Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

One of my favourite things about London is that there is no shortage of things to do on a Saturday night and especially for a special occasion - like Lauren’s birthday. We discovered through a friend about a club night called Guilty Pleasures that is basically a club that plays lots of pop music and power ballads and isn't ashamed of it. None of this indie business for us - just pure old pop music and a good dance floor.

It was the beginning of summer so it was a beach themed party so armed with out lei’s and grass skirts we got all dressed up at pre drinks before heading up to Camden for a great night out. It was held at Koko which is a great venue with a stage, different levels and of course a huge dance floor. If there wasn't enough to see and do while we indulged in our guilty pleasures we were treated to a pretty interesting floor show with men in leotards shimmying across the stage.

The music was fantastic with a good mix of old school power ballads like ‘summer of 69’ and ‘don’t stop believing’ and also classic pop music such as ‘mmmbop’ and ‘hit me one more time’. We danced and drink and sang along until our throats were hoarse. We were a bit disappointed that we didn't get any Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls favourites as we were all 90’s kids who grew up with the boy and girl bands.

It was a great night out but its not hard to keep me happy - good music, good friends, costumes and a dance floor and I’m set! Highly recommend it as a night out in London and can’t wait for the next one!

Monday, May 21, 2012

33 Hours in Stockholm

I’m a sucker for a Ryanair sale and when I found flights return from London to Stockholm for £25 I jumped at them and encouraged my friends Ainsley and Lauren to tag along too. The only downside of these flights were that they left at 6am Saturday morning and got home at 11pm on the Sunday evening. This meant a wake up call at 2am to get a taxi to the bus station, a bus to the airport for our bleary eyed flight.

We arrived in Stockholm by 9am and were ready and raring to check out the city. The hostel we stayed at upgraded us to an apartment which mean not only did we get our own kitchen but we also had our own sauna. Tempted to stay in there we headed out to check out the city and we were lucky enough to get a gorgeous sunny day.

Stockholm is made up of many little islands so we wandered down and crossed over a bridge into the old town where we wandered the little streets, found a cafe and grabbed some food. Unfortunately it wasn't Swedish meatballs but a kebab as food in Sweden is expensive! We then decided to go on a boat cruise that sailed us around all the little islands so we could check out a few of the hotspots. After an hour on the boat we disembarked at ‘The Vasa' where we spent an hour or so wandering through the museum about the viking ship that was discovered in the Baltic Sea. It was interesting to see the viking ship, read about the history of the vikings and also the intense recovery of this historic vessel. It was one of the best things we did!

We got used to having our feet firmly on the ground so we decided to wander around the city centre to see what else we could find. It is a shoppers dream with the headquarters of H&M located there so there seems to be one on every corner. By this stage we were starting to fade so it was back to our hostel for a kip before heading out to dinner.

It was hard to get motivated to head out for dinner but we managed to wander through the city and it was really pretty at night time so it was worth getting up for. Once again it was no Swedish food for us and we headed into a Thai restaurant for a delicious meal. Both food and drink is pretty expensive compared to English prices so it is hard to get used to. I guess if you were living and working there and earning the Krona it would be much better as the city seemed to be full of cafes, restaurants, bars and places to hang out.

The next day we signed up for a free walking tour to get a bit of info about the city. Our tour guide was really informative and over the next few hours we wandered through the city and learned about the monuments, buildings and history of Sweden. We were lucky to get another sunny day so after the tour we headed to some flea markets we had stumbled across on the tour. We trawled through the stalls and found a couple of bargains before setting off to visit the Town Hall which is located right on one of the waterways.

We spent the afternoon chilling out by the river, sunning ourselves on the grass, chatting and people watching. It was a great way to pass the afternoon as we waited for our flight. We headed off about 5pm to the airport and i was sad to say goodbye to such an awesome city. I would love to head back there and check it out with a local guide and a bit more cash so I could splurge on Swedish food. 33 hours just isn't enough!

Sunday, May 13, 2012


It was Rugby Sevens time again and you may remember from last year that they are always themed ready for dress up shennangians. This year was disco themed so we got on board with groovy bell sleeved dresses, bright tights and crazy make up.

We arrived at the Seven's nice and early and ready for the first game. Of course it is a Rugby tournament but its more of a drinking tournament. The thing is you can't take booze in (of course) so you have to be sneaky and try and smuggle it in. Last year this was done with a bottle of booze down my jeans, this year it was plastic bags filled with vodka stuffed in my shirt. Got to say it works every time!

The only downside of this is you have to be pretty sneaky to drink it and still end up buying some mixers but it is definitely a lot cheaper then buying the drinks there. By the middle of the day most of our smuggled drinks were gone and we were up in our seats drinking, dancing and not watching the rugby at all. Its one of those things in London that everyone goes to so you can wander around and run into people you know or people you don't.

