Filthy Gorgeous – restaurant review

Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

It’s not often I look at a menu and immediately know – not only what I’m going to order, but also what else I’d like to try on my next few visits after that.  That’s exactly what happened though when newly opened Filthy Gorgeous invited me in for lunch.  Their aim is to do burgers and milkshakes right, but with some quirky extras that make them a little different from the average burger bar.

Moopocalypse Cow, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

To drink, I went for the Moopocalypse Cow milkshake – milk, chocolate ice cream, fudge sauce and chocolate brownie pieces.  It was delicious and almost a meal in itself.

Krabby Patty, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

For my burger, I chose the Krabby Patty – a soft-shelled crab with sriracha mayo, coriander, lime juice, lettuce and tomato.  It’s described on the menu as a ‘crab burger’ which made me think it would be crab meat, but it’s an actual entire crab!  I was really pleased with my choice and glad I got stuck in, because it was the perfect combination of textures and flavours.

Krabby Patty, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Sweet Potato Fries, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

The item on the menu that really caught everyone’s eye was the sweet potato fries with toasted marshmallows and bacon shrapnel.  We ordered a portion to share, along with some plain fries as back-up.  The verdict was positive on both, to the extent that we started scooping up marshmallow goo with the plain fries too 🙂

Dirty South, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Elsewhere at the table was the Dirty South – buttermilk fried chicken, chipotle mayo, honey nut Cheerios and BBQ sauce – which was a close second on my wishlist.  How good do those chunks of chicken look?!

Cheat Day, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Putting everything else to shame was the ridiculous Cheat Day – two beef burgers, fried chicken, pretzels, bacon shrapnel, Gorgeous sauce and Franks Buffalo sauce.

Popcorn Ice Cream, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

After eating my milkshake’s chocolate brownies and ice cream alongside my meal, I passed on dessert, but admired the popcorn ice cream and (above) and the Dead Unicorn sundae (below) – Jack and chocolate ice cream, bitter cherry sorbet, candy floss, marshmallows, banana, sprinkles and a wafer cone.  Phew!

Dead Unicorn Sundae, Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Filthy Gorgeous’s aesthetics match the quirky menu, with wooden tables and metallic grey walls contrasting against floral wallpaper and a fancy chandelier.  It’s well-lit and they give you plates to eat from, both of which are an improvement on its predecessor in this location, which in my opinion took that little step from hipster into impractical 😉  Also on offer are beers, wines, cocktails, a photo booth and a set of Cards Against Humanity if you feel like making a night of it after all that sugar!

Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Filthy Gorgeous is on Netherkirkgate, and is available via Deliveroo.

Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Filthy Gorgeous invited me for lunch in exchange for a fair review.  Images, text and opinions are my own.

2017 Bucket List

2017 (Diary from Asda) - Emma's Picture Postcards

I wrote a wordy review last week of my general experiences of 2016 and intentions for 2017, but here’s more of a precise look back at what I fancied doing last year and forward to my plans for this year.  I’ve never really been a New Year’s Resolutions kind of girl, but I couldn’t function without my daily to-do list and I enjoy expanding that to a longer term, no pressure list of fun things I’d like to do.

The 2016 Bucket List (full post here)

What I did that was on the list:

– Went to Skye and Eilean Donan Castle.  These were everything I’d dreamed, and a lovely long-weekend trip.

– Trained for and ran Race for Life in June.  Not only that, but I actually kept it up and then ran the Dandara 5k in September, too.  A bit more on this below, but I really enjoyed running more frequently.  I must admit, I’m a fair weather runner, but I did get out there as soon as spring started to show its face in 2016 and am keen to get back to it soon.

– Did some decorating.  I did take pictures as promised, but I think I was having camera troubles at the time and they’re all fuzzy except for this one, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that we did a good job 🙂  We each have our own little home office in this house and each one is suited to our own tastes now so we’re contented little bees!

Emma's Picture Postcards

Extra things I did:

– became self-employed and started two new jobs.  After a few fiascos and with the offshore industry looking less and less of a wise place to be, I was keen, verging on desperate, to get a job with either the NHS or one of the local universities or councils.  Meanwhile, I decided to see if I could turn my hand to transcription and started freelancing for a company based in London.  As it turns out, I absolutely love it!  I then did find a part-time job at one of the unis, so I’m now splitting my time between the two.  At risk of jinxing it, I’m finding it an absolutely perfect balance.  Both jobs are interesting but in different ways and have their own challenges and rewards.  I find three days in the office the perfect amount of social interaction, while the remaining four days I can set my own schedule of when I want to work, sleep or do other things.  The harder I work at the freelance work, the more I earn, and on the other hand, while of course I’m conscientious in my office job, I can rest easy knowing that I have that secure income each month.

