Travel flashback - Cancun and Chichen Itza

One thing about Cancun is that the only Mexican restaurant we could seem to find in the "party area" had average Mexican food, which was a disappointment to say the least. But, one thing it did excel in - telling because of the most prominent nationality of visiting tourists - was American food. Served up in American size portions, but at Mexican prices. Perfect!

It seems somewhat shameful to confess that some of my favourite meals enjoyed were in the likes of Planet Hollywood, T.G.I Friday's, Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe but that should tell you that Cancun is not a real taste of Mexico. Honestly though, the ribs at that Planet Hollywood were the best I'd ever tasted, and to give you an idea of portion size: we ordered a piece of chocolate fudge cake to share - they sent over a cake. Like a genuine full-size cake. It cost $6 which, with the exchange rate, equalled roughly £3.20. For a whole cake!!

One thing I took away food-wise was from Pat O'Brien's, which still exists in the US but has since closed down in Cancun, is the dish Jambalaya. That's where I was first introduced to it and it's now one of my signature dishes. Love it or hate it, Cancun is also where I visited my first ever Walmart. Yep, Cancun is ridiculously Americanised, which is why we made sure we soaked up some Mayan culture whilst we were there. Near the Walmart though, which is downtown, is Market 23 which is more local. When we were there it was easier to haggle for a lower price than at the "party zone" market (Market 28), though things may have changed now.

When partying at Señor Frog's or Coco Bongo with the Americans gets too much - rowdy doesn't come close - then a visit to Chichen Itza is a must. FYI, I just *had* to go to Coco Bongo after seeing The Mask, which is also why I had to haggle at the market for a Loki mask - mine was much better than his wooden one though - but, back to Chichen Itza.

It's about 115 miles from Cancun to Chichen Itza but don't let that put you off as Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities. One thing you can't do any more, which I did, is climb to the top of El Castillo (middle right photo is the front and top left is the back). If I recall correctly, the back is mostly original stone, whereas the front has been repaired over the years so it didn't crumble away when people climbed up and down.

I'd say it's probably a good thing that you can no longer climb up, though the view from the top is incredible as all around Chichen Itza it's just miles and miles of jungle. When we visited we were told that an ambulance was always on site as people fall down El Castillo quite frequently and I get why. Not because I fell, but because whilst climbing up was relatively OK, descending was bloody terrifying. You don't realise climbing up just how steep it is and I remember that we ended up shuffling down on our bums, praying wildly that we didn't need that ambulance. Still, all in the spirit of adventure right?

Going to Cancun was a great holiday, though I was miffed that a heatwave was happening back in the UK - typical! Because it was hurricane season, our last four days involved heavy rain and a cancelled boat trip. But, that meant more shopping time, which is why I ended up paying for excess luggage at the airport... I suspect that's how my credit card got cloned. o_O A nice welcome home surprise!

I'd love to go back one day and explore more of the real Mexico. Has anyone else been to Mexico? If so, where should I go next time? x

Travel flashback: Arriving in Cancun

Eight years ago I went on holiday for the very first time with friends, sans adult supervision, because we were (just) adults ourselves. Originally we planned on a fly-drive holiday down the East coast of the US, but only one of us could drive (me) and then another friend who wanted to come away with us didn't have the budget to do that, though she did have a driving license. Typical. We then decided on a week, somewhere in Europe, which turned into two weeks in Mexico - more specifically, Cancun in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Going at the end of May/beginning of June means two things. 1) It's the onset of hurricane season. 2) Summer break for the Americans. Both of these points are very significant, but I'll get to that next time.

It took us thirteen hours to get there, which seems ridiculous as I've flown much further than that in less time. But, we were on a charter flight which basically means you get a tour of the world. Though we needed to head South, we first headed North, past Iceland and up to Greenland, before making our way to the Canadian West coast. We travelled all the way down there and the coast of the US - guess we sort of did get that US coastal experience, albeit by air and the wrong side of the country - before scooting around Cuba (the long way round, obviously) and into Cancun where we came to a halt right in front of lots of jungle.

