Month: December 2018

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - entrance with 2 unicorns

2018 is the third year that the Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival has been at the Botanical Gardens. But it’s the first year I’ve actually been.

If you read yesterday’s post about our trip to Blenheim Palace, you’ll know we missed out on tickets to the Winter Wonderland outdoor light experience. Instead I suggested we visit the Palace and the Cinderella exhibition, and then head back to Birmingham to visit the Magic Lantern Festival.

When we got back to Birmingham the weather changed for the worse and it started to rain. And rain. Then rain some more. The thought of a wet and squelchy walk, especially as we’d forgotten our umbrellas, was unappealing. So we abandoned the plans, and made new ones.

Magic Lantern Festival, take 2!

Last Christmas we didn’t leave the house between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, which isn’t exactly healthy! So we decided to rearrange our plans for 29th December, which would force us out into real life!

I’d read good things about the festival from previous years, but didn’t know what to expect. Short answer – it was brilliant! There was a great mix of festive and none festive decorations; wonderfully lit, brightly coloured and really well spread out. The pitch darkness meant they look great on photos too!

Christmas themed lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - snowman and reindeer
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - reindeer and presents
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - gingerbread house and presents

Whimsical fairytale lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cute insects and toadstools
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cute insects on a toadstool swing
Multicoloured teapot pouring into teacup
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - large chinese style dogs
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival fairy with moving wings holding butterfly
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - brightly coloured snail
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - plants and insects

Flower displays everywhere!

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - blue LED flowers
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - blue and pink LED flowers
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - bright pink lotus flower
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - lilac LED flowers

Animal lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - lion and monkeys in jungle setting
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - elephant
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - penguins and birds
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - light up peacock
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cartoon style dolphin and shark
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - giraffes and zebra
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - zebra and palm trees

Finally, my favourites – the pandas!

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - animated pandas with painted flowers on their bodies
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - 4 pandas and a superhero panda

We got the tickets for the bargain price of £8.50 each via Travelzoo, and it was well worth the money. If you’re quick you can still catch it, as the last entrance is on New Year’s Day. If not, I’d definitely recommend it for next year.

The same organisers also do festivals in Leeds and London. Have you been to any of the locations?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Christmas at Blenheim Palace

2 weeks ago we went to “Christmas at Blenheim Palace“.

Yes, I’m still talking about Christmas! Today is perhaps the last official day of Christmas, before it turns into New Year, so I need to get this post in!

Now I didn’t even know Christmas at Blenheim Palace was a “thing”. But my Mother in Law has been to something similar at Chatsworth House, and wanted to take me for my birthday. The husband found the Blenheim Palace event, and a plan was made.

From late November til early January the gardens of Blenheim Palace are turned into a Winter Wonderland light trail. There are thousands of fairy lights and light displays that run through the gardens, creating a magical walk around the outside of the palace and beyond. Unfortunately the tickets for that were already sold out (at least those available at suitable weekend times, taking into account the drive back to Birmingham from Oxford), so we just went along in the daytime to see the Palace decorations.

We arrived fairly early, before the huge crowds, so had a little wander round and perused the Christmas Market stalls.

Entrance to the exhibition is timed, with timeslots every 20 minutes. We were booked in for 12pm, but went in at about 11.45.

This year’s theme was Cinderella. The main entrance hall was decorated with a grand dining table; opulent with candlesticks, fancy dinnerware and Christmas trees everywhere!

Poor Cinderella’s table was tucked around the back, away from the grandeur.

From there we wandered through rooms and rooms of beautiful decorations, trees and garlands, while the Cinderella story was told along the way.

The ugly sister’s room

Beautifully bedecked in jewelled pink, blue and purple. Clothes were strewn on every surface as they planned their outfit for the ball.

Cinderella’s room

In contrast, poor Cinders’ room was much more sparse and plain (as plain as it can be, when hosted in a palace!) There was an original Singer sewing machine, with fabrics and cottons for Cinderella to make her own outfits.

The Prince’s room

Spot the invitations to the ball spilling off the table, along with his velvet cloak ready for the ball.

Cinderella’s carriage

Absolutely beautiful; covered in fairy lights and surrounded by pumpkins!

Midnight room

Full of clocks, and a clock decorated Christmas tree – a reminder to Cinderella that she must leave the ball before the clock strikes 12!

The ballroom

Breathtaking in white and silver, with flower and crystal decorated tables and roaring log fires.

