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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Since moving to Northwich, I find theres some Artisan market on nearby almost every weekend! I went to the ‘Makers Market’ in Knutsford a few weeks ago. I’ve been a couple of times now and it’s a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Running from around 11am to 4pm, the streets are full of wooden stalls selling local ales, crafts and baked goods. There’s so much food on offer it’s difficult deciding which treats to buy and I usually end up going a little overboard. With my trusty little Manchester bamboo travel coffee cup in hand to keep me in caffeine (I actually picked this up in the Northwich Artisan Markets), here's what I've gotten up to on my visits so far.
It’s a pretty small place and parking isn’t always ideal in my experience. If you do have to park then Booths is a good place as it’s free on a Sunday, for 2 hours, enough time to make the most of the markets. I apologise in advance if this post makes you hungry, about 75% of the stalls are some form of food whether that be relishes, pies, flapjacks, watermelons or brownies. It’s a good idea to make sure you have a healthy appetite when you go, Every time I go, I try something new. There's tons of tasters on offer when you walk around, helping you make decisions when deciding what to buy.
Whether or not the sun is shining it doesn't stop me from grabbing an ice cream (I absolutely love ice cream, in any weather), my favourite so far has been the vegan ice cream (made from crushed bananas) which was a lot more refreshing and guilt free, although the toppings weren't exactly healthy (pictured top of post). I snapped up one of these adorable ‘Beer Can Cacti’ last time and added it to my windowsill. I really love the window boxes though and am pretty tempted to pick one up when they next pop up. Plants are such a great home addition and being a graphic designer (as well as lover of craft beers), the cans really caught my eye. The most difficult decision was finding the perfect combination or beer can design and cute cactus.
The markets are great for picking up hand crafted homeware and decorative bits and bobs. I often see a lot of prints I’d like to hang on my wall, but I do tend to design this sort of stuff myself. If you know a crafty person then it is an ideal hotspot for birthday or christmas gifts. It is for a specific audience I feel, those who enjoy high end brand store shopping, probably won't find this all too appealing. The outdoorsy dog lovers however, will appreciate the atmosphere and I definitely fall a little more into this category (most of the time). As Danny would say I'm a bit of a hipster.
There’s this vintage crockery stall that sells mismatched teacups and saucers, that makes me fell a bit like Alice down the rabbit hole. If only I had a tea party planned they would be perfect. If you're into gardening then theres countless floral bouquets on offer to add to your home or garden. I stick with the cacti because they're a lot harder to kill, (more independent that most plants) but it's a very colourful affair with some blooming beautiful flowers.
Then when it's time to stop for a bite of lunch. If you’re not already stuffed from all the goodies on offer they do have a kind of food court set up. This ranges from stonebaked pizza made fresh in front of you (I always tend to be drawn to this, I really should do a pizza post), hotdogs, noodles, burgers and loads more. It’s hard to choose just one, I always say go with someone else (one or two friends preferably) and then split your options. That way you can try a little bit of everything you fancy! The watermelon bowls are another favourite of ours because they don't feel all that bad for you (unless you add the cream of course), I try my best to stick to the healthier options. However, I do usually take home a sweet treat box for with a cup of tea when I get home (a scone, brownie or cinnamon bun will do) because it would be rude not too. Support your local businesses!
If you're in Knutsford (the markets are the first weekend of every month) I would recommend heading over to Tatton Park if the weather is nice, it's full of wildlife and a perfect place to relax in a little afternoon sunshine. There is also a delicious local honey shop just a short drive from the town, (check it out) that sells every flavour infused honey you could imagine, candles, lip balms and jars big or small. I've already had 3 jars from them and each was sweeter than the last. Not going to lie I think for me this will be a monthly thing, it's a different pace from my usual working weekday or weekend of hiking. Plus, enjoying a coffee with a box of macaroons never gets old.
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This time next week I will be in a lot of pain, but filled with pride. Why? I hear you ask. Well because next Saturday I am taking part in my second Tough Mudder! (I have the orange headband to prove I've done it once already).
