Sightseeing My City: Hint Hunt and London Appreciation

15 Sep

I love to travel (as you can probably tell) and for this reason I often let it blind side me and forget the scores of opportunities for the weird and the wonderful that London has to offer. Every now and then something comes along and I suddenly appreciate that this city has so much more and I need to take the time to wonder at it while I’m here. I think we are all guilty of it, and having had a tourist here for the summer with me, it has made me more appreciative of being a tourist in my own city, and made me realise what I tae for granted when I go about my daily routine.

So when the lovely people at Joe’s Blog network asked me to take part in a Hint Hunt last week, courtesy of LV insurance, I jumped at the chance, particularly as it was something I had never heard of before. But of course I rushed off to Google it once I had accepted, didn’t I?

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Actually, no. I was so busy that I let it slide, until the day of the event when Erica, sitting across me in the office asked “Do you think I need flat shoes?”

What for? I wondered.

OH LORD. It suddenly dawned on me it might be a treasure hunt, around the suddenly quite cold and autumnal city, packed full of tourists on the busy pavements in the evening. I was tired and yawny, and suddenly the prospect of cancelling was all the more likely.

I’m so glad I went, people. I don’t want to give too much away as it will ruin the mystery that keeps it so exciting, but the Hint Hunt is a physical location behind Euston station. Your small group (mine were Erica, Haydn and Natalie) get ushered into a teeny tiny office room, and you get locked in. Think Crystal Maze, but minus the crystal and the maze. You have to solve a heap of clues as a team (you can’t be a lone ranger, as you definitely wouldn’t get out in time) so it’s really team building, and a great way to get to know people. This post has a lack of photos as of course you can’t take photos in there, but believe me (as an antisocial person) this isn’t one of those awkward making small talk type venues. It’s so good that we have booked it at work for a team building event in October, and I’m pretty excited! I got to meet some lovely people in the flesh rather than screen to screen blogger interaction, and that was quite possibly the fastest hour of my life, searching for clues and watching the time tick down!

Have you ever done something out of the ordinary in your city? I would love to hear an alternative tourist guide!

Sightseeing My City: Warner Brothers Studio Tour and Harry Potter

1 Sep

A while ago, The Boy decided to buy me a surprise gift and then got drunk and attempted to sing me a clue. Which was the Star Wars theme tune, over and over. I tried my hardest to guess. “Something to do with Star Wars?” I was told no and more Star Wars was sung until I could take it no longer and he fell asleep.

The fireplace in the Great Hall

The fireplace in the Great Hall

Fast forward a few days and a slightly more sober Boy told me he had tickets to Harry Potter World, a place I had wanted to visit since the opening, but had never got around to visiting. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with Harry Potterbooks in my life and loved them. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was released when I was eleven, and from that day forward I was catapulted headfirst into a dream world; a place where magic happened and imagination unfolded.

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I remember my first holiday in Greece with my friends, sitting and reading the Half Blood Prince by the pool, the sun beating down and the excitement at having bought it and not started reading it till my trip began dissipating as I turned the pages.

The Dursley's House

The Dursley’s House

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Over the course of ten years my sister and I waited with bated breath as first the rest of the books, and second, the films, were released and we could get our fix. I remember the sadness of going to see the last film in the cinema, (together, as was our tradition) as I knew it was the end of an era. That feeling of firsts when it came to Harry was over.

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So I was pretty excited to go to the studios and see all the components that made up the film, especially as it was December which meant the additional magic of the snow and the Christmas tree which one featured in the Great Hall would be making a guest appearance.

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It was magical. The experience takes you through set locations like the Great Hall, Privet Drive and Diagon Alley, and each of the artefacts have a story to go with them. One thing we didn’t do was pay extra for the headsets as the tickets were relatively expensive, and this is something I would strongly recommend paying that extra bit for. The headsets give you far more description on all the different things, and I really regret not grabbing one!

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The highlight of the trip for me was Diagon Alley; walking past all the shops that boggled my mind when watching the first film with Hagrid and Harry. It’s exactly as you expect, but with that extra magic thrown in – cobbles, storefronts offering owls, frogs and magic wands, and old-fashioned street lamps all adding to the mystery of the wizarding world.

