Sick of doing the same old thing night after night? I mentioned over the weekend that I am totally off tv, and when you do decide to stop watching it I’m telling you, you’ll find yourself faced with hours of free time, you just won’t know what to do with it!

But that’s ok because believe me, there is always something much more exciting waiting for you and one of those things involves a room full of amateur artists, a palette of paint and some quality tunes.

It’s time to join the latest craze in evening entertainment, it’s time to take part in a paint party.

Ever since I first saw The Paint Republic on twitter over the summer, I have been trying to coordinate my diary to attend one of the classes, but alas our schedules were constantly clashing. Finally a date popped up where I had nothing planned – but the event was all the way in Chester, over an hours drive from home.

What the heck, I wanted to paint – no I needed to paint as it was on my 2016 to do list so Mo would just have to deal with me schlepping him across Cheshire for a night of creativity.

I sat down and stared at my blank canvas, glanced over to my right at Lindsay’s completed masterpiece. How on earth are we supposed to paint something like that freehand?!?!

I consider myself to be fairly creative. I did well in art throughout school, took a fine art module at university, but I’ve never freehand painted anything. Ever. I’ve always pre drawn my outlines and then used a paintbrush to colour it in. Free painting surely meant there was little room for error, and I was feeling slightly pressured as Mo was enjoying making a big deal over the fact that I was a lot more experienced than he was.

I literally can’t put into words how much fun we had that night!!

 

 

We left immediately counting out how many friends we can rally round to organise another party, and I can’t wait to get in touch with Lindsay when I get back from my travels to make it possible. Lindsay is not only the lady behind the painting we were trying to recreate, but also the co-founder of the Paint Republic in the UK.

Amazingly, she was able to lead a whole class of beginners through the process step by step. I don’t know how she did it, but she just did. Bit by bit we built up the colours, the layers, the strokes… we blended, dabbed, flicked… the full works! All the while Lindsay was on the mic offering help, commentary and most importantly keeping the atmosphere going, she has a fantastic ambience about her and she kept us smiling and laughing all evening.

With only a short break in between painting, the time that night flew by. Before we knew it lo and behold on the stand in front of us was a completed work of art. You get a real sense of achievement and I don’t think anyone around us was disappointed with what they had created.

I thought it was worth sharing a few tips, because I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to do this at some point so hopefully these will help you through:

 

Top tips to survive your first paint party:

 

Don’t wear clothes you’re precious about

You’re painting for crying out loud, the chances are paint is going to land on your clothing at some point. In my case, Mo’s technique of snow splattering ended up with half my side covered in white flecks of acrylic. I wasn’t bothered, added to the fun and it all came off – but if you are thinking of wearing something fancy, don’t be precious about it

 

Keep your drink away from your paint-water glass

Nobody wants paint in their drink. Or to drink paint water. And yes I nearly did both of those things.

 

Take your friends

This isn’t a silent solitary art class, this is a paint party. So rally your friends round get a table together and enjoy yourselves! Perhaps compete on whose turns out best? Mo enjoyed asking facebook friends to judge between painting a and painting b (thankfully I won!)

 

Go with the flow

The flow of the night, the flow of the music and of course more importantly, the flow of your paintbrush. Yours might not look exactly like the original, but who cares? It’s your masterpiece. Own it.

 

If this has intrigued you in any way then I am pleased to tell you that a few days ago the Paint Republic finally published a list of new dates on their website. None in Manchester just yet… but as I said, the minute I return I shall be on the case!!!

To be perfectly honest, Mo and I both said we would travel all the way back to the heart of Chester just to have another go if we had to, we enjoyed it that much.

If this year is the year you try new things, do things differently then you need to get online, book a class, switch off that TV, peel yourself off that sofa and unleash your inner Picasso! You might discover a whole new direction in life…??

 

Have you been to a Paint Republic experience before? Or done anything similar? Are you based in Manchester and would like to book on and give it a go?

