Thursday, 31 August 2017

Wizarding weekend in Watford

After visiting the Warner Bros. 'The Making of Harry Potter' Studio Tour last October with a group of friends, I knew I absolutely had to go back there one day. I thought my husband would enjoy the studio tour nearly as much as I did so, for partly selfish reasons, I bought him a ticket as a gift for his birthday in March.

We decided to make a proper weekend of it and booked two nights at a Premier Inn nearby. As it was our third anniversary at the end of August (yesterday, in fact), we thought we'd make it part of our extended anniversary celebrations to make it an extra special weekend.

I'm going to give you a little warning at this point. I'm going to post some spoilers about the tour, so if you're planning a visit at any point and don't want to ruin any of the surprises in store, it's best not to read any further!

It would be impossible for me to blog about every aspect of the studio tour without writing a post the length of a dissertation. And, as much fun as that would be, I unfortunately haven't got the time. So, to solve this problem, I thought I'd just summarise some of my favourite elements and include lots of photos along the way.

The Great Hall 

Walking in to The Great Hall through those famous doors made me want to cry. It really is an awe-inspiring sight. Seeing all the famous costumes such as Harry Potter's robes, Neville's cardigan and Cedric Diggory's Triwizard Tournament outfit brings back so many unforgettable memories from the films, and I'm so glad that this is where the studio tour begins.

The Potions classroom 

I could spend all day staring at this part of the set! The intricate details of the dungeon classroom are astounding, from the tiny labels on each and every potion bottle to the various intriguing instruments on the tables. And who could forget the legendary Professor Snape who takes centre stage?

The Burrow 

I think the films perfectly capture the cosy essence of the Weasley's home, and I love peering at all the different details and costumes inside the well laid out set for the Burrow. I particularly love the Weasley Clock in the corner!

The Forbidden Forest 

This is a brand new area of the tour which wasn't there last time I visited, so I was very excited about seeing this addition. It's a smaller area than I imagined but it's pretty spooky... let's just say you'll definitely come across more than one giant spider.

4 Privet Drive 

4 Privet Drive is home to the Dursleys and is one of the external areas of the studio tour. This time around, we were able to have a sneak peek inside the house itself where we stumbled across a very famous scene in the living room!

Diagon Alley 

The set of Diagon Alley is hugely impressive. It makes me feel as if I'm preparing to go off to Hogwarts myself and need to go shopping for my wand and study books! I'm a proud Ravenclaw, so of course I'm choosing to focus on study books rather than broomsticks or joke products from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. The Diagon Alley area of the tour reminds me of its new(ish) equivalent in Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it makes me wish I could use some floo powder to transport myself there...

Wizarding Wardrobes 

We were lucky enough to visit the studio tour during a special six-week feature called Wizarding Wardrobes. This meant we had an opportunity to see lots of costumes and make-up effects which I didn't see last time around. Gilderoy Lockhart and Rita Skeeter were two particular favourites!

Hogwarts model 

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN. And yes, the capital letters are completely necessary. The sheer scale, the haunting and mesmerising music, the insane level of detail, the general spellbinding atmosphere... I could stand and stare at it forever.

As we enjoyed the studio tour so much, we're now watching all the films again to point out all the different elements of the set. 'Ooh look, we've been there!'

Have you ever visited 'The Making of Harry Potter' studio tour? What did you think?

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard

Did you know that going out for afternoon tea is one of my favourite pastimes? If your answer is 'no', you must be new here!

After visiting Llanerch Vineyard a couple of times for Sunday lunch (read my review here), I decided I really wanted to try their afternoon tea. As my friend Sarah's 30th birthday was rapidly approaching, I had a lightbulb moment and bought her a voucher for traditional afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard. Two objectives in one - an excellent birthday present and an opportunity to go for afternoon tea at a new venue!

We booked our afternoon tea for a couple of weeks ago, and our table was in the Cariad bistro which is a beautifully decorated room overlooking the vineyard. We were given a menu to choose our pots of loose leaf tea, but the rest of the afternoon tea was a standard fixed menu. This suited me fine as I'm not very decisive, particularly when it comes to food! I went for the delicious Strawberry and Kiwi tea and was very excited when it came with its own egg-timer to guarantee the perfect brewing time.

After sipping on our teas for a while and catching up on all the latest news, our magnificent three-tiered spectacle arrived...

