Saturday, February 21


I've never taken a nano-break before, but the idea of fitting a holiday into my weekend definitely appeals to me. So a few weekends ago we set our sights on Amsterdam and made a break for it.

Amsterdam is a great choice for a short trip as the flight from London takes just 45 minutes, giving us barely enough time to get comfortable before we landed on Dutch soil. We had a lot to fit into a short time, so we planned with military precision and it paid off. There wasn't a wasted moment, a bad choice of restaurant or any time to kill, just three days of solid fun.

Once we arrived it was all go, heading straight to our hotel to freshen up before setting out to explore our surroundings. Our hotel was sat on the corner of Kaizersgracht canal, just a few minutes walk from Anne Frank House, and from our room we had a great view straight out onto the water.

That evening we walked along the pretty canals until we got hungry, by which time it we were ready to call into Tomaz, a traditional Dutch restaurant we’d heard great things about. After a day of travelling we were desperate for generous portions of comfort food, which was exactly what we got. The signature dish here is designed to be shared family style; one pot of bacon and cheese mash, and another pot full to the brim of pork belly. It was delicious!

After such a large meal we decided it would be best to walk it off, but our laziness put a stop to that quite soon. Instead we checked out one of Amsterdam’s more infamous attractions, popping into a treehouse-style coffeeshop we spotted down a small side street. Abraxas Cafe is a favourite in Amsterdam with tourists and locals, serving up cakes and coffees alongside other Dutch delights. They had the most delicious brownies, but it seemed that the more I ate the hungrier I got… After a few drinks we set off back home to catch up on our beauty sleep for the next packed day.

The next morning we sprung out of bed early and walked over to the Van Gogh Museum to soak in some culture. I was a little put off visiting because of horror stories I had heard about queues four hours long, but 40-minutes later we were inside in the warm. I’d recommend buying tickets prior to your visit, as the pre-booked queue was about half the size of ours. Tickets are €15 for adults which I thought was a little pricey, but it was worth it in the end.

Once inside we learnt that the museum was founded by Van Gogh's nephew, through a very touching display explaining how the museum came to be. Van Gogh was supported through his artistic life by his brother Theo who died just a few months after Vincent’s death. Subsequently Van Gogh's entire collection was left in the hands of his sister-in-law Johanna, who dedicated her life to making his work known. Her son Vincent Willem van Gogh played an integral part in the conception of the Van Gogh Museum. The museum now houses an impressive body of his work, including the famous Sunflowers.

All of that art and culture made us pretty hungry, so having heard excellent things about Noordermarkt we set out on the 30-minute walk towards delicious food and drink. Noordermarkt is an open-air food, drinks and crafts market held each Saturday in the north of the city, sitting in a pretty square surrounded by incredible looking restaurants that serve up the delicious cheese, meats and wine on sale from local vendors.

Stalls ranged from fresh oysters, to artisan cheeses and wooden crafts, but we decided to sit indoors at one of the welcoming restaurants in the square. A fellow dealchecker had recommended I visit Winkel 43 for “the best apple pie in the world”, so I couldn't resist popping in. The queue that poked out of the door suggested we wouldn't regret it, and once inside we jumped on two seats by the bar. As well as serving up huge slices of traditional Dutch apple pie, Winkel 43 also offer delicious sandwiches full of market specialities such as raw Dutch sausage and peppered cheeses. We ordered a Dutch sausage and cheese sandwich, a slice of apple pie and a hot chocolate each. The apple pie definitely was the best I've ever eaten, doused in whipped cream and cinnamon, and the sandwich was unsurprisingly incredible too.

For the rest of the day we wandered around the city, taking in the sights. At the central train station we saw a bicycle parking lot that was literally piled high with bikes, like a metal graveyard; it was a jaw-dropping sight. A little further down we came across another Amsterdam staple, the famous Sex Museum. Displaying all sorts from erotic art to cheeky seaside postcard-style posters, it is worth the trip just for laughs. From silly animatronics to ‘ancient relics’ (possibly moulded from plaster of Paris in the store room), the Museum is a bit of a tourist trap, but a hilarious one nonetheless. It made us laugh and it was certainly an experience.

Our weekend in Amsterdam fell on Valentine’s Day and the romantic setting of the Sex Museum hadn't filled the love quota for the day, so for our obligatory romantic meal by candlelight we made a reservation at Johannes. Voted one of the best restaurants in Amsterdam, we had high hopes for this pretty little spot by the canal. That evening Johannes was offering a secret five-course meal comprised of seasonal local cuisine, so feeling adventurous we accepted the mystery menu. Every course was amazing, and it was a definite high note to end our short trip on.

