December 2017 Archives

Goodbye 2017; Hello 2018!

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I won't lie when I say that I'm a little happy to see the back of 2017 as it's been a bit of a roller coaster year and one that has not allowed me to catch my breath. I was being pulled in so many different directions without the stability that I craved from the previous year. However, 2017 was better than 2016 in a lot of ways as I met some ace people this year. I just wish that I had been able to achieve some form of stability as I had too many changes throughout the year. This was the year of the major home renovation work (which began early last December), three different workplaces, and never being able to quite catch my breath or get caught up on anything. I felt like I have been running in circles, and I've not had a break and have been left feeling absolutely shattered (exhausted) a lot of the time. Anyway, I will cut to my best moments of 2017 now.


January: I returned from the states to a freezing home as the home renovations were taking place, and this was the beginning of being confined to one small bedroom for nearly six months. The month started with two separate light shows/festivals. I went to the Canary Wharf Winter Lights festival, which has returned for its second year and showcased several new light installations.


I also met up with my friends and a couple of their friends to go to Magic Lantern Festival at Chiswick House for the second year in a row, but this was a disappointment this year. We missed the unique Chinese lanterns and the larger-scale pieces; this year seemed to be a rip of western ideas and characters.


February: Although February was a fairly quiet month living out of one room in the height of winter while the house was gutted, I arranged to visit the Royal Mint Exhibition Experience near Cardiff to strike my own new pound coin; new pound coins came into circulation in the autumn of 2017. I saw how the coins were made and learned about them in the exhibition and museum.


Before heading back to London, I stopped at Caerphilly Castle for a tour, and I enjoyed the visit to this moated castle. This is just down the road from the Royal Mint, so I suggest planning this into a visit. The castle is in ruins but is well-preserved.


I also went to Down Street disused tube station, which is located in Mayfair, and that I had booked a few months before. This is a fantastic tube station with Churchill and World War II history as the disused tunnels were used during World War II.


Pancake Day also fell at the end of the month in February, and I watched the Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race at Dray's Walk off Brick Lane for my fourth time after having to miss it last year. The race is a stone's throw from where I worked on Brick Lane, so I got to enjoy it again. It became a favourite tradition after visiting it first in 2013 while working at the same place and making so many happy memories there. (I'm no longer working in this area of London, so I will miss it in 2018.)


March: March was another quiet month of being confined to one room during the home renovations, but I had one event to look forward to. Several months ago, I had pre-booked a tour of Clapham South disused underground station, which was previously used as a World War II bunker, and the time came to attend the tour. The tour was fascinating with the bunks and signage intact from the war era. 


I also had my first ice cream of the year, and this one was served with cotton candy (candy floss) from Milk Train. They are based near Covent Garden, and you get to choose your ice cream flavour and the toppings. The ice cream appears to be floating on a fluffy white cloud.


April: Easter fell in April this month, and this was a fairly busy month for me. I was a little disappointed about the progress of the home renovations this month, particularly as the weather was warming up and the end seemed to be fairly near but there were set backs. I felt stressed this month. I decided to have a break on Easter. On Easter Sunday, I walked up the road to Ruislip to visit the bi-weekly market, Duck Pond Market, and to watch the Easter egg hunt in Ruislip Woods. This turned out to be an enjoyable day with lovely weather.


In addition to the Easter events, the Ruislip Fairy Village was also installed again on this weekend after it was torn up by vandals, so I managed to have a look for the little fairy doors at the bases of trees, stumps, and logs before the Easter egg hunt began. I also had a quick chat to the fairy responsible for creating the little doors.


On the Monday after Easter, I paid a visit to the abandoned village of Imber in the Salisbury Plains. This village is open to the public for only a few days a year (at some point in mid-August and usually over Easter), and these days are announced in advance but subject to change. During the rest of the year, it it forbidden to visit Imber as it is a military training ground. A few of the original town buildings and homes exist, and the church at Imber still holds services. Imber seems to be getting to be a popular place now that it has been featured in documentaries, and it was busy on the day that I visited, which detracted from the "ghost village" atmosphere.


At the end of the month, my cousin from New York City visited London for a few days. I picked him up from the airport, and we hung out for a day in London. He was also the first to see the home renovations, although the work was not yet complete. On the Saint George's Day Sunday, we had a traditional Sunday lunch at Mews of Mayfair.


May: Although May was a quiet month, I wanted to get out of the house as I was tired of being confined to one room to eat, sleep, drink, and relax in. Near the middle of the month, I visited Reigate Caves and Reigate Castle (and Baron's Cave) during their open day; this has been on my radar for awhile. The caves have a few "open days" a year, and these tend to take place once a month until the autumn. Unfortuately, everyone else seemed to have the same idea as I overheard that the event was heavily publicised on Facebook, so the caves were busy. I was able to see the Tunnel Road guided tour cave as I arrived very early and visit the museum, but Baron's Cave underneath the castle was crowded and rushed.


Toward the end of the month, the home renovations were complete except for a few snags. Although, as I write this in December, I am still not yet done unpacking. There will be more renovation work to be completed in a couple of years when I have saved up. Regardless, I spent a lot of time unpacking and sorting out bits and pieces for the remainder of the year. 


June: June is my birthday month, but it was a low key affair this year.


I celebrated my birthday having a weekend brunch at Chiltern Firehouse, and the food was delicious. I've been wanting to visit the venue for awhile now, so I am pleased to have managed to do this for my birthday. 


Additionally, last autumn, the bloke's brother won second place for raising the most for a cancer charity, so he and the winner received a prize. They had to coordinate with the winner on the arrangement of this prize, and they happened to book my birthday day (which fell on a Saturday this year) for the prize, which was a sailing trip from Southampton to the Isle of Wight with a stop for lunch on the boat. We had perfect weather for this and learned the basics of sailing. Unfortunately, the bloke's brother's fiance could not make it as she was expecting, but I would have loved to have caught up with her on the trip.


On the last day of June, I received the news that all freelancers were being cut from the project that I was on in order to save money. The majority of people on the project were also freelancers. This came as a blow as I had hoped to stay at the company for awhile again for stability, and I had previously worked at this company for over two years. I really enjoyed working with new colleagues and ones that I had worked with in the past, and I made some great new contacts and friends. We had several group and team lunches at Dinerama and BoxPark. 


July: During this scorching hot month, I spent my time working hard in order to meet deadlines at work for the final month, and I spent a lot of time trying to get the house in order. In the middle of the month, I visited the town of St. Albans to see the cathedral and also toured the museum for the Roman town Verulamium, which I found interesting.


On one of those weekends (the only one which seemed to rain as the weather was scorching this month), was the visit to the RAF Northolt Open Day. I live near this airfield and have been hoping for a new open day to visit. Unfortunately, there was not a lot going on. There was a single plane fly-by, but there was not a lot to see and do here. We could see inside one plane and a helicopter, but the queues were so long because there was little else to do. We actually waited for over 3.5 hours to get inside the plane (pictured below).


