Easy Tasty Homemade Pizza Recipe

Thin crust, deep pan, stuffed crust, crispy Italian? Those words are like romantic poetry to my ears. Having an Italian background, you would expect me to be a bit of a pizza snob but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I can appreciate a gourmet pie, oozing with mozzarella, from Napoli or a Tesco Value 67p Cheese and Tomato job. However you enjoy yours, we can all agree that pizza is delicious and versatile. The only way to make it taste better is by creating it yourself. If you want to know how it feels to be proud of yourself for once, give my easy pizza recipe a go! I’ve featured many of my pizzas on @mariannemiliemeals.

Dough (makes enough for 3 large pizzas)

  • 600g strong bread flour
  • 1 heaped tsp yeast
  • 1.5 level spoons of salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 310ml water

Sauce (blend all these ingredients together)

  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • chilli flakes
  • oregano
  • basil
  • salt
  • black pepper

Toppings

You can put pretty much anything on a pizza. I’m a vegetarian so you can often find mine covered in vegetables and mozzarella. My favourites are olives, sweetcorn, red onion, leek, peppers, mushrooms, capers, veggie sausage and red onion marmalade. You’ll need 1 mozzarella ball per pizza.

You just need to whack all these ingredients in your bread maker on the “dough” setting. Once you are ready to take it out of the machine, sprinkle your counter top generously with some more flour. This will stop you struggling to lift your pizza off the side. It’s so important – do not forget!

  • Split the dough into balls – one for each pizza you want to make. I usually do three large thin ones.
  • Roll out the dough ball with a rolling pin, keep flipping the base over every time and continue to roll until you get the shape you want.
  • Line your baking trays with greaseproof paper
  • Carefully lift the base onto a baking tray. Remember it will stretch a bit as you do this so make sure the dough isn’t hanging over the sides.
  • Spread your tomato sauce all over the base, make sure you take it to the edges. A little goes a long way.
  • Add your toppings and drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the top.
  • Pop in the oven for 15-20 mins.
  • Take out the delicious pizza pie, add fresh basil if you’re feeling fabulous and slice it up – I use scissors. Enjoy with a bit of chilli oil or Tabasco.

I’ve included a few pictures of some of the recent pizzas I’ve made for some inspo.

Let me know if you give my easy peasy pizza recipe a go. I love looking at pictures of other people’s food.

5 Tips for Solo Travel

1. Carry a portable charger with you and if you can afford to – have two of them at least. Your hostel will have a plug socket next to the bed – overnight – you can plug your charger into it whilst charging your phone at the same time. This is a lifesaver – especially if you are taking lots of pics or using Google Maps. You don’t want to be caught short in the middle of nowhere and no safety net or miss out on a great snap.

2. Buy snacks from a local supermarket to munch on during the day. Going to restaurants by yourself for every meal can really add up and you will have less money to spend on activities/transport/excursions. I tend to buy something which will last a long time like crisps, cereal bars, bread, fruit etc…Your hostel is likely to have a communal kitchen/fridge where you can store perishables but if you are anxious like me and think that a stranger might try to poison you or spit in your food for no reason at all, it’s best to buy things which you can hide in your suitcase.

3. Plan activities in advance. You can often save money on excursion bundles by looking at websites such as 365 Tickets. This also helps you make the most out of your time as you can prioritise what you’d like to see the most. I often decide the order of activities by working out how long it takes me to get to each location via Google Maps. This also brings new ideas to my attention as I check out what is nearby too. Then I make an itinerary on my “notes” app with planned things to do and also a list of ideas should I have free time. Also, download the Trip Advisor app. You never know when your plans will change and you end up somewhere unfamiliar. You don’t want your holiday ruined by a bad experience, especially when alone without any moral support.

4. BRING EARPHONES. If you are not used to dining alone or sitting by yourself in a coffee shop it can be daunting. When I’m feeling particularly anxious, I plug in my earphones and watch YouTube whilst eating. This drowns out the background noise, focuses your attention on the video and not what people might be thinking and lets others know that you want to be left alone. You will definitely want them when in your dormitory to avoid fellow backpackers listening. Earphones are also handy for listening to music on the plane or taking phone calls when you’re trying to use your map app on the way to a destination.

5. Comfort over style everytime. Bring pyjamas and slippers for walking around your hostel so you feel at home. Avoid bringing that new t-shirt that only goes with one thing. When you’re doing lots of steps and spending all day exploring you want to feel good. There is nothing worse than having blisters and chub rub. but a long day of walking ahead of you. If you are worried about space when carrying bulky items, you can rewear those jeans more than twice. Nobody will know. Who says an oversized hoodie and leggings isn’t cute?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Birthday Day Out in London

It was my boyfriend’s birthday and I wanted to plan a special, surprise day out for us in London. I spent a long time deciding where we should go and what activities to organise because there is so much choice. It was so hard to keep the itinerary a secret from him as I was so excited. I just told him to bring a coat as we might get cold in the evening.

We took a direct train from our closest station to Kings Cross which takes around 50 minutes. We usually do Sudoku or crossword puzzles on the way. I’d booked us a timed slot at Junkyard Golf which is the amazing, underground mini golf place in Shoreditch. Each course is themed in a different way – junkyard, nineties, circus and movies which I chose for us to do. When you turn up and head downstairs, you’re handed a neon ball and can choose a tall or short golf club. There’s loud music playing, it’s lit like a nightclub with dark walls and bright colours. Before you start, there’s a free photo booth which produces a fun gif that you can have sent to your email address. They also have a cute cocktail bar which serves drinks with funny puns like “Hotline Ting” and they’re decorated exactly how a five year old would dream of: with popping candy, paper umbrellas and fizzy belt sweets. The cocktails are super moreish so it’s a really good thing that there’s other bars at around every three holes. You can get tipsy pretty quickly. The atmosphere is amazing and we both really enjoyed ourselves.

