28 December 2016

2017's Travel Plans - A whole news years worth of holiday allowance!

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Mine was just lovely, and I'm currently loving the fact that I don't have to be back at work 'til the New Year. I have nothing to do for days and days but watch Cartoon Network and eat my way through all the Christmas chocolates - bliss!

It's rare I have time off at home, as I usually spend my bookable work holiday days away from home if possible - and now I have a whole new years worth of holiday allowance to use up in 2017!

Sadly, I seem to have allocated a lot of it already, but I do have a few fun things lined up next year:

Just a month into 2017, we're off to Iceland for a few days. It'll be my third visit and I'm so excited, it's one of my favourite places! We are going to forgo some of the biggest attractions this time round - so no Blue Lagoon and no Golden Circle, as we've done them already, and instead try to find some new fun things to do!


For our family Summer holiday, we are heading back off to Scotland. Despite my initial misgivings about Scotland as a holiday destination, we had a wonderful time in 2016 and it was everyone's top choice for 2017. We'll be staying in one of the lovely Sykes Cottages again, but are heading to a different area (an even longer drive!). We promised the little miss that we would definitely visit Loch Ness on this trip so she can go monster hunting! I'm tempted to take a couple of days either side of the booked week to work our way up the country slowly, building in time for a few extra stop offs and break up the driving a little!


I've visited, and loved, a number of big bustling capital cities across Europe - but for some reason London has never really appealed to me. However, I did manage to book a couple of precious tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child later in the year, so will be heading down to the big bad city to get my nerd on. I figured since I have to be in London anyway, I should give it a fair chance to win me over, so I'll stay a couple of days and play tourist!

At some point I'll definitely try to squeeze in a little visit to Bruges. The P&O Ferries Minicruises, if booked at the right time, can be too cheap to say no to - especially when there's all that great chocolate and beer to be had!


Does it see like there's something missing here to you? I've got action and adventure, the great outdoors, cultural city breaks and the best hot chocolate in the world - what I don't have is relaxing in the sun. I think I have just enough allowance left to squeeze in a nice warm sunshine holiday! (Greedy, aren't I?!) I'll admit that until the last couple of years this sort of lying-in-the-sun-not-doing-much sort of holiday didn't appeal much, and maybe it's my age, maybe its because its winter, but not much sounds more appealing at the minute! But where to? I'd love to hear your top holiday destination recommendations!

21 December 2016

#MerryKnitmas

A couple of months ago, my daughter asked if I could teach her how to knit. There's a couple of problems with this, one being that my energetic eight year old has the concentration levels of, well, of an energetic eight year old. The other being that my knitting skills are not what you'd call skills!

I do like a challenge though (and getting 'lil miss to sit still for learning will definitely be a challenge!) - and Fenetic Wellbeing have helped set us on our way with some super new knitting equipment and some great motivation.


As part of their newest campaign #MerryKnitmas, Fenetic Wellbeing are looking at ways of keeping folk warm over these cold winter months. Older people are particularly vulnerable at this time of year and knitted accessories are a great way to keep warm! At this time of year you can kill two birds with one stone - by keeping your loved ones nice and toasty, and earning gift-giving brownie points by providing lovely hand-made presents to your nearest and dearest!


I love hand-made presents, and despite having no discernible crafting talent, have still managed to put together a little something for my favourites each year. The key, I realise, is not that you have to be great at knitting/baking/sewing/whatever . . . you just have to be better than the person you are gifting to!

Though if I ever want to make it a totally home-made Christmas, I need to get a few more tricks up my sleeve! Everyone's had scarves, and hats, and blankets,..  and more chocolates, biscuits and cakes than you can shake a stick at (sure, the baked things wont keep you warm per say, but cake makes you happy, which makes you feel warm and fuzzy? Or at the very least, they go down a treat with a nice warming cup of tea!) so I really need to expand my repertoire! Luckily, Fenetic Wellbeing have once again come to my rescue with this hand little video on how to knit your very own Christmas stocking!


Now I know what everyone's getting next year!

