21 August 2016

Countryside escape to the Peaks District

This time last week I was just getting into bed after a day full of road tripping, bubbling brooks, sleepy villages, long country walks, seeing sheep, cows and rolling hills, dinner in pubs in spa towns and bunting strung up in an incredibly cute village, hearty meals and lunch with breathtaking views. The were apple core throwing contests, cow pats to avoid, chats, friendly teasing, the crunch of gravel under boots, smells of campfires and laughter floating on country air.

The river Dove and Dovedale stepping stones

A few of us city slickers were invited up to Derbyshire for the weekend by my friend D- who had prepared a host of things for a calmer weekend in the country. One of the best things about the UK is the rolling green countryside and although I've seen a bit of the Cotswolds and the Lakes district, I haven't explored the countryside as much as I'd like. That weekend afforded me a peek at the Peaks district and it was breathtaking - my photos just don't do it justice.

If you fancy an escape - it's best to drive - there is an absolutely gorgeous (and easy!) walk that I loved and would recommend, it's from Dovedale to Milldale, can be found on Google maps, and only takes about an hour each way. We took a longer route, beyond Milldale, via some public footpaths, courtesy of our knowledgeable host, and I've since found many websites with guides to longer walks in the same area if you are interested.

Milldale - some of the cottages can be rented


Be warned, if you love cute cottages and tiny sleepy towns, you'll fall in love with Milldale - it has a handful of houses, a public phone box, a small takeaway snack bar, a bus service that runs every other day and that's about it. Totally want to move there.

Arriving at Milldale

Milldale's resident duck and greeting service

Matlock Spa where we stopped for dinner

The trip inspired me to get planning a few more escapes. Ashbourne and Matlock Spa have been added to my every growing list of places to visit in the UK and I cant wait to explore more. A big thank you to D- for organising a great weekend and to K- for being such a patient driver!

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11 August 2016

Kinky Boots London

Ladies, gentlemen and those who are yet to make up your mind...

It was a Tuesday  night and I had this urge to buy knee-length bright red boots and strut around London. At the same time, I was thinking 'Oh God! I hope this urge doesn't last!' I wasn't crazy, I'd just seen Kinky Boots and loved every minute. I was glued to my seat, my eyes following the actors around on stage, barely able to keep up. There was colour, attitude, hilarity and a touch of moving moments to give it heart.

The cast was brilliant, those actors playing drag queens can sure strut their stuff. I mean, I'm used to heels but never in a million years could I pull off some of the stuff they did! Splits, flips, jumps twirls, dance moves and more. (Were there specific training sessions on how to walk in six-inch heels? How many twisted ankles were there in rehearsals? And how on earth can you do a flip and land on heels!! Seriously, it shouldn't be possible.)

I think Lola and Lauren did an amazing job. Lola, had me wrapped around her little pinky from the moment she exploded onto the stage and Lauren was brilliantly awkward and perfectly imperfect.

Lola: [looks horrified] Burgundy. Please, God, tell me I have not inspired something burgundy. Red. Red. *Red*. *Red*, Charlie boy. *Red*! Is the color of sex! Burgundy is the color of hot water bottles! Red is the color of sex and fear and danger and signs that say, Do. Not. Enter. All my favorite things in life.*

Seriously, Kinky Boots was awesome. It was the perfect antidote to my mid-week-itis, going-back-to-work-after-holidays-itis and general feelings of 'meh'.  Its lively, fun, made me want to dance in my seat and put me in a great, bouncy, this is why I love London, kind of mood.

It was all last minute, mind you, I scored FRONT-ROW tickets for £20 thanks to a nifty little app which I've now added to my 8 tips for booking theatre tickets post.

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken - Oscar Wilde (quoted by Lola)

Seriously, go see this show if you haven't already, and if you don't leave with a smile on your face, and feeling just happy to be you then I really will buy red boots and strut around London, twisted ankles be damned.

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07 August 2016

My favourite Tallinn moments

*brushes off cobwebs*

Hello? Is anyone still here?

So I'm back at work tomorrow after having four (yes, four!) weeks off to travel and move flats. And in a shameless bid to avoid thinking about it, and cling on to the last few hours of holiday, I've come back to my poor, neglected blog to tell you about some of my favourite moments from my most recent trip.

I was in Tallinn, Estonia, a with a friendly population and a history that's been upset more times than the tea cups at the Mad Hatters tea party. I could hardly believe that, despite being inhabited for hundreds of years, as a country, Estonia is only 26 years old! I was in Tallinn with my friend E- for 4 nights and we managed to cover a LOT of ground - I kid you not, that girl made me cycle almost 40km! I was very sore the next day, I can tell you that much. Anyway, its easy to get lost in the what & where of travel but for now, here are the moments that stand out.