Next, it was time to get something to soak up the alcohol. I picked DF Mexico which is a short walk around the corner. It’s a low-key Mexican themed diner with plenty of options on the menu for fussy vegetarians like myself. We both chose tacos – steak and chorizo for Sam and I had a spicy vegan option. The service was great and you could refill on drinks easily. The vibe was awesome and my boyfriend loved it. We wanted to continue our day of fun so we headed to Spitalfields.

Our first impromptu stop was Be At One, a cocktail bar which is close to my heart as I used to manage one of their venues. We had a few 2-4-1 cocktails and shots there as it was Happy Hour. If we are feeling a bit tired, we always go for espresso martinis to wake ourselves up instead of calling it a night. They play classic tunes and the bartenders sing along, throw crushed ice around and dance on top of the bar. Whenever you leave one of their bars, you do so in a great mood. Then we went down the road to Dirty Martini which I had never been to before. It was very similar vibes to Be At One but feels a little more upmarket and nightclub-ish. I had an apple martini and Sam had a dirty gin one which we both liked. By this point, it was the evening and we were quite merry.

I had booked one last surprise for us and I was apprehensive as I didn’t know what to expect. I managed to reserve us a table at the Sky Garden, overlooking St Paul’s and the Shard. When we turned up, there was a huge queue, snaking around the building. I knew that we didn’t have to wait because of my booking which was a big relief. We had to put our belongings on a conveyor belt and walk through scanners, just like airport security. Our names were ticked on the guestlist and we were taken to our high table and bar stools with the most incredible view, so romantic. I had told them it was Sam’s birthday in the reservation notes and they brought over a plate with strawberries and “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate sauce. It was so sweet! We ordered some more cocktails and a dessert platter as we wanted to spend the deposit but didn’t want to die of alcohol poisoning.

Whilst we waited for that to arrive, we took a stroll around the floor we were on to get a good look at the view. The whole place was lit up with neon, pink lights and accompanied with the background electronic music, I felt like we were on Made in Chelsea. You could see right around the building as all the walls were glass. The room was also full of plants so it was like a Kew Gardens nightclub vibe. Our food arrived and we couldn’t have been more impressed. There was nothing left on the plate when we’d finished. I have been craving the carrot cake for over a year.

As we started our day early, we were able to get a train back even though it was late. We saved money on an expensive hotel and woke up at home which is always a winner on a hangover. We had such an amazing time and I think they key was having an activity, food and drinks. If you cover all three then you tick every box and can’t go wrong.

Chocolate Chip Orange Cookies

I don’t know about you but I hate it when you look up a recipe and the author has rambled on about the origins of the food and their holiday to The Maldives when all you wanted to know was how to make the thing. I was craving “Terry’s Chocolate Orange” yesterday but didn’t have any so I created a batch of chocolate chip orange cookies instead with ingredients I had in the cupboard. The best part is that they only take 25-30 minutes to make. They 100% satisfied my needs and I hope you love them too!

@mariannemiliemeals

Ingredients

  • 150g of caster sugar
  • 125g of butter
  • 1 egg
  • 25g of cocoa powder
  • 175g of self raising flour
  • 1tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp of valencian orange extract or you could grate the zest of an orange
  • 100g of dark chocolate chips

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C and grease 2 baking trays
  2. Whisk together the sugar, butter, egg and orange essence/zest until creamy – electric whisk works much better than a wooden spoon if you’ve got one
  3. Add sifted cocoa powder, flour and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and mix until the cookie dough is made. It should look like a thick, dark brown paste.
  4. Now it’s time to fold in the chocolate chips. You could add candied orange peel or chopped nuts here if you wanted to.
  5. Spoon the mixture onto trays. Remember that cookies spread out a lot during the cooking process so leave sufficient space for them to move. I put six dough balls on each tray.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes depending on how gooey you’d like them to be. They will harden up after cooking so don’t be scared if they are a little soft and aerated to touch when you take them out. You can always put them back in if you’re not satisfied.
  7. Leave to cool for a bit until they are ready to eat. Perfect with a cup of coffee or even better, ice cream.

Amsterdam as a Solo Female Traveller

I had some holiday to take at the beginning of the year and I didn’t want it to be wasted on watching Netflix in bed. I’ve also been really good at saving so thought I should treat myself and head to one of my favourite destinations – Amsterdam. I went before – back in 2016 – and I had been keen to return as soon as possible after such an amazing trip. I will get round to writing about it at some point.

I wanted to try travelling by myself, somewhere other than Ibiza, so I got to work on researching the perfect February getaway. I wanted to see places and take part in activities which I hadn’t experienced before so found watching vlogs and reading blogs before going super handy. I created myself an itinerary along with a list of cool places should I find myself with some free time. I decided that I’d rather save money on a hotel and spend it on experiences/food so booked myself into a traveller’s hostel in the centre. This was such a great idea as I never needed to use taxis/trams or buses to get around as I was so close to the train station/main attractions.

I was dropped off at airport in the evening, still frantically checking the Easyjet app because many flights had been cancelled due to bad storms. Luckily, the high winds only propelled my plane faster which meant I landed in Amsterdam within 40 mins of take-off. A terrifying thought but I was grateful as I hate flying and the less time spent in the air the better for me and my nerves. After landing in the airport, I walked to the train station which is attached to the terminal. Instead of booking an expensive taxi/shuttle bus, I went on the Trainline app and bought a return ticket to Amsterdam Centraal, a five minute walk from my hotel. I remember this being around 8 euros which is an absolute bargain compared to the other options and brilliant if travelling alone.

