Wednesday, 30 November 2016

AN EMOTIONAL TRIP....

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Australia – never a country on my bucket list, but I had finished a cruise in Hong Kong and since my daughter was temporarily working out in Australia, I thought I would tag a quick week onto the end of my trip.

How I wish I had allowed longer – not just spending time with my daughter, whom I hadn’t seen for six long traumatic and miserable months as she worked her way round the country fruit picking – but because I wish I had seen more of the country.

I absolutely loved Sydney, and had to pinch myself as I stood on Bondi Beach.  It really wasn’t how I had imagined, though I don’t really know what I had expected.  Certainly there were no Kiss Me Quick Hats or fish and chip shops, but it definitely had a seaside flavour with surfing shops and ice cream parlours - but much more up market than Bridlington and Scarborough in winter!  The cove was clean and clear, the water a little chilly but the surf was gentle near the shore, though a little choppy out at sea. And this was a Monday in March - a gloriously warm day and a million miles away from a dreary working day at home.


I had looked for an inexpensive option for our stay and since the hotels were quite pricey, we decided on an airbnb apartment in the suburbs.  Fortunately my daughter knew which suburbs were safe and we found a cute little one-bed apartment in Surrey Hills for a very reasonable rent.  Since my daughter was strapped for cash by this time, she walked everywhere, and although initially I baulked at the “stroll” into town, by the end of the week I had got the walk – which took an hour on the first day – down to 35 minutes and I also started to feel fitter too! As it turned out it was a great way to see the real Sydney - walking past the bars and restaurants, sampling the wonderfully laid-back atmosphere.




On our first day, we walked through the Botanic Gardens and came out near Sydney Opera House.  Standing next to this amazing building we could see Sydney Harbour Bridge and then amazingly, the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship in dock!!  Given that I had recently stepped off the small and intimate Silver Shadow cruise ship – the Queen Mary was enormous – but what a sight to see!

The Opera House and surrounding paths were surrounded by scaffolding and hazard cones as they were obviously repairing and repainting.  I was not surprised to read that a couple of weeks later, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were visiting Sydney - I guess the world is just perfect for them!




Our time together was brief but packed as much in as we could – often eating in our bijou apartment.  However, there are some fabulous restaurants along the water front.  We ate Italian right next to the water’s edge, drinking cocktails from jam jars and watched the sun go down.  It was a magical first evening.






Obviously there were several shopping centres as Sydney is a major city.  We visited the Capitol Theatre which was showing The Lion King, one of my favourite ever shows.  Daughter Louise had seen it in London probably 15 years prior but couldn’t remember any of it, so we spent a nostalgic evening at the Capitol Theatre, which was refurbished in the 1990s with a bizarre faux 1920s interior.  Originally built as a fruit and vegetable market in 1892, it was just a single storey until the 1920s, when a second storey was added and it was used as a circus venue, cinema and theatre until falling into disrepair. I am all for rejuvenating old buildings, and it is very comfortable, but the decor is truly over the top!

Of course in Australia I wanted to hold a koala bear, so we visited the Sidney Wild Life Centre in Darling Harbour.  In New South Wales it is illegal for members of the public to handle koalas – which aren’t actually bears – because it is deemed to stress them out, even though in the rest of the country, it is allowed with a handler close by.  I did manage to get very close and personal however, and was delighted when the little fur baby opened his eyes to look at me as apparently they sleep for up to 22 hours a day.

We also saw some Tasmanian devils, which look like huge rats and which unfortunately are an endangered  species now as many of them get facial cancer.   We saw kangaroos and some fairly horrible snakes – and I must admit I am not a fan of zoos, though most of them today claim to be protecting endangered species. Darling Harbour is also home to a shopping centre and a number of bars and restaurant chains recognisable throughout the world.  Since my daughter had rarely eaten a full meal for the previous two months, she opted for a burger at the Hard Rock Cafe – though the service was dreadful!

However, during a shopping day (when I had to replenish said daughter’s wardrobe!) we discovered a little gem in the Tea Salon.  Tea and scones served on vintage china – with a choice of sweet and savoury scones and all were delicious!








The lifestyle in Sydney was very laid-back and relaxed – yoga on the beach and roadside cafes for breakfast were the norm, and of course there was sunshine!  My visit was during March which was the beginning of Autumn, so summer clothes were in the sales and Ugg boots, although new season, were much cheaper than they are in the UK – although why you would want Ugg flip flop slippers is a bit beyond me.

