29 August 2014

Back to School Essentials

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I am so ready for autumn. As much as I have enjoyed the light, long days, iced teas and coffees that come with summer, I can't wait to get my head down ready for the next academic year. September-December is my absolute favourite time of year.

OK, I left school four years ago, but from Monday I'll be going back to work after my lovely long break and starting some hardcore revision for my journalism exams in November. How exciting/terrifying. 

I like the idea of revision – I get all set up at my desk with new stationery, books and motivation – only to end up cramming a couple of weeks before the dreaded deadlines. But preparing helps put my mind at ease. I remember writing revision timetables in school just to reassure myself that it will all be OK in the end. And it was.

Unlike when I was in school, however, I'm getting paid to do these exams(!), and a pay rise is on the cards, too(!!) So, I compiled a little collage of bits and bobs I'll try not to pick up this weekend when I go shopping... but I have had my eye on those loafers for soooo long, and when all the A/W stock comes into the shops I am unstoppable. It doesn't even matter that last week I was wearing shorts. It's an annual ritual to buy new stationery, shoes and a coat for the new school year. You know it's true.

What are your back to school essentials? I love reading posts like this so please link me to your favourites. You can never have too many pens and notebooks – that's a fact.

27 August 2014

Pre-Shopping Coffee Stop at Clements – Belfast

Stopping for coffee is a must when embarking on a day of shopping. In this case, we stopped before we started, and why not? I had read about Clements online when I was researching some places to visit while in Ireland, and although it's a little dated in its outward appearance, it's what's on the inside that counts... most of the time. 

This branch is situated on Lisburn Road – my new favourite location for coffee, lunch and sweet treats. 

The lights made this place. It might have looked like any other cafe without them, but cosy and cute nonetheless. We made our way to the bar but were quickly told to take a seat as it was table service. Well, I had never experienced anything like that in a coffee shop before, but it was lovely, and we were served by an ever so friendly and attentive waiter.

I decided that this was my chance to try something different. As much as I love plain old black coffee, I was feeling adventurous. So adventurous that I went for a flat white, something I haven't had in a loooong time.

I worked in a coffee shop for a few months last year and so I'm a little bit judgmental of how other people make and serve their drinks in other places (sorry, I can't help it). My flat white was verging on a cappuccino, but it was strong and creamy and so delicious – I forgave them for the froth.

I couldn't have a coffee without a cake, and although I was expecting a pastry, this raspberry slice thingy-ma-bob was a taste sensation! It was a bit like a bakewell tart, but without that funky marzipan taste. I've been loving raspberries in cakes recently. I made a batch of raspberry and almond brownies when I got back from Ireland and they were ah-mazing, I'm telling you.

Bethan's beautiful latte. Although I'm not a fan of milky coffee, if crafted well it can look absolutely stunning, and even more so when served in a glass.

The girls got milkshakes and a sausage roll which Bethan and I helped them finish ;) then it was off to the city centre to shop.

Here I am in my element. I love wandering around the streets of cities that are new to me. Thanks so much to Claire for recommending Liberty Blue and Victoria Square. I loved shopping in Belfast and, as you can see, managed to stuff my handbag full of... well, stuff.

Have you ever been to Clements? It looks as if it's exclusive to Ireland, so if you live there then I envy you! I think more regular trips are in order, as writing this is making me miss the city, coffee, people and accents so much.


22 August 2014

Bob and Berts – Coleraine, Northern Ireland

While in Northern Ireland, Karen was determined to get us in the water and have a go at surfing... OK, I stuck with body boarding, but it was still something I had never done before. It was so much fun! After a chilled out first day, we got up on Thursday ready for a day on the waves. With the boards balanced on the roof of Karen's car, we travelled up to Coleraine on the north coast and got stuck in. Despite the vile-tasting seawater rushing up through my nose and down my throat after falling off my board a couple of times, I LOVED IT, and if you have never done it, go and do it!

I hadn't been to the beach since last summer and I couldn't wait to be beside the sea again. I feel like the coast is where I should end up. I was born in Dover, but moved to Wales when I was 12, so I never really made the most of living by the sea. Now when I'm on a beach, I find it so relaxing, even just watching the waves come in. It's such a natural kind of beauty and it's a great place to be with friends, and on your own too.