Topped off, of course, by Cinderella’s glass slipper!

Everything was beautifully done, with so much effort and detail. Our only gripe was that the rest of the palace was closed off for the duration of the Christmas event, so we didn’t get to see any of the rooms other than those that were part of the exhibition. At £28 per ticket it was quite expensive for what took no more than 30 minutes to walk around (and we weren’t rushing either).

Afterwards we went for a wander around the grounds, following the path for the Winter Wonderland trail I mentioned earlier. Due to the huge amount of rain and the poor pathways it was a soggy mushy mess underfoot. It actually made us glad we hadn’t been able to get tickets, as it wouldn’t have been a pleasant walk, and would probably have ended up with one or more of us on our ass in the dark!

We had a lovely lovely time, but I do think the organisers should consider value for money a little more next year. And definitely sort those paths out!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace runs until 6th January 2019, although the Christmas Market ended on 16th December.

Have you ever been to a stately home at Christmas? Do you still have your decorations up in your own home? (We do!)

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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5 ways to deal with disappointment

Person holding picture in front of their face showing a drawing of a sad face. Text: dealing with disappointment

Disappointment. It’s a fact of life. Not a nice fact of life, but one most of us have to deal with, nonetheless.

Special occasions can be a huge source of disappointment. The anticipation in the build up to the event, the high expectation to enjoy yourself and have a great time – there’s a lot of pressure. This is further exacerbated when the world around you seems to be having the best time; the most amazing birthday, fantastic holiday or cosiest Christmas.

That’s not to say all events go badly. Of course they don’t! But, if anything, that makes it even more upsetting when things don’t go to plan.

Take Christmas, as an example. Our insta feed is full of the biggest trees, the prettiest gifts, the fancy meals and family get togethers. Christmas is a pinnacle in many people’s annual calendars; we use it as a measure of how far along we are in the year, how ready we are during December (how many people have asked you if you were ready for Christmas this month?), how we feel during December (hands up if you’ve uttered the immortal “I just don’t feel Christmassy” line this year!) Of course we want it to the be the best one ever. And, if it isn’t, our heart rightly breaks a little.

The same goes for other occasions. Disappointing holidays – when we’ve spent time and effort and hard earned cash to getaway – leave us feeling crap. Disappointing gigs; maybe the band is late, or the sound is poor, or the crowd are obnoxious and spoil things (talking from experience seeing the Foo Fighters at Wembley this summer – the crowd were bloody awful) – we feel crushed.

How do we deal with it then? What can we do to ease the inevitable disappointment?

Allow ourselves time to wallow a little

It’s ok to feel angry, upset and hurt. I certainly find it helpful. Glossing over your feelings can often lead to resentment. Acknowledge the disappointment, feel it deeply, and then move on.

Direct your disappointment at the source of the cause

I’ve been guilty of taking my feelings out on the wrong people; either by being vocally upset with them or withdrawing and being sullen. That’s not fair on anyone. Make sure you’re not dragging other people into your disappointment and associated feelings.

Keep a sense of perspective

In most cases, the event we’re disappointed in or at is not a one time only opportunity. Christmas comes around once a year. So do birthdays. There will be other gigs and holidays (hopefully). Try to remember that you can always improve things next time around. If it’s a special occasion that has been spoilt, try to take the attitude that it’s “just a day”.

Try to look for a silver lining on that cloud

After the Foo Fighters gig our group of friends spent the following day together and had an absolute hoot. We drank in the sunshine, laughed at ourselves and each other, and had a great time. Despite a 2 day rainy start to our holiday in Italy, we saw the most amazing stormy skies and sunsets. It’s rare that there’s absolutely nothing good you can take from a situation.

Try to “make up for things” by arranging an alternative good time

Perhaps it’s a nice meal to cheer yourself up, or visiting friends, or just something you didn’t plan to do but know it will raise your spirits. Erase bad memories by making better ones.

Most of all, as so many people have said and will continue to say, don’t compare your bad time with the wonderful lives of friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Especially Instagram! It may just leave you feeling worse, when that person’s truth may be a bigger disappointment than your own. Concern yourself with the things you can control, and try to move past the negativity and back to a shiny happy place.

(in case you were wondering, part of my Christmas was pretty crap thanks to the rotten behaviour of some people, hence the words of “wisdom”. Trying to take my own advice by making the rest of the holiday enjoyable, and memorable for the right reasons).

