4 Fabulous Girls’ Night Out Options in London

Having travelled solo a fair amount, I am comfortable being in my own company; but there are many times when I’ve been away and wanted to share a moment, or just have someone (that I know) to talk to. Be that partner or friend. That’s why I loved being on the recent trip with my girlfriends, particularly when we were in London. It was really wonderful to share a city that I’ve become quite fond of with some of my favourite people.

I’m currently exploring the Danish concept of hygge (hue-guh or hoo-guh) and a big aspect of this is togetherness. London is a city that inspires going out for a pint or a bite to eat with friends and is a great place to be with your tribe. We had three proper girls’ nights in London and I definitely recommend them as yours as well! These are also great outings – in any city – to celebrate the holiday season with friends or with work colleagues. 🙂

Dinner and a Show

Seeing a show isn’t the most social of activities, but you go for a pre-show dinner or drinks and talk about the show over more drinks and food afterward. It’s a really nice girls’ night out (like my recent Jersey Boys outing in Vancouver with my mum!) or date night option. Broadway is amazing, but the architecture of London’s West End theatres tips its end of the scale more so in my favour.

Dominion Theatre
The Dominion Theatre (Photo provided by The Corner Shop PR)

A prime example of this architecture is the recently restored Dominion Theatre, currently home to the fabulous musical An American in Paris*. The girls and I had the opportunity to go and see the show while we were in London and it was STUNNING. Gene Kelly would have been so proud.

One of the best feelings in the world is when your heart fills up with so much joy that all you can do is smile a stupid smile. That is how I feel when I’m at a wedding, when I think of my guy, and when I watch live theatre or a ballet. I never really enjoyed performing but I have so much appreciation for those who do it well and for all the behind-the-scenes work. This was genuinely the best stage musical I have seen in a long time – I couldn’t stop smiling. The set and technology, choreography, acting, and all that lovely Gershwin Music… All framed by the Dominion’s flame red and gold interior in all its art deco glory.

The cast of An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre CREDIT Tristram Kenton
A scene from An American In Paris by George and Ira Gershwin @ Dominion Theatre. Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. (Opening 21-03-17) ©Tristram Kenton

I was really looking forward to seeing the exterior of Dominion, the but with old buildings comes the need for restoration, so the exterior looked like this:

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It now looks like this:

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The Dominion Theatre (Photo provided by The Corner Shop PR)

If you’re in London this winter, make sure you go see An American in Paris before it ends its West End engagement on January 6, 2018! More info on the show and how to buy tickets can be found here.

‘Tis the Season Tip – Theatre tickets are the perfect stocking stuffer for the musical lover or the kids in your life!

(*This girls’ night out to see An American in Paris was made possible by The Corner Shop PR.  As always, opinions are my own.)

We didn’t have time for a pre-show dinner, but stumbled upon a cute little Italian place in Soho called Il Cucciolo (8 Old Compton St, London) after the show. Cheap, cheerful, and sizeable pasta portions – my kind of place. I’m so happy we found this little gem!

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Very happy eaters at Il Cucciolo

#GetThrifty and Fancy! – If we’d had time before the show, I would have suggested having a treat dinner at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon (13-15 West St., London) in Soho. They have a great pre-show prix fixe menu for £35, which is an amazing #GetThrifty price considering it’s a Michelin star restaurant. (I ate there a couple years ago at the suggestion of a family friend, and it was good value for money, delicious, and their wait staff is wonderful.) Reservations are highly recommenced!

We ended the evening going back to food tour favourite, La Bodega Negra (16 Moor Street, London) for some margaritas. It was a fantastic evening out!

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Margaritas at Bodega Negra

Food & Cocktails Tour

Web:https://eatinglondontours.co.uk

Our Twilight Soho Food and Cocktail Tour with Eating Europe was one of my favourite excursions from this trip. I don’t think we really knew what we were getting into, but it surpassed expectations! We ended up staying at one of my the establishments they brought us to (Basement Sate), because it made us feel like we were Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda – and the G&T’s were superb. Check out my review of the tour and the list of restaurants and bars they took us to.

‘Tis the Season Tip – They will be having a Cyber Monday Sale, so make sure to sign up for their newsletter so you can get a sweet deal for the next time you’re in the city or are a local wanting to have a fun date night!

