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A trip to New York… or the holiday and the hurricane

19 Nov

Sometimes life is weird. And sometimes, it’s weirder than weird.

Back in the summer, my other half decided he wanted to take me to New York as a surprise birthday present.

So on October 28th, we went to New York…

Now if you were following the news at the end of October/start of November, you might have an idea that the surprise he’d planned was outdone by a bigger surprise…

Yes, we arrived in New York, just before hurricane Sandy (also known as Super Storm Sandy or the Frankenstorm) showed up.

We arrived at our hotel – just as a mandatory evacuation was announced. Unsurprisingly, some people were a little stressed by being told they had to find a new place at such short notice. Thankfully having stayed in NY before, we simply phoned a hotel we stayed at before and managed to get their last room. Lucky sods that we are!

The next day was my birthday… in a very shut New York. We were in midtown Manhattan, where there were only tourists and ‘crazies’ on the streets. (Yes, it did feel a bit like a movie!)

And everyone was in search of food… there were no cafes or restaurants open, room service was off the menu and even all the Starbucks were closed!

Finally, after walking through blocks and blocks of empty streets, we found a deli selling crisps, juice and giant pumpkins!

So we celebrated ‘worst case scenario’ birthday New York with a pumpkin instead of a birthday cake, eating Cheetos instead of food and bouncing on the bed… well, because who doesn’t do that in a hotel room? (If you don’t, you should. It’s like your constitutional right… or something like that.)

And then… well, on Tuesday, New York was still shut. On Wednesday, the MoMA was open – and that was it. Which was pretty crazy. You don’t often see ‘I Am Legend’ style New York. By evening, whole blocks were in complete darkness with only the Empire State Building to light your way.

By Thursday, our lovely original hotel reopened (we’d been on standby at our emergency hotel) and we managed to persuade a rather nice taxi driver to take us there. (Not many had gas/petrol or were willing to drive to Brooklyn.)

It was a little more open than Manhattan, so we went in search of actual food… some shopping, and some street art. (Since street art doesn’t close!)

By the time, we’d had our first proper meal (it’s amazing how delicious a little seaweed wrap tastes when you’ve eaten only Cheetos for three days!)… we were beginning to feel more like we were on holiday…

We wandered about, we strolled, we sauntered, we meandered (yes, the subway still wasn’t working properly)…

But it was great… we snapped some street art, found a junk shop, did some thrifting (of course)…

Oh and we shopped. I splashed out on a lavender coffee, a pink bobble hat and a Leah Reena Goren dress. (It has kitties on it and pockets… essential purchase!)

And then… well, then my other half got very, very, very sick. We didn’t realise it then but he’d caught the Norovirus (the winter vomiting bug). And that was that.

(This sad sloth represents how we both felt about that!)

By Sunday, he was well enough to go out and explore New York again. (Matt Dillon is here to represent how happy we felt about that!)

We had 8 hours before we had to be at the airport…

So we went to a flea market, then took our unused Halloween masks to Manhattan…

And it was a gorgeous day. Look at that beautiful blue sky… Hello Chrysler Building.

And a cool crisp Autumn evening… Hello Election themed Rockefeller Centre.

And then it was time to say goodbye…

But there was one more surprise left. I got the Norovirus too. In an airport. In front of a whole queue of people waiting for their plane. Let’s just say it wasn’t my finest moment!

Back in Scotland, we decided that drastic times called for drastic measures – yes, it called for Elf.

“Why are you smiling like that?”
“I just like to smile, smiling’s my favourite.”

And everything was right in the world again.*

 

 

*Ok, that’s a bit of a lie. I was still very very very sick and had some really freaky feverish nightmares that may or may not have been inspired by Elf. But heck, it’s certainly going to be a trip we’ll never forget. We’ll be those old people going ‘We were in New York when…”. Hopefully I’ll leave out my spectacular puke performance in the airport though!

A rather cool day trip… to Scotland’s graffiti castle

9 Oct

I like castles. Visiting old, ancient ruins. Learning a bit of history. And wondering how on earth they kept warm. (Does anyone else think they’re too soft to have lived in the middle ages?!)