At the end of the month, I started a new role at Aldgate East (just down the road from the last one) in London. Unfortunately, this new role ended up being a rolling monthly contract, which I have done previously for nearly a year. With a short contract, it is difficult to plan a life. However, I worked with some wonderful people that I would get to know better over the next months.

August: The beautiful weather returned for the majority of August, and I filled my weekends with fun activities. At the beginning of the month, I took an advance tour (due to charity donations) of the Postal Museum, one of London's newest attractions. This museum documents London's underground rail tunnels that were in operation until the 1990s. I went on one of the first tours before it was open to the general public.


I also completed a tour of listed building Broadway 55, the former headquarters of London's transport company. We learned a little about the staff and their working day, the architecture, and the company itself. The views from the top of the building across London are excellent from Broadway 55.


After the tour, I decided to take a walk through London to Regent's Park to see the sculptures in the park at Frieze Art Fair and enjoy the gardens. This was such a lovely day with perfect temperatures.


I also finally got around to booking my exhibition for 'Star Wars' Identies at the O2. This was a Christmas gift, and the exhibition was ending soon. I'm a massive 'Star Wars' fan but just had not gotten around to the exhibition earlier even though it had been open for several months. While guests went around the exhibition of props, costumes, illustrations, storyboards, and models, they answered personal questions in order to develop their own identity in the 'Star Wars' universe. I enjoyed creating my own identity.


Last, but not least, Merlin the cat got a kitten friend, which I named Sir Lancelot, though I don't think the name really fits him now. He was such a lanky kitten and all ears, but he has grown into a beautiful kitten. Merlin did not like him for the first couple of days, but they tolerate each other now and get along 99% of the time. He is sneaky and loves food so much that he will steal if from under your nose and run off with it. Yes, this has happened a few times. He's also not a confident kitten when it comes to human interaction, but he loves to play.


September: September was a fairly quiet month with more time spent trying to get the house in order. I had a trip on a vintage steam train from Harrow-on-the-Hill to Amersham. A part of the Metropolitan rail line was used to put on steam trains, and these went from/to Ruislip, Watford, or Harrow-on-the-Hill.


Once at Amersham, I got the vintage bus into the old part of town where the Amersham Heritage Day was in full swing. I checked out the market and the classic cars, and this was a real treat. I wish that I could have stayed longer.


October: Quite a few little bits and pieces happened in October. I caught up with my friends that I last saw in January at the Chiswick Lantern Festival, and I celebrated their engagement. I also went to Cardiff for a day in order to locate as many snowdog sculptures as I could for the Snowdog Sculpture trail. I did not get to see all of them because they are spread out over a large area, but I did get to see a lot of them.


I had lunch at The Corner House in Cardiff, and this was one of my favourite meals of the year. The food was exceptional. I loved my melting dessert.


I also got to do something fun for Halloween this year. For Halloween, I went on the Haunted Hampstead to Highgate Pub Walk. This was good fun as it was a trek across this part of London, and we stopped off at a few pubs and heard ghost stories along the way.


I was also told that the rolling monthly contract could not be extended further, but my boss had a word and they managed to extend to the end of November, which brings us to November.

November: Although I was told that the contract could not be extended as the work did not come in, several projects came through by the end of the month. Unfortunately, as I was told that there was not going to be an extension, I had already secured a new role. The new company wanted me to start before the end of the month as I had a three week holiday from the last week in November until mid-December, so I started on the third week into the month. Overall, I found November extremely stressful as I left that job and colleagues and started a week of the new one. I had a low key Thanksgiving as I was into my fourth day in a new job. My three week holiday kicked off in the last week of the month when my parents arrived. We spent a couple of days doing activities in London before having festive afternoon tea at the Connaught hotel.


We also went to the circus play 'La Soriee' and had dinner at Smith & Wollensky, which was my favourite meal of the year as everything I ate tasted delicious.


At the very end of the month, we went to Scotland and explored Edinburgh, Inverness, Loch Ness, and the William Wallace Monument in Stirling ahead of our short trip to Germany in December. (I will be adding more posts from Scotland in the coming weeks as I have a lot of work to do and a lot of photographs to look through.)


December: I spent the first day of the month visiting Winchester Christmas Market with my parents before we left for Europe. I know Winchester quite well as I lived near it and visited it often. It was also the first place in England (and Europe) that my parents visited and stayed at while I was finishing my Master's degree. We went to my favourite pub, Bishop on the Bridge, to have lunch before walking down the canal and into the cathedral close to wander around the market.


I then spent part of the first week of December with my parents in Germany where we went to Munich, Kufstein and Innsbruck in Austria, Lindau, and Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. We saw a few Christmas markets in the towns and cities that we visited, and this was the primary reason for visiting. Of course, we did much more than see Christmas markets.


The view from Kufstein Castle in Kufstein, Austria was stunning. We took the funicular up to the castle and admired the views and explored the grounds. We then went on to Innsburck, but we had a late start and did not get to see a lot.


Our day at Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle was memorable in the snow. We explored Hohenschwangau Castle first and had a tour of it before walking down the hill to get a horse and carriage up to Neuschwanstein Castle for our tour. 


We spent the final planned day in Munich to visit Nympenburg Palace, which has a stunning Great Hall and gardens. Unfortunately, the end of the trip did not go as planned as snow in London meant that we were stuck in Munich for over a day as our flight was cancelled and we had to wait over a day for the next flight, which was delayed again. This was the most stressful day that I've had in awhile. When we finally did get home, at a very early hour on Wednesday morning, we were so happy. 

In addition to Germany and Austria, we had more events and places to see. We had some late nights when we returned to London because we saw the midnight showing of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' (which I thought was good and better than 'The Force Awakens'), and I took my parents to see the BT Christmas Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which ended up being another late night. Before the concert, we ate at Elgar Bar & Grill inside the Royal Albert Hall, and this was one of the best meals that I have had all year. In London, we also visited the Geffrye Museum for its Christmas Past exhibition before they close the museum for two years, and we had a short visit to Oxford late in the day, but it turned out to be a shopping trip on the last day that my parents were in the country.


After my parents left in the middle of the month, I returned to work for the week up until Christmas, and also had to help the previous company that I worked for on work that came in as I was in the process of leaving. I've been spending the holidays working. 

Now that 2017 is coming to a close, I hope that 2018 is a better year and offers more stability and success. I'd also like to travel more as I've had a busy three years and have only just managed to have a short holiday, and that was the most ill-timed holiday that I've ever taken as it really screwed up my options; however, the rolling monthly contract and the previous contract being cut short also screwed up my options. So, I am hoping for success, travel, and more time for myself in 2018. I hope that all of my readers have a great 2018, and Happy New Year!

Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, Germany

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While in Munich, I got to visit Nymphenburg Palace. Nymphenburg Palace is located west of Munich's centre and came to life in the mid-1600s and was a gift from the Electoral Price of Bavaria to his wife, Italian Henriette Adelaide for the birth of their son. The palace was a summer residence and designed in the Italian villa style. Henriette called the palace the "abode of the nymphs", and she envisioned being dressed as the goddess Diana while at the palace. She died in 1676, before the work was completed.