Gordon’s Wine Bar

Address: 47 Villiers Street, London / Web: https://gordonswinebar.com/

Gordon’s is one of my favourite London spots. It’s considered the oldest wine bar in London and is in a cave by the Thames and is one of the best bars in the city. The wine list is varied and lovely, the charcuterie and cheese are excellent, but they don’t take table reservations. They are also open for lunch. All of these factors make it quite popular.

Thursday seems to be the new Friday in big cities, so I was worried we wouldn’t get in. But there was an ‘important’ football (soccer) match on TV that night. And Gordon’s doesn’t have a single screen. So grazie mille to Juventus for making it so we could get a prime cave table on a summer Thursday at 8pm!

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Candles make for the best lighting!

#GetThrifty – If you’re in a group of four like we were, it’s much more cost effective to order by the bottle. It also makes for fun photos because the lighting is very moody with candles in old bottles.

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Pouring wine is serious business

In the summer they also have what they call their ‘Terrace’ (which is really an alley-way, but the safest alley-way you will ever be in) open just outside, with a special grill menu. (Brave the Terrace in the rain, if you must – some people do!) They serve their charcuterie and cheese boards all year round, and apparently have a Sunday Roast for £10.95, which is a pretty great deal.

They do take group bookings for 8-10 people for what they call ‘The Cage‘. The name of the room intrigues me enough to makes me wish I was there now so I could book my work team in for a Christmas lunch!

Something important to keep in mind is that Gordon’s Closes at 11pm, but it’s a great spot for a girls’ night, and if you’re going on a date, you’ll likely get bonus points if you get a good table! 😉 (When we were there, there was a first date a table over from us, and it was going very well…)

Because it was fab in Glasgow… 

I talked a bit about Wetherspoon’s in my Glasgow bus tour post and the fact that it’s an excellent #GetThrifty option. While we didn’t go to one in London, I’m positive that we would have had just as amazing of a time as we did at their Counting House in Glasgow. (They also have a great G&T.)

The service is good, the food and beverage are good and very decently priced, and the buildings they choose for their establishments are always interesting as they are restored old buildings (cinemas, banks, etc). They also have an order/pay app, which is great if you’re not wanting to leave a good conversation to wait at the bar to order drinks.

The Soho/West End/Covent Garden options that I have found are Montagu Pyke, Shakespeare’s Head, and The Moon Under Water. If you get to one, let me know how you go!

A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.

– William Shakespeare

The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Soho with Eating London Tours

Before I left for my trip in May, I was quizzing my expat colleagues about where the girls and I should eat and drink for our three nights in London. They all recommended one place: Soho. Though I’ve been to London many times, it was an area that, aside from the theatres, I had no paid much attention to. Having now explored a bit, I can safely say shame on me.

Located in the West End of London, Soho is London’s nightlife hot spot. It has morphed, chameleon-like over the decades, from being the place to find certain company and activities (you know what I mean), to the hub of the rag trade and mod 60’s culture, to music central, and where one goes to the theatre. Plus a few things in between. With the 21st century came the hipsters and a culinary rejuvenation. Mixed with trendy shops, theatres, and a few cheeky reminders of the area’s more notorious history, Soho is now a multicultural foodie paradise.

With that, where to start?? So many restaurants and bars tucked into the nooks and alleyways make the decision of where to eat, and where to find the best gin and tonic (important!) a bit of a challenge. (Particularly when on a budget in a country whose currency is whooping yours’ behind.) That’s where Eating London Tours comes in with their Twilight Soho Food & Cocktails Tour.

The Basics

  • Walking tour through Soho
  • Six restaurants/bars
  • Sizable appetizer servings and beverages at each stop
  • Amazing tour guide to walk you through Soho’s history and current culture
  • 3-4 hours of fun!

The Breakdown

The tour starts outside the Palace Theatre, where you can look on with envy at those picking up their Harry Potter tickets. We were a mixed group of Canadian, Aussie, Irish, and Russian nationals, which was a reminder that wherever you’re from in the world, food is a universal language. ❤️

Our tour guide, Ashleigh, was fabulous. Her enthusiasm for food and sharing the history of the area was incredibly contagious. Not that we weren’t excited to be there, but having a happy and engaging tour guide is always a bonus!

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The Spirit of Soho Mural
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Our fabulous tor guide.

