30/08/12 - London Calling! Part Two

When we left off, our intrepid explorers were heading out for a night on the tiles in London town...

Even public transport is fun when you use
it to re-enact musicals!  Ten points to anyone
who can guess which number we were
doing - answers in the comments ;)

Eventually, we made it into central London an awful lot later than we had anticipated - it was midnight by the time we got off the train.  And not being native Londoners, we headed to Covent Garden again under the impression that there would be places open.  After sharing a massive cocktail in Planet Hollywood - I believe it was called an Iron Man Big Boy (the Iron Man meaning a lot of rum and the Big Boy meaning the huge martini glass in which it was served) - we left with the intention of finding a few bars and clubs to go to before heading home.  This did not happen, as everywhere was closed.  Bank Holiday weekend, Friday night, central London and nothing was open.  AT ALL.  Apart from this one place called Roadkill or something that was apparently rubbish despite charging a tenner for entry - needless to say, as skint students, we passed on that one.  We tried to get a taxi to Camden but no one would take us.  So we walked around London for hours in the dark.  It was quite nice actually: the streets were quiet, everything was lit up and fortunately, we had a really nice night for it.  A lot of people would think that this sounds like a wash-out and in terms of a night out drinking and dancing, it was.  But what can be so wrong with walking around an amazing city with some of your favourite people?  And we made lots of friends along the way; namely a gay German man on the Tube who asked to take a photo with us and had never been on a plane before that morning, two men with really thick Yorkshire accents that just proves that we are able to find Northerners wherever we go, two men who thought that my glittery headband was a tiara and were convinced we were on my hen do, and some girls who said that we looked lovely as we were walking through Trafalgar Square looking for the night bus.  We always manage to find people on nights out - part of the Performing Arts charm, clearly!  Unfortunately, Molly couldn't make it out with us for this excursion which was a real shame, a) because she's a babe and I love her, and b) because she knows London better than we do and therefore might have had a better idea about where to go.

The one drink we had all night.
The night bus home was a whole other story.  By the time we made it to Oxford Street where we had to be for the right bus, we had witnessed two arrests in the space of about five minutes and my heeled ankle boots were beginning to feel like the biggest mistake of my life. All that was left was to settle down for the freezing cold hour's journey with the oddballs and reprobates of London - there were some very strange people on the bus.  Then a walk in the cold, then a taxi and then, thankfully and at long last, more olives and the bed.  All in all the cheapest night out anyone has ever had in London - £4 each to split the huge cocktail, less than £2 for the bus and then an eight pound taxi split between five.

Saturday morning passed very quickly.  And by that I mean we didn't wake up until half past 12.  We finally made it into central London at about four o'clock, followed by a massive thunderstorm - exactly what you want when Megan was wearing sandals and I'd left my jacket at the house in favour of a thin cardigan.  So we dashed from Liverpool Street station, which was leaking very disconcertingly to Spitalfields market again.  And that was where we had our second cupcake experience of the trip.  And my God, it was one of the best things I have ever tasted.  No joke.  I would have married that cupcake.  Or the man selling them, so long as he promised to bake for me all the time.

Flavourtown Bakery's stall at Spitalfields.

L to R: Anna, Rosie, Jemma, me and Megs.

The Snickers Champ, a.k.a The Best Cupcake in the World.
Chocolate cake with a liquid caramel centre,
caramel frosting topped with chopped nuts

After this minor cake-gasm, we went on to the amazing vintage shop I mentioned earlier.  I would have taken photos in there, but you weren't allowed to more's the pity.  It's called Absolute Vintage on Hanbury Street and it's a treasure trove of clothes, bags, shoes and accessories.  As with all vintage shops, most things were a little pricey but the sale section was very reasonable with everything costing £5.  For some reason, Rosie seemed to have a knack for finding hidden gems amongst the racks and bins of piles upon piles of stuff - it's probably because she's so tiny and therefore everything fits her.  But I picked myself up a bag that caught my eye as soon as I stepped in the shop and a dress which is a little bit long at the moment, but I really liked the material so I intend to take it up - let's see how that goes, with my zero creative skills!  After that, we made a trip to Rough Trade on Brick Lane.  It's a really cool record shop, with rows and rows of CDs and LPs.  The main attraction, however, is a black and white photo booth.  It's £3 for four prints, and we ended up spending £9 - the first set of shots were a bit of a mess, with no one being ready and then trying to squeeze six people into one booth.  So we went three and three, and they turned out very well, if I do say so myself!

