Month: July 2015

Birmingham bashing – yeah, whatevs

Birmingham bashing is such a cliché. It’s not even funny. Small minded, regurgitated bullshit, usually from people who’ve never been here (or certainly not for many years).

Want a fresh look at the City? This is a great article – a real visual treat.

50 Reasons to Stay Away from Birmingham

Birmingham skyline at night

Birmingham is buzzing right now. There’s a whole heap of redevelopment in the city; from the refurb of the high end Mailbox shopping centre, to the new train station, John Lewis department store and shopping/food area, to The Cube (love it or hate it, it’s certainly iconic). We have theatres, great restaurants, museums, cathedrals, concert venues, street markets, food and more. We have a world famous cricket ground. We have premiership football clubs. We have miles of canals. We have the oldest working cinema in the UK.

Here are just some of the great things I’ve done in Birmingham so far this year.

Had dinner at Cucina Rustica

Visited the rag market

Watched Fast and Furious 7 at the new Everyman cinema

Saw Richie Ramone at the Oobleck

Watched my food being cooked in front of me at Shogun Teppanyaki

Been to an outdoor festival headlined by world famous hip hop act Public Enemy

Eaten at Digbeth Dining Club multiple times (here, here and here)

Plus, there’s still more to come!

I’ll be heading in to town for the Big Hoot, which is running until September – 5ft individually decorated owls dotted around the City

We have Moseley Folk Festival in September, featuring The Monkees

Oktoberfest is taking place in Digbeth

The Frankfurt Christmas Market will be back as usual – the biggest one outside of Germany

I’m happy to live in Birmingham and thrilled by all the opportunities it affords me as a resident. Long live Brum!

RIP Cecil the Lion

There are no words to describe the level of disgust I feel for the man responsible for killing iconic Cecil the Lion. Bad enough that he spent $55,000 for the “privilege” (seriously, how can you get $55,000 worth of enjoyment from something like that? Buy a sports car or something). But his defence is so weak and pathetic that it makes my blood boil. He’s blaming his guides, because he didn’t know Cecil was a protected well known animal.

What difference does it make whether he was “famous” or not? This is a beautiful creature, living in the wild, roaming with his offspring. He’s not there for sport, or fun. He’s there as part of the circle of life, for us to appreciate and enjoy, and to continue a legacy that future generations can appreciate and enjoy. By killing Cecil this hunter has wiped out a future generation of these majestic animals, as his cubs won’t survive without him.

Cecil the Lion

What kind of coward goes out killing with a bow and arrow? You fancy your chances against a lion – go in there like a man and wrestle it to death. No, thought not. Much better to stand at a distance where you can’t be seen or attacked. Where the animal is defenceless against your sick, greedy, capitalist need for entertainment.

To behead and skin the dead animal is further sickening. Not content with such a barbaric act the hunter wanted to display the spoils of his “hard work” and take a trophy home. Sick, sick, sick.

I read a post by someone from the killer’s home town of Minnesota on Facebook, which said his dental practice was shut as the news broke, the website had been taken down and social media accounts removed. Patients were de-registering in droves. Good. I hope this spells the end of what must have been a very prolific livelihood for the squirming piece of crap. Maybe it will encourage others to think before they get involved in such mindless slaughter.

I bet he’ll wish he still had that $55,000 to live off now.

New jewellery

Yep, I’ve been collecting some more luscious stuff to adorn myself with (when I say collecting I mean buying, obvs, I’m not just taking it from places in a random magpie like fashion). All silver as usual, with some turquoise thrown in (still one of my current favourite things)

Ebay – as always I have so much love for ebay.

I ordered this bracelet without realising it’s actually a perfect match to the boho necklace I also bought a few weeks back. From a completely different seller too, much coincidence!

Silver coin boho bracelet

Silver coin boho bracelet

Silver and turquoise stretch bracelet

Turquoise and silver bracelet

Slave chain bracelet

Turquoise hand bracelet (2)

Hamsa slave chain bracelet

Hamsa bracelet (2)

Eye of Ra necklace

Eye of Ra silver necklace


Then, from the Boohoo sale, which is pretty damn good!

How cool is this wood and metal square bangle? Reduced to just £2 in the sale, much cheapness.

Boohoo wooden bangle

Turquoise and silver double ring, also Boohoo (£4 – now down to £2)

Boohoo double turquoise and silver ring

I’m classing this as jewellery for the head (I know that’s not really a thing, but it kind of should be); chain headband with side droppers, for want of a better description (£3, Boohoo)

Boohoo headchain

I’m such a costume jewellery lover; it’s such a cheap way to really bring an outfit alive (cringy fashion speak!!)