After arriving at the station, Google Maps took me to my hostel – “The Flying Pig – Downtown” which was super easy to find. There was a competitive game of beer pong taking place, loud music and fellow backpackers dotted all over the reception, drinking or reading books. In the back, a smoking room which was covered in a haze and swinging chairs. The staff were super friendly and told me I could put my bags down and join in with the games but I politely declined. Cheap jagerbombs are not my cup of tea. Admittedly, I felt like a grandma. My 16 person dormitory was through a corridor and down some stairs, decorated with selfies of all the employees and their fun facts. My roommates were all already in bed which was such a relief! I was so worried that I’d be in the company of party animals when all I really wanted was a few quiet days to myself.

Waking up early, I wrapped up warm and headed to the Tourism office to pick up my canal cruise and “Body Worlds” tickets which I’d booked in advance. It was bitterly cold so without hesitation, I headed straight to “The Pancake Bakery” which I’d seen many YouTubers rave about. I was prepared for it to be busy but luckily as it was so early in the morning, I didn’t have to wait very long to be seated. Funnily, I wasn’t allowed to be by myself and had to third-wheel a couple and sit opposite a guy my age. The restaurant reminded me of an old British pub with lots of dark wood and low lighting, along with the fact we were all crammed into a small space. I ordered a crepe with bananas, melted chocolate and whipped cream with a latte on the side. This would be the most expensive but delicious pancake I’ve ever bought. I couldn’t even finish it because it was so rich although I tried to get my money’s worth.

Next, I walked over to the “Lovers Canal Cruises” station where a boat had just arrived for us to board. I was amongst couples, families and solo travellers but the vibe was very relaxed so I didn’t feel awkward sat opposite strangers at a plastic table. Everyone was provided with earphones so you could plug in and listen to commentary in your language. The guided tour took us on a very informative trip through Amsterdam on several canals, playing traditional music and telling us about all its history. I love being on the water so even if I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have had a great time.

The cruise came as part of a package deal with my ticket to the “Body Worlds” exhibition and I’m glad I chose this option. The exposition was just down the road on Damrak – one of the main streets in the centre – actually where the tourism office was. This is not an experience for the faint hearted because it is essentially a building full of human and animal remains that have been preserved via plastination. We aren’t talking about mummies but very obviously real, naked people on display. There are more than 200 bodies to look at which just blew me away because I’m a bit weird. You learn about what makes us happy and how we can improve our health, including lots of interactive activities. One of these was a body composition test which in hindsight I wish I’d not taken on my first full day as it put a dampener on my ‘eat lots of delicious food’ holiday.

Then I went for a long walk – ended up averaging 20,000 steps a day on my trip which was ideal. Sometimes, I’d just head in one direction and get lost on purpose before using Google Maps to get myself home. I went to “Easy Times” which is a popular coffee shop, a bit further out of the centre. Coffee shops sell hot drinks but their primary product is marijuana. You can pick whatever you want from the menu, either pre-rolled or in a bag. They play house and r’n’b and there are screens showing music videos all over the venue so it feels like you are at a relaxed nightclub, drinking coffee during the day. I felt like a nerd, getting my book out and sipping my latte alone. If you aren’t very confident sitting in restaurants/bars by yourself then I wouldn’t champion this experience but it doesn’t bother me.

I became very aware at how hungry I was by this point and headed to the nearest “New York Pizza Co.” There are a few of these all over Amsterdam and they specialise in large slabs of delicious pizza. It’s 2 slices and a canned drink for 7/8 euros which I’m more than happy to pay because it’s really great. After scoffing it down, I went back to the hostel for a drink in the bar and sleep.

Another early morning as I’d booked a timed slot for “Moco Museum” which is a modern art gallery in Museumplein – next to the Van Gogh, Stedelijk, Artexpo and a concert hall. This was a 40 minute walk in an area that I’d not yet explored so I had planned to take my time on the way there. I really enjoyed myself here for a number of reasons. I was introduced to some amazing artists, saw lots of Banksy’s famous pieces in the flesh and lots of crazy sculptures which I’m most interested in. In the basement there was an immersive experience consisting of lots of coloured lights, mirrors and rooms to explore. They even have a free app that you can download to interact with the art on display. Did I mention that their whole branding is pink-themed? This definitely ticked a box for me.

Everytime I am abroad, I love going to the massive markets selling all sorts of clothes, food and accessories. I headed for “Albert Cuyp Market” which was a 15 minute walk, because I’d heard it was super busy. To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed and I’ve definitely been to better. It might just have been the time of year but there wasn’t a lot of choice and I didn’t feel drawn to purchase anything.

I skipped breakfast because I knew that I wanted to try “Vegan Junk Food Bar” for lunch after seeing their colourful pictures on instagram. They are well known in the food community for their pink and blue buns, rainbow fries and fantasy themed cocktails. I went for the Daddy McChick’n burger which has a vegan patty and bacon inside, and a Fanta to wash it down. I’d have liked to have tried the waffle fries and some of the sides but as I was by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. My experience was excellent.

I bought some snacks from a supermarket to keep me going as I realised that I had not been eating enough. I picked up some iced tea, Tony’s Chocolonely salted caramel, barbecue crisps, black olive tapenade and 1 litre of Chocomel. Health is wealth people. I have highlighted the two brands that you must try if you haven’t yet. I’ll come back to the chocolate later.

