It's Better to Travel than Arrive?

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

"Robert Louis Stevenson speaks utter tosh and has

obviously never flown long haul economy class"

Kristy, first ever blog post, 2011.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to All!

Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas from me and mine.

I hope that you have a wonderful, peaceful, joyful day and that your 2015 is jam packed full of good health, laughter and adventures.

Apologies for the blog being a little quiet of late, but I'll be back into it in January.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time For a Vacay?

Sorry folks, but my brain has gone bzzzzt and it seems as though I've got a case of writers block.  There's a lot going on in my world right now (all of it good) and I think the blog might have to take a short vacation until things get sorted out and my brain re-boots.

I've got a stack of posts to write on our recent trip to California, and I'll try to knuckle down and get those written and posted in between everything else that's going on.  I'll be here on and off from now until the new year, but not at the frequency I was in the past, and then normal transmission will start again in January.

Thanks again for dropping by and I promise I'll be back!

Oh, and the photo?  A close up of the desert sand in Dubai that I took on my trusty old iPhone.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

70,000 Visits!

Wow, I can't believe it!  This little blog has had 70,000 page visits from you lovely people - I'm amazed and more than grateful - thank you so much!

Oh, and I do know this picture looks a wee bit gloomy, but I took it as I was running back to my car (the tiny white splodge in the distance) after walking the dog in a nearby apple orchard as a storm was about to break.  I managed to make it just as the first huge drops of rain began to fall.

Thanks again to you all for taking the time out of your day to come over to visit - you're fabulous!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Restaurant Review : Bills, Leamington Spa, UK

Ah, Bills, you promised so much!

First the plus points - the staff are lovely and friendly, the restaurant is clean and it looks cool and interesting.

Now the downsides - the drinks and the food.  Yep.

I was travelling alone and had been busy all day, all I wanted was a quick, nice, meal and then to go to bed.  Bill's was next but one to my hotel, hadn't been open long, and looked fab.  As soon as I had the door open I was greeted by staff who obligingly sat me at a table with good light so that I could read the newspaper (one perk of dining alone!).

There was fairly loud "surfy" type music playing which must drive the staff insane, but I started to tune it out after a few songs.  I'd had a big, but ultimately rewarding, day and I really deserved a drink, so I ordered a glass of their Jeio Rose (£5.45) and thought I'd have something healthy also, a carrot, orange and ginger juice (£3.35).  The rose was fine, just what I needed, but the juice was obviously not freshly squeezed and tasted like it came from long life catering packs - very blah, but drinkable.

I saw on their specials list that they had apple and blackberry crumble with custard for dessert, so I thought I'd just have a starter so that I knew I'd have room to fit the crumble in.  I ordered the crispy lemon squid with garlic and lemon mayo (£5.95) - that's where it all went a bit wrong.

The squid came out very quickly, which is fine because you're not meant to cook it for long anyway, and was served in a ramekin, on a napkin, on a saucer.  The ramekin wasn't big enough to use your knife and fork in, and the squid rings were too big to eat whole, so I tipped them out onto the saucer and got stuck in.  They were the strangest tasting things, almost unpleasant, and I couldn't figure out what the flavour was - it sure wasn't lemon.  I layered on a heap of salt, then a heap of the garlic and lemon mayo (which was just mayo with no discernible taste), but it was still awful and I couldn't face a plate of it.

So, for the first time ever, I made eye contact with a friendly staff member who came right on over, and said, very quietly, "I'm sorry, but this is really not very nice and I can't eat anymore of it".  She was very apologetic and asked if I wanted another serve of it, but I really couldn't face it, so said she'd take it back to the kitchen and bring me a menu so I could choose something else.  Great service.  Then the friendly manager came over and apologised again and asked me more details about it, which I happily gave.  He said it was his favourite dish from the menu and he would head to the kitchen and taste it, which he probably did, but I didn't see him again.

