Sensational Baby Boomers

Friday, 16 March 2018


When we planned our trip to Bruges before Christmas, we couldn't have known how perfect our timing would be.  While the UK suffered a surprising downturn in the weather with freezing snow and ice, we were enjoying an unseasonably balmy couple of  days - complete with a little sunshine!

Regular followers will remember that Anne C and her daughter visited Bruges a couple of years ago, but Anne H had never been, so we decided to remedy that!

Living in Yorkshire, we were able to zip along the M62 to the port of Hull to catch the overnight P&O ferry to Zeebrugge - and they have some great deals during the winter months.  We went as foot passengers, though you can take your car if you want to drive at the other end.

Our comfortable cabin was complete with wine, crisps, biscuits and most importantly tea - while the adequate bathroom was stocked with Clinique toiletries - perfect!
We bought a dinner/breakfast package which was very reasonably priced, and the selection in "The Kitchen" self-service restaurant was varied and tasty.

We docked early in the morning and a coach took us into Bruges - a half hour drive - dropping us off at the Red Bridge, which was less than a 10 minute walk to our hotel - Hotel Academie, which we can highly recommend.

The hotel was absolutely lovely - and again very reasonably priced since we went mid-week.  The decor was quirky - with the reception area boasting a poster of the film "In Bruges" starring the lovely Colin Farrell, so they are used to British tourists!

Our room was beautifully decorated with large twin beds, a coffee table and a couple of easy chairs - with more tea and a bar of chocolate - of course!

If you have never been to Belgium, it is noted for its chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.  There are chocolate shops absolutely everywhere, and they are always happy to let you have a sample too - it would be rude not to! There is even a chocolate museum, although since Anne C had already visited that last time, we decided to give it a miss and just buy some.

The Old Chocolate House  is a family run business, selling every kind of hot chocolate and chocolate covered waffles - chocolate heaven!  We headed upstairs into the cafe area for a hot chocolate drink which was as filling as any meal, then back downstairs to make sure we bought some to bring home. The decor is very traditional, while the chocolate drinks have a modern twist - a jug of hot milk, a large mug and a chocolate cup which you just dunk into the mug and watch it melt!

The city is incredibly pretty, criss-crossed by the waterways which made Bruges the economic centre of north-west Europe in centuries gone by.  Unfortunately for them, the harbour silted over and the trade ships went elsewhere, but the legacy is of beautiful canals and rivers.

We jumped on a City Tour minibus which for 20 euros took us around the city and headphones linked to recordings in 16 different languages gave us a great overview of Bruges and whetted our appetite for the things we wanted to visit.

There are more museums in Bruges than you can possibly visit in a couple of days - from Flemish Primitives to contemporary art, archeological finds, furniture, silver, a torture museum and even a chip museum - otherwise known as the Freitmuseum in the Saaihalle, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

We opted to visit two of the museums, the St John Hospital Museum with its apothecary, and the diamond museum. The Sint-Janshospital is one of the oldest preserved buildings in Europe, and although there are no longer any beds there, artwork depicting how the building would have looked adorn the walls, while chests, cupboards and pewterware are still on show. There is very little to show that it actually was a hospital - most of the exhibits there are artworks rather than medical equipment, and since it was staffed by nuns, who tended to pilgrims, travellers, the poor and the sick, there are many religious artefacts. The  pharmacy/apothecary - just a short walk away and part of the complex - has changed very little since 1634, and features beautiful old jars, pots and jars used by the nuns to administer their medicines.  In fact the apothecary was in use until as recently as 1971. 

The diamond museum was a little gem, if you'll pardon the pun!  Bruges was once the centre of the diamond industry - long before Amsterdam and Antwerp.  In fact, history details diamond polishers in the city as early as the 14th Century. Since Bruges was a very prosperous city, it makes sense that there was a high demand for luxury goods, epitomised by the wealthy Dukes of Burgundy.  From diamonds to exquisite lace, paintings to sculptures, Bruges had it all.

As well as museums, there are any number of beautiful churches and cathedrals for every denomination. The 13th Century The Church of our Lady houses one of the most famous statues in the world - that of Michelangelo's Madonna and Child, which is freely on display.  The church is currently undergoing extensive renovations, so despite notices asking for silence, the  church resounding to the noise of drills and banging!

