Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Let's Play Catch Up. 2015 Travels: London in July

Luckily I've already blogged about our April week in Cornwall and our May week in Spain, so we can skip straight on to London in July. This was just an overnight stop, so not too many photos to dull your senses.

We decided to drive to the Big Smoke, since travelling by train would have cost rather a lot of money; we toddled off early on a Sunday morning which was handy because it meant we were able to take advantage of free on-street parking when we got to our hotel (the Hilton London Hyde Park). Here's a terrible photo of the room, which was perfectly fine for the night that we were there although I guess it would have felt a bit squished if we'd been there longer.

The hotel was in a great location, bang opposite the Diana, Princess of Wales' Memorial Playground (more on that later) and just around the corner from Bayswater tube station.

After a quick unpack we headed straight out to make the most of our time. We asked DC whether he would like to go to the London Aquarium, to the Tower of London or to HMS Belfast. He chose the aquarium so we hopped on the tube and headed that-a-way.

It was DC's first time in London and, obviously therefore, his first ever time on the Tube. He seemed to take it all in his stride, although he does look a bit worried in the photo below!
A quick pit stop on Westminster Bridge to admire the Thames and the London Eye
and, of course, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (beneath cloudy skies, even though it was really rather warm that day.)
And then it was all about the underwater world. The glass floor that greets you as you enter is a winner, especially if there happens to be a shark gliding underneath!
We didn't find Nemo, but we did see Dory. We spent a good couple of hours in the aquarium and thoroughly enjoyed it. We even managed to get through the gift shop with just one small purchase, which was a result.
After a spot of lunch we decided a black cab back to the hotel was in order.

Then we headed over to the Memorial Playground in Hyde Park, which is absolutely fantastic (if you've got children!) There are lot of different zones, all centred round a huge wooden pirate ship. DC had a whale of a time climbing, sliding, swinging, etc. There's a small stream for paddling, lots of sand for digging and building, there are teepees for hiding in, treasure chests for discovering, all in all it's a wonderful place for children (and there are plenty of seats for the grown ups too.) It's extremely safe as there is a fence all the way round with only one entrance/exit (as far as I could tell), which is manned by a security guard and children are only allowed in/out with an adult. (And adults are only allowed in if accompanying children.) There's also a cafe right by the gate, although we didn't try it out. So, if you are in the area and have children that need entertaining I would absolutely recommend a visit here - and it's free, which is a bonus!

On Monday we had planned a re-visit to the playground but, surprise, we awoke to rain so had a change of plan. We decided to head to Westfield shopping centre for a spot of retail therapy, plus a tea/coffee/Lego stop.
And then we headed for the Natural History Museum. We got a couple of hours of on-street parking and headed to the entrance. Where there was an ENORMOUS queue. We asked a member of staff how long the wait might be and she said it could be 20+ minutes, Yuck. So, using our non-tourist brains, we simply headed round the corner to the other entrance and, voila, no queue at all. Honestly, not a single person, we just walked straight in. So there's a tip for you if you're heading here, carry on walking past the front of the museum towards the Victoria and Albert. Take a left on Exhibition Road and you'll find the entrance not far along. Admittedly you won't be greeted by the dinosaur skeleton (as seen below), but you can admire that on the way round and as you head out.
We had a lovely time at the museum, DC was especially taken with the earthquake simulator and the insect displays, as well as the fossils which came from Lyme Regis. And we had a great time in the shop...

And then we decided to head home. Back to the quiet of the countryside. First adventure of the summer holidays done, and more still to come!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Let's Play Catch-Up. 2015 Travels: USA in January

I know I've been absolutely appalling at keeping my blog up to date this year; I had the excuse of being busy running the tea room, but that finished at the end of June, so that's no longer the case. And yet since then I still feel as if I've been busy. Busy doing nothing probably. Procrastination is quite time consuming, don't you know??

And then I thought I really should do a post about where we've been on our travels this year; in fact, it's going to take more than one post to cover all the destinations as we've been here, there and everywhere!

We have to go right back to the beginning of the year for the first stop: if it's January then it must be the good old US of A. Hubby had to go on a work trip and I managed to hitch a ride while DC stayed at home with Grandma and Grandad. We flew to NYC, arrived in the evening, then hired a car and drove to a little place called North Wales, Pennsylvania.
view from hotel room the morning after we arrived
Hubby had a couple of days of meetings so I drove myself around a bit and then we headed back up to NYC for a night before flying home. You may remember hearing on the news about the 'historic' storm that was due to hit the USA in January? Well, that historic storm hit at the exact time that we were there. Cue mass panic! Would we be stranded in Small Town Pennsylvania? We would be able to get back to NYC to get our flight home? Would poor old DC have to wait longer to get his hands on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys we'd bought for him? Most importantly, would I be able to get to the shops?? We had flown in to the US on Saturday evening and had spent Sunday visiting some antiques stores and a heeee-ooooge mall, before hearing about the storm that was set to bring the eastern seaboard to a standstill. The mayor of NYC declared a state of emergency, airports closed, the NYC subway closed, cars were banned from the roads, and there was a general sense of panic in the bread aisles. And there we were in our hotel room watching it all unfold on the TV - and boy, do US weather channels like to make a BIG deal out of things! Monday dawned a little snowy, but everything was normal. Hubby went off to his meeting and I drove to the heee-ooooge mall (yes, again) and various other shopping establishments.

