Travel: Titanic Belfast

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

My day in Belfast started at Titanic Belfast - a museum dedicated to the ship that was built in the city. Despite being familiar with the tale of the Titanic, I'd never given and thought to where and how it was built -  we may all know the ending but the beginning of Titanic is just as important and fascinating.

titanic belfast review
The Titanic Quarter 
titanic belfast review
The external detail on the building 
titanic belfast review
The famous Harland and Wolff crane in the shipyard.
Located in the Titanic Quarter, the museum opened in 2012 - one hundred years after the ship's maiden (and sole) voyage and is shaped like a ship's bow. The ultra-modern structure fits perfectly in an area of the city which is redefining itself whilst also commemorating its past.

titanic belfast review
The fascinating political history of Ireland
 The museum is divided by floor and explores the history of Belfast, the building of the Titanic, it's fitting out and it's tragic sinking. Ireland's turbulent political past and history of immigration sets the backdrop to which Harland and Wolff became the biggest shipbuilder in Ireland, employing 3000 men to build the Titanic.

Even now the ship creates a morbid fascination for people from all over the world but in Belfast it's so much more than that - the ship was the pride and joy of the city and it's fate must have been felt by everyone who worked on it, who waved it off on its launch and who knew someone with even the smallest connection to it. Titanic Belfast is a respectful tribute to those who built and perished on the ship and even though today's disasters happen on much bigger scales the personal objects and testimonies mean that over 100 years on the loss of life is still felt. The details of first class dining menus, mock-ups of the ships cabins for each class and a 3D digital tour of the ship remind us how much travel has changed and how lucky we now are to be able to hop across to New York in less than a day. The museum even features a ride through the H&W docklands and makes you feel like one of the thousands of workers who helped build Titanic without most of the technology that we are so reliant on today.

titanic belfast review
...send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me...
titanic belfast review
First class dining, 1912 style seems like rather simple fare these days
The fate of Titanic's maiden voyage has been seared into popular culture, in films, books and even in our speech the memories of the ship and it's victims live on (despite me not having seen that particular film). Titanic Belfast cements the relationship between the city and the ship and it should be high on your to-see list as a visitor.

lilylipstick

Food: Made With Sunshine Salad

Monday, 27 June 2016

This time of year is my favourite - regardless of whether its actually sunny outside the long days just make me so happy. This month, Florette challenged me to created a colourful, sunshine-inspired salad and I gladly took up the challenge. This salad is quick and easy to throw together, looks oh-so-pretty and is vegan.


My inspiration box contained bruschetta, soft dried fruits and sherry vinegar. The sherry vinegar is a revelation and has currently replaced my love of balsamic - it has more of a vinegary kick to it which I adore as I love pickles and gherkins. Fruit in salad is great during the summer months and these soft dried fruits are so much tastier than regular dried fruit - the dried pears are especially good. Using the colour wheel for inspiration, I created a concentric-circle salad full of different colours, flavours and textures - perfect for eating al-fresco or (as I did) in front of your sport of choice on the telly (I unashamedly love Euro 2016).

colourful vegan salad

colourful vegan salad

There's not really a recipe for this - I just arranged Florette Crispy leaves, courgetti, chopped red cabbage in circles and then added dried peaches to the cabbage part, dried pear to the courgetti and dried pineapple to the leaves. The bruschetta croutons add some crunch and a drizzle of sherry vinegar is all it needs. Happy colourful eating!

colourful vegan salad

colourful vegan salad


lilylipstick

Travel: Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Saturday, 25 June 2016

bushmills northern ireland
Well, where else am I going to wear a Westerns map print skirt.
I'm guilty as charged of not exploring enough of the UK. I've been around the world (and I, I, I, I can't find my baby) and yet have hardly explored any of my home turf. The dismal weather is the main thing that puts me off but my time in Northern Ireland at the end of May couldn't have been lovelier on the weather front - sunshine, blue skies and the sun glinting off of the sea made it feel like so much more of a holiday than I was expecting it to - nothing like a G&T outside while the sun sets and your shoulders slightly radiate the day's heat back at you to make you feel a million miles from home, even if its actually just an hour's flight away.

bushmills northern ireland
Walking the causeway coastal path.
bushmills northern ireland
Little group selfie with these ones.
The Giant's Causeway is a true wonder - the natural rock formations are either the work of the fabled giant, Finn McCool, or of geological rock activity millions of years ago. I think I prefer the former explanation. The causeway is free to visit and you are free to scramble over the rocks, albeit that there are some friendly volunteers on hand to prevent you falling to your death and to provide facts, take photos, discuss your favourite fil-ums with. After a morning of rock climbing, The Nook is a great stop off for lunch although being the only pub in the area it's not cheap but the service was quick and the food was tasty (the TripAdvisor reviews are pretty entertaining but don't let that or the fact that they tried to charge Hannah 20p for tap water put you off).

