Getting Engaged

One more update on life events this summer, after my birthday and celebrating our 10 year anniversary, is that on Thursday, 30th August 2017, Ben and I got engaged!

So let me tell you the story, as it was lovely and romantic and so perfect for us. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day6_0128_v2We were in Cornwall, on a camping trip with Ben’s older brother Jake and his girlfriend Giorgia. We travel with them often and were having a great holiday exploring during the day, eating good food and finishing the night drinking around our campfire under the stars.

On this particular day we found ourselves at St Michael’s Mount. The island is accessed by a causeway across the beach that can only be used at low tide. Arriving at high tide, we caught a boat out in to the island and  spent the afternoon exploring the island. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day6_0074Coming back we took our shoes off and walked barefoot through the receding water along the cobbled causeway.  I had already decided this was a pretty cool place and the others seemed to think so, too. We all agreed to fish’n’chips on the beach for dinner.

We sat in our picnic chairs overlooking the island as the sunset in pink and orange over the town of Penzance in the distance. Once the causeway was fully exposed the boys went down to take photos in the last of the light, calling Giorgia and I down to get some couple shots.

They posed for a few pics, then Ben and I got in front of the camera although Ben was constantly running back to the tri-pod to reset the camera. After a couple of shots he suggested we do one posing with our backs to the camera, so I turned and stood with my back to the camera as he did the camera reset. As he ran back to me I went to take his hand and then realised he was down on one knee.

Jake took a film and on it all you can hear is me emitting a very guttural and shocked “Ooooohhhhhhhh” at this moment. Ben said lots of nice things and then asked me if I would marry him. EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

I was crying by this point and he was a bit choked up himself. The ring box was opened upside down but eventually as the last of the light disappeared I was wearing a beautiful engagement ring and hugging the guy I love. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day7_0059Eventually we re-joined Jake and Giorgia for more hugs and (well planned) bubbles on the beach. It couldn’t have been a more perfect night under the stars.

So now we are engaged and talking about weddings. I’m excited about the next chapter in our lives and making more plans with my favourite guy.

Ben – thanks for making me feel so special on this night and always.

Photo credits: Ben took the one of St Michael’s Mount and me and my ring, Jake took the one of us together on the causeway.

 

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27. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant

Number 27 from my 27 list and our first ever Michelin starred restaurant. I’m so excited to tell you this story as it was so special for so many reasons. Ben and I are both total foodies and love trying out nice restaurants. Usually for our birthdays and anniversaries we book a fancy meal somewhere, it’s just not usually this fancy.

Ben and I both turned 30 this year, Ben in June and me two months later in August. A group of friends pitched in together to get us both a voucher for Umu restaurant as a gift. I had been talking about going to a fancy Japanese restaurant for years, so they were right on point with this present.

Umu restaurant in Mayfair has two Michelin stars and is led by chef Yoshinori Ishii. It’s a pretty big deal, and way far and above anything Ben and I would usually be able to afford, so we knew we had to use the voucher to mark a special occasion. It just so happens that our 10 year anniversary also coincides with our birthdays so as soon as I got the voucher I emailed Umu to see if we could possibly get a table for that evening. I wasn’t holding my breath as places like this in London can sometimes be booked out 6 months in advance, but happily on this occasion we got in with just 3 weeks notice for Friday the 18th, the exact date of our big anniversary.  Wow!

Firstly, we had to look the part. With blazers and bling at the ready we walked through the streets of Mayfair..

Ben’s jacket is his 30th birthday present from me and my earings are Ben’s 10 year anniversary present to me. 20170818_192931We were greeted and seated with a sweet sparking sake aperitif. We had the choice of two brands and one happened to be Dewazakura, made in Tendo, Yamagata, the town where we lived in Northern Honshu, Japan. Yamagata is a rural area known for producing rice, fruit and other produce. I used to walk through rice fields daily to get to my schools and when Ben was living over there with me, he actually got a job driving from farm to farm picking up cherries that were packed daily and taking them to the export depot.

The region is known for producing one of the highest grade rice in Japan, Tsuyahime literally meaning ‘lustrous princess’ and high-grade rice means high-grade sake. We were both so excited to be able to make such an instant connection to the restaurant and it started us reminiscing about the amazing experiences we had living in Tendo. Sparkling sake is delicious too, it’s made like champagne and tasted crisp and sweet. I’m on the look out to buy some more.

