Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Night Out at Fabrica de Arte Cubano, Havana.

While in Cuba we discovered some of the truths about the government and system out there. It started when we met a very good looking young Cuban waiter in a restaurant in Havana, who asked us if we wanted to go clubbing with him and his friends on Saturday, we didn't say no. Who would!? He promised us it was the best place to go clubbing for young Cubans, and there would be no tourists there. We had this image of them taking us to some little salsa bar on a backstreet, with dancing and £1 mojitos. Well, we definitely got the £1 mojitos, however the place we went to was nowhere near what we imagined it would be.


Friday, 30 May 2014

Playa Paraiso & Playa Sirena, Cuba.

Playa Paraiso and Playa Sirena beaches on Cayo Largo are exactly what you would expect from a Caribbean island. Crystal clear and turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, those typical beach umbrellas that look as though they're straight off a postcard, and sailing. Playa Sirena was our favourite, apparently it's the 11th best beach in the world - we can definitely see why! The water wasn't as clear as Playa Paraiso, however it was a beautiful deep turquoise instead, the sand was powder soft, and best of all - I got to go sailing again.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Cayo Largo Del Sur, Cuba.

We landed in Cayo Largo to even hotter weather than in Havana, and the most breathtaking beaches I've ever seen (and that's coming from someone who lived in Western Australia)! On our first day we just lazed about by the pool and relaxed, then on our second day we got up early to go on a boat excursion to go snorkelling and see Iguana Island.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Visiting Havana, Cuba - Day 2.

Our second day in Havana was a very busy one, but probably my favourite. We did the one thing I have been wanting to do since I was fourteen years old - ride in a 1950's car with tail fins. We strolled over to the square opposite the Parque Central hotel where the colourful old cars were all lined up, when suddenly a beautiful blue and white convertible purred around the corner, the sound of it's engine drew me to it; it was a 1959 DeSoto Firesweep. Before we knew it we'd agreed to pay just 25CUC (£16) with the driver and guide for a full hours tour.


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A Night at the Tropicana Club, Havana.

The Tropicana Club is the most famous cabaret show in the world. Since 1939 the dancers have been entertaining everyone from tourists to celebrities (Frank Sinatra was a regular!) under the starry moonlit sky of Havana. Despite hearing about how touristy it is these days, Ciara, Jasiminne and I knew we had to go just to see what all the fuss was about. It was breathtaking.

Tropicana Club Cuba

Monday, 26 May 2014

Visiting Havana, Cuba - Day 1.

After a ten hour flight from London to Havana with Air France (the only airlines who fly to Havana from the UK are Air France, KLM, and Virgin), we arrived late evening to sweltering heat and a storm brewing. We stepped out of the airport to be greeted by our taxi driver, and to the sight of run down old 1950's cars. After driving through Havana in awe of the crumbling buildings and old cars, we got settled in our Casa Particular, Casa Cristo Colonial which was situated in Old Havana (also known as Habana Vieja).


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Be Back Soon, in Cuba.

After 10 years of dreaming, wishing, and longing, and 6 months of planning, I'm finally in Cuba. We arrived on Saturday and as there's no internet in Cuba, this is a scheduled post (so hopefully all is well in Cuba and we didn't crash on the Air France flight! Eeek *touch wood*). So I thought I'd tell you some of our plans and what we're hoping to do out here.

I'm here with the girls; Ciara and Jasiminne, and we're here for another few days before flying back to London on Sunday. We started in Havana, then flew to Cayo Largo for some well-deserved rest and relaxation after a very busy few months. Our plan for Havana consisted of the usual touristy stuff; revolution square, the capitol building, the Havana Club Rum museum, El Floridita etc etc, but the main thing we wanted to do was eat at plenty of Paladares (aka; restaurants in people's homes!). No doubt I'll be telling you all about our travels and experiences next week on here!

Cayo Largo was all about the relaxation. It is literally a paradise island, with crystal clear oceans, white sandy beaches, dolphins, and a turtle sanctuary. There'll sure as hell be plenty of beach porn on here when we're back! But for now, here's a little taster...


Friday, 16 May 2014

Hotel Review: Queen's Hotel, Cheltenham.

I was recently invited to go and stay at the Mercure Queen's Hotel Cheltenham, which is part of the Accor Hotel group. I've stayed at a number of Accor Hotel group hotels in the past, including more recently the Pullman Resort Bunker Bay. The 4* Queen's Hotel is part of Accor's mid-level Mercure hotels, and after reading decent reviews online, I was rather excited.

