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British mummy blogger and travel blogger

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review and day at Thorpe Park

So this summer as part of their #100daysoffamily campaign the lovely people at Samsung sent us a Galaxy… [more]

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review and day at Thorpe Park Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review and day at Thorpe Park

Mekong skies

      I'm a huge fan of sky and cloud porn, and so I'll often stand for ages… [more]

Mekong skies Mekong skies

Hanoi rocks

I know, I know it's been over two weeks since I blogged, but if you follow me on twitter and instagram… [more]

Hanoi rocks Hanoi rocks

Guardians of the Galaxy review

I've had to wait a full 24 hours to blog this Guardians of the Galaxy review because it was under embargo… [more]

Guardians of the Galaxy review Guardians of the Galaxy review

Summer reads

How do you choose your summer reads, the books you buy especially to take away with you? I'm flying from… [more]

Summer reads Summer reads

St Martin and Sint Maarten – two Caribbean islands in one

  Although we were having a whale of a time (sorry) on board Norwegian Getaway after two-and-a-half… [more]

St Martin and Sint Maarten – two Caribbean islands in one St Martin and Sint Maarten - two Caribbean islands in one

Our Michael Collins connection

Nearly every other person you meet in Ireland will tell you they're somehow connected to the Irish freedom… [more]

Our Michael Collins connection Our Michael Collins connection

Norwegian Getaway

This time last week I was somewhere in the Caribbean on board Norwegian Getaway, the newest ship from… [more]

Norwegian Getaway Norwegian Getaway

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review and day at Thorpe Park

So this summer as part of their #100daysoffamily campaign the lovely people at Samsung sent us a Galaxy K Zoom phone to review; and they also treated us to a day out at Thorpe Park, known for its water rides, the idea being that we’d use the new phone to film a lovely sunny family day out, with us getting a bit wet, hah hah.

Thorpe Park in the rainUnfortunately we chose the wettest day of the summer. It was so wet the rain was coming off our eyelashes and we a) had to invest in disposable electric blue cagoules and b) we could barely see through the rain to photograph or film anything. Still, being British of course we battled through, and oh how we laughed.

Angry birdsI couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for these very wet Angry Birds or whatever they are, although frankly, we were soggier.

Anyhoo, No 1 Son has fallen completely in love with the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom – particulary the camera – and nabbed it for himself, so when you’ve finished watching this (very) brief video of Saw at Thorpe Park then do read his rather comprehensive review of the phone. And remember, if you’re planning a day out at a British theme park in the middle of August, even if it looks perfectly fine when you leave the house, for goodness sake take cagoules ;)

https://www.youtube.com/edit?video_id=GPgMzfzR9gs

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom cameraThe Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is Samsung’s effort to combine a proper functioning digital camera with all the features of an android smartphone. It arrives in a well packed wood-themed box which deceives you as to the size of the phone. It is massive – the camera at the back dominates and makes it very uneven (though it does retract when switched off). It can be a bit too big for pockets and quite heavy, but you’ll never misplace it.

Samsung Galaxy K ZoomHowever this does mean it has a massive screen (4.8”) so you’ll never have issues with tapping the wrong thing or squinting to read something. Its size might strike you as a battery drainer but the opposite is true, with up to three days of life and exceptionally fast charging. It runs very quickly and smoothly with two processors totalling six cores – more than you’ll find on some notebooks.

The camera is the main feature and clearly what the phone is designed towards. Samsung provide an impressive studio and a shop for more features, but the wealth of options at your disposal are enormous anyway. The camera can zoom to 10x with perfect quality, operating at a staggering 20.7 megapixels, with an additional 2 megapixel front camera for facetime and similar apps. You can take superb quality pictures and video and edit them to your heart’s desire – making this the perfect phone for the budding photographer, and even professionals will love it.

All of the features of an android phone are on here too, every app you could ask for. It comes in a variety of colours and looks very stylish despite its size, making this a great choice for those who want a big, powerful smartphone – and a digital camera all in one.

 

Mekong skies

The Mekong

 

 

 

I’m a huge fan of sky and cloud porn, and so I’ll often stand for ages taking photos of sunsets and moons and storms. One of the best things about taking a river cruise along the Mekong is that the scenery changes constantly, from jungle to villages, small towns and cities. When it’s calm and the sky is blue it’s absolutely stunning…

Storm on the Mekong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

at times the water looks muddy and golden (it’s actually silt causing that), which accentuates a stormy sky (and it really does get stormy, and also choppy)…

Sunset on the Mekong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the sunsets are spectacular – I loved the drama of this one….