Over the next several decards, the palace was extended. In the early 1700s, the expanded rooms took a French character because the main designer was French. This is when the courtyard was constructed as well as the gardens and ponds in front of the palace, and they are laid out in the French style. The gardens were used for entertaining, relaxing, and games, and water features and canals played a big part.



In the 1700s, the palace was the summer residence for the Bavarian Court and used between the months of May to September. In the 1800s, the palace was used less frequently and not updated. The gardens were updated, however, as the new owners (who became the first King of Bavaria) was interested in nature. The gardens were transformed into the subtle English garden, but the canals were kept and more landscaping was added throughout the century.





The Great Hall was the centre of the palace and a beautifully-decorated and light room. The ceiling design was created in the mid-1700s and shows nymph and flower goddess Flora in an arcadian landscape. 


The room off to the side of the Great Hall was also decorated well. We also explored the other rooms.



One of the rooms held the collection of King Ludwig's 'Gallery of Beauties', a series of 36 portraits that were commissioned by the king based on his personal preferences of beauty. The women and girls were from all social statuses.


King Ludwig's bedroom is photographed below.


The Queen's Study has a round table made of exotic wood, and the decoration of the room has Egyption influences, which was the fashion of the time in the 1700s; the room has not been touched since then. 


The Queen's bedroom is the location where prince Ludwig was born in 1845 to his mother and king Maximilian. King Ludwig, who became king at a young age, did not have a great relationship with his mother and he was later removed as king.


The Chinese room was built at the time when eastern influences were in style.


After the tour of the palace, we wandered to the stables in an adjacent building. The stables currently hold a collection of carriages and sleighs, and upstairs is a collection of china. The carriages and sleighs range across different eras and were designed to look lavish.




Have you ever been to Nymphenburg Palace?

After visiting Hohenschwangau Castle in Bavaria, our next visit was to Neuschwanstein Castle on the hillside opposite. Neuschwanstein Castle is probably the most beautiful castle in the world and is said to have inspired the fairy-tale or Disney-style of castle. With a little bit of snow covering the ground, it was not hard to see that this is an attractive castle, and after our guided tour of Hohenschwangau, we could not wait to get inside. The castle was built by King Ludwig of Bavaria, who grew up in Hohenschwangau Castle.


On our arrival to the castle earlier in the morning, we got a good view of it and the mountains in the background. These are the fringe of the Alps.



Because there was snow on the ground, the shuttle bus to the castle was not running. We opted to wait for a horse and carriage, and we had to wait a little while because everyone else had the same idea.


Once up part of the way, we had to walk up the rest of the way. There was a stop-off point for photographs before we came to the castle entrance to wait for our guided tour. We saw great views over the valley. 


Tours to the castle are guided only, but you can walk around the grounds without a ticket. You also need to be on time for your time slot as there are ticket machines, and if you miss your tour, you are not refunded. The tour of the castle showed us the different rooms and furnishings in the rooms. The Throne Room was an impression room with high celings, marble staircase/floors, and ceiling paintings. The most unusual room was off King Ludwig's bedroom, and this was a grotto (cave) inside the castle with a conservatory. On the way out, we could look in the kitchens of the castle and the gift shops.


I saw views of Hohenschwangau Castle after exiting, and it was already lit up. After the tour of the castle, which ended in the mid-afternoon, I wanted to walk to St. Mary's Bridge to get photographs. They close this in bad weather, and it was also growing dark.



I managed to find my way to the bridge over the deep canyon to take some photographs. I wish that I could have gone a little quicker.



After the visit, we had to walk down the castle as the horses and carriages were not running and it was closing time. Overall, this is an amazing castle, but it was too bad that we could not get there earlier so that we had more time there and less time spent in the queue/line for tickets.

A Visit to Hohenschwangau Castle (Germany)

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The day after spending a day at Lindau to see the Christmas market and harbour town on Lake Contance in Germany, I drove from Munich to Hohenschwangau to see what is probably the world's most picturesque castle and Neuschwanstein Castle and the castle on the hill across from it, Hohenschwangau Castle. In this post, I will cover Hohenschwangau Castle, but keep checking for updates. 


Hohenschwangau Castle was first mentioned in the 12th century on the hilltop in the town of Hohenschwangau. The castle was owned by Bavarian dukes but then was left to become run down. It had a new lease of life under king Maximillian II in the 1830s as a hunting lodge and summer residence and a continued lease of life under the king's son Ludwig, who built a castle on the neighbouring hill. The last resident, the king's mother, died in 1889. The castle then belonged to her brother-in-law, who died in 1912. The castle was then open to the public in 1913. 


On the way through southern Bavaria on the way to Hohenschwangau, there was more snow. Snow had fallen in placed on the way back from Lindau the previous day. There are mountain views, and this is picturesque scenery.


All of the tours of the castle are guided, and I suggest to book in advance. In order to book in advance, you need a few days. Because my trip was planned at the last minute, all advance tickets for the day had gone, even though I tried nearly a week before the day of visit. There are a limited number of tickets available on the day, but there are long queues, and they could sell out if you're not early enough. For your guided tour, you do need to be at the castle for the entrance and not to miss your slot as there aren't any refunds. The walking timings on the map are more than adequate.




We had to climb up a set of stairs on the way to the top of Hohenschwangau Castle, and these were snow-covered and slippery.


The guided tour took us across to the rooms where we learned about some of the items within the rooms. In one room was a piano that Wagner played on as Ludwig was a fan of music and the arts. The room that Ludwig stayed in was transformmed so that it appeared that he could sleep under the stars, and some of the ceiling was fitted with orbs that could be lit and glow.


The views from the top of Hohenschwangau Castle are amazing, so we took these in after our guided tour. We then had to walk down, but we opted not to walk down the stairs this time as they were too slippery and I saw placed where people had fallen. We decided to walk down via the road, which was virtually slip-free and had nice views of the lake and castle.






This is a beautiful castle. Keep checking back for my review of Newschwanstein Castle next door.

Krispy Kreme Doughnut Range at Selfridges

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Selfridges now has a Krispy Kreme doughnut kiosk in their food hall. Heated glazed doughnuts can be purchased as well as the standard Krispy Kreme doughnut offerings that you can find in shops and their stores. In addition, the special Selfridges Krispy Kreme kiosk are selling limited edition doughnuts, including their Selfridges doughnut for chocolate lovers; it is filled with chocolate.



Another offering is the Magic Unicorn doughnut, which I did buy. It is topped and filled with vanilla cream and comes in pink or blue. It is delicous.


There is also a salted caramel one and a fruity one on offer in Selfridges. At the moment, their Christmas ones are also on offer. I'm not sure how long they will operate the Krispy Kreme from Selfridges.