* In collaboration with Fenetic Wellbeing

18 December 2016

Festive Afternoon Tea at the Victoria Hotel, Bradford

There's always so much to do before Christmas that it can be hard to find time in December for optional extras - but as a wise man once said 'Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it'. And just like that, I had an excuse for Afternoon Tea!


We just called into Bradford's Victoria Hotel, as it wouldn't be too disruptive to out Christmas shopping due to it's handy location right in the city centre. I've been in before for their regular, non-festive afternoon tea, so I reckoned it'd be a pretty safe bet.



We were led toy our table where we found a decent variety of tea bag options from Ringtons. I rather boringly opted for a reliable and delicious Earl Grey, but my tea-buddy had a more adventurous Lemon, Ginger and Ginseng tea which I've been told was lovely.



There wasn't long to wait before our three-tier pile of goodies was delivered to our table. First post of call was, of course, the sandwiches - our selection of finger sandwiches included two very generously-filled and festive turkey and stuffing sandwiches, a pair of smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches (which were ignored because smoked salmon is the devil), and then one each (?) of ham with mustard and cheese with tomato chutney.


Festive Afternoon Teas are a bit of a funny one for me - I love the Christmassy vibe and the extra excuse for an afternoon of sugary indulgence, but I'm generally not actually as keen on the 'festive' cakey offerings. All that dried fruit - it's just not really my bag! Here, we were provided with the fairly straightforward offerings of a mince pie and a mini Christmas pudding as part of our festive platter. I can handle mince pies, and I'm not over keen on Christmas Pudding - but I want to love them both!


The mince pie was just fine, and I did struggle a bit with the pud, but if you like all that stodgy fruit this would have been right up your street! My favourite bit on this level of the cake stand as the scone though - still fruity, of course, but nicely balanced out with the jam and cream, as well as the actual scone, so not quite so intense! It's not my favourite when the scones come pre-prepared but not the end of the world.


I am glad there was another layer of sweet things to go at though! The little panna cotta pots were lovely, even though the provided spoons didn't quite reach the bottom of the glasses! Then we got to finish off with a few little chocolatey bits apiece.


It's not my favourite afternoon of all time - I'd generally prefer a little more variety in flavours throughout my sweet bits, for example. But for £9 a head, this is still one of the best value for money afternoon teas I've come across, and since it's just down the road, it's one of the most convenient too! A great way to escape from the Christmas madness for a little while!

5 December 2016

Bon Prix on the Rocks

Christmas is definitely the season for sparkly dresses and pretty cocktails. After all, you need something to get you through the stress of trying to get everything else done in time! Luckily, the wonderful folk over at Bon Prix knew just how to get us feeling festive, by helping a bunch of lucky bloggers out with these two important factors with their fabulous Bon Prix on the Rocks event.


Yup, firstly not only did we get to pick out very own cocktail dress from their brilliant range of party dresses, we then got to wear said dress at a very exclusive (and fun!) cocktail masterclass. Pretty awesome, right?


The opportunity to get all dressed up for a night out doesn't come my way very often so I felt a little overdressed for the dreary afternoon train ride over to Leeds, but the sumptuous venue definitely justified the fancy frocks! We had not just one luxurious room at the Malmaison, but two - one for cocktail making one for chilling out between mixing!


With quite a healthy amount of bloggers in attendance, you'd have thought the chances of a couple picking the same dress were quite high, but miraculously everyone had chosen differently, covering a wide range of dress styles. With one exception. Me. Because I'm awkward.


Thankfully no one seemed to notice that Natasha and I had turned up in the same dress. The slightly different colour choice helped, as did Natasha's cardigan ..... and distracting people by getting Jess to stand in between us probably helped too!

(Though standing next to Jess with her ultra shiny hair only highlight what a fluffy debacle mine is! I don't know whether to invest in some god conditioner or just splash out hair extensions!)


It was great to see the dresses on everyone - a couple that I'd not looked at twice while scrolling the website looked amazing when worn, they really came to life in person - but I was more than happy to move on to cocktail making!



We were fully instructed on how to make two delicious and boozy Bon Prix exclusive cocktails - the gin-based mojito-style Sassy Sapphire, and the Cosmopolitan-inspired Pretty In Pink Frocktail. I was of course excellent at this.