We'd been warned that the storm was due to reach our area in the afternoon, so I headed back to the hotel about 4pm. Admittedly by then the snow was falling fairly thick and fast and the roads were getting covered so it wasn't the most fun drive I've ever had. Hubby arrived back at the hotel not long after with his meeting having been curtailed and in fact cancelled for the following day in anticipation of the snow so we headed out to some very local shops to stock up on a few odds and ends (books, food, and other necessities!) and have some dinner. When we left the restaurant at about 8pm it was properly snowing and we were starting to get a bit worried - historic Winter Storm Juno was well and truly upon us.

Imagine our fears the next morning as we woke and pulled back the curtains, only to find that the historic storm had pretty much passed us by.
Not that different from the day we'd arrived
Yes, there was snow, but not of historic proportions
But, result!, hubby's meeting was still cancelled so we had an unexpected day together and, I won't lie, we spent most of the time shopping - hubby and I are BIG shoppers when it comes to the USA.
It's fair to say we did some shopping...
The only slight hitch was that due to hubby's meeting being cancelled on the Tuesday, he had to have a meeting on Wednesday morning which meant we set off on the drive to NYC a bit later than planned. But soon it was time for us to make our way to our favourite city - assuming it wasn't buried under 3 feet of snow, as the weather channels had predicted...
first peek at the Manhattan skyline
Well, our luck was in. Yes, there was snow in NYC, but not nearly as much as had been feared and certainly not enough to bring the city to a standstill.

view from our hotel room on the Upper West
Shake Shake hot dog, how do I love thee??
We were up and about early the next morning to make the most of our last day of the trip. 
early morning view from the hotel

We headed for Central Park and a snowy wonderland awaited.

We were pleased to find that Tavern on the Green has reopened after a refurbishment. This was where hubby and I were married nearly ten years ago, and there was nearly this much snow on that day too.

Just a take-out coffee this time, but we'll be back!

Out of the park and in to the shops at Columbus Circle to warm up - cake anyone??

And that was the last photo I took. Not sure why as there were plenty more photo ops as we headed across town, and down town and back up town before making our way to the airport for an early evening flight home.

So, there you have trip number one of 2015. More to follow (if you haven't slumped into a boredom-induced coma??)

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Book Update: Cosy Crime + Holiday Reads

We've been on our summer holidays! That will have to wait for another post, because right now I'm all ready to talk about the books I've managed to get under my belt in the ongoing quest to meet the target I set myself of 25 for the year. Things hadn't been going too well in the first part of the year, mostly due to the cross-stitch that took up a lot of my time, but in the two-and-a-bit weeks that we were away on holiday (plus the few days that we've been back), I've managed to add a whopping five to the total, bringing me up to 17 for the year so far. Just eight to go to meet my target...

Let's kick off with back-to-back cosies. Secrets on Saturday by Ann Purser is the sixth in the Lois Meade mystery series, featuring (of course) Lois Meade who solves crimes while running a cleaning business. I generally enjoy the books in this series which are a little grittier than the average cozy, but this one was pretty dire. The story didn't make much sense, the subplots were odd and pointless, it wasn't engaging, the subject matter was unpleasant (badger baiting), the characters were also mostly unpleasant and not very well drawn. All in all a rather disappointing read considering how much I have enjoyed the previous books in the series; I'll still read the next one, but I really hope it's better!

Thank goodness the next book (the first of my holiday reads) was a better choice. Blackwork by Monica Ferris, the 13th in the needlecraft series set in small-town Minnesota. Again, this is a series that I very much enjoy, it's had the odd duff moment, but generally my reviews would be positive. This was the series that started my love of cozy crime so I tend to feel like I'm treating myself when I read another tome featuring Betsy Devonshire, Godwin et al. Sad but true. This book has a Halloween theme, but it's not scary, gruesome or spooky (not that cozies ever are.) The method of killing was mostly easy to figure out (it must have been, if I managed it!) and I even had an inkling of 'whodunnit', so the massive suspending of disbelief that the police never seem to figure out the mystery before the amateur sleuth is necessary once more. But I can usually forgive the author of this series most things as long as the story is well written and in this case it was an enjoyable read that trotted along at a good pace, the usual characters made an appearance and were fleshed out and new characters were introduced. All in all, another thumbs up.

