travel gadgets I won't be buying

It's that time of year again, when everyone under the sun is sharing packing tips and the 10 travel accessories you can't live without and all those kind of things. It's the season for travel and for dreaming of visits to far off places and exotic climates. As an intrepid explorer of the world, you want to be totally prepared for anything and travel gadgets can seem great for that - honestly though there are a few that you really can just do without. They may not all be totally ridiculous, but they do fall into the "save your money for the holiday" category. Personally, I'd rather save my money for cocktails and gelato.

Plane Sheets

I couldn't believe it when I saw these, Seat covers for airline seats, they are designed to keep germs off you. An airplane is recycled air but hey, whatever floats your boat. Might look good in your in-flight selfie but that's about it. 

Knee Defenders

I just don't get these. I get the idea - you lock this little gadget into the chair in front of you and the guy can't recline so you get your legroom back and aren't crushed. What I don't get is if the guy in front is that much of a dick that your legs are being crushed and he won't sit upright to make it better, hes also the kind of dick who will get the flight attendants to make you take the thing off. Am I the only person who sees that? I've been on more than a few flights where people have insisted to cabin crew that they move seats because the chair won't recline, so I really don't see how these actually will stop someone who really wants to be a dick about space.

Shirt Folder

I love gadget man, don't get me wrong, but the idea they had of a shirt folder as a travel essential is a bit too Sheldon Cooper for me. Like the plane sheets, a perfectly folded suitcase might look fantastic on instagram, but practically its terrible for using space. You'll get more in and it will be less creased if you roll your clothes rather than fold them. 

Wearable Luggage

I'm rather fanatical about NOT flying Ryanair. I've been flying since I was born and yet it was as a teen flying between UK and Ireland on Ryanair that made me terrified of flying. The bumpy take offs and landings gave me the worst panic attacks. So I refuse to fly them anymore, and maybe that is why I don't get this idea. Pockets yes, but these are something I just cannot get my head around. Stick to your carry on or pay for a hold bag, because the idea of effectively wearing all my stuff makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I can't imagine being on an airline I find comfortable with one of those things, let alone a cramped budget airline. No, not for me

Are there any travel gadgets you've spotted that have made you sit up and go "what the..????" 

On The Rocks - Honolulu

I'm still feeling the martini glasses and the island vibe with the drinks at the moment. Maybe its the weather, after all its almost tropical stormy out there. Yes I know, mostly that's in my head, but still. Last week we had a fruity rum based number, this we we have an even fruiter little gem featuring gin. Let me take you to Honolulu.

The fun with this one... we get to do sugar rims. This recipe will actually do two glasses (or one rather large one) so halve it if its just for you. This is however certain one worth sharing.

You Will Need

Martini Glasses
Plate - one with a high lip around the edge is best
White Sugar 

4 shots of gin
1 shot of pineapple juice
1 shot fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 shot lemon juice
1/2 shot simple syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters


Firstly, the prep. As fun as they look, sugar rims are actually really easy to do. Rub over the rim of your glass with your lemon or orange to get it wet (but tasty), then dip into a plate of sugar over and over until they are encrusted to your liking.

Like most, this is a stick everything in a shaker with ice and then strain job. This one is a very easy drink. The pineapple makes it a much lighter fruiter drink than you think it would be with the gin, but it really works well. A keeper.

Happiness is a hot bath

Now we've pretty much finished with the renovations, and I've done my tinkering with where things live, its now the time to settle back into actually relaxing of an evening and not be all about getting stuff done. I've gotten into a routine now on nights in - I cook so he does the dishes. His little routine is to leave this as late as possible before bed, so while that is going on I'll often have a bath.

Having that little routine of a bath and all that goes along with it helps me switch off at the end of the day. I've terrible anxiety and insomnia and its  works for me almost like an airlock between life and sleep times. There is also something about a bath that seems totally indulgent and like you are spoiling yourself, now that the norm seems to be showers. When we were looking at flats last year I pretty much refused to look at anything without a tub, or at least without room for a tub. To be fair, at the time I didn't expect to have to re-do the bathroom top to bottom immediately the way we did (long story), and I couldn't imagine functioning without being able to take a long bath and unwind. Also, life without bubbles and bath bombs is just not worth living.

So what is my perfect bath? Well like most things with me it starts with the prep. My PJ's and everything like that has to be ready, I pop a chair by the tub and get my tablet out so I can watch something while I soak. Then the decision on the bath products. I can spend more time than is sane on this - its what happens when you have too much choice. I need to choose the bomb, or bubbles or oil or some odd combo of all three, then the soap and so on. Generally if I'm achy its something warm and spicy, if I'm having trouble sleeping its lavender, otherwise its sniff everything to decide. There is always something in the water thou, I'm not one for a virgin tub. There is usually a face mask or hair mask involved too - peak relaxation. Other than that, just soaking and watching something fun on the tablet.