1. LA BODEGA NEGRA

(Website / 16 Moor Street, Soho)

Located in what used to be a peep show shop, our first stop was La Bodega Negra, for some traditional Mexican tacos and margaritas. Mexican food in London? Si. Good Mexican food. My love for cooking started in Mexico, so I’m picky, but I was very impressed.

A play on fish and chips and mushy peas was served in the traditional house-made tacos and made for a zippy spin on some British favourites. Frozen strawberry margaritas were on the menu for our group, but as I’m allergic to strawberries, I ended up with a lime margarita on the rocks. If you know me, you know this made me the happiest camper.

The girls and I ended up back at La Bodega Negra the next night after going to the theatre, and it was hopping. No lineup, but full and boisterous with a really great party vibe. The margaritas are a bit pricey for the size, but for the multiple kinds of tequila that they use, it’s worth it. On point tequila to lime ratio.

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Margarita on the rocks.
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La Bodega Negra starts out quiet but turns in to a lively place later in the evening.
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Fish & Chips Taco, Mushy Peas Taco

2. THE LONDON GIN CLUB

(Website / 22 Great Chapel St.)

Next stop was The Gin Club at The Star. The building used to be a 1930’s cocktail bar and is now a family run establishment where, Julia, the owner, makes the in-house gin. And it’s fabulous. One of my friends, Alison, is all about a G&T. So this was her jam.

We were brought down a staircase to a tube station like room and served gin infused beef pie (yum!) while we were taught how to properly pour and enjoy a gin and tonic. (The bowl of the glass should be larger in order to better smell and taste the gin, and – because it’s all about flavour preference – your tonic should be poured by YOU. Not the bartender. So 90% of bars outside of the UK are doing this wrong. Huh.) Next time I’m in London, I plan on going back so I can do a proper tasting flight and make a very small dent in the 360(!) kinds of gin they have available.

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Not sure about you, but I’m going left.
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Alison found her happy place!
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Gin and tonic with gin-infused beef pie.

3. ENRIQUE TOMAS

(Website / 132 Wardour Street)

This was hands down my favourite stop of the tour. More a shop than a restaurant, Enrique Tomás is essentially the reason I won’t ever be a vegetarian or vegan. I really and truly enjoy pork products and I am not ashamed to admit it. Prosciutto makes my mouth water. And now I’m crushing on its Spanish cousin, jamón, with its melt in your mouth amazing goodness.

We were sat at the large table near the back of the shop, with a placemat illustrating the different kinds of jamón, and how and where it gets raised. Lovely Spanish red wine was poured to go with the ham and manchego cheese all strategically placed on our plates, and a very shy, but passionate employee guided us through our delicious tasting journey. It was an unexpected prep session for the upcoming Barcelona leg of our trip and I could have stayed there and eaten for the rest of the evening.

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Expensive and tasty Jamón Ibérico.
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Vino, jamón, manchego. All set!

4. PIX PINTXOS

(Website / 16 Bateman St.)

Feeling incredibly happy, we were ushered by Ashleigh to Pix Bar, where we continued the Spanish theme of things. With four locations in London, Pix Bar is where you want to go to get your tapas, or pintxos fix. (Pintxos are Basque snacks skewered with wooden sticks. This knowledge was filed away for Barcelona and came very handy.) The Soho location is great for people watching and it frequented by a lot of media. If you’re up for a bit of mischief, there’s a cocktail bar in the basement called Rooms by the Hour. Which, P.S., used to be a 1970’s adult cinema. (In case you missed it, Soho has a past. Ha.)

The tour includes two pintxos skewers. Make sure you scope it all out, like a buffet, before you choose. Because there’s a lot to select from to go with the fabulous white wine they serve you, called Txakoli. As far as white wines go, Txakoli is very dry and has a subtle sparkle to it. It’s served with great fanfare, poured from a height, with no spills. Tom Cruise has nothing on these bartenders.

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Pintxos
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Pintxos and salad.
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Txakoli wine pouring. No spills!

5. OPIUM

(Website / The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard St.)

Next stop was Opium, in what we found out is Europe’s largest Chinatown. It’s technically not part of Soho, but I’m so glad that it was on this tour. Opium is located behind a jade coloured door with a very polite bouncer standing guard. Styled like a Shanghai opium den, there are three floors and multiple rooms. Be prepared to climb some stairs. I promise it’s worth the climb.