Now, on to the 'holiday reading'; as I've said many times before, I tend to take books on holiday that I think I won't mind leaving behind. First on the list was Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella (probably best know for her Shopaholic series); as a holiday read it was just right. Yes, it was chick-lit, yes it was ridiculous, but it was still enjoyable and I looked forward to getting on with reading it at every opportunity (and there were plenty since we were on holiday). I'd certainly recommend this as a holiday book, or if you're looking for a light and easy read. It features Lexi (can't remember her surname) who wakes after a car accident to find she is successful, beautiful and married  - none of which she was pre-accident, as far as she can remember. The book follows her struggle to fit in with the new life she doesn't know at all - new house, new husband, new career, new friends; will she manage, will she remember anything? 
Holiday read number two: The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas. This was a stonker of a read for the first 450 pages, but I felt that the last 100 or so pages really let it down. It was a gripping psychological-ish thriller, quite creepy in parts and not what I was expecting at all from the cover or the blurb on the back, and actually that was a pleasant surprise as it wasn't a chick-lit, rom-com kind of read. Apparently, the book has been likened to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, but I must shamefully admit I've never read it so I can't say whether or not it's true.
Sarah meets Alex while on holiday in Italy and agrees to become his housekeeper and nanny to his son. When she moves in to his home she discovers his beautiful, talented (of course) wife has recently disappeared without trace. And so begins the mix of romance (ish), suspense, mystery, possible ghostliness which kept me guessing and second guessing as to what was actually going on and who-dunnit, if indeed anyone had done anything. As I said, I really was gripped for the majority of the book but I felt the end let it down very badly; that said, I would definitely read another book by this author and I would still recommend this as an interesting read.
The last book I fully finished on holiday was The Real Katie Lavender by Erica James. This had echoes of Remember Me? in that it was about a girl whose identity isn't quite what she thought it was - Katie receives a letter from beyond the grave from her mother to say that the man she thought was her father, actually wasn't. And so begins the task of tracking down her real father and getting to know him and her new family. It's not a bad read, but I'm not sure it would make me rush to get hold of anything else by this author, except perhaps as another holiday read. Possibly my least favourite of the books in this bunch, not terrible, but underwhelming.

I started this book while we were away and finished it when we got home. It's another cozy, the fifth in the Knitting Mystery series set in Colorado. I keep on with this series because I do quite like it, even though I'm expecting (and discovering) each offering to be quite poor; in a sad-but-true way, I feel at home when I start reading anything in this series probably because I like the characters and the location. Only for fans of cozies, and even that might be stretching it a bit, so I won't bother going in to detail. It's only a 5/10 but I know I'll read the next in the series!

I must try and knuckle down to blogging more often, but I just don't know where the time goes at the moment. At least I've managed to finish this post!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Village Fete and Show

You may not know this, but I'm rather competitive. I even find it hard not to do my best to beat DC at Snakes & Ladders. Last year there was a Village Show at the village fete and I entered a few categories. I was lucky enough to win the photograph category (for which I received a silver cup), and I came second in the 'handmade item for the home' category with a cross stitch. The combined points from these two successes meant I also won a silver rose bowl. I was pretty chuffed, to say the least.

So, this year I needed to pull out all the stops to try and retain that silverware! I decided another cross stitch was in order for the handmade category, and I worked on this particular item for months. I'm not kidding, it took for eeeeever. I started it in March...

Worked on it through April


Took it to Spain in June
 Realised I was never going to get the entire thing finished in time for the fete
So decided to work on the left side, and finally got it done at about 1.30am the night before the fete - arrrggghhh! Apologies for the awful photo, but it was late and my eyes had pretty much crossed themselves by then.

There were lots of entries for the baked categories.
 And quite a few for the floral exhibits.
 And, I'm pleased to say, I actually managed to be placed in a few categories; here's a third place
And another
 Second place for my Coconut and Lime Slice (in the 'Cake for Afternoon Tea' category)

Second prize in the 'Knitted item' category

Third prize in the 'Somerset Life' photo category

 And.....FIRST PRIZE for the cross stitch! All those hours were worth it!

The points I accrued in the photo, knitted and handmade categories meant I won the rose bowl for the second year in a row - and I was rather pleased!

 The weather did it's best to put a dampener on the day of the fete, but we battled on nonetheless and a jolly time was had by all.
 Drumming workshops

 Pimm's Tent
 Sumo wrestling
 Teddies zip-wiring from the church tower

All in all, a lovely day. Now, I need to get stitching ready for next year...