30 March 2017

Barburrito, Paddington Station

London is famous for its worldly cuisines. You can go to any part of the city and expect to find anything from Japanese, to Lebanese and countless more.  Yet often when I am rushing for a train I find myself grabbing yet another Pret sandwich, it’s familiarity and speed wins out against my culinary frustrations.  However, I recently got invited to the opening of Barburrito in Paddington Station, which might just put a change to all that.
I arrived at the new restaurant with my friend and Burrito-aficionado Dave in toe.  The new restaurant has an up-market fast food feel, with plenty of space to sit and eat if you’d prefer, but it's just as easy to grab and go.  It is light with modern decor that helps you leave the rush of the station behind, without being formal. The burrito creation works in a similar way as it would if you were getting a sandwich in a Subway, you go down the line choosing what you want inside. You are totally in control of creating your perfect combo.  
We were seated and surrounded by tasty nibbles almost immediately after arriving.  All the Burrito fillings were presented for us to try, with nachos for dipping of course!  We spent a good amount of time trying them all out, Dave’s favourite of the meat options was the spicy shredded beef, whereas I was really impressed by the tenderness of the grilled steak.  One thing we both unexpectedly fell in love with was the BBQ beans, neither of us are usually hardcore bean fans, and yet we were fighting over our sample of them with relish.  They were delicious, with a slightly sweet, tangy taste.  
Soon it was our time to step up to the hot-plate and get creating!  We went up in groups of four so we could be personally guided through our burrito masterclass.  I was really impressed by how seriously they took their health and safety, even in a relaxed event like this was when we were only making food for ourselves.  We whizzed down the counter, filling our burritos heartily, to the point where mine could barely close!
The result?  Well mine was truly delicious, in fact I have to say it is the best Mexican I have tried so far in London.  The meat was tender, the vegetables were fresh and the abundance of chillies and hot salsa I had added created a good heat (I love spicy food), while the beans brought it all together.

This is my first time at a Barburrito but I will be back, what’s the best burrito you’ve ever had?  

24 March 2017

Walt Disney World: Marceline to Magic Kingdom Backstage Tour

When heading to Walt Disney World in October last year I knew I wanted to do something a little different than I had done when I've visited previously.  I was making the trip with friends instead of family and we all had our own plans so I thought this would be the perfect time to do a backstage tour.

If you head to the Disney World website you will see that Disney actually has loads of different backstage tours across their parks, ranging in length and price.  I spent a long time deciding which one to go for, before finally settling on the 3 hour Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour, which takes place in The Magic Kingdom.  Booking was fairly straight forward, I just had to call the reservation line and I was booked within minutes.  I was slightly concerned when I didn’t receive an email confirmation but when I called back just before my holiday they said that this was normal and my name would just be on a list when I arrived. I have to say the reservation line for Disney is particularly good, with hardly any wait and amazingly friendly customer service.

Fast forward to the day of the tour and I was so excited!  I set off early, but not really early enough to get through the increased Disney security. A word of warning, Disney’s new security procedures can add 30-45 minutes onto you getting through the gates, especially at the Magic Kingdom first thing in a morning.  I was trying to rush through and was rather stressed so obviously I got pulled aside for additional screening, adding even longer on.  Luckily the meeting point for the tour was just to the right as I entered the park in the Town Square Theatre so I wasn't too late.
I arrived a bit out of breath but met with my group and grabbed a headset and a badge to show I was officially a tour guest. The headset was a stroke of genius, each of us was given one so our tour guide could be mic'd up and talk directly into our earpiece as went around, which was really useful when navigating the busy, noisy Disney crowds.  
We started our tour with a walk up Main Street, stopping at several places to point out interesting nods to Walt Disney’s legacy that exist subtly all over, like the cinema that was based on the one in Disney’s home town, or the names on the shop windows.  There are the loads of interesting facts but I will leave them for you to find out when you take the tour, I wouldn’t want there to be too many spoilers!
We headed towards the castle for more fascinating insights into the park's history before winding through Adventureland to Liberty Tree Square.  The mics meant we could have commentary from our guide the whole way through, even when walking from one area to the next.  We entered the new interactive queue for The Haunted Mansion where we learned all about how the Imagineer’s (Disney’s name for ride developers) use subtle clues in the design to create a storyline way before you even enter a ride, which is something I love about Disney parks!  This ride in particular has a ton of urban myths behind it that eager Disney fans have created over the years, so when Disney created the new queue they hinted to these in lots of smart, subtle ways. Including adding a ring in a hidden corner as a nod to the popular theory that the dead bride from ride had thrown her ring out of the window so hard it had embedded itself on the concrete below. Make sure you keep an eye out for it, it can be a hard one to spot!  Also, did you know that the four statue’s at the start of the interactive queue also contain a riddle?  Read the inscriptions on them all and see if you can figure out who the murderer is.