Another sunset on the Mekong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and this was the sunset on our final night, when the water was calm and tranquil again…

Morning on the Mekong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the following morning we woke to brilliant sunshine and blue. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen the sun that shape before. I mean, it’s oval, right?

 

 

 

*This is my entry for The Gallery and the theme this week is ‘the sky’. I took these photos on the Mekong last week using my iPad mini with absolutely no filter whatsoever.

Hanoi rocks

I know, I know it’s been over two weeks since I blogged, but if you follow me on twitter and instagram you’ll know I’ve been seeing some extraordinary things in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a mind-blowing trip and it’s taken me a few days just to come down from all the highs. There’s so much to write about, I’m just going to have to share my experiences gradually, chronologically. Bear with me.

So, we arrived in Hanoi after a 14-hour-flight via Bangkok, and straight away every sense was assaulted by noise, smells and lots of things to look at. This was my second time in Vietnam but my first in Hanoi and we couldn’t wait to discover what this city has to offer.

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi bedroomOur hotel, the Sofitel Legend Metropole, has a fascinating history, and during the Vietnam war artists including Joan Baez sheltered in its bomb shelter. It has a wonderful colonial feel – I loved my bedroom…

…but more importantly, it also has a cocktail named after author Graham Greene (which the menu listed as a Green Graham, but we think this was probably a mistake). Apparently Hanoi is where he got the inspiration for The Quiet American when he was a foreign correspondent, and so the Graham Greene cocktail was invented at the hotel in 1951. It rapidly became my favourite and then I got everyone else hooked. It’s basically a Crème de cassis martini served with a sorbet, which you can empty in to the martini or just eat separately. It’s sweet, refreshing and utterly delicious. Also, lethal. I recommend no more than two in one evening *cough*. Even if you’re not staying at theGraham Greene cocktail, having a Graham Greene is one of my Hanoi must-dos. Official.

Hanoi trafficWith two full days in Hanoi this was our chance to go out and explore. But the first challenge (and honestly, it was a challenge) was to cross the road and stay alive, because the Vietnamese tend to get around on motorbikes and scooters (as they’re cheaper than cars) and they pay no attention to things like traffic lights or crossings whatsoever.

In the end, after feeling a bit like chickens trying to cross the road, we discovered all you can do is brazen it out – walk swifty (or in our case run, screaming, holding hands) across the roads. The fact that so many Vietnamese people seemed to be openly laughing and pointing at us gave us the sneaking suspicion jay-walking tourists are a national joke.

Hanoi opera houseIt was insanely hot, at least 90F, and we quickly got lost in the side streets and then discovered we’d been walking round and round in a big square. Oh how we laughed. This is the Opera House, which we passed several times.

Chinese lanterns HanoiOur first night we decided to go for dinner at a local outdoor restaurant. It was so pretty with all the lanterns outside…

Vietnamese buns…and inside (well, still outside really) we were delighted to discover it was a bit like street food, with lots of different dishes to try, including fried buns which were absolutely incredible. It was dirt cheap, too, and of course there was time for a Graham Greene before bed.

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleumThe next day as part of our Viking River Cruises Magnificent Mekong itinerary we were up early to join the tour to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. This was a slightly bizarre experience. You’re not supposed to laugh or take photos (#mybad) and you queue for quite a long time in the hot sun before trooping in, silently, to go and see Ho Chi Minh. I mean, actually Ho Chi Minh. He’s perfectly preserved, with four guards surrounding his body and two flags – the hammer and sickle and the Vietnamese star – hanging above him. It’s rather creepy, to be honest, and you can’t help wondering why the Vietnamese decided to spend so much money on a ridiculously large memorial when so many people seem to be living hand to mouth.

Particularly when we visited Ho Chi Minh’s former home, and discovered that he rejected the opportunity to live in a palace or big house and chose instead to live in a simple two-room apartment. Go figure. Still, it was utterly fascinating.

