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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Lately

Emma's Picture Postcards

Hi! I fell off the radar for a little while there, for a combination of reasons. Mainly, I quit my job, a decision that took up most of my thoughts and emotions for a couple of weeks. I’d never imagined leaving a job without a new one to go to, but bizarrely it was actually the most sensible option! So I’m currently unemployed, but hopefully it will just be short-term.

Secondly, I almost don’t want to mention it since it’s been so over-discussed, but Brexit really hit me hard. I was absolutely astonished by the referendum result, and the fact that it happened on the very same day I quit my job didn’t exactly help me process it! What did help, though, was reading posts from British bloggers who managed to sum up their thoughts (and my feelings) very eloquently: Katy, Morag, Freya, Shannon, Amber and especially Alex.

Third is a nicer reason, which is that I’ve had an unusually full social calendar lately! I had a wonderful catch-up with two of my oldest and favourite friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen for a year as she had been away travelling the world, and the other of whom had just gotten engaged. We had so much to talk about, and washed it down with far too much prosecco and enough home-cooked pasta and bruscetta to feed about 10.

York - Emma's Picture Postcards

I also got to spend time with some new friends, with a couple of visits to Sarah and her daughter Matilda, which were fun, interesting and relaxing all at once, and a weekend trip to York to hang out with James’s best uni friends. York is one of James’s favourite cities, and I quickly saw why, as it’s very charming, and full of quiet little pubs (the main attraction for him, as he’s been an old man since his teens :D ). I already knew one of his friends as he’d been up to visit us in Aberdeen, but I hadn’t met the others and was a little bit nervous to impose myself on an established group. I needn’t have worried though as they were lovely and I quickly settled in to a great weekend of eating, drinking, chatting and playing board and card games. The weather was glorious (I even wore shorts!), except on the first night, when James got so thoroughly drenched on the way to dinner that every time the waiter passed him, he punched his shoulder and laughed, “Ha ha! Wet boy.”

Anyway, I’ve missed sharing on this little space, and hope I’m back into the swing of it now. I have had a few drafts on the go, but every time I’ve started writing, my neighbours have started yelling at each other and I’ve lost my train of thought! Let me know in the comments what you’ve been up to lately and check back soon for some book reviews🙂

A Weekend Video and Mum’s Pavlova Recipe

20160618_210507

Sarah and Louise recently started a new link-up called This Little Big Life, celebrating the weekend. I decided to join in with a video capturing some of last weekend’s little moments. It was a fairly standard weekend for me – I also went to the gym twice as usual, but no-one needs to see that😉

Featured:

  1. a quick and breezy walk by the beach
  2. playing hide-and-seek with Lucy
  3. attempting to give Lucy a treat and somehow managing to bounce it under the bathroom door
  4. mmm bacon
  5. Lucy being offended by a fly
  6. Formula 1
  7. pavlova prep
  8. my favourite dinner (James’s lime and coriander chicken)
  9. snoozy cuddles
  10. failing to cut up a mango
  11. pavlova end result
  12. sparrow feeding frenzy
  13. the largest carrot in the land
  14. and more cuddles (and yes those are Christmas pyjamas, what of it😛 )

This month’s theme for the Bumpkin Betty Baking Club was “free from”, so I decided it was finally time to take up my mum’s mantle and have a go at making her famous (and gluten-free) pavlova. This is such a family favourite that I think if Mum turned up to a family party without it, she’d probably not be invited in😉 The recipe is as follows:

Ingredients: 3 egg whites, 175g caster sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence, 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, 1 level teaspoon corn flour, plus cream and fruit to go on top.

Method:

– Preheat your oven to 150C.

– Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff and form small peaks. You should pretty much be able to turn the bowl upside down without them falling out! I really recommend getting yourself a hand-held electric whisk – we have one similar to this which doubles as a blender and it saves so much time and effort!

– Gradually whisk in the sugar.

– Whisk in the rest of the ingredients.

– Draw a circle on a sheet of greaseproof paper (draw around a dinner plate). Place the paper on a baking tray and scoop your mixture out of the bowl and onto the circle. It should be a little bit thicker round the edge.

– Bake for 1 hour. Keep an eye on it, especially if you have a fan oven – if it starts to brown, you may want to pop some foil over the top.

– Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova inside to cool [I’m not sure if Mum actually does this – I’m sure she’ll tell us in the comments – but as I was about to remove it, I suddenly thought “wait!” and googled].

– Top with whipped cream and fruit of your choice. I went for mango and kiwi this time for a summery tropical topping, but strawberries and/or raspberries are a more traditional choice – whatever takes your fancy!

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By the Book

Emma's Picture Postcards

Is there a book on your nightstand right now?

Er Ist Wieder Da by Timur Vermes. This is a… comedy / satire / drama / sci fi???… imagining what would happen if Hitler found himself in Berlin in 2011, and became a TV star. I was given the German version as a gift (the English translation is called Look Who’s Back) and have been making my way through it slowly, mainly because it’s quite tricky to find a good time to read it. I normally read when I have moments of free time when I’m out and about (e.g. in queues, on public transport, and waiting for clients at the airport, so you can see why that’s a bit awkward when trying to read a book with Hitler’s face on the front!) or in bed at night, when I’m sleepy and can’t muster the concentration to read in German. I’ve read 100 pages, about a quarter of the book, and so far it’s really funny, in a “I feel guilty for laughing but can’t help it” kind of way. Netflix did a film version though, which I watched when I was visiting friends in London recently, and although it was quite different to the novel, the ending was quite bleak and has slightly put me off reading further. I will though, it’s a very interesting concept.

What was the last truly great book you read?

I’ve read six books so far this year and did really enjoy a couple of them, but I think the last truly great one I read was probably The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

If you could meet a writer, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you want to know?

Most of all I’d like to lock George R. R. Martin in a room and not let him out until he’s finished the A Song of Ice and Fire series😉

Joe Abercrombie though. I think I’d like him. He did a great “ask me anything” session on Reddit, and is of the same opinion as me that authors shouldn’t over-explain things, and should leave the reader to decide for themselves if something’s a little ambiguous. So I don’t think there would be much I’d want to quiz him on.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

I guess that depends on who you are… If you’d just met me, you might be surprised by some of the darker books, by the likes of Stephen King, Tom Rob Smith, Stieg Larsson etc – purely if you’re judging a book by its cover, because I’m small and blonde and baby-faced and cheery. If you didn’t know I’m a linguist you’d be surprised by the foreign language books. I’m personally not surprised by anything that’s there😛

How do you organise your personal library?

I started writing this post a few weeks ago after reading Mimmi’s, and just the sight of this question made me immediately stand up and organise my bookshelf by colour. I’d been thinking about doing so for ages, and now every time I see it I feel weirdly satisfied. I feel I should point out that the picture above is only a small section of our collection – it’s three of seven shelves of the bedroom bookcase, we have another in the living room, we still have lots at our parents’ houses, and we have even more e- and audiobooks!

Is there a book you have always meant to read but haven’t got around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed not to have read?

I’m on a vague and relaxed mission to read various classics, but there’s nothing I’m embarrassed not to have read. I feel like I probably should have read Emma by now though, since it’s my name and all.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good; name a book you feel you were supposed to have liked but just didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is the last one I put down, because there’s just so much endless detail about the priest at the beginning. I pick it up from time to time and skim through a few more pages, and then wonder why I’m bothering when I know the story anyway.

What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of?

A lot of my favourites are in the young adult, fantasy and/or adventure genres, and are usually trilogies or series – His Dark Materials, The First Law, A Song of Ice and Fire, Noughts and Crosses, The Hunger Games, etc. From time to time I also like to pick up one of those house-with-a-mysterious-past novels e.g. Kate Morton’s, and I also (so far) like anything by Stephen King. I do occasionally read but tend to steer clear of crime novels, especially those in long series, because I find them quite formulaic, and the same goes for chick lit. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction or poetry, but as well as novels I do really like short stories – Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges and Night Shift by Stephen King are a good place to start.

If you could choose a book the President (/Prime Minister) had to read, which would it be?

If Obama, The Amber Spyglass.

If Cameron, Les Mis.

What do you plan to read next?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is the next classic on my list, but oops I seem to have started the audiobook of Half a King by Joe Abercrombie instead😉 My mum has also loaned me a few books I should get started on, and I want to re-read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman as well – they’re probably my all time favourite books and I think enough time has passed that I’ve forgotten enough, so I can really enjoy immersing myself in them again.