I asked one of my closest friends from school, Katie, along for a 'girl's night' as we've both been so busy recently we've barely had time to catch up. You may remember here from this blog post, when we had a night out at Dukebox in London. We headed off to Cheltenham on Saturday afternoon and after hitting some traffic we arrived at around 6pm, just in time to check in and grab some dinner before heading out to see what the nightlife of Cheltenham had to offer. 

From the outside the hotel is absolutely beautiful, and the interior of the hotel is also really gorgeous. Upstairs the wallpaper is 175 years old, really pretty, and the same wallpaper that's in the Houses of Parliament!

The lady at the check-in desk was really friendly, and we were soon in our room and unpacking the most important things for a girls night...Minstrels and Malibu. Duh.

...before jumping on this huge whopper of a bed!

We then ran into the bathroom expecting it to be a larger-than-life one judging by the size of the room, only to run into the wall. It was absolutely tiny, probably one of the smallest hotel bathrooms I've ever seen - even smaller than the ones in Paris! It was also in desperate need of an update, not only was it tiny, but the bath looked as though it had seen better days. The bathroom was so small I couldn't even take a photo of, anyone?

The bedroom was the opposite of the bathroom - big and spacious, with a small living area, large wardrobe, TV, and a mini bar with complimentary soft drinks. They also provided a robe and slippers...however there was only one robe, and one pair of slippers...and as there were two of us this meant we had to have one slipper each and take it in turns with the robe. Hey ho, at least there was complimentary wi-fi! The room itself is in desperate need of an update and a lick of paint, it's all very dated, the huge floor-to-ceiling sash windows however made this room beautiful. 

We got changed and headed down for dinner, where I had a bit of a fried fish fest. Because dinner was included in our room rate*, we were only able to choose from the set menu. I was majorly craving fish, however the fish of the day on the set menu was salmon, and I don't do salmon, so I asked for the fish and chips off the full menu instead. The staff were lovely and very accommodating, and said that that was fine. I then spied the salt and pepper squid on the 'nibbles' part of the full menu, 'oh what the hell, can I have that as a starter please?', again, they were very happy to let me change their entire menu around.

The salt and pepper squid arrived and it looked delicious, however I couldn't taste any salt and pepper and the batter was so soggy I could barely cut them. This made my heart sink, as I started to dread my cod arrived...and sure enough...soggy. Egh. Katie had the leak and potato soup to start with and she said it tasted of pea soup. For mains she had the burger, and although the patty was good, the bun was incredibly dry (she covered it in mayo to try and hide the dryness).

Despite the poor starters and mains, the desserts were incredible. As you all know, my favourite dessert is the simple Creme Brulee, and I have to test it wherever I go. The Creme Brulee at the Queen's Hotel Napier Restaurant was probably the best Creme Brulee I've ever had (it was even up there with the RAC's Lavender one!). The top was so thick and gave the most beautiful 'crack', with the vanilla cream below lovely and cold and creamy - just how it should be. Katie had the Knickerbockerglory, which she said was well worth the extra calories.

We then went back upstairs to get changed and ready for Kukui just around the corner! As Katie's a student, I thought it was the perfect chance to take full advantage of acting like a student again myself, so we had a fair few Malibu and Coke's before heading to Kukui. Kukui is a tiki bar right in the centre of Cheltenham, and although it was awesome (good music, good/cheap cocktails, good atmosphere), I felt so old. *sob* However, we had a great night and it was lovely being able to just walk 5mins to the hotel and roll into bed!

Kukui Cheltenham Tiki Club
Breakfast the following morning didn't finish until 11am, and check-out wasn't until 12, so we planned for a relaxing sleep-in before slowly making a move to get up and start packing. While packing we noticed a Nespresso machine tucked away at the side of the TV stand - fancy!

We got down to breakfast at 10:30am, just in time for a a hot breakfast before they closed, to be told that they'd actually stopped serving breakfast at 10am that morning due to a wedding fair being held at the hotel...and they had failed to tell their guests this. We weren't the only people standing there expecting our breakfast to be turned away and told to go 'elsewhere', there were a few other people who weren't too impressed by this.