The centre of Bruges is the famous marketplace - dominated by the 83 metre bell tower.  We actually gave this a miss since we are both scared of heights (Anne C attempted to go up last time but turned back half way up because it was so scary - very narrow vertical stairs with only a rope handrail and people coming down the same stairs as you were trying to climb upwards).  We are told the view is phenomenal from the top, but too much for us!

The market place is very much the heart of the city, and was previously a centre of entertainment.  By that we mean this is where the executions were held - criminals were either hung or beheaded, festivals were held, and commercial deals struck. Nowadays this is where you catch your tour bus or pick up your horse and carriage - very much aimed at tourists.

The historic centre -  the Burg square - around the corner from the market place, are the Gothic the council buildings, the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges, and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tucked away in the corner is the 12th Century Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Roman Catholic church housing the blood of Christ, which was brought from the Holy Land by the Duke of Flanders.

Back to the market place, and it is easy to see why it is so heavily photographed - such beautiful buildings, filled with restaurants and bars, and a stone's throw from the shopping district, rich with local lace, tapestries, artworks, perfumes and of course chocolate!

We have given just a flavour of this lovely city - and our trip there was just a flying visit.  There is so much more to see and do - walking tours, beer tours, exhibitions and activities in which you can join, with so many places to eat and drink.  On our last day we found the perfect place to eat, and while we only had time for a toasted sandwich in the deli at the Cafe Cambrinus, we would love to go back and eat in the lovely restaurant Brasserie Cambrinus in Philipstockstraat just a couple of doors away.  Maybe next time....


Friday, 9 March 2018


There are  a lot of things about long haul flights that are trying but if they are daytime and you have the promise of a lovely holiday destination ahead of you and some good in flight entertainment it is bearable.  That is not always the case on a night flight on your way home, when you are struggling to sleep and the cabin temperature is unpredictable. I thought I would share some of my go to items to try to stave off the worse of this potentially uncomfortable journey.

Layers, layers, layers and loose clothing is a must for me.  I often wear jeans, not my skinniest, tightest, pair but rather the loose fit ones that I feel truly comfortable in.  I will team with a long sleeve T shirt underneath in cotton - yep, natural fibres are a must too.  For the top layer I will take a cashmere hoodie, which is lightweight but really warm and I can pull the hood up and hide my potentially dribbling face from the world. This one is from La Redoute who I really recommend for reasonably priced cashmere.

For my feet  I have found these Myria Geox trainers purchased from John Lewis are great. Not only are they breathable so you don't get over-hot feet but they have a zip as well as laces so you can easily take them on and off when going through security and obviously on the flight when your feet are likely to spread.  Wear some cotton or cashmere socks to make sure your feet stay warm.

The next item is something I am going to road test on my next trip which is coming up in a few weeks.  It has come highly recommended from a friend and is the architect designed Trtl neck pillow with built in support that you can position where it suits you best.  I have the conventional U shaped neck pillow but always find that I nod of and my head drops forward so I wake with a start and never truly fall asleep.  The theory of this one is that it stops your head from doing this and cradles it .... fingers crossed it works.  A revolution in my life if it does.  Mine came from Amazon and was £24.95 on their prime service.  I will be sure to let you know how I get on with it.


Friday, 2 March 2018


Winter had been threatening to hit with vengeance in the UK but has only just delivered - with "The Beast from the East" and Storm Emma bringing Siberian weather to the UK. Anne H always breaks out a duvet coat to cope with the chill, and this one (above and below) was purchased in the sale at John Lewis and is from Ralph Lauren.  It features an inner zipped section then a toggle fastening front with lovely stand up collar but no hood.  It is really warm and toasty but not so bulky that you feel like the Michelin Man and a real bargain as it was just £76 instead of the original £270.  Nothing beats the feeling of a bargain like that. The pictures were taken just before the snow fell, so none of the white stuff on the ground!

She has teamed it with black flared jeans from TopShop which are their MOTO Jamie design and are really long, comfortable and reasonably priced at just £40, they even feature in their Tall range for a really really long leg.   She is wearing those Kurt Geiger boots again - they have featured a lot this winter and she even thought of getting the grey ones she loves them so much.  They are in the Miss KG range and are the Spider boot which they also did in tan, some sizes are still available in the sale for £59 including the grey.

Meanwhile Anne C (below) has also been keeping warm with a puffa coat in the Evans sale in her favourite pink (reduced to £40 but now sold out), with a matching pompom hat from Simply Devine Hats to stave off those winter chills.

