23 February 2017

How I Traveled and Stayed in Edinburgh for Under £100

Traveling can be expensive, but you can see the world without breaking the bank if you catch the right deals and offers.  I recently spent a weekend in Edinburgh and managed to get my return travel from London and accommodation for under £100.  Here’s how I did it:
Traveling
Often the most expensive part of a short trip is the travel, especially if it involves flights or trains.  Trains here in the UK can be notorious for their crazy pricing, however if you can keep a look out you can really drop on some amazing deals.  Infact this is what inspired this trip.  When I was browsing my emails I saw an offer from Virgin Trains offering £15 one way returns from London to Edinburgh, took a look at their website thinking there was no way there would be any left especially on a weekend, and there just happened to be some.   So I thought sod it and just booked them then and there.  I got a return ticket to Edinburgh for £30, and because I booked directly through Virgin Trains I got a free wifi voucher for both journeys.  I feel like I should point out that this post is in no way sponsored by Virgin Trains, it’s just that’s where I happened to grab the deal from.

If you are flexible about when you can travel or book early in advance you can get some great deals, even if you are restricted to weekends like me.  I recommend signing up for the mailing list for airlines and train companies so you can see when their sales are coming up.  I’m signed up to a few and it’s great for planning a spontaneous trip.  I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a similar offer to Glasgow so I can take my first trip there in the future, fingers crossed!
Accommodation
Trying to find accommodation within a city that doesn't break the bank, even off season, is a bit of a nightmare.  Especially if me you are traveling alone so you don’t have anyone to split the costs with.  After much deliberating and hunting around hotels I looked at Airbnb.  It was my first ever time looking into Airbnb so I was a bit nervous, but I found a great selection of budget friendly places with strong reviews.  I didn’t want to stay on a hostel because I like my sleep and didn’t want to share a room, but the room I stayed in was private, quiet and in a great location.  My host was friendly and left me to do my own thing privately, so I didn’t feel I was intruding which was a worry.  My private room cost £33 and was an easy walk to the bottom of the Royal Mile and right at the foot of Arthur's Seat.

All together, the travel and accommodation cost just £63.

Do you have any money saving travel tips?  Share them below so we can all share and compare! I'm thinking of hitting up the the Cotswolds soon, send me your recommendations!
This post contains affiliate links that I share because I am genuinely impressed with the Airbnb service. 