– got into some decent routines.  I got myself a Fitbit in the Black Friday sales in 2015, and realised that the end of the year is a good time for me to establish myself in a routine and feel a little bit rebellious for not doing it in January 😉  It’s helped motivate me to walk a lot more and I upped that into running in the warmer months, plus I’ve kept up my habit of going to at least one or two gym classes a week.  It also helped me work out what sleep routine works best for me, and I’ve realised I’m a real early bird.  I feel best when I’m in bed by 10 and up at 6 – this doesn’t always happen, but it’s the aim, and the difference in how I feel is enough to make sure I keep vaguely to that schedule, even if it does end up being an hour or two later that my sleep starts and finishes.  I’ve learned that I absolutely have to stick to 6-8 hours of sleep though, because if I get more than that, I feel awful and sluggish all day, and if I consistently get less, it’s a one-way ticket to a migraine.  I’ve also been tracking (and upping) my water intake and feel so much better for that too.

– as well as those health-related routines, I’ve gotten into a good routine for keeping myself organised.  I’ve always been a big fan of lists, and for a while now I’ve been writing a daily to-do list with absolutely everything I have to remember on it.  Often this includes everything right down to showering and eating lunch, because it’s not unheard of for 3pm to come and I suddenly realise the reason I’m so light-headed is that I haven’t eaten!  It felt a little bit daft at first, but it really works for me.  It also helped me when I was job-hunting to be able to quickly and easily look back to see what jobs I’d applied for, and to be able to tell James what I’d been up to when he came home from work.  It’s so easy for a well-meant “What did you do today?” to be taken the wrong way when you’re feeling sensitive and dependent!

The 2017 Bucket List

Things I didn’t get to in 2016 but am carrying forward to 2017:

– a trip up Cairngorm mountain on the funicular railway.  A vague plan is already in the works for this, so watch this space!

– Blair Drummond Safari Park

– Edinburgh Zoo

– the Kelpies

New items:

– Footdee – it’s absolutely ridiculous that I’ve lived in Aberdeen for eleven years and never been to one of its most picturesque locations.  Thankfully I righted this wrong the other day and you will soon see the photo evidence!

Footdee, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

– introduce James to my Kiwi friends.  One of my favourite people in the world is a young lady named Erin.  Long story short, she’s from New Zealand, we met in Germany, and she currently lives in the UK.  I’ve seen quite a bit of her and her husband over the last few years, but it’s never worked out for them to meet James – either he’s been away for work, or I’ve visited them while on father-daughter trips to London, etc.  It’s reached the point that there’s a running joke that James doesn’t exist, so I’m hoping to get them up for another visit this year and make the myth a reality.  I may even take them to Loch Ness to look for Nessie too 😉

– explore a new European city (Prague / Venice) or rediscover one I visited in my youth (Paris / Amsterdam / Budapest).  These are the current suggestions but we’ll see.  Europe is our oyster 🙂

– send (and make???) Christmas cards!  This one is non-negotiable, even if I have to start preparing in January 😀

– Last but most random: go to Clatt.  When my gran was a young mum (I’m not sure, but I believe when my dad’s eldest sister was a toddler, so before my dad was even a twinkle in her eye) she lived in a tiny village in Aberdeenshire called Clatt.   She’s always asking me if I’ve been yet, and I haven’t because honestly I think it probably is the definition of a one-horse town, but I actually looked it up the other day and it’s not as far away as I thought, so I’m going to take a little road trip some time soon and take some photos, just because it would tickle her.

What are your dreams for this year?


2017 - Emma's Picture Postcards

My blog feed last week included a lot of mentions of 2016 either being downright pants, or a variant of “actually, surprisingly decent, all things considered”. I had a lot of great highlights, but overall it was a pretty rough year for me personally.

A big hurdle was having to quit my job in July, with no new opportunity to go to, no firm idea of what I really wanted to do, and at a time when the employment market in Aberdeen was (is) dire. I have a bad habit of getting emotionally invested in my work, and considering that this particular job was in a very small business, working for people I had considered friends, it was difficult to give up on. I’ve also struggled with a variety of other issues this year, big and small, which have frustrated and upset me and which I’ve dwelled on to a point that I’ve realised is neither healthy nor normal. I’ve been proactive over the last couple of years about getting physically fit and strong, and I’ve decided it’s about time I applied the same approach to my mental health as well. Wish me luck 🙂

My rock throughout, though, has been my little family of three – me, James and Puss, that is – I didn’t pop out a child while your back was turned 😉  James and I have now been together for almost six years, and have had Puss for almost four and our house for three and a half.  The house has felt like home since the day we found it, but I feel like this is the year where we properly settled in and made it our own.  James also finished his PhD this year and got a long-term contract as a researcher in the same department and I’m so proud of him 🙂  I’m proud of our relationship too – I’ve been a pain in the ass at times but he’s been nothing but patient and supportive and kind and understanding, and I feel like we’ve come out of this year stronger and knowing each other better.