For those of you who don't know (check it out) it's not really a race but more an outdoor obstacle course, that's all about teamwork and challenging yourself. In their own words - Tough Mudder is no ordinary mud run - it’s an experience. An escape from the everyday. At Tough Mudder, you won’t just face your fears - you’ll knock them down. You’ll go over, around, and through them. You’ll test your strength, stamina, and grit, and you’ll help the Mudders around you to do the same. They run multiple courses up and down the country (even a half one if you're a bit intimidated by the thought of running a muddy half marathon), so wherever you are you can sign up and get involved.
This year we've opted for the Yorkshire one, near Skipton (brand new course). Now it's 13 miles in total, but along the way you encounter many obstacles, some fun, some painful, some cold and all of them difficult (you try climbing up a halfpipe after running 12 miles). Don't worry it's all part of the fun (apparently). I will be writing a whole post on my Tough Mudder experience for you guys next week, once I have recovered from the many injuries I am bound to sustain. This post however is more about training for events like this, and what I have been doing lately to prepare myself (nothing can really prepare you for this though).
KEEP ON MOVING
Now every month i get a delivery from TRIBE, I signed up to the first box for just £1! It's a subscription of 'Natural Sports Nutrition' tailored to your needs. The regular price is £8.95 per box, and in that you get 6 individual items. They provide a balance of carbs, protein and minerals, helping you to train stronger! I was so impressed after my first delivery I decided to keep them coming.
From a design point of view it's clever, eye catching and certainly makes a statement. That alone was enough to keep me wanting more (the designers curse). The box is bright orange so you can't miss when it arrives through the letterbox, with 'KEEP MOVING' proudly displayed on the top. Inside you'll find a mix of bars and shakes in an array of colours and flavours. When you sign up, TRIBE ask you a little about the fitness you do so they can work our the stuff they'll think you'll need. I have found they're spot on with this!
The box is illustrated inside with a picturesque mountain range and the words 'Eat Natural. Run free' they're all about motivation at TRIBE. The bars packaging is clear and concise, telling you exactly what is inside each bar (my favourite has to be the sour cherry & buckwheat one). Now I am particularly fond of the extra information I haven't found on a lot of healthy snack/ protein bars, which includes a little indication of when to eat them alongside your workout. Some say an hour or 45 mins before, others are to help refuel and so eat 15 mins after. As I am not an expert in protein it is really helpful to have this information clearly on each individual bar. They also include a little break down on the back of the carbohydrates, fats and proteins (which I understand a little bit more). I've definitely noticed the difference since starting to take in protein shakes and bars before or after my running workouts, I don't get cramps or feel as sickly as when I wasn't eating the right type of foods for my training.
Mentally (any type of fitness/ exercise) it is just as challenging as physically, but that's why especially in Tough Mudder you're encouraged to join in teams. I am doing it with my good friend Connor this year, we had a group of 5 last year but as I'm sure everyone knows, life gets in the way. I'm not going to lie it's brutal (but also a laugh) and I'm sure the pictures will tell a great story. I am both excited and nervous to get stuck in again. However, I am as prepared as I'll ever be and I found a quote over the weekend that summed it up for me perfectly, 'You don't train so it doesn't hurt. You train so you can tolerate it.'
Now fitness is part of my daily routine, I don't ever really stop training, at least not completely. Some weeks it's climbing mountains and others its taking part in fun runs. Mostly though I run between 12 and 18 miles a week, over three days. That's a run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday each is usually between 4 and 6 miles. It's usually after work or in an evening but on odd occasion I will run in the mornings if I feel particularly energetic. Spending this hour of the day outside training is a highlight, and over the past year it's not only changed my appearance but my outlook on a lot of things (as well as fuelling my passion for adventure).
As someone, who was on the verge of being a size 16 many moons ago, yes it's true I have the pictures to prove it, this is an achievement in itself. I adore running, it clears my head and helps me to feel comfortable in my own skin (which I am sure for many young women is a daily challenge). The run itself has changed dramatically! Last year I was training in my local gym on a treadmill (looking back felt very monotonous at the time) and now I run rain, wind or sun, mixing it up on multiple routes through local woodland and parks not far from my flat. Mapping out these whilst exploring was a lot of fun in itself.
