Monday, 23 October 2017

Paris: Swinging Belleville rendez-vous

Forever ago I went to Paris. Ok not actually forever but like a few months.... July. Wow how far away is July?!

Originally, Sam and I were going to go for a yoga break in Portugal, when that was a bit pricey we rearranged to a weekend in Rome but by the time we went to book flights they were too expensive so we ended up in Paris. I've never been so I was actually thrilled with the turn of events that took us there.

I do believe we had the most cliché time in Paris.... and it was excellent!

We had croissant and espresso for breakfast in a quiet cafe watching the downpore and somehow the Parisian streets looked even more romantic for the rain. Manchester in the rain looks like an ashtray when someone's spilt their pint in it but Paris was effortlessly picturesque for the inclemency. The rain continued as we stood in a queue for the Louvre and it got really un-romantic really quickly. The Louvre reminded me of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in the way its sheer size is intimidating. I was also annoyed that I was a few months too old for a free ticket (26 and under) however Sam was delighted. We spent the morning soaking up as much culture and history (and rain) as possible and I felt drastically under dressed next to Parisians. How do they manage to make jeans look so stylish?

Continuing the tourist theme we went on an open top boat tour of the city and now know far too much about the bridges of Paris. I was also thrilled to note our guide had a copy of The Great Gatsby in her pocket which when combined with her fringe, round glasses and red lipstick made her the epitome of how I imagined she would be.

In the evening, yes I am still talking about the same day, we booked tickets to go to to a La Nouvelle Eve Cabaret! I'd never been to a cabaret before and was excited to be all dressed up. Unfortunately our performance was also attended by about 100 Contiki people so I felt a little sorry for the performers who clearly worked very hard to perform to an audience who were only just conscious. Sam and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves among the feathers, rhinestones, and boobs - what more could you want?! There was also a hilarious clown, a spooky mime, and a kind of robot who worked with lasers that I couldn't for the life of me work out how he did it!

Body Goals
For the rest of our trip the rain cleared so we explored the city. We conveniently timed a packed cheese baguette with seeing the Eifel tower and disregarded the no drinking rule and opened a bottle of red to boot! We made sure to see the Arc de Triomphe, visit a boulangerie, drop in on Notre Dame, visit a museum (slightly unintentionally), and eat at a michelin star restaurant. All interspersed with copious amounts of coffee. Come to think of it, most of what we did was eat and drink in various iconic locations!

What struck me was how different everyday life seemed to be for the Parisians. We went to a fresh food market and marvelled at the range available and how many people seemed to be doing a genuine grocery shop. It made my weekly tesco order seem very impersonal since I don't even go to the supermarket but here were people talking to butchers, bakers, and probably candlestick makers. Likewise the bars were just as full as they are in England but everyone seemed to be deep in meaningful conversations with their peers not drinking hard or trying to pull...

Perhaps everything just sounds more sophisticated in French?


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Indochinese Peninsula - a new series begins

Welcome to another travel post. I feel there will be a few of these coming over the next few weeks as we launch into another series on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, in addition to some time in Paris, a new exercise kick, and a slight change in work! See I've been busy.

It began, as many of my adventures do, on a whim. There was a January sale and I sat down with Mark to pick a holiday. We didn't have anywhere in mind so set rough dates and price bracket and saw what looked good! Mark hasn't done much travelling but after dipping his toe in last year with a motorbike tour to Italy he had the travel bug and was keen to do more. That isn't really fair is it? Motorbiking half way across a continent is more than dipping a toe - I'd argue that was more like wading away from the shallows? Look, I've got myself all confused in a metaphor and I haven't even got to the plane yet. Anyway, as a relative travel novice Mark was bamboozled with the imposing cost that adventure holidays take. The initial package then long haul flights all add up but thankfully I wore him down and we booked onto something called the Cambodian Traveller. Flights soon followed and then we forgot about it to be honest. Booking for August in January means there's a long time to wait.

We did some initial shopping to get Mark kitted out with some of the travel basics like walking boots and a big backpack. We even tested the boots out on a walk in the lake district which was honestly one of the most unpleasant experiences I have the misfortune to remember (despite efforts to drink a whole bar afterwards). It took blood sweat and tears to get me up and down that sodding mountain but the boots were golden.

If you don't take a photo of your plane wing do you even fly?


August rolled round and soon we were all packed up and ready to go. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt packing my pack again. I hadn't used it since Morocco so it was like seeing an old friend again. I'm not quite as attached to my pack as Johnny from Hotel Transylvania, but its up there. Mark got hung up on how to split his cash and were to store it in his luggage (inside a sock) but other than that it was non-eventful. The flight took forever. By the end I was so claustrophobic and achy, I forget how bad it is each time I fly long haul. Minor perk - lactose free meals looked a lot better than the regular ones and came early so that's something.