I would  go back tomorrow –  absolutely!  I would love to have visited the beautiful Blue Mountains just a short distance away, with its dramatic cliffs and eucalyptus forests.  Australia has so many beautiful cities and history to explore. Louise had been lucky, she had been swimming with dolphins, snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, had visited The Gold Coast and visited Easter Island, and even jumped out of a plane for her 23rd birthday (she didn’t tell me about that until after she had done it because I would have flipped out!) She also climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge - one of the must-do tourist attractions, but not one I have ever fancied, since I am petrified of heights.  I would have loved to have seen Madam Butterfly performed next to the lake and the Opera House in the Botanic Gardens, unfortunately opening night was the day I flew home.

Sadly I don’t believe I will ever make it back there – the 24 hour flight was a nightmare and I sobbed all the way home to leave my daughter there (with thanks to the kind gentleman who helped me through security because I was so distraught I fumbled my way through passport control with my suitcases).  However, she is safely back home now and settled in a career, so I have a lot to be thankful for.


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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

IT'S A WALK IN THE PARK


Anne H wears a lovely ribbed navy jumper dress from COS which was particularly needed as her boiler had broken and she had no heat or hot water.  She even came to mine to have a shower before we ventured to Roundhay Park and a spot of lunch at the Mansion.  She has teamed the jumper with some straight leg skinny jeans from 7 for All Mankind and some ankle bots from DUO who are now known as Ted and Muffy. 


She had added her Trafaluc (does anyone else know why on earth it is called that?) from this seasons Zara collection and the capacious Devonshire tote bag from Loxley England.  




My bright peach coat was a bargain buy from the summer sales earlier this year, which I bought in Tesco (see in red, pink or blue on current website here) with my Clubcard vouchers! Knowing what an impulse buyer I am, I went into the supermarket to buy some bread and milk and came out with a coat!  

The scarf - which is a perfect match - was also bought in Tesco a couple of years ago.

The jegging/jeans are from Marks & Spencer, suede boots - among the most comfortable ones I own - are from Primark, but similar designer ones are available here, and the black mock crock shoulder bag - my current favourite - was bought from a small stall at Wharfedale Hospital during a flying visit to check my bone density!

Quite a budget outfit, although the sunglasses are Chanel and cost more than all the clothes put together!

We were taking advantage of a rare morning's visit to the local park - fortunately the snow had almost gone but it was one of those fine chilly mornings with a pale low wintery sun which makes your eyes water!

Afterwards we enjoyed a hearty bowl of soup in the beautiful old Mansion house, built in the early 1800s, which now houses a cafe and conference/wedding venue. The original park had been given away by Henry VIII, and through a succession of owners fell to one Thomas Nicholson, who built the two impressive lakes to disguise the remains of an old quarry and mines.  The park was subsequently bought by Leeds City Council, and is one of the largest parks in Europe, which is great news for me since it is almost at my front door.





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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A little pampering......

We all need a little pampering now and again, so maybe once or twice a year we head to our favourite day spa for a little R & R.

This year has been quite a tough one - particularly for Anne C following her accident earlier in the year in New York (still not allowed to talk about it yet.....) so a relaxing facial and a full body massage was just what the doctor ordered for both of us.

Our favourite Spa is a beautiful old Yorkshire stone house in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. Family owned and a proper home-from-home Eastthorpe Hall is a peaceful oasis with  traditional beamed ceiling, big squashy comfortable sofas, huge open fireplaces, candles, lovely furnishings and quite a few angelic decorations to create a heavenly atmosphere. 







Spas we love

I love my spa days.... In a previous job, I was known jokingly as "the spa lady" having frequented many a spa or beauty salon. But both Anne H and I enjoy pamper time, and have sampled many a massage and facial over the years. 

We loved Seaham Hall at Seahouses, which is both relaxing and since it is at the seaside, makes a wonderful overnight or weekend break with superb food - and the bedrooms are just gorgeous! Champneys offers a huge range of lovely treatments and the food is excellent - but if I'm being honest it is just too big and a little impersonal, although the staff were all very friendly. It is a little while since I visited, and I know they have refurbished the bedrooms since my last visit, so I hope they are a little more cosy than they were. Having said that of course - I wouldn't say no to another visit!

Regular readers will also remember that I always manage to fit in a visit to the Spa of the Gods in Santorini which has stunning views and great treatments, but there is nowhere really to relax, although soaking up the Greek sun comes in a close second.

