride into Euston. We arrived just after 8am and we'd certainly picked the perfect weekend, the sun was shining and I was buzzing to start the day.
What About Second Breakfast?
First stop Farm Girl Cafe, we jumped on the underground heading to Tottenham Court Road and then towards Marble Arch. I'd heard a lot about this place and seen some interesting Instagram posts, rainbow lattes and healthy brunch options that made me excited to check it out myself.
The walk there consisted of multiple balamory-esque houses I'd dream about, wondering what the insides must look like and deciding which I'd buy (if only I could afford one). Finally we reached the cafe after walking straight past it once. You go through a little white doorway and enter a small courtyard area which could be set abroad, the white walls stand tall on all sides decorated with ornate windows. We decided it was such a stunning morning that it only seemed fair to be seated outside, I opted for the Butterfly Matcha (Organic blue matcha powder with almond milk) it was a difficult decision as I was drawn to the Charcoal Latte but the black colour I found even more bizarre than my blue beverage. Danny had a lemonade and wasn't hungry (he had eaten on the train), but I couldn't resist the Berry Pancakes a buckwheat mix with amber maple syrup, peppermint, fresh strawberries and sprinkling of coconut.
After our second breakfast we had planned to walk to the Natural History Museum, just 30 mins away. This gave me the chance to have a little photoshoot along the way in Kensington (outside of more dreamy apartments, I'm pretty certain I couldn't afford without a lottery win). I'd worn tights which turned out to be a mistake, but the temperature had been a lot lower at 5am. Pairing my black converse with a red corduroy skirt I bought in the Topshop SALE last year and a River Island bardot style oversized red check shirt, I picked up with a gift card a few weeks ago. The windows were dressed with beautiful blooming flower boxes and the more we travelled around London (30,000 steps approximately) the more stunning bouquets we came across.
Time for a History Lesson
Eventually we found our way into the museum (there were some works going on so we there was a little confusion on how exactly you got inside) the building itself was breathtaking. It's funny I've been around Kensington and Knightsbridge before exploring Harrods and the V&A, but somehow missed the museum. I didn't take many pictures inside because it's something you should really see for yourself, ENTRY is free (apart from some special exhibitions). We went for the dinosaurs (nerdy I know) but theres a lot of other cool exhibits and cafes, you could easily lose yourself in here for a couple of hours, I'd recommend you do.
Next we decided as time was getting on and our phones had died, we should probably go grab coffee and lunch (also giving us some time to recharge). I decided to take Danny (a pizza lover) to my favourite pizzeria, Pizza Pilgrims in Kingly Court on Carnaby Street. My name is Aby and so it's quite fitting that I love Carn-Aby so much. The colourful courtyard, festival of food on offer and vibrant window displays never disappoint. It's a beautiful little escape from Oxford Street which I personally find a bit too busy, the atmosphere here is more creative and unique. After refuelling with some delicious carbs we headed off.
Whilst we were here, I figured shooting a time lapse on the river Thames could be cool (my little adventure camera certainly got a lot of use), so we strolled down to the bridge to test it out. The footage came out pretty great actually and I'll be linking the video below. The walking certainly helped to burn off the several coffees, pizza and pancakes from the day so far.
Now I never head down to London without walking through Covent Garden, there's always some beautiful display, artwork or street performers on. There were some vintage shops I wanted to check out nearby so I figured why not. I am so happy that we did because they had the most gorgeous floral swing seats set up all around, with huge flower carts and bouquets dotted throughout the market place. Naturally, I took this as an opportunity to get a new profile picture (who wouldn't, if only the people in the background had been a bit more camera shy).
We didn't have much planned for the rest of the Friday afternoon and so wandered, which is usually best because I always find myself in parts of the city I have never explored before. I've walked around the Soho area before but this time I found a little vintage shop called Rockit and an insanely good Gelato place! I opted for a hazelnut double scoop and Danny had strawberry perfect in the summer sun. After a bit of window shopping (saving at the moment so I was kind of on a budget) in some more stores I'd never heard of, we decided to end our day in Hyde Park. Off we strolled down towards Marble Arch.
With a cup more of ice cream (mint chocolate chip this time) we parked ourselves in some deck chairs (until we were asked to move, turns out they weren't free) put our feet up and watched the sun begin to set. Families, friends and couples all celebrating the end of their working week with a kick about or a cold one, it was a perfect evening.
