Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Viking Arty Party

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

You know when you have just the absolute best Saturday? I feel like the weekend of the #VikingArtyParty was definitely one of them.

Despite having an absolute hangover from hell and waking up to the reality of having lost my debit card the night before (LOL I’m a disgrace), I kicked off the day by heading to If Coffee for brunch with Caroline before the event. Needless to say, I perked myself up by nailing that millennial cliché and photographing my avocado on toast from all angles before inhaling it. If you’re in Leeds, I’d definitely recommend If (it used to be called Graze if you’re from round here), as the food is delicious and they’re very good at catering for dietary requirements – the vegan red velvet looked pretty damn dreamy. After brunch, it was time to get our craft on at Lambert’s Yard.

Viking supplies office stationary and the like, and as stationary is something I’m v keen on, going to get crafty with them is definitely my idea of fun. It was really lovely to go to a blogger event that’s something a bit different and more creative – whilst I love going to events and trying food and drink, there’s something special about taking home something you’ve made. My first activity was block printing where I did a questionable effort at a Christmas tree design on a file holder.

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

Second up was making crackers which I absolutely loved as I think it’s a really creative way to give small gifts to people. We were meant to be making them into an advent calendar (as you can string up 24 of them and put a chocolate in each), but I think I’d rather make mine into Christmas place settings as they’re really cute.

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

Our final challenge was to master calligraphy which was really interesting and so much harder than it looked! You know when you see those speeded up videos of people doing calligraphy and it looks really easy? Turns out it’s definitely not. We learnt the technique then practiced our letters – a bit like how you’d do hand writing practice at school – then started to write out words and phrases. I played it safe and stuck to my blog name but there’s definitely something satisfying about seeing swearwords and phrases written out so beautifully... maybe next time! As the event came to a close, I received my first Christmas gift of the year from the Vikings team which included some incredible stationary which I’m already excited to take to work.

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

I rounded off the day with a visit from my sister and being the good egg she is, she brought me the jeans I accidentally sent to her work (my bad), presents from her recent holiday (woop!) and her old MacBook which is possibly the greatest hand-me-down I’ve ever received. Needless to say, it was an excellent visit, though she didn’t do too badly out of me, as she left with a Yankee candle and two dresses.

As Saturdays go, this was definitely one of the best ones I’ve had in a while. What do you think of my Christmas crafting? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

On loving the lead up to Christmas

On loving the lead up to Christmas
Christmas flatlay

Is it just me who freaking loves the lead up to Christmas? In fact, it’s almost more fun than the day itself. This year I’m getting that festive feel on way too early but you know what? The season of loving and giving and Cadburys chocolate snowmen can last for as long as it likes in my books.

Working in social media and as part of a wider digital PR team, we have to get festive pretty early anyway, as we’re planning our campaigns well in advance, plus in blogger world, Christmas starts fairly early too as it’s important for brands to have influencers chatting about their products before Christmas shopping kicks in. Can you tell that I’m trying to justify this? Yep. Excellent.

Christmas flatlay

There are a few things I seriously love about the Christmas build up and buying gifts is one of them. I’ve already started planning what I’m going to buy people and have actually already bought some little gifts for my mum and sister as I like to have some gifts that are useful as well as the stuff on their Christmas lists. If anything, planning my present buying in advance means it doesn’t give my bank balance a kick in the balls in December when my real priority is my Christmas party outfit. I find that picking bits up in the supermarket/doing a self indulgent Ocado order is a great opportunity to get the stocking filler gifts sorted.

Christmas flatlay

Christmas food is obviously on my list of things I love as what can I say, chocolate tastes better in the shape of a snowman. I have to embrace my love of cheese in the lead up to Christmas as we don’t really have it back home (my mum has serious issues with cheese, she hates it with a passion), but it turns out my new office is full of cheese addicts so I don’t think it will be difficult. I was recently sent some chutneys to try from The English Provender Co and not only do they have the prettiest of packaging but they’re the dream with a cheese board. I ended up taking them to the work cheese night (see what I mean? My new office loves the stuff), and they went down an absolute treat. I’m also a massive mince pie fan but I’ll be honest, they sell them all year round in Thomas the Bakers so they’re no longer a Christmassy treat.

Christmas flatlay

Does anyone else love a good Christmas-themed book in the lead up? I’m absolutely obsessed with Christmas chick lit as it’s always feel good, has a Ali Harris’ Miracle on Regent Street and Milly Johnson’s A Winter Flame are my favourites and I’ve read both several times over. When it comes to Christmas films, Santa Who is my favourite even though it’s a made for TV film and nobody else appears to have seen it. It hits me right in the festive feels every time I watch it.

