MTT Does Manchester

My home town at the moment is Milton Keynes. Now, I really love where I live. Its proximity to London balanced with value for money can’t be beaten and the amenities are pretty amazing – the shopping, the indoor skiing, the entertainment district, the health club, the WAITROSE. Boy do I love my Waitrose.

But I’ve always known, in my heart of hearts, that I belong by the sea. There is something so completely special you get from being by the ocean that you don’t get anywhere else. I adore it and I can’t wait until there’s a time in my life where I’m able to spend more time at the coast. But for now the odd summer weekend will have to do, or evening the odd man-made seaside resort!

One of the great things about England is that we’re never more than approximately 70 miles from the sea, wherever we are in the country. MK is a town that can dubiously claim to be about this distance from a coast, with our nearest beach being a muddy one in Kent. I have never ever been.

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My favourite beach is Boscombe in Bournemouth (I was born just down the road! Represent!) but DID YOU KNOW… you can get pretty good beach action a little further north? Let me explain…

Manchester, one of the most exciting cities North of Watford, is actually only about 30 minutes from some of the loveliest beaches you could hope to come across. Extend that drive to two hours and you have even more available to you. Magic, right?! But even better – right now at Heaton Park to the north of the city you can find Come To The Beach – the biggest mobile beach in the North West! Hours in the car not necessary.

Entry is free and you will find deck chairs, buckets and spades and a seaside fun park complete with rides like crazy cards and the fun house. It’s all the fun of the beach with none of the hassle.

I spent a couple of nights in Manchester recently… here’s what I got up to:

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Hotel

I stayed at the Hilton Hotel on Deansgate which had one of the most incredible views of any hotel I’ve ever seen. The room was everything you’d expect from a Hilton – comfortable with all the necessary amenities – but the floor to ceiling windows made it something really special. There’s also the fantastic Cloud 23 cocktail bar which is situated on 23rd floor of the building and was a really super place to enjoy a couple of late night martinis. For more hotel options in the city click on over to Hotel Direct.

Eat

The weekend I was in Manchester the man friend fancied a good old steak so we plumped for Gaucho. Much like its London counterparts the restaurant is housed in a beautiful building on St Mary’s Street and offers a fantastic Argentine-inspired menu of steaks and sides. And wines! (And my choice – a v delicious Dirty Martini!).

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If you’re looking for something a little more casual I have it on excellent authority that Almost Famous is THE place to go: brilliant burgers and booze are found here. And for some restaurant recommendations from those who’ve probably eaten at every single establishment at the city I suggest you speak to Helen or Ellie ;)

Do

I spent some time at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) which was an absolutely wonderful place to spend a day with the family, but aside from the summer fun mentioned above there are many more wonderful ways to spend your time up North! Why not head to the Imperial War Museum North, take a tour of Coronation Street or flex your credit card at the Trafford Center? Whether you’re taking an adults-only trip or bringing the kids along there are plenty of things you can get up to in Manchester.

What are your favourite things to do in Manchester?

This post is in partnership with the folks at Hotel Direct 

How Greece Taught Me To Love Being A Mum

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Last week I took a little holiday. Well, kind of a big holiday actually. 1,541 miles to be exact, to Paxos in Greece travelling by train, taxi, plane, bus, boat and jeep. I had looked forward to this holiday for weeks and weeks beforehand, imagining the week of sunshine, beaches, indulgence and adult company. I’d thought about being without the kids – they were having a week with their dad – I knew I’d miss them but having them spend two nights away a fortnight prepares me for the time we’re apart.

The holiday was everything I wanted it to be. Paxos was literally heaven on earth, a tiny island full of little bays with turquoise waters, villages with gorgeous Tavernas churning out Melitzanosalata (I ate it every day), moussaka and Mythos. The beaches were rocky but stunning and I swam in the sea, laid out on the beach and took naps. It was a grown-ups dreamland.

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But I had no idea how much being away from the children for such a long time would hurt. It really was like I was missing something, something huge that I couldn’t quantify or replace. The stacks of sweet children on the island made it worse; I could see Elfie playing with the little girls of her age, painting rocks and collecting shells, or Hux charging into the sea with his usual ignorance of personal safety.

In reality of course it wouldn’t have been that perfect. Hux is probably a year two young for such a holiday (without him being a huge handful at least) and I would have worried about Elfie’s health in such a remote place. But still, but still. It ached.