As I mentioned above, I came across this tag when Mimmi took part on her blog Muted Mornings, but it started out as a Youtube tag inspired by questions in a New York Times book. I’m going to tag Jo of Drifting Pages, Jenny of Sunny Sweet PeaSarah Rooftops, Alice of Wooden Window Sills, and YOU if you’re reading and fancy joining in🙂

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June 2016 Playlist

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I last did a music post! I’m taking part in Race for Life on Sunday (please sponsor me here if you can spare a small donation for a big cause!) and added a few upbeat songs to my running playlist to help with the training:

I adore London Grammar and their songs are beautiful in their original, ballad-y form. But this remix is a match made in heaven.

This is one of my favourite new tracks from the past year, it’s so much fun and I can’t help but grin when I hear it. Extra points for the cheeky cow bell😀

From the very first time I heard Four Tet’s remix of Opus, it’s been right up there as one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. It’s so good I have to stop what I’m doing, close my eyes and just enjoy – unless I’m running, conveniently🙂

I’m not usually a drum & bass kinda girl but I’m happy to make an exception for this track. A great driving rhythm, perfect for motivation!

Although running more often has made me an even bigger dance music fan than usual, a couple of other tracks have grabbed my attention:

I like this song; I like the story. But I absolutely LOVE the part towards the end where it drops down quiet and builds up into that glorious guitar solo.

My favourite sentimental song of the past year, perfectly encapsulating the feeling of admitting defeat on a relationship.

Since mentioning Take Me to Church in a previous post, I’ve become quite a Hozier fan, buying his self-titled album and enjoying many a Youtube video of his live performances. From Eden is my favourite of his songs, and I also like this Live Lounge cover of Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down.

And to finish up, a lovely song about friendship. This one really makes me smile🙂

Giraffe restaurant review

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

bowl for the soul

Recently Giraffe invited a few Aberdeen bloggers along to sample their new menu. I had only been to Giraffe once before, with my dad in London, but I loved it then and was keen to try out their Aberdeen branch, located in Union Square shopping centre.

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Giraffe’s ethos is to be a friendly place that showcases food and music from around the world. The restaurant is really nicely decorated, with lots of wood and cozy lighting (including fairy lights!), painted brickwork, and a choice of tables or raised booths, with a few of the tables looking out onto the shopping centre. Their dishes tend to include a lot of fresh vegetables and a tasty mixture of flavours, and their smoothie and cocktail menus are not to be missed!

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

I went for a mango mule cocktail, Goan prawn curry and passion fruit cheesecake, and they were all delicious. The curry was just the right level of spicy for me (and gorgeous to look at!) and the cheesecake ticked all the boxes on my extensive cheesecake checklist: not too sweet, neither too creamy nor too dense, enough biscuit base but not too much, etc😉

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

Goan king prawn curry

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

passion fruit cheesecake

Some of the other dishes around the table looked great too, including the “bowl for the soul” (pictured at the top of this post), the harissa chicken burger (below) and the churros, which didn’t last long enough for me to catch a photo! Churros aren’t really my cup of tea but were a very popular choice, and looked very cinnamonny (that’s a word).

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

harissa chicken burger

The blogger meet was such a fun evening and I really enjoyed chatting with Karen, Hannah, Sarah, Laura, Laura and Eni (Amey, Anastasia, Denise, Jo, Katherine, Lauren, Mairi and Sarah were also there but at the other end of the table!) We were well looked after and were each given a goodie bag, which included a £5 discount voucher for another meal. So James and I decided to treat ourselves to a meal out the following week.

Giraffe, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

mango mama and espresso martini

This time I tried the espresso martini and tuk-tuk duck stir fry. I enjoyed the martini, and the stir fry was SO GOOD. I must have said so about 10 times while eating it. Tender duck, crunchy veg, doughy noodles and yummy chilli jam. SO GOOD.

*First meal provided by Giraffe in exchange for an honest review. Second meal paid for ourselves minus a £5 voucher. Opinions, text and photos are my own.

