*A Festive Afternoon Tea and Ice Skating

It feels like that festive feeling’s been cranked up a notch, now that it’s finally December.  I’ve already heard The Pogues about ten times (…not through choice!  I’m not a fan!), the advent calendars are out and…  and why the hell am I starting every single blog post at the moment like a bloody Christmas newsletter?!  There’s something in the water, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m full of Christmas cheer (read: food and booze) after spending a very festive afternoon up at The Celtic Manor over the weekend.


I had absolutely no idea that The Celtic Manor were opening up a little rink in their rooftop garden this Christmas until an email popped into my inbox a couple of weeks ago inviting me up for a festive afternoon of ice skating and scoffing.  I mean, the last time I went ice skating was around ten years ago and I ended that session flat on my back with my legs in the air (…easy now), but I conveniently forgot all about that small fact right up until I stepped (/slid) out onto the ice.  Luckily, the rink isn’t too big and it isn’t too busy either – much quieter and cosier than the one at Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland – so there was no worrying about clawing my way around the outside while I found my feet or fears of getting clipped by a cocky Torvil and Dean wannabe (I’m not jealous at all).  It’s also covered, so come rain or shine (or snow?) you can skate until you slip.  There’s also a bar serving drinks and food (the Currywurst with sauerkraut was really good) if you’d rather watch the slip-sliding rather than partake in it yourself… 😉

As for me, I didn’t end up flat on my back like last time, but I was very wobbly!  If I wasn’t holding onto the barrier then I was crashing into it! 🙂

Après Skate, Sunny and I headed to The Mulberry Bar just off the lobby for a very special Christmas Treat.  On weekends running up to Christmas, The Mulberry Bar is serving a Festive Afternoon Tea for groups of up to eight.  I’d never had a normal afternoon tea let alone a festive one, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect – soggy cucumber finger sandwiches and teeny weeny cakes, maybe?  I definitely wasn’t expecting to come away feeling like I’d just scoffed a three course meal, but the funny thing was, I pretty much had!  After three courses of beautiful finger food (from smoked salmon éclairs and truffled hen’s egg brioche rolls, to fig and armagnac tartlets), including hot tea (Danish Pastry flavoured, of course…), a festive cocktail and mince pies to finish off, I was stuffed (…There was totally room there for a Turkey/Stuffing joke, but I’m going to spare you this time!)… Sunny pretty much had to carry me out.  And not a soggy cucumber sandwich in sight!

Thanks so much to the lovely lot at The Celtic Manor for inviting me – it was such a lovely treat!  🙂

What I Did: Cardiff Bay Beach


And so the heatwave blazes on here in Cardiff (it’s set to get up to 27° again later on this week – phew!) which is great because it means there’s plenty of chance to get out and enjoy all the summery things on offer in the city in the weather they were actually intended for!  Case and point: The Cardiff Bay Beach Festival, which runs every year from July to early September.  It’s moved from its usual spot on Plas Roald Dahl right in the heart of The Bay to a bigger, breezier spot up by The Barrage – a genius decision as it means there’s plenty more to see, do and eat!  I popped down on Saturday evening for a drink and stroll around the funfair, and thanks to the beautiful weather and even more beautiful sunset it really felt like I was on holiday somewhere far away.  Hello Cardiffornia! 🙂

If I hadn’t stuffed my face at Vegetarian Food Studio earlier that day then I’d have absolutely filled up on the Milkshakes, Halloumi Fries, Candifloss and Churros on offer – but I was full, so I had a sunset slushie instead 🙂

Have a great week! 🙂

What I Did: Barista School at 200 Degrees


If you’d just happened to pass by the Swansea branch of Marks and Spencer in circa 2005 and popped in for a coffee, then it might just have been served up by yours truly!  Yep, every Saturday I did a five hour stint behind the bar and during that time must have made at least seventy cups of coffee with the clunky old barista machine, barely coming up for air (I mean, some nights I’d pour coffee in my sleep!).  But, I’m a tea-drinker through and though, and despite calling myself a Barista at the time, the truth is that I knew very little about coffee or the process I went through every time I ground the beans, whacked in the filter and steamed up some milk.  So, when 200 Degrees invited me along to try out their three hour Basic Barista Course, I was curious to put my Barista skills to the test… 🙂