Going to see a Christmas concert is one way to get into the Christmas spirit after a busy couple of weeks of traveling and a busy year. Last Thursday, I took my parents to the Royal Albert Hall to see the BT Christmas Concert and to have a pre-concert meal at Elgar Bar and Grill, which is located inside the Albert Hall. I had been looking forward to the Christmas concert for awhile. I absolutely love Christmas music. The classic Christmas music is my favourite, and I love the hits by greats like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Mel Torme, Ferrante & Teicher, and so many others.


Elgar Bar and Grill serves up a selection of grilled meats and vegetarian options. It is decorated with photographs of famous singers who performed at the Albert Hall and also contains a piano in the room, but this was not being played. There are a few restaurants in and around the Albert Hall, but I picked this one because it had a good menu and food that we could all agree on. I ordered the James Brown-inspired cocktail (Soul Power) from the menu. We had roast beef, sirloin steak, and chicken. Chips and mashed potato were ordered, and the chicken came with puree carrots and crispy kale. 


For dessert, we had banoffee ice cream, creme brulee, and sticky toffee pudding. The food was delicious. I would visit this restaurant again the next time I visit the Royal Albert Hall.


After the meal, we headed into the Royal Albert Hall, which was decorated for the festive season.


The concert had a good mixture of music performed by the Laura Tebbutt, London Community Gospel Choir, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, Nadim Naaman (currently performing in 'Phantom of the Opera'), Laura Wright, the London choir and orchestra, and the Royal Marines drummers. Many traditional Christmas songs were sung/played. Clare Balding and Chris Hollins hosted the evening with some really cheesey Christmas-themed jokes. I loved the Royal Marines coming in to drum their Christmas beat in complete synchornisation, and I loved the vocalists and orchestra. The night ended with a fantastic firework display with confetti falling to the floor. 


It was a great night, but I would have preferred less audience participation (carols and carol singing), although I believe that the choice of hosting and anticipation from previous years did make it a bit more of an informal event. I would have loved to have heard the orchestra play more songs on their own or be able to enjoy listening to the singing from my seat instead of being forced to sing and subjected to the noises made by the groups of women who had had a little too much. As this was a hosted event, I would have preferred a little more facts about the music being played or coming up instead of the cheesey Christmas jokes used as fillers. However, I think it was the type of event that best goes down with a few drinks before and during the show.

Visiting Christmas Markets in Lindau, Germany

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After visiting Kufstein in Innsbruck in Austria, we headed to the town of Lindau, which is situated on Lake Constance in southwest Germany (in Bavaria). The town is on an island in the lake, with a bridge to the mainland, and the town dates back to before Roman times. There are boat trips around the lake or to an Austrian town on the opposite side of the lake. The town also has its own Christmas market, which is situated on the picturesque harbour. The Christmas market was the main reason for our visit.


We arrived fairly early and had a wander around the Christmas market first. The Christmas market is fairly small but has a diverse selection of items for sale and the famous mulled wine.


Smoked fish was also on offer here, and I noticed this before from other Christmas markets.


Another popular treat I discovered in Lindau, and this was similar to a pizza. There were sweet and savoury ones, and I had the sweet one with apple and vanilla cream. I've never had anything that tasted quite like this before.




The day we visited was very foggy and cloudy, but there was a short moment where the clouds lifted and we could see the mountains on the other side of the lake. The harbour has a lighthouse and a sculpture of a seated lion, which looks like a tribute to Roman times.


There is also a clocktower on the side of the harbour, and this opens later in the afternoon and in the evening to offer wonderful views over the harbour and the Christmas market.



After exploring the Christmas Market, we walked down the main street in Lindau, which is only a couple of streets away from the harbour. We saw the beautiful buildings, shops, and a huge Christmas tree. We also had dinner at a German restaurant.






After eating, we went back to the Christmas market in order to see it in the dark. It looked beautiful lit up with the clocktower glowing.



Whereas Innsbruck in Austria has a mountain Christmas Market, Lindau has a lake Christmas market. Have you ever been to Lindau Christmas Market?

After exploring Kufstein in Austria (on the border with Germany) and its castle, I visited Innsbruck, which is just down the road and in the Tyrol/Tirol region. Innsbruck is noted for its winter sports and has a skiing resort on the mountains above the city, which can be seen from the city. It has hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics. It is also the home of Swarovski crystal glass company, which is located nearby with a crystal glass experience located in Innsbruck itself. Unfortunately, we did not get to go to that or take a ride on the cable car up to the mountain, but we did get to explore the Christmas market. One of the Christmas trees in the market is actually made with the Swarovski crystals.


Innsbruck has wonderful mountain views from the city with wonderful photograph opportunities, such as the one below with the government building off Wilhelm-Greil-Straße.


 The Triumph Arc below that is another monument that frames the snow-capped mountains nicely.



Unfortunately, it grew darker before we could check out the Christmas market with the snow-capped mountains behind it, but I could still see the lights from the ski lodges on the mountain above in the darkness.



We had dinner at an Austrian restaurant before exploring some of the old town and the Christmas market. Like the German Christmas markets, all types of items can be bought here from crafts to cooked food to mulled wine to Christmas decorations. It has a wonderful atmosphere with a large Christmas tree, Rathaus and decorated buildings, such as the building with the golden roof. Unfortunately, I was only able to see these in the dark so could not get any impressive photographs.






One of the charms of Innsbruck we noticed were large giant puppets and sculptures on the top above the doorways of buildings depicting giants and fairy tales. The "Fairy Tale and Giant's Alley" is a treat showing several characters dressed as giants or fairy tales. I spotted 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' and 'Rapunzel', but there were so many more to find along the way and in unexpected places if bothering to look up.


The Christmas market also promises other activities and horse/pony rides through the town, so it was a shame that we arrived too late to also take advantage of this. I may have to go back.

Earlier this month, I travelled to Munich, Germany to visit the Munich Christmas Market. On the second day of this holiday, my parents and I had a day trip to Austria to the Tirol/Tyrol region. Our first stop was the town of Kufstein in Austria, which is on the border of Germany and on the fringe of the Alps and Bavaria. Kufstein is a popular place for skiing and the arts and has its own open-air theatre for events. It also has buildings dating from medieval times and a castle on top of a steep hillside. It was once a walled city, and parts of the old wall can still be seen.


On the way to Austria, we saw snow and mountains and beautiful scenery and buildings.



The first stop once we arrived in Kufstein, Austria was to visit Kufstein Castle / Fortress, which is located on top of a steep hill in the town. The castle is more than 800 years old and includes an open-air theatre and organ. The castle was first documented in 1205 and passed ownership many times between the region and Bavaria. The access to the castle is in the middle of the town and up a funicular railway (or via steps), which offers beautiful views over the town and mountains.


I took some photographs of the journey up the funicular and at the top where I could see the amazing views.



Once at the top, a rotunda tower offers excellent panaromic views.





We then explored the buildings, which includes a museum and prison. The museum information panels were in German, so we could not read them, but I believe that they document the findings in and around the castle grounds and Kufstein. Skeletons of bears are present, and there are also shards of flint and stone tools, ceramic, and pottery.


