Saturday, 31 December 2011

Looking back, and forward (Part 1)

As I mentioned in my little post about Time, I had a LOT going on in 2011. Back on NYE 2010/11 I went through my iPhone diary and every month had something so exciting to look forward to, and I do love a little Year in Review on New Year’s Eve. So here you go…

2011 in brief
  • I had some exciting guest post opportunities with some lovely wedding and lifestyle blogs. I was rather proud of myself. I only hope I get to do more and more as time goes on! Check out my self promotion here
  • I was rather pleased with some of my summer outfits and winter ones
  • I did some serious stamp collecting in my passport. A trip to Rio for carnival kicked off the year, completing my goal of visiting every continent before turning 30, followed by a grand tour of Europe over the rest of the year with trips to Paris, Lake Como, Budapest, Istanbul, Athens and Santorini, not forgetting some trips in the UK with weekend breaks to Bath, the Cotswolds and Knebworth.
  • An abundance of special birthdays - 18ths, 21sts, 30ths, 60ths... and there are more to come. Hooray!

  • January (a particularly Australian-themed month)

    •  My birthday! Australia gets particularly excited about it and gives the whole country the day off on the anniversary of my birth…
    • Also about eight other birthdays, so this was a month full of parties. One particular birthday was my baby sister-in-law turning 18. Special indeed!
    • Oh, and Katie Jane popped in, from Australia, to celebrate Lucy’s big day
    • Our family friends also popped in, again from Australia, so we could meet their baby boy Oscar. He’s too cute!
    February (some detox downtime)

    • Engagement parties and Valentine's Day. Love is truly in the air!

    March (the biggest party on Earth)

    • Carnival in RIO baby! IT.ROCKED.MY.WORLD (but broke my body)
    • Murder mystery birthday parties (themed on a wedding...heaven)
    • A gorgeous baby girl got christened.
    • Essex Fashion Week - totally chavtastic but I loved it! My first taste of the TOWIE world!

    April (more party time)
    • Easter - celebrating Jesus' the ever living with chocolate and lay ins! Go organised religion.
    • A zillion bank holidays and birthdays (just like lambing season!)
    • THE ROYAL WEDDING!!!! We had a big old party at my parents’… afternoon tea, vintage china, big hats, flags and bunting. So much fun!

    May (getting started)
    • Family wine tasting at Vinopolis
    • More bank holidays
    • And more special birthday parties
    • One of my besties came home from travelling. Yayness
    • I started my blog. My very own little blog. A lovely little project that, so far, I’m rather chuffed with.

    June (my tour of Europe commences)

    • Trashing the Dress/Rocking the Frock/Getting Down in the Gown in London Town (check it out here) Thank you Jasmine Jade Photography!
    • The Mother Ship turned 60 and en masse the Hale-Griffith-Harveys whizzed off to Paris pour le Weekend. Mais oui mais oui. Ladauree Macaroon anyone?
    • A gorgeous London hen day with afternoon tea, treasure hunts, rooftop champagne and bistro dinner. Lovely. I dedicated this post to the very special Bride.

    July (wedding season starts)

    • Take That made a million girls/mums/grans cry. But I was not one of them.
    • A wedding in the Cotswolds, however, made me sob buckets. For days! A great day Liz and Tom. I heart your style.
    • The Duke of Essex Polo – I got my fake tan and legs out to re-acquaint myself with the TOWIE crew. (I was also secretly hoping some MIC crew would slum it and show up so I could meet them too, and so I overcame my aversion and fell in love with TOWIE's reality/unreality TV competitor)
    • I said some emotional goodbyes to Harry, Hermione and Ron. Totes emosh.
    • But most importantly, this month - Blue Baby Sones arrived (aka Luke Thomas Sones). He's my god daughter's Baby Bro, my bestie's second child, he was much awaited and longed-for. He's such a little dude! (also, he almost shares a birthday with Ollie, my other little mate - good timing Kim and Caroline!)

    August (even more party time)

    • No carbs before Como - the Matthanach Nuptials. A gorgeous weekend in the Italian lakes with great food, great friends and great scenery. Great Times. Except for the Limoncello. That was less great...
    • The Hale-Davis clan take over Knebworth for Robert and Em's wedding. More great times (aside from the riots causing a disappointing lack of sleep). Also the last of my wedding outfits went on show!
    • Chelmsford chucks a massive party - V Fest. Named after me! Fanks. This year however, we didn’t bother attending. All of a sudden I felt too old.
    • Lots of east London Goodtimes for more birthdays and another bestie flew home from travelling. Girls re-united. So happy!

