The blog

British mummy blogger and travel blogger

Is it OK to fancy Jamie Dornan in The Fall?

Let's face it, you're really not supposed to fancy serial killers. Unless you have ambitions to become… [more]

Is it OK to fancy Jamie Dornan in The Fall? Is it OK to fancy Jamie Dornan in The Fall?

My 2015 Travel Wishlist

I know what you're thinking. It's not even December and she's talking about 2015 travel already? But… [more]

My 2015 Travel Wishlist My 2015 Travel Wishlist

The One where I try skydiving at sea

So at the weekend I broke my own rule about never trying anything again that involves putting on a helmet… [more]

The One where I try skydiving at sea The One where I try skydiving at sea

Hudl 2 review

When we were asked if we'd like to review a Hudl2 I was a bit skeptical; it seemed unlikely that a budget… [more]

Hudl 2 review Hudl 2 review

My totally gorgeous, probably impractical new pink coat

Yesterday I did something a bit rash. Something not very 'me'. I bought a gorgeous new pink coat. PINK.… [more]

My totally gorgeous, probably impractical new pink coat My totally gorgeous, probably impractical new pink coat

My top 5 things to do in Tokyo

We fell totally in love with Tokyo and it was a real wrench to leave it behind. Everything just works… [more]

My top 5 things to do in Tokyo My top 5 things to do in Tokyo

Autumn in Japan

      OK, a bit of a confession: I'm actually a secret leaf-peeper. It started… [more]

Autumn in Japan Autumn in Japan

Is it OK to fancy Jamie Dornan in The Fall?

Let's face it, you're really not supposed to fancy serial killers. Unless you have ambitions to become… [more]

Is it OK to fancy Jamie Dornan in The Fall? Is it OK to fancy Jamie Dornan in The Fall?

Big in Japan

Actually this post could probably be called big ON Japan as well as big in Japan, because the fact is… [more]

Big in Japan Big in Japan

Is it OK to fancy Jamie Dornan in The Fall?

Jamie Dornan in The FallLet’s face it, you’re really not supposed to fancy serial killers. Unless you have ambitions to become a Death Row bride, fantasising about someone with a penchant for torture and murder isn’t just frowned upon: it’s wrong on every level. These aren’t just bad boys who sometimes cross the line, like Ray Donovan. They’re actual psychopaths. And yet, what Jamie Dornan in The Fall does is to mess with our heads; we know what he’s done, what he’s capable of, but his character, Paul/Peter Spector (they stopped short of calling him Phil), is still dangerously, irresistibly attractive. That incredible, seductive Northern Irish accent; those eyes; those cheekbones… that body.

We’re being manipulated, of course, by the creators of The Fall. Just as there are steamy/gratuitous shots of Gillian Anderson’s character Stella in the shower, pool, or in her trademark silk blouses (who hasn’t gone out and bought one? I know I have), there are plenty of opportunities to admire Jamie Dornan in The Fall. Not least in this week’s episode when he appeared wearing just a pair of black boxers *fans self*. It’s all anyone can talk about in my office and on Facebook and, I have no doubt, up and down the country. Put it this way, I wouldn’t have even considered seeing 50 Shades before The Fall. Now, it’s a definite possibility.

Moriarty SherlockIt’s the same, for me anyway, with Moriarty in Sherlock. For a start there’s the Irish accent (a definite theme here), the dangerously dark eyes, razor-sharp cheekbones. I can’t be the only one who finds him more attractive than either Sherlock or Dr Watson. And yet he’s another bloke with some serious issues.

What this does, of course, is to mess with our minds, to challenge the natural, obvious order; but that’s why The Fall is so clever. The astonishingly talented Jamie Dornan is luring us in, just as his character Peter/Paul lures his victims. We’ve even been given clues as to why he’s so mad and determined to torture and destroy women as though they’re his daughter’s Barbie dolls, although it’s unlikely we’ll start to identify with him or feel sorry for him any time soon. Ultimately, we know, he will have to pay the price for his hideous crimes, but for the time being, let’s just enjoy the ride. And those black boxer shorts *cough*.