Then I ordered the avocado, bacon and spinach salad (£5.50), which came in a small bowl, on a napkin, on a saucer.  Again, the bowl was too small to use your cutlery in, and the spinach leaves were too big to eat whole, so I tipped the lot onto the saucer and dug in.  It was fine, just what it should have been, but the dressing ("Bill's dressing") had a strange crunchy texture to it so it felt like you were eating leaves fresh with dirt still on them.  Odd.

By the time I'd finished the salad, I was totally over the whole dinner experience.  I didn't even order the dessert so you know I wasn't impressed.

I asked for the bill and the squid had been removed from it, which I expected it should have been, then I paid and left - feeling rather let down.
  • There are branches of Bills all over the UK, so if you want to experience it for yourself, you can click HERE.
  • You can check out their menu HERE.
  • You can check out their current specials menu HERE.

140-142 The Parade
Leamington Spa  CV32 4AG

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Restaurant Review : Wagamama, UK

It's no secret that I love Asian food.  I could eat it every day and have zero regrets, and when I'm in the UK I love to visit Wagamama.  Wagamama is a chain of Japanese noodle bar restaurants - very yummy and very reasonably priced.

I've visited the Leamington Spa branch twice this year, and one just off Oxford Street in London as well.  I pretty much always order the Ginger Chicken Udon (£9.25) with a side of Endamame (£4.25) and have one of their fresh juices (£3.40) - YUM!  You can check out their current menu HERE.

The Ginger Chicken Udon is teppan fried udon noodles with chicken, egg, beansprouts, red and spring onions, mangetout and chilli, garnished with pickled ginger and coriander - I always add a slurp of soy sauce from the bottle in the middle of the table too.  The endamame are steamed green soya beans and they come with either salt, chilli or garlic salt and I always stick with plain salt - you eat them with your fingers, popping the pods open and the beans straight into your mouth.

Their fresh juices make me feel like I'm doing something healthy and they're always really yummy.  That said, thank heavens they've taken their beetroot and ginger juice off the menu, that's POWERFUL stuff (yeah, you don't need to know the details).

The staff are always friendly and helpful, happy to explain dishes to people on their first visit.  There are small tables, or long sharing tables where you sit on long benches.  Boxes of condiments, chop sticks and cutlery dot along the tables and the place mats are paper.

Cheap, cheerful and yummy - get yourself along to Wagamama if you're in the UK.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hotel Review : Premier Inn, Leamington Spa, UK

This was my second stay at this property, and this is the only Premier Inn I've stayed at, so this review might not be applicable to the entire chain.

UK hotels are known the world over for being madly expensive, but chains like Premier Inn have figured out that if they provide good basics, they can get great occupancy repeatedly.  You will average around £70/night at most of their properties, but of course those rates do increase when events and things are on locally and they can make more money.  You can even get rooms as low as £25 from time to time, but I've never managed that!

I stayed for two nights on each of my visits and I can say that the Leamington Spa Premier Inn has the friendliest staff I've experienced at any hotel anywhere in the world, and I'm talking friendlier than 5* star properties.  They are all just so nice, cheery and helpful - nothing is too much trouble for them.

This property is in an old renovated shopping centre space, though you wouldn't know that if you hadn't been told.  It looks like it's part of the terraces along The Parade in Leamington, and it fits in very well and is in a great location for visiting the area.  It's clean and modern inside - I don't think it's been open for too long.

There's a self check-in desk in the lobby, but there's always a happy staff member around if you need help getting through that - though it's pretty basic stuff, and the machine spits out your room number and also your room key.

The property is only on two levels and the rooms are very generously sized.  Each basic room I've had has a king sized bed (remember the post I did on bed sizes - UK king is smaller than US king) and a chaise lounge, plus a desk and chair, and TV on a set of shelves.  The bathrooms are a good size too, with a shower over the tub.  The towels are rather large and soft for a budget chain, but there's no dinky bottles of shampoo etc., just a dispenser of "hair and body wash" on the wall - yucko.

