Tuesday 30 June 2015

LOCAL LOVES: Neal's Yard Remedies, Wimbledon Village

I've always been familiar with Wimbledon, I grew up in Putney which is down the road but since moving here with Steve last year I've been making a big effort to get out and explore my local businesses. It's easy to dismiss your local neighbourhood in exchange for the glamour of the big city centre. I'm definitely guilty of overlooking what's on my doorstop for a new, sparkly place in Soho but I'm trying to put my preconceptions aside and spend more time in SW19.

When I was invited to try a treatment at the newly refurbished Neal's Yard Remedies in Wimbledon Village I jumped at the chance. Not only because more poor, overstressed body was crying out for some TLC but also because I had no idea that Neal's Yard Remedies even offered spa treatments.

After speaking with my amazing therapist Colette she decided that the best thing for me to have was an hour long, full body massage. The hour was a dream, Colette used hot oil and figure of eight type strokes to massage my tired body. The whole process was extremely relaxing and I came away feeling lighter, stress free and calm.

It's not often I treat myself to these sort of procedures but they really do make a difference to my overall well-being. Neal's Yard Remedies in Wimbledon offer an impressive range of holistic therapies from Indian head massages to acupuncture so I'll definitely be back again next time I need some TLC.

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Friday 26 June 2015

FIVE FRIDAY: Music Festivals

The National at Primavera
I'm getting serious pangs of jealously at the minute. Last October I made the decision to not buy a Glastonbury ticket and this week it's hitting me really bad. I've been most years since 2007 and whilst I've absolutely adored my time on the sacred Worthy Farm, the past couple of years has seen me explore smaller, more alternative festivals which has made me realise how suffocatingly big Glastonbury is. Don't get me wrong, I love the big crowds and the atmosphere that comes with them but the stress of trying to secure a camping spot on Pennard's Hill, the hike from the Park to the Pyramid Stage and the ever present mud has made me appreciate the simpler things in life.

I've been to a fair few festivals in the UK and abroad and I'm always keen to try new ones. As a teen I used to frequent Reading Festival (and even Leeds Festival one year) but I grew out of that a long time ago because frankly Reading is an appalling place. I might go for the day if someone I love is playing like Green Day back in 2013 but the thought of camping amongst GCSE kids who are getting drunk for the first time fills me with absolute dread.

Wild Beasts at End of the Road

 Allo Darlin' at Indietracks

1. Rock en Seine, Paris

I went to Rock en Seine back in 2012 to see Green Day headline the final night of the 3-day festival during the August bank holiday weekend. Before I knew Green Day were playing, I'd never heard of the festival which is fairly surprising as the bands that play are pretty indie. Grandaddy even played one of their reunion gigs the same day! Rock en Seine takes places at the Château de Saint-Cloud's park in Southern Paris and being based in London meant we could get to Paris easily on the Eurostar. If memory serves right the day ticket only cost €40 which is the same if not more than the ticket cost to see Green Day play at Shepherd's Bush Empire the same summer so it's definitely great value for money.

The festival is lovely, as soon as we walked through the gates the atmosphere instantly felt relaxed and unlike many British festivals people weren't falling over themselves drunk. It's grown a little since I was there, as do all festivals, but I'm sure it still maintains it charming and friendly vibe. I particularity enjoyed the poster display which featured a unique print from each band playing that year. The site isn't massive and there's only 5 stages (4 back then) so it doesn't take long at all to walk around. The only 'issue' I remember facing was the serious lack of toilets but perhaps that because we went to the small set up near the main stage.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Rock en Seine and would definitely considering going again if the line up was of interest. Like a lot of European festivals there's no camping which means you've got the perfect opportunity to combine it with a city break.

2. Primavera Sound, Barcelona

I'd been wanting to go to Primavera for years. The line up has always interested me as it's quite heavy on alternative indie / guitar bands plus it's in Barcelona which is an awesome place. However for whatever reasons I'd never been able to go, until I managed to convince Lily to come with me last year. One of the really appealing things about Primavera is the bands don't start playing until the evening, giving you most of the day to spend in the city. Now, this does have one drawback, if bands start late they're going to finish late. I don't think we stayed much later than 2am over the 3 nights but I'm pretty sure bands were due to come on a 3am and later! Fortunately the big headliners tend to play around midnight which isn't so bad. On our first night we had caught an extremely early flight and I have flashes of me almost nodding off during Arcade Fire's set around 1am that evening. Despite the late nights (or should I say early mornings) we still managed to get up and out of the hotel before midday so we still saw plenty of the city.

