Yesterday I went into London to catch up with the lovely folk at Viking Cruises (you might remember me mentioning that I wrote the recipes for their cookery book and also for the gorgeous Nordic Style book they have on board). Viking Cruises are the sponsors of a brand new exhibition at the V&A: Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, which opens this Saturday, and I really do recommend that you give it a visit. Whether your interest is history, engineering or fashion, the whole exhibition is a fascinating insight into the glamour of the golden age of cruising. Known for their cool, Scandi-inspired ships and attention to detail, Viking Cruises really are the perfect match for this exhibition.
As we had some travel plans cancelled in August, Mr E and I have really been enjoying exploring our lovely local area. The Chilterns are stuffed full of historic stately homes and manor houses: from Waddesdon Manor, designed in the style of a romantic French Renaissance chateau, to Sir Francis Dashwood’s extravagant, Italianate West Wycombe Park, we have a huge diversity of beautiful buildings to visit. One that might have escaped your radar is Latimer House, now the De Vere Latimer Estate, a stunning mansion house estate that has recently undergone a huge (£7m) refurbishment that has transformed the original mansion house, including a beautifully renovated library, a coffee shop, a brand new restaurant: 1838 Restaurant and Bar, and the new Huntley Bar as well as additional luxury bedrooms and an elegant new reception.
Are we allowed to say ‘staycation’? Well, whatever we’re currently calling it, I had a bit of travel cancelled recently and was getting majorly itchy feet, so I suggested to Mr E that we take a little weekend trip to London. And what a lovely weekend it turned out to be. We stayed at the very lovely Dorsett Shepherds Bush, which is the perfect hotel for a city break: it’s literally a five minute walk from the tube station (and Westfield Shopping Centre), and we spent the whole weekend exploring and hopping on and off the tube.
As the kids get older, the idea of lazing on a beach with an iced drink and a good thriller novel to hand (my idea of heaven) becomes a bit less realistic. I know some teenagers are happy to loll around on holiday, but we like to break it up and have at least a couple of days expanding our comfort zone. I thought it would be a good idea to suggest a few activities to get the heart-rate up and excitement pounding, so here are a few of my top activities for adrenaline junkies. These are also great if you’re not actually heading away anywhere, but want a few tips for great days out to break up the holidays.
One of the incredible dining experiences of our recent foodie trip to Leeds was a visit to Stockdales of Yorkshire. I’d heard great things about this very stylish restaurant in the heart of Leeds city centre, with a menu that celebrates the best produce that Yorkshire has to offer, including some stunning 28 day aged black Wagyu beef, sourced from a farm in nearby Doncaster and cooked on a state of the art Josper charcoal grill. Read more
Last week I headed up to London in the sunshine to do a little messing about in boats. I always feel that I don’t really go to London enough – from our local train station it takes a little over half an hour to get into Euston, and unlike some of my unluckier friends, our service provider, London Midland, is really excellent: on time, clean and efficient. In a happy coincidence, it was also Afternoon Tea Week (I know, who knew that was a thing?) and I made my way to London Bridge pier to hop on board and enjoy a rather delicious afternoon tea with MBNA Thames Clippers.
What have you got planned this autumn? It’s the perfect time to get out and about, I always think – crunching through piles of golden leaves and wrapping up, getting out and discovering new places, all looking beautiful in their glowy autumn colours. To give you a bit of inspiration, I’ve teamed up with English Heritage to give two lucky winners a fabulous 12 month English Heritage family membership.
As a family, we’re pretty divided when it comes to phones. Mr English is a sworn iPhone devotee. The rest of us are mad on Samsung. At the moment, Charlie and Sam both have a Galaxy S4, and I’ve got an S3 (I did have an S4 too, but then Sam dropped his in the sea on a Biology field trip and he was so gutted I gave him mine – motherly love eh?).