That might not be true btw. But they still tasted grand!  Plus, we were sent away with booze-filled goodie bags so I can practice my cocktail-making at home so I can really impress folk when I'm Christmas entertaining!


Big thanks to Bon Prix for providing us all with a wonderful range of dresses and a great excuse to get together - you can read the event from their side here! Even more big thanks to Search Labs (and especially Jennie!) for always putting on the best events, and for having the foresight to take along a photographer, who I have shamelessly stolen from throughout this post!

1 December 2016

Time For Buying Christmas Gifts - Jord Wood Watches

The first door on my advent calendar was opened this morning which means its officially time to get organised for Christmas! I'm usually pretty ahead of the game when it comes to the easy bits,... watching Christmas films and eating Quality Street on the couch. When it comes to gift-buying I tend to be a bit more last-minute, despite my best intentions.

This disorganised approach to gift-buying may give the impression that I don't really put that much thought into what I'm getting for people, but it couldn't be further from the truth. I think about it way too long - still thinking when I should be buying! But I want to make sure I get the perfect presents for the people I care about. This year, in at least one instance, I think I've fully cracked it!


You see, I was offered the opportunity to try one of these absolutely gorgeous wood watches from Jord. These really are the most unique and lovely timepieces I've ever come across, and was very tempted to treat myself to one of their beautiful women's watches. My better nature won out eventually though when I realised what a perfect present this would make for one of the most important men in my life - my brother (it's ok, he won't read this!)


My best bro has started his teacher training this year so as well as not having his phone with him in the classroom to check the time, he needs to impress the future adults by looking both professional and super cool. Jord Wood Watches are perfect for both!

There are some great products to choose from in their men's watch range, but I picked the Dover Ebony and Copper watch. The simplicity of the black ebony of the strap really helped the details of the exposed cogs stand out, but mainly I thought the copper ring would be perfect for my copper-haired sibling!


With a final product this nice, it seems a little silly to start banging on about the presentation box that it comes in, but honestly this is like an extra gift in itself! Handsomely made from wood, the lid and drawer are both magnetised and everything is of the some excellent quality that Jord pride themselves on. The overall effect is one very sophisticated and special gift. A lot more so than the stack of comics I usually get him!


In fact, the only problem with the watch is that when I borrowed the other half's wrist to try it on, he got rather attached and now wants his own!

He might have to wait for another occasion now, but there's still plenty of time to order one of these for Christmas! Prices start from $129 (about £102) but shipping is free to the UK from the United States! Plus to help ease the financial burden at this time of year, you can get a $25 discount code if you enter your email address here! All adds up, right?

Good luck with any more Christmas shopping you have to do! Anyone nearly finished?

Wooden Watch Review

* This post was sponsored by JORD Wood Watches

30 November 2016

Four Things to do in Bustling Jakarta - Guest Post

I think for years I've been getting holidays wrong. I, like many people, tend to take my main sunshiny holiday in the summer- but despite it's reputation the British summer really isn't that bad. I even managed to get sunburnt on our family holiday to Scotland last year, despite people warning me to pack my wellies. Nope, it's definitely this time of year - when you have to wear seven layers of clothing to keep the blood circulating to your extremities, when your car is frozen in the morning on the inside as well as the outside, when you can go an entire day without even seeing daylight -
THIS is the time we should be booking exotic holidays to far-flung destinations!

With this revelation in mind, and because it's what I always do anyway, I've been daydreaming about that next trip. And as if I needed tempting further into booking something, today I have a guest poster making me crave a trip to one of Indonesia's most exciting cities!

Jakarta Cathedral - Picture Credit: Wanderwithjo.com

Four things to do in bustling Jakarta

Jakarta, the vibrant capital of Indonesia, is a very popular Asian tourist destination. It may not be as popular as Bali, but really holds its own in the unique type of attractions it has. From historical to cultural, the city showcases a diverse ethnic character which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Traffic and pollution notwithstanding, Jakarta is considered to be one of the safest cities of South East Asia, which cannot be said of its other erstwhile counterparts like Bangkok or Beijing. If you plan to have a good time here, check out these four bucket list attractions, to make your stay in Jakarta all that more memorable.

