Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Afternoon tea down the Rabbit Hole

To celebrate Jasmin's 30th un-birthday, we took her for the Mad Hatter themed afternoon tea at the Sanderson Hotel in London. I've been to a lot of different afternoon teas - both for work and socially - and have had very mixed experiences. 

I feel that generally, as long as you have tea, sandwiches, cakes and scones the difference is really about the surroundings. I have a draft post for a future date with my top picks in London. But for a bit of a spoiler: this one was awesome!

I couldn't really work the Sanderson out... it didn't seem to really know what it was. Walking past the outside, it's very non-descript. In fact I didn't realise until I booked this tea that I'd actually walked past it many times before. The outside is a bog standard 70s style building, set on a narrow street between Oxford and Goodge streets. Inside it wasn't particularly grand. The reception was a very large space littered with quirky seats (as in the above photo). This large expanse ended at a fairly small check in desk.

It seemed to want to make a big statement, but it was neither welcoming nor beautiful and impressive. It was mostly just trying too hard to be 'cool'.

Having said that the restaurant was nice. We were seated outside, but under cover next to heaters and with fleecy blankets if we needed. 

The menu was hidden inside an old novel and the description of each of the teas was on the back of these playing cards.

We got to smell the teas before we chose which we wanted to try. We ended up having a pot of each of them to test them all.

Croque Monsieur was definitely my favourite of the sandwiches.

And the cakes were all themed. I really enjoyed them all. Highlights included the chocolate Oreo soldier biscuits, marshmallow toadstools and the lady bird almond cakes.

I personally didn't like this one as it was coconut. But the idea is you drink the cocktail through the straw and get three distinct flavours.

Jasmin got an extra little something as it was her birthday. We didn't ask for this but they asked whether we were celebrating anything when we first sat down. That was a nice surprise.

An 'extra' that everyone gets when they have finished their sandwiches and cake was this little flower pot of ice cream. We were all pretty stuffed by the end but this was an unusual little ending of the meal. The flowers were edible.

This tea is one of the more pricey in London, but I really thought it was worth it. The food was excellent and you are probably paying a little more for the quirky nature of the day but that really does add to the experience.

::Have you been to afternoon tea? What did you enjoy most? Do you eat your scones cream first or jam first?::

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Times Square

Times Square was weird. Because it's not actually a square. Not as I was expecting from my experience of squares in London. 

Also it wasn't exactly somewhere I really enjoyed on my visit. It was busy with tourists, people dressed a cartoon character, in bikinis and those handing out flyers. I don't know whether it was because I was visiting it alone or it just want'y my thing but I passed through very quickly. It also left a bad taste in my mouth because I did a really stupid thing that was quite unlike me as a traveller.

The cartoon characters wander around ready for tourists to have their photo taken with. I spotted someone dressed as Elmo and decided that would be something cool - now it seems completely pointless. I suppose I was trying to grasp something of the real Times Square experience, since otherwise it seemed massively overhyped. Elmo (and his 3 friends) happily posed for a photo. They then asked for a tip - par for the course in the states. Instead of pulling out a $5 or lower - which would have been more than appropriate. I only have a $20. So I hand it over. Why? I have no idea. All of a sudden I've tipped 4 cartoon characters far to much.

It's been long enough now that the shame has left me. But I still have no idea what I was thinking. I could say it's because I hadn't realised the amount of the note properly - since American money is all the same colour - and I really didn't have anything smaller in my purse. Later, when I confessed to Samantha she quite reasonably asked, 'Why didn't you ask them for change?' Why did I not know you could ask for change from a tip?! This was a bi of a revelation. I suppose because tipping is such a part of American culture and it's not so much in the UK this had never, ever occurred to me before. I can now chalk this up to experience, and after all I did get a photo with Elmo. Although I could have done without all his mates photobombing. Especially for $20!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Walking in the rain in Berlin

One of the things we took advantage of on offer at our hostel in Berlin was the daily 'free' walking tour. Now this isn't actually free and I'm glad that I now know this, as I wasn't aware on my first backpacking trip to Europe in 2007 and was super surprised when we got to the end of the free walking tour to be asked for money. As a poor backpacker I had embarked on the tour to save some money... only to then not have saved any! This time I went in thinking 'this is a €10 tour'. 