The restaurant manager tried to pass the blame over to the lady on the check-in desk who 'should have told us', but I'm guessing that it was miss-communication between the hotel staff and that they may have forgotten to tell her...especially as so many guests seemed to be misinformed. The hotel didn't know I was there to review them, however as the breakfast and dinner were included in the 'room rate' that their PR company booked, I queried with the restaurant manager what would happen if breakfast was included in the room rate we'd 'paid for' if we didn't eat breakfast? The manager told us that they could compromise and do us a favour by serving us cold cereals and fruits in our room. Cereal? Fruit? For Sunday breakfast!? In our dark room instead of the lovely sunny restaurant looking out over the pretty garden!? No thanks. 

We left bitter and disappointed, grabbed our stuff, checked out, and went to get breakfast elsewhere instead. By this time it was 11am and we didn't know Cheltenham, we had no idea where to get breakfast from or where would still serve it at 11am...the only place we had seen was a Weatherspoons next to Kukui the night before, so we went there. To be fair to Weatherspoons their Eggs Benny and hashbrowns was pretty damn good! But I couldn't get over the rudeness and cheek of the staff at Queen's Hotel, more than anything I'm disappointed that I didn't get to try the breakfast in their Napier Restaurant as according to reviews it's very good. If I was a paying guest I would have been absolutely fuming and demanded my money back, it just showed a serious lack of effort or care for their guests. 

Thanks for saving us Weatherspoons!

I think the Queen's Hotel is probably lovely if you get one of the modern and updated bedrooms with a larger bathroom, and if you get breakfast, however I think we may have just been unlucky in our experience. The service in the restaurant was very slow (it took two hours to have 3 basic courses), the room we were in needs a little modernizing, we could have done with a bathrobe and slippers each instead of one between us, and breakfast would have been nice. I'm really not sure how it's managed to hold down 4 stars - it certainly isn't up to the standards of any other 4 star hotels I've stayed in, but like I said, maybe we were just unlucky and caught them at a busy weekend.

*We received our room and dinner complimentary for review purposes. Despite it being complimentary this does not in any way influence my views, and everything I have said is my 100% honest opinion.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Crew Clothing 21st Birthday.

Like any twenty-something girl (or should I say woman?! Now that I'm 23 I'm not sure I can continue getting away with calling myself a girl?) I adore clothes and feel my style is very much my own; I wear what I want, with a key fashion piece thrown into my wardrobe each season (ie; the tartan skirt from this past AW). So when Crew Clothing got in touch and asked me to be one of their '21 bloggers' to help them celebrate their 21st birthday over 21 days during May, I couldn't say no. 

I sadly couldn't attend their birthday event as I was in Italy, so instead of choosing an item of clothing from their collection at the event, I chose what item I wanted on the website and they sent it over to me. I chose the gorgeous Illyria skirt, it's lovely and floaty with nautical stripes, and will be perfect for the summer months and my holidays to Cuba and Europe! 

Now I'm no fashion blogger (this is officially my first 'outfit' post), so I don't exactly practice posing for photos on a regular basis, so I'm afraid you'll just have to put up with a couple of normal/smiling photos of me rather than any blue steel style/hand on hip/wannabe model ones. I paired the skirt with my H&M white shirt, black tights (it was cold and raining)! and black Yull Cambridge flats. I think the skirt is supposed to be worn on the hips, but I always wear my skirts on the waist instead as my hips are huge. 

Crew Clothing 21st birthday bloggers Illyria skirt
Crew Clothing Illyria skirt
The skirt is really light and has two pockets on the sides - not really big enough to put anything in, but handy for change. It's made from a stretchy jersey material, and like all of Crew Clothing's pieces, it's the perfect classic casual wear; ideal for walks down by the ocean or harbour, or the skirt could even be worn in the city during the summer months depending on what you paired with it.

Crew Clothing Illyria skirt

Fountain in Cheltenham
Crew Clothing 21st birthday bloggers Illyria skirt

It was really windy so it looks a bit like the skirt is shorts - woops. I'm totally in love with this skirt, it's just one of those easy pieces you can throw on with a white shirt, and I can't wait to be able to wear it with a beach bag, some cute sandals, and no tights! 

Happy 21st Birthday Crew!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum, Vatican City.

We were determined to visit the Sistine Chapel, and it took us three attempts before we managed it. The first day we went the queue was 1km long and not moving, the second time we tried was on the Sunday and it turns out it's closed on Sundays, so we tried again on our last day - the Monday, and after two hours of queuing from 7:30am, we finally got in. Word of advice: book online at least two days before you go so you don't have to queue!

Icons in Vatican Museum

Saturday, 10 May 2014

An Angels and Demons Tour, Rome.