Every time I take a trip down South I discover something new in London, it's a city that never gets boring. I have my favourite stops, as I'm sure everyone does but I always try and check out at least one new cafe, shop or bar. It's a good idea to walk as well, not just jump on the underground for every stop because this is how I find myself stumbling onto the cities hidden gems. (I'd highly recommend a weekday visit or for a weekend going on the Friday because it can be pretty chaotic on the Saturday or Sunday so I try and avoid the very centre of the city).
I've had such a beautiful weekend and got some pretty picture perfect moments (especially thanks to my instax mini 8 camera, the polaroids are always a great little souvenir). I can't wait to plan my next trip but until then I'll be staying in the North, Winter is Coming after all.
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I recently found a post that talked about something similar to this and I was so inspired to make my own. It's a little challenge I've set myself...
20 COUNTRIES IN MY 20s
I love to travel and want to see so much more. I've already seen a couple of countries but this would give me the next 6 years to visit another 14 countries, so I better get planning. I'm considering attempting to see all 50 states too but I don't want to put a time limit on that (currently on 2, just New York and Illinois. I'm going to be stopping in California, Nevada and Arizona in October though on my Trek America). CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, so here are a few places that are top of my list.
United Kingdom 1/20 - I live in the UK so this one was pretty easy, I feel good including it because I have seen a fair bit. Having travelled to Wales, up to Scotland, lived in London and to cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.
United States 2/20 - It was my first destination once I was old enough to go abroad on my own. For my 20th Birthday I went to New York, then earlier this year I was lucky enough to go on a work trip to Chicago. It's incredible, each city with it's own distinct buzz about it. In October I'm heading to do a Trek America so a few sights in 3 different states, I'll definitely be writing and filming some of that. It's sure to feature on here!
Ireland 3/20 - Dublin to be exact, to bring in the New Year (2016). Such a cute, warm and cosy little city I plan to see Belfast eventually and travel to more of the remote locations. Especially those were some 'Game of Thrones' stuff has been filmed, I know I'm a nerd.
France 4/20 - My mum's sister lived here for a while, we used to visit as kids. Mostly in the South of France, but I don't really remember. I'm in the process of booking a weekend away to Paris for November with Danny, I'll definitely remember it this time.
Spain (Canary Islands) 5/20 - Not one for warmer climates, but the idea of being on an island appealed to me. Clear skies and deep blue waters, this was a stunning little escape that I'd like to stop by again sometime. Barcelona is next on my list for Spain though!
Germany 6/20 - Another work trip to visit some colleagues, we stayed in Stuttgart. Pretty cool place if I'm being honest. The beer and the food won me over, I'd definitely go back for a lot longer next time. Explore the local museums and galleries which I missed out on.
Italy 7/20 - I live for coffee and pizza. This makes sense to me on every level, also if you ever saw the Lizzie Maguire movie then you'll understand. Rome or Venice are a must, it's on for next year. A 25th birthday present perhaps? The Dolomites appeal to the mountaineer in me so who knows, where I'll stop by first.
Croatia 8/20 - I'm planning this one for next year currently, a little week retreat. I've had a few people tell me how beautiful the islands are and that the cobbled towns are stunning. It's a perfect destination to escape to. I'll be booking this as soon as I have the funds.
Australia 9/20 - I've always wanted to see Australia ever since seeing the film 'Our Lips Are Sealed' (2000) featuring none other than the Olsen twins. It's such a massive place to explore, I'm more interested in the outback than the sand and surf. I would love to spend a few weeks here so I could see both sides. On that note...
New Zealand 10/20 - I think this could definitely be added onto the Australia trip and make it a two week getaway (at least). Who doesn't want to visit middle earth? Sea, sand and second breakfasts. Sounds like a dream come true!
Belgium 11/20 - Chocolate! Christmas markets here are very tempting. I figure France this year, Belgium next? It's not too far from home and a weekend break would be a lot of fun.
Canada 12/20 - I'm over in the states regularly it would seem, so I don't see why a detour to Canada isn't on the cards in the future. There are some amazing mountain ranges to climb, Trek America do tours that go here so I'd maybe consider signing up to one of those.
Iceland 13/20 - The Faroe Islands as well. It's absolutely stunning and I'd love to see the Northern lights, but I will settle for walking along glaciers and breathtaking baron views. Can't imagine a more beautiful looking landscape.
Eygpt 14/20 - The pyramids are a wonder of the world. The temples and ancient culture here have always intrigued me so I do think it would be an incredible adventure. I'd feel a little like Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. I'm quite the explorer deep down, not one for soaking in the sun, which is why most of these involve sightseeing or island hopping.
Sweden 15/20 - I've never been snowboarding or skiing and I think Sweden would be a perfect place. My mums been actually and I she knows people over there so I could get in touch.