We were collected by our guide (the first of two) in the reception of our hostel and walked along to Pariser Platz, in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Here we were herded to a large swarm of other tourists waiting to be split into groups for their own walking tour. At this point our guide Konstantin gave us a numbered ticket and promptly disappeared into the crowd.

We ended up in the English language group and finally our number was called to join Lynsey, from Scotland, for the tour to actually begin. 

We didn't have great conditions for it, as it rained the entire two hours. Lynsey was knowledgable and engaging however and the tour was interesting. It brought back memories of the cycling tour I did with Macey and Joe all those many moons ago.

The only negative point of the tour was the pit stop we made around an hour and a half into the tour. This is obviously where all of the tours stop, and apparently all at the same time. Lynsey gave us 10 minutes to go in, use the toilets and buy a drink if we wished. I was lucky to get in the toilet queue before it started to snake up the stairs. But I also wanted a warm drink (since we'd been out in the cold for so long). This involved waiting a bit longer and being late back to the group. That was a bit of a shambles. The cafe obviously has an agreement (and probably a commission) with Sandemans tour operator but who brings everyone there at exactly the same time and expects them to be in and out within 10 minutes?!

It was a shame about the weather, since it cleared up as soon as we finished the tour. I'm still glad we went along though. Walking tours are such a great way to get a grip on a new place and get a run down of interesting places and some of the back story of the city, especially if you don't have a lot of time there. 

Me looking at the annoying people with their massive umbrellas ruining my photo!

This is inside the Holocaust memorial in Berlin (which is actually called 'Memorial to the Murdered Jew of Europe' a somewhat evocative title). I think this is a really significant sculpture/memorial. The fact that the meaning has never been explained by the artist is important, in my opinion anyway. There are theories to what all the stones symbolise, and they all seem plausible. Walking through I was definitely struck by its power. The stones are all different sizes, and as you get into the middle they tower above you, they are close together so it's not easy to pass other people. It's dark and disorientating. You can hear other people but you don't know whether they are about to pop out from behind the stone in front of you or if their voices are just carrying along from further away. There are some dead ends as well. It's an experience, more than just looking at a statue or fountain and being completely disconnected from its meaning. This memorial takes you inside of it, makes you feel uncomfortable and bring up real emotion. 

Some of the stones have started to crack. Which really seemed to add something to the memorial.

Even though I've seen it before; in Berlin and also at the Imperial War Museum in London, I was still struck by the Berlin Wall. It just seems so small and flimsy. How could this little wall have done so much damage?

Of course, the Berlin wall that separated East and West Berlin wasn't just this little piece of concrete, it was also watch towers, soldiers with guns and a no mans land 'death strip' filled with sand. It's still interesting to come face to face with this notorious piece of history and think 'is that it?!' 

Strange to be here looking at this wall, dividing a city, built to keep inhabitants within one country and there may be another wall erected soon across the Atlantic there to keep others out. Seems like we have learnt nothing.

We ended the tour in Bebelplatz. The site of Nazi book burning in Berlin. There is a memorial here for the approximately 20,000 books burnt on the 10th May 1933. This is also a moving memorial, as you look into a basement through a glass window, all you can see are rows and rows of empty book shelves. Enough to hold the number of books lost that night. Such a terrible part of history but marked and remembered in appropriate and significant ways. 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Wanderings Lately :: March

It's now the 9th of April and I am really late with my Wandering Lately post! March was a full month of study, work, trips to Oxford and back to Essex for the Easter weekend. I missed my official MA dissertation deadline, which means I will need to resubmit. Thankfully that means I will get another year to complete the thesis. It's extremely hard to juggle a fulfilling but hectic job, general life stuff (I spent my Friday evening doing my food shop this week - rock and roll!), and trying to have some semblance of a social life with studying. I am moving forward with my dissertation though so although progress is slow, it is going somewhere. I am definitely a tortoise rather than a hare!

