Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Arriving in Paradise on Palm Island.

After months of planning, waiting, and dreaming, the day had finally arrived. I set my out of office emails on at work, and headed home to finish packing. The next morning I got up early to head to Gatwick for my flight to Palm Island in St Vincent and the Grenadines with Virgin Holidays. 

Words can't even express how excited I was to not only be flying to this beautiful paradise island for some very much needed R&R, but also to see my best friend again after six months apart!

Mum and Dad dropped me off at Gatwick, and after a speedy check-in process I headed through security and to the Virgin Holidays V-Room lounge. The lounge is only for guests flying from Gatwick or Manchester on a Virgin Holidays holiday, and can be booked in advance for a bargain £24.50 each.

The lounge is very 'Virgin', with a cool contemporary interior, and a designated adult area complete with a bar, as well as a designated children's room with soft play. There's even a computer and TV room for all ages, with an X-Box and various other games. The view from the lounge is right over the runway, so you can see all of the planes taking off as you sip champagne and munch on your complimentary breaky!

Talking of breaky, it's pretty darn good! I mean it wasn't as good as the Emirates lounge in Dubai, but I was definitely impressed! There's a wide selection of drinks, pastries and cereals, as well as fruit and muffins. Then there's also a hot bar where you can order various dishes, or you can opt for the full English. All of it is included in the price, so it's definitely worth thinking about if you have a holiday booked with Virgin Holidays!

Finally it was time to board the flight, and I settled into my wide leather seat in Premium Economy ready for the 8 hour journey to Barbados. Virgin Atlantic's Premium Economy really reminded me of all of the traditional trans-Atlantic airline's business classes, again it wasn't a patch on the likes of Emirates business class with their lay-flat seats and huge widescreen TVs, but it felt far more special than economy and I noticed a big difference between the two.

The seats were huge and I had plenty of leg room to stretch my legs out. I didn't feel cramped at all. We were each given a glass of bubbles at the start of the flight as a welcome drink, as well as hot towels. We weren't given an amenity kit on the day flight, but on my return night-flight we were. The food was OK, I loved that it was served on white linen cloths with proper metal cutlery (it's the little things), and there was a decent selection of options on the menu to choose from. 

I spent the flight watching movies and it whizzed by - I always consider an 8 hour flight to be short haul as I'm so used to the 24+ hour London - Perth route, so I had to carefully plan my film-watching to make sure I saw all of the ones I really wanted to see! We landed at Barbados airport and myself and a couple on my flight were met by a Palm Island representative who took us through immigration and security and on to our connecting flight.

We had about an hour to kill in Barbados airport before our flight to Union Island, which is where I found this lovely lady!!! 

Lots of hugging and squealing ensued, much to the surprise of everyone else in the airport. Woops. We spent the hour catching up and then hopped onto our teeny tiny little 12-seater plane for the very warm 50 minute journey to Union Island. 

Flying over The Grenadines was incredible, they're so so beautiful and it just made us even more excited!

When we arrived at Union Island we were all taken by golf buggy to the bar on the dock for a drink before our boat arrived. James Lane Jr, who is the Manager at the sister resort, the Galley Bay in Antigua, came to greet us all and offer us cocktails while we waited. I loved how even in St Vincent and The Grenadines, Jam Jars are the in thing!

When the boat arrived the sun was just starting to dip behind the volcanic mountains of Union Island, and as we sped across the ocean to Palm Island the sunset quite literally took my breath away. I was stunned and utterly awe-struck by the beauty surrounding us, and Rach and I just looked at each other, grinning from ear to ear at how lucky we were.

Waiting on the Palm Island dock were members of staff, including Ed, the assistant manager (who quickly became one of our favourites!). We were each given a glass of rum punch, and after taking in the breathtaking surroundings Rachael and I were shown to our rooms. We were originally booked in to a twin room, but as it was low season and they had a spare room, they very kindly gave us a room each! Luckily they were next to each other, so we didn't have too far to walk to exchange suncream and nail polish (the essentials!). 