I also like street art. If you follow me on instagram (or saw my Barcelona post), you ‘might’ know that already.

So… a graffiti castle… well, how darn cool is that?

And in Scotland too!

Kelburn Castle is one of the oldest in Scotland… and the only one to have been given a makeover by four Brazillian grafitti artists.

It’s also possibly the cheeriest looking castle I’ve ever seen!  How adorable is that sun for example?

Though I really couldn’t decide whether certain bits were cool, creepy or both!

And with so many details you could stand there all day… yes that girl has a squirrel on her head and a kitten hanging from her sock. (Just your average day there then.)

Turns out there was more to Kelburn Castle than graffiti… there was a rickety bridge over a waterfall…

And a leafy valley that  was like something from Jurrasic Park!

It was here we decided to have a bit of a photo off… one of our new things since I got the other half his La Sardina camera.

And I think I can admit that he won with this shot. How ‘Lost World’ does this look?!

On the grounds, there’s also a maze. It’s one of those things that kids probably love but it freaked the heck out of me.

Yes, I see tiny little houses, all alone, set in the woods – and think horror movie thoughts!

Apparently there was a narrow tunnel you could crawl through to get into this… Yes, I thought it was too spooky to do that!

Oh and there were some creepy caves too… definitely like something from Lord of the Rings!

And then… well, then there were these guys. Chickens I think. (These piles of feathers are chickens right?)

And a goose that seemed intent on having a nibble of my other half’s boot…

And a whole lot of owls. Quite an easy spot the difference this one!

And there was cake and tea too – but we did the un-bloggy thing and just ate it, instead of taking pictures. (Yes, it does happen some times.)

Then there was just time for one more look at the castle… I do think it would take you hours to take this all in!

And then it was time to go home… well, with a little trip to Glasgow Ikea on the way. Which might have broken the spell somewhat really!

Mollie Makes, Japan and me (and tales of a cat cafe!)

1 Sep

So I’m guessing by now most of you know I have a thing for Japan?

Well before we went earlier this year, the lovely Mollie Makes commissioned me to a do piece on crafty, cool and fun places in Tokyo and Kyoto.

As you can imagine I was over the moon… until I realised I was about to do only my second ever photography/write-up piece in one of the most amazing places on Earth. How on earth could I do it justice? (Yes, cue massive stress on my part!)

But I have to say I’m really proud of how the feature has turned out… thank you Mollie Makes for giving me the chance to do this!

As well as my ramblings, you can also read about Ebony from Hello Sandwich who’s photo collage workshop I went to… she’s uber nice, one of those people who instantly makes you feel comfortable, and super crafty in a way I can only admire!

Anyway, the magazine was out yesterday so if you pick it up, let me know what you think! (In a ‘I hope you all really like it’ kind of way!)

Now, if you follow me on Twitter, you might (most likely not really!) remember me saying I took a ridiculous amount of photos in Japan… thousands in fact! Yes, it’s probably my most documented trip EVER. So I wanted to share with you a few things that I didn’t get round to blogging and didn’t end up in the feature… outtakes if you will!

And when I say outtakes, what I really mean is… pictures from the Cat Cafe we went to!

In Shimokitazana (probably my favourite area in Tokyo we went to) as soon as we left the train station, we spotted this sign… cat cafe!

Now I can’t remember if we knew about cat cafes on our first trip but it was on our ‘to do/only in Japan’ list so we decided that now was the time.

So we went up the stairs, opened the door and well, there was a man with a desk who politely told us that you pay by the hour and you pay when you leave (in case you love the cats so much you want to stay longer). Kind of like karaoke but with cats instead! He took our drinks order and then directed us to the cat room…

Now… anyone who has cats knows they quite clearly have a mind of their own, and the cats at the cat cafe were no different. First up, was this guy – ignoring all the comfy bedding put out for him and sleeping in a plastic bowl.

Then there was this noisy powder puff of a cat… yes also ignoring the beds/bedding and napping in a box.

