5 days in New York 

Where do I even begin with New York? Growing up I always wanted to live there, my imagination had my dreaming of the big apple…so when I visited in 2007 and hated it, I was shocked! Fast forward 10 years and it’s a completely different story. Back in 2007 circumstances meant I didn’t truly enjoy the city as I should. Fast forward 10 years and 5 days in New York fulfilled my every expectation. Here is a concise (sort of) “5 days in New York” guide.
Having arrived on a Tuesday night, I made sure I napped on the flight so when I got to my hotel (1am London time), I was able to stay awake for another few hours and finally fall asleep at 11pm (4am London time). This definitely helped with the jetlag. We popped out to Ginza Sushi (800 Lexington Av.) for dinner. I highly recommend the “yummy roll”. As the name suggests, it was really yummy.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Hilton Midtown (53rd and 6th) and it was a great location. A 5 minute walk to central park, a 10 minute walk to The Plaza, a 5 minute walk to Times Square and a 15 minute walk to Bloomingdales. There is a Starbucks across the street, a Joe and the Juice and lots of carts selling ice cream, chicken rice and hot dogs. It’s also diagonally across the street from the LOVE sign.

Day 1 – Wednesday

We were up and out early on Wednesday. 9am breakfast at Sara Beth’s (opposite Central Park) followed by a stroll through Central Park. I can’t say I loved SB’s…it was good but not amazing. New York portions are so huge, I physically couldn’t eat it all. Although we didn’t get there in the end, I’ve heard Norma’s is amazing and so I wish we’d done that on the Wednesday instead.


Central Park was gorgeous. My friend S and I got to walk through it twice in the 5 days. Next time I intend on hiring a bike and cycling through it. 


We met our friend A back at the Fountain opposite the Plaza to start our “Sex in the City” tour. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d read good reviews and although a few friends mentioned it wasn’t so great, we decided to go for it anyway. With these sorts of things, it’s always about the guide…and our guide was amazing. As a comedian she was naturally funny and although you spend a lot of time on the coach watching clips of the show, she managed to keep us thoroughly entertained the whole way through. We visited a sex shop, Carrie’s stoop, Buddakan and Steve’s bar (for a yummy cosmo). The tour ended around 3pm at Bryant Park. 


I remember spotting a dumpling place right beside Ginza the night before so we decided to head there for a quick bite before going back to the hotel. That wasn’t the best choice unfortunately. When you’ve lived in Asia and you know what dumplings are capable of tasting like (Hello Din Tai Fung), dumplings wrapped in cases far too thick are quite off putting.

After lunch we walked back to our hotel to freshen up and change for our river cruise. One of the things I loved about New York is just how much walking we got done. The city is basically a grid making it relatively easy to navigate. A quick change and we were in a cab down to the piers where we’d booked a 90 minute cruise to see The Statue of Liberty. It was in fact a 90 minute tour of New York from the river – our guide gave us the low down on every Borough of New York as well as Jersey (across the river). It was a beautiful evening and we got to see the sun set behind The Statue of Liberty. 


Once back at the pier we jumped in a cab up to the Flatiron district for dinner at ABC Cocina and ABC Kitchen are Jean-Georges restaurants, both housed in the ABC Home store. It’s a glam restaurant (great lighting) serving Latin American fusion. We started with the pea guacamole and then went on to have the tune tartare, patatas bravas, shrimp with sizzling garlic and chilli oil (which wasn’t really sizzling), fish tacos (great flavours), chicken tacos and beef tenderloin “burnt ends” with chimichuri (this was my favourite – succulent, soft and slightly chargrilled). 


We ended the night by heading to “230 Fifth”, one of New York’s many rooftop bars. Right in front of the Empire State building means you get a bird’s eye view of the building all lit up – beautiful!

 Day 2 – Thursday

In our mission to pack as much as we could into each day, S and I were up and out of the hotel by 9:30am. We grabbed some coffee and then took a cab down to the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a gorgeous day to walk along the bridge and it didn’t take as long as we thought it would so we walked back as well. When you get off the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side, if you see some vendors selling mini taxis, buses, etc. buy them for the child in your life. I wanted to buy some for my S (they were $4) but decided I’d get them in the city instead ($10-$15 each!).

We were doing really well for time so we ended up strolling up to The Freedom Tower and visited the memorial where the twin towers once stood. The National September 11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance to all those who lost their lives back in 2001. The reflecting pools are huge and the name of every person who died is inscribed into bronze panels on the edge of the pools. On their birthdays each year a white rose is placed by their name which I thought is a beautiful ongoing tribute. There’s a really strong energy in the area – as you watch the water go down into the ground, you’re lead to thinking about the enormity of what happened that day and how two pools (the same diameter of the twin towers) now represent what was once two huge buildings.