Ed showed us around our Beachfront rooms and left us to unpack and get sorted for dinner. I wandered around the room tired and elated, and I'm not ashamed to say I may have cried a little. Words can't express how much I needed that break, and how grateful I was to have been given such an incredible experience. Take a look at my little vlog below to see our adventurous journey to Palm Island!

I can't wait to take you on our adventures over the next week or so - do check back daily to see if there's a new post up - I have some really exciting ones, including swimming with turtles!

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I was a guest of Palm Island throughout my stay. You can find out more about staying at this incredibly special luxury private island on their website, and you can book the brilliant all-inclusive package which includes flights through Virgin Holidays here. As always all opinions (and accompanying emotions and cry-sessions) are my own.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Afternoon Tea at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

If you remember my post from the other week about the Cookery School at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, I told you all that I'd also be posting about their afternoon tea! After our morning cookery lesson we were given a tour of the beautiful grounds, and then treated to the most delicious treats in the conservatory.

Afternoon Tea is usually reserved for guests staying at the luxury hotel, however every so often they run a special offer for non-guests to enjoy the tea for themselves. It would make a really lovely treat for a special occasion, and it was such a nice change to have an afternoon tea in the countryside rather than in central London!

But first, let me show you the grounds. Le Manoir try and grow as much as they can onsite, so many of the vegetables, herbs, and fruit that are served in each dish in the famous restaurant are grown organically within their gardens. The gardeners work really closely with the chefs and Raymond Blanc himself to figure out the best tasting type of each vegetable through blind taste tests carried out whenever there's going to be a menu change.

As well as the vegetable patch and flower areas, there's also a beautiful large pond, and a Japanese Garden to stroll around.

After finding out about the stunning gardens, we made our way to afternoon tea.

I avoided champagne as I'd had a glass earlier and I was driving, so I dove straight into the treats. I absolutely loved the fact the savoury options weren't sandwiches. I do get bored of sandwiches with afternoon tea, so it was fab to have something different. They were canape style savoury bites, and each one tasted divine!

Sadly my DSLR battery ran out at this point, so I had to use my Lumix GF5 instead for the rest of the photos. I was good and only had one scone, I'm not a huge scone person, but they were delicious!

The desserts were absolutely incredible. Every single one of them was delicious. We even had enough left for each of us to take a couple home! The macarons were hands down the best I've ever tasted, and the following day all I wanted was the strawberry cheesecake!

We had such a lovely day at Belmond Le Manoir, and I hope that one day I find someone special enough to share a stay at the hotel with. It's so beautiful and really quite something.

If you fancy having the champagne afternoon tea without the hotel stay, you can book by calling 01844 278881, or you can find out more about Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons here. A huge thank you to Belmond for inviting me on such a fabulous day out! It was certainly a lovely break from work :)

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Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Joint, Marylebone.

The great thing about working in Marylebone is the food. There's a plethora of incredible restaurants, and I'm slowly working my way round them all. A few weeks ago the work gang and I all went for a Friday lunch. Usually we go to the same place; either Roti Chai, Meatliquor, or Tommi's Burger Joint. This time we felt like a change, so opted for The Joint, which is pretty much every meat-eaters idea of heaven.

The restaurant is surprisingly large, with cool decor and a buzzing atmosphere. On Friday it was packed with workers all treating themselves to ribs, brisket, and pork buns. Clare and I had a lemonade to drink, while the others all had wine and beer. The lemonade was freshly squeezed, and absolutely amazing! 

Food-wise we way over-ordered. Really you could probably share fries between 4 of you, they're huge!! The cheese fries were completely addictive though, so if you don't like sharing maybe don't ;) sadly I didn't get a photo of the fries, and apologies for the quality of these pics, I just used my phone as I wasn't expecting to go for lunch!  

I had the Candied Apple Bacon, Slaw & Salad 16-hour slow cooked pork on their potato bun, with added cheese. I wasn't sure what to expect from the potato bun, but I was actually really impressed, it tasted pretty good! The pork was insanely good, I'm not quite sure how I finished it as it was absolutely huge, but it was too good to waste. 