OOTD: Striped Midi Skirt

New Look midi skirt - Emma's Picture Postcards

I really liked the 50s-style midi skirts that were in all the shops last summer, and had a few attempts at finding The One. My favourite was a thick, almost quilted one in New Look, which I loved in white but knew would get dirty as soon as I left the house in it. Plain black felt a bit boring, and I wasn’t really feeling any of the other options I saw. I hummed and hawed for long enough that they all went on sale, and finally I tried on a bunch and settled on this lovely striped number. And I’m so glad I did, because it instantly became a staple.

I love that it’s comfy enough for sitting at my desk all day, smart and practical enough for work without being too dressy, and that it goes equally well with heels and flats – essential for when I have to dash out for a last-minute driving job.

PS I’ve just looked at New Look’s website to get the links, and they now have the one I originally loved in a few beautiful pastel colours – mint, blue and pink *heart eye emoji* – I think I may be going shopping…

New Look midi skirt - Emma's Picture Postcards

Please excuse my weird face in this one, I decided it’s worth keeping for the fabulous skirt swish😉

Topshop lace up shoes - Emma's Picture Postcards

The shoes are from Topshop, and again are a trend that was love at first sight for me, but that took me ages to find the right ones. These are just what I wanted and I do love them, but I wore them to the party I went to in London a few weeks ago, and they ripped my feet to shreds, so I’d recommend having some plasters on standby and/or wearing those little socklets that cover your toes and heels for the first few times to break them in!

Rimmel London Sweetie Heart Love Bug nail polish - Emma's Picture Postcards

I love the colour of this Rimmel nail varnish but it’s an absolute nightmare to apply. You have to be really patient and apply a bit at a time and keep filling in the gaps once it dries, because if you paint some on and then touch it again with the brush, even immediately, it just wipes off.

New Look midi skirt - Emma's Picture Postcards

H&M topNew Look skirt – Topshop shoes (similar) – Accessorize sunglassesOrtak ring – Rimmel nail polish

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Isle of Skye, March 2016 – Day 3: Fairy Pools

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

After our hike up Storr on day 2, I was relieved that the other place I’d hoped to visit, the fairy pools, was a much easier walk!

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Fairy Pools are a succession of small pools and waterfalls, created by a stream coming down off the Cuillin mountains. The water is bright blue and beautifully clear, and it’s easy to see where the name comes from as the place feels very magical.

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Although the walk is a lot less steep than the one at Old Man of Storr, you still have to be nimble enough to navigate the stepping stones above. We saw a lovely little Westie carefully hopping his way across, with lots of encouragement from his owners🙂

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

When we arrived back at the car, we discovered that it had made a friend…

Emma's Picture Postcards

We spotted this gorgeous little chaffinch from about 10 metres away and inched slowly closer, but he was completely relaxed and only flew away when he was finished admiring his reflection🙂

Emma's Picture Postcards

On the way back to Kyleakin we stopped in at Cafe Sia in Broadford. They take pride in using local ingredients, hand-roast their own coffee beans and grind them to order, and have a traditional wood-fired pizza oven. I tried out the Traditional Italian pizza (mozzarella, basil oil and tomato) and a flat white, and both were delicious. With his pizza, James tried another tasty local ale (from Plockton Brewery), which was served in a frozen glass! Yum. Despite grinding the coffee beans to order meaning it took a while to prepare each one, the cafe was doing a roaring trade in take-away orders as well as people having a relaxed sit-down lunch, so I think that speaks for the quality!

Cafe Sia, Broadford, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Full up on our pizzas, we relaxed at the hotel for a while, before realising it was 7.30pm, on a Sunday, in the Highlands, in the winter season. Good luck finding somewhere open for dinner! Google informed us that the fish and chip shop in Kyle of Lochalsh was open until 8pm, so we jumped in the car and zoomed across, realising when we reached the village that we’d forgotten to take a note of where exactly the chippy was. We ended up driving past the Kyle Chinese Takeaway (on Main Street) and decided that would do nicely! Our meals were decent but apparently forgettable – I think we had chilli chicken – but the highlight was the ribs, which were fantastic.

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

And that was our weekend complete! We had such a lovely stay – Skye is a very peaceful and refreshing place. I’d recommend everywhere we visited, but most especially our accommodation, walks and lunch spots. Here are the links to Day 1 and Day 2 in case you missed them🙂

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