We arrived into Ho Chi Minh late on Saturday, having left early on Friday, and were bundled into a car and taken somewhere. I'm always amazed at how much you just have to trust people when you're away. This man could have been anyone, he didn't have our names just a sign with the travel company on. We got into an unmarked ute and drove. Could have been anywhere but fortunately we were dropped off with all our luggage (and fingers and toes) at a rather nice hotel. After being ripped off by the hotel exchange rates we found a spectacularly average Chinese restaurant, had something even the menu described as mystery meat, and then fell into a bed big enough for 4.

View from the Hotel roof
Sunday breakfast was surreal as there were clearly a lot of travellers at the hotel but with no way of knowing who was with what tour we helped ourselves to breakfast and got on with our curry..... yes our breakfast curry. Even after our whole trip I couldn't quite understand breakfast curry. We took a bus early that morning and having spent many hours to get to Vietnam, we promptly drove out of it and into Cambodia. 6 hours and two boarder checks later (out of Vietnam and into Cambodia are separate and a little drive apart from each other) we arrived into sunny Phnom Penh!

After a quick freshen up we bundled into some tuctucs and set out on a tour of the city. Phnom means a mound and Penh was a kick ass woman who defended the city from a flood a long time ago. She also built a beautiful temple on top of the hill therefore it's called Wat Phnom (temple on the hill). We also saw the Independence monument, a statue to the old King, and some markets. All the while in our tour, our guide was explaining the tip of what we would learn was a very turbulent and harrowing past the country has had in very recent history.

Our tour family in front of Wat Phnom

Would you?

We went to dinner in outreach restaurant where they employed parents of underprivileged children so they could go to school. This was our first real taste of Khmer (Cambodian) food so we dived right in and ordered the tarantula. Mark ate one but there is something so inherently repellent about large spiders that even with the full knowledge that they were dead and suitable for eating, I couldn't bring myself to touch one. I ate a leg.... that counts right? The rest of the group were equally horrified but a couple of brave souls helped us finish the 3 we were served.

A couple of drinks later we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep in preparation of what was to come tomorrow....


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Stovepipe - the hidden hat hostelry

I needed coffee. So many of my adventures start with that simple sentence that my caffeine addiction really should replace "Once upon a time" or at least be an addition. This is one of them. There are more caffeine fuelled exploits here and here and if you're feeling particularly retro (I mention using msn non-ironically) here.

Once upon a time, I needed coffee. I ducked out of the arndale and was heading into the northern quarter when my partner asked me where I would like to go. "What about here?" I asked as we walked past the window. "Has this always been here?" And like the room of requirement, Stovepipe revealed itself. I don't mean that the place is literally hidden but it looks so incredibly at home nestled into the high street between a red brick pub and a music trade shop - how much more Mancunian can you get? I was entirely surprised to hear the bar had opened only a few days before!

Inside it looks like a bachelor's living room with dark chesterfield sofas, upcycled wooden shelves, and industrial columns. Of course the expected stovepipe hat is pride of place amongst other knickknacks and books, but there are elements of whimsy scattered about. The whole effect creates a grown-up but relaxed comfy feel, devoid of gimmicks or themes that are prevalent in attention hungry NQ establishments.

I settled down in a particularly cosy sofa with a soy flat white and tried to forget the din of the arndale. I spotted they stocked Manchester's zymurgorium gins and a couple of marmalade G&Ts later we were enticed by the board games. An hour further on (and still no closer to understanding how to play the Hobbit board game) we left, but only to return a few Saturdays later with some visiting friends.

Six of us settled down to lunch. The restaurant is running a reduced menu pre-official launch (I'll get to that later) but there was still a mix of cooked breakfasts, sandwiches and salads on offer all of which arrived promptly and were very tasty! However, the eggs benedict, although came as described on the menu, is served with spinach not bacon which makes it eggs florentine in my book. The sandwiches are mighty especially the club, the salads are fresh and well balanced, but by far and away the stovepipe brekkie is the most impressive. The photo below doesn't do it justice.