21 February 2017

NYC Eats under $20

Foralot of people, myself included, travelling can be just as much about the food as it is about exploring, but I've always got one eye on my budget.  A city like New York is a lot like London in that you can expect to find food from around the globe. With so many food options it can be difficult to choose, so I thought I’d share with you just a few pocket friendly places I ate at on my recent trip across the pond.
Haus Reuben Sandwich at BierHaus NYC
A seemingly strange choice on our first day in the city, as we headed towards a German themed bar for lunch. However on reflection it’s mixing of two cultures is actually a great representation of New York’s melting pot ideals.  We had a very American lunch in a very un-American bierhaus!  We were tired and starving on our first day so settling in for some comfort food was much needed, and it really hit the spot.  We were both pleased with how generous the portions were, with plenty of deli meats, cheese and dressing filling out the sandwich with the unique German twist of it also including Sauerkraut.  It came with waffle fries which we ate with plenty of dipping sauce. It was exactly what we needed after a full day of exploring NYC.
Price: $17.00 includes waffle fries.
Autumn Cupcake from Deli Mart NYC
One of the things I love about NYC that I wish we had more of in the UK are the 24/7 delis.  There is one of these on almost every street corner and no matter what time of day you pop in, there is always a large selection of fresh food available, hot and cold.  Imagine it like an ordinary corner shop you would get here in the UK, but instead of the usual stale sandwiches there’s also fresh foods.  Walking past one evening we saw the display case in the window full of cakes and had to stop by and get one.  I went for this super cute autumn themed cupcake, very fitting with the Thanksgiving holiday period.  It was surprisingly moist and really delicious with plenty of buttercream. For an 11pm stop I couldn't have asked for more.  
Price: Can’t find exact price but around $5
Berry Pancake Combo at Andrew's Coffee Shop
A few days into our trip and we were craving a big hearty American breakfast.  Andrew's Coffee Shop was just around the corner from our hotel and was always busy, so we knew it must be a good choice.  We did have to wait but thankfully not long, it was typical of what you'd expect of an American diner, not the best decor or greatest service but friendly, tasty, filling food served fast.  Both myself and Harry chose the Berry Pancake Combo which consisted of two blueberry or strawberry pancakes (we had chosen blueberry but but got strawberry), 2 eggs, 2 bacon and 2 sausage for $12.50, not bad value at all for a very large breakfast!  Suffice to say it kept us full for most of the day, the pancakes were large and fluffy and the mixture of sweet and salty was a hit.
Price: A Berry Pancake Combo is $12.50
Pizza at Grimaldi’s
Grimaldi’s Pizza is a famous pizzeria in New York and Brooklyn, and one that was on the top of my list for places to try after a recommendation from my sister.  The first and most famous restaurant is located just over the Brooklyn Bridge, but we visited the location in Manhattan itself in the Limelight Marketplace.  Interesting fact for any of those of you interested in Club Kid Culture - the church this restaurant is in is the same one that used to be the infamous Limelight nightclub back in the 90’s.  Anyway back to the food!  Grimaldi’s is famous for its brick coal brick oven pizzas and one was more than enough for us to share between us.  I don’t remember exactly what we got other then there was a lot of meat and jalapeƱos involved (I like my pizza’s meaty and spicy what can I say) and it was really delicious.  There wasn’t too much cheese which was a plus for me as I actually like my pizzas cheese-less, but it did make for a rather messy affair as the toppings weren't really anchored to the pizza.  Either way I’ve craved this pizza many times since!
Price: A large pizza is $16.00 and easily enough for two to share, extra toppings are between $2-$4
Bagel at Best Bagel and Coffee
What is possibly one of the simplest and most ‘New York’ things on the menu was also undoubtedly the best thing I ate the whole trip!  I knew I couldn’t come to New York and not grab a bagel, but I'd never had them fresh before and wasn’t necessarily the biggest bagel fan.  We didn’t really have a place in mind but a quick look on Yelp showed a place just around the corner from our hotel that had as close to a full 5* rating as I’ve ever seen on Yelp.  We headed down there just before lunch, thinking the place would be dead, only to find a queue extending out of the shop. Always a sign of a good place to eat!  There were so many options and variations it took me most of the queuing time to narrow down my order, but in the end I went for a poppyseed bagel with pastrami, pickles and mustard and OMG it was out of this world!  I know New Yorkers like to claim it’s their water that makes the difference to their bagels and whatever it is I am sold!  Everything was fresh and delicious, the bagels were soft with just enough bite, and the fillings were plentiful.  This is the thing I have found myself craving most since our trip!
Price: $7.50 for a pastrami bagel, prices change depending on filling and extras are between $0.55-$1.75
Magnolia Bakery Mini Key Lime Pie Cheesecake
Rather unhelpfully I only have a picture of the bag as the desert itself was scoffed late at night in our bed after a long day of exploring.  The Magnolia Bakery is famous in NYC, most usually for it’s Banana Pudding, but as I am not much of a banana fan I knew I would have to reach for something a little different.  After perusing the cabinets for several minutes (this is another location where you have to queue outside to get in, don’t worry in all these instances the queue moved fast) I finally settled on a Key Lime Pie Cheesecake, a favourite of mine from my time in Florida.  I’m not normally a big cheesecake person but we were in NYC, home of the cheesecake after all!  The base was buttery and crumbly, the cheesecake layer was so light it was almost fluffy and sweet, and the lime flavouring was pungent and tangy.  All together, it works perfectly, the flavours are balanced really well, leaving a creamy yet tart taste.  I enjoyed every moment indulging myself with this gorgeous offering.  When you hear the word mini in the UK you might be thinking bite size, here it just means ‘for one’ as it is not so tiny.  It’s rich but the perfect amount for one, or two if you are not so much a sweet tooth (I am so there’s no way I’m sharing!)
Price: $7.50

So that’s just a few of my favourite budget eats from my recent trip, got your own favourite?  Comment below and share yours!