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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The additional need for charity at Christmas

Three young children sitting on some steps. Text reads "charity at Christmas"

Like many people, I think I become more aware of the need for charity at Christmas time.

I support charities year round. Don’t get me wrong, I think the very fact that charity has to even exist is abhorrent. Avoidable disasters like Grenfell; disasters the government should be paying for – people run the London marathon for charity. Illnesses like cancer (which I believe there is a cure for…whole other post) – people running around local parks in a pink tutu raising cash for “research”.

I’ve posted my opinions on charity before. The government wastes thousands on crap like Brexit (also posted about this before) but expects the public to pick up the tab for REALLY IMPORTANT SCHIZZLE.

Anyway, this wasn’t a post to promote previous posts! Or to lambast the government (OK, maybe a little bit). It was to talk about charity at Christmas.

Back to the first paragraph

I am a regular charity supporter. It makes me feel good about myself (sorry, not sorry), and I hope the money goes where it should. But something about Christmas makes me extra generous. Especially to those in society who don’t enjoy Christmas in the same way as me. Last year I did a reverse advent calendar and donated food stuffs to charity. I’ve done the same this year (not the advent calendar, but a supermarket basket full of food in the local food bank collection).

One of my new colleagues (still bleating about having a new job, whatcha gonna do?) came to the office with some present tags from charity KidsOut. Her son goes to a local day nursery and they were supporting the charity. There are a mix of tags. Some show just an age and gender, some show an age and gift request, and others show a name and preferred present. KidsOut is a charity supporting children affected by domestic violence; many of whom will have escaped a violent home with a parent and have no presents to open.

My tag was for an 11 year old boy who requested a diablo. What with me being old, I thought this was a technological present I had never heard of. Imagine my surprise when I googled it (don’t judge me) to find it’s an old school toy made of wood and string!

I couldn’t resist bringing it into the 21st century (and to make that boy the envy of his friends!) so I bought a light up one that changes colour as you spin. He deserves something a little bit special, don’t you think?

Christmas happens for everyone

Back to the point of my post. Christmas happens for everyone – in varying degrees. There are people like me and the husband who have enough money to buy gifts for each other and donate to charities to help other people. There are people like the homeless who I saw on the streets where I live and gave money to yesterday. And there are children who, through no fault of their own, will wake up on Christmas morning not only without presents; but without a bed, a bedroom, clothes or their favourite teddy bear.

The other point of my post is that charity and goodwill isn’t just for Christmas. It’s lovely to try and help people have a slightly better time, in line with our own Christmas. But shit like this happens every month of the year. The UK police recorded a 23% increase in reports of domestic violence crime in the year up to March 2018. Many of those cases will involve children.

This isn’t a guilt trip post. Far from it. It’s not even an awareness raising post. We all do our own thing.

But do think of others. Not only at Christmas but year round.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

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A December city break: Rome at Christmas

Close up of the Colosseum with text saying Rome at Christmas

I can’t believe it’s a year since we were in Rome for my birthday! Weirdly, Rome at Christmas isn’t that Christmassy. More to the point, that’s why I chose it!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite clearly Christmas in the city, There are fairy lights in the streets, big trees in large piazzas and decorations in shop windows and restaurants. It’s more that the sole focus isn’t Christmas, if that makes sense? Some cities are renowned for being Christmas destinations, with markets and winter wonderlands and the like. While that’s absolutely wonderful, and I do love a Christmas destination, I wanted my birthday to be more about my birthday than celebrating Christmas.

Clear as mud, right?

I suppose what I’m saying is, if you were looking for a Christmas getaway to give you all the Christmas feels, then Rome probably isn’t it. If you’re looking for a winter break with a healthy smattering of Christmas and loads to do, see and eat, Rome is perfect.

Now I’ve got that straight (!!) here are some Christmas pictures we took around the city during our 4 days. There are trees, street decorations, fairy lights and garlands. And seeing these make me want to go back!

Did you see my other posts about Rome?

Rome part 1

Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica

Colosseum and Roman Forum

Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps

Where we stayed and ate in Rome

I cannot wait to go back to this beautiful city! Next time I’d go when it was slightly warmer but not high season to be able to take advantage of lighter nights and outdoor cafes. Perhaps May or late September. That said, I would definitely recommend a visit in December, because the city isn’t too busy and hotel rates are reasonable.

Have you ever been to Rome?

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