2017: A year in travel

Considering this year was suppose to be one spent mostly at home, it's somehow snowballed into a pretty busy year. I never made it to Brighton for a girls trip nor will I be visiting Germany for a Christmas market. But I did have the surprise trip of the French Riviera. This year has also reinforced my love of Europe, I really do live in on the greatest continent on the planet. So where have I visited this year?




Paris
I spent my birthday weekend in Paris with my mum and had such a wonderful trip. Probably my favourite time I've had in Paris. We walked to the top of the Arc D,Triomphe, watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night, ate dinner in a restored Orient Express carriage, wandered around Galeries Lafayette and inhaled crepes as if our lives depended on it. Every time I hop of the Eurostar, I can't never quite believe how lucky we are to practically have Paris on our doorstep.




Northern Ireland
To help commiserate being stuck together for ten years, Connor and I headed to Northern Ireland for four days. It was great to catch up with Connor's family in Derry and take road trips along the Causeway Coast. It's one of my favourite places to visit and as soon as I touch down at the airport, I feel at home. I've already got a trip planned for next summer as it's about time I finally visited the Giant's Causeway - fourth time lucky!




French Riviera
After stumbling across flights to Marseille for £35, I gathered the girls Hannah, Michelle and Sarah together to jet over to visit Elodie. We spent a wonderful day in Marseille, an afternoon exploring the brilliant Villa Noailles and a lazy day wandering around Elodie's hometown of Sanary-Sur-Mer. It was such a chilled weekend and just what I needed. It made me realise just how lucky I am to have found my Girl Gang.




Poland
Poland is one of my favourite countries I've visited and I still can't believe just how undiscovered it is. Everyone was slightly bewildered when I mentioned I was taking my two week holiday to Poland and I found myself getting quite defensive. Poland really is a great place and I've been twice now, visiting four different cities, one seaside town, the largest castle in Europe and spending a few days in the countryside. Gdansk was absolutely wonderful and by far my favourite Polish city. It was great to visit Warsaw again and I still stand by my view that its got a certain edge over Krakow.




Cardiff
I trotted down to Cardiff for Gem's wedding. It was a weekend of too much gin, lots of delicious food, sore feet and the one of the loveliest Air BnB's I've stayed in. It was such an honour to be invited to Gem's wedding and Cardiff is such a great city. I was blown away by the food culture and vowed to return soon!

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What I've been cooking #2: Mary Berry's Baking Bible

So this cookbook series didn't really go very well did it? I only reviewed one book and it was another Mary Berry one - who said I'm a creature of habit? I just find her recipes so simple and effective. I'm going to try and start this series up again as my cookbook collection has gotten out of control and soon I will have my own kitchen! I find spending a Sunday in the kitchen really relaxing and have been trying to keep that day aside each week to try and chill out after a hectic week. So without further ado, here is what I baked from Mary Berry's Baking Bible...


Madeira Cake
This is such a classic and one I can't believe that I have never baked before. The beautifully dense cake is one of my favourite afternoon treats. Loaf cakes are one of my favourite things to bake as they're just so simple. This was no exception to the rule. Just keep an eye on it as I feel like 30 minutes is a little too long to be in the oven. It cooks very quickly and I popped some tinfoil over it after 10 minutes. I'll definitely be rustling up a Madeira again.


Blueberry Muffins
Yet another classic. This American muffins are a great sweet treat for breakfast.Make sure you fill the cases up the top as they don't seem to rise as much as I think they should. It will help you get the 'muffin' look. The finished muffin is gorgeously light and perfectly tart, making it impossible to stop at just one. Another recipe I'll be making again. Can Mary Berry do any wrong?


Date and chocolate loaf
I had high expectations for this and mixed thoughts when I finally tasted it. The chocolate was a little bit non-existent but the date flavour was lovely. It tastes very similar to malt loaf and is made much better with a slick of salted butter. Everyone else raved about it so maybe it was just my fussy ways. I'm not sure I'll make this one again...


Maple syrup cake
I loved the maple syrup and orange combination of this cake. It had the perfect amount of sweetness. But I wasn't too keen on the American style frosting which was basically whipped double cream. Give me buttercream icing any day. Whilst I'm glad I tried this cake, it's not one I'm going to be adding to my regular list any time soon.


Irish soda bread
I'd never made any type of bread before having been easily intimidated. But I decided to try my hand at some soda bread as a treat for my Irish boyfriend. Despite forgetting to add the salt, I KNOW!, I added some salted butter and it actually tasted really nice. I imagine it'll taste even better when I remember to put in one of the most important ingredients. It was so, so simple to make and came out with such a gorgeous crust. I'll definitely be rustling up one of these on a regular basis.