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley – photobombed by such a real dummy that Facebook keeps asking me to tag it!

When we stepped out onto the external set and into Privet Drive, the extra touches were what did it for me. The fake snow started, and at 27. I was squealing with excitement like a little child. All the outfits, props and ‘wizardry’ that make Hogwarts what it is to each and every person is featured, and finishes with a massive maquette of Hogwarts, made entirely to scale.

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I loved it.

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Things I would bear in mind (especially if you aren’t from London):

Watford is a bit out of London, which makes sense given the scale of the studio! You can get the Hogwarts express (yep, real scheduled bus) but the cheapest way is to get the tube, or the overground.

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Leave plenty of time. You don’t want to be rushing around Hogwarts, do you? The lines get pretty big for your time slot, and to rush would be to miss out on some of the fantastic facts and props.

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Don’t worry about food. There is a Starbucks there, but if you are travelling from London I would head back there to eat. If you are travelling with children, the Rainforest Café is a favourite of my god-daughter, complete with jungle thunderstorms, elephants, and chairs with animal tails.

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What’s your favourite part of the Harry Potter stories? Have you been to Warner Brothers Studios?

I Heart Instagram – Why You Should Too

31 Aug

I love Instagram. It lacks the complexity of Facebook, no constant updates on (this is an actual example) what an acquaintance and her boyfriend are having for tea, no incessant Ice Bucket Challenges and no need to get that fear that you are missing out on life because all the people you went to school with are holidaying / married / pregnant / doing more fun stuff than the shopping!

Its less basic than Twitter, and just gives you a glimpse into other lives – a way to transport you from having that cup of tea at your desk into someone else’s front room. It’s first class curtain twitching. on crack. So here are my three favourite accounts, and why:

1) What Peggy Said

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Gorgeous calligraphy aplenty, Kim’s account also gives you your fair share of beagles and knitting, plus regular (gorgeous) shots of Norwich, which just happens to be where my sister is at University. I love the fact that my feed is peppered with shots of bold colours, guaranteed to put a smile on your face when the rain is lashing at the windows and someone in the office used the last of the milk.

2) Camp Patton

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I do not know how this woman copes with four small children all running in different directions, but she sure does, and with such a lot of humour. Her blog makes me laugh out loud, her daughter has the sassiest pants on the block, and I love it all. I hope I parent like that.

3) Rene Charles NYC

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You may ask the boy, but I can confirm I have a serious puppy problem. Enter Rene Charles. The cutest french bulldog around, the person who runs this account adds witty one liners that make me squeal. The girls at work think all I follow is the puppy and Tinie Tempah, due to amounts of squeal explanations.

Do you love Instagram? Who are your favourites?

What Tugs on Your Heart and Reminds You of Home?

30 Aug

I’m the antithesis of a hoarder, preferring to keep life clutterless, in case I want to up sticks and move cities. I’ve not done this in a little while, however there is a streak in me that needs to see all available exits, ready to go and see the rest of the world. It’s currently (relatively) dormant, but we shall see.

I love a good competition, but when I saw this one, I had to think on it, for the reasons above. I’m not a collector of stuff, more a keeper or memories, and I had to dig deep to find something I have kept for nostalgia purposes. I’ve never won anything in my life either, but am ever the optimist!

And then it occurred to me. I am in possession of a gorgeous pair of old-fashioned weighing scales, given to me by my late maternal great (in every sense of the word)  grandmother. She had no use for them, such was her experience in making cakes that she would just throw a slosh of milk or a sprinkle of sugar into her mixing bowl, and the cakes that would be produced were delicious. She sold them at bake sales for the church and there was always a list of people she had to make a cake for. She died last year at the ripe old age of 100, just a few weeks shy of her 101st birthday, but her memory lives on.

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But it isn’t just her that the scales remind me of, it’s also my paternal grandfather. I’ve written about him a few times over the years (namely here and here) but when we lost him ten months ago, suddenly everything reminded me of him. The kitchen, a place we spent the majority of our time together, had memories in every turn – a dash of paprika here called to mind a memory of being taught to make tapas, and a splash of wine there reminded me of the summer he and my grandmother brought home a bounty of lemons from the house in Portugal and sipped on Limoncello till the autumn was done.

