Friday, 27 September 2013

Celebrity Planet's London Ghost Tour

I've been hitting Wowcher pretty hard recently, and following on from my success at zorbing, my next bargain-fuelled adventure was a London Ghost Tour. At £16 for two people, including a boat trip on the Thames, my inner explorer couldn't resist.

Turning up at the meeting point in Green Park, we weren't sure what to expect. Would we be the only ones? Would the tour be led by an aged thespian with a penchant for the dramatic (please, no)? Fortunately, we realised that several others were also waiting for the tour, and further relief ensued when our tour guide, Joe, rocked up in jeans and a hoodie - perhaps some intrepid ghost hunters wouldn't approve, but I dislike tour guides that take themselves too seriously, dressed in top hats and carrying canes.

Our tour began in Green Park itself, where we heard stories of several ghostly beings that have inhabited the park over the years, before moving on to St. James' Palace, the British Institution and the most haunted house in  London, all the while hearing ghost stories from Joe (who did a great job of keeping track of all 45 members of the group!)

Next we hopped on to the tube at Green Park and emerged at Westminster (Joe even had some ghost stories about the section of tube we travelled on), where we heard a couple of tales of regal and parliamentary ghosts. A quick stroll over Westminster Bridge, via a couple more stories and we hopped on the boat to the Tower of London. 
After enjoying the views of the Thames by night, we hopped off the boat outside the Tower of London for our final round of ghost stories, and, it has to be said, the ones that captured my imagination the most.

I have been purposefully vague because I would definitely recommend taking the tour yourself. If you are a serious ghost tour regular, and enjoy the drama and mystery of tour guides who take themselves to seriously, regularly picking on members of the crowd throughout, then this is probably not the tour for you. However, if you are looking for a casual way to introduce yourself to the ghouls of London, go for it! 


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Photo of the day 25/09/2013

As a celebration on getting my new job (more of which to follow), The Boy took me to one of my favourite haunts in London- The Hummingbird Bakery, Kensington. After briefly glossing over the usual cupcake choices, this beast caught my eye (how could it not?)

I'm pleased to report that Hummingbird Bakery do Rainbow Cake as well as they do all other cakes, although the "slice" was more of a doorstep, and could easily be split between two people (or, y'know, the population of a small country). It was certainly more successful than our attempt at rainbow cake!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Autumn 2013 High Street picks

So, kiddiwinks, summer has retreated faster than a misbehaving kid at the mention of Santa, and Autumn is finally upon us. Autumn is my favourite time of year for many reasons, and I love watching changing fashions enter the shops.

My first glimpse of Autumn wear this year was the Cath Kidston bird jumper (centre) which featured in the Metro a few weeks ago. At £64 it'a way out of my price range, but it is adorable and got me looking round for other jumpers.

Thankfully, there aren't that many winter warmers around on the High Street yet (let us enjoy what remains of the summer first!). But I managed to find a few lovelies to warm my cockles until payday:

Autumn 2013

Fire & Stone, Covent Garden -Review

If you're bored of the generic pizzas churned out by Pizza Express and the like, then Fire & Stone in Covent Garden may well be the place for you. Their global themed pizzas allow pizza to step away from it's Italian origins, pack up it's map and compass, and really explore the world. Take for example, The London; "Cumberland sausage, streaky bacon, chunks of roast potato with roasted cherry tomatoes and roasted field mushrooms". A stereotype, perhaps, but reading the menu feels somewhat like a static, culinary version of a trip to Disney's Epcot Centre - I was just left to hope that these pizza stereotypes were as well executed as their theme park counterparts.

The interior of Fire & Stone is an unusual one, causing me to comment that it was the most open plan restaurant I have ever been in. The combination of close proximity to other tables, and low backed chairs and benches make privacy an impossibility.

Opting to share two different starters for the maximum experience, we went for the Crispy Mushroom Strips and Arancini. Although they were served quickly, I wish I'd waited for the main. The Arancini, with it's flecks of bacon and cheese flavouring, would have left me disappointed in any other scenario, however as a bed-mate to the Crispy Mushroom Strips, it was certainly the more memorable of the two. The mushroom strips were flavourless and unforgivingly dry, and were beyond rescuing by the garlic mayonnaise dip, despite it's best efforts.