Fruit scones
How can you go wrong with some scones? I've always made my scones from Mary Berry and they've always came out great. I alternative the type of fruit I use every time and each variation is tasty. The recipe never usually makes as many as she says it will so always double up. You can never have too many!

So my thoughts on Mary's baking bible? Like all the other Mary books I've tried, this is flawless. She just has a knack of producing really simple, traditional recipes that always come out trumps. I've yet to have a real disaster and another I haven't liked is just due to personal taste. She is always my go-to when it comes to a good classic cake. It's a great cookbook for a lazy Sunday afternoon of baking as you never have to concentrate too hard on a recipe. Another success from the Bezza! 
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Am I a narcissist?


I was on the bus a few weeks ago and was listening to a middle aged couple talk about the yoof of today and how awfully narcissistic my generation are. It's all selfies and social media. We only think about ourselves and how we're too busy being vain to be of any use to anyone. We validate our lives by how others perceive us.

It got me thinking. I've been taking pictures of my mug for the internet for the past seven years. Shamelessly posting it all over social media and writing about my favourite clothes and make up. Put a camera in front of me and I'll happily strike a pose - so long as I get to take 76563543 pictures so I can choose the most flattering. So why exactly do I post pictures of myself on the internet for everyone to see?

Of course it's nice to hear people tell you like they like your outfit you've spent a good hour deciding to wear and when you hit 50 likes on that cake you've spent a whole morning slaving over on Instagram. It does give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. But this isn't how I validate my life. I promise.

I've always been the one to take lots of pictures even back in the days when it was cool to take a disposable camera out to a Saturday night out in a grimy, sticky-floored club. So why change the habit of a lifetime? I post pictures on my blog and social media because I love to keep an online diary of what I've been getting up to. It's so easy to forget those little moments in life as you get bogged down with the mundane. I scroll back through my Instagram and blog with a smile on my face, remembering all the dreamy holidays, fun days out with friends and ridiculous outfits I once thought looked stylish. It's a way of hoarding my memories.

So no, I wouldn't class myself as a narcissist. Where's my iPhone? I need to take a picture of my face thanks.
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Exploring Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Auschwitz, Poland


I was really torn about writing this post. Auschwitz-Birkenau is such an emotional place and I felt such rage about how people behaved there. I felt really uneasy about people taking selfies, people filming videos of the exhibition rooms and saying crude things as they walked around. I snapped a few photos of the outside and then felt an feeling of guilt. But I honestly believe that everyone should make the trek to the camps at least once as it's so incredibly important to see it with your own eyes. This is why I decided to blog about it.




Everyone knows the background of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It's something we learn about all throughout School and from family members. Personally as well as my Secondary education, I also studied the rise of Nazism for A Level history. It's terrifying to see the signs today, it seems as if people have forgotten what happened in the 1930's. Forgotten how someone like Hitler rose to power. Being European, it's a place that's ingrained in our conscious. You know the horrors and the sheer brutality but I don't think you can truly quite understand what happened until you see it for yourself. Until you see those gas chambers. Until you see that execution wall. Until you see those mugshots on the wall of the people who passed through those gates. Until you see the tiny brick huts where prisoners slept. Until you see the endless pile of human hair piled up behind a glass wall taken from prisoners.



I left with such a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and filled with anger. It was terrifying to see just how close Hitler was to achieving his ultimate goal. But I was also so glad that I finally was able to visit. We did a guided tour with Escape 2 Poland and I learnt so much. I honestly thought I knew all about it but our guide was so knowledgeable that I found myself in awe. He really did make the trip.

If you find yourself visiting Krakow, then please do schedule in a trip to see the camps. Despite it being so difficult to visit, it's also so important to visit. It's so important to make sure history never repeats itself as sometimes, history can be forgotten.

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Exploring Europe: Malbork Castle, Malbork, Poland


If you've been following this blog for a while then you'll know I love castles. Literally love them so much. Blame the fact I was a slightly strange child who was obsessed with The Tudors who happened to live in lots of castles in England. Disney princesses? Nah give me Henry VIII. Anyway when I found out we were a short train ride away from the biggest castle in the world measured by land mass, it was immediately put into the itinerary. Pronto.



Around an hour by train from Gdansk, you start to grasp the sheer size of the castle as you pull into the station. It is absolutely huge. One word of warning, do check train times before you go as we came unstuck and it ended up being a bit of a nightmare journey back to Gdansk. So come prepared. It's also best to book you tickets online as you will have to queue to get tickets.

Pick up an audio guide - one of the best ones I've listened too - and start walking. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle was built by the Teutonic Order and is now one of Poland's official national Historic Monument. Heavily damaged during the Second World War, it undertook extensive restoration, finished in 2016, and the work completed in the main castle church is incredible.



