Coming home the long way – Cuba, Mexico, Vegas, San Fran, Hong Kong, Perth

Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in London and loved to travel. And eat. A lot. Then one day her husband got a job in the lovely sunny city of Perth (what a clever boy) and together, they decided that maybe it was time to go back to their homeland. So they packed up their house (complete with an entire box filled JUST with beer glasses and other alcoholic related paraphernalia) bought a plane ticket (actually, make that plane ticketS, plural…) and set off back to the land down under. The long way. And here goes my story.

LONDON.

Leaving London was HARD although I don’t think I realised it at the time. There was the moving part. I hate moving. The packing bit. I hate packing even more. Dealing with issues like lost mail, apartment cleaning, disputes about bond. Fun. And of course, the goodbyes. I have met so many wonderful people in London, it was hard to say goodbye, especially when some goodbyes might actually be forever!

It’s only really just starting to sink in now that we’ve gone, we’re settling into Aussie life and I’m missing people (in particular a big sister and baby nibling spring to mind…) the lifestyle and other bits and pieces. 

Uncle B getting in one more cuddle
with his littlest nibling.
Baby Bjorn + hands free = beer!
This was definitely one
of the worst goodbyes for me

London, UK – August 2014

When we left, I think I was too excited to be sad because we had a HUGE trip ahead of us. So let me tell you all about it. But first, a confession. 

For those of you who follow me on instagram (be careful, it can become an addiction. One I am slowly trying to cope with due to the fact that internet at home continues to evade me – but wait for my next blog post for THAT scintillating story) I have to apologise for the photos included in this blog post. They’re all ones from my phone, most of which I’ve put up on instagram because well, I’m a PC girl and now I have my Mac, I’m still trying to work out the little things. Like how to get photos off my camera, onto my Mac easily. Perhaps by the time my next post rolls around I will have figured that one out (or skyped my Mac expert sister and asked her).


CUBA.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of Cuba but what we got was certainly different to what I was imagining. It’s almost like the country is stuck in the 70s with no real ‘newness’ to speak of. Actually, that was something I quite liked about it. There were no big corporations, no fast food outlets and no recognisable brands (except for Havana Club rum of course). It was quite rustic and gritty but not in a horrible way.

The taxis were COOL in Cuba!
Havana, Cuba – September 2014

What was horrible though, was the food. Ugh. It was TERRIBLE! My friend J had warned me what to expect but I didn’t quite believe it. 90% of the food we had was just yuck. Although do cocktails count as food? Cause they WERE good! And cheap, oh so cheap! 

As well as the rum museum, we went to the gorgeous beach, visited a Cuban cigar factory which gave me newfound respect for how they make Cuban cigars. It’s quite incredible and is almost beautiful to watch.

Day one of holidays, complete with 
$2 icy cold beers. Life is sweet!
Havana, Cuba – September 2014

Not a bad place to start our holiday
Havana, Cuba – September 2014

We also took a trip to Vinales in the mountains which was just lovely. We visited a tobacco farm and I think highly insulted the owners because we didn’t buy any of their organic cigars. They did NOT believe that we couldn’t get them back into Australia and we sat there for what felt like hours, in silence, while they just stared at us, half expecting us to change our minds and say, “Aw what the hell, we’ll take 40!”

While B got a cigar, I got a coconut!! First I had
the juice, then they cut it open for me and
I ate the entire thing. – coconut piggy!
Vinales, Cuba – September 2014

Our view at the end of our walk. Stunning!
Vinales, Cuba – September 2014

MEXICO.

Officially my favourite country in the whole world (so far). I LOVED Mexico. I had wanted to visit here ever since I watched a Mexican cooking show on tv and it did not disappoint. We went to Playa del Carmen first which was touristy, but not too over the top. The beaches were wonderful, the shopping was excellent and the food was out of this world. We ate it for lunch and dinner for seven days straight and I was STILL not sick of it. Old El Paso is officially dead in my eyes. That is NOT proper Mexican food!

The best food of our trip. TONNES of grilled meats,
loads of sides, heaps of sauces – incredible!
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – September 2014

The best place for food, also did
gigantic frozen margaritas.
Yes, that’s my ‘this is AWESOME’ smile.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – September 2014

Yoga on a very stormy beach.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – September 2014

All that yoga calls for some relaxation under
a palm tree.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – September 2014

Our private hammock on our private balcony
overlooking the pool. I’m not actually as
close to the ground as I seem to be.
I didn’t eat THAT much Mexican food…
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – September 2014

We then visited a water park called Xel Ha on our way to Tulum. It’s not a Wet n Wild, waterslides and wave pools kind of water park though. It was one where you could swim with dolphins, hold a parrot, float down the river on a tube, snorkel with beautiful fish, cannonball off cliffs, flying fox into the water and continually get scared by giant iguanas roaming around the pathways (this was me with every single one we came across. They’re scary ok?! Don’t judge me!) The bonus – apart from the stunningly beautiful scenery and that we had the only sunny day that week, was it was all you could eat and drink all day. Yep, that’s right! Margarita? Sure! Frozen daiquiri? Why not. Pour your own beer – damn right! Oh yes, it was a wonderful place! Thanks to M for the suggestion, best travel tip ever!

Beautiful Xel Ha. All the water
here looked this perfect
Xel Ha, Mexico – September 2014

Our next stop was Tulum. We stayed in a gorgeous beach front cabin which was quite literally OVER the water. Our bath was outside overlooking the ocean. We had a swinging day bed and no electricity. Yep, no lights. It was what B called an eco-hippy-resort and I LOVED it! The electricity disturbs the turtles that nest on the beach so it’s all about candles and relaxation. This meant we were in bed by about 9pm every night and awake before 7 because there were no curtains. 