Starters unceremoniously over, it was onto the mains. I'm not normally one for fussing over menus; once I know what I want I settle for it without any backtracking or mind changing. However, in this instance, there was no one option which stood out more than the others, or, if I'm being really honest, particularly appealed to me at all. After much to-ing and fro-ing between the Florence and the Arizona, I caught sight of the Pizza Specials section, hidden in the corner of the menu, and opted for the Canberra pizza: "Roast chicken breast, garlic & rosemary potatoes, marinated mushrooms, mozzarella, sour cream and topped with sweet chilli sauce and chives."

I still wasn't entirely convinced by the presence of potatoes on pizza - a combination that occurs several times on the Fire & Stone menu- but The Boy, who is all too familiar with my whimsical ways with food, assured me that it works. He was right about the Chilli Poppers on the Chiquito's menu a few weeks previously, so I went with it.

Cautiously trying the first few mouthfuls of my pizza, I was pleasantly surprised. The generous amount of chicken was well cooked and brought out very well by the sweet chilli sauce. However, as I ventured further away from the safety of the crusts and into the unknown centre, it went downhill. I found that there was too much going on (and the potatoes were a mistake!). I am also convinced that the chef does not know what to do with a mushroom. After the disappointment of the mushroom starter, the mushrooms aboard the pizza were flavourless and slimy- I'm not sure what they'd been marinated in, but the result was as if they'd been overcooked in their own juices.

Whilst the Canberra may well appeal to those with a more adventurous palate than myself, I'll stick to a run-of-the-mill pepperoni in future. Top points for the raspberry daquiri though, and a fast and efficient service throughout.

Conclusion: If simplicity is your thing, this probably isn't the place for you, but if you prefer a more extravagant pizza, give it a go. Just don't expect good things from a mushroom.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Zorbing, zorbing, zorbing.....

Ever since I first heard the word, and subsequently found out what it meant, zorbing* has been a long-standing aim of mine (Say it many times, really fast, "Zorbing zorbing zorbing zorbing...." Cool word, huh?)

 (*For the uninitiated, zorbing is basically the act of being strapped into a large, inflatable ball, and rolling down a hill in it)

I finally got round to it yesterday, having found a rather lovely Wowcher offer which allowed two people to go zorbing for £39 - an absolute bargain!

On arrival at Pod London, we were told that our free t-shirts included in the offer weren't actually available so were being replaced with a DVD of our experience, usually worth £20 - I'd prefer a DVD to a t-shirt anyway.

Once we were signed in we were sent to await our turn on the viewing platform overlooking the zorbing run, where some teenage boys were attempting to go hydro-zorbing (similar to regular zorbing, but with water in the ball). It's not a concept that appeals to me. Surely it'd be like being in a washing machine, with the movement of the ball causing the water to hit you in the face every time you tried to catch your breath, leaving you to reach the bottom of the slope a quivering, half drowned mess? These boys in front of us were clearly having second thoughts too, judging from the girly screaming coming from inside the ball once they'd realised how cold the water was.

Eventually they got on with it and it was our turn. We were expecting a lengthy safety briefing before we were allowed anywhere near the zorbing run, but all we had to do was remove our shoes, strap on the harnesses with the cameras and hop in. 
Turns out there's no elegant way to get in! 
We were strapped in directly opposite each other, so that our cameras were recording each other, and after fastening a few straps, we were off.

The whole roll must have taken about 20-30 seconds but felt like a lot longer (in a good way, surprisingly). On reaching the bottom, we took a few moments to acclimatize ourselves to being static again, before facing the biggest challenge of all-climbing back up the stairs to the top. At this point, the effects began to kick in, and I found myself veering inexplicably off to the left when trying to walk in a straight line, my legs converted to two sticks of jelly.

The zorb run - it actually felt a lot longer when we were rolling!

The whole experience was over in a few minutes but is something I would wholeheartedly recommend, and would jump at the chance to do it again! That's another one crossed off the old bucket list. I'm now on the hunt for my next challenge!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A retrospective hiatus

Looking back over the past couple of months, it’s clear that blogging hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve done the odd blog post here and there, but to be perfectly honest, they’ve felt quite forced. Many of them have been halfheartedly written several weeks after the event, and only then when I have downloaded photos from my camera to computer and been reminded to blog about various adventures.

