London meets Scandinavia

Last weekend was jam-packed once again. As soon as work finished on Friday, I made my way to Peacock Farm, a bar and restaurant in Bracknell I may have mentioned before. It was the birthday celebration of a girl from work, so we relaxed in the beer garden (with lemonades as we were all driving!) before having a lovely meal inside. It was a fish and chip shop platter for me, which was nice but not as gorgeous as the buffalo chicken burger I had last time.

On Saturday morning, I braved the M25 again to make my way to Hendon, the home of my friend DO from Kerry. I left the car at hers before we hopped on a tube to take us to Soho to meet up with DL from Limerick who is currently residing in Kent. We grabbed a quick lunch (goats cheese and roasted peppers on ciabbatta for me!) before making our way to the Novello Theatre for Mamma Mia!

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The theatre was beautiful, and the musical even more so. The actress playing Donna (the role Meryl streep had in the movie) was particularly good, but the entire cast were really excellent. At the end, the entire audience stood up to sing along with the last few musical numbers, it was brilliant!

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After the musical, we hopped on a rickshaw for old times sake (I met the girls while on my volunteering trip to India) and made our way to The Verve, a bar near Leicester Square. Apparently Londonders enjoy happy hour between 5-8pm on Saturdays, then head home to get dressed up before returning to the city centre clubs and bars. So we decided to do as the Romans do and join them!

Our tummies soon began rumbling, so we grabbed a tube back to DO’s and picked up a pizza from Dominoes on the way. It felt slightly wrong to be eating takeaway pizza in one of the foodie capitals of the world, but it was delicious all the same! We got dolled up and soon found ourselves back in The Verve.

We were enjoying dancing just the three of us, but I felt like it might be a good idea to make some London friends. I spotted a gang of people dancing in the corner, we went over to join and we soon found ourselves chatting to a Londoner called John who had been ditched by his friend who had found a girl. Shortly after that, I noticed a table full of bearded guys watching our gang with interest, and next thing we knew we had introduced ourselves to Eirich, Stefan, Petter, Lars and Thomas, a gang of Norwegians! Not long later, two Swedish girls, Victoria and Michaela joined us and we had a Viking dance off!

I have to say, the Norwegian guys were some of the most gentlemanly I have met. They bought us several drinks and danced away with us, and never did they try to chat us up or make a move. At one point, an Australian who had briefly joined us grabbed a full drink that one of the girls had just bought and ran off. Upset, she went to the bar to get another, when suddenly, Lars (the quietest of the gang who I had yet to speak to) jumped up. He had spotted the drunk Australian, and dragged him back over to the table. The drink-stealer found himself being interrogated by five very angry Vikings, asking him what he thought he was playing at and was he trying to spike girls’ drinks. Then, I turned around to find that one of the Norwegians had alerted security who immediately threw the Australian out of the club!

Once security had left, the Norwegian gang all turned to me (as DO was still up at the bar getting another drink), and began apologising for the behaviour of the Australian (despite them not even knowing him!), imploring that I not touch the possibly spiked drink and offering to buy more drinks for myself and the girls. They were genuinely concerned that us three Irish girls (that they had only just met!) would be taken advantage of or made ill by these spiked drinks!

Luckily, we managed to forget this slight trouble soon, and resumed our crazy dancing with our new gang. We stayed until the bar closed, when we parted ways with all new Scandinavian friends. Tired but happy, we returned to DOs and collapsed on her couch. The next morning (slightly the worse for wear I’ll admit), I drove home to Maidenhead feeling extremely satisfied with my first night out in London!

Relaxing in Reading etc

Once again, life has been busy and the blog has been neglected. Sincerest apologies! Despite my busy-ness however, I don’t have a huge amount to report here.

Two weeks ago, I decided it was time to finally see my nearest city, Reading. The day dawned bright and sunny, and I ended up having to be late for my lunch date because I needed to stop off for sun cream! Once I was properly armed against the UV rays (with proper La Roche Posay lotion, none of that cheapy stuff for us Irish milkbottles!), I met up with J at the Riverside. We settled ourselves at a nice outdoor table in the shade of Côte Brasserie. Being starving, but not hungry enough for a main course, I ordered two starters, goats cheese tartine and calamari. J also ordered the calamari and we split a side of chips. And to wash it all down, I had a bottle of beautiful French lemonade. Heaven!

After our scrumptious meal, we went for a wander around Reading and grabbed some ice cream for dessert. J had to head off eventually, but I hung around in order to do a bit of shopping.

You might have noticed that this post is also a bit low on photos, this is because my third-hand phone decided to die! So I spent a large proportion of my time in Reading looking at various phone options, to no avail unfortunately. I then spent some time looking at potential dresses for a wedding I’m attending during the summer, no luck there either!