 

*** Thank you to Lindsay from The Paint Republic for inviting Mo and I to take part in this fantastic experience, and for helping me create artwork that I could then use on my Christmas cards this year! They went down a treat, a real talking point! ***

 

 

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header image for Travel Linkup_ New Year Travel Goals

 

Happy New Year!!

It’s finally here, we’ve said goodbye to 2016 and I can now get excited for a fresh start and year ahead. In between working, volunteering and seeing friends and family I spent the last week having a complete detox in the house. Mo and I cleared through all the excess we have accumulated in our lives and have passed things on to those who need them more.

We want a fresh start for us both.

So… what lies ahead??

SO MUCH AWESOMENESS!!!

 

Myanmar

I’m heading to Yangon this month to join a tour with Intrepid travel and discover the beauty of Myanmar. A trip that originally I was in two minds about (more on that later) but now everything has been finalised and I will soon be taking my first Cathay Pacific flight East where I hope to discover sights, sounds and tastes of Burmese culture.

 

View point in Myanmar

Image taken from myanmar.travel

 

Flaine

I had never heard of Flaine, had not the foggiest idea where it was (I now know it’s in France). But after a fantastically fun session at Chill factore in Manchester with Crystal Ski Holidays, I managed to win a trip for my fantastic four crew and I to FINALLY go on our first ever ski trip!!! So to Flaine we shall go!!

 

snow in Flaine, France

Image taken from Crystal Ski Holidays

 

London

I go to London quite a bit, but this year Traverse has decided to pick London as it’s host city and they’re going all out with a week of organised events. One of my favourite blogger hangouts in one of my favourite cities. What’s not to be excited about??

 

 

Sweden

No year is complete without a trip to see the niece and nephew in Stockholm. It feels like ages since we were last there and Mo and I are both feeling some serious withdrawal sypmtoms, we miss Fika! Think we’ll start looking for those flights asap…

 

 

Ben Nevis part 3

Despite the name, we’re not headed to Ben Nevis for a third time, this is simply what our yearly family trip has been titled. First year Ben Nevis, second year Saltburn by the Sea and this year Mo and I are taking charge and I know my dad will be reading this so I’m afraid I can’t divulge the location just yet, but it’s basically somewhere in the UK where we can all be together as a family and enjoy a mini break.

 

So thats whats on my to do list. What’s on the wish list? Well as usual, plenty!

 

Turkey

For years and years Mo and I have talked about visiting Turkey with our dear friends. Istanbul gets a lot of bad press at the minute as they seem to be caught in some of the Middle East cross fire but it hasn’t put us off wanting to go, perhaps 2017 will finally be the year we do.

 

sunset over Istanbul

Image taken from blogs.fco.uk

 

Iceland

It looks so beautiful! I mean just look at it…

 

blue lagoon iceland

Image taken from iceland.is

 

Nice no?

 

Italy

Everyone raves about Italy but I’ve never been. I’m not really sure where in Italy I’d like to go, but it could be nice to venture that-a way and try some of my favourite dishes in their home country.

 

image of Italy, Venezia at sunset

Image taken from surprisingitaly.com

 

And I haven’t really had the chance to think about anything else, well not yet anyway 😉

 

I am just looking forward to looking forward and I am determined to make this year the best one yet. I have a number of other life goals that I am also determined to accomplish. I want to take the charity work I do for others up another notch and have some other exciting changes I’m working on too which I hope to share at some point.

So first up, Yangon! and I have two weeks to get packed, sorted and prepped for my trip. Any tips, please please send them my way…

 

What have you got planned for 2017? 

 

*** January Travel Linkup ***
Travel Wishlists and plans for the year of adventures ahead (and perhaps even a few of your favorite 2016 travels?)
Just pop your post up over the first week of the month (the 1st – 7th January), add it to the link up widget – found on either Angie’s, Emma’s or on our lovely co-host Polly’s blog

 

image header for January Travel Linkup_ new year goals post

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westbridge

 

There’s no shortage of hotels in London, all shapes, all sizes – usually fairly expensive compared to most European cities. But then this is London and London dances to the beat of it’s own drum.