Primavera is situated in the Parc del Fòrum leisure site, approximately 6 km north east of the city centre. It's a funny place, it feels like a giant car park with futuristic architecture and is deceptively big but it's right next to the sea making the views really special. Again, there's no camping but I can't imagine many people would want to sleep in a tent during May in Spain anyway. We stayed at Chic and Basic Born Hotel which was located perfectly for the festival. We were in the hustle and bustle of the city centre but on the same metro line as the Parc del Fòrum plus the taxi home each evening never cost more than €20.

Would I go back to Primavera Sound? Maybe, but I'd be more interested in visiting it's sister festival in Porto, Optimus Primavera Sound as it's meant to be smaller and greener but with all the same bands, perfect!

3. End of the Road, Wiltshire

I honestly don't think you can find a festival more perfect than End of the Road. I'm going for my third time this September and I can't wait to return. Set in the idyllic Lamer Tree Gardens this festival captures the very essence of magic. With a capacity of 11,000, the organisers really pull out all the stops to make this a special experience. It's hard to describe the atmosphere as it's so unique but imagine an Alice in Wonderland themed picnic, set in a the woods and everywhere you look you capture a glimpse of fairy lights, roaming peacocks, hidden treasure and people performing impromptu gigs in a living room amongst the trees. I love EOTR, I love the originality put into the outdoors installations, I love that the atmosphere isn't full of people acting like idiots, I love that bands play secret gigs on a boat in the middle of the woods, I love that the choice of food and drink is pure class, I love that everywhere you look you see amazing artworks that's clearly had so much effort involved, I love that the line up is unlike any other UK festivals, I love that the festival is so small it only takes seconds to walk from stage to stage, I love that the comedy stage is in the darkest and remote part of the woods you almost have to crawl through the tress to get there, I love that EOTR is such a special place you don't know whether to tell all your friends about it or just keep it a secret so only the most amazing of people attend.

One of the really terrific things about EOTR is that they don't care if you bring your own food or drink into the festival (much akin to Glastonbury). They believe that the food and drink on sale is of such good quality you'll want to buy it, and you know what they're absolutely right! Another good thing to note, because the festival is so small it doesn't take long to walk from the car park to the camping sight which means you can bring more stuff and make your stay a real luxury.

4. Indietracks, Derbyshire

I thought EOTR was small until I went to the perfectly formed indie-pop festival Indietracks for the first time last year.  My friend Gemma describes it as having a 'librarian vibe' and she couldn't be more correct. Set in Midland Railway - Butterley this festival couldn't be any more twee if it tired. Steam train rides a plenty with secret gigs on them, what's not to love? Last year there was definitely less than 1000 people which was pure bliss. You had an amazing view of every band and there were no long queues for drinks or toilets. There are 4 stages including the steam train so it may be small but there's plenty of music going on and if you really want to nerd it up you can visit the train museum / warehouse for free. There's a wonderful selection of craft beer and cider on sale and even though there aren't many food options, the choices are still excellent. 

Gruff Rhys at Indietracks

As soon as I walked though the gates last July I knew I'd found my perfect little slice of music festival heaven. Steve and I have agreed to return every year regardless of who's playing because it such a perfect place to relax and unwind. It probably the only festival I've been to where I've felt 100% stress free.

The actual festival site doesn't have camping facilities but Golden Valley Caravan Park is only a 15 minute walk away and because it's a proper camp site there's a club house with toilets, showers and late night kitchen bar.

In terms of music Indietracks is pretty niche, I reckon you wouldn't know a lot of the bands unless you're really into indie-pop but don't let that stop you from checking it out. This type of music is so fun and lovely you can't help but dance along and have an amazing time. I know the merchandise tent will be my downfall again this year as it's hard to resists the independent record fare type stalls. Steve and I bought so much vinyl last year I'm surprised we had any money left for food and booze.

5. Glastonbury, Somerset

The daddy of all festival and whilst I've outgrown it for the time being it'll still remain one of my all time favourites. Glastonbury works best with a large group and good organisation. It's an incredible place but you shouldn't take it lightly as there's so much going on and so many people you can become easily overwhelmed. Sure, it rains most of the time and there's loads of people there who's only concern is 'to be seen' but 100,000 idiots aside it's a crazy place that will leave you with many wonderful memories.