What I saved from the rubble

I read an article on the BBC news website speaking to people who survived the earthquake in Nepal.

You can read it here.

Reading this article made me feel a weird mix of emotions – both about the people in the article and myself.

I felt sad, humbled, in awe, selfish, greedy and very very Western as I read it. To think of the pain and suffering these people have gone through – losing their homes, memories and livelihood to a natural disaster. That, through it all, the lady who saved her water jug cares about doing things “right” for others. The lady who has a bag of rice for her family to live on. The lady who saved her prayer beads – still believing in a god when her home has been destroyed.

It’s hard to imagine a situation where your worldly belongings are taken from you by a natural disaster. Memories that you have collected throughout your life. Things that remind you of your childhood, or your family. To these people the smallest of things can mean the world to them. Living, as many of them do, without many possessions probably focusses the mind more around what’s important.

Why does this article make me feel bad things about myself? Because, whenever I’ve been asked in the past what I would save if my home was burning down, my first thoughts go to something materialistic, like a favourite coat or pair of shoes (well, husband first, but as he has much more about him than I do I’m assuming he’d be able to save himself). Even things like physical photographs hold no emotional connection anymore as everything is online and therefore accessible and replaceable. That the homeowner and student have to save physical pieces of paperwork to prove things to the authorities is incomprehensible to most of us, as we would pick up the telephone or go on the web to get duplicates.

I’m not going to make any grand gestures around the fact that I will buy less and care less about having a wardrobe full of clothes, because they would be empty words. But it’s sobering and important to read stories like this; to remind ourselves on days such as yesterday when I was moaning about the trivial side of life that so many are living with so little – and that their suffering continues long after the news coverage has stopped.

A Monday Moan

I am sans cheer today – it’s Monday (urgh), I’m tired (my all too common bad Sunday night sleep, urgh), the weather is rubbish (summer, really? URGH) and it’s still ages until hometime (MAJOR URGH).

The weekend, although fun, has flown by waaaay too quickly and I can’t believe I’m already back in work.

Monday

So if you’re after positivity this isn’t the place for you!

While I’m feeling fed up and miserable and moany, I’ll get a few things off my chest that have annoyed me over the past week or so.

  • People on the motorway slip road doing 40mph – you’re joining a 70mph road, get up to speed! (I could actually write a whole series of driving relating annoyances, I’m a bit of a road rager)
  • Too much mayo on pre-packed sandwiches. As if everyone likes mayo. Urgh.
  • Voice recognition on customer service telephone numbers. I just want to be silent and press keys, ok?
  • Self service checkouts not registering my purchase correctly. I HAVE NOT removed anything from the bagging area.
  • Rain. I know it’s necessary for growth and life and all that fancy schizz. But it’s crap.

Sorry about that! I can’t even say it’s made me feel better…so I should probably add myself to that list; annoying twit that I am.

BLAH!

Not just for boys!

Have you ever bemoaned the lack of interesting t-shirts for women? Or looked at the men’s section and thought “I’d wear that”?

Well, why don’t you? Most men’s t-shirts come in XS now (in fact I spotted XXS on the New Look website) and with the sales currently on it’s a great time to check some out (they also tend to be cheaper than women’s, with both NL and H&M regularly featuring £7.99 men’s t-shirts on their site, and that’s a pre-sale price too).

And with free returns on most websites, there’s nothing to lose.

You can always modify them to suit if needed; I have chopped arms out of men’s tees, rolled up sleeves, cut the hem off for a raw edge if it’s too long. It’s a great way to get something individual. I love a cool tee with leather look trousers or turned up skinny jeans and cool heels. It’s dressed down dressed up-ness, and really easy to do.

Here are my current picks (some of which may be are on their way to me, just to check out, obvs.) None of them are more than £12.99.

New Look (the “wasted head space” and “Tyrannosaurus Wreck” ones are way geekier than I would usually go for, but they appeal to me for some reason!)

New Look stripe t-shirt New Look dinosaur t-shirt New Look record t-shirt New Look head space t-shirt New Look magic eye t-shirt New Look Cali t-shirt  New Look Los Angeles t-shirt New Look Cali t-shirt

H&M – a nautical theme which would look good worn rockabilly with turned up jeans and a bright red bandana in an updo.