Then it was time for dinner, a little earlier than usual but Jemma and Rosie had trains to catch and we wanted to go for drinks somewhere after eating.  Jemma, little foodie that she is, suggested going to Pho, a family-run Vietnamese restaurant of which there are I believe three branches in London.  I had never eaten Vietnamese food before, so it was an exciting new experience which I thoroughly enjoyed!  I can't remember exactly what it was I had to eat, but it was some combination of noodles, mushrooms, roasted nuts, the best tofu I have ever had and a delicious, freshly-made spring roll all served with ginger soy sauce.  Wonderful.  It was so nice to sit around and eat some interesting delicious food with a group of people that I love and half of whom I won't be seeing for a while - Megan is staying down in London for work placement, and Jemma and Molly are having years abroad as part of their language degrees.  I'm going to miss them so much!

Following Pho, we nipped up Brick Lane for cocktails at - get this - a bowling alley.  Yeah, you read that correctly.  All Star Lanes is a Fifties-style bowling alley with four different locations around London.  There is also a restaurant and bar area, which is the part we experienced.  The drinks weren't too expensive and there was a really impressive cocktail menu.  This was where we got really exotic and decided to sample their range of jam jar cocktails.  I had a Moonshine, which consisted of Jack Daniel's pomegranate molasses, raspberry puree, framboise, fresh lemon and ginger ale (I admit, I may have copied that directly from their website...no way would I have remembered all of that!) and it was truly delicious.  The jam jars were a nice touch as well.  Although, when discussing the possibility of using them to drink from at university, we established that while it may be cool and edgy in a bar, in a student house it would just look like you couldn't afford proper glasses.  An unfortunate truth.

Incredible cocktails - I would definitely recommend!
The photo is proof that Molly was, in fact, with us!
And then it was time for certain ladies to head home via buses and trains and for Anna, Megan and myself to make our way back to the house for an evening of watching Miranda and drinking tea.  It was a little emotional saying goodbye to Molly and Jemma, as this was the last time I'd see them before they emigrate...but I didn't have time to get too sappy as both of them had to dash off pretty quickly.  And Jems would have judged me, because that's what she does.

My journey homewards was uneventful for the most part; it involved a lot of waiting around London Euston and eating a really amazing bagel.  On the train, I sat and skimmed through the few photos I'd taken, lamenting the lack of evidence of this wonderful weekend.  But it just means that I was having too much fun to being snapping away all the time!

All in all, a beautiful weekend that I won't be forgetting in a hurry.  And possibly a new tradition created - we all agreed that cocktail nights in London need to become a regular feature in our lives.  Because we're classy like that. 

Do you have any fun recommendations for next time I go for a weekend in London?  Food, drinks and shopping suggestions always welcomed!

Note: not all photos are mine; those marked *** were stolen from Jemma's Facebook and ###from Anna's.  I don't want to be accused of stealing!

29/08/12 - London Calling! Part One

[WARNING: This is the first part of two or more very long and rambling posts.  I hope this isn't too off-putting for anyone!]

I have just got back from spending the most glorious long weekend in this country's dear capital city.  I don't get to go down there as often as I would like, not with my hectic schedule and the price of train tickets what they are.  But this weekend, I decided I deserved a treat.  I also had a meeting in preparation for something very exciting which is happening next weekend, so I was going to be down South anyway.  While I was there, I arranged to meet up with some of the girls from Performing Arts Society as a good half of our number are emigrating for years abroad/doing work placements/graduating.  So we're trying to make the most of seeing each other while we still can.

I travelled down on Wednesday evening, arriving at the very nice house of my very lovely friend Megan (her blog can be found here) at about seven o'clock.  There was a lot of very fast talking and squealing as we caught up on the events of the summer and reminisced on the past year.  We ate pizza, watched Friends and generally had a lovely chilled time before an early night as Megs had work in the morning and I my meeting.