This Month I read an amazing book, the last in my monthly delivery from Willoughby Book Club: 'Butterfly's Shadow'. If I didn't have a massive stack of books to read - presents from Christmas and birthday(s!), then I would probably have extended my subscription to the service as the books I received were really well matched to the preferences I send them.   

This month I also made use of living in a house with a garden; planting the bulbs my Mum gave me for Easter instead of an egg, and I also invested in another house plant - this time for my room. The gardening was hard work, and I was definitely sore after all the digging, but there are now A LOT of flowers planted in my little flowerbed at the back of our garden and I am very excited to see what grows! I also cut our grass and persuaded my friend Macey to sit outside when she came over for dinner this week - it was pretty chilly by the end but we made the best of it!

Here's what else was significant this month...

Healthy snacks

I got the trek bar for free from my Nakd bar delivery. Incidentally this is the BEST way to buy the bars, in bulk from the website. It works out at 0.70p per bar and you get loads. Also I was having a lot of trouble finding my favourite flavour 'Berry Delight' in the shops. The Trek bar wasn't exactly a winner for me. I think it would be safe to say 'gluten, wheat, dairy and fun free' on the packet. 

I've started taking a jam jar salad into work for lunch and I love how convenient they are! I'm very late to the part with these but love how much variety there can be!

Lastly, I am in LOVE with these cinnamon nuts! They are from the Deliciously Ella website, and I think I probably spoke about then in a previous post but OH! I am spending so much money on almonds buying enough to make a batch of these every fortnight! They even got my parents' seal of approval when I took some home a few weeks ago!

Mother's Day

For mothers' day we headed up to my Brother's house in Oxford for the day. As always the food was delectable (Keith wasn't cooking!) and we got to look around Magdalen (pron: Mawdlin) college, where my brother is studying. Unfortunately we didn't see any deer there but maybe more into the Spring we can go back and see them.


I didn't take many pictures over Easter, but here are a couple - The top photos are of my Mum and me when we were both children. My Mum recently came across lots of old photos she's never seen before and we were looking through them. I could always pick my Mum out of a crowd (on her class school photo for example) and my Dad asked how it was so easy... and the answer? I basically just look for myself in the photo. Although it's quite easy to see in the ones above that one photo is clearly older than the other, I think the two children do kinda look the same.

The second photo is my brother stuffing his face with my Mum's simnel cake. She sent us both off with a a quarter of the cake each, and instead of waiting and cutting a normal sized slice off, he just decided to take a massive bite out of the whole thing. What. A. Pig.


I had my second student arrival to Oxford this month as well. The weather this time was glorious and I am now very familiar with the town so I felt a lot more confident showing students around etc. We had out usual tour of the city (including Christchurch college) finishing with afternoon tea. The students are a great group and all settled in pretty quickly.

And lastly...

Has anyone seen those adverts for the company 'Boomf'. Putting photos onto marshmallows. When I first saw an advert for them on TV I thought it was a joke. Such a random idea! BUT they are actually quite a good idea for us at work to give as gifts to faculty or visiting university staff. Once people have visited a few times they probably don't want another box of shortbread, chocolates or tea! We ordered a box as a test and I got to try one. They are random, but taste completely normal and did look quite cool in the box. We had photos of London on ours, and they came out pretty well. I definitely wouldn't buy for a friend or family member but as a corporate gift they are actually quite a good idea!

::How was your month? Did you enjoy March? Has Spring sprung where you are?::

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Wanderings Lately :: February 2016

February always whizzes past in the blink of an eye, but it's an important month for me as it's my birthday! Woo! It's also Valentine's Day, but as I don't seem to be able to find any man who I can't find some kind of fault with (Am I picky?) I prefer to treat the 14th as I would any other day. This year that meant studying in the library! I am so rock and roll!

This year the weather has begun to grace us with some sunshine in February; there have been enough sunny (but cold) days this past month to justify proclaiming 'Spring is on the way!' to everyone I speak to at work! It's also started to get lighter in the evenings, when I get out of work on time at 4.30 I can cycle home without using my lights. That really is exciting!