As we perused the menu I tuned in to the Japanese business men sitting beside us. They were speaking ridiculously formally to each other and my waning Japanese skills were not up to the task of eavesdropping on that convo.  There were a few other Japanese families, too and also a few westerners. It was humming but not busy. As you can see from the pictures, the lights were low.20170818_195730Umu is famous for kaiseke, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal usually with a number of different cooking techniques used. It turns out we were eating on the last day of the summer menu here. I’m glad we did because it was beautiful and fresh.

We also opted to go all in and do an alcohol pairing, I did wine and Ben chose a sake pairing.

So let me talk you through the menu..

We started with fresh salmon sashimi, cucumber and the most generous mound of truffle I have ever experienced. Then followed by lotus root soup. Hiding under that lotus are great chunks of lobster. Yum! Oh and we had a different drink to go with each, both fresh and light like the food.

We then got beautiful trays of paper-thin white fish sashimi and the fish of the day selection. The fish of the day selection featured lobster again, this time raw as sashimi, I’ve never had it like that before but I definitely wish I could have had more than one piece as it was that good. Ben and I lingered over the tuna chunks, too. One lean and one fatty piece, both the most tender we had ever experienced. I think this was my favourite course of the whole meal.

Next was the vegetable course. This was presented like a garden with miso sesame soil to be sprinkled on and a watering can dressing. Ben got a little too excited over the tiny radishes, bear in mind we are four drinks in by this point.  I think this was about the time when Ben came back from the bathroom (which were very swanky) saying “How does the concierge know to open the door for me?” Ah… she hears you stomping up the stairs…. 20170818_215857Next drink for Ben is warm sake served in crockery handmade by the chef himself.  Ben definitely got the more interesting vessels from the pairing.

The next course is the meat, Ben’s favourite. This course gets paired with a red wine so I’m struggling as I’m not a fan of red. I definitely wished I knew more about wine while having this meal as the waiting staff were diligently explaining each specially selected wine to me before each pairing and I was just smiling and nodding at all the words and references I didn’t understand.

This is the rice course, definitely needed to soak up the alcohol. You can see we’re quite squiffy by now. That’s Ben’s “act sober” gaze.

Dessert! I was so excited about my cherry shaved ice that I have only managed to snap a picture of the empty bowl. Oh and the amuse bouche! I was on a desert wine for this one and Ben is back on the sweet, sparkling sake. We have forgotten the flavours of the sweets now but I remember the chocolate being my favourite.

Last thing to do was to finish off all the drinks I had backed up and settle the bill. We were one of the last parties to leave at around 11.30pm. We spilled out into the night and sensibly made our way to the bus stop, the 390 bus was the only option home after that splurge.

A once in a lifetime experience to mark our 10 years together. Worth it in every way. Thank you to our lovely friends for making it happen and thank you to Ben for 10 awesome years together. Here’s to many more!

I turned 30!

20170916_142111Eeeek, I can’t believe it’s been four months since I last posted! How did that happen? This year is absolutely flying by with so much going on and so much change, but all good stuff. Now that the days are getting cooler and things are calming down a bit, I’m hoping to catch up and get some of the very exciting stories of my summer up onto the blog. Starting with the big birthday milestone!

I tuned 30 in August and nearly a month in, I feel like I have definitely done a lot of celebrating. I feel seriously fortunate to have so many awesome people in my life, thank you to all those who made my big birthday so special!

If you can’t spend weeks celebrating your 30th when can you? Here is what I got up to…21414668_10155674625242118_687928567844152297_oMy actual birthday was a Tuesday and pretty much business as usual; I made porridge for breakfast, worked, went to the usual meetings and played netball in the evening. I squeezed some special moments in too though. I opened pressies in the morning and Skyped my family, then got spoiled with gifts from my colleagues and had a nice lunch at work. I met Ben and friends for a quick bite of pizza after work before heading off to my netball game, although a little too full. We didn’t win the game but I have to let it slide, my pizza belly didn’t help.

Ben and I usually use our birthdays to take each other out for a fancy dinner, but this year with a few fancy dinners on the horizon for us we decided to go low-key and have an Italian meal around the corner from us on the Wednesday. After hectic days at work for both of us we relaxed over a bottle of wine and discussed how we would slowly reduce our meat consumption in the coming months (I’ll write more about this soon).

