Thursday, 30 June 2016

My Favourite Places in Rome

I've always wanted to visit Italy, and last month I finally had chance to visit, for my birthday week. Rome didn't disappoint, although there were a few low points on our trip - the worst being the actual travel experience. It started with a very stressful rush at East Midlands Airport with crazy-long queuing for our RyanAir flight. We were left with only a few minutes to run to our gate before the place departed (literally with my shoes hanging off my feet as there wasn't time to put them on again after we got through the scanners!). And when we arrived in Rome, we were met with the heaviest downpour, and on a dark Sunday night our taxi dropped us off somewhere vaguely near our Airbnb which led to us getting VERY lost, wet and even more stressed (see portrait below that Tom drew when I'd had chance to recuperate!)

But Rome was a beautiful city, with amazing architecture every time you turned a corner so I wanted to share some of my favourite places - as well as a few tips on what to avoid if you're heading to the Italian capital.

1. The Best View in Rome?

One of my favourite experiences in Rome was when Tom and I walked to the Giardino Degli Aranci aka The Garden of Oranges. We wandered up a cobbled hill and at the top was a tranquil garden, from which you were given an astounding panoramic view of Rome (see top picture).

2. An ice cream in Trastevere

I really enjoyed walking around the Medieval streets of Trastevere. A don't think you can really go wrong with gelato when in Rome. Just try and taste as many flavours as you can!

3. Tourist Hotspots

Of course, you won't want to miss the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps, right? Hmm well... although all are definitely worth seeing, I found the Trevi Fountain especially busy and touristy, and when we finally got to the Spanish steps they were cordoned off. Booh.

Left: The Giardino Degli Aranci / Right: I actually got a pic of the Trevi Fountain with no tourists in it!!

4. Great pasta at La Carbonara, Monti

One night we decided to make a change from pizza and went for a nice pasta meal, and La Carbonara, in Monti which didn't disappoint! The walls are covered in graffiti which you can add to - if you can find the space! I had a pistachio pasta dish which was lovely (and filling). It's also a favourite haunt of Robert de Niro's and you can see a signed photo adorning the wall of Bobby himself.

5. Our favourite bar

We went to a bar called Ai Tre Scalini, also in the Monti area a couple of times as although it was small it was always buzzing with locals, which is a good sign! Also, if you've booked a table at another restaurant later in the evening and fancy a drink first, you get free bowls of snacks with your drinks at this bar, very handy for rumbly tums! 

6. A scrummy buffet at Fafiuche

We weren't too sure to eat on the last night, and the restaurant we'd aimed to visit wasn't open until later but luckily we decided to take a chance on Fafiuche, which is a wine bar in Monti. They serve an amazing buffet which was also super cheap, you pay just 3 euros a plate for their Aperitvo buffet, and they had quite a lot of fresh and tasty veggie dishes to choose from as well! Yum.

7. The Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

I'd heard about long queues for the Vatican Museums, and knew not to visit on a Monday or Wednesday (as the Pope is in residence meaning it's extra busy).. but we made the mistake of arriving around 11am, which was THE busiest time. We queued for around 2 hours in the sun, (with a very annoying British couple behind us and various ticket touts who kept asking us if we wanted to skip the queues for large amounts of Euros!), but when we got out of the Museums around mid-afternoon, the queue was much shorter so I'd advise anyone to visit around 3pm for an optimal visiting experience! That said, it was definitely worth the wait so I'd certainly recommend visiting, and booking ahead if you know in advance what day you'll be free. Also remember to take sun cream and a packed lunch - the cafe inside wasn't great! (In fact, it may have been the food low-light of our trip as the veggie choice was a cheese & tomato calzone which turned out to resemble a Pizza Pocket, bleh.)

The corridor of maps was quite a sight...

 Beautiful tiles in the Vatican Museum

8. Escaping the crowds at the Non-Catholic Cemetery (aka Shelley & Keats' resting place)

If you want to escape the hordes of fellow tourists there's nowhere more peaceful than a cemetery! On our final day in Rome we grabbed a Metro to the non-Catholic cemetary a few stops from the centre. It was such a beautiful place to explore, and is also right next to a pyramid, which we did not expect!


Saturday, 18 June 2016

Five More Great Podcasts

With a long commute, Podcasts have become a pretty essential part of my daily routine now, so I thought it was about time I shared five more of my recent favourites (all available on iTunes).

1. For music fans...
I only just discovered this Podcast, in which musicians break down how they put together a chosen song. They share lyric inspirations and detail what instruments they used which is fascinating, even if you're not all that familiar with the chosen songs.
Recommended: The Postal Service - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, Weezer - Summer Elaine and Drunk Dory (Rivers is pretty nuts, in a good way..!)

2. For fans of true stories...
In the Modern Love podcast actors read true stories of love and friendship that were originally submitted to the New York Times column of the same name. The stories are always sweet and moving.
Recommended: Modern Love 7: In Darkness and in Light.

3. For lovers of comedy...
Cheeky and dry-witted comedian Richard Herring interviews well-known comedians in this Podcast. Look out for his 'emergency questions' when conversation ever runs dry... 
Recommended: David Mitchell, Louis Theroux, Adam Buxton - which brings me to...


