Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Home away from Home

There are a few places where you genuinely feel 'at home'. Even when we go to my family home in Italy, it does not quite feel like 'home' any more. There are plenty of memories, but they often make the place too raw to feel like home. Home to me is where I can relax the moment I walk through the door and where I get a good night sleep and ideally a break from the manic side of life.

For this family the Four Seasons in Hampshire is a true home (not that far away) from home. We go at least once a year and usually in the autumn, when the summer holidays are sadly a distant memory and the Christmas craziness has not started yet. The moment we arrive is the moment we know that we are in for a fun and relaxed time. 

Beside the beautiful building, a fantastic swimming pool and spa, and the fact that each and every single member of the staff is super attentive to all guests, them being adults, children or dogs, there is one added reason why Miss G loves the Four Seasons and it comes in the form of its resident dog, Oliver, the black labrador. She fell in love with him the first time she met him and the love has never stopped. 

Luckily I had been in touch with the hotel before we left and I knew that Oliver had had an operation and might have not been his usual perky self, which meant that I could prepare Little G in case he was a bit poorly or even not around. She refused to believe that she might not see him and made him a get well card as 'this will make him better, mamma'. Don't you love the optimism of kids?

Unfortunately Oliver was not around on our arrival, but he had left Miss G an unexpected gift in our room. There it was, an Oliver table mat with the sweetest note. Miss G couldn't stop laughing at the fact that Oliver signed his card with a paw and that it said 'love and licks'. She also very much appreciated the Four Seasons sweet welcome (all suitable for her allergies) and so did we. Do you see what I mean when I say it's a 'home from home'? 

Whilst Mr H opted for a nap, Little G and I put our wellies on and went to say hi to some of the other Four Seasons four legged members of staff, the horses. The sun was just setting down and it was utter delight to have a warm fire and a bottle of water welcoming us back to the hotel from our walk. It is the small things after all...

A stay at the Four Seasons wouldn't be complete without a pre-dinner swim and splash. It's our ritual. Little G took it a step further by wanting to try the steam room, sauna and all the products in the changing room, hair gel and talcum powder included! Only then she was ready for dinner (with her Oliver soft toy, of course) and a cosy night sleep.

Day two saw Miss G's eyes literally light up when her favourite friend made a much unexpected appearance. Yes, Oliver was back! Not in his usual red collar and not in his usual sparky mood, but to Miss G it did not matter at all. He was there to be stroked and cuddled and that was good enough for her. And us.

Sadly Oliver was out of action and unable to come for a walk with us, but we decided to go anyway and made the most of a misty walk on the hotel grounds. We visited the Four Seasons chickens, the kids adventure trail and we finished it all off with a fun session at the well appointed playground. It was smiles all around a lot of fresh air (and muddy boots).

Tired but in high spirits we left the hotel for a nice pub lunch and a visit to the nearby Alice Holt forest. We even went on a Gruffalo trail, which was not much to speak about, but it was fun nonetheless. Once there we realised that our aversion to get muddy made us stick out amongst the local crowd. I guess you can take city people out of the city, but you can't really convince them that being covered in mud is all that normal after all. I think a couple of my instagram followers were amused by my ashtags for the day #CityPeopleDoCountryside #Fakers #MudNoThanks 

Of course we were all quite tired, exhausted actually, but we were also happy and in good spirits after the walk and the fresh air. Just when we thought the day couldn't get any better, guess who came jumping at us to greet our return to the hotel?

Seeing Little G so happy that she was nearly in tears made me a bit choked up inside. Maybe the countryside air does play tricks even on cynical city girls like me? Our day finished off with a swim and a game of grab-as-many-floaters-as-possible, which Little G won without a shadow of a doubt. Some hair gel and a candle-lit dinner later, we were all ready for bed at 9pm, which surely is a sign of the good and fun day that we had.

Needless to say, we woke up in a great mood ready to enjoy the Four Seasons epic Sunday breakfast, plus some newspaper reading or, in Little G's case, iPad playing. If Sunday mornings were always like that at my house, I'd be in heaven! 

Miss G wouldn't let us leave the hotel without saying goodbye to Oliver, but he was not around and I had to prepare her for the eventuality that he was actually having a day off. The tears were nearly streaming down her face when Mr H took her out for a final walk on the hotel grounds and guess who came running to say goodbye once we were literally packing the car and ready to leave? Oliver himself! Little G was in disbelief and wide-eyed said to me: "Mamma, he sniffed my car seat, so he can remember me next time I arrive at the hotel!" And just like that, we departed our home away from home feeling energised, relaxed and happy.

* Please note that we were not guests of the Four Seasons Hampshire and that we paid for our stay, so this post is a genuine review of a place that we love and that we like to call home once or twice a year. The Oliver table mat was a welcome and unexpected gift, but then I doubt that many guests would be writing prior to their arrival to find out how Oliver is...