    September (more stamp collecting)

    • The Hale-Griffith-Harvey tribe made like the Romans and invaded Istanbul, Athens and Santorini (may require fact checking with Baby Bro). A fortnight full of antiquities, cocktails, sunshine, amazing sunsets and my family (minus a few faces that had to stay home)
    • 24 months since the joining of me and the mister... we're doing well! 
    • Kim turned 30 – we celebrated in style, with LOTS of cake!

    October (crazy-good weather)

    • Fancy dress central with more 30th birthdays, a 21st birthday and a Bug-tastic hen do in Bath
    • AUTUMN TELLY SCHEDULE! Staying in is the new going out, although, the weather was so lovely there was lots of going out as well.

    November (or should I say Mo-vember)

    • More afternoon tea with the girls, a bit of Burlesque at Proud Cabaret with my work girlies (amonst other nights out) and some grown up, coupley dinners and speakeasy cocktails.
    • Mr G grew a Mo for Movember. hmmmmm
    • And then let the X Factor/Strictly live show parties/pyjama nights in begin...
    December (let the festivities begin)

    • A reunion with the Como Chicas got me thinking about holidays again...
    • it was lucky I had a foggy, but festive trip to Budapest with the girls planned.
    • Of course there was the usual Christmas countdown and Christmas celebrations (during which I received some outstandingly lovely gifts)
    • Mr G and I get to spend our first NYE together for years
    • Planning began for mine and Lucy’s 30th BIRTHDAY PARTY!!!
    And so what does 2012 have in store?
    • The 30th birthday party year continues – including my own celebration and Mr G’s.
    • The Mr and I will move house. We will we will we will.
    • A two week road trip on the west coast of the USA is almost finalised. Schweeeeeeeet!
    • Four weddings, and counting, in some fabulous places – Ireland, Blenheim Palace and a some great memories will be re-lived as I return to the setting of mine and Kim’s big days. Fingers crossed for no funerals.
    • The Diamond Jubilee – cause for a party and some red white and blue theming?
    • The Olympics – well, it’d be rude not to re-use all the red, white and blue flags and bunting…
    • I’m hoping for another girlie weekend break and possibly a weekend away with the Mr after a hard summer of Olympic overtime.

    • More special cocktails with special people!
    And then who knows… watch this space!
    Happy New Year everyone, I hope you enjoyed 2011 as much as I did and that you also have some wonderful things to look forward to over the coming months.
    Wishing you all health, wealth and happiness for 2012