The meeting went well and now I'm really pumped up for next weekend when I will be down in London again for a very exciting task.  More on that after the fact, as I'm not at liberty to share details just yet.  When I was finished there, I travelled to Covent Garden to have lunch with Simon, a very good friend from university.  We wandered around for a while as the weather was gorgeous, and then went to All Bar One for lunch.  Lovely atmosphere and I was really surprised by how reasonably everything was priced - I'm always shocked by the prices central London restaurants try to charge for food.  After lunch, we went for a wander down towards Westminster and carried on talking to catch up on the almost three months we hadn't seen each other.  We tried not to look like tourists in Trafalgar Square, gawped at Downing Street hoping someone important would come out whilst debating how far up the street we could get before the armed guards took us out, and ended up sitting on some steps looking up at Big Ben.  It was pretty idyllic in all honesty.

After I waved him off, I scurried to King's Cross to meet Anna (whose blog can be found here), albeit twenty minutes late - sorry Anna!  From there, we headed back to Megan's and had a lovely evening which consisted of watching Bridget Jones (a must for all girly nights in!) and eating Quorn chilli that Anna and I made.  It was pretty tasty, if I do say so myself...even if it didn't look as though it would be for a while, due to the obscene size of the onion we used - it was practically a small football, I swear!  

Friday featured another fairly early start - impressively, Anna and I were up and out of the house by half past nine.  We got food from Gregg's (true Northerners will never pass up the opportunity of a cheesy baton and a doughnut for breakfast) and hopped on a train into central London.  After alighting at King's Cross, we decided walking to Covent Garden, where we were meeting everyone else at 2 o'clock, via Oxford Street would be a brilliant idea for two girls with very little sense of where things are in London.  I have no idea how we got there - we seemed to walk up and down the same stretch of a random street about three times - but we eventually ended up in Forever 21 on Oxford Street which I found very exciting.  Then we scooted off to Covent Garden to meet the other girls, again about twenty minutes late; I see a pattern developing here whenever I am involved in getting somewhere!

We found ourselves in Bloomsbury
Square Gardens on our way to Oxford Street
and it was lovely.  Please ignore my roots.
Once we found everyone; namely Rosie, Jemma (whose blog you can go and read here - last blog link, I promise!) and Molly, we went for some lunch at Belushi's which is one of my favourite places around Covent Garden - the decor is fascinating, the walls completely plastered in bright posters and there's always something to look at.  The food is great too - I had nachos (which sparked a debate over whether or not a 'plate of crisps' could be counted as a balanced lunch) and the portion was huge!  After sitting Belushi's for ages and talking so much that the waitress who was trying to take our order couldn't get a word in edge ways, we ventured into Covent Garden to go to Candy Cakes, another of my favourite haunts.  After my lunch of crisps, I treated myself to a peanut butter cupcake and it was delicious - anything that comes topped with glittery peanuts is alright by me!

Then we hopped on a Tube and went for a wander around Spitalfields Market where I bought a turquoise scarf decorated with zebras - you will learn that I am the world's biggest scarf person - and along Brick Lane to the mother of all vintage clothes shops (more on that later).  The wandering was cut unfortunately short by the realisation that Megan, who had been at work all day and couldn't be with us, had arrived home to find that we still had the key to her room and she was locked out.  Furthermore, she'd been trying to ring all of us for ages and none of us were answering our phones, too entranced were we by market stall magic.  Cue a lot of guilty faces and a mad dash to get back on the train.  After the hour's train journey and a quick trip to Tesco, we were fully stocked up for what intended to be a big night out in London - we drank vodka cranberries and ate olives and flatbread like the classy students we are.  This was accompanied by the craziness which is created by five girls all getting ready for a night out in one small room whilst singing their hearts out to musical theatre songs.  Megan's housemate had some friends over and they must have thought we were absolutely insane!

L to R: Rosie, Jemma, me gegging at the back, and Anna.
Right, I'm cutting this rambling mess here in order to save everyone's sanity!  I hope this hasn't put you off too much and you'll read my next post...it includes a few more food and shopping recommendations that I hope people will like.

Comments always welcomed!

