Christmas 2017

Is it too late to tell you about my Christmas last year? I know it’s already February but I figure while I’m into this documentation craze (Here are my recent posts from my summer travels, 1, 2, 3, 4) I might as well include our little London Christmas.

We have had a lot of very different Christmases since leaving New Zealand 8 years ago. I did a recap of these in 2015. We then spent last Christmas with family and friends in New Zealand. 20171225_005938This Christmas started unexpectedly with a trip to Westminster for midnight mass. A friend let us know that she had some tickets going as she couldn’t use them, so we jumped at the chance to get inside Westminster Abbey and experience the great church at work (and for free!).

Before we left for Westminster, we had our first Christmas Skype session with my Mum, and sisters,Claire and Nikki. They were waking up on Christmas morning so we opened presents together and got into the Christmas spirit and buzz of the day.

We had a heap of presents at home under our flower bouquet Christmas tree which were mainly food based and we couldn’t resist sampling a few. So we were full of Marshmallow Santas and Whittakers chocolate when we met Ange and Helen at the station. Yum!

Although not a church-goer myself I really enjoyed the Midnight Mass experience. It was a nice way to get into the spirit – singing Christmas carols and listening to the sermons in the great hall. We weren’t supposed to take pictures inside but I did sneak a few as it was hard not to. The hall was lit with candles and had the nativity scene set up in the middle of the hall. As we spilled out into the quiet night, we said goodbye to Helen and Ange for a few hours and went home for hot drinks and bed.

We woke up Christmas morning for my Skype sessions, me with my dad and sisters after their evening meal and Ben with his parents while he prepared the turkey.

We cooked the turkey at our flat and then walked 15 minutes down the road with it to get to our friends place where they were cooking the veges. Some other friends bought hand glazed ham too! It was such a feast.

This is us turning up with our hot turkey in a bag “resting” and a pot of gravy. Too funny!

For dessert I made chocolate tarts and my first ever pavlova. Luckily it turned out fine, although probably a little bit big on reflection – there was about half left over after.20171225_173825Delicious Christmas pudding was another addition to the desert table so we were well sorted.

After eating our fill and then some, we opened Secret Santa presents – I got these elfie selfie photo props so we had to give them a go.

We then settled in for the longest game of Monopoly I think I have ever played. After a mammoth run, I think it was about 3 hours (although a few people tapped out before the end), we finished the game. Ben was the winner, and enjoyed it way too much. Although an orphan family, we did manage some squabbles about the rules too. Classic!

Thanks for an awesome Christmas orphan friends! I wonder where we will all be for Christmas in 2018…?

 

 

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Summer City Break: Porto

Porto was the last stop on our 10 day summer city break after four days in Madrid for the Madcool Festival, then a few nights in Lisbon. We caught the train from Lisbon to Porto so our welcome to this beautiful city was the stunning São Bento train station. The interior is covered in azulejo tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history. It was truly stunning and worth checking out, even if you don’t arrive by train.

We then wandered through the city on the lookout for our next Airbnb apartment. We were situated in downtown Porto in the Ribeira historic centre and again had a balcony with a stunning view of the Douro River. I was super organised for this trip and managed to book the accommodation months in advance and it really paid off. 20170713_Porto_Day7_012020170713_Porto_Day7_0124^^ You might also spot a decanter of Port sitting next to me, a very nice welcome present from the host. Ben made the most of that throughout our stay.20170713_204953After basking in the sun for a few hours overlooking the riverside we decided to go down and explore it. There were heaps of people out and eating in the early evening dusk, but as we wandered past the restaurants it looked like there was two extremes, either really lovely Michelin-esque places or overpriced tourist traps – neither of which suited us that night (I’m sure we could have found something by getting on Trip advisor but we were following our feet that night). So we walked up from the riverside promenade to the city centre and ended up at a cheap and cheerful Chinese Restaurant.

I hadn’t done much research about what to do in Porto, it being the end of our trip but I did know that we had to get to a port house and we had to go to the Livraria Lello bookshop.