The tower on the top point was the former prison, and enemies of the Austria-Hungary empire were jailed here. It is now a restaurant and a museum with information about a variety of subjects, such as gruesome punishments and how the prisoners were kept. There were also a few articles on different types of crime and justice. Below is one of the prison rooms.



The other side of the building contained the cannon area, and excellent views could be seen around the castle. The theatre area could also be walked to and hosts a Christmas market during some of the days, but we did not walk here and the Christmas market was not open on the day that we visited.


After descending the castle, we headed toward the town square and passed the decorated Rathus (court house) and a beautiful church. 



Just off of the square is the road named Römerhofgasse, which is a medieval passage lined with buildings decorated with frescoes.



Kufstein is a lovely town worth passing through to spend a couple of hours checking out the castle and town. It also sounds like a lovely place to watch the opera, theatre, or music concert that are in session in the summer months.

A Visit to Munich Christmas Market

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Earlier this month, I visited Munich with my parents. They wanted to visit a Christmas market in Germany. I had already been to Nuremberg on a previous trip (covered here) and Rothenburg ob der Trabeur (covered here), so I made the booking reservations to visit Munich's Christmas market (with additional day trips that I will cover in later posts). Munich is the capitol of the Bavaria area in southern Germany, and the Christmas market has been here since the 14th century. The Christmas market was originally located along the river, but it moved to Marienplatz in 1972.


We got the train into Munich and got off at Marienplatz where we saw the Old Hall and clocktower before having a wander around.


The Rindermarkt is located a short walk away, and it specialises in food (fruit and vegetables, cheeses, meats, and cooked food and mulled wine) and items for the home, such as wreaths, floral arrangements, crafts, small firs, and mistletoe. I also saw a selection of items for tourists and a couple of wooden huts selling antique Christmas ornaments. 





We had a long look around the main Munich Christmas Market in Marienplatz, opposite the Rathaus. A large Christmas tree is located in the square here, and at certain times of the day, there is singing and an orchestra playing music here. We had a good look around the wooden huts while it was quiet as the market gets more crowded during the day, and the areas selling the mulled wine and food tend to get packed.







I did manage to find a treat; these coconut macarons (kokosmakronen) were one of the best coconut items that I have ever eaten. They were slightly crisp on the edge and gooey in the middle as they were served slightly warm. These are delicious, and if you like coconut, you have got to try these. These were located in Marienplatz at a kiosk selling chocolate, gingerbread, and other sweet treats.




Of course, watching the Munich Christmas Market come to life as the sky grew dark was wonderful. The lights and the Christmas tree in front of Rathaus came to life.



We also visited Munich on what was meant to be our last day in the city, but we got delayed due to a little bit of snow in London. We checked out the Christmas Market at Residenz. They have a special area for children here with various scenes from fairy tales and Christmas on display as well as a nativity scene.




Another area of the Christmas market in Munich is located on Neuhauser Strasse and is about a ten minute walk from Marienplatz. This Christmas market, known as Kripperlmarkt, features several wooden huts selling items for nativity scenes.


On the Sunday we visited (our last day), we saw a large group of the Krampus scaring people in the traditional 'Krampus Run'. The Krampus are men and boys dressed up in scary costume, and they look like a blend between goat, devil, and man. These are the Krampus, a tradition and myth of Germany and sidekick to Saint Nicholas. While the saint turned a blind eye to the naughty children, the Krampus demands authority and respect. The Krampus would kidnap naughty children and take them to the mountains. 

Overall, we had a good time in Munich, but the bad weather in London and cancelled flights and waiting around at airports for over twenty-four hours due to cancellations and delays meant that we were more than ready to get home and relax after a busy few days of sight-seeing.

Where to See London's Christmas Lights 2017

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It's now the time of year that London is all dressed up and ready for Christmas and the holiday season, so I have written my annual post with photographs of London looking festive in Christmas lights. This is an annual tradition that I have been documenting for the past several years, and you can find previous lights from previous years at the end of this post.


Oxford Street: This year, Oxford Street has decorated with their round gold and silver bauble decorations along with panels of Christmas cards. The Christmas lights are sponsored by NSPCC children's charity, which was also the charity for Oxford Street's Christmas lights last year.



Regent Street: This year, Regent Street are displaying the beautiful angel Christmas lights that they released in 2015. These are beautiful to look at.


Covent Garden: This year, the giant chrome reindeer returned to the plaza after several months of renovation work at Covent Garden. The reindeer and Lego creation are missing this year; the Lego may be missing due to the first full year of the new Lego store around the corner in Leicester Square. The giant Christmas tree and mistletoe decorations returned again, and this year there were several flowers and carts and crates decorated around the plaza in a throwback to the fruit and vegetable market heritage. There are also large wreaths above some of the entrances.







Of course, looking at the Christmas lights is hard work, and I helped myself to a hot chocolate from Hotel Chocolat in Covent Garden. They had two different festive flavours to choose from, topped with a chocolate snowflake and cream.


Leicester Square: Leicester Square has its own Christmas Market and performance tent for the second year in a row. It has star lights hanging from the trees, and the walls on the outside display children's drawings. The design matches last year. The road from here to Piccadilly Circus features the large snowflake design, which they have used for the past few years.


Seven Dials: Seven Dials have changed their Christmas lights for the second year in a row. This year, their lights feature heart shapes with greenery and wrapped red and white gifts with 'Seven Dials' signage featuring a heart with a lamb inside.


Carnaby Street: Each year, Carnaby Street create a different theme. This year's theme was Christmas Carnival. I already covered these lights in my post here: Carnaby Christmas Carnival.


Mayfair: The blue arch lights and the diamonds and peacock feather lights are the same as they have been the past several years. The shops also decorate in this area (and around west London).



St. Christopher's Place: The little alleyway off Oxford Street not far from Selfridges often has unique Christmas lights. This year, they have changed and gone for white lights featuring a statue similar to the one on their entrance and giant white orbs.


The Strand: The Strand started to decorate a few years ago; I never noticed any particular decorations before. They use the same blue lights that they have done previously.


Winter Wonderland Hyde Park: Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland gets larger every year, and it has taken up far more space this year, and it looks as though they have attempted to make the rows larger for the crowds and to dot the food, drink, and Christmas market around the area instead of in one place only. This is welcome as the crowds there were too large previously. There are also more attractions inside the area to help disperse the crowds. I've posted it here because it's Christmasy, and they do have lights and other decorations. It's worth a stop for some mulled wine on a cold night or to meet with friends.





Previous London Christmas lights are below:

Winchester Christmas Market

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At the beginning of the month, I went to Winchester in Hampshire, England. I used to live near here for a few years, so I know Winchester very well. At this time of the year, the Winchester Christmas Market is on for a few weeks. The last time that I went was a few years ago, and I covered it here. Not much has changed. This time, I visited it on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The Christmas market is very busy on weekends. Crafts, soap, clothing, toys, home decorations, Christmas decorations, alcohol, cheese, and food is available at the Christmas market. There is also an ice rink. The Christmas Market is located in the close around Winchester Cathedral.









