Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Can a silk pillow case really make a difference to your hair and skin?

* I received a complimentary item for review purposes but opinions and love of silky soft pillow cases are all my own!

Silk. The epitome of luxury. But when the silk in question is Mulberry silk, it sounds all the more luxurious don't you think? No, nothing to do with that renowned brand you're thinking of (which admittedly is a relief which it comes to cost, because the Mulberry I'm talking about is much more affordable than its branded counterpart). What makes it Mulberry silk? Did you know that silk comes from silkworms? The main difference with Mulberry silk is what the silkworms are fed with (mulberry leaves no less!).

I'd heard about the numerous benefits of silk before now and have always been intrigued. Could a simple change in pillow case really make a difference to my hair and skin? When Calidad Home got in touch it couldn't have come at a better time. But what are these so called benefits of switching to a silk pillow case?


THE BENEFITS

1) Silk is hypoallergenic and all-natural - meaning it is far kinder on your skin than cotton and great for those with sensitive skin and / or particular skin conditions.

2) Sleeping on silk results in less of your skin's natural oils - and moisture - being lost at night. This means that your skin doesn’t go into overdrive trying to replace what it has lost overnight. With this in mind, sleeping on silk can help to prevent blocked pores and in turn, help to prevent acne. This is also great news if you are an eczema or psoriasis sufferer, as reducing the amount of moisture lost at night can help prevent dry, red, scaly patches of skin.

4) Silk pillow cases are said to not create those annoying pillow marks on your face after a night's sleep and subsequently is meant to be a good material for protecting your skin against wrinkles and the signs of ageing.

5) The charmeuse weave used (even that sounds fancy) creates a smoother finish and less friction than with cheaper, coarser silk products - meaning less chance of frizzy locks and a smoother, shiner finish.

THOUGHTS

Sounds too good to be true,  right?

Suffering from a lot of the above, I was intrigued if I would see a noticeable difference after using the silk pillow case. I have naturally wavy hair but it's not in the best condition and is prone to fly-aways and frizz (I go through hair mousse and oils and serums like it's going out of fashion!). I had quite oily skin as a teen, but now I've hit adulthood, it seems to have gone the other way and has become all kinds of dry (sods law). I do suffer from eczema and psoriasis and it can be especially bad when sat in a London office where the air con does a number on me. Would dry skin be a thing of the past? Would I no longer need to spend half a month's salary on anti-frizz products?

THE RESULT

Do you know what? I was pleasantly surprised. I have never slept on silk before, but it was a lot smoother and much nicer feeling on the skin.

Did I notice any difference to my hair? I'm not sure to be honest. I did have my hair cut fairly recently so I can't really comment on if the reduced frizz is down to the pillow case or having my split ends removed. It's something I feel I would notice after a longer period of sleeping on silk. However I do find that whenever I have straight hair, my hair keeps its shape better and requires less 'topping up' (read: re-straightening) the next day.

One thing I did notice with certainty was how much smoother the skin on my face has been each morning, with a noticeable reduction in the patches of eczema and psoriasis that were there previously. And seeing as I haven't changed up my diet, lifestyle or skincare routine, I do feel like the silk is having a positive effect already.

PRESENTATION

My order arrived in the cutest pastel purple parcel and the pillow case itself was wrapped in paper every bit as luxurious looking as the silk itself.


DOESN'T SILK NEED DRY CLEANING?

I was cynical about how easily washable the pillow case would be and had visions of it being really fragile and needing dry cleaning or something. What I've come to learn is that silk is a very durable fabric and is machine washable (hooray) so no expensive dry cleaning bills necessary. I admittedly did find it quite difficult to iron when it was 'box fresh' and had folds on it from being in the post. Silk can be ironed but must be done so on a low heat. My advice? Hang the pillow case to dry flat post wash to reduce the need for ironing.

CHECK THE MOMME COUNT

If you are considering "going silk", tread with care, because the type of silk you sleep on matters. There are so many different grades of it of varying quality levels. Mulberry silk is supposedly the very best silk available and a 22 momme count (the silk equivalent of thread count!) exceeds the benchmark that is considered "good" (which is 13-19 for the record). Where possible opt for a 13-19 momme count or higher.