Her new purchases also include this neutral long top (below), with frilled hem in an asymmetric design, with a long back, which she loves.  She has similar tops in black, navy and grey.  If you find a design you like - just stick to it, particularly if it suits your body shape. It was bought from an independent boutique in the  small Yorkshire town of Cleckheaton.

She has teamed it with stretch jeggings in a matching stone colour, and a pair of fringed suede heeled boots from River Island from last year so no longer available, but similar ones still online here.

Her glorious neutral silk drop tasselled earrings were a Christmas gift from her daughter (similar ones here), while the beautiful cosy wool black and neutral checked scarf was another Christmas gift, but from the other Anne a couple of years ago. Watch by Reclaimed from Asos and still available.


Friday, 23 February 2018


Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter.....  Well maybe not lonely, and I know we Brits are quite obsessive about the weather - but I do think it has been a long miserable winter and ages since we had any warmth.  

Our shoot for Winter Wrappings in Ilkley was marred by biting cold winds even though the sun showed its face briefly, but was followed by freezing sleet, which made us run to the nearest cafe for a hearty bowl of soup immediately afterwards (Filmore and Union if you're interested!)

Anne C is wearing her Mango coat bought in the Autumn, so no longer available.  She was worried about the choice of colour - even though it is such a pretty shade - but all the fashionistas predict lilac/mauve will be huge for Spring/Summer, so maybe a good choice after all.

Anne loves her accessories and has more than 100 handbags and scarves, so has just about every colour under the sun to match or co-ordinate with any outfit.  (We won't mention all the coloured jewellery though, but yep, she has plenty of purple bling too).  The wool scarf was bought in Tesco sale some years ago, but is probably one shade removed from her coat, while her fabulous purple leather gloves - with a touch of glitz on the wrist  (bought from her favourite shop, Simply Devine), perfectly co-ordinate with her coat and handbag (bought in the Far East some years ago).

Her black tailored trousers are M&S, of course, while her comfy boots in mock-crock are from Faith's previous season (similar ones here).

Anne H feels like she only ever shops in the same places as this scarf and coat are both from COS. The scarf was a purchase this winter and is a style they do every year, it is really lovely and warm with plenty of material to achieve a great wrap round the neck.  This one is 100% wool but they do lots of different ones including cashmere and wool/cashmere blends. Some are now on sale as you can see if you follow this link.

The Harris Tweed coat is also from COS but is at least five years old now.  It is actually a steal from her daughter Lizzy's wardrobe and is one of those styles that just doesn't go out of fashion.  As Anne is tall the length works perfectly for her.  COS do some great winter coats, but sadly this is not one they have repeated.  She has teamed with jeans from 7 for All Mankind and suede boots from Kurt Geiger.  Her black cashmere polo neck is from La Redoute, who she strongly recommends for their reasonably priced cashmere. It is always worth waiting for their sale or their discount codes that make the purchase even more affordable.


Friday, 16 February 2018


This is the second blog of our Iceland trip, taken in late January - last week I talked about our sea-faring activitIes, while this week I am going to show you what we got up to in and around the capital, Reykjavik.


No trip to Iceland would be complete without a tour of the Golden Circle, taking in the ├×ingvellir National Park, which, like much of Iceland, is stunningly beautiful.  Our tour bus stopped at Sprunga Opnast, with its ancient fissures caused by earthquakes opening up to relieve pressure between the two tectronic plates of Eurasia and North America.

For Game of Thrones fans, much of the filming was done in Iceland, and we spotted where the Bloody Gates were filmed, but for real GOF buffs, there is a Game of Thrones themed tour, which has brought the tourists flocking.  The pass to the impregnable Eyrie is actually found in the ├×ingvellir National Park.  You can see it in season four, when Brienne and the Hound engage in a bloody battle. 

Our second stop on the tour was to the boiling hot geysers and bubbling pools at Blaskogabuggo.  The temperature of the water is around 100 degrees, so we were warned not to stray off the marked track or touch the water.  

Apparently the geysers erupt around every 10 minutes, but we found the frequency was much more often than that - which was fantastic for photographs since we only had a short stop, and had to include lunch during that time.  Rumour has it the meat soup there is to die for, but I opted for leek and potato, which was delicious.

