A message from Blake!

 

Hello, I’m Blake!  I’ve never posted anything on this blog before but I’m Jemima’s partner, ah hem… Fiancé!  Jemima and I recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Rome, Venice and Scotland, during which I popped the question on a gondola in Venice (very romantic).  We were travelling with my grandmother and sister and seeing as it was a bit of a family affair I thought I’d write a little intro and provide a backdrop to our trip.  What can I say……  It was perfect, every single moment in time we spent during that trip was a perfect moment in life to be cherished, I wouldn’t change a thing and it couldn’t have gone better…….

……..not exactly.

Ok so my grandmother Wilma (who, incidentally, I love very much) is 76 and perhaps we didn’t quite consider how uneven the roads in Rome actually are.  On our first night in Rome, after a delicious authentic pizza and pasta meal, my poor grandmother took a tumble and fell into the curb, raising the concern of  some passing Italian locals who I quickly ushered away.  The next day Gran was feeling fine (or so she said) and all four of us had an amazing day out at the Vatican which I’m sure Jemima will elaborate on further.  The day after that, however, she wasn’t feeling as spritely.  Jemima organised a house-call doctor to visit and a very lovely Italian gentleman came to assess her.  He was of the opinion that we should get some scans and tests to make sure everything was ok.  We had already booked a tour of the Catacombs for that day, so Jemima and my sister Courtney went off and enjoyed that for the day which I accompanied my Grandmother to a very nice little private hospital where they x-rayed and ultrasounded my Gran to find she had indeed fractured a rib.  Bed rest was ordered by the doctor.  So I guess that was the first little stumbling block, poor Gran was trapped indoors for most of the trip whilst Courtney, Jemima and myself did our best to see as much of Rome as we could.

Incidentally, we did a fair job of it as I’m sure Jemima will confirm.  The Coliseum, The Forum, some great Italian dinners and a trip to the 1942 Worlds Fair (which I dragged poor Mimey along to).  When we left Rome and transferred to Venice, however, a series of misadventures would follow that would test the patience of all of us.

Firstly, I was pick-pocketed at the Rome train station, I can’t really explain how it happened but a young woman was distracting me while another man took about 10 euros out of my hand as I was paying for lunch.  Then my dear sister (who is Type One Diabetic) experienced a hypo on the train.  Luckily we picked up on that one early and got some coke and food into her quickly to avert danger.  Meanwhile Jemima started to mention that something was stuck in her eye, at first we thought it was a bit of dust and would pass, more on than to follow.

Upon arriving in Venice we discovered that in terms of uneven surfaces Rome is a flat concrete car park compared with the ornate patchwork that is the streets of Venice, topped off with little bridges to test the strength and stamina of my darling fiancé-to-be who was lumping both her and my grandmothers’ bags from the water bus to our hotel room.  Once we had settled into the room it was evident that something, albeit small, was firmly lodged in Jemima’s eye.  We attempted to dislodge with some eye wash from the local chemist but it was having no effect and concerned about it causing further irritation or infection I decided we should go to the nearest hospital to have it removed.

My sister, Jemima and I walked about 40 mins to the hospital, which was nice enough but of course would involve a long wait.  So I accompanied my sister back to the hotel with the view to return to my darling Jemima to wait with her at the hospital until she was called.  “I’ll be back within the hour, I promise” I said to her as I kissed her on the forehead and left her in the waiting room of the hospital.  My sister and I returned to the area of Venice where our hotel room was, to find that at night time it all looked a little different.  Also at the same time all the alleyways and streets looked exactly the same.  It wasn’t long before we realised we were lost.

At the time I didn’t think we had the full address on hand (although I realised later I did), the people who rented us the room were not answering their phone and my grandmother at home was unable to give directions. At this point I think I sunk into a kind of madness as I ran around the alleyways and streets desperately trying to recognise a door or a street sign.  My sister and I were lost, desperate and getting quite upset.  Eventually my grandmother made it downstairs on her walking stick and walked into a main street where I eventually found her.  By the time I finally made it back to Jemima at the hospital it had been four hours.  Not too long after Jemima was called in and the doctors, after an initial misunderstanding about what the problem actually was, removed the offending black object from Jemima’s eye and affixed a very handsome looking eye patch to her face.  We walked back to the hotel in a kind of daze, and ate a kebab on the way home.  All in all, the rest of the holiday went mostly without further incident (except the washing machine flooding the living room at one point, and us being late to the airport when we left).  My sister, Jemima and I went on to see some pretty amazing sites in Venice.  St Marks Church, St Marks Square, The Doge’s Palace, the mansion of the Monsignors and of course Jemima and I took a fateful boat ride through the timeless canals of Venice.  After our engagement Jemima and I got lost in the alleyways, had an amazing dinner and topped it off with some cocktails (Sidecars, our trademark drink) in the Hotel Danieli while a very talented piano bar pianist played and sung ‘Just The Way You Are’.  It was truly magical.

A very brief update…

Well, we’ve returned to London from our whirlwind (truly, whirlwind…) trip to Italy and brief soiree in Scotland. We’ve also had a week of adventuring in London with the beautiful Courtney, which explains my radio silence on here. We’ve been back to work by day and enjoying C’s company by night and I am already missing that girl who makes me laugh so very much.

I have taken about seven million photos across the last few huge weeks and am slowly plowing through them all as well as finding the words to describe our best and worst moments from our trip. To summarise, we had our fair share of standard travelling disasters to the point where they weren’t standard travelling disasters and more like we had been cursed by something horrible somewhere out there, but also lots of incredible food, sights and plenty of laughter… and of course a proposal! Blake wants to get in on the next post to let you all know how some of our trip went down so I’ll leave that to him!

For now, though, I have recently joined Bloglovin, which should make it easier for some of you to follow our stories. You can follow by clicking on the link to the right of this page —>

Until next time, here’s our view of St Peter’s Square from the top of St Peter’s Basilica…

 

In Italy…

We got engaged!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We are both so happy and in love and I will post more about the engagement (and the trip itself!) in the next week or two… But it was romantic, perfect and I could not be happier.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park/That time I bought a hat

Hellooooooo from Italy. Did I mention I’m in Italy? Because I am in Italy. I’m writing to you from a gigantic bed, with Italian radio playing from a nearby apartment. The air is hot and kind of stifling but in a way that makes you just want to get out and explore the place… which we will surely be doing in the next hour. I am beyond excited to be here for 8 days. I intend to eat a whole lot of gelato,  walk down every cobblestone street in existence, do a whole lot of people-watching from al fresco cafes and of course see some incredible history.