26/08/12 - A Fresh Start - advice for first time university students

So here we are.  The moment of truth.  Your A-level results have been opened and I hope you're very happy with them.  You've accepted your place at university, whether it was the one you had your heart set on or otherwise (and trust me, even your fourth choice university can become the best experience of your life).  You've finally recovered from the post-results celebratory shots that seemed like such a good idea at the time.  But now reality's dawning.  You have a month (give or take) in which to pack your entire life in your familial home, with its lovely free meals and lovely Sky HD and lovely home comforts, and move into your - I assume - halls of residence of some form or another.  And while on the outside, you're excitedly discussing all the stuff you're going to buy for your new room and bragging about the fact that you wouldn't know a washing machine from an iron if they both came up and danced in front of you - yes, we've all been there.  But on the inside you're screaming; what on Earth do I do now?!

[Disclaimer: this is not a definitive list of (hopefully) useful tips.  These are just the ones that instantly sprung to mind/the ones I wish I had been told two years ago.]

1) Don't freak out too much.  I know it's terrifying - I was a sobbing wreck the night before I moved to university two years ago - but everyone is in the same boat.  And everyone will tell you that and it won't make you feel any better, but it doesn't make it any less true.  While you're at home, try and channel the excitement into planning things that you have some control over.  Savour the last few weeks (sob) with your best mates; go shopping for kitchenware, bedding and stationery together - who is ever going to pass up the chance of a day out to IKEA?  Don't stress about whether you'll get on with the people you're living with, whether you'll find your way around the campus, whether you'll be able to make the 9am lectures without your mum banging on your door.  Don't stress about them because these things are totally out of your reach.  No amount of worrying will make you feel better.

2) Serious note: money.  Your student loan is unfortunately not 'free' money.  Ditto an overdraft.  Don't do what I did and treat yourself to your first ever Topshop spree because it's the first time you've been able to afford it.  Yes, it'll feel good at the time and a lot of shopping centres have a Student Lock-in night in the first few weeks of term, luring in poor unsuspecting freshers with cash burning a hole in their bank account by using 20% offers and free food.  Go along for the experience, sure.  Treat yourself a little, maybe - I mean, you did just get into university for goodness' sake!  But remember: it's only a bargain if you want/need it.  Those impractical glittery heels or latest Xbox game won't be filling your stomach come the end of term when you're living off scraps of mouldy bread and whatever condiments you can steals from pubs.  I wish I was exaggerating.

3) Skype will become your best friend.  It's easy, free and a great way to keep in touch with people you used to see every day without feeling too far away.  Seeing a friendly face rather than just hearing a tinny voice at the end of a phone really makes a difference.  For the past two years, I have had a weekly Skype date with my family which I always try desperately not to miss - even if that means speaking to them, eating my tea and doing my make-up for a night out simultaneously.  Try and keep regular contact with home, even if you're living it up during Fresher's Week and don't really feel like it.  Remember that it's not only your life that has been uprooted and rearranged by this change - and your parents don't get the benefits of new-found freedom, cheap drinks offers and an exciting three years of possibility stretched before them. 

4) Do your research.  Watch the Channel 4 programme 'Fresh Meat' (second series coming up in September) - partly because it's hilarious and partly because it is, scarily, fairly accurate in parts.  Don't get me wrong, it's hugely exaggerated in parts - thank goodness - so don't let it scare you too much.  But it'll show you some, shall we call them, 'worst case scenarios'.  Equally this article on the Student Beans website - it doesn't paint the picture of higher education your teachers and parents would want you to see, but it's realistic.

5) Throw yourself into it.  Fresher's Week is probably one of the best times of your life - you don't have any reading to do yet, no pressure to do essays or attend lectures...it is a full week of doing absolutely nothing.  You may have the occasional introductory session, but ultimately this is a time to settle in, meet new people and get your bearings around your new home and school.  So get involved!  No doubt your university student union will be running all sorts of things to go along to - at my university, these include a huge poster sale, the Freshers Fair where different local businesses and organisations try and lure you in with free pens and sweets, and the Societies and AU (Athletic Union) Fairs where you can see what extra-curricular options you have.  Add to this themed club nights and various other drinking events, and you might feel a little overwhelmed.  My advice is to go along to everything you feel you can - it's a great chance to talk to new people and opens your eyes to all the exciting opportunities available to you.  In my first year, I didn't join any societies which I kind of regret now.  My current society (Performing Arts, if you're interested), which I joined in second year when it was set up, is one of the best things I have done at university.  We're like a little family and I love them all so much!  You'll make lifelong friends with people you would potentially have never met otherwise, as well as enjoying something you're passionate about.  Also, it looks good on your CV if you seem like a 'joiner-inner' - being on the executive committee of a society in your second or third years looks even better!

