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.

Friday, 7 April 2017

March, in Photos

I post quite a lot about my favourite Instagram accounts, and enjoy recommending some fantastic content for you guys to take a look at and hopefully follow.

I'm not going to stop doing that, but I thought this month round I might do something a little bit different, and post ten current photos from my own Instagram account from the last month - with a bit more of an explanation about what's going on! I go to a lot of events and other things that I really enjoy but just don't take enough photos to use in a decent post - or, there just wouldn't be any reason to post about it. As an example, this month I had a great time at the farm and took some cute pictures there, but I don't think that quite deserves a post all of its own - and therefore, here seems like the perfect place to tell you a little about it!

Of course, if you'd like to follow my instagram account you can do so over here! :-)

My first favourite this month are these absolutely adorable Pokemon pyjamas. I LOVE them, they are so bright and colourful and the shorts on them are just an overload of colourful pokemon. You're absolutely never too old to own a pair of Pikachu jammies! These are from Primark, and I can't remember exactly how much they cost but as they're from Primark I'm going to say they were probably around £5 or so. I got these ones from the Oxford St store, but this was a couple of weeks ago now so they've probably spread out into the others.

 Next up we have this picture - the view from my new flat. The flat we are living in now is very temporary, and for the most part it isn't great for photos. The lighting is bad as these other flats block out the sunlight during the key parts of the day, and more than anything I just have worlds messiest housemate who makes taking pictures in any room a nightmare by filling it with his rubbish - but that's another post for another day. What it does have, however, is a beautiful view. I love having a water view, and I spend way too much time hanging out on the balcony just watching the water go past. It's quite funny as well, as my last flat had a Canary Wharf view and this one does too, just from a very slightly different angle!

 Robot brownies. What more needs to be said?

These were delicious and are from the science museum as part of their robots exhibition. This topic actually DOES have a full post on it, and if you'd like to read it you can do so here.

 Here's the adorable lambs from my farm trip that I was telling you about. These little lambs are living over at Surrey Docks farm, and they are just a delight! So many little lambs that we spent a good hour watching and interacting with. These lambs weren't stupid - every time one of the older sheep lay down, the lambs promptly went and climbed on top of them and lay down or stood there. Why stand on the hard ground if there's a perfectly willing sheep to be your cushion?

 The farm also had these two donkeys, who we thought were really pretty. Neither of us are normally fans of donkeys but this pair were really cute and had adorable expressions. Sadly the donkeys had absolutely no interest whatsoever in us so we didn't get any interaction with them, but they were fun to watch!

 Despite the majority of my time in London having been spent in the south, I feel very much an east Londoner. I LOVE East London, and as such a lot of my photos this month have been taken on various walks around the area.

 Chris is a pretty good cook, and when I told him that I was really missing some of the food that we ate in San Francisco last year (there's a post on it all here!) he served up this delicious meal for us for brunch. It is sourdough bread, poached eggs, hummus, and of course, lots of avocado. And a little bit of seasoning on top! It's my new favourite brunch and so simple to make - and very San Francisco!

As I mentioned in my 10 Happy Things post, I have been loving all of the blooms that have been popping up. As well as all the daffodils making an appearance around the city, the other flowers are finally starting to show up and add a little bit of colour. Here's a little bit of floral colours from Island Gardens!

Come and follow my instagram here if you'd like to see all of them!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Looking After Your Health - As a Shift Worker!

  As a shift worker, reading over any sort of health guide or advice tends to just make me feel sad, because so much of it is just impossible for people like me who work massively inconsistent hours.

  Make sure you go to sleep at the same time every night, says the advice page. Well, that's all very well and good, but it doesn't quite work for people like me who sometimes finish work at 11am, sometimes at 10pm, sometimes at 2am and sometimes at 6am. At what time exactly IS it that I'm supposed to be aiming for?

  Make sure you never eat a meal after 8pm, says the health guidance. Okay, but what about those days that I start work at 10pm? Should I just starve for the whole night, and train my body to just expect no energy after that time? The guidelines and advice pages are full of information telling you how you're going to make yourself ill and should expect a life full of stress and a much earlier death if you're one of those that run on inconsistent patterns - but for those of us who work shifts, we don't have a choice. I've been working shifts for around four years now, and so I finally consider myself qualified to offer some advice on looking after your health that's a bit more useful to those of us out there who are stuck in the wonderful world of shift work.

Getting to sleep - and waking up again!
This is probably the big one - how do you make sure you get the right amount of sleep? Well, you just need to be realistic about this one. If you're like me and work shifts that are starting and finishing all over the place, you're probably just not going to, but you can do what you can to improve it. If your room is dark enough, I've found that using a wake up alarm works wonders for me in helping me to wake up naturally. Equally, I've found that the best way to sleep during the day if you're coming off a night shift is to wear an eye mask- however most of them I really struggle to sleep with, but I've got one that looks a bit like a bra that you wear on your face as it's made from memory foam and leaves a bit of a gap between the mask and your eye. This works best for me as it doesn't feel like something is touching my face and rubbing my eyes the whole damn time!

The main bit of advice I can give here is to just learn your own body and what it needs. When you've figured out how much sleep you work best on each night, just aim for that. Don't try and force yourself to sleep if you don't want to as all you're going to do is lie there getting angry about the fact that nothing is happening. Naps do absolutely nothing for me - 90% of the time I can't actually do them despite how exhausted I am and whenever I do manage it they leave me feeling worse than I was when I started. I KNOW this, so I don't try. If it's a night shift and I have woken up by 10am, I just get on with my day and try again the next day - I know my body and I know that if I try to sleep again, all that will happen is I will get very angry and get absolutely nowhere, so for me it's better to just try to work on my health and my energy the rest of the day.