G&M anchor t-shirt H&M octopus t-shirt

And this one which is classed as a long t-shirt, which I’m not sure boys should be wearing? But maybe that’s just my age! H&M cross t-shirt

ASOS

ASOS skull t-shirt ASOS South Cali t-shirt

ASOS San Francisco t-shirt

So much cooler than most women’s t-shirts which say stupid glittery things like “I’m really a unicorn” (apologies to anyone reading who really is a unicorn, and just wants to be acknowledged as such).

The phone phenomenon

Last week I read this article in Stylist magazine. And it really resonated with me, as I’m sure it does for a lot of people.

I’m hugely guilty of mindlessly flicking through my phone most nights, not with any real purpose, but just because it’s there. I’ll play a couple of rounds of Candy Crush (don’t judge me!), look up TV characters on Wikipedia while we’re watching a show, or scroll through Twitter activity. I keep promising myself that I will take my focus away from this mindless behaviour and do something more constructive, like read a book, but it rarely happens.

Even if we’re watching a film, I can never fully immerse myself and concentrate if my phone is on the sofa next to me. I get twitchy. I should probably just banish it to another room.

I’m not glued to my phone, but I do use it as a crutch – if we’re in a pub and I’m sitting on my own while someone’s at the bar, for example. And that’s just normal behaviour now I think.

One place I do totally switch off is on holiday, yet only when I’m abroad, weirdly. It used to be because the cost of using internet was so prohibitively expensive, but now it’s because of that feeling of getting away, being totally separate from everyday life, and not knowing what inane crap is going on in the real world. I relish it. I actually get quite cross with people who are very socially active during holidays. Get out there and live it people! Upload your photos when you get home. We’ll all survive if we don’t see your hotdog legs/roman ruins/swimming with dolphins pictures within a minute of it happening. The news that Mount Fuji is to get a WiFi signal because people are disgruntled that they can’t immediately upload selfies when they reach the summit is ridiculous. You’ve just conquered a mountain. Breathe in the air, check out the view. Don’t start pouting and posing and making sure you look your best for your audience at home.

Admittedly, for some reason on breaks in the UK, I do dip in and out of social media and emails. I have no explanation. Maybe it’s because they’re usually just a couple of days (I don’t know why that would make a difference). Maybe it’s because, geographically, you don’t feel as far away and therefore not as removed and switched off. Maybe I’m just a hypocrite.

However, whilst in Wales this weekend the signal was so intermittent that I hardly bothered. And it was liberating. Knowing that I couldn’t use my phone was so much easier than making a decision not to use it. Although on the odd occasion the signal did reappear I felt compelled to check in, just in case (of what, I’m not sure!)

Anyway, I’m going to try and make a change. Ditch the phone and be more productive. Now let me just go and check my texts…

Pretty Portmeirion

This one’s a little bit of a cheat because it’s not actually from my most recent Welsh trip; it’s actually from the year before but I figure I can call it a #WayBackWednesday post (I don’t even know if that’s an actual thing, but I can’t wait until #ThrowbackThursday because I have other things I want to be posting about) and shamelessly shoehorn it in; if only because it’s too pretty not to share.

I mentioned that we spent a weekend in Wales last year for my Mother in Law’s birthday, and one of the days we went to Portmeirion. It’s about an hour’s drive from Betws-y-Coed, not a particularly scenic journey (apart from driving through Dolwyddellan with it’s green valleys and castle ruins) but it’s well worth the trip.

It was designed between 1925 and 1975 and pays homage to the Mediterranean and Italy. 60s TV series “The Prisoner” was shot largely on location there. It has a huge beach (which is actually an estuary) and is set in acres of gardens which you can take a little land train journey round.

The colours are magnificent – all of these pictures are point and click; no filters or improvements at all.

Pastel building Portmeirion

Portmeirion 2

Portmeirion

Looking back to PortMeirion

Every year, in September, they host Festival No. 6, and many of the cottages and rooms can be rented overnight or for a longer stay throughout the year. There are shops, a tea room, and a restaurant on site.

Gorgeous, right?

Waterfalls, forests, rivers and lakes – we’re not in Birmingham anymore Toto

One of the attractions of going to North Wales is, without doubt, the scenery. Stunning views wherever you look; the contrast between dense forests and sparse mountains, rivers that flow powerfully all year round due to the high rainfall (luckily only happened during the night while we were there, the weather was fantastic), lakes, bridges, waterfalls – it truly is a place of immense natural beauty.