One of the Japanese customers was intent on getting this cat to like him… putting a cosy blanket on his knee, rattling cat toys, making kissy sounds… the cat was having none of it! I wanted to explain to the poor Japanese man that this is the real cat experience… they do what they please!

My husband made friends with this stripey purr machine and was quite chuffed that he’d won over at least one of the cats!

And me… well, I happened upon a cat who looks like an even more freaked out version of the Fox Owl Cat!

Oh gosh, look at that expression! I felt rather bad for giggling every time it looked at me!

And here they are for comparison… though now I put the pictures together, I think the Fox Owl Cat might be the weirder of the two! (In a nice way!)

I guess the strange but maybe not too surprising thing about the cat cafe was that it just made us miss our own fluff balls. The Japan cats were cute but not a patch on the Velveteen Cat and the FOC!

Anyway, that’s it… that’s me done with Japan posts!

(Well, until my next trip of course!)

Still smitten with NYC… the High Line and the secret whispering gallery

20 Aug

About this time last year (well September to be precise), we took a trip to NYC… I blogged part 1 and then sort of forgot to do part 2.

So here it is. Better late than never… my favourite (and free!) spaces in New York.

And a few of my random NY tips that I don’t have pictures for but they’re here too!

One of my absolute favourite things was the High Line. (Yes, we got this shot by lying down on the ground! Yes, we got strange looks. Totally worth it though!)

It’s a section of old elevated rail line that’s been converted into a park. You basically walk from Downtown to Midtown on it, and get a great view of more unexpected New York sights (like the New Yorker sign above)…

And the Empire State building peeking out from behind this reddy church…

And amazing ghost signs (I was obsessed with these on our trip and would stop to snap them wherever I saw them, usually to the confusion of other pedestrians)…

And arty things… like this cool bird house installation. (Though I got the feeling this wee guy was none too impressed with me taking his picture!)

 

At the end (or the start I think, we might have walked it backwards!) we came across this street art… which I can only assume refers to the massively scary…

… HUGE CLOWN sitting nearby! Clowns completely weird me out – mainly because I watched Stephen King’s IT at an early age. (Even linking to this is giving me the shivers… and I didn’t even watch it!)

But the drunken panda street art made it all better. Mostly better. Ok, ignore the clown. Go to the High Line. You’ll love it. Pretend I didn’t mention the other bit.

Inside Grand Central Station, there’s an amazing ‘whispering gallery’. It might be hard to see from our slightly murky photos – but you can stand at opposite ends, talk into the wall and hear each other.

It’s the strangest thing to be leaning against a wall (as pictured) and be able to hear each other’s voices as if you were standing next to each other.

If you’re looking for it, there’s no sign… just go under the main station, towards the food courts and look for a sort of curved roof with four pillary bits.

It’s an obvious one but Central Park is a must-go to…

So you can hang out with Hans Christian Andersen and Alice in Wonderland…

But also to do some brilliant people watching… especially when they’re watching giant bubbles being blown.

This woman’s reaction to the bubble coming her way is just the best. That’s pure joy right there!

And if that’s not enough joy, why not treat yourself a silly ice-cream. We couldn’t decide who’s would win the silliest award…

*****

Here’s my other random tips as promised:

Pick up a Time Out NYC magazine at the airport – that’s how we found out about comedy shows, pop-ups etc that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Best view… I would say go up The Rockefeller. Most people do the Empire State but the queues are long and once you’re up there, well, you can’t see the Empire State if that makes sense! ;)

Rooftop bars we were lucky in that our hotel had an amazing rooftop bar… which was basically an outdoor club with a view of the Empire State and the Chrysler.

Best bakery... Two Little Red Hens. These guys do mini versions of all their cupcakes too so you can buy lots and not over-do it (too much).

Best breakfast (and lunch!) in Manhattan… Penelope on Lexington. There can be huge queues for this place so
it’s best to turn up not too hungry, put your name on the waiting list and grab a coffee nearby while you wait.

Best shop (certainly one of my fav!)… in god we trust in Brooklyn.