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Only know you've been high when you're feeling low...

Year 2000: My Graduation Party
Ready to take on the world! 
You know when you are in your teens and early 20s and you can't see how beautiful you are? You inevitably compare yourself with the friends who are taller, slimmer, prettier than you. There is always someone out there with glossier hair, longer legs, better skin. Ten or fifteen years later you come across a picture of your 'ugly' younger self and you see your utter beauty. You can't actually believe that you found so many faults with your looks. 

Yet you haven't quite learned your lesson yet. You look at the mirror and you want to believe that in ten years time you will look back at your present self and once again see that beauty that right now you are struggling to find in your own reflection. Not just the physical beauty, but your spiritual beauty, your strength, your confidence.

Your body is different, you have had a child, you are devoting yourself to raise that little person as well as keep everything else together. You don't have the time to obsess about yourself any more as there are mouths to feed, clothes to wash, bills to pay. Your girlfriends don't call you with funny tales about the boy who is driving them mad. They call you because they have real problems, because their boss is an asshole, because their kids are ill, because their husbands don't understand them.

You try your best to keep up with all these adults conversations and responsibilities, you want to remind yourself that you are smart and fun and beautiful, but somedays you don't feel that way at all. You want a change, but the world is less full of possibilities than it was ten years ago. Everyone is ready to pounce on your territory the very moment you let your guard down. It's as if there's an army of people telling you what you are doing wrong and how they would do it better.

Some days you long back to be your younger self and run away from it all, back to when that was an actual option. Back to when you caught a plane a moved to Los Angeles for a year, because...why not? Back to when nobody could really hurt you. Or at least not for too long. Back to when boys were fun. Back to when you thought that by your late thirties you'd have a doting husband, a kick-ass career, money in the bank, Louboutins on your feet, stamps in your passport and a big fat smile in your face. Kids, you were not that sure about, but the rest felt like a dead certainty.

Well, about that...  

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

East London Vibes

It is a known fact that the cool kids of London live East. We live in North West 3, in the leafy area that is Primrose Hill where homes are as big as shoeboxes and park life is our equivalent of having a garden. I love my neighbourhood, but on Sunday we decided to go East for a change and we all had a great day. 

I had bought tickets for 'The Art of the Brick' exhibition that is on at the Old Truman Brewery, so the first stop was the fun and quirky Brick Lane, home to some of the most authentic curry restaurants in town as well as some good clubs and bars. Brick lane is also unequivocally linked with some of the best graffiti artists and anyone from Banksy to Ben Eine has had a go at making this London area vibrant and colourful.

How very fitting indeed that 'Art of the Brick' is housed amongst these surroundings for the show itself is nothing but eye catching, mesmerising and, above all, fun. Exactly like this pocket of East London. 

Nathan Sawaya is an ex-lawyer turned artist. In his craft he uses one specific tool, the simple Lego bricks. Some call him a sculptor, other critics reject the idea that he is an artist at all, but as far as I am concerned I thoroughly enjoyed his exhibition and so did my husband and my 4 year old and we would recommend anyone to go and see 'The Art of the Brick', you won't be disappointed.

You walk in straight into Michelangelo's David and The Venus de Milo all recreated in grey Lego bricks. Then you are in for a treat with a Lego interpretation of the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh 'Starry Night', Klimt 'The Kiss' and my absolute favourite Munch 'The Scream'. 

Nathan Sawaya is not only good at recreating famous artworks with Lego bricks, but his repertoire expands into recreating animals, fruit, musical instruments, the planets and the human body. From giant faces with interesting expressions to a swimmer floating on a plexiglass table, the sculptures are as colourful as they are mesmerising. 

Whilst Miss G thoroughly enjoyed copying the statues facial expressions and poses and was utterly spellbound by the blue swimmer, her highlight of the whole exhibition was without a doubt the 6 metre long T-Rex skeleton build out of more than 80,000 Lego bricks. She was in utter awe of it.

After spending some time having fun and building scultpures in the Lego playroom at the end of the exhibition, we headed off to nearby Spitafield market for a spot of lunch and market browsing. I must admit that I perhaps preferred Spitafield a few years back when it was less pristine looking and a bit rougher around the edges, but even after its recent facelift I must confess that the market still holds its appeal.

Vintage traders share the market with artisans and students who make anything from hats to jumpers, from candles to leather goods. There are plenty of food stalls, well appointed shops and chain restaurants offering a variety of world cuisine. We came off £71 pound lighter; £40 for lunch, £20 for a hat for me, £10 for a beanie for Miss G and £1 for a flower garland for Miss G - you can't go to a street market without buying some tat, right?


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