On Thursday I did my birthday shout at work with another colleague who was celebrating a couple of days after me. I was obsessed with having an American Birthday Cake from Costco after discovering it a few months earlier. So we got this sugary beast to share. I enjoyed it a lot! I would love to be able to make a cake like that.

Thursday night was spent with friends at a Thai restaurant Champor-Champor. Ben surprised me with a beautiful salted caramel & chocolate cake too. Two cakes in one day? I was in heaven.. and a sugar coma.

We then headed off to Cornwall for a week and I was again surprised with a little camp celebration. We popped champagne (thanks to my workmates) out of the chilly bin and had a lamington ice cream cake by the camp fire. This was also a pretty special holiday as Ben and I got engaged! More on that to come in another post. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day1_0131We also dined out on my birthday celebrations at Rick Stein’s Seafood Resturant with some complimentary after dinner treats. I wouldn’t let anyone dip their fingers in the chocolate sauce as how good is that lettering?

I booked this meal three months in advance as we’re all big fans of Rick Stein and I would highly recommend it. The seafood is, of course, on point – I had a monkfish ceviche to start and an Indonesian seafood curry which was so good I didn’t want it to end. The staff were really friendly too and well versed, everyone we spoke to wished me Happy Birthday.  All in all a really nice meal.

Just before the celebrations were over we slipped in a visit to the theatre as Ben got me tickets for my birthday. We saw Aladdin, the new West End musical, which was fantastic. The genie is amazing and it is so true to the Disney animation. I was singing “I can show you the world…” all the way home…20170908_220639

Finally, 3 weeks after my actual birthday we went out and celebrated with friends. I booked a rooftop bar called Skylight which looked relaxed and fun and had gorgeous views. Last September it had been super warm and summery and I had been banking on weather like that this year too, but you always fail when you try to predict the weather right? We were pretty cold up on the roof but Pimms kept us warm as did the many blankets we scrounged from around the bar. It was such a fun venue; they taught us how to play croquet too.

So, how does it feel to be 30? My only answer to this is “Great!”. Really, I’m excited about what my thirties has in store for me. I keep telling people that I think I suit getting older. I have always been an old soul, my age is just starting to catch up with me.  20170916_141943

The purple card at the start of this post was made by my talented friend Keryn, and this blue one comes from Ange & Paul – thanks guys.

Tough Mudder Review

Hi guys, just wanted to check in with you as a wrote about Tough Mudder as one of my goals for 2017.

This is what I wrote in February when publishing that post:

I have possibly bitten off more than I can chew here but I signed up to run this 10-12 mile obstacle assault course with Ben. The website says “You can expect undulating hills, thick mud and a range of mind-bending challenges to test your mental grit.” Yikes! We started (sort of) training in New Zealand and now that we’re back in London we have committed to this in earnest. There is a lot of ab crunches and pull ups (when I can do them) in my future.

Well now it’s done! It’s been a couple of weeks since we ran it and my muscles have recovered but I am still sporting bruises and scratches all over my limbs. Although the bruises have started changing from deep purples to yellow-brown so it’s about the right time to gather my thoughts about the experience. My experience is as a first time mudder-er with reasonable fitness and very little strength.wp-image-775792269Firstly, the “undulating hills” mentioned in the website blurb was, of course, an understatement. The West London course out in Henley-on-Thames was beautiful, and on any other day a casual observer may describe the landscape as undulating. But for a runner, caked in mud, dunked in ice and still on the first mile, they were more like Everest.  All my muscles screamed at me whenever I attempted to run uphill. More than any obstacle, the uphill sections of the course were the biggest challenge for me.IMG-20170506-WA0006IMG-20170507-WA0002Tough Mudder was much more about team work than I realised. Happily for me, someone who can’t lift their own body weight, the majority of obstacles were about coming together as a team to climb a wall, wade through mud pits and scale slippery slopes. I am so grateful to the team for helping make the day so enjoyable. I can’t deny that I was the weakest link on the team but the rest of the guys were patient with me and Ben was a trooper and stuck with me while I battled up the hills to meet the others at the next obstacle. Secretly, I think he was grateful to take it easier with me.