The other big positive from the past year that I intend to carry on into 2017 is that I made face-to-face time with friends a priority.  I can sometimes be a little rubbish at keeping in touch remotely, but I have always been a big fan of visiting people wherever they may be.  It can be an effort and an expense, but I’ve never once regretted spending that time and money to see them.  Plus, not only do I get to spend time in their lovely company, but I have an excuse to visit the place they’re in, usually with free accommodation!  In the past I’ve been to Iceland, Gran Canaria, all around Germany and even to New Zealand to see friends and they’re some of my favourite travel experiences.  Closer to home, Sarah and I have gotten into a nice routine of meeting up every few weeks, and I’ve seen my other Aberdeen friends a fair bit but need to up this a little next year.

Speaking of travel, though, 2016 was in theory a low-key travel year for me after big trips to the USA in 2015 and Iceland in 2014, and especially since I was without an income for a while!   I did get a surprising amount packed in though, which was lovely: James and I went to Skye in March, a family party in Dalgety Bay in April, York and Italy in August and Germany in October, plus I also went to London twice, Edinburgh two or three times and to my parents’ house in the Scottish Borders for Christmas.  Most of those were repeat visits but it was my first time to Skye, York and Tuscany, so for a quiet year, my wanderlust quota is quite happy!  In 2017, I’m off to Nottingham next week and we have a trip to Northern Ireland planned for late spring some time and Italy in August for a wedding.  We’re also hoping to head off for a city break or two somewhere in Europe – the list of potential destinations for this is as long as my arm so we might have to pick one out of a hat 🙂

As for blogging, it’s been a mixed year on that front too.  I went along to my first blogger meet-up in March, which feels like a lifetime ago.  Getting involved in the local blogging community has brought some lovely experiences and friendships and fun opportunities, but also occasional feelings of comparison and obligation that I’d pretty much managed to avoid previously.  I think that was helpful though, because I now have quite a firm idea of what my priorities and expectations are.  First and foremost, I’m here for my own enjoyment, because I like writing and taking photos and having people read and look at them, especially if they like them.  I would like to post more regularly and not worry about every post being the best it can possibly be.  I’m going to try to remember that I’m not trying to write something that’s helpful, but something that’s enjoyable and that maybe provokes a bit of thought or wanderlust.  I’m never going to be a daily blogger.  I said this time last year that once a week feels ideal, and I agree with that now.  Looking back at my stats, I posted half as many posts in 2016 as in 2015, which makes me sad, but I got twice as many views and visitors, which is nice.  Part of that is natural growth and me telling people the blog exists, and some is from casual social media promotion – again, I’m confident that I’m never going to be a social media guru, especially because I usually just don’t like Twitter, but I’m happy with my current level of dabbling.

Anyway, I’ve been writing this post for days so I’m going to go ahead and push ‘publish’.  Enough naval-gazing for now 🙂  Happy New Year and speak to you soon!

Italy, August 2016 – Florence

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hello! I mentioned in this post that I had found myself some freelance work, and I’ve now found a part-time office job to go alongside it. I’m finding it the perfect balance, and it’s such a weight off my shoulders to know I have a regular income again! And now that I have job-hunting off my plate, my brain is free to get some blog posts written! So bear with me through the next few posts as they’ll be somewhat unseasonal – but I reckon a break from Christmas gift guides can’t be a bad thing, right? 😉

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This is the third and final post from our Italy trip – part 2 covers our accommodation in a small town in the Tuscan countryside, and part 1 was some tips (aka a rant) on using the local buses!

Our favourite thing to do in a new city is to just have a good wander and see what there is to see. We decided to skip going inside the Duomo, but it was the first landmark we headed for since it’s near the bus station and really stands out as the most visible and unique building.

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Duomo is really stunning, but tricky to photograph as it’s just so huge!

We wandered on through Piazza della Signoria, which contains lots of grand old statues, the grand old Palazzo Vecchio… and a giant gold turtle, which Google tells me is a Jan Fabre exhibit. It was a little odd but kind of worked.

Pallazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

By this point we had started to follow signs for Ponte Vecchio, and shops were getting more and more upmarket! The bridge itself is stacked full of expensive jewellers.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

I love Ponte Vecchio’s unique hodgepodge of structures and shutters and colours, and again it really stands out from afar. The shops on the inside are flawlessly well-kept and clean, whereas the outside is a lot scruffier – I edited the photo above a fair bit to make the paint colours a bit brighter and the whole thing less dirty-looking.  But I guess if they were constantly cleaning or painting it, it would always be covered in scaffolding and safety nets, so I’ll take a bit of scruffy charm 🙂

City Walls, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

City Walls, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

From Ponte Vecchio we made our way through the city walls and up the (oh-my-gosh-so-very-relentless) hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. These are the only close-up photos I managed to get of the walls as this was the only time we were near them on foot, but they surround the whole city centre. It was quite fun zooming along the side of them on the bus and they add another layer of character to the city.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This quiet little public rose garden is halfway up the steps, and provides a welcome break from the climb and also from the crowds at the main sights.

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazzale Michelangelo is a big open square, containing a replica of the Statue of David (the original is in an art gallery to protect it from damage) and providing beautiful views of the city.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This post contains affiliate links.

Orchid Aberdeen Winter Cocktails Menu 2016

Orchid Aberdeen Winter Cocktail Menu - Emma's Picture Postcards

Orchid has been one of my favourite bars since it opened in 2009, and is one of the few nightlife locations to have lasted the test of time in Aberdeen, thanks to delicious cocktails and knowledgeable and friendly staff. Every few months they change up their cocktail menu, and recently I was invited along to a bloggers and press evening to take a look at their new winter menu.

Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

The concept behind Orchid’s 2016 Winter Menu is to share a bit of love with their favourite places around the city, with each drink inspired by a different location (e.g. Footdee, the beach, etc). You’ll receive a badge with your drink, and the idea is that you can take yourself on an alcoholic treasure hunt and visit all eight locations wearing the different badges – provide photographic evidence and they’ll feature your name on next season’s menu 🙂

Religious Robbery, Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

On to the drinks! First up was the Religious Robbery, which was my favourite of the new offerings. It’s a cross between a gin martini and a pina colada, made with Porter’s gin, spiced pineapple syrup, coconut juice and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Teapot Bitters. It was so refreshing – the sort of cocktail you could happily knock back like juice and then realise your mistake when you stand up and feel a little dizzy 😉

You might notice glasses of water lurking in the background of my photos. When you arrive at Orchid and sit at a table, they will always bring you a glass of water as standard. This is apparently common practice in London, but isn’t (or certainly wasn’t) in these parts. As someone who’s grown a little older and wiser since her uni days, I’m now a prolific water drinker on a night out, and really appreciate not having to queue at the bar for it!

Honey Rider, Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

The second new drink was the Honey Rider, named after the Bond girl of the same name. It’s an Old Fashioned, made with mango rum, grapefruit oleo saccharum and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Orinoco Bitters. It’s really strong, and was given the seal of approval by our group’s Old Fashioned drinker, Georgie, who described it as “like a punch in the mouth – that’s a good thing!” As you can probably tell from the rest of this post, I prefer my alcohol to be a bit more subtle, so I wasn’t the biggest fan of this one.

Beerlini, Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

The final new drink we tried was the Beerlini – a bellini with beer instead of the usual Prosecco – made with grapefruit cordial, salted Campari and lager. I liked the concept of this – basically a gateway to beer for cocktail drinkers and vice versa – and it’s SO PRETTY, but unfortunately I don’t like grapefruit and it was just too sour for me. If you do like grapefruit, however, I recommend you give this one a try.

Pink Orchid, Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

After sampling all the new winter offerings with Nick, we joined Matthew at the bar for a fun mixology class. He showed us how to make a classic daiquiri and let us loose on the bar to serve up Orchid’s signature cocktail, the Pink Orchid. I think this beauty (made with vanilla vodka, raspberry liqueur, cranberry juice, lime juice, sugar syrup and egg white) was the unanimous favourite of everyone in attendance, and it’s easy to see why it’s the one cocktail that’s always on the menu.

Peachy Queen, Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Matthew then asked us to fire some ingredient suggestions at him to create our own cocktail. We came up with the Peachy Queen, containing peach, coconut and strawberry flavours with a base of rum and lime juice, and I have to say we outdid ourselves. It was really tasty, and for our efforts we won best cocktail and received a mini bottle of Porter’s gin.

Gin Tasting, Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Our final stop of the evening was a gin tasting session with Porter’s. Porter’s started out as a fun side-project by some of Orchid’s staff, and was eventually launched as a proper brand last December. Their aim was to create a gin for gin drinkers, and the little bottle I won has been a welcome addition to an occasional wee gin and lemonade in my house 😉

Orchid, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

To finish up, after all those drinks it was time for some food, and we were served up a few of Orchid’s beautiful charcuterie boards. If you can take your eyes off them, take a look at the wall behind – it’s covered in cocktail shakers. Just another of the little features that lend this bar a lovely aesthetic and make it a really pleasant place to spend an evening.