 

 

I’m not much of an outdoorsy person – not that I don’t like being outdoors but there isn’t much outdoorsy stuff to do where we live and so we tend to spend our weekends going to the pub for lunch or chilling on the balcony. Certainly nothing particularly energetic. But just being surrounded by such beauty made us want to see and do as much as possible.

Swallow Falls

I can’t see a time when I will ever visit this part of the world and not go to see the Falls. They’re around 2 miles from the centre of Betws-y-Coed, right off the main road. We walked up, forgetting the incline and the heat before we started, it was harder work then we thought! £1.50 entrance and through a turnstile and you’d never believe that such a sight exists just metres from the road. The power of the water gushing down is immense.

Close up of Swallow Falls

Swallow Falls in full flow

There are various viewing points at differing heights. Nature at it’s best.

Me looking over Swallow Falls

Gwydyr Forest and Llyn Parc

There are lots of different signposted walks in and around Betsy, with colour coded signposts to keep you on track. Some of them can be combined into longer walks, or cut down into shorter ones. The landlady at our guesthouse recommended the yellow walk to us, which cuts up through the forest and across to Llyn Parc. The walk continues all the way around the lake and back down, but as we had other plans for the afternoon we decided to get as far as the lake and then come back down.

Maybe (probably) we’re naïve, but anything that’s described as “a walk” sounds pretty civilised. And yes, we knew we were going uphill so expected there to be some level of energy needed, but we weren’t quite prepared for just how hard going it would be, at times. There was no path, fallen trees and boulders along the route.

 

On the ascent we were right in the middle of the forest, no-one around, sheer drops off the side of the hill and 30 meter tall trees surrounding us. Oh, and no phone signal! We were walking 50 metres and stopping to rest our burning lungs! Us city types, eh! But we powered on, and at times found ourselves on an actual path which levelled and widened out and we were treated to hedgerows of bracken and foxgloves, with butterflies flitting in and out of the undergrowth and birdsong all around us. The isolation and sense of achievement was fabulous.

The walk back down was easier, although still treacherous in spots.

Gwydyr forest path walk Betws y Coed

This house is literally in the middle of nowhere. It has no electricity. Sanitation comes from collected rainwater. Incredibly it’s a holiday home! I like getting away from it all, but that’s just too much.

We could hear the waterfall through the trees way before we reached it. It started from a little babbling brook.
Pretty freaked out by what looks like a dungeon built into the rock!
Hidden hidey house Gwydyr Forest Betws y Coed
This weather worn rock looks like a face.
Rock looks like a face Gwydyr Forest Betws y Coed

Back in civilisation (!!) our wanderlust was well and truly awoken and we couldn’t wait to see more.

Pont-y-Pair bridge and the River Llugwy

The bridge in the middle of the village is a big attraction, with people always to be found looking down to the river and the rocks below.

Pont Y Pair bridge Betws y Coed

Rocks off Pont Y Pair bridge Betws y Coed

Again you’re struck by the sheer power of the water. Over the bridge and at the side of the river there are picnic tables and you can walk upstream, along the side of the river, back up towards Swallow Falls (I think you can walk all the way along, but it gets rather gnarly underfoot the further you go, and we’d already been to the Falls the day before anyway).

The river is very shallow in places and my feet were burning from the walk, so I had a cheeky paddle!

Paddling in the River Llugwy Betws y Coed

You can see a wizened old face in this uprooted tree.

Face in uprooted tree Betws y Coed

Llyn Elsi

The landlady suggested we do this in the afternoon, after the Gwydyr Forest mountain hike (I swear it wasn’t a “walk”) so again we assumed it would be easy. Wrong! The path was clear and well established, so we weren’t negotiating tree routes and forest growth but it was bloody steep. The type of steep that burns your calves. At times I was holding onto trees purely to stop myself from sitting down and not getting back up.

Gwydyr forest path Betws y Coed

We were both puffing, red faced and sweaty, but kept going thinking that the lake must be just around the corner. When we finally reached the top I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see an expanse of water!

Buoyed (geddit?) by our perseverance we decided that we would walk all the way around the lake as well. The  guide book said it was mainly flat. The guide book lied. Still, we powered on, resplendent in our newly found status as true mountaineers. The views were fantastic.

Husband’s phone pedometer recorded an amazing 11 miles walked in one day! Not bad for someone who jumps in the car to pop to the local shop for milk.

Well earned glass of wine Betws y Coed

It’s fair to say I’d earned the glass of wine (or two!) I rewarded myself with at the end!