17 February 2017

The Good Hour Treatment at Lush Spa

You know how people have these big goals in life? Climb a mountain, see the northern lights, run a marathon? Well some of mine are much more simple, one of them was just to get a treatment from a Lush Spa, the Lush spa blog events in Leeds always entice me to try it out and last year I finally did it.

Cast your mind back to May, you might recall in my Solo Birthday post that I was in a position when I spent the whole of my birthday completely alone. Well, if you're in that situation what do you do? You treat yo’ self! And I sure did by booking myself in for The Good Hour treatment at the Lush Spa on Oxford Street.

Appointments for this place are pretty hard to come by, especially on a weekend, but thankfully the amazing Lush staff rallied around to try and squeeze me in on my birthday. I later found out they had brought someone in from their Liverpool Spa to be able to fit on more appointments, which I was deeply thankful for.

There are plenty of different and totally unique treatments at the Lush Spa, so why did I go for The Good Hour? Well ever since I have worked a manual labour job I have found that my muscles tense up quite easily and I get killer knots. Hunching over a desk in my current job hasn’t helped and I knew I’d prefer something more intense that tackled that then one of the more relaxing options. Plus there was the promise of sea shanties, who can say no to that! Here’s how it described on the Lush website:
70 minutes of full-body, deep-tissue massage to set you free from long-term areas of tension.

A firm pair of hands rings out tension in time to the music, stretching and straightening you on the tide. Sea shanties fill the air, low and haunting before a gentle crescendo, always tempered by the steady pressure of your therapist’s hands grounding your body.

Hands anchor and align you. Ripples of pressure are soothed with layers of hot and cold, unfurling your limbs like sails in the wind. Stretch, refresh and emerge revived from the sea.

What you'll love:
Delivers relief from knots and reawakens the muscles.
Particular attention paid to long-term areas of tension enabling you to feel more flexible.
Be free in body and mind.

What to expect:
Full-body, deep-tissue massage treatment using trigger point techniques and jelly discs.
Uses medium to hard pressure depending on your preference.

What you want to know:
Duration: 70 minutes long with approximately a 15-minute consultation.
State of undress: Down to your underwear, beneath a cosy sheet.

I arrived at the spa early, which they recommend you do to adjust from the hectic outside world to that of the relaxation of the spa. Oxford Street is one of the busiest places in London and the Lush store is always full of shoppers so I was surprised by just how cut off you feel when you walk through the spa door. It is on the lower floor, with just a door separating you and the store, but the warmth , smells and soundproofing do a wonderful job of letting you leave all your cares behind before you even begin.

One thing I noticed most about this spa in comparison to others I have attended is that it doesn't feels as though the staff are clock watching and doing everything to routine. You are given plenty of time to acclimatise and it is not unusual for you not to even see other customers who are in different rooms during your time there. The spa purposely pace out their guests so there isn’t someone waiting to jump onto the massage table as soon as you leave.
I was greeted with a glass of fruit water and allowed to look at some of the literature available at the spa. Just being in here is calming, it’s all dark wood, soft music and gorgeous lush scents. Soon my masseuse came out and introduced myself, talking me through the treatment before she showed me a range of massage bars I could choose for use on me during my treatment. She thoroughly explained the different benefits and placed some of each on me to smell and feel before I made my choice, I went for the Wiccy Magic Muscles because of it’s blend of oils that are said to warm the muscles and increase blood flow to help get rid of those pesky knots. She then showed me a jelly disc she would be using that is kept on ice to tackle deep knots. The alternating of the body's temperature from the warm massage oil to the cold disc is supposed to help the muscles release and work out the tension, defiantly something I could benefit from. I was also shown the Big Blue Bath Ballistic that would be used during my treatment to scent the room to make me feel like I was right on the seafront! I went to the bathroom before heading to my treatment room, which might be a strange thing to mention but the bathroom was super cosy, just like everywhere else, and filled with lots of lush products that you were welcome to try. I had a bit of a play with a few of them before heading to my treatment room, I am really impressed by how much attention to detail there is in everything to keep you in the same ‘zone’ as you are in the treatments rooms, even the bathroom aesthetics matched the rest of the spa, no white tiles and stark lighting here!