 As we were in the area, we thought we’d stroll across to see the bull on Wall Street but we got distracted by discounted designer sunglasses at Century 21 (as you do!) and spent 20 minutes in the store instead. We then jumped in a cab to the meatpacking district to walk along the Highline. The Highline goes to show what an urban city can do to reuse “wasted” space and add some green to the city. It’s an old railway line, sitting above the streets of New York, which has been transformed into a bridge of sorts. It was recommended to us by a few people and we were expecting lots of food stalls, street performers and art installations (a bit like the Southbank in London). At one point of it there were a few food (mainly ice cream) carts and art installations along the way but it wasn’t quite what we expected. 


We were hoping to end at the Chelsea food market to check it out (we were starving by that stage!) but when we got to the end we realised we started near the Chelsea food market and so unless we wanted to walk back, we’d missed the opportunity. Instead we stopped at a local store with a deli and bought a bagel with cream cheese and jalepeno’s which we shared – delicious!!


We then made our way up to Lord and Taylor (21 W, 39th St) to meet A for lunch at Szehuan Gourmet. While the food was tasty (my favourite was the Chinese spinach in garlic), it had far too much oil for my liking. After lunch we had a quick look at Lord and Taylor (it’s like our Harvey Nichols) and then went across to Charming Charlie. I could do a whole other blog post on that store. It really was quite charming with the cutest accessories. So definitely check it out if you’re visiting New York.


 We headed back to the hotel to start getting ready for our evening out. The great thing about a city like New York is that it’s literally a melting pot of people from all over the world. All three of us had friends in New York and so we rallied the troops and had them all meet us at Vandal (199 Bowery) for pre-dinner drinks. 


Dinner was around the corner at Beauty and Essex. My favourite part of the restaurant was the Prosecco bar in the toilets. Manned by a sweet girl who was happy to chat to us, take our pictures and even listen to our ranting! 


The food for the most part was pretty good – I didn’t think much of the beef carpaccio but the pasta bolognaise was pretty good. The chicken meatballs were far too airy for my liking but I managed to have a fusion salmon cup thing without even realising it was salmon (which I don’t eat). It was flavoured well, completely masking the taste of the salmon (I don’t know if that’s a good thing for people who actually like salmon).


 Day 3 – Friday

Friday was going to be our shopping day. In my opinion, you can’t visit New York and not hit up Macys and Bath and Body Works. A mentioned that the Westfield Garden State mall in Jersey was tax free for clothes so we decided to spend the afternoon there. It has most of the major stores – Nordstrom, Macys, Bath & Body Works, Express, Zara, The New York Company, etc. but I’d say a slightly limited selection. Most of the stuff I bought was from Bath & Body Works (I love their stuff!) but I also got some tops and dresses at Macys, Express & Zara. Given that I live in London and the shopping here is fantastic, I didn’t feel the need to shop a lot plus I thought it was a lot more expensive (more so with the current exchange rate). We got back to Manhattan at about 4:30ish, beating the weekend traffic. S and I decided to go and do our hair so dumped our stuff at the hotel and ventured out towards Times Square looking for a place. Within 2 minutes to entering the bustling Times Square area, we had a flyer for a hairdresser pushed in our faces – sorted! 45 minutes later we walked out looking totally glam and hoping it wouldn’t rain (it had turned pretty cloudy!). On the walk back to our hotel we stopped at Ray’s pizza. We couldn’t possibly leave New York without trying some good ol’ fashioned New York pizza. 


We got a slice of the pepperoni pizza and shared it. Back at the hotel we all got dolled up for a night at Tao. I went to Tao the last time I was in New York but this was Tao Downtown, the new one. It was pretty spectacular. We got there in time for our 9pm reservation but at 9:30pm we were still sitting at the bar waiting for our table. Apparently this is normal for New York although I think you should never have to wait more than 15 minutes for a table, no matter where you go. We got lucky with our table though…we were sat right in front of the absolutely massive status of the Thai goddess Guan Yin. With the magic of lighting they were able to create different looks for her AND get her to actually “look around” the room. The food was amazing and at that stage, my favourite meal in New York.



We arranged for a desert to be brought out for A’s birthday which was a sort of warm chocolate filled chocolate dome. Words cannot begin to describe just how mouth-watering this was. Unfortunately though, due to language differences I guess, this was taken away from our table too early (that may have been a good thing though). A waiter asked us how we were doing and when we said we’re good, it’s amazing, he took it away thinking we were saying “we’re good, we’re done.” Ummm….