bushmills northern ireland
Dunseverick castle.
Dunseverick castle is just a ruin now but it's a great photo-op from the road and the Antrim coast is home to countless white sand beaches and steep cliff faces. Pack some comfortable shoes for walking and be prepared to climb fences depending on how committed you are to your Instagram grid. This part of the world hasn't quite been touched by 4G and Starbucks branches so it's a great chance to un-plug over home made cake - I lost count of how many cute tearooms I spotted and as a Londoner I was shocked at what good value their offerings were. I had an amazing hazelnut and coffee brownie at the Wee Cottage by Dunluce Castle although those of us who are fussy and spoiled by London's dining scene should note that fare is simpler (and somewhat beiger) than what we might be used to.

bushmills northern ireland
Chocolate in the sun mmmm.
Bushmills itself is a quaint little town with independent shops but it's most famous for Bushmills whiskey which is imported worldwide. We stopped at The Copper Kettle for brunch to line our stomachs before trying some - the café is very cute with friendly service, don't be expecting avocado on toast or an almond milk macchiato but for £3 my poached eggs on toast hit the spot.

bushmills northern ireland distillery tour
Bushmills railway station.
bushmills northern ireland distillery tour
Old Bushmills.
The Bushmills Distillery is a working distillery and so the tour takes you around the actual places where the whiskey is made rather than being a touristy experience. The condensing room was super hot as the alcohol is boiled off and you could smell the sweet wafts of roasted barley and bread-like yeasty aromas. I am not a whiskey drinker but the tour was so interesting, our guide was great and the tour groups are kept on the small side. Fun fact - all of the whiskey is stored in second hand barrels which have either previously held Spanish sherry or American bourbon, these flavours infuse into the whiskey and once the barrels have finished travelling the world and playing home to various concoctions they are recycled into planters! Bushmills whiskey is exported to all of the world and the distillery can't make enough for how popular it is - the process cannot be rushed and corners cannot be cut so in a world of fast food and fast fashion its amazing to see a product that takes years to make from start to finish. The older the whiskey, the pricer it gets but if you're new to whiskey you might prefer the "younger" bottles and the Irish Honey is a good option if you're getting used to the taste still.

bushmills northern ireland distillery tour
The middle bottle, like, LOL.
At the end of the tour I tried a hot toddy - whiskey mixed with hot water, sugar and a dash of cinnamon which is a well known "cure" for colds and sore throats. It definitely warmed me up and put me in good spirits for the rest of the day although I'm not quite ready to trade in my G&Ts yet.

bushmills northern ireland
The golden hour.
Ending the day with a G&T at Portrush harbour - a typical British seaside town not too far from Bushmills and the perfect spot to reflect on how unique and beautiful this part of the world is.







lilylipstick

Food: Lunch Breaks In The Square Mile

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Working in the Square Mile, choosing a lunch location can feel like being in the Truman Show as every block features a Pret, an Eat and an Itsu. While I have nothing against these establishments I'm all for bringing some variety to a working day and so here is my guide for being a lady (or gentleman) who lunches, albeit within the confines of a working day and a sensible budget. As I know that it's sometimes nigh on impossible to get away from our friend The Desk and other times there's biblical rain outside (June I'm looking at you), I've included a range of options from a leisurely stroll to the market to not even having to leave your seat. Oh, and they're all appropriately Instagrammable, too:

1. Whitecross Street

While not strictly within the City of London, this street market spanning the length of the Whitecross Street is a firm favourite for suited city workers and Old Street Roundabout-ers alike. Bring cash, be prepared to queue and to face severe food decision anxiety as everything just looks so damn good. My favourites are Bubble Wrap for bibimbap in a wrap and Hoxton Beach for falafels. If it's a sunny day, nip through the alleyway next to the barbers and sit in Fortune Street park - Giddy Up Coffee will provide the perfect post-lunch boost.


2. Bahn Mi Bay

An authentic Vietnanese restaurant and take away, I love Bahn Mi Bay for their bun noodles and speedy service when dining in. The summer rolls are great too for take out and there is a vegan option which is my favourite. As their name suggests, they also do a range of Bahn Mi baguettes for which there's always a (fast moving and well worth it) queue for.

3. Bep Haus

Another Vietnamese option but I can't get enough of the spicy flavours. Located on Bow Lane which is a hidden oasis of city lunch options (the burrito stall here always has an insane queue), the bahn mi baguettes here are amazing. I tried the vegan tofu bahn mi and it was so good although bread makes me so sleepy in the afternoons that I'll opt for a tofu box next time. There are always queues out the door at lunchtime for this tiny café and it's takeout only so head down to the lawns outside St Pauls if its a sunny day.


