Monday 25 January 2021

My Oxford Travel Guide

 I've spoken about our trip to Oxford late last year a few times now on my blog and I've posted quite a few photos over on Instagram but like I've shared travel guides for other places in the UK that I love, I really wanted to do one for Oxford too. I might not know everything about the city but I absolutely adored it when we visited and I think personal travel guides like this can really help you get a feel for a place. George and I visited just as Summer was coming to an end and I miss it a lot, I just keep looking back over the photos and wishing we were there again. But before I ramble on too much, here's my tips on the top places to stay in Oxford, aswell as must see attractions, restaurants to try and lots more.collage with pink background, photos of Oxford

Where to Stay
If you want to splash out on a hotel then I recommend the Malmaison Prison Hotel. This had been on my travel bucket list for years and I was so glad we finally found an opportunity to stay there. I'm fascinated by prisons so to stay in one was just so incredibly cool. Part of the prison has been refurbished and turned into a boutique hotel and the rest has been kept as it was & you can even do a tour! It can be about £100 a night depending on which room you'd like to stay in but they do regularly have offers on so it's well worth checking back. The reason I'd be tempted to stay at the Malmaison again is because of the location. It's slap bang in the middle of Oxford, you're minutes away from Westgate Shopping Centre and not far from attractions like Radcliffe Camera. There are plenty of hotels like Premier Inn, Holiday Inn, Mercure etc. dotted around the city though if you're looking to visit the city on a budget. Another hotel that looks so unique though is Museum Hotel which looks to be in a fab location and has some really cool decor.
Malmaison Prison HotelMalmaison Prison Hotel exterior

What to See

Radcliffe Camera
I had to start with one of the main attractions Oxford is known for. This is a building of Oxford University and it is breathtaking. When we walked round a corner and saw this, I was in awe of it. It is beautiful and the whole area is such a gorgeous place to walk around.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin
Just next to Radcliffe Camera is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin (part of what I loved about Oxford was that so many beautiful buildings like this were so close together so lots could be seen at once). It's free to enter, though they do appreciate any donation you can give, and it is stunning. Given we visited in Summer and life was feeling a bit more 'normal' than it is now, the streets and shops were busy, but this felt like a real moment of calm. I'm not religious but there was something really special about this. Whilst there, you can pay £5 to climb the 127 steps to the top of tower which apparently gives the best views of Oxford. This is something I definitely want to do next time!University Church of St Mary The Virgin

Oxford Castle & Prison
As I briefly mentioned earlier, you can take a tour of Oxford Prison and for £13 per person, I think it's totally worth it. In a small group, led by a costumed guide, you find out the fascinating history of Oxford and its castle & prison. There's a chance to climb the Saxon St George's Tower which is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford, you descend underground into the 900 year old crypt, the only surviving remains of St. George's Chapel, you explore the Prison D-Wing and there's even a chance towards the end to roam around as you wish and take part in some fun activities.Oxford Castle & Prison

Westgate Shopping Centre
I always like a bit of retail therapy when away in a different city and Westgate Shopping Centre may be one of my new favourites. It's set out in such a different way to others I've been to before and there's such a variety. There's a really cool roof terrace which allows for al fresco dining and there are all sorts of different restaurants to suit whatever you fancy. The whole city centre of Oxford is full of shops, cafes and restaurants aswell. Plenty of book shops too which I was thrilled about!

Harry Potter Film Locations
There are an abundance of Harry Potter film locations over the UK and one of the main places that has some memorable moments is Oxford. The Divinity School which is part of the Bodleian Library is a quick location you can tick off your list as visits are timed to 15 minutes and it's also only £2.50 each! This was the Hogwarts Infirmary in the films and it was also used for the scene in Goblet of Fire where students are practising the dance for the Triwizard tournament! The New College Cloisters are another set, these were used for many scenes in Goblet of Fire and here you'll also find the famous tree from the film with Mad Eye Moody! Lastly, Christ Church College which has their very own great hall which inspired Hogwarts dining hall. The Bodley Staircase was also used to for several moments in Philosopher's Stone and Chambers of Secrets.

The Covered Market
If you want to be away from the busy streets of Oxford then The Covered Market is the place to go. A little like Borough Market in London, it's full of independent traders selling a range of different things. You'll find cafes, quirky clothes shops, chocolate shops, local bakeries and lots more.The Covered Market, OxfordGenerally Oxford is such a beautiful place and just walking around, you'll find lots of hidden gems. So many areas are picturesque and it's easy to just want to stop and look around all the time!