After a couple of hours in the water we headed back to the car, dried and changed and drove down the road for some food at Bob and Berts. I swear food never tasted so good. We were exhausted.

Bob and Berts is exclusive to Northern Ireland, and specialises in coffee, but serves food too – hot and cold, sweet and savoury – making it quite the hangout for passersby like us, as well as locals. Like Niki's, this place had so much to choose from and it took me a while to decide what to order.

There were even more cakes than the ones I photographed. Just look at them. That coffee cake was calling my name, but I needed something savoury first.

Everything was presented so beautifully – how gorgeous is the table centre piece?

I had worked up quite the appetite in the sea so I wanted something nice and savoury to fill me up, as well as warm drink to warm my insides, and I can never say no to brie and bacon...

It came with two side salads of my choice so I picked the beetroot and orange and the salsa which were really good. Bethan and I also got fries to share but they were gone before I could take a photo.

My mocha came with a little flake balanced on the rim of the glass – so sweet! And I can honestly say that this was the nicest mocha I have ever tasted. EVER. You know how some places make it and it just tastes like milky coffee? This was like a proper hot chocolate with a hint of coffee. Exactly how it should be.

I swear, food never tasted so good as it did after spending two hours body boarding in the sea. It's not even like we were working that hard, it was so much fun, but I was SO hungry and cold afterwards that my first visit to Bob and Berts was one to remember and I'll definitely be returning when I'm next in Northern Ireland. 

Have you been to Bob and Berts? There are three of them in Northern Ireland and I highly recommend you go and grab a coffee, brunch or late lunch in one of them. Its atmosphere was relaxed and homely – similar to Niki's – maybe it's an Irish thing? Find out more about Bob and Berts here.


20 August 2014

Niki's Kitchen Cafe – Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of two and a half glorious weeks off work. The first thing planned was a little trip to Northern Ireland with my best friend, Bethan. We got back on Sunday night and I am so relaxed right now – it is wonderful.

Bethan and I got up at 3am on Wednesday and drove to the airport to catch a plane to Belfast, where Karen and her two girls Megan and Erin picked us up.

After two naps (we're old ladies) Karen drove us to Newcastle for a coffee. Niki's is the place to go, apparently, and we loved it so much we went back a second time on Saturday for an ulster fry.

But first things first. We went for coffee about 4 o'clock on Wednesday when it was quiet and the whole town was closing up for the day.

It's gorgeous inside Niki's – homely, spacious and there were plenty of tables to choose from.

There were SO many cakes and drinks to choose from – more than I usually see in cafes in England and Wales. I wonder why this is? 

I went for my usual – coffee, and a piece of tiffin to share with Bethan. She got a mint Aero milkshake.
I don't know how Bethan drank that milkshake – it was so sweet and creamy and big! But she loved it.

Newcastle is a relatively small town – village-like, almost – but Niki's is thriving and when we returned for our ulster fry on Saturday the place was packed.

I had been to Ireland once before this trip and eaten the famous soda bread, but fourteen was a loooong time ago and I was excited to taste this again. I have to say, however, that the bacon was my favourite part of the fry. I actually gave half of my soda bread and potato bread to Bethan, but I'm glad I tried it anyway.

If I lived nearer, I'd be at Niki's on a regular basis. The staff were friendly and efficient, and the setting airy, fresh and relaxed. We were all set for a long weekend in Northern Ireland.

Have you been to Niki's? It's surrounded by the Mourne Mountains – the biggest mountains in Northern Ireland – and right on the seafront of a sandy beach. It is absolutely stunning, and worth a visit for an afternoon of relaxing and enjoying life's little luxuries. 


18 August 2014

5 Blogs You Should Be Reading

Since What Naomi Wrote turned one a few weeks ago, I've been thinking about all the blogs I have discovered in the past year. Just a quick scroll through some of these blogs is enough to lift me out of a bad day. Everyone has their way of relaxing and taking themselves out of a bad mindset, mine happens to be reading blogs. Here are my five favourites (in no particular order) which you should be reading too.