Why, I hear you ask? In hindsight, there are two reasons for this – albeit unintentional- retrospective hiatus. I think my reluctance to blog has a lot to do with the large number of job applications I’ve completed (and subsequently been rejected from) over the past year since graduating. In aspiring to become a features writer, I’ve applied for many entry level writing jobs at various publications. Like I said, many I’ve been rejected from – three in particular stick in my mind, as they stated they had 670, 590 and 370 applicants respectively-, but others I’ve never heard back from, left, like many jobseekers, to assume that I haven’t been shortlisted. In short, hitting against this relentless brick wall that encircles the world of features journalism, thus far too high and too thick for me to penetrate, has left me with negative connotations of writing.

I’m pleased to say that, for the first time in a long time, I woke up this morning with an overwhelming urge to write. If you’ve never had this feeling, then I pity you, because it’s one of the best feelings in the world – I found myself in the situation where the words were forming faster than I could write them down. It was this experience that made me fall in love with writing in the first place, and it’s a relief to have it back!

The more prominent, and by far more positive, reason for my lack of blogging, is due to the presence of someone new in my life. This summer, I’ve seen more of London than I’ve seen in the last 22 years combined, and I feel like I’ve had a holiday without leaving my beloved city! I’ve done things I’ve never done before (trapezing being the prime example). In short, he’s taught me to live my life, rather than just passing through it from day to day. And as it turns out, when you’re living your life, passing quickly from one adventure to the next, there is very little time to write about these japes! I used to mull over the possibility of new experiences to the extent that I would talk myself out of them. In the past month, I’ve booked a travel writing course, a trapeze lesson, a zorbing experience and ghost tour with barely a second thought.

When I felt my writing mojo coming back to me this morning, I signed onto this blog for the first time in a while, and I could have wept with happiness at the gift waiting for me! Despite my lack of new posts, August 2013 was the busiest month traffic-wise that my blog has ever had; 2,987 of you had a cheeky read! Whilst I’ve never been a blogger who is concerned with traffic numbers and site hits, it’s massively flattering to know that so many people have even a fleeting interest in my writing, and had massively spurred me on to continue blogging with renewed vigour!

So, in short, I’m back. But if I ever go AWOL again, rest assured that it means I’m living my life, rather than just existing.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Trapezing at Gorilla Circus, Regent's Park

Swinging through the air with my legs kicking like a drowning hamster, my knuckles turning white from gripping to the metal bar which held me from the 20ft drop below, and my eyes squeezed shut to cope with the intense dizziness, it was hard to appear dignified. Yet despite my body working against me- as it so often does in these situations- I felt surprisingly elegant, swinging effortlessly(ish) above the splendour of  Regent's Park at sunset.
This isn't actually me, I just love the silhouette against the sunset colour!
Gorilla Circus hold open air trapeze classes in Regent's Park and various other locations every summer, and after two years of teasing myself, I finally signed up for a two hour beginners class. Unsure of what to expect, I poddled along after work one day, and was relieved to find nine other people in the same novice situation.

We were taken over to the practice swing first - a normal trapeze bar, suspended about 7ft of the ground with a crash mat below it (initially it was hard to know whether to be reassured or intimidated by the presence of the mat) - and were taken through the motions of getting our legs onto the trapeze swing, letting go with our hands, and then doing the reverse.
It all seems so easy with a little help!
The next (massive) step was to take this exact sequence onto the actual trapeze, at least 20ft further from the safety of the ground. The ladder of doom, as I came to call it in my head, felt like the longest ladder in the world, and the relief of reaching the top was quickly wiped out by the realisation of what was to come.

What HAVE I let myself in for?
With the help of one of the instructors, I reached one hand out for the trapeze bar, whilst clinging desperately on to safety with the other. The bar was surprisingly heavy- a shock at first, but more of a reassurance as time went on and I considered that it was responsible for preventing me crashing onto the ground below. After tentatively putting my second hand onto the bar and letting go off my last remaining link to solid ground, I was off. The aim was to lift my legs onto the bar, let go with my hands, hang from knees and then reverse. Simple, huh? NO. Not as simple as it sounds. My lack of flexibility and grace, coupled with an innate fear of knocking my teeth out with my knees saw me unable to complete this task, and crashing into the safety net into a crumpled heap.

A couple more attempts later, I was no closer to being able to achieve the desired athletic prowess, but was nonetheless enjoying the adrenalin of speeding through the air. Whilst I don't believe that trapezing is a viable alternative career move for me, should the journalism dream not work out,  I can sleep easy knowing that I have explored this avenue to its full potential.
I doubt  I will ever look anything like this elegant again in my life!
See the Gorilla Circus website for details of upcoming courses, and to book tickets.