By the time we had sorted out the airport and got to our hotel it was pitch black, even though it was only 8pm. Ah yes, that old travel confusion. It was also very humid which resulted in us spending $6 each on a bottle of Evian. We were seriously over-charged, but it was bloody worth it (and at least the dollar to pound was $1.9:£1 at the time). We had no clue of our bearings, were getting cranky, and we just wanted to find something to eat. It was at this point we realised we were a long way from home. Our hotel was also not as wonderful as we were led to believe, with two double beds for three of us. We may have teared up a bit at this point, but it was travel exhaustion - honestly - though one of my friends was sorely tempted to use her Dad's credit card to check into a better hotel!

The next day was better - looking out of our patio window to see sand, sunshine and beautiful coloured sea is a great leveller on the human spirit - and we soon got the hang of Cancun life and the rowdy Americans who made us come across all twee and contrary (when we weren't pretending to be from Alabama, that is).

One thing that has been greatly installed in me is that if you do a "beach" holiday you do need to balance it out and see some sights. We visited Chichen Itza, which I'll talk about another time, as well as what else we got up to... Turns out that it may have been many moons ago that I went to Cancun, but I have a lot of memories! {^_^}

Where did you go on your first holiday without parental supervision? x

London in the sunshine

London in the sun is absolutely glorious, especially since Brit Fever is taking over with the impending Jubilee as well as the Olympics. We're looking very patriotic at the moment!

Spending the day by the Thames, soaking up the sun and some well-known landmarks is a must.

That doesn't mean that when nightfall comes that London looks less spectacular though.

Beautiful. x

After some summer reads?

At the moment I'm enjoying reading The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr given that Jubilee fever is definitely in the London air. I am a big fan of The Queen - I was so excited the day I randomly spotted her leaving Westminster Abbey in her car and she waved at me - so would recommend it if you're wondering what The Queen does and why we're celebrating her Jubilee this year.

But, if you're looking for a few more books to read as summer season is approaching and you might be after some beach reads, then here are some books I've really enjoyed over the past few weeks. What I'm reading at the moment can always be found on Goodreads.

  • The Marchwood Vampire series and Outside by Shalini Boland - I was sceptical about both having read far too many vampire and dystopian Young Adult books of late, but I was wrong. Both Outside and The Marchwood Vampire books (Hidden and Thicker Than Blood) are brilliant reads that you'll want to continue reading without stopping until you've finished them. These are going to be the next big thing!
  • The Kindest Thing by Cath Staincliffe is another page-turner. This time it's a book about dying but in a human way. Protagonist Deborah is on trial for helping to kill her husband, at his request, because of the disease he has was robbing him of his life and he wanted to go with dignity. It's clever, emotional, and makes you think.
  • Rosie Fiore's Babies in Waiting didn't seem like my cup of tea given it was about babies but I was proved wrong - remember not to judge a book by its cover or subject matter! It's about 3 mothers who are all expecting babies in the same month and it's beautifully written.
  • Finally, Mortal Chaos by Matt Dickinson has an intricately-woven plot that is seriously impressive. Based on chaos theory, this Young Adult book deserves to be enjoyed by all. 

Happy reading! Am hoping that I will soon have some news to share about my first book to be published - then you can all add it to your summer reading lists! ;) Do you have any recommended reads for me? x

Latest Love: Smash's A Thousand and One Nights

I am absolutely LOVING Smash and had to share this musical number from it - amazing! I now want to have proper Bollywood dance lessons as it made me recall how much fun the Bollywood dancing was in India. Now, screw the lightbulb, screw the lightbulb, butter the bread! {^_^} x

Focaccia con pancetta e cipolle

Yesterday I made the rather delicious "focaccia con pancetta e cipolle" - it took me three hours, from start to finish, but it was completely worth it. (That's a pancetta and onion focaccia bread to you and me.)