Back from beautiful “Betsy” – what a weekend!

Wow, what a fab time I’ve had in North Wales. The beautiful Betws-y-Coed, or “Betsy”, is the gateway to Snowdonia National Park and is a pretty green and mountainous haven for a City girl like me.

We spent a weekend there last year, with my Mother in Law for her birthday, and were so taken with the village, the guesthouse and the scenery that we vowed we’d be back. Despite my wobble a couple of weeks ago (and thanks to Lisa for talking words of wisdom to me!) we approached it with much excitement. It turned out to be even better than expected.

The River Llugwy runs through the middle of the village, and can be crossed by one of two bridges – the iron Waterloo bridge at the entrance to the village, and the stone Pont-Y-Pair bridge in the middle.

River Llugwy Betws y Coed

Pont Y Pair bridge Betws y Coed

St Mary’s church is a big imposing structure right in the middle. It dates back to 1873.

St Marys Church Betws y Coed

St Marys Church 2 Betws y Coed

As well as being picturesque and well placed for sightseeing, mountain climbing and venturing further afield to the Isle of Anglesey, the village has some really good restaurants, which we were surprised at last year. The quality of the ingredients and imaginative menu listings aren’t what you would expect from a small Welsh village.

It’s been a visual and gastronomic delight.

Where we stayed  Mount Garmon View Guest House

Mount Garmon View Guesthouse Betws y Coed

This is, without doubt, the best guesthouse I’ve ever stayed in. It’s perfectly located, beautifully decorated and extremely relaxing. More than that, the owner is fabulous! One of the reviews of TripAdvisor describes her as the Welsh Mary Poppins. Nothing is too much trouble – from special breakfast requests through to lending maps and advising on days out; she always has time for a chat and her wealth of knowledge and passion is amazing. Afternoon tea and scones on arrival, fresh mineral water and biscuits in the bedroom and fresh flowers everywhere make for a delightful stay. I absolutely cannot recommend this place enough, if you were thinking of visiting the area.

Where we ate, evening one Ty Gwyn

This 17th century coaching house is positioned at the entrance to the village and is very popular – booking is essential.

Ty Gwyn Betws y Coed

We missed out last year as we didn’t book in advance and so were determined to not make the same mistake again. There is a restaurant – which is slightly more formal – a lounge and the alcove, which has just three tables. The menu is the same across all three rooms. They also have rooms, including romantic four poster bed rooms and a honeymoon suite. The decor is rustic and welcoming; white washed walls, oak beams, lots of brass and rugs and low lighting.

Inside Ty Gwyn Betws y Coed

We both started with king scallop, prawn and crayfish gratin; followed by lamb and duxxel wellington for husband, and fillet mignon roulade for me. The roulade, rather than being wrapped in pastry, was wrapped in bacon! And stuffed with cheese and spinach before being smothered in creamy peppercorn sauce. There were lots of yummy noises coming from our table. Because I was on holiday (!!) I had already decided I was indulging in a dessert and the honeycomb, ginger and chocolate cheesecake did not disappoint.

Cheesecake dessert at Ty Gwyn Betws y Coed

I magnanimously shared it with husband, even though I could have happily wolfed the lot. Delish.

Where we ate, evening two Llugwy River restaurant

This restaurant is part of the Royal Oak Hotel; there is also the Grill Room and the Stables Bar. We hadn’t booked, stupidly, but were told that if we just turned up we’d be seated when a table became available. We ate in the Grill Room last year and the food was very very good, although the restaurant was very hot. The River restaurant looks more formal, but that’s where we seated this time. Actually we needn’t have worried, because although the restaurant itself is decorated quite opulently, the clientele is very laid back. After all, “Betsy” is a base for walkers, climbers and outdoorsy types, so no-one is dressed up. We ordered from the Grill Room menu – scallops with black pudding and pulled pork, slow cooked rump of lamb with braised red cabbage and really really slow cooked pork belly. More yummy noises. There is also an a la carte menu served in the restaurant, which we’ll be sure to try next time.

As well as restaurants there are pubs and cafes – something to suit all budgets. I had a rather delicious lunch of beef and ale pie in the Stables Bar when we arrived, and a good old cheese and pickle sandwich in the beer garden at the Pont-y-Pair Inn on day two. Both were great!

I already can’t wait to get back there; I have a feeling it will become a yearly pilgrimage for us, and would happily go for longer next time. I’ll post tomorrow about what we got up to during our time there; the scenery is outstanding.