Livraria Lello is credited with inspiring the Hogwarts library form JK Rowling and it is easy to see why stepping inside.

You line up (it definitely helps to book tickets in advance online) and enter the most lavishly ornate shop on the street but you can’t see inside it’s so dark compared to outside. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0078As your eyes adjust to the change in light this amazing staircase comes to life in front of you. Are you feeling like Hermione yet?

You climb the well-worn red stairs and find yourself in the library of your dreams.

Don’t forget to look up, it’s pretty spectacular from all angles. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0021Of course it’s no secret, so you will be sharing the space with hundreds of other tourists. Once you can’t take the crowds anymore head out and have a wander around the neighbourhood.

We went for quite a walk actually and headed over the Dom Luis bridge to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro River. This is where all the port houses are. The only one we had heard of before was Taylors so we decided to head there.

Our friends, who had been in Porto the previous weekend, had raved about the brilliant coffee cart they had found by chance and told us to look out for the green van. So when a green van came into view as we stepped off the bridge we thought it was the perfect time for a much-needed refreshment stop. We will second their recommendation, Combi Coffee is awesome. I got a milky iced tea and we sat looking back over the river.

It was so hot outside so it was nice to finally make it (up the hill!) to Taylor’s port house and enter the temperature controlled cellars. We did a self paced audio tour with a tasting in the gardens at the end. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0192

^^ Some pretty peahens joined us for our tipple, too.

On a bit of a schedule for our day in Porto, we couldn’t linger, although we would have loved to (must go back!) and we caught an Uber to make it to our next meeting point in time.

This was for our Taste Porto food tour. We did the Downtown Porto Food Tour which starts near the Bolhão food market. We got a walking tour of the city, along with its interesting history and ate so much food along the way. By the time we finished the three and a half hour tour we were so full we couldn’t even contemplate dinner. Such a great way to experience the city and really good value for money. Do this if you go to Porto!

My highlight was the different flavoured éclairs from Leitaria Da Quinta Do Paco. Sweets of course! I think Ben’s was the cured meats and flame grilled sausage from Taberna Do Largo. This is a great little bar and we hung about after chatting American politics with the honeymooning American couple on our tour. I felt bad as Trump had just been elected so they must have been defending their country the whole trip.

We spent the rest of the night perched above the river drinking our port and plotting how we can stay in this city forever. I definitely think we saved the best city for last. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0373We slept late on our last full day of holiday and had a great value breakfast in what we thought was a cute cafe, but it turns out that it is an Argentinian steak restaurant called Belos Aires. The decor is somewhat misleading but they do a nice all you can eat continental breakfast.  20170715_Porto_Day9_0015It’s in the Baxia area, which is worth going to as the streets look like this ^^^.

Being our summer holiday, we were determined to spend our last day on the beach. So we headed out to Foz which is where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean and a nice seaside town. Our Airbnb host recommended we take the tram that almost left from our doorstep and follows the river out to the sea.

Ben was a bit excited about tram riding! So much old school mechanics.

When we arrived at about 12 o’clock, the beach was still shrowded in fog. We wandered along the promenade and out to the wharf, hoping it would burn off. Some locals were already set up on the beach, although you could barely see the water in front of them. We took it as a sign that eventually the sun would come out.

We realised as we waited around, that we were a bit matchy. We are big fans of mint green, apparently.20170715_Porto_Day9_0136Happily, the sun came out strong in the end and we lay in the sun taking intermittent dips in the sea all afternoon. Bliss!

Ben then snapped photos all the way home on the tram and even managed to get a pose from some hangers on.

20170715_Porto_Day9_0209We waved goodbye to the tram and headed back up to our all too welcoming balcony. There was a decanter of port to finish – not to mention some white wine for me, too.

After what seemed like a whole week of great eating we struck out by saving the best for last, Tapabento. Don’t miss this place while in Porto. I had rung up to try to get a reservation as we arrived and the only time they could accommodate us, was for an early lunch just before we flew out.