    Friday, 30 December 2011


    It flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it?
    It waits for no man. And no woman.
    The years, they go quicker when you get older, don’t they?
    Our body clocks, they’re meant to be ticking, right?
    Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick…. (anyone else seeing old men, surfboards, horses, pints? Legendary advert)
    Whatever the cliché, the message is the same. TIME IS RUNNING OUT MY GOOD PEOPLE. But time for what?  
    NYE outfit?
    The career break?
    A catch up with a long lost friend?
    Spending time with your loved ones?
    Learning a new skill?
    Whatever it is, people will always tell you that time is just rushing by and they don’t have time for [something], because they are so busy with [other things].
    I’m the worst culprit. I sat down with Kim on New Year’s Eve 2010/2011 and went through my iPhone calendar with her and we talked about all the amazing things I had planned for 2011 and we agreed that it’d be NYE 2011/2012 before we knew it. And do you know what? It nearly is! How did that happen? I started writing this post in October, having thought about it in June. And now it’s nearly January. Yikes.
    That was a conversation I’ll never forget, but I suspect it’s one she’d very much like to.
    (As a quick aside, we were concealing her very early pregnancy from the party so I turned up with the usual alcohol provisions for us both so as not to arouse suspicion, and then, being the good bestie that I am, I ploughed my way through the entire lot single handedly, again, purely for selfless reasons. By the time we had the conversation about how UHHHHH-MAAAAAAY-ZIIIIING 2011 was going to be, I think I was well on the way to full on alcohol poisoning. Kim was still very much in the world of sobriety and trying very hard to deflect the attention from us as I slipped in to what can only be described as a parallel universe where I re-visited my teenage “20-20 and various snaffled spirits” years. Yes, there was vomit. Yes, that vomit was other-worldly in its hue. Yes, that neon vomit ended up on my person, the host’s carpet, and Kim’s poor husband, who really took one for the team that night. Unlike Mr G who had to head home early from his yearly NYE night shift to supervise my alcohol-induced coma-like state, but chose to retreat to the spare bedroom as I apparently assaulted and insulted all his senses. I think that day our marriage vows really were tested. 24 hours later I was still being sick, two days later I was still unable to eat, and three months later not a single drop of alcohol had passed my lips. Oh, and to add further insult to injury, this whole drama took place with me dressed in a full-on Marie Antoinette costume. Obvs.)
    Anyway, back to the original topic. We spent a long time that night discussing how we had so much to look forward to, but also how little time we’d have to do it all.
    And therein lies my problem. I have so much going on, I’m doing so much, seeing so much, spending so much time on “stuff” that sometimes I feel like I haven’t spent enough time just chilling out, or just having sofa time with my hubby, visiting elderly relatives for a cup of tea, or enjoying the simple things, like doing a puzzle with a friend or cooking breakfast with the family. Or, you know what, just taking the time to savour the things that I do, rather than rushing through them to the next thing.
    For example, I went to Rio carnival this year. For many that is a life dream. I was so involved in the “waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, let’s go to Ipanema, where’s my glitter face paint?, quick, get tickets for the Christ the Redeemer bus” I didn’t actually stand there and think “woah, I’m doing something amazing right now”.
    I know that is one of my personal traits that I need to work on. I’m always about the next thing, I’m always about booking up the future and having something to look forward to so that I’m always excited and happy. I spend very little time appreciating what I have now. I get on plane home from somewhere amazing, life changing, even, and I open the in-flight magazine to see where I should go next, rather than using a few hours to ponder what I’ve just been lucky enough to do. I’m not being ungrateful, I’m just impatient and desperate to do and have everything and I have difficulty motivating myself unless there’s a grand plan in place.
    It reminds me of a Daphne Guinness quote, in relation to being offered a meal, she replied “I’ll eat when I’m dead”.
    No, darling, you won’t.
    I don’t care what your thoughts are on the afterlife, even in heaven, food will never be as pleasurable as it is in life. Whether it’s high-calorie peanut paste in aid packets for a starving child (donate donate donate) or wagyu beef, slathered in truffle oil and caviar, food is one of life’s simplest pleasures (as well as a necessity) and I for one will spend a lot more time being thankful for and appreciative of what I have, when I have it and I shall try to apply that mentality to more than just food.
    Which leads me on to some New Year’s resolutions… which are coming soon!

    Thank You

    I hope everyone had a wonderfully merry Christmas? I certainly did. All in all it was a fabulous celebration (as always) and I’m looking forward to an equally fabulous New Year celebration. It was full of wonderful people, cocktails, food, bubbly, more food, games, cupcakes, festive treats, indoor camping, late nights, even later mornings, more games, even more food, sparkly outfits, banter, carols, Christmas specials, more food, family and friends. And there were also some presents.

    Every year I think I’ve received the most beautiful gifts, and every year, even more beautiful ones appear under the tree, covered in pretty bows and with my name on the tag. This year was no different. As usual, I’ll write my thank you notes, but in the meantime I’d like to use this wee post for a big shout out to all those who gave, and sent, me gifts this year!
    Thank you to everyone for my gorgeous, thoughtful and beautiful presents and well done for co-ordinating yourselves so no one doubled up on the Fantasy Gift List! Skills!
    Thank you Ma and Pa for my stocking full of goodies, for my perfume, the snowflake bracelet and the generous contribution to my “savingforaChanelhandbagormorelikelyaniPad” fund. I feel very spoilt!
    Thank you Baby Bro and Gabby for my Norwegian and snowflake emblazoned loungewear, and Cowshed candles. I’m looking forward to some snugly nights in!
    Thank you D&A for the gorgeous retro champagne coupes and martini glasses for mine and the Mister’s glasses cabinet. I can’t wait to host my first retro bubbles party.
    Thank you D&J for my travel book and DVD. I can’t wait to peruse the pages for my next holiday (are you in?) and thanks for watching with me!
    Thank you M&J for my book, tea towel and macaroons. You know me TOO well, it seems!
    Thank you G&D for my zumba game and DVD. Sorry downstairs neighbours – I have to get fit for my birthday party!
    Thank you Ma and Pa-in-Law for my spa vouchers, the “so me” cookbook (a section on hair and make up… perfection!) and my other cute goodies. I can’t wait to use it all!
    Thank you Lucy for my “smells so good I want to eat it” candle, my dolly socks and vegetable socks. So cute, so funny!
    Thank you Kate for “totes gonna use it on holibobs” purse and bracelet. I heart!
    Thank you Grandma, Nan and Pam for your generous contributions to my “savingforaChanelhandbagormorelikelyaniPad” fund and a cosy night in with the Mister!
    Thank you Caroline (and Billy, the kiddies and Bev ) – YOU ARE SO NAUGHTY! (but I love you)
    Thank you Katy and Claire for my outfit and, erm, reference book (I’m assuming it’s that and not “self help”?). I feel so stylish, just looking at them!
    Thank you Marcella for our kitchen and bathroom treats (and my handbag one). So indulgent, and so clever (and so useful)!
    Thank you Secret Santa (I know it was you, Kim S), I was naughty and opened it early, but I used it on Christmas Eve, Eve and it looked  fab!
    and thank you Mr G for my wonderful bag full of goodies, for choosing the right things off my list and for being so clever with your “off-list” purchases!
    Your thank you notes will be winding their way to you tout de suite in the New Year.
    Also a big thank you for reading my blog. Now, I had better watch what I say.
    Big Christmas Thank You Kisses from this spoilt little piggy!