If you're after a funky new alternative to the standard burger places in the area, definitely try The Joint! They also do a vegetarian and a chicken option. 

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The Joint Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 28 September 2015

Top 10 Dream Luxury Destinations.

As I'm currently in one of my Top 10 Dream Luxury Destinations (Palm Island in St Vincent and The Grenadines), I thought I'd share with you my other nine! There's a total mixture from around the world, all of them on my ultimate luxury destination list, and I'd love to know what's on yours!

1. Antarctica
Antarctica has long been on my 'ultimate dream' list. I would absolutely love to go on an Antarctic cruise with all of my camera gear and see icebergs and the ice-covered landscape.

2. Russia
If you've seen my 2015 Travel Wish List then you'll already know about this one. It's firmly on my list, and with the Bourgeoisie opulence everywhere you turn, this luxury destination is right near the top. I have my eye on the Ritz Carlton in Moscow and the Four Seasons in St Petersburg!

3. Fiji
The private resort of Laucala Island in Fiji is a total dream, but definitely one for a special occasion with rooms ranging in price from £3,027 to £5,807 p e r  n i g h t.

4. An Italian Roadtrip
I am longing for a luxury north Italian roadtrip. I want to start at Verona, wind through the Italian roads down to Florence, before going up to Portofino and Genoa, and then on to Lake Como for the grand finale! 

5. Skiing in Switzerland
After skiing in the Slovakian High Tatry Mountains earlier this year made me realize that actually, skiing is fun, I would absolutely love to head to the Swiss Alps and stay at the Gstaad Palace. It looks insanely beautiful.

6. New York City
Again, this is one from the 2015 Wish List. I'm hoping this one will be ticked off in 2016, I have a pretty epic East Coast roadtrip planned (Miami - NYC), but now I just need to convince my friends that it's worth parting with thousands of their hard earned cash... :| 

7. Galapagos
How incredible would it be to step on a land almost untouched since Darwin himself arrived there?! I'd love to see the wildlife for myself - hello Blue Footed Boobies! (coolest name ever?)

8. Monaco
Monte Carlo looks so dreamy. Champagne, fast cars, and luxury hotels galore all in one tiny country by the ocean. It is literally my idea of heaven and would be such a perfect weekend break.

9. The Middle East
Ever since I went to Egypt back in 2011 I've wanted to tour around the Middle East. It's so exotic. I'd love to visit Israel, Jordan, Dubai, Qatar, and Oman. 

10. St Vincent and The Grenadines
Obviously this one had to be on here, even though I'M HERE RIGHT NOW!! I've been so excited for months about this, could you tell from the amount of times I've mentioned it?! I'm currently soaking up the sun on the private island of Palm Island, which is owned by Elite Island Resorts. 

What are your Top Luxury Destinations? I'd love to know! If you need some inspiration take a look at this awesome article about the Most Expensive Places to Visit in the World, which includes some really exceptional locations!

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Saturday, 26 September 2015

The 20-Year Friendversary.

A couple of weeks ago my god-daughter started primary school. Twenty years ago I started primary school myself, and on the very first day I met my best friend. It's funny how as a child you have one best friend, apparently as a kid I always used to tell all my family about 'my best friend Emma'...but as you grow up you learn to share each other, as you gain more best friends, until you have a handful of besties that you can always count on.

Twenty years later Emma is still one of my closest friends. I know I can always count on her, and I know she'll always be there. She's appeared a few times on the blog, so for our 20-year friendversary, I thought I'd tell you a little bit about her. The problem is though, how do I condense twenty years of memories into one blog post!? I guess I'll just pick out the favourites.

We met in a tractor tyre. It was the first day of school and I remember us standing next to this huge gigantic tyre in the playground. I can't remember who asked who, but one of us asked the other if we could be friends, and that was it. Twenty years later we've had countless memories together; good times, drunken nights (which almost always end in me peaking too soon...and stealing Emma's bed, forcing her onto the floor), bitching sessions, watching horror films with tubs of haribo, and lunches and dinners gossiping about everything and anything. 