Amsterdam is a great city with so much on offer to visitors. In our short time there we felt as though we had really made the most of our time and seen something well worth seeing. We left satisfied with our short visit, yet excited to return.

Monday, January 19


After peering out of the aeroplane window at black beaches, dark blue sea and bleached white land for what seemed like forever, we finally touched down on Icelandic soil. Or snow, I should say. Stepping out of Keflavik airport, we were met with what I would call a blizzard, but what the Icelandic would call a mild January breeze. Luckily the airport shuttle, FlyBus, was already waiting to whisk us away to the capital, Reykjavik.

The journey to Reykjavik grew our anticipation even more, as we gazed out of the window at a landscape like no other I had ever seen before! Thick white snow spread as far as the eye could see, littered with bumps of jet black lava jutting out of the ground. Strange figures on the horizon punctuated the drive; seemingly human outlines made of black stones piled high on top of one another. I was later told that these figures are meant to represent trolls, which are a big part of Icelandic folklore, said to eat men who get lost in the snow.

After a comfortable 45-minute transfer we arrived at our apartment on Lindagarta, which we were more than pleased with. Before we had even unpacked there was a meow at our window and a big fluffy cat appeared. As it was so cold outside we let her inside straight away, and as she made herself right at home we realised she must have belonged to the landlord upstairs. There appears to be a surplus of super cute and friendly cats in Reykjavik, all the better for a cat lady like myself.

Our apartment was just two streets away from the main hub of the city on Laugavegur, where most of the bars, shops and restaurants are, and a short five-minute walk to the coast and the Sun Voyager sculpture; a stainless steel boat representing hope and progress.

There’s so much to do and see in Iceland, from hunting down the Northern Lights and exploding geysers to horseback riding and snowmobiling! So before we set off on our trip we booked three excursions to help us make the most of our time in Reykjavik.

The first tour set us off in search of the Northern Lights, heading out of Reykjavik at 9.30pm towards the eastern coast. Our destination was a small cabin on top of a hill beside a black beach which was covered in fresh snow. It was quite a cloudy and windy evening and we were warned to stay away from the water as the sea was crashing angrily. We went indoors to get a hot chocolate and reluctantly accepted that we weren’t going to see anything that night. Soon enough we were being piled back onto our coach and heading back home, or so we thought. Without warning the coach stopped at the side of the road – the driver had spotted some stars, a good sign for clear skies – and jumped off into the snow again. After 10 minutes of watching and waiting, two pale stripes appeared in the sky. As we moved further towards them they grew stronger until they were a bright green. By that time many other cars and coaches had pulled up in the same spot and there were around a hundred people running towards the lights, trying to take pictures and cheering. We nearly froze stiff and only got home at about 3am, but it was worth it.

The following day we went whale watching, another test of my stamina against the cold. When we saw the boat, the upper decks were both covered in snow – I should have taken this as a sign. Nevertheless we boarded and set out to sea. The water was choppy so we sat outside with a hot chocolate and enjoyed the gorgeous vistas of white mountains and bright pink skies. As time went on the chances of us seeing any whales grew less and less likely, and we grew colder; colder than I have ever been in my entire life. We retreated down stairs and tried to huddle for warmth around more hot drinks, giving up hope of seeing anything than a few sea birds. After thawing slightly we plucked up the courage to try our luck outside once more, and not long after we spotted some small black fins in the water. There were about eight porpoises jumping around the front of the boat! It was pretty amazing to see them swimming around in their natural habitat, and for a short while the cold didn’t seem so bad.

By now we had been in Reykjavik for a while and it was, sadly, almost time for us to go home. For our final hurrah we decided to visit the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa and bath located in a lava field in the middle of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The landscape is really breathtaking, as the steam rises into the air, past the bright sun and above snow white mountains. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica, which turn the water a pretty milky blue and have great benefits for the skin. The water temperature of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C, which was a crazy contrast against the -2°C air. It was actually quite fun to jump out of the pool, get ridiculously cold and then plunge back into the steamy water! After a three-hour soak we were relaxed enough to make our way back, snoozing along the way.