The recipe can be found in Gino D'Acampo's Italian Home Baking book. Butter and balsamic vinegar go wonderfully with the bread, or serve it with your favourite pasta dish. Buon appetito! {^_^} x

Theatre review: BABEL London

Last week I snagged free tickets to go and see BABEL London, an immersive theatrical experience combining storytelling, live music, massed choirs and state-of-the-art visual effects to celebrate what it means to be part of a truly global community and the world city that is London (their words, not mine). Featuring a cast of 300 and set in  Caledonian Park this was going to be a little different than the previous night's The Wizard of Oz.

Having gone to Future Cinema's Bugsy Malone last month I thought I had a pretty good understanding of immersive theatre - a new trend? - but BABEL was something different. OK, it didn't require any dressing up like Bugsy, except for warm clothes - how bleak is May this year? I for one near the end of the evening was very glad to have layered up - but it required a lot more attention. Less passing enjoyment of what was going on and much more awareness. In fact, we were given a card at the start of the evening - which I neglected to look at, oops - telling us to:

Slow down, listen, look hard, see more.

When entering the park all around you are little scenes going on. What's interesting is that all these people are acting in isolation - they are all solitary - and mirror and fire make a reoccurring appearance. The people all seem downcast, downtrodden, and they are absorbed with their tasks. It's all a little bizarre. There are also people in off-white clothing who seem to be some sort of spiritual people? Leaders? It was a little hard to say, but I guess that's a good thing about the performance that it makes you think about what is going on around you.

All the action takes place around the outside perimeter of the park and eventually you make it to the centre where a clock tower looms over everything. There's scaffolding erect and tents and tables where you can buy food and drink, learn how to knit, make a Plasticine model or get a massage, to name a few of the things we saw going on. There's also a music tent with musicians and corners where people (the cast, not just anyone) share their stories - some which aren't in English.

I have to say, we were still thoroughly confused at this point. It's all a bit random and you have about an hour to "explore" the park before the live action really kicks in and you get more sense of the story and what's going on. One thing that was nice was the transition from light to dark, which added to the atmosphere, but immersive for me works a lot better if the audience have an inkling of what they are getting themselves into - the aim of this was probably to be "surprising" to people but it would have worked better if it had been more forthcoming.

The action kicks off around half 9 when a man goes on to the scaffolding in front of the clock tower to talk to the crowd. Security get involved and the man in charge asks the people why they are there. They tell of the tower calling to them and the still unknown people in white encourage them that today is the day. Who are these people and just what's so special about today?

What happens next is a stand off between the people and the security, with some of the security turning against their leader as they emphasise with the gathered people because of their shared humanity. The people no longer want to be scattered across the globe and want to be reunited and dwell together. I won't spoilt it but a stand-off ensues though, of course, there is the implied happy ending - as much as there can be a happy ending when the world they inhabit seems to be a dystopian one.

You're probably gathering from this review that I just wasn't convinced about BABEL, and you'd be right. Perhaps I just like my theatre a little more fluffy and care-free enjoyable, but I'm sure there are others who would definitely disagree with me and urge you to go and see it. It's interesting, certaintly, and a different sort of theatrical experience but I just didn't find it enthralling.

If you do want to do something a bit quirky, then do give it a go. It definitely throws up a lot of questions and makes you think - let me know if you figure out who the people dressed in white are - but you'll have to be quick as it's only on until May 20th, 2012.

Latest love: London Timelapse

How incredible is this video of London? Epic! {^_^}

Musical review: The Wizard of Oz

Last night we went to see The Wizard of Oz, which is in its last run before the show ends in September. It's been a short-run for the show - it opened officially  in March 2011 - in comparison, Lloyd Webber's The Sound of Music, also of the BBC find the star format, ran for 2 years and 3 months.