I had to mention Mowgli when talking about food in Oxford. Yes, Mowgli can be found in various cities so it's one I'd recommend regardless of location but we'd never been before our trip to Oxford. It's located on the roof terrace of Westgate so the view of the city was beautiful but it's just such an incredible restaurant. The food was some of the best I've ever had. I will never get over the Himalayan Cheese on Toast, wow.Mowgli, Oxford. Tea-steeped chickpeas, rotis, ginger chicken

The Breakfast Club
For a top breakfast to set you up for the day, whilst in Oxford, I couldn't recommend a visit to The Breakfast Club enough. Whether it's pancakes, waffles or a full English you're after, they've got you covered. I'm a sucker for fried bread and hash browns (#health) and both were insane.
Breakfast at The Breakfast Club, Oxford

Vaults & Garden
This is located within the University Church of St Mary the Virgin so is a fab spot to chill after climbing to the top of the tower! With outdoor seating, it's such a gorgeous spot to relax and take in your surroundings. We stopped here for a drink in the Sun and the view of Radcliffe Camera was just lovely.

One thing I really liked about Oxford was that it was full of independent cafes and restaurants who will need our support more than ever once they're allowed to re-open. One place I wish I could recommend is Cafe Loco, the first place we visited in Oxford and we had some of the best cake EVER and the yummiest smoothies but unfortunately due to Covid, they had to close and have announced they won't be re-opening. A few other places I think are worth checking out and on my list for next time are the Art Cafe and Cafe Tarifa but there's plenty on each street to choose from.

The great thing about Oxford is that it's so accessible by foot. We walked everywhere whilst we were there and everything was quite close-by to one another so a lot can be seen in a matter of hours. Due to where our hotel was located, we ended up seeing a lot of what we wanted to see in the first afternoon. If you choose to stay a little further out of Oxford though, they have park and ride so you could easily park up and leave your car for the duration of your trip and just get the bus into the centre or wherever you wanted to be. View of Oxford from Westgate Shopping Centre Roof Terrace

So, that wraps up my Oxford Travel Guide! I loved writing this and it's only made me want to go back even more. I think it will be the first place we visit for a break when it's allowed again!

Have you ever visited Oxford? Where do you want to travel to when lockdown is over?

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Friday 22 January 2021

New Year Book Haul

 It's a New Year which tends to always mean a fresh pile of books to read. Pretty much all I ask for at Christmas is books and as my birthday is just 2 weeks later, I tend to end up with quite a few in January to see me through the start of the new year. I thought I'd share a little new year book haul before I get stuck into reading these and I'd love to know if you've read any of them too!Stack of books on desk, background of musical prints and programs

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
'In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it's too late?'

This is a book I've wanted to read for months so I was thrilled to receive this for my birthday! You might know Richard Osman as one of the TV presenters from Pointless but recently he released The Thursday Murder Club, his first book and it's received endless praise ever since. I have a feeling I'm going to love this!The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman held up in front of bookshelf

Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris
'In 1942, Cilka Klein is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. The commandment at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her long beautiful hair, and forces her separation from the other women prisoners. Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly given, equals survival. After liberation, Cilka is charged as a collaborator by the Russians and sent to a desolate, brutal prison camp in Siberia known as Vortuka, inside the Arctic Circle. Innocent, imprisoned once again, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, each day a battle for survival. Cilka befriends a woman doctor, and learns to nurse the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under unimaginable conditions. And when she tends to a man called Alexandr, Cilka finds that despite everything, there is room in her for love.'

I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris at the start of 2019 and it's stuck with me ever since. Cilka's Journey is the sequel and I'm so surprised I've not read it before now. It's been on my list to buy ever since it was released. No doubt this will be just as moving as The Tattooist of Auschwitz but I think books like this are really important to keep reading.Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris held up in front of desk

How To Be More Paddington: A Book of Kindness by Michael Bond
'Paddington Bear is a beacon of happiness - well meaning, funny and always kind. Explore Paddington's unique and universal take on life in this very special collection of warm words about friendship, family, love, laughter... and everything in between.'