Orchid Aberdeen Winter Cocktail Menu 2016 - Emma's Picture Postcards

I was invited to attend Orchid’s menu preview in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

Happy Things, October 2016

Autumn Leaves - Emma's Picture Postcards

I always enjoy reading people’s collections of little positive things but it’s been ages since I last wrote one! Here are a few things making me smile:

  1. My new job, self-employment and my first big tax refund! Since quitting my last job I’ve been (and still am) looking for a new, traditional, 9-to-5 office job. Aberdeen is full of unemployed, overqualified people at the moment though and it’s a bit of a struggle. In the meantime, I’ve started working as a freelance audio typist, and I absolutely love it. The pay isn’t great (you get paid for each minute of audio you transcribe, rather than how long it takes you, so with practice I’ll start earning more per hour) but it’s enjoyable, gives me at least a little income, means I won’t have a big gap in my CV, and gives me another skill and experience which will hopefully be useful for future jobs. I also received a great big tax refund since my tax had been calculated on the assumption I’d continue in my old job for the rest of the financial year – I knew it would be coming, but it still felt like an amazing bonus when it did!
    Apple and Bramble Pie - Emma's Picture Postcards
  2. Baking and cooking! James is the one with the skills (enthusiasm, patience, imagination) in our kitchen, and normally does most (all) of the cooking. Recently I’ve been trying to give him a break and take a week off his plate (I can’t think of a less punny way to say that, haha) every 3-4 weeks. Usually I rustle up a few of his or my mum’s regulars and try one new thing that I’ve half dreamed up myself and then looked up on BBC Good Food for rough guidance on quantities and measurements. Last week I made what I’d imagined as a stew/casserole, but decided to turn into a really delicious pasta sauce, with tomatoes, sausage, chorizo and peppers, and my mouth is watering just at the thought of it. While it was simmering away, I made an apple and bramble pie as my October effort for Bumpkin Betty’s Baking Club. I used this Hairy Bikers’ recipe, but because we only have a teeny little flan tin, I halved the ingredients. This didn’t leave me enough pastry for the lid and I’d pretty much run out of flour, but with the help of the internet again (what on earth did we do before Google?) I found this open-top apple pie recipe, and covered mine with a half-lattice, half-crumble concoction. I popped it in the oven and proceeded to hover around, peeking through the door to see how it was getting on, because by this stage I had no idea how long I needed to bake it! And the result? *Drum roll*… it turned out perfect. Yay! To date, I am 3 for 3 and the world’s luckiest baker.
    Dornstetten, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards
  3. A quick trip to the Black Forest, for the wedding of my favourite German! We started out as exchange students when we were 15, and were lucky enough to actually like each other and stay in regular contact afterwards! We’ve visited each other every couple of years since then, and really feel like family now. It was wonderful to be there for her wedding, to be back in her home village, to spend some quality time with her family and friends, and to introduce James to a place that’s been a big part of my life.
    Stranger Things Halloween Party - Emma's Picture Postcards
  4. A wonderful week in London. I’ll write a full post soon, but the original premise was for Dad and I to go to another NFL game. The friends I’d planned to stay with then invited me to a Stranger Things themed Halloween party the following weekend, so I decided to stay a week! I really enjoyed both events, the chance to catch up with London- and Nottingham-based friends, and the opportunity to spend a whole week with my Kiwi friends. There’s nothing like knowing your friends will eventually return to the literal opposite end of the Earth to make you appreciate their current, relatively convenient home!

Happy Halloween! Let me know your October highlights 🙂

Italy, August 2016: San Casciano, Tuscany

San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Italy is one of my favourite destinations. Before this trip to Tuscany, I had been to Rome and Turin, and there are so many places still on my list. This time around, we went to the Florence region and stayed in a villa recommended to us by James’s boss, in a village called – deep breath – San Casciano in Val di Pesa. San Casciano is (in theory) conveniently located a half hour’s drive out of Florence, and felt to me like the epitome of Tuscany. Rolling hills, olive groves, vineyards, little churches with tall, thin bell towers, and an abundance of gelaterias, cafes and pizzerias with relaxed outdoor seating areas.

San Casciano, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

We stayed at Il Visciolo, a farmhouse-style villa that manages to feel rustic and traditional, while still having all the mod-cons we needed (so, wifi, lights and a fridge then, haha, but also automatic sun awnings and solar outdoor lighting, which were really nice to have).

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture PostcardsIl Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The whole building pictured above is the rental property, and it would comfortably sleep four. As well as the master bedroom, there’s another double bed on a mezzanine level in the study, which sounds like it might be warm, but I think it would be ok. The window is covered over by a brickwork lattice (you can see it in the external photo above) which keeps the room cool and allows you to see out without letting anyone see in – the bathroom is the same. The thick walls and tiled floors also keep the house nice and cool. In any case, the amount of space was a luxury for just the two of us, and we spent a lot of time relaxing and reading, and enjoying the peace and quiet and beautiful views:

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The owners are extremely helpful for anything you might need, and welcomed us with some fruit, bruscetta served with their own home-grown olive oil, and a bottle of Chianti. We had some additional friendly visitors in the form of their cats, and a praying mantis who came to hang out one evening!