A rather grainy photo of my late Grandfather - although a pretty good shot seeing as it was taken over 30 years ago!

A rather grainy photo of my late Grandfather – although a pretty good shot seeing as it was taken over 30 years ago!

So every time I use the scales I remember these two profound influences in my life.

You can enter the competition, powered by British Gas, here.

What stirs up your nostalgia and reminds you of your childhood?

Eating My Way Around: On The Roof With…. Q

29 Aug

I love a pop up. And I love eating. So the arrival of “On the Roof With…” at Selfridges was an interesting concept, and something that I was wholly interested in. I love the idea of taking spaces that are disused, misused or underused, and converting them into exciting new ventures to pique the interest of the masses. Sure, it might end up full of pretentious suits and boujis biatches, but it also might be something worth seeing or experiencing.

And this was the case with “On the Roof with … Q” Brought to you by the guys that do the Q Grill in Camden, the sales pitch was promising:

“We will be bringing a top team from Q Grill in Camden to deliver a BBQ menu unlike any other, paired with a lighter range of delicious summer dishes. On the Roof with Q will be a secret foodie haven that will offer a fun and fresh dining experience alongside a programme of talks from some of the most innovative and influential people working in the food industry right now.’’

With the time that Elle was spending in London drawing to a close, we decided to book the table for a balmy Tuesday and head on up after work. We arrived early and found a seat at the bar, where we sat and experienced some really unusually, and gorgeous tasting cocktails, before being shown to our table. The décor was amazing. Designed to make you feel like you are being transported back to a Victorian garden, the dense foliage and cute little birdcages provide a gorgeous setting to eat dinner, and the food didn’t disappoint either.

Image courtesy of Q Grill

Image courtesy of Q Grill

We had a feast of delicious food, including chicken wings, tuna tartare and a huge rack of ribs to share between us. The meat fell off the bone, the sauce was thick and delicious, and we left the experience feeling happy and full.

Image courtesy of Q Grill

Image courtesy of Q Grill

If you are in London, I would strongly recommend making a booking. Its one of those pop ups that you need to visit!

On the roof with…. Q runs till the 27th of September

Selfridges |400 Oxford Street | W1A 1AB

Investing In… Cohabiting In Peace

28 Aug

I’m home alone, and there are some strange thuds coming from the hallway. I’ve watched one too many episodes of Criminal Minds in my life time to assume this is anything less than a home invasion, and I am thinking about what is at hand to protect myself with.

And then I remember, it’s the new hoover robot, and it has a lot of dust to eat.6651i489B344C7E926448

When Legal and General got in touch with me regarding their things that are worth investing in campaign, I was a little stumped. What do I think is worth investing in, other than the obvious things? Headphones that don’t break in 2 seconds? Savings? A pension? All of the above are things I do (well apart from the first, I am a victim of cheap and cheerful when it comes to headphones!) but what could I invest in that would help me today and tomorrow?

And then it came to me. 99% of the conversations between me and the Boy are directly related to the cleaning of the flat. I simply cannot comprehend how he sees it in his heart to put his plate in the sink, yet it doesn’t cross his mind to take a step to the left, bend down and put it in the dishwasher. And don’t even get me started on taking the laundry out of the machine. It dawned on my yesterday that I might think that in the 8 months we have been living together, my training of him has failed, but maybe his training of me to not expect him to do these things has actually won! Haha.the_jetsons_decal_rosie_dusting__80560

So I went with the hoover robot. Which I imagine will change my life. My family have a hoover robot that chases the puppies round the house when they aren’t in and cleverly navigates corners and stairs, although I imagine theirs is a very expensive version. Our choice is a bottom of the market example and is currently bashing around the hall like it has some kind of spatial awareness problem, but it has collected all the sesame seeds I spilled on the floor this morning, and for that I am eternally grateful.

What would you invest in? The more imaginative the better!

*This post was a collaboration with Legal and General, but all thoughts are my own!