So although not an 'official' tour, so to speak, my brother and I decided to drag our parents to some of the locations that were used in the Angels and Demons book and film. These included Castel Sant'Angelo, Piazza Navona, and Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. We're huge fans, and had a great time running around Rome seeing all of the locations! Also I had quite a lot of fun getting this nighttime photo of the Castle...

Night time photograph of Castel Sant'Angelo and the River Tiber


Friday, 9 May 2014

The Dome at St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

For just 5 euros you can climb all the way to the top of the dome of St Peter's Basilica. It's over 500 steps (300 steps if you pay an extra 2 euros to get a lift part of the way), and there are three levels of the dome you can visit. There's an indoor section where you walk around the inside of the dome, and then you climb extra steps to get to the outdoor part right at the very top of the spire of the dome. The views are absolutely breathtaking, and well worth the 5 euros and 500+ steps.

View of St Peter's Square from top of the dome

Visiting St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

St Peter's Basilica was my favourite thing about Rome. It was breathtaking, words can't even describe the feeling it gave me and the beauty of it - it was the single most beautiful building I have ever stepped foot into. St Peter's is one of the most famous places of worship in Italy, in the World even, steeped in history and meaning, and a mecca for Roman Catholics. Featured in films, TV, books, it's pretty famous and is the even the final resting place of every Pope since St Peter himself.

st peter's basilica vatican city

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

When in Rome.

Last weekend the family and I headed to Italy for my mum's big 5-0. She had always wanted to go to Rome, so off we went to celebrate and have a weekend of culture and gelato! On our first day there on the Friday we decided to go and see The Colosseum, and save the Vatican for the weekend. We managed to do Palatine, The Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain all in one day, and as we were staying near Vatican City, it meant a full-on day of walking around the city for around six hours! 

Altara della Patria Rome Italy


Saturday, 3 May 2014

Duck & Waffle, London.

I know, I know, just like Meatliquor, I'm late to the scene. Jasiminne and I have been trying to get to Duck & Waffle for a girlie dinner for ages, you may remember how last time we tried we ended up in Sushisamba instead. Anyway, we finally made it, and it was so worth it.

We started with BBQ spiced crispy pigs ears, and the wild mushroom bread. The pigs ears were in-credible. They came in a brown paper bag with a wax seal, and tasted like a cross between bbq flavoured french fries (the crisps) and pork scratchings, I just wanted to eat the whole bag, but sadly I had to share with Jasminne, plus we had bread to eat too. The bread was also incredible, really delicious freshly baked bread filled with goat's cheese and mushrooms, and a smokey thin 'ketchup'.   

After filling ourselves up on pigs ears and bread, we moved onto the main course. Jasiminne went for the Wild Garlic Gnocchi with asparagus and a crispy organic hen's egg, and I had the signature dish - Duck & Waffle. 

Naturally I had to try some of the Gnocchi too, and it was really tasty, but oh my, my Duck & Waffle was just the dish I've been waiting for for the past year or so that D&W has been open. A sweet chunky waffle topped with a crispy duck leg confit and a fried duck egg, and doused in mustard maple syrup, it was a fat and carb feast fit for any girl who doesn't give a shit about thigh gaps. 

Sadly my egg was overcooked so it didn't drool all over the duck as I'd hoped, but it was still delicious. I was surprised at how well the duck went with the waffle, but then again, I'm a huge sweet & savoury fan so I'm still not sure why I was so surprised? I wolfed the whole thing down so quickly there was no way I was stopping to get any more photos, it was just too good to stop eating it. Sadly we didn't have room for dessert, so we just shared one scoop of coconut and lime sorbet. 

Similar to Sushisamba pricewise, Duck & Waffle is one of those places you should go to at least once just to experience it, and then after that save it for special occasions. The view over London of course is breathtaking, and that's one of the main things you're paying for here along with the top notch food. The service was also excellent, they couldn't do enough for us; the waiters were quick and efficient, and really helpful and friendly when it came to choosing what to have. Make sure you book though (as we found out last time!), they get booked up quickly, so try to book a few days in advance.

We had a really lovely evening catching up and basically spending the entire evening doing what we always do; gossiping about men and regaling each other with hilarious stories and rants. Duck & Waffle was the perfect place for this, however the food was so rich that by 11:30pm we were falling asleep at the table from food comas! We paid up and headed to my car, singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the tops of our voices to keep ourselves awake. I dropped Jasiminne off, and then drove back to Guildford, and fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. 
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