Street seller HanoiOutside I spotted this lady selling delicious-looking baked goods which I managed to resist but every time I look at this photo I wonder what they tasted like…

Morning in HanoiThat evening we ate at the Press Club before enjoying a few more Graham Greenes. Somehow the next morning we managed to get up for one of our Hanoi highlights: a trip to the street markets in an electric car. It was pouring with rain, but even though it was only 9am the markets were buzzing. If you want to get a real feeling for Hanoi, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Also, a cagoule.

Vietnamese flowerAnd then it was time to leave Hanoi for our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. While Hanoi hadn’t captured my heart in quite the same way as Saigon, the memory of all those Graham Greenes will definitely stay with me *sighs wistfully*.

 

Off to Vietnam and Cambodia

I’ve wanted to return to Vietnam ever since visiting Ho Chi Minh city a couple of years ago; it’s such an intriguing country in terms of history and culture: endlessly fascinating. And of course Cambodia, too, has always been on my wishlist.

Viking MekongSo this morning we’re catching a flight to Bangkok and then another one to Hanoi on an epic adventure to Vietnam and Cambodia. We’re staying a few days in Hanoi before travelling to Cambodia, where we’ll visit Siem Reap. Then we’ll be going to Phnom Penh and boarding the river ship Viking Mekong, which looks like this – isn’t it awesome?

Angkor WatWe will of course be visiting Angkor Wat; and the Killing Fields.

It promises to be inspiring and unforgettable trip. I’ll be sharing as much as I can while I’m travelling (depending on how good the wifi is) and will be posting A LOT when I return.

Our Michael Collins connection

Nearly every other person you meet in Ireland will tell you they’re somehow connected to the Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins. We’d grown up hearing that we were related to ‘The General’, but no one seemed to know exactly how. When we were learning about him in history at school I tried to find out a bit more but of course this was a few years before the World Wide Web, and even recently it was difficult to trace your Irish family history online: so many common names, and so many parishes.

Michael CollinsThe weird thing was that we presumed the connection, if there was one at all, was via my grandfather’s side of the family, because his brothers had all fought in the War of Independence. Turns out this was a family story that had somehow become distorted. In fact, my mother told me that when she was growing up her mother and grandmother (my great grandmother) had spoken of being related to ‘The General’ many times.

So, a few years ago one of my cousins, who lives in Ireland, decided to do the research and find out if there was an actual Michael Collins connection or whether it was just one of those family myths.

It took him the best part of a year, with a lot of searching of parish records and so on, but eventually he got the facts he was looking for: Michael Collins’ mother, Marianne/Mary Ann (there are a lot of variants of spellings), had a sister, called Juliann O’Brien. One of Juliann O’Brien’s children was my great grandmother, also Juliann. Therefore, my great grandmother and Michael Collins were cousins.

Of course, Michael Collins had A LOT of cousins (these weren’t small Irish families) but it’s interesting to think that my great grandmother – also from Cork of course – would have known Michael and his siblings.

For us, it’s a weird feeling, knowing that we are – however distantly – related to such an important figure in the history of Ireland. I can’t say there’s a huge family resemblance – to me he actually looks a bit like Kenneth Branagh. Perhaps this family connection is where we all get our fighting spirit from though, who knows. But it’s a strange thing to see a statue of one of your distant ancestors in a square in Dublin. I should probably get round to watching the film Michael Collins, at some point. Not least because Liam Neeson is in it.

 

Our beautiful new carpet

After MONTHS of practically living with our builders, our house is finally finished, and it looks beautiful. There was just one final finishing touch, and that was to order carpet for the stairs, landing, No 1 Son’s room, the spare room and my room.

I’m very much a wooden floor type of person downstairs but the more hotels I stay at the more I appreciate the luxury of having bedroom in the carpet; when you get out of bed on a cold morning it feels fabulous to step on to a soft, warm carpet, and it’s the easiest way to achieve that boutique hotel chic look.

So a few weeks ago Man of the House and I went down to our local branch of Carpetright to order the carpet. He had already taken the measurements, and after quite a lot of deliberation we decided to go for an ivory-coloured carpet; which might seem slightly insane, given that Yoda the dog has no concept of how dirty paw prints affect light, clean material. But the advantage of the carpet we chose is that it’s stain-resistant and you can also, should you really need to, clean it with bleach. We decided to choose the same carpet for all the rooms and stairs and landing because if you go for the same colour it makes the house feel bigger.