1) Kota Tua/Old Batavia

The centre of business during the Dutch colonial era, Kota Tua or Tropical Amsterdam as it is fondly known as, is an important historical place to visit. With an impressive array of well preserved Dutch buildings and museums, it is easy to understand why. There are so many attractions in this city, each unique in their own way, that it becomes difficult to decide that which is the best. To start with, we have the beautiful  Diamond city wooden bridge, linking Old Batavia with a canal. The famous Café Batavia, with its antique Dutch influence is a must visit site. The Museum of Bank Indonesia, with the breathtaking architecture and housing a horde of informative material is strongly recommended too.

Bhairawa Statue at the National Museum - Picture Credit: wanderwithjo.com

2) Taman Mini Indonesia Indah

The best place to experience the culture and history of the entire country in one place is here. Located east of Jakarta, everything about the diverseness of Indonesia, from one corner of Aceh to the other end of Sulawesi, be it through architecture, clothes, dance, food etc is displayed here. A cable car ride in TMII offers a rewarding scenery of the miniature Indonesia park. An activity for the full family, a four hour guided tour offers a captivating account of the over 17,000 islands and more than 300 ethnic groups, which comprise the country.

3) National monument area

Probably the best place to start your tour to Jakarta is from the 137 m high National monument area. Commissioned to celebrate the independence of Indonesia, the views from the top are quite magical, with the solid gold foil at the top glistening in the sky. The basement too, provides an insight of the history of the diverse Republic. Just across the street is the National Museum, which houses exhibits from all over the country. The Presidential Palace also borders the museum as does the Istiqlal mosque and National Cathedral across the road.


Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta - Picture Credit: www.wanderwithjo.com

4) Ancol dreamland

Established in 1996, Ancol is a great tourist destination in north Jakarta. One of the largest recreation parks in Indonesia, Ancol dreamland consists of hotels, golf courses, nightclubs, swimming pools apart from the famous theme park, Fantasy world. The park has more than 40 rides to choose from. Other attractions here include, Sea world, Atlantis water adventure and Pasar seni, an art market, where products are available for sale. There are two beaches here, within the resort, namely Carnival beach and Festival beach.

I could definitely thing of worse ways to spend my time! I've already found myself on http://www.traveloka.com, checking out places to stay (Hotel Mulia works for me), and comparing flights (I can even get there from local Leeds Bradford,.. not directly, but still!) .... despite having no holiday allowance left at work and no money for nice trips! Still, we can but dream... (dream,.. and plan,.. and save!)

27 November 2016

Bettys Cafe, Northallerton

Something occurred to me yesterday morning. In an early morning, pre-breakfast conversation about favourite Bettys sites (as you do) I suddenly realised I'd still not been to their Northallerton café. So then we had a plan for the day!


It was a bit of a trek to answer some cake-cravings, but Bettys is always worth it! As soon as we were settled at out table and had my pot of their lovely China Rose Tea in front of me, I knew all the problems and stresses of the last couple of weeks would soon melt away.


For once though, I made the unexpected choice to not order myself the Afternoon Tea! There are few things finer than afternoon tea at Bettys, but a quick perusal of the menu before we set off had left me day-dreaming about the dessert list, and not even I could justify an extra dessert after eating what I essentially a big pile of cake.

I figured I should make a show of pretending not to be a sugar-obsessed child, and actually eat some 'proper' food before indulging in my dream dessert, so settled on the Yorkshire Rarebit (with added bacon, obv). Of course, I doubt that my stack of cheesy bacon was any healthier than my intended dessert, but it was no less tasty either ---- mmmmm, all that cheese!


It was the promise the of the treacle tart that had enticed me all the way up to Northallerton though... the thought of the warm, gooey treacle Genoese, sweet toffee sauce and creamy vanilla ice cream had meant my expectations were high when the plate was sat in front of me! This was every bit as delicious as I could have hoped!


So delicious, in fact, that I didn't even miss my Afternoon Tea... but at the same time it would have been a shame to not take full advantage of being at Bettys, so I made sure I took enough stuff home from the shop to replicate that afternoon tea experience!