We were treated to a Chinese tea cocktail and incredibly tasty dim sum. The cocktail reminded me of a more exciting version of kombucha. Be careful, it’s easy to drink. Chinese tradition is that you don’t ever pour your own drink. Your cup will be refilled, a lot.

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Chinese tea and dim sum
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Chinatown

6. BASEMENT SATE

(Website / 8 Broadwick St.)

The last stop on our tour, Basement Sate is a blink and you’ll miss it gem with an unmarked door and a very discreet plaque. We got to the top of the stairs and the first thing one of my friends said was “I don’t want to leave”. I concurred. We hadn’t even sat down yet. But that’s the reaction this very Manhatten like cocktail and dessert bar will elicit from most. Yes, cocktails AND desserts.

One sparkly cocktail and an incredible hazelnut treat later, we asked Ashleigh if there was any way we could stay. The tour needs to end in a certain spot, but she made our little quartet a reservation to come back a bit later. We went back and it felt like we were on a girls’ night out in an episode of Sex and the City. Basement Sate is on point. I recommend the Notting Hill.

Life and work have made it so we don’t get to see each other very often, so I really loved getting to be out on the town having fancy G&T’s with three of my best friends.

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Hazelnut perfection
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The Notting Hill G&T

This tour was a fantastic introduction to Soho’s restaurant and bar scene and was great value for money. It’s definitely the most budget friendly way to experience a cool area of an expensive city. If you think about it, on a girls’ night out, you might take turns buying rounds, but that adds up. Especially when you include food and gratuity (usually added on to the bill for you by the establishment you are in).

In addition to Soho, Eating London also has Brick Lane (Indian food) and East End (comfort food) options in London. Eating Europe also has tours in Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, and Prague. You can tell they have worked to cultivate relationships with their restaurant partners and everything is top notch. I highly recommend checking them out.

Make sure you wear your walking shoes and, if you’re in London, have an umbrella. Enjoy!

#GetThrifty – The lovely Ashleigh gave us a 10% discount code to use for future tours, and I’m so happy to share with you. Visit Eating London’s website and enter ASHLEIGH when at the payment page to get the discount. Every penny helps!

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This London food tour was made possible in part by Eating Europe Tours. As always, all opinions are my own.

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People who love to eat are always the best people.

~ Julia Child ~

Strolling the South Bank to a Cuppa at Twinings Tea

As I’ve been preparing for my upcoming holiday (One week until takeoff!), I’ve been going through the photos from my last trip to Europe in summer 2015. (What did I see, what did I miss?) And I came across the photos from a sunny stroll around London that I absolutely loved.

My Airbnb was in a beautiful neighbourhood in an area called Lambeth, which leads on to the South Bank of the Thames from the Lambeth Walk. My good Edinburgh friend, Jim, travels to London a lot for work and had suggested an extension of my regular routine – with a few of his favourite stops – when I told him how much I love to walk along the South Bank. (And because he knows I am a long-time musical theatre geek. There’s a song called “The Lambeth Walk” from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl that was written about (three guesses!) Lambeth Walk. Needless to say, I had a little bounce in my step as I hummed my way along in my head. The locals must have thought I was nuts.)

Jim also gave me a destination that was right up my alley: the 300-year-old historical Twinings London Flagship Store.  And so, from Lambeth to the Strand, this my South Bank Stroll.

London walk 1

Should you not be staying near Lambeth (or not be inclined to whistle or hum your way down the walk – it’s okay, I forgive you), and war history is your thing, a good starting point for this wander is the Imperial War Museum’s London branch (Tube Stop: Lambeth North). The Churchill War Rooms are housed here and the set of exhibits “tells the people’s experiences of modern war from WW1 to conflicts today”. Admission is free – a get thrifty bonus that you will find with most museums in the UK.

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From there, get your step on for a 30-40 minute walk along the South Bank.

Never mind Big Ben and Westminster (though they are spectacular). I love these lamp posts along the Thames because they have such fabulous expression and character. They are apparently based on the Fontana del Nettuno in Rome.

 

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While the lineup at the London Eye always deters me from experiencing it, I do love to photograph it. It’s also a good landmark for me if I ever feel a bit lost. This area is very touristy, but is a good spot to pick up some reasonably priced postcards or London themed souvenirs from the street vendors.