We then headed straight to the front of the queue and rode the ride as a group, again the headpieces meant our guide could talk to us throughout the ride without disturbing other guests, pointing out how Disney created certain special effects and hidden gems most guests wouldn’t know or notice.

After the ride we got to do something really special, and one of the coolest things I’ve ever done!  If you have ever been on The Haunted Mansion, Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris or any other variations of this ride around the world, you will know doubt know its famous ballroom scene.  In it ghosts at a party seem to appear and disappear quite magically at will, right before your eyes.  Well, not only did we find out how this trick was performed, but we were allowed to go backstage and inside the ride to see how it is done, while it was in motion!  We weren't allowed to take pictures in any of the backstage areas understandably so I can’t show anything to you unfortunately, but it was honestly amazing.  We went through a side door right into the ride, being careful with where we stood so we couldn’t be seen by anyone on the ride, it is a memory that will stay with me forever.
After a short break we headed into Fantasyland where we took in the story of the mosaics inside Cinderella's Castle, before heading to the front of the queue for The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, which we rode as before with loads of things to look out for, I even got to ride in my own honey pot!

Finally, we headed into Tomorrowland for more inside information before finally heading towards one of the biggest lasting reminders from Walt Disney’s legacy, The Carousel of Progress. This attraction was created by Walt for the 1964 World’s Fair and it was the success of this that helped him rocket his parks to success years later.  It's a revolving theatre that takes you through the history of technology's impact on the American family, taking you right into Walt's (slightly outdated these days) vision of the future. We got out very own theatre and our guide talked us through all the scenes throughout the ride, pointing out loads of things I never noticed before despite my countless times viewing this attraction.
All too soon it was over. This is without a doubt one of the best things I have ever done in Florida, and next time I go back to Disney World I will definitely be doing another. It was a true VIP experience and if you are a Disney Parks nerd like myself you will not regret it for a second!

The price of this tour was $49 for 3 hours and it includes water (you will also need to have a Disney Parks ticket to get in, this is not included) and for me it was 100% worth the price. It is one of the shortest and cheapest of the tours Disney offers but if you want something more extensive there are plenty of others to try at all four parks.

Planning your own Disney trip? Why not check out my posts on My Top 3 Disney World Planing Podcasts, What to expect from Mickey's Not so Scary Halloween Party and Florida's Tastiest Theme Park Snacks. Would you do a Backstage Magic Tour?

17 March 2017

Existing Disney Characters That Could Be Gay

As you may have noticed there has been a lot of press attention lately, both good and bad, directed towards the notion that the new live action Beauty and the Beast film has a LGBT character.  Although this might be the first time Disney are explicitly stating that a character in one of their feature films is gay, there has certainly been a few times in the past that have left us wondering if the prince is really after the princess after all!  I was having a Disney marathon at the weekend so I thought I’d do a rundown of a few characters that even as a kid you knew probably weren't as straight as an arrow.  