After an afternoon of window shopping, I went to the “Red Light Secrets” exhibition in…you guessed it, The “Red Light District.” I was handed a talking guide that I needed to scan around certain parts of the museum to activate the commentary. There are also interactive activities and photo opportunities all over. This experience was great and I highly recommend it if you’re not educated on prostitution in Amsterdam. I came away from it learning a lot and having a different opinion on the job. The message is delivered in both an amusing but straight to the point way. You also get to take away a photograph of yourself sat in a window whilst wearing bondage gear. This is where I really conquered my anxiety as I posed by myself in a bunny mask in front of a queue of people.

Before heading to bed, I grabbed a portion of “Vlaamse Friete”, which are tasty chips, served in a cone and covered in your choice of sauce and red salt. I went with garlic – duh. Again, these vendors are all over the city and priced well for the portion size.

The following day was my last full day and I had intended to make it a slow one but it didn’t really work out that way. I wasn’t able to get tickets for the “Anne Frank House” because you need to purchase in advance. When I tried to get some online, there was over 1,000 people in front of me in the queue. However, I did make my way there to see it from the outside. I didn’t know what I expected but I couldn’t get over how normal it seemed and if it wasn’t for the line of people waiting to go in, you would walk straight past it. Make sure you book well in advance of your trip because you cannot just camp outside and wait, you must purchase online.

Right across the road is “Pancakes Amsterdam” and I was desperate to have another one following my delicious crepe a few days prior. I ordered a dutch pancake with lemon and sugar + a cup of english breakfast tea. You can take the girl out of England…It was absolutely scrummy and if I was rich, I’d order another one. When I paid my bill, they gave me a wooden clog keyring with the receipt which was so cute.

My friend recommended that I go the top of “Nemo Science Museum” for the view so I went. It was roughly 45 mins away from me so I thought ‘why not?’ I had to climb a colossal amount of steps but it was definitely worth it to get a great look at Amsterdam from a height, for free! You don’t need to buy a ticket, you just walk around the building and climb the stairs. There is even a cafe at the top so I ordered a latte and read my book in there for an hour or so.

On the way back, I popped into “Tony’s Chocolonely Factory.” This was completely by chance as it’s not far from where I was staying. You can try every flavour of chocolate bar for free and also see how it is being made. A fun fact about Tony’s is that it’s Fairtrade and Slave Free as all the chocolate is made by him and his team. I’m happy to support that! Not to mention how it’s utterly delicious.

In the evening, I went on another canal cruise because I had enjoyed the first one so much. This company was called “100 Highlights Cruise” and once again they provided you with earphones and an informative commentary. They even stopped for photo opportunities which was a nice touch. If only I’d have had a decent camera with me.

I had the idea of going for a lovely Italian meal to celebrate the end of my trip but the restaurant that I wanted to go to was completely full. I stumbled upon a different one and after a quick flick through TripAdvisor, I decided to go to it. HUGE MISTAKE. I wish I could remember which establishment it was so that I could poo poo them online but unfortunately, I’ve erased it from memory. I was the only customer as everyone else got up and left about five minutes after I arrived. My pizza was soggy and salty. I couldn’t even lift a slice from the plate without it falling apart. I plugged my phone into a socket and it blew the fuse in the restaurant so all the lights went out. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

I picked up two bags of Stroopwafel for my family and boyfriend from a supermarket before traipsing back to the hostel. You can get these everywhere and they are the most moreish snacks ever. I still regret not bringing back some Tony’s chocolate though. I’ll have to buy some online. Knowing that I had to wake up at 5am to make my train made it quite easy to wind down and get to sleep quickly.

Overall, Amsterdam is one of my favourite places in the world. I felt like I didn’t stop moving enough to relax and read like I intended to. However, there is so much that I haven’t seen or experienced. Although, I really enjoyed travelling alone and doing whatever I wanted to do, my next visit there will be with a group of friends. I could really picture myself drinking cocktails and frequenting coffee shops with my gal pals. Having said that, Amsterdam is one of the safest places to travel solo. Everyone is friendly by default, there is security everywhere, everyone speaks English and it is easy to navigate.

If you have any questions about travelling there, hit me up. I love gushing about this holiday as I had the best time.

San Sebastian, Sangria and Sand

It’s time for another travel blog post – my favourite kind of throwback. It was one of my best friends Hayley’s 30th birthday and she kindly invited us to join her on a trip to San Sebastian in Spain. It is a coastal town in the Basque region, renowned for their cuisine and world celebrated restaurants. She has been several times and raves about it so I was excited. I worked a 12 hour shift and didn’t have time to sleep so when we finally arrived at our accommodation, I had a long disco nap.

We stayed in a gorgeous apartment that we found on AirBnb. There were 7 of us so we needed somewhere big enough and close to the centre. It was absolutely perfect for the occasion, individually decorated bedrooms with bright colours and ornaments, 2 bathrooms, a lounge and a kitchen equipped with Prosecco and cakes. Our bedroom had wide windows that let in the warm sunlight and the vanity desk of my dreams with a huge floor lamp. I’ve tried to find the flat on the website but it has either been taken down or it has been booked up.

We ventured out to the restaurants on our first evening, excited to be immersed in the Basque culture. The majority of food served in the city is in the form of pintxos or as you may know it – tapas. This means that you order bite sized portions from a counter, to be eaten whilst standing up. There were no chairs anywhere. Locals flit between restaurants grazing on whatever is on offer, a walking and tasting experience. All restaurants were very relaxed with the bill as well, happy for you to wander around outside and pay at the end without leaving a card behind the bar. It was truly alien compared to standard British hospitality.