Before the metaphorical bell for Barista School rang, I cwtched up in the corner of 200 Degrees with a hot cup of tea (sorry!), some breakfast (a lemon meringue donut… oh sweet lord, my two favourite desserts all rolled into one…!) and a book.  There are so many coffee shops around the Capitol end of Queen Street now, but 200 Degrees definitely takes the award for the cosiest.  It’s roomy, but homely – and reminds me a little bit of an old French bar, with its blue velvet, pin-tucked benches, dark wood and swirling calligraphy.

Then at nine o’clock, school was in session; Joe collected me and my classmates from downstairs, and took us upstairs to the Barista School.  200 Degrees run four different courses altogether, but – with more and more people buying Barista Machines for their homes – the Basic Barista is aimed at coffee enthusiasts who want to boost their knowledge and skills when it comes to brewing up the perfect cup (…and also for tea drinkers who know nothing, like me!).

We started off by looking at the different cups of coffee – clearing up the differences between the Americano and the Cortado, and Espressos and Macciatos, and the rules that go into making each – and then we learned some facts about the origins of coffee, where it’s grown and its place in the world today – like, did you know that 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day?

…Yep, I’m a nerd. I love taking notes! 😉

Next we learned about how coffee cherries are grown, the different types of bean, and the process that takes them from tree to cup!  I had absolutely no idea about how much affects the taste of the different coffee beans – from the altitude at which they’re grown (high altitude coffee is stronger due to the lack of oxygen), and the other plants growing around them, to the process by which they’re picked and then dried (cherries that are hand picked and naturally dried have a much sweeter, better taste than cherries that are harvested by machine and washed).  So much hard work goes into making good coffee; by both the people who grow it, and the baristas who serve it.  There are so many stages along the chain where the flavour can change.

Onto the science-y bit!  Joe taught us all about the art and science of the espresso; how to use the machine to extract the perfect espresso.  As someone who’s never drank a cup of espresso, the most interesting bit for me was when he made something called a Salami Shot.  One whole shot of espresso is brewed for 30 seconds in total – so what Joe did was to split that one cup into six cups of 5 seconds each, which we then tasted.  This is designed to show the different levels of extraction that go into one perfect shot, and how the taste changes for every five seconds of brew-time; from the first under-extracted cup (way too salty!), to the final, over-extracted cup (way too bitter!).  These six variations in flavour all fit in to one cup of espresso.


Next we learned all about steaming and texturing milk to create latte art, and found out the cold hard truth that latte art doesn’t make for the best-tasting cup of coffee, because having to drink through the “crema” (the foamy bit that sits on top of the shot) changes the flavour.  While it looks pretty, what you should do is stir (ruin the design!) before you drink for a creamier-tasting cup.

Finally we all had a go of making our own coffee and trying our hand at a bit of latte art, which I was absolutely terrible at!  (Thanks for the action shots Octopus Diaries! 😉 )

I had such a great time and found it all so, so interesting!  And I even have a little certificate to show that I’m a bonafide Barista.  I suppose the million dollar question is whether I’m now a coffee drinker instead of a tea drinker.  Well… alas, I’m still a confirmed old tea swigger, but I’m definitely more open to having a sip of the occasional good cup of coffee! 😉

If you’re interested in trying out Barista School then you can find more information here.  Definitely worth checking out if you’re a bean-freak – or even if you’re a tea drinker like me and want to learn a little bit more about what goes in to the perfect cup of coffee! ☕

Ten Things to do in Cardiff to Beat the January Blues

“January is my favourite month of the year,” said no one.  Ever.  I mean, come on, it’s bleak.  Christmas is over, it’s suddenly extra dark without all the fairy lights and decorations, and everyone’s either on a diet or hibernating in the dark.  It’s a depressing time of year.  But it doesn’t last forever, thank goodness.  A few little pick-me-up’s this time of year can go a long way to fending off the January Blues until Spring comes back around.