    P.s. what I do NOT thank you for, is voting for other contestants' soups. I wanted to win!

    Saturday, 24 December 2011

    All I want for Christmas... you!*

    I've written my list, I've posted my cards, I've decorated two houses with ten tonnes of baubles, I've wrapped my gifts, I've worn at least a stone of glitter and sequins to about five Christmas parties, I've been to a Christmas market, I've seen the Nutcracker, I've downloaded Michael Buble's Christmas album, I've set my Sky+ for all the Christmas specials, I've made my soup and now I'm settling down to watch Santa Claus: The Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol**, before I head to my parents' to kick off the festivities. So you know what that means?


    Eat, drink, be merry

    * and a Chanel 2.55, pretty please!
    ** THE definitive Christmas films!

    Friday, 23 December 2011


    How to get there
    We flew with a combination of Malev and BA and they were standard national-carrier, short-haul flights – hand luggage, quick snack, brusque air hostesses! Nothing special, but equally nothing awful.
    Where to sleep
    We booked a package on Expedia and got the most amazing deal with two nights at the Bohem Art Hotel and flights for a touch over £200 per person. By my reckoning, that’s a hundred quid on the flights, so only £50 a night, which in my mind was a complete bargain.
    The hotel has free Wifi, iPads on reception, a little hot drinks stand in the reception area from midday until 2am, funky bedrooms (including twins, doubles and suites), each with a different design (check each room’s art work out on the website – we took over rooms 509, 507 and 304 I think), a welcoming reception area and, the best bit, a champagne buffet breakfast included in the price, that stayed open until 11am. How incredibly civilised!
    The hotel also arranged our transfers to and from the airport for a reasonable charge, but note that this is payable in Euros, not Forints.
    It’s in central Pest (but walking distance to Buda) and walking distance to the main sights, the Danube, a metro station, shopping areas, a large square (where the Christmas market was located) and a number of restaurants and bars.
    sign language
    champagne brekkie
    sweet dreams
    I would 100% recommend you stay at the Bohem Art Hotel!
    Where to eat
    After arriving, checking in and allowing ourselves 15 minutes of unpacking time we set off to explore. First stop a little eaterie called Europa Café on one of the main shopping streets to grab some spiced wine, hot lemonade (a new discovery!), goulash and traditional Hungarian chocolate and orange cake. It wasn’t anything special but it was tasty, cheap, and full of young (amorous) couples sharing cakes and festive-looking drinks!
    The second restaurant we went to was Fatal. It was recommended by all the guidebooks for serving traditional Hungarian food (GREAT! I hear you cry) in an unpretentious setting (think Wagamamas in the middle ages). We booked in advance en route back to the hotel (it was virtually opposite) and returned a few hours later for a our table. It's rustic and modern all at the same time. The menu is full of humour, the waiters were great for some banter and the portions were HUGE. Seriously, they were the largest portions I've ever seen… and I've seen some ginormous portions in my time. As an example, the soup my mum chose for a starter was served in a full-sized saucepan and was full to the brim. My aunt chose a "lighter" option of a camembert and apple starter for her main course and ended up with four, yes FOUR, whole rounds of cheese and a whole apple sliced and deep fried on a big wooden platter, on top of a mountain of rice. This is not an option for those looking for "pretty" food in small portions and with delicate flavours in a refined setting requiring your best frock and high heels. But if you are hungry, looking for something low cost and casual then drop in! I felt a bit like Henry VIII with my giant portion of Viking Fish but we had a great night, and there definitely no need for midnight snacks!
    a pan of soup to start

    a light camembert starter

    fish, Viking style (apparently)