Keep a calendar
I find that colour coding my calendar works out really well for me. I use red for early shifts, purple for late ones, grey for night ones, and yellow for shifts that are unusual or don't normally fit into the panel. This works best for me as it means that I can very quickly scan through my calendar and work out what I'm up to and try to fit things in that way. If you're in a relationship, I'd recommend getting a family calendar for your fridge even if it's just the two of you. We use a cute owl calendar we got from WH Smiths (a mid year version of the one I've got is available here!) and it works wonders for both myself and for keeping our relationship healthy. We use the 2nd and 3rd columns to each write our rota in so that we can quickly scan through to see if we've got any matches. We then have a column each to fill our plans in, and the final column is for writing in stuff that we're planning on doing together.

Good eating habits
Eating right can be really difficult. If you're working late, not much is open and it's hard to avoid ending up in a kebab shop at 4am when there's no other options. If you live in London, things are getting a bit easier as night tube has brought some more 24 hour Tesco's with it, but on the whole it's still pretty difficult. I would suggest that you try to eat consistently throughout the day, but when it comes to nights it can be a bit more challenging. If you're new to working nights, you may find it really difficult to eat at night, but it's important you give it a try. I would recommend just going for something simple like some noodles and some fruit. I know, really studenty, but for a while at least you'll probably find that your stomach really hurts if you eat too much during the night, so it's best to keep it simple but keep your energy going.

Don't forget to exercise
People who don't work shifts really underestimate just how tiring they are. You're up at all sorts of times and you're never quite regulating your sleep properly, so it's difficult to find the time to get exercise in. Try and log it directly into your calendar, as doing so means you're much more likely to commit to it. I'm lucky enough now that my apartment has a gym in it and so it's much easier to find the time to go as all I have to do is take the lift downstairs, but before that I used a gym with a nice big sauna. It was expensive, but sitting around in the water got me into the mood to do something more, and I didn't mind filling time with going as I loved the sauna area so much!

Take care of your feet!
You'll probably find that your body starts to suffer - for me it's my arms and my feet. As a shift worker, you'll probably find that you're on your feet a really disproportionate amount of time and it really starts to show after a while. In my work shoes, I've got these gel work insoles from Scholl that cost £14.99 and are a lifesaver for me at times as they make my boots feel like I'm walking on clouds! Outside of work, you're probably still finding yourself on your feet more than you should be, so it's important to make sure you're looking after them correctly. I recently went for a full body massage, and the masseuse was horrified when she got to my feet as she said they were so swollen from working so hard, so I've really tried to increase the amount of care that I give them. If you've got time, soak them in water with whatever creams or gels you fancy, but otherwise I find just giving them a good moisturising and massage with a really good cream (I use body shop body butters!) helps a lot.

As well as your work wear, you can help your poor suffering feet the rest of the day too - I've been giving Superdrug's new footcare range - pictured in the photo above - a try after they kindly sent some of their products out to me. My poor feet still groan when I STILL expect them to be in action after a long day at work and limited sleep, and so I've been sticking these smaller products into some of my other shoes to help them out a little. The range starts from just £3.95 and you can choose which is the most applicable to you - the products are easy to use as you just peel the backs off and stick them in your shoes in the correct part, and they're really easy to remove and adjust as well. The products include heel cushions, ball of foot cushions, and arch supports so you can choose the ones that are most relevant to you.

Make yourself a mini shift survival drawer
In my case, this is a literal thing - but yours doesn't have to be! If there's any shifts that you really suffer with, then build up a little collective of items in the couple of days before to help make this time pass by. For me, it's night shifts. I hate them, I can always feel myself becoming ill during them and my concentration span is so low and my skin feels awful. As such, I save myself some really awful mindless TV to watch during this time and make sure I've got one or two little celebrity gossip magazines to read. I store up lots of snacks as I'll probably only be getting about four hours sleep so will be needing an awful lot of energy - and then some fruits to try and balance it out. I eat and drink a lot of rubbish during these shifts and I don't feel bad for it, as it's the only way I can get through them sometimes! My skin also suffers during these times, so I make sure to keep an extra strong moisturiser in there alongside a face mask to remind myself to try to treat my poor face every once in a while.

Take your vitamins!
Working shifts really DOES make you feel ill. I've seen colleagues that are almost never well anymore, whereas for myself it's again just the peril of night shifts - it's really not unusual for me to be feeling the beginnings of a cold when I'm coming off nights. I've been taking Berocca for over two years now, and it has made a massive difference for me. It's very unusual for me to be ill now, to the extent that I can sometimes tell when I've forgotten to take it (particularly when going abroad when it all goes out the window due to time differences!) as I feel myself having to work harder to battle whatever nasties are invading! They are a little pricey but I find the ones that dissolve in the drinks are always better. You can try own brands which give you pretty much identical amounts of all the vitamins, I've tried a couple but personally haven't found one that tastes very nice yet so I stick with Berocca. Boots sells them here, and I recommend buying a couple of boxes in a go as they're quite often on 3 for 2 offers so it's worth stocking up whenever you see them!

What are your tips for staying healthy whilst working shifts?
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