Saturday, 20 May 2017

My New Flat! A look at what will become the "Before..." gallery!

Guys, it has taken seven months. SEVEN MONTHS. And that's not even including all the years it took me to actually find a flat that I wanted to buy - or more realistically, could actually afford to buy. Seven months after looking at this property and placing an offer on the same day, it has finally become mine.

Thanks, bank, for taking three months to make a decision about a plant. And then changing your mind anyway. That was awesome of you.

The property is incredibly empty at the moment, which is very odd for me. I've lived in London for quite a long time now, and every flat I've ever rented has come fully furnished. Usually tastefully, sometimes less so. I've never had to think about things like buying a fridge, because the one that the flat has come with has always been just fine. I've contemplated buying things like new sofas but always figured there's no point. So now all I want to do is buy beautiful little additions and a shelf purely to put cacti on, but I can't, because it turns out there's all these really rather dull purchases that I need to buy first. Darn.

But anyway, I thought I would show you the first set of pictures I took today on my first trip to the flat since owning it. I'll tell you a couple of the ideas I have for what I'm going to do with it, and you can tell me your far better ideas that I can then steal!

Bit of background information first, I suppose? This is a two bed two bathroom flat, somewhere in East London. It's a second floor flat and it backs out onto a park. Pretty much all of the furniture will be flat packed, because conveniently I have two weeks of annual leave right now anyway (although I will be away for about a week of it) and so I have plenty of time to try to build furniture and repaint some of the surfaces. And ultimately it doesn't matter if I don't, as I am paying rent in my current place til the end of June anyway so I'm going to take advantage and do an extremely slow move over.

By the way, I've made the first purchase already. And what was it? Toilet roll. Yep. And bin bags. How depressing. But I figured if I was going to be hanging out over here to build furniture (it's about an hour away from my current flat) I should probably have these items. My first non toilet related purchase? A fridge! Well done me.

Anyway, let's show you some pictures!

First up, we've got the lounge and kitchen combo. LEAVE ME ALONE guys, it's London, how big did you expect it all to be?!

Actually though, I'm quite happy with the size of the lounge. As you can see, it's got a balcony at the end there and you can see the park. It's nice and bright as the balcony above is actually quite high up so there's still plenty of light getting in.

The theme for the lounge area is going to be blue and yellow. The one item that is definitely going in is my ginormous grey Ikea rug as I have been lugging this thing around for ages, but it's also the comfiest rug ever so I really don't mind it taking up so much space. I've picked out a big blue sofa to go in here - I really wanted a smaller sofa and an armchair but there weren't that many nice sets and those that were around were really expensive, so this is what I'm going to have to go with! There's going to be some kind of big display unit behind it, but I haven't worked out exactly where yet. Originally I thought it would run in line with the radiator, but now I'm thinking I'll actually put it to the side in between the radiator and the wall instead as that gives a little bit more space. Opposite the sofa I'll have my TV and unit, and I've found some pretty floor lights that are going to go either side. Plus an absolute majestic beast of a plant! I haven't quite worked out the table situation yet. I'm thinking maybe just a side table rather than a full coffee table. Thinking on this still.

I'm thinking of making that wall behind the door a bit of a statement wall and getting some ridiculous wallpaper pattern just for there. Not sure yet though. I have a few ideas for here but I suppose it's not really the priority yet!

 I'm just going to show you this in place of a balcony picture as it's quite an awkward size to get a good picture of otherwise. I've already got this chair which is really comfy, and I'm not entirely sure what else to do. Obviously some plant life will be living out here, and I think I'll probably get a little table. I'm also thinking of maybe getting a cute little lantern style solar lamp to sit on top of the table.

 This is the kitchen! Ignore my clutter. It actually does look much better in real life, and obviously when it's got some actual life in it it'll be much improved. The colouring looks really awful in this picture and it's actually not that bad at all. Obviously where my bags are currently sitting there will shortly be a fridge, and past that I've got a few ideas. The theme for the kitchen area will be red and black, so a red kettle etc will shortly be lining the surfaces. If you see that big empty space of wall to the right, I'm planning on putting a big shelf up there but I'm not sure what to do with it yet. I'm going to wait and fill the cupboards first, as that shelf could even be something useful like for plates or saucepans, or instead just for decorative pieces like some fancy jars. The wall then curves around to a much smaller wall, and I'm planning on putting several small shelves on that which will include things like herbs and spices.

You can't really see the other wall, but I've decided against putting a dining room table in there. However, I will be putting in a breakfast bar and some bar stalls!

 Hallway! It's awkward to see in this picture but basically the layout is as follows. When you first enter the flat (the door sort of in the middle in this picture) there's a bit of space in front where I'm going to put a shoe rack, some hooks, and a letter collector. To the right of that is a big boiler and storage room, which is where dull things like washing machines and bed sheets will be going. In front of that is the bigger bathroom. Round the corner from that is a storage closet which is actually a lot bigger than you'd expect it to be - this will contain some cleaning supplies like a hoover and a mop, and then I'm honestly not sure what's going to be going in the top section as there's actually quite a lot of space in there I can work with. The next room (where the photo is taken from) is the lounge/kitchen. As you can see there's quite a bit of space right there and I'm thinking of putting a little storage unit there or else just a big plant. To the right of this door is the second bedroom, and then the door that you can just see open to the right is the main bedroom.