Our hippy hut!
Tulum, Mexico – September 2014

Swinging on our swing!
Tulum, Mexico – September 2014

What a view!
Tulum, Mexico – September 2014

More beach yoga. How could I not?!
It was perfect yoga conditions!
Tulum, Mexico – September 2014

On a less fun note, we hired bikes and took a back road to get back to our resort. And by back road, it was more like off road. Rocks and bumps, holes in the dirt track followed by a PROPER off road track that was teaming with flies and blood thirsty mosquitos. And then we hit the end of the road. A swamp. Meaning we had to turn and go allllll the way back cause it was a no through road. The whole time it was raining and took over an hour. It was a horrible experience but I guess travel can’t all be margaritas and sunshine.  

Inside, outside and the view from our eco
hut. It was hard to stay grumpy when
this was where we were.
Tulum, Mexico – September 2014 

LAS VEGAS.

From hippy delights to the bright lights of Vegas. What a contrast! We spent a night on the outskirts of Cancun before flying to Vegas and I must admit, having working lights, a proper shower and not having to coat yourself in bug spray every night was AWESOME.

Saying goodbye to Mexico with a trip
to the supermarket (I love a good
foreign supermarket!) with some
mega Oreos. No, we didn’t buy them!
Cancun, Mexico – September 2014

Vegas. What can you say about it? That place is nuts!! Our first night we arrived and were dressed and out the door in less than 40mins. To say B was excited was the understatement of the century. He was buzzing! All glammed up in my high heels and sparkly Vegas dress, I immediately noticed I was overdressed. To the point that all the people around me were in flip flops, shorts, bikinis, singlets or in some cases, no shoes at all. Awkward…

The classiest casino around.
Las Vegas, USA – September 2014


Ok, so we WERE in the Hooters Casino but still, I had at least expected shoes! On L&G’s recommendation, we had to try the famous Hooters chicken wings and I’m pretty sure that’s what made me sick for the next two days! Still, when in Vegas, one must try the local eats!

He’s got his wad of dollar bills
ready to rock (and gamble!)
Las Vegas, USA – September 2014

The colours, the lights, the cocktails –
Vegas is like nothing I’ve ever experienced!
Las Vegas, USA – September 2014

Day two, B went to a shooting range and had fun with weapons. It’s not really my style and beside, I would prefer to spend my money on clothes or shoes! Speaking of which, we went to the famous Vegas outlet stores and spent up big. Buying so much stuff, that we had to buy another suitcase just to fit it all in.

We celebrated our second wedding anniversary while in Vegas and B surprised me with a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon. It was INCREDIBLE. One of the very best things we’ve ever done in all our travels. Amazing views (we got to ride at the front next to the pilot!) breathtaking scenery and a picnic lunch with bubbly makes for a pretty good anniversary!

BEST anniversary present ever! Thanks B!
Can’t wait to see what he’ll get me for year three!
Las Vegas, USA – September 2014

Front row seat!
Las Vegas, USA – September 2014

Incredible. We had the most perfect
day for it too!
The Grand Canyon, USA – September 2014

Another thing ticked off my bucket list!
The Grand Canyon, USA – September 2014

I found it TOUGH to find healthy food in Vegas. We ended up at The Cheesecake Factory (a real place for all you Big Bang fans!) and the food was good! In amongst the dedicated cheesecake menu, the all you can drink soft drinks and the main menu that went on for pages and pages, I was delighted to find a healthy menu. I jumped at the chance to eat vegetables and baked fish. Divine! Don’t worry, we also had cheesecake and it was delicious! We tried to go for something simple, rather than the double chocolate or red velvet or dripping with caramel or sugar with sugar topped with sugar options. Plain vanilla cheesecake with fresh strawberries – perfect! Except the strawberries were dipped in a sticky pink sugar syrup and piled with whipped cream. American’s sure know how to ruin the simple pleasures like fresh fruit!

The lights, the noise, the heat in Vegas are all out of control. It’s so over the top and just in your face all the time. We visited Old Vegas (so cool!) mastered the skills of getting free drinks in casinos in the quickest way possible, went to see Mystere by Cirque du Soliel which was wonderful, and had the BEST steak dinner thanks to our incredibly generous friend TF. Seriously, this steak (oh, and lobster too, nearly forgot about that!) was melt in your mouth. The sauces were amazing and it came with bacon and brie tater tots – awww yeah! Complete with a bottle of Sonoma Valley red, it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had (with a price tag to match). From this, it sounds like all we did in Vegas was eat but I assure you, a lot of gambling was also done. B even tried out the pokies at the airport, getting his fix right up until we had to board the plane. 

The Mirage our fancy home in Vegas!
Las Vegas, USA – September 2014

The lights of Old Vegas
Las Vegas, USA – September 2014

SAN FRANSISCO.

The first thing I noticed about San Fran was the number of healthy places to eat. For our first meal, I had a salad and I nearly sighed with pleasure. Health food stores on every corner; I could order a burger without the bun and they’d wrap it in a giant lettuce leaf for me; the best sushi of my LIFE; organic, vegan, vege wraps at the food markets – I was in heaven!

Grilled chicken ‘burger’ in a lettuce wrap.
They must grow the most enormous lettuces in
the US!
San Fransisco, USA – September 2014

There was a whole bakery dedicated to gluten-free
foods! I thought it would have been rude NOT
to try a sweet cheese danish.
San Fransisco, USA – September 2014

The most incredible sushi I’ve had in my life
(and I’ve eaten a LOT). The Sumo Roll on the
right rocked my world. Ah-MAZING.
San Fransisco, USA – September 2014

Cold pressed coffee made with almond milk. I nearly
squealed with excitement when I found this!
San Fransisco, USA – September 2014

To counterbalance all the good food I ate, we took a trip to the Sonoma Valley for a wine tasting day out and it didn’t disappoint. Actually, if I’m honest, I found most of the wines only ok. Drinkable definitely, but nothing to write home about (B called me a wine snob). Still, it was a great tour and a definite must do if you’re ever in American wine country.