As a Mum to two fabulous children under the age of 5, I am always looking for places where we can play, be challenged and have fun. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo has ticked all 3 boxes with Hullabazoo Adventure Play, their brand new outdoor play area nestled in the middle of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
On Sunday, we piled into our car and drove over to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo which is just over an hour for us. We were invited, courtesy of the lovely and talented English Mum, to preview the Hullabazoo Adventure Play. As we approached the Hullabazoo area, which is just behind the Sea Lion enclosure, I was pleased to see some really lovely wooden towers and structures making up the play space. In this day and age, everything seems to be primary coloured plastic and it was quite comforting to see a quality built wooden play place.
Ella took off the minute we entered Hullabazoo and headed straight for the Zip Line to have a whirl. Sam was begging to be let out of his pushchair and proceeded to tackle every mini-hill he could find before finally attempting to climb everything his sister tried. What I loved about Hullabazoo was that Ella (nearly 5) and Sam (18 months) could both be entertained and challenged by the various areas. There are cargo nets, slides, bridges, ladders, a zip line, swings, a round-about, balance beams and climbing frames which are accessible to most ages (with a bit of support for the youngers). We could have spent a long time in the Hullabazoo area had the steam engine not been beckoning! You will be pleased to know that the Hullabazoo Adventure Play is included in the price of your entry ticket to the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo so you won’t have to pay any extra to have a zippy-good time!
Hullabazoo Adventure Play is located at the heart of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, next to the Hullabazoo Indoor Play and the Child’s Farm. Hullabazoo is suitable for children of all ages and will be open for 364 days of the year. Hullabazoo opens to the general public on Saturday 25 May which is just in time for the Bank Holiday Weekend!
The Café Bebe family gives ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Hullabazoo Adventure Play a big thumbs up. We definitely have to return to explore the area more as I spent the entire time taking pictures and video of our visit. I didn’t even get to have a go on the zip line!
I’ve been going to Champneys since I was a kid. No, I didn’t live one of those ‘Richie Rich’ lifestyles where my parents whooshed me around by private jet, I just had a school friend whose Mum and Dad owned Champneys. It didn’t seem at all weird to me at the time. We used to run around the lawns, play hide and seek between the trees and generally behave like loons. I’ve been back a couple of times: my parents bought me a spa day for my 21st, and now my friend Bea manages the gym… two of my other friends, The Foxys met there (and were eventually married)… it’s that just-around-the-corner place that you drive past but don’t really notice.
This time I was invited for a lovely spa day courtesy of Kellogg’s. I like Kellogg’s. I’ve worked with them before and they’re a brand who don’t take themselves too seriously. As we chatted (and watched their fab new Special K video), we talked about the ‘two bowls, two weeks’ thing that they used to do. I think most of the people in the room had tried it… ‘but we’ve moved on from there’, said Sarah, lovely Kellogg’s person with voice of an angel and husband who makes bespoke furniture (it was that kind of day), ‘it’s not about dieting, it’s more about healthy choices and feeling good about yourself’. To this end, they’ve brought out a new biscuity snack. A snack aimed at those of us who can’t just eat ONE biscuit… (I mean, rolls of biscuits open half way down, so you have to eat all of those top ones, right?) called Biscuit Moments. Despite the rubbish name, they’re actually really yummy – kind of crispy and with a fruity filling (blueberry or strawberry at the moment, but watch this space) and a soft vanilla flavoured drizzly bit on top. A pack of two is 99 calories and I have to say, they didn’t taste diety at all (unlike those awful cardboardy things that we’ve had marketed to us as ‘diet’ snackage in the past. My goody bag was pounced on as soon as I hit the front door, and the whole lot were devoured by my family – a sign that they probably taste quite nice. I managed to wrestle the Champneys goodies away though, so it’s all good.
On to the pampering then… after our gorgeous lunch (in a private room) which was healthy, but still delicious – think stuffed peppers, lovely salads with lentils, seafood pad thai… (and check out the Champneys trifles)… we got changed into our obligatory fluffy white towelling robes and headed for the sauna. A couple of my blogging buddies from YEARS ago were there – Alice and Jane from our original trip to Disney, in fact, so we spent a while in the jacuzzi having a reminisce and a cackle. Oh it was all good therapy. On to the actual treatment: I had an Elemis Face & Body Sensation treatment with Elemis’ fabulous Tri-Enzyme Resurfacing Facial and it was truly wondrous. Hot stone massage first, then when I was all warm and limp and drowsy, a lovely facial. I came out glowing, and a little greasy looking, but feeling wonderful.