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Praying Mantis, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Unfortunately, Mr Mantis wasn’t the only insect to visit us, and I took a severe reaction to mosquito bites – scroll quickly past if you’re squeamish! Even more unfortunately, since James didn’t seem to have been bitten at all, we assumed that I was allergic to the washing powder used on the bedsheets, and didn’t use the mosquito net provided. Rookie mistake. This was the most dramatic allergic reaction I’ve ever had though, so I definitely learned my lesson and will be well-armed with anti-histamine tablets in future!

Mosquito Bites, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Mosquito Bites, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

San Casciano, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Repubblica, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Our first night in San Casciano coincided with the village’s Saint Day celebrations, with a market on Piazza della Repubblica, fireworks launched in the valley below and visible from the piazza’s terrace, and live music in Piazza Cavour. As an almost-Bonfire-Night baby (I was born 4th Nov), I’ve always adored fireworks, so it was a lovely way to start the trip, especially if we pretended they were celebrating our arrival 😉

Pizzeria La Carbonaia, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Otherwise, our time in the village was spent sampling the local cuisine – tough job, but someone’s got to do it 😉 We started off at Pizzeria La Carbonaia, where I had the Carbonaia pizza (above), topped with sausage meat and, at a guess, about ten cloves’ worth of garlic. It was so delicious that we bookended our trip with dinner there on the first and last nights of our trip, and I had the same pizza the second time too! We also sampled, at Nello, the local speciality of a 1kg T-bone steak – so, half a cow, basically – at a casual €45/kg, which is the minimum portion size. We expected to have major meat sweats and aching jaws and stomachs after sharing one, but actually it was beautifully tender and melt-in-the-mouth, and we managed it fine between two with some fried potatoes on the side. If you’re travelling in a larger group though, I’d definitely recommend one between three or four of you! We also went for lunch at Cinque di Vino (fancier and a little theatrical!) and dinner at the more down-to-earth Trattoria Cantinetta del Nonno, where we had simple but tasty pasta starters and meaty mains. All washed down with local Chianti wine, served in adorable little glass jugs.

Emma's Picture Postcards

Back soon with photos of Florence 🙂

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Italy, August 2016: Tuscany Travel Tips

Last month James whisked us off to Tuscany for a week of sunshine and relaxation. I started writing a post about our stay, and before I knew it I’d written half a novel just about the local buses! I consider myself an experienced independent traveller, and I found the buses really difficult. So I decided I’d devote a post to our experience with them, in the hopes that it might help someone out!

Before I dive in to the buses though, I have to briefly mention our air travel. We flew via Amsterdam, which is always my favourite airport to transit through anyway, but was on particularly good form thanks to police on Segways…

Amsterdam Airport - Emma's Picture Postcards

…and a variety of fun art displays, including this fascinating clock, which a “workman” repainted each minute:

Once we reached Florence Airport, we had the “simple” (ha) task of taking a bus to the centre of town, and another to the village of San Casciano, where we were staying. This was much easier said than done, but by the end of our stay, I feel like we’d gotten our heads around it. Here’s what we learned:

– The main bus company in the Florence area, or at least the one that covered the routes we needed, is called SITA. It was formerly known as Busitalia, and some of the buses still have the old name on them, but are otherwise identical.

– Tickets cost €1.20 if purchased from a ticket vendor before boarding the bus, or €2.30 if purchased on board from the driver. For the airport bus, I’ve seen the price quoted online as anywhere between €3 and €6 each way, but we got there fine with standard €1.20 tickets, and actually had them checked by a bus conductor who happened to get on board.

– Tickets aren’t always available to buy on board, so ask the driver when you get on. If he says no, just hop back off and wait for the next bus, and/or make use of that time to see if you can locate a ticket vendor (more on that below!) The one time we did make use of this option, the driver said yes and waved us on, and we sat down behind him, James hovering on the edge of his seat waiting to be summoned forward to make the purchase. 20 minutes later, we figured he’d forgotten and we’d landed ourselves a free ride, but he sold them to us as we disembarked 😉

– Tickets must be validated on board the bus – stick your ticket into the slot in the red box and hold it there until it clunks.