We were hoping to go to PhD (the rooftop bar beside Tao Downtown but alas the bouncers wanted to charge us $200 for the privilege). Instead we then ended up bar hopping…first to the Gansevoort Park Avenue rooftop bar and then to the rooftop bar at the Kimberley – we didn’t think much of the vibe at either and ended up calling it a night.
Day 4 – Saturday
This was the only day we didn’t have too much planned in the morning. But only being in New York for 5 days, we didn’t want to waste any time. We were up and out in the morning and headed to Macy’s 6th Avenue to have a look around. While in Macy’s it started pouring and we had brunch reservations all the way downtown at Miss Lily’s (132 W Houston Street), a Jamaican café style joint (no pun intended). S had the Breakfast Roti, A had Jerk Chicken Roti, I had a naked (bun-less) Jamaican patty melt and we got a side of fried plantain. We also made the most of their brunch offer – an unlimited choice of the “Hotstepper” (Bloody Mary), “Lily’s Punch” (Fruit Punch) or “One Love Bellini” for one hour with every entrée ordered – for an extra $15 a head. We were expecting more of a party vibe at this place but I think with anyone in New York (or anywhere for that matter), the more the merrier. 


I was so full after that meal so S and I decided we would walk back up towards mid- town. 40 minutes later (and our lunches barely digested), we got to 6th Avenue and decided to meet some friends at The Refinery Roof Top bar (63 W, 28th Street). It was a gorgeous place (and apparently they have one in London which looks as amazing). The best thing about it was the fact that it was covered and yet that took nothing away. It still felt every bit a rooftop bar. 


We spent an hour there before heading back to our hotel to finally chill for a bit. Although we had dinner reservations at Catch, I couldn’t face the idea of another big meal. We had a couple of drinks at Tanner Smiths, a cool little bar around the corner from the hotel and then had a late bite at a casual Mexican restaurant called Toloache (251 W 50th Street). The raw yellowtail in a sort of ponzu sauce was amazing – we got it twice!
Day 5 – Sunday
Our final day, it came around so quickly! I left the hotel early to see a couple of friends who happened to be in New York from Taipei (what’s the chances of that happening?!). I hadn’t seen them in 4 years so it was a short and sweet catch up. 


I then met S and we headed to Bloomingdales. I’d seen something I liked earlier in the week and wanted to go back and get it. Alas it wasn’t meant to be, they’d sold out. We then walked back to the hotel and met A to head to the Rockafellar Centre. Thankfully it was a nice day as we intended on going to top of the rock. You can also go to the top of the Empire State building but from the Rock you can see the Empire State building. It’s $37 to visit the top. Again, while the view was fantastic, I felt like you could get as good a view of the Empire State Building from a high roof top bar. Nevertheless, I’m glad I ticked it off my list of things to do in New York. I guess you can’t compare a complete 360 degree view of the city to just seeing one side of it. 


Once we were done with the Rock we headed to The Plaza Food Hall. For me, this was by far my best meal in New York (it was probably the cheapest and definitely eaten the fastest) – it was absolutely delicious – The Lobster Roll from Luke’s Lobster. The bun was perfectly toasted with the right amount of butter. The lobster was perfectly seasoned and cooked, very meaty and I loved every single bite. It’s the one place I am recommending to anyone who asks me about New York. You could compare it to the Lobster Roll at Burger and Lobster in London.

 A was leaving for the airport early so once we saw her off, S and I went for a stroll through Central Park. We ended our day with coffee with a friend opposite the hotel who was shocked at just how much we fit in. 5 amazing days in New York – where there is a will, there’s a way – we hit up the best bars and restaurants, did all the main sites and walked our legs off!! Tired and weary, we got a cab to Newark at 7pm for our flights later that night. I came home exhausted but very happy.

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Brighton Beach 🌞

When you live in the UK, you take advantage of every sunny day you get! A couple of weeks ago we had some glorious weather so decided to head down to Brighton Beach one Sunday. I’ve been to Brighton once before – years ago and by train – I expected it to take about 90 minutes from North London (it took 2 ½ hours). I thought it would be crazy busy and parking would be a problem but it wasn’t too bad. Rather than drive around looking for a spot, we parked at the High Street car park (approx. £8 for up to 4 hours) and it was about a 5-7 minute walk down to the beach.
We walked along the pier taking in all the sights before ending up at Palm Court Restaurant for lunch. Beware of the sea gulls!! A lady made the mistake of leaving her food unattended for 10 seconds – before she knew it the hovering birds swept down and grabbed her fish and chips – ruthless! Although Palm Court is right in the heart of the pier, I can’t say I was totally impressed by it. My mum and I ordered the classic fish and chips. There was far too much batter on the fish and the chips were not hot or crispy. My dad had the vegetarian lasagne which was quite stodgy. The only saving grace was S’s kids meal which he seemed to enjoy (chicken nuggets, chips and beans). Our order also took quite a while to arrive (our neighbours ordered after us and were half way through their meal before ours arrived) and we had to ask for condiments at least 3 times. Apart from the fact that we got to sit in the glorious sunshine right on the pier, the meal wasn’t particularly memorable.