The beds are very comfortable, and Premier offers a "sleep guarantee" - they will actually refund your bill if you don't sleep well!  My only quibble with their beds is that their duvets are so incredibly thick that you could take them along on an Arctic expedition and not get cold.  This would probably be okay if you could open the window, but all of the windows are locked closed for safety reasons (grrrrr, hate that!).  You have to keep the air conditioning on all the time at about 19c or you will get too hot.  If you think you're going to boil whilst you sleep, ask the friendly staff for a sheet that you can use instead of the duvet if you don't want to sleep in the air conditioning.

I had breakfast there each morning and even the catering staff are really friendly.  The cook happily put my bacon under the grill each morning to give it a "crisp up" as it was a bit pallid looking and their sausages are scrumptious.  I love a good UK fry up, but there's also a cold selection (breads, cereals, yoghurts) and a really yummy Costa coffee station with bottomless refills - their cappuccino is lovely - all for the breakfast price of £8.75/person.  It is really good value.

I think Premier Inn in Leamington Spa is great value and I'll stay there again if I'm in the area.  My only quibbles are the madly thick duvets and the note in the shower asking you to consider the environment and re-use your towels if you wish - if the duvets were thinner or if you could open the windows, you wouldn't need to have the air conditioning on 24/7 and that would be a hell of a lot better for the environment!  Rant over.

There's great parking behind the hotel in a council car park for £4/24 hours - you can't beat that.

154-156 Parade
Leamington Spa  UK  CV32 4BQ
Phone:- 0871 527 9380

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My New Fave Drink

One of the many perks about doing so much travel is that I get to try lots of new food and drinks.  When I was last in London I got to try Stella Artois Cidre Pear - it's so YUMMY!  I don't like normal cider so much, but this stuff is great.

It's a perfect summer drink, and even though we're going into the colder months now, I'm going to try and get some into my fridge.  If they sell it where you live, or you manage to get your hands on some whilst you're travelling, please give it a try.

Has anyone seen any Stella Artois Cidre over here in Germany?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

UK Pub Of The Year!

The Good Pub Guide 2015 has just named The Rose & Crown, in Snettisham, Norfolk, as the UK pub of the year.

We were lucky enough to stay there two years ago, and I reviewed it on my blog HERE.  It was a gorgeous little pub with so many awards already, and everyone was so friendly.  The UK newspaper, The Telegraph, also recently reviewed it HERE.

If you're in Norfolk, and looking for somewhere fab to stay or a lovely bite to eat, check it out.

The Rose & Crown
Old Church Road
Kings Lynn
Norfolk  PE31 7LX
Phone:- +44 1485 541 382

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Taste Test : Walkers "Ranch Raccoon" Crisps

I get it, different strokes for different folks, I really do understand that, but whoever came up with the idea of Walkers Ranch Raccoon flavoured potato crisps needs to be committed to some sort of facility.

Walkers is a huge UK potato crisp (chip) company, it's called Lays in the USA, and both countries have some sort of mad new flavour competition going on.  My friend Beth in Michigan bought and tried the Cappucino flavour ("so very wrong") and when I was recently in the UK I saw the Ranch Raccoon flavour and felt that I had to take one for the team.

Now that I've tasted the full horror of Ranch Raccoon, I can safely tell you to steer well clear.  It's seriously horrible and I still can't figure out what they taste like.  On the package there are images of figs, basil, chilli, limes and star anise (why, why?) and Walkers say that they're flavoured with Dorset sour cream, but they don't taste like any of those things.  Maybe they actually taste like raccoon?  If so, that's put me off eating raccoons for life …

I love crisps and trying different flavours (I even tried choc-mint Pringles at Christmas - DO NOT DO IT), but these are moving into a whole new realm of wrong.  Stick with the tried and true flavours if you don't want to end up throwing a 90% full bag of crisps in the bin.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

One Of My Favourite Places ...

One of my favourite places in the world is by the pool at the Sheraton Grande
on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, Thailand.
How could you not love this?

And whilst you're reclining on the fabulously comfy lounges,
ask one of the brilliant staff to bring you a plate of Phad Si-Ew
and one of their delicious home-made Ginger Beers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

You're Paying For The Real Estate

The view down the Spanish Steps from our table on the balcony.