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I felt guilt for being in such a special place without them – being on the beach, by a pool, looking at fish. Guilt that I was spending my free time away from them doing something so exciting. Guilt that rather than working hard I put my laptop away for a week to concentrate on these things I think they call books. I did a lot of thinking, mental caretaking, situation pondering. I think – as cheesy as this sounds – that by being away for that week I grew into my role as a mum more than I have in a long time.

There was a moment, the day after I returned home, when I was hanging the washing up on the line. I’m trying to get Elflie out of nappies at night and Hux I guess just likes the feeling of air on his bottom so as a result we get through a load of Fairy non-bio. The children were kicking a ball, the sun was on our faces and we had nothing to do but just be together in the garden. This is when a particular thought popped into my head for the very first time in my life, and that was just how much I love being a mother.

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Being a mum has never been something that I’ve disliked. It was moreso a situation that happened to me when I wasn’t really expecting it and therefore it freaked me out. It was something I kind of just got used to and in the meantime I think I missed out on the enjoyment part.

But there it was – hanging out fresh sheets, listening to bickering over a ball and thinking about what to cook that evening. Like a lightening bolt. It felt blissful to just know I was in the right place with those two little people at that time.

So content.

Thank-you, Paxos, for teaching me how to love being a mum. I’ll be back soon and with two little mini-mes. We can’t wait.

I should probably come back at a later date and tell you all about just how wonderful visiting Paxos – the actual island – was. Or the story about how I was 5 minutes away from my flight because traces of explosives were found in my handbag (my new nickname is TNT). Or maybe the one where I got on a train on the last leg of my journey home to Buckinghamshire and ended up in Wigan. Stay tuned…

MTT Does Shoreditch

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Even though it’s a good six years since I lived there, Shoreditch is still my favourite area of London. It’s not edgy anymore, it’s not particularly trendy (don’t you have to go to Putney to be trendy these days?), but I love it. I know the streets, the bars, the coffee shops, the people… it’s a vibrant and fun place and I just love to be there. In the last six months I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot more time in that area and now I’m working there too I thought it would be a great opportunity to tell you all about my favourite places. So without further ado, here it is; MTT does Shoreditch:

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MTT Does The Cavendish London

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Even though I no longer live in London I would definitely say it is my spiritual home. Something about the place is so energising: the atmosphere, the culture, the food, the tourists, the traffic. I love it all and every time I make the thirty minute train journey into the city I feel excited at the prospect of spending a few hours in my favourite place.

But a few hours never seems to be enough; luckily I have a good few friends who let me crash in their beds when I’m in town on a girl’s night, and you can always get a good value hotel room via Hotel Tonight (I love The Threadneedles) or at The Hoxton. And a couple of weeks ago I added a new hotel to my list of favourite places in London to lay my head: The Cavendish London.

London Skyline

The Cavendish London is a 4 star boutique hotel in on of the most gorgeous areas of London, St James, just off Piccadilly. I visited on one of the first super sunny days of the year and it was just glorious; the sun was bouncing off the stone buildings, the sky was blue and though it was still pretty chilly there were bare arms and smiley faces every way you turned. I’d just indulged in one of my favourite activities, a hair cut with the ever-amazing Sam at Ena Salon (he knows how to make you feel spoiled, ladies), and strolling through such a beautiful London meant I was walking on air by the time I got to my hotel. You’ll find it easily as I did tucked in on a little side street just behind Fortnum’s: such a fantastic spot for anyone wanting to explore the finer parts of London.

I checked in and made my way up to my room. Just check out the view I was greeted with! I don’t mean the view of myself in the mirror, I’m talking that breathtaking London vista up there. Totally stunning.

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I never know what to do when I find myself in a hotel room. A place where you are ALONE, with a TV, a huge bed for SLEEP, magazines that you can READ. The potential for alone-time fun is incredible. So I did what I always seem to do which is order a Caesar salad and bowl of chips on room service, don my bathrobe and eat my lunch snuggled into the big fluffy hotel pillows. Blissful.

Caesar salad and chips is always my go-to room service choice and this one was top-notch. The chicken was perfectly chargrilled and though I don’t normally go for chunky chips these ones were wonderful. And anchovies, mmm, anchovies.