Do you ever do that thing where you sit in the bath, trying to relax, and yet you feel like you have to get out after five minutes or so because it feels like ages? There is something about the bathroom that is like a time vortex - time has no meaning inside those walls. We actually have a clock visible when you are in the shower because in the mornings I used to have to point out to the boy that he'd better get out of the shower or he'd be late way too often. It's behind my head in the tub thou, but I'll take note of that time I get in so I make sure I have at least 20 minutes. Some days I run around like such a headless chicken I have to force myself to relax. The thing about rushing about like that is that you never actually get much done, more haste less speed and all that.

That is the point really, to take time out where I'm wet - so no smartphone or laptop or doing three things at once. At this point I can only do two, wash and watch. I have to take time out to decompress. Taking this time for myself I've found I'm sleeping better, waking better and being more productive in the morning. I soak, and come out of the tub warm and relaxed, and crawls right into bed. Basically I'm spending the time I'd normally spend tossing and turning in bed in the bath relaxing and refreshing myself. Not a bad idea really eh?

On the Rocks - Queen Elizabeth

Given that Sunday 19th of June is not only fathers day, but martini day, it was definitely the week to christen the martini glasses.

I am not, however, a martini person. Too tart for my tastes in all honesty - my brother is a martini master but they've never sat well with me. Looking in my cocktail book for inspiration I came across this gem that is apparently from the The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. Tapping in to my love for everything pre-war as well as my admiration for good amber rum, it had to be the one. The sweet rum with the tart lime is a common idea, the grenadine gives it a little something else.

It's a bonus that we've just celebrated the old girls 90th birthday, what with it being called the Queen Elizabeth

You Will Need

A martini glass
2 shots amber/dark Rum
1 shot Lime juice 
1 shot of Grenadine

Construction Technique

As simple as putting everything in your shaker. filling it 3/4 full with ice and shake for about 15 seconds. Then strain into your martini glass. 

Rome - my five minute travel guide.

Rome is one of my favourite places on earth, its where we went on Honeymoon and we've been back a few times since. I'm a city person, a people watcher and a lover of Italian food and wine, so its pretty much the best place to take me.

Every time anyone tells me they are heading to Rome, I get all excited and have to share my tips and favourite places to go and eat and what to do. I figured it was about time I shared it here too. 

  • Look into a Roma Pass. Not necessarily for everyone, but well worth thinking about, this pass covers a few entrances to places, discounts and transport. There are a few different options but the main reason to go for it is generally the entrances - most specifically the Colosseum. Using the pass to get in here lets you skip the huge queue. It's worth doing the math but most times it saves you not only a few quid, but lots of time in queues.
  • Embrace the Italian Hours. Especially true in the hot months. Start early, eat later and rest in the middle of the day, I never see the point of visiting somewhere and not embracing the hours the locals keep. For a start, if you visit in the warm, you'll enjoy yourself more if you don't try to struggle through the heat. The Italians live with the heat all the time, trust them when it comes to how to survive it.
  • Don't just stick the the headline attractions. Rome is a city with so much to see, and if you have time. As well as the Colosseum and Forum, consider visiting the Palatine Hill. As well as the Vatican, consider the smaller churches - a favourite is Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano, which has 3 levels of church. San Clemente is a 12th Century Church, in whose basement is a 6th Century Church, under which can be visited an ancient Roman street. There are many such little places dotted throughout the city that you might miss if you just stick to the headliners.
  • If you want to visit the Vatican, consider booking a tour. This is another queue jumping exercise. If you book with the Vatican directly you get to skip the line, and one of the tours they offer is the only way to actually walk around inside Vatican city and gardens. It doesn't cover St. Peters, but it does cover the Sistine Chapel.
  • Wear long bottoms, and carry a big scarf everywhere. Churches contain a lot of the more spectacular attractions of Rome, and they require you to have knees and shoulders covered. Longer skirts and shorts/trousers are a good call, but for tops in a pinch just cover your shoulders with a large pashmina. The "fashion police" at St Peters can be particularly strict - I've seen people get past the metal detectors and the crazily long queue, to be turned away at the last second because they're flashing tanned shoulders. Don't risk it, always have something on you that can be used to cover up.
  • Avoid eating in tourist traps, or places that put pictures of the food on display. There are a few exceptions to the tourist area rule, one of the places we always go back to on the Piazza Campo de Fiori is a tourist restaurant that is a great people watching spot and fairly reasonable. Campo de Fiori is an exception, but in the case of places like Piazza Navona and the like, a lot of the places we found in such locations cater to the "every tourist once" market. Look out for the places the locals use. Before our last visit I found the fab Katie Parla's Food Blog covering Rome and her suggestions were 10 out to 10. She's a handy app too, but however you find where to eat, do look out for Italians among the patrons.

These are generally the things I pass on to other travellers about to visit Rome, along with a very many great gelato recommendations. Have you been to Rome? If so, are there any tips that you have to share?