4. Benugo (#BenugoDelivers)

A small chain of cafes, Benugo have branches in and around the Square Mile and now do delivery which is perfect if you're in need of food for a meeting or for a group of colleagues. I recently sampled their summer menu and it's like bringing the picnic to your desk even if it's pouring with rain and you're basking in florescent lighting rather than the summer sun. The deliveries are walked over from shops where possible so you know it'll be super fresh (and good for the environment). The watermelon aqua fresca is so refreshing and as bread is a rare lunchtime treat I happily tucked in to the goats cheese and fire-roasted pepper bloomer which was definitely a cut above sad office sandwiches. There are veggie and vegan options and you can also get breakfast delivered (ideal for making sure there's 100% attendance at those morning meetings).

5.  Oi Hanoi 

Located in Aldgate, just outside of the City, Oi Hanoi delivers speedily via Deliveroo (I know that a lot of companies subscribe to this for evening deliveries so that staff don't pass out or leave the office in search of sustenance). I tried their tofu bun noddles and tofu summer rolls which are both vegan, tasty and filling without being soporific. Chopsticks a-plenty are provided and the dishes are attractively presented - take-out has clearly come a long way from my childhood memories of "Chinese" food in plastic boxes...



 6. Taro

It's definitely no secret now that I love Asian food at lunchtime... Taro is a small chain of Japanese cafes which offer sushi, bento and hot dishes. I love a bento box for making me feel like I'm speeding along on a bullet train rather than trying not to be run over by a cyclist and dodging the umpteen free magazines that I'm forever picking up three copies each of. The bento boxes are good value compared with other Japanese-esque eateries - I don't actually eat tofu as much as this post implies but the tofu box is good and my dining companion equally rated the chicken box.


Need more inspiration? My post here has more favourites!

lilylipstick
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Life: The Solo Wedding Guest Survival Guide

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Minus a plus-one

I've travelled to the other side of the world on my own, eaten in countless restaurants on my own and run 20 miles across London on my own without telling anyone where I was going. I'm pretty ok with doing things on my own; I'm an only child, I live alone and I've been single for...nearly 29 years. The thought of attending a wedding on my own? Erm, can my mother be my plus one?

I am truly over joyed and grateful whenever a friend invites me to be a part of their big day and I have loved every wedding I have attended so far but the thought of having to show up sans plus-one still terrifies me. Despite taking few active steps to "find a man" (like, where are they all hiding?) I really never thought I'd be attending weddings of friends without one so it still feels strange and not without a touch of personal failure to be doing so as I am dragged (somewhat kicking and screaming) into my 30s. With wedding season coming up (/already started) here are my tips for actually enjoying yourself and not ending up alone in your hotel room eating left-over wedding cake while sobbing (alcohol units: 8, calories: 3000, v v bad)*.

1. Remember that its not just you. You are not the only single girl attending said wedding. You are not the only single girl to ever attend a wedding. Sometimes a self pep talk (in your head not out loud please) does wonders - I frequently tell myself that it's not "just me" and neither is it all about me.

2. Go to the Hen Do. Even if the hen do is drinking cheap cava out of a penis straw while cycling on one of those hideous pedal buses around London...go! Even if you don't know a single other guest apart from the bride...go! And while you're there, put your phone away, smile and make friends - remember university freshers' week and remind yourself that you do actually know how to do this. You will thank yourself when you have a friendly face to sit next to at the church or to tell you that there's loo roll stuck to your sandal after five G&Ts.

3. Speak to the bride. They've invited you so they want you to have a good time and not be an anxious wreck! Find out where there wedding guests are staying and how they're getting to the venue - I always pick the same hotel as other guests as it makes you feel more part of the celebrations and means you can share taxis and not have to worry about travelling on your own late at night in an unfamiliar place.

4. Plan ahead. If you're having to book hotels and trains, book them way in advance to minimise stress - for a wedding I'm attending later this year I bargained away and got a discount to reflect that I am not two people and so will not be eating two breakfasts. If you know they'll be downtime then make plans for it - maybe meet other guests for brunch, do something interesting in the area or pack your trainers for a morning run (for me that's the best way to start a somewhat uncertain day).

5. O-O-T-D. Do a practice run of your outfit and hair - shout out to the time when I realised that the zip on my dress was near impossible to do up without a helper and thank goodness I do yoga and can reach my hands behind my back without too much of a struggle in 35 degree Lisbon heat. Check that your dress isn't tucked into your knickers and that you've curled the back your hair and not just the bits that you can see.

6. Hit the bar. I would be cautious here and not advocate getting absolutely wasted if you're on your own, wearing heels and in an unfamiliar location but taking advantage of the bar means that a) you can befriend others hanging around the bar area who are sure to make good wedding buddies and b) you'll be less anxious and more sociable because gin is actually proven to delete those "dying alone with cats" thoughts.