We were driving down, boot crammed with suits and outfits ready for another family weekend wedding extravaganza and my dear mother had organised for us all to stay at a hotel not far from the party shenanigans – so we were close enough to be with family but at least we had somewhere peaceful to retire at the end of the day.

The Westbridge Hotel is a beautifully decorated (and fragranced) boutique hotel in the heart of East London. About a 10-15 minute walk from the Westfield Stratford shopping mall, the ArcelorMittal Orbit and West Ham Football Club, the hotel is well located (especially handy for anyone needing to visit ExCel London).

The investment in East London around the time of the London Olympics has reaped dividends. The place is absolutely unrecognisable from when we used to visit family a few years ago. East London finally feels like a real part of this great City and deservedly so.

We arrived late in the night for a 2-night stay and even after midnight were greeted by the loveliest staff. The polite and friendly nature of all of the staff is one of the standout features of this place. Whilst the hotel front faces out onto a relatively busy road, once you’re in there, you’ll find yourself in the most tranquil of spaces. Within seconds you forget about, and in fact cannot even hear the traffic. Pretty rare for a London hotel.

My family and I occupied 3 of the 4 suite rooms in what seemed like a private floor of the hotel. (A treat from my Mum – as Mo and I have never even stayed in a suite before). All 3 rooms were decorated to a high standard, befitting of the monarchs they were named after. Large beds, gorgeous, cosy sitting areas and of course, all en suite. You’ve got your usual kit too – free super fast wifi, hairdryer, mini fridge, tea and coffee facilities etc.

 

Westbridge hotel London Review

Apologies for the bad quality and severe lack of photos. With so much to remember for the wedding and as we had arrived so late at night, I had first of all left my camera at home and second, was way too tired to do anything but sleep that night!

 

Back to the room…

The beds are sumptuous and we simply melted into them after the long, hectic days at the wedding parties. Everything here is efficient but uber-comfortable. Even the carpet was warm and fluffy.

The bathrooms are again of a very high spec, luxury amenities were provided (and smelt divine) but the space is slightly on the smaller side. Not that this was an issue as for a city break, all you’re looking for is a quick shower before you head out for a full day in the city. But each suite’s bathroom was slightly different from the other so it’s something you can clarify at the time of booking.

The buffet breakfast was pretty impressive too, the perfect way to fuel up before you head out. There’s large selection of pastries and breads, eggs, hot and cold meats and fruit as well as hot and cold drinks. And the extra bonus for us, everything is halal – including the sausages and rashers. The smile on my family’s face could not have been any bigger.

Weather dependent, there is also a lovely outdoor courtyard with comfortable rattan style furniture where you can take your breakfast or coffee. Luckily for us, the weather was pretty good all weekend so we had breakfast outside on our last morning.

My sister made use of the small, but well equipped gym and we all loved the addition of the guest exclusive lounge area, a luxurious retreat from the hustle and bustle of London life (also a great spot for family photos 🙂 )

The hotel was pretty busy which is clearly a good sign of the standards they provide. But everything about this place really made us feel as though we were staying in a home away from home.

Would we stay here again? You bet we would!

 

The Westbridge Hotel,
335-337 High Street, London, E15 2TF

 

Have you been to East London recently? Stay anywhere great or do you prefer to stay closer to the city? 

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Macau Wok Star - School of Wok

 

I’m doing a throwback post today, casting my mind back to early April…

Travel Weekly, along with the Macau Tourist Board hosted a competition some time ago and I was lucky enough to be one of the winners!

The prize: an evening at the School of Wok along with an overnight stay at The Strand Hotel in Covent Garden, London.

Amazing! I was so excited, although I had no idea whatsoever what to expect when it came to Macanese food. All I knew was that it meant a couple of days in my favourite city outside of Manchester.

The last time I took part in a cookery experience was down in Kingston at Busaba. I’m not the best chef in the world but I do enjoy cooking, so I was looking forward to learning some new skills and adding to my repertoire.