When we were in Rome in February this year, we had the most gorgeous weather for winter.  It was a glorious sunny day when we arrived, and we wandered from our hotel in search of some late lunch in the sun.  As we were mooching down the Spanish Steps, my hubby pointed out a bar/restaurant right on the edge of the Steps, about half way down, so we headed over there.

I can't remember the name of the place (yes, I am a BAD BLOGGER!), but we sat in the sun and had a pizza each and a glass (or two) of wine whilst we waited for our friends to arrive, and it was magnificent.  We were outside in the sunny warmth after flying out of the cold German rain, and the whole world was passing us by in an incredibly beautiful city.

Yes, we paid more than we would have if we'd found a little trattoria in a back street a few blocks away, but that's not what we wanted.  We were in Rome for about 48 hours and we wanted to enjoy it, and if paying a few more Euro to sit in a fab spot having a lovely time was the price of that enjoyment, then we were happy to pay it.

It's the same the world over.  You can find amazing little places well off the beaten track and have a fantastic time, or you can save your pennies and head to McDonalds - both of which I've certainly done whilst travelling -  but if you're only in a place for a day or two, I think it's worth paying a little extra for the real estate and enjoying yourself.

A pizza and a glass of white wine was about €16, and worth every cent.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My New Heroes!

Heaven only knows that I've been there, usually on Ryanair.  Yes, I pretty much always pack too much in my carry-on, but I've learnt over the years to carry or wear a coat with big pockets in it to take up the slack should I be required to repack (and I certainly have been asked to lighten the load more than once).

Overweight carry-on?  SOLVED!

These American guys are my new "lighten the load" heroes!  They were told that their carry-on luggage was too heavy and they'd have to sort something out when they checked in to their flight from Singapore to Sydney, or they'd have to pay $130 in additional fees.  Well, they thought on their feet and just started layering up!  Apparently the check-in agent was not at all happy with their solution, but couldn't do anything about it, and they were checked in and allowed to go through.

My cousin, Moose, had to do the same thing once at Friedrichshafen in Germany once, whilst checking in for a Ryanair flight (Ryanair are incredibly tight on their weight limits).  He layered up before he got to the airport, knowing that he was over weight limits.  All good, you might think.  But not for the security in the airport who were worried what he had on under his baggy jeans and made him strip whilst being watched by armed guards.  So, sometimes it works, sometimes it makes for a great story!

Click HERE to see one of my old blog posts on packing for Ryanair flights.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Long Haul Economy Travel Tips

Seriously, this is NOT what it's like flying in economy class.

My gorgeous, and much travelled friend, Felicity, pinned this great blog post from Hilary Fischer-Groban on The Hairpin blog about how to travel long haul economy "like a lady".  As someone who travels long haul fairly regularly, I have to agree with most of the things she said, especially about being hungry on planes when you're bored - I'm so on board with that!

I could eat from the moment my butt touches the seat until the moment we have wheels down at the destination.  Something about being on a plane makes me ravenous, and I think it is to do with the boredom.  When I fly out of Australia I'm very lucky that my lovely friend Sarah packs me a brilliant snack bag with all of my fave foods to last me some of the way home - except the Cheetos, the Cheetos usually get eaten at the airport before I've even boarded!

Ah yes, the glamour of long-haul travel.

Hilary recommends packing some or all of the following:-

Here’s what I bring*: at least eight whole wheat (or spelt, gluten-free, whatever) cracker sandwiches with chunky peanut butter wrapped up in tin foil. Baggy of almonds. Baggy of Honeynut Cheerios, or equivalent. Dried apricots wrapped up in tinfoil. Baggy of baby carrots, cucumber sticks. At least one apple and not-too-ripe banana (I recommend tin foil inside a baggy for this one). Couple squares of dark chocolate in tin foil. Ha ha, just kidding, bring the whole bar. Put all those foods into one lunch bag the night before and then don’t forget it on your way out. Bring a giant empty water bottle. My new favorite trick is handing it to the flight attendant before I take my seat. They will actually fill it for you and deliver it to your seat before take off – delivery! Press the button with the glass of water on it to get them to refill it at least once during the flight.
I'm not too sure about handing the FA your empty water bottle as you take your seat so that they can fill it for you.  How many times have you seen a helpful or friendly FA just bursting to help fill water bottles when they're trying to seat 200 plus people and jam everyones overloaded carry-on bags into the overhead lockers?  Me, I've not seen very many of those kind of FAs at all!  I'd wait until the seatbelt sign went off after levelling out and go up and ask if they could please do it for me.