I’ll be honest and say that there was not a lot of vegetarian/vegan cuisine around. I am a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs or most cheeses so it can be hard finding something I fancy eating. We had an incident where I ordered a “vegetable soup” which actually came with pork. I was luckily introduced to Padron peppers, which changed my experience for the better. They were griddled, served on a wooden board and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. I survived on these and tasty patatas bravas – fried potatoes with spiced tomato sauce and fragrant aioli – for most of the trip.

san7san16

When it was warmer, we visited Europe’s best beach, according to TripAdvisor. La Concha is the main beach in Donostia and crescent shaped so you can see right across to the other side. It is absolutely beautiful, the yellow sand seems to stretch out forever and it wasn’t over crowded like most beaches I have come across. I ran into the sea like a mad woman because I can’t keep away from the water on holiday. I love the feeling of the waves crashing against me, despite how cold it actually was. Let’s just say, there was a reason why most people were just sitting on the sand, fully dressed.

san13san12

Every morning we had coffees in the flat but ventured to a bakery afterwards for pastries and espresso because you are allowed to do that as an adult. I am a chocolate eclair or pecan plait kind of girl, accompanied by the hot, bitter sting of espresso is just bliss. If I had a better metabolism, I’d eat cakes for breakfast every single day.

san9san8

Strolling through the streets of San Sebastian is lovely because there is always a hustle and bustle and I love being able to sit outside and people watch. For lunch, we had pintos – octopus burgers, calimari and seafood risotto for the others, I had more potatoes and bread. The one item on the menu that we all had a mutual love for was Sangria. Not the kind where they mix Fanta Fruit Twist into it but the sort of berry red, potent stuff that gets you feeling merry in the middle of the day. It didn’t touch the sides.

We had to pay a visit to Bar Nestor so the guys could try their world famous Steak. It’s the kind of restaurant that they have in Europe, where you pick your joint of meat before it is cooked. As a vegetarian, watching it sizzle on the hot plate was not really a vibe. My boyfriend absolutely loved it. Although, my life was changed when I was presented with a plate of plump tomatoes, drizzled in olive oil and salt. Since this moment, I always eat them like this.

One of my favourite things to do on holiday, wherever I am, is to explore all the quirky boutiques, searching for the most bizarre objects. I bought all my colleagues a braided bracelet as it is one of our cute traditions. Other than those, I never buy tourist tat but love to look at it. However, Sam decided that he couldn’t live without this unsightly hat with artificial hair so it came home with us.

The majority of our evenings were spent mixing Aperol Spritzes in our apartment and playing incessant games of Shithead, my new favourite card game. Then we’d all migrate to the local bars and sample the gin menus. I can’t recall every place we visited as our evenings were essentially a posh piss-up but my favourite bar was Minuto y Medio. This was a rock bar where the bartender let us use him like a jukebox. He even played Triple H’s Entrance song for the boys so they could reenact it, a turning point in the evening.

Overall, San Sebastian was a great location for our trip. It was warm, the customer service was great and there were lots of restaurants and bars to enjoy. The best part of the trip was spending time with the friends I was with. If I went back, I’d definitely check out the aquarium, beach club and Miramar Palace.

Reykjavik and Beyond

Never in a million years would I have expected to win a free trip to Iceland but it happened and I’ll forever be thankful for the opportunity to visit such an amazing country with my colleagues.

The flight was around three hours so I brought our netbook with me to watch “You” on the way there and back. I’m a terrible flyer and need to be distracted by something whether that’s a book, film or drinks/snacks. The most interesting thing about the flight is that you don’t pass over any land so it’s all blue until you reach the island.

IMG_8354

Our coach took us close to The Swan House Hotel which is where we were staying. I was sharing the cutest apartment with two colleagues. Apartment GOALS is all I will say and I would highly recommend it. This is a picture of us all squeezed into the lift there – living our best lives.

We arrived in the evening so went straight to dinner at Fish Market (fiskmarkadurinn), the fanciest restaurant I have ever been and probably will ever go to. The majority of people went for the tasting menu which offered exciting options like whale and lobster. I had vegetable tempura and spring rolls instead which were sensational. We also tried the most delicious bottle(s) of Sancerre that I have ever had. I probably wouldn’t have paid the £26.50 for 3 spring rolls again so I savoured them. It goes without saying that Reykjavik is an expensive place and you should be prepared to spend a lot of money there.

As we left the restaurant, we heard the tunes of It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls down the street. This caused us to run to that venue and dance all the way up the stairs to discover the best name for a cocktail bar that I have ever seen – Pablo Discobar. Every drink on the menu had an incredible pun and they played classic party tunes all night long. Then we went to a place called Miami which is made to look like it’s set in the 80’s. Think Clockwork Orange and it’s name sake – Miami Vice. This bar had Cuba Libres and gin & tonics on tap (yes, really) and the most delicious Palomas we have ever tried. We haven’t been able to recreate them perfectly yet. We liked this place so much that we ended going back twice on the trip.

The next day, we had been booked on the Golden Circle coach tour. Some of us woke up early enough to have breakfast at a cute cafe in Reyjkjavik. I had some sort of beetroot houmous and falafel sandwich- yum! We had an eccentric tour guide, telling us stories about life in Iceland which was unintentionally hilarious. The first stop was Gullfoss – meaning Golden Falls – the most popular waterfall in Iceland. We completely underestimated how powerful it was and were being sprayed so hard it was a struggle to keep our eyes open. When this first picture was taken, I felt like I was going to be knocked over. As soon as we arrived back at the car park, I purchased a brand new hat from the gift shop.

Next up we were on our way to the geysers – natural springs that shoot hot water in the air. We were warned to always face in the direction of the wind as the water could get carried and burn us. We witnessed a few massive eruptions before having some tasty soup and bread next door. They have these soup takeaways everywhere – called SUPA –  genuinely delicious. Also, I’m a big fan of the whipped butter served in all restaurants with the bread. We ate lashings of the stuff.