If you fancy giving a Mulberry silk a go, Calidad Home currently have 40% off their silk pillow cases here. The pillow case I have pictured is in white, but these also come in ivory, taupe, teal, black, chocolate and purple. As for me, I've been well and truly bitten by the travel silk bug and am already eyeing up silk bed sheets which look all kinds of luxurious, don't you think?

On an unrelated note, my cats absolutely love this pillow case. Which doesn't sound like a big deal, but for my cats, it is. I'm talking cats who are usually fearsome of pillow cases and actively jump clear of them to reach the headboard (weird creatures). But for whatever reason, they absolutely adore my new pillow case and love catching forty winks on it. Silk for the win!

Have you ever slept on silk before?

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Flying to the Maldives direct with British Airways // a guide to the REAL difference between economy, premium economy and first class

No, this is not a fancy collaboration where British Airways took me on all expenses paid trip to the Maldives (a girl can dream!). Nor is this is a sponsored post or being compensated for in any shape or form. This written piece came about when I was booking flights to the Maldives and literally at my wits end about which airline to go with and whether to book economy seats or to spend more. There is such a vast difference in cost for the different pricing bands and when you've never flown to said destination before or experienced the plane or the layout, it's overwhelming. For long haul flights like these you want to be in comfort, but at the same time is spending more worth the extra money? 

When flying to the Maldives from further afield, you have two options:

  1. fly there direct (to my knowledge, British Airways is the only airline that offer this currently)
  2. have a punctuated journey (usually a stopover in Dubai) which a lot of the other airlines offer

It's a double edged sword. The direct flights are obviously more expensive, but then you pay extra for convenience. It enables you to spend less time travelling (for me, 11 hours was more than enough!) but they only fly on particular days of the week at particular times. Flying with other airlines like Virgin, Qatar and Emirates offers some degree of flexibility as when I searched I found more flights / times / options to play around with and also cheaper flights. 


TAKE EXTRA SEAT BOOKING COSTS INTO ACCOUNT

I kid you not. Say you wanted to splash out and treat yourselves to premium economy or first class, paying thousands on plane tickets won't stop there. In order to secure a seat, you will need to pay from £50-60 per person each way. This really took me aback as I hadn't flown long haul in years and hadn't experienced this before. And note that this is from £50-60 per person each way. The £50 seats were literally the cheapest ones at the back of the plane. If you want to be on or around the wing to avoid the worst of the turbulence and / or aircraft noise, this then jumped in price. I complained to my travel provider about this (as this is never highlighted during the booking process) and they reimbursed some of my travel costs so I could put the money towards pre-booking my seats. So definitely worth making a noise about this if this happens to you too.

Alternatively you can save spending the extra money on seats if you are happy to chance it on the day (BA will place you in whatever spare seat they can find). However with this you risk not being sat with your family / significant other (something I was not willing to do!).

TAKE SEATING PLANS WITH A PINCH OF SALT

When choosing my seat, I found it very hard to find a seating plan online for my British Airways flight. The seating plan they had on the seat booking portal implied there were seats available in the very first row of economy which I snapped up immediately and paid extra for. When on the flight, I discovered these were in fact NOT front row seats. The front row in economy turned out to be the very last row of premium economy which had been smooshed into economy for whatever reason. And not only that, but this front row was specially tailored to families with babies and had a fold down shelf where a baby carrier / bed could be installed. Paying extra money to pre-book my seats (as per previous section) and then find out that I wasn't where I thought I would be, and to have a crying baby in front of me for the whole overnight flight... wow.

Not only that, but the British Airways seat booking portal also shows a few seats without access to a window. As it was a special occasion (and trust me, I'm not going to be flying to the Maldives that often!), I wanted to ensure that we had a window seat and could see the islands when landing. I spoke to British Airways customer service both online via contact forms, social media and the like AND on the phone, who all assured me that the seats I had my eye on were by a window. Guess what? THEY WERE NOT (the above pic is from the seaplane and has no relation to my BA flight). Which left me regretting my decision to pre-book my seats, because what is the point if you are not sitting where you have paid to sit?