    The next day we upgraded our dining experiences somewhat, and popped in to the Gresham Hotel (a Four Seasons venue) for a coffee and ended up staying for lunch. This was everything you'd imagine from a Four Seasons dining experience and it was nice to treat ourselves to a little bit of opulence, and warmth, after a hard day of intensive sightseeing. We sampled the local sparkling wine and a local red and they were both incredibly good, and shockingly cheap. The bubbly came in at less than one of the artisan hot chocolates and a set three course menu, with wine, also totalled less than a few of the main courses. Overall the lunch was lovely but had a more international edge, than a traditional Hungarian flavour. Some lovely touches included complimentary miniature macaroons, so for that alone they score top marks.

    baby macaroons at the Gresham
    Apparently, no trip to Budapest would be complete without a visit to Gerbaud, a famous, and I think, the oldest coffee house and confectioners in the city. We stopped by for some hot chocolate and sticky cakes and desserts. It was a complete tourist trap, charging top dollar for the same thing we paid pence for in a normal side-street cafe but the interior is lovely to look at, and with the festive vibe and great view of the main square and the Christmas market it was a lovely experience.

    First weekend of advent in front of Gerbaud
    That same night, in keeping with our "slightly more refined" food theme, we went to Cyrano Restaurant for dinner (again, book in advance). This was a cool, funky venue with a mezzanine floor (where we dined) and a central wall removed so that first floor diners looked like they were eating in a pod on the wall. The decor was cool with the central focus being a giant feather boa chandelier, the service was attentive and helpful and the staff couldn’t have been cuter! The food was delicious and inventive. My starter was an innovative combination of warmed goat’s cheese on a baked crouton topped with an icy-cold lavender sorbet and sprinkled with thin slices of chilled grapes and chopped lavender. It sounds hideous, but tasted divine! The rest of the menu was equally interesting and even when we went “off menu” they were more than accommodating. I’d definitely recommend a visit to this place!

    Cyrano's pretty frontage

    funky decor inside Cyrano
    What to see
    On the first afternoon we spent some time exploring the main square, the Christmas markets and the surrounding cocktail bars. Had we been there out of festive season I think we would have spent this afternoon visiting one of the spas. The most well known is the Gellert Spa and Bath, but I have it on good authority that the smaller baths are less touristy and a much better experience.

    We spent the second day on a walking tour of the city, taking in the war memorial, or Hero Monument, a walk along the Danube, which was sadly shrouded in mist and fog so we couldn’t see across to the picturesque  Buda cityscape, with its impressive Castle Hill (which we did walk up, but saw very little from, due to the fog), St Stephen’s Cathedral, the Széchenyi baths, the famous Chain Bridge and the Budapest Opera House. The tickets here were so reasonable that we purchased some for the Nutcracker and went back the next day for some Hungarian ballet. Well – it’s not Christmas for me if I haven’t seen the Nutcracker at least once! The ballet itself was ok, it’s not the best interpretation I’ve seen and the production wasn’t amazing. But it was a lovely way to end our time in the City. If you go and find a pair of red leather driving gloves, please drop me a line!

    a real-life Disney Castle

    the "perfect" bridge (with only one minor fault - the lions have no tongues. Whoops!)

    What we should have been able to see on the opposite river bank

    An adorable statue that the Prince and Princess of Wales had copied

    the opera house

    one of our tickets was in a box!
    My thoughts on the City
    Hungary has an interesting story to tell and has played a pivotal role in Europe’s rich history, but, to me, its recent history is full of sadness. Walking around the City with a local guide only enhanced that view. Most of the stories she told us were tinged with apology (for picking the “wrong side” in the war – we were a group of Brits, Aussies and Canadians!) rather than the national pride I like to see from local tour guides. Telling heartbreaking accounts of the loss, suffering, fear and cruelty in her dour manner I felt it a little difficult to bond with Budapest, as I have done with so many other cities. It’s not unusal to walk around a European city and have someone point out the scars of history. Yet, I was taken aback by the sense of gloom associated with these scars on the face of Budapest, in direct contrast with the energy you find in an equally scarred city such as Berlin.

    Maybe in recent times I’ve seen it more as a stag weekend destination due to the low costs and abundance of good food and drink or just another European Christmas market destination, rather than what it really has to offer, and I only wish I knew more about its history, both ancient and recent, before I visited so I could truly appreciate its place in Europe's story.
    I think this is most definitely one to go back to, and according to my cousin, it’s fabulous in the summer time so maybe I’ll be returning to the Bohem Art Hotel in the not too distant future.
    Watch this space for some better photos!

    The other Lady Liberty
    P.S. check out my other travel reviews below