The last stop before heading home was Thingvellir National Park. This place was beautiful and there were views for miles. In the left hand picture, we are standing in the rift between Europe and North America. Not many people can say they have been where the plates divide. This is also where they filmed some scenes in Game of Thrones.

After getting showered and changed out of our soaking clothes – we were treated to dinner at another fancy restaurant called Ostabudin. I had a nut roast with a colossal portion of vegannaise. If you are vegetarian or vegan, do not be worried. There were so many options wherever we went and it was a huge relief for a fussy eater like me. The meat eaters also thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant as it served goose, ewe, horse, whale and foie gras. As an aperitif, we had to pay a visit to our new favourite bar – Miami.

Our last day in Iceland was spent at the Blue Lagoon. We brought our suitcases with us and kept them in the luggage store so that we could head straight to the airport in the afternoon. When we arrived we were given wristbands which we could use to purchase drinks and then pay at the end of our visit. We were handed slippers and robes to make our dash to the lagoon a little more graceful. The first thing I noticed was the extreme heat difference between the floor and the water. It was like descending into a super hot bath and it was ethereal. We all swam to the mud mask station where we could scoop the product onto our faces and felt like celebs.

Then we swam to the bar where we were entitled to a free drink with our entry and could purchase more with our wristbands if we wanted – of course we did. I had a strawberry cider and some Prosecco. There was something very luxurious about drinking in the lagoon with a face mask. We also visited the sauna, steam room and hot shower. I had the time of my life. Afterwards, we were treated to another delicious meal – roasted cauliflower steak with chickpeas and more vegan mayo – yum! I get emotional thinking about food.

After our food and a few glasses of wine – whoops – we headed to the airport for our flight home. Again, an unforgettable trip and I am forever grateful for being treated to it all. I decided to spend the money I brought and didn’t need to use on souvenirs – necklaces, a mug and a t-shirt.

Thank you Iceland – hope to be back again!

Marseille with my Mum

I booked a week off work during February half term so that my mum and I could go on holiday. We wanted to go somewhere on the cheap and after exploring many options, we finally settled on Marseille. It is the oldest and second largest city in France after Paris. It is located in the south, along the Mediterranean coast in Provence.

For a bit of context, my mum is from France so we both speak French fluently at home. In fact, we tend to transition from English – French – English without realising most of the time. We stayed at Citadines Castellane apartment hotel in the centre of Marseille so that we had access to a kitchen as we knew we wanted to cook our own meals. It was perfect for us two and there was a free coffee machine downstairs which we took advantage of everyday.

We wanted to explore as much as possible so made sure to buy a 72 hour travel pass called “Transtick” which allowed tram and bus use everywhere in the city. I managed to get mine for just 23€ because of my age. It was super useful and we were even able to use it to get out of Marseille and visit other towns.

We arrived in the late afternoon so decided to go window shopping as there is a large district in the centre, and also buy some ingredients to make dinner/breakfast with. We ended up having vegetable spag bol every night. I’m strange and had to bring my own block of cheddar from home because even in the land of cheese, I have very basic taste in that department.

It was pancake day so I insisted that we have crepes. When it comes to toppings, I am very boring and could eat lemon and sugar for every single one. My mum had butter and sugar which is the traditional choice. Give me crepes over American style pancakes everyday. Have this incredible unattractive photo of me eating.

The district we spent the most time in is called Panier and it’s the oldest part. It’s also the most colourful, full of street art and plants. People could compare it to Camden, London. We spent ages walking up and down winding streets of old houses to get a glimpse at as much graffiti as possible. Imagine visiting an open air art gallery and you’ve got a good idea of what it is like.

This is Promenade Robert Lafont, also in Panier. I thought the view was absolutely stunning and looked like something out of a video game. I’ve never seen anything like it. You could see right across to another part of the city as well as admiring the sea. The cathedral is from the 1800s and simply beautiful but climbing up its steps was a work out.

The Opéra district, including the Old Port area has an incredibly lively atmosphere. It’s where all the restaurants and bars are, not that we went to any of them as they are super pricey.  On Valentine’s Day there was a huge event here in the evening consisting of a light show on the water, romantic music, fireworks and lasers.

marseille17

We used our travel cards to make our way to this cathedral – another one – there’s loads of them in the area. This one was called Notre Dame de La Garde. I wish I hadn’t complained about the other set of stairs because these were monstrous. We climbed all the way to the summit to get the best view of the city. This was only one of the levels as the very top has a lot more trees in the way.

On our second to last day we took a coach to Cassis – a nearby port town. We started by finding the market, something my mum and I love doing. This is where I bought all of my colleagues a scented savon de Marseille, one of the products it is most famous for. There was also a beach there and we ate chips, fresh bread and homemade olive tapenade from one of the stalls. It was a strange experience to be sat on the sand, surrounded by palm trees, in February but a beautiful one nonetheless.

I would recommend visiting Marseille if you like doing tonnes of walking around and fancy going somewhere a bit different. I was really pleasantly surprised.

A Week in Tenerife

Brace yourselves. This is a long post with lots of photographs. I have tried to condense my experience as much as possible so I hope that you enjoy reading about it.

I had never desired to visit Tenerife, but one of my closest friends decided to have her hen do at her favourite resort on the island and I couldn’t resist a holiday in the sun. We booked for seven nights in Costa Adeje, southwest of Tenerife, at one of the budget villa hotels. This holiday defied all of my expectations.

Our villa was a lovely shade of terracotta, complete with raised porches and white garden furniture. We had a large, comfortable bed, ample storage space, a secluded back patio and fully equipped kitchen. A two minute walk took us to the swimming pool, bar and an abundance of sun loungers and parasols. This was our first point of call when we dropped off our heavy luggage at reception. I practically threw myself into the saltwater pool to escape the heat.