We arrived yesterday and my next few posts will surely be about this amazing place, but for now I’ll just recap a story or two from the last couple of weeks. Just to tide you over, here’s a little mini-adventure we took on the weekend to the site of the 2012 London Olympics, Stratford.

Let’s get real with this story. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops. We realised the train we needed to catch wasn’t running, so opted to take a bus instead. What should have been maybe a 7-10 minute journey we had accepted would now be 20 minutes, but that was okay because we had our picnic lunch and were armed with our camera and the rest would be history. Except that we got on completely the wrong bus, went in the opposite direction without meaning to for a good hour before realising, and then hey presto two hours later we finally arrived where we were supposed to have arrived hours before.

And then it was 3pm.

We realised there was a Westfield in Stratford, which my ears pricked up at. Westfield? Surely not like… Westfield Westfield? Home away from home solace from the elements and place we would hang out in after school for hours on end Westfield? Yep, the very one. Of course  it was a British version of my old local but to be honest it was exactly the same. Eerily the same. For nostalgia’s sake we wandered around for a little while and recovered from our harrowing journey, I bought a hat from H&M which I was personally very happy about having been searching for months… Does anyone else have troubles with hat-purchasing? Because I sure do. It’s hard. But I found one with the perfect sized brim, a cute polkadot ribbon situation and it doesn’t even look tooooo daggy when donned. Aforementioned chapeau will be featuring in several of these pictures in an attempt to practise our focus pulling skills 😉

Back to Olympic Park! It was everything you ever thought that an unused, vacant Olympic site would be. Huge, and missing the millions of people it was built to house, it’s kind of a strange feeling. Like an abandoned amusement park but not really as much fun. Pieces of props/sets/art used in the actual opening ceremonies are dotted about the grounds as artworks which was quite fun to spot as we walked along. There were lots of young families playing on equipment, a couple of tourists who looked like they had accidentally stumbled upon it, and us. In the entire Olympic park. It is filled with meticulously designed gardens and plants all arranged with such care that it feels a little clinical.

We had carefully investigated a map of the grounds prior to our arrival and saw that there was woodland of some kind which was our prime destination. But because we had used the majority of our day attempting to get there, and there were several roadblocks once arriving at Olympic Park (literally roadblocks, half of the site seemed to still be under construction even though it was supposed to have opened several months ago?), we realised we were going to have to scale fences and possibly run from building site guard dogs in order to get to the woodland so we settled on a park bench overlooking a construction site for lunch.

Having given up on having any idea of where we were or where we were going, we just meandered about and took photos of things, and came across a classic London canal… gritty, dirty but kind of beautiful nonetheless.

 

My temperamental iPhone eventually got us back on track in time to see some actual Olympic things at the site of the 2012 Olympics… Such as the Paralympic rings, the Olympic rings, and the Velodrome centre too, in which we spent about 20 mins in watching groups of cyclists train.

Aaaaaaaaand now for some ridiculous photos of Blake testing the multishot setting on the camera whilst I flounced around with my new hat.

And so concludes yet another strange outing…. Next stop, Rome and Venice!!!

Sunday in Old Oak Common

On Sunday London treated us with blue skies, a light breeze and no foreboding clouds whatsoever. After a solid winter and some fairly stereotypical grey and miserable weather in the last few weeks, one blissfully sunny day couldn’t have come at a better time. We took the morning to sleep in much later than we should have, ate bacon and egg rolls for breakfast and sipped on coffee whilst checking emails and other boring things before heading out for the afternoon with a locally purchased picnic of prosciutto, salami, cheese, olives and pumpkin seed bread in tow. And a Coke *product placement* to share of course, because a picnic isn’t a picnic without it…

In a style very typical to him, Blake wanted to spend the afternoon trying to find a park he had seen whilst passing on a bus one day when the trains weren’t running and we were en route somewhere else. He had caught a glimpse of some post-apocalyptic looking shrubbery, some bizarre steel constructions through the rattling windows and expressed in an interest in checking it out, so a few weeks later off on an adventure we found ourselves, to solve the mystery of the aforementioned shrub/steel constructions.

We of course took our new camera to play around with it so be warned, lots of dubiously framed and poorly focused images to follow, in my case at least. And in Blake’s case, they’re probably all shot in monochrome. All of them. That man and his monochrome…

No guesses as to who took the above 😉

We passed a train yard of some kind which was a great place to practice with ye old canon 550D. Again, no guesses as to the photographer above… ! 🙂

After a solid half hour of wondering if we were even heading in the right direction, we found it! Old Oak Common!

The grass was just overgrown enough for it to feel like no one else had been there for a little while which is a pretty rare feeling in London.

After making the most of the shade to sit and eat our picnic for a little while whilst speculating about what this bizarre little spot used to be (our most likely invented scenario was some kind of a scout jamboree), we took off on foot to venture further into the common.

And found this amazing situation!

Acre beyond acre of totally overgrown weeds (at least I assume that’s what is going on… they were pretty weeds, though!).

There was a faint buzzing going on… which we immediately discounted as some kind of terrifying insect because everyone knows that England’s insects have nothing on Australia’s… and eventually spotted miniature airplanes speeding around! Alas, we had stumbled upon… a model aircraft field!

Hey look, it’s my blank/serious face. This was actually taken in a moment of ‘hey see what happens if in this light we set it to a low f-stop’ (my first photographic jargon is officially downpat, guys) so cheers B for getting kind of a cool shot.

We ventured on for another hour or so, wandering and chatting and being totally amazed that we had literally stumbled onto a model airplan field (?!) before then stumbling upon a prison. Like a hardcore, operational prison with people yelling and barbed wire and stuff.

….And so I guess that wraps things up? A classic Sunday in the lives of Blake and Jemima, involving too much public transport, a picnic, exploring new terrain, model airfields (?!) an accidental prison encounter and a long tube trip home.

New Camera… in Hampstead Heath

Well, we made the investment, we are now the proud owners of a (second-hand) Canon 550D/T2i and kit lens (and my friend is lending me his 50mm lens for a few weeks whilst I get to know it, and so that I can take some great shots on our upcoming Italy trip!). Courtesy of a pawn shop in a dodgy part of London that had swords and weapons and all sorts of terrifying things. The camera is actually in great condition and perfect for a first-time user like me!

We’ve been using the last few days to take some practise shots in our local park which just so happens to be one of my favourite places in the universe, Hampstead Heath. We have spent a lot of time in that heath whilst living in our little apartment, often completely unprepared for how rugged and muddy it can be in classic English weather. I have ruined many a pair of shoes trudging through the wilderness… Not an exaggeration, parks in England can be more like forests than parks. Even though I KNOW it isn’t a manicured, mud-free park I forget every time. Need to get some gumboots sorted STAT!