We were one of their first sittings for the day, but as we got through our meal it soon filled up. For good reason, the food here is exquisite. We shared two starters, one main (the wild prawn risotto) and a desert. 20170716_133417Look at me staring lovingly at that fruit of the forest tart. I really wished I had ordered one all to myself! A great way to end the trip. We left so satisfied and raving about Portuguese food and hospitality all the way back to Luton.

Porto – I really hope we will be back soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Resolutions

I really love goal setting and list making. Can you tell?

I just really enjoy the feeling of achievement that comes with crossing something off of a list or taking something off a to do pile. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste but you do you and I’ll do me.20160723_Saturday_BBQ_0633This year I have been thinking a lot about my priorities and goals and I have been getting much more organised these last few weeks. I’ve had a bit of a ‘Just do it’ (thank you Nike!) attitude that has seen me getting a lot of stuff done lately. I even managed to complete three photo heavy blog posts last weekend (1, 2, 3!) that I had put off for months and thought I was going to give up on. I still have a few more to go but it feels like progress is being made. 20160723_Saturday_BBQ_06502018 Resolutions

  • Read 30 books this year

This is 5 more than my goal last year. I love getting lost in a new book and I’m sure that adding 5 books will only make me happier. You can follow my progress by becoming my friend on Goodreads.

  • Letting go of things

Ben and I live in a room in London. Space is a privilege here and I don’t want to be clogging it up with unnecessary things. I have been watching heaps of tiny house and minimalist YouTube videos lately and I think I’m being drawn to them as I’m feeling a bit cramped in my space. It’s definitely time for a clear out and in the long-term, a habit change.

This one is a hard one to measure but I think I will know I have done it when:

  1. My paper pile is down to only things necessary for my visa application in 2019 and very little more than that.
  2. My wardrobe is no longer bursting at the seams
  3. The desk is no longer piled with stuff that doesn’t fit into our shelves. It is a very rare day that we can actually use our desk space.
  •  Take a short course

I haven’t yet decided whether I want this to be hobby based or a work based course but I want to do some learning in 2018. There are a few people around me who have inspired this decision and its great to watch them progress. I want a bit of that this year.

  • Make my lunch 4 days a week

Things got a bit out of hand last year and my colleagues and I were eating out at restaurants near our office 2-3 times a week some weeks. I’ve got to reign that in, for my bank balance and my waistline.

  • Stick at exercise for the whole year

I’m terrible at doing things in fits and starts with exercise. I will very easily let myself get out of a habit. This year my biggest goal is consistency. I want to be exercising the whole year with something other than netball. I have started a 10 week yoga course which I plan to continue with throughout the year as it is just around the corner from my house. I am also looking at joining the 9am Parkrun on Hampstead Heath when I can (read: when I’m not hung over).20160723_Saturday_BBQ_0646So, here we go 2018. Lets make it a good one!

The pictures are from summer 2016 when Ben and I stumbled upon a wildflower field on the way to a friend’s place right at magic hour. It was such a beautiful night, I can’t wait for more of these in 2018.

Summer City Break: Lisbon

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0044Tiles, trams and tarts in Lisbon!

It’s hard not to get obsessed with all three while in this gorgeous city, certainly looking back and editing photos now all three featured heavily in front of our camera lens.

Lisbon was city number two on our summer holiday break after Mad Cool Festival and Madrid. Ben and I landed mid afternoon and made our way to the lofty Barrio Alto apartment that was to be ours for the next three nights. We found the apartment on Airbnb and booked it based on the glowing reviews received, here is the link if you’re planning a Lisbon break yourself – it will not disappoint!

Being right on dinner time when we settled ourselves in the apartment our host recommended, Noobai, a casual bar on the hilltop around the corner for dinner and drinks. A perfect place to soak in the view and start planning our Lisbon adventure.