I adore Paddington. I don't know who couldn't. I love books like this which you don't have to rush with, you can just pick up as and when you feel like it. This is full of beautiful illustrations, quotes and more and I just know it's going to be a book I'll always have on my bookshelf ready for whenever I need it.How To Be More Paddington by Michael Bond held up in front of bookshelf

All Along You Were Blooming by Morgan Harper Nichols
'A celebration of hope. An encounter with grace. A restoration of the heart. A healing of wounds. An anthem of freedom. All Along You Were Blooming is the ultimate love letter from the pen of popular Instagram poet Morgan Harper Nichols to your mind, heart, soul, and body. All Along You Were Blooming is a striking collection of illustrated poetry and prose.'

I've followed Morgan Harper Nichols on Instagram for a while and always absolutely loved her words so when I saw she had released a book, I knew I was going to have to read it. I think like Be More Paddington, this will be one I can just come back to time and time again and I won't necessarily read it all in one go. Whilst I love fiction, I also really enjoy having books like this to pick up as and when.All Along You Were Blooming by Morgan Harper Nicholls held up in front of desk

Us by David Nicholls 
'Douglas Petersen understands his wife's need to 'rediscover herself' now that their son is leaving home. He just thought they'd be doing their rediscovering together. So when Connie announces that she will be leaving too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again. The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed. What could possibly go wrong?'

I watched the TV adaptation of Us on BBC towards the end of 2020 and absolutely loved it so I can't wait to read the book. David Nicholls also wrote One Day but I've never got all the way through that for some reason so I'm hoping I won't have that problem with this. I'd love to know if you've read this and what you thought of it?Us by David Nicholls held up in front of bookshelfSo, that's my New Year book haul! I can't wait to read all of these, I don't even know what to start with!

Have you read any of these books? What was your first book of 2021?

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Monday 18 January 2021

The Push by Ashley Audrain Book Review*

I received a copy to review but all views are my own*

It's been a while since my last book review but what a book to come back with, The Push by Ashley Audrain. I read this just before Christmas and it's stuck with me ever since. It's one of the most anticipated books of 2021 and I can totally see why it's receiving so much praise. Read on to see why I enjoyed it so much!The Push by Ashley Audrain book held up in front of bookshelf'Blythe Connor doesn't want history to repeat itself. Violet is her first child and she will give her daughter all the love she deserves. All the love that her own mother withheld. But firstborns are never easy. And Violet is demanding and fretful. She never smiles. Soon Blythe believes she can do no right - that something's very wrong. Either with her daughter, or herself. Her husband, Fox, says she's imagining it. But Violet's different with him. And he can't understand what Blythe suffered as a child. No one can. Blythe wants to be a good mother. But what if that's not enough for Violet? Or her marriage? What if she can't see the darkness coming? Mother and daughter. Angel or monster? We don't get to choose our inheritance - or who we are...'

My review

Well, where to even start with The Push? From the very first page, I was hooked, genuinely, and I flew through it within a matter of hours. It was such an easy read and I LOVED the short, snappy chapters. It never felt like it was dragging and I always wanted more.

The Push is very much focused on the mother/daughter relationship and just how temperamental and difficult it can be. The story is told by Blythe and it's a little unique in that throughout she's telling it to another character rather than us, the reader, which at first I found a little confusing but I soon got used to it and now think it was a really interesting way to narrate the book. Throughout the book we find out about Blythe's difficult childhood, which once Blythe gives birth herself, we realise just how much has had an impact on her. Blythe struggles to form a bond with her daughter Violet and their relationship goes from bad to worse as she gets older. Despite her efforts, everyone thinks she is to blame. Blythe though is convinced there's something wrong with her daughter, something almost evil that no one else can see.

From the moment Blythe gives birth, the book becomes brutally honest. Almost a little uncomfortable to read at times. Nothing is sugar coated and I've personally never read something quite so raw but I like how different it is to other books in that respect. It made me pause for thought several times throughout and it's not often a book does that.

I don't want to give anything away as it's a book I'd recommend you read yourself but in short it's a really interesting look at the darker side of motherhood. I can see why it wouldn't be for everyone but I personally found myself intrigued from the get go. I felt for Blythe throughout, I questioned how trauma can be passed on from generation to generation and I genuinely do think this will end up being one of the best books to come out of 2021. It's such a fascinating look at nature vs nurture, it's full of suspense and I promise once you start reading, you won't want to stop, it's addictive!

Have you read The Push by Ashley Audrain?