Another great tip is about what to wear when travelling long haul.  I have the undying dream that one day I'll get an upgrade because I look nice when I check-in.  This isn't ever going to happen, I know it deep in the back of my mind, but I always try to look decent - at least at the start of the long haul trip.  I know you've got to dress for comfort too, no-one wants to sit for 12 hours being wedged into restrictive clothing, but I do think you have to make a bit of an effort.  Take your comfy clothes in your carry-on and change once you've levelled out - by then you know you're not going to be up the pointy end of the plane and you can relax a bit more.

Here's Hilary's tips for long haul dressing:-

I like to wear “nice clothes” (jeans, long sleeve t-shirt) to the airport. On the off-chance you run into a judgmental former classmate, or are travelling with coworkers, it can be best to look somewhat put together. I also bring black yoga pants, an attractive shawl, and a sweater-type thing. If you're hot you won’t need to wear either, but you will have extra pillows! But seriously, who has ever been hot on a flight? (If you are flying to Asia and will have time to shop, maybe skip the shawl since you will probably want to buy a pretty one here?) Some things to consider: Are you likely to break into a flop sweat? Are you probably going to spill on yourself? Do you really need to wear a bra? I like to wear a cotton “bralette” under a tank, with a loose fitting cotton t-shirt (have you seen this?!), and my “sweat jeans” (jeans that are so comfortable they might as well be sweat pants). Simple stud earrings that won’t come off – or nothing.
Wear cotton underwear and bring a spare pair in some sort of opaque bag, or inside your toiletries bag. Don’t just let them wander around in your carry-on bag! They will fall out when it is least appropriate…
Wear TOMS or other easy-on easy-off flats, but definitely bring a pair of socks in your bag. If you’ve ever gotten a pair of socks on a fancy flight (or hospital…) that have the rubber grippers on the bottom – bring those. They will make you feel slightly less groady when you wear them in the airplane bathroom. Sometimes flights provide them but you cannot depend on that.
And, seriously, if you insist on wearing shorts and flip-flops to travel, at least pack some long pants and socks for the flight.  Planes are very often COLD, and when you're cold you can't sleep, and all you really want to do on long haul flights is sleep so that the time goes past faster.  I've seen so many people wearing shorts about 6 hours into a flight who are so cold that their legs are nearly blue.  The airline blankets are usually very thin and not very big, they don't add much in the way of warmth.

Oh, look at you looking all cute in your shorts before you board your plane!
Hope you've got some long pants in that designer handbag.

There are loads more of her tips too, you can check them out by clicking HERE.

What's your best long-haul travel tip?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Blue & White China Love ...

Okay, I'll come right out with it, I absolutely LOVE blue and white china.  New, old, traditional, modern, vintage or folk, I just love it all.  I know I'm not alone in my swooning over blue and white plates, cups and ginger jars - I've got nearly 700 followers on my "Blue & White China" page on Pinterest - I've found my tribe!

Here's some of my favourite pins from my Pinterest Blue & White China board:-

Much to my lovely husbands growing alarm, I keep sneaking more of it into the house - sorry, honey!  That's the thing with blue and white china, you don't have to be a millionaire, you can certainly start collecting it at any price point.  An easy, and very affordable, place to start your collection is your local Chinese/Asian grocery store - there's usually a shelf of gorgeous Asian blue and white bowls and plates lurking around somewhere down the back, and they're only a few dollars a piece.

If you're one of my blue and white china tribe, come over to Pinterest (click the button to the right of the blog) and see what I'm pinning.