Our friendly waiter was all too keen to help us plan too, advising that Belem, Sintra and Cascais can’t be missed. We made it to two out of three – we’ll have to go back to explore Cascais.

But first of course, a walking tour. We joined a Sandemans morning tour of Lisbon to find out a bit of the history of the city and wander the cobbled streets as the were just waking up for the day.

After the walking tour we went on to book a paid tour with Sandemans to Belem, a town just outside of Lisbon about 30 minutes on the train.

After a cooler morning, the sun soon came out baking hot and we were wondering why we hadn’t booked a beach holiday instead.

Dipping my toes in on the shores of the River Tagus in Belem was the closest I got to a swim in Lisbon.

20170711_Lisbon_Day5_0163Belem is home to the  Monument to the Discoveries above commemorating the Age of Discoveries in Portugal. A time of great exploration and the begining of globalisation.

Oh and it is the home of the Pastie de nata! Wow that is a pastry. We had our first (three) from the famous Pasteis de Belem and continued to have them for breakfast for the next two days.

Our apartment was overlooking a tram route and so we woke up to drink tea on the balcony and watch the trams pass up and down below us.

A tram couldn’t go by without us lining up a picture of it, along with all the other tourists. I’m sure we must give the locals a good laugh, I know I roll my eyes at the tourists snapping pictures of the buses on Oxford street now.

Our last day in Lisbon was spent visiting the palaces and castles of Sintra. We managed to visit Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. I would have loved to see more but we left a little late after having to sort out train tickets to Porto in person. 20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0199I knew we couldn’t miss Pena Palace though, as the colours were so striking in photos I really wanted to see it in person. This is where my fascination with tiles really started, too. There are so many different textures and colours in this place.

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0148You can tell I had the camera most of the day as I have dragged Ben in to pose for me.

Late afternoon we trudged up to the Moorish Castle. My feet were hurting by then but the discomfort was worth it for the views.

Getting back from Sintra quite late we opted for an easy dinner at a restaurant just below our apartment called Santa Bica. Being about 10.30 we were starving, but the meal was worth the wait. I had a beautiful steak, but Ben was the winner of the night ordering their signature BBQ octopus. The softest most delicious piece of meat you can imagine. I say meat as it was so chunky its hard to think of it as fish.

Oh, the dessert here was very good, too. I think this was their signature dessert a condensed milk and biscuit-y sundae. Devine!

Little did we know we were in for even more food heaven, our next stop is Porto.

Summer City Break: Madrid

20170708_Madrid_Day2_0022After three great days at Mad Cool Festival we had a few days to explore Madrid before heading on to Portugal for our next city stops.

We headed straight for the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral which faces the palace across the plaza. 20170709_Madrid_Day3_006120170709_Madrid_Day3_0072The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest royal palace in Europe with 2,800 rooms. We explored about 23 of them on the ticketed tour and that was a long trek!

It certainly felt huge. We spent most of the morning looking through the throne room, crown room and the Royal Armoury which is all worth seeing.

We then walked up to the Egyptian Temple of Debod. The temple was originally from Aswan in Egypt and had to be moved for the Aswan High Dam to be built as it would have flooded. It was gifted to Spain supposedly to thank Spanish archeologists who had helped to save monuments in Egypt. 20170709_Madrid_Day3_0185The temple sits in a big park so we stopped for a while to have a picnic and read our books in the sun. It was weird to see an Egyptian Temple in such a different setting, but nice to know it was gifted to Spain. There is an Egyptian obelisk in Paris that, according to our bike tour guide, the Egyptian government keeps asking to be returned.

We then met back up with Harry and Jodie at the rooftop bar of the San Anton market. We had a cocktail as the sun set but it was a bit too trendy for us so we decided to move on.

We ended up going on to Muniz, a tapas bar Harry and Jodie had found earlier. We spent the evening drinking beer and eating so many tapas while celebrating the birthday of the bartender. 20170709_21472120170709_214619Muniz was a little family run bar on Calle Calatrava in the tapas district. If you do find yourself around there, pop in for a local tapas experience.