Before we get into this let’s talk about queer coding.  Queer coding is, as the name suggests, hinting that a character is gay without explicitly saying so, usually by using stereotypically queer traits.  Disney have done this fairly extensively for a long time and unfortunately it's rarely with a positive eye. Usually these queer traits are seen in villains and can be portrayed as evil or goofy. Unfortunately in the current variation of Beauty and the Beast seems as though it might be almost as guilty, as once more a gay man is lusting after someone who ignores him, but we will soon find out if that's true.  Here are a couple of character's that Disney have definitely hinted about in the past.
La Fru
Let’s get into this one straight off the bat shall we. La Fru being gay in the live action film isn’t really much of a stretch from his cartoon counterpart.  His ‘bromance’ with Gaston steps over the line of dudes hanging out to full on dreamy eyes at times.
Anyone this aggressively straight has to be gay right?  If there’s one thing history has taught us it’s that those who are so desperate to prove that they are straight are often closeted homosexuals themselves.  While in reality the only person Gaston actually has any attraction towards is himself, maybe if he peeled away from the mirror and took a look around maybe he’d realise something about himself.  Also he just so happens to chase the one woman in town who has no interest in him, that seems like a good way of ensuring you never actually have to date anyone.
I have no idea why I would ever be in this situation, but if I ever had to put money on any Disney character being gay it would be this one.  He is one of the campest characters in Disney history, plus he makes a mean gift basket!  He’s is over the top, loves pampering Radcliffe's pooch and is comfortable with crying in front of the rest of the soldiers.  He want’s to turn the underbrush into topiaries rather than fight the Indians and is an ever loyal manservant to Governor Ratcliffe.  Speaking of which...
Governor Ratcliffe
The dude rocks up with bows in his hair and spends a lot of time with his very camp man servant Wiggins.  He loves his pampered pooch and is as foppish as they come.  If you want further proof there are whole essays floating around on the internet about the relationship between Wiggins and Governor Ratcliffe.
Hades is the personification of that super cool bitchy gay best friend the media loved to portray in the 90’s.  He’s also literally flaming...
A minor but memorable character, it’s not just his camp 'Yoohoo’ that you will remember, but also that his family pic shows a dude who is presumable his husband. As far as Disney goes it's one of their most positive queer positive.
Timon and Pumbaa
Essentially they are a cross species same sex couple who adopt a lion cub and raise him as their own, and do a great job.  They also love a bit off crossdressing every now and then.

Of course these aren't all of the examples, Scar in The Lion King is another character who has reams of essays written about his queerness, and we didn't even get onto the women. Is it good that Disney are openly claiming that a character is gay? Sure it's a step forward, but as long as we are falling back on stereotypes and not seeing LGBT characters used more complexly we still have a long way to go.

Agree or disagree with me? Comment or tweet me so we can have a chat :)

15 March 2017

Art'otel Cologne by Park Plaza, Cologne

It’s been a little while since I have re-visited my Cologne adventure here on the blog, so I thought I’d share with you the place we stayed for the first night of our visit.  As a reminder, I headed over to Cologne in July for the Beauty Bloggers Secrets party with a group of other bloggers and competition winners from around Europe.  We stayed in the gorgeous Art’otel Cologne where the event was held.  Before we jumped into the event we had time to unwind in our rooms and get ready for the day ahead.
I didn’t know what to expect when we headed up, I’m usually the one that books the rooms when traveling, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw the room we had been given by the organisers.  I had a large double room, called an ‘art room’, which I shared with a friend.  It was super spacious with loads of luxury little extras like Elemis products, hairdryers, bottles of spring water, a coffee machine, a minibar and more.  It even had air conditioning for those hot German evenings, something that is an unusual find in a European hotel.  The blackout curtains and hugely comfy bed and soft bedding meant we we slept like a dream and were well rested and ready for a day of exploring the next day.  The free wi-fi was also a hit in a hotel full of bloggers!
The decor was modern, light, with very chic and finished off with a gorgeous view of the river through the large windows which made this room really special.  The rooms were all white throughout and some rooms had colour tinted windows that give the hotel it’s colourful look from outside.  The whole place has a really modern artisan feel and is totally instagram-worthy!  I was struck by just how much space there was in the individual rooms, with large counters with plenty of space for us both to do put makeup on and get ready before the evening event.  The bathroom was also spacious, with a gorgeous mosaic coloured glass wall which filled the room with bright coloured light.  It’s one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever stayed in.
The function rooms where the main events were held downstairs were similarly large and airy but much more plain in decor.  The bar for the evening had wrap around windows, perfect for making the most of all available light.  The outside terrace was great to relax on during the evening too, and we had a great time indulging in a BBQ that evening looking out over the river.  The next morning we came down for breakfast and were greeted with a gorgeous self service European breakfast covering a wide variety of hot and cold dishes that set us up for the day.
The hotel itself is located right on the River Rhine, leading to some great views.  Straight across the road is the popular Chocolate Museum that we visited on our second day.  The area is is gorgeous and notably clean with a relaxing safe atmosphere.  It’s just a short walk along the river to the city centre and on the glorious summer days we were there we couldn’t have asked for a better trail to follow.