Anywho, I’ll construct a proper post at some stage about Hampstead Heath because there really is a lot to talk about, but for now, here are some photos from the last few days exploring our new Canon.

I’m determined to learn how to use it without the automatic settings… which is proving difficult… it has definitely been a learning curve. But so far we’ve managed to scrounge together a handful of decent shots between us without using auto. I’ve got a long way to go but I’m really enjoying it so far.

I love anything with popping colours whilst Blake is obsessed with the monochrome setting and wants everything to be in black and white always and forevermore…

Oh hey bunny!

Amsterdam – Blake’s 30th Part III

tulip field

We had one more day in the city before our tulip adventure which we spent paddle-boating on the canals, eating kassoufles from Febo, sampling the greatest chocolate milk I have ever and likely will ever have in my LIFE… Chocomel… and squeezing in a fantastic Indonesian meal at Aneka Rasa. We shared a meal and an apple pie at Winkel 43,which, I hate to proclaim yet another ‘best in my life’ within the space of two sentences, but it was truly the best apple pie I have ever had. Even Blake ate and enjoyed it, and he doesn’t even like apple pie. By the way, who doesn’t like apple pie? Madness.

We also managed to meet up with a highschool buddy and her college amiga and do some exploring with them too.

Which leads me to the main event which was our experience travelling to Haarlem, hiring bikes and riding aimlessly into the general direction of what we thought might be some tulip fields. I had never really done aimless exploring in a foreign place before. Usually I like to plan activities and directions in so much detail that it’s a bit scary, and I never, ever just go off without knowing where I am on a map. In this instance we did pull out google a couple of times, one of which was when we realised we had somehow gone in a complete circle and were actually riding on the same stretch we had already ridden but in the opposite direction, but we were pretty much just riding wherever the roads happened to take us and seeing where we landed. We did this for about 5 hours and it was unbelievable. We knew we wanted to eventually reach a place called ‘Lisse’ if we could which we had read was tulip-field-central but were prepared to not end up getting there and just enjoying the day out.

Here are some pics of our journey along the way.

Hey! A tulip field!

After a couple of hours of solid riding we stumbled upon a beautiful diner-esque restaurant. We had gone so far out of Amsterdam that signs and menus were no longer in English, and waiters didn’t assume you were tourists and address you in English. Consequently, we didn’t really know what we were ordering and kind of mumbled something about something… and to our great surprise and satisfaction were presented with this beast of a cheese and meat platter for lunch. It was unbelieeeeeevably good.

And lo and behold…. another tulip field!

When we realised we had actually made it to Lisse there was a great sense of accomplishment all-round. And then we set ourselves another challenge… visiting the Keukenhof gardens. We were exhausted and knew that visiting Europe’s largest garden was probably going to be a tiring experience but powered on and made it there and boy am I glad that we did.

Check these out! I had never seen anything like it. Firstly, there were literally thousands and thousands of people there. It felt like a theme park or Disneyland except everyone was there to see flowers which is kind of a bizarre thing. The flowers were stunning and the displays were amazing. I don’t even like flowers that much and I was enthralled! We were really lucky to see it as it is actually only open two months in every year.

More pics!

The variety of colours and the artistry in actually arranging the bulbs to grow in the way that they did was phenomenal. Because we were so tired we could only handle an hour or two in the park but if you haven’t cycled for 5 hours prior to arriving, you could easily spend a full day tiptoeing through the tulips. It rounded up our entire Dutch experience perfectly. Happy 30th birthday, B! xxx

Amsterdam – Blake’s 30th Part II

After the most luxurious/decadent meal of our lives we jumped on a flight across the channel to Amsterdam… I know, I know, what kind of a life are we leading in which eating at The Fat Duck and flying to Amsterdam occur in one day?! (A life on a really tight budget for months so that we can afford stuff like this, that’s what!) As it was just the two of us in this big ole country that we are calling home, no families to have dinner or celebrate his 30th birthday with, we decided to really do something nice. And nice things we did.

I. Love. Amsterdam. I would live there if I could!

We arrived quite late in Amsterdam and somehow navigated our way to our apartment with dubious instructions, just in time to go straight to sleep in order to conquer the following day. It was a lovely surprise waking up in our apartment and looking out the window to survey our neighbourhood. I was immediately struck by how beautiful Amsterdam is. We were lucky enough to have a rooftop terrace which we spent a bit of time on across our five days in Holland and although the view wasn’t a conventionally nice one, it’s a really great indication of what Amsterdam is like.

I had feared that it might be trashy or tacky given the reputation, and wasn’t prepared for how truly stunning and romantic it is. The endless canals are beautiful, with boats constantly streaming past, their passengers waving at passers by. We didn’t hire bikes in Amsterdam as we chose to do it all on foot, but it’s totally refreshing to see the majority of the city travelling by bike.  It’s a nice contrast to London which seems to be constantly packed with cars and buses and smoggy air. The air in Amsterdam felt clean and was so easy to take a huge gulp. It’s lovely to see all the bikes in all different shapes, colours and sizes – some with little baskets, most with milk crates attached, people really use them like you would a car, somehow manoevering home with bags of groceries and shopping and everything you could think of!

Our first task of the day was to find our way over to the museumplein and survey the crowds/queues and how much in advance we were going to have to line up for our intended activities. The lines were ridiculous, in case you’re wondering. Though being the Easter long-weekend, we expected as much. So we made a stop-off at the very cute Bagels & Beans for some… bagels… which were super delicious and fresh.

Next up was the Van Gosh museum which was brilliant. It’s a good idea to pre-purchase tickets to this if you can, but you’ll need to do so several weeks in advance. We ended up lining up for just over an hour in order to get in, but it was well worth it. I was blown away but the sheer number of works there. The exhibit traced his evolution as an artist, and although we accidentally followed it backwards, it was very well laid-out and felt like a very true insight into his life and work. Definitely a must-do for anyone, art-aficionado or not.

Sadly I didn’t get any photos there because I was way too engulfed in what was going on. But I DID get some photos of pancakes post-Van Gogh… #priorities

After yet another queue – which seemed to be a running theme across the weekend – we had some insaaaaaanely delicious pancakes at the aptly named Pancakes! cafe. Apple and bacon was my choice, and it was a good’un, whereas Blake stuck to a savoury cheese pancake. It’s a tiny little store packed with people and service wasn’t fast but after hours of queing and traversing the city we didn’t mind the opportunity to sit down for a little while.