Obviously there are sandwiches on the bottom tier, but I never tend to photograph those as they're my least favourite part (no offence, sandwiches of the world). The sandwich flavours were cream cheese and cucumber, chicken and tarragon, ham and mustard, and salmon and creme fraiche. They were all lovely, but let's move on to the most exciting parts... I was hugely impressed with the second tier in particular. Scones, Welsh cakes AND banana bread! The scones came with the usual clotted cream and strawberry jam and were among the best I've ever tasted, and the Welsh cakes and banana bread were amazing too. Definitely the best and most unique second tier I've ever had. 

Moving on to the cakes on the top tier... as you can see, there were four little cakes for each person rather than one big slice. The offerings on this particular day were raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, strawberry macaron, lemon curd meringue tart, and peanut butter and chocolate brownie. They were all exquisite and I could have eaten them all twice over! The raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake was my absolute favourite, closely followed by the strawberry macaron.

The traditional afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard is £16.50 per person. I think this is very reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the food, along with the beautiful setting and the excellent service. You can also pay a little more to opt for the sparkling afternoon tea or the Cariad afternoon tea if you fancy a glass of Prosecco or Champagne with your food for a special occasion.

After this excellent afternoon tea experience, I can't wait to go back to Llanerch Vineyard again. Have you ever visited the vineyard for afternoon tea? What did you think?

Thursday, 17 August 2017

My five favourite pampering rituals

I'm not very good at making time to look after myself, and I'm trying really hard to change that.

I often run around saying 'I'm so busy, I haven't got time to do anything!' which means I tend to neglect the simplest of my favourite pampering rituals during a particularly difficult time. However, when I'm scrolling through Instagram on a Tuesday evening and realise that I'm absent-mindedly looking at photos of my friend's auntie's neighbour's daughter's hamster, I often regret not using my time more wisely.

As a result, I'm making a conscious effort to make more time to pamper myself. Self-care definitely enhances my mood, and I need these simple rituals to work their magic even more right now. Best of all, some of them only take five minutes and most of them require minimal effort.

Read on to find out what I'm trying to do more of...

1. Painting my nails 

It's amazing how much better I feel with freshly painted nails. I usually paint my nails around once every week but I'm going to aim to do it at least twice per week from now on. I feel so irritated when my nail varnish is all chipped and I've got a massive collection of nail polishes, so I've got no excuses here! 

2. Having a bath

I very often tell myself that I haven't got time for a bath so I'll have a shower instead, but I'm slowly learning that taking the time to have a bath is so worth it. I throw in a couple of Lush products and take my Kindle with me, and I genuinely try to relax! I might not always succeed, but at least it's healthier than sitting around stewing on my negative thoughts (or stalking strangers on Instagram). 

3. Moisturising and cleansing 

I own loads of lovely moisturising products but I'm very guilty of thinking 'I haven't got time for that tonight' and skipping the moisturising step altogether. However, I feel so much better when I spare five minutes to moisturise after my bath or shower so it's really worth pushing away that pesky 'I haven't got time' thought. I also make sure I cleanse my face every night before going to bed, which I blogged about here

4. Making an effort with my hair and make up

When I wake up feeling particularly down in the dumps, I'll make minimal effort with my hair and make up which then makes me feel even worse. I've learnt that it makes a positive difference to my mood in the long run, even if it's just by a tiny margin, if I take the time to straighten my hair properly and put on a bit more make up. By 'a bit more make up', I mostly mean mascara, blusher and eyebrow pencil... any more than that is approaching night out territory for me!

5. Going to the gym 

This might seem like a strange one if you're not a fan of exercising, but going to the gym honestly works wonders for me. I sometimes get into a vicious cycle of feeling rubbish about my appearance then skipping the gym (and comfort eating) because I feel so rubbish, which then makes me hate my appearance even more. On those days when I'm feeling awful but drag myself to the gym, the payback is so worth it.

I might start playing 'pamper bingo' to see how many of these activities I can fit into one day. 

What are your favourite pampering rituals? Let me know if you have any recommendations for me! 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month or even your year... I'll be there for you!

I had a really lovely weekend catching up with friends and family, which is why I felt this was an appropriate title for this post! Even though I currently feel as if the world has brought me down to my knees (yes, I've chosen to continue with the Friends theme tune references), a good chat makes such a difference.

My weekend started with a visit to Sophie's house for Pimm's, Haribo, crisps, French Fancies and a very long chat. Neil and I often meet with Sophie and her husband as a foursome, but Sophie had the excellent idea of having a girls' night in on this occasion. It was a lovely end to a difficult week, and it's important to note that Sophie makes the best Pimm's cocktail I've ever tasted. Also, why on earth hadn't I tried Strawberries and Cream French Fancies before last weekend?