Walking along the pier you end up at a fun fair / arcade. Look out for the various height restrictions so you know what your kids can go on. We bought S an unlimited band – £10 for all the kiddie rides he could go on. We started with the carousel. As he is between 0.90 and 1.20 meters, I had to go on with him but I wasn’t charged. We went on the helter skelter together and again I wasn’t charged. That was my favourite as it sits right on the edge of the pier so glance down and around and all you see if the gorgeous blue sea. He then went on the tea cup ride, the mini transports ride, the inflatable slide and the trampolines. Next on his agenda was rock throwing on the beach. It’s funny how a lot of the times we’re trying to create fun experiences for our children when they are actually happiest doing the simple things. Brighton Beach is a pebble (read rock) beach. Not super comfortable to sit on but it provides the best rock throwing opportunities. S stood at the edge of the water seeing how far he could throw rocks for about 30 minutes. We finally got up, walked across to Starbucks for some coffee before we headed back home.

Although it was a great day out, I’m going to look for a nice sandy beach not far from London for the next time we have a bit of a heat wave…although living in the UK, I could be waiting all summer! 😉

Fun Facts! 👆

The ever changing nature of parenting 

This evening I lay down beside S and watched him fall asleep. Watched as his eyes closed at the end of another busy day, watched as his face relaxed and he fell into a deep sleep. I often use these moments to reflect on our day and think about how I can do better. Parenting is a tough job…We’re constantly having to make choices and hope they are the right ones for our kids. I don’t know any good parent who isn’t constantly berating themselves for the choices they make…it just goes with the territory.

Now that he’s 5, he’s started to make many of his own choices and my latest challenge is allowing him to do the things he wants to do, even if I don’t agree with them. I often look back at old blog posts and laugh at my naivety. When S was younger I truly believed you could negotiate/gently coerce children and that you didn’t need to raise your voice or resort to black mail. And now I increasingly find myself doing those very things. 

I recently read a blog post where the writer asked : How would you feel if your spouse talked to you the way you talked to your child? This is a pretty powerful question and I’ve been asking myself a similar one: How would I feel if my parents spoke to me the way I speak to S? And that’s given me a lot of food for thought. While I do think that adults and children are different, sentences like that still make me think. Ofcourse most adults aren’t unnecessarily rude, don’t refuse to eat, refuse to have a bath  or ignore you when you ask them to do something like many 5 year olds do so it’s not an accurate comparison but nevertheless, if it’s made you more mindful then more points to the writer.

I think of parenting as an ever changing responsibility. Just when you’ve tackled one challenge, another one presents itself. It forces you to look at yourself and analyse who you are. Why is that some behaviour bothers us and doesn’t bother another parent? What is it about our children’s behaviour that gets under our skin? I was listening to a podcast recently by Torie Henderson (A life coach for parents) and she got right to the point when she said that most of our reactions towards our kids comes from a place of fear that we are not good enough mums/parents. The more I pondered on her words, the more I nodded in agreement. Most of the time, when we get frustrated, it’s because our child is doing something we don’t think is right. And our reaction comes as a result of our perception. But what if we change our perception? What if we relinquish control of how we think things should be? Wouldn’t we be happier? Wouldn’t it make parenting more joyful? 

What is it about parenting that makes us such control freaks? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

London in the Springtime 

You know Spring has arrived when the gorgeous Cherry Blossoms come out and boy have they arrived!!


We’re so lucky to live in an area surrounded by cherry blossom trees so we get to watch them bloom on our daily walk to the bus stop.

So with the Easter Holidays upon us, schools out and the skies are blue, here is my list of the best London (and the surrounding areas) have to offer this Spring!

1. Duck Tours – have a look on Groupon before you go to their website, they very often have deals on there. Make sure you read the terms and conditions!

2. The Big Bus Tour – See all the best sights of London over one or two days. I personally love a Bus Tour, especially if you’re only in the city a few days and want to make the most of your time.

3. Battersea Park Children’s Zoo – We haven’t been yet but it’s on my list of places of visit this summer. We are however members of London Zoo and S loves it.

4. Southbank – My favourite part of London! The Art of Brick: DC Super Heroes opened on the 1st of March. We went to the original Art of Brick and was amazed by it so this is definitely on our list for when we’re back in 2 weeks time.

5. The Tate Modern is running a “live exhibition“, something I think both adults and children alike will be fascinated by. Don’t forget to take a spare change of clothes, just in case your kids refuse to come out! 😉

If you don’t mind venturing out then I highly recommend Belmont Farm, Bekonscot Model Village, Windsor Castle and Legoland

If the weather turns (let’s be realistic, it’s London) then there’s Sea Life and the London Aquarium, The National History Museum, The Transport Museum or the good ol’ cinema. VUE usually run Kids mornings over the holidays where movies are £2.50 a ticket (kids and adults alike).