Bed at The Cavendish London

Desk at The Cavendish, London

Room Service at The Cavendish, LondonNot wanting to be totally lazy and explore the local area (and OK, cos I’d left my contact lens solution at home), I took a wander up Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus. Up here you’ll find some shops and a LOT of tourists (and also a huge store dedicated to Nespresso? Who knew). I picked up a little bottle of wine from Whole Foods (fave supermarket in the whole world, sorry Waitrose) with plans to enjoy it in the bath later and just took an hour to walk aimlessly. This part of London is so different to what I’m used to, it’s a feast for the senses with its bright lights, smells wafting over from Chinatown and busy streets. It was fun but I was happy to retreat to the sanctuary of my room at The Cavendish London.

Sunrise from The Cavendish, London

There are rarely many things I find more satisfying than a nap in a hotel bed, so nap I did followed by a happy half hour gazing out of my window at the view with my Whole Foods glass of wine in hand. Soul food, that was. Then it was time for dinner after a long soak in a bath. This day… it just gets better and better, right?

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I’d invited my gorgeous friend Caoimhe to dine with me and was so excited to catch up with her. We began our evening with cocktails in the bar and gossip about boys before moving on to the restaurant. IMG_1342The food was one of the things I was most looking forward to at The Cavendish; their in-house restaurant Petrichor has 2 AA rosettes and after checking out their menu online I was really excited to dine there. It’s one floor up in the hotel so you get a really unique birds-eye view of the streets below which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a quiet, luxurious restaurant that would be suited to a romantic date or anniversary dinner. Or a catch up with one of your favourite Irish babes :)

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I plumped for the Scottish Scallop started which came with breaded frogs legs and was every bit as delicious as it looked. The scallops were cooked to perfection and though I’ve only had frogs legs once before these really hit the spot. Delicious.

Caoimhe went for the Trio of Quail: breast, egg and confit leg croquette. Just YUM. 

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Next up were the mains and though I chose well with  my Suffolk Chicken Roulade (the pan-fried lettuce was to die for and I loved the earthy taste of the king oyster mushroom and truffle hollandaise) I have to admit, I had total food envy. Caoimhe’s plate was a work of art; her beef fillet came with smoked potato puree, ox cheek croquette, duck liver pate and a potato ring. WOW.

IMG_1351 IMG_1349Puddings were up next and again these were big old plates of loveliness. My star anise creme brulee was a lovely end to a beautiful meal and Caoimhe’s Chocolate brownie could have been eaten three times over.

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With stuffed bellies we headed off round the corner to Quaglino’s for a little sip of Prosecco and an old-fashioned flirt with some bartenders. We must have done something right because they kept appearing at our table with shots of delicious alcohol: this one below was rhubarb pavlova and coming with a teeny tiny meringue it literally tasted like pudding in a glass. We were impressed. And slightly drunk. See: LEGS. My mother will be horrified.

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When we ran out of gossip I wobbled back round the corner to my bed at The Cavendish, excited about the TEN HOURS sleep I was about to have. There’s always time for a mirror selfie in a lift full of reflections, though…

IMG_5675The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed and energised hungover and starving. Luckily on my return to the hotel I’d had the wherewithal to crazily scribble a room service breakfast order and leave it on my door for morning. So I had a slug of water, took a picture of the London sunrise and waited for my feast to arrive at 8.30.

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Yep, apparently when I’m a bit tiddly I want ALL THE BACON. The breakfast was divine and tasted just as good as it looked, especially when enjoyed in bed with a massive cup of tea and Sunday morning breakfast TV. If you decide to brave leaving your room for breakfast though it’s worth noting you can until 12pm: it winds me up no end when you wake up at 10.15am on a Sunday morning in a hotel and realise you’ve missed breakfast and I wish more hotels were flexible with their times like this.

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A little post-breakkie snooze and I was ready to start the day. I had to be back home for the kids fairly early so after I checked out of my St James’s bolthole I took a little browse through Fortnum and Mason and hopped on the tube home.

All in all, a thoroughly wonderful way to spend 24 hours in the capital. I may not have gone sightseeing, taken in any museums or visited any great monuments… but I returned home feeling like I’d spent a whole day pampering and pleasing no-one but myself and that was worth its weight in gold. The memories of that wonderful alone time will last and last :)

The Cavendish London: I’ll be back!