1c0d28da-693b-4b61-a268-a5443e25b7b9

5262f677-e1f0-4692-be4c-171abb1c526a

Once showered and styled, we set off on foot to the strip of restaurants and bars in Costa Adeje. I’m a fussy eater and was pleased to see the extensive options and deals on offer. There is a buzz about the place without being crowded by partying teenagers. We stuffed our faces on cheap pizza, pasta and sangria before turning in for the night.

We decided to spend the day at Siam Park, a heavily anticipated trip for me. This water park is currently rated best in the world on TripAdvisor. I am such a water baby and I couldn’t have been more excited to get on all the rides. The park is absolutely enormous and beautifully designed to look like Thailand. Walking around and looking at all the features, flowers and fountains is an adventure in itself. There is a great mix between tame rides and the death-defying roller coasters, which made my eyes pop out of my head. Notably, Tower of Power is not one for the faint-hearted. I can now tell people that I hurtled down a 28m drop slide, through a shark tank. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. We also spent at least an hour on the lazy river, eight of us, all holding hands, in rubber rings, floating and soaking up the rays. Magical. I would return to Tenerife, purely for Siam Park.

62ac1b85-9627-447a-b28a-33bfba94257f

When we got back, we changed into clean dry “Bride Squad” swimsuits and went on our first night out. We played drinking games on the balcony and jumped in a taxi down to Playa de Las Americas, where the famous strip is. I’m not going to lie, this was not my scene but I’m glad we experienced it. It was fun to party with a big group of girls. The strip is full of promoters, physically grabbing you to come inside and buy deals. Each bar played the same loud club music and had nasty toilets. Working in hospitality myself, I found it abhorrent. I was one of the first to go home, which is unlike me, but I enjoyed my cheesy chips and garlic sauce.

love

The next day, we spent most of our time by the pool. They play music, the cocktails were quite cheap and we were allowed to eat our own food on the loungers. We had planned a big surprise for the bride to be in the evening, so we mainly took it easy. Dinner was at a delicious pizza place in Adeje, followed by a taxi down to the strip. Tramps is one of the biggest clubs in Tenerife and for just over a hundred Euros, they provided us a Naked Butler. I assumed that he would just stand around and serve drinks but ‘Diego’ put on a show. He served shots , poured oil over his body and gave our hen an hour long lap-dance. It was completely worth it for the look on her face. I can imagine if we were all single, we would have enjoyed it more. He seemed disheartened that practically nobody wanted to dance with him.

 

c678c541-59e9-4597-9c99-935d83aac11ab3426d82-1412-4a5d-b308-96dd44126713

Day Four was the last night for half of the party. We went down to Los Cristianos, a more up-market side of the Island. It is home to some gorgeous sandy beaches, shops, bars and restaurants. We ate at a beautiful restaurant, with a great sea-side view. I ordered the vegetable paella and it was one of the greatest meals I’ve ever eaten. The manager kindly gifted us with free drinks too. It was the festival of San Juan, and there was a massive party on the shore, complete with hundreds of bonfires. Stunning. We drank sangria out of cartons and spent the evening dancing to the live traditional Spanish band. At midnight, there is a tradition that everyone runs into the sea to cleanse their sins. Of course, we just had to join in. It was an amazing evening and I enjoyed taking part in the culture.

bananaboat

And so we were down to six girls. It was time to visit the beach. I am not one for sunbathing at the seaside, as I hate getting sand everywhere. However, I love being in the water. I was thrilled to be in the company of other thrill seekers. We chose to go banana boating. I didn’t know what to expect but I was suitably terrified. We climbed onto the gigantic float and gripped onto the handles for dear life. The speedboat pulled us along so hard, I thought I would fall off. My knuckles were white and I was sliding all over the place. I couldn’t open my eyes for the sheer force of salty water splashing into them as we raced along the waves. It was an awesome excursion. I’m glad I didn’t chicken out. When we had finished, my friend Geena and I went shopping for souvenirs. There were so many pseudo-designer bags, purses and t-shirts available. My only purchases were a new bandana to wear at work and my favourite iced tea.

The following day we took the hire car out for a grand tour of the Island. We plotted some areas of interest, packed snacks and blankets. Our first stop was Los Gigantes. This is where they filmed some scenes in ‘Wrath of the Titans.’ It was simply stunning!

e759f425-8569-4791-8e54-dd8c200b4ee4 - Copy

IMG_3078

Then we headed to Masca, apparently the most beautiful village in Tenerife. Following this we drove to Santiago del Teide. We briefly stopped off for some chips and coffees in a small cafe and went for a stroll. Everything was beautiful and I appreciated how rural and different this part of the island was compared to where we were staying.

fuente

Next up, Hannah suggested we visited La Caletón, Garachico. These were incredible. Lava from the volcano had burned through the rock to form pools of sea water that you could swim in. The waves were ice cold and vicious. You had to be a decent swimmer because once you were in, you couldn’t touch the sides or bottom. The rocks were sharp and slippery not to mention covered in crabs, scuttling out of the sea. There was a small cliff you could jump off as the pools were so deep. We were having the best time and felt so free.

rockpools

Once we had swam/floated our hearts out, we bundled back into the car with ice creams from a supermarket and drove further up the mountain towards the summit. We knew that we wanted to watch the sunset from as high as we could go. We parked up and climbed over the road barrier to walk closer to the edge of the volcano. It was then that we realised how high we had climbed – above the clouds. We found the perfect spot to perch ourselves, cracked open a bottle of cava and played “Africa – Toto” as the sun descended below the clouds.