We both did train for the three months leading up to the event but with both of us having a lot going on with work and suffering quite bad colds in the lead up, the training wasn’t what it could have been. I had to take tissues with me around the course! But sickness aside, I do think I was in a much better place than I could have been and mentally I was unapologetic. I knew I had done my best in training and did my best on the day. I fronted up to every hurdle and moved the whole time so I had little stress about being the slowest in the team, something I know I would have stressed about if I hadn’t trained. For me too, going from zero, as in having very little upper body strength, to the kind of condition you would need to be in to complete some of the tasks was unrealistic in three months. But I will keep trying, one day I will be able to complete a press-up.

The other thing that helped me a lot was having great kit, something that I was moaning about beforehand. The event is expensive enough as it is, I really didn’t want to sink any more money into kit for something that I may not even enjoy. But I must say, I had to take back all my moaning.

One of the most important things running in mud and water are your shoes. I’m no expert but I think if you really want to give this a proper go, you need some form of trail running shoe. Simply, a shoe with big ‘lugs’. Lugs are the spiky bits on the bottom of football boots for example. They allow you to run in mud without slipping over and, if they are spread far enough apart, allow the mud fall out rather than cake to the bottom of your shoe. We passed many people on the way shaking grit from their shoes, suffering blisters and slipping around on the running tracks. Of course we were all slipping in the mud pits, but I was grateful to not be slipping around while my team mates ran off ahead.

I got these Asics Gel-Fuji Runnegade for £60 and now far from resenting the cost, I am in awe of them. Firstly, how cool do they look?? Secondly, they did exactly what they needed to re: mud. They made me feel a hell of a lot more secure running downhill. They kept all grit and mud out and managed to keep me comfortable the whole time. Despite being wet in the first mile I never got a blister or even an inkling of one. All this in their first outing as I never managed to take them out of the box to train in them beforehand due to the cold. So I was impressed to say the least. I also wore ‘no blister’ socks that Ben loaned me which could have helped, but really, I like to think it was all the shoes.FB_IMG_1495387682026So there you have it, my review of Tough Mudder. Which really boils down to – get some trail running shoes and try your best to get as fit as possible to make it easier on the day, but whatever your ability it is a team race and in the end is all about having fun.

Have I convinced you to give it a go?

Photo credits to the Tough Mudder professionals and the team. The selfie was all me though.

 

Italian Spring Road Trip – Amalfi Coast & Naples

So, lets jump in where we left off.. road tripping from Rome to Sorrento. Brace yourself as there are so many photos to get through…

If you missed it, check out part 1 of our Italian Road trip here, Italian Spring Road Trip – Florence, Sienna & Rome.
20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0245The drive from Rome to Sorrento was one of the most eventful in my life. Italian drivers have such an infamous reputation, but up until this point we hadn’t really experienced it. We had been driving the whole week with a GPS that was out of date, so most of the time it was spot on, but every once in a while it would advise that we turn down a road that no longer exists, or tell us to go left at a T-intersection that is now a round-about, things like that. Sometimes  we would miss the correct turn, but it was no worry as the GPS would just re-calculate and we would be on our way again.

While making our way to Sorrento, the GPS took us off the highway that was supposed to take us around the coastal side of Mt Vesuvius and ended up diverting us through Nola. I can’t find much about Nola online, other than the wiki entry stating that it is a town on the outskirts of Naples. Anyway, we drove through the centre of Nola at around 5pm on a Wednesday evening. We drove down the most hectic main street I have ever seen. The road was narrow with barely enough room for two lanes. There were cars darting out from all directions, car doors opening straight out into the road, people everywhere and uncontrolled intersections on every block. Our hearts were in our mouths the whole way.

A big cheer for our driver, Jake, who drove us through there without so much as a nick to the car, despite many occasions where the brakes were slammed on, or a car door was swerved just in time. It was an experience for sure, we knew we were in southern Italy now and it was such a contrast to the wider, more controlled roads of the north.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day6_0199As the sun was setting we pulled into our campsite in Sorrento, this would be our base for the rest of the trip . With with views straight out to Mt Vesuvius from our cabins, we really couldn’t have picked a better site. We saw the mountain in so many different lights. My favourite is the photo above from when we first arrived with the highest peak towering above the clouds.

As well as being surrounded by breathtaking views we found Sorrento a great place to base ourselves and explore Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. I thought of Sorrento as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, super beautiful but not quite as busy with tourists as Positano and Amalfi. It was also really central for all the things we wanted to do while in the area.

^^ Exploring Sorrento20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day5_0002

After our long day driving,  we were all rearing to go and do some exploring. We got up early and headed to Mt Vesuvius. It was a little bit underwhelming as the clouds from the day before hung around making the views really hazy and the caldera was not much to look at. It was nice to get a big walk in though and we stayed on our feet in the afternoon heading down into Pompeii.

