Monday, 23 June 2014

All the fun of the fair!

Monday morning and I am wishing I had somehow managed to fit in a full day of sleep before the return to work (maybe a three-day weekend is the way to go?). This weekend, I met Newcastle and experienced my first hen party. Needless to say, I am exhausted!

I headed up pretty much straight from work on Friday night, and really rather enjoyed my three hours on the train! As I'm sure is apparent, I love to travel, but I'm always saying to people that I have a slight feeling of guilt that ultimately there is an awful lot of my own country that I haven't seen! Such a long train journey, however, took me through some new parts of the country and although I didn't stop, it was still very exciting! I can now say I have seen Durham Cathedral (if only from the window of a train)...

I always forget how very flat most of London and all of Norfolk is, so to be met with a Travel Lodge sitting on such a steep hill that the 'ground floor' we were staying on was from the outside of the building actually 3 stories up was quite the shock to the system! Something I was expecting, but could never have expected to be quite so true, was how friendly Northerners are... but they really are! Once off the train I actually felt more lost than I usually do in foreign countries, but in no time I was greeted by a taxi attendant who soon got me headed in the right direction. Once out of the taxi, I popped into the Tesco I had spotted nearby to equip myself with champagne, and was allowed to go in front of several men in the queue for the checkout for no apparent reason (I wasn't looking good, this was me after a full day at work followed by 3 hours on a train)!
The thing I was most nervous about was meeting a group of people I'd not met before (my skills in the art of socialising tend to be a little lapse), but I received a warm welcome from all even as the late-comer (very poor form from the bridesmaid) and we were all soon acting as though we'd known each other for years! As soon as I was made-up and had some Apple Sourz down me (classy), we braved the night.

We decided on a bar call Florita's, which was a circus bar with 'entertainment' (this consisted of a woman failing to walk on stilts and another who alternated between fire-eating and wielding a grinder around), the constant thudding of house music and for some reason, a 'live' saxophonist (which reminds me I forgot to mention the live violinist in Barcelona... bizarre)? The atmosphere was good, and we did get free bottles of champagne, but I think the tone was set when we were told on our arrival that they would not allow us entry in our 'fancy dress'... we were just wearing sashes over our normal clothes. I wonder whether hen parties send people into a bit of a frenzy?

After a surprisingly sound night's sleep in a Travel Lodge, we managed to rise at a pretty reasonable time in order to venture out into Newcastle for the day. Having missed breakfast in the hotel, we were suddenly struck with a craving for McDonalds, so made a beeline for the town centre in the hope that we would find one there. It didn't stand out to us as they usually do, but we did eventually locate one (with the help of an elderly lady who clearly sensed that we were lost so took pity on us,  but seemed a little disappointed when we were told her we were looking for McDonalds and not a point of cultural reference) and satisfied the cravings!

Having awoken feeling sprightly, food slowed us down, so it took us a while to summon the strength to get up and out again! Nevertheless, we managed it eventually, and went to see what shopping Newcastle had to offer! Having made a few worthy purchases, it was time to pay a visit to the travelling fair that happened to be there when we were; perfection!

My most frequent encounters with a funfair have been in Kings Lynn at The Mart, which opens on Valentines Day every year (highly romantic). Although I absoltely love fairs and would happily go every year, there came a point where it was less socially acceptable to be seen there/concern grew over who or what one might bump into there, so I stopped. It was therefore quite magical to be able to wander around one, concerning myself only with the excitement, and not with the potential for unfortunate encounters.
I really am a big kid, hypnotised by flashing lights on spinning, swaying, bouncing, whirling, twirling rides, the smell of sweet things in the air and the sound of throw-back music and that 'fairground voice' that calls out to you, tempting you to 'buy your tokens at the cash box for the next ride'... magical. Although my only experience of a funfair of such magnitude was Goose Fair in Nottingham at night when I was much younger, this one still brought back memories of all kinds! Rides seem to have this crazy effect where you can't stop laughing the whole time you're being vigorously jostled about, I mean, who can be unhappy in such circumstances? Highlight of the weekend for me!