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Monday 11 January 2021

My Top 5 Books Of 2020

Now we are officially in a new year, it's time for me to look back on all the books I read in 2020 and pick my top 5 of the year. I set myself a goal of reading 100 books last year, just like the year before and whilst I did reach it, it took me right up until the end of December which is why I didn't end up sharing this as early as I'd have liked. I read such a variety last year from thrillers to romance, LGBT books to Young Adult, crime fiction to autobiographies, there was a LOT so it's definitely been a challenge to choose just 5 that came out on top. I've just about managed it though, these are the 5 books that stand out to me every time I think back to 2020 and ones I've felt really passionate about for a number of reasons.
collage - book covers, Normal People, The Longest Holiday, The Silent Patient, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, In Case You Missed It

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I massively struggled to pick between the The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Normal People for the top spot this year but every time I see this book on my bookshelf, I want to re-read it. I actually won my copy of this in a giveaway at the start of the year and it sat on my shelf for months. I really did judge a book by its cover despite all of the amazing reviews I kept seeing on Instagram. I'm SO glad I eventually read it though because it's just BRILLIANT. 

As you might guess by the title, this tells the story of Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo. Evelyn recruits magazine reporter Monique to help her write her biography and in doing so she reveals the truth about the glamorous yet scandalous life she's had, even revealing one of her deepest secrets. As Evelyn's story catches up with the present, Monique realises their lives may be connected in a tragic way she could never have predicted.

This completely took me by surprise and whilst there were shocking moments throughout, it never felt like there were too many twists. It genuinely felt like this could be a real celebrity in Hollywood right now living this life. Evelyn felt so believable and real and I only liked her more and more as the book went on. It's hard to properly explain why I loved this book so much but I know it's one I'll recommend to people again and again. It's utterly captivating. I will 100% be re-reading this one day and it would make the most incredible film.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid held up in front of bookshelf

2. Normal People by Sally Rooney 

Normal People pretty much took over my life in the first lockdown. That feels so long ago now. I first read this after I'd just seen the trailer for the TV adaptation and the only thing that stopped this getting top place in this list is because I loved the show more than the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but the TV show, god I still think about it. And I'd be more inclined to watch the show again than to read the book so it felt fair to put this in second place.

Normal People follows Connell and Marianne in high school. He's popular, she's not. But there's an attraction there. Unable to control their feelings for one another, they get together but keep it a secret from everyone around them. Throughout the book we follow them through the highs and lows. The breakups, the makeups and everything in between. The book spans over a number of years but no matter what, their love for one another always remains, even if being together isn't as straightforward as it should be.

Sally Rooney's writing style is very different to that of any other authors that I know of so it did take some getting used to at first but I felt the chemistry between Connell and Marianne from the moment they met. It's electric and I don't know how she's managed to do that with words. It's not even like a great deal happens throughout but I fell in love with the story and the characters and by the end I just wanted to start it all over again. These characters will stick with me for a long time.
Normal People by Sally Rooney on bookshelf

3. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Surprisingly the only thriller that's made it to my top 5 books of the year. I read a LOT of thrillers in 2020 and I found myself getting really picky towards the end of the year. The Silent Patient is one I would recommend to anyone and I was on at George for months telling him he should read it!

In The Silent Patient, we meet Alicia who until 6 years ago, lived a seemingly perfect life. For reasons unknown to us, she one day shoots her husband in the head five times. Since then she hasn't said a single word. Criminal psychotherapist Theo is determined to be the one who can make her talk.

This to me just had everything you want in a psychological thriller. It was tense, had an intricate plot that never felt confusing, fascinating characters and the ending is amazing. It's a really quick read too so I got through this in a matter of hours. I wish I could re-read it not knowing what was going to happen!
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides held up in front of bookshelf

4. The Longest Holiday by Paige Toon

There had to be a book by Paige Toon on this list didn't there? My favourite author and the queen of romance. I read a few Paige Toon books in 2020 meaning I've read everything she's published so far and The Longest Holiday stands out as one of her best.

The Longest Holiday is about Laura, a character from one of Paige's older books, who has just got married. Not long afterwards, she finds out her husband Matthew has been keeping a big secret. Unable to forgive him, she is whisked off to Florida by her friends and there she meets Leo. She's not looking for a man but she can't help herself, there's an instant connection. It's not long before she's head over heels and has to decide if she takes a chance and stays with Leo or heads home to Matthew who would do anything to get her back.

If you've read any books by Paige before then you'll probably know how the story goes, all her books seem to have a similar theme, but that's why I love them so much. I know what I'm getting and sometimes you just need a cheesy romance. I loved so many of the characters in this and I thought every interaction between Laura and Leo was perfect.
The Longest Holiday by Paige Toon book cover

5. In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk

This was the first book I've read by Lindsey Kelk but it won't be the last. It reminded me a lot of books by Paige Toon so within a few chapters, I knew I was going to like it. 