And of course if the beautiful weather sticks around, there are always the gorgeous London Parks – Regents Park, Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park are my favourites. Email education@royalparksfoundation.org to find out more about what’s going on in the parks over the next few weeks.

Happy  Spring! 🌸🌸🌸

A weekend in Paris 

If there’s one thing I believe, it’s that travel teaches children much more than only school ever will. Heck I don’t just believe it for children, I believe it for everyone. And armed with that belief, it’s been my mission to start ticking off places to visit every year. Last year S visited Rome, Istanbul, Dubai, Tenerife and Lagos (3 of them completely new destinations). With me working full time now, this year has been left pretty open.
I was always going to take a few days off during half term to spend time with S (catch up with friends) but in January I decided to book a weekend getaway to Paris as well. We don’t live too far from St. Pancras so decided the Eurostar would much a much more efficient in terms of our time. I booked for us to leave on the 7:55 train on Friday morning and return on the 18:13 train on Sunday evening, making the most of our days in Paris.

Getting there

I initially tried to book package deal through http://www.lastminute.com which I would advise against! It was only after 2-3 phone calls to them when I remembered a similar issue I faced last year. I truly believe that we’re being conned into believing their fares are lower than everyone else’s when in fact you go to book and find yourself unable to do so. After umpteen calls to their call centre, talking to people who have no answers and will not deviate from their script, they finally agree to book your holiday but of course by then they want to charge you £75 more because your booking is not guaranteed and no longer available! Someone, anyone…please remind me not to attempt to book with them again. A quick look at their twitter and you’ll see just how many people write to them on an hourly basis with issues with their bookings. Anyway, I finally booked the train through the Eurostar website and booked our hotel through http://www.booking.com I would recommend you first try http://www.trivago.com which compares several hotel booking websites and tells you which one has the best rate for the room you’re looking for. Tips for the Eurostar – grab your coffee, food and drinks from one of the many shops at St. Pancras as the café on the train is quite overpriced. I understand they are introducing a new fleet of trains but these haven’t rolled out yet. We were on an old train with no working WI-FI and no sockets at each seat. Thankfully the toilets were clean!

Where to stay

My cousin and her family live in Paris and we wanted to be close to her but also close enough to all the sites of Paris. We ended up staying at a hotel from the Accor Group – Mercure La Defense. The hotel is rated as a 4* but I’m not sure I would give it a 4 star. The rooms are a decent enough size and we were lucky we had a view of the Eiffel Tower as well as the La Defence district (business district, tall glass buildings, etc.) but the bathroom was pretty small. When I first opened the door, I saw the sink and tub in front of me and wondered where the toilet was. It was squeezed in behind the door. There were also no amenities in the bathroom except some packaged bars of soap near the sink and a squeezable bath gel/shampoo hooked on the wall in the tub. On the Saturday I realised my international adaptor wasn’t working and asked the hotel if they had one. Luckily they did and said I could use it but had to pay a 20 EURO deposit. I was fine with this but requested them to deliver it to the room and I’d give them the money as S was asleep and I couldn’t go down to the lobby. All I got was a “Sorry, we can’t help you.” I expected more from a 4* hotel.


 Things to do in Paris

We arrived at Gare du Nord around midday on Friday. A quick trip through the city and we were on the West side of Paris in Courbevoie. We had lunch with my cousin and her family before heading back into the city. We took the train from La Defence to the Louvre and got off right in front of the museum. When I first looked at a map of the Paris Metro, I thought it would take us at least an hour to get across the city but Paris is a lot smaller than London and getting from the East to the West was quite quick.


It was a gorgeous day. We didn’t end up going into the museum but got a peep in through a massive glass window. We then walked out across the main courtyard and through a park in the city, down to the Champs Elysee. Paris, with it’s wide open streets and ample space is a joy to walk through.

On Saturday we decided to head to see the Eiffel Tower…but not before popping into one of the many bakeries for some freshly baked breakfast goodies.

You can see the Eiffel Tower from various points in the city but nothing prepares you for just how amazing it is up close. I hadn’t been to Paris in 14 years and was amazed by it all over again.


S really wanted to climb to the top so we queued up at one of the stairs entrances. You can in fact only walk up to the second level from where you take a lift to the top. When you arrive at the Eiffel Tower there’s a security check which took us about 20 minutes and then we spent 1hr 20 mins queuing at the entrance to start our ascent.


The whole experience took us approx 3 hours. We were planning on doing the river cruise right after but it was already close to 4 and S was pretty tired. 