The Golden Gate Bridge. On
our way to our wine tour and also
proof that I did take photos of
things other than food.
San Fransisco, USA – September 2014

We visited Alcatraz (SUCH an amazing place, great audio tour too) and the famous worlds crookedest street. We explored the crazy touristy piers and did a LOT of shopping. I say ‘we’ but really, it was B who went on a shopping bender. These happen maybe once every two to three years so I am always very relaxed and just let them run their course. “What do you think? Should I buy it? Should I get it? It’s on sale!” were the words I heard over and over again on our three days in San Fran. I spent so much time waiting outside the mens change rooms at Macy’s department store, that I even witnessed a guy trying on a tie, checking himself out in the mirror, then bolting for the nearest exit. Err… did anyone else see that??

Typical tourist spot. The crookedest street
in the world – Lombard Street.
San Fransisco, USA – September 2014

Ridiculously enormous gummy bear anyone?
No. We didn’t buy it (we didn’t have room
in our suitcase, sorry L!)
San Fransisco, USA – September 2014


HONG KONG.

Leaving San Fran on a 1am flight meant we flew all night and arrived in Hong Kong at 5 in the morning. Finally on Perth time, we were able to get rid of our jet lag here, meaning we were right as rain when we arrived in Aus.

Hong Kong was great! A bustling city filled with delicious food, cheap electronics (hello from my brand new MacBook Air) and busy little street markets. When we checked into our hotel, the lovely staff said they would have our room ready by 11am so we didn’t have to wait until 2pm to have a sleep. 

We went in search of breakfast and very nearly ended up in a McDonalds until we discovered a local restaurant where the man spoke very good English. We had bowls of delicious noodles and yum iced coffees before setting out onto the streets to explore. When 11am rolled around, we crossed our fingers that our room would be ready and hooray, it was! We showered and collapsed for a much needed sleep.

On our two day visit, we also saw the symphony of lights, tried all kinds of dumplings and street food, had a massage so hard that I was bruised the next day, got lost on the metro, and bartered hard to bring home even more amazing trinkets and souvenirs. Honestly, B is brutal, he drives a hard bargain. I’m sure most owners think he’s going to be a pushover and then he takes them to the cleaners! Mamma Mia (only those who witnessed B’s hardcore bargaining in Thailand for L&G’s wedding will understand this one. I know Italian isn’t the main language of Hong Kong). 

Symphony of lights
Hong Kong – September 2014

Dim sum for breakfast, cheap and cheerful!
We ate where the locals ate and were NOT
disappointed!
Hong Kong – September 2014

Some sort of street food. B loves to try random
things in local markets!
Hong Kong – September 2014

Beautiful buildings in Hong Kong. And this is
hashtag no filter too! I found them fascinating.
Hong Kong – September 2014

And now I’m sure everyone’s FAVOURITE part of my blog – the travel magnet update, complete with my personal ratings!

Nothing but magnets for sale in this shop.
Brilliant! Although surprisingly not the only
dedicated magnet shop we came across
on this trip!
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – September 2014


* Cuba – a Cuban cigar. Obviously! 6/10
* Mexico – a sombrero topped with a miniature Corona and taco. Bravo Mexico, bravo! 7/10 (a full blown taco would have been even better – no such luck).
* Vegas – typical pictures of Vegas landmarks behind the glitter-water filled 3D magnet with two tiny dice that roll around in the water. Nice. Classy. 7/10
* Vegas – a mini football that doubles as a bottle opener. Only purchased because it’s from Hooters 7/10
* San Fran – a mini replica of their famous trams. Classic, not tacky 7/10
* Hong Kong – a skyline showing the symphony of lights 6/10
* Hong Kong – a bowl of noodles complete with tiny chicken wings, bok choy, chopsticks and noodles hanging off the chop sticks. Bought simply because it was a food magnet, 3D and is AWESOME 9/10 (it loses a point because we bought it at the airport so it was expensive).

And here they are, in all their glory
Perth, Australia – October 2014


PERTH.

Final stop, Perth Western Australia. We’re here! We’re back! I still can’t quite believe it! But I’ll save all our Perth stories, my cuddles and adventures with my niblings, the ‘fun’ of setting up home, all for next time. Cause I’m actually a bit worried. What will I talk about now? Do I need to change my blog name to LifeLove??Food… 

THE END (for now).

Homeward bound. For real this time!

We’re coming home.  No really, we are! I have said this so many times to friends and family over the last four years, that it is now met with a roll of the eyes, a few “yeah rights” and “I’ll believe that when I see it.”
 
But now it’s true. No really, we are moving home and this time I ACTUALLY mean it.
 
Four years ago we put our Canberra lives in storage, took unpaid leave, put our house up for rent, bought two backpacks and moved to London. The first three months we traveled to some amazing countries. Then we spent about a month doing nothing but sleep late, watch Come Dine With Me marathons on TV, play Wii Sports (why exercise outside when you can play tennis in your living room!?) and apply for endless jobs. In the beginning, things looked a little dire but come December time, we were both employed and our fun really began. 

First month in London at the
Monster Munch pub. Heathrow injection
anyone?!
June 2010 – London
Tourist pic – it had to be done
June 2010, London

Fastforward to right now and I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of our incredible overseas adventure. I have loved everything about it and we’ve been through so much! My first experience of a backpackers (where I have since learned that this particular place in Cardiff was NOT the norm and used bandaids and clumps of hair under the bed were not to be expected at all backpackers – ugh, makes me shudder at the thought!) my first sharehouse (nine people in one house!) living with my cousin, ticking country after country off my list, an engagement, my first nephew, my wedding, a proper white Christmas, a niece and another nephew… All in four years.

THAT hostel. Doesn’t look so bad here…
Cardiff, June 2010

Party fun times – Amsterdam on
our Top Deck tour
August 2010
Just a couple of places we’ve been.
Tunisia; Cyprus; Sicily; Finland; Dubai;
The Dead Sea, Petra, Amman – Jordan
AMAZING!!

Sometimes I wonder why we’re going home. I love it here! The travel, the culture, the food. So much to love! But at the end of the day, I’m an Aussie, sunshine loving girl through and through so home it is. 