I feel that in recent years Glastonbury has become more about the after dark antics than the actual music but of course it's more than possible to have a great time whilst watching some awesome bands. I've seen some of my all time favourite people there from Blur to Pulp to hypnotizing Nick Cave to jaw dropping Beyonce and to the spectacular Rolling Stones. I have so many fond anecdotes that it's a place that will have a special place in my heart for eternity. 

There's still lots of festivals on my list that I've yet to visit. I'm desperate to check out Green Man in Wales and Electric Picnic in Ireland plus Indiefjord in Norway sounds absolutely gorgeous. What's your favourite music festival?

Allo Darlin' at Indietracks

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Wednesday 17 June 2015

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Ox and Finch, Glasgow

I was excited to try Ox and Finch long before my trip to Glasgow. I love a small plates restaurant, especially one using seasonal produce amongst a simple, laid back menu so when I read about this a little while ago I knew I had to book myself a table. We spent the morning at Kelvingrove and the University so the restaurant was situated perfectly for lunch. The West End in Glasgow is really up and coming in terms of restaurants, there's so many great places to eat and Ox and Finch was full to the brim, a good sign.

The menu is split into a few different sections so it's best to order a range of different plates. Because it was lunch we decided to stick vegetables and only go for one meaty dish. Five plates was definitely a good choice for two hungry people.

The mozzarella, nectarine and prosciutto was wonderful. The cheese was creamy, the fruit was tangy and the ham melted in the mouth. The combined flavours made for a wonderfully fresh and sweet dish, absolutely delicious.

The pea, broad bean, courgette and lemon orzo was really interesting as I've never had orzu before. It's sort of like a cross between rice and pasta, really tasty and soaks up flavour well. This was a really fresh dish and a great alternative to a side salad if you're after something a little more filling.

Charred asapargus with bacon and egg - a common dish at the moment as asparagus is in season but still a dish I love to order. The asparagus was chunky, woody and cooked perfectly, the egg was soft and flavoursome and the crispy bacon added a perfect salty edge to the dish.

Quite possibly the best chips I've had in recent memory. Crispy and chunky with a soft, cloud like interior. Perfection. And if this dish couldn't get any better the garlic aioli was so good we had to ask for more.

The roasted pork belly was probably my least favourite of the five but it still packed a lot of flavour from the rich tomatoes and and Asian dressing. The pork wasn't as succulent as I'd like but this was still an enjoyable, meaty plate.

We didn't order any desserts but I sure do like the sound of the parfait. Next time!

Excellent food and excellent value (our bill was about £30), Ox and Finch really is a treasure to the Glasgow dinning scene. For me it's the sort of place that's perfect for lunch with friends, you can share a bottle of wine and nibble through a variety of plates. The atmosphere is relaxed and the waiters are friendly and helpful. This restaurant definitely wouldn't be out of place in London and next time I'm in Glasgow I will be visiting again, 100%.

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Friday 12 June 2015

FIVE FRIDAY: Dry Skin Saviours

Another Friday and another five things to talk about, this time the topic is beauty. To be more specific it's dry skin saviours i.e. my favourite thing to buy. I suffer from seriously dry skin, especially on my face. It's a little sensitive and burns easily but my biggest concern is flakiness so I am constantly on the look out for heavy duty moisturisers. I'm confident that I've now found a few products that I'll stick with for a long time to come.

I picked this up on a whim from Topshop in Oxford Circus as I was intrigued by the Japanese brand. This wasn't cheap, I can't remember the exact price but it was definitely not under a tenner so I took a risk and fortunately it paid off because this cream is brilliant. When I first tried it on my lips and around my mouth (where I am very dry) I noticed a slight tingling sensation which worried me as this does not bode well for sensitive skin but this only lasted a few seconds and didn't cause any sort of irritation. The cream is thick but sinks into the skin well, it's very nourishing and lasts for a long time. It's the sort of cream I like to apply to problem areas and leave overnight to sink in. I think it would be too heavy to use a facial moisturiser which is why it works so well on targeted areas.

2. Skin Recovery Cream by Avene

This is my second tube so it must be good plus you can find it easily in boots. I use this as an all over facial moisturiser when my skin is feeling particularly dry, it's nourishing but not thick enough to leave my face feeling greasy. It has a nice soothing effect so works well when I'm feeling a little sun burnt. It comes in a fairly compact tube which is handy for travelling and taking through airport security. I always make sure I have an emergency moisturiser on me as I'm constantly breaking out in dry skin moments and this stuff is perfect as the bottle is quite heavy duty.