The treatment room was large and warm with dimmed lighting, candles, really fluffy towels, a bath and the sound of the sea and creaking floor boards to get me in the mood for my treatment. As I entered my therapist placed the bath bomb in water under the massage bed so it could start releasing its scent, then the next thing I knew the room was filling with dry ice! It spread out from under the bed and filled the whole room, adding to the maritime atmosphere, it felt totally magical! I was left on my own at this point to change ready for my massage, and I had a bit of fun playing in the dry ice surrounding the floor before getting onto the bed and ringing the bell to let the therapist know I was ready.
Then of course, the massage began, and it’s hard to really explain it other then 70 minutes of heaven, I felt like I was on another planet! Whenever the therapist came upon a knot she would use a number scale to judge how much pressure I could take upon it to help with it’s removal (1 being too soft, 10 being too hard, 5 being the ideal). I really loved this as so often I find that in massages the therapists are too soft with me, as they are worried about me jumping off the table in pain. This was a great, simplistic way to get exactly what the client needs from the massage and it was performed in time with sea shanties which were now filling my ears, mixed with relaxing sea sounds. It sounds strange but it really did work! In fact 9 months later and I can still sing along to one of them in my head so it must have made an impression on me. Again here it’s the little details that really transform this from your standard spa massage, like the masseuse wearing slippers so the sound of shoes walking around you is eliminated, allowing you to be completely immersed in your relaxation.

All too soon the massage was over, now I’ve had many massages over this years but this blew them all out of the water! I often find with messages that the masseuse is going through the motions, timing everything and onto the next client, but not here. Everything felt tailored to me, nothing was rushed and it involved all your senses!
‘All your senses?’ I hear you cry! ‘What about taste?’ Well that is actually involved too, after the massage I when I slowly came back down to earth (again in my own time, I was also invited to have a shower but I didn’t want to ruin the effect of the oils on my skin) I was back in the welcome area for tea with optional rum and a stack of ‘ship's biscuits’ to go along with the sea theme as I slowly came back to the real world, in truth I never wanted to leave! I was given the lush massage bar they used on me and I still have some left now, just smelling it takes me back instantly.

Now when I review anything on my blog I always like to give a balanced review, I try to find negatives and positives in everything, however with this I just couldn’t find a negative. The whole experience is amazing and I’d go back in a heartbeat! The pricing is a bit on the steep side, this massage costs £90 (it might have been slightly cheaper when I had it) which is double what I would usually pay for a massage up north, however in my opinion it’s totally worth it. Let’s hope I can save up to go for my birthday again this year.

Have you ever been to the Lush spa? What treatment did you have?
All images courtesy of Lush, I was too busy enjoying myself!

14 February 2017

Tips to help you hit your reading goals

Books are something I have always had a deep fondness for from when I first started reading, but when you leave school, start work and get busy with blogging and friends, reading can fall by the wayside.  However for the last 4 years I’ve managed to read at least 40 books a year and over 10’000, pages which has always been my goal. It’s not as many as some people but it’s something I am happy with so I thought I’d share just a few tips on how I manage to squeeze reading into a busy day.

Take a book everywhere and use every second
This is one of the most important things you can do to up your book count.  That five minutes when you are in the queue for the bank, the journey from the pub or waiting in the doctor’s office are all prime times for short reading bursts.  These really add up to a big increase in reading, even if it’s just a page at a time.  Reading before bed is a big one for most people too and it helps them wind you down, but I’ve not had much time for that since I started blogging so I fit it in wherever I can.  

Utilize Goodreads
I started reading books so much more when I started using Goodreads.  For those of you that don’t know, Goodreads is a website that tracks your reading and shares your reading with others.  You can set reading goals and it tracks your books, ratings, page and book numbers and a ton of other info.  The part that helps me the most is the percentage read, just add the page number you are on and it will tell you how far you are through you are. I find this immensely satisfying and it does motivate me to read more.  The yearly reading goal works similarly, just enter how many books you want to read and it will monitor your reads and tell you if you are on track etc.  Some people find this really motivating and others resent the pressure, so go with what works for you.  For the last few years I’ve had mine set at 40, but this year I dropped it to 30 to give myself some breathing space and it’s actually made me read more.  Add me so we can track share our books!

