Friday, 2 February 2018

January Happenings, February Plans

So,... in January I went to Jamaica.

Poor old KC doesn't always get a lot of say in out holiday destinations but he's had his eye on Jamaica for a few years now. We've put it off a bunch of times for a bunch of different reasons, but then we ran out of reasons to not go.... so we went!

It's not that I didn't want to go, I just thought... a week on the beach in the sun? Is it really 'me'?

Turns out it absolutely is!

I'll do a full post on our stay soon, but honestly it was absolutely heavenly. The sunshine was a much-needed tonic to the frankly depressing weather we've had here of late, and the relaxation was just what I needed to recover from an intense Christmas period and the stresses of work. I didn't know how much I needed that holiday 'til I was there!

That did mean that the rest of the month was relatively quiet. Time at home was spent getting the house back in order after Christmas. A couple of cinema trips and a trampolining session helped break up the month a little, but mainly on the weekends we were too tired and too cold to muster up much enthusiasm for going out!

Hopefully I can re-find that enthusiasm in February - I don't want the year to disappear while I wait for it to warm up (which it easily could!) We have made a mental commitment to finally decorate the eldest's room, and there's a lot of shifting and organising that needs to be done in there before we can get the paint out, so I'm sure that'll keep up plenty busy throughout February!

I do have a trip to Riga planned later in the month - it's my first trip away by myself in a really long time and I'm really excited (and a little bit nervous!)

How was your January? What have you got planned for February? 

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Reasons to Spend a Day in Bruges

Bruges is such a beautiful city, and a surprisingly cheap and easy one to visit from Yorkshire (check out the Minicruises from P&O Ferries!) The minicruise gives you about eight hours in the centre - it's not tonnes of time but it's certainly long enough to tick off a couple of the main things Bruges has to offer. Here are a few of my favourite reasons to visit:

The Chocolate

Chocolate is always the best reason for anything - but especially in Bruges. The city is practically dripping in the stuff!

Not only is Belgian chocolate largely agreed upon to be the best in the world, but the sheer variety on offer here is astounding. Pretty much anything you can think of, you can get - in chocolate. I brought home chocolate swans and chocolate frogs, chocolate toolkits and chocolate shoes. Novelty shaped treats sit alongside classic bars and the most beautiful individual chocolates you can imagine. And lets not forget about the hot chocolate, rich and dreamy and available in flavours I'd never have dreamed of!

The Chocolate Line might have the prettiest and most unique chocolates, and I have a real soft spot for Chocolatier Dumon, but really you can't take many steps in the city without tripping over another adorable chocolate shop.... and a lot of them offer free samples too! 

The Beer

When I think of Belgium, I think of chocolate. When I've finished thinking about chocolate, I think about beer. And like the chocolate, Belgian beer is generally of great quality and available in a huge range of styles and flavours. 

I'm particularly fond of the fruity beers commonly found in Bruges, and the Duvelorium (above the Historium attraction) is one of our favourite places to call in for a drink - it's an obvious tourist spot but has a great beer range and the balcony has fabulous views of Markt Square! 

The Waffles

So this is closely related to the chocolate, as waffles (like so many other things) can be hugely improved by the addition of chocolate. All chocolate-d out? Opting to concentrate on the chocolate  in the form of an accompanying hot cocoa based beverage? You can also get delicious Belgian waffles with a variety of other fruity or creamy or gooey toppings! 

The Fries

Yes, I realise that all my reasons are food based. But food is really good, so what's your point?

Fries might not strike you as a particularly 'exotic' food to be eating in a new city, but they sure do take their fries seriously in Belgium! Bruges even has a museum dedicated to the humble potato snack.

As he's not particularly excited by waffles or chocolate (I know, right?), fries are KC's food of choice when we are in Bruges. On our most recent visit we hit up The Potato Bar for beautifully cooked fries serves with a pot of delicious homemade smoky pepper sauce. If I had one word of advice? The large is not a one-person portion. SO. MANY. FRIES.

The Christmas Shopping

On this occasion, we were lucky enough to visit Bruges just as their Christmas market was getting underway. It's not the biggest or most impressive European Christmas market, but its certainly not without charm. 