I hope this doesn't come across as negative, it's really not meant to be - yes, there are people facing far worse things than having to attend a friend's wedding en seule but sometimes the little things can become big things in our heads and it can feel like the whole world and its dog are part of smug, smiling couples while you only have Netflix to check that you're still alive. 

*If you don't get thiseference then you are too young to be reading this or worrying about any of the above.



lilylipstick

Food: Two Soho Pop-Ups To Try In June

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Friday evening. After cursing my social life for not planning itself, I took myself on a solo wander to try two Soho-based pop-up cafes. At some point between cafe-hopping I managed to buy a Mulberry handbag but that's for another post. Otherwise this would have been a cheap night out.

tombo matcha cafe liberty london

Tombo at Liberty London - Great Marlborough Street - Until 30th June

Matcha fever has finally hit London and while this cafe is more of a counter-in-the-handbag-department it does have two tiny tables and a good range of matcha drinks and eats. I had a matcha cold brew - one for matcha purists only but I didn't find Tombo's matcha over-powering and it was whisked to perfection (because green lumps are a huge turn off). For those new to matcha I'd recommend a matcha latte, maybe even with a dash of vanilla or caramel syrup to take the edge off. There's a small range of matcha baked goods and matcha ice cream too. My pictured drink was £3.15 so it's not the cheapest but compared to the damage you could do in the handbag department as you leave...

veggie pret soho london

veggie pret soho london

veggie pret soho london

Veggie Prêt - 35 Broadwick Street - Until 30th June (tbc...?)

As a Londoner Pret is a fixture on every street and while it does already offer a fair few veggie options the idea of a veggie-only Pret was too hard to resist. Even on a Friday at dinner time. I arrived at the store and thought that there was a massive queue but it was actually for Bao across the road. Phew. The shelves were packed with vegan and veggie delights - everything clearly labelled for any conceivable dietary requirement. As well as the familiar wraps, baguettes and salad boxes there are some new menu options - rye bread sandwiches, savoury yogurts and kombucha drinks. I couldn't resist the mushroom and avocado sushi salad box (sushi being the one non-vegan food I find hard to quit) and also picked up a hummus on rye open sandwich. Both were delicious - I'm usually really disappointed in veggie sushi as it lacks the umami-rich flavours (a dry piece of cucumber wrapped in seaweed does not maki me happy) but this salad box had so many textures and flavours - the rich mushroom and creamy avocado contrasting with the vinegary red cabbage meant I didn't miss the fish at all. The rye bread open sandwich was a simpler affair but very tasty nonetheless - the edamame saving it from being flavour clash with the sushi box and being an open sandwich made it lighter and far more visually appealing than your standard sarni.

There are rumours that Veggie Pret could stick around for a little longer - I really hope so because there are so many more menu items I want to sample before they shut up shop.
lilylipstick

Working It: #MyWorkOutFor...Single Life at Virgin Active

Saturday, 18 June 2016

virgin active my workout for
Despite being a regular gym-goer I'm very set in my ways - yoga, Pilates and spin classes are all firmly within my comfort zone. Weights and high intensity circuit training? Not so much. Virgin Active recently teamed up with Robert Nixon to help him create a work out for single life with the goals of being more active and increasing confidence.

virgin active my workout for

 I headed along to the 200 Aldersgate branch of Virgin Active expecting an easy-ish work out and some Saturday afternoon chit-chat with fellow bloggers. Boy, was I wrong. Not about the second part - I very much did enjoy the blogger chat but the work out was super tough. We were divided into teams by personal trainer Tyrone (who made every move look about as easy as sitting down) and moved about four workout stations, completing three moves at each one using kettlebells, dumbells, Viper bars and bosu boards. Keeping up? The moves ranged from sprints on a watt bike (easy but not when they're on your second circuit) to weighed "get ups" (imagine getting out of bed on a Monday morning only using one hand while holding a 5kg weight in the other). Working in small teams definitely made it easier as we counted down the reps together and spurred one another on.

virgin active my workout for

I woke up the next day feeling like I'd done ten rounds in the ring in my sleep - those aching muscles definitely prove how hard you have worked and while I'm used to achy legs from my marathon running days last year, this workout had clearly worked my entire body. It definitely made me re-think my gym routine and I'm going to add more weights and HIIT into the mix as doing something outside of my fitness comfort zone made me realise that I could definitely do with a bit more upper body strength (bonus that it may make carrying things easier and fewer tube station suitcase struggles can only be a good thing).

virgin active my workout for

virgin active my workout for

I forgot that there'd be a camera crew there - I might have put some make-up on otherwise but keeping it real here as in real life I'd never wear make-up to a gym class but looking back at these photos I think I could do with some sun...

Thanks to Robert and Virgin Active for a great day! Check out the YouTube video of the workout here.

lilylipstick