On the weekends, I've been walking in Delamere a lot and will squeeze and extra run in, if it's a particularly quiet Sunday. I get outside as much as I can and even more so the closer TM gets! I will happily go walking for hours and even though it's not as vigorous as my run, the TRIBE bars are perfect to pack into a backpack for the journey. In my opinion, walking the dog, taking the kids to the park instead of the cinema or even taking a romantic stroll with a couple of coffees (rather than going out for a fancy dinner, or sitting in with a takeaway) are all simple steps to improving your own wellbeing.
It's all about mentality, you have to make it part of your routine and not a chore. However you can, make it fun! Signing up for events like Tough Mudder certainly motivates me to keep myself in good shape and even on the days when I've been working for 10 hours I find the time to fit in a short sprint. The TRIBE box has a lovely little quote etched onto the bottom, once you've consumed all your delicious snacks it reads "If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon." That's what it's all about, supporting each other not who can run faster, who is skinnier or stronger but working together to achieve and accomplish our goals. It may take me longer than some of my fellow mudders, I may feel the burn and want to stop but we cheer each other on and help each other out. What better thing is there to be a part of, in a time when it's hard to trust other people and we don't often speak to strangers. These types of events bring you together with people of the same mindset and motivation, those are the people I want to get to know!
IT'S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
I'm not going to lie, there will be a great deal of junk food consumed after this Saturday. It's rare I treat myself but I think I will definitely have earned it, it's important to remember that sometimes it's more good for you than you realise. I am very guilty of punishing myself more than rewarding. I am getting better though! If this post motivates even one person to sign up, or go for a run this afternoon it was worth it! I'm already convinced I will be signing up again next year and dragging along some first timer friends next summer (training starts again on Sunday).
I can't wait to fill you all in on the experience and claim my second headband (I think this one's green, not too sure, but I really want the pink one so that's only 8 Tough Mudders away...), having taken part before I also get to take on some of the extra hard obstacles (lucky me!). I plan on giving a run down of my top 5 obstacles and posting the 'sexy' before and after photos, so keep a look out.
I've got to survive the course first though, bring on the arctic enema!
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We're Going Shopping!
Yesterday we decided to head over to the Trafford Centre in Manchester, on the understanding that after I had done my mini shopping haul, food and Spider-man: Homecoming were on the agenda. The sun was shining when we arrived just after 10am. After a quick stop off for our daily caffeine fix, I was off to find some bargains.
The Trafford Centre is one of my favourite shopping destinations! It's not often I get to go and I always try to be sensible, but with so many stores under one roof its difficult to leave empty handed. It is an absolutely stunning building offering a unique shopping experience because of its unorthodox style of architecture. The centre is filled with all the biggest brands and labels from food to fashion which attracts the majority of shoppers. When it originally opened in 1998 it was the largest shopping centre in the UK. However, it lost that title soon after in 1999.
First stop, TOPSHOP! My go-to store, I always find that their collections suit my particular sense of style and combining that with a SALE, I figured I couldn't go wrong. It actually turned into a pretty disappointing selection this time. Nothing quite jumped out at me and I've been on the hunt for some statement pieces lately, anything out of the ordinary, that will really stand out over summer. I did manage to find a delicate little gold typographic necklace with the word 'mermaid' on it and an iron on pearl stitched shell patch. I instantly fell in love with these, on my third lap of the store, but my phone died before I could get a picture. As the queue was ridiculously long, I missed out on purchasing them but will have a browse online to see if I can find them!
Next PULL & BEAR caught my eye. This store is a perfect blend, I find it is affordable like H&M but offers way more in the way of fashion similar to Topshop. They have a huge selection of quirky illustrative tees, hoodies and sweatshirts. As well as the more adventurous patterned pieces, including tulle shirts and a shell print bra top, that made me feel like a mermaid for a minute. A quick visit to the changing rooms proved unsuccessful, but I did find some cute items that I considered buying.