Stovepipe Brekkie, Beetroot and Walnut Salad, Eggs Benedict

After lunch we settled into that common post meal activity; a game of Zombies - another one of their board games. Again this had complicated rules which were confounded by trying some of hand made cocktails. The menu was enticing enough for the men to abandon any attempts at outdated masculinity so had pornstar martinis and raspberry prosecco 1897s both of which they said were delicious. I particularly enjoyed the espresso martini (see caffeine addiction earlier) and the stovepipe own larger was pretty good! The result of all this is their games need a maximum drinks suggestion on the box. There also may be some zombies that fell through the floorboards...

All in all I suspect I will be returning to Stovepipe. There's good food, a fabulously stocked bar, and staff that are always happy for a chat and a giggle. They're having an official launch this Thursday (15th June) with free drinks so you can go and see for yourself. Its RSVP so drop them a line on their facebook or instagram.


Full disclosure: Stovepipe approached me about writing a review after I first visited for a coffee by chance. I was not (and am not, nor will be) paid for this post however I received free round of cocktails when I returned. Stovepipe had no input into this post. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Be proud of height

Martin Harvey/Alamy Stock Photo

Today I had this conversation:

Person At Meeting: You are tall aren't you? I don't remember you being this tall last meeting.
Me: Oh well I'm in heels today *points at black patent T-bars*
PAM: *looks* yes but you must be tall, taller than me anyway
Me: Well I'm taller than most people, don't worry about it

Does that seem a normal conversation to you? It did to me at the time but the more I think about it the more angry I get at myself.

Firstly the initial comment is a fairly well meaning, if slightly misguided, attempt at small talk. However it is slightly odd to respond to. "Yes I am" seems a bit of a conversation killer. "No you're just short" is only true some of the time. When someone points out I am tall I usually respond by sarcastically pretending I had no idea but this wasn't someone I knew well enough to class this as banter rather than rudeness.

So apparently I came up with an excuse?! I am tall for a girl in this country. Wikipedia thinks that the average height for a woman in the UK is 5'5. I am just shy of 5'10 so I am statistically tall. I like to think of my height as 10% extra free so why did I feel the need to justify why I appeared tall? There's nothing wrong with me being tall so why did I do that?

Then, to make it worse, PAM (who is male for the record, PAM stands for person at meeting, not a lady called Pam) points out I am taller than him and I feel the need to apologise for that again and reassure him that its nothing to be worried about! For goodness sake. He wasn't bothered that I was taller than him yet still I felt the need to add in the extra provision as if my height was somehow disrespectful to him.

Where did that come from? Why am I ashamed of my height so much that I think other people are offended by it? If anyone genuinely is bothered that I am taller than them then that is their insecurity not mine. This however is my insecurity that I am bothered if other people may be bothered by my height. How impossibly British is that? 

Maybe it's because he was a man and in a self depreciating moment I succumbed to the patriarchy and thought women couldn't be taller than men? Perhaps it is from being tall and therefore "different" through school? Tall women are in celebrity magazines and runways so it should be a desirable thing. Many of my short friends would love to be taller and find their height to be distinctly inconvenient. 

So, note to self. Be proud of height. It isn't bothering anyone else, and if it is - I shouldn't care!


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tanning and Paleness

I am a pale girl. Typical English rose complexion with that near translucent skin that makes me look slightly ill in strong lighting. I'm sure every phlebotomist I've ever seen has rejoiced in my visible vascular system. I however do not.

For the majority of the year I rock my paleness. Manchester's climate is particularly mid-tone grey and therefore I am not at risk of burning not reflecting so much white that I look spectral. However, every now and again a miracle happens and the sunshine comes out and I suddenly feel self-conscious.

Some people rock pale in a Dita Von Teese way. But that's not a look that you can just wake up and chuck on - the pin up girl highly styled look takes time and upkeep. Neither are something I want to do. Especially with my naturally blonde (and unnaturally highlighted) hair.

Some context to this: I grew up in Essex home of the oompa-loompas with hair extensions. I went to school in a full face of make up from the age of 13 and the smell of Johnson's gradual build up fake tan moisturiser still brings back school flash backs. Even better if there's a faint wiff of lynx.

Only tanning where your dress shows

So recently I have started fake tanning again. I fake tanned myself as any true Essex gal knows how to do. I have also had my nails done and eyebrows professionally sculpted. I do wonder if in conforming to conventional beauty standards and I am betraying my self confessed strident feminist declaration. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being tanned if you truly want to be for yourself, there is however something wrong with changing who you are for anyone else.

I did some thinking and am still undecided if I feel better about myself while more styled because I genuinely enjoy it or if I just feel more socially desirable. But I know for one thing it did make getting ready for a wedding a whole lot easier! If the only good point from fake tan and nails is that it means you can get ready for a wedding in an hour and a half (including shower with hair wash); then I'm all for it!