After visiting the Christmas market, we walked toward Winchester High Street, admiring the views of the cathedral lit up behind us. And, I always stop to text a name to the light sculpture (Luminous Motion) to change the colour of the steel light pillar at the other end of the cathedral.


The High Street has a Christmas tree in the market square near the market cross.



Each year, the Winchester Christmas Market is usually on from the last week or two of November until a few days before Christmas.

A Wander Around Edinburgh Before Christmas

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A couple of weeks ago, I had a quick stop over at Edinburgh with my parents on a whirlwind trip to Scotland. We stayed in Edinburgh for one night and had just under twenty-four hours in the city. This was my third visit to Scotland, and I've only ever been to Scotland in November and December instead of the summer months. This is my second visit to Scotland during the Christmas season. My first visit during the Christmas season was for a couple of days, and it bucketed it down with rain; as a result, I didn't get to see much as the weather was that nasty. On this visit, I was blessed with nice  but cold weather. There was a little bit of rain and full cloud, but the rain did not last long. This article is for those who are looking for Christmas in Edinburgh.


The National Archives of Scotland building is located in the New Town area of the city, and it has a beautiful light projection onto the facade with an advent calendar countdown with the different eras in Edinburgh. The colours light up and change and display a video and audio tour.



The Christmas Market is also located in the New Town area of the city, and there are a couple of ice rinks. One is located at the top of Prices Street, and there is at least one more on George Street with a smaller Christmas market and ice sculptures. The main Christmas Market itself is located off Prices Street in the Prices Street Gardens, which is in a valley. The market is larger this year than in my previous visit, and there are fair rides, several places to eat and drink, and several wooden cabins selling gifts and other items. Many of these gifts were replicas of what I saw in London's Christmas Markets (Hyde Park Winter Wonderland).




New Town also had buildings decorated beautifully. 


During the day, the Christmas Markets and fairground rides could be seen next to Scott Monument.


I also had a walk along the Royal Mile, which is located in the old part of town. The church below is St. Giles Cathedral.


In front of St. Giles Cathedral is the Heart of Midlothian. This marked a prison entrance, and it is a custom to spit onto the heart if passing by.




Tron Kirk is another church/cathedral on the Royal Mile.


The Royal Mile is also known for its several alleyways that branch off of it. These led to closes and rows of houses. The closes are named after famous residents or what the street was known for (such as selling fish). Many of them are so small and narrow that they can be easily walked by and missed! There is one close that you can explore on a tour, and I will be posting about this at another time.


Have you ever visited Edinburgh during the Christmas season? My favourite tours in Edinburgh are to walk to the castle from the Royal Mile, tour King Mary's Close, visit the royal yacht Britannia (outside the centre of Edinburgh), and see the spot where the loyal dog Bobby lay. I'll be covering these activities in later posts in the coming days and weeks, so keep checking back. Let me also know what you recommend in Edinburgh.

Review: Birchbox December 2017

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This month's subscription beauty box Birchbox was delivered while I was stuck in Germany due to a little bit of snow in London, so I've only just gotten home and been able to see what I've received. This month, Birchbox and designer Matthew Williamson teamed up to create a box of lush brands. The box is designed with a very Christmasy Matthew Williamson print. Subscribers could chose between a LOC matte lipstick in 'Color Me Confident', which is a cranberry red shade, or Pixi shea butter lip balm in 'Natural Rose', which is a dark muted pink colour. 


Each month, subscribers receive five beauty and skincare items to try. These can be in a mix of sample sizes and full sizes. This month's products seem to be geared to harsh winter and Christmas.

Pixi shea butter lip balm in 'Natural Rose': This is a full-sized product that adds moisture to the lips, so it is perfect for this time of year. The colour is a dark pink and can be layered on the lips to create a darker shade.

Baija Paris Carmelised Honey Body Scrub: This indulging luxury scrub is made of natural products sunflower seed oil, sugar, and honey. 

ModelCo Contour Stick: This dark red-brown contour stick allows users to add colour to cheekbones, and it melts into skin.

Sand & Sky Brilliant Skin Purifying Clay Mask: This formula promises to refine, brighten, and nourish skin; it's made of Australian pink clay.

Spectrum Collections angled blender brush: This is a brush that helps to add contour to eyes to create a smokey eye look or a dash of colour.

Salisbury, Wiltshire 17 Years Ago (2000)

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Seventeen years ago, I spent part of the summer and all of the late autumn in Salisbury. I came to love this city with its towering-spired cathedral, interesting shops/cafes, market, cobblestone streets, and beautiful walks (water meadows). This is a city that I would move to if I had enough money; it is one of my favourite cities in England and the United Kingdom. I made some fantastic memories here and know the city well.


One of my first memories of Salisbury was grabbing a packet of crisps (chips) for lunch from Woolworths (which has since closed) with my boyfriend at the time. It was the first visit that I made to the city, and we walked to the park beside Salisbury Cathedral where a few people were enjoying their day in the sunshine. This was busy for the park at that time, but the United Kingdom has gotten much busier since then, and I have seen the park a lot busier than this day.


In the water was a horse-drawn wagon making tours. I am not sure if they do this anymore or if they are allowed to go into the water.


Of course, we saw the cathedral and the beautiful cloisters on this visit as well during my visit in June of 2000. 



Last but not least is a photograph of Queen Street, looking south. The beautiful timber-framed building is an important historical building "John a' Port's House" and was (for many years since the 1830s) a beautiful shop selling glassware, homeware, and other gift items. I loved the shop and bought many items here to take home as gifts for friends and family. It was called Watson's, but it was closed in the spring of 2008 and turned into a clothing shop, but I think it is now a restaurant. When this shop closed, the city lost a little bit of its charm, and the last time that I visited Salisbury (which was probably in 2013), Salisbury seemed a little soul-less with the same chain stores that all of the other towns in England seem to have these days.

London Christmas Window Displays (2017)

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The Christmas window displays in London are one item that I look forward to seeing each year. I enjoy seeing how creative the displays are and if there are any themes used in the displays. This year, I visited the usual shops on and around Oxford Street and Regent Street (Selfridges, John Lewis, Debenhams, Liberty, Fortnum and Mason, and Hamleys) to see what they have in store for us this Christmas (no pun intended!).


First stop is Selfridges, and they used many Christmas party themes and large inflatible items (Santa and robin) in their shop windows to create more movement and interest. The first corner of the building (the one opposite to the food hall entrance) has now been transformed into the centrepiece, featuring a giant inflatible Santa, which spins. The previous centrepiece corner window (at the side of Marks and Spencer) is now downgraded this year. Some of the settings depict people with a giant cracker, a Christmas float, a dinner party, and other scenes. The colours used are red with gold and blue.





On the food hall side of the building, we have lower-key London landmarks constructed out of different blue and silver shades, and I loved these and thought that they really rivaled the main window displays. 


Hamleys always have fantastic displays with their stuffed toys, and their windows are always so crazy-packed with children and adults photographing them that I try my best to avoid that whole area of the street. It's just too busy. In the past, it's been so busy that I've had to walk in the road to get around everyone. (Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if they want to move to Oxford Street once it is pedestrianised.) This year, I was around during the day and managed to avoid the nasty weekend crowds.