I’d definitely recommend the river cruise though as it covers quite a few sights. The next time we’re in Paris, we’d do it without a doubt. We spent Sunday with family having lunch and exploring some parks before heading home Sunday evening. Paris makes for a great weekend getaway and S already asks to go back all the time. I think Paris stole his heart 💜💜

Goodbye 2016

I spent New Year’s Eve 2015 at the top of Primrose Hill with my cousin J and her husband H – that does not feel like almost an entire year ago! 2016 – What a year it’s been! I’m running out of adjectives but what I’m left with year-end is “extraordinary”, in every way!
It hasn’t always been an easy year – I’ve personally dealt with sudden demise and ill health within my family – and as a nation, we’ve seen our break up with the European Union, the election of Donald Trump and far too many deaths of people who made a difference. On many occasions this year I questioned how we got to where we are. Watching the horror that unfolds in Syria, seeing children separated from their parents in the Calais Jungle, the exposing of the Panama Papers, lorries driving into Christmas markets….you get my drift!
But life is all about perspective and I strive to see the positive in things, specifically in my life. The media have a way of only portraying the worst in the world and not the best. That is not to say that what is happening isn’t happening and isn’t heart breaking in many cases. We must do all we can to help those in need, to make a difference to the lives of our fellow beings. But one of the biggest differences we can make is to our own life. It’s only when our cups are full, when we love ourselves, when we are happy, that we can help those around us.
With that, I look back at my year with a sense of contentment. I’ve made new friends, I got myself a pretty good job, I visited several new cities, I went on a date, I’ve watched S grow into a smart and cheeky little boy with a great sense of humour. I’ve spent lots of time with family, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in years and blogging has given me (and S) some fab opportunities this year.
So while I’ll say a little prayer for all who need it and hope for a better 2017, I will say thank you to 2016! You weren’t too bad, you could have been a lot worse!
Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Magical Lapland UK

It’s no secret that I absolutely love Christmas. Our tree goes up around the 3rd week of November and I start planning for Christmas around the end of October (researching Christmas presents, planning the different activities I want to take S to, getting social dates in the diary, etc.) Christmas has a way of evoking some of my favourite childhood memories. As a child, my parents would bundle my brother and I into our car and take us for a drive through London. We’d each be sat at either end of the back seat staring out at all the beautiful lights along Oxford Street and Regents Street. I may be 30 something years old but I still gaze in wonderment at the lights in the West End. Naturally I’d like to create some of these memories for S. One’s he can look back on and smile at – for me it’s an easy way to find my happy place. And Christmas to me isn’t just about the gift giving (BUT that is a welcomed addition), it’s also about the festive spirit, the kindness I see around me and the time for mulled wine (although I have been known to drag this tradition on until February!)
With that, I wanted to take S to Lapland UK this year. In my opinion, he’s the perfect age where he was able to enjoy every aspect of it. I probably could have taken him last year but somehow we had so much else on, it didn’t happen. For all those “invited” to Lapland by Father Christmas, they receive a personalised invitation a week before with a time slot. Ours was 1:30 and we arrived there at 12:30. After parking in one of their many free car parks, we walked through the Enchanted Forest to the entrance. We checked in with the elves who were super chirpy and engaged with S. We were quite early so we sat down to share a hot chocolate and take in our surroundings.

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At 1:30 we had an introduction to our day before being taken through a beautiful dimly lit corridor into an enchanted forest. It was here that we met one of the oldest elves and was introduced to Ecko – the “green” elf. They engaged us with stories before singing the elf song and whoosh the doors opened into what I can only describe as Winter Wonderland – it was like a scene out of Narnia. We began our adventure at the Toy Factory where S got to make 2 toys, helping the elves get ready for Christmas. There was also a conveyor belt of dangling toys hanging from the ceiling. 


The second part of our experience was story time and gingerbread decorating with Mother Christmas and her elves. She was so lovely – they ran out of spaces and she went and personally got S a placemat, a gingerbread man, some sweets and a chef’s hat. 


Finally we were let out into the Elf village which had an ice skating rink, a bauble shop, a post office (where we wrote a letter to Father Christmas), a restaurant, a souvenier shop and lots more. There was a juggler elf and a bauble elf. Although all the vendors accepted cards, you could opt to buy “Jingles” which is elf money. 1 Jingle = 1 £.

Finally, about an hour later, we strolled through the Winter Woodland to end our magical day with a meeting with the man himself, Father Christmas. S had been counting down the days to Lapland and was even really excited in the waiting area. But the minute the doors opened and Father Christmas bellowed out “S, I’ve been waiting for you” – he got really shy and hid behind me. We sat beside Father Christmas and he did really well considering S wasn’t responding to him that much. At Lapland they’d asked us for some information before we got there and using that, Father Christmas was able to engage S by talking about things he “knew” he liked – and it worked because S perked up wondering how he knew. All part of the magical experience!