San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– TOP TIP! Tickets aren’t valid for a specific date/time/route until validated. So if you’re lucky enough to find a ticket vendor early in your stay, buy as many tickets as you’ll need for the duration. One ticket covers one person for one journey, and a journey starts and ends at Florence, so for the two of us to go from the airport, to Florence city centre, and on to San Casciano, was two journeys each, therefore four tickets. Including another four to get back to the airport for our departure, and another four for a day trip into (and out of) Florence, meant we needed twelve tickets in total.

– We found the bus drivers generally quite helpful, and bus stops clearly marked and easy-ish to find, with the help of Google maps. Trying to buy tickets… not so much.

– So where are these magical bus ticket vendors where you can buy cheap tickets? Well, good question. Generally, there will be a shop of some description (a newsagent, tobacconist, bar, cafe, etc), vaguely near each bus stop, ish, which sells tickets. However. Italy is overrun with little shops, and a single street could have three tobacconists, and two of them might (apparently) have no idea that the third sells bus tickets. The one that does might also close for four hours (and then some) in the middle of the day, or if you’re really unlucky, might be closed for the entire month of August because the owner is on his holidays. Yay.

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

We managed to buy tickets in advance at three different places, as follows.

– the SITA bus station in Florence. Google Maps knows this as “Busitalia Nord Autostazione” and it’s on Via Santa Caterina da Siena. Because we had just missed the shuttle bus and couldn’t work out where to buy tickets at the airport (I’ve read since that you can buy them at the bar inside), we ended up taking a taxi from the airport to this bus station. Compared with our later sagas, this was by far the simplest and most familiar bus-related location, and I wish we’d bought our full trip’s worth of tickets at this point!

– there are four bus stops together on Largo Fratelli Alinari, just around the corner from the train station, and there is a shop selling tickets that’s actually directly at these bus stops (hallelujah!) – I believe it’s called Cap Tours, I tried to double-check using Google Street View, but ironically there’s a bus in the way, ha!

Piazza della Repubblica, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– and thirdly, the Latteria (dairy shop (yes really)) in San Casciano. This is located on Piazza della Repubblica, and is closed from 12:00 to 16:00, and when I say 16:00… At 15:45, having finally located the right place thanks to a helpful waitress from the bar a few doors along and being told it was closed until 16:00, I finished the ice cream I’d bought at the bar and did a few laps around the village while I waited. The bells rang for 4pm and I slowly wandered back the the Latteria and took a seat outside with a crowd of old men, one of whom turned around in his chair to slowly look me up and down. Pleasant.

At 16:10, an old fella in a bright orange t-shirt wandered at about 1mph out of the shop’s side door, went to the bar along the street, drank an espresso, wandered back to the shop, sat down outside to smoke a cigarette… smoked another cigarette… and then went back in the side door. At this point, an old lady marched up, quizzed the gathering of men, marched around the corner, marched back, and slammed her face against the shop door to peer through the glass. I dread to think what she saw, because a moment later, the shop owner, having changed from his orange t-shirt into a white shirt, opened the door and let her in, followed by me, a small boy who had darted up, and the crowd of old men, bringing the total queue to about 15 people. By now it was 16:25. The old lady proceeded to order whatever it was she was after, and pour a purseful of 1- and 2-cent coins onto the counter to pay for them. Thankfully by this point I’d had plenty of time to prepare “due biglietti a Firenze” and the correct change, and was out of there in about 5 seconds. What an adventure.

I’ll be back soon with a couple more Italy posts… and only one other drama 😛 Have a great week, and please comment below if you have any more tips!

I Have This Thing With Clock Towers

There are a few accounts and corresponding hashtags on Instagram, like #ihavethisthingwithfloors and #ihavethisthingwithlibraries, that focus on specific architectural features. My “thing” is clock towers – I absolutely love them. Whenever I’m out and about and I see one over the rooftops, I have an irrepressible urge to go find where it is and what building it’s on top of. So the other day I decided to indulge my weird passion and go clock tower hunting!

ACT Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

First up is ACT Aberdeen, formerly known as the Aberdeen Arts Centre. This one is in the city centre at the junction of King Street and West North Street, and as you drive along W N Street it gets framed against the spectacular Marischal College. I like the grand columns on the building and that this clock’s four faces alternate black and white on each side.

East St Clement's Church, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

In the nearby area of Footdee is St Clement’s Church. This lovely little old kirk is now disused, but the graveyard is still open to the public so you can wander round and read the collection of lopsided gravestones.

Aberdeen Harbour Board - Emma's Picture Postcards

Up close and at ground level, Aberdeen Harbour Board’s office blends in with all the other grey granite facades on Regent Quay. But from a bit further away its clock tower stands out as a focal point.

St Stephens Parish Church, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Leaving the city centre and heading out towards the airport, you pass St Stephen’s Parish Church on Powis Place, with its cheery red doors, classy cupola and weather vane. Powis Place has been looking a little shabby the last few years as there were a few empty buildings, but they’ve been renovated and replaced now so the whole street is spick and span again!