DREAM ON ABOUT UPGRADES

If you are departing from London, direct flights to the Maldives with British Airways depart from London Gatwick airport. I booked economy as when it comes to booking a trip away, I'd rather spend more of my budget on the hotel as this is ideally where I am spending the longest period of time.

I had this fantasy that we'd check in and be surprised with a complimentary upgrade because the flight was empty. However there are zero BA check in desks now in use at London Gatwick. It's now a case (no pun intended!) of you having to lift your own cases onto the conveyor belt, weigh them and apply the tag thingy yourself. Staff cuts and all that. Some of these conveyor belts had someone to help you lift and process your case, but no one to physically to check you in. Check in can be done online 24 hours in advance or you check in yourself at the airport on machines.

So other than being waved over to a conveyor belt that snatched our cases off of us, we didn't really have all that much human interaction. The overall process was very "do it yourself". On the way back the flight was completely full (apparently it was the last direct flight of the season) so zero chance of an upgrade. Don't rely on an upgrade. You won't get one.

THE COST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ECONOMY, PREMIUM ECONOMY AND FIRST CLASS 

I understand some people may be tempted by first class for a special occasion like an anniversary or honeymoon but in all honesty, on the BA direct flight to the Maldives, there wasn't a huge difference between the three. In fact I would have been seriously miffed if I'd paid for first class or premium economy. I was glad I stuck to my guns and opted for economy and to spend more on the holiday itself. To explain quite how much the price differs, here are the average costs in relation to economy:

  • Premium economy - typically £300-500 more than economy
  • First class - £3,000+ more than economy (typically just shy of £5k per adult!)

Some first class seats were backwards (something that would really piss me off if I'd paid all that extra money). You are sat in individual pods but they are not all that private or spread out. In fact people in economy and premium economy walk through first class to get to their seats. It felt very claustrophobic and I think I would have felt really cheated if I'd paid all that extra money to be sat in first class. I feel like other airlines do first class so much better.

What were the main differences?

Pillows - Economy doesn't even have a pillow case - it's essentially just cushion filling. Premium economy allows you the luxury of actually having a pillow case for your pillow. And then first class... a far nicer pillow case.

Blanket - Economy had a really thin, basic, scratchy blanket. We had an overnight flight and I was FREEZING. Premium economy had a much thicker blanket which was quilted (oooo) and first class probably had a full on duvet (I can't recall).

For the sake of a thicker blanket, nicer cushion and a TINY bit of extra leg room, paying extra for premium economy or first class just didn't seem worth it or good value for money (but hey, that's just me).  I have been on other long haul flights where first class has been generously spread out, had a bar area and been a lot more private (not that I've ever flown first class!). The layout for first class, premium economy and economy on the BA direct flight is one long room with no sense of privacy. Once the plane takes off, they draw the (thin) curtain but this doesn't stop sound. Which leads me onto my next point nicely.

FIRST CLASS WON'T PROTECT YOU 

If you've ever seen BBC drama The Cry (or read The Cry by author Helen FitzGerald) you will know all about the joy of a baby crying during a long haul flight. On our overnight flight a newborn screamed for 9 out of the 11 hours so we only managed about 2 hours sleep. All classes heard it. You can sit in your private pod sipping champagne, but trust me, that curtain didn't stop anything. If I'd paid almost £5,000 for a seat and experienced all that noise during an over-nighter and not been able to sleep / work, I would have been grouchy as.

HOW DOES LEG ROOM COMPARE?

It goes without saying, premium economy has more leg room than economy. But not by much. First class also has more leg room but isn't as spaced out and private as you would hope for the cost. But to me, the extra leg room didn't warrant spending hundreds of pounds (premium economy) or thousands of pounds (first class) extra on seats.

AIRLINE FOOD SUCKS RIGHT?

I can't comment on what premium economy received, but I imagine that first class would have had nicer food options (and probably champagne as standard). Saying that, economy was perfectly fine and did the job. I don't have a huge appetite when I'm travelling anyway. On the way there, economy had a choice of mac and cheese (vegetarian meal) or chicken with winter vegetables. I had the chicken and it came in a really lovely sauce with cheese and chive mashed potato. It also came with a lemon and mint edamame and rice salad, a bottle of water, cheese and crackers, a bread roll and a mango and passion fruit posset.