I was a guest of The Cavendish London – thank you so much for having me! 

 

 

 

 

MTT Does London In 24 Hours

IMG_4555 Since I split from my husband I have relied on my friends more than I ever had before. When I was married my husband was my best friend and I definitely neglected my female relationships in favour of this relationship. One of the best things about splitting up has been re-discovering the connection I have with my lady friends and I couldn’t be happier with the brilliant examples of womankind I am surrounded by. Unfortunately one of the best friends I have is all the way in New York. Kirsty is the one I went to when things with my marriage went tits up and Skyping her is the first thing I want to do when I have a terrible date or rubbish day.  When we’re together we always have an absolutely wonderful time and I can hand on heart say that I know I want her to be in my life forever. I never laugh more than when I’m with Kirsty. We met in one of the first weeks I lived in London, having dinner with a mutual friend. Because I was the country mouse transplanted to the big city Kirsty took me under her wing, introduced me to people and showed me the ways of the London world. I remember meeting her for dinner for the first time at Mildred’s in Soho and she’d just finished scouring Primark; she had a brilliant on-the-side eBay business selling on 99p glasses for a tenner and was frantic because everywhere had sold out and she had orders stacking up. I remember feeling wide-eyed and in awe at this exuberant, confident chatty woman who took me to dinner and talked my ear off. She has remained my friend ever since, even helped me get a job at the place she worked, and though slightly less frantic and chatty these days (I like to tell her like a good stilton, she’s matured with age and is very cheesy) she is still one of those people whose spirit lifts you up just by spending time with them. IMG_4561 Enough Kirsty loving, she’s going to have an unbearable ego when she gets round to reading this. LOVE YOU DARLING. Anyway, because of the nature of Kirsty living on the other side of the planet it can be difficult for us to get together.  She has fleeting visits to the country every few months and this time I had her for a whole 24 hours. To say I was excited is an understatement, and even more so because we’d planned to jampack that whole time with FUN! IMG_4529 We started at Chuan, the spa at The Langham, at 10 am. The order of the day: body scrubs, back massages and mini facials. I had a foot massage that sent me to sleep (woke myself up snoring like the classy bird I am) and then onto the spa for a dip in the pool, jacuzzi and sauna. I do mean a literal dip: that thing was freezing so we promptly retreated to the bubbles of the jacuzzi and the serenity of the heated beds. Lovely. Now, I like the changing room at my gym. It’s always clean, the shower is super-powered and the hairdryers are excellent. But the one at Chuan spa was simply out of this world. The shower had about 12 heads and a million knobs, there were not only hairdryers but hair straighteners and every sort of beauty product was there available for you to use. Oh, and slippers. You know times are good when there are hundreds of pairs of slippers at your disposal. IMG_4531 Relaxed, we went from the spa to Soho house for a lunch of calimari, caesar salad, chips and some other things that I don’t remember. That’ll be the Prosecco. Of which there were lots… yay! I told you, there’s nothing I like more than sitting down to drink a bottle of something chilled and fizzy with a really interesting person and Kirsty, you’re no exception. Kirsty had a conference call to make so we headed back to our hotel three sheets to the wind. I don’t know about you but I find I get my best work done this way, and she seemed to be more hilarious than normal during her call. I of course spent the time flashing my bra at her, retrieving champagne and offering my own terribly important insights into her terribly important business. The dream team, that’s us. IMG_4534 IMG_4536 IMG_4537 We were put up by the marvellous people at Novotel at their Novotel Waterloo hotel. We had a room that was really generously sized by London standards; big enough for a huge bed and a desk that came in very handy for all the proper bizness that Kirsty was carrying out. We stayed on their shopping package, which meant we were greeted with glasses of Champagne (Taittenger too, very lovely) and a goodie bag for a trip to the shops. We had Westfield VIP vouchers (discounts, yo!), treats for our feet for when all that walking got too much, water and a brilliant breakfast in the hotel restaurant. IMG_4538 The hotel bar was absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed a second glass of champagne while we waited for our cab. My favourite thing might have been this London skyline rug, though. Absolutely brilliant. IMG_4542 The hotel was really well placed for where we wanted to go; we hopped in an Uber (best taxi service ever: if you want to try it this weekend use the promo code ‘sh99c‘ and you’ll get a £20 credit to your account, as will I, whee!) and on a whim headed to Heron Tower. We did the touristy thing and gawped at all the sights on our way passed: The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge. Ace. There’s nothing I love more than being a tourist in lovely old London. I’ve never been up Heron tower before, heights aren’t my thing, but on such a girly night out a fancy bar seemed to be the way to go. Let me tell you, that lift up to SushiSamba is a total headfark. I ended up clutching on to Kirsty’s arm, whimpering on the floor, not really sure what to do. My ears popped twice. In short, it was pretty awful but the view was just about worth it. Check this out: IMG_4548 IMG_4566 That doesn’t go any way to demonstrate just how stunning it was. Truly beautiful, a trip up the Heron Tower is definitely one for the ‘to do’ list. Fear of heights or not, I’ll definitely be back. The food at SushiSamba was incredible; we hadn’t booked and were seated at the bar, feasting on tuna sashimi, rock shrimp tempura and cucumber cocktails. It was pricey but worth it and the restaurant itself was beautifully decadent. IMG_4552 Feeling full we decided to head over to Shoreditch House, where most of our early friendship was cultivated over espresso martinis and stories about BOYS. Not much has changed really (though this time more tequila was involved and it was me rather than her telling stories of BOYS) and the evening was spent being borderline annoying to our fellow revellers (crashing the British Fashion Council’s Christmas parties was one of the better ideas we’ve had, I feel). We ended the night in reindeer antlers, crawling into bed back at the Novotel at about 4am. It was an awesome awesome night and I haven’t smiled, danced and laughed that much in a long time. IMG_4570It’s probably a good thing that Kirsty only comes over once every six months because it took me a solid 5 days to recover from our day of excess. Ugh, the curse of a hangover when you’re no longer 23. But I really really really can’t wait to do it all again in six months time.