Being a mum makes my heart sing

On Sunday I was chatting to No 1 Son about movies; there isn’t anything new about this, we talk about movies, and TV, history and politics a lot of the time. But when we’d finished talking it occurred to me how much I’d enjoyed that feeling, of being able to relate to my boy about something we both find cool, and how lucky we are to have that. Sometimes we may disagree, sometimes we make each other laugh, but but talking to my son is always interesting. Such a simple thing, but it’s one of the things I enjoy most about being a mum.

Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. There were a lot of tantrums when he was a toddler and a lot of rows when he became a teenager and was on the XBox instead of revising for exams; and I’ve had to struggle – really struggle – internally to overcome my cotton wool instincts, to let him have the freedom he needs to grow.

my son at Lake ComoOver the years, whenever life has been a little harder than I expected, whenever something hasn’t gone quite according to plan, the thing that has kept me going, always, is the thought of being a mum to this fantastic boy and doing everything in my power to give him the love and security he needs. He’s bright and funny and charming, and I can say honestly, without bias, that he has this incredible talent for writing; I’m not sure he’s even aware of how good he is yet. I’m so proud of everything he’s achieving, and while he’s a bit tight with his hugs, when he does hug me – and he’s 6ft 2 now to my 5ft 6 – it’s the best feeling in the world. And he’s inherited my love of travel: as I’ve said many times, being able to take him on lots of adventures and seeing the world through his eyes is one of my greatest pleasures in life.  This photo – taken when we were on holiday in Lake Como, Italy, a few years back – still makes me smile, every time I look at it. I had to actually bribe him with euros to persuade him to let me take his photo at all, and then he did that naughty thing. Cheeky git ;)

When he was little I remember his Kiwi grandmother saying that when he suddenly took your hand in his, it made your heart sing. And it’s true. Being a mum, knowing I’ve played a part in raising this wonderful young man, makes my heart sing every day. Love you bub.

*This is my entry for The Gallery and the theme this week is ‘Being a parent.’

Why Newquay Cornwall is perfect for a winter break

Fistral_Beach_Hotel_and_Spa_Bedroom_SuiteTake a look at this gorgeous hotel suite. Isn’t that an amazing view, right on the beach so you can wake up to the sea or go to sleep lulled by the sound of the waves crashing on the shore? Don’t you love the cool boutique chic decor, all that white, with accents of turquoise and mocha? Doesn’t that bed look comfy? So, where do you think it is. Go on, have a guess. California? No. Miami? No. OK, I’ll tell you. It’s Newquay, in Cornwall. I KNOW.

We’re really big fans of Newquay in our family – those sweeping sands, that spectacularly craggy coastline, and in winter, when it’s a bit quieter, it’s absolutely breathtaking. It was one of the first places we ever took No 1 Son on holiday so it’s a very special place to me. By the way, this stunning suite is at the fabulous 4* Fistral Beach hotel and it’s one of the hotels in Newquay offered by Hotel Direct with an absolutely brilliant location, right on the glorious beach. I know I travel to exotic places a lot but I really do love British beaches in winter – OK, you can’t really go swimming (unless you’re very brave or have a wetsuit) but there’s nothing better than a walk with the family and the dog along the beach on New Year’s Day; my mum always says it ‘blows the cobwebs away’ and she’s right, it really does (particularly if you’ve had too much Champagne the night before *cough*), and as long as the kids have their wellies on and don’t go too far they can have a little paddle in the water. (If you’re travelling with children under 16, then the Fistral Beach Hotel’s sister hotel, The Esplanade, is only a two minute walk away. It really does have the best lcoation, just a two minute walk from that fabulous golden sand.)

ice skating at the Eden projectOf course, there are lots of other reasons to visit Newquay in the winter (and I don’t just mean the chance to eat piping hot Cornish pasties and have warm scones with fresh clotted cream and jam, although obviously that’s a definite bonus), and it’s also a brilliant destination for a pre-Christmas break, too. It’s also the perfect base for exploring Cornwall. You’re within easy reach of the Christmas fair in Truro, for example, which sells everything from surf-inspired paintings to delicious food and drink, and even collectable handbags and teddy bears. Also close by is the wonderful Eden project, where they have a beautiful ice rink, suitable for everyone from toddlers to more experienced skaters. They even have penguins with handles to help you on to the ice (not real penguins, obviously).