We had been advised by several friends to take the Heineken brewery tour, which Blake was pretty excited about. The building no longer functions as a brewery but rather explains the process. It was a bit of a product placement experience and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between rooms filled with posters to rooms filled with not very much at all. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve done in my life, though it was quite interesting to see how the beer is made. There was also a hilarious ‘4D ride’ within the tour in which is always good fun. Overall the tour is worth it for a beer or a Heineken fanatic, but not being either of those I could have given it a miss and not felt too much regret.

Just to tie into another running theme – eating – we couldn’t resist trying the famous Dutch frites (chips with mayonnaise) which are available in little hole-in-the-wall stores dotted around the city. They were really very good…

Another sight we couldn’t skip was the Rijksmuseum, which we had purchased tickets for in advance. That was a great idea, definitely do that. With the main building having been closed since 2003 and reopening mid-2013, we got to see this Dutch national museum/gallery in its full glory. It has something like 8000 pieces of art and history on display and we barely scratched the surface before we heard the 10 minute warning of the museum’s closure. It had to be the most impressive museum I have ever been to. It is truly stunning. We saw so many marvelous things, paintings that I didn’t even know that I knew but recognised from various facets of life instantly. It is a really special place that I honestly think about daily and am so grateful to have been able to experience first-hand.


Oh yeah, and we had MORE pancakes at The Pancake Bakery, which was good, but not as good as Pancakes! Amsterdam.

<< Blake discovered the window from our little Eyewitness guide to Amsterdam which helped us out along the way. This was a very exciting moment for him. >>

Anyway, so that rounds up part one, there are so many more things to talk about that I’m just going to have to split it up for another post… Like how we cycled from Haarlem to the most insane tulip fields in the whole wide world…. Now that was amazing…

The Fat Duck – blake’s 30th part I

We are lovers of food. Cooking it (Blake), looking at photos of it (me) and eating it (both of us!). So, for Part I of Blake’s 30th birthday extravaganza, I thought it only fitting to try to nab reservations to Heston Blumenthal’s molecular gastronomy restaurant ‘The Fat Duck’ in Bray. Cheers to my sisters for the suggestion, and cheers also to Blake for casually mentioning it a few times over the last year so that I knew it was going to be a good investment.

Famous for being both delicious and stupidly hard to book, I tried on three separate occasions to get a booking around the time of Blake’s actual birthday. I even commissioned my sister in Australia to log on and try it on her end as well, but no luck… On the third morning, whilst frantically running from the tube station to my desk for the 10am reservations opening, I got it!!! And, it happened to be on the same day that we were heading off to a surprise country as part II of his birthday. Fate? I think so.

I had originally planned to keep it a surprise, but then negotiated with Blake that I would be able to tell him about one out of two parts of his birthday gift. I chose to keep our mystery trip a secret and miraculously managed to do so until we were at the airport, but couldn’t hold it in re: The Fat Duck… So I spilled! We studied the menu together, looked at reviews and we generally just spent a lot of time talking about how great it was going to be.

And it was!

So, on a sunny Thursday morning we got on the train to Bray and wandered around the local area for awhile via this little church before heading into the restaurant.Bray itself is a lovely little place. It seems strange that this three Michelin starred restaurant is based there but at the same time the setting really complements the experience somehow. Heston knows what he is doing.

The Fat Duck

The Fat Duck

There are about fifty billion amazing blogs reviewing The Fat Duck and I don’t claim to be a food blogger by any means but I’ll do my best to recap our Fat Duck experience in layman’s terms! Upon walking in you can tell immediately that it is an impressive place. There were more staff than there were people eating when we arrived, but it didn’t feel crowded at all. We knew we had to leave at a certain time in order to get to the airport and they were totally accommodating about it. Ten points already.

The Fat Duck

Aerated Beetroot and Horeradish macaroon

Look at those colours… Argh! We were told to put it in our mouths at once, and upon doing so it somehow popped and completely overpowered us with the flavours. It actually shocked me a little that such a tiny thing could be packed with so much of a taste. What an introduction… I knew immediately that we were in for a treat. It. Was. So. Good.

Nitro Poached Aperitif

The waitress brought over a trolley carrying a vat of liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen food? Okay, sure. She squirted a dollop of egg white onto a large spoon, dipped it into the dry ice and poured the alcohol of our choices over the top of it, quick freezing it into some kind of a buzzey, snap-frozen meringue of sorts. Again we were instructed to put the whole thing into our mouths and let it sit on our tongues for a moment, and before we knew it the whole thing had again exploded and totally enveloped the senses (both taste and smell). It was such a bizarre sensation. I had tequila, Blake had the Campari. Delish.

Red Cabbage Gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream

Next came a dish that I really enjoyed but Blake was more dubious about. Gazpacho can be an interesting one to throw on two unsuspecting Aussies at a fancy, fancy restaurant. I really liked it, but Blake, not so much. It was kind of bizarre eating a completely savoury ice-cream. Normally ‘savoury’ flavours are not so savoury at all, ie salted caramel, of which I am a huge fan. But this was literally like eating a really subtle and delicious mustard that happened to have been frozen. I also love red cabbage courtesy of my friend Flora whose mum made it one time, so I enjoyed the whole thing. But, I did have to finish off Blake’s on his behalf. Any gazpacho haters out there, you probably won’t like this portion so much. Good thing there were another 13 (?!) to go…

The Fat Duck

 

The Fat Duck

Jelly of quail with Crayfish cream, feat. Chicken Liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast

This guy was cool. We were presented with two little plastic cases that looked like SD card holders, emblazoned with Heston’s iconic Fat Duck design. Inside was a tiny, speckley, paper film that we were instructed to put on our tongues and let dissolve… suddenly it literally tasted like we were eating a forest, but in a very delicious way. Then we ate the truffle toast (delicious) also somehow resembling oak and moss and forests, followed by the parfait which was smooth, creamy and really pleasant to eat.

And did I mention that we were presented with a block of fresh moss on our table, over which was poured dry ice which ignited the scent of forests and trees and general outdoors. Fascinating.

The Fat Duck

Snail Porridge with Iberico bellota ham and shaved fennel

Blake loooooves to cook/eat snails. A couple of Christmases ago he even cooked snails for Christmas. He unfortunately didn’t cook them quite to everyone’s liking and wound up eating about 30 snails by himself because no one else would touch them, but that’s a story for another day…

This famous dish is famous for a reason. It was filled with flavours, yet had a really comforting, creamy texture that was beyond satisfying to eat. You even forgot that you were eating snails because it was so lovely to eat.

 

Roast Foie Gras with Rhubarb sauce, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit

This may have been my favourite dish, which I am hesitant to admit because I am completely against foie gras in general, but I had to leave my moral high horse behind when eating this dish and hope that Heston treats his animals humanely (surely?!). It wasn’t greasy at all but rather soft and clean to eat. The barberry sauce provided the perfect compliment to the warm, roasted flavour. It was really, really good.