Read what you want
People can be so apologetic and embarrassed by their reading choices that it stops them reading at all.  I often hear people say ‘ Well I would like to read but I only really read YA’ or ‘I can only reach for chick lit’ or ‘I find I just want to read Harry Potter again’.  Here is the thing, it does not matter!  Often if I’m in a reading slump I find reading something simple or familiar really helps.  Reading something you know you will like, or is just nice and short, is rewarding and it’s a great boost to help you expand your horizons and get you into a reading flow.

Read a page from your next book straight away
This is the biggest thing for me that stops me from ever putting a book down and not getting round to starting another.  As soon as I finish a book I immediately pick up the next one and read the first page, just like that you’ve continued your flow.  Plus I think picking your next book is one of the biggest thrills of reading.  I always overpack books if I go away just incase I end up finishing one and don’t have another *the horror* or even if I am nearing the end of a book and I’m just on my way to work, keeping the flow of your reading really helps.

Neglect your phone
This is the biggest thing and also one of the hardest things to do, every time you are in a situation where you would reach for your phone to check Facebook, grab your book and read a page instead.  Not getting distracted by social media, even when you have all the time in the world to read, is one of the things I now find really hard (damn you smart phones) but once you get used to it, it does get easier.  

Be inspired
Booktube and book bloggers really inspire me to read more.  Suddenly I have a reading list as long as my arm after seeing their content.  Hearing people discuss books they love just gets me really excited to read more, and you will soon find people who like the same style of books as you.  That's why I posted my first ever reading round up on Youtube last month. While it’s not a good idea to rush a book just to get onto the next one, having a 'to be read' pile just waiting to be explored does push on as I get excited to see what’s in the next one.  Follow book Instagramers, Youtubers and bloggers and soon you’ll be totally inspired to read more!

So that’s just a few of my ideas, if you have any I’d love to hear them!  If you have a Goodreads follow mine here so we can support each other's reading goals!

Thanks for reading,

9 February 2017

Theatre: The HIV Monologues

Patrick Cash has made a rather significant splash in the theatre world in the last few years with his unique, hard hitting and humorous plays covering contemporary LGBTQ+ issues.  His current show The HIV Monologues fits in this same vein, exploring the lives of four interweaving characters and their relationship with HIV spanning the time and changing attitudes from 30 years ago to the present day.  

The play centres around with the character of Alex (Denholm Spurr), a young man quickly falling for someone with HIV, it’s an issue of great confusion and conflict for him, as he works out his issues for better or for worse.  Alex is a great medium for an audience to follow on this journey with, he has a sense of likeability and fun that makes him instantly appealing, even when he does actions that are deplorable.  It steals away from simple ‘good vs bad guys’ territory and speaks in tones of complexity of real people.  Alex has an awkwardness and humour to his character that makes him really relatable, and the on stage chemistry between Alex and Nick (Kane Surry) felt electric.

Cash manages to steer through the topics raised without treading over old, cliched grounded.  In the age of Prep and hook-up apps, HIV has simultaneously become the scary boogeyman in the corner and an issue of old, one that some LGBTQ+ youth do not feel connected to, and Cash does a great job of modernising the issues around this disease.  

Some performances are stronger than others however, and there was a sense of tension missing that it was felt the play was heading towards, but never quite reached.  Not every show needs shock value of course, but this still felt as though it was missing a key dramatic build.  At times felt like it was on the cusp of breaking through into some real, genuine emotion but didn’t quite make it.  

The addition of Jonathan Blake, the pioneering HIV activist, in the role of Barney adds a sense of further authenticity to the piece, and the humour throughout is well placed and genuine.  The play's ability to bring sexuality back into HIV is one not often seen on the stage.  So regularly it is presented with a ‘no sex, forever doomed’ attitude which isn’t very fitting living with the disease today.  The HIV Monologues stays away from this, and presents sexuality with HIV in a new, modern and sympathetic light.   

The HIV Monologues is being performed at the Ace Hotel, London until the 19th of February.