Thailand 16/20 - My friends have been here and did invite me but some unforeseen financial circumstances meant I couldn't go. It's on my list because of the islands, and I'm a love of thai food as well. Plus, they already have the experience so can tell me where is best to go.
Peru 17/20 - Hiking Machu Picchu is something I've been dreaming of for the last 12 months. This one would take some serious planning and saving but never say never.
Brazil 18/20 - South America remains a mystery to me, Rio de Janeiro would be an incredible place to visit. Climbing Corcovado mountain to the 'Christ the Redeemer' statue looking out from 2,300 ft. To experience a carnival here would be unforgettable to! Maybe I could even take a little excursion to explore some of the Amazon river and rainforests too.
China/Japan 19/20 - The culture here is something I would love to experience, from rural villages and temples to skyscrapers and neon signs. It's a big distance to travel but that won't stop me. This is definitely one for later in my twenties. Walking along the 'Great Wall of China' is high up on my list.
Netherlands 20/20 - This is mostly for Amsterdam, I know a lot of people head over here and I haven't been yet. The towns look cute and picturesque, its a place I could head over for a couple of days and snap away with my camera.
So that is it, 20 countries in my twenties. These may not necessarily be the order, or even the countries I end up visiting. Who knows what could crop up in the next 6 years but I'm super excited about getting stuck into this. Let the planning begin...
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Cocktails & Carbs
As an early birthday treat, I went into Manchester after seeing on Instagram a restaurant called 'The Laundrette' with the most amazing cocktails! So, I made a reservation & dragged Danny with me to go and give it a try.
We headed into Manchester around 5pm as the booking was at 7. Walking from Piccadilly station towards the O2 Ritz, you turn left at the top of the road, just past Dog Bowl on your left, and go under the bridge to find yourself in a very modern looking built up area filled with lots of food and bar choices.
We arrived a little early but got seated straight away, it wasn't busy for a Saturday night but picked up as the night went on. Sat in a little booth, next too some girls hen or birthday party down the far end (I couldn't be sure which but they were certainly having a good time, by the number of empty cocktail glasses across the table), and what we assumed was a first date right to the left of me by the number of awkward silences, and pieces of small talk we were able to hear.
Obviously, I started with the cocktail menu as this was the main reason I booked it! Instantly I was drawn to the Raspberry Flossi, a pink creamy cocktail that came in a jam jar style glass and a massive ball of vanilla candyfloss sat precariously on top. For presentation this place gets a 10 and the service was really efficient, the first drink arrived and we then moved onto food.
We both went with pizza, avoiding starters to ensure we had room for dessert. Mine had spicy sausage, nduja, salami and mozzarella on it, (Danny went for a classic mozzarella and basil) the side of fries was perfectly sized for us to share and it arrived piping hot withing 15 minutes of us ordering. The food itself was such good quality, I love a fresh made pizza and you could really taste that. It was doughy, thin and similar to my favourite pizza place 'Pizza Pilgrims' in London, this came a pretty close second.
By this point I had finished my first cocktail and moved onto the Blueberry Gin Mojito. The colour of this was mesmerizing it looked incredible, tasted it too. A very refreshing blend, I love mojitos and will try every combination I can get my hands on. This one almost beat out the strawberry ones I had whilst on holiday in the Gran Canaria a few years ago.
Dessert next, I was determined to attempt one as I don't know when I will get to visit again. Torn, I went with the Peanut Butter Popcorn Cheesecake, over the Hot Coffee Pudding, not realizing it would be a ball of popcorn stuck on top with pure smooth peanut butter. Nonetheless, it was delicious but a little too heavy for me and the slice was way too big! As you can see Danny was sensible with his choice of vanilla ice cream and so helped me out a bit with the monster cheesecake.
Finally I wanted a surprise, so got a random third and final cocktail, this one was called the 'I Scream For Ice Cream' a smooth blend of cola and amaretto topped with salted caramel ice cream. Now I absolutely love salted caramel and ice cream floats are very strange but so satisfying. This was like another dessert and definitely a struggle to finish but that may had had something to do with all the food!
All in all I was really impressed it is somewhere I plan to take my mum and sister next. The pricing was really reasonable, cocktails being about £8 each and the pizza was only £10 so I think if you're looking for a great evening in Manchester maybe before a gig at the Apollo check it out!
I am loving this blog as an excuse to go try more food places!! Next stop Black Milk Cereal.