Sunset in Toompea

E- and I were lucky enough to find an AirBnB in Toompea - the older part of the old city. One evening, after the crowds had gone home, I stepped out for a wander around the quiet cobblestone streets with nothing but my footsteps echoing and the faint sounds of an old couple painting the corner building before tourists arrived the next day. I found one of the lookouts and watched the deep blue sky blur with the tangerine and crimson horizon at sunset. It was a moment of peace in the hectic exploration of Tallinn that really let everything sink in for me, not least that I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel and see such a city.

Exploring Kalamaja

While I loved Tallinn's Old Town, it was great to explore the Kalamaja area. Part creative city, part old wooden fisherman houses, it paints a different picture of Tallinn. Throw in lunch at a disused train carriage (not quite basement galley but just as cool), a market and E- and I giggling as we staged typical instagram photos using some of the street art and old houses and you have the makings of a great afternoon.

Door spotting

Tallinn has this thing about doors. Really. E- was on a mission to 'collect them all' and so in exchange for my helping her spot them, she's kindly let me borrow her collage. Isn't it awesome? It was a little bit of the 'everyday' Tallinn that was fun to see.

Cycling to Rohuneeme

Call me crazy but the marathon cycle from Tallinn to Rohuneeme and back actually made it onto my list of favourite moments. Why? Because the route took us along the coast line, through residential streets and natural parks - places that most tourists wont see. It was calmer, simpler and it was a nice escape from the beaten track. I loved seeing the new residential developments, the 'grand design' type homes, the shared gardens, people stepping out their homes for a hike, hearing 'you're welcome' when saying thank you to a pedestrian who gave way to us and a multitude of other little things. It helped that the cycleways were separated from the road and drivers stopped for you at crossings.

Finding the secret drawer

A drawer full of notes from travellers over the past few years covering everything from what to order, to what to see in Tallinn, to advice on life and a few drawings. It was under our noses at a little restaurant we went to and E- and I spent a good hour or so going through every last note, and of course, adding our own.


Waking up to bells and tour groups.

Some sleep lovers will hate this but in Toompea I woke up to bells ringing almost every morning. There was something so 'old world charm' about this that I loved - despite the sleep deprivation. I'd wake up and have a coffee while watching the cruise ship tourists walk down our street from our window, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in one direction and St Mary's Cathedral in the other, and to me, all of that combined to make one unique and memorable picture.

I may be forgetting others but those are it for now. I'll be back with a 'things to do' in Tallinn blog post in case I've inspired you to add this place to your travel list, and if I have, do let me know!

Have a great week!

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10 May 2016

Updates - Egyptology, the Circus & the Engllish countryside

Lets talk Egyptology, circus acts, wonder.land, a new production of the Tempest, a Roman bathing spot, cute villages, rolling hills and the simple pleasure of a hug.

You'll have to forgive the complete dry up of any blogging over the past four(!) weeks, I've been busy with mum who has been visiting all the way from Sydney. Its been great having her in London. There have been coffees, chatty brunches, English countryside trips, travel adventures and lots of hugs (you're never to old for a good hug!). I'm sure there will be loads more in store but for now, here are some things I've been up to.

A few of weeks ago, after work, I went to the Beyond Beauty exhibition at Two Temple Place. There I was, looking at ancient Egyptian artifacts, learning about how the Egyptians viewed beauty, in a gorgeously restored medieval hall, and to top it off, listening to live jazz music floating through the air. I had a 'this is why I love London' moment that made me grin like an idiot. Sadly the exhibit is now closed but Two Temple Place will be open again to the public during London's Open House weekend in September – put it into your diary, this place is worth seeing even without the Egyptology exhibit.

A few days later a couple of friends and I ran away to the Circus. Circus Restaurant that is. All dressed up, with a booking made months ago, we sat down to dinner while being serenaded by a drag queen dressed in Olivia Newton-John nightie from 'Grease' who took absurd pleasure in stroking a fellow diners bald head. Well, at least that was one of the acts that had us giggling away. From trapeze artists swinging above diners to hula-hoopers(?) the acts made everyones jaw drop. It was a fun night out at one of Londons quirkier restaurants.

Now, for someone who loves the theatre, I've been quite remiss in booking anything. Or so I thought. I almost missed seeing Wonder.land entirely. I was drifting asleep the night before when my brain decided to tell me about it. That shot me awake in no time and had me frantically searching through my emails to confirm. Whew. It was one of the oddest productions I've seen. It is a modern adaptation of Alice in Wonderland mirroring our current relationship with technology. Cleverly done with special effects blurring the line between physical and virtual actors - there is a great scene where the actress playing 'virtual' Alice drops into the top of a structure and is shown as a virtual character disintegrating. However, I left simultaneously not sure if I'd necessarily want to see it again and desperately wanting a teapot full of glitter.