Best coffee Cafe Grumpy (the original is Brooklyn but it’s also served in a cool hotel bar that’s opposite the Public Library)

Getting about… we jumped on the river taxis for getting to and from Brooklyn/Downtown etc… might be a bit chilly but you get a great view of the city that way.

Oh yes, if you ever get the opportunity to eat some Fruit Loops at 3am on a deserted hotel rooftop… while the lights from the Empire State turn the whole misty sky red… then take it.

Honestly, it’ll be the best cereal of your life. In a crazy, only in New York sort of way!

Japan finds: a tape elephant, washi tape stamps and more

23 Jul

At the weekend, the lovely Lauren came round and took some pics of me and my flat for a feature I’m writing (and another little project too). Before she arrived, I was having a look at my own camera and discovered that I’d taken lots of snaps of my Japan finds and never shared them…

I took them so long ago (or it feels like so long ago) that the pictures next to them are all of Fab ice lollies! (Yes, it was back when we had some sunshine and I ate up to 2 Fabs every day! Very healthy I know!)

Anyway… normally when I go away, I buy nearly nothing. I think I worry about how much money I spend while I’m there and then when I get home, I go “I wish I’d bought xxx”. Always.

So this time, I treated myself to a few funny little cute things (you’ve already seen the biscuit maker and the egg moulds) but here’s some of the other things…

A pink elephant sellotape dispenser… an essential, is he not?

And of course more washi tape. It’s so cheap in Japan. So so so very cheap. And so pretty! And there’s so many more varieties (yes, that’s one with pins and safety pins on it!)

I actually bought more than this but managed to leave a bag on the plane that had some of the rolls in it. And it was never found, sad times! (Or a good excuse to go back!)

I also ‘invested’ in these gorgeous wooden stamps… yes those three on top are washi tape stamps! Just when you thought I couldn’t get any more washi tape obsessed!

I also bought some doily stamps too… again utterly essential! (Not sure how yet!)

Does anyone else totally geek out over stationery? (I know Lynne from Tea For Joy would have been in her element!) I kept picking up pretty tags and fun stickers… and thinking ‘I need these!’

Oh and you know you really need some ‘puzzle point markers’… yes I don’t really know what they are either but I loved the way the animals were jigsawed together.

And how could I resist some bunny shaped paper clips?

All my important documents are going to have these on them from now on! Maybe… (Or at least anything I send to Cara from Peonies and Polaroids should!)

There’s a shop in Tokyo called Winged Wheel. It sells the most beautiful little letter-pressed things I have ever seen. (And they are amazingly, mouth-wateringly affordable! Yes, you can salivate over paper!!)

I bought myself some tiny business cards… which are way too nice to give to anyone!

Yes, those are sponges. Wearing outfits. Yes, I know. Insane but amazingly so. (I popped in to see Rachael from Hannah Zakari the other day and she has one too in her kitchen. So I’m in good sponge company!)

Um, yes, you can never have enough cute sponges right? (These cost the equivalent of 50p, it seemed rude not to get them!)

This is my little watcher… the Fox-Owl-Cat is always fascinated by me taking photos of things on the floor…

… things like these animal soy bottles. (I do eat a lot of sushi, so I’ve been using these already.)

And some Japanese paper balloons… again so cheap in Japan, it made me want to buy them by the boxful.

Just in case, you were wondering cats are not so impressed by Japanese balloons…

And so there you have it. Possibly the most random selection of stuff I have ever brought back from a trip. But good, happy, colourful random… which I think is a pretty good memento of Japan really.

So, my dears, what do you bring back from your travels?
Do you buy sensible stuff or silly souvenirs?

Sun, street art and celebrating in Barcelona

10 Jul

Last month, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

Instead of paper, we gave each other Barcelona.

7 days of staying in a top floor apartment in El Born.
With a winding, narrow staircase that went on forever
Windows that opened to rooftops, huge church spires
And the happy, relaxed bustle of life below.