Great British Bake Off

22 Aug

It’s been a while since I updated on the kitchen of my abode, but there has been a lot going on in there behind the scenes. It’s that time of the year again when all the birthdays come in quick succession, so I have been in the kitchen botching up cakes all over the place. Pinterest dream I am not.

The first work of art (ha!) was for my Mum’s birthday. When we were kids mum designed and decorated us a plethora of cakes to show off our favourite Disney characters or passions at the time, and they were the best thing about birthdays. We used to wake with excitement on what would be on our cake this year, and Christmas was the same.

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So I thought it only fair to do the same for my mum. I first spotted this cake on Pinterest, and after doing some research, I designed my own. My Mum’s birthday cake: vegetable patch complete with rabbit (or rat, as the boyfriend thought) minus aubergines, as they kept coming out lilac, which was not what I was going for!

The second was a gluten-free cake for my visitors birthday. I had never tried a gluten-free cake before, and to be honest, the actual cake wasn’t the best example of baking! However, I freestyled a lighter frosting and decorated with fresh fruit, and the results were quite delicious, despite the below par sponge in the centre.2

And the third – Snickers Brownies. My friend Siobhan had requested these instead of a cake this year, as she was the recipient of the Pinata cake last year, and I happily obliged. I’m pretty good at brownies, and these ones are failsafe! So good that I have posted the recipe below, so you can wow your friends and be the Nigella of brownies. Enjoy!

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Ingredients for 12

  • 125 g butter
  • 125 g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 200 g brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 50 g cocoa powder
  • 0.25 tsp baking powder
  • 180 g cream cheese
  • 40 g caster sugar
  • 3 snickers bar, or similar chocolate. I actually don’t like peanuts but have used rolos before.
  • Combine butter, chocolate and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until the chocolate and butter have melted. Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs.

Add flour, cocoa and baking powder and stir until well combined. Pour into a greased and lined 18 cm x 28 cm rectangular tin.

Beat cream cheese and caster sugar until smooth and creamy. Spoon randomly over chocolate mixture and swirl with the tip of a knife. Bake at 180 °C, Gas Mark 4 for 35-40 minutes or until cooked through. Add snickers slices.

What’s your go to crowd pleaser in the kitchen?

Grow Little Seedlings, Grow!

14 Aug

Green isn’t typically a colour you would associate with my fingers, and more often than not plants come to my house to enter Heaven’s waiting room; a quiet place of solace before they shuffle off their mortal coil. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I love them too much, but more I’m slightly forgetful in their care and they end up dying of thirst or being left directly in the sunlight to wither.

It’s not my fault, I swear.

But recently, I have developed a passion for helping things to live. Maybe I’ve become the antithesis of an Angel of Mercy; choosing to nurture and let them live. Or something.

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The boy bought me a herb set for Christmas this year, and it is now August and only the coriander (my least favourite from the trio) has perished, and honestly, it’s not a great loss to the Tinker household. Billy the Basil (yep, named my plant babies) has thrived, and I now have a selection of chillies and some tomato plants that even I was surprised to see poke through the soil like chicks hatching.

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Rejoice!

It helps that I now have a little balcony so don’t have to turn my house into something synonymous of the Eden Project, and that I am actually in a lot more to ensure they are fed and watered, but all I can say is God help me for when I have kids.

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Aren’t my plant pots cute? They are Joules (obviously, hence the little rabbits).

Are you any good at gardening?

 

2014 Travel, The Paris Edit

13 Aug

I’ve made it to 28 years of life living in England, and I have never experienced Paris. Despite this, it has always been a thing of dreams to me; a city entwined with romance and cloaked in illusion. I can’t help but think of the Chanel advert with Nicole Kidman, where she disappears off into the Parisian night, or alternatively (another Nicole Kidman related daydream) Moulin Rouge, and for this and many other reasons, the city has always been on my list of places I needed to see.

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So last weekend, the boy and I packed a bag and headed off for a birthday weekend (his) in Paris. In all honesty I can think of a whole host of other cities he would have rather spent his birthday weekend, but seeing as we couldn’t go for mine he graciously gave his. Because he’s good like that.