Fortnum and Mason went a bit abstract, exaggerated, and cartoonish with their series of mis-matched animals in over-the-top scenes this year. There was not a key feature window. 



Liberty was not worth photographing this year as they had simple window displays with the rooftops of old buildings (spires, Tudor-style timbers, etc). I was disappointed and did not feel that they deserved to be placed here this year because it was low-key. I also felt the same about John Lewis, Debenhams, and others.

Overall, I felt that this year was toned down on the Christmas window displays, and the only one worth really noting is Selfridges this year, even though it is not my favourite. The inflatible round Santa Claus and bopping robin were quite cute and grabbed my attention.

Previous write-ups about London's shop windows over Christmas can be read here:

At the end of November, I took my parents to see the circus and acrobatics show 'La Soiree' during their visit to London. I had never been before, but I had heard raving reviews about the show when it was on South Bank a couple of years ago. It seems that the winter festivals at South Bank have disappeared and perhaps moved north of the river now. However, I wanted to visit it. Of course, it wasn't quite the same show. The acts were different, but because the show had done so well the past couple of years, they had the chance to return their acts to the theatre this time.


Now, this is the type of show you really need to drink alcohol during and make an evening out of it with pre-theatre (and ideally post-theatre drinks). We didn't. I didn't know exactly what the acts were, and it was a bit risque for not having had anything to drink. There are bars on site, but I don't drink too often anyway, plus I was with my parents who do not drink. Of course, we are still talking about the show about a week later. I did speak to the bloke who told me about the show, and the acts were vastly different and more risque than he'd experienced. They also have a version of the acts for children during the day. This play is on quite late, starting at 8:00 in the evening, which probably accounts for people getting out of work and getting at least three pints in before the show. Of course, you will want to have post-theatre drinks as well because you may wish to forget some of the shenannigans that went on in the theatre.

For a limited time, beauty brand and beauty subscription box company Birchbox have launched a pop-up store on Carnaby Street in London's fashionable area. I was visiting the shops for Christmas when I stumbled upon their pop-up shop and decided to have a quick look inside and ended up taking away one of their boxes. In their pop-up store, you can pick out five items from three different categories (two make-up and two skincare and one hair product). I really wanted more of the hair and skincare products and struggled to find make-up ones that I had not tried.


I didn't really need to try anything in the make-up section but ended up with:

Spectrum Collections Unicorn Tears Wonder Sponge: This is a beauty blending tool, which I've already tried in the past. It allows you to apply liquid-based foundation and leave it looking blended.

Manna Kadar Cosmetics Radiance Split Pan Bronzer And Highlighter Duo: This is a highlighter and a bronzer in one, which can be applied to the skin to enhance tone and structure.

NUXE Huile Prodigieuse® Shimmer: This is a body and hair shimmer oil that is designed to add moisture and protect hair and skin from pollution. It adds a subtle glow to skin.

Seba Med clear face care gel: This gel promises to rid skin of pimples and imperfections. 

Umberto Giannini No More Messy Break Ups Split Ends Cream: This cream promises to repair and strengthen hair to prevent split ends. 


The Birchbox pop-up store on Carnaby Street will be refreshing its stock with new items this weekend, so be sure to keep checking.

At the end of last month, my parents and I went to the American steak restaurant, Smith & Wollensky, in London. This restaurant is one of several across the United States of America, and the first one opened 40 years ago in New York City. Now, there are several located in the states, and their international branch is in London. Despite knowing of their branch in Easton (Columbus), Ohio, I had never eaten here before. I will just go ahead and say that I wish I knew about this place sooner as the food was delicious, and I could not fault any thing about it.


First of all, the restaurant is located just off the Strand and on John Adam Street, located on the fringe of the theatre district with several theatres a short walk away. They do have a pre-theatre menu for people who do wish to take advantage of this.


The interior is designed like an American restaurant with dark wood panel, glass, and mirrors.


I ordered a wine, and then we put our orders of mains and food in.


My father had the steak and peppercorn sauce, which he said was very nice. As this is known for being a steak restaurant, it would have failed if the signature dish was not good. 


We ordered sides of mash potato, truffled mac 'n' cheese, and vegetables (which included spinach/kale, peas, and green beans). 



My mother and I both ordered the chicken, which came with a gravy.


We somehow left room for dessert and decided to share the chocolate cake between us. We did not know exactly how large this dessert would be until the waiter brought the huge giant slab of chocolate cake over to us with a knife and a chocolate cow biscuit. This was served with delicious Irish Cream slightly-whipped cream with a little fruit on the side. We had a jug of this cream to eat with the cake. We actually ended up taking home a third of the cake as it was just too much to eat.



Overall, this was a great meal and one of the best that I have had this year. I am looking forward to my next visit.

Prosecco Advent Calendar 2017

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Good afternoon, readers! I cannot believe that this year has gone so quickly, and it is already the time for advent calendars to be opened. This year, I purchased a Prosecco Advent Calendar to help me celebrate the countdown to Christmas. For those who have bought or been given one of these and do not want the daily surprise to be spoiled, do not read further. Actually, I have opened these up but have put them in the fridge with the intention of having them after the day, though there are a few duplicates to save for another day too.


First of all, I loved the packaging of this box and the nice designs for each 'window'.


And now, on to what is behind each window:


Day One: Gancia Prosecco Dry (11.5%, Italy). This is described as being a fresh, dry, and aromatic drink.


Day Two: Bottega Rose Gold (11.5%, Italy). The design of the bottle in its metallic pink colour looks impressive. The prosecco is described as being aromatic with a berry scent. The grapes are hand-picked and squashed gently. which makes the prosecco have a light pink shade.


Day Three: Freixenet Cordon Rosado Seco Cava (12%, Spain). Another pink drink, this cava is fruity and described as being a perfect summer or picnic drink.


Day 4: Bolla Prosecco Extra Dry (11%, Italy). This prosecco is described as being refreshing and dry with hints of pear and apple and an acidity finish.


Day Five: Jacob's Creek Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinor Noir (11.5%, Australia). This is a sparkling wine with citrus notes.


Day Six: Da Luca Prosecco (11%, Italy). This prosecco is described as having a soft and sweet taste.


Day Seven: Gancia Pinot Pinot Rose (11.5%, Italy). Another pink prosecco, this is described as a sparkling wine and has a floral and fruity raspberry/cherry taste.


Day Eight: Anna Codorniu Blanc De Blancs Brut Cava (11.5%, Spain). This is a sparkling white wine made with Chardonnay grapes and is described as having a citrus flavour.


Day Nine: See Day Two.


Day Ten: Jacob's Creek Sparkling Rose (11.5%, Australia). This sparkling rose wine is described as having a hint of delicate berry flavours.


Day Eleven: Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava (11.5%, Spain). This cava is a crisp, light and dry drink with fruity flavours (melon and peach).