Breakfast the next morning was not so good. I requested the Traditional English Fry Up and got given the vegetarian option(!) This comprised of an mushroom omelette (not my favourite), a creamy sauce (something I can never face on a long flight) and crispy potatoes. It was all a bit slooshy for a overnight flight, so I picked out the solids (mushrooms and potatoes). It also came with a fruit bag, orange juice and a blueberry muffin (I can't get behind muffins that aren't chocolate). A few mushrooms, potatoes and pieces of fruit weren't really enough to set me up for a long day.

On the return flight, I had chicken, vegetables and potato wedges, a bread roll, cheese and crackers, a pasta salad and a KitKat. The veggie option in economy was pasta - which seemed like a poor choice given that the accompaniment was... a pasta salad. No pictures of this I'm afraid.

I'd be interested to know what they serve in first class. But is it worth spending £3,000+ more? Unless my food comes out topped with gold and diamonds, I reckon not.

DO THE BA DIRECT FLIGHTS HAVE FILMS AND ENTERTAINMENT?

Yes they do. Everyone has their own individual screen in the back of the seat of front of them. The screen size was tiny and not great quality. It was enough to keep you distracted during a a long haul flight, but for films that rely on special effects and great sound, it wasn't a great medium to watch them on. BA supplies in-ear headphones but I recommend bringing your own. If you get terrible ear ache and turbulence on flights like I do, over-the-ear headphones do the job nicely. Noise cancelling headphones are the ticket and block out the noisiest aspects of the aircraft in flight.

It was amusing how people sat in the front row went from being smug about having all the extra leg room and then discovering that they didn't have a screen to watch films on. If you are front row, the screen will not be in the back of the seat in front of you. Because there is no seat in front of you to speak of. Fiddle around your arm rest vicinity and hey presto, your screen will swivel out precariously on a flexible arm type fixture. Fear not, you won't be without films and TV for 11 hours!

Film choice was good. I was able to watch some of the latest film offerings of the time. Some of these being Bohemian Rhapsody, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Crazy Rich Asians and Smallfoot. Episode choice ranged from current (ish) titles to older offerings. I loved re-watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers and documentaries like Joanna's Lumley's Silk Road Adventure (I could listen to her voice all day long!).

THE BRITISH AIRWAYS WEBSITE IS OLD SCHOOL

I booked my holiday through Virgin Holidays but booked British Airways flights. The Virgin site was a joy to use, but whenever I had to transfer through to British Airways for the flights aspect of my booking, it was clunky, slow and felt dated. The British Airways site could really do with a refresh so it's a little more user intuitive and user friendly.

IF YOU LIKE GIN, GET IN THERE QUICKLY

I'm not kidding, but gin ran out on the flight fast. Cue lots of grouchy people facing the majority of an 11 hour flight without their poison of choice to mellow them. If gin is your tipple of choice, get in there quickly.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Hope this travel guide is a useful read! I personally would have loved to find / read something like this before booking my flights as it would have confirmed to me that there isn't really any value to spending more on premium economy or first class (at least that's my opinion!). If you have any other questions about British Airways flights to the Maldives, hit me up in the comments below and I'll be more than happy to answer your questions!

Monday, 4 March 2019

Quick and easy açai berry pancake recipe full of nutrients and antioxidants

* I received a complimentary sample for review purposes but all opinions and love of pancakes are my own!

Our household is a firm believer of "pancakes are for life, not just for Christmas". In other words, we have them most weekends, not just on a dedicated day of the year. Whilst this is great news (hooray for all the pancakes) it can get a little tricky coming up with new ideas for toppings. Maple syrup is always a winner, as is lemon and generous dustings of sugar equal to that of a snow capped mountain. Chocolate is always well received too (although admittedly not so great on the waistline).

Enter Sambazon’s fruity Açai Compote.


WHO YOU ASK?

Sambazon gets its name from its core goal: Sustainable Management of the Brazilian AmazonProceeds from each purchase helps to protect the Amazon rainforest and the families that farm there. Having a Sambazon product so close to Pancake Day (5th March this year) is suitably apt as this also falls within Fairtrade Fortnight (25th Feb – 10th March). Sambazon is currently said to be the only certified organic and Fairtrade Açaí brand in the UK.