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One of Jim’s instructions was for me to skip the Westminster and Jubilee Bridges, and though I’m quite partial to Westminster Bridge (the South Bank Lion makes my day), I listened and went to Waterloo Bridge. There’s a song by The Kinks called “Waterloo Sunset” that I was instructed to sing when I got there, but that was not happening. (Sorry, Jim!) Should you know the song, go for it.

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When you get across the bridge, you might want to stop at Somerset House to see one of the exhibits. When I was out and about, I was on a tea mission (and it was way too nice out!), but Somerset House is on my list for this next trip. It’s a beautiful building, as is the very impressive Australian High Commission. (My photo does not do it justice…)

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If you’re like me and send a million postcards, the post office is en route to the Twinings shop and museum. Pop your postcards in the mailbox and walk thirty seconds to enter a tea lover’s paradise – final destination: the Twinings London Flagship Store. Single tea bags? No sweat. Gift sets? Done. Make your own tea box or buy a fancy tea set? You’re in the right spot. The get thrifty portion of the day was officially over. I bought a lot of tea.

If you have willpower (clearly, I didn’t), initially ignore the things to purchase and march to the back to check out the museum portion of things and have a “cuppa” or tea tasting experience at the tasting bar. The classic Earl Grey is spot on.

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I think I clocked about 25,000 steps that day. (At least!) Thank you to Jim for the suggested deviation from my usual Westminster Bridge stroll.

What’s your favourite stroll in your city or somewhere you’ve travelled?

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.

~ C. S. Lewis ~

I’m incredibly excited to be going back to London in June, this time on a girls’ trip with my besties. Some exciting things have been lined up for this trip and I’m looking forward to sharing our adventures!

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Guest Post: London Calling – Ex-pat life and just going for it by Broad World

I recently had dinner with my friend Stef, who I hadn’t seen in years but had stayed connected with through the wonders of technology. Thank you, Facebook. Stef is one of the most adventurous people I know. (Who else would semi-randomly move to Ghana??) Her most recent adventure has been living in London the past two years.

Stef is also a blogger*, so while we were having a proper catch up over a delicious Asian fusion dinner at Wild Rice (on the Quay in my stomping grounds of New Westminster – check it out. Tasty stuff.), I asked her if she would do a guest post about her adventures as an ex-pat in London. When I read what she sent, it made me think of this quote and what nice segue it would be:

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

Jawaharlal Nehru

And so…

~

From the time I was born I was always a little restless – my curiosity can only be satiated for a short while before I’m onto the next musing or adventure. Although this constant need for change and stimulation has brought on many challenges – not to mention occasional sleepless nights – it’s also brought me more riches than I could ever imagine!

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Chillin’ on the South Bank

Back in the spring of 2012, I knew it was time to end my current adventure in West Africa (That’s a whole other story!) and my next step was an easy choice. Over the course of my time in Ghana I had spent many extended weekends visiting London, and I had completely fallen in love! A little research, picking the brains of some friends and a thorough visa process, I made a quick whirlwind trip home to Vancouver to pack and give my love before becoming a UK resident.

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Big Ben at Westminster Palace

And what a crazy couple of years it has been! I could spend hours talking about my love for this city without exaggerating one iota. It’s the epicentre for all things art, which means weekends are full of shows, galleries, exhibits or strolls through neighbourhoods laden with incredible street art. London is a foodie’s dream, and I credit this on its incredible tapestry of culture. Coming from a diversified city like Vancouver, I thought I understood multiculturalism – but the “melting pot” I was used to at home is nothing like the clearly identifiable nationalities you see in London. You know that your local eats – be it Peruvian to Lebanese – are as authentic as can be.

Yes, this is one of the world’s biggest cities and is full of hype and bustling in the city centre, but there’s no place that feels cozier to me than my little Chelsea neighbourhood where my coffee shop knows exactly what I caffeinate with, and I can cycle through the market on a Saturday to get fresh produce. With so many ex-pats living in one spot, London has been the most welcoming and easiest place to make friends with everyone in the same boat.

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Literally in the same boat. Me and a fellow Vancouverite cruising on the Thames.