 This is the main bedroom. Well, half of it. This room is insanely awkward to take a picture of as it's a big L shape. Where the bed shaped carpet change already is is where the bed will obviously go - and aside from that, there's lots of options. I'm thinking of getting one of those storage units that wraps completely around and over your bed, but I have actually always disliked those units so I'm not sure why this seems like a good idea! I'm also thinking of getting another chest of drawers directly opposite the bed and putting another TV on top of that.

 The door you see to the left is the door back to the main hallway. The one to the right takes you to the ensuite, and directly in front is the built in wardrobe, which is actually a much bigger size than you'd expect.

This is the ensuite. I'm actually pretty happy with the colouring in this one. It has a couple of shelves in it already that you can't see that clearly, and I'm thinking of putting in another longer shelf on the wall on the right to keep a few decorative objects on. This room is going to have a fairly natural theme to it. I want lots of browns, some baskets for storage, some cacti (fake!), that sort of thing.

 This is the smaller bedroom. There's not much to tell you about this room yet, because I don't entirely know its purpose. It will sort of depend on how much stuff is left over after the other rooms have been finished! If it needs to be, it can become a hobby room or a study sort of thing. Alternatively, a guest room.

This is the other bathroom. I mostly like this bathroom and I'm really excited to have a bath again - but I hate the yellow that is painted around the edges! This is going to become a dark blue colour instead. I'm also going to put a shelf or two up to the left of the toilet, and this room is going to get a bit of a nautical theme with lots of blues and some shells and maybe a picture and a starfish or two! It looks a bit clinical in here at the moment but that's probably also because there's literally nothing in it! Once the yellow has been replaced and it's got a few items in here I think it'll be looking much better.

There we go! Hopefully I'll be able to update you in a few weeks with some progress - any ideas?

Monday, 8 May 2017

A Visit to The National Pet Show at the ExCel

Yesterday we took a trip to see the National Pet Show at the ExCel. Despite living within walking distance of the centre, I have never actually been to see an actual exhibition there outside of events such as the Paralympics. We have also recently been talking about pets - and our inability to own them, what with living in flats - and as such when I was offered tickets to the show I was very happy to accept!


Friday, 5 May 2017

May's Fashion Favourites

As always, Quiz's new range includes a lot of beautiful yet inexpensive formal dresses - but what I was really drawn to this month were these three much more holiday-style looks. In particular I'm drawn to the one in the middle - I have really mixed opinions when it comes to playsuits as I think they're so rarely done right - but I think this one is very cute and looks really flattering.

I am a big fan of how bright and vibrant these patterns and colours are. The first dress is something I could definitely see myself wearing on holiday or on a cruise - but also something I think I could pair up with some more toned down leggings and shoes and get away with here in London. I think these three are probably the more 'mature' three items I've picked out this month - yet also probably the most fun when it comes to patterns and design!

JANE NORMAN: Multicolour Tropical Print Bodycon Dress £21.75
JANE NORMAN: Khaki Lace Up Bardot Top £14.40
JANE NORMAN: Blue Stripe Bardot Jumper £21.75

Of this Jane Norman selection, I think my favourite is the top in the middle. It's got a very simple look to it - but when you see it on the model, I think it looks perfect. It's simple, but very flattering and looks great. I don't really own any tops like this anymore and as I already seem to now own an excessive amount of grey, I think this may be one of my choices soon.

NEW LOOK Yellow Suedette Cross Strap Cork Block Heeled Sandals £22.99
APRICOT White Coral & Blue Inky Hummingbird Print T-Shirt £18
OASIS Stripe Kissing Flamingo Tee £30
OASIS Tropical Botanical Shirt £38

The only reason I'm not immediately going out and buying the shoes is because I feel I basically already own these but in flat version. The more I think about it the more I think they're actually from Primark about two years ago, but I swear they're in this exact shade of both yellow and the cork base. As such, there's no real point in me buying a higher pair of what I already own - but if I didn't, I'd definitely be going for these! Of this selection, the flamingo top is the one I think I'll most likely end up buying. It's cute and Oasis have quite a few flamingo based tops at the moment that I think all need trying on to decide which one I actually need!

Which are your favourites?


Monday, 1 May 2017

Rosefield Watches; The Tribeca Collection

As you probably know if you've been looking through my wishlists lately, a watch has been something that I have very much needed. I felt very guilty about looking for one because I already had a quite expensive smart watch that I basically never used because I didn't like how bulky it felt on my wrist, but as I'm not allowed to use my phone at work it was basically essential that I got hold of something that I would happily wear.

I had two main criteria when looking for a watch to buy. The first was obvious - I wanted one that looked pretty. It had to be in a colour that I liked, and be versatile. The second was a little more strict - I wanted one that was small. I have thin wrists, and so it was important that I found a watch that was equally small and didn't look silly and bulky on me or annoy me by falling up and down my arm because of the strap length.

Bring on Rosefield watches, and their Tribeca collection. I'll be honest, Rosefield isn't a brand I'd heard of before - but then I'd never really had any reason to go watch shopping before either so this wasn't too much of a surprise. The Tribeca collection combines some favourites from three of their watch ranges - but in a smaller size, for thinner wrists.

 I picked the blush/white combination, featuring pink straps and rose gold highlights. I was a little worried about how the colour of this watch would actually be in real life as through images the pink looked like it could be very bright. However, there was no need to worry - the pink shade is pretty but subtle and blends in with clothes a lot better than I thought it would. Equally, the rose gold blends in nicely with the rest of the watch and complements it perfectly.