A great thing to note is that when musicals are coming to an end or when a major cast change takes place - Russell Grant is bowing out as The Wizard at the end of this week with Des O'Conner finishing off the run - you often find cheaper tickets. We snagged stalls tickets last night for £15 each - the usual cost for those seats is £65 each. Ker-ching! is a firm favourite of mine and it's worth signing up to their newsletter to make sure you don't miss out on any theatre deals.

The show itself was enjoyable with brilliant use of video that Lloyd Webber also utilised amazingly in Love Never Dies - it really gave the cyclone something more than I suspect it wouldn't have had in earlier productions although, unlike The Sound of Music or Joseph (the other BBC find the star show), The Wizard of Oz is not a West End revival which did surprise me.

I can't wax lyrical about Russell Grant as The Wizard - the role of The Wizard isn't supposed to be a charismatic one anyway but he didn't add anything extra in my opinion. The most lovable character had to be the Tin Man, wonderfully played by Edward Baker-Duly (he was also in Upstairs Downstairs - love!). The dog who played Toto, of course, stole all the dog-lover's hearts, and Sophie Evans as Dorothy served the role well.

If I was a child seeing this production though the opening to Act II would have SCARED me - the Witch's Castle set up is very evil-looking and the Winkies and flying monkeys also fit that bill. Thank goodness I'm an adult! ;)

All-in all, The Wizard of the Oz isn't the best musical I've seen (Shrek and Mary Poppins still retain that honour) but it's enjoyable enough. It's on at the London Palladium until September 2nd, 2012. 

Sunday roast - pork belly

Yesterday whilst Olly was watching Spurs' final game of the season, it was my responsibility to make the Sunday roast... completely on my own. Here's how I fared:

 Delicious pork belly and crispy crackling served with thyme, garlic, onion, chantenay carrots and broccoli. And, of course, just a little bit of onion balsamic vinegar gravy as the various bits bring pretty awesome flavours to the table as it is. 

What's your favourite type of Sunday roast? x

Latest Loves: 13.5.12

As one of my resolutions this year was to cook more, my first latest love is food-related. Gino D'Acampo's Italian Home Baking book has some gorgeous recipes for bread (as well as biscuits, cakes, pasta and pizza) and I can't wait to make some. I've been wanting to have a go at making some home-made bread for a while and now I can - my first recipe attempt will have to be the very delicious-sounding Focaccia con pancetta e cipolle (Focaccia with crispy pancetta and onions). I'll let you know how it turns out! 

Second up is Instagram, although I'm slightly peeved as someone had taken my usual ellefie account name - you can find my photos instead at clairemfield. The only problem though is that once you start filtering pictures, they just don't look as good without it! I love that someone is trying to raise funds to try and bring out a real-life Instagram camera - how much fun would that be?

I started watching Smash this week and absolutely love it - amazing cast, great story and, oh my, the musical numbers! It's about a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe and is a must-watch if you're a musical theatre fan. There's a rumour as well that it may actually make it on to Broadway! {^_^}

Finally, Pull&Bear is a latest love for their cute and reasonably priced tees. Today I am wearing the rather cute Fly with me vest top - perfect for this warm weekend we're having, although it's supposed to rain again next week. Grrrr!

What are your latest loves, and what are you looking forward to next week? I have two theatre trips to be excited about next week - we're going to see The Wizard of Oz and I also snagged freebies to go and see Babel. I'll be sure to review them and let you know if they are any good, but I'm sure they will be. {^_^} x

Latest love: To Infinity! Space Shuttle necklace

I love quirky necklaces, my two favourite ones being my Bambi necklace and my travel Tink one. The travel Tink one came minus the Tink charm from Temporary:Secretary - the Tink Charm is Disney Couture and was part of my leaving present when I left UNICEF. I much prefer Tink sharing a necklace than having her on her own chain.

I love this space shuttle necklace that I spotted on the Eclectic Eccentricity site. How amazing is this!