But this trip wasn’t all activity and adventure! We also indulged far too much in delicious Icelandic food and drink. In such chilly conditions you have to adjust your drinking habits accordingly, so we paid a visit to the Dillon whiskey bar and then moved on to White Russians at the Lebowski Bar which is themed around the film The Big Lebowski. Food was often amazing seafood, from Torfan and Sjávargrillið which I couldn’t recommend more.

While we were looking around for restaurants we noticed that a lot of places were offering whale, puffin and shark on their menus, which the whale watching team informed us isn’t part of Icelanders’ typical diet. These restaurants cater towards tourists who think this is traditional Icelandic fare, so if tourists stopped ordering these items the demand to hunt these animals would fall and you might save a few whales. And besides, the non-endangered food we ate was more than delicious enough.

And so, now I’m back at home. I honestly loved my short time in Iceland, every moment of it, and can’t seem to find anyone else who has visited to disagree. It’s an amazing country and I can’t wait to return (perhaps in the summer when it isn’t quite as cold).

Tuesday, November 11

Pillow Cinema

Have you ever been so hungover that you just needed to lay in a warm, dark room in ultimate comfort with snacks, blankies and perhaps your favourite films playing for nine hours? Don’t be ashamed. Apparently enough people have been in that state for it to become marketable; introducing, Pillow Cinema.

From the inventive people behind Hot Tub Cinema, Pillow Cinema is the perfect mix of staying in and going out. It forces you to get washed and dressed and go outside briefly, but in the end you get the same level of comfort that comes with staying under the covers all day long, sans guilt!

On Saturday we packed up our pillows (and some contraband cookies) to spend the day in the old Shoreditch Underground Station, ready for Bill and Wes’s Excellent Adventure; a triple bill of Rushmore, Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom. Other upcoming screenings include Lego Movie, Magic Mike and Miracle on 34th Street.

Things were pretty quiet when we arrived at 1pm which gave us pick of the Fatboy beanbags - comfort personified - with enough time to grab a mulled wine and get comfortable before things got started. Rows of beanbags topped with soft red blankets lined the floor, giving a feeling of intimacy with enough space to sprawl. Things were warm and toasty all day despite the ‘abandoned underground station’ status and the frost creeping into the bar upstairs.

And so from 1pm to 7pm, we lay in total comfort and snug warmth while rain fell outside in the cold. I was on my feet only to venture to the bar for mulled wine, hot chocolate, popcorn, crisps and hot dogs. That’s a lot of food, but really, what else are you to do on a rainy Saturday?

Monday, October 13

Mini Music

FKA Twigs - LP1

The artist formerly known as Tahliah Barnett, FKA Twigs has released her first studio album - 'LP1'. A futuristic record featuring stuttering drum machines, 808s and metallic synths; each song draws you closer and keeps you wondering. Against harsh digital effects Twigs’ voice soars sweetly, roars and bends behind a vocoder. The lyrics flit in the same way from strong sexuality in Two Weeks, “My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in, suck me up”, to the much gentler Pendulum with a sombre sense of heartbreak, "So lonely trying to be yours”. The album is sonic, packed with stark and honest lyrics.

Todd Terje - It's Album Time

As the name suggests, 'It’s Album Time' is Todd Terje’s first full-length album. Once called 'elevator music', the album is cheesy but it knows it. If it were a cocktail it would be sucrose sweet with too much grenadine and pink paper umbrellas. The result is relentlessly upbeat, climaxing with the sugar high Inspector Norse.

Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witnesses

The second studio album from Angel Olsen delivers a fuller, louder sound with wilder vocals than ever before. Olsen’s twangy electric folk is enchanting, as though powered by a single bare bulb flickering on the edge of expiration. Charred electric guitars accompany daydreamy lyrics, “I wish it were the same as it is in my mind” Olsen warbles. As a whole, the album is catchy, kitschy and reassuring while staying true to the disconnected lonerism of 'Halfway Home'.

Mac DeMarco - Salad Days

Salad Days is the third studio album from Canadian sweetheart Mac DeMarco, filled to the brim with his familiar, happy-go-lucky California synth. The woozy bass and sweet, soulful lyrics remain where the somewhat forced quirkiness of ‘2’ has been replaced with a clever sense of humour and more funky guitar.

Glass Animals - Zaba

The debut album from Oxford four-piece Glass Animals is smart and sexy. Half way between Alt-J and Wild Beasts, the beats are well timed and intricate, laced with clever one-liners and cheeky schoolboy charm. The highlight is Hazey, a sultry and confident love song with R&B influences and eastern instrumentals.