Other fairly regular haunts include Oulton Hall near Leeds and Hazelwood Castle in Tadcaster - both of which run great special offers either through Groupon or direct from the Hotel.  Oulton Hall - owned by Q Hotels is beautiful and  as well as the spa, has a swimming pool and gym, while at Hazelwood Castle, though the treatment areas at the Imagine Spa are quite tiny, they do a fabulous afternoon tea to round off your visit and the grounds are lovely.  I have also had the pleasure of staying overnight there and it is just stunning!


So back to Eastthorpe Hall - which is our favourite day spa. This lovely home is set in beautiful tranquil gardens and is pure delight in the summer, with its tinkling water feature and outdoor gazebo.

The food, which is freshly prepared by Granville, the in-house chef is just to die for - I wish I could make healthy food taste as good.  They also serve a raspberry/apple and ginger drink which I must try and recreate, because it is delicious.



Our day kicked off with a welcome ritual and relaxation followed by a short session in the sauna to warm us up on a chilly Autumn day.  Then it was onto the hot tub - sorry too cold for swimming once you have got yourself warmed up!!!  We wrapped ourselves up in our own robes - though robes and slippers are provided - before having a late breakfast of very naughty warm croissants with that lovely raspberry/apple drink and an expansive range of teas.

Then it was onto our respective treatment rooms for a lovely relaxing massage before being allowed to curl up on one of those snuggly sofas. After a superb lunch - served with an optional glass of Prosecco - it was time for a "gymnastic" facial and head massage.  Actually I missed the head massage because I think I must have fallen asleep.  Ah well, my lovely therapist didn't seem to mind - I just hope I didn't snore.

Following afternoon tea - more tea and a cream scone - we were taken off for a paraffin hand treatment which left our hands baby soft and silky smooth.  By this time we were tucked up in very quiet room having a snooze.... until next time!  




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Wednesday, 9 November 2016

LEEDS SHOPPING.... THE OLD AND THE NEW



The long-awaited John Lewis recently opened in Leeds, the flagship store to the brand new Victoria Gate shopping centre.  We were very excited to check out not only John Lewis, but some of the new-to-Leeds stores, while some old favourites have moved into spanking new premises.


Anne H was over the moon to visit her favourite shop, Cos, which has never had a store in Leeds - the nearest probably being in Manchester.  Obviously she bought something there, and with a few (not so subtle) hints, I might have solved the dilemma of what to buy her for Christmas this year......


While the new Victoria Gate has a good range of designer and higher end high street stores, just across the road is the traditional, and stunningly beautiful Victoria Quarter.  This was an original Victorian arcade and a couple of outdoor streets, which I remember from my youth. Some years ago the developer very cleverly incorporated the original arcade with the street, topped it off with a glass dome and it became an up-market indoor shopping area adjacent to Harvey Nichols.


Leeds has become one of the destination shopping cities in the north, rivaled only by Manchester.  Recently named as the UK's best shopping destination by the Rough Guide to Britain, Leeds now has more than 1,000 shops, selling everything from designer to quirky vintage, independent boutiques and everyday high street brands. 

Only a couple of years ago, we welcomed the opening of Leeds Trinity, another brand new covered shopping centre which features well-known favourites such as Next, Mango, Coast, Top Shop and Marks & Spencer.  What we love about Trinity (apart from the stores) is the fabulous Everyman cinema, where after a spot of shopping, you can relax with a glass of Prosecco and a pizza and hunker down on the sofas to watch a good movie.

Nearby Trinity Kitchen also offers the most amazing selection of foods from around the world - even including Vietnamese street food of all things!


Anne C's outfit for the latest shopping expedition is a favourite pink crushed velvet and chiffon jacket with diamante button from Kaleidoscope which she has had for ages, teamed with a cream silk and diamante blouse from TK Maxx and black crepe tailored trousers bought several years ago from Ann Harvey, which no longer has stores on the high street.


Her jewellery is from Simply Devine in Tadcaster, gloves from Marks and Spencer, scarf was bought in Santorini, black patent boots from Faith at Debenhams a couple of seasons ago (though similar ones are available here) and the black patent handbag was bought from a random little stall during a visit to Wharfedale Hospital which she visited for a scan!! 


Anne H's outfit for our shopping foray into Victoria Gate and John Lewis included a long line cable knit cardigan from Next with a lovely grey chunky scarf from The White Company .The latter has a fabulous new store in the centre which offered plenty of temptation over two floors with fashion, homewares, scents and those all important Christmas presents. 


She combined this with some tweed trousers from MaxMara Weekend which she has had for ages and a roll neck jumper from &OtherStories, which she particularly likes as it has a tight fitting neck that doesn't bag and lovely long sleeves.  