Newquay harbour fireworksBut most special of all –  if you go to Newquay at New Year’s, you’ll see the amazing fireworks at the harbour; take it from me, there’s something absolutely magical about seeing fireworks on the coast, illuminating the sand and little cottages nearby. Wrap up warm and take a flask of hot chocolate (spiced with rum if you prefer) and admire the fireworks exploding against the clear night sky, unspoiled by pollution. Superb.

My 2015 Travel Wishlist

I know what you’re thinking. It’s not even December and she’s talking about 2015 travel already? But as all travel writers and travel bloggers know, the thing about the travel bug is that once you’ve caught it you’re living in a constant state of itchy feet, your suitcase semi-packed and your passport always ready for your next adventure.

Liz JarvisI’ve had the most extraordinary year on the travel front, starting with my trip to see the Northern lights in Norway, and highlights including seeing Cher, alligators and kayaking in Fort Lauderdale; being sleepless in Seattle; whizzing over to Venice, discovering new islands in the Caribbean and spending a few days in Dublin; spending a lot of time in Asia, first in Vietnam and Cambodia, and then Tokyo and the Japanese islands; and skydiving at sea. I’ve challenged myself, I’ve surprised myself, and I’ve grasped everything travel has to offer. Oh yes, 2014 has been awesome.

But now, with nothing planned until I go to New York for work in January, I’m dreaming about all the places I’d like to visit in 2015, both on my own and with my family. I already know we’ll be making an important trip to Ireland to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania (which claimed the lives of one of our relatives), and also spending a week on the Danube, visiting Prague and Budapest. But there are so many more places I want to see,experience and taste. So here’s my 2015 travel wishlist.

1. WaikikiHawaii. It’s been ages since I was there last, and although I’ve been to O’ahu twice I’m still desperate to explore the other islands.

2. Alaska. I was hoping to get there this year, but it didn’t work out. So next year I really want to make it happen, and finally get to see bears and whales in the wild; Harriet wants to go, too, so if it works out I’ll take her with me.

3. Japan. It’s got under my skin and I want to go back. This time I want to take No 1 Son; we’ll spend a few nights in Tokyo (officially now one of my favourite cities in the world) and take the bullet train to Kyoto.

Maybe we’ll get to one or none of these places; it doesn’t really matter, because the dreaming and the planning is part of the fun, isn’t it?

Which places are on your 2015 travel wishlist? I’d love to know.

*UK Blog Awards 2015Travel blogging is incredibly important to me, and I’m delighted that The Mum Blog has been nominated in the ‘travel’ category of the UK Blog Awards. I’d love it if you voted for me – just click on this link and leave your name and email ;)

Meeting David Gandy and a very good cause

Last Thursday I put on my glad rags and headed out to the Collars and Coats Gala at Battersea Evolution, in aid of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Of course as the proud owner of a rescue dog I fully support any attempts to make lives better for dogs and cats; and an added attraction was the chance to see David Gandy – as in DAVID GANDY – in the flesh.

husky at Battersea Dogs HomeWhen we arrived there were lots of dogs on the red carpet; some of them were military dogs, accompanied by soldiers, but others were residents at Battersea, hoping for a home. Among them was this beautiful husky, just 11 months old. She had been at the home for a month. If we didn’t have Yoda I would seriously have considered adopting her. All the dogs were happy to be stroked and have their ears rubbed; I wish I could have given homes to them all.