Moving to a new city always comes with its challenges, and by far, London posed the most for me. I’ve never been a person to worry about buying a coffee every morning or what wine I was ordering in a restaurant, but let me tell you, job hunting for eight months while converting Canadian dollars to British pounds will suck the fun out of any purchase! My £1,200 rent didn’t seem so “reasonable” when it syphoned more than $2000 out of my Canadian account each month. Also, little surprises like what’s referred to as “counsel tax” in the UK – aka: a neighbourhood specific tax paid by the residents, NOT the home owners, for park upkeep, garbage pick-up and other common amenities. Surprise! You owe another £170 this month – oh, wait, that’s $300. Needless to say, when I finally landed my permanent job I celebrated hard… with really cheap wine.

First day at my job!!!
First day at my job!!!

I have spent the last two years of my life outside of my comfort zone in many different ways, and am definitely not the same girl who arrived to Heathrow in 2012. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. I’ve nearly fallen flat on my face a time or two, and undoubtedly would have had it not been for my incredible family and friends! But, all in all, I have learned more about my own strengths and limitations, and who I am and what I want out of this life in a way I never thought possible.

Being goofy in West London
Being goofy in West London

If you were to ask me if I would do it all again, the answer is yes. A million times, yes. Would I do things differently? Absolutely. But this is how I know these years have been pivotal for me – if I were to do everything the same way I did, then what would I learn? Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is never, well, comfortable! But it’s truly where self-discovery comes from, and for me the most important lesson was appreciating all of the little things around me that are so easily taken for granted.

~

*Stefanie McAuley is the founder and writer of Broad World. Check it out at broadworld.co.

Christmas Abroad Begins and Broccoli Stilton Soup

So it’s finally happening. I’m officially on vacation/working abroad. With my husband. For a month. 🙂  The two weeks prior to leaving were, let’s say full; both at home (packing, etc) and at work with all the corporate holiday chaos and working my tail off to finish everything before I left.  And I only got partly through my holiday baking. Baking and yoga are my de-stressers, and full out yoga has been out lately because of my shoulder. So not having time to do all my holiday baking was a bit of a letdown. But you know what? I’m on holiday/working abroad now. Yay!!!! We are now in Edinburgh after a week in Napoli and I have copious amounts of photos and notes to sift through. And so, on today’s lunch break, I attempt round 0ne.

The 48 hours before leaving were hectic. In short: 

Thursday: Calendaring, client Christmas gifts, and more work related things that needed to get done that day and before I got on a plane.  The most important event of the day? The staff holiday party. Sean wore his suit – he cleans up very nicely, my handsome husband does. I wore my new sparkly dress. We socialized, we danced (well, I danced a lot and Sean danced the mandatory one song with me and then retreated to his new friends – the other husbands), we ate, we drank – Sean was never without a glass of wine thanks to my boss’s husband. It was a great night. Friday: Slept in a bit in our beautiful room at the Pan Pacific (party host venue) – my favourite hotel in Vancouver. And then, work (where even working the next day at the airport, I only got maybe only 90% of everything done – but I think I’m being a bit hard on myself), and a detour to the Coliseum to see a Giants game with Sean, Alison, and Rebecca. It was Teddy Bear Toss night, which is my favourite game of the season – I used to do game night promo work for the Vancouver Giants. When the home team scores their first goal, people throw teddy bears, stuffed toys, other toys (ideally SOFT toys) on the ice. The staff and players gather them all up and they all go to a children’s charity. Because I was at work later than I planned, I hopped in a taxi and got there just as the goal horn sounded.  Needless to say, I ran into the arena. And then it rained teddy bears. It’s a beautiful thing to watch – at least for me.