7 days of proper sunshine.
Of brilliant bright blue skies.
Of bare legs and wearing sandals.
Suncream. Missed bits. Burnt bits.
Ice lollies for an afternoon snack.
Ordering Pimientos de Padron.
Cava with every meal but breakfast.

7 days of wandering in the Gothic Quarter.
Narrow little streets that twisted and turned.
Shutters that hid last night’s bars.
Shops that opened when they liked.
Everywhere the sound of chatter,
and surprises round every corner.

7 days of statues that changed their looks every day
And streets littered with colourful confetti.

7 of days gazing and then glazing
at early “Blue Period” Picasso works.
Of Park Guell, with its pretty tiled dragon,
stunning views, shady trees and talented buskers.
Of lying on picnic benches in the shade
and snoozing like strays or happy hobos.

7 days of blue tiles, watery windows, dragon-like roofs,
In a house that was more like an upright submarine.
For the first time really feeling like we ‘got’ Gaudi.

7 days of heading to la Sagrada Familia on a very hot day,
taking the lift to the top and standing, with shaking legs,
looking out at the city and trying not to look straight down.

7 days of heading to the beach. Picnic packed.
Cheese, bread, salsa, beer, crisps… all too warm
All too liquid by the time we reach the sand.

7 days of taking Polaroids – all of us, smiley and slightly tanned.
Of comparing our £2 cameras to the Impossible Project shop ones.

7 nights of staying out late, snapping street art,
(being stared at by curious locals as we posed),
of feeling like we didn’t have a care in the world,
and wondering what it would be like to live here.

Barcelona, I rather love you.

You were a rather perfect
first anniversary destination xx

It’s nice to be nice biscuits (and other nice things)

26 Jun


So… I have so much to blog about right now
that I’m managing not to blog about anything!

(Yup, that’s Zoë logic for you!)

So to get me back in the swing of things,
how about some baking?

******

When we were in Japan, I got lots
of nice baking and ‘cooking’ stuff.

One of those things was a wordy biscuit kit.
(I’m sure that the exact translation!)

Since we got home, I’ve been waiting
for an excuse to actually use it…

(Does anyone else ever do that?
Buy themselves something nice
and then not allow themselves to use it?)

So on Sunday I thought wouldn’t it be nice
to bake some biscuits… for us. For no reason at all.

The biscuit on the front of the pack reminded me
of Nice biscuits.. which reminded me of
my recently re-found ‘It’s Nice To Be Nice’
print by Hazel Nicholls

And so I made ‘It’s Nice To Be Nice’ biscuits!

(See all those letters… they had to be individually
taken apart. My thumbs were really raw afterwards!)

By the time I finished, I kept reading
this as “It’s nice to be mice”!

(Also it’s much harder to put letters backwards
into a holder to stamp on dough than I realised…
there were a few outtakes where the words
are round the wrong way!)

If you fancy making NICE biscuits,
the recipe we went with was:

100gm flour
40gm butter
1/4 tsp baking powder
50gm powder sugar
40gm desiccated coconut
8 teaspoons of water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 almond extract
sugar to sprinkle on top

Mix everything together to make a dough.
Roll out dough onto baking paper.
Put in the fridge for a few hours to firm up.
Then use a cutter to make biscuit shapes.
Bake until golden brown. Then add sugar on top.
Wait patiently to cool a bit before eating!

*******

So I said we also bought ‘cooking’ stuff?
That means sushi kits and some other random things…

Remember the perfect little pocket sandwiches
we ate in Japan? (They were number ’10 in my
10 things I love about Tokyo’!)
Well, we got a kit to make those too.

My other half has been making peanut butter and jam ones so far.
I may need to conduct some more ‘research’ into other
combinations soon… chocolate and banana maybe?

Oh and perhaps the craziest kitchen item we bought?

A bunny mould for boiled eggs!

I can never quite decide if these are cute
or just completely freaky… they’re
good fun to make though!

*******

Until next time… which hopefully won’t be
as long this time! (If you follow me on twitter
or instagram, you probably already know
there’s a future Barcelona post brewing!)