I'd recommend to set aside half a day to really take it in. Go early in the morning as it does get very busy and try to visit on a weekday if it fits in with your plans. There's some medieval-esque huts to grab a bite to eat and a drink if you get peckish. After all, who doesn't want to have a hotdog and some mead in the grounds of a castle?
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A catch up: November 2017


Booking city breaks
We had planned to opt for a city break in the UK to celebrate our anniversary in January with Manchester and Liverpool being top of our list. But when I started looking into it, train prices were terrifying. Seriously what is up with the trains in this country? I decided to have a browse to see what Ryanair was offering and after scrolling past about 5 different Polish cities (I won't be back for at least five years), I stumbled across Bordeaux. The rest is history and now we're proud owners of £20 flights to France. We're looking forward to three days of stuffing our face with cheese, gorging on fresh seafood, eating too many croissants and drinking the delicious local wine. It's not a massive city and I have a few things on my list that I definitely want to see. But I am always on the look out for any recommendations - has anyone ever visited?

House gossip
The house is going full steam ahead right now and really starting to come together. The kitchen is looking lush and I couldn't be more in love with it. It's slowly becoming the kitchen of my dreams and I never realised just how excited I would be over a butler sink and a range cooker. We've got the worktops being cut at the weekend and hopefully the electrician coming in to finish off the electric then we can start tiling the walls. I already know that it's going to be my favourite room in the house.

Feeling festive
Blame it on working ten years in retail and hospitality but I'm not that much of a Christmas fan and only really start to get excited about a week before at the prospect of eating cheese and drinking too much gin. But this year it hit November 1st and suddenly I couldn't contain my excitement. Now I have my own house to decorate, my excitment is in overdrive. I'm feeling the most festive I've ever been and am LOVING it. Although my Christmas bauble habit is slightly getting out of control...
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Five things I've learnt about myself whilst renovating a house


1. I am very impatient
I don't like waiting for things and get frustrated when things don't happened immediately. I'm impulsive and quite demanding if I'm honest. This has not been a straight forward process at all. It's a long seven months and it's probably going to be a long next couple of years.

2. My dad is my hero
I always knew I'd lucked out in the dad department but I don't think I fully appreciated just how amazing he is until we got this house. My dad is a roofer who works six days a week doing a pretty manual job, yet he still finds the time to come round every single day and do something to help. Even if it's just to fit a lightbulb. We really couldn't have done this without his knowledge, guidance and help. He's fitting our kitchen as we speak! He's been putting his heart and soul into our house to make sure it's everything we've dreamed of.

3. Compromise is extremely hard
Only child over here! I don't think I realised just how much I want to have my own way. If I'm honest, Connor is pretty easy going and usually just says yes because he'll do anything for an easy life. But the little rascal has not just said yes to this house. He's been putting his foot down quite often when I tell him of yet another wild idea, namely that knocking an entire wall down is a ridiculously expensive idea. And spending £800 on Farrow & Ball paint for the downstairs is insane. And refusing to pay tens of thousands of pounds so we can have a log burner. But I did get my butler sink, my range cooker, oak worktops and real wood flooring so I suppose he's not all bad!

4. I am absolutely ready to move out
If I'm honest I only really started saving for a house because I felt like it was time for me to start doing it. I've always liked the idea of moving out but I've never been in any rush. I have a pretty cushy lifestyle at home. I pay minimal housekeeping so my disposable income is pretty generous in letting me have multiple holidays a year, fill my wardrobe with ASOS and enjoy going on a new adventure each weekend. But now? I am so ready to move out and make a home on my own. I'm looking forward to having my own space and have the option of sitting on my sofa in my pants, surrounded by Dominos and watching repeats of Peaky Blinders with no one telling me I can't do that. It looks like I've finally grown up!

5. Resentment is very real
I never wanted to buy a house at home in Essex. I have a there hour round trip commute into work each day. While I'm just 30 minutes away from Liverpool Street on the train, it just so happens that I work in Notting Hill which is probably one of the further away points of London from my home. It really is just one of those things but it doesn't make the commute any easier to deal with. It's hard. Really hard. I leave the house at 7.15 and tend to get home between 7.30-8pm. Connor works in Cambridge which is 30 minutes straight down the M11 and he's usually home about 5pm - on a good day. Moving to London just wouldn't make much sense and his job means he moves locations about every three years and could be literally anywhere in the country. And it's silly to pay London prices when you're not working in the city. I know all of this and I understand all of this. But it doesn't mean that I didn't really resent buying a house in Essex. I found the perfect flat in Mile End on the Roman Road that I was desperate to view and it would cut my commute down to just 20 minutes. All I ever wanted is to live in the city. But it's just never materialised. In fact, it's only the last couple of weeks as I've seen the house become more like a home that the feeling has subsided.
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An Italian bucket list

Italy is one of those countries that I can't believe has eluded me. Despite it being very high on my countries to visit, I still haven't made it over. I've got so many regions, cities and towns on my list but here are my top five.