The evening was very glamorous – the presenters included Amanda Holden and Craig Revel Horwood, and Jacqueline Wilson and Paul O’Grady were there. But there were several incredibly moving moments: the first when Claire Horton, the Chief Executive of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, asked if she could find 15 people to donate £3000 each for a new operating theatre and within five seconds 20 people had stood up. And the second when a procession of Chelsea Pensioners and soldiers took to the stage, with dogs, to honour all those dogs who have served in wars.

What I hadn’t realised was the part Battersea played in the First World War. In fact, 20,000 dogs, many from Battersea, became part of a specialist canine brigade, doing vital work such as running messages, carrying munitions and first aid supplies, and warning their battalions of incoming shells. It makes me cry just thinking about it now.

Me with David GandyWhen we’d wiped away our tears and donations had been made, it was the chance to hit the dance floor – and of course, try to meet David Gandy (or as we like to call him, DAVID GANDY). It took a little while to break through the sea of admirers who were constantly surrounding him, but finally we made it. My friends suddenly lost the power of speech, so it was left to me to do the talking. I introduced myself and he was utterly charming and very sweet (needless to say he smells delicious), and when I asked if we could have our photo taken with him he was only too happy to oblige. What an incredibly nice guy.

But of course, like us, he was there for a good cause, and that’s to raise funds for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Even if you can’t adopt a dog or cat at the moment, there are so many ways you can help. You can find out more at battersea.org.uk

*Thank you to Viking Cruises, one of the sponsors of the event, for inviting me as their guest.

The One where I try skydiving at sea

Ripcord by iFly on Quantum of the SeasSo at the weekend I broke my own rule about never trying anything again that involves putting on a helmet after previous disasters: because as soon as I saw the Ripcord by iFly on board Quantum of the Seas I had an overwhelming – some might say foolish – urge to give it a go. ‘When else are you going to get the chance to try skydiving at sea?’ I reasoned with my inner ‘fraidy cat’ voice. (Bear in mind I’m someone who can’t even go on rollercoasters or ride in the back of a car without wanting to throw up.)

And I was feeling confident, I really was, right up until the moment when we had the safety video. And suddenly I started to feel a little nervous. There were instructions, and hand movements to remember; if you’ve ever been scuba diving (I can actually do this) you’ll know there are certain hand gestures you’re supposed to use when you’re underwater. But we had to remember which hand movements meant bend your knees and straighten your legs… while we were up in the air with velocity of 100-and-something mph. And we also had to remember to keep our chins up and our fingers spread out and not clench our fists or make wolf claws. OK, it wasn’t terribly complicated, but still.

Skydiving at sea helmet and goggles selfieI’m a firm believer, though, in feeling the fear and doing it anyway, as long as it isn’t *too* dangerous. Plus there’s safety in numbers, and with 10 of us ready for the challenge we put on our jump suits, and our goggles, and our ear plugs, and our helmets. Oh we looked funny. Top Gun it was not.

And then we went up the stairs to the wind tunnelly thing (technical term) and we all had to sit in a row and wait our turn. I was no 6, which is not my lucky number, and I was still feeling a little panicky – particularly when one guy got cramp and had to exit quickly, and the guy who went in before me turned completely upside down. Bless.

But a few seconds later it was time for me to step up, and suddenly I felt incredibly calm. The instructors were very cool (the fact they weren’t ugly definitely helped) and I stepped into the tunnel and one of them immediately put his hand round my waist to make sure I was level *cough*. Then he let go, and for a minute I felt as though I was falling, but I followed the instructions about bending my knees and straightening my legs and then the other instructor took me up into the air… and let go.

Skydiving at sea on Quantum of the SeasAnd then I was flying, really flying in the air, and it was the most awesome feeling in the world. I could see the ocean, and the people below, and the photographer taking the photos, like this one where my cheekbones look utterly ridiculous because of the velocity but I DON’T CARE, and I felt completely in control. And weightless. It was absolutely brilliant, a total adrenalin rush. You feel so free. No wonder birds get such a kick out of it. (By the way that is not my belly, honest, that’s the suit when it got all puffed up with the wind).