The Fat Duck

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Mock Turtle soup, pocket watch and toast sandwich)

This was Blake’s favourite meal of the day…. Another true spectacle. The dish was a recreation of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter Tea Party and achieved that goal ten million percent. We were presented with beautiful glass teacups filled with a broth, and had a gold pocket watch dipped into our teacups. We were told to swish them around, watch it dissolve and bring the broth to life – it was really amazing. Also, as we found out when we hesitantly took a sip, we were drinking gold leaf. Never have I felt so fancy as the time that I drank gold leaf. It was playful and fun, great to look at, and delicious. The ‘egg yolk’ was actually some kind of gelatine that tasted something like a cross between mushroom and egg. I truly don’t have the words for this one – it’s one that you need to experience.

The toast sandwiches were also great – one of the filling was toast! Surprisingly delicious.

The Fat Duck

“Sound of the Sea”

Another signature Heston moment.  I had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately didn’t enjoy it very much. Which is crazy because I crave sashimi/sushi all the time. This dish was designed to look like a scoop of the ocean right in front of you. You were even given a sea shell with an iPod inside it and instructed to listen to the sounds of the ocean whilst eating. It was incredibly impressive to look at, it truly looked like the ocean, but perhaps that was the downfall for me – I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I was literally eating the ocean. Not such a pleasant idea for me. I think we were the odd ones out because everyone there seemed to be devouring every single bit of this meal – sand (tapioca), sea-froth (some kind of stock) and all!

The Fat Duck

Salmon poached in a Liquorice gel with Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

Another hit. This was superb. It was perfectly cooked, with a thin film of very mild liquorice encasing it. The vanilla mayonnaise was delicious, I could have eaten this one three times over.

The Fat Duck

Powdered Duck, Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache potato puree

Yet another total standout meal. I think about this one all the time. It was the best duck I have ever had. It was the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. It was the best… umbles I have ever had? Confession, I didn’t eat them. They are hearts. I can’t remember which animal but I don’t want to eat any hearts. No thanks. Blake did though, and he said they were great, so there you go.

The highlight for me was the ‘cigar’ of duck meat. It was soft and tender with a plum sauce, spectacular eating.

the Fat duck

Hot and Iced Tea

Another Heston spectacle… This was delicious, but that’s not what was spectacular about it… If you can possibly imagine such a thing, imagine drinking a cup of tea, and as you sip, the left hand side of your mouth is icy and the right hand side of your mouth is hot. Through some scientific trickery, Heston has figured out how to literally split a cup of tea down the middle, with no physical barrier separating… Somehow the two liquids coexist and it’s bizarre and exciting to try! Definitely a highlight of the meal.

Eggs in Verjus, Verjus in Egg

Argh… No… maybe THIS was my favourite. This was insane. It looked like a normal chicken’s egg, sitting on a bed of straw. When you cracked it open, it was filled with a tangy lemon icecream, with the eggshell being a super delicious white chocolate. This meal was nuts. I couldn’t shake how much like a real egg it looked…

 

Botrytis Cinerea

This was a deconstructed set of grapes ‘infected’ with something… Sounds gross, but it really, really wasn’t. Each grape was completely different, different flavours, textures, scents and sizes. I couldn’t quite tell what each one was but some were fruity, some creamy, some chocolatey, one had popping candy in it, some were sour, some very sweet, it was a true mixup of flavours yet everything worked in tandem.

 The fat duck

Whisk(e)y Wine Gums

This was a cool one – we were each given a little map in a frame, which had wine gums representing different whiskeys… Glenlivet, Oban, Highland Park, Laphroaig and Jack Daniels. If you let it rest on your tongue and heat up slightly it began to melt and completely overpower your mouth not only with the taste but the subtle burning of whiskey. It was genuinely a good indication of the real flavours of the different whiskeys, and fun to follow it around the map.

 

“Like a kid in a sweet shop”

As we were in a bit of a rush, we had to take this one to go… but not before Blake received a birthday card signed by Heston himself. Cheers H-B! We were given these beautiful pink and white candy-striped bags (gorgeous huh!) with three take-away chocolates – one white chocolate queen of hearts card, a caramel with an edible wrapper, and an aerated mandarin chocolate.

All in all, our 4-hour lunch at The Fat Duck was brilliant. It was very cool to experience a three Michelin starred restaurant and only fitting to do so for Blake’s 30th. It will be a long time before we do anything as fancy as this again, partly to appreciate it more, but mostly because it was really not cheap… Think of the most expensive meal you’ve ever had it and multiply it by lots. But, it was definitely a great experience that we will remember and talk about for many, many years to come. Also, they somehow figured out that Blake was left-handed at some stage during the meal because they began to serve everything to his left and swapped his knife and fork around…. That’s pretty cool. That alone was worth it 😉

Our town

After a whole afternoon of house-hunting one Saturday in February, Blake and I found ourselves a teeny tiny little studio apartment in a lovely part of London. When I say teeny tiny, I mean teeny tiny, and even that is maybe generous… It is one room, and not a very big one at that. But it’s perfect for two people who don’t spend a lot of time at home because they’re always out and about, and we love it. It was a nice change from a share-house with some very eclectic housemates in a scary/dangerous building and one we had been looking forward to for several months. So on a rainy Tuesday we packed up all our worldly possessions which miraculously fit into two suitcases and a couple of garbage bags and headed over to our new home in Belsize Park.

I am in love with the area. I feel so lucky every morning wandering out to work. There are usually birds chirping, the sun peeking out from behind clouds, kids are skipping down the road to school, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods, it feels like a movie set. Or a musical. Or a dream sequence. Either way, it’s great. The area is packed with things to do, gorgeous restaurants and cafes, shops, and my favourite part of our area is Hampstead Heath. It might even be my favourite place in London. Am I calling it?! I think I’m calling it!

But let’s start with The-Church-Down-The-Road-With-The-Daffodils…

church

This place is actually no longer functioning as a church but rather an ‘event space’. I hear it’s beautiful on the inside, but I’m pretty happy just looking at it from the outside to be honest. This is a treat to walk by every weekend. We can actually see the steeple (just!) from our apartment as a little reminder of how nice it is living there.

steeple

Steeple!

Then just a stroll down the road is Hampstead village, a very British and quaint little place filled with shops and pubs:

You’ll regularly walk past buildings and trees that look like this:

And if you want to go to one of the gazillion beautiful cafe’s you can walk down this glorious street including, much to my excitement, a Zara Home store:

If you should so desire you could also visit John Keats’ house where he lived 1918 – 1920:

And you could also have a wander and admire all the brightly coloured doors that find themselves on houses here… this is my favourite! What I would give for a lovely white house with a bright yellow door…

And last but not least, you could then spend hours and hours in Hampstead Heath. From Parliament Hill with arguably the best view of London city in London, to the more rugged areas enclosed in woodlands, to the expanses of mowed parks perfect for games of cricket and soccer.