Over the Bank holiday weekend I took mum to Bath and the Cotswolds and had the pleasure of seeing her face light up at the old Baths, the bright yellow flower fields of rapeseed in the countryside and the incredibly cute Cotswold villages. One of our stops was at Lower Slaughter (no I'm not making that up, its a real name and comes from old English for 'wet land' or muddy place). We had tea and sandwiches in a cosy room with stone floors, huge fireplace, low ceilings, wooden beams, lead windows and the smell of fresh scones from a neighbours table that made our mouths water despite our own tea!

This weekend, mum  and I hopped up to Edinburgh and landed an awesome room overlooking the city and the Balmoral Hotels clock tower. Mum was speechless, it was adorable. She had a great time touring around Edinburgh and getting lost in its layers of history, the stories in its stones and its beautiful views. Seeing her wide-eyed and in love with the city was worth missing out on London rare 25 degree weather and donning layers for Edinburgh 12 degrees. By the way, if you are going to visit Edinburgh from London, unless you are strapped for time or the airfares are much cheaper, I recommend going by train. Its only about half an hour's difference in the end and it means you skip the security, immigration, boarding saga.

So that's been my life for the past few weeks, bit manic, filled with warm hugs, good chats, and adventures. Till next time, what do you do when family visits? I'm always on the lookout for new ideas so any suggestions are most welcome!

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12 April 2016

Updates - London Expat Life

Last week...what a week! It was brilliant, full of yummy dinners, catch ups with friends and loads more. While my blog posts are in the pipeline, I thought I'd share tid-bits from my week, I might even make this a regular thing, who knows?

So what did I get up to...?

TLDR: Flatmate dinners, catch ups with friends over delicious authentic Thai food (blog post coming up), new challenges, escape rooms, socials, book hauls, secret projects, breath taking views, train rides, cute villages, and finding out why in the past ladies actually wanted to get a rolling pin from their sweetheart sailors! I promise, it wasn't so they could clobber them over the head with it.

The longer version:
One of the things I quite enjoyed last week was catching up with a couple of my friends over some delicious Thai food. We all met up, chatted away over our hot and sour Tom Yum soup and other dishes. I've found a spot in west London that is as authentic as it gets - this was my third visit and I kind of want to keep it to myself but have decided to let you in on it, coz, you know, I kinda like you all. Stay tuned for the full post.

Ok so I don't want to lose you with this 'new challenges' one so bear with me. Tuesday was my first foray into running thanks to the encouragement of my friend K (you're a total start K!) – but don’t worry, I'm not going to turn into a crazy fitness fanatic, I've just always enjoyed running and thought it'd be nice to be able to do a City Dash event without losing my breath in the first 30 seconds. I only managed the first two runs (a minute each with a walking break between them) without dying losing my breath...lol! Baby steps! Baby steps!

You may have noticed I have a thing for Escape Rooms...sort of like my thing with Immersive Theatre...but I promise, the escape room on Friday was all about introducing K's hubby into that world, it had absolutely nothing to do with my addiction enthusiastic interest in wanting to check out how Hint Hunt fared against other games I've played...nothing at all! We escaped by the way :)

After feeling very restless on Saturday that resulted in a charity shop book splurge (4 books!), on Sunday I took a day trip out to cute town with a sketchy past. I learned about Rye's maritime ties and smuggler history, walked the old banks of the river and found out about those rolling pins. It was great to chill out on the train ride down and watch the rolling green countryside go by dotted with sheep, lambs and rabbits! I'm planning a post for this one too.

So yeah, it was a pretty busy week. Its not always like that, even as an expat (four years and counting), knowing there is so much to see and do in London, sometimes its hard to fend off the couch but as the score stands, starting this week, Sam 1, couch nil.

Have a great week!

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07 April 2016

Indoor Skydiving with Airkix

A couple of weeks ago I tagged along on a friends birthday pressie to try out indoor skydiving. Having jumped out of a plane a few years ago, I was interested to see how this compared. Eliminating the fear factor of jumping out of a plane, with a prayer that the parachute would open, would pure free fall be fun?

Source: Airkix Gallery

We signed away or lives, packed every bit of belongings, accessories and tidbits into a locker, watched the mandatory instruction video and then got into our gloriously flattering jumpsuits. Blue baggy jumpsuits, goggles on as tight as you could bear, helmet (soft toy on top optional) and headed for the wind tunnel.

Arriving at the tunnel early, we watched the previous group learning to fly, their instructor helping out with encouragement or physical adjustments where needed. At the end he wrapped things up showing off his skills and what he could do in the tunnel. I wish I'd had my camera. It was amazing! He shot up the tunnel, did flips and spins, dropped to the windows and sailed out as calm and as precise as can be. I would LOVE to be able to do that. Like a ballet in mid air.