Call us crazy, but Pizza Hut followed (probably better after than before), where we all went to town on the salad bar and stuffed ourselves with pizza. All of us defeated, we then trooped back to the hotel armed with pizza boxes, which seemed to cause quite a stir through the streets; 'give us some o' your pizza love?!', 'you gonna share that with me'?... no.

VIP at Tiger Tiger was booked for 9, so we made a pretty early start (although having said that, there were people dolled up to the nines when we were eating our pizza, so perhaps it's the done thing when in Newcastle) to the club. At this point, the only other people in the room we were in were another Hen Party and a Stag Do... need I go on? Unfortunately, for some reason, my stamina was appalling over the weekend, so I made an early retreat to bed, and as a result missed some pretty dramatic happenings which I was filled in with the next morning.

A leisurely check-out time and not so late to bed meant Sunday breakfast was possible, so we filled ourselves up before making our way to the train station for home. The Travel Lodge was in a really lovely location, right by the river. I did manage a sneaky view or two (one when we invaded the Tesco next door to stock up on food for lunch on the train) of bridges and water, but a walk along is definitely something I need to return for!

I was really pleasantly surprised by Newcastle, with it's unusual mix of architecture and overly friendly residents. It was a real treat to be a tourist in my own country for a change and I can definitely feel some more weekend trips coming on!

Thursday, 12 June 2014


Over half term, a spontaneous trip was made to Barcelona. It's a city I've been wanting to visit for a while, and it was a lot of fun, but it wasn't quite what I expected!

When ma and pa had paid a visit and returned with relatively mediocre reviews, my response was that it must be a city more suited to 'young people', and I'd say that's probably quite accurate; the issue is that as 'young people' go I'm not all that young, at least not in the mind so in terms of my likes. Barcelona was fun, really fun, but it's not exactly the most attractive place in general.

If Gaudi does it for you then you might disagree, but my argument would be that beyond his quirky creations, there isn't a lot else that stands out to the eye. I admit I was a pretty huge cynic when it came to Le Sagrada - not only did it not blow me away, but I then found myself to be concerned about the cost of it all, and less than impressed to think that by the time one side is 'complete', the scaffolding will probably still remain in order to repair the crumbling mess that the other side will become. Admitedly, we didn't go inside (so there's reason number 1 to go back), so maybe I missed a trick.

Now I've seen a lot of it (mainly from the comfort of an open-top bus), it's good to know where I would return to if I were to go back. This time I feel that there was a lot of weeding through the rubbish in order to find some nice bits.

Barcelona was beautiful for the fact that it is a city with a proper beach (although for some reason (please don't judge me) I did not know this), which is something I don't think I've really experienced before. Unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side and most of the time the rain came down, but we did manage one morning and one evening on the beach and both were lovely (and the morning even resulted in tanlines - YES skin)!

Another place I could happily spend a sunny day was Park Güell, one of Gaudi's designs. The view was pretty spectacular, and it was nice to see greenery and colour (perhaps it was just because of the rain, but Barcelona seemed to be lacking in grass, in exchange for an abundance of grey)!

I'm not entirely sure how or where to begin, as before we had even taken off, there was drama aplenty caused by a case of 'mistaken suitcase identity', which meant enlisting most of the staff at the Duty Free and the security at Gatwick to track down an elderly lady (actually it turned out she wasn't even that elderly, so we're not entirely sure what her excuse was) who was clearly very confused (to put it nicely). I must say, they were pretty on point and managed to track how down in next to no time. Once she had sloped back, head hung in shame, to return the suitcase, we headed for the champagne and caviar bar to calm the nerves and delighted in seafood platters. It's times like these that I totally condone being at the airport in plenty of time!

We were staying in a hostel in Barcelona, in a girls dorm because we thought it would be quite fun... upon our arrival at about 11pm, the room was in darkness and EVERYONE WAS IN BED!? So we snuck around, making our beds, trying to figure out under-bed lockers, and getting ready to venture out to meet a friend who happened to be in Barcelona at the same time as us (that was pretty exciting) to drink gin a-plenty.