And finally...

Enjoy yourself!  Take this opportunity to make new friends, have new experiences and make the most of every possibility.  University is probably the most relaxing and freeing period of your life when compared to school (full days of teaching, school uniform, etc.) and the working world (9-5, responsibilities, student loans to pay off) - yes, essays and lectures are important but the social aspect of the uni experience and the valuable life lessons that go along with it are just as vital.  Going into my third year now and having to think about post-graduate jobs or courses and things is terrifying, and I am SO JEALOUS of anyone who is just starting out.  I haven't stopped moaning about how much I miss being a fresher since...well, since I stopped being a fresher.

So, best of luck, my children.  Go forth and buy IKEA out of shot glasses and cheap throw cushions.  I'm with you in spirit every step of the way.

Are you starting university this year, and found this helpful (or not)?  Or do you have any further advice for first time students?

19/08/12 - A very good Egg.

As a vegetarian, it can be a little tricky to give fair and honest reviews of restaurants.  For instance, on holiday, we ate at a lovely little place in Bridlington called Naked Fish.  The ambience was amazing, the staff were friendly and the choice of local seafood was very impressive…but the only thing on the menu I could eat was chips.  I mean, they were good chips but really not worthy of an entire blog post.  And it’s a shame, because I would recommend it to anyone who is around that North East coast area – my family seemed to really enjoy their fish, the portions were great and reasonably priced, and overall it was a lovely experience.  But this paragraph is the only review I can give.

So it’s great when I can give a fully-fledged review of a place without feeling like I’m missing anything out.  And I’m even more pleased when I can review one of my favourite places to eat in Liverpool, possibly the whole world. 

The Egg Café.

This is an amazing vegetarian and vegan café hidden away on Newington, the road that runs between Bold Street and Renshaw Street near Liverpool Central railway station.  Situated up two flights of narrow stairs and furnished by battered wooden tables and benches, the atmosphere is one of my favourite things about this place.  The staff are always really friendly and helpful, the hand-painted purple walls give it a unique charm and the food is to die for.  The prices are insanely low considering the quality of the food.  And the portions!  My go-to lunchtime treat is a huge helping of the cheese on toast, which comes with a heap of pasta salad, mixed salad and couscous.  Every time, I bet myself that I can eat it all and every time I fail.  I’ve been known to halve this serving (which is under the heading ‘Starters and Snacks’ on the menu – but it’s like no starter or snack I’ve seen anywhere else!) with a friend, and still not quite finish the whole plate.  And for £3.70, that’s not bad.  The Specials board has a choice of three hot meals each day (generally two of the three are vegan-friendly), all of which come with the same salad and I don’t think cost more than around £6.  But don't let the lack of meat/fish put you off - I know what carnivores can be like! ;)  I have a lot of friends who are hardcore meat-eaters who love to come here as a bit of a change.  And even though the portions could happily feed a small village, it's all wholesome healthy food so no need to feel guilty.

Sorry for the awful quality, this was a sneaky photo as the woman behind the counter was giving me funny looks.

There’s a very homely feel to the Egg – there are jugs of water on the counter for you to help yourself, the condiments are all kept on one table and a little hand-written note requests that you don’t take more than you need of anything.  When you order, you’re given a raffle ticket type thing which you take to your rustic wooden bench to wait for a member of staff to deliver your food.  It attracts all kinds of clientele – from students buried in textbooks, business people on a quick lunch break or families and shoppers who just want a sit down and a cup of tea.

Unlike most things these days, the Egg Café doesn't seem to have much of an online presence - in fact, it took me a while to find a definitive address for it.  But if you give it a Google, I'm sure you'll be able to find any more information you need.  I would recommend it to anyone who is around Liverpool and fancies something a little different from the usual fast food or coffee shop lunches.

Do you have any vegetarian recommendations in your area?  Have you been to Egg in Liverpool?  Let me know!