After finishing up at Muniz we decided to try one of the ‘best’ tapas bars as recommended by The Guardian, El Tempranillo. We managed to squeeze in and order some Spanish wine which was served with delicious Iberian ham. This was a much fancier place than Muniz and had much more of an atmosphere. This bar is on Calle Cava Baja which seemed like a whole street of tapas places.

On our last day in Madrid we got up early and headed for Buen Retiro Park which was calling out to me as a huge green space on the city map. But before taking off on the Metro we stopped for a quintessential Madrid snap, in front of the Bear and the Strawberry tree in Sol plaza. 20170710_Madrid_Day4_0012We had a gorgeous morning for the park and wandered as long as our legs would take us, feeling righteous for getting up so early on holiday.

20170710_121249^^ practicing our selfies.

We were a bit obsessed with this ornate tiled seat, too. #poser

For our last meal in Madrid we met up with Harry and Jodie to have a giant omelette at La Buha. Ben had been recommended this place by a colleague before leaving and I got a bit obsessed with trying it.

There were about 10 options to try off the menu and we chose a caramelised onion and cheese omelette. It tasted amazing but being filled with potato and served with a side of bread, even four of us didn’t get through it.

With full bellies we said goodbye to our flatmates and headed out to the airport to fly to our next stop, Lisbon, Portugal. I’m glad we spent some time in Madrid, it’s not as flashy as Barcelona but definitely worth a weekend break, if only for the delicious tapas.

Madrid & MadCool Festival

20170708_222623It’s so nice looking over photos of  our summer holiday while rugged up in woolies and slippers. It’s making me so excited about what this year will bring for sure, I’m in full holiday planning mode. Bring on spring and summer!

But for now here is my recap of Madrid. We travelled here for the Mad Cool Festival in July 2017 with our flatmates Harry and Jodie. Madrid is not somewhere I ever planned on going, but I’m glad we did as it’s a great city and a great festival. Here is what we got up to..

Day 1

19756487_10154446159606222_4748958270739578986_nWe arrived to a storm in Madrid. As our taxi from the airport passed through the city, with windscreen wipers going hell for leather, we all looked at each other like ‘how it this going to go down?’ we had only planned for the sunny Spanish summer.

Although we ended up having huge rainstorms for all three days of the festival, the rain would always ease off around 6pm which is around the time the festival starts. Perfect! There was no Glastonbury style mud pits either as the festival is at a tennis complex all the ‘fields’ were actually fake grass over tarmac. No gumboots required!

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We started with so chilled out sounds from The Foals and the discovery that drinks at this festival were sold by the litre. Gulp! What is great though is that rather than using fresh cups for every drink they give you a lanyard to hold onto your cup and refill it at a discounted price. Such a good way for a festival to be.

We had a wander around, then Ben and I settled in for the night at the Foo Fighters who were headlining the main stage. Such a good show and great way to kick off the festival.

We regrouped after the Foos for a dance along to Kurt Vile and the Violators. Then hung around to see Catfish and the Bottlemen who were brilliant! I spent the rest of the summer listening to their albums. 20170707_021735

Deciding not to stay on for the closers Boys Noize we ventured out into the night. Although ended up wandering around for about an hour trying to figure out how to get a taxi then seeing the queue deciding to try our luck flagging one down just outside the festival area as taxis were on the way in. Dirty but it had to be done – we ended up doing it for all three nights of the festival.

This would be my only gripe about Mad Cool. They had buses you could book for the end of the event (at about 5am) but if you wanted to leave at a more reasonable hour (like 3am) taxi seemed to be the only option. A few more buses shuttling people to the city centre would have been helpful.

Day 2

After rain in the afternoon the sun came out hot!

Today we tried out all the little activities the advertisers put on including bull riding..