Including a grey sweatshirt that had the phrase 'Yes But Not With You' written across it, I was tempted by this but managed to resist as my collection of hoodies is already pretty substantial. There was a cool camo shacket that was on sale for just £9.99 and a tulle oriental print blouse, that was sadly a little too transparent for my taste. In store I was completely in awe of a pair of mom jeans that I knew I wanted! They came in a bleached denim with paint strokes splashed down the legs, and ripped patches. Unfortunately, they only had these in a 6 which were a little too snug of a fit, or sizes 14 and up so I was forced to leave them behind. This did influence the rest of my shopping trip and spurred me onto a hunt for the perfect pair of mom jeans...
I then ended up in ZARA, after a few other fashion store stops along the way still not proving fruitful. I have only a couple of items from them but they really do have some out there fashion choices available, perfect for what I wanted. I always forget to check out Zara online when I am shopping but after today I think it will move further up my list! The SALE signs were bold and I was staying optimistic, despite the day so far being a bit dissapointing.
You really can't beat those red stickers though! Finally I found what I'd been searching for. A stunning pale pinky peach blouse, that was similar to an oversized tee but in a heavier cotton blend, with fluffy trim sleeves. It instantly caught my eye and I was in love, I knew I had to have it! It helped that the top had been reduced to just £5.99 and there was one left in a small, it was fate. Next, I made my way over to the denim, still lusting after the Pull & Bear jeans. It was quite the gold mine, so much so I bought not one but two pairs!
The first wear a standard ripped and pleated mom jean with a cutout ankle, these were just £9.99 reduced from £29.99. The fit was great and paired with some heeled boots I knew they were exactly the cut I had been looking for. They were lacking the paint marks but I figured I could always get a little creative with them myself, not that they need it. My favourite purchase of the day had to be a stunning pair of floral embroidered cropped fitted jeans. ZARA had large selection of embroidered denim on offer, but the pink palette and delicate flower bouquet on this particular pair was super pretty. These had also been reduced to £19.99 from £39.99, an absolute bargain and in my opinion I was basically saving money. Especially as I have always loved embroidered jeans but find they are often way too expensive, usually around the £50 mark in TOPSHOP and RIVER ISLAND.
Along the way I stopped into a few of my other favourite stores. Trying on some summer shades in RIVER ISLAND, I have recently purchased a couple of new pairs but I think they're my new weakness. The 'Old Sweet Shop' which had brand new vanilla latte pop tarts, it was difficult not to walk away with the whole stand. LUSH smelt just as amazing as always but my bathroom is so full of bits from my last visit, I gave it a miss on this occassion. SELFRIDGES always gets a look in, more so for the Food Hall and Art Prints sections personally. I've been on the hunt for these prints by Fred Birchal, after getting a 'Back to the Future' one the last time I was in store. As you can see below he creates graphic fashion prints based on popular characters from tv, film and music. I've been keeping an eye out for the 'Fight Club' one but not been lucky enough to find it yet. I was definitely considering the 'Indiana Jones' and 'Star Wars' one, but for now I'm holding out.
Love at First Bite
After working up an appetite from all the shopping over the last couple of hours, it was time to eat! We decided to try the Italian restaurant Est Est Est, it was a good choice. Danny had the Calzone A Vedura, stuffed with roasted Mediterranean vegetables & mushrooms in pomodoro sauce, he opted for it without the cheese (he's not a fan). I went with the Zucchini 'Spaghetti', spiralized courgettes with goats cheese, Mediterranean roasted vegetables, fresh basil and olive oil, accompanied by a salty side of olives.