There is a bit of sunshine
in London sometimes…


When we told our families we were on our way back, no one believed us. Not until we’d bought two one way tickets home, signed on the dotted line and sent many boxes of all our amazing travel trinkets and wonders back. Oh, and posted it on Facebook. That totally means things are legit.

Bye boxes! See you in Aus…
 
But before we go, there has to be travel. Of course there does! Stay tuned for what might be the last ever travel bit of my blog (what will I write about then?!?) as we have one final adventure before our new Aussie lives on the west coast begin. But before that, there has to be some a love blog and some more healthy stuff! Next blog post coming soon! 
 
Thanks for reading, all my readers make me so happy!

The travel bug never stops

So close… so very, very close to hitting that much anticipated fiftieth country! We recently hit number 46 when we took our long awaited summer holiday to Cyprus. Yes. We travel a lot. Yes. I know you all want to roll your eyes at me when I say, “But weekend trips away aren’t holidays!” But I’m sticking to my guns and am adamant when I say this was a PROPER holiday!
 
When we travel, we often bounce around a few cities in a weekend or our total time away is less than four days. This time, we booked a trip to Cyprus for NINE NIGHTS and we were staying in the same place the WHOLE time! I know, exciting!! The thought of being able to unpack and just relax was something I was looking forward to more than ever before. Again, get ready to roll your eyes at me when I say what I’m about to say. Travelling is amazing but it’s so tiring and sometimes you forget to take in what you’re seeing because it’s so quick and rushed. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love every place we visit and I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to see all the amazing places we’ve seen, but when you fly back on a Sunday night late, your flight is delayed, you stand in line at passport control, race through the airport to get the train, then have to change and get another train, and you get through the door close to midnight and know you have to get up and go to work the next day… it’s exhausting! I know, I’m hearing the violins too!
 
And so to Cyprus. We stayed in an absolutely beautiful villa with loads of room, a full kitchen, dining and lounge room, two bathrooms, Cypriot bbq and a huge pool. It was absolutely heavenly! We were a ten minute walk from lots of bars, restaurants and shops and just five minute from a number of breathtaking beaches. With crystal clear waters, perfect blue skies and warm summer weather, it was exactly what I’d be hoping for and so much more.

Our villa
Cyprus, June 2014
B of course, can’t sit still for very long and was trying to plan something for us to do every day. He soon realised that he needed to compromise – one day of ‘nothing’ followed by one day of ‘doing something’. On the ‘doing something’ days we spent a day at the waterpark, acting like great big kids and having an awesome day out. Although I am officially a waterpark snob… the best is still Wet ‘n Wild on the Gold Coast and this one in Ayia Napa was good… but not Wet ‘n Wild good. We spent a day at the beach and in the town of Ayia Napa – a cross between Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, and Patong in Thailand. VERY touristy, but that’s what you expect really. We discovered purely by accident, some sea caves with some of the most beautiful water I have ever seen in my entire life. It was perfection.

The colours just blew me away
Cyprus, June 2014


To be honest, that was kind of it. We cooked delicious food on our Cypriot bbq, swam in the pool every day, went to various beaches (my favourite was Nissi Beach and our almost private beach cove five minutes from our villa) dranks lots of Keo beer and yummy cocktails (and some not so yummy ones… margaritas in Cyprus vary from delicious to what-on-earth-is-that-it’s-absolutely-disgusting. Ate lots of hummus, haloumi, pita wraps, frozen yogurt, icecream… ah, I love holiday food!

Breakfast in the sunshine. I was a geek…
I took my own homemade muesli
Cyprus, June 2014
Cypriot bbq deliciousness
Cyprus, June 2014
Rose and chocolate gelato – mmm!
Cyprus, June 2014
It’s a cocktail!! In a PINEAPPLE!!
Cyprus, June 2014
So a whole nine nights have been and gone. It actually felt like we’d had a proper holiday and had been away for ages but at the same time, it flew by way too quickly. Cyprus and it’s incredible beaches has truly cemented itself into the number two spot in my most favourite country of all time list. Or maybe third. But definitely top three. I think. Arrrgh, too many amazing countries to choose from!! 

Speaking of which, our next trip will see us visit Cuba, Mexico, The US (Vegas and San Fran) and Hong Kong. Stay tuned, it’s gonna be awesome. But for the time being, here are some photos to show you how wonderful our Cyprus trip was.


Morning walk
Cyprus, June 2014
Exploring beautiful beaches
Cyprus, June 2014
Sea Caves. Absolute perfection
Cyprus,
 June 2014
Baaaaarrrr!! Pirate ship at
the sea caves
Cyprus, June 2014
Being sun safe!
Cyprus, June 2014
Beautiful Nissi Beach
Cyprus, June 2014
Beach time. Yes, that’s a beer. Of
course it is!
Cyprus, June 2014
Look at those COLOURS!
Nissi Beach, Cyprus
June 2014
Cypriot iced coffee – yum!
Cyprus, June 2014


Hola España! And food, glorious food!

Life

When I first started drafting this blog post, I was sitting on a flight back from Bilbao and sunny San Sebastian in Spain, trying to pass the time. It made me think just how wonderful life is. We had an incredible time eating delicious food, walking along gorgeous beaches and drinking amazing wine (more on all of these in my travel and food sections). I know we’re so incredibly lucky to be travelling so much to all these fabulous places. I don’t know if I ever want to stop but I guess it all has to come to an end at some point. Besides, I’ve realised that sunny weather makes me so much more cheerful and living in London is not the place to be if you need sun to be happy. B and I worked out that it has been six and a half months since we’d had sunshine on our pasty, white skin! That’s just not normal! 