The rest of that weekend was spent chilling out, before my friend K arrived on Monday. I went to university with K, and she was moving to the UK for a job really near me! Because they wanted her to start ASAP, she didn’t have a chance to find a place to live and move in, so she stayed with me for a few days until she found her feet. It was so nice to have another Irish person around!

Last weekend, I flew home to Ireland for the second time since moving here. After a whirlwind few days trying to see everyone and do everything, I thought I would be quite ready to return to England for a bit of a break. However, leaving home this time was harder than my first visit and harder than leaving originally was. It feels as if it’s finally sinking in that this isn’t just a holiday, that I’m in England for the foreseeable future.

After my busy weekend at home, I knew I needed to take it easy this weekend. I deliberately avoided making plans, but when K offered to take me out for dinner as a thank you, how could I say no! We met in Ascot, and found a table in Rock Salt. We both ordered the linguine with chilli, garlic and prawns. It was gorgeous! K was also kind enough to give me the most interesting cupcake recipe book I’ve seen, “10,000 Cupcakes”. Each page is divided into three, decorations, toppings and cakes. You can flip each part separately to create whatever combination you like. I’m itching to hit the kitchen again and experiment!

Yesterday was beautifully sunny once again, though not as hot as my day in Reading. I decided a walk over the moor into Maidenhead was on the cards, particularly as I needed to sort out my phone. Two weeks without Whatsapp and Skype does not a happy emigrant make! After much ado, I am finally the proud owner of a lovely new smartphone, complete with camera to brighten up my blog! I also purchased a dress, bag and fascinator to wear to the races at some point over the summer.

My intention was to go to Asda last night, but after all my walking, I decided that an evening in bed with a good book was a much better alternative. It is now Sunday morning, and I’m having a lazy breakfast (porridge with blueberries), enjoying the breeze floating in from the open back door. Bliss!

Being uncool in Shoreditch

Despite being on the go non-stop the previous weekend, last Saturday I pulled on a sensible pair of shoes again and got ready for some more wanderings!

My friend A, who I went to college with, moved to the UK six weeks ago to work with the NHS in Bradford. She regularly visits her boyfriend in London, so had suggested I pop in so the two of us could have a mooch about and a catch up. Neither of us had a clue about where would be nice to go on a Saturday. Luckily, we had friends advise us to visit Spitalfields and Brick Lane Markets in Shoreditch.

We went to Spitalfields first, and sat down with some scrumptious crepes to have a good natter over. Once we were satisfied, we ventured into the market proper for some retail therapy! They had the most gorgeous things on offer, I’m surprised I didn’t come home with an entirely empty bank account. I was very good, and managed to restrain myself and only bought a lovely big floral bow. A bit girlier than what I would usually go for, but A assured me it will look lovely!

Leaving the market, we headed towards Shoreditch High Street. It suddenly dawned on us that we were surrounded by hipsters with their ripped jeans, quirky sunglassess and mad hair. We felt very out of place! Every second shop was full of vintage items. After browsing in a couple of these and seeing nothing more than a pile of old clothes, we came to the conclusion that we were just too uncool for Shoreditch!

We had intended to visit Brick Lane too, but unfortunately that was closed on Saturdays. Luckily for us however, there were numerous small markets and stalls around Shoreditch. So much so, we couldn’t decide where to eat. We considered eating in one market that held numerous stalls selling mostly Asian food, but after one too many stall owners yelling after us to come try their food, and the tastes we did try not being overly excited, we moved on.

At this point, the heavens opened. Our leisurely stroll had to be cut short as we realised that finding somewhere with a roof was more important. We ran into the first place we saw, which was called the Boxpark. This seemed to be some sort of pop-up area full of mini bars and restaurants. We went for one selling Thai street food, for the simple reason that it had seats!

Our choice turned out to be a good one, my prawn phad thai and A’s green curry were exactly what we needed after getting soaked outside. Lovely and warming, and pretty authentic tasting in my opinion.

We parted ways soon after this, as we both needed to go home and get dry and warm. I had a quiet evening in which was lovely and relaxing. The next day, I had intended on visiting a Steam Fair in Pinkneys Green, but as I sat in the house on Sunday morning, I decided that I had done more than enough adventuring recently! A chilled out Sunday was exactly what I needed!

 

PS: Apologies for the lack of photos, I feel a bit out whipping out the camera phone while I’m hanging out with someone!

Bristol concluded

It’s time for the final chapter of my Bristol adventure! It seems to have turned into quite the saga really.

