QBic London – East London cool in a cube


A couple of weeks ago we took a Monday off work after a grotesquely stressful week and stayed in QBic London on a Sunday night. 
I’d read rave reviews of the Amsterdam branch and since that wasn’t quite a viable option, we hopped on the tube to the other side of town and checked in here, just by Aldgate East station. I was expecting bright and colourful and bold from what I’d seen online and the reality didn’t disappoint. If you need cheering up and a think a cheerful room, gigantic squishy bed and rain shower might fix things, head here. 



Keeping on East London message, everything is cool. The reception, the lifts, the bar, the retro games and even the water glasses. The rooms are built in cubes, all slotted together with lots of eco nods such as the showers, the toiletries, swapping your room cleaning service for a drink at the bar and the way the hotel was made- economically and environmentally friendly. 

The rooms aren’t huge but that’s all part of the cube idea, everything fits nicely from the quirky furniture to the light controls and bedside storage.

If I go to a hotel, I want the bed to be stupidly big. I want a delicious breakfast menu. I want a massive shower and good TV and good places to eat close by and with Brick Lane a stones throw away this place ticks all those boxes with a good price to boot. 

Spending a Sunday night drinking wine, playing Battleships, sinking into pillows and a duvet and consuming Brick Lane burgers is a good way to do life. 

The best thing about this hotel was the zero fuss. Everything was easy and the staff were brilliant. I’ll definitely be making a beeline to stay at QBic when I go to Amsterdam later this year. 

New York City- expectation Vs reality 

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New York was never high on my list of cities to visit. I’ve always preferred the idea of tropical climates, palm trees, or historical places with castles and cobbled streets. I didn’t watch Sex and the City growing up (I know, who am I? What am I? I’ve heard it all) and the only thing that ever made me think I would like it was the breakfast culture (I really do feel that strongly about morning eating) – pancakes and coffee are my happiness.

But I just never found the idea of some good breakfasts enough to flit across the Atlantic, weirdly enough. It was really, as it is with so many things, Instagram and blogging that grabbed my attention to New York properly.

I started to come round to the idea I would probably like NYC on top of the glowing recommendations from friends and colleagues and all the posts and photos I’d seen proclaiming it the best place on the planet. On top of that, my boyfriend was always very keen on going. He even looked into studying there which was news to me, and brought up the fact he wanted to go pretty much every time the place popped up on TV. I still wasn’t that fussed though, and we kept making other travel plans, so we just didn’t go.

Then this year, I decided to score some big girlfriend points when he turned 30 and booked a secret trip. I did it at work on my lunch break and then sat and googled ‘things to do in NYC’ for half hour. After that day, this secret trip became an obsession. I couldn’t talk about it at home, we couldn’t plan it together, so I just researched in secret and compiled massive lists of stuff we could do, eat, drink, walk to, look at, buy etc etc. By the end of the six month wait to actually tell him (we got drunk with all our friends and I made them put on Statue of Liberty masks and hold flags when he went to the loo then shout at him when he reappeared) I think I wanted to go more than him.

We only had two days of us both knowing we were going to talk about what we would do and be excited and squeal over the idea of the Rockefeller Centre view and Shake Shake. I don’t know how I went from so unfussed to so stupidly excited over a city, but it happened. It happened in a big way.

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We expected to get there and fall straight into food comas, marching down 5th Avenue looking for bars and proceed to tick off all of the tourist trips with breaks every so often to eat burgers and get milkshakes bigger than our faces.

So, it was quite a come down when we spent the first day in a complete, underwhelmed, intimidated, slightly confused daze. It was NOT the blur of utter joy and excitement and calories I expected. We couldn’t navigate the grid system, we were shocked by just how packed the streets of Manhattan were and we really needed to sit down.

Looking back, it was obviously jet lag, immense tiredness, a stress comedown (our flight there was cancelled and we did a mad dash to a different airport and I forgot to pack to knickers) more than New York itself. Fast forward 24 hours later and we both looked like heart eye emojis, full of happiness, watching the sunset on the Brooklyn Bridge.