Mid-flight to España
April 2013
8pm in San Sebastian! 8pm!!
April 2013


In previous blog posts, I have mentioned I will report back ‘at a later date’ on a few things and that later date is now! Firstly, that 10km run I mentioned forever ago. I hereby allow myself to brag (although it’s pretty old news now so won’t be quite so boastful) that J and I did one of my new year’s resolutions from 2012 in that we actually completed a 10k run! Ok so it was in November last year but I announced our plan in an earlier post and forgot to say we did it!! It was painful and rather unpleasant. I even found I was talking to myself on the last kilometre, willing myself to keep going and that it would all be over soon. We ran the entire way (except the hills for me that made me feel like I might actually pass out – who puts hills in a 10k run for goodness sake?!) but J never stopped once – she was amazing! I’m not really in a hurry to sign up for another one (my feet, legs, hips and back severely hated me for months afterwards) but I’m incredibly proud that we did it!

 
Excited to get started
Greenwich Park
November 2012
WE DID IT!
Greenwich – November 2012


From my last blog post, I dedicated a little bit at the bottom to B to see if he actually read his wife’s blog. Amazingly, he actually does but I’m still suspicious that he got a tip off from his mate P who’s wife R, reads my blog!! Still, at least if he doesn’t read it, my lovely friend R does!

As always, the life section of my blog is the least interesting part cos I spend much of my time thinking about food and travel so let’s just move on to the much more fun bits!

Love

I can’t believe that after an entire year and a bit, my sister L has sent a photo or video of my sweet little nephew K, almost every single day. So impressive and it’s one of the things I love most. It definitely deserves top spot in the ‘love’ part of my blog. It makes me feel like I’m not missing out on seeing him grow up even though we live so far away. I hate that I’ve only met him once but the daily photos keep me closer and for this, I am extremely grateful L. Thank you!!

It seems a bit petty to move from the love of my beautiful nephew onto something as trivial as this… but in my defense  it’s more of a love for B and besides, I couldn’t put EVERYTHING in the food and travel sections so this bit is going in the love part. We have discovered a new (sort of local) pub in our area called The Sussex Arms. Before you roll your eyes at me putting a pub in the love section, just know this. This pub not only has an amazing selection of beers and ciders from little local breweries across the UK and the rest of the world, it also has a loyalty card. A beer loyalty card! Buy nine pints, get one free. Genius. It’s in B’s top three pubs in the whole world. It deserves a spot in this section, don’t you think?

Beer loyalty card. Brilliant.
The Sussex Arms, Twickenham
April 2013


One last thing for love. My parents had been over in England for around two months, exploring London, northern parts of the country and Ireland. I’ve loved them being here (perhaps not cramped into our tiny one bedroom apartment but all the other times!) It just felt so nice and normal to meet up for dinner, or go shopping for an afternoon. I do wonder if it was a tactic of theirs to come over, make me realise how much I miss them and make me want to go home sooner…

Travel

Yippee! I love writing about travel! Remembering where we’ve been and what fun we’ve had is so brilliant. Our first was a trip we took for Easter with J & L and my parents. Despite the terrible weather (freezing. Absolutely freezing!!) we piled into a comfy little canal boat and set off down the canals to Foxton and Welford. It was so much fun and we had a ball. We even managed to successfully manoeuvre through a ten high staircase lock. Awesome fun! We cruised during the day, stopping for country walks and fun pub dinners. I did have an epic blonde moment where I asked B if, because they were marked with numbers that matched their mother’s… can lambs read? As soon as it came out of my mouth, I instantly regretted it. B just smiled at me, a bit of pity in his eyes, patted my head and walked away. I really should think before I talk…

Little lambies!
Welford, England
March/April 2013
The kids!
Canal boating
March/April 2013
It was pretty fricken freezing!
Canal boating
March/April 2013
A beautiful sunny Easter Sunday morning
Welford, England
March/April 2013
Canal boating with the family for Easter
March/April 2013


Our next trip was our first overseas trip in five whole weeks. I know, aaaaages hey?! With my new shiny new passports with my brand new last name in tow, our April trip took us back to Spain for the third time. This time we went north to Bilbao and San Sebastian. Oh the sunshine, the food and the wine! We had a quick trip in Bilbao, arriving late Friday night. We took the opportunity to sample some local delights and let’s just say that Saturday ended up being an entire day spent with a pretty epic hangover. Damn you cheap and delicious rioja!!

Spanish delights
Bilbao, Spain
April 2013


On the Saturday we took a bus to San Sebastian. We spent the day wandering the lovely old town, testing the pintxos (similar to tapas) and soaking up some much needed vitamin D. It was glorious! We lay on the beach, took a walk up the big hill where the views over the city were beautiful. No swimming though… the water was freezing! I’d love to know what it’s like there in summer because we were there in spring, it was about 16 degrees and the locals were all in jumpers and scarves!

 
Sunshine… but still jacket weather
San Sebastian, Spain
April 2013
San Sebastian
April 2013

We also ate incredibly well. The local cider was really sour and impressive to watch being poured as they must pour it from a height as it’s the first time it’s been aerated. You couldn’t have a big night on it though! The wines were delicious. Local rioja was some of the best we’d ever had although after Friday’s effort, I was a bit scarred from it so stayed on the white on Saturday. But the food… oh. my. goodness. Easily some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. Roasted Iberico pork rib; veal and goats cheese stuffed pepper; octopus; veal cheek in red wine sauce; slow roasted duck and a new taste for us both but utterly delicious… pigs ear with chimmichurri sauce. Wow, wow, wow! Happiness is Bar Borda Berri and I cannot recommend it enough. They are getting five stars on my trip advisor review!

 
Cider, pintxos, rioja and vino blanco
San Sebastian, Spain
April 2013
Beautiful views over San Sebastian
Spain – April 2013
The best pintxos I’ve ever tasted. EVER
San Sebastian, Spain
April 2013
Colours of San Sebastian
Spain – April 2013

Food

Homemade Moroccan tagines, High tea at The Savoy, Saturday brunch at The Table Cafe, gastro pub food at Ales & Tails, tapas in London at José,  lobsters with the family at Burger & Lobster. Oh food, how I love you!

If I talked about them all in detail, we’d be here all day so here are the highlights of each one.

Homemade Moroccan tagines. Two attempts, two successes. I don’t want to brag but… well, I will. I adore cooking in my tagine we bought in Marrakech and have used just one recipe to cook for my brother-in-law L and a second time, our friends R and P. Both times it turned out great – I think it’s my new signature dish!