I felt I needed another bite to eat after my church wanderings, so I took another look around the food festival and settled on some gorgeous ice cream from Shepherds. They had a huge range of interesting flavours, in the end I went for peanut butter and chocolate with mango and passion fruit sorbet. Scrumptious!

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As I lounged on the grass in front of the cathedral, I entertained myself by watching a guy practising bar flaring!

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Poor guy kept dropping the bottles and had to clean up broken glass more than once. He seemed to have an endless supply of new ones though!

While I licked my ice cream tub clean, I received a text from Kiwi Craig telling me that the Cabot Tower he had mentioned earlier was awesome and really worth a visit. Intrigued, I ignored my sore feet and got back up again to investigate!

The tower was beautiful! I think there must be some sort of law against mediocre architecture in Bristol.

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It was on top of a hill in the middle of a park, and surrounded by beautiful waterfalls and gardens.

 

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My tired feet (and fear of spiral staircases!) prevented me from climbing to the top of the tower, but the views from its base were still utterly fabulous. Once again, my phone camera just doesn’t do it justice!

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I strolled back down the hill and out of the park. Making my way back to the High Street, I came across yet another beautiful old building to gawk at.

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As much as I was loving Bristol, my poor feet (did I mention they were sore and tired?) were about to give up on me. So I went for one last cold pink lemonade before making my way back to my car.

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After I was finished slurping my lemonade, I left the café only to find my new Italian friends from the previous night crossing the road right in front of me! They seemed genuinely sorry to see me go, and while none of them had acquired English phone numbers yet, they asked for my number and told me that I must come back to Bristol again to see them!

So all in all, it was a crazy, unexpected, up and down and back up again kind of trip! I’d gone to a brand new city on my own, and I’d left it alive, in one piece, and after having a whale of a time!

Bristol, it was great, see you again soon! Ciao bella!

Bristol banter continued

Monday morning I woke up bright and early (slightly the worse for wear, I’ll admit!) and made my way down to the harbour for the BBC Bristol Food Connections Festival that was the original reason for my going to the city. Finally, despite all the confusion and setbacks, I was going to see Donal Skehan cooking in real life!

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Along the way I stopped to have a look at the beautiful Bristol University. I really wish I had a better camera so that I could give you a proper look at the height of this place, it was stunning! I would love a chance to have a mooch around inside it as well.

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I made it to the lovely harbour, and had to queue for a while before getting a seat in the pavilion where Donal would be filmed.

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Unfortunately, phones and cameras weren’t allowed after this point, but I can assure you that Donal was great! He cooked chilli and lemongrass chicken and Mexican fish tacos. From where I was sitting, I could tell they smelled divine! They’re definitely on my list to cook for dinner one of these days.

After the demonstration I made my way around the festival. Unluckily for me, it was more aimed at littlies than big kids like me! I suppose it didn’t help that I spend far too much time in the working day looking at tongues and had zero desire to loo at stalls featuring tongues and taste buds and the like!

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I headed back out to explore Bristol, and came across these intriguing ship masts. As I drew nearer, I realised they were over the wrong side of the river and as my poor feet were complaining once again, I made the executive decision to see what else the city had to offer me.

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I continued to be wowed by the architecture, including the Cathedral School above….

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….. and more of the exterior of the cathedral itself. I decided that as the outside was so beautiful, I really needed to have a nose about the inside. But first, sustenance!

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Continuing on my British theme, I went for an award-winning chicken and leek Traditional Cornish Pasty from the Chough Bakery stall at the festival. It was lovely and warm and filling, though perhaps not the usual sort of thing I’d go for, being more of a veggie lover myself. As I sat on a bench in the sunshine munching away, who should come along, but Kiwi Craig! We had a good chat about our plans for the day, and Craig told me about the Cabot Tower, which was about ten minutes walk up a hill nearby. Thinking of my aching feet, I declined to join him, figuring that the church would be enough for me. We parted ways once again, and I made my way into Bristol Cathedral.

Wow is all I can say. Wow wow wow. I love old churches. I love the architecture and the atmosphere. I’ve seen churches in Ireland, America, India, Russia, but I think I may have found one of the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. I’ve always thought it a bit OTT when people say something took their breath away (is that really possible?), but when I entered this place, I really did stand there stunned and breathless for a minute. There were medieval tombs, and newer chapels, and cracked tiles, and towering arches and the most incredible vaulted ceiling. I could have spent hours there. Unfortunately, I’ve never felt too comfortable taking pictures in churches, it seems a bit disrespectful or something, especially as people were buried there. So you will have to go there yourself to see what it’s like!

I had intended to finish off my Bristol adventure here, but this is turning into quite a long post again so I will have to leave you waiting for it’s conclusion!