Having studied Pompeii in school I thought I had a fair idea of what to expect, but the reality was so much grander than I had ever expected. You really were walking through an entire city, which is hard to imagine when you read about it in books. We were there all afternoon and covered a fair amount of ground but still there were areas we didn’t get to.

^^ Being springtime lots of poppies were growing in grasses of the ruins. The contrasts were beautiful and naturally poppies became a feature of our Pompeii photos.

We didn’t take a guide through Pompeii, preferring to follow the map provided at our own pace. But I must admit that I sometimes found myself cheekily tuning into the guides around me for interesting stories and facts about the surroundings. I think if I went again I would opt for a guided tour.

As the weather was supposed to be better the following day, we opted to spend it on the island of Capri. I had completely fallen in love with pictures of the Grotto Azzurra in my Lonely Planet guidebook. The Grotto Azzurra is one of many sea caves dotted around the cliff faces of the island. It’s the most popular as the light entering the cave gives the whole cave an electric blue hue. The entrance to the cave is small, so you can only enter it by small fishing boats manned by locals singing old fishing songs into the eery cave. Unfortunately for us the wind was up during our visit, meaning it was too dangerous to enter the cave. We did have a lovely wander around the island though and lots of Limoncello samples from the tourist shops we passed helped ease disappointment.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0117We finally hit the coast the next day, driving the ‘Green Ribbon’ route from Sorrento to Amalfi stopping at some amazing viewpoints on the way. The drive took about two hours and although there were some crazy hairpin corners and a few occasions where we queued coming into towns or waiting for buses to pass, it was generally quite a peaceful trip. I hate to think what driving around there would be like in high season, because as it was we struggled to park anywhere near the towns.

^^ Seafood cones in Amalfi

^^ More scenic view points along the drive.

Our next stop was Ravello, a little town in the hills above Amalfi. It was pictures from the guidebook that enticed us up here but ironically our camera battery died at this point so I have no views to share. It really is worth the steep drive up here though. We ended up in the Gardens of the Villa Cimbrone. The villa is a very upmarket hotel, far out of our price range but we could afford the gardens which are well worth a look. We were walking through archways of wisteria and well-groomed rose gardens that overlooked stunning cliff tops. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Jake_1360457This is one of Jake’s group shots. We’re standing on what is called The Terrace of Infinity, a natural balcony over the cliff face, opening up endless vistas of sparkling blue waters and the colourful coastal towns below. We tried to have a bit of a snoop around the hotel’s dining areas and pool, too. All I can say is – if I ever win the lotto this will be my first stop. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0239We drove in to Positano as our final stop for the afternoon. It was everything I had hoped it would be, a gorgeous jumble of pink and peach houses cascading down to the sea.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0248

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0273We ambled through the narrow cobbled streets down towards the beach, stopping for ice cream on the way and played cards as the sun set over the hills.

We had an ongoing game of Scala Quaranta, or in English 40 Stairs, going and we played at every opportunity we got. Most nights of our trip were spent on our cabin balconies nibbling on BBQ food and sipping wine, or Montenegro for the boys, while playing Scala Quaranta well into the night.

We didn’t go back to Sorrento for a BBQ that evening though. After calling time on Positano we drove back to the west of Sorrento to try out La Torre, a slow food restaurant run by a local family. Over three courses we got to sample some amazing local delicacies and so much seafood. It was delicious and a great way to finish our time on the coast. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0310The next morning we were on our way to Naples and with heavy hearts saying goodbye to the lovely, romantic coast.

We parked at Naples airport and caught a bus into the city to soak it up for a few hours and of course try some pizza before we flew back to real life in London. The city was overwhelming, narrow streets in the shade of highrise apartments, scooters and cars everywhere and so much poverty.

Even though it was a Sunday morning the streets were alive with people and performers.

Church processions clattered through the town squares ringing bells and bringing brass bands.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day9_0089We sat watching it all unfold while eating some of the best pizza in town from Pizzeria Vesi. It really does taste better in Naples.