Trampolining!20170707_194056Today the headliners were Green Day and for me, they were the unexpected highlight of the festival. They put on such a good show and I forgot how many absolute tunes they have written throughout the years. Definitely see a Green day gig if you get the chance, even if you wouldn’t call yourself a fan.

Day 3

Today we discovered the Aperol tent and got free pairs of sweet orange sunglasses. I briefly switched to drinking an Aperol spritz then remembered that although I love the colour of the drink, I really don’t like the taste. I went back to Tinto de verano, my wine and lemonade combo I had been drinking all festival.

The Aperol tongue!

We chilled out in front of Wilco during the afternoon.

The headliners for the closing night were Kings of Leon. The put on a belter of a show but there is something I always find lacking in their live performances. They’re not super interactive and after Green Day the previous night they really didn’t measure up.

20170709_000546We closed out the night by seeing MIA. A big change from the mainly indie rock bands we had seen all weekend. She was fabulous! Owning the stage in a brilliant red suit!20170709_005936All in all great fun for our first European festival, and our first proper festival since Glastonbury.

We still had a few days in Madrid to explore before Ben and I moved on to Portugal. That’s coming next.

2017 Resolutions: How did I do?

20171210_Snowy_London_00152017 was a big year for me with lots of changes and lots of celebration!

It went by in a blur and it’s nice to spend some quieter time now to let it all soak in. The wintery weather makes it easier to stay inside and tend to some of that life admin too.

Unless it’s a snow day!

20171210_Snowy_London_0073We woke up to one of the best snow days I’ve experienced in London in my nearly 6 years here (wow!). We woke up on a Sunday morning mid-December to a blanket of snow just settling on the ground and it continued all morning. 20171210_Snowy_London_0090Ben and I couldn’t wait to rug up and get out there, Ben eager to capture the snowflakes with the camera, me just happy to pose and catch flakes on my tongue.

I feel like it was October this year before I really woke up to the fact that 2017 was nearly over. It has been a busy year. I did manage to complete some of my 2017 resolutions though. Here is how I did:

  • Read!

I set a goal to read 25 books this year to get me back into a reading routine after dropping the ball in 2016 when my commute changed. This turned out to be an exactly perfect pace for me and I read just over 25 books throughout the year in the end.

I really enjoyed using GoodReads too. It made me read more widely by picking up recommendations along the way and gave me a place to store all those want to read lists that would end up all over my life scrawled on paper, in books and in my phone. Love it.

I have increased my 2018 goal to 30 only because I want to watch TV and I know a goal like this will easily take me away from the box sets and into a book. Also with 72 books currently on my Want to Read shelf I’m not going to be short of inspiration.

Done it! You can read my write up here. Such a good challenge! My motivation to get out an exercise has been limited since this and I need to think about what my next exersize challenge will be to get me going for 2018.

  • Use what we have + only buy essentials
  • Save to buy a house

Kind of.. but there is always room to do more. I think we will be making actual monetary savings goals this year to help us step up the savings. We have a lot to pay for coming up including visas and hopefully citizenship for myself in the UK and maybe a wedding.

  • Learn to code in Visual Basic

I didn’t do this in the end. I started talking to my boss about getting on a course when I got back from my holiday in January, however I ended up being pulled into a Transformation project that eventually lead to a new job in 2017! Woohoo! I’m still interested in learning code, however will see where this new job will lead me in 2018 before taking it on.

  • Refresh my blog

This blog definitely took a back seat this year and I have struggled to feel purposeful about it. But I’m coming to the conclusion that I don’t care and mainly just want it as a record for myself. So I will keep popping in with little life updates and travel photos and see how I go in 2018.

So, two and a half out of five for 2017 goals. How did you do?

I love this time of year for a bit of re-evaluation and goal setting so will check back in with some goals for 2018 soon. Lots to get stuck into this year I’m sure.

Happy New Year!20171210_Snowy_London_0116

Thanks to Ben for the snow photos.  You can follow him on Instagram @benjamin_e_parry or me @andieinspired