The service was really good and the food itself was delicious! I've never had 'courgetti' before and was pleasantly surprised, it reminds me more of noodles and isn't as heavy on the stomach as normal pasta. The goats cheese and roast vegetables complimented it well, it was quite a healthy choice that left me satisfied without feeling stuffed like I usually do with pasta dishes. I also ordered a Strawberry & Basil Smash, a mix of strawberries, basil and a dash of agave lengthened with soda water, a great alternative to sparkling water. There is so much choice in the food hall at the Trafford Centre that it can be difficult to make a decision, I find every time I go we eat somewhere new. Although they have such a wide range, no matter what you fancy I'm sure you can find somewhere to cater to you. I would also recommend trying out GIRAFFE you won't be left hangry.
Popcorn & Peter Parker
After lunch we had a an hour to kill before the movie started and this gave us chance to go for another quick browse. Anyone who has seen my tattoo post will know I recently got an inking of the little blue alien Stitch. The DISNEY STORE had so much new merchandise I couldn't help snapping a few cute pictures. SELFRIDGES had also got in on the Disney action with some cute Mini Mouse themed cupcakes being sold on one of the pop up stalls, at the front of the store. I didn't pick anything up because I couldn't decide on any single item, so to prevent coming home with a bag of Disney magic, I managed to keep my spending in check.
It was soon time to head back over to the ODEON for 'Spider-Man: Homecoming', popcorn and pick & mix in hand, I was pretty damn excited! I've always been a pretty big fan of marvel, the 'X-Men' franchise is my usual go to. Either that or 'Guardians of the Galaxy', and after enjoying the previous Andrew Garfield 'The Amazing Spiderman' films I was optimistic about this one.
The film itself was the perfect blend of action & comedy, unlike the more recent marvel films, this one focused on the main character. It didn't get too distracted by pulling in other heroes from the marvel universe, but rather gave an insight into Peter Parker both with & without his Spider-man persona. I won't say too much on this because I wouldn't want to produce any spoilers, but stay for the after credits scene, both of them. As a graphic designer, I really have to mention the end credits animation! This was really well executed, in a collage scrapbook style of comic, the colour was eye catching and the imagery had a really sketchy feel. The soundtrack was awesome, since the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' playlists I have found myself just as excited for these, as the film itself.
The guys in charge of the soundtrack never fail to reintroduce me to some classics I have forgotten about, as well introduce me to some new gems I wasn't even aware of.
Finally, after a very long day we headed home. Stopping at Mr.Pretzel on our way out for a bag of cinnamon sugar pretzel bites, these tasted so good! There were even a couple of extra bites buried beneath the sugary sand at the very bottom of the bag. Saturday calories don't count right? I picked up a Blueberry Blast Smoothie from BOOST for the sunny car ride back as well, my sugar quota for the week was well and truly met. Any trip to the Trafford Centre turns into a full day event, I'm thinking another trip before Christmas is on the cards. I love Christmas shopping and with such a selection under one roof, I can usually get the whole family done in just one visit! Maybe I will nip to do a final Trek America shop for supplies as well, any excuse to do a bit of shopping...
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Chick Chicka Chicka...
Ferris Buellers Day Off is one of my favourite films of all time! So you can imagine how excited I was when I got the chance to go to Chicago with work for a few days. Unfortunately, I didn't get to show my stuff on top of a parade float, but I did get to lean out over the Chicago skyline. I'd only been to America once before, to New York with my friend around 4 years ago now. This was such an exciting prospect, I love the states! The sheer scale of the cities really takes my breath away, plus you can't complain about the food!
On day one, we arrived late afternoon but that didn't stop me from throwing my stuff into the hotel room & heading out to explore. They don't call it the windy city for nothing, it was absolutely freezing, despite the glorious sunshine. We were lucky that the hotel we were staying in was right around the corner from Cloud Gate, a very unique reflective sculpture in Millennium Park. Naturally, I headed straight over for a look! After a half an hour stroll I went back to meet up with the guys from work.
As it was our first night, Chicago town deep dish pizza was a no brainer! May I just say whilst in Chicago I ate a lot and I mean a lot. American portions are so much bigger that I often struggled to finish a whole meal and the pizza was insane. We found this adorable little diner round the corner as we didn't want to travel too far. We asked the waiter if he thought two large pizzas would be enough for the four of us, his advice was to get one. We decided to take his advice opting for one large and one small in the end, it's a good job we did because we were still shamelessly defeated.