Can I go back and do it all again? It’s much harder to write a blog post about a trip that happened over a year ago now, as I struggled to remember a lot of the things we did. But the important parts have stayed in my mind and it has also been so much fun to relive it.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop going to Italy, there is still so much I want to see and explore. First on my list is another attempt to see the Grotto Azzurra of course…

Thanks to Ben and Jake for their photo contributions xx

Italian Spring Road Trip – Florence, Sienna & Rome

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day3_0238Better late than never right? It is just over a year since we embarked in one of the most interesting and relaxing holidays I have ever had and I have finally organised myself with some pictures and words to tell you about it. There is so much to say I have split this post into two parts. Part Two coming soon.

We had been planning this holiday for years! Ben’s older brother Jake and his girlfriend Giorgia have lived in Italy a couple of years longer than Ben and I have lived in the UK. They met working at a ski resort and have been in and around Italy on and off since then. So it is no surprise that we have been out to visit them a lot. We’ve been snowboarding (and more recently for me, skiing) in Canazei many times and spent time with them during summer in Venice and summer on the mountain.

Throughout all these trips we have talked about doing a road trip around Italy, to see the famous sights of Florence and Rome and the southern landscapes. Jake and Giorgia, and by proxy us, have seen heaps of the north of Italy but never the south. In 2016 it became a now or never kind of situation, Jake and Giorgia were planning on moving to New Zealand for two years and didn’t know when they’d be back in Italy. With all the gear and the car they had with them, the time was now!

We had a loose plan to cover 9 days in the country with Ben and I flying in to Pisa and out of Naples. Here is how we spent the in between..

We flew in to Pisa and met Jake and Giorgia early morning for some obligatory tourist shots with the tower.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Jake_1350197After a coffee and brioche and realising there was nothing more we wanted to do in Pisa, we made our way to the car and started the road trip. First stop, Florence.

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day1_0180Throughout the whole trip we stayed in a fantastic group of holiday parks. They are situated all over Italy and offer cabins, campsites and camper van sites. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the group, but I do know the places we stayed. As we left a site and paid our bill we would get vouchers for other sites in Italy, Perfect for travellers on a budget.  The campsites were always situated just outside a city and offered cheap, clean accommodation. We would leave the car there and take public transport into the heart of the city which meant no stressful city driving, no parking fees and no hassles. We stayed here in Florence, it was up in the hills and nice and quiet.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day1_0214_1The advantage of staying outside the city is as we were driving out we found this great viewpoint over the city.

The next morning we woke up for the long trip to Rome through Tuscany and Sienna and a stop off at Lake Bolsena.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day2_0030_1^^ I slept a lot of the drive through Tuscany as I was still recovering from a cold. But I woke for the photo stops..and to goof off in group shots.

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Jake_1350624

^^ We spotted the scene on the right and thought it was a real life Romeo and Juliet. I loved walking the sun kissed streets of Sienna.

^^ A beautiful detour to Lake Bolsena as the sun was lowering in the sky. We wandered past wine shops and restaurants on the way to the lakeside. Stopping for ice cream on the way.

We arrived on the outskirts of Rome to a sprawling holiday park for our next campsite stay. We attempted out first BBQ dinner here but waited hours for the coals to heat up and ended up eating well after 11pm.. fail. All the while waiting for our BBQ food we made a plan of attack for our day and a half in Rome.

We started the morning early with a walking tour of the city. We joined the Vatican Walk with Rome Free Walking Tours.  The itinerary hit all the important spots and the guide was really knowledgeable and friendly and gave us all the interesting facts as we walked. It started at the Spanish Steps and left us at the Vatican. I was particularly taken with the Pantheon. What an amazing building? We came back at night, too, to explore around the whole building without the masses of tourists.

I also like the Piazza Navona, we briefly wandered through here on the walking tour and came back in the evening to explore more and have dinner in the restaurants on the little streets around there.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day3_0057As I said, the walking tour left us outside the Vatican. We hadn’t planned on going in at all, but when we got there something compelled us to go in and see it for ourselves. The queue in at midday though was (no surprises here) long! So, uncharacteristically for us, we paid for a guided tour, allowing us to skip the queues and find out a few of the secrets and stories of Vatican City on the way.  I’m glad we did as I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this.

^^ It’s well worth going up to the dome. The views over the cathedral and the city were worth all the stairs up I promise.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day3_0390Our last stop in Rome for the day was the Trevi Fountain. We fought our way to the front of the crowds to throw our pennies in and make a wish before running off to catch the last train out of the city.