I definitely think the place would horrify people who don’t like the hustle bustle of big cities, and it is pretty intimidating the first time you step outside and try and navigate your way around, but as we’re used to London, we managed to get used to this quite fast. It’s actually smaller than London, with a much more simple subway system IMO, but it was more intense than I thought.

Overall we flippin loved New York. We loved it so much. It was so much better than I imagined after we got past the grid map confusion, the subway confusion and the dizzying jet lag. After day one, we spent the entire week talking about the nearest possible date we could return.

There’s a vibe about NYC that you just can’t find anywhere else, and believe me, I hate myself for saying that, buts it’s so true. It’s got everything to the point that you find things you never you wanted. We didn’t want to spend time inside, we didn’t want to waste time sleeping, we just wanted to be in the middle of everything. It’s like you pick up this new kind of energy that sucks you into NYC culture and makes sure you don’t want to leave. From the food, to the 24 hour service, to the shopping and the architecture, it’s like falling down a rabbit hole into a new life.

From strolling through Brooklyn eating bagels, to sitting outside in the sun drinking and watching the world go by, we fell hook, line and sinker for everything- even the people.

And then there’s the super sad feeling when you have to leave. Really, super sad.

I want to go back as many times as possible and although we ended up loving it for reasons we didn’t expect, I think you could go back and have completely different experiences every time. It’s going to be top of my travel list forever.

The spring 2017 travel hit list

I currently really need to crack on with saving up for important stuff like a fridge and a bed, but the cold and the dark keep leading me to Sky Scanner. It’s like I’m magnetically drawn to looking at holidays I definitely cannot book at least once a day. We already know where we’re going for our next big trip and it’s been in the works for almost a year now, but there’s also this growing list of places that can be done on a weekend, with cheap flights and a cheap Airbnb, so it’d be rude not to visit them. Travel logic.

If I had unlimited funds or just happened to stumble upon an envelope of money with ‘Lauren, please have a good time with this cash’ written on it, these are the places I’d book up for spring next year:

1) Lausanne, Switzerland 

I will hopefully get here in the spring next year on a road trip, but a school friend went for work recently and spammed social media with the most beautiful photos. It looks like the kind of place you want to visit while it’s still crisp outside.

2) Florence

This has been high on my Italy hit list for ages for all the obvious reasons like food, history and now this sunset photo.

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Image: Maelick

3) Plockton, Mull, Scotland

I went to Skye a couple of years ago, and we could see straight across to Mull, which looks equally as stunning.

 

4) Segovia, Spain

I read about Segovia in this Guardian article and did a lunchtime google image search of it (how I pick basically all of my travel destinations) and now I must go.

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Image: Raul A

5) Lake Skadar, Montenegro

Me and my boyfriend have been talking about going here for about four years, but it’s not the easiest place to get to. I want to travel around Montenegro and my many research sessions on it suggests late spring is a nice time, particularly for the lakes. The whole country looks postcard perfect.

4 places bloggers have made me want to visit next year

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Penzance, Cornwall

I read this post yesterday on the train and then got home and googled cottages in the area, because obviously. Aftab’s photos are gorgeous (as ever) and it looks idyllic. The accommodation in this post looks heavenly and I am eternally jealous. Even the food looks picture perfect. I’ve been to Cornwall before but not for about five years now, so it seems a good time to go back.

Ill De Re, France

I looked at this about three times on Monday and then text Hannah to just confirm how much I wanted to go. She says three days is perfect, so a long weekend sounds about right. I had never heard of this little place, but after a quick google search it’s firmly on my list for next year. Plus, as the post says, flights are so cheap.

Yorkshire staycation

Me and my boyfriend have been talking about visiting this part of the country for ages now, and I remembered seeing this on Sophie’s blog back in the summer so had another little nose at it yesterday. The countryside and the coast look exactly how I imagine postcard England to look, complete with bunting. Air BnB have some really lush looking places listed for Yorkshire too, just FYI.