My new favourite cooking method
Homemade Moroccan lamb tagine


High tea at The Savoy. This was an early Mother’s Day present for Mum so J and I had the tough task of taking her one Sunday. I don’t want to sound like a snob but it just wasn’t that great. Nice enough, lovely surroundings and so much fun to be there with my big sister and my Mumzie but for what it was, where it was and the hype that surrounds high tea. It was only ok.


Tea time at The Savoy
London – April 2013
High tea delights
The Savoy, London
April 2013
Happy (early) Mother’s Day Mumzie!
With J and Mumzie. Just missing L…
The Savoy, London
April 2013


Saturday brunch at The Table Cafe. Family brunch with not just J & L but Mum and Dad AND my cousin A and her husband B. I love family times like these and I like them even more when you get mimosas, decent coffee and dishes such as ham hock baked beans with chorizo, poached egg and hollandaise sauce atop a bagel. Delicious!


Brunch. One of the best ways
to spend the weekend
The Table Cafe, London
April 2013


Gastro pub food at Ales & Tails. When it’s done right, gastro pub food is one of my favourite types of food. And this place was beyond brilliant. Ham hock terrine with pickles, bloomer toast and hot mustard; seared scallops with black pudding and crispy bacon; saddleback pork chop with mustard mash and perry cider jus; slow cooked ox cheek with red wine jus and purple sprouting broccoli and bacon dust. Amazing tastes with an equally amazing beer selection. Bravo!!

Chocolate stout and pretty decor at
Ales & Tails, Twickenham
April 2013
Delicious entree. Gastro pub food
at it’s finest
Ales & Tails, Twickenham
April 2013
One of the best pork chops I’ve EVER had
Ales & Tails, Twickenham
April 2013


Tapas in London at José. A Friday night in cool Bermondsey St with two of my favourite London girls. Happy days. Spanish cheeses; warm beetroot and walnut salad; patas bravas; calamari; chorizo (two kinds cos one just isn’t enough) meltingly tender steak. As good as you’ll ever taste in Spain (but three times the price – but hey, that’s London I guess!)


YUM! Authentic Spanish tapas in
Bermondsey Street, London
April 2013
My London girls
José – April 2013


Lobsters with the family at Burger & Lobster. A menu with just three choices. Burger. Lobster. Lobster roll. Our order was six grilled lobsters with chips, salad and butter sauce please! We went here to celebrate (about a month too early) Dad’s pending birthday. I think it was the quietest I’ve seen any of us when we were together! Utterly delicious at an unbeatable price in London. I wouldn’t say no to a third visit…


Everyone loves a pinchy!
Burger & Lobster – Soho
April 2013
Happiness at Burger & Lobster
Soho, London
April 2013

It’s time to eat!

And the blog posts continue! Look at me go! 2013, the year of being organised.

This time it’s all about my favourite subject. FOOD! I’m kind of combining it with travel cos much of the tastiness has come from our trips away. So let me start where we last left off… Back from the honeymoon. Back to work, back to winter, back to reality. Sigh!

But reality does have its perks. Like lovely Toulouse and Bordeaux in France. I was told by my new husband to stop being such a princess when it came to our accommodation in Toulouse. I’m sorry but when the last time you travelled, you stayed in height of luxury and were then faced with the most basic of basic hotel rooms which smelt like stale cigarettes and had a dismal view, I think you’re allowed to be a little bit precious! But Toulouse was all about the food for me. Incredible steak, duck and quite possibly the BEST dauphinois potatoes (oh, that’s ‘potato bake’ for those of you who like me, had to google it the first time you heard it) I’ve ever tasted in my life. I’m sure it contained my entire days worth of calories in just half a serve but it was totally worth it. 

Just some of the French wine, bread and
cheeses we ate. Not all in one day though…
France – October 2012
House wine – amazing!
Toulouse, France – October 2012

From Toulouse to Bordeaux and probably one of my favourite train rides of all time. Fresh French bread, delicious cheese and local wine and I think you’ll agree. Bordeaux we did what you do in wine region. Tasted wine. Lots of wine. Oh so cheap! What a place it was – beautiful food and cheap as chips wine. Sigh! Happy days!

Best train ride ever – wine, bread and
cheese. What more could you want?
Toulouse to Bordeaux – October 2012

Next up was a trip to Belgium – Brussels and Brugge – to take in the lovely Christmas markets with B,J & L. It was filled with frites and mayo, Belgian chocolate, beer, waffles – well, this was just what J ate! Then of course there was the delight that was the bicky burger. None of us knew what it was so we googled it. We shouldn’t have. It’s a mixture of pork, beef and… horse meat. Mmm… tasty… or something we wish we could wipe from our memories and never speak of again.

Bicky burger. Never EVER again
Brussels, Belgium. December 2012
Kwak Belgian beer in Brussels, Belgium
December 2012

Following Belgium was an epic Christmas feast in London at J&L’s place. Two types of ham, an epic turkey (lovingly known as Keith), bread pudding, two types of stuffing, roasted vege, goose fat potatoes. And that wasn’t even half of it. Merry Christmas!

Two baked Christmas hams
Christmas Eve 2012
Christmas fruit and vege, ‘Keith’ the
turkey, Christmas cheese and a London
Christmas tree – happy days!
Christmas Eve 2012
Christmas morning champagne. Cos that’s
just how we roll
December 2012

Moving on to new years and my husband and I (hehe!! Still feels weird saying that!) took a trip down to beautiful Cornwall. We were treated to delightful English weather (grey skies, rain, rain and more rain) but the food was awesome. Clotted cream tea, Cornish pasties, fish and chips and proper English ales and ciders. And then I got to get my food geek on.