 

And within Hampstead Heath is the very impressive Kenwood House built in the 17th century, which hosts a Vermeer and a Rembrandt… and a really fantastic collection of shoe buckles for all you shoe buckle aficionados out there…

Kenwood House

All of the above is within a 10 minute walks of our tiny little home. And within 15 minutes tube trip to the centre of London. Yep, feeling really great about the decision to move here.

Bath

As the final stop in our Christmas extravaganza, we drove over to Bath in South-West England to check out…the … well…baths.

Words do not describe this place. It really felt like we had been transported to ancient Roman times. It’s incredible to me that these hot springs and buildings were built around 60 AD (that’s a whole lotta years ago) and has more or less survived after all those years. Even the lead pipes that were hand built to carry the water from the springs back in 60AD to the actual baths themselves are still in tact. Insane.

roman lead pipe

roman lead pipe

 

roman baths

 

 

Roman baths

It was a great tour, really well set-up for families and youngeons too as there were lots of littlies having a fantastic time. Another highlight was the indoor museum on the ground floor of the main bath, giving detailed explanations on the people, artefacts and the area at the time. We bought the audio tours which ended up being a great idea. I could definitely have spent all day wandering around the baths pretending I was a Roman Goddess. You can’t actually bathe in these baths, and I’m not sure you’d want to because the water looked pretty murky in places, but they did have a filtered version of the water that you could sample at the end of the tour. It was definitely not the most refreshing sip of water I’ve had, in fact it tasted like what I imagine a drain pipe tastes like… but now I can say I’ve drunk from Roman baths.

Bath as a town was beautiful. Majestic is the best word to describe it. As most of the town was built in the Georgian era, the majority of the buildings are stunning original Georgian stone which is definitely easy on the eyes. Walking down beautiful, wide expanses of avenues towards the Holburne Museum (an art museum) we were hit with photo opp upon photo opp upon photo opp…

holburne museum

This is the Holburne museum itself…

 

This is Pulteney Bridge which was very impressive and again, magestic which seemed to be the word of the day in Bath. Some of you may recognise this from the scene of Javert’s suicide in Les Mis…’ I’ll escape noooow from the world… from the world of Jean Val Jean….’

Then after a loooooooong walk in the setting sun we intentionally-stumbled-upon this amazing place, another World Heritage site, Royal Crescent built in 1767 which I wanted to move into immediately.

I was pleasantly surprised by Bath and actually can’t wait to head back there and spend some more time exploring. I didn’t really know what to expect but was totally blown away by the awesome architecture and generally fancy European feel to the whole place. I’m sure there is way more to see in Bath, we only really scratched the surface, but my what a surface it is!

 

Christmas in the Cotswolds

You know that movie ‘The Holiday’ feat. Kate Winslett and Cameron Diaz in which they house-swap and Cameron’s character heads to the English countryside to a teeny tiny little secluded stone cottage for Christmas? That’s basically the atmosphere in which we spent our Christmas last year (minus the snow which we somehow avoided completely over winter). I actually researched that specific house from the film to see if we could spend our Christmas there, but it turns out it was a set… Nevertheless, to the Cotswolds we headed to attempt to recreate what I had imagined would be a British winter!

As our first UK Christmas and our first Christmas ever away from our families, we wanted to make it special and as Christmassey as possible, knowing we would be without the usual traditions that have awaited us every December 25th for as long as we can remember.  We tried to start our own traditions and used the time to relax, cook, eat and explore parts of the UK that we hadn’t yet seen.

With Blake’s last day of work being Christmas eve, I spent the day picking up last-minute groceries, including our 2kg Christmas ham, and packing aforementioned groceries into a suitcase. Somehow for five days away we managed to completely fill up two suitcases and I could barely carry mine… a kind gentleman helped me down the stairs at the tube station and actually joked ‘what do you have in this thing? Bricks?!’ ‘Nope, a Christmas ham’. Brilliant.

We jumped on a train to Swindon to then pick up our hire car, and after a near disaster in which the car was running on a completely empty tank and we didn’t know where we were and it was late on Christmas Eve, we were saved by a petrol station, filled the tank and headed on the road. Two hours and lots of Christmas Carols later we arrived at our adorable little cottage, unpacked and Skyped all my family in Australia (as it was Christmas morning there!). Stockings were set up by the fire and a glass of wine was consumed before heading to bed.

Then, fa la la la la, Christmas Day!

Christmas Jumpers to prove it 😉  PS how good is that view to wake up to?! I had to pinch myself every morning.

We awoke late, had avocado on toast and Skyped Blake’s family to greet them all and wish them a happy Christmas. Thank goodness for technology I tell you.  I was privy for a few glorious minutes to the annual Christmas celebration at a family-friends house via Skype, watching them sing and play live music in their living room. We opened our presents, started a fire, listened to music, ate a delicious cheese board for lunch and prepped the Christmas dinner.

Blake who likes to outdo himself on a regular basis in the kitchen, made a roasted quail with pine nuts as an entrée, and baked our Christmas ham with a whisky glaze. I was supposed to make gingerbread for dessert but didn’t so we ate lots of chocolate instead. Of course being only two people we had completely overcatered and were eating ham for the rest of the trip, but it was delicious.

We listened to James Taylor Christmas Carols, danced around the cottage, watched Christmas movies, I lazed in front of the fire and we generally enjoyed each other’s company. It was probably the only one we’ll ever have with just the two of us, so although it wasn’t nearly the extravaganzas either of us are accustomed to, it was pretty special.

On Boxing Day after recovering from a few too many glasses of wine, we discovered a bizarre/amazing combo British tradition in the form of a Fox and Hound hunt. Yep, just like every stereotype ever. We drove to a town called Cirencester and wandered into a park, following a crowd and not really knowing where we were going. We were greeted with this!

NB They don’t use a real fox, but rather a trail that the dogs follow. Still, it was cool seeing the hounds all head off, the dudes with the jodhpurs and fancy blazers riding their horses and playing bugles, there were a lot of real country folk and it was a lovely way to start the day. Note to self, buy Hunter wellingtons if attending future fox/hound hunts in the English countryside as we were very much the odd ones out without them.


We then discovered a nearby Roman wall, still partially intact, sitting just behind a row of houses. Just casually the backyard for a bunch of families. A wall. From the Romans. From who knows how long ago. Amazing! That was definitely a ‘Europe is cool’ moment.