Slovenia

Another place I have been to  but really want to go back to. I ended up in Slovenia for about seven hours a couple of years ago on my way to Croatia, after the French went on air strike and I had to go a different route to get to a music festival. Standard Lauren travel nightmare. The countryside and the lakes look like something from fairy tales and even driving through it was enough to confirm I needed to return one day. I have a #travelblog filter set up on TweetDeck which led me to Charlotte’s blog and this feature with loads of lovely photos.

 

 

Sun, sea, mountains and food-photos from Cyprus

I spent the last two weeks of August in Cyprus- no secret if you follow me on any form of social media (sorry about that) and it was the most amazing holiday. I’ve been there many times throughout my life. It’s become a place my family gravitate to after my grandparents started spending summers (and some winters) there when I was a lanky young teenager. We all love it, so it was an obvious choice when my family decided to go n holiday together for the first time in five years.

We went back to the village we always used to stay in- Oroklini, set back a mile from the sea, nestled in a hillside and full of cute shops and old, whitewashed charm. We didn’t stay there the whole time because our pool took inspiration from the Olympic diving pool and turned green. We ended up staying in a villa in another little village a short drive away called Pyla.

Cyprus is for me, the ultimate sunshine holiday for relaxing, eating well and doing some adventuring. The good, hot weather is guaranteed in summer, literally we saw about four clouds in two weeks and I’ve only seen rain once in eight trips, which lasted about 4 minutes. The food is amazing, especially kleftiko which is lamb with tomatoes, herbs and potatoes baked in the oven for hours. Oh and halloumi- it’s the home of halloumi. More on why it’s the perfect here, and photos to prove it here:

Oroklini village, Larnaca

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Mckenzy beach, Larnaca

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Troodos Mountains

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Lania village- more on this little gem here

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Visit Lania, Cyprus- the prettiest village

 I’m biased about Cyprus because I’ve spent so much time there over the past ten years. We used to go a lot when I was a child, staying in a little village with my grandparents who have been there, drinking morning tea in the shade during the summer, for as long as I can remember. For a lot of people it’s just a break with guaranteed good weather- it’s called the sunshine island for a reason, but I’ve explored more and more of the country as I’ve gotten older and it has way more to offer than just hot days and beaches.

This time around I took my boyfriend, who’d never been before, so I wanted to show him some of the places I’d been to and loved throughout my life, which included Troodos. If you like beautiful scenery, waterfalls, mountain villages and heights, you might want to check it out. The Troodos Mountain range houses the highest point in Cyprus but the best bit about it is the village life you find scattered about the hills.

Driving through them is like driving through some sort of Instagram account dedicated to quaint, floral scenery that almost doesn’t look real. If you like pretty painted doors (doors seem to be having a serious vogue moment right now), winding streets, walls covered in flowers and windows with shutters on whitewashed houses, you need to go to Lania. This is also a taste of Cyprus as it was before the big cities, when life was way more simple, long before tourists flocked to the beaches to get tans and drink ouzo. IMG_9060IMG_9003
I’d read about it online when I was researching places to stop on our way up or down the mountain drive, and came across a lot about the wine region. I have a lot of time for wine obviously, and Lania popped up as an ancient wine village, nestled at the bottom of the mountains, and was also dubbed as the prettiest village in the region on Trip Advisor. I’m a sucker for places like this. Anywhere with painted window shutters, flowers tumbling over little brick walls and tiny little streets full of cottages and trees is a winner in my eyes, so imagine a place like that which just happens to make the best white wine I’ve ever tasted. If I could design Heaven this is what it would be like.

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Well, I say Heaven, it was hotter than Hell when we rolled in at 2pm mid-August, and the man who took us into his dusty little cellar to check out and buy some wine told us tourists in the height of summer come only after 4pm because of the heat, which would explain why we saw virtually no people.

I like no people though, especially after a week spent in bustling Larnaca, so if you can handle the heat I recommend it, but if not then peak visiting time is September, when it’s a little cooler and more bearable to be outside in the middle of the day.

