Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Llamas, Lounging and The Lake District


Readers!

How are you? I’ve got a travel blogging piece coming up tonight.  We’ve just returned from a little weekend break to the Lake District.  It’s been ages since I spent time there for fun. My mum and dad took me on a family holiday when I was 16. There was no phone signal and I was a bored, grumpy teenager.   Fast forward 14 years, I’ve refined my tastes, enjoy escaping people now and had 4G coverage meaning I didn’t miss any royal wedding coverage unfolding on Twitter.  Bonus.

Big news, I turned 30 on Saturday.  As we’ve had our own version of a Royal Wedding this year already, we decided to keep the big birthday thing on the down low.  I decided I wanted a mini break for mine and we’re away for Mr What Claire Did’s birthday.  He’s 30 too.

So off we trotted to the north lakes this weekend.  From Glasgow, it’s about a 2 hour drive – or a little less on a good run.  The sun was shining, we had the tunes on and life was good!  Our first stop of the day was my birthday treat.  A trip to trek with a llama.  Setting off from the Llama Karma Kafe, just 10 minutes from Penrith, we arrived had a cake and coffee and then joined our small group walk.
llama karma kafe trek what claire did

Barney was our llama for the walk (I picked the biggest… typical) and we shared him between the two of us.  The trek was more of a gentle meander up to the castle, which meant it was suitable for a range of ages and abilities.  Barney was lovely, gentle, friendly and didn’t try to eat any grass on the trip.  The walk lasted round an hour and gave us plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. 

Next up, we headed off to The National Trust site of Aira Force, on the edge of Lake Ullswater.  Make sure to have change with you.  Its £5 for 2 hours parking if you aren’t a member of The National Trust, but it’s worth paying for to keep the area well maintained.  There’s lots of lovely walks around the falls and if it’s a great day (like we had on Saturday) there are plenty of picnic opportunities.  We were prepared and took a full picnic down the road with us. I’d also recommend B&Ms £4.99 picnic blanket with waterproof back – it was ideal for 2 of us to have a semi civilised picnic lunch!
aira falls by what claire did

The highlight of our mini break was a DBB overnight stay at Appleby Manor Hotel.  Tucked away, not far from the main road, it’s a lovely old manor house that’s been carefully extended, had an AA Rosette restaurant and a lovely garden spa that opened in 2015.  We ended up with a buy a gift voucher which we chose to use at the hotel, so really, the trip didn’t cost us more than a couple of drinks in the bar and a massage at the spa (thanks husband).  We had a classic room in the main hotel building which wasn’t the biggest, but was ample for our one night stay.
appleby manor photo by what claire did

The rooms are a little tired – you can see the hotel’s working through renovating its public areas.  The spa was lovely, my treatment at £35 for a half hour back, neck and shoulder massage was well priced and it’s Elemis products they use, so quality assured.
staircase appleby manor by what claire did

We had dinner at the 1871 Bistro – 3 courses and a glass of wine was included with our deal and both of us enjoyed the views to the hills beyond from the bistro’s conservatory.   Food was delicious, well cooked and filling, whilst the glass of wine was a nice touch. We also tried these fabulous gin and Appletiser cocktails… so good we had a few each!
conservatory at appleby manor

We absolutely lucked out with the weather, so managed some drinks on the terrace before dinner, then after, sat in the conservatory watching the sun go down. The hotel provides board games for guests to entertain themselves (get in quick though) and there’s also a room with a table tennis table and pool table if you so desire.
terrace at appleby manor

Breakfast the next morning was a lovely affair, served til 10am.  We had a choice of continental buffet and ordering from the menu – as ever, I went straight for panics with blueberry compote and syrup… can’t help myself.

All in, we had a lovely weekend break to the Lake District.  Only 2 hours from Glasgow, there are loads of activities on the doorstep to get back to nature and enjoy the great outdoors!



Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Reader Offer - 25% Off at Gordon Street Coffee

Readers

I’m here to offer something lovely to you all. Gordon Street Coffee – located inside Central Station in Glasgow, has its own in house coffee roaster (he’s called John, you’ll find him upstairs in the café and he’s dead friendly).  There’s such demand for their coffee, that it’s available for delivery direct to your home, office, holiday home in Fife, Granny’s gaff down the road… you get the picture.