They brought me back down and I stepped out of the booth doing high fives with the instructors (did I mention they were very cute?) feeling totally overwhelmed (everyone claps each other, so that bit is actually like Top Gun) and also feeling as though I wanted to do it all over again. Afterwards, when you’ve really started to come back down to earth, you feel a huge sense of achievement at having spent a minute and a half skydiving at sea. And you also want a cocktail.

I guarantee Ripcord by iFly will be one of the most popular things on Quantum of the Seas, because skydiving at sea is unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced on a ship, ever. Unless of course you’ve already done an actual skydive, out of a plane, which is what I’m now thinking I’d like to do (for charity, obviously). I know, right? What does Patrick Swayze say in Point Break? ‘100 per cent pure adrenalin.’ I can totally see why it’s addictive, and I’ve asked Tara Lara to do a skydive with me. Perhaps you can help me persuade her ;)

This is my entry for The Gallery and the theme this week is ‘Spectacular,’ and trust me, skydiving at sea really really is. PS the wind tunnelly thing is actually called a wind tunnel.

 

My Quantum of the Seas experience

artwork on QuantumHow did you spend your weekend? I spent mine viewing the ocean from a pod in the sky 300ft above sea level, eating gourmet food, drinking cocktails, dancing A LOT and best of all, flying (actually flying) in the air. And it was all on a cruise ship.

Quantum of the SeasAs a Royal Mum I couldn’t wait to get on board Royal Caribbean’s new ‘Smart Ship’, Quantum of the Seas, on a two day ‘cruise to nowhere’ from Southampton. We’d heard so much about it and had to see for ourselves whether it lived up to the hype. And boy, does it ever. From the moment you see the giant 30ft tall pink polar bear created by artist Lawrence Argent waving to you from the top deck you know this is going to be a cruise ship like no other, and I think I may have used the word ‘wow’ at least 50 times during our stay on board. Possibly more.

sculpture Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

The ship’s atrium and public areas feel incredibly light and spacious, really contemporary with lots of impressive art work dotted around, like this rather beautiful sculpture…

wall of butterflies Quantum

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and my personal favourite, a stunning wall of 3-D butterflies (it’s not blurred, that’s the effect, promise).

Superior ocean view balcony stateroom Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved my stateroom – a superior ocean view stateroom (you can watch a video here), which was decorated in shades of blue, chocolate and cream, with a luxurious carpet and fittings. I particularly liked the big sparkly mirror, very glam, and the fact there was so much room; it would easily sleep a family of four.

North Star Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

And then it was up (and up) on The North Star.

North Star pod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not really a fan of heights but the North Star is like one of the pods you get on the London Eye (as you can see it was a really glorious day, all of the photos in this review are #nofilter).

aerial view of Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The North Star glides through the air very smoothly and slowly, giving you a fabulous view of the ship below, and the ocean…

Sunset over Southampton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My top tip is to go at sunset, like we did, because then you get a view like this.

main pool deck Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also had a good look around the pool deck – this is the main pool…

movie screen Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and as you can see it also has a giant movie screen.

Lobster sushi at Izumi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That night I ate in Izumi, which is one of the speciality restaurants on board (so there’s a cover charge). It’s Japanese, my favourite kind of food (and No 1 Son’s, don’t tell him I ate there) and the sushi was really superb…

gyoza at Izumi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As was the gyoza…

Jamie's Italian at sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quantum of the Seas is the first Royal Caribbean ship to embrace the ‘dynamic dining’ concept; there are actually 18 restaurants on board, which gives you heaps to choose from, and there are four really gorgeous complimentary restaurants as well as the two main dining restaurants, so you’re definitely spoiled for choice.