 The watch face itself is simple but very pretty. I think it looks clean and elegant, it's easy to look at, and again matches the whole design very nicely. It is a smaller watch, but it's easy to read and the whole face has a very polished look to it.

 And now - the size. This watch has a 33mm case and looked absolutely tiny when I first pulled it out of the box. In fact, I briefly worried that I'd gone too far in the opposite direction and that it would look abnormally small when I put it on! However, the size is actually perfect for me. The size is flattering and looks exactly the right size for my wrists. The watch itself is very thin and as such it's very light and doesn't feel annoying to wear, nor does it get in the way.

Overall, I'm very happy with this watch. It's very pretty, looks fashionable and matches well with whatever I try to pair it with. It's a great size and not too heavy, and I actually enjoy wearing it. I'm very happy with the quality of it, and I would happily purchase more watches from the Tribeca range.

This colour combination is £79 and is sold exclusively from John Lewis, here. If pink isn't quite your thing, it's also available in a blue/grey shade here and in black, here.

Friday, 28 April 2017

5 More Things I've Been Watching on Netflix Lately

The last time I made a Netflix recommendation post was - can you believe it?! - 8 months ago. I've been quite ill and tired lately, and whenever that happens I seem to start watching a silly amount of Netflix, this time being no exception. And as such, here's five more things I've been watching on Netflix lately!

13 Reasons Why
When I started watching this show, I didn't realise that I had inadvertently started on what is apparently the most talked about show at the moment. I got through this show very quickly - a combination of the fact that I was genuinely enjoying it, and that I kept accidentally reading spoilers so wanted to finish the whole thing before any more of it was ruined for me. I know this show has been receiving some really mixed reactions, but for my part - I actually really liked this show. The show focuses around a girl named Hannah who committed suicide, and sends out 13 tapes explaining the reasons why she had killed herself. A lot of negative reactions about this show seem to be based around the character of Hannah - however, I don't think she's actually supposed to be seen at particularly likeable or rational, and my dislike of her didn't change my enjoyment of the rest of the show. It does have some graphic scenes on it, but I found it to be enjoyable and interesting.

Santa Clarita Diet
This is a lighthearted show based around a pair of married realtors and their perfectly ordinary lives - until, that is, the wife becomes undead. I wasn't sure on this show based on the first episode as I found the acting to be very strange, however the show did grow on me and has some very funny moments to it. It's a short show so great for filling some gaps when you don't have much time and it doesn't take too much concentration - but it is very enjoyable, has some great lines to it, and Olyphant is a bit of a babe which always helps!

Project Runway
It's not a new show by any means - in fact, the seasons available are pretty darn old - but one that I always enjoy. I was delighted when I found out Netflix was getting some Project Runway episodes as I absolutely adore this show and find it so interesting seeing what people are able to create. I'm not a creative person at all, so I love challenges involving unusual things like going shopping from a party store and yet somehow making an outfit out of it. As mentioned, the seasons available are quite old but I'm hoping some more recent ones will go up at some point as they're good fun to watch.

Hell's Kitchen USA
Again, this is by no means a new show - but I think another one that is fairly new to Netflix. This has been the show that me and my boyfriend have been watching together recently. I don't typically enjoy cooking or kitchen shows but I do enjoy Ramsay and the fact that the USA version is so ridiculously over dramatic makes it great watching. There are three seasons available right now and the only downside to them is that the seasons are soooooo long. Still, an enjoyable background watch!

Me Before You
It's quite unusual that I'll use Netflix for movies, however Me Before You is one that I'll recommend - though find very strange to be doing so! I first watched this on a plane a few months ago and watched it purely because the movie selection was terrible and there wasn't much else available. However, I did actually enjoy it. It's a romance movie, but an enjoyable one. I'm not sure I'd be tempted to read the second book to find out what happens next, but this is still a film I'm surprised to say is worth watching!

What are you watching on Netflix right now?


Monday, 24 April 2017

Travelling with a Tour Group - My Personal Experiences

This time last week, we were talking pros and cons of tour group travel (here, if you're interested!) and so this time I figured it was about time I wrote down more personal experiences of the tour groups I've traveled with. I've traveled with four different companies and so for obvious reasons I'll be going into more in-depth descriptions of those ones - however, my tours have often crossed paths with other groups, sometimes taking more or less identical routes in places, and so I've included a little bit of my interactions with those groups as well.

Before I go any further I should make it clear that I'm specifically talking about groups such as Intrepid and Contiki rather than a tour group that you'd join for a couple of hours!

I'm going to be posting the groups in the order that I first toured with them, and then adding some extras to the end.

Trek America
Trek America, unsurprisingly, is a tour group that primarily focuses on trips across the United States - although I've also gone with them to Canada and by the looks of things they will now also take you to Central and South America. Trek America is for ages 18-38 and in my experience the age range is pretty well spread out throughout this. They use their own vans - in my experience these are tiny and a bit cramped, but they were comfortable enough, and your stuff is U-Hauled along behind them. This may have changed a bit since I went as it was a fair few years ago that I last used them, but their trips are primarily camping based with a few hotel stops. This is one of the tour groups that uses a food kitty, which takes a non optional amount of money from you on your first day to put into buying the ingredients that the group are going to eat throughout their time on the trip. Trek America uses the passengers to sort of take different shifts when it comes to the cooking and it's not optional - you'll be taking your turn helping out with it. Some people really didn't enjoy this, but I quite liked it. There's a certain novelty to having to put up your tent, helping cook the meal, and then air drying your plates by waving them around wildly afterwards!