There were plenty of other tourists there at the same time as us, but it wasn't too crowded and didn't detract from the experience.  Interestingly Iceland is becoming a magnet for tourists from around the world.  There were many Brits and Americans, but also Europeans, Japanese and Chinese.  I read at the airport that if you are travelling from Europe to America with some airlines, you can stop off in Iceland with no extra air fare, which must be a bargain (though you have to pay your own transfers and hotels etc.).

The history of Iceland denotes that it was discovered by Norweigan travellers, who after setting up home and living through the first winter decided that it was too cold, so upsticked and went home, only for a second set of Norsemen to rediscover Reykjavik - which translates as "Smokey Bay " from the geothermal and hot springs activity.  However, there is evidence that Iceland was first inhabited by Irish monks, who left the island once the pagan Norsemen arrived.

The history is quite fascinating, but since we only have limited space, I won't go into who ruled or for how long, but suffice to say it still has the oldest parliament in the world, which is still sitting.

One of the highlights of the week had to be the visit to the spectacular waterfall at Gullfoss - our third stop.  The photographs of the scenery just do not do justice to the size and scale of the amazing waterfall - in fact it is probably three waterfalls in one.

I am using video here for the first time to try and illustrate the point - if you look to the right of the screen at the end of the video you will see the crowd of people on the viewing platform, and how small they are in comparison to the mighty scenery.

And if that doesn't work on your device, I have also included a photograph, but you just do not get the scale of the atmosphere, and you can't hear the rushing water!


Reykjavik is like any bustling city centre - with many of the same shops and restaurants that you would like anywhere in the world - Dominoes Pizza, Subway Sandwiches and Hard Rock Cafe burgers to name a few, though there are local delicacies which we chose to ignore, some of which serve whale meat and puffins (no thank you! I prefer to see them wild and free). If you read last week's blog, our whale watching tour guides urged us to boycott these establishments and let the whales roam free in the ocean, where they belong.

We spent a morning at Hallgrimskirkja - the largest church in Iceland with its iconic tower towering some 73 metres above the city.  Iceland has a chequered religious history - firstly pagan, then Catholic, then Lutheran, before religious freedom was granted in 1874.  The Hallgrimskirkja belongs to the Evangelical-Luthernan National Church, but all religions peacefully co-exist in Iceland.  Construction of the church took from 1945 to 1986, and features a magnificent organ standing 15 metres high and weighing 25 tons. The beauty of the church is in its simplicity - no stained windows or gold artifacts, to my mind it should be all about the people and the prayers, not the gold and the pomp which exist in many churches.

Incidentally the statue to the left of the church in the picture below is of Leifur Eriksson, the first European to discover America - some 500 years before Christopher Columbus.  The statue was a gift from the US to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the parliament at ├×ingvellir.

We took the lift to the top of the enclosed tower, and then a few steps up to the pinnacle, which although open to the elements, was safely enclosed - since I hate heights. The views from the top were absolutely breath-taking - literally because it was such a windy day!


Our final morning was spent with some gorgeous Icelandic horses with Ishestar.  They offer riding tours all year round, but since we are not riders although we love horses, we opted for a "Meet the horse" morning.  Since we were the only two on the trip, we spent much longer than the hour and a half, moving the horses from the stable to the paddock, although my daughter managed a quick trot around the indoor arena.

These strong sturdy horses are much shorter and more squat than the horses we generally see at home, bred for their hardy survival in the harsh terrain.  The original Icelandic horses were the best horses brought by early settlers - mostly Germanic - eventually breeding to become the thoroughbreds of today.  

There are around 80,000 Icelandic horses in the country, which is quite a population for a small island with only around 330,000 inhabitants.There are no wild horses in Iceland - all are now used in the tourist industry or for pets.

And once they leave Iceland, they can never return, such are their strict conditions for the survival of their pedigree, ensuring they are pure and completely free from disease.  

Our lovely friendly guide Margaret told us that they breed thsse lovely horses for export.  Icelandic horses are in demand because unlike our horses, they have five gaits instead of the usual three of four.  Forgive us for our lack of knowledge here since we are not equestrians - but the fifth gait means a very smooth ride, so not moving up and down on horseback.  So smooth in fact that they have competitions balancing a pint of beer on the horses backs!

So that's another country ticked off my bucket list.  Sadly however, I still haven't got over the fact that we didn't see the Northern Lights.  I have to take some comfort however, that I have since read that many of the beautiful photos you see on the internet, are in fact photo-shopped!
© Sensational Baby Boomers

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