4. For good conversation (and jingles that never fail to make you smile)
I've been a fan of Dr Buckles since his Adam & Joe days, and his latest Podcast series has become a firm favourite. Guests have included Louis Theroux, Caitlyn Moran, Rob Delaney and Jonny Greenwood. Adam Buxton seems like a genuinely nice chap and his jingles will stick in your head for most of the day (but don't let that put you off!) Go listen to one his Ramble Chats. GO!
Recommended: Louis Theroux Pts 1 & 2, Sara Pascoe, Rob Delaney.

5. For silliness and 'advice'
I have only listened to a few of these so far as the guests aren't always up my street, but the basic premise is that actress Anna Faris invites famous friends on to her show for a quickfire questioning, then takes listener calls and tries to give them relationship advice. She's far from an expert (and swears at her producer a LOT, poor guy) but the shows are entertaining, and sometimes you'll hear random tidbits about her husband, Chris Pratt...
Recommended: ep13: Ellen Page, ep 06: Aubrey Plaza.

Do you have any other Podcasts you're loving at the moment? If so please share! Last time I got some great recommendations, like the Nerdist so I'm always keen to hear more.


Friday, 10 June 2016

Visiting the Secret Japanese Garden

The Guardian featured an article recently about the UK's top 10 secret gardens, and amongst them was a beautiful looking Japanese garden in Nottinghamshire. Despite having living here for ten years I'd never heard of the garden before so was keen to take a trip there. Last Sunday's sunshine was the perfect excuse for Tom and I to drive over and see it for ourselves.

The garden was created in 1980 by Maitreya, who was born in Japan. After living as a Zen monk for a time and travelling around Asia he began teaching meditation before moving to England. Here he wanted to create a peaceful area for visitors to relax in. Pure Land Meditation Centre and Japanese Garden was born!

The garden was a little further than I'd expected, as it lies north of Newark, but the countryside around it is beautiful, filled with picture-perfect villages.

Entry is £7, and when we visited on a Sunday afternoon there were a few other visitors but it wasn't overly busy. Although the garden isn't huge, it's wonderful to wander around and explore, with pretty flowers, wooden bridges and a crystal garden making it a very peaceful space. There is also a little tea room where you can buy Japanese tea and scones, which we enjoyed in the garden. Afterwards we went for a little walk through some nearby fields and met a very friendly horse!

I would love to visit Japan itself some day, but for now it was nice to have a little taster of it right here in the Midlands. To find out more about the garden, click here.


Sunday, 29 May 2016

My So Called Life Zine - submissions sought!

Last month I headed to Sheffield to meet up with Janet who was visiting the Sheffield Zine Fest. There were so many inspiring stalls there, with zines on various subjects ranging from periods, diets and anxiety to one zine dedicated to Bruce Springsteen's butt! Weirdly, just as I was remarking to Janet that it would be great to make a zine dedicated to my favourite TV show as I was growing up, My So Called Life, I spotted a zine called 'Has anyone seen Tino?' on a nearby stall and was told that there was a zine on another stall containing pictures of Jordan-'I love how he leans'-Catalano. So I've decided to group together with some fellow fans and create a zine dedicated to the wonderful world of Angela, Rayanne, Ricky et al.

If you'd like to contribute to the zine (be it an essay, a list, a drawing or whatever you like) just drop me an email. I'm hoping to collect everything together by the end of June!

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Tiny Kitchen Makeover: Before & After

It's been just over a year since Tom and I got the keys to our first home. Luckily the previous owners had good taste so most of the rooms haven't needed much decorating, but the kitchen was high on our list. Although it wasn't terribly out of date, being a Victorian terrace, the kitchen is quite small and dark so we wanted to create a lighter airier looking room with more surface space.

Removing old tiles / the joy of grouting...

We originally looked into the 'easy' solution of getting it done for us, but were put off by the quote we were given by a well known kitchen company, at almost £4000 just to replace the units and for new flooring. (This didn't include replacing the tiling or painting the walls which would have added even more costs on.) So we decided our best option was to DIY! 

The hob area before...

...And after

Tom did a lot of the research and measured out the walls & floor. In the end we had to enlist the help of 3 different workmen to do the jobs we couldn't do ourselves; a plumber to replace the sink and remove the radiator while we tiled, a joiner who installed the new worktop (using a fancy machine to join two pieces together) and finally a plasterer who we needed to smooth off the walls for us once we had removed the tiles. 

An 'in progress' shot, to show you the full chaos...

To save money we decided to keep the cupboards, but replaced one with a shelf to move the microwave on to, so that we had more surface space below it. We painted them white (after first prepping them with ESP primer. In the end we had to paint three layers though so it was quite time consuming!)


And after

Our biggest bargain was the shelving which cost only £7 for two long ex-scaffolding planks, which Tom measured and sawed before applying woodstain and varnish. (Bought from East Midlands Recycling Centre)

Mugs from Ikea/Sainsburys!

 Close up of the 'scaffolding' shelves

The most grueling bits were the tiling (mostly done by Tom who I had to keep reminding to eat and take a break!), the grouting (ugh, messy and not fun) and finally applying the sealant around the edges (inhaling this is not good for anyone...). We also had to spend several weeks with our dining room a real mess, kettle upstairs and eating takeaways and microwave meals. But it was worth it! 

I'm really proud of what we've achieved with this room and it's a great feeling when you know you've done most of the work yourselves. It's hard to estimate the final costs as numerous trips to B&Q, Wickes & Ikea et al were needed, but I'm sure we spent less than half of what we would have if we'd had the work done by a kitchen company. Now I'm off to put the kettle on...

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