This month I've been watching the BBC series on 'The Story of China', which is really interesting and mentioned Suzhou in the last one I watched. Whilst I am about to criticise it, I must say that I absolutely love China and watching this has re-ignited a desire to go back soon and see all the places I didn't visit before. However, throughout the hour the show is on, I can't help thinking how much like Chinese propaganda it is! Although I know that China invented so many important things throughout history, items that have greatly changed our lives as we know it this show has been downplaying anything the West might have done better... I haven't made it to Mao and the cultural revolution yet, which I'll be surprised if they can sugar coat! I probably just want to defend Europe, like you would a family member when someone else criticises them, but they do seem to be hamming up how wonderful China is without offered any negative aspects of life during the many dynasties. 

Anyway, here was February...

My Birthday

I had a great birthday,  and since on the actual day I was travelling down to London from Oxford with a group of students, I got the rest of the day off once we arrived! I went for lunch with my Mum and brother and then went back to Hawker House with friends, both brothers and my Sister-in-law. It was a great night, nothing crazy mad but with enough wine and laughter to brighten an already fun day!

This weekend I also celebrated, this time with my Mum and Dad at Fortnum & Mason's Afternoon Tea. I'm going to write about this at another time, but just to say that it was lovely, and I'm still making my way through scones and jam now!


I've spent every weekend (where I didn't already have plans) in the library trying to work on my dissertation. The current deadline is at the end of March, I'm unlikely to make that, but I'm going to give it a good go! Thankfully I now actually have more of a clue what I'm doing, as I've had a look at previous students' dissertations in the library and they really showed me the direction I need to head in! Now it's all about focus and writing the words!

Green Fingers

This month my first flowers started to pop up in the garden! I bought some daffodil bulbs at the end of last year, and then took ages before I actually planted them. But look! They have started to give our garden a bit of colour! I've now cut a few and put them in the house, along with a bunch my housemate bought from sainsburys. Who knew gardening could be so easy!

Healthy Cooking

I've stepped up my healthy cooking game this month. After going vegetarian for lent - it was going to be vegan but that is just so darn hard! I'm mostly being vegetarian - and a couple of times pescatarian when out with friends - with as much dairy cut out as I can. I've swapped out cow's milk for either soya or hazelnut/almond milk. I actually quite like soya milk in my tea - nut milk not so much. I was pushed in the vegan direction from watching the documentary 'Cowspiracy' on Netflix. I wouldn't be vegetarian/vegan due to animals rights - which probably makes me sound like a monster - but to know what a massive effect it has on our environment was more of a reason for me.

As I was embarking on this vegetarian month and a half; and this has also come up when looking into being zero waste, I ordered the Deliciously Ella cookbook from the library - I didn't want to buy it as it has some fairly bad reviews. Chatting about this at work, one of the girls lent me another vegan cookbook. The 'Oh she glows' cookbook. Although I've never actually met a Vegan and I was blown away by their 'glow' I have been enjoying making some of the dishes in each of these books.

Above have been some highlights - homemade granola, spicy almonds, frozen banana bites and cashew nut butter! Despite what everyone seems to say about switching to this kind of lifestyle, it IS expensive, and it's definitely NOT easier or simpler for life. These recipes take much longer than just buying a packet at the supermarket, and for me I'm just not going to buy a small packet of £8 coconut sugar when I can use some caster sugar from my cupboard! However, you do feel a little sense of achievement when it turns out ok and you get to munch on things you've made that you usually just mindlessly grab out of the cupboard. Also; I can't believe how easy it is to make cashew butter!

Tube Rage

This month I have noticed myself getting less and less tolerant of people on the tube. Mondays seem to be the worst! Why don't people move along inside the car, or take their bloody backpacks off?! And those people who try to get up out of their seat ages before the trains even pulled into the station when the carriage is packed.... this is particularly annoying when we're at a big transfer stop like London Bridge or Waterloo because you just know that half the people on the train are also going to be getting off. You've had a seat, and now you want to be the first one off too?! Ahhhhh! I definitely need to cycle more often to lessen my tube rage!

::What was your February like? Do you have exciting plans for March?::