From the ever popular Glasgow Roast (my favourite) to the Charles Rennie Macintosh with its notes of red cherries and walnuts, to the current Eurovision Roast which will “keep you up all night”- there’s something to please everyone. 

AND until 31st May, I’m offering readers a whopping 25% off a coffee order direct from the Gordon Street Coffee website.  Just enter my coupon code WHATCLAIREDID at the checkout and you’ll get a quarter off the cost of your coffee, delivered to your door.

It’s limited to 20 coupons and for one order… so don’t hold back.

Valid on coffee only… Spend over £25 and your coffee will be delivered to your door free of charge.

P.S. There's also really cool re-usable cups in store and if you bring yours in when you get your morning coffee, you'll get a discount off each cup you buy. Saving money and saving the planet. Double win.
Gordon St Coffee Glasgow Roast

Saturday, 14 April 2018

DIY Tutorial – Creating a Custom Wedding Blackboard

Readers, something a bit different for a post today – a wee DIY tutorial. 

Since the wedding, I’ve been meaning to share a blog post and some content around our day.  I did my first ever DIY wedding cake last year, which I wrote about on the blog (the moral of that was DIY all you want, but offer to DIY for someone else, not your own big day!)

Anyway, I massively enjoyed the creative side of all our planning and right from the start, knew I wanted to put a load of individual touches to our day.  We had a reasonably long engagement, giving me time to source stuff in sales, buy up Xmas decorations (honestly) from sales in places like Poundland (I know, again, you are like WHAT THEY HAVE SALES?!) and curate a load of simple and rustic style décor for our wedding.  

I hired in sashes for our chairs from a supplier, as I knew she’d do a way better job than me and enlisted the help of friends and family to help us set up the venue, but most of the décor, we did ourselves, collecting it as we went (and bonus, you can sell it on afterwards!)

In the midst of a load of stuff going wrong before the big day (long story short, our venue burnt down, some bad news about family and friends etc) I found the whole process of working on my décor projects as a bit of a relief and focus.

And today I’m sharing how you can DIY your own blackboard for less than £30… if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.  And make sure you buy markers that clean off with water and fairy liquid, so someone else can use your lovely piece of artwork again…
ikea hacks wedding blackboard what claire did
Image Credit: Ally Stuart Photography

Step 1 – Procure Blackboard
Here’s my big secret. I went to children’s Ikea. This started out its life as a kid’s toy.  It’s a blackboard on one side and a whiteboard on the other… I painted over the whiteboard side to make it look like the rest of the painted wood. 

Step 2 – Buy paint and sandpaper. Get some brushes and white spirit for clean-ups
I managed to paint this using 2 tester pots of sage green paint from Homebase’s value range. £1 each.   Maybe stretch to buying one more in case you need several coats. I also cheated and did 2 coats on the front and one on the back because nobody saw that anyway.

Step 3 – Preparation is key
Sand down all the wood with the sandpaper, then using a cloth and white spirit, clean it down before painting. 

Mask off the edges of the actual blackboard.  Nobody wants paint on there.  
DIY wedding blackboard What Claire Did

Step 4 – Paint
Go for one coat and see what you think. It might need two, depending on the colours you are using.  Let it dry between coats.
DIY wedding blackboard What Claire Did


Step 5 – Start work on your Stenciling.
You’ll need a printer, paper, greaseproof paper, pencils and a chalkboard marker.

Step 6 – Choose Fonts and a Size, Find a New Use for Greaseproof Paper
I created a canvas on MS Publisher, but there are some great tools out there like Canva that allow you to create designs. I created the canvas to the size of the blackboard, designed it, saved it as a PDF and then printed it.  It took up 6 pages of A4, but I stuck these together to make a big sheet of paper, the same size as the blackboard.

Then, cut a sheet of tracing paper / greaseproof paper, to match the size of this.  Overlay it onto your text sheets and trace out the text you want on your blackboard.  Once you’ve traced the front, trace the reverse, so there’s pencil on both sides of the greaseproof.

Step 7 – Onto the Blackboard We Go
Once you’ve traced out the wording or signage onto your greaseproof sheet, pin it to your board and using a dark pencil, trace over the front again, to leave a light imprint on the board.  Once you’ve traced it, there might be some gaps, so go over them on the board with a pencil (straight onto the board this time).