The carpet we chose is made from polypropene, not wool. The reason we decided to go for this one is that if you’ve ever had wool carpet (we had it in our old house) you’ll know that modern-day wool carpets can attract moths, which is the last thing you want. My mum has wool and spends ages spraying the carpet with lavender spray, to no avail – the little blighters still appear. I wanted a carpet that was really easy to maintain, but still looks good and feels soft.

We ordered the carpet and the underlay from the assistant, who was highly amused by Man of the House’s terrible jokes, and then all we had to do was wait; the delivery was delayed slightly but they rang us to tell us what was happening several times, which I thought was very good.

new carpetThe fitters arrived yesterday and they worked LIKE LIGHTNING. It took them about two hours in total to fit all the underlay and carpet, and here are the results.

upstairs carpetIt looks gorgeous, doesn’t it? Exactly what I wanted. And it has that wonderful new carpet smell, too.

 

Keeping track of holiday spending

Bucket and spadeHow do you keep track of your holiday spending? With so many different demands on your wallet – from days out with the kids to treats and entertainment, keeping an eye on how much you’re spending during the summer holidays can be a real challenge for parents.

In fact, according to recent research, one in 10 of us will put expensive day trips on a credit card, leading to potential headaches at the end of the summer holidays (at the worst possible time of year, as you’ll then be starting to think about Christmas. ARGH!)

One way to make sure you’re not overspending, of course, is to have a regular credit check (you can do this at creditexpert.co.uk/experian-credit-check) and keep a list of everything you’re forking out for (being as honest as possible) so there are no nasty surprises, although this is something few of us like to do; and also, to make a budget and really stick to it. If you don’t spend the full amount on one day you can always spend the rest on another.

And another is to take advantage of free and cheap days out, where possible. The Visit Britain website has some excellent ideas (did you know, for example that you can often visit city farms for free?) There are some fantastic museums in the UK which you can visit for free, too, even in London – as long as you take a packed lunch, then your family day out doesn’t need to cost the earth. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the pressure to spend money on days out for our children that we forget simple pleasures – like tramping in the woods for half a day and having a picnic lunch, for example – really don’t have to cost the earth.

Although we’ve had a gorgeous summer, of course you can’t rely on the weather. We’re big fans of movies in our house and love watching them at the cinema – but we’re also just as happy to buy one DVD (for the price of an adult cinema ticket) and watch it over and over again (ergo, Frozen. Never off the player). And making cakes, models or other crafts are all great activities you can do fairly cheaply (it may not be obvious to look at me but I am quite crafty. I can even make shortbread, from scratch. I know, right?)

 

 

Why Leeds is so special for Summer 2014

It was no surprise to me to learn that Leeds, aka Yorkshire’s unofficial capital, was recently voted one of the best places to visit in the UK. Two of my best friends live in Leeds, and we’re planning a mini-break there soon. It’s a city I’ve spent a lot of time in, in fact; when I was a showbiz reporter I used to go there all the time to interview the Emmerdale cast, and I always look forward to visiting. The people are so friendly, it always feels like a very welcoming city (my top tip if you’re planning a visit there would be to check out the hotels on Hotel Direct if you’re going there soon because they have some fantastic deals on well-located 4star hotels right now, including the rather intriguing ‘mystery’ luxury hotels).

Both my friends have kids and Leeds is a fantastic place for families; not only are there summer adventures to be had at nearby Stockeld Park and Temple Newsam’s Home Farm, which has over 400 pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and poultry. There’s also  a City Beach in Millennnium Square, and culture vultures should check out the City Museum and Art Gallery. Plus it’s only a half-an-hour drive to the fabulous Salt’s Mill, where you can see original works by David Hockney (it also has a wonderful cafe, perfect for lunch, and a great bookshop where you can happily lose a few hours.)

Harewood House

 

I’m not really interested in cycling  (sitting on a sharp saddle is not my idea of fun) but magnificent Harewood House, just one of the many stately homes in the surrounding countryside, provided a stunning background for the Official Ceremonial Start of the Tour de France earlier this summer. Harewood House, of course, is where Emmerdale is filmed now and the gardens, designed by Capability Brown, are just stunning, well worth exploring. And of course the Yorkshire countryside is absolutely beautiful.