The next morning, I said goodbye to Neil and Jessie and drove to Portishead to visit Amy, one of my best friends from my university days. This was my first visit to her new flat and I fell in love with it straight away. It's so beautifully organised and colour coordinated, and I particularly loved the colours in the spare bedroom where I had the pleasure of staying!

We drove to Portishead Marina after I arrived and had some lunch, then went for a wander around Clevedon's independent shops before going back to the flat where I was introduced to Stella for the first time (the TV programme, not an actual person called Stella). We then went out to Venga for dinner where we had the most amazing tapas. I chose an amazing sticky chicken dish along with what can only be described as a sausage and chorizo feast, and we shared a dish of patatas bravas. We also shared a hefty portion of Eton Mess for dessert! We spent the whole dinner reminiscing about our university days and sharing some hilarious recollections... that's definitely the most I've laughed for quite some time.

Our meal was on Portishead High Street which was full of beautiful hanging baskets in honour of the 'Portishead in Bloom' campaign. I wish my local high street was that instagrammable! On the Sunday morning, we visited the high street again for brunch in Impero Lounge where I ordered a very tasty breakfast muffin. 

After saying goodbye to Amy at midday, I drove back to Penarth ready for Jessie's first ever puppy training class on Sunday afternoon. I went to the class with her on my own as Neil had been unexpectedly called into work, and I was really proud of the way I handled it. If you'd have told me two years ago that I'd have to take my brand new puppy to a training class with 15 other boisterous puppies, and that I'd have to go on my own, I'd have been petrified! She's already learnt to 'sit', and we're working on 'stay' and 'heel'...

When I got back to the house with a very tired Jessie, my brother and his girlfriend (another Sophie) had arrived ready for a visit. We had a long chat as we hadn't seen either of them for quite some time, then we took Jessie for a walk together before we settled down for fish and chips from the local chippy. Jessie was very excited about having more adoring visitors, and I enjoyed their company too!

I was completely exhausted when I went to bed on Sunday night, but felt really grateful that I'd had so many great catch ups with lovely people.

So even though it definitely hasn't been my day, my week, my month or even my year, I'm really glad I've got plenty of people in my life who are always there for me, even when the rain starts to pour!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Face favourites

If you're a regular visitor to my blog, you'll know that I don't blog about beauty products very often. However, I thought it was about time I blogged about my favourite products for my face as these are the only beauty products I use every day without fail.

I never wear much make up, particularly during the week, but I always make sure I fully cleanse my face every night before going to bed.  I hate the thought of going to sleep without completing this nightly ritual! I've currently got five favourite products on rotation - read on to find out more about each one.

1. Soap & Glory Peaches and Clean
Peaches and Clean has been one of my favourite face products for years and it's always one I re-purchase when it runs out. It smells good enough to eat and it's lovely and soothing at the end of a long day. I've nearly come to the end of my current bottle but, thankfully, I've got a brand new one stored in my toiletry stash ready to be used as soon as this one finishes! 

2. Soap & Glory Face Soap and Clarity 
This face wash was one of the first Soap & Glory products I ever tried and it's another firm favourite. I like to use this particular product when I've worn more make up than usual; it gives a much deeper clean than Peaches and Clean due to its little pink scrub particles. I use this product once a week or so and you don't need to use a huge amount each time, so each bottle can easily last a year or more.

3. No7 Soft & Soothed Gentle Toner 
Soft & Soothed is the first product I tried from the No7 skincare range, and I now stock up on a bottle every time I have one of those £5 No7 skincare vouchers from Boots! This toner does exactly what it says on the tin. It glides onto my skin and makes my face feel really soft and refreshed after every use. On the rare occasions where I've worn a full face of make up, I use this product immediately after using one of my Soap & Glory face washes, just to mop up the last few remnants of foundation.

4. No7 Beautiful Skin Micellar Cleansing Water 
This is my first bottle of Beautiful Skin Micellar Cleansing Water and I'll definitely be re-purchasing. It has quite a similar effect to the Soft & Soothed Gentle Toner and leaves my face feeling bright and hydrated. However, I find that this product's scent is more striking and long-lasting. Also, it's worth noting that I love combining these No7 products with the Beautiful Skin Eye Make-up Remover which I blogged about here a few years ago.

5. Lush Cosmetics Ocean Salt Face and Body Scrub 
This is the first product I've tried from Lush's skincare range and I love love love it! It's packed with sea salt which does an excellent job of buffing my skin, and it also contains avocado butter and limes steeped in vodka which make it smell unique and rather spectacular. It smells as if I'm rubbing a salty cocktail all over my face and it has absolutely amazing results. I feel as if I've been given a brand new face every time I use it! Read about the other Lush products I've tried here.

What are your favourite face products? Do you have any recommendations for me?