As expected, the Cotswolds is a stunning area. It was probably the most beautiful landscape I think I have ever seen, even in slightly gloomy weather at times. This is a typical road to drive along in the area…

We spent the following day cruising around and choosing towns in the area that had adorable names to visit. Or not so adorable in the case of Slaughter and Upper Slaughter (which ended up being such sweet little towns… with tiny little doors in all the houses, reminiscent of a time when humans seemed to be much shorter!). The houses are ridiculous. Gorgeous old stone, often covered with vines, all you want to do is wear a frilly apron and listen to old Italian opera whilst cooking in the kitchen, occasionally going outside to feed the ducks/pigs/chickens. Maybe that’s just me… but that’s definitely what I wanted to do.

My favourite town that we stumbled upon was Bourton-On-The-Water… the most idyllic little town with a high street complete with stone bridges, a  river running through the centre and a huge model village display down to scale, that included a model of the model village within the model… Adorable!

It was really nice to wander through the town, coffees in tow, with the haze of Boxing Day permeating the air.

We did a lot more driving around, taking turns choosing songs to accompany our journey and selecting towns to stop at just because. I can’t recommend the Cotswolds enough for anyone who likes a good mixture of food, history and natural beauty. And it accompanied our first UK Christmas perfectly!

 

Disneyland Paris!

Celebrating Courtney’s birthday was always going to be a huge event. But it’s safe to say that for her most recent birthday we  outdid ourselves by jumping on the Eurostar from London St. Pancras to Disneyland Paris to spend 2.5 days eating and amusement riding…  and generally basking in the glory that is Disneyland Paris – French style!

The Eurostar in itself was a great experience. It’s pretty wild for people who are accustomed to 2 hour long train journeys not even taking you to another state in your home country (I could barely get from my parents’ home in the suburbs to the city in less than an hour!), let alone to another country… We had a nap, a hot chocolate, and before we knew it we had crossed the English Channel and were hurtling through the French countryside.

Upon arriving we were immediately greeted by excited children (most dressed as their favourite princess/character) and families, the faint smell of carnival food and the parks themselves in the distance. There may or may not have been a sing-a-long of part Of Your World whilst waiting for the bus. We jumped on a bus and headed to our hotel to check in and get rid of our bags so that we could enjoy a few hours at the Walt Disney Studios park.

We stayed at Disney’s Newport Bay Hotel, one of the official Disney hotels, which is truly decked out in Disney theme in every sense of the word. Because I am a fool, I didn’t get any pictures of our room or the interior of the hotel but you can take my word for it, it’s great. It feels like you are on the set of a 1930s Shirley Temple movie. Everything is wooden floorboards and beautiful white walls/door frames, red and gold tassels and cute little sailor hats. Although the weather was not particularly glorious, we didn’t care. We were at Disneyland Paris!

Newport Bay Hotel - looking pretty gloomy!


Walt Disney Studios ended up being slightly less exciting than what we were geared up for. It seemed to be stuck in the ‘80s, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing,  but there weren’t that many rides, nor people, it had a bit of a ghost-town feel to it. We went on Crusher’s Coaster (a Finding Nemo themed ride) as our first ride, which I had thought would be kid-friendly and lovely and slow…. but OH MY GOSH…. it was crazy! There was a lot of spinning, a  whole lot of being backwards and it generally made me regret having just had a coffee. But we did it! We spent about an hour wandering around, went on another ride or two, and then hit the Disneyland Park for the main event….

BOOM!

Maybe it was just because it was Christmas time and everything was Christmas themed, maybe because the sun was just setting, maybe because… you know… it was Disneyland… but there was so much excitement and a buzzing in the air, it was truly a magical feeling. Hoards of tired families with little ones in strollers yawned as they exited for the day, but we were just beginning. First stop, Space Mountain.

Is it crazy that the first rides we went on were really intense rollercoasters? Absolutely. Also, I lost my expensive Urban Outfitters hat that I had only christened THAT DAY in the depths of the abyss that is Space Mountain. Who wears a hat on a rollercoaster.. the answer is me. #regret. Anyway, so Space Mountain was really crazy and I think I had my eyes closed for most of the ride because I only remember seeing one thing which was a terrifying vortex of red lasers that made me really dizzy. As I screamed in terror, I silently prayed that we may come out of the experience alive and we did, sans hats, but we absolutely had to sit down for 15 minutes afterwards and recover.

We hit another two or three rides that evening before settling down in front of the Disney castle for the fireworks show… Frozen-themed! (NB. this was before Frozen had actually come out let alone taken over the universe in a barrage of youtube covers, so we didn’t really know what we were watching when a Snowman was projected onto the castle and Let It Go started playing, but retrospectively I know exactly what it was all about now)! The show was nothing short of spectacular. Incredible fireworks, water fountains timed perfectly, insanely beautiful video projection, it was my favourite part of Disneyland Paris and we indeed went back two more times to see it. And it was all multilingual! Half in French, half in English, with a few Christmas carols thrown in in Spanish/Italian/all sorts of different languages. Brill!

We had a buffet dinner that night at Walt’s Inventions Cafe, which was delicious. I also fulfilled a childhood dream courtesy of The Babysitter’s Super Special #1 ‘Baby-sitters on Board!’ in which I think it was Karen who wanted to meet Disney characters in a Disneyland restaurant… Photographic evidence:

The following morning we were really classy, you know, being in France and all, and stopped at the McDonalds just outside the park for some breakfast, which I think ended up being cheeseburgers because we missed the breakfast cut-off. We hit all the lands in Disneyland that day and rode some things twice (Peter Pan, Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones…) as well as had a very fancy three course lunch at Walt’s American restaurant (can anyone say crème brulee that we couldn’t finish because we were so full from the amazing meal?!). I didn’t think I would be eating particularly well on my Disneyland experience but we managed to get a really gorgeous seafood buffet and three course meal in the mix. Not bad!

We did all the classic rides, It’s A Small World, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and even ended up on the kiddies Fairytale storybook rides on little boats. They ended up being my favourites for some reason… There was something so sweet about it. It helps that everything is in French which adds an extra level of sweetness! On one particular ride you slowly boat along a ‘river’ past various storybooks and little miniature models of those Disney stories… Magical.

I couldn’t get over how adorable everything being in French was.. Like this:

We had a minor mishap in which the ride Blake had been looking forward to (Michael Jackson’s ‘Captain Eo’) was closed (!) when we went to see it…. But the following day, we could all breathe easily, it was open again… There was also not a single person in the queue. Turns out an 80s nostalgic ‘4D’ film is not the most popular Disneyland attraction (It was actually pretty cool FYI):

Then there was that time that we went on the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride and Blake covered his face. I think that ride is designed for small children. Amazing. Additional photographic evidence in the front row:

We spent the last day picking up some Disney souvenirs, taking it easy and riding our last few favourite rides before heading back on the train to London. And that, my friends, was C’s birthday at Disneyland Paris.