The pizza itself was sensational! It was bizarre as it came in more of a pie tin, the crust is topped with quite a generous layer of cheese and then the sauce is spread on top. If you are ever in Chicago, don't leave without trying the deep dish it was definitely the best meal we had on the whole trip. Totally exhausted from the travel and food we headed straight to bed.
The Sausage King of Chicago
The second day we were meeting in the lobby at around 10am. Thanks to the jet lag, I woke around 6 so decided to put my trainers on and head out. The city was quiet, beautiful and crisp, so I walked down to the harbour in time to catch the sun coming up, it did not disappoint. The breeze was certainly a wake up call. As everywhere was pretty much closed I strolled around the city for 3 hours, taking in the sights, it was peaceful and a definite contrast from the bustle of the night before. A quick stop off at Starbucks for my morning coffee fix then it was time for breakfast. After soaking in as much of the cities streets, sounds and smells, I figured the miles had earned me the staple of American breakfasts, pancakes and bacon!
The day was filled with work stuff for a conference, but an early finish meant I got to go live out a bit of a Ferris Bueller moment up at the top of Willis Tower, also referred to as Sears Tower. Similar to the Empire State Building, the tourist attraction gives you a perfect view across the skyline with large glass windows. You can really see for miles and in true spirit of the film, I climbed up on the barrier, leant onto the glass and peered down to the city below. A cool feature is the opportunity to stand on a glass floor, now I am not afraid of heights at all but the first step did make me feel a little on edge. It was an odd sensation being 1,353 feet suspended in the air. I imagine going up on an evening would be indescribable, I did that in New York & couldn't quite put into words the view. A quick trip down to the gift shop and one 'Sausage King of Chicago' fridge magnet later, we were back out on the street.
A Person Should Not Believe in an ism
The next few days mostly consisted of work and spending the evenings socialising or at events. In the mornings I continued my habit of getting up extra early, so I could grab a coffee and stretch my legs. I never know if I will get to go back to a place once I have seen it so I try my best to just breathe it in for however long I am there.
With so many nights out, I tried my first ever sidecar. Anyone who knows me will know I love a good cocktail, this was no exception and the sugar dusted rim added an extra level of sweetness. Another night involved a Hard Rock Cafe visit, where plenty of mojitos were consumed. We began the night by ordering the largest plate of nachos I have ever seen in my life, and that was just the starter. That was followed by classic burger & fries for me with a mexican twist, it certainly went down a treat! I find no matter which Hard Rock you go to the food is really good and the interior of each inspires me. They have this vintage diner from Grease kind of appeal, with music memorabilia consuming the interior walls, throw in an added modern twist & that sums up the Hard Rock Cafe. It has to be said this was the fourth one I have visited (London, New York, Dublin) and the staff are an absolute delight, never failing to have a laugh with you.
A couple of nights we went to Miller's Pub right down the road from our hotel, because the food was fantastic and they served this sweet sour cherry beer that I need to find now I'm back home. Meals there included a 'Blue Cheese Burger' and 'Pastrami on Rye', I am glad I did all the early morning walking because it helped me feel less guilty about the overload of carbs! This pub also served the best peanut butter cheesecake I will ever have in my life, we shared it between three of us but I think I could have easily eaten the whole thing! My best judgement told me that the calories probably wouldn't be appreciated the morning after though.
*I am starting this blog after my trip so in the future I am going to take a lot more photos and notes of place names, as well as tips for travelling.
Life Moves Pretty Fast
It feels strange to say but I think a part of me preferred Chicago to New York. For a big city it felt quite cosy, I loved the culture, music and atmosphere. There is a lot less of the touristy stuff so you can focus on actually living and breathing the city. With every street you turn being full of exciting restaurants and bars, I could only dream about living somewhere like this. I always make sure to fill my bag with american candy for the family before coming home, the best finds this time were Nutter Butters and Coffee M&Ms, they don't last very long.