If you’re a history buff, then the Royal Armouries brings history to life with jousting displays and falconry, or you can be to the grimy streets of Leeds in 1842 exploring the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian life at Thackray Medical Museum.

Leeds Corn Exchange

 

Leeds is also brilliant for shopping – Leeds women are VERY chic – and the Corn Exchange in particular is s really stylish. What I love about it is that it has so many independent boutiques – such a refreshing change from shopping malls that always have the same predictable high street shops. This summer they have lots of free events going on at the Corn Exchange and music, so it’s a great place to hang out and watch the world go by, to. Do check out vintage shop Alice Found Treasure while you’re there. Plus of course when it comes to eating out you’re spoiled for choice – the city has some amazing restaurants, and lots of bars (do check out the Sky Bar at the Hilton Doubletree hotel), plus of course superb nightlife.

And if you’re a fan of all kinds of music, later this month (22-24 August) the Leeds Festival is taking place, featuring a great line-up of bands including the Arctic Monkeys and comedians like the very very funny Simon Amstell (my friends saw him at Glastonbury and said he’s absolutely brilliant live.) See? Lots of reasons why Leeds is so special this summer.

 

Summer reads

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tart

How do you choose your summer reads, the books you buy especially to take away with you? I’m flying from Heathrow again in a few weeks and I was on the Heathrow Express website today booking tickets when this article on summer reading caught my eye. I love the idea that you can choose your summer reading in the 15 minutes it takes you to travel to Heathrow, and there are some great recommendations – including The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I’ve wanted to read for ages (I’m a huge fan of The Secret History).

The Guts

 

One book I’ll definitely be taking with me (it’s a long flight – over 14 hours) – is The Guts by Roddy Doyle. It’s the sequel to The Commitments, which I loved (in fact I’ve read all his ‘grown-up’ novels and No 1 Son has read all his children’s ones). I’m a big fan of Irish novelists and on my recent trip to Dublin took several books by Irish authors with me including ones by Cecelia Ahern and Marian Keyes; the one I just couldn’t get in to at all though was A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. I grew up with Irish grandparents, I’m very familiar with Irish dialect, but I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

Are you Experienced?

 

I do love the idea of reading books inspired by the places you’re travelling to, when you’re actually there. On this trip I’m going to Vietnam and Cambodia, so if anyone has got any recommendations (not Heart of Darkness, though) do let me know. Books like Alex Garland’s The Beach and William Sutcliffe’s Are You Experienced? inspired me to go travelling (although not to Thailand or India, yet).

The Rosie Project

 

Of course, some of the best summer reads are the ones you pick up at the airport, on a whim, because the cover catches your eye. One of the best books I’ve read all year is The Rosie Project, which I bought for my Norwegian cruise at the start of the year and then read cover to cover in between waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. It’s really the most eloquent, funny, romantic novel, set in Australia and New York, about a man with undiagnosed Asperger’s and his struggle to form a relationship. It’s so beautifully written it almost made me want to give up writing. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Dirty little secrets

How clean is your house? This is something I’ve been forced to confront over the past few weeks as we’re currently trying to get the house ready to put on the market in September. It’s not massively dirty, but let’s just say our dust bunnies… have had dust bunnies. I’ve resorted to paying my niece to help out with the cleaning. Not even kidding.

Anyway, the lovely people at Method natural cleaning products have come up with a fab survey, with the help of One Poll, which reveals how clean we are as a nation. As you can see on this rather clever little infographic, some of the stats are rather alarming. One in 10 admit to reusing their lunch plate at dinner time WITHOUT WASHING IT FIRST? What is WRONG with these people? And 60% admit to not washing their bed linen once a week. Ewwww. (I used to work with a girl who admitted she only washed her bed linen ONCE EVERY SIX MONTHS. Gross.)

There are some rather shocking dirty little secrets on here (unless, that is, you’re the mother of a teenage boy, in which case none of these will be a huge surprise to you.)

method dirty little secrets infographic_FINAL

 

I’m sharing this infographic because I’m actually a fan of Method. If you’re guilty of any of these dirty little secrets you may want to try the wooden floor cleaner, which smells like Marzipan, and the bathroom cleaner, which smells like sweets. And then, clean your house #justsayin’.

 

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