It is a moment that I will never ever forget. We then lay on our backs and stayed until we could see all the stars in the sky before driving back home.

bda3c2af-9a35-4ea0-ac28-cc99870d5676-1e64818af-dfe3-4f84-8e07-5ad732731a582d7c3622-50ff-416a-b7f5-9c2370064a0b

It was our last full day in Tenerife. We had previously booked ourselves another excursion – a 3 hour whale and dolphin tour on a Catamaran. We had to get up early but it was worth it. There was complimentary champagne and they topped it up as often as you liked. We hired beds so we could lie at the front and get the best views.

There were opportunities to photograph the gorgeous pilot whales and in the middle of the trip, the boat was anchored to allow us to swim in the middle of the sea. We were truly living our best lives.

catwhale

catamaran2

It was our last night and we had several bottles of liqueurs and spirits that the other girls had left so we made our own cocktails, played card games and went for one last night out. It ended quite early because we realised you have to be very drunk to enjoy the strip and we just didn’t have the energy. We all grabbed a takeaway and headed back to the apartment, ready to get back to the UK in the morning.

This was my first girls’ holiday and one of the greatest trips I have ever taken. We talk about Tenerife all the time and I’d definitely go back to the canary islands in a heartbeat.

Going to Magaluf on a Couple’s Holiday

The stick I received when people found out I was taking my boyfriend to Magaluf for his birthday was incredible. After looking for good holiday packages in Mallorca, on the Jet 2 website, I came across an awesome deal for an all-inclusive trip. It’s something I’ve never done as I always go for budget options. What’s the worst that can happen? I thought. Spoliler alert: We had the best time ever.

We decided to go for four nights, during the week. It was in September but we had just missed the closing parties going on in our hotel. I don’t know whether this was a good or bad thing because we both appreciate a mix of quiet time and partying.

The complex was complete with it’s own water park as well as three other pools and we were so thankful that it was adults only. It’s safe to say there were no screaming children running about. We were able to grab a white, circular sun lounger, free of charge, and bask in the sun by the pool. There was a cocktail bar right next to us, exclusively for those with the all inclusive wristbands. You could drink whatever fruity, icy drinks you wanted all day long. I opted for vodka + Fanta Lemon most times because that combination just screams holiday. In hindsight, I would have taken advantage of this feature a lot more. You could enjoy the loud house music blaring from the DJ and bathe in the rays or run around all the water slides like a big kid.

The unlimited food was in the form of a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. We took advantage of this in the morning or afternoon, depending on when we woke up but always had dinner out. You could eat in three long slots everyday and also fill up on beer and wine here. We needn’t have left if we didn’t want to explore.

We decided to play mini-golf at Katmandu Park on Sam’s birthday. It was a super fun course and we’re both very competitive which made it intense. The weather was amazing whilst we were there so we had the best time doing an activity in the heat. I like to think that I let him win because it was his birthday.

On one afternoon, we went down to the beach and played in the sea. There’s an alcoholic slushie place called “Daiquiri Palace” opposite the shore which is nicknamed “the washing machine bar.” They serve over 10 flavours of frozen drinks – daiquiris, margaritas, you name it. I had a blueberry one. You could even ask for a disposable cup and drink them on the beach which is what we did.

IMG_6008IMG_5893

We found this absolute gem of a restaurant called ” Bondi Beach” by accident. After going for an after dinner walk along the beach front, we were approached by the Maitre D’. He coaxed us onto their terrace by offering us the “best Prosecco you will ever try in our lives.” The service was amazing and we felt like celebrities, sat sipping delicious fizz and watching the sun set. We liked it so much that we booked a table for tomorrow’s dinner right there and then.

IMG_5925IMG_5930

I had this delicious fresh vegetable pizza and my favourite cocktail – Aperol Spritz. Sam had a Mai Tai and a rack of lamb with rosemary and mustard which he thoroughly enjoyed. I’ll take his word for We would both highly recommend you visit ‘Bondi Beach’ for a date or with a group of friends before a night out.

IMG_5891

The nightlife in Magaluf was something I had my reservations about but it was such a fun surprise. In fact, I preferred it to the strip in San Antonio, Ibiza. That might have something to do with the people I was partying with. We met these two girls on our first night and went out with them almost everyday.  I couldn’t believe the regulations on drinking alcohol there. In a few bars you could pay 10€ and drink all night by refilling your cup as many times as you’d like. It was crazy. We decided to embrace it – when in Rome…

IMG_6004

This was taken on our last day out. This pool belonged to another hotel called “Sol House – The Studio” that we managed to walk straight into with nobody stopping us. It was filled with these amazing inflatables that I had to have a picture with. Again, we were treated to an awesome DJ and enjoyed some fruity ciders. If we decided to go back, I’d consider staying here as the vibe was awesome.

IMG_6025

We both agree that the best thing we did on holiday was purchase tickets for Pirates Reloaded – the adult version. We didn’t really know what to expect but had received lots of recommendations from both people we’d met on nights out and staff. It was 40€ each and that guarantees us entry and unlimited jugs of sangria and beer.

We had to meet a rep at a pub called ‘Dreams’ who then led us to the queue outside the venue. It was a long wait and we were starting to get a bit frustrated as the staff were desperately trying to flog queue jump for an extra 10€. Anyway, we finally got to the front and were led to the best seats we could have asked for, without paying extra, right next to the stage and practically under one of the aerial silks.

The show was like a mix of Rocky Horror and Cirque De Soleil with a lot of skimpily dressed performers and even hints of BDSM. I have seen a lot of these kind of performances but this was one of the best by far. I particularly enjoyed watching people dancing above me – hoop, pole, acrobats. Coupled with the continuous refilling of our drinks, it was an amazing end to a special holiday, a must do.

The moral of the story is, don’t listen to people’s negativity and travel wherever you’d like to go. A holiday is what you make it.