Our first morning was spent on the beach, soaking up rays and trying not to get swept over by the current in the freezing cold sea! Once our tummies started to rumble and the sun went behind the clouds, we headed inland to a tapas bar that had been recommended to us by a friend of my friend. We were advised to get there as close to opening as possible, as it was very popular. It was also a little tricky to find, but thankfully we made it in what felt like perfect time, as although it was indeed already buzzing with people, there was a small space at the counter for us to prop ourselves up. We both marvelled at the selection of tapas, the atmosphere and the price of cava, and tried to imagine the existence of such a place in Hoxton. We couldn't. When the bill came, we were even more enthralled, as a bottle and two extra glasses of cava and several plates of AMAZING tapas had come to a mere €20! Obviously we made the unanimous decision that we would return!

From the tapas bar, we moved on to do a little sight-seeing. We had been invited to a DJ set in a location nearby that evening, so we decided first to scout out where we might have to head back to. We didn't find the exact location, but we found the general area, and figured it wouldn't be too hard to find later... oh how I laugh now.

We wandered the streets relatively aimlessly. By this point it was trying to rain, and we had to head back out quite early so didn't have long before we'd need to return to the hostel to make attempts at sprucing up so we wouldn't stick out like sore thumbs at a Marc Jacobs party. Of course, real rain always has marvellous timing, and on our way back the heavens really opened! The Brit in me was armed with a waterproof sports jacket (yep, I own one of those), but the lashings of horizontal rain were still enough to soak through my bottom half. With such a tiny luggage allowance, 'evening outfits' had been left behind (although I had managed to squeeze in one pair of heels, which I would later regret), and at this point I feared that my ploy of turning day into night was not going to be appropriate if I was still soggy. [Un]fortunately, during the day we had had decided to go shopping anyway, as we weren't entirely sure that 'day to night' outfits were going to be quite enough for us to blend in... I hope my sarcasm is quite clear enough!

Shopping in Barcelona, home of Zara and Bershka was not at all bad. H&M, as always, provided plenty to choose from, but it was new shoes from Stradavarius (had to make a purchase, it's a shop named after a violin!?) that turned a day-time outfit into something a little more classy (that was until we were drenched having wandered around in the rain for an hour... more on that later). Thankfully, when in Europe, rain and warmth happen at the same time, so by the time I awoke from the nap that I just seemed to fall into as soon as I was on a bed, I was relatively dry!

It was recommended to me that while in Barcelona, squid ink paella had to be consumed. So we chose this evening to give it a go before funds ran too low! We found ourselves in a restaurant by the marina and close to the venue, where in addition to our squid ink paella (which, by the way, actually stains your mouth!), we also drank sangria and received complimentary champagne in flutes with insanely long stems; stems so long, in fact, that they had to be placed in a jar to stand up, and were not at all easy to drink from, as you (I) kept knocking the table and each time were (was) struck with fear that they would smash at any moment. The waiter really didn't seem to want us to leave, but we'd been advised to make a pretty early appearance at this party to benefit from the open bar, and were already an hour later than suggested.

Eventually we escaped his not so evil clutches, and went in pursuit of the party. I'm not entirely sure how to explain the debacle that prevailed. All I know is that Barcelona squares are confusing, and even the locals had no idea where we needed to be. So, we wandered the streets for AN HOUR, getting more and more bedraggled in the rain (which refused to stop, but instead turned into a pretty ferocious storm) and me feeling less and less like I wanted to make an appearance, in a desperate attempt to locate where we were meant to be. Extreme frustration thankfully subsided to masses of relief when at last we landed ourselves at the door (by which point most people were leaving, not arriving), and when faced with a mirror it transpired that I didn't even look anywhere near as bad as I felt, so that was quite a comfort. The venue in question was some sort of office space with pop-up bars and a roof terrace with beautiful views across the marina (well, we'd already got soaked through, why not continue the trend in the open air?). The footage of the advertising campaign on a big screen lit up the entire dance-floor, which was less satisfying, but it was a great set as always, and we made the most of it having finally arrived!

Before home we found ourselves in a bar for another 'foreign exchange', shall we say? This one was more short-lived; a taxi was hailed and bed happened.

The next morning saw our last full day in the city, and we decided we'd go in for the hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tour. I think we may have been slightly more fatigued than we realised, as although we were expecting to be leaping on and off, never mind hopping, we actually end up sat on the bus for about 5 hours, alighting once. Impressive - we certainly got value for money!