Mamma Mia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then after dinner I joined my fellow Royal Mums at Mamma Mia, which was a proper West End-quality production (the entire audience had a good dance and sing-a-long at the end)…

…and after that we hit the Music Hall, which is a bar/dance venue on two levels. There was a fantastic live band playing, and lots of cocktails, and then it all got a bit messy *cough*…

Jamie's Italian at Sea planks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the next morning after breakfast in the Windjammer (carbs and protein are the best hangover cure, right?) I joined a food tour led by well known chef and Director of Culinary Operations for Royal Caribbean Cornelius Gallagher, who I’d met before at the launch of Jamie’s Italian at sea. There was all kinds of delicious food to try en route, including the famous planks at Jamie’s…

galley Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and we also went to see the galley, which like all ship galleys was absolutely spotless.

Bionic Bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along the way we also learned a bit more about the Bionic Bar, which is staffed by electronic robots. They are so cool – the idea is you can choose any drink you want and they’ll mix it; even your own concoctions. The big USP of Quantum of the Seas is the Smart Ship concept – so there’s a lot of interactivity on board, you can choose which restaurants you want to eat in and activities online, all restaurant orders are taken on iPad, you’re given a special watch to wear which basically acts as a control pad for your cruise experience, and so on.

Solarium selfie - Liz Jarvis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch at Johnny Rockets (which was actually a bit disappointing as it was cold so we had to take it back – I’m sure this was just a teething problem though as the one on Liberty of the Seas was excellent) I headed off to the solarium for a little rest…

Quantum of the Seas bumper cars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and checked out all the fabulous things on offer at the SeaPlex, the largest indoor active space at sea, including the FlowRider, climbing wall and bumper cars (aren’t they gorgeous? So shiny). I can imagine the SeaPlex will be very popular on a gorgeous hot sea day in the Caribbean.

giant polar bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…I also got close to the polar bear. LOVE him.

And then came one of the absolute highlights of the weekend; the chance to fly – actually fly – in the Ripcord by iFly skydiving simulator that’s on board. I’m going to do a whole separate post on this, because it was, frankly, one of the best things I’ve ever done on a ship.

Madagascar Miss Gloria selfie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back (hair slightly more dishevelled and in need of a nap) I ran into Miss Gloria from Dreamworks Madagascar and we did a selfie together. Isn’t she cute? Bless.

Wonderland Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner that evening was with the Royal Mums at Wonderland (that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), which is designed to look like something out of the Mad Hatter’s tea party and is absolutely stunning.

crispy tempura kim chee leavesWonderland Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole experience was very theatrical. Our wonderful waitress advised us to let her choose a selection of delicacies to bring us, and we were only too happy to go with it.

The menu is based on Wind, Fire, Ice, Water and Dreams (those are the desserts) and while some of it was slightly weird (I wasn’t overly keen on the liquid lobster) much of it was absolutely delicious, particularly the  crispy tempura kim chee leaves…

pork shank Wonderland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the pork shank (I have never eaten pork shank before, and as I don’t eat lamb this is the perfect find for me – so tender, the meat basically melts in your mouth)…

key lime lollipops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and excellent desserts, including these key lime pie lollipops.

Cotton Candytini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But another really big attraction at Wonderland is the cocktails, created by a former mixologist from The Bellagio in Las Vegas; and after trying a Watermelon and Cucumber cocktail I decided to try a Cotton Candytini. Oh. My. God. Basically they bring you a glass full of candy floss…

Cotton candytini Wonderland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and then they pour on the alcohol and the candy floss melts away. It’s DELICIOUS. Needless to say we all had several of those *cough*. Wonderland was quite simply the piece de resistance of our time on Quantum of the Seas.

StarWater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that we went to see the slightly bizarre show StarWater at the Two70 club. Visually it’s absolutely stunning, although if anyone can tell me why this lady was wearing a big white dress that kept rising up in the air I’d appreciate it.