I highly recommend this hotel is you are visiting the area and want somewhere stylish an easy walk from the city centre.  Have you been to Cologne?  If you are headed there make sure you check out my travel diaries part one and part two.

P.S. a huge thank you to Hayley of Strangeness & Charm for supplying me with a lot of the pictures for tis post.

13 March 2017

Personalising a rented flat

These days there are more people like myself heading toward their 30’s with no prospects of owning their own home.  A mixture of circumstances has left us millennials struggling to gain the kind of assets our parents had at our age. For myself, living in London, it doesn't even seem like a distance probability.

The prospect of long term renting can be both daunting and restricting, especially when you want to live somewhere that feels like your own.  Living in a flat where you have to ask permission before you even hang a picture is disheartening, but there are still ways you can make your rental space feel like your own.  Here are a few things I am doing to make our flat a personal space.

Play with colour in your decorative items

This is the one thing I get the most joy out of with out flat the most.  Ok so you can’t choose the wall colour or the curtains, but you can still use personal items that add colour to complement or contrast each other and bring a real sense of personality to your home.  I’m loving the turquoise elements of our living room, and the mint green and pastel pinks of our kitchen.  The bathroom is a traditional nautical style with blues and whites used in our accessories to bring some life into the plain white room.

Lighting , lighting, lighting

I don’t think there is anything that can make a difference to any home more than good lighting.  Maybe it's the old lighting engineer in me but I am very serious when it comes to lighting, it’s the first thing I take note of when hunting for a place to live.

The first thing you need to do is make the most of any natural light you have available. Our flat has a nice large skylight in the kitchen and a smaller one in the living room, but when we moved in they were both covered in algae on the outside.  I made it my mission to find a way of cleaning them (we live on the top floor so not the easiest thing to do) and it made such a big difference!  Finding a way to hold back curtains can help natural light get in, it's amazing what a big difference it can make to a room.
Now this is the UK so natural light isn’t always available unfortunately.  My old boss told me she never puts on overhead lighting, preferring instead the warm and homely effects of lamps instead.  I was looking for a couple of lamps to do exactly that when Valuelights got in touch to ask if I wanted to try a couple of their products.  I chose the Tripod Floor Lamp in copper with a white shade for the living room (a very blog-friendly colour combo) and the Industrial Style Fishermen's Touch Table lamp in brass (the copper had sold out) for the bedroom.  Often I find that I use these lamps now and nothing else, it definitely does make for a nicer, warmer light that transforms our flat into a cosy retreat. The standing lamps tri-corner design has a 50's/ atomic vibe to it that I continue throughout the flat, where as the vintage design of the Fisherman's lamp makes a real talking point.

Candles might not give out much light but they are another way of bringing warmth into a home and can really bring a space together. Along with the added scents and colours that match any room I almost can’t live without them!

Inject your personality onto the walls

Adding your own unique items to the walls where you can makes any space feel like your own.  Our flat, like many others, has a stipulation that we can’t drive any nails or screws into the walls without pre-approval, so we’ve made the most out of the existing ones and let that dedicate where we place our most adored items.  Our kitchen has a 50’s vintage feel I’ve achieved by adding simple touches like this clock from Asda (that you might have seen in my vintage home wear post post) and the homemade bunting.  We have personal art prints and vintage posters that show off both of our loves.
Side note: how badass is this floral stag?  I placed it in the entryway to our flat and It's so unique I adore it, I added the lights I got in my Hygge Kit to add a bit of warmth.