 

The Strand Hotel:

Staying at The Strand hotel has well and truly spoilt me. The hotel is grand, seriously huge, so big we actually had to form an orderly queue to check in. What I loved most about it was how perfect its location was. It makes me sad thinking of how far I usually have to travel to get so central 🙁 The room itself was basic, but lets be honest, when you’re staying in Covent Garden how much time are you going to spend in your room??

 

 

My highlight was being able to turn the corner and go for an early sunrise run along the Embankment – it was the most peaceful moment I’ve ever spent in London. I blogged this week about how great running is and that morning, pounding the pavement alongside the Thames gave me an amazing feeling of freedom (also brought back feelings of wanting to move to the big city!?! eek!)

 

 

School of Wok:

Jeremy’s School of wok is a wonderful set up. An award-winning cookery school in the heart of Covent Garden. The space was large enough to fit our group but the room was still intimate and welcoming. The atmosphere was more private dinner party than strict cooking class.

As well as regular cooking classes, they’ve hosted charity events, held specialist cooking nights with big chefs from the London food scene, focusing on Asian and Oriental cuisine.

And they were the first to host a Macanese cookery class in London!

 

 

Cooking with Big Phang & Little Pang:

Jeremy -Descended from three generations of Chinese chefs, after starting out in marketing, Jeremy decided to follow his heart and  go back into cooking (what a great choice that was!)

Jonathon – Former Britains Next top model judge turned celebrity chef. With a number of TV shows, cook books and gastronomical adventures under his belt, Jonathon knows his food and then some!

Well as a pair, they were a blast. A perfect culinary combination. A fabulous fusion of kitchen skills and banter and I think it’s safe to say, the other winners and I had a fantastic evening because of them.

We learnt that Macanese food scene is one of the world’s first fusion cuisines, combining elements of Portuguese, Indian, South American, Malaysian and African influences mixed in with local Chinese styles.

One of the many great moments of the evening was when Jeremy walked over and gifted me with a whole baby chicken in its packet – labelled HALAL. I say gifted because to me, that was such a thoughtful thing to do and it genuinely brought real joy to my evening because the marinade for the chicken smelt amazing and I would have been so sad to miss out! Like every GREAT chef, Jeremy ensured all dietary requirements were met making sure no one missed out.

On the menu that night: African Chicken, grilled chilli prawns and prawn rissoles. We paired-up and worked on stations in the kitchen with Jeremy and Jonathon on hand to make sure we were on track and having a good time.

 

 

Dinner Macanese Style:

After a couple of hours in the kitchen, it was then time to enjoy the fruits of our labour and I’d say we did a pretty good job. I completely polished my meal (bearing in mind I had a WHOLE chicken to myself). I couldn’t quite believe how well it had turned out.

A room full of travel specialists, we spent the evening laughing, chatting, exchanging travel tales and stories with our entertaining hosts. Definitely, a dinner party to remember.

 

 

Ever since I laid eyes on Macau in Skyfall, I’ve always been intrigued by the Asian Las Vegas, it’s been on Mo’s must-see list for a while. Taking part in this cookery experience evening was a wonderful introduction to this mystical land across the Pearl River. Food plays a big part in any travel experience and this was a great way to get to know a place I’ve yet to visit.

 

School of Wok Macao Jet Set Chick

Travel Weekly Magazine spread after the event

 

*** A huge thank you to Travel Weekly, Sue and the team at Macau Tourist Board for organising such a fabulous prize package & thanks to Jonathon and Jeremy for being wonderful hosts ***

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San Carlo Cicchetti, Signor Sassi, in London Covent Garden, Piccadilly and Knightsbridge

Review: San Carlo London

3 meals; 3 restaurants; 1 day

Over the last couple of years, we up North have become accustomed to the themed, pop-up style eateries that have been around in the Capital for years. Trend-led menus, speakeasy hideaways, gimmick concepts are all a huge part of what makes the London food scene.