Japan Part 2: deer, temples, foxes… and me as a geisha

30 May


1. Doe a deer, a Japanese deer…

After 5 days in Tokyo, we took the shinkansen (super fast train)
to Hiroshima, then got the ferry to Miyajima.

It’s somewhere we’d planned to go on our first trip
but we ran out of time (and money).

Miyajima is a Spirited Away-style little island
with a huge floating tori (gate) and a whole
lot of wild, tame deer… everywhere.

They’re just there crossing the road,
hanging outside your window,
sneaking up behind you while
you’re chatting or snapping pics…


After a stay in Miyajima (at an amazing ryokan (Japanese inn)
where an old Granny made my husband eat fish eyes!)
we went on to Nara… which is not far from Kyoto.

They have the world’s largest wooden building…
and oh yes a whole lot of tame, wild deer too!

We loved this warning sign about how the deer
might attack you… knock down being my favourite!


There’s something so strange about wandering
through beautiful shrines and temples…
pursued by nibbly little animals!

(I’m somewhat protectively hanging
on to my green tea here!)

2. Temples, shrines, tori… oh my!

If you have time on a Japan trip, go to both
Miyajima and Nara… they’re both quite compact
in size so you can happily walk around, taking
in the sights in a relaxed manner.
(Followed by deer of course!)

Oh and see that glowy statue?
He’s the Dragon Warrior!
If you’ve watched Kung Fu Panda,
you’ll know what I mean!

As we’d been to Kyoto before, we wanted to see
some ‘new’ things… so we went to flea markets
held at temples, handmade markets at shrines,
tried our hand at Japanese printmaking,
a tea ceremony, and even went to some
temples with singing ‘nightingale’ floors.

If I tried to show you everything we did,
this would end up the hugest blog post ever!


3. Foxes! (At Fushimi Inari!)

There was one Kyoto shrine we revisited though…
the amazing Fushimi Inari shrine.

This was our favourite place in Kyoto last time.
(And that was before I noticed the fox thing!)

We originally went just as the sun was rising
(amazing!) but we didn’t want to spoil that memory
so we decided we’d go at dusk to make
sure it was as different as possible…

Turns out shrines are pretty scary
when the sun is going down!

All the pictures came out rather spooky too…
especially the one below of me
holding a fox prayer plaque.

Quite cool though, right?


4. Going geisha

If you follow me on Instagram/Twitter,
you might have spotted one of the pics
below already… yes, instead of going
geisha spotting this time…

I had a maiko makeover!
(A maiko is a geisha’s apprentice)


This was something we’d considered doing last time
but again didn’t have the time and budget for it…

I thought it sounded like something fun to do.

Actually, it’s a very serious process.
You’re not allowed to bring a camera
while they do the transformation.
But here’s what happened:

First, you have to change into a robe undergarment
and remove all make-up you’re wearing.
Then go get painted up – this was surprisingly cold!
Then someone does your make-up. There were no mirrors
so I had absolutely no idea how I looked.

Then you go to the wig room… yes that’s a wig I’m wearing.
And it’s super, super heavy. And uncomfortable.
All the adornments are then added to the wig.
The girl who did mine spent a lot of time
getting them just right.

Next comes the outfit.

Well, almost.

Turns out that geishas are meant to be sort
of ‘flat’ and I’m not. I’m hourglass-y.
So they padded me out with towels
and strapped everything else down!

Then the layers of pretty robes, belts
and sashes went on…

Walking down the narrow stairs afterwards was an experience.
I felt huge and cumbersome… not an elegant geisha!

According to my husband, I also looked rather freaked out.

This was also the moment I saw myself!

I had no idea what I thought I would look like
but I was surprised that I didn’t look like ‘me’.

(Look how tanned my arms look!)

And after all the deer, temples, foxes, geisha-ness and
a whole lot more… it was time to go back to Tokyo!
For cat cafes, shopping, and a Lost in Translation experience!

P.S. Thanks for your lovely response to the last Japan post!
Even if all the Tokyo chat makes me want to go back now!

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