Our stop was at Park Güell, which I'm glad we did! Honestly, beyond La Sagrada, I'm not entirely sure where else we should have stopped... the view of everywhere from the bus was perfectly adequate, at least when the roof wasn't up to shelter us from the rain - red tarpaulin isn't so interesting, it has to be said.

By the time we got off for our final stop, our legs weren't entirely convinced they could remember how to work, but we did manage to wander back to the hostel, this time to find the lights on and loud American teens in the room... suddenly the dark and sleeping people didn't seem so bad.

Once the initial shock had subsided and we began to grow accustomed to the accents (I'm not saying we enjoyed them, I think it was just a case of them becoming easier to drown out somehow), we actually decided that we would accompany them and some more amenable Canadians on a night out organised by the hostel. Once suited and booted, down to the bar we went for our free shots to kick-start ourselves into going-out-mode (as I like to call it). The club in question was on the beach, and had such a good atmosphere. We had arrived at a time I would consider super early, so were a little concerned that it would be pretty dead, but in fact it turned out to be quite the opposite. We made a beeline for the bar upon our arrival (not to return as drinks were so expensive), and as soon as our drinks were finished, the dancefloor was packed and we were sorted for the rest of the night! Though they may have been expensive, drinks were also pretty (very) good value for money, as my Tequila Tonic was a lot Tequila, and very very little tonic, so the night is a bit of a blur, but I can definitely say that it was a lot of fun. Made me realise I literally couldn't (and still can't) remember the last time I had been out just for a club night as opposed to for an event. I think I'd reached the point of thinking I'd 'out-grown' club nights, but since my return have wanted another one to occur very soon!

Check-out of the hostel was at 10am, which having been the last stragglers the night before, was a pretty massive struggle. Nevertheless, we heaved ourselves up and out for one final day of exploration before bidding farewell to Barcelona. I had a huge intrigue for the 'Barcelona Gherkin', as I decided to call it, so we began our exploration at the base of the city to discover what the building really was. From there, we had a closer look at La Sagrada, and along the way passed some other interesting buildings and sights.
Unfortunately, with the weather at its worst, it seemed that by lunchtime, everyone had decided to shelter in the market off La Rambla, so we were unable to stop there for tapas. Perhaps it was the hangovers, or tiredness, or by this point hunger, or the persistent rain, but we then struggled to find somewhere else to eat and sort of aimlessly wandered, unsuccessfully, for what felt like forever. We did manage tapas, but not the tapas we'd wanted, so I guess that's something to go back for?

I think the overall verdict is probably that Barcelona would be a very different place in the sunshine. It was, as I began with, a very fun place to spend a few days, and I'm sure I'll return in the future. Let's see!

Friday, 6 June 2014

The month of May

As May was spent catching up on April's holiday extravaganza, I thought it best to condense some of the best bits. Admittedly, I was half expecting to be able to do this at the end of May itself before it could be rendered totally redundant, but it seems I have slowed down my writing pace, so instead I bring this to you now, in June. It may well have been easier to just pretend May didn't even happen, but I couldn't have people thinking I spent an entire month indoors, particularly not when there were two bank holiday weekends and a half term holiday to account for!

The first bank holiday weekend kick-started the month, and, as always, I managed to pack plenty in! The Friday night saw myself and my school colleagues venturing out of familiar territory and to Angel, where we danced on a male-dominated, illuminated dance floor. Not sure I'll be doing that again, no one needs to see my face that clearly...

On the Saturday, I made my way to Norwich. I'm so glad I decided to keep my hairdresser there as my appointments are providing the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and check-in with the Fine City. It's always nice to experience a little fresh air and a lot of sky and to come away from the hustle and bustle for a while (even on a busy day in Norwich the city feels practically empty to me now). While last time I had failed at the art of coordination, and managed to see no one and do nothing besides sort my hair out, this time saw my return to some favourite haunts, which in turn saw my missing the last train (to be fair to me, it was CRAZY EARLY... although no, I didn't check), but hey, at least I was having a good time!
Following my being late to bed the night before my journey, I set off at a relaxed pace and arrived just in time to go straight in to the hairdresser. My usual stylist was unavailable this time, and the prospect of someone different always fills me with dread. Nevertheless, she was of a very similar nature; not too much pointless chit-chat, and not too crazy with the scissors (I really am very easy to please)!