So, that’s what I love about the build up to Christmas – what do you love? Or do you kind of want to hit me around the head with a Christmas tree for being too early? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Wine tasting with Veeno

Wine tasting with Veeno
Veeno Leeds

It will come as no shock to anyone that I’m a wine fan, mainly as I seem to have a glass in hand in one hell of a lot of my selfies – what can I say, I’m a cliché. I didn’t start drinking wine until I moved to Leeds and realised it was time to leave my vodka and diet coke days behind me. Like with a lot of things, there’s definitely trial and error involved in finding drinks that you like when you don’t know much about it but I’ve found that doing wine tastings has really helped me know what to look for on menus – for example, I know that I prefer Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio – and it means you don’t end up saying ‘oh no, you choose’ and ending up with something you’re not keen on.

I was recently invited to do a wine tasting at Veeno and absolutely jumped at the chance as I’ve heard really good things from a few friends from work about both the wine and the food that it’s paired with. I took my friend Juan with me, and he actually guest-blogged about it on our friend Hayley’s blog, Prawnstar Martini – if you’re into foodie content, check her out.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting

We did the Selezione’ Wine Tasting which is £26.90 per person and with that, we tried six Italian wines, two white, two red, one rose and one sweet wine, with a board of meats and cheeses, plus tiramisu. Throughout the tasting, a member of the Veeno staff will explain each wine to you and which food to pair it with.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting cheese and meat board

We started with the Grecanico white wine which was fruity and paired with mozzarella cheese. I really enjoyed this wine as I felt that it was fruity and refreshing but not too over-powering. It is described as a mid-dry white wine which is definitely to my tastes personally. The second white we tried, I preferred was the Inzolia wine which is the fruitiest white on the menu and this was paired with a much stronger cheese so it was the perfect balance of sweet and salty flavours.

We moved onto the rose wine which was the Tasari, and paired this with speck ham. I must admit, I surprised myself when I liked this as my rose days date back to trying to force myself into liking wine at university, when needless to say, I wasn’t too fussed about the flavour. I’d definitely drink this again though as it’s very fruity and would make a perfect summer drink.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting cheese and meat board

Red wine is a bit of a minefield for me as a few bad experiences aged 17 has ruined it for me until now, but I’m desperate to appreciate it, especially with the right food. The Perricone red was my favourite out of the two, and it was paired with cured beef. I couldn’t believe how much the right pairing of food can alter the flavour of the wine and I could really taste the undertones of red fruits and liquorice. The second red we tried was Veeno’s best seller, the Nero d’Avola, but we agreed with our wine expert Angelica that the Perricone was better. This wine was paired with a soft blue cheese which complimented the oaky flavour of the wine.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting dessert wine

Veeno Leeds wine tasting tiramisu

We finished the evening with a dessert wine and tiramisu. I must admit, I’m not a big fan of tiramisu but I could definitely appreciate that this one would be delicious if you’re a coffee drinker (luckily Juan loved it so it didn’t go to waste!). This was paired with a dessert wine that was incredibly sweet but I really enjoyed it more than I expected and together, it complements the creaminess of the dessert.

Overall, I’d absolutely recommend heading to Veeno for a wine tasting. The sharing board of food really adds to the experience and it’s definitely good value for money. I always find that I learn something new when I do a wine tasting, but this has been the best for making me really appreciate how important the pairing of wine to food is – plus who could honestly be disappointed by a board filled with such delicious meats, breads and cheeses?

What’s your wine of choice? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

First Class train travel – is it worth it?

Virgin trains East Coast First Class
Virgin trains East Coast First Class

I recently did a couple of long distance train journeys and decided to live my best life and go first class. Yo to the freaking lo, etc. I’m lucky that it’s easy for me to travel from both Leeds and York so I got straight on it with the Virgin Trains East Coast seat sale and bagged myself tickets to both London and Edinburgh in first class. But was it worth it?

There are definite pros and cons to first class, as you’re paying for an experience but let’s face it, we know that trains aren’t the most reliable form of transport and paying extra won’t stop your train getting delayed or having technical difficulties. On the other hand, if you’re not paying all that much more than your standard class tickets, you can easily eat and drink the difference. I travelled on the Virgin East Coast line both down to London and up to Edinburgh, so experiences will vary by train provider.