Hilarious, gorgeous and trustworthy. Although more present on YouTube, her blog is just as excellent. Her older posts incorporate more purse friendly beauty products, but she uploads some really entertaining vlogs and when I'm in need of some escapism I just watch Essiebuttonvlogs and everything's OK.

I wish I could write like Flora. In fact, when writing my blog posts I imagine her as my proof reader – does anyone else do that? Reading her blog is like getting a new issue of my favourite magazine in through the post. Her content is like gold dust, and her spontaneous posts make them all the more exciting for me to read. I feel like going for long walks and camping and buying all the white cotton pyjamas because of Flora – appreciating the 'less is more' kind of outlook on life, and how beautiful the little things are.

3. The Pains of an Overactive Mind
If you like to read, but don't want to read an essay, or a long-winded argument stuffed full of loads of needlessly 'sophisticated' words, head over to Jessica's blog where you will be reassured that being you is absolutely OK – it's great, in fact. Each post tells a story, and I love every one of them.

4. Wander to Wonder
If you're looking for somewhere to eat, follow Miho's blog, Wander to Wonder. She posts mouthwatering photos of the most gorgeous restaurants in London (and other places) and I have a long list of places I need to visit when I'm next in the city. Miho is so lovely, too. I feel like she has become one of my good friends in the past year – she is such a loyal reader of my blog and I appreciate every comment she leaves on my posts.

5. Gingerly Pale
Can you believe that Jess is just seventeen? She writes with such clarity and a gentle maturity, it makes me wish I could go back in time and re-live the past five years. Her posts on Gingerly Pale are positive and comforting – Jess is going to go far, I am sure. Reading this post has inspired me to properly sort out my bedroom and make a creative space where I can blog from – my living room sofa just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Each one of these bloggers has their own voice and style and there's just something about them all that I love, so go and check them out – I'm sure you'll enjoy them just as much as I do. Have you got any recommendations of blogs that I should be reading? There were others I wanted to include in this post but I'd have been going on forever. You can check out all the blogs I follow here for more blog-reading inspiration : )


6 August 2014

Uni Reunion at Urban Taphouse – Cardiff

I don't know what it is with me and my uni friends – I seem to go months and months without seeing any of them, despite how close some of them live to me. Is this what being an adult is?! I hope not. Beth and I finally decided to set a date, however, and on Saturday we met up in Cardiff for a day of shopping, eating and catching up.

Beth was my first friend at uni - we were flatmates in first year and we have so many memories from the last four years. I really miss living with her. We used to have duvet days in the living room with our other flatmate Becky watching Disney films and rubbish chick flicks, as well as cheese and wine nights and days out shopping and lots and lots of nights out. Just writing about this is making me miss our uni times together.

We reminisced on some of these times when we stopped at Urban Taphouse for lunch, as well as exchanging stories about our 'grown up' lives now. It was strangely quiet for a Saturday, but the atmosphere was chilled and pleasant nonetheless. Known for its beers, I imagine Urban Taphouse fills up nicely on a Friday and Saturday night, but we were there for the burgers.
I loved the interior of this place. So many gorgeous photographs hung high up on the walls, and tables with Scrabble letters spelling out table numbers, it was really relaxed and tastefully set up without being pretentious.

Beth ordered The Jerk and I went for The Fish - both served in the most amazingly soft, toasted brioche buns with fries and coleslaw. We had to order the pizza fries too. Just look at them. Absolute perfection.

You get a lot for your money at Urban Taphouse so if you've got a big appetite, this is the place to go. Everything tasted amazing but we were too full to finish it all – our eyes were bigger than our stomachs on this occasion. We spent the afternoon walking off our food babies and looking for bum bags which we couldn't find anywhere :(
Have you been to Urban Taphouse? It's situated just opposite the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, a couple of minutes' walk from the city centre, and totally worth visiting for something a bit more interesting than your average pub burger. You can find out more about Urban Taphouse here – and if you do decide to go, tweet/instagram me a picture of your burger @hello_flower
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