I felt that my Trek America trips offered a lot of variety. They allowed me to see a lot of different areas, and I actually really enjoyed the camping aspect. Because it is primarily camping, this is also one of the cheaper companies that you can tour with, but obviously if the idea if sitting in a tent and having to cook is horrifying to you then this is not the company you should go with! However, what I would say is that this company probably offered the least personal experience of any of the groups I have done. I didn't discover anywhere really off the beaten track, I didn't at any point feel like my tour guide had any personal attachments to the areas we were visiting aside from the one time when he took us to some beer party at a friends house somewhere in Connecticut. For me, this isn't a problem, but if you'd like a more personal experience and would like to experience more of the culture of the area, I would suggest Trek America probably isn't for you. As a general rule, Trek America doesn't offer included activities either. This is both a good and a bad thing - if you'd prefer to work things out for yourself and don't want to pay extra for activities you're not really all that interested in, this won't be a problem for you. If you'd like to do more with the group, then again, perhaps look elsewhere. These trips are probably the ones where we were kinda left to our own devices the most often, and again, it's up to you whether you consider this a positive or a negative.

Africa Travel Co
I traveled with Africa Travel Co on a cross continent trip - I traveled through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and finally Kenya. You travel on a big overlanding truck as you can see from the picture above (I'm the one fifth from the right, if you were wondering!) and it is most certainly not a comfortable experience. But it's Africa, and I actually wouldn't change the way we traveled around. I saw people on ordinary buses and it didn't look much fun at all, and people using public transport that looked even less fun. The group didn't have any age limits to it and as you can see above, there was a big variety of ages on this trip. Despite this, this trip was actually the one that I left feeling like I'd genuinely made some friends - I haven't met up with any of the people since leaving, but there are a fair few that I still keep in contact with. Any cross Africa trip will include an awful lot of driving and spending hours and hours staring out of the window, so this is something to consider if you're interested in any longer trip across Africa regardless of what company you're considering going with.

This group works with three members of staff - you've got a driver, a trip leader, and a cook - although you do still help with the cooking, similar to Trek America, only this time you have someone helping you out and telling you what to do. Like Trek America, people essentially work in shifts as some of you will be helping to cook and some of you will be responsible for cleaning the truck and other tasks. This was sometimes a bit irritating when you were very tired at the end of the day, but it's part of the experience and if an experience like this is something you'll enjoy then you'll just get on with it! Also like Trek America, this trip was primarily camping based and so again was one of the cheaper tours available - however the camping grounds here tended to be in much larger places and you could quite often hear music which was really disturbing at night - sometimes the music would just be tribal African music which I was okay with - and one included us camping in basically the car park of a club, which I was less okay with! Here the tour staff were all from Kenya, and they offered a limited amount of discussion about their experiences and their culture. The staff were lovely, but weren't all that involved in the group. Africa Travel Co did not include any experiences or activities to my knowledge, however they did offer a selection of choices each day. Though you obviously paid an additional amount for these, having the suggested options listed out for you did allow you to discuss with each other and you ended up much more likely to attend the activities with someone else from within the group.

This trip was hard work - but I wouldn't change any of it! It was a good experience, and to my surprise Africa is an incredibly expensive continent to travel, so if I was to return I would still do the camping option. I did come across other tour groups that were going the very fancy route including having people put their tents up for them - but this just wasn't for me! Having someone sort your visas and helping you with the money exchange is very useful in Africa too!

G Adventures
G Adventures is the company I'd say were somewhere in the middle when it comes to pricing, though going a bit more expensive. It is also responsible for the best trip I ever went on - my trip to Ecuador!

G Adventures do not have an age limit (though some of their tours do) and I found that ours had a good mix though most people tended to be either younger or older with very few in the middle. We all got on well though, and many of us would stay up all night playing games around the campfire. My trip with them included the biggest range of accommodation - some was absolutely amazing and some was very questionable, but I enjoyed staying in some very beautiful places. G Adventures did not include that many activities although some were, but had a list of suggested activities that many of us would pair up for to go and attend. We traveled on a private bus that was very comfortable, and our guide was Ecuadorean himself, meaning he was able to recommend personal favourites and was able to help us with suggestions and responses when we would discuss further places we were interested in visiting. He also taught us a little bit about the culture, and made himself a big part of our group by joining us for various activities and staying up chatting with us.

This trip also offered me some unique experiences that I would probably not have been able to arrange on my own, such as staying with a family within the Amazon rainforest. The picture above (that's me second from the right!) is us wearing our face masks that we made ourselves from picking up clay at the bottom of the Amazon river! I feel like this trip offered a lot that I would not have been able to do myself and I have found that G Adventures trips include probably the biggest amount of variety. G Adventures is also one of the groups that offers similar experiences in different budgets, allowing you to choose the level of comfort that you'd like to have on your tour. For the most part, evening meals were not included in the price but in general the group would eat together.

Intrepid are the tour group that I would say is probably the most well known of them all, and for good reason. They do not have an age restriction on their tours, however in my personal experience I have found that the age range is primarily 30s-40s though there is a mix to it. Intrepid are another tour group that uses local guides, and I have found that they do this the best of all of the group tours - my guides have taken me to their churches, to meet their families, and to see their hometowns - and I LOVED this as these aren't things you'd typically do but it's great to be able to go and take part in such interactions and feel really welcomed to be doing it.