The competition is fierce with chefs constantly trying to out-do one another. The food not only has to taste good, it has to look good too. It’s a city where you can enjoy a meal in total darkness, have an acrobat suspended above your table and where last month, over twenty thousand people signed up to be on the wait list for the first naked restaurant.

So how would a family run Italian restaurant fit in?

Here in Manchester, when it comes to eating out, San Carlo is an institution. Boasting six successful establishments within a ten mile radius, it has gone from strength-to-strength and is said to be one of the UK’s highest grossing restaurants.

But could it survive in a city like London??

I was intrigued to see whether San Carlo could hold their own in the Big Smoke and how they may have adapted to being in one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. With just 12 hours on the clock, I set off on a personal mission to test out each one and booked three meals, at three restaurants – all on the same day…

 

Breakfast: Cicchetti, Covent Garden

Stepping foot outside my hotel on The Strand was like slotting into a production line. The hustle and bustle of rush hour had kicked in; Covent Garden is no longer a place just for tourists.
Weaving in and out of locals on their way to work, round the corner from the Opera House, was my first stop. Stepping in was like entering a classic Italian delicatessen – meat and cheese laid out splendidly in the window inviting stomachs in. Gazing around as I was shown to my table felt, well, it felt like home. The signature Italian marble, Bottega’s blue seats, Fumo’s Venetian silk lighting and of course, no San Carlo gold table is complete without a fresh tomato centrepiece. Although the restaurant was fairly quiet, the waiters were up and about, preparing for the day ahead.

After chatting with Andrea, I went all out and ordered a vegetarian English breakfast. There’s not much you can alter on a full English, but I did find myself faced with a surprising selection of vegetables marinated in olive oil and ever so slightly charred. Sceptical about how I was going to finish four different types in one sitting, one bite made it evident, that would not be a problem. Here I was, sat with a plate that perfectly demonstrated the owner, Carlo Distefano’s brand values. “Taking the best that nature has to offer and transforming the simplest of ingredients into delicacies in their own right.”

As I tucked in, I was joined by the restaurant’s Executive Consultant: celebrity chef Aldo Zilli. Having known the Distefano family for years, even sharing chefs back in 90’s, once Aldo had parted with his restaurants, it didn’t take long (a week in fact), or much convincing, for him to join the San Carlo team.

Here, he works along side the owners, helping with the development and aiding the creation of seasonal menu’s, as and when the need arises. A regular fixture at the Cicchetti restaurants down South, he shared tales of famous diners, his favourite food experiences and we both fondly exchanged our Manchester San Carlo memories.

His charming and outgoing personality is infectious – the reason he’s so perfect for TV and radio, and the perfect ‘chef consigliere’ for this group. Like Carlo, he too is Sicilian-born, so shares the Italian food passion for regional diversity and fresh seafood.

I could have easily stayed and chatted all morning, but time was ticking away and a walk was in order to make room for the afternoon ahead.

 

Lunch: Signor Sassi, Knightsbridge

Aldo warned me I’d be surprised when I turned up at Signor Sassi. And surprised I was; taken aback almost by the bright Mediterranean blue exterior. The only thing ‘San Carlo’ about this place, was perhaps the font used in its name. A success in its own right since the 80’s, Carlo added this to his collection in 2007. The restaurant kept its original name, location, staff and chefs so you won’t find the usual fine details and understated glamour here. What you will find is the same level of personality, friendliness and the celebrity montage wall, a reminder that you are seated in the heart of Knightsbridge.

The clientele was a real mix. Special occasions, family reunions or a simple lunch for two, Signor Sassi attracts all types of guests, even International royalty have dined in this rustic Italian hideaway.

At first, I (naively) thought we were receiving special treatment as our chairs were pulled out, fresh bread, cheese and olives were immediately provided for us to graze on as we perused the menu, and the manager, Donato, coming over to say hello. It wasn’t until the tables around started filling up and the same process was followed for each and every diner that it was clear this was simply how things were done.