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Last year I spent a lot of time in Birmingham. Whilst down there I was shown around a lot of really cool, interesting places that I thought I would share with you. My visits mostly were over the weekends and included food, drink, culture and a beautiful park known as Lickey Hills.
I will start my post with a place that to me resembled the character of the Northern quarter in Manchester. With quirky pop ups shops, festivals and events - The Custard Factory is a must see. If not for the shopping definitely for the street art. The place is a canvas for colourful illustrative graffiti that brings the dull brickwork to life. I have included just a few of my favourite pieces i have found but I wouldn't want to ruin the experience so will leave you to discover them for yourselves. Inside of The Custard Factory you will find brightly coloured buildings not a million miles away from Balamory, with strings of lights flowing between them. There is also a massive looming sculpture of a tree like figure, anyone who has seen Guardians of the Galaxy might be reminded of a certain someone.
My first visit included a pop up vinyl shop, I'm an avid collector of vinyl and anything retro so I couldn't resist a little browse. The next time I went down they had left so I will note that if you see something you want get it, some of the places might not be stopping around for long. Next I discovered a craft beer shop called 'Clink' these guys have an amazing selection including limited edition bottles. Here in Knutsford we have one called 'Dexter and Jones', I am sucker for craft beer not just the flavours but the bottles.
My designer background makes me a little obsessed with packaging especially when its something so creative. I have been know to make the 200 mile round trip to pick myself up a couple of bottles! An American alternative metal band called Deftones released a beer with Belching Beaver Brewery in San Diego. I spent ages trying to get a bottle for the guy I was seeing at the time (they're his favourite band), but sourcing them in the UK was a nightmare. Then earlier this year they posted on Instagram that some had arrived in store, so I messaged them to reserve me a couple of bottles and drove over. They didn't disappoint! I drank one before seeing the band live in Manchester not long ago, it was delicious, and the other is proudly on display in my flat!
My last trip I stopped by the most recent addition was a bicycle themed cafe that I have forgotten the name of. Inside they sold tons of art and nerdy items including movie prints, mugs and other collectables. The cakes and coffees are top notch, quick service as well as a relaxed atmosphere and a pick and mix of tables and chairs gives the place a charming appearance. If you are looking for good food and drink though I would recommend 'The Mockingbird' it serves craft beers, wine, spirits and offers delightful bistro food. They hold a lot of events because it also has a 101 seat cinema. I really want to attend one of the classic film screenings, or movie marathons they have, in the past I have missed a couple of opportunities. I'm considering a trip over summer maybe early August, better keep an eye on tickets!
Our second stop is further out, Lickey Hills is one of Birmingham’s most varied and treasured parks. It covers 524 acres and is located just 10 miles south west of Birmingham. The place is perfect for an afternoon run, jog, walk with the kids, dogs or even a romantic stroll. I've been here several times and I'm such a nature lover that I could happily walk around for hours. Take a picnic with you on a summer day and just get lost, there are plenty of kids play areas but for the more adult of you I would recommend just going a little off path and heading deeper into the woodland.
Heading up these hills gives you some incredible views and a clear shot over all of Birmingham. Having been taken up here on late nights, it's a pretty beautiful sight when the city is all lit up. Very romantic and peaceful. You really can't beat hideaways like this, I love Delamere forest for the same reason and trips to the Lake District or Wales so it is amazing to find one so close to the city.
My final stop is in Birmingham city centre, now the national gallery is stunning if thats your thing, stocked full of oil canvas paintings and chocked full of history. But if a more modern style is what you're into a great little find is the IKON gallery, they change it up every so often and you don't quite know what you will get. It is set over just a few floors usually holding 2 or 3 exhibits of work. Personally, any gallery to me is interesting because you can get such weird and wonderful pieces in modern art places. As you can see in the photos its quite a cold building with stone floors and walls, giving it an industrial feel.
Now there is plenty on offer in the way of food from all your mainstream restaurant chains to pubs and bars. Walk down the canal and you will find a buzzing nightlife especially on a Saturday afternoon. Take in all the boats floating on the water, passing some delightful pubs and theres a lovely little restaurant quarter over the bridge, I really need to return here and tick a few off my list! The Bullring shopping centre is perfect if you want to do some retail therapy, its massive but I prefer to avoid the big hustle and bustle of shopping centres for a more unique experience of the city.
If you plan on going for a weekend I hope the recommendations help, it's a pretty awesome place and I find with any city I have every been too just walking around and getting lost you usually find the best places. Hopefully my next visit will include some new hotspots to show you as I am planning on going to one of The Custard Factory's record festivals very soon!
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Aby, 24. Northerner.