Throughout primary school we were inseparable. Everywhere we went it was always 'Catherine and Emma'. Whenever we had to pair up, we went together. 

I have so many memories of going round to Emma's house and her coming to mine that I'm sure we spent more time together than apart. 

One time in the holidays my mum took us to a farm park, and I still remember both of us singing along at the tops of our voices to my new Spice Girls cassette tape. We were both pretty obsessed with the Spice Girls, and in the school playground us girls had our own Spice Girls group. Emma was Posh spice and I was Baby spice.

Oh, then there was also the time at lunchtime when Emma made me laugh while I was eating a yoghurt, so I snorted yoghurt out of my nose and mouth, ALL over her hair! I still remember one sleepover when we were sat on her bed (I was always super jealous because she had a purple bedroom), cutting the ends of the hundreds of packets of sherbert we had for our 'midnight feast', and we were laughing so uncontrollably that we were both bent double barely able to breathe or talk. I can't for the life of me remember what we were even laughing about!

Then there was the time when we went to either Heever or Leeds Castle (can't remember which) and we got lost in the maze. So Emma gave me a boost up on the fence so I could see over the top...except we broke the fence and I fell down. Woops. Then there was the time we were both in Wintershall - The Life of Christ (it was an outside play about Jesus). We played two children and we had the best week running around the Wintershall estate in costume, eating scotch pancakes and eating the loaves of bread during the feeding of the five thousand scene.

We both decided to do the same extra-curricular activities. We did Brownies together, swimming lessons together, had tennis lessons together, karate lessons together, and tap dancing lessons together. It was brilliant. You know how you have a secret joke with your best friend, and when you give them 'the look' they know exactly what you're thinking about and you both crack up laughing? Yeh, that happened in pretty much every single karate lesson.

I still remember how excited we both were the very first time we were allowed to go to the cinema together by ourselves. We felt super grown up, mainly because my Mum let me borrow her massive blue brick mobile phone to call them when we were ready to be picked up. This was in the nineties people, a child having a mobile phone was not normal.

We caused chaos in primary school, we were awful. One time we found a really small worm and put it in our teacher's tea and watched her drink it, she had no idea. Another time we hid behind the door and held it open, and when someone walked through it we let go so it shut on them then ran off. Oh, and then for some reason we also ate crisps off the floor... (don't ask). And how could I ever forget the time we 'dealt Pokemon cards' behind the toilets because they were banned in our school?! We were canny though, we were super good in class so no one suspected it was us.

For my 10th birthday my parents took me, Emma, and our friend Gabrielle to see S Club 7. We had THE BEST night, and we wore out matching Bolts and platform shoes and thought we looked amazing. Talking of clothes, for our end of year school play we did Oliver. Emma and I were both street sellers (I was a milk maid and she a strawberry seller), and rich people. For the rich people scene I got the amazing super nice blue outfit, while she got the yucky brown one :P

At the end of primary school we got our ears pierced together with our friend Annabel, and over the holidays we both got our periods within about a week of each other (sorry, TMI? Seriously though, weird or what). We both discussed starting secondary school in-depth and having the perfect 'cool' backpacks. We decided our backpacks either had to be Animal or Quicksilver. Emma had a Quicksilver one so I had an Animal one. I'm still not sure why we went through a 'grungy' faze, both of us even had matching flared jeans as well as the Bolts. Awks.

Myself, Emma, and our friend Annabel - aged 11 after getting our ears pierced!

In secondary school things didn't change much, we walked to school together from our old primary school round the corner as our siblings were still there. Our mums would drop us off and we'd walk the 10mins to our school, feeling super grown up. 

Emma's Gran lived behind our school through a secret doorway, so we used to sneak down there when no one was looking and go to her Gran's house for lemonade and biscuits. Luckily we were in the same form group, so even through secondary school we remained best friends. Emma was always the smart one though, so she was in the super intelligent 'Group 1' maths and science classes...while I was in the less intelligent 'Group 3' classes.