Picture taken from Paris and Around

1. Naples
As a pizza obsessive the birthplace of my favourite dish is naturally on my list of places I want to visit. I've heard Naples is a bit of a rough diamond but this only makes it more appealing to me. I love places that are a little rough around the edges. Squeezing in a trip to Pompeii will be on the list when I visit too.

Picture taken from Fat Frocks

2. Florence
Every year since I was 18 I've vowed to make it over to Florence. And every year I never quite make it. I seem to have this thought in my head that it's ridiculously expensive so I've always ticked off the cheaper places on my wishlist - despite the fact everyone telling me it's really not that much of a money suck. My ideal trip would be two weeks in Tuscany with five days in Florence before spending time in Pisa, Siena and Lucca.

Image taken from Intrepid Travel 

3. Sicily
I have such a romantic view of Sicily. I imagine such a slow pace of life with nothing more important than gobbling down some pasta and basking in the sunshine. I'd love to get some type of late villa deals like these and just spend a few weeks really switching off. Sometimes I feel like I cram too much in a holiday so it would be great to have a relaxing one for a change!


Picture taken from My Life Long Holiday

4. Lake Como
Lake Como just looks dreamy and every time I see a picture, I want to visit even more. I think it'd be the perfect place to spending a week relaxing and switching off. I'd love to wander around the little towns, eat too much pasta and get water taxis everywhere. It wouldn't hurt if I accidentally bumped into George Clooney either...

 Picture taken from The Traveller World Guide

5. Rome
I sell myself as someone who adores travelling and it's slightly embarrassing to admit that I haven't visited Rome yet. It seems to be a place that EVERYONE has been too. Except me! I'm desperate to see the Colosseum, throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, marvel at the famous Sistine Chapel, stand on the Spanish Steps and see the fuss about the Vatican, I'd love to spend an entire week soaking up the city and getting a feel of it like a local.

Have you ever been to Italy? Where do you recommend?
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OOTD: Statement ankle boots





Outfit:
Grey tailored coat: New Look (similar)
Black ruffled shirt: Zara (similar)
Black skinny jeans: Matalan (similar)
Brown leather rucksack: Gift from Marrakesh (similar)
Buckled black ankle boots: LOTD.co.uk* (similar)

Boy am I glad its boots weather again - I'm a sucker for a pair of ankle boots if my collection is anything to go by. So I was glad to be able to add these beauties to my stash from LOTD.co.uk. The pointed toe and the buckles really caught my eye. I think a statement pair of boots make all the difference when jazzing up an outfit.

A weekend over already. I've had such a lovely weekend mooching around, getting my life admin in order while my boyfriend has been away in Glasgow on a stag do. As out move in date looms,  I'm beginning to realise just how much 'stuff' I own. I've always known I'm a bit of a hoarder but now it's all been laid bare! I went to the garden centre with my mum to try and find some plants to fill my bedroom. I want a little bit of a 'jungle' theme so picked up three mini cacti and one snake plant to pop in a freestanding metal planter. I just hope I don't kill them off! I'm now after a cheese plant, a couple of succulents and an ivy plant to fill up the plant pots I seem to have accumulated over the last six months...

Special thanks to Sarah for snapping this OOTD!


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Restaurant review: Curious Yellow Kafe, Hoxton, east London


Last weekend I went into town to help celebrate Hannah's birthday early. It was no surprised that the self-confessed scandipile chose to go somewhere Scandi-themed for her birthday lunch so we ended up in Hoxton. You'll find the Curious Yellow Kafe in Hoxton, about a ten minute walk from Old Street Station. Offering a Swedish inspired menu, the little eatery has a great neighbourhood cafe feel. It was full of locals and has a lovely chilled vibe.





I went for the Swedish meatballs served on a bed of creamy mash and lashings of gravy. Topped with chives and dill, it was like a hug in a bowl and exactly what was needed for a slightly chilly autumn day. Our waitress noticed us handing out gifts and very kindly gave us two brownies on the house to help celebrate Hannah's birthday. If that isn't good customer service than I don't know what is! Michelle opted for a delicious looking brioche bun stuffed to the brim with halloumi, roasted peppers and smashed avocado. Served with sweet potato chips, I wish I'd ordered it too!

The Curious Yellow Kafe is a great little find and well worth a wander over if you find your self around Old Street. I'll definitely be back!



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About me
A Essex based lifestyle blogger who lives a champagne life on a lemonade purse!

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sophie.warner89@yahoo.co.uk.

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