Bluebird Tea Box - The Final Chapter

Bluebird Tea Club subscriptions last for six months, so this months box is my final one. Being June, most of the new editions for the summer collection turned up, the only one missing being the Strawberry Split. Oh well, I would have to do without that and make do with Sangria, Red Velvet and Jelly and Ice Cream, which is such a hardship but I'm coping.

Red Velvet is a black tea, not usually my taste, yet this one works. Deep and rich in taste, it doesn't have the bitter tannins I usually expect with black tea. The sharp edges are smoothed, leaving the depth that gives it the cake-like richness. Sunflower petals, pomegranate and vanilla match with the beetroot to give the lightness to the cocoa, really emulating the texture of red velvet cake - which after all is light textured chocolate cake. I could definitely drink more of this. Also the beetroot makes this black tea pink. Who wouldn't like pink tea right?

Sangria is a fruit tea, and a very fruity one at that. Hibiscus, apple, orange and pineapple mix well with the spicy cardamon. This guy is rich, but a lovely summery light drink - definately the summer cousin of Christmases Mulled Wine. Like the mulled wine, it can apparently be steeped in wine for a sangria like effect, and is also really lovely cold.

Jelly and Ice Cream was a disappointment. Yes, it is the roobios tea I've come to love, with sweetening vanilla and a fruity hint. However nothing was substantially different from similar Roobios blends I've had recently like Hot Cross bun, Maple Bacon and Rhubarb and Custard. Very subtle differences, but honestly guys as nice as it is I was hoping for a bit more variety. Very drinkable yes, but after months of the same sort of thing nothing to write home about. Maybe if I had a side by side tasting, but on initial gut reaction I didn't see how it was much different except its more sweet rather than rhubarb tasting.

So, being my last box, there was a nice reminder (and 10% code which was nice) that I would need to re-subscribe should I want to keep getting my tea. I thought long and hard about it, but in the end I'm not going to keep it up. It's not that I'm not loving the tea, its more that like I said it has become a bit expected and same-old-same old recently. It was the valentines range, then the easter, then summer. I've been able to predict the blends at least 70% of the time based on what they plug on social media, and I liked the idea of the box for the surprise as much as the variety of blends I might not pick myself. On that note, very similar blends have been coming and honestly, I miss the experience of heading into the shop. There are ones I know are on that big tea shelf that I would like to try, but the three packets of tea are usually more than enough a month so I haven't yet.

It's been fantastic getting to know the differences in flavours, but being lucky enough to live near to the shop I'm going to go back to popping in, sniffing the blends and deciding the old fashioned way. So, while this is the end of the tea box in the post, it isn't the end of my love affair with tea.

Sparkling Cocktails Three Ways

A classic champagne cocktail is one of those things that, to me at least, conjures up images of decadence. The spiral of lemon, sugar cube and cognac added to the already decadent champagne, it just seems the very definition of a luxury cocktail. Not something I'd make at home - for a start I don't have sugar cubes in my house, and I'm not really a fancy cognac in the cupboard person. Fancy is for nights out, and honestly, if I have champagne at home I'm drinking it as is.

There are times when you get a bottle of sparkling white wine that either isn't as drinkable as you might like, or you want to stretch out a little bit. There is of course always bucks fizz/mimosa's, but for me they are always more breakfast drinks than lazy afternoon drinks. When the hubby got given a bottle of Prosecco it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a few of the more original things to do with a bottle of fizz.

Kir Royale

A bit of a classic, I popped this one in as I tend to have a bottle of Creme de Cassis in for those times I want these amazing ribs, or for those days we are opening a white and I fancy a Kir. A normal Kir is just Cassis in white wine, the Royale is when you use a sparkling white. After all the fizz makes it more fancy right?

I usually measure by eye, but if you want to be specific, a shot/25ml jigger measure in the bottom of the glass seems to be about right. Top this with chilled sparkling wine and you have yourself a Royale. In taste think blackcurrant cordial, sweetening the acidity common with white wines and giving a richness. Good if you have a particularly tart wine. 

Limoncello Bubbles

Similar to a Kir Royale, this uses a liqueur to flavour the champagne, In this instance its the tart lemoncello, which makes it refreshing rather than sweet. Almost the opposite of the Kir's sweetness richness you have a light, tart flavour. 

Measure wise, about the same as the Cassis - a shot/25ml in a glass of fizz. Give it a bit of a stir to make sure they mix, I do keep my Limoncello in the freezer as it is best ice cold so that might be why I need to stir it. 

French 75

This beauty is a bit more complex, but honestly by far the best of the bunch. That little bit more effort makes all the difference.

Like a Collins this uses lemon juice, sugar syrup and gin, in the same quantities;

25ml sugar syrup
25ml fresh lemon juice
50ml gin

Mix these together with ice, then strain into your glass. Top up with the fizz, 

This is by far my favourite of the bunch, much more light than the limoncello bubbles, which take on the syrupy nature of the limoncello and isn't quite as light. The botanicals in the gin also lend a lightness to the drink. I could be happy to drink this instead of prosecco any day

What is your favourite thing to do to mix it up when drinking fizzy wine??