Day Twelve: Galanti Prosecco Extra Dry (10.5%, Italy). This sparkling white wine is described as having fruity notes with a soft fizz.


Day 13: See Day 4.


Day 14: See Day 7.


Day 15. See Day 1


Day 16: See Day Two.

Day 17: See Day Eight.


Day 18: See Day Five.

Day 19: See Day Three.


Day Twenty: See Day 6

Day Twenty-one: See Day 10.


Day 22: See Day 11.

Day 23: See Day 12.


Day Twenty-four: Laurent Perrier Champagne (12%, France). This is the only champagne in the calendar and is a citrus/honeysuckle flavour. It's a common champagne and an easy-going one.

Harrods Beauty Advent Calendar 2017

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For the first time ever, Harrods have jumped onto the beauty advent calendar bandwagon and have released their own version of the beauty advent calendar for this festive season. I decided that I had to buy this one this year. Priced at £250.00 (with almost £600.00 worth of products), it is the most expensive beauty advent calendar on the market, and it is still available to buy while other brands (such as Liberty) have sold out. My verdict is that it allows me to try a lot of new products, though a lot of the products here are anti-aging products (which I do not need) and lip products. It would have been nice for more variety of products.


First impressions of the beauty advent calendar are that it comes in the trendy box with the facade of the Harrods department store illustrated in gold on the front. (This may be taking Liberty's idea as their advent calendars always feature their store front.) 


The little boxes containing the products are constructed well, and this box can be used time and time again as it is sturdy and very well-made with nice boxes. Many of the boxes have the items wrapped in black tissue paper and placed in little bags with the name of the department store. 


Below is what you will find inside the advent calendar.

Nars Powdermatte Lip Pigment: This is a bright red shade of lipstick in a matte colour, designed to last.
Bioeffect EGF Serum: This anti-aging product promises to restore skin's radiance and renew skin. The product is free from fragrance.
Natura Bissé Diamond Extreme Eye: This is an anti-aging product cream that helps reduce dark circles around the eyes.
Eve Lom Cleanser: This cleanser helps rid skin of make-up and keep skin feeling smooth and soft.
Chantecaille Eau de Rose de Mai Rosewater: This product promotes a youthful appearance; it is made with rosewater and petal extracts.
Dr. Sebagh Serum Repair: This serum boosts collagen levels to retain moisture in skin for repairing skin to make it appear younger.

Anne Semonin Youth Radiance Elixir: Another anti-aging product, this helps to restore skin to its natural youthful state.

Erno Laszlo White Marble Cleansing Oil & Treatment Bar Set: This is a soap and cleansing oil set that helps to banish dirt and impurities in the skin.


Sisley l'Intégral Anti-Age Luxury Jar: Another anti-aging product, this preserves skin's youthful appearance and fights aging.
Sisley L'Integral Anti-Age Eye & Lip Contour Cream: This anti-aging product focuses on the eye and lip area.


Laura Mercier Au Naturel Caviar Stick: This cream eyeshadow stick is a long-lasting product with lasting colour.
Bobbi Brown Skin Moisture Solution Remedy: This moisturiser helps to add moisture back into dehydrated skin.
Fresh Sugar Face Polish: This is an exfoliator to boost a radiant complexion. It is made with brown sugar.

Fresh Beauty Black Tea Mask: This facial mask made of black tea helps to hydrate skin.

Fresh Beauty Vitamin Nectar Mask: This facial mask is made of citrus and helps exfoliate and repair skin.
Omorovicza Gold Shimmer Oil: Gold particles are included inside this shimmer oil for hair and skin, and it has a light fragrance. It helps renew skin.
SUQQU Light Solution Essence: This day cream helps to moisturise and plump dry skin.
Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Mascara: Marc Jacobs have created a mascara that promises to be smudge-free and to maximise volume of lashes.
Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow: Radiance and hydration is added to tired skin in this anti-aging product.

Kiehl's Crème de Corps: A popular product from skincare company, Kiehl's, this cream promises to moisturise and  transform dry skin.


Sensai Cellular Performance Extra Intensive Mask: This product is a blend of botanical oils and is to be used as a mask to aid in moisturising skin.
111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Bio Cellulose Eye Mask: This eye mask promises to remove signs of aging around the eye area.
Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream: This cream uses caffeine and tightens skin.
Givenchy Le Rouge Perfecto: This lip stick helps add colour to lips as well as to moisturise and plump them for a fuller appearance.

By Terry Hyaluronic Sheer Rouge: This lip balm melts into the skin to protect lips and to cover them with a sheer gloss colour.

Philip Kingsley Elasticizer: This is a hair product to add bounce and shine as well as to condition hair.

Huda Lip Strobe in Enchanting: This non-sticky lip gloss creates a metallic strobe effect. 

Acqua di Parma Red Candle: This candle smells of cloves and spice and is a winter scent.

Near the beginning of this festive season (yesterday), I took my parents to festive afternoon tea at the Jean-Georges restaurant in the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. Besides a smaller venue earlier in the year, this was the first time this year that I have been able to enjoy afternoon tea. The Connaught's afternoon tea has been on my list for awhile, and their festive afternoon tea offering looked nice this year. This afternoon tea is a little more dear than some of the other venues.


First up, we had the champagne, Laurent Perrier Brut. My mother does not drink, so they made her a mocktail instead, and she said that this tasted like strawberry. We also ordered our teas, and I tried the Darjeeling, which was my favourite and a blend called 'Marco Polo', described as having a velvety taste, although I found it to be a little bitter.




Unfortunately, they had over-booked the area due to some late lunches taking place, so we got sat beside the main door. I was actually surprised that we did not have a piano playing for us (or any music, in fact). I think that this let the experience down.



We had the sandwiches first. This included a black truffle brioche (pictured above), which is a flaky crust filled with a truffle. This tasted amazing.


We had a selection of sandwiches, but these were not the same as the original menu, but the menu has since been changed. The sandwiches that we had were cheese, egg mayonaise, aubergine, turkey, and salmon.


Next, we were served the scones and pastries. The scones were a mixture of raisin and plain with clotted cream, strawberry jam, and lemon curd. These scones were delicious and amongst the best that I have had for afternoon tea in London.



Mulled Wine Pear has a white chocolate snowflake on top with smaller 'glittery' snowflakes. It contains pear mousse and biscuit with mulled wine jelly. 


The one with the holly is a chocolate-orange offering with orange jam, chocolate ganache, and cinnamon cream.

The one with the dark chocolate tree is a black forest with chocolate mousse and cherry jam and a biscuit base.

My favourite one was the Chestnut Tart, with the deer antler chocolate on top. It is made with chestnut puree, vanilla chantilly, and blueberry jam.


The candy cane peppermint stick one is not peppermint at all. It tasted of coconut and is made of almond praliné and coconut mousse.


On the top tier, we had gingerbread men with a dipping chocolate sauce (chocolate fondu), which I thought tasted like chocolate orange.



The lobby of the Connaught has a beautiful tree.



I wish all my readers a great start to the festive and Christmas season.


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