Cream tea in Penzance, Cornwall
December 2012
Giant cornish pasties, St. Albans, Cornwall
December 2012

In the delightful Plymouth and after a trip to the gin distillery (complete with a tasting of course) we went for lunch at Canteen, River Canteen, owned by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Everything was from local farms, with organic produce that tasted incredible. Salted cod fish cakes; cured venison; crispy pigs cheeks; chorizo in tomato sauce with coriander and homemade pita, just to name a few. Mmmm!!

My second food geek moment was in pretty Padstow at Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant. Crab and scallop saccotash; fish pie; grilled seabass with mushroom, swede and crispy kale; local cheeses. Just yum. For the rest of the trip, I’m not going to mention how many different ales and ciders we tried cos it would just be embarrassing.

Entrees – The Seafood Restaurant
December 2012
Mains – fish pie and deliciously crispy
sea bass. Padstow, December 2012
Dessert – cheese! Complete with personalised
biscuits – how posh. The Seafood Restaurant
Padstow, December 2012

This brings us into 2013 and the foodiness started in Vienna, Austria. Pork knuckle for two (I didn’t know pigs could get that big) roast pork, Austrian sausages, sauerkraut and by far the biggest schnitzel I’d ever seen in my life. It came just on its own, deep fried, no greens just one hell of a slab of meat. B devoured it all, I don’t reckon it even touched the sides. We’d been to Austria before so weren’t in the market for a new magnet but decided if a schnitzel magnet existed, that would be a purchase too good to pass up. Our dreams came true when we found one… in full schnitzel-glory, complete with a minute lemon wedge. Bravo Austria… Bravo…

Before and after
Vienna, Austria – January 2012

January blues were not going to get to me this year. How could it when it was my birthday and there were new foods to be had? My surprise birthday dinner was in the ever so cool Meat Mission. Dirty great burgers (mine was topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and crispy pastrami – oh yeah) chicken wings served in plastic baskets, deep fried pickles with blue cheese dressing and rolls of kitchen towel to mop up the mess. Epically delicious, I’d go back in a second if I could.

The ceiling and bar at Meat Mission
MY BIRTHDAY! January 2013
Burgers, fries, chicken wings, blue cheese
dip, beer… it certainly was a very
happy birthday! January 2013
Well thank goodness for that!
Meat Mission – my birthday 2013

The very next day we jetted off to Marrakech, Morocco. Another country (and continent!) ticked off my list. What a place! Beautiful weather, lovely people, incredible shopping and delicious food. Tagine with beef, almonds and prunes was my absolute highlight. I know what you’re thinking… old people eat prunes. But I’ve created a new rule. Prunes are only considered old people food if you a) eat them for breakfast b) eat them instead of sweets or c) drink it as your juice of choice. 

We visited a traditional Moroccan house with no electricity and 22 people living under the one roof. They welcomed us with open arms, serving us traditional mint tea, bread, butter, honey and oil. Everything they served was made by them and made with ingredients from their garden and animals. Incredible. Best butter of my life. Take that France.

See, I do take photos of other stuff every
once in a while! Atlas Mountains,
Morocco – January 2013
Lamb, almond and prune tagine as well
as the view over the lovely main
square – Marrakech, Morocco
January 2013
Beautiful skies in the Atlas Mountains
Morocco, January 2013

In case you’re interested, our Moroccan magnet featured a basket of bread and a mini tagine among other things. Nice one! Morocco was also probably our most sober EVER holiday because it is a Muslim country. The drinks we did have (when we were able to track some down) were ever so sweet! I have never drunk so much mint tea in all my life.

Next up was the highly anticipated trip to Gordon Ramsay’ s Maze. Our thoughtful former housemates gave us a gift voucher to spend at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant of our choice as a wedding present. What an awesome present hey?! We dressed up all posh and were treated to some incredible food and the most over the top service I’ve ever received.
It all seemed very fake and almost a little uncomfortable. We had the seven course tasting menu which included celeriac, squid and apple soup; rare tuna on smoked salmon with horseradish; lobster and salmon dumplings; fois gras terrine with pear; venison with sweet potato; Spanish cheese with candied walnuts; and chocolate mousse fondant pudding with mango and star anise ice cream. I was told by a friend that I was NOT to take photos of every course and be that person everyone rolls their eyes at. And I obeyed… pretty much. They were super quick pics and we totally judged those who got out their cameras to take photos. I mean, as IF you would… how tacky 😉 

Dessert course number one – Spanish
cheese with candied walnuts
Maze, Mayfair – February 2013
Dessert course two – chocolate mousse
fondant pudding with mango and star
anise icecream. Maze, Mayfair
February 2013

Next was the slightly less posh trip to yet another all you can eat Brazilian meat place. It was B’s idea to go here cos we had a voucher (do you know how many times I’ve said that in the past ten years?!) The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. A man walks around the restaurant with swords filled with different meats. It sounds a lot cooler than it is. All you can eat includes salads, most of which are stocked with potatoes, rice and pasta so you fill up on this unknowingly and feel sick every time the man presents another sword.
To quote Jeff Bingham from the tv show ‘Rules of engagement’ (and also the character B claims as his idol) “That’s how they getcha.”

Ok one last restaurant and I’ll make it quick. I’m sure you’re all wondering how I’m not the side of a house after all this eating and drinking and I often wonder if my body will ever just give up on me and shame me for being such a piggy! I prefer the word foodie to piggy, just so you know. 

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack! It was like a trip to the posh seaside right in the heart of London. Razor clams; potato pancakes with smoked trout, creme fraiche, horseradish and beetroot; beer battered haddock, homemade ketchup and chunky chips; cod with parsnip puree, quinoa and roasted cauliflower; dory with blood orange and pine nuts; Neil’s Yard cheese board; rhubarb crumble; chocolate brownie… that was between four people in case you’re wondering. Such a yum night!

It was all definitely fresh and local
Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack, London
February 2013
Entrees – Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack
London, February 2013

And in amongst all this, there’s been home cooking and baking all of which are a little bit sweeter now I have a kitchen all to myself! Baking has included lemon drizzle cake with lemon cream icing, vanilla cupcakes with my best ever chocolate frosting and sticky date muffins. My dinners have been inspired by my ever growing collection of celeb cookbooks. Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s 15 minute meals (all of which have taken a minimum of 45 minutes to cook), Gwyneth Paltrow’s Notes from my kitchen table, Gok Wan’s Gok cooks Chinese and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Next time I blog about food, I’ll be sure to report back on any winners (and any failures) from this lot.