They are priced in a similar bracket to that of G Adventures, although I would say are more expensive for the most part. HOWEVER, this is because Intrepid also includes a lot of activities in the pricing which is of course great if you're interested in doing them - if you're not wanting to do the activities, then of course it's going to be a bit of a waste of money from you. I've enjoyed this, as there are some things that I didn't really want to do and begrudgingly participated in purely because it was already paid for so I might as well - however, for the most part I really enjoyed taking part in them and I definitely wouldn't have done so otherwise! In my personal experiences, the Intrepid groups have been a bit less social and though everyone was friendly enough in general the nights didn't end up with people talking for hours in various locations - people tended to go back to bed at a more reasonable time, which can be good or bad depending on your preferences. I have found that Intrepid trips are probably the best for immersing you in the local culture. They offer a lot of tours which are specifically based around local living or food tours, and this is something that you really feel in all of their tours. This means that they can end up taking you to some very seemingly random spots - it's up to you whether this is something you like the sound of, or if you'd rather visit the better known places.

Other Tour Groups I've Come Across...
Contiki are a group that I personally wouldn't travel with. They have the reputation for being the party buses, and I have found that to be very much true. They have done very similar routes to us in the past and were always the groups that were up all night being loud and looking absolutely dead in the morning. If you'd like to go on a trip to meet lots of people and have lots of fun then perhaps this is something that would appeal to you - but it never looked like they were enjoying actually seeing the sights as they were too hungover to appreciate it!
Dragoman are a group that often take similar routes to Intrepid, in my experience. I think of them like Intrepid's cooler brother. They are similar, but a bit edgier, and they always seem to have very cool tour leaders. Their tour leaders aren't likely to be from the country that you're visiting, however I have always found them to be absolutely lovely and very helpful people.

There are also plenty of tour groups you'll find catering for a traveler with higher tastes - and of course, a higher budget. This isn't really something I'm interested in, and I haven't had enough interactions with the people who take them to be able to give you a full review!

Have you traveled with a tour group before? What were your experiences?

Friday, 21 April 2017

28 Things I Learned & Did at 28

Hello everyone!

Yesterday was my 29th birthday. I am officially old, I think. Although, as I'm now worryingly close to 30, I don't feel quite as old as I thought I would. I was fairly sure that by the time I reached this age I would have slowed down a lot, would wear dull fabrics and skirts that were far too long, and would be one of those people who are only able to talk about the weather and about the type of poo my child did that morning. So far, none of that has been true - aside from the fact that I've probably slowed down a whole lot of the time, but I'm blaming shifts for that as this year my life has been full of absurd start times. (Why is 4am considered an acceptable start time anywhere?)

And so to commemorate being 29, I thought I'd do a quick post of the 28 things I learned and did at 28. So let's go!

001. At 28, I travelled to more national parks than I have in my entire life. And before you ask, Zion is the best by far and you should all go there. (Look, I've even got a post on it! And unsurprisingly, the above photo was taken there)
002. I discovered that I still don't like climbing. In fact, I really really hate it. Even if the views at the top are amazing, I still won't think the climb will be worth it, and I will still complain about the fact that I had to do it.
003. I also discovered that California is indeed still my favourite state of all - but the places that are my favourites are not the ones I expected them to be. San Francisco is probably my favourite city, but actually Joshua Tree was probably my favourite place to visit.
004. I finally visited the Grand Canyon, I sort of felt like it sucked. Sorry.
005. I've suddenly gone a bit more luxury minded this year. I want to join the blogger stereotype and go and visit the Maldives, a location that would previously have massively bored me. But now I think it looks amazing and I really want to go.
006. Despite having visited so many places over the years, I'm a little disappointed in myself to have realised that the place I most want to go to is a place I've already been - Disney World, Orlando. But we're going this year, so it's fine.

007. At 28, I changed career. Again. Only this time, it wasn't out of passion. You see, I'm a little sad to admit to you that 28 was the year I stopped working jobs that I felt passionate about and instead picked work based on logistics and the quality of life that I felt like it would give me. I'm no longer a teacher. I'm no longer a police officer. But now I'm higher paid, get more holidays, and have no worries about having my days off cancelled anymore and those are the factors that are more important to me right now. I know, I know, everyone says you should be following your dreams and doing whatever inspires and excites you. But I kinda think work is just work, and right now those benefits mean more to me than anything else does.
008. The training for the new role was also the most intense training I've ever been to. It sucked. I hated it. My brain has definitely slowed down since I left education, but I also know that with a fair bit of practice it's able to catch up again. I managed to get the highest score in our final exam, so well done, brain.
009. The main reason I stuck with my previous job is because I had so many friends there. I really liked a lot of the people there. I also really didn't like a lot of the other people there, and it sucked that it was a job that seemed to have a lot of bitchy, underhanded people. I miss some individuals, but I don't miss the people as a whole. I sort of wish I'd figured that out a bit sooner too.
010. I still don't want to be a full time blogger, though.