Ros is having a bit of a crisis. She's just moved back home after 4 years away and is in need of a job, a new flat and everything that she had in her old life. But things have moved on. She's nostalgic for the way things used to be so when her new phone begins to ping with messages from all of her old contacts, including her ex, she can't help but want to find out what she's been missing.

This just sums up what a romantic comedy is. It was so funny at times but had those heartwarming moments you want too and Ros was just a fantastic character. Every time I put it down, I wanted to pick it straight up again and that to me is a sign of a good book.
In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk on bookshelf
So after much deliberation, these are my top 5 books of 2020! I honestly could have included so many more but these 5 just stand out to me as some of the best I've read over the past 12 months. I can easily see me re-reading all of them at some point and I'm sure I'll be recommending them for a long time yet.

What was your favourite book of 2020? Did you read any of these too?

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Monday 4 January 2021

4 Self Care Tips For Winter*

AD - This post is in collaboration with Live Well Nationwide

 I don't know about you but I always feel a bit flat in January. I look forward to Christmas pretty much the whole year round so once it's over, I instantly find myself feeling a bit down. I fully expected this January to hit me hard and to be honest it has. I'm dreading more months of tiers and possible lockdowns and I just want my life back. It's hard to plan for anything right now meaning there's very little to look forward to and I'm someone who really does need that. After 2020 though, I'm determined to really ensure I'm taking care of myself this year though, physically and mentally, and I think in Winter that's even more important. Here are some of my self care tips for the colder months of the year which understandably may be more of a struggle right now.Vitamins scattered on pink background

Get Outside
As much as it's tempting to stay indoors all the time (don't worry I will be encouraging some cosy days in later) I often find regardless of the season, a long walk with Bear makes me feel so refreshed. Yes it's cold but it's a good excuse to layer up and wear your favourite cosy clothing! I find a brisk walk really clears my head which does me the world of good and while we can't do much else at the moment (like most of 2020) it almost feels like a bit of a day out. We like to head to the woods or to a park to give Bear a chance to get some energy out when we can and if there's a nice little cafe at the end to grab a hot chocolate, well it just tops the day off.

Take Your Vitamins
Vitamins can provide so many benefits all year round but it's so important in Winter to be making sure you're getting enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and those nutrients are the ones we need to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. There are several ways we can make sure we're getting enough Vitamin D from eating plenty of leafy green veg to getting out in the sunshine but the second option can be a bit tricky in Winter! Because of this, a handy way to ensure you're getting exactly what you need is to buy your vitamins online. Live Well Nationwide are a reliable and trusted online pharmacist who provide medication for a range of conditions and you can even get your NHS repeat prescription through them! Being able to order vitamins online is a big help for many, even more so now when people may be choosing to shield and still need vitamins and supplements that keep us feeling our best.

 There are several symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency you might recognise, from feeling unwell often (this is due to your immune system not being able to fight off bacterial and viral infections) to feeling tired more than usual and even feeling depressed. This can be due to the lack of sunlight which can also be linked to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Many people suffer with SAD in the Autumn and Winter months due to the shorter days and longer nights so it's only even more reason to really make sure we're all taking care of ourselves the best way we can. Oh, and drink lots of water! It's one simple thing that can make you feel completely rejuvenated. If you are worried you could be lacking in Vitamin D, please consult your doctor about any concerns.

Have a Cosy Day
Whilst it's good to get out and get those endorphins going, it's also pretty good to have a cosy day in. I know that's pretty much all we can do right now but to be honest the shine of a cosy Winter day inside snuggled up hasn't gone away! Stick on one of your favourite films, get the duvet, grab a cup of tea and some snacks and just chill. If I'm feeling a bit fed up, mentally drained, low, any of those things, it helps me massively.

Talk to others
It's so important if you're struggling that you let people know. 2020 was ROUGH to say the least and it's very easy right now to worry about what's to come this year too. I get it because I feel the same. Don't keep it all in, there will always be people there to listen and help and I personally find getting something off my chest, no matter how big or small, instantly makes me feel a bit lighter. If you can't be with someone in person, give them a call, send them a text, do a Zoom quiz (if you're not sick of them yet), just reach out.

Do you have any other self care tips for Winter?

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