What I loved about Lapland is just how enthusiastic they all are and the very obvious effort that has gone in to create this stunning place. The “snow” didn’t just sit on the trees you could see – look up and there was snow even right at the top. No parts of Lapland looked run down and none of the elves missed a beat. They were funny, warm and engaging with all the children. Apart from his bout of shyness at the end, S absolutely loved the experience and honestly, so did I. It definitely brought out my inner child and left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Now the Christmas spell has been cast, I hope S loves the season as much as I do.
Lapland UK is open from the 19th of November until the 24th of December. We were invited to visit Lapland UK as press but as always all thoughts and views are my own and unbiased.

Aladdin, the musical, London 

My all-time favourite Disney movie is Aladdin. As a child, many a Saturday night was spent watching Aladdin and over the years we memorised every word, every song lyric. So when I heard Aladdin was coming to the West End, there was no question about going, it was just a question of when. My wish was fulfilled on Tuesday this week.

As you can imagine I had high expectations going in and I wasn’t disappointed (entirely). The real credit has to go to designer Bob Crowley (for London’s most impressive sets) and Trevor Dion Nicholas (The Genie) who’s mesmerising and enigmatic performance made the show. Iago’s parrot to human transformation worked well (the voice was spot on) but Abu was missed. The flying carpet scene is pure magic – how they pulled that off completely baffles me but it was mind blowing. The special effects will leave you awe struck – smoke, disappearing acts and fireworks are just some of them!

I’ve seen quite a number of West End musicals and I have to say that I expected more, vocally, from both the leads (Aladdin & Jasmine). Don’t get me wrong, their voices are amazing but not up to the standard I’ve seen on other shows (Wicked for example). Purists of the film will notice the artistic liberties taken with the narrative but nothing too far-fetched. The cheesy jokes do go a touch too far but you’re so distracted by the glitz and glamour on stage, you’ll laugh anyway. The songs are all the originals with a few extra thrown in for good measure.

All in all, it’s a great feel good family show – you’ll be beguiled by the colours, characters and pure energy that emanates from the stage.

Aladdin is showing at The Prince Edward theatre in Soho.

 

Stickman, Leicester Square Theatre, London 

This weekend we went to see Stickman, the play. If you read my blog regularly you’ll know we go to the theatre quite often. This year we’ve seen Disney on Ice, The Gruffalo, The Scarecrows wedding and now Stickman. S has also seen 2 other shows with his school. I love taking him to see shows based on books we read because he’s able to literally watch the book come to life. My hope in doing this is to spark his imagination and extend to him my love for the arts. 

Most of the children’s shows we go to are an hour long (perfect for those shorter attention spans) and have very few people on stage. Stickman was no exception with only 3 people playing the various characters. It’s about a stick who lives with his stick lady love and his 3 children in a family tree. One day he goes out for a walk and is attacked by dog, thrown into a river and used as a mast for a flag. With each encounter he bellows out “I’m not a twig (bat, pen, etc) why can’t they see, I’m stickman, I’m stickman, I’m stickman, that’s me.” He just wants people to see him for what he is – a stick being with feelings of his own – who longs to be back in the family tree.


Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler (The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, Monkey Puzzle, Room on the Broom, etc.) they are known for their poetic prose and imagination. Sally Cookson and her team have done a fantastic with this wonderfully exuberant and delightful stage production. They make deft use of a ukulele, banjo, saxophone, the drums and chimes. And there’s plenty of audience participation, the cast entering the audience at one point as the “dog” chases “stickman”. This show had more audience participation than any other we’ve seen before and this went a long way in holding the kids attention and keeping them highly entertained.

 Stickman is a wonderful Christmas themed adaptation and I’d recommend taking your children to go see it this holiday season. It’s showing at The Leicester Square Box Office from the 16th of November until the 30th of December.
 

Dubai with kids 

Earlier this year we visited Dubai for S’s spring half term. It was a very last minute trip – we decided we were going on a Sunday morning and left the following Friday.
We’d been to Dubai previously (December 2014) for 2 weeks but S was only 2 yrs 9mnths and although I never expected to say this about Dubai, it wasn’t warm enough to do so many of the popular outdoor activities. However, in May this year, we had the most wonderful week in Dubai (you can read all my restaurant recommendations here). It was hot but not unbearable. Dubai is a wonderful place to visit with kids…here are my top 10 things to do with kids in Dubai.
1. Ski Dubai 

Funnily enough we didn’t actually go in to Ski Dubai. I was really looking forward to it but we met my cousin at the Mall of Emirates and once S saw my niece L, he had no interest in going into ski (baby L wasn’t allowed in). To have a ski slope in what is essentially a desert is pretty cool though. It was a lot smaller than I thought it would be but still offered the opportunity to ski, snow board and roll around in a huge Zorb ball. Kids would have a blast and if you don’t fancy going in yourself (and they’re old enough to go alone), you can have a drink/bite in the adjacent Cheesecake Factory which has huge floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking The Alps Ski Dubai.