15/08/12 - Survival tips for family holidays

I’m currently writing this en route from Liverpool to York – feeling very professional on my little netbook - after spending my morning in work and having a crazy dash to catch the train.  And all to meet my family on our annual holiday, only two days late.  I know a lot of people stop wanting to go on family holidays as soon as they hit the age of fourteen (or whenever they start considering themselves to be too cool for spending a week with their parents), and believe me when I say that I went through that phase as well.  But I’ve come out the other side of that now.  When you’re a skint student who only sees their family for a handful of weeks out of the year, a free holiday suddenly has its appeal.  Regardless of where we’re going – this year, it’s East Yorkshire which is incidentally where I live and go to university during term-time.  But we’ve always been a family for British holidays, something I’m grateful for.  I’d rather make the most of the delights this fine country has to offer as it’s cheaper and makes foreign holidays that bit more exciting.

But no matter how much you love your family or how much you appreciate a week of having all your meals bought for you, enjoying the unrelenting company of your parents can start getting difficult around day three.  They’ve moaned at you for sleeping in and spending too long getting ready, you’re already fed up of trailing around after them feeling like a kid and if you’re lucky (or otherwise) enough to have siblings, you’ve probably had at least one argument followed by a barrage of snarky sarcastic comments.  You’re missing your friends, the Internet connection and phone signal are undoubtedly playing up, and you can’t wait to get home.  But there’s still a week left.  What to do?

1.       Keep an open mind.

Yes, you probably think you have better things to do than whatever your parents have got planned for the holiday, but once you’ve arrived at wherever you’re staying, it’s a bit late to start moaning about it.  So make the best of it!  Sulking and pouting will just make the experience horrible for everyone involved.  Slap a smile on your face and at least pretend you’re enjoying yourself.  The more convincing you are, eventually you’ll convince yourself.  And who knows?  The museum your mum really wants to go to could turn out to be pretty fun.  I’ve been to a lot of random places on family holidays that I wouldn’t have necessarily have chosen – the Cumberland Pencil Museum springs instantly to mind – that have turned out to be really interesting.  And if you’re cooperative, your folks might not mind just popping into that shopping centre for a couple of hours to keep you sane.  Just make sure you get plenty of sleep or you’ll be grumpy all day, regardless of what fun activity you have lined up.

2.       Enjoy being able to act like a kid

I know this one sounds strange.  This doesn’t contradict my earlier suggestions and give you leave to sulk and throw a tantrum whenever something doesn’t go your way.  Your family are the only people in your life who have known you literally since you were born.   They’ve been there through the petty playground arguments with friends, the hideous haircuts and the embarrassing school photos.  They’ve witnessed your development from childhood through awkward adolescence and into young adulthood (or whichever step along the way you’re at).  So for once, you can let your guard down.  Chances are you’re not going to see anyone you know on this holiday, so take the opportunity to stop acting all cool and just enjoy yourself!  If you can’t be bothered wearing make-up one day, you have no one to impress – your parents know what your face looks like.  Ditch style in favour of comfort.  If you have a younger sibling, feel free to just act silly with them.  When my sixteen-year-old brother and I spend too much time together, we revert to being complete children – laughing over every little thing and creating hundreds of stupid in-jokes.  Of course, this step is easier if; a) you have a good relationship with said younger sibling and b) you actually have a younger sibling.

3.       Take lots of photos

Document these memories while you’re young enough to still get away with going on a family holiday without your parents thinking you’re some kind of freeloader!  I don’t know how much longer I’ll be welcome – maybe the rules will change when I graduate.  But until then, get some good snaps for the album (Facebook album, most probably these days) – when you’re older and have kids of your own, it’ll be nice to have photos to look back on that are something other than drunken nights out.  And if nothing else, it gets everyone smiling!  Very few people will continue fighting with a sibling or sulking at a parent when a camera is whipped out and they know the moment will be forever frozen in time.  Just remember that these are the best days of your life (bleehhhhhhh) and you want to remember them as clearly as possible.  Photograph the places you go and the things you see – they can really help jog the old memory when you’re reminiscing in the future.