Lemon drizzle cake with lemon frosting.
Made using my new mix master
Dan Dan noodles from Gok Cooks Chinese
Just some of my London collection
Cupcakes with the best ever chocolate icing

So many amazing things to cook, so many more amazing restaurants to try. What a wonderful foodie life!

The honeymooners do Greece

From ‘Love’ we move on to ‘Travel’. I’m sure most people close to me are probably very sick of hearing about the wedding so let’s leave that one behind us and move on to the next best thing about getting married… the honeymoon!

Newlyweds!
Athens

And so we relive the delights of our honeymooning-bliss in the spectacular country of Greece. We started in Athens, checking into our hotel with a room upgrade, fresh fruit platter and bottle of wine, complimentary to the honeymooners. Sweet! Day one saw us sample our first of many (… so, so many!) gyros – a kebab with fresh tzatziki, salad and chips – as well as Greek salad, local wine and moussaka (kinda like lasagne but with aubergine/eggplant in place of the pasta). Yum, yum and YUM! 

Mmmm… gyros and beer

For our first full day, we spent it exploring the gorgeous city of Athens. The acropolis, museums, shopping, changing of the guards, the gardens, the history… brilliant! We bought our Greek magnet (for those of you who are interested, our magnet isn’t that exciting but it does include a decoration of olives!) olive soaps, cute little shoes, olives and lots and lots of herbs. 

Greek wine overlooking Zeus’s
temple – heaven!
Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens
Olive trees
Athens
 The Acropolis
Athens
Enjoying some Greek heat
The Acropolis, Athens

From Athens, we flew to the island of Crete. We picked up our hire car from the tiny airport and headed off in search of our resort. It was so well hidden, we almost missed the turnoff. Hidden and exclusive – MY kinda place! 

It was perfection. I will try not to boast but in an exclusive villa, with our own private pool, rose petal path, sparkling wine and love-towel-swans on the bed… well, it was pretty amazing. The staff were some of the nicest people I’ve ever come across, nothing was too much trouble for them and we lapped it up!

I’ve always wanted towel love swans
Diaos cove resort
Our own private pool
Diaos cove resort
The resort – perfection
Diaos cove resort

The resort was designed for laziness. Don’t worry about walking anywhere, take a chauffeured golf-buggy. One set of steps too much for you? Take the funicular. Soooo laaaaazy!

Being lazy by taking the funicular
I swear we walked most of
the time…
Diaos cove resort


Oh, and then there was the food! Breakfasts were just delicious. A daily buffet with so much selection it took me a few days to sample it all. Lunches, if we had room to actually eat them, were local delights – grilled meats, gyros, moussaka (still none beat the original from Athens though) and local beers and wines. 

But dinners… oh the dinners! It became almost a challenge for us to guess what cuisine would be served at the daily dinner buffet. Seafood night. Greek night. Crete night. BBQ night. “You ask what tonight’s buffet will be…” “No YOU ask, I asked yesterday, I don’t want them to think I’m a piggy!” That was our daily conversation over breakfast after we tried to guess what that night would entail.

Another advantage of being on our honeymoon meant we were treated to a delicious meal in their fancy Greek Tavern. I had my third helping of moussaka in three days that night after we ate our body weight in local dips, breads and olives. When dessert came out – a traditional Greek pastry soaked in honey – I literally couldn’t even taste it, I was that full. Just looking at it was making me feel ill to the point that I had to put my serviette over the top of it to get it out of my sight. 

And just one more reference to food – local Greek wine was surprisingly good! Seriously good! I would never have taken the Greeks for wine makers and don’t think I had ever even tasted Greek wine but all the ones we tried were from Crete and they were all amazing. Well, apart from one bottle of sparkling wine that neither of us could finish. And those of you who know B and I well you understand that wine NEVER goes to waste.

But I promise our honeymoon wasn’t all about food. Our days were also spent exploring the island, visiting tiny fishing towns and taking photos of the incredible water. It was some of the clearest I’d ever seen – the colours were to die for. 

No filter. It really did look that incredible
Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos

When we weren’t exploring the island, we spent a lot of time in the resort spa. Another gift from the resort to us as honeymooners, was our own private sauna, steam room and massage bath accompanied with fresh fruit and bubbly. Love is sweet and we sure enjoyed the freebies! That didn’t seem to cut it though so we booked in another day for a couples hour and a half massage. Ahhhhhh, best massage of my life! 

When we’d had enough of the spa, we spent hour upon hour sunbathing on the beach in the sunshine sometimes with a cocktail in hand, getting a tan and living the life of luxury. My pasty-white London body appreciated every minute of the sun and my wedding-stressed mind could not get enough of the hours of just lying on a sun lounger, reading. Doing nothing was bliss and for quite possibly the of the first times in our nine year relationship, B actually enjoyed doing nothing. Amazing!

Our daily beach view
Diaos cove resort
Wine in our pool
Diaos cove resort
Crete
Wandering the resort
Diaos cove resort
Infinity pool
Diaos cove resort

And so eventually, it all had to come to an end. As much as I’m trying to make everyone jealous, you need to remember that as I write this, it’s freezing cold, windy and disgustingly grey outside so perhaps I should stop bragging because I’m only depressing myself.

In a nutshell, it was everything I wanted in a honeymoon. We shopped, explored, relaxed, had endless sunshine, got a tan, ate incredible food, we LOVED it. We were very, VERY sad to come back to sad old London-town. Back to work,  back to reality, back to winter… sigh!

To cheer myself up, next post… FOOD!

Please do sign up to my blog… if you actually like it that is! Scroll to the bottom and you can add your email address so you’ll automatically receive my blog when I update it. I’ll update it regularly, promise!