2. Atlantis, The Palm

We bought an all in one pass to go and see the Dolphins and go to the waterpark. It really was amazing. I’m a huge fan of waterparks and Atlantis did not disappoint. It’s quite big so we didn’t get to go on all the rides, plus with a child in tow, gone are the days of only going on all the scariest slides there are. I was very fortunate to have my parents and brother there who took S on the lazy river so I could in fact check out some of the more adrenaline fuelled thrills! There was a pretty awesome children’s section which S loved navigating. If we went again I think I’d opt to stay at The Atlantis for a night so we get to spend two days at the waterpark. Seeing the dolphins and doing the waterpark in one day meant we only got 5 hours at the park (time flies when you’re sliding down tunnels!) Also, trying to leave the waterpark when it closes is a bit of a nightmare. The taxi queue probably would have taken us an hour. In the end we ordered an uber and were lucky enough to be out of there in 15 minutes.



3. KidZania and Sega Republic

We didn’t go in to KidZania in Dubai – there’s one in London and it’s the kind of place that’s a lot more fun when you go with other kids. We did go to Sega Republic though. Like most kids S loves all the little rides. You have to buy a card which you can top up and use on all the rides. When we went in May this year, I used the card I’d got in December 2014 and it still worked. Kids can be kept entertained for hours in this place. You just have to have a pretty heavy wallet.


4. Wild Wadi
I went to Wild Wadi back in 1999 and again in 2005 and absolutely loved it. It’s one of the best waterparks in the world. Right by the Burj Al Arab, it’s also got some great views. As I understand, if you’re staying at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel then access to the waterpark is free. Alternatively you can just buy a day pass. It’s been around way longer than the waterpark at Atlantis and remains a firm favourite with many friends in Dubai.
5. Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo

Spectacular!! But then again, it’s Dubai so of course it’s going to be. I recently wrote about visiting the London Aquarium and it really doesn’t compare. The most amazing thing about the Dubai Aquarium is the sheer size of it. Housed in the middle of Dubai mall, it’s visible to everyone who walks by it. We paid to walk through the tunnel (not so spectacular – you really get the best views from the outside), to visit the Underwater Zoo and to go for a ride on a glass bottomed boat which was pretty cool.

6. Dubai Fountains aka The Dancing Water (according to S)

He loved it and when we went in May this year, he remembered it from his previous trip in December. It starts at around 6pm, lasts about 15 minutes and starts again every 30 minutes after that. Sometimes the water “dances” to local music, sometimes to Michael Jackson’s thriller and I’ve even heard it dance to Hero by Enrique Inglesias.


7. Desert Safari
This is worth the visit, however, go in the day! I wanted to watch the sunset and we went for the evening one but we missed the sunset because the tour guides were running late. We didn’t get to go on the dune buggys because it was dark, we only just got to go on the camels (last ride) and the food was pretty lousy (it didn’t help that I could barely see the food on my plate in the dark). I know I’m making it sound really bad but I think that’s just because we did the evening one – I’m sure it’d be a lot better if you did the day one which ends at sunset. Depending on when in the year you go, the only downside of the afternoon one would be the heat!
8. Bounce Dubai

This is fairly new and we haven’t been but a friend mentioned it so I thought I’d put it on here. We’ve been to Oxygen Free Jumping quite a few times in London and S loves it (who doesn’t love trampolining?!) So if you’re in Dubai and it’s too hot to go outside, this is a great venue to take the kids.

9. The Rainforest Café

A delight for the kids (and adults too). Again, we’ve been to The Rainforest Café in London but it does not even begin to compare to the one in Dubai. The best bit about it is the restaurant sits directly behind the Aquarium in Dubai mall giving you a fantastic inside view of all the sea life. Every so often the restaurant quakes as animals prowl through the jungle!! A must for the kids when you’re visiting Dubai.


10. Magic Planet
This is the largest indoor family entertainment centre in Dubai. It features award winning rides and games, providing fun for all ages, children and adults alike. They also have a 4D theatre, the first ever in the UAE. If you prefer something more relaxed, they have a soft play area, a professional child care centre and lots of restaurants to choose from.
Dubai with its sheer opulence means you could simply walk around one of their many malls and be amazed by all around you. If you get the opportunity, take a Gondola ride around Jumeirah Medinat and if it’s not too hot, jump on one of their hop on/hop off bus tours for a more insider view of the city.

Dubai is a wonderful holiday destination and they keep adding to their ever increasing tourist attractions (apparently the next one is going to be an outdoor yet air conditioned theme park) which means there will more certainly be something new to visit every time you go back. I think I hear Dubai calling….