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It’s a tiny little village, and we seemed to keep ending up in the same places after following skinny streets round corners, but we still spent almost two hours just strolling around. It’s honestly the prettiest place I’ve ever seen. So quaint, so intricate and so bloody photogenic. Some of the residential streets have vines and undisturbed bushes of flowers spilling all over the walkways, so you feel like you’re gliding through a place where no one lives at all, but it’s actually pretty fully populated. There’s also kittens all over the place, which is a bonus.

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It’s not a place to go for a week long holiday by any means- it’s a teeny tiny village, but Troodos is and if you ever find yourself in the region, this little slice of idyllic countryside is an absolute must. I could happily pencil in a weekend stay to just drink wine, take photos and soak up the peace and quiet. Real quiet, like you don’t find very often. There’s a couple of little free museums, wine tasting, tavernas and it’s just about a 30 minute drive to the top of the mountains for views like this:

 We also bought a bottle of Lania’s speciality alcohol which is brewed and bottled in the village by the locals. I’ve got no idea what it is but it’s very sweet and comes in a giant medicine bottle, so you can’t really leave without some. The bottom line is, go to Troodos and go to Lania. You won’t regret it. IMG_9063

Photography courtesy of Dan Blows, who takes amazing photos which you can find here.

Larnaca, Cyprus – The sunshine island

 If you want guaranteed sunshine and don’t mind baking in heat then Cyprus is as good a location as you’ll get in the summer. The risk of rain is practically nil, as is a cloudy day. I’ve been here five times during my adult life due to family ties so I know it pretty well and the climate is a dream.

The flight is longer than your average European holiday from the UK, taking about 4 and half hours from London, but it’s worth it. It’s known as the sunshine island, and that’s exactly what it is. 

  
My favourite things about it and reasons I’d give anyone to visit are: 

The glorious weather 

The cheese (it is after all the birth place of halloumi) 

The coffee, especially iced Cyprus coffee 

The crystal clear seas

The fact you can drive into mountains and beautiful hills within an hour from just about every town or city

The Greek fusion cuisine

The national parks 

The villages nestled into the hills and mountains

The really, really good beer- Leon especially 

The fact it stays hot until well into October or even November

  
  
  
If you’re looking to book a last minute break to bask in sunshine then I can’t recommend Cyprus enough. The food is good, it’s cheap generally once you’re here, the roads are good to drive and travel around and even though the evenings might grow cooler you can come here in winter and still have bright blue skies and warm days. 

Airlines such as Norweigan Air and Cyprus Airways will bring you here cheaply, and there’s also classic EasyJet. If you’re looking for beach resorts try hotels in Mackenzy Beach Larnaca, Fig Tree Bay or Protaras. Happy holiday hunting people. I’m off to soak up more Cypriot rays. 

I’d like to thank my passport for…

Over the past few years I’ve been lucky to be able to do a lot of traveling. As soon as I finished university I started getting itchy feet to go and see new things but a combination of bad health and falling quickly into a job kept me on solid ground for a while.

Once I was a bit further up the career ladder (in a proper job where I had my own email address and actual colleagues, shall we say), I started getting some good use out of my passport. I had a temporary job for quite a while at one point, and while I was always slightly scared it would end at any given time, the freedom it gave me was perfect. These days I play the ‘use your annual leave really carefully’ game to get the most of travel time, but I’m not complaining. I like my work/life balance just fine and I’ve had some really amazing experiences in places far and 

I bloody love my passport. 

I have really adventurous friends so I’m lucky to always have someone who wants to come along, be it for a weekend or a few weeks to explore somewhere new.

There have too many memorable travel moments to fit into a ramble like this, but I am truly thankful for my passport- and here’s a few reasons why:

Sri Lankan sunsets and mountain climbing with some of my favourite people while managing to completely escape Western life for a couple of weeks.

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The chance to visit family members who have carved out lives in places that look like this:

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A chance to regroup away from too many similar things after a really hard time, just two hours away by plane.

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Making me appreciate how much greater nature is than we ever could be.

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Making me more and more curious about people I’ve never met and things I’ve never seen.