However, even if your visit isn't directly pre-Christmas, there's Christmas-themed shopping to be had year round in Bruges! There's a number of permanent Christmas shops in the city, my favourite of which is the festive wonderland that is De Witte Pelikaan.

A visit to this beautiful shop fills me with festive joy no matter what time of year we visit, and I've never been able to resist bringing home some cute Christmassy critter for the house - out house will look like this one day! 

Because It's Just So Darn Pretty

Bruges really is a fairy-tale town. Though there's lots to do (as well as allllll the eating, you can climb the Belfry tower for great views of the city, take a boat trip on the picturesque canals or take a tour of one of the many breweries or museums), one of my favourite things to do is just wander around the beautiful ancient streets. 

It's many canals and bridges have earned Bruges the nickname 'Venice of the North', and give you the opportunity to spot the famous Bruges swans. 

One day I'd love to visit Bruges for longer than a 8 hours, but its certainly not a bad way to spend a day! 

Saturday, 27 January 2018

2017 In Review

I didn't necessarily start 2017 aiming to take a trip away from home every month - but when we almost 'accidentally' seemed to have a mini-holiday booked for the first couple of the months of the year I did like the idea of seeing how long I could drag it out!

To be fair, the trip we took last January was initially meant to be taken the previous month but a change of circumstances meant we had to re-schedule. In retrospect though, January is a much better time of year for a relaxing weekend away than December, where neverending to-do lists would probably prevent me from really chilling out anyway! 

Fern Cottage in Butterknowle was the perfect venue for cosying up and well located for exploring local spots like Barnard Castle and Richmond. 

In February, we had a couple of days in Iceland. I can't imagine there's anywhere else in the world that speaks to my heart and my sole like Iceland does, and this trip was all too brief - but we still managed to fill our short hours with horse riding,whale watching, and basking in the incredible beauty of this incredible country. 

That's not to short-change our own green and pleasant lands - and our March trip involved a weekend much closer to home. KC was booked in for a day's experience as a zookeeper at the South Lakes Safari Zoo, and it just made sense to make a weekend of it in the Lake District. Amongst the feeding and sweeping at the zoo, visits to Muncaster Castle and Furness Abbey were made. 

The Easter holidays opened up the option of a longer family trip, and we all headed for a sunny week in Malta in April. I managed to drag the kids away from the pool long enough to explore the intriguing city of Mdina, and the former-film set Popeye Village, but most of out time was spent swimming, eating and relaxing by the hotel.

The dual-excuses of some leftover euros and a spare bank holiday encouraged me to book a quick getaway to Dublin in May. It's a grand city, so easy to get to and with plenty to see and do. We went on a 1916 Rebellion walking tour, drank whiskey at the Jamesons Experience and explored Kilmainham Gaol in between pints of Guinness. 

We had a rather animal-based weekend in Leicestershire in June, with a day each at Twycross Zoo and Stonehurst Family Farm as part of one of Go Leicestershire's Stay Play and Explore deals.

One of my most eagerly awaited trips of 2017 was a July weekend of Medieval Glamping at Warwick Castle! From the iconic medieval tents to the activity filled Knight's Village, this might be my favourite ever stop-out! 

August was the big one - we needed to fill those school holidays with something! We all fell a bit in love with Scotland when we visited in 2016, so we were all keep to head back and explore! We never made it to Loch Ness on our first visit, and it was  top of the kids' list of things they wanted to do in 2017, so we made sure we stayed a little closer this time. As well as a day on the Loch we visited castles and palaces, spent time with Highland cows and reindeer, went on boat trips and roller coasters, and spent tonnes of lovely time on a peaceful Scottish beach.  

September marks the birthday of my little lady, so we lined up a couple of activities that we thought she'd love. Her Sunday surprise was a day of looking after an array of animals at the Lakeland Wildlife Oasis, but the early morning start necessitated a stopover and so we worked our way up the day before, stopping to climb and explore the weathered limestone of Malham Cove.