Opting on everyone at Cicchetti’s recommendation, Spaghetti lobster was all I could think of on the way there and all I could think of when I left. Served in its shell, but no tools required, the succulent lobster pieces were laced into the tomato-based pasta. The portion looked large after having only just eaten a full English a few hours before, but there was no way any part of this was being left. It took every ounce of self control not to pick up a bread piece and mop up the last bit of flavoursome sauce, but I couldn’t risk not having space for Dolci and afternoon tea (I was in London after all).

Exploring the rest of the restaurant, the upstairs rooms are worth a nosey. Theatrical masks are pinned to the walls and the bar is black instead of the usual grey marble, art deco inspired. Not much has probably changed in here since the 80’s, nor should there be any need to, if it works – it works.

A chorus of goodbyes set us on our way as the sun had come out just in time for an afternoon of city exploration before my last meal.

 

Dinner: Cicchetti, Piccadilly

“What kind of mad man would stick a luxury family-run restaurant in the heart of a tourist trap like Piccadilly?” Aldo chuckled, as we discussed my final stop for the day. Only Carlo would take a risk such as this he said, but then, ever the astute businessman… he obviously knew exactly what he was doing. As here I was on a Tuesday evening and it was packed. People were being turned away left right and centre, even on a weekday – booking was essential. The vibe here echoed that of San Carlo on King Street in Manchester, albeit on a smaller scale.

As this was a relatively quick stop, we decided to pull up a pew at the bar where the service is just as attentive as that of the tables. The Cicchetti menu is one I’m very familiar with and we ordered a small selection of the tapas dishes to share.

Looking around, you can understand how this has been likened to the flagship King Street restaurant. No matter what chaos or weather lies outside, walking in brings an instant lift to your spirits.

Dimly lit and intimate, it’s the perfect place to meet friends after a long, hard day. Whether that day has been spent at work or sight seeing, this Piccadilly venue is ready to welcome you with heavenly homemade smells and a multitude of drinks.

 

As time crept closer to the 12-hour mark, my day of culinary indulgence drew to a close.

I started this journey with a hint of doubt. Although I consider myself a huge supporter of the company, having dined in their Manchester restaurants for years, I am also guilty of getting swept up by the fads. Every trip to London is usually twinned with a dining itinerary, to source the quirkiest new venture that will provide me with ample photo opportunities to share out on social media.

Would I return to any of those places? More often than not, no. They serve their purpose as one time visits, too over-priced and heavily focused on style over substance to warrant a return.

But here, I’ve found three restaurants that tick all the boxes, without the over-the top-spectacles. Three places where you can unwind, let loose and enjoy a quality meal. So it’s no surprise people are pouring in through their doors.

For San Carlo to get to where they are today, the size that they are, and to still maintain that high quality and standard is somewhat of an achievement. During my chat with Aldo over breakfast, he pointed out that the success comes purely from Carlo, his skills as a business man combined with his passion for food.

There are hundreds of up-market restaurant chains, it’s easy enough to replicate the physical aspects as they expand, but how about the service? the quality? Is it possible to mimic such traits in a fine dining situation?

That’s exactly what San Carlo has mastered and that in itself is the key to it’s success.

Each London restaurant had all the friendliness and approachability of an Italian, no, scratch that – of a Northerner. As Norlys, the manager at Covent Garden aptly pointed out; “people in London are used to entering a restaurant, having their order taken and that’s it. But here at San Carlo we genuinely love getting to know our guests, we want to know not just how you are, but how your dog is too – Just like we do in Manchester.”

It’s comforting to discover that the secret to the San Carlo survival down South relies solely on its core values that I fell in love with up North.

An Aldo Zilli approved menu, fresh seasonal ingredients and an authentic Italian experience are it’s backbone.

It’s service… is its legacy.

 

** San Carlo provided a complimentary breakfast, however as always – all opinions in this post are my own **

Have you tried any of the London San Carlo branches? What did you think?

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