One PE lesson in winter, we were supposed to be playing football, but I lost one of my football socks and we both decided it was a good excuse for us to not go outside in the cold. So we both hid in the showers and sat there for two hours playing M.A.S.H and pinging hairbands against the wall. We also used to get out of lessons by going to reconciliation and then basically talking rubbish to the priest and eating all the sweets they kept on the table. One time I literally sat there and went 'so...nice weather today!'.

So many memories through secondary school, so many Saturdays in town spending our pocket money, having lunch at McDonalds (classy, eh), and 'window shopping' in Topshop. So many funny times at school making fun of teachers, and being total weirdos with our friends on the field at lunchtimes. And of course, who could forget all of the dress up parties, where every single time I went as a pirate?! (and I still do, FYI).

When it was time for our school Prom, it was only natural for us to get ready together and then meet our friends to all go there in unison.

When I moved to Australia, my family stayed at Emma's house the night before our flight, and her Dad drove us to the airport the next day. The first Christmas in Australia I sent Emma a package...which included an envelope full of sand from our beach. I still laugh thinking about her opening it! Then Emma and her family all came out to visit us in Perth for Easter and my 17th birthday, and we had the most amazing two weeks with them! 

We took them Down South to Eagle Bay and took some pretty epic photos, and it was while we were at Eagle Bay that Emma and I first discovered Romy & Michele's High School Reunion. It was love at first watch. We were hooked from the very first scene. Also, check out the photo below of Emma basically punching me in the face... haha!

We then all flew over to Sydney for my actual birthday, and Emma and I got lost at the Sydney Opera House in the rain. So we took a selfie to commemorate the moment. #standard

Going through our old wall posts and messages on Facebook, we kept in contact a lot while I was out in Australia! We told each other everything and kept each other updated with every little detail of our lives. I went back to the UK for a coupla weeks in the summer (English summer), and we naturally made the most of this time to have picnics, drive around to random places, dressing up and taking photos, and wrapping ourselves up in Emma's pop-art project...

When I returned we stayed with Emma's family for a few nights, and we went to a 50th Birthday party dressed as the girls from St Trinians (see pic below). We ended up hiding in the coat marquee all evening because we were too scared of all of the older people. 

That winter the snow was insane, so naturally we made the most of this by sneaking into the untouched garden of an empty house and making the most of their beautiful fresh snow...then we went to Sainsburys and brought Creme Eggs and sat in the snow in the car park and ate them. Classy eh.

After six months of me being back in the UK (and numerous nights out, parties, and even a few double dates with our boyfriends), we both went to University. We didn't get to see each other much while we were at Uni, but we caught up in the holidays and some weekends when we were both home!

Since leaving Uni and starting work we've both made much more of an effort and we now regularly see each other for lunch and drinks/dinner as Emma works round the corner from me!

She even comes on some blog stuff with me, and then a coupla years ago we went to Paris with the girls!

In 2013 we finally found a hammock big enough for both of us!

I love you Romy/Ema/Emsie-pemsie, thank you for bringing so much laughter and happiness to my life over the past twenty years, here's to another twenty. Love, Michele/Cluxy/KitKat xx

PS: You didn't think I'd do a post without a poem, did you Emma? Here we go, in true circa 2004 Catherine fashion.

We met in a tyre when we were four,
Sometimes we'd shut people in the door,
Another time we added a worm,
To our lovely teacher's tea.

Inseparable throughout our childhood,
We used to play chefs in your hood,
Sitting by the old tree 'cooking' grapes,
And talking to that creepy kid.

 Years of laughter, joy, and tears,
Tears of happiness mind,
So many memories too many to count,
Who could forget three barrels tight and yellow.

Let's not leave it there,
For who could forget clean 'n' sheen,
My poems have never been any good,
I have no idea where this one is going.

Ok let's stop there. This poem isn't working.
It includes three barrels tight and yellow and clean 'n' sheen,
And that's all that matters really.

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