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Allowing me to go to places that make me feel like I’ve always belonged.

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Sending a serious reality check to remind me that phones and technology and social media are so inferior to feeling properly happy.

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14 things to do, eat, drink and see in Brighton


Brighton is my boyfriend’s home town so I’ve spent a lot of time there over the past five years and it’s one of my favourite places.  It makes the seaside seem effortlessly cool and there’s endless amounts to do, not just a pier and pubs- though take a good amount of time for the glorious pub scene, you won’t find much else to rival it. Here’s some stuff you should find time for:

1) Visit the famous Lanes and look at all the pretty jewels in shop windows. There’s also loads of little independent shops, sweet shops, craft shops and plenty of pubs. It’s also an Instagram dream if you’re that way inclined.

2) Also go the The Lanes for dinner- particularly if it’s warm enough to sit outside.  I recommend the Giggling Squid for killer Thai food.

3) Eat the best vegetarian food imaginable at Terre A Terre. I’m not veggie but this place is a foodie dream, as are the churros.

4) Take artsy photos of the West Pier ruin.

5) Go to many, many pubs. Brighton has more pubs per square mile than anywhere in the country, so no excuse. My faves are The Mash Tun, Fishbowl and I once spent a good six hours loving life in The Evening Star.

6) Eat all manner of bad-for-you food on the pier. It’s kind of compulsory to go to the pier even just for five minutes. The doughnuts make it worth while.

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7) Get brunch at Kensingtons Balcony Cafe then go shopping in the streets around it. These little streets are lined with vintage shops, second hand clothes sales, stalls selling weird and wonderful jewellery and plenty of seriously good cake and coffee.There’s also a place called Snooper’s Paradise that you should check out just for the experience.

8) Walk around the gardens of the Royal Pavillion. Also prime picnic location if you snag a nice day. You can get a tour of the inside too if it’s not so much of a nice day.

9) Visit Beyond Retro and buy something much cooler than you really are.

10) Go street art spotting.

11) Eat fish and chips in OHSO and watch the sun go down.

12) Go to Choccywoccydoodah and look at chocolate sculptures and probably gain weight through your eyes.


13) Get tea, cake or breakfast at Blackbird Tea Rooms. I like it here because it’s decorated like a Victorian child’s bedroom and because the cake slices are like triple portions.

14) Head into Hove if you get the time, mostly to just admire all the beautiful houses really.

 

Why Ireland must be on your travel list

 

Last year I went away in September to do something that’s been on my travel list for years- the west coast of Ireland or The Wild Atlantic Way, as you might have heard it called. I wanted to go partly because of the beautiful scenery and also because I have Irish family. My grandparents are Irish and I wanted to go and spend some time there, especially since my grandad passed away, to get a feel for their lives. I actually went back to the tiny village my nan was born in, tucked away in Country Clare- where the post office and church have been exactly the same since when she was a child 75 years ago.

It was really nice to go and experience all the things they’d both told us about over the years- mostly the wildlife, the coastal scenery and the many pubs. It turned out to be much more beautiful than I imagined. It was actually quite spellbinding, like walking around in a fairy tale. We didn’t have a week of sunshine which was no surprise given Ireland is famed for its wet weather, but it didn’t matter. You don’t need blue skies to appreciate the beauty.

Ireland has a charm like no other place I’ve ever been. I can’t describe it any  way other than gentle. The villages we stumbled upon while driving through Clare, with their colourful thatched roof cottages and gardens full of flowers almost didn’t look real.

We basically spent the week driving around, stopping off at beaches, cliffs, walking through country lanes, drinking tea and eating cake and of course sampling Guinness and wathcing Hurling. We visited Dublin, Clare and Galway. It’s one of the most laid back trips I’ve ever been on. If you need to rejuvenate I couldn’t recommend it more.

We also paid such a reasonable price for such a nice holiday, using both small b&bs, Airbnb and hiring a car in Dublin. My boyfriend’s Ireland photography does a good job at explaining through pictures why you need to go, but here’s some more proof:

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