Once you’ve traced directly onto the blackboard, it’s time to get your whiteboard marker out and fill in the letters,after you've outlined them with the marker. Keep a damp cotton bud handy, to clean up any mistakes.

I’m a leftie, so I started from the bottom right and worked back on myself, so I didn’t smudge the text as I went.  Right handed, normal people probably won’t have issues with this.   Let the chalkboard ink dry properly, before deciding if you need a second coat or not.

Decorate your board with candles, flowers, fake ivy etc, to create a gorgeous looking rustic piece of décor, that nobody would know was an Ikea kids toy! 

If you manage to create your own, let me know. I’d love to see it!

Claire x



Monday, 9 April 2018

Glasgow Living Part 30 - Dinner at Amore, Merchant City

Readers, how are you? It finally feels like Spring is on the way. As I type this, I can still almost spot daylight out of the window! I’m catching up tonight on a restaurant review from the weekend before last – trying out Amore, the family run Italian and pizzeria on Ingram St, Merchant City.

It’s not somewhere we’d been before, but an invite from the PR company to go along and enjoy the atmosphere on a Saturday night wasn’t one we wanted to turn down. We had a table at 7pm and I was surprised firstly by how big Amore Merchant City is. It’s absolutely huge AND it was packed to the rafters!
 
It’s the type of place people start their night, but it attracts a massive demographic – from groups of girls chatting on a night out, to families celebrating birthdays (they dim the lights and the place flashes neon FYI, if you’re planning a happy birthday celebration). We saw young couples, dressed up to head out on the town and older people tucking into huge pizzas with big smiles on their faces.

Amore really does please all the generations. It’s got the feel of a giant Italian café – with exposed brickwork like a pizza oven, a rotunda space in the middle to seat a group (must be the VIP space) and fast moving service. We were quickly seated on a arrival, given some huge menus to peruse and our drinks arrived quickly – an Italian frascati for me and a Modelo for Mr WhatClaireDid.  We didn’t have to wait long for our starter orders to be taken and the food followed soon after – piping hot.
amore merchant city photo by what claire did
amore merchat city photo by what claire did

We’d suggest you prepare yourself for dinner here. Maybe don’t eat for 3 days beforehand?!  I am of course joking, but the portion sizes are incredibly generous. So turn up hungry.   I had the mozzarella triangles to start, mozzarella fried in breadcrumbs with a Napoli sauce.  They were so good… and I probably could have shared my starter with Mr WhatClaireDid, but he’d ordered the bruschetta and demolished that with little room left for mine.
amore merchant city starters photo by what claire did

Onto the mains we went, with me opting for Ravioli Casalinga and Mr WhatClaireDid going for Pollo Milanese.  My ravioli was also an incredibly generous portion (I didn’t manage to finish it – possibly a first) and it made me smile – all too often you order ravioli in a restaurant to be presented with 6 bits of pasta and you’ve eaten them before the rest of the table have made a dent in their mains.  At £10.45 a portion, it’s good value for the amount you get.  The Pollo Milanese came shallow fried in breadcrumbs and served with spaghetti napolitana.  It came with two portions of chicken, so again… come hungry.   The restaurant also does a half and half option with its pizza and pasta, so you can have a half pizza, half portion pasta if you’re unable to decide. We didn’t have this, but did see a few people tucking in! 
ravioli amore merchant city photo by what claire did

Amore makes for a good place to go for a group – be that a family, where you’re trying to please multiple generations from kids to grannies – or a group of friends starting a night out. Amore Merchant City is also a good shout for a pre gig feed, if you were going to a concert or the theatre, as the service is speedy, even when the restaurant is packed.
desserts at amore photo by what claire did
Some great choices, but we were too full! 

Dinner for 2 (two courses and a drink) from the al a carte menu would give you change from £50 – probably enough for another beer or two!

Amore Merchant City is located at 30 Ingram Street in Glasgow and you can keep an eye on their menu online, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.



Disclaimer: I was invited to dinner for two in exchange for a review, any opinions expressed are my own. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Dominican Republic Travels - A Historic Day Trip to Santo Domingo


Readers, I’ve got a travel post coming up for you today, after a recent collaboration with Go Dominican Republic to the historic and colonial city of Santo Domingo.