Whenever I go on trips I always want a souvenir, ideally something that isn't tacky, is original and if possible free. One of the events we went to had artists dotted around the room doing caricatures in multiple styles, being a designer myself I couldn't quite contain my excitement. I sat for two one which was the more comical interpretation but the second was a fashion illustration, very vogue. (These are now proudly framed on my photo wall at home). My next trip to the states is for Trek America in October, I'm already planning my kit list and want to get a memento for every place I visit.
Next stop San Francisco...
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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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Hey, this is my very first blog post!!! (I want to build a sort of back catalogue over the next month, of what I've been up to the last 6 months). I have had such an insane start to this year and found myself really motivated to do more with my time, be adventurous, travel and step out of my comfort zone. What better way to document it all than on my very own blog.
This is a quick little intro with ten things to know about me. Not the boring profile stuff like age, hair colour... This hopefully just will give you an insight into my life, who I am as a person & what I like to get up to. I can't wait to share some photos from the past 18 months, but also start planning more for the future to keep you guys reading! (If anyone is even there).
So lets get to this list:
ONE. I suppose I can start with the fact I have 5 tattoos, I may do a post about them later. I got my first one on my 18th Birthday and the latest just last week. Each one is very personal and they tell a part of my story which I feel is important with tattoos for me personally.
TWO. There will be a lot of running posts here but what people don't generally know is that I used to be quite overweight. About 4 to 5 years ago I decided to make a change and began working out at the gym constantly. In total I lost around 4 stone which has had a massive impact on who I am today.
THREE. I moved into my first flat at the grand old age of 23, in April this year. To say the least it was an eventful experience! I love having my own space but it has been a lot to take in lately. With working, saving for holidays and being generally a very active person, I have found the home improvement stuff takes a back seat. I really need to get stuck into putting my mark on it!
FOUR. I work for a publishing company in Knutsford, anything I do online is just because I enjoy it. The blogging is more for me to look back on rather than me pursuing it as a career. I like the idea of having an outlet to go with my Instagram and Twitter, where I can really write about my experiences rather than just post a photo.
FIVE. I am a graphic designer and although I don't actively do much freelance I also this year put together my first official website. I will link it to this blog but it is abydesign.co.uk, you can buy prints and stuff on my Society6 page but it is just a bit of fun (at least for now).
SIX. I have two sisters, they're called Hannah and Lara and I am the oldest. I am 24, Hannah is 21 and Lara is almost 19. We are all completely different and its been strange all of us living separately now after growing up together. I am sure they will feature on here at some point.
SEVEN. I would probably say my favourite city is Manchester, at least at home here in the UK. I don't live too far away and spend time there whenever I can. It's just such an exciting place and there will be plenty of posts featured around it in the future I am sure, not to mention the Northern Quarter has amazing food and drink on offer.
EIGHT. I lived in London for a while, doing a placement working in digital publishing. It was my first experience being away from home and I absolutely loved every minute! Despite moving back up north and being in a much more rural area now, I thrive in the city atmosphere. It just has this buzz about it. There are lots of little hideaways I plan on writing about and sharing with you all.
NINE. In the last year I have become a budding mountaineer! In love with nature and camping I have been climbing mountains in the UK, most recently Snowdon. I did that for my birthday just last week with Danny, in less than ideal conditions! The Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Wales and Scotland are such beautiful places that I can just never get sick of. Sometimes you forget what is right on your doorstep.
TEN. Finally, I studied Photography and English Literature whilst at college. I always wanted to get into photojournalism and documenting things, so I suppose in a way it has come full circle. I have been so busy working in the design industry. But now I am settled in my career and adulting successfully I feel it is the perfect time to create something like this.
I promise much more of a visual post next! As I mentioned I turned 24 last week and so a lot of celebrations included visiting a new restaurant/bar in Manchester, camping in Beddgelert, climbing Snowdon, getting tattoo number 5 and doing the Manchester Color Run...
... so I am going to get stuck into writing some more blog posts now.
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Aby, 24. Northerner.