Woodside Parish Church, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Carrying on along Great Northern Road, you reach Woodside Parish Church, which is tucked away up a peaceful little side street. As you can probably tell, Aberdeen is very grey, so the little splash of colour provided by the green dome is always welcome!

St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

And last up is a favourite, the beautiful St Machar’s Cathedral, in Old Aberdeen. I arrived just as a wedding was finishing, but I managed to get a stealthy snap without getting in the way!

After I took these pictures the rain started so I decided to call it quits, but it was a nice way to get some exercise so I’m sure I’ll be back with a part 2 some time soon.

What’s your favourite? Do you have a #thingwithfloors, ceilings or anything else?

Reading Round-up: Spring 2016

It’s about time for some book reviews! I haven’t read a huge number of books this year, roughly one per month, but I’ve had quite good luck and haven’t read any stinkers. Here are the first few:

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

This was a Bloggers Book Club read, and is one of those ones set in an English country house, with an old mystery being discovered in the present. It weaves together the stories of an elderly Indian lady, Anahita, who spent her teenage years in England, her great-grandson, Ari, who she asks to investigate the mystery, an American actress, Rebecca, who is starring in a film at the house, and the various generations of the family who own the house. I really liked the main storyline (Anahita’s), it was well written, well paced and the characters, locations and emotions were richly brought to life. By comparison the modern-day plot and characters were a bit shallow and clunky, and I could have taken or left the American storyline, but it was fine. But unfortunately my lasting impression is tarnished a little by a truly bizarre LGBT scene that was horribly done, with really unnecessary language. Overall it’s a really good novel and one that you can really sink your teeth into, just… brace yourself for a couple of brief moments that might leave you scratching your head.

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Red Country is the sixth novel set in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law world, and is the third of three marketed as “standalone” novels following the initial trilogy. Each standalone is Abercrombie’s tribute to a specific film genre, and Western-style Red Country is the one where that’s most obvious. I was thrilled to quickly realise that one of my favourite characters from earlier in the series was prominently featured – I won’t mention which, as that would spoil the fun 🙂 That particular character provided a lot of my enjoyment of this book, and I really revelled in every aspect of their presence. I also enjoyed the new cast of characters and the new location, and various stories were tied up in a range of satisfying and unsatisfying endings – there’s even an actual (debatable) happy ending or two. Basically, still one of my favourite series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next offering from this world, which is a collection of short stories called Sharp Ends.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Such an emotionally vivid story. The Book Thief is narrated by Death, who provides a unique perspective, sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, of an extra-ordinary family living under Nazi rule. The story he tells us is that of 9-year-old Liesel, who is adopted in tragic circumstances by the Hubermanns, who then end up sheltering a Jew. I loved the choice of narrator, as I found that the combination of his ancient voice, telling the story of a child experiencing both the harsh realities and the little joys of life, created a beautiful and thought-provoking balance. This is a book for people who like to get to know characters, as even the minor ones are very well fleshed out. It’s less about the plot, because although events do happen, the focus is more on getting to know those involved, and caring about what happens to them, and reacting with them. Also because Death drops hints throughout of what’s to come, and although normally I can’t stand spoilers, it actually works well.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I’ve read a few of John Steinbeck’s writings now, mostly novellas which I’ve found remarkably well-paced and complete for being so short. The Grapes of Wrath is a full-length novel, and has a noticeably different pace. Chapters alternate between an overall picture, setting the scene of what’s happening across the country, and an up-close and personal account of how one specific family is affected. It provides a nice balance, and although I can be prone to skipping or skimming descriptive passages, Steinbeck has a wonderful, illustrative prose that meant I read every word. The novel is set during the Great Depression, and certainly isn’t a happy tale, but I thoroughly recommend it anyway. The only part that felt a bit off to me was the end – it didn’t particularly seem to fit or tie up the story – but that was only a minor disappointment.

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This novel, although quite decent, was a massive disappointment for me, because it had so much unfulfilled potential. It tells the story of a high school shooting incident, with each chapter from the perspective of one of the students, and interspersed with texts, tweets etc exchanged between others. The story is well-paced and engaging, and the concept is good, but unfortunately the result is just a bit shallow. The narrators have family connections that aren’t very well explored, and just felt to me like a cheap way to pull the reader’s heart strings. There is, at face value, a commendable range of diversity in terms of sexuality, race and ability, but again these characters and relationships are described so shallowly that they just feel “token”. But the worst crime of the novel was the complete neglect to explore the shooter’s mindset, any further than “good person experiences a bad thing, becomes a bad person and shoots everyone.” Despite being the most instrumental character, the shooter is not a narrator, and is only given the most cursory glance of character development.

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