I also love this necklace. Do you have a favourite necklace or online jewellery shop? x

UPDATE: I did order the space shuttle necklace, but had to send it back as in real life it looks really cheap. Boooooooo!

Home-made paprika chips recipe

I'm a big fan of home-made chips. Sometimes these chips are best seasoned with salt and malt vinegar, other times you might just fancy something a bit different... I give you, paprika chips! (Well, York gave you paprika chips - all the chippies there seem to have paprika chips on the menu and that's where this inspiration came from.)

First up, get the oven heated to 180°C, which is gas mark 4. Get your potatoes peeled and sliced - how thick you want these is your call, but I wouldn't go *too* thin. King Edward, Maris Piper or Sante are *the* potatoes recommended for chips but, I'll confess, today I actually used a large baking potato as it needed using up and they still tasted YUMMY.

Put your chips into a large pan of salted cold water and bring them to the boil. As soon as it's reached boil, drain them and grab some kitchen roll. You want to make sure that the chips are dry(ish) and not soggy. Once you've done that, it's paprika time!

Add a splash or two of veggie or sunflower oil into a bowl and coat your chips in the oil. Then add some paprika and get those chips covered. With the oil they'll absorb the paprika and they will be nicely, not excessively covered. Don't let the picture alarm you, this was before I got my hands stuck in and made sure that the paprika was evenly spread.

Put your paprika chips on a baking tray and cook for around 25 minutes, remembering to flip them over and give them a shake around whilst they are cooking. You want these to be a bit crispy to bring out the flavour so use your judgement if you think they need a little longer in the oven. Voila! Yummy paprika chips. {^_^}

I served mine up with a sweet chilli chicken burger, topped with jalapeños and nacho chips - a taste overload this lunchtime! x

Beauty review: Lava shell massage

I've had various types of massages in my time and have been looking forward to trying out a lava shell massage which I finally got to do today at Skin3. It uses naturally self-heating Tiger Clam shells which have minerals and water in them, allowing the lava shells to stay hot for 1-2 hours. This means that there should be no stops and starts changing the shells like there is with a hot stone massage.

Since going to Go Ape the other week I've had some upper back and neck tension which hasn't been helped by the fact I'm working at home this week, editing my book, on the bed. Not good.

The lava shells were used about 25% of the time, the rest of the time it was usual massage contact. I'm not sure if that's standard or unique to the salon I went to, but it seems a little silly if you're going for a lava shell massage that it's more of a normal massage than anything else. The shells being filled up oddly sounded like someone brushing their teeth - distracting - and they needed refilling so it wasn't one fluid massage where you can just zone out for the entirety.

There were only certain times that the lava shells were actually nicer than the normal massage part and that was in my neck area. They seemed to suit that area perfectly, whereas in other areas - in particular my feet and my chest - it did not feel pleasant. AT ALL. If you're grimacing instead of relaxing, it's probably not the treatment for you.

I'm glad I tried it and the salon was nice enough, although a lot of salons really need to work on their sound-proofing. If I can hear conversations and noises around the salon, I can't really relax, so I didn't leave with that floaty, satisfied feeling that signifies a darn good massage. I was keen on trying a glacial shell massage which combines heated and chilled shells but I'm not sure I will now.

What's your favourite type of massage? Have you had a lava shell or glacial shell massage before? x

Latest Love: Tube ad edition

I love these ads that can be found on the Victoria line at Warren Street (both North and South lines) at the moment (probably elsewhere too, but I've not spotted them at other stations). On each line there are three different ads grouped together in one big ad, encouraging you to visit Western France. These remind me of my childhood and summer hols spent doing exactly that - a welcome blast from the past when I'm waiting for a tube knowing that rainy London is above me. x

Like what you do.

"The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does."

~ JM Barrie

Happy Birthday Audrey!

Audrey Hepburn is one of my absolute favourites and she was born today, 83 years ago. My favourite film of hers is the wonderful How to Steal A Million. What's your favourite Audrey film? x


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...