A trip to Rome just wouldn’t be complete without a wander around the Colosseum though would it? We saved that for our fresh legs the next morning, getting up bright and early in an attempt to beat the crowds, which happily we managed anyway by getting in the right queue. People seemed to just be jumping on the end of the pre-booked ticket queue but without a pre-booked ticket we sauntered up to a much shorter queue and were standing gazing out over the 2000 year old arena within 15 minutes.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the exhibitions here and would recommend devoting at least an hour to seeing this place. They displayed artifacts recovered from the ruins that give insight into how the people were living and what kind of things would have been going on in the arena, like the gladiator duels, but also the gambling games and trinkets bought in by the watching crowds.

With no time to lose we reluctantly said goodbye to Rome and got back on the road heading to the Amalfi Coast. With 5 days left to spend in and around Naples and the Amalfi we weren’t complaining though.

Although, we had to make it through Nola and the craziest drivers I have ever experienced first. More on that in Part Two coming soon.

Thanks to Ben for contributing and helping edit these photos. It’s been so nice looking back at them.

 

 

Home for Christmas

20161220_102744We hadn’t been home for two years and 10 months when we touched down in Wellington on a gorgeous sunny Friday afternoon. One week before Christmas and the start of a four-week holiday. I felt so many things getting off the plane and hugging my mum, dad younger sister and best friend who had all come to the airport to meet us. Tired being the number one thing after a gruelling 26 hours in the air and 6 hours waiting at airports in Dubai and then Sydney. I also felt relieved, happy, nervous, excited, sadness and so, so, so much love.

It was all going on at once and I probably came across as quite shell-shocked, it was overwhelming. But as we got in our old family car, drove the familiar roads to my mum’s place, the conversations picked up where we left off from our last Skype calls and I felt comforted and home.20170107_114343Home was a funny word while I was at home. People were careful about how they used it around me. I was careful about how I used it, too. When I was discussing London I would say “going back to London” not the more natural, “going home to London”. I felt that I was home in Wellington, but I was also going home to London.

After living in London for almost five years, it would be weird if I didn’t think of it as home. It’s where my life is now, my friends, my things, my routines all my habits are formed from living in the crazy, busy, vibrant and beautiful city. London is my normal now.

I’m so proud of how Ben and I have made our lives in London, the experiences we’re having are so different from what we would have had, had we spent our twenties in New Zealand. I never thought big city life would suit me, I was actually very scared moving to London as I was worried I would hate it. Now I worry that I will never be able to leave this big city, how will I ever manage waiting longer than three minutes for public transport? Where will I get my Pret A Manger sandwich fix?

But then I spend time in New Zealand and see photos like these and realise I won’t care. I  loved the lifestyle in NZ. Being invited in to people’s houses, the ease of getting around and the ability to just roll up anywhere without encountering queues or missing out entirely. I know that eventually NZ will be my forever home. Not quite yet, but when the time is right.20161228_161231Also, how could we forego these views!?!

Here are a few things we got up to while home…

A quick mission up to the Belmont trig for views over Wellington harbour.

Hiking Karangahake Gorge near Waihi and spotting fantails in the trees.

Many days on the beach in Waihi. Exploring, swimming, sunbathing and Ben even learned to surf!

So many cuddles with this beauty. She wasn’t that into my selfie taking though!

I had better mention the food, too. Pavlova on Christmas day, ice creams as we road-tripped around the country and so much caramel slice. For Christmas I was given a recipe book called Treats from Little & Friday with what looks like a cracking caramel slice recipe, I can’t wait to try it out.

There was cards on New Years Eve in Auckland and Scrabble at Dad’s. I even managed to win a few 😉20170107_104645So many hours chatting in cars…20161228_150623And so many beautiful views. This is Maraetai Beach on the outskirts of Auckland City.

I love being able to feel like a tourist in a country that is also so familiar. There is always so much to discover. 20161228_150357I hope you enjoyed my photo round-up of our New Zealand trip. I have a few more photos to come of two really special days out. A day out at the zoo with my dad which was my Christmas present and as my birthday present, day out at Zealandia, a bird sanctuary, with my mum and sisters. I was really spoilt, so blogs on those days to follow.

I am enjoying going through these photos so much. The weather was pretty patchy when we were home and we got lots of spring rain, but when the sun shone we definitely got out and made the most of it.

What do you get up to while visiting friends and family at home? I love having lots of chilled days, but also recognise that this is my holiday time so make an effort to explore as well.