▲Go Trampolining at GoAir!  If getting fit or starting an exercise routine is top of your list of goals for 2017 then this will ease you right in.  GoAir! in Ty Glas is a trampoline park – a whole warehouse full of trampolines to spring and somersault around on to your heart’s content (…or until your legs turn to jelly).  Not only is it great fun, but I staggered out of there red-faced and spluttering for air, so it’s a great way of working off all those Terry’s Chocolate Oranges you scoffed for breakfast at Christmas (…oh no wait, that was me).


▲Walk across the Cardiff Bay Barrage.  One of my favourite walks.  Park up somewhere near Penarth Heights and walk down past the Custom House, over the Barrage and into Cardiff Bay for food or coffee.  The walk takes you past the BBC studios, the Doctor Who Experience (which isn’t sticking around for much longer, I’ve heard), the Norwegian Church and the Senedd.

▲Escape Rooms.  Instead of staying in and Netflixing it with your mates or your family on a Friday night, why not lock yourself in a room with them instead?  There are several Escape Rooms in Cardiff to choose from (Check out my review of Escape Reality here), all with themed rooms in which teams have an hour to solve enough clues and riddles to be able to escape.  You’ll either be laughing or arguing by the end of it!

▲Museum Hopping.  And there are plenty of Museums in and around Cardiff to hop to.  In the centre of Cardiff there’s the National Museum of Wales (free!) and The Cardiff Story in the Old Library (free!).  Down the Bay there’s the Pierhead Museum (free!) and Techniquest, and just outside Cardiff there’s also the Museum of Welsh Life – also known as St Fagans (free!).

▲Go Karting.  If you’re a fan of classic games like Mario Kart and Crash Bandicoot then why not try the real thing out?  I took Sunny Go Karting for his birthday and we had a blast trying to beat each other round the track.

▲Eat!  There are so many great places to eat in Cardiff these days, it’s hard to pick a favourite.  There’s Hangfire in Barry when I’m feeling extra carnivorous, Joe’s Ice Cream on Wellfield Road when I’m craving ice-cream… Signor Valentinos for Italian food, and Antlers at the Thornhill Farm Shop for tea and cake with a view…  As for the rest, I’m still discovering them myself 🙂

▲Chips and 20p Machines at Barry Island.  Okay, technically, it’s not in Cardiff – but it’s close enough.  I’ve blogged about Barry Island so many times; it’s my favourite place for a walk along the beach.  Be sure to stop in at Bay 5 for a hot chocolate, or O’Sheas for Fish and Chips – take in the view from the top of the Barry Eye/High, and cash in your tokens for a Barrybados Mug in one of the Arcades.

▲Go bird watching at Forest Farm.  This place is a total secret and one of the best places to get out, walk and watch the birds.  Not far from Coryton, Forest Farm sprawls alongside the M4 (though you wouldn’t know it, it’s so quiet), and is a great place to explore on a clear and frosty winter’s day.

▲Explore a Castle.  We’re lucky that Wales has more castles than any other country in Europe.  Just in and around Cardiff alone there are at least three, and there are even more lurking close by if you cast your net a little wider.  Castle Coch (above) will probably always be my favourite, but there’s also Cardiff Castle, Caerphilly Castle and plenty more out in the Vale; like Coity Castle.

▲Catch a Show or Live Music.  We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to places to see drama and live music.  In the centre there’s St David’s Hall, The Motorpoint ArenaClwb Ifor BachThe Sherman Theatre and The Chapter Arts Centre.  There’s also the Millenium Centre down the Bay, and the Welsh National Opera.  Did I miss anything?

What’s your favourite thing to do to fend off the January Blues?