011. I really want to get in on that grey haired trend. I think it looks awesome. But I highly doubt my ability to pull it off! I'm eagerly watching some of the temporary colours that are coming up as I definitely want in on that, but without permanently dying my hair.
012. I've bought far less beauty products this year than normal, but what I have bought tends to have been more expensive. I don't know what that says about me.
013. I actually wear makeup less than I ever do. It's very rare for me to wear it at all, despite getting better at applying it.
014. I've bought more clothes at 28 than I ever have before, but I'm going to say that that's very heavily linked to the fact that I lived right next to Westfield for a year.
015. I still basically won't pay more than £50 for anything though.
016. I finally got my red Michael Kors bag. I've wanted one forever, it's the one designer bag I actually love. (Also, I got it from Thailand so it's almost definitely fake. But I don't care!)

017. Apparently I got into reality shows this year. Dance Moms became the show I watch religiously each week, even though it pains me to admit it. I've also been rewatching Project Runway, and watching way too many programs about cake.
018. I'm sad that Netflix make so many shows now. I find that the majority of them aren't any good. It disappoints me, as before whenever I saw their logo on it I could guarantee it was worth watching. Now most of the time I don't bother.
019. I've officially given in on Once Upon A Time. It was amazing, and now I just find it stupid.

020. I tried to buy a flat this year, and it was the hardest, most expensive experience of my life. Choosing a flat is hard. Choosing a flat in London is harder. And, sadly, I also learned that when the deal falls through for absolutely no fault of your own, you've still got to pay all the legal and whatever other fees. Which go into the thousands. That sucked.
021. BUT, I actually discovered that I kinda don't have a problem with renting. I don't mind house sharing, though I suppose I'd rather not. I like being able to move around.
022. My Stratford flat was the nicest place in the world, but my current flat is on the Thames and gives me a nice view. It turns out I really like having a water view. I lived in Kent for 21 years, south London for five, and east London for two, but I would definitely consider myself more of an east Londoner than I would anyone else. I've really bonded to the place. I love the architecture, I love the design, I love the modern flats and just the feeling you get around here.
023. Even with a residents gym in my apartment, I still have to REALLY motivate myself to go and use it.
024. I've found myself really wanting a Macbook Pro. I still think they're overpriced. I know that I can get a windows PC that's way better and offers way more for probably more than half the price. But I've started really wanting one. I think this is largely because I reluctantly bought an iPhone 7 last year, my first ever iPhone, and ended up loving it way more than I ever thought I would, and now I want anything that offers a picture as lovely as my phone does.

025. Me and Chris moved in together. He finally gave in and moved to London. It's worked out better than either of us thought, although we do have massively differing lifestyles at times.
026. I've realised I perhaps do care a little too much about clothing. Most of the time I let Chris dress how he wants, which involves combats and some horrible cartoon T-Shirt. Not my thing, especially as I think he looks really good dressed up properly. But I do get irritated if he never makes an effort, even though I suppose it doesn't really matter.
027. We probably argue more than I ever have in a relationship before. This isn't a good thing, obviously, but this is the most effort I've ever put into working something out. Hopefully it works out. I don't know yet which way it will go.
028. This year, I've spent more time than ever before trying to do nice things for the other person. Planning an entire trip around him. His birthday isn't until November, but I've already planned basically the best week ever (aside from the week we go to Disney World, obviously!)

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Pros and Cons of Travelling with a Tour Group

If you ever mention an interest in going travelling with a tour group, you'll find yourself confronted with a lot of mixed opinions and stereotypes - and most of them will most likely be pretty negative. For whatever reason, going travelling with a tour group is something that people REALLY look down on, generally as they think you won't get the full experience that you would get from planning your own own trip and as they think the trip is really overpriced compared to how much you could pay if you were to sort it all out yourself. I have been on a fair few different tour group trips using four different companies, and so I thought it was about time I made a quick post telling you my personal experiences with taking them.

This time around, I'm going to be writing all about my opinion of the pros and cons of travelling as part of a tour group. But if this topic is something that interests you, check back in next week for a more personal review of the four tour groups I've travelled with before and what my experiences were with them!

There are two main reasons that I have used tour groups. The main reason is because I want to go travelling with other people - but people that are interested in doing the same things that I am. I do go travelling with friends, but for the most part we can't agree on an itinerary and as selfish as it sounds, if I'm going to be spending a lot of money to go on the other side of the world I kinda want to make sure I'm seeing the things I'm interested in and skipping those things that for me would just be a waste of time. Taking a tour allows me to do exactly that, as I'm going to pick the itinerary that best works around my interests - and depending on the country you're interested in going to, you're going to find yourself with a very wide selection of itineraries to choose from allowing you to choose the one that perfectly matches the places you're interested in going to, the style of trip you're wanting to go on, and the price that you're willing to pay. Taking a tour allows me to travel with other people interested in doing the same sort of things that I am - and if we don't all get on it's really not a problem. No one on a tour group is going to get offended if you want to go off and do something without them, but my friends probably will.

The other reason is the ease of travel when you're off with a group. When I was younger, this wasn't such an important factor to me. These days, I just don't have the time or the energy! Of course, if you're interested in travelling somewhere like America, you probably won't have much difficulty in finding your way around - but, you're probably going to find yourself needing to hire a car if you don't go with a group. Going through countries like Zimbabwe or doing a cross Africa trek, you may find yourself struggling a little bit more when it comes to borders and speaking the language.