I picked this up in City Pharma on my most recent trip to Paris, I was on the look out for a heavy duty moisturiser (as usual) and because I'm a fan of the SOS serum I was intrigued to see how this would fare. I love this treatment, similar to the Yu-Be I use this on problem areas rather than all over my face as it isn't super light. The cream is extremely nourishing whilst not being too thick which is one of the reasons I love it so much. This is my go to skin saviour as it's the perfect thickness for providing immediate skin relief whilst sinking in quickly. I don't think I could live without it.

As you can see from the name on this tube this isn't actually the lait creme concentrate. I bought this in Paris thinking it was because I've used this many, many times before and I love it dearly but the packing it so similar that I must have panicked in City Pharma and not realised it was something else. This is my go to standard facial moisturiser. It provides really great hydration, sinks in quickly and leaves your skin feeling super soft. It's such a simple, no thrills product which is the reason I love it so much. I must be on my fourth tube of the stuff and will continue to use it for years to come. Another product I could not live without.

Another Paris buy which is good because this isn't the cheapest of products. I use this primarily as a lip treatment as it's a very thick cold cream type balm so definitely isn't appropriate as an all over facial moisturiser. Considering the thickness it sinks into the lips quickly and provides an excellent moisture barrier. Sometimes the lids comes off in my bag but so far there hasn't been any messy accidents. I imagine this would work well as an overnight moisture mask as it is very intense and out of all the five products mentioned here it's probably the most effective in terms of treating a problem area. I only use a little at a time so I think this product is going to last a while which suit me perfectly as I'm a huge fan.

I hope you've found this little round up helpful and if you have any dry skin super products please let me know as they're my favourite things to try out. Now that the summer is in full swing I'll be adding SPF to my face as well as none of these product provide protection again the sun and if you're fair like me you'll now how important it is to stay protected. I know everyone says it but drinking as much water as possibly definitely makes a different to your skin, as does washing it daily with a gentle scrub and flannel. I've really stepped back on my skin care in the last year as I honestly believe that overloading it with products is not a good idea. Less is more just make sure those few things you do use are doing their job properly.

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Wednesday 10 June 2015

PHOTO DIARY: Glasgow, May 2015

We spent three wonderful days in Glasgow exploring the many delights of the city. On our first day we ventured west to check out the university, the surrounding museums and lots of Mackintosh sights. On our second day we headed east and checked out some music destinations, more museums and even more Mackintosh stuff. That evening we saw Belle and Sebastian at the SSE Hydro (the reason for our trip). On our final day we stuck to the city centre and checked a few more things off our list. Unfortunately we didn't have time to see the south of the city which means we'll have to come back another time, soon I hope.

I'm going to do a proper city guide but for now here's a photo diary of most things we go up to over the three days.

Day 1:

We stayed at citizenM - really fun (review here)

Dali - Christ of St John of the Cross

Dufy - The Jetties of Trouville-Deauville

Monet - Vetetheuil

James Guthrie - A Funeral Service in the Highlands

William Kennedy - Stirling Station

EA Hornel - The Coming of Spring

University of Glasgow and the Hunterian Museum

Lunch at Ox and Finch - excellent (review here)

Drinks at Broadcast

Late night drinks at Nice N Sleazy

Dinner at The Anchor Line - it was nothing special

Day 2:

Lunch at Trans Europe Cafe - really good

Merchant City

Monorail Music - lovely shop but very overpriced vinyl

The famous Barrowland Ballroom - I'm sad we didn't get to see a gig here

Glasgow Cathedral

The Necropolis

Bread Meats Bread burger - just OK (review here)

Dinner at Ubquitous Chip - amazing (review here)

Belle and Sebastian at SSE Hydro

Day 3:

Breakfast at Willows Tea Rooms - just OK

Centre for Contemporary Arts - great gift shop

Glasgow School of Art - amazing Mackintosh tour and gift shop

late lunch / early dinner at Butcher Shop and Grill - very nice

Quite a lot of photos and not a lot of explanation here but I'm going to go into more depth in my city guide plus I want to do a few more restaurant review. Anyway, as you can see Glasgow is a beautiful city with lots of interesting architecture, great food and nice shops. We got loads done in three days but there's still plenty more for us to explore next time. I loved Glasgow so much and as long weekends go it's a brilliant place to visit.

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