I have always been passionate about food, but lately I have been increasingly conscious about where my food comes from and its ecological footprint. I don't know about you, but for me food always tastes that little bit better when you know the farmer / source hasn't had a raw deal.

Enter Sambazon's Açai berry superfruit pack.


WHAT IS AÇAI?

Pronounced "ah-sigh-ee", Açai is a type of berry renowned for its superfood properties. Açai berries grow at the top of palm trees in the Amazon rainforest and each berry contains just 10% of usable fruit and pulp and then a large seed (the latter of which has no benefits) -which gives you an idea of how many berries are needed. Dark purple in colour (similar to a grape), it is full of antioxidants and has a wealth of other health benefits:

  • The pulp and skin contain the most nutrients and are a good source of fibre (great for digestion)
  • Açai berries have similar levels of essential fatty acids as olive oil, of which there are studies linking essential fatty acids to a healthy heart and nervous system. 
  • .... and let's not forget about the antioxidants they contain (anthocyanins) which are also great for a healthy heart
  • Açai berries contain amino acids which are said to help promote muscle performance, production of energy, endurance and strength (excellent news if you're an avid gym goer)
  • Açai berries are said to contain as much vitamin C as blueberries, and also contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 and E. They are also a source of calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper.
  • Interestingly they are one of the only fruits on the planet to be naturally sugar free

And with that, let's crack on with how to make some nutritious yet delicious pancakes full of antioxidants and extra goodness.

YOU WILL NEED

  1. A punnet of berries like blueberries or blackberries (I really recommend raspberries for this)
  2. One pack of Sambazon superfruit
  3. Cinnamon (optional)
  4. Ground ginger (optional)
  5. Mint (optional)
  6. Pancake ingredients (whether you go for standard, buckwheat or other, this is up to you!)

METHOD
  1. Cook your pancakes in advance and leave warming in a stack in the oven
  2. Empty one pack of Sambazon superfruit into a pan and add a small handful of berries
  3. Keep on a medium-low heat and keep stirring until the fruit softens and breaks down a little (not too much though as you don't want mush!)
  4. Taste as you go. You can add cinnamon / ground ginger if you wish
  5. Dish up the pancakes and top with the açai berry compote, fresh berries (I used raspberries) and a sprig of fresh mint (optional)

FINAL RESULT


I was really pleased with how my berry compote turned out (and for the record, it was every bit as delicious as it looks!). It barely took any time to rustle up, and really couldn't be any easier.


If you're looking for a pancake topper full of berries and antioxidants, you know where to go. Sambazon products like this one can be found in the freezer aisle of Wholefoods and Ocado (I've also seen on Amazon). Each pack contains four individually sealed bags. Simply keep frozen until needed and once thawed, do not re-freeze. For a full list of stockists, you can find these on the Sambazon website here, or feel free to reach out to the Sambazon team who will be more than happy to help.

Alternatively the Sambazon superfruit packs are also great for smoothies, smoothie bowls and porridge toppers (you can find a full list of recipes here).


How do you like your pancakes?

Monday, 25 February 2019

13 things to see and do in York // a York travel guide

"I'm going to a York for a couple of days" I tell my colleagues.

"New York!" they exclaim. "How exciting!"

"No, York. As in Yorkshire, England."

"Oh." they reply dejectedly.

Why is it that overseas vacations are met with so much more enthusiasm? What's wrong with domestic vacations and staying put? As much as I love travelling abroad to sunny and exotic locations, I also love exploring my own home turf. So when booking a trip, I knew I wanted to champion the great British staycation and locally sourced food.

There are so many beautiful places in England, and I am ashamed to say that I have barely scratched the surface despite being British born and bred. Repeatedly I hear people praising York and what a beautiful city it is, so this was one place sat firmly on my travel bucket-list.

WHERE TO STAY

In York there is a wealth of accommodation for all budget types. There are hotels right by the station, self catering apartments in the city centre, and also more purse friendly options dotted around.