We trailed to London in October to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It was such a long wait between getting hold of the tickets and actually getting to see the show, but it was absolutely worth the wait! An accommodation-hiccup meant we were't left with a tonne of time to explore London aside from the show, but we did manage to squeeze in a touch of shopping and an excellent Afternoon Tea. I am generally a little wary of London, but it didn't actually seem too terrible! 

Beautiful Bruges was our destination for November - it's a surprisingly easy and pleasant trip from Yorkshire on the overnight ferry, leaving you with a solid eight hours to explore the medieval town - plenty of time to squeeze in chocolate shops aplenty and have a good Belgian beer or two! 

And in December? Well,.. in December we didn't go anywhere! So close though, right? I had a few great ideas in mind for the week between Christmas and New Year (my birthday, incidentally) but instead of booking in something nice and early I got caught up in the festivities of the season! I told myself repeatedly 'I'll sort something when I'm organised for Christmas' but there were a number of flaws in this plan -  most notably 1) I'm never organised for Christmas and 2) Once I worked out how much I'd spent over Christmas I couldn't begin to justify spending anything else! I did mull over the idea of booking myself into the cheapest local Travelodge I could find just to tick it off - but to be honest after all the Christmas chaos nothing sounded more appealing than a couple of quiet days at home!

I may have fallen at the last hurdle, but I can't have had a year like this and be disappointed with how things turned out! 

I do have a couple of things lined up of course for 2018,.. I'm not sure yet if that'll translate into a full year of trips but we'll have to see! 

What exciting things have you lined up for this year?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

December Happenings, January Plans

So once again, I was a terrible blogger last month. That makes me rubbish for,... pretty much all of 2017! (And 2018 didn't exactly get off to a flying start either but I won't worry too much about that for now!)

I had planned to get so caught up during my time off at Christmas, get loads written, take loads of pictures, get really organised. It didn't happen. Too busy eating Celebrations and playing board games...

There's always too much going on in December though to find extra time for things like blogging, so I don't know what I was thinking! There's barely enough hours in the day to get through the necessary tidying, shopping, wrapping, visiting and eating that are all vital to the festive season - with, if you are lucky, a couple of extra fun things thrown in! 

A visit to the big man is a family must on the run up to Christmas, and this year Sheffield's Tropical Butterfly House Wildlife and Falconry Centre was chosen as out venue for seeing Santa. I don't know exactly how we made the leap from 'tropical house' to 'festive winter wonderland', but any doubts I had about suitability were quickly swept away when I read about the festive afternoon tea they offered! 

It was a lovely day, but a freezing cold one and we'll definitely make plans to revisit when the weather is warmer! 

As part of out Christmas festivities, the kids and I had a *cough* cultured night out at the theatre. And I when I say theatre I mean pantomime.... but technically it was *in* a theatre, so still counts at culture, right? We've gone every year for the last seven or eight years now to the one at the Bradford Alhambra and they are showing no signs of getting bored of hearing the same jokes every year yet!

In between everything else I managed a morning runaway by myself to the Lush Leeds Spa - I'd been given a voucher for one of the spa treatments for Christmas in 2016 and I thought I better get it used before it expired! My voucher was for Synaesthesia - you decide (from a list of words) how you want to feel, and your massage, products, and even your follow-up cup of tea and selected to suit. Seeing as I knew I had loads of Christmas prep to do when I got home, I thought I could do with being 'energised'! The treatment was everything I dreamed it would be and I'm determined to try a few of their other offerings once I have a good enough excuse for such an indulgent treat!

The last thing I want to mention is a bit silly and totally awesome in equal measure, but in December I was awarded the high acclaim of Student of the Year at my (karate) dojo. I'm stupidly proud of this, and I'm so lucky to train with so many awesome people - looking forward to another year of being kicked and punched by them all!

I've almost left it too late to talk about January plans, since we are more or less half way through the month - oops! The first half of the month was all about recovering (emotionally, financially, tidily) from Christmas but the festive season is now truly behind us.

We do have a holiday booked for this month, that I'm really looking forward to! There'll be plenty of details next month,.. but this is one KC picked - not my usual jam but should have levels of sunshine and relaxation that I think actually might suit me just fine!

How was your December? Get through Christmas without too much trauma? What have you got planned for January? 
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