First Class Lounges
Some stations have a first class lounge which you can use prior to your journey. When travelling from Leeds to London King’s Cross, I went in both, whereas when I went from York to Edinburgh, only Edinburgh has a lounge. The lounges have a selection of hot and cold drinks available, snacks like crisps and biscuits, charging ports (for all phone types, in addition to having plug sockets available), comfortable chairs to relax in before getting your train. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest upgrading simply for the purpose of going in the lounges, it’s definitely good if you have a specific train booked and might have time to kill beforehand as it’s a calmer space where you can charge your phone. The Leeds lounge wasn’t the greatest experience as the hot drinks machine was broken and it’s a windowless box hiding behind the ticket machines, but the Edinburgh Waverley lounge was absolutely lovely, as it’s a more classic style with winged armchairs and leather footstools. The King’s Cross lounge was definitely a highlight for me though as the day I was there, Virgin had brought in a company to do complimentary back massages which was the dream before my train home.

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

On the train
For longer journeys, this is where it becomes 100% worth it as the carriages tend to be quieter, there are plug sockets by every seat and I was able to book a single seat so I didn’t have to sit opposite a stranger whilst I was travelling. First class passengers get free Wifi too which meant I could spend the journey being entertained by YouTube videos, without worrying about killing my phone battery as I could charge it as I traveled. The seats are comfier, the tables are bigger and it’s an all round more enjoyable experience.

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

I’m entirely on board with train snacks, and I think this is where I got my money’s worth. I paid an additional £20 for my return to London, and an additional £30 on my return to Edinburgh, but I worked out that the number of hot drinks, snacks and the cost of Wifi for each trip meant that it was so worth it for me as on each journey I had the equivalent of a meal. The menus are available online but breakfast for me included Greek yoghurt and granola and lunches were a duck wrap or egg sandwich, plus crisps and a muffin. There are more hot options available too, like Mediterranean chicken and bacon rolls. From the four trains I was on, only once was full menu not available and it was cold food only in the evening. Whilst I don’t advocate binge drinking (LOL, well, occasionally), after 11am, alcohol is readily available and included in the refreshments so I definitely took advantage of this and sipped on a couple of G&Ts on those journeys.

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

So, was it worth it? I’d say yes. Though I’m not going to become someone who goes first class at every opportunity as LOL I’m not exactly balling, when it’s in the seat sale or booked far enough in advance, it’s a yes from me. Providing you make the most of it and use the lounges, log onto the Wifi, eat the food and drink the booze, you’ll easily get your money’s worth. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The best and worst things about The Solo Project

The best and worst things about The Solo Project
red converse on tiled floor

Since I started The Solo Project back in 2015, I’ve done a whole load of things by myself that I’ve really, really enjoyed, but it’s also made me realise that there are downsides. As ever, I want this blog to be my honest experience so here are the best and worst bits of going solo.

What other people think
Yes, I know, we shouldn’t be defined by what other people think, but I’ve definitely had a split reaction to The Solo Project. Some people think I’m clearly a weird loser with no friends, others think it’s a great idea that either they want to try themselves or already do on a regular basis. Hearing from other people that have read my blog and it’s given them the confidence to give going solo a try definitely makes it the most rewarding thing I’ve ever shared on here.

Photo opportunities
Whilst I’ve absolutely mastered the humble art of the selfie, I must admit, I do miss having someone to take photos with at landmarks. I mean, I’m definitely the only person who has been to the IAmsterdam sign and doesn’t have a photo of themselves sat on it. But at the same time, I have a habit which is irritating to non-bloggers as I take photos of everything, and when you’re by yourself, there’s nobody to complain that their food is getting cold!

It’s always going to be more expensive to go somewhere alone as there’s nobody with you to take advantage of splitting the cost of accommodation, travel and 241 deals with, but at the same time, it also means you don’t have to compromise on your budget. I’m definitely a trains and hotels, rather than coaches and hostels, kinda gal and when you’re by yourself, there’s nobody telling you that you’re wasting money. YAY.

Time saving
When you’re by yourself, you definitely get through things one hell of a lot faster in terms of attractions. If you’re going somewhere that has a recommended time to spend in there, by yourself you can cut it to a third as there’s zero faffing on and you don’t stand still for long. The plus side of this is definitely that you get so much more done in a day, the downside being that there’s a constant feeling of ‘what next’. When I’m by myself, whilst I’m more than happy to just mooch around a bit, having several hours without anything specific to do puts me on the default setting of ‘bored’, so I try and make sure I have loads of things to cram into a day.