 

C & AD in London

We were very lucky to have two fabulous visitors for 12 days in December – C & AD! The time flew in the blink of an eye I tell you. We could have spent a lot longer than we had to spare gallivanting around, but anyway, we soaked up every minute of those twelve days and managed to accomplish a huge list of lots of tourist activities, cooking, eating, chatting and even a trip to Disneyland Paris (which is a story for another blog post!). Blake and I stayed in an apartment with our London guests in Limehouse which was an adventure in itself – it was such a treat to be able to spend quality time with them rather than just meeting up for dinner, negotiating London crowds and then going our separate ways for the evening. Instead we got to stay up late chatting (my favourite!), have breakfast and dinner in our own kitchen, watch telly and really soak it all in. It was perfect.

Highlights of the London segment of The Great C & AD Trip To London of 2013 included:

Borough Markets

A visit to literally the greatest place on the earth. Anything you want to buy that is delicious, you can buy here. For that reason it is always really, really busy… but worth facing the hullabaloo for what awaits at the Borough Markets. It was great to see Blake and C totally in their element (good food is both a love and a skill for these two masterchefs). We tried hot meat on baps (bread rolls) from the famous Roast Hobbs Meat just outside the market, we did several laps of the different sections of the markets and free-sampled to our hearts content.

Blake and Courtney devised a plan for eating pheasant (?!) for dinner, courtesy of a Maggie Beer recipe, and went on a mission to acquire the necessary ingredients for a roast pheasant whilst AD and I attempted to keep up. By the way, if anyone is wondering, roast pheasant is delicious. I have learnt to not ask questions and just try it with Blake’s sometimes obscure choices of ingredients, as his cooking always blows me away. Also, if you ever want to buy a bizarre meat product (python, anyone?), the Borough Markets is the place.

Look at that cheese! Have you ever seen such a cheese!

Literally chilling outside the markets with insanely good hot chocolate. It was really cold that week.

London Bridge Experience
After our guests had overcome their jetlag, we really made the most of it and spent the next few days being the biggest tourists of all time. This included a genuinely terrifying visit to the London Bridge Experience. C is a thriller connoisseur and I think even she was scared by this place. If you don’t like the idea of spending an hour being squeezed in between giant blow up air mattresses in the dark which actually make you feel like you’re suffocating, having random people jump out at you with running chainsaws, and generally terrifying scenarios which we were all very scared of, don’t do the London Bridge Experience. It was actually great fun but I needed to sit down for five minutes after we were done… No pictures were taken because I could barely breathe let alone get my iPhone out…

Visiting the London Eye
This one had been on our to-do list since we arrived and we had been waiting for the opportune moment to join the very long queue along Southbank and ride the eye. The time had come! It was beautiful. We managed to get there during a sunset and the views did not disappoint.

 

Southwark Cathedral
We had lunch at the Southwark Cathedral, which I also didn’t take pictures of because it was right after the London Bridge experience and I really needed some time to recover from the most terrifying experience of my life. But, it was delicious.

Southbank in general…
We spent a few hours wandering along, taking in the sights and the sounds…

Theatre
We were lucky enough to see two shows in a matter of days… Courtesy of the very kind AD who sure knows how to spoil her niece/nephew/ring-in! ‘Twelve Angry Men’ was a brilliant play, clever and funny and intense with almost no elaborate set-changes, costume changes and the same characters on the same stage at all times… Yet it was completely engaging and didn’t lose me for even a moment which after a really long day at work (I was late to the play and had to sit up in the heavens by myself!) was no mean feat.

We also saw the classic play ‘Woman In Black’ which also had an audience of giggling schoolkids *shakes fist* laughing at inappropriate and tense moments, but nonetheless, was a fantastic experience. Thank you so much AD…!!!!!

Food
As always with these folks, we ate well and we ate plenty. We had burgers at Five Guys, more burgers at Shake Shack, treats from M&S, and the creme de la creme for me was celebrating Courtney’s birthday in style at Burger & Lobster in Soho… Where there are two things on the menu at the silly price of £20 each – silly if you’re getting the burger but awesome if you’re getting the lobster! We celebrated with lobsters and delicious cocktails. It was a very happy birthday for a wonderful lady.

It was pretty thrilling being able to spend quality time tourist-ing around town with loved ones, and I for one can’t wait to do so again in the not too distant future.

…did I mention that C, B and I also got on a train to Paris Disneyland? Cos we did!

Shake Shack and Matilda!

For my birthday late last year, I was treated to a night at the theatre, seeing a show I had been desperately fan-girling over for several years since I heard about it opening on Broadway. As possibly my all-time-favourite movie and book as a child, Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ is one of those stories that I’ve always loved, and as soon as I got wind of the fact that Tim Minchin was writing the music/lyrics I knew it would not be one to miss.

So on a particularly freezing cold Thursday evening, Blake met me in Soho outside my work and we wandered through the brittle November through West End, to Covent Garden’s ‘Shake Shack’ for dinner. Shake Shack was something I had only recently discovered existed in the UK (having seen it pop up on my favourite US bloggers websites, Hey Natalie Jean and Love Taza for years) and I was BEYOND EXCITED. I can barely even say ‘shake shack’ without cracking a huge smile. It’s every bit as delicious as I hoped it would be. Definitely a place we take and will continue to take family and friends visiting because it is that good. Cheesey fries, simple and delicious burgers and more. We have since been back many more times and one day I will do a more comprehensive review of each individual item because it is honestly worth more than just a mere picture. This is not a drill.

It’s also in a fantastic location; Covent Garden is among the more buzzing and exciting areas of London, with plenty to do, see and eat. There’s usually some kind of live opera going on whilst you eat your Shake Shack/Jamie Oliver’s pop up restaurant/whatever else cool eateries they have there, and it’s lots of fun to sit and people watch for a little while. Expect a queue at Shake Shack, but also expect for that queue to be totally worth it!

photo (10)
Blake is a crazy person and had a hot-dog, but I knew better and had a Shack burger. Obviously the superior choice.

Matilda was an absolutely fantastic musical, probably the best show we’ve seen in our time living here. The story is gorgeous, the music is beyond intelligent, the characters are great, the sets, costumes, actors, every single thing about it was flawless. It doesn’t try and pretend that it’s a huge epic like Les Mis or Phantom but it gets the story and the vibe exactly right. I’d love to see this again some day, I loved it that much.