Me in Two70 Liz Jarvis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then it was back to the Music Hall for more dancing, singing, cocktails and cackling. It was an absolutely perfect finish to a completely awesome weekend.

bar on Quantum of the Seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quantum of the Seas really is the most amazing ship; it’s elegant, stylish and chic, with lots of glamour and wonder, plenty to keep kids happy and LOTS for adults to do. I can’t wait to go back on. And have another go on the iFly, followed by another Cotton Candytini *sighs wistfully*. Sister ship Anthem of the Seas starts sailing from the UK next spring. I am SO there.

You can watch my video of what Quantum of the Seas has to offer families below :)

The One with all the Kimonos

Bride and groom at Meiji shrineWhat with all the Harajuku girls and all the other cool Japanese fashion trends something we really weren’t expecting to see quite so much in Japan was people wearing kimonos, but it’s actually really common, and the juxtaposition of modern-day Japan with the traditional dress just adds to the allure of this fascinating country. They range from the kimonos worn for a special occasion (I love this photo of a bride and groom at the Meiji shrine)…

Ladies wearing kimonos eating ice-cream Asakusa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…or visiting somewhere like Asakusa (I couldn’t resist taking a picture of these two ladies enjoying their ice-creams)…
Woman wearing kimono Otaru

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…to the more everyday kimonos, like this one.

couple in kimonos Asakusa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You see couples wearing kimonos…

Man wearing kimono Tokyo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and we spotted this man wearing this rather gorgeous one in a taxi queue at Tokyo station.

So, when we arrived at Kushiro and discovered you could be dressed in beautiful silk kimonos for free OF COURSE Harriet and I jumped at the chance.

Japanese silk kimonos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First we had to choose our kimonos from the rack – they felt incredible, and such pretty designs…

Being dressed in a kimono

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and then we had to stand patiently while the ladies dressed us in layers of silk. It was all very precise.

hair up Japanese styleJapanese hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…they fixed our hair and put flowers in it…

obi sash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….and then they tied on the obi (sash, now you know where the name Obi-Wan comes from), which holds it all together, and made an elaborate bow at the back, so skillfully it was like origami. Amazing.

wearing a kimono

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and then we were invited to put on the geta (wooden shoes) and then came the really hard bit… try to walk in the whole ensemble. Of course you can only take little tiny steps, so it takes you a while to get anywhere. But we couldn’t resist posing in our kimonos with the paper parasols they lent us…

Harriet in her kimono

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and I really wish we’d bought the kimonos, because they were only about 5,000 yen (about £30), so really, a bargain, but I didn’t have enough cash with me. We were a bit sad when we had to take them off, although I can’t imagine having to wear them all the time. Walking in those shoes is a nightmare ;)

Renee Zellweger and the myth of Just As You Are

For most of us who adore Bridget Jones – the books and the films – we fell in love with Mark Darcy at the same time as Bridget herself. When he floors her with the words: “I like you very much. Just as you are.”

Giorgio Armani - One Night Only NYC - SuperPier - Arrivals

I have no idea whether Renee Zellweger, who played Bridget on film, has had cosmetic surgery, and frankly, while I’m not a fan of the frozen-forehead look, it’s her face, she can do what she likes with it. We all know that Hollywood stars are under extraordinary pressure to retain their youthful glow if they want to keep working and not get cast as Someone’s Mother, if at all. For every Susan Sarandon or Cameron Diaz who are happy to let their laughter lines show there’s a Meg Ryan who has resorted to cosmetic surgery. And actually men aren’t immune, either. George Clooney may be happy with his grey hairs and cragginess (as are we) but there are plenty of actors who wear obvious syrups or have faces frozen scarily in time.

Renee Zellweger and I are more or less the same age *cough* and while I’m too afraid of needles and knives to have cosmetic surgery I do hate my crow’s feet, the result of a lot of cackling and sunbathing; so I use various eye creams in a bid (probably futile) to keep them at bay. I also watch what I eat and drink, I don’t smoke, I have my hair done, my teeth whitened and my eyebrows threaded. I would no more turn up to a work function without some slap on than I would naked. Am I vain? No, not really, but I don’t believe you *have* to look like ‘your age’ (whatever that means) if you don’t want to, either.