Once out of the hairdresser, I met a friend from my teacher training and found myself ordering a cocktail at The Ten Bells (notorious for particularly lethal combinations) before I'd even really had time to think about the fact that I was probably actually still hungover from the illuminated dancefloor (plenty of Dutch Courage required). Writing this such a long time after the event, I'm now frustrated because I can't remember what I had to drink, and I was going to be an advocate of it... never mind, maybe it will come back to me. It had gin in it anyway, which is never a bad thing! After the one drink, my powers of persuasion sprung into action and I managed to convince my friend that I needed to visit more places, which meant more drinks, which meant a car needed to be driven home to remove barriers.

In the meantime, I stumbled into the Travel Agent (I hope not literally) and got locked in in order to spend far too much money on flights for the summer before meeting my friend again.   

The next port of call was the Bicycle Shop where tequila and tapas were the order of the day (yum!). From there we headed off to Franks as I was suddenly in the mood to cover as many favourites as possible. Sadly (well, for me anyway), Franks is always crazy popular these days so a seat is hard to come by without a wait. In the mean time we graced Bedford's with our presence. Although I only ever seem to end up in there when Franks is full, I actually quite like the charm of Bedford's; who can resist a proper wooden beam? Upon discovering that we would still be required to wait at Franks, we gave up and instead moved on to The Playhouse for some outdoor seating!

It was here that I decided it was probably best to head back for a train before my arrival into London would be too late. So once drinks were finished, I headed back along Prince of Wales to the station... where I discovered the last train had been and gone. Having explored all possible options (including a taxi, coach travel or the bus back to Kings Lynn), I wound up on a sofa where back-to-back episodes of Pokémon were watched until 4am. Best Saturday night!

Sunday finally saw a London visit from my little brother, so I was up and out of Norwich nice and early in order to be ready for his arrival! Unfortunately, I had made a blunder and told him I was stuck in Norwich, so his own departure from home was far more, shall we say, relaxed? He eventually landed in the early evening and we ate pizza (complete with polystyrene base) and drank beer in preparation for Hospitality.

The last time I was at a Hospitality event it was at Building Six at the O2. Having hated on this venue the first time I visited, I absolutely loved it for Hospitality, with its multi-levels making for great views and incredible sound system. This time Hospitality was at Heaven, where they used to have a residency. Upon discovering that Heaven was Britain's largest gay club, I was a little unsure what to expect, especially with 3 males in tow. Nevertheless, the venue was one of the best I have been to, with so much space for manic helicoptering (those who have seen me dance will understand), viewing platforms and a more than adequate soundsystem! Didn't manage to make it to 6am, but we did survive til 4ish, which we didn't think was a particularly bad effort at all!

The following weekend saw a rather different musical experience and a spontaneous trip to Trafalgar Square to see the LSO perform some Prokofiev. It was a wonderfully surreal experience! To be in such a large space with so many people yet for there to be so much peace (apart from for the sound of trundling road sweepers and low-flying planes swooping by every now and again - oh, and the sound of our own incessant giggles that just would not stop!?) was really quite magical. To top it off, the sun even made an appearance - thank youu London!

After a quiet weekend that followed (got to break up the madness occasionally?), the next bank holiday saw my return to Norwich for the end of the NNF. On Saturday night I was hypnotised by Lavinia Meijer playing Einaudi and Philip Glass on the harp in St Peter Mancroft. After a few pints with pork scratchings from Sir Garnet (Lady Garnet's namesake pub) and with a tummy full of food from The Grosvenor, it was an incredibly tranquil experience! I don't think I've ever truly experienced a solo harp performance, but I will definitely be seeking another in the future; so magical! Still in a bit of a stupour, we lasted just long enough for a cocktail accompanied by tea and bread and oils at Frank's (all the food/mixing of everything was a pretty big regret for us both that night, and again, upon reading this back I can see why) before calling it a night.