Walking around York I stumbled across Gray's Court York (this guy), the oldest inhabited house in York which I would love to stay in another time (I mean, check out these bedrooms!) It had the most beautiful garden and outdoor seating area which would lend itself well to a cup of tea. Or six. Oh and I spotted the cutest husky bouncing around. Whether he / she belonged to the hotel owners or a guest, I haven't the foggiest. But it made my heart do silly things in my chest.


Further along the city wall, I found this delight which I really hope is an Airbnb so there is every chance of being able to stay here in the future. Knowing my luck, it's probably someone's home and not somewhere you can actually stay. Either way, I loved the roof terrace garden, and the building itself was like something out of Grand Designs.


Being a massive foodie, I booked up at the Grand Hotel & Spa York as I'd heard that it was one of the top places in the UK for food. Just a stone throw's away from the station, right up close to the city walls, and in proximity to some of York's main attractions like York Minster, it was ideally located.  For a closer look at the hotel, I have written a hotel review here


HOW TO GET THERE

York is easily accessible by train (fast trains to/from London take just 1 hr 50 - 2 hrs). I used LNR (London North Eastern Railway) on the way there and opted for the quiet carriage because being up at 5am that morning, it meant that I could sleep through. Both on the way there and the way back, there were spectacular countryside views - so I really do recommend taking the train if budget allows.

I used Grand Central for the return journey which was an interesting experience... Despite pre-booking seats, some lady thought she had a right to sit in our seats because a member of staff had told her they were available. Correction: they'd told they were available for her to use until York and then she'd have to give them up. But she chose not to hear that part it seems. It was late in the day, all seats were taken, and it was a direct train to London. I was not going to stand for 2 hours after being on my feet constantly for the last 48 hours. This lady was stubborn as and refused to budge. Even when I called over a member of Grand Central staff. Even when this multiplied to three members of staff who were standing over her. It was a very frustrating experience and seeing as she didn't even have a ticket to present to staff, she should have been forcibly removed. However Grand Central did very kindly upgrade me to first class. I've never travelled first class before in any capacity and it was a real treat having the extra leg room and being offered tea and biscuits from the trolley.

WHAT TO EAT

York has a wealth of restaurants. Many of these in the city centre and include well known restaurant chains and family restaurants like Nandos, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express and so on. I visited York during the week and found that restaurants in the city centre were PACKED due to the 12-2pm lunch rush. So I'd recommend taking a later lunch from 2pm onwards to beat the crowds, or alternatively scoping out food away from the city centre. The latter I did myself on the very first day. Right by Clifford's Tower, I found a lovely restaurant called The Olive Tree.


And let me tell you now, their lunch menu was an absolute steal. I opted for pizza as I'd been up since 5am that morning and wanted something to keep me plodding along. And at only £6.50 for a massive pizza I couldn't argue. Mr Curiouser & Curiouser had his favourite man food: pepperoni pizza. I had mushroom and asparagus on mine and it was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten (I went to Franco Manca in London for the first time recently and their dough and service weren't anywhere as good!)


The York Roast Company (here) also comes very highly recommended. If you go to York, you need to have a Yorkshire pudding! For as little as £7.40 you can have a gigantic Yorkshire pud filled with your choice of meat, gravy, stuffing and vegetables. And oh my god, it was good. This one's in the town centre so I recommend going after the lunch rush because it gets PACKED. I learnt it's also open late (until 11pm some nights!). If I lived in York, I would so be stopping there after a night out!



I'd read good things about The Star (here) which is located right by the river. I sadly ran out of time so only passed it briefly - but well worth further investigation next time I'm in York.


Same goes for The Perky Peacock. Another enviable riverside location.


On those hot British days we see oh-so-regularly [insert eye roll here] grab an ice cream from the - I kid you not - ice cream boat The Full Moo (during my visit this was located round by The Star).


THINGS TO DO

WALK THE YORK CITY WALL

Originally used as the city's defense, York's city wall supposedly takes approximately two hours to walk around fully. I'll be honest, one side of the wall was nicer than the other (or at least I thought so). The side closest to the Grand Hotel was a lot more 'city' with the noise of traffic. Whereas the other side of the wall had a lot more greenery and was like going for a walk in the woods. Access to the City Wall is free and the beauty of it is that it's a great way of finding new places. For example, we bookmarked a hotel we looked the look of for a future visit, found a Grand Designs type house (both in my WHERE TO STAY section) and found lots of cafes and restaurants that we may have otherwise not come across.