The acrobatic display done, it's was our groups turn in the tunnel. I confess, I was a bit nervous so I made sure I was last in line. Logic and emotion don't always see eye to eye - I knew there was nothing to be afraid of but still, my heart was racing and I watched everyone eagerly to convince myself to relax and be calm. My friend went first and with a couple of tips from the instructor, did well.

My turn. I gave myself a pep talk 'Alright Sam, you've jumped out of a plane, everyone else here has done it, nothing to worry about, just relax and go with the flow. Oh and don't forget to keep your head up!' I stepped up to the edge of the tunnel, got ready and leaned forward letting the wind and my instructor catch me...and I floated in.

It. Was. AWESOME!!!

It was a minute of free fall without anything to worry about except keeping your position so you could float high enough. It was great. Floating on a cloud great. It was a true in-the-moment experience.

I did keep bumping into the windows because, as a first timer, they don't show you how to control your flight, they just want to make sure you get the basic position to fly, but other than that, I was told I did pretty well and hardly needed any adjustment from the instructor - yeah, I'm totally bragging about that ;)

I did two flights of a minute each, it doesn't sound like much but it is plenty. The first flight is just to get used to the idea - everyone improves on the second especially as they have a video on two minute delay showing previous flights so you can watch yourself and see how you did. Anyone can do this - if you get vertigo though...you might not be able to handle the mesh floor...

An instructor adjusting a flyer - they aren't always like this, sometimes its just a hand signal.

The guys at Airkix warned us that flying was like an intense workout hidden in a bit of fun, but my friend and I were sceptical. They weren't kidding, we did feel a little sleepy on the train ride home and the next day I was sore, my legs, arms and shoulders felt like I'd done a weights session at the gym!

Our instructor, Ryan, was great, really approachable and patient. It really was so much fun and quite the unique experience. I can see myself going back to learn about controlling my flight a bit more. My friend already bought a repeat visit so, who knows, I might join him and be back there sooner than you'd expect. Am I crazy? Would you try this?

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04 April 2016

Time Run - Escape Room

One should never tamper with time. One never knows the consequences. Cranial shrinkage, for example, can be very unpleasant and it can take one a number of months to recover, in the meantime you look like a walking potato. We all know that in changing the past we can impact time to the point where we erase ourselves. But the temptation is there, to change something, to go back and erase that moment.

In London however, time travel is for fun. There is a time portal which will zap you into the past to observe the sights and sounds (and smells!) of a bygone era. And there is another portal you can step through and help find a very precious artifact buried in time. Indiana Jones eat your heart out.

I am no longer surprised at London's oddities, in fact, it seems the further east you go the weirder London gets. But I digress. This particular time portal is in a Lab a couple of minutes walk from London Fields tube station. Unlike most labs, understated, nondescript, hidden, this one is blatantly obvious. And this time portal is exactly where I found myself a month ago with two fellow time travellers and great puzzlers counting down to our allotted time before ringing the modern buzzing contraption.

We were shown into Luna Fox's lab by one of her assistants who looked like he had just stepped out of the Victorian era. He promptly briefed us on our assignment and advised that we would be assisted by Babbage, Luna's own creation of artificial intelligence, throughout our journey.

Leaving all our own items locked away in a wooden crate, we took our first step into the unknown to retrieve the Lance of Longinus, an object of great power and great danger should it fall into the wrong hands.

The Verdict

The set
Time Run has to be the most detailed escape room I've been to. The set is incredible, everything is immaculate. From the moment we stepped through the door we were immersed in that world. The briefing room full of old furniture, papers, maps, bottles and other contraptions is only the start. The person briefing us never broke his character and at the end, the person debreifing us was the same. Even if we accidentally introduced a modern word 'Google' we were corrected. It was seemless, brilliant and exciting.

The challenge
The great thing about Time Run is that there are many puzzles to be figured out with varying complexity, some requiring a team effort. Its definitely doable with 3 people but I think 4 would have been perfect.

The value
Unfortunately Time Run happens to be the most expensive escape room in London, which makes for an expensive hour or so and if you go as a family it can be a hefty expense. However I can honestly say that it is well worth it. It really is like stepping into a movie set and is brilliantly done. I wish I could tell you more but it's impossible without giving it away.

Final words
I cannot wait till they bring out another escape room. I'll be there with bells on!

Other games I've been to:
The Killer – Enigma Escape, Operation Black Sheep - ClueQuest, Leo's Path - Archimedes Inspiration

Other games coming up:
JM's Office – Hint Hunt, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry - Enigma Quests

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