The Pros of Tour Group Travel

  • You get some travel buddies ready provided. They're interested in doing the same sort of things as you, and you'll probably find you bond with them in ways that you never have with your normal friends - chances are you'll never see them again, so people tend to be a bit more open and honest with each other. They're probably going to be interested in the same sights as you, and it's not really a problem if you don't feel like going out one night.
  • You've got help when it comes to getting around. Someone is there to help you work out what bus you need to get, to translate for you when it comes to getting a visa at a border, and to warn you if you're actually ordering some very weird brain related dish at a restaurant.
  • Many companies will use local guides, and this is a great way to learn more about the customs of the country, or to find hidden parts of a town that you probably wouldn't have known about otherwise. Some of my local guides have taken me to their religious festivals or taken me to have dinner with their families. This is something I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise and it's a great experience!
  • You might make some new friends out of it. I still keep in touch with some people I met on a tour five years ago!
  • You'll get access to some great experiences you probably wouldn't have thought about otherwise. I did a Thai cooking class in Bangkok which is something I would never have signed up for but really enjoyed. Equally I've gone on cycling tours which is normally something I'd go out of my way to avoid but thought was fantastic! I've stayed in beautiful little hotels where each cabin has its own hot pool, and this is something I wouldn't have done on my own as I wouldn't have known to look for it and wouldn't have been able to get there using public transport.
  • I have enjoyed going on some camping experiences and keeping it very budget by cooking all of our own food over a camp stove. This is something I NEVER do, and to do it in such beautiful surroundings was a lot of fun for me. I also learned quite a lot through this as I didn't really know how to cook before - this taught me it wasn't so bad afterall!
  • Depending on the tour you go on, you'll be able to view a lot of different places in only a few days. Some may not like this, but it's a travel style that really works for me. Some places I do wish I'd been able to spend longer, but for the most part I enjoy spending just a couple of days in each area - and sometimes just a couple of days in each country!

The Cons of Tour Group Travel
  • You might not like the people you're with. I have been lucky and always found someone that I get on with - and in some cases, I've got on with 95% of the people I was with. For some, you might not enjoy being stuck with people of a different age  from you - I personally don't mind this at all and find it more interesting to be part of a variety, but this might be a real problem for some of you! If this is the case not to worry though, there are a few companies that focus on specific age ranges and I'll be posting more about them next week. Additionally, some people really do just suck, and some people you really won't get on with. My first tour group included someone who realised quickly that the trip wasn't for them, and as such felt the need to spend the entire rest of the trip moaning about it. My second one included a complete bitch of a woman who took an instant dislike to me and spent the following six weeks trying to ruin every part of the trip for me. In that case, the rest of the group supported me so it could have been a lot worse, but of course it still sucked.
  • It IS more expensive. You can definitely do the trip cheaper if you were to arrange it on your own, especially if you'd like to have your own room as this is something you'll pay extra for if you're going on a group tour. Always check for hidden costs - some tours include many more meals than others. Some will also keep a food kitty which everyone will need to contribute to, yet for some reason they won't include this in the initial cost.
  • You might struggle if you're someone who finds it difficult to sleep. You're waking up in a different place every day, sometimes VERY early, and sometimes with a roommate who likes to get back very late even if you went to bed hours ago!
  • If you're someone who is very picky about the kind of places they stay, you may struggle. For me, I like the variety of staying in different places - but if your standards are much higher, you might not look forward to staying in tents or cabins or questionable hotels! If this is something you're bothered about, there are some tours available which cater for those wanting a higher standard though of course you will pay more for it - more on this next week!
  • If you're someone who likes to spend a lot of time in a particular place, tour groups probably aren't for you. They do tend to be faster paced and do rely on you being in certain places at certain times. If you prefer your holidays to be more relaxed, you might struggle with this. Admittedly I have sometimes returned from tour groups ironically feeling like I really need a holiday!
Overall, I'm a big fan of tour group travel, and hopefully this post will have made you think a little bit about whether it's something that's right for you. Next week, I'll be sharing with you my personal experiences on the four tour groups I've previously travelled with, and hopefully that'll help you make a decision about whether a tour group is something you'd be interested in - and if so, who to go with!

By the way, the photos used in this post are from my trip to Thailand last year. If you'd like to see more, the posts are here and here!

Have you travelled with a group before? If so, what would you consider the pros and cons to be?


Friday, 14 April 2017

April's Blog Spotlight Post

As you may have noticed, I skipped doing a blog spotlight post last month for a couple of reasons. For starters, there just weren't all that many posts - I feel like a lot of bloggers definitely slowed down last month! And following that, a lot of the themes going across the blogosphere just weren't ones that really had any appeal to me. But, I can happily say that March was completely different and I was back to having loads and loads of great posts to choose from! This month, I'm featuring 17 fantastic posts for you to go and take a look at :-)

001. Hannah posted all about the life mistakes that she's glad she made.
002. Anna posted about the things that nobody tells you about blogging, but that you should know!
003. Ioanna is getting ready for her wedding and has had two disasterous hair trials so far - which she writes about here!