(Side note: I got a blast from my music industry years at the game when I ran into the wonderful wife and children of a Canadian musician named Colin James. My old boss used to be his manager when I worked at his company and Colin and his crew/band/family/etc. were a big part of my work life. Awesome people and so nice to run into the lovely Heather. It’s funny because Colin’s Little Big Band Christmas CD was the last thing I worked on before leaving for the corporate world and I hear it all day long on the local radio station that plays Christmas music 24/7 in December. It’s snappy stuff and I am so proud to have been part of it. But I digress…) DAY 1/2: YVR/Heathrow/Basingtstoke:  After a bit of chaos on Saturday morning, we got on the train to go the airport. They have Subway in the airport now. Maybe they always did but I only noticed this time round. I’ve always maintained that if there is a Subway and/or a Starbucks, everything is right in the world (if there are no other options). I sat down to finish some last minute work things and Sean was basically glued to the window watching the planes. Flight wasn’t delayed, which means we boarded and left on time, so we were super happy. Dinner on the plane was, as one of the executives at work would say “special” (meaning worth eating all of) and they served wine with dinner which was lovely. I didn’t really sleep much on the plane but was kept entertained by “Glee” and a great rom-com called “Crazy Stupid Love” with Steve Carrell, Emma Stone, and Ryan Gosling (hello abs!).  Air Canada has a nice touchscreen entertainment system when it is actually working – which it did. 🙂 Customs was a breeze and we sat around waiting for a bus to take us to Sean’s cousin Rhonda’s house in Basingstoke. When we got to Basingstoke, we tried to buy a pay as you go phone but the shopping centre was closing. We did get some advice on where to buy though, so not a total waste of time. Rhonda picked us up at the bus station and we managed to stay awake for awesome mince bolgnese pasta and to give early Christmas gifts of Canada mittens for everyone and a Christmas stocking (made by my maman) for the youngest boy, Patrick. And then we slept. For 15 hours. DAY 3 – Basingstoke/Heathrow: I had set an alarm for 12:15pm – just in case. We woke up when it went off and didn’t actually “wake up” until about 45 minutes later. (Have you ever nocticed how wonderful it is the just stay in bed when you’ve been going non-stop for quite some time?) We left the house to go back to the shopping centre we were at yesterday to buy a pay as you go phone. (It’s the cheapest way (phones are super cheap) to do it and we will definitely use the phone each time we come back across the Atlantic.) When we figured out which way we were meant to be going on the bus (much to the amusement of the store owner across the street who had been watching us look at the bus schedule on the pole before I came in to ask which was the right way), we were off to our second mall adventure. As previously mentioned, we had tried the  day before to get a phone. On this day we were successful (mostly because the store was not about to close) and after looking at all the pay as you go options, we chose a small, black touch screen phone for £24.95. Upon opening the box to put the O2 sim card in, we find out that the phone is not black like the display phone, but fuchsia (read PINK). I’m delighted and Sean not so much but by then it was too late. 🙂 We caused some controversy when neither of our credit cards was working. As it turns out, they were entering our card member start dates instead of the proper expiry dates. With that solved, we made sure the phone was working and off we went.

Rhonda made a lovely and very delicious broccoli Stilton soup for dinner. It seemed like a very British thing to make, so I documented and took some notes. Recipe below. After dinner we hopped in the car and got dropped off at the train station for the journey back to Heathrow to catch our flight to Naples. After a rainy train and bus trip to Heathrow Terminal 4, we settled with tea and snacks at the Caffe Nero for the 7 hour wait til our 7am flight to Naples. And did we sleep? Nope. The people behind us did. It was quite amusing to see them curled/sprawled in the surprisingly comfy Caffe Nero leather chairs. (One of my first thoughts was that Nero was the dude who played the fiddle before and/or Rome burned to the ground, and why woud they name a coffee house chain after him? And then common sense prevailed and reminded me that nero is Italian for black. Can you tell I was tired?)

The terminal was basically empty so I decided that then was as good a time as any to do my physio mandated shoulder stretches and strengthening exercises. If there is CCTV in the women’s washroom, whoever was on shift must have thought I was nuts. But the washroom had perfect mirrors and lots of space – and it was all mine. So there I am with my flex band doing my reps, and in walks this random (and suddenly very confused) guy. Me: “This is the women’s washroom…” Random Man: “Oh…” (he backs out and then pops back in) “Sorry!” (disappears again). It’s always fun when people don’t read signs.

A few chapters into the Steve Jobs bio on my e-reader and it was finally time to check our bags and find breakfast. That’s when I discovered that Starbucks in the UK has way more selection and they actually have ketchup. Because what is a breakfast sandwich without ketchup, I ask?? I was in takeaway breakfast heaven.

Napoli adventures/pictures to be posted at some point soon.

Rhonda Lee’s Broccoli Stilton Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large potato , peeled and cubed
  • 1L vegetable stock
  • 1 head broccoli , about 300g, roughly chopped
  • blue cheese, such as Stilton or roquefort, about 100g, crumbled

Method: Cook the onion in 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the potato and stock and simmer until the potato is tender (about 10 minutes). Add the broccoli and cook for 3-4 minutes until just tender but still bright green. Add half the cheese and whizz to a smooth soup in a blender. Season then serve with the rest of the cheese crumbled over. Goes very well with a crusty baguette or garlic toast. Enjoy!