But unless your name is Carla Bruni or Kate Moss, it’s a harsh fact that once you start to lose that effortless glow you had in your youth, if you don’t want to find Ann Widdecombe staring at you in the bathroom mirror, you’re probably going to need to put a bit of effort in: whether that’s with a decent cut and colour or a fabulous moisturiser or great shade of lipstick. Suggesting otherwise is, like Bridget Jones’s Diary, pure fiction.

I’m happy to grow older disgracefully, but I don’t intend looking rough while I do it. So I’m just as I am, with a little help from my friends in expensive jars. My face may take a bit longer to uncrumple in the mornings now, but at least it still is my face.

Dame Judi Dench

What I do worry about, though, is the message that Hollywood’s obsession with youthful appearance sends out to young women: that women have a short shelf life, and once we’ve reached a certain age all we can do is preserve, while clinging on to what once was. No longer able to play the romantic leads; invisible.

How much more preferable to age like a fine wine, like Dame Judi Dench, and stay glamorous in the spotlight while embracing your laughter lines, proving that a life well lived is the best kind.

 

Riding the Japanese bullet train

Japanese Shinkansen Gran Class

We ended up riding the Japanese bullet train (or Shinkansen) by accident. Typhoon Phanfone meant we had to disembark Diamond Princess early and head back to Tokyo from Aomori – and the only way to do that was by the Tokyo Shinkansen.

It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable train rides I’ve ever been on (and that includes riding Amtrak coast to coast in the US and Eurostar across Europe).

Japanese bullet train first class seats

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, as it’s Japan, you expect the Shinkansen to run on time and be spotlessly clean. But we were in ‘Gran Class’, and Oh. My. God. The first thing we noticed was the size of the seats (which reclined)…

Shinkansen slippers

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and that there were slippers in little bags to put on and pillows and eye masks if we wanted them. Plus hot towels, and foot rests and personal lamps.

Tokyo Shinkansen #selfie

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole set-up was like flying in the front of the bus on a plane, only the scenery is constantly changing. This is my Very Smug About Being On The Tokyo Shinkansen #selfie. #notevensorry

Tokyo Shinkansen bento box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drinks (alcoholic and soft) were complimentary, and there was a choice of light meals, either Western-style or Japanese. Both Harriet and I opted for Japanese and were given our own very cute bento boxes, and it was delicious…

Tokyo Shinkansen Gran Class attendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the Gran Class carriage attendant was ADORABLE and bowed every time she entered the carriage or left it. She was constantly smiling at us. And bowing. Honestly, loved her.

Japanese Shinkansen seat controls

 

 

 

 

These were the seat controls. Hours of fun.

Japanese Shinkansen second class

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to go and have a look at the regular (second?) class train carriage and discovered that while not quite as special as Gran Class it was still very nice and spacious and the seats looked super comfy in there, too. Basically, it puts our trains to shame.

Looking out the window on the Japanese bullet train

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thing I really liked was that even though the Japanese bullet train does of course go super fast (up to 200mph) it doesn’t actually feel as though you’re going that fast; it’s incredibly smooth. It doesn’t tilt so you don’t feel sick, and you do get a good view of the scenery (although it was raining and misty a lot of the time, thanks to the rain caused by the incoming Typhoon.)

Riding the bullet train

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Tokyo after the four-hour train journey feeling completely refreshed and ready to explore some more, and wishing we could have stayed on a little bit longer. How often can you say that about a journey? Now I really want to take No 1 Son on the Shinkansen because I know he’d love it. I’m thinking next year… ;)

I’m just going to share with you what it said on the back of our menu, because it’s so sweet:

“Though merely a brief interlude on route to your destination, we are honored to make your travels a highpoint in your journey.”

I mean, it’s like a haiku, right? Love Japan.

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