004. Rachel's posted a belated post all about her trip to Disneyland Paris over Christmas. We're going to Disney World for Halloween this year, but her post is making me think we need to sort something for Christmas too! The above photo is taken from Rachel's post.
005. Fii posted about her trip to a meerkat cafe, which had amazing timing as we were just reading up about a sheep cafe potentially coming to London!
006. Many things in Amber's life make me jealous, but none quite so much as how beautiful her walk in closet is! You can take a tour of it here.
007. Helene made a post all about how buying followers can actually hurt your engagement.
008. Hayley posted all about #dupegate. and at what point copying the more expensive make up brands becomes too far.
009. Leah was involved in a photoshoot for L'Oreal's new colourful hair range - it looks amazing (as does she!) and is something I definitely want to be giving a try. You can see her post all about it here.
010. Rebecca posted all about SourcedBox, which is the first review I've come across for the service. It's one I've been thinking of giving a try for a while but was a little put off due to the fact that the founder is Niomi Smart. Not because of who she is, I think she's great, but as it's essentially a YouTube product I suspected it wouldn't be all that great quality and wouldn't last very long. It looks like I've been proven wrong, and Rebecca's inspired me to give it a try soon!
011. Hannah posted all about the things that surprised her about going self employed.
012. Now that spring is officially here, Sophie posted all about spring cliches that are actually worth the hype.
013. Another from Helene - this time on the things she wished she knew before moving to a foreign country. Read it here!

014. Jemma went to the Makeup Revolution 3rd birthday party and it looked amazing! She took some beautiful pictures whilst there, including the one shown above. Take a look at all of them here!
015. Gracie posted all about her personal experiences going through therapy.
016. Lottie took a trip to Herm, and it looks amazing! I posted about going to Guernsey about two years ago now, and whilst there we did contemplate going over to Herm but decided we didn't have enough time. It's nice to see what I missed out on! View it here.
017. And for a slightly different holiday, Angie posted her 10 reasons why the Maldives is the ultimate destination for luxury travel inspiration - and I couldn't agree with her more! I've never been, but her pictures are amazing and make me want to go and fix that fast.

Monday, 10 April 2017

You Crack Me Up; Easter, with Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up Easter Egg - packaging
 I have long admired Hotel Chocolat's Easter eggs from a distance - but for some reason, their eggs are one of the few HC goodies that I haven't actually tried before. I've often considered them, but I've always ended up becoming tempted by their cute little egglet sleeksters instead!

  So of course, when Hotel Chocolat offered to send me over an egg to taste, I was never going to say no! It took me a while to choose which of their delicious sounding range would be the one for me, but it had to be You Crack Me Up - I admire this caramel egg every single year, primarily because it's filled with adorable smiley faces and looks absolutely adorable!

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up Easter Egg - box
Let's talk about the packaging shall we?

First of all, I should mention that the box is more of a golden colour in real life - for some reason the camera absolutely refused to pick up the tone of it correctly! It's a very sturdy box which feels much more expensive than other eggs do - and also keeps the insides looking presentable! I don't know about you, but I sort of hate having a box with a half eaten Easter egg inside of it as it just looks horrible when you can see the insides are all in pieces and in a mess of foil that isn't quite managing to successfully keep the chocolate contained! I of course normally counteract this problem by making sure the egg is just eaten as quickly as possible, but this way works well too!

The box is all tied together with some black ribbon, and also shows a picture on the back of the egg overflowing with smiley goodness.

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up Easter Egg
 The box contains two different smiley faces - a Sunny Side Up praline, and a Sunny Side Up milk. These smiley faces are pretty much the star of the show when it comes to the design as they really are adorable, and come with an unexpected texture to them. They're thicker than they appear to be in all the photos I've ever seen of them and enclose a crispy biscuity base. I wasn't expecting them to have such a crunchy texture to them, but they are very tasty - especially the milk one!

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up egg fillings
Also inside the eggs were some Egg on Toast pieces. I REALLY liked this. I find that white chocolate can be really hit and miss, but this slab was one of the best I've tried. The taste is strong but not overpowering and really delicious - I gave half of a slab to a friend who doesn't typically like white chocolate, and even he enjoyed it!

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up egg fillings
 It also contains two types of city bunny (some in caramel, some in praline) which are made of lovely solid chocolate, and a little vanilla egglet.

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up egg fillings
 As for the egg itself - wow!

I know that the box specifically calls them extra-thick, but in all honesty I was expecting that to be a little bit of a marketing white lie for something not much thicker than average. I was very very wrong, these are made of deliciously thick chocolate - to the extent that breaking off a bit was actually quite difficult!

This box contains two different halves - half is a 40% milk chocolate shell and is absolutely delicious. The other half is made of white chocolate spun with caramel, and in all honesty is a little bit of an overwhelming taste! The caramel is very strong in it and it's hard to eat more than a little bit. We started off with a small chunk each and that was enough for us both as we were feeling a sugar overload from it! If you like caramel you will love it, but be prepared as it really is incredibly strong! I definitely preferred the milk, but the caramel is great too - just in much smaller doses!

 There's nothing photogenic about the above picture, but I thought it would be useful to show you how the egg is packaged. There's a bit of security for your egg both on the top and bottom which also works well as a little holder for it. The egg is already neatly split into two and each half is individually wrapped. Additionally, each half contains some packaging for your little inner pieces - half in each one. This was a good way of keeping it wrapped, and unlike most eggs it all fit back in again nicely when we were done nibbling for the day!

Hotel Chocolat easter egg
The extra thick eggs all cost £27 (with the exception of one of the dark chocolate eggs, which is £29), which may sound a little steep at first but is a great price when you consider just how much chocolate you actually get out of one - this is definitely going to take us a while to complete! There are eight different eggs, all containing something different - from Your Eggsellency filled with premium alcohol based chocolates over to Patisserie - which as well as being filled with delicious dessert based chocolates is formed of a Pecan Pie shell and a salted caramel cheesecake half!

All eggs are available through Hotel Chocolat's website, here.
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