3 February 2017

Florida's Tastiest Theme Park Snacks

Back in October I headed over to Florida to check out two of the world’s most famous theme parks, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.  It was a simpler time in America back then, Trump was still a joke and we could put all our cares away and act like children again.  Well other then the hurricane, but that’s a story for another day…

One thing the Florida theme parks don’t get enough credit for is their food.  Disney in particular really does go above and beyond what you expect from a theme park, and while Universal has some catching up to do, the Harry Potter area's offer some amazing high quality items.  So I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite snacks i sampled while I was over there.

I am writing this hungry, so let’s just jump right in!
Cronut At Refreshment Port, Epcot
If you don’t know what a cronut is it’s exactly as it sounds, a donut made out of flaky layered croissant dough.  I was a little skeptical but thought I’d give it a go and OMG it was so good!  The cinnamon sugar meant it was sweet and flavourful while the hot and flaky layers were just a complete delight!  It wasn't overly heavy like some US deserts can be, just a buttery delicious delight!  If you are on the dining plan like we were it’s just one snack credit and totally worth it.  
Butterbeer at The Hog's Head, Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure
There’s no way you can go to Hogsmeade and not try this famous drink from the Harry Potter Universe.  It’s not to everyone's taste that’s for sure, but if you have a sweet tooth like me you will love it.  The recipe is a closely guarded secret of course but the closest thing I can describe it as is cream soda with a little butterscotch and a thick, creamy head.  It’s probably not advisable to drink one before getting on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey unless you want to see it again too soon...
Mickey Mouse Blueberry Muffin, Cinderella's Royal Table, Magic Kingdom
Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the best, right?  Towards the end of our last vacation I ate one of these adorable Mickey shaped treats for breakfast inside Cinderella's castle.  Now it is a known fact that all food tastes better when it’s Mickey shaped, and this is no exception.  A lot of the snacks in the parks can be overly sweet or heavy, so after two weeks this refreshing, fruity muffin was exactly what I needed.
Butterbear Ice Cream, Diagon Alley, Universal Studios
If the Butterbeer itself isn’t enough for you, what about the ice cream version?  Strangely enough this actually tastes less sweet the the drinkable version, but it’s still rich and indulgent in all the right ways. I miss this a lot!
Warm Cinnamon Rolls, Gaston’s Tavern, Magic Kingdom
Who doesn't love a hot sweet pastry? Danish pastries are a favorite treat of mine, so when I saw this on the menu I knew I would have to give it a try at some point during my stay.  This version is humongous, I had it instead of lunch (even though it was only one snack credit for those of you on the dining plan) and it could easily fill two as a snack.  It was surprisingly moist and fruity, I’ve been dreaming about this ever since.

I honestly could write so many blog posts just on the food in Disney World, is that something you’d want to see me post here?  What’s your favorite Floridian snack?  

1 February 2017

London 361: January

This year you might have seen in my Goals of 2017 post that I wanted to see more of London again.  My passion for the city is very much still there but I was finding more excuses to hibernate at home.  Because of this I decided to challenge myself to something I called London 361:
London 361, as you will see in the above video, is all based around one book.  I picked up London: The Weekend Starts Here and was determined to try and do as many of the things mentioned in the book within one year as possible.  I called it London 361 as there are 361 places to explore in the book.  I'm hoping it will take me to parts of London I've never seen, and discover hidden gems within this amazing and varied city.  I won't be able to do them all, next week for example I am away when there is an event on that only happens once a year, but I'm going to do as much as possible and take you with me.  
My first video took me to London's oldest church, the St Pancras Old Church which is gorgeous and a really interesting place with lot's of unique aspects.  There is a tree, as you will see in the video, that is wrapped around 100's of graves.  That is because they moved these graves when building St Pancras Station down the road and the tree grew around them.  I've never seen anything like it.

We also hit up The British Library and the Wellcome Collection, both of which I have visited before.  The British Museum is always a hit, some incredible artifacts you can only see here, whereas The Wellcome Collection I am not so much a fan of, it's a strange mixture of medicine and art.  There regular exhibitions don't interest me, however I do think that there art exhibitions are really interesting, and change fairly frequently.

So, what do you think?  This is kind of trial and error at the moment so Id love some feedback.  If you want to subscribe to my Youtube channel you can do so here and I'll give a roundup of my London 361 videos here every month.

Until next time,

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