I’m not sure if I’d stay at Champneys for any period of time, but I’d thoroughly recommend maybe a day spa visit or an overnighter – oh and make sure you visit my friend Bea in the fitness centre too – lots of the fitness sessions throughout the day are free.
Special K Biscuit Moments will be available in the usual places from August 2012 priced at £1.99 for a multipack of five sachets of two biscuits.
So last weekend, we were lucky enough to be offered a hotel room in London for Cybermummy weekend. The hubby and I, after several long months apart, decided to have a quiet night on the first night, and headed to our hotel, the Thistle in Kensington Gardens, early on the Friday afternoon.
First impressions, I have to say, were slightly disappointing. The hotel is on Bayswater Road (an easy walk from Queensway Tube on the central line) and as soon as you glimpse the sign, all you see is a big petrol station. Happily, turning down the side street to the actual entrance, it just got better and better.
First off, it’s had a huge refurbishment, in the process elevating this fab little gem from a 3* to a 4*. The lovely Customer Relations Manager met us at the (sparkly) lifts and told us all about it. He also told us that we’d been upgraded to a suite. RESULT!
Those sparkly lifts caused quite a lot of hilarity. Firstly, they were teeny. On the sign it said you could fit 8 people, but honestly – we got stuck in there with a couple of sweaty German people and it was not pleasant. I should imagine 8 people in there would be akin to one of those Guinness record breaking ‘squeezing people into a Mini Cooper’ attempts. The other problem was that we were singularly useless at putting our room key in the slot and then pressing the button. Happily, the Concierge seemed to be well used to people going down instead of up and arriving in his lobby. He swiftly sorted out our card problems and send us soaring to the 7th floor.
Our suite was amazing, with a lovely lounge area complete with trendy grey wool sofas…
…a sparkly new bathroom:
and a bed as big as a bouncy castle (happily, as later, when the husband was all ‘tired and emotional’ after our two bottles of wine and conked out in an ungainly starfish position – I still had tons of room across the other side).
The views over Hyde Park were stunning (they even left us a little pair of binoculars so we could check out the Albert Hall and the Gherkin):
and as it was such a lovely evening, we headed out for a gorgeous walk – you’d never even know you were in the middle of London!
Obviously wishing to test the place as thoroughly as possible for you, my loyal reader, we then decided to check out the bar:
We weren’t disappointed. Our lovely waitress was not only chatty and friendly, she kept us topped up with gin and peanuts and told us a couple of nice places to try for drinks and dinner, all within easy walking distance of the hotel. Mind you, the menu looked so nice that we almost didn’t bother going out at all.
A short stroll took us to bustling Bayswater and a plethora of pubs, restaurants and bars. A packed Italian restaurant caught our eye and we feasted on beautifully tender salt and pepper squid, a lush rocket, tomato and avocado salad, and then huge prawns in a spicy tomato sauce and crispy fritto misto. Then came the two bottles of wine, the stagger home and the inevitable collapse.
The absolute selling point of the Thistle, Kensington Gardens, forgetting for a moment the beautiful decor and the great location, is the staff: from the amazingly helpful Concierge who helped me find a route home dodging around central line closures on the Sunday morning, not forgetting the polite and friendly breakfast staff who rushed to make me an omelette then checked twice to make sure I was enjoying it, to the lovely receptionists and the housekeeping staff who brought chocolates and wished us sweet dreams.
What a fabulous, fabulous place. We’ll definitely be back!