As always there is an after party somewhere and we headed out to Wimbledon to go crazy on the dancefloor. And we certainly weren't the only ones - we ran into a few more seventies people getting groovy.

The next day was a struggle to get there as we were all feeling a little worse for wear. But we powered through put on our (dirty stinky) dresses and went to the stadium. This time we did actually watch the rugby as we weren't so keen on the drinking and it was good to actually see what we went for in the first place.

The seven's weekend is always a good one! When you get that many people dressing up and drinking its like one big costume party. Lets see what next years seven's brings!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Italian Weekend

It has been a few months since James and I had seen each other due to his adventure in Japan so when he said he was coming over for a visit at the end of April I was extremely excited. We planned a few days out in London as well as a trip to somewhere I have been wanting to go for ages - Cinque Terre. Five villages on the coast of Italy that are famous for the wine and pesto!

We had a great week in London, catching up with dinner and drinks with lots of friends, visiting Kensington Palace and walking around Hyde Park. We even ticked off something on our London bucket list and went to Gordon Ramsay's restaurant - Maze. A week in London isn't complete without a trip to the theater (something that James as a local Londoner NEVER does) so we went and saw Billy Elliot.

After a busy week we were excited to get away on our little Italian holiday. We flew out to Milan on the Thursday evening and booked into a hotel near the train station so we were ready to get the train to Monterosso where we were staying in Cinque Terre. We got up bright and early for the three hour train journey. We were excited to finally get there and see the beautiful seafront.

Friends of ours had recommended a great place to stay so we checked in and went for a wander around. First stop! Some proper Italian food! We wandered along until we found a little restaurant with some tables outdoors sitting on the cliff top. It was only right that we ordered a meal of pesto pasta and some local white wine. It was so delicious and the first of very many exquisite meals we ate. The second stop was to walk around the village and check out all the little bars, shops and restaurants around.

One of the main activities to do in Cinque Terre is to walk between the villages. Each village is located along different tracks that vary in length, difficulty and size. We walked from our home village of Monterosso to Vernazza and it took about an hour and 15 minutes. We made a rookie mistake of not taking any water, snacks or really preparing for the walk. It was quite a hike with a few steep stairs and hills along the way. It was worth it to make it to the other end though and check out the village of Vernazza.

When we arrived we had a quick wander around the village and learnt that this one has been quite badly damaged in a fairly recent landslide meaning many of the houses and restaurants needed some work. Thankfully there was a restaurant open down by the water and we ordered a water, a coke and a beer each since we were so thirsty from our trek! The waiter thought it was hilarious!

We took the lazy route home and decided to get the train home. The trains run between all five villages but on what can only be described as the most relaxed and inconsistent time table around. Thankfully we didn't have to wait too long and we headed back to our hotel. We grabbed a bottle of wine from the shop across the road (and made him open it for us since we had no bottle opener!) and sat on our balcony and drank delicious wine as the sun went down.

The friends who had recommended the hotel also recommended a local restaurant so we decided to make that our first stop. I had my first pizza of this Italy trip and the combination of pesto and salami was mouth watering. James had an even yummier calzone. Of course the meal was joined by a bottle of wine and it was the perfect evening to a great day.

The next day we did another walk but this time it was nice and easy. We caught the train Riomaggio one of the biggest villages and had a wander around before taking the 'lovers walk' to Manarola. The guide said it takes about 20 minutes and as it is mostly flat I can see how it can be that quick. Since there was so much to look at as it is common for lovers to write their names on the walls and leave initialed padlocks on the gates. Some of them were really sweet and others were really funny. We decided to add to it and leave a leather band with our names on it.

Manarola was the perfect village to sit and have a coffee and pastry as the weather had turned bad and we were fighting the rain and wind. There is nothing better than Italian food! We caught the train back to Monterosso and spent the afternoon wandering around the village treating ourselves to lemonchello, gelati, italian beer served with cheese and salami. We bought up some pesto and souveniers and basically just had an afternoon full of food and shopping. Heaven!

Our final day in Cinque Terre we caught the train to Corniglia which is the central village. We got there and made the massive walk up the big hill as Corniglia seemed to be on the highest cliffside. We spent the morning checking out the village before wandering down to the sea front to sit and while away the hours. Of course we stopped for lunch and I ordered a pesto lasagna. I'm not even exaggerating when I say it was the best meal I've ever eaten in Italy and probably one of the best ever!

Sadly we had to leave the Cinque Terre and head back to Milan for our flights out. We had one last Italian meal at a place near our Milan hotel before getting up bright and early for our flights. James was flying back to Tokyo straight from Milan so it was a bit sad to say goodbye at the airport. Thankfully he is back in the middle of the year so it won't be too long until our next adventure. Cinque Terre was amazing and definitely a highlight of my European travels. Totally recommend it to anyone!