Sunday, 29 January 2012

One night in Brussels

After parading around Paris, rubbing shoulders with the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame in chilly December, it was time for the next stop on my European tour courtesy of Hotel Business magazine. This time, I was invited to Brussels to attend a Marriott Hotel chef competition. After getting the green light from my boss, I mentally made my wardrobe choices and updated my Twitter with the news. Having never been to Brussels before, I was excited to see what the city had in store, and with the added bonus of it being all expenses paid, it made the experience even sweeter.

To say the trip got off slightly on the wrong foot is probably an understatement, as I managed to do the ultimate travel faux-pas and forget my passport. After driving the two hours from work in Colchester to my parents house in Bedford, it wasn’t until I just scoffed down a yummy homemade dinner and treated myself to a couple of chocs, that it dawned on me I was missing a vital ingredient to my trip. A three-hour, 80mph dash round the country followed, luckily with my mum and JLS for company, and I finally crashed out in back in Bedford, hair washed and packed ready around 12am. So not the best start!

I arrived at the Eurostar bleary-eyed and eager to meet the other journalist who was travelling with me. I was greeted by a glamorous older lady, who proceeded to tell me how tired she was because her husband kept her up late, wink wink, nudge nudge, so I knew we were going to get on like a house on fire. Two hours later and with enough innuendos to fill a Carry On film, we arrived in Brussels. 

Checking into the hotel, we were told that we’d been upgraded to a junior suite and to have a complimentary lunch in the hotel’s restaurant; I tried to play it cool, but I could hardly contain my excitement. So one king prawn salad and two glasses of Prosecco later, I was positively tipsy with a sudden burst of energy. We then had a tour of the hotel and looked on as chefs from all over Europe cooked up a feast for the competition. I had to promptly remind myself that this was the purpose of my trip and not just to gorge on free food and booze.

Each kitchen team was from a different region of Europe: Germany, France, Austria, Holland, Russia and of course the UK, and the task was a come up with a three course meal with only certain ingredients supplied. Think international Ready, Steady, Cook. The teams also had to decorate their dining table in the most imaginative, beautiful way possible and were judged on all these elements. 

The evening started with unusual canapés of beef tartar (which I only realised was raw beef after I had tried one, much to my dismay) meatballs and mussels, accompanied by an abundance of champagne. I met people from all over the world and got to see a little glimpse of what their lives were like. I was sat on the Dutch table and was treated to their delicious meal; spinach, pasta and mushrooms to start, salmon, veg and scallops for main and some yummy strawberry compote with fruit for dessert.

After the judging, the UK team came out victorious and scooped first prize of a trip to Washington to meet Mr Marriott himself (I’m still trying to blag my way onto that trip). A couple more glasses of wine later, I was starting to wilt, so retired to my plush king size bed to get some shut eye.

The next morning I had breakfast with the other journalist and the PR, which meant even more champagne to toast our UK victory. I checked out and decided to use my spare time before our train back to see a few sites.  

I wonder where I’ll get to go next!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Dress to Impress this Valentine's Day

With the new year well underway and the only lasting memory of Christmas being the extra weight on your behind, February brings us a feast of new trends at fashion week and the headache of Valentines Day. 

But whether you’re single or loved-up, heading off anywhere in a fashion disaster is a no no. Out for dinner with a partner, dancing with the girls, or crying into a bucket of Haagen-Dazs whilst belting out a Celine Dion classic, you can still do it in style. If you are lucky enough to have bagged yourself a dinner date on the most romantic night of the year, then make the most of the preparation, it’s the fun part.  

Although the odds are stacked against you, and the chances of it imitating a black and white movie are slim, a date on Valentines day doesn’t have to be a complete write-off. The key is too look attractive without trying too hard and hoping to balance expectation with excitement; it’s a tricky mix, but oozing just the right amount of sex appeal might even guarantee you a smooch.
The most important thing, is to be comfortable. Painful shoes and jeans that give you a muffin top will not do the trick and even sporting your lucky pants won’t help you out of this major fashion faux-pau. Dress like yourself; a first date is not the time to try out a new persona, not matter how cool Brigitte Bardot looked in Helen of Troy.