Invest in good storage

When you are living in a flat, especially in a city like me, storage space can be the hugely important, otherwise your home will just look like a cluttered mess!  This is particularly prevalent for myself and my partner who are both mild hoarders at heart.  We are lucky that our flat has loft space, but when things need to be reached with ease it isn’t really practical (especially as I am too short reach it!).  We recently bought some storage from Wilko's that was not only cheap and practical but also fit with our nautical aesthetic.  It’s filled with bath bombs, spare bottles of shampoo, conditioner and all the other items we don't need our visitors to see.  It makes the rest of the home neater, and adds style too. Plus none of it is fixed, so it can come with us when we move.

Things I’d like to add

Our flat is a work in progress, I know what both myself and my partner like in a home and I wanted it to represent us both, but I had no grand plan for making it come together. We just save up and get things when we can.  Here are a few things I’d like to get when I see the right eventually:


Like so many rented flats ours has hard flooring throughout. While this is great for keeping things clean it is not as cosy as having carpets and hard on the feet.  I’d really love to get a couple of rugs to bring some colour and softness into the rooms.

Removable wallpaper

This is something I only came across recently but I think it’s such a great idea!  It’s exactly as it sounds, wallpaper that adheres to your wall then just peels off when it needs to be removed, leaving no residue!  Our flat has this yellow colour in some rooms that I really don’t like, and covering up a wall or two with this would look fab, and we could take it with us to our next flat!  I think it would make a great background for Youtube videos too.

So there you have just a few of my ideas, but if you have any of your own tips you want to share please pop them in the comments below, I am always looking for ways to rejuvenate our spaces!

10 March 2017

How to get the best deals from Virgin Seat Sales

You might have seen in my recent post How I traveled and stayed in Edinburgh for under £100 that one of the biggest way that I saved money was grabbing return tickets from London to Edinburgh for £30 return.  I also mentioned in the post that I was hoping to grab some tickets for Glasgow next time the sale came around and I am happy to say I grabbed a return from London to Glasgow yesterday morning for £28, even cheaper than Edinburgh!

Now this is in no way sponsored by Virgin Trains or Virgin East-Coast or anything like that (although if you are reading this Richard Branson feel free to hit me up!) I have just spent a lot of time trying to hunt down good train ticket deals.  I’ve moved around a lot and that means I have friends from all over the country and was in a long distance relationship for many years with no car until we moved in together this year.  Basically I have spent a lot of time finding ways to get the cheapest train tickets, so I just thought I’d share a few ways to make the most out of Virgin’s regular Seat sales.

Be prepared that the deals might only be one way

This is something I have found a lot with the deals that aren’t plastered on the front page or are in peak times. Sure you can get that killer ticket one way but on the way back the other way there might not be any cheap tickets for the same or next few days.  You either need to pay the normal full fare or stay a bit longer and get the cheaper choices in a few days time.

Get an early heads up

Normally I find out about the sale through their email newsletter or twitter, but this time I actually get a heads-up a day ahead of time because of the Martin’s Money Fax newsletter.  Martin’s Money Fax is a website dedicated to saving money and the email usually contains upcoming offers or deals, this time it mentioned that the sale was starting the next day so I was able to set an alarm and get planning.

Get online at midnight and hang around for their engineers to work their magic

I set an alarm for midnight when the deal was supposed to start because as we all know, the early bird catches the worm!  When I jumped on the website actually went down while the deals were set up but it was back up and running within 15 minutes and I was able to be the first to get hunting.

Make a list of where you want to go and when before hand

If you get an idea that a seat sale is coming, or just if you want to be prepared, look at the list of all the stations the train company services and choose places you’d like to head to.  Bare in mind you can buy a train ticket for any uk train route on Virgins website, that doesn't mean that it will be a virgin train route, and you won't get a deal if it includes any other trains. Use this station destination link to find where you can go to and from. l Also look at all the dates it is likely you can head away for a day or two so you have a few dates to jump between.  Don’t expect to get them all, I only got one from my list this time and a lot of stations might not be part of the deal, but if you have a list of a few places you should come back with at least one under your belt.