I’m sure there are lots of other ways to make the most of a family holiday but this is all my sleep-deprived mind can conjure at the moment – I had a late one watching the Olympics Closing Ceremony last night, and an early morning for work.  Apparently the Internet reception at the cottage we’re staying in is pretty abysmal but I’ll be popping into my university house during the week, so I’ll get this uploaded using my wireless there.  I have a few more blog ideas which I’ll put into motion when I can, but once I get home from this holiday, I’ve got a busy couple of weeks coming up. 

I hope everyone's having a lovely summer, whether you're going away or not!  Do you have any more tips for surviving the familial onslaught this summer?

11/08/12 - Exotic foody fun in the sun!

I don’t know what’s come over the North West recently, but the weather over the past few days has been absolutely stunning!  So nice, that I have been ditching my customary black tights and leather jacket for sandals and sunglasses.  I spent all of Wednesday reading and playing the ukulele in my garden which was so nice and chilled, but resulted in a very red nose on my part – I always go a bit Rudolphy when I catch the sun. 

Thursday made my sun-burned nose even worse, but I had a lovely time.  I went for a wander down to the beach, which is a fifteen minute walk from my house, with a couple of my friends.  We ate some very fancy ice-cream, had a paddle in the sea (well, it was probably actually the River Mersey but let’s pretend it was somewhere nicer!) and just a generally really great catch-up.  It's so nice when we actually get to enjoy living right on the coast - it doesn't look quite as appealing when it's raining.

And then on Friday, my family and I had a wonderful cultural day in Liverpool.  The original plan was to just go to the Rolf Harris exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery (which was brilliant, by the way, it’s a shame it’s closing just as I post this blog).  It was really interesting to see the more artistic aspects of Rolf Harris’s career, rather than just ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport’ and “Can you tell what it is yet?”  There were some paintings he did of Liverpool specifically for this exhibition which I really liked, and a lot of very impressive Australian outback landscape-y stuff.  I was generally very impressed with the whole exhibition.  And it’s always fun to mock my dad, who has been accused of looking like Rolf Harris on more than one occasion!

We left the gallery and stumbled upon possibly the best thing in the world, for me at least – a big international food fair on the plateau outside St George’s Hall and opposite Liverpool Lime Street station (for those who are only mildly familiar with the area).  There were stalls selling everything you can think of; from cakes, biscuits and crepes to paella, curry, frankfurters…even an impressive range of exotic meats, including wild boar, springbok and I believe kangaroo!  Clearly those last few didn’t entice me in the way they would others (vegetarian and all), but I must admit, they smelled pretty good and people seemed to be enjoying them!  If that isn’t enough for you, there was a big German beer tent, a thriving florist stall and some very interesting jewellery and other knick-knacks available.

My parents bought three of what claimed to be “the best macaroons in the world”, and I have to say they were very nice.  I also bought some dried figs – I’m a big fan of anything figgy – and some of probably the best baklava I have ever tasted.  Not that I’m a big connoisseur of Turkish pastries, but I know when I’m tasting a good one.  And my word, I was!  If you don’t know what baklava is, it’s a heavenly combination of filo pastry, honey and nuts (in this case pistachios) and this one in particular was absolutely exquisite.   

If you’re around Liverpool at all, I highly recommend you nip across to St George’s Hall to sample the delights of the international food stalls.  As far as I’m aware, the festival will be in situ until Sunday 19th August, open between 10am and 8pm every day.  It was a brilliant place to spend a happy hour or so wandering, but you could easily spend longer there if you sat and had a fancy Swedish cider or explored some of the exotic foods.  My brother and I favoured the ‘try all the free samples’ approach, which is still fairly time-consuming!

After practically being dragged away from the food stalls by my family, we nipped into a few shops on Bold Street before heading for some lunch in the Egg café (review to follow, as I believe everyone should experience its wonder).  Then my family headed home and I did a spot of shopping, purchasing myself a big floppy straw hat to try and avoid any further nose burn whilst we’re on our family holiday this week.

All in all, a brilliant Friday and a very splendid few days.

I hope everyone’s enjoying the wonderful weather and fingers crossed it stays this way for a little while longer!  I will be spending the next week in the beautiful region of East Yorkshire (which is also where I spend the majority of my year at university…great holiday destination, Mum and Dad!) but I should have the Internet and hopefully, something interesting to say!

How have you been making the most of this glorious weather?