Firstly, do your research. How posh is the restaurant? You don’t want to rock up in your best cocktail dress when everyone is slumped against the bar in jeans and converse. It’s good to find some balance, if you’re wearing jeans and a sparkly top, opt for heels to glam it up. If you’ve opted for a dress, throw on flats or a casual jacket.  50s style dresses are bang on trend right now; mid-length skirts, tweed patterns and vintage lace all featured heavily on the catwalks for the season. Dorothy Perkins has a great selection to flatter any figure. Try to steer clear of jeans and a plain white sheer shirt, while it might scream strong powerful woman everywhere else, on a date you’ll end up being interrogated like you’re on a job interview. 

Another hot trend is pastels. Miss Selfridge stock tops, jeans and skirts in light hues and will look cute and innocent on a dinner date. Just steer clear of the tomato based sauces and keep your dinner on your plate and not in your lap. The trendy bird print is here to stay for another year as the high street prepares to take flight with this year’s fashion. Next, Warehouse and Oasis have a great range to tempt even the strictest vegans to indulge in a bit of bird. 

1. Dorothy Perkins £25  2. Miss Selfridge £10.50 3. Bank £22 4. Topshop £68
Whatever your plans for Valentines, keep it simple; patterned dress with a classic clutch, or a basic dress with contrasting shoes, and stay comfortable and confident.

Anyway, according to statistics it's estimated that 15% of women will send themselves flowers on Valentine's Day, so why not go the extra mile and treat yourself to a new outfit instead? And even if you end the date like a scene from Lady and the Tramp, or running away faster than you can say disaster, at least you’ll have your fashion dignity left to hold on. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

Weekend celebrations

So the beginning of January marks one big thing for the Monk family. No, it’s not the start of a new fad diet, or my dad’s excitement at taking down the Christmas decorations; it’s my Grandma’s 90th birthday. The last surviving grandparent and looking like she’s got a few more years left in her yet, visiting her is always a treat. 

Even though she hasn’t got a Scooby-doo what’s going on and really doesn’t know who we are anymore, one thing remains, her sense of humour. Whether it’s telling my dad a thousand times not to spill his tea, or calling me Pearl and telling me I have a flabby arm, she doesn’t beat about the bush and is an absolute hoot. 

What she lacks in mind, she more than makes up for in body and health. She loves to have a chuckle, and still tries her luck with various men that frequent the home she lives in.
The fun trick of the day was her showing us how she could pop her teeth out, which was met by raucous laughter from the room. Opening cards and presents was slightly laborious and explaining to her who they were from went in one ear and out the other without stopping in the middle to register, but I always cherish spending time with her. So even though it was a birthday party with no alcohol (a foreign concept to me) we had a lovely time.

To top off my weekend, I went to Emilys for the evening, where after dragging our heels round Asda for sometime we decided to cook Katsu curry, followed by a new chocolately treat from Suzi. After stuffing our faces, we decided to bless the neighbours and belt out a few classic tunes on the karaoke machine.

Sunday, we were treated to breakfast at Suzi’s, followed by a stroll down the seafront getting battered by the wind and a visit to see baby Freddie. Perfecto!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

January style stakes...

Well what a year it's been. First, we had a wedding bonanza with style queen Kate Moss waltzing down the aisle, heir to the throne Kate Middleton catapulted into the style stakes with the world closely analysing her every fashion move, and renowned designer Donnatella Versace penning a bespoke range for high-street favourite H&M. Plus, the birth of future fashionista Harper Beckham and the obsession with a certain sister’s bottom began. So unless you’ve been hiding in a fashion disaster all year, you would’ve seen all these crazes unfold. 

2011 was definitely a fashionable year; we’ve seen the rise of the romantic ruffle, animal print losing its ties with Kat Slater, and the styles of the 1940s having a renaissance. Now, 2012 looks to be no different with a plethora of new trends elbowing their way onto the catwalks. With Christmas done and dusted for another year, resolutions made (and broken), and the depressing first day back at work conquered, it's time to embrace this season's new styles.

As the madness of the winter sales reaches its peak and dedicated shoppers raid the racks for a bargain, it’s the perfect time of year to start shopping for your winter staple; the coat. As the weather continues to give us a chill, we want to wrap up warm and it's vital that your coat does its job. But bleak weather doesn’t mean dull dressing, so make sure you stick to the styles that suit and nail this trend. 