(Though my poor little one-eyed fat rascal didn't make it to this afternoon, be was devoured with a hot cup of tea this morning, and he was delicious!)

24 November 2016

The Emmerdale Studio Experience

I might as well get the confession out of the way at the start of the post - but I don't really know very much about Emmerdale. I've never really watched it, don't know any of the characters, can't tell you any of the storylines. But I was still really excited to be invited on the studio tour!


The first reason is because of my mum. My mum is a massive Emmerdale fan, she's watched it for as long as I can remember. She's also a very difficult lady to buy presents for. So a trip to the Emmerdale Studio Experience around the time of her birthday was a great way to make her smile and to earn top daughter points!


Also, I grew up just up the road from the (then called) National Museum of Film, Photography and Television and spent my childhood running round their mock sets, setting lighting and camera shots for pretend shows and learning about editing. I was interested in seeing how it all worked in a real show!


The tours take place in small groups, led by a friendly and well-informed tour guide. We were taken through the many different departments, from the writers offices where we could see all the storyboards, to the make up and costume departments.


It was here I realised I must know a little more about Emmerdale than I first thought, as even I recognised some of these iconic items!



That pink suit is something quite special, don't you think?


We also got to play with a couple of the props used I the show - they're all great to look at but it's strange to realise that if you see someone get hit over the head with a brick in Emmerdale, that brick probably weighs less than a pair of socks!


When we got to look around the sets, it became apparent how much has changed since my youth at the museum - the lights are all controlled by ipad! This is certainly a simpler and more user-friendly way of doing things, even if it did make me feel a little old!


The exterior shots on the show are not filmed at the studios but on a special location elsewhere, so I didn't expect to see those (semi) familiar buildings (I'm not an Emmerdale expert but I do know pubs!) - so I was thrilled when we were led to a delightful scale model village. This was one of my favourite parts of the tour!


Another highlight of the tour though was of course finishing up in The Woolpack with a drink and some tasty nibbles! 


There was plenty more to see and learn on the tour but I don't want to give away all the fun little secrets now, do I? If you are at all interested in learning more about Emmerdale, or about creating TV shows in general then I definitely recommend you take the tour for yourself!

More information about the tours offered and how to book can be found on the Emmerdale Studio Experience website.

*I was invited to experience the tour free of charge.

16 November 2016

Where a Smile Meets a Giggle...

My kids are growing up. Behind us are the times when I was the primary source of new information in their lives, where I introduced them to new things and experiences I thought they'd like. These days it's much more likely for them to tell me (their old and out of touch mum) about the new cool things that are making up the playground talk.


Some of these things, I'll never understand (being, of course, old and out of touch). I'll never really understand the point of 'dab', or the endless fascination with bottle flipping. But, some things even an ancient crone like me can get on board with.


One such occasion came a month or two ago, wandering round the Bradford Broadway shopping centre, when the kids stopped in front of the brightest shop I'd ever seen and asked if they could look round Smiggle. 'Please mum', came the cries, 'it's where a smile meets a giggle!' How could I say no to such a well-ingrained marketing slogan?


Skip ahead a couple of weeks and I find myself attending the Smiggle Christmas Party in their Leeds Trinity store. Who's cool now, kids?!


As a self-confessed stationary enthusiast, Smiggle is a dreamland! Everything is bright and cheerful, beautifully displayed, and cute as a button! Not to mention a tonne of the stuff is scented - I haven't wandered round a shop sniffing everything like this since I first discovered Lush!


Now, a lot of the stuff in Smiggle is clearly aimed at kids. And kids absolutely love it. But that definitely doesn't mean that it's not perfect for adults too! I definitely had my eyes on a few bits for myself, as well as getting loads of Christmas ideas for the youngsters!


And speaking of Christmas, the Smiggle advent calendar is AMAZING! The £28 calendar has £38 worth of exclusive goodies, and a chance at finding one of 25 vouchers for a £250 spend in store!


I spent a lovely morning playing with toys and figuring out which pencil cases would make the best handbags, and the wonderful folk at Smiggle even sent me away with an awesome goodie bag of treats for the young ones (which I only briefly considered keeping for myself!), but I'm pretty sure I'll be back in again before the end of December!