So, they’re the best and worst things about going solo, let me know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Goal setting and a five year plan

Five year plan
wooden barometer

It’s crazy to think how much things have changed in the last five years and it’s almost like dipping my toes into the unknown to think about where I’ll be in another half a decade. The last five years have seen me become an entirely different person, so I’ll definitely be interested to reflect on my mid-twenties when I hit the big 3-0 in five years time. At 20 I was grieving the sudden loss of my dad, juggling a degree and part time job and had absolutely no idea what I would do after leaving education. At 25, I’m working a career that I adore, living in a new city and have found my voice both on and offline. But where do I want to be at 30?

1. I want to have moved out. I love my city centre shoebox flat but moving up a ring on the property ladder in the next five years is most certainly on my radar.

2. Be in a better financial position. I want to be someone who has a chunk of savings that’s there, not just as a house or holiday fund, but just because. It’ll take a lot of hard work and saving but by 30 I would like to have some solid savings going on.

3. Fall in love. Oh I know, I was nearly sick in my mouth as I typed that too, but whether it’s Mr Right or Mr Right now, I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready for a little settling down. Is this the start of a whole new me who’s no longer as scared of commitment as I am of spiders? Maybe.

4. Travel further. I conquered my fear of flying with a few solo trips away but I’m desperate to go further afield. Once Trump is voted out/sacked/gets abducted by aliens, New York is absolutely a plan I’d like to make but I think I’ll have to win the Powerball Lottery before I afford the luxury trip I’m planning on Pinterest. Or y’know, I’ll have those savings that I’m planning and I’ll spend that instead. #YOLO etc.

5. Keep doing what I love. I really want to get to 30 and still be in a job I love and be spending my free time doing what I love too. It’s so easy to get into both personal and professional ruts and I’m lucky to be in neither – I never want to be that person who doesn’t feel excited for their work or goes home and just doesn’t ever do anything fun. I want feel make sure that at 30 I still feel fulfilled.

So, that’s my five year plan, what’s on yours? Let me know in the comments.

*This post was written in collaboration with Multilotto but all thoughts, opinions and five year plans are my own.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

My Amsterdam Bucket List

My Amsterdam Bucket List

When I went to Amsterdam earlier this year, I pretty much fell into the tourist trap, trying to do as much as I possibly could in the day and a half I had in the city. I went to museums, did a canal tour, went to the Anne Frank House and ate some delicious food, but now I’ve done even more research into it, I have an even longer list of things I want to do there. Amsterdam is the first place I’ve fallen in love with outside of the UK. I’m definitely the kind of person to click with places very quickly – I was in Huddersfield for about 20 minutes before I decided aged 17 that I’d be going to university there, and I always aspired to move to Leeds after spending time here as a student. But outside of the UK, Amsterdam is the first city I’ve been to where I’ve warmed to it enough to be desperate to come back.  Though I haven’t got another trip booked (yet!), here’s my bucket list of things I want to see and do the next time I go.

1. Visit during the spring. Amsterdam is famous for tulips and I was so disappointed by the flower market when I was there in February as quite frankly, bags of bulbs don’t work on the ‘gram. I imagine Amsterdam to be simply stunning at the right time of year – maybe it will have to be a birthday trip in April?

2. Go with friends. Solo travel is fantastic but there’s a social side to Amsterdam that I want to experience that is difficult to see when you’re by yourself – and by that I mean going for dinner and drinks rather than smashing the spacecakes as that isn’t my cup of tea.

3. Head to some more obscure museums. I did a lot of museums when I was there last time but they were the bigger ones so on my next trip I want to go to the torture/cheese/sex museums rather than Van Gogh and the like. I mean, I know a lot of people go to the sex museum but I thought I’d look like a right weirdo wandering round by myself and taking a selfie with a giant cock, so I gave it a miss on my solo trip.

4. Eat apple cake. I never did this! And y’know, this gal loves cake. 
5. Have a photo with the iAmsterdam sign. Don’t get me wrong, I nailed that selfie action when I was there (and I even managed to flip my camera so it wasn’t a mirror image), but it’s not the same as climbing on top of it like every other tourist.

6. Go to the Amsterdam Lookout. This is a really high building in Amsterdam where you can see some incredible views over the city and they have a swing which goes off the edge of the building. Who doesn’t want to do that?!

7. Visit the Avocado Cafe. What can I say, I’m basic AF.

So that’s my bucketlist for Amsterdam – is there anything else you think I should be adding? I took a lot of my inspo from Culture Trip so definitely check them out if you’re planning a trip.
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