Be patient

Flicking between all the dates and places takes time and is endlessly frustrating, however after years of this I am used to it. Don't give up, just grab a tea and take your time.

Ignore the website when it only wants to give you deals for the next few months

This is a big one and one I fell foul of myself when booking tickets tis time around.  When you go on the site and click on one of the deals displayed or use the cheap fare finder it will give you a selection of dates and prices that cover the next 3 or so months.  However, if you check sale dates advertised it actually covers a lot longer, in this case two whole months longer.  To get these other dates you just need to search using the regular search function.  It is a lot more faffy to do and it takes longer to scan dates but you might get dates others didn’t find.

Be flexible

If you want to get the cheaper dates it goes without saying that off peak times will have more availability, as will dates in term time.  I still got my trip over a weekend but when I looked in the summer months there was much less availability for the cheapest tickets, or only had the deal going one way.

Don’t forget your rail cards

If you have any kind of railcard discount get it ready, I miss my 18-25 ones so much!  I was never off trains when I had one.

Don’t forget your Nectar Card or Virgin Frequent Flyer points

I didn’t have mine ready so I missed out on collecting my Nectar points and I hadn't realised you could collect Virgin Frequent Flyer points with the train!  I have an account from when I went to Florida so this might have been quite a handy help build them up.

So there you have just a few of my tips, happy hunting!

6 March 2017

Rocking Out at the Hard Rock Fashion Show

Another London Fashion Week has come and gone and it’s another one I choose to miss out on.  Don’t get me wrong, I totally get why some people are into it but it’s not usually for me.  My fashion tastes tend to be stuck in the 50’s or at metal gig so I don’t really see anything for me in most of these events, so when I was asked to attend a fashion show for Hard Rock I knew it would be something different.  My love of alternative fashion has been a big part of my life since I was a young teenager and it has formed a large part of my self discovery process.  I knew Hard Rock’s collections would have something to my taste.

We arrived and headed to the VIP area where we were offered some tasty mini bites and wine to ease us into the evening.  I had brought a friend along a a plus one as we had a great time relaxing and catching up before the show began.  Hard Rock has four spaces within the same area and this was a new one to me. If you have visited before you will more than likely have seen the restaurant at the front and the gift shop next door, complete with The Vaults where some seriously impressive music memorabilia is held (they do free tours of it every 15 minutes or so it’s worth a trip down if you are around).  There’s also The Backroom Bar which I visited during the Pixie Lott T-Shirt launch, however this event was held in an area I’ve not seen before.  Around the back of the restaurant is a separate entrance which took us to where the event was staged, a gorgeous underground area with a bar and stage, perfect for parties and performances.  It was also home to some fantastic memorabilia including some of Sid Vicious’s famous ensembles.
Once we were settled we took our drinks and headed to the FROW to see the first collection.  They were being modelled by people who had been chosen as the ambassadors for Hard Rock Cafe in 2017, who all brought their personality to their performances and did a great job selling the pieces.
This collection brings together some of Hard Rocks most iconic pieces to see us through the rest of the Winter season.  

This Is My Runway
With a more fashion forward edge This Is My Runway shows how you can wear fashion with a real age at Hard Rock.
Hard Rock brings us some some real fun and colourful outfits for the summer months, emphasising playfulness and parties.
Signature Collection
Finally the Signature Collection Shows Mr Worldwide aka Pitbull's new line of t-shirts, with a Miami Vice vibe.

Further into the night we stayed for a couple more cocktails as we listened to the great musical acts who played the night away.
A couple of days later and I was back to check out the special Chilli Week menu, I had brought along a different friend and we both tucked into special chilli burgers, chilli chocolate cake and a chilli apple cocktail.  Our taste buds were fired up and we really enjoyed the meal in the famous Hard Rock setting!

Have you ever been to a Hard Rock Cafe?
Blogger Template Created by pipdig