Her silver necklace was a gift from a friend in Bali, her glasses are from MiuMiu and her Devonshire Tote handbag from Loxley England. 





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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

SHE NOSE YOU KNOW!



Did you know that there are fewer “noses” in the world than there are astronauts? Such is the rarity of these refined olfactory skills and expertise of trained “noses” that they can match the scent of any flower or herb and identify any perfume.

A Special "Nose"

I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend, Judi Bradbury, who is indeed one of these fine noses, and has just set up a business matching fine fragrances to individuals who want something more than just a bottle of perfume.

“Most people buy their fragrances in a department store or duty free airport shop – or possibly even smell something they like on other people,” said Judi, “but I spend time with the client to understand what they like and then find a perfume which is more of a signature fragrance for them.”




Working with Penhaligans, the English perfumers, Judi spent many years honing her craft working with the finest ingredients, a tradition she is carrying on today.  “I am now working with a number of genuinely creative artisan perfumers who have created a wonderful collection of unusual fragrances which are not readily available in the shops.

“They are niche brands which the artisans individually create, and they steadfastly refuse to mass produce their products, because they are passionate about quality.”

Judi’s work as a fragrance profiler is conducted from a studio in her home in rural Cambridgeshire.  She will work with her clients to match them to a fragrance from her niche collection of fine and unusual fragrances.  She finds out what kind of smells her clients like, using individual scents, allowing them the luxury of time and indulgence as she allows the scent to develop over an hour or two.

“I like to make it a relaxing experience, with a glass of bubbly, making sure that I pay attention to detail and listen to what the client wants.  Most perfume shops give you a quick spritz and expect you to make your mind up straight away, but perfumes need to develop on the skin to get the true fragrance.

“Smells are evocative and can conjure up memories of happy times, of nostalgic eras, of people no longer in our lives, memories and special occasions. Fragrances can also affect how we feel and can lift your spirit and lighten your mood.”

Some of the wonderful fragrances which Judi works with are traditional French scents from perfume houses with a wonderful heritage of creating beautiful fragrances, including Illuminum White Gardenia – which media outlets claim Kate Middleton wore on her wedding day – Bois which was voted the best perfume house in the world by the perfume industry, and two recently re-launched brands – Molinard (established in 1849) and Le Galion.


Other brands have wonderful stories attached to them.  One of these is “Eight and Bob” – the story of US President JFK who visited France as a student in 1937 and got chatting to  socialite and perfumer Albert Fouquet, who gave him a sample of the fragrance he wore.
Back in the US he wrote to Fouquet asking him to send eight bottles for himself and friends, and a bottle for his younger brother Bob (Robert Kennedy). With his attention to detail, Fouquet reproduced the box to exactly match the shirt JFK was wearing when they met.  Fouquet was killed shortly afterwards and sometime later, during the second world war, the family butler, Philippe, who had assisted Fouquet in creating the unique fragrance, recreated it and instead of sending it in boxes, he carved out books to hide the bottles from the Nazis. That could have been the end of the story, but the family has since recreated the fragrance which is now on sale – in book shaped boxes.

History told through fine fragrance

Going further back in time, Napoleon was a great advocate of fragrances and was a huge fan of Francoise Rance, whose descendant Jeanne Sandra Rance has also re-created the great Frenchman’s fragrance.  Apparently he liked wife Josephine to smell “au naturelle” though she favoured the fragrance of jasmine.

Another more modern fragrance which Judi has in her exquisite collection is Bal A Versailles by Jean Desprez, loved and worn by both Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, and liberally used by actress Joan Collins during her Dynasty days (for those of us who are old enough to remember the TV series).

Back to Judi and her wonderfully fragrant studio –  at the Chestnut Retreat - personal consultations are available and she also loves to talk about perfumes.  Your individual profiling consultation offers a unique and insightful olfactory journey to discover your fragrance preferences.
A few of my perfumes - some inexpensive fragrances up to my own favourites - Jo Malone's Lime, Basil and Mandarin, Viktor and Rolfe's Flower Bomb and Tom Ford's Black Orchid

She works with the world’s finest fragrances, and once profiled, the selection process will narrow down to three elite preferences that are tried on your pulse points to see how they dry and settle to your natural skin type which will determine your signature scent. These fragrances are not available on the high street and cost between £95 and £295 – but worth it to know that you have a fragrance for life which is totally “you”.

She also “scents” venues for special occasions, including weddings, and can also make up your signature fragrance into candles for your home – a truly decadent option.

Judi's website can be found here.
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