Disneyworld Dreamin’

1402028_621498431248110_325643461_oWhen I was growing up it really wasn’t ‘a thing’ to go abroad regularly, not like it is now. There was no Easyjet, the Eurostar was brand new (travelling under the sea? WEIRD): holidays were expensive. We went to Center Parcs once a year which was always absolutely brilliant – so much that I’m carrying on the tradition with Elfie and Hux – but we didn’t really travel abroad.

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Which is why, when my mum and dad sat my brother and I down and told us that we were going on a surprise two week trip to Florida we both went mental. Disneyworld is the stuff that twelve year old’s dreams are made of, right?

It was to be my first time at an airport, first time on a plane, first time in a different country. I was literally so excited I gave myself an upset stomach the night before.

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The Tower of Terror, which was THE BEST RIDE EVER. 1399713_621497214581565_1111082616_oBates Motel

We had an amazing two week holiday. We visited every single Disneyworld park, Universal studios (twice), the biggest McDonalds in the world (they sold pizza!), outlet malls and massive breakfast buffet restaurants. I got my whole head plaited Monica-style, spent hours in the hotel pool and generally had the time of my life. Even now having travelled to Malaysia, New York, Paris, Greece… Florida 1997 still holds the crown for the best holiday I’ve ever been on.

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I distinctly remember telling Alice in Wonderland that my name was Alice, too. Because that was totally the REAL Alice in Wonderland.1412558_621498664581420_148595757_o

Which is why I’m so excited to plan the same for Elfie and Hux when they’re a little bit older. My dad is 60 in a couple of years and he has requested a Disney holiday to Disneyworld Florida for his birthday treat. That’s something I can definitely get on board with. Last week he uploaded photographs from our trip all those years ago to get us excited about planning Disneyworld 2015… don’t be fooled, I haven’t processed them through some sort of vintage filter, this is what film photographs actually used to look like. Eat your heart out Instagram.

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In the years since we visited Disneyworld a lot has changed: there’s been the addition of the Animal Kingdom park and, of course, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at Universal Studios. I’m mostly looking forward to re-visiting the waterparks though, OH THE WATERPARKS. There is nothing I like more than charging around a waterpark; throwing myself down slides and trundling along lazy rivers.

I also think the delicious American cuisine will be more interesting to me now I’m that bit older (BURGERS!) and the outlet malls will take on a whole new meaning to 30 year old me. I can’t wait.

I’m just going to try not to make myself ill with excitement before the holiday this time.

This post was written in association with Thomson Holidays. You can see my disclosure policy here