As you’ve probably seen over on Instagram – we headed off to the Caribbean region of the Dominican Republic – staying at the Excellence El Carmen Resort on honeymoon. We’ve done Excellence before – staying at the Playa Mujeres resort in Mexico and I might well do a comparison blog in the near future, to talk about both.  We enjoyed 10 days of taking it VERY easy and decided that we should at least leave the resort for one day... 
Excellence El Carmen Beach Sunset photo by What Claire Did

As part of trip, the national tourist board "Go Dominican Republic" organised for us to go off on a day trip to Santo Domingo – the capital and home to around 3 million of the Dominican Republic’s 10 million person population.

We’d managed to avoid early starts for most of our honeymoon, but headed off at sunrise for this one – being picked up in a mini bus at 6.30am.  We then met a bigger coach nearer to Punta Cana and were transferred over to the new bus, to go as a big group tour, with other visitors from around the world.  Hats off to Nacho – our energetic comedian tour guide who had a tough crowd to entertain on the early morning journey.

Around 10am we arrived in Santo Domingo, to blue skies and temperatures in the high 20s (Celsius) to start our day of historic visits.   For those who don’t know,  Santo Domingo was discovered in December 1492, by the European explorer Christopher Columbus and is considered the first city discovered in the Americas.  It’s the oldest continuously inhabited city and our trip helped us to learn more about the history of Santo Domingo and Dominican life.  For us Europeans, we are lucky to see some great architecture from a a similar time period, across our continent, however for our American cousins, this must be fascinating to see, especially if they’ve never been “across the pond” to Spain, Portugal and other places in central Europe.
Colonial District Santo Domingo by What Claire Did

Santo Domingo is home to the first castle, monestary and fortress in the Americas – part of the Colonial Zone which we visited on the tour – listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.  The first cathedral of the Americas was also built in Santo Domingo and we had the chance to visit this on our tour too.

The Colonial Zone is popular with tourists and Dominican school groups who are going to learn more about their history and we visited here first. It’s probably wise as I can imagine the buildings would get incredibly busy as the day went on.
santo domingo dominican republic by what claire did

We experienced it all on the day – including a buffet style lunch at a traditional Dominican restaurant where we saw dancing and singing, before heading off for a walk around the square and cathedral area in the afternoon.  The Catedral Primada de America was stunning inside – with beautiful historic architecture and we learned that Pope John Paul II visited here twice during his time in post.  It was also lovely to watch the world go by in the square after we left the cathedral.
Cathedral Santo Domingo Dominican Republic by What Claire Did

We went from the very old to the very new – visiting a 4D cinema experience showing a short film about the English pirate Sir Francis Drake and his invasion of Santo Domingo. It was great fun and an interesting way to learn - particularly if you were a family on the tour.  

Nacho our guide was with us every step of the way – providing humour, wit and interesting facts about Santo Domingo throughout the day.   He cared about us all, constantly reminding us to drink the free water they’d brought along for everyone!

Our day ended with a bus tour around some of the remaining tourist parts of the city – starting off at the National Palace and then on to a drive past the Columbus Lighthouse (spoiler – it’s not a lighthouse as we know it).  We would have loved the chance to walk around Columbus Lighthouse, as Nacho had talked a lot about it on the day, however, our tour didn’t have the time to stop off for a walk around at the end of the day, which would have been a nice touch.  

We got back on the bus around 4.30pm for our drive back to Punta Cana, stopping off at a great chocolate shop en route to buy some souvenirs for home.

The tour is around 14 hours from leaving in the morning to getting back to your resort (drive time from Punta Cana around 2.5/3 hours each way, so we’d recommend this for couples and families with older children (probably age 10+). Younger children could go on the trip, but we are aware that it's a long day and they'd need to be a point they are interested in learning. about history.  There wasn’t too much walking, so suitable for all athletic abilities and the tour would be of particular interest to those who like European history, architecture and learning about new cultures.
Flowers in the window Santo Domingo Dominican Republic

Thank you to Go Dominican Republic who arranged the day out for us.  We travelled as part of the Amstar DMC tour which included all transportation, entrance fees and lunch.  English tours run daily except Sundays and are priced from 70 USD per person. 




Disclaimer: we received a complimentary day trip for 2 people. Any opinions expressed are my own.