Thistle Kensington Gardens
104 Bayswater Road
London W2 3HL
Phone: 0871 376 9024 / +44 845 305 8324
Prices from £102 per room per night
From Tuesday 5th July, Thistle launches its national summer deal, offering guests an extra 30% off room-only stays with the option to add breakfast for only £10 extra. The offer runs across all Thistle’s 33 UK hotels. To book, and for more hotel package deals available, visit www.thistle.com/summer. Alternatively, call: 0871 971 1831
Thanks so much to Thistle Hotels for our fabulous break, and to everyone at Kensington Gardens for making us so welcome.
So Saturday saw me up really bright and early driving two very grogging teenagers down to Goodwood (we were up at 6am – alien territory for a teen).
We pinched English Grandma’s satnav and got down there really easily. As we wandered down from the car park, a golf buggy ambled past us. I looked up to find myself face to face with Lewis Hamilton. He smiled at me and I smiled back, not really placing the face…
Hmm, the baby face… pencil-thin facial beardy thing… Craig David?? Nope, it’s… oh my god.
‘Look behind us!’, I whispered urgently at the fellas, ‘it’s… erm… y’know, that one that’s not Jensen”
The boys were both engrossed looking at Ken Block’s car and didn’t have a clue what I was on about. As I bumbled about trying to find the name in my old and addled brain, he was getting away! ‘You know! The Santander one!’. Sadly, by the time they’d looked, they could only see a retreating golf buggy and the back of some bloke’s head in a baseball cap. They will NEVER believe me and henceforth Goodwood will always be the day where Mum reckons she saw Lewis but nobody else did.
Still, onwards and upwards. It’s not the first time my teenagers have thought I was mental. Goodwood is THE place to be if you love cars and bikes. We were really lucky to be the guests of SEAT and headed to their fabulous hospitality area where we were welcomed in quite spectacular style by their resident computer graffiti artist:
The fellas checked in and soon we were heading over to the racecourse where the SEAT Young Driver Experience was set up. Kids from 11 to 16 get to have a go in an awesome fleet of specially adapted SEAT Ibizas. The Death Wish Child looked scarily comfortable behind the wheel:
… as did his brother who has just one *gulp* year left, before he’s learning for real:
After they’d finished their lessons, we watched quite a bit of this:
Did quite a bit of this:
Did plenty of oohing and aahing at the Red Arrows’ fantastic display:
And even bumped into a few old friends:
What a great day out! Thanks so much to everyone at SEAT for making us so welcome (and sorry that the Death Wish Child drank so much of your Coke. What can I say? The boy is a bucket).
PS: And Lewis? If you’re reading this? We had a moment, didn’t we? Just admit it.
The Death Wish Dude is MAD about motorbikes. It must be something about the danger, I would wager. He’s one of those bike nerds who can tell you the make of each motorbike as it whizzes past you on the motorway. He was reeeeally disappointed, then, when he learned that our lovely friend Lu over at Family Affairs was giving away tickets for the AirAsia MotoGP 2011 at Silverstone this weekend. ‘Why can’t we fly over? Please can we? PLEASE? Valentino Rossi, Mum, Valentino Rossi!’ Sadly it’s a no no. And I’m even more disappointed because I’ve now found out tons more information about motorsport’s hottest weekend.
1. There’s more than just bikes.
Who knew? There are stunt shows and even aerobatic displays (oh and for our gentlemen friends, the gorgeous Air Asia stewardesses will be strutting their stuff too *cough*). You can even unwind after the race with a Thai massage (no, not from the stewardesses, sorry).
2. There’s FOOD!
Visit the AirAsia booth and you can ‘Experience AirAsia’ – from Chinese lion dancers to henna painting from India and *gasp* traditional cooking demos and tasting from the incredible Malaysia Kitchen.
3. You can meet the team!
The riders will be at the Air Asia booth for a special signing session on Saturday at 3.30pm (don’t tell the Death Wish One).
4. You can win stuff.
There will be opportunities to win exciting prizes including free flights to Kuala Lumpur and beyond.
Gutted. Absolutely gutted. So if you’re off to the races this weekend, have a great time, and if you’ve nothing planned, head along to Silverstone. It sounds like an awesome weekend.
For more info check out Silverstone.co.uk. The AirAsia booth is open from 8am Saturday and Sunday.
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