THE SHAMBLES

The cutest, quaintest of streets. All cobbles, timber frames and crooked buildings full of character. Reportedly this street inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, however this has since been confirmed to be false. But fair play to York, they play towards this well with its Harry Potter themed shops which bring in the tourists from afar. I was astonished to find a Christmas shop (is it there all year long?!)


GO TO YORK'S CHOCOLATE STORY

Did you know that York is central to chocolate in the UK? It all started with the Rowntree brothers who trained with Cadbury (who subsequently moved to Birmingham later on) and the rest as they say, is history! As soon you walk in, you are drawn in with wafts of chocolate from their in-house café. What I loved most about York's Chocolate Story is that it's a fully immersive tour which includes tastings every step of the way. Starting with early Inca hot chocolate (composed of raw chocolate, water and chilli) right at the beginning of the tour. Later in the tour we were able to run riot and create our own chocolate lolly to take away with us. I kept mine fairly simple but oh my, the chocolate was amazing. I seriously regret not picking up any chocolate from the gift shop - but hey, a great excuse to go back another day!


GO SEE THE ORIGINAL ROWNTREE SITE

In York's Chocolate Story tour, they mentioned that the former Rowntree site - and birth place of Joseph Rowntree - is marked with a plaque and is now a Pizza Hut - and so it is!



GO TO YORK MINSTER

If you're short on time, put York Minster at the top of your list. It is magnificent. Annoyingly it was a bit cloudy on the day of my visit so I didn't do the tower, however when you buy a ticket to the Minster (£10) your ticket is valid for 12 months so you can get back again for free! If like me, you didn't pay for the tower the first time around, you can add this on as an extra next time. I don't believe it was much, maybe £5 extra? We were one of the last visitors of the day and we got to hear choir practice which was mesmerizing and one of the purest sounds I've ever heard.


GO SEE THE UMBRELLAS

I'm assuming they're there all the time, but apologies if they're not. But if you head round to Coppergate Walk you hit shopping heaven with the likes of Primark and even a Yankee Candle store (something I have never seen before!), and that's where they are.


CLIFFORD'S TOWER

What I loved about York is that most of the attractions are in close proximity to each other. Not far from Coppergate Walk and WHAM there is this huge patch of green (read: hill) with a tower on top. On day one it was too cloudy to make the most of the views, but on day two we had clear skies and sunshine. And what a view.


YORK CASTLE MUSEUM

Just around the corner from Clifford's Tower, is a museum I was expecting to spend a hour or so in, but enjoyed it so much I was there most of the morning! What's great about York Castle Museum is that there is something for everyone. I loved the room sets and vintage toys which took us down memory lane.


At the time of visiting there was a Vivienne Westwood exhibition on which unlike the V&A in London was included in our ticket price and not an extra cost. So definitely worth checking out what exhibitions York Castle museum have on.


My favourite part of the museum was an immersive going-back-in-time taste of York with shops galore. Some you could peep in the windows of, others were actually open for you to go in! The sweet shop for example was open for business and you could buy all sorts from there. Naturally, I was drawn to the book store with its beautifully ornate book covers on display in the shop window,.


I thought the visit was over and then we were directed past the gift shop to the other side of the museum which contained the castle prisons (these famously housed Dick Turpin).


MUSEUM GARDENS

In our final less-than-an-hour-left-in-York, we didn't stray too far from the station and visited Museum Gardens. The clue is in the name (the site also contains the Yorkshire museum which I would have loved to visit if we had more time). The park had ramparts, beautiful gardens and a lovely timber framed building that can hired out for weddings. Imagine having wedding photos here. IT'S LIKE HOGWARTS.



EXPLORE EXPLORE EXPLORE

Walk everywhere. The best sights are those you stumble across by accident / happenstance. I saw some very on brand Curiouser and Curiouser sights this way.


At the back of  York Minster were amazing buildings and cute cafés bookmarked for our next visit.


We also went down an alley way which looked like that creepy one in Harry Potter when he said 'diagonally' and cocked up his first use of the floo network.


Have you ever been to York?