An intentional walk along the canal this time on the quiet weekend in between the madness.
This time my Norwich stop over was planned, as Sunday I experienced a mighty roast at The Reindeer (as if their pork scratchings weren't enough to blow me away already). Food was pretty unneccessary for the rest of the day. Just, wow. Before roasting, I took a stroll (probably did that the wrong way around) and finally managed to sneak in the Plantation Gardens which certainly didn't disappoint! They have a real 'Secret Garden' feel about them, and particularly so when adorned with enormous pieces of material (the cynic in me may have wondered why someone had hung their towels out to dry) hanging from the walls at the far end of the garden, setting a rainbow backdrop for the rest of the garden, which was still lacking some colour so early on in the season.

Sunday evening back in London was a pub crawling, aimless wandering kind of evening - a lovely end to another pretty hectic weekend! (I even saw a baby fox; pretty exciting?)

The next day marked the start of half term, and a first full reunion since graduation with some very special friends was an excellent way to begin! (As I write this, I am suddenly aware of my alcohol consumption and feeling less sorry for myself regarding the state I am in by this point following half term and the weekend just gone... oh dear.) We met at Southbank and, as usual did a remarkable amount of wandering (although thankfully there were no injuries sustained this time). Somehow we ended up inside The Shard (pretty special) and then carried on to China Town for food because 'it's not that far'... when will I learn?! The best kind of friends are those that you can not see properly for almost two years and yet still feel like you were all together yesterday. Beautiful day!

May was busy! But, as ever, I had so much fun and it was really wonderful to manage some catch-ups with people not seen in far too long. So far, June is already proving to be pretty fun - think I've got that summer feeling (bring on the 6-week holidays)!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Malaga, a pleasant surprise

Our final day on the ship (weep!) and of course check-out of the cabin meant we had to be up and out earlier than we had been on any of the previous mornings. After a rather turbulent night (or so we thought; when sleeping, sounds of luggage trundling along the service corridor do become much more dramatic... turns out we weren't sinking after all), we managed to drag ourselves up and out for one final breakfast on deck.

While most guests were already disembarking for home in the early morning, we were fortunate enough to have until late afternoon which gave us the chance to have another go at Malaga and to enjoy the perks of life at sea for a few final hours.

On our first attempt at heading out we encountered three flights-worth of passengers leaving the ship, so retreated to the promenade deck where we could keep an eye on their movements. When my parents wandered past (not all the way past before stopping to have a conversation across the port), we decided it must be safe to have another go. Our second attempt was far more successful, and for the first time all week, the tower we headed towards was not too far out of reach at all! Although we got caught up in yet another procession of some sort (as I write this, I wonder whether I actually mentioned the procession in Cadiz with the pointed hats?), we managed successfully to wend our way through the crowds, narrowly missing horses doing their business and street sellers offering toy drums, in search of a road sign (as had become our custom) to lead us to the cathedral.

As was also apparently becoming our custom, we managed to approach from the rear, this time to find a much more impressive interior than we were greeted with in Cadiz, with gold embellishments, ceilings that met the sky, and gory paintings galore.

Once out of the cathedral, we headed for the ruins we had seen from aboard ship. Unfortunately today we had not beaten the crowds, and we were not sure that at this stage (having received our 'onboard account' bills) we were willing or able to spend any more holiday money, so instead we settled in a sunny spot on the steps of the small ampitheatre that stood just outside the entrance. The sun moved in no time, so we decided it was time to do a general swoop of the area before retreating.

We found squares, pretty placquards and an abundance of cycle tours and came to the conclusion that Malaga would be quite fun for a night out as there appeared to be many a wine bar, and jazz advertised too!

It was with great sadness that we waved goodbye to Spain and headed back to the ship. Of course on our return we could not help but be very distracted by the sea, so allowed ourselves a short paddle before deciding it really was time to go (before our onboard account was not active, not before our flight, don't be silly!)...

A champagne and Margarita toast in our favourite window seat seemed an excellent way to end what had truly been the most spectacular, tasty, beautiful, surreal, fun, relaxing, idyllic (had to drop that one in there, Lorna) week.

Until next time, cruising!