Window display in Laduree, home of the French macaron

Window display in Laduree, home of the French macaron

My experience of Paris was slightly different to where it had been positioned in my dreams. It involved food poisoning, closed establishments, delayed flights (both ways) and end of the world style rain. But hey ho, these things happen, and mainly to me. Despite all these things that I feel like were designed to make me giggle rather than cause problems, we had a fantastic weekend. We ate cheese (he) drank wine and coffee, and we moseyed along beautiful streets with stunning architecture, wondering what it would be like if we were Parisian and lived in such a wonderous city.

L'Arc de Triomphe on a grey Saturday

L’Arc de Triomphe on a grey Saturday

Has my opinion changed? No. the boy made a comment when we were walking around that the internet has ruined travel. He thinks that you have seen all these places before, so when you arrive its underwhelming and gone is the sense of surprise you experience when you see something for the first time. I see it from the flip side; I think that the internet has given you the option to choose, allowing you to whittle down the list of places you want to visit until you have an ultimate power bucket list, ready to hit hard and explore.

L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

L’Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

We were in the city in time to see the parade through the Arc de Triomphe to celebrate 100 years since the start of the war, so were privy to the pomp and circumstance of the army march. They lit the flames and laid the poppies, and then we watched as the canons were fired. It was a real privilege to be there for this occasion, and purely accidently too.

The Eiffel Tower itself

The Eiffel Tower itself

As well as the beautiful postcard ready sights Paris has to offer, the hotel was pretty special. We booked a night in the Hotel Splendor, which was magic themed. The highlight was the staircase, with magician’s hats adorning the banisters. Very unusual!

Notre Dame, sans Hunchback

Notre Dame, sans Hunchback

We also had time to visit Laduree, the winner in French macarons and my inspiration to take a macaron making class. A friend of mine bought me a box of the delightfully coloured marvels when we moved into our old house, and I savoured them like I had never eaten before. Thus began my affair with the macaron, so I was pleased to get in line to view the rows of brilliantly covered sweet treats.

Saint Chappelle, before the end of the world rain began

Saint Chappelle, before the end of the world rain began

Paris, even in the rain and grey still had mystery for me. We visited the Arc de Triomph, The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Saint Chappelle and the Champs Elysees, but didn’t get time to see Montmartre, the Sacre Couer or any of the Bastille.

The Money Shot

The Money Shot

Eiffel Tower | Paris | France

Eiffel Tower | Paris | France

But next time, as in the words of Howard Koch, “We’ll always have Paris”.

Crazy stairwell in our hotel

Crazy stairwell in our hotel

Have you been to Paris? What was your favourite part?

Coveting Candles

12 Aug

It’s that time of year again, when everyone I have ever met has a birthday. It’s a time where I bake a lot of cakes (I feel sad for anyone who didn’t have a Mum like mine, who crafted beautiful cakes for us and our friends on our birthdays, and try to pay it forward) and have to think of creative present ideas for my loved ones. I’ve never been the sort to give money or buy vouchers – I love getting it right with thoughtful gifts. Although there have been a few wild misses over the years, I’m pretty accurate when it comes to the art of thoughtful gift giving.

That being said, I do find gifts for boys much easier than girls. Bath bubbles and beauty products to me fall into the realms of slightly disingenuous present giving; readily available and lacking thought unless you know someone loves the brand.

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But candles are always the one. People love the pleasure of scented candles; the luxury of the fact that they aren’t items you would necessarily treat yourself to, and the beautiful fragrances that make a house feel like a home. I am a huge fan of the ones sold in Hampton Court gardens – really expensive smelling candles with gorgeous floral scents that transport you to old memories and bring on a sense of nostalgia. These are the types of gifts I want to give; the gifts that people really understand were picked for them.

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Although sometimes, a gift for you is just right. When Culture Vulture Direct got in touch with me to see if I wanted to try out some of their products, I was really taken by the selection that they had on offer. I love products that are designed from travel inspiration (my passport cover is a vintage style one with border control stamps) and immediately fell for this mirrored tray and beautiful Jasmine candle.

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The only thing is, I’m too scared to use it as I don’t want to ruin it!

Have you ever owned anything you were too scared to use, wear or enjoy? And what do you think of the products?

Products were provided by Culture Vulture, but all views (and words) are my own.

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