The Kiwi, the Mancunian and I

When I last left you, I was tired, sore, lonely and despondent on the couch of a random hostel all by myself. Not the fun evening on a houseboat with cool new friends I had planned! I was exhausted enough that a quiet evening in seemed appealing, and less scary than trying to meet new people by myself again. However, staying in by myself is not why I moved to the UK and drove to Bristol alone to stay with a stranger!

I rallied my spirits, and went on Couchsurfing.org once again. It seemed my luck had changed, as a friendly looking Kiwi dude had posted on the Bristol page just a couple of hours previously asking did anyone want to meet up. Not long later, I had someone to have dinner and a few drinks with! Shortly after arranging that, a guy from Manchester entered the hostel lounge and began chatting to me. Before long, I had another friend wanting to come for drinks too!

I left the hostel in search of Kiwi Craig, while Mancunian Nas agreed to meet us later as he wanted to get changed.

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Kiwi Craig and I met outside the gorgeous Bristol cathedral and the slightly less gorgeous (but still interesting architecturally) Bristol Town Hall.

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After a slightly disappointing dinner, Nas joined us, all kitted out in green in honour of me! We left the overpriced Pitcher and Piano Bar and Restaurant, and moved onto The Stable, where we got ourselves two slabs of cider tasters!

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The three of us had great craic acting as if we were cider connoisseurs, and debating highly philosophical matters (what is the difference between a gazebo and a marquee for example?). Some time later, we went our separate ways and I somehow managed to find my way (slightly tipsily I will admit) back up a giant hill and to my hostel.

My intention had been to go to bed, but once I was inside the hostel I heard roaring laughter coming from the lounge. I poked my head around the door, only to find a friendly Italian guy I had said hello to earlier sitting there with a large gang of his compatriots. He recognised me instantly and waved me over. I made myself comfy on the couch once again and was introduced to Antonio, Lorenzo, Marco and a whole bunch of other “o”s I can’t remember! We were also joined by a lovely Italian girl, and a guy from Catalonia!

We spent quite some time debating linguistic differences, and I got a chance to show off my fabulous Italian skills. My new friends thought the Christmas rhyme I had learned aged twelve was utterly hilarious!

Eventually, we all made our way to our leabas. I was still tired and sore, but no longer lonely and despondent. I had made my way to a strange city intending to test my courage by staying with unknown people and make new friends. Despite my worries and the blip in proceedings, I had managed to have a seriously brilliant night in Bristol and made new friends after all!

A very close shave indeed

Saturday evening, I received confirmation from a girl from the Couchsurfing website that I could come and stay with her Sunday night. Couchsurfing is a movement where people (hosts) offer up their couches to travellers (surfers), in return for being taught a new skill, learning a different country, being cooked a nice meal. I had been lucky enough to nab free tickets to a cookery demonstration by Donal Skehan on Monday 5th May at the BBC Food Bristol Food Connections Festival, so I had emailed around several Bristol foodies to see if they would let me stay in return for tickets to the demo. I was happy enough to go to Bristol and back in a day, but Couchsurfing is on my bucket list so I decided to be brave and give it a go.

The longest I’ve ever driven before was probably Dublin to Tullamore for a job interview, so I was very proud of myself when I made it to Bristol in one piece. I went to Clifton first, to see the world famous suspension bridge, and I was seriously impressed. My photos just don’t do it justice!

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My intention was to walk across the bridge, but unfortunately, just as I took the above picture, disaster struck. I received a text from my Couchsurfing host saying she was no longer able to have me staying! I came to the sharp realisation that I was in a strange city where I knew no one, in a strange country, and I had nowhere to sleep that night. I fought panic as I began furiously googling hostels and joining the Bristol Emergency Couch Requests group. Thank god for smartphones is all I can say!

But I became more and more worried as every hostel I found online was either pretty grubby looking, or fully booked (stupid Bank holiday weekend!). Eventually, I came across one which was in the Clifton Triangle, and I thought, “Brilliant, I can have a look at this one before deciding, I’m already in Clifton!” Little did I know, the Clifton Triangle is actually in Bristol proper. It took me nearly an hour to find the place, and when once there I couldn’t have cared less whether it was a hovel, I just needed somewhere to rest!

Thankfully, the hostel had one bed left in a female-only dorm, so I paid for that and had a brief rest before beginning the long climb back up a giant hill to Clifton to retrieve my car. At some point, my phone decided to die so I didn’t even have google maps to help me, or my Mam on the other end of Whatsapp to cheer me up. Eventually, I found the car, parked it near the hostel and collapsed on the couch in the hostel lounge.

To be continued!