Floor-grazing overcoats were big news on the catwalk last year, with lean, tailored styles boasting city-smart drama, while softer dressing-gown cuts presented a more relaxed approach. Westfield at Stratford City now boasts popular American store Forever 21 which stocks a fab range of overcoats.
Macho, tailored and extremely warm, these versatile long coats are perfect for classic daywear; structured, belt wrapped and double breasted, imitating styles seen on cult TV show The Sopranos. Head down to Zara to spot this style in various colours and tones. 


 For something a little more laidback, and keeping in mind this transitional weather, blanket coats and cosy knitted numbers make great off-duty options. Get your inspiration at River Island for ponchos, capes and cardi-coats with belts, which make ideal layering devices. Opt for navy, tan or monochrome colourings to hit this trend right on the head.

Blanket wraps are also another must-have for January. Big names such as Matthew Williamson and Chloe all produced checked or patchwork versions in bright hues and grey tones, some with fringed edging and blanket-stitching adding in native touches. Red Herring at Debenhams has nailed this styled alongside teen favourite Miss Selfridge. 

Not necessarily new for 2012, faux fur has rocketed into the mainstream and onto the fashionista radar to fast become a micro trend for the colder season.

Topshop once again shine through as the trend-setters and as the high-street staple launches its sale, you’ll want to be first in line to have a rummage. Keep it simple in dull tones of light grey that oozes a forties glamour with a 1970s twist. Whether you go for 70s glamour or overstated up-town luxury, faux fur is set to continue to create waves in the designs for next year. Faux fur automatically brings any look into the modern day and h&m hosts some key accessory items if you want to dip your toe into this trend.  

While a scarf seems to be an insignificant and small accessory it can help you transform your entire look, not to mention help to keep you cosy.

Snoods are very trendy again this season. Dorothy Perkins has a great selection of snoods in both bright colours to freshen up your style and pastel colour to mirror that slice of elegance. Knitted or fashioned out of fur, snoods come in various styles, and it’s important to find the one that suits both you and your chosen overcoat style.  

So as you muscle in amongst the crowds for the January sales, keep your eyes peeled for that crucial coat to ensure you’re streaks ahead of the fashion pack for the start of the new year.

Monday, 9 January 2012

A few festive snaps

So Christmas has come and gone; the tree sent off to the shredder, turkey sandwiches done to death and the mulled wine hangover well and truly over, and what a brilliant time it was. I got to go home for a glorious ten days, where I spent my time enjoying mumsy’s washing facilities and laughing with loved ones.

I stuffed my face with dads turkey (the one meal he cooks for the year), squealed in delight opening my presents, and played games till we were blue in the face. 

Least when the January depression set in, I had some happy memories to look back on.
So after gaining something close to a ton and falling at the first hurdle of my New Year’s diet (they offered chocolate biscuits round at work and it felt rude to refuse) I’m eager to get back into my fitness regime.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

One night in Paris

A typical Monday morning a couple of weeks ago I was sitting at my desk, pretending to do work whilst scouring the Dailymail online for my latest celebrity gossip fix, I got a phone call from a PR. Expecting to have my ear bent about some new product that claims to be the best thing since sliced bread, I had to stifle a little scream when she asked if I’d like to go to Paris for the night to stay in some swanky hotel. Obviously it was a tough decision, deciding whether to spend two days staring at my screen or flouncing around gay Pari, but I tried my upmost to act cool when I accepted her offer.

On the Thursday I set off for London and headed for the Eurostar. After being greeted at the terminal by hundreds of over-excited kids, I was relieved when the call for Disneyland Paris was announced and I could continue my portrayal of a novice business traveller. Once onboard and after fighting with the crowds, I finally found my seat and prepared to embrace every minute of my trip.

Arriving into Gare de Nord station, I found a small French man clutching a placard with my name as my eyes scanned the rest of the station. We waited for the other two journalists – both from The Sun who grilled me about my job during the majority of the taxi ride – and got to the hotel. The purpose of the trip was to take a tour of the ‘room of the future’ a makeshift room full of the latest gadgets and gizmos, but after a quick whizz-round I was eager to get out and explore. 

Wondering round Paris on my own was definitely surreal, and it wasn’t quite as romantic being alone but it was a fantastic experience and even in that short time I managed to visit the main sites.

I didn’t sample any traditional French cuisine though, when it came to dinner I was absolutely ravenous so I opted for a classy kebab and chips instead.