A return to the Royal Hotel

Hello!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  The first couple of months of this year has literally whizzed past, and I can’t believe it’s March already.  Anyway, here is my momentous return to this neglected little blog, and what a return it is. It’s also a return to The Royal Hotel, which I visited not long after its reopening last year.

The restaurant upstairs has got a snazzy new menu, the downstairs bar has got amazing new cocktails, and – excitingly – the basement is opening soon as a brand new absinthe bar.

Let’s (always) start at the bar.

The Royal’s mixologists are continually testing out new cocktails, and they’re adding signature recipes to the menu all the time.  I tried one of the new ones, The Sloe Paddington, and it was delicious.  Sloe gin (tick), raspberry gin liqueur (tick), lemon juice, mint, and marmalade. God, it was good.  Mama Bear had a  mock-jito because she was driving, and it’s probably a good job, because it was gone so quickly that if it had had alcohol in it, it would’ve gone straight to her head. Ha.

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After a couple of cocktails, our table was ready, so we went up to the ballroom to eat.  We had some bread and hummus whilst we debated the rest of the menu, and for starters, I went for the soup of the day (everywhere should do carrot and chilli soup, all the time), and Mum had pan seared scallops with black pudding and pea puree fondant, pancetta, and sour cream, and I have to say, it looked stunning.

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For mains, I opted for the new vegetarian dish, a braised garlic and herb puy lentil tapalone, and, inspired by the wildlife that has taken up residence in my parents’ garden, Mum had coq au vin style pheasant (!)

Our mains were really good; Mum said she wasn’t sure she’d eaten pheasant before, but that she’d have it again.  My plate looked like a flower when it arrived, but I deconstructed it pretty quick.  The only thing I’d say was maybe a downside was that it was mostly lentils; the tapalone is like a dumpling filled with lentils, and there are lentils with the green beans too.  It was good, but if you’re not a big lentil fan, it might not be for you.  On thinking about it, it actually might be a vegan option, rather than just vegetarian, but I’ll have to check!  We munched it all up and had a little break to decide on dessert.

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I didn’t manage to take a picture of my lemon tart before I ate it, but Mum and I shared that and some mixed sorbet – the flavours change about, but the lemongrass and basil is loooovely. We’d spent so long nattering over dinner that the parking had run out by the time we were finished, so I took a few instagram pics of the sun setting out of the window, and then we dashed back to the car.

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I should also mention that the service at the Royal has been AMAZING both times I’ve been.  The staff are friendly, and chatty, and really know what they’re talking about. If you have no idea what a tapalone is (just us?), they’re happy to explain anything, and they were superb.

I’m excited to see what the absinthe bar is like when it’s done – it’s something really fun and different, and Southend is really pulling it’s socks up on places to go out.  It’ll have a gin distillery any day now 😉

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*We were offered dinner and drinks at the Royal Hotel in return for an honest review.  As ever, all words/opinions/pictures are my own!

Beach Holidaying in Crete

When I got back from seeing Madden and Jack in Kaiserslautern we decided on a May trip somewhere, before they left Europe and headed back to the U.S. We were torn between an adventurous canal boat trip, or a beach. Somewhere in the unending rain that was supposed to be Spring, the idea of lying on a beach with cocktails and books won, and on a Skype session, Madden and I booked flights and an airbnb in Chania.

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Airport breakfast…

I just want to point out where we stayed, because Alkis was a fantastic host. This apartment was perfect. The beach is literally a three minute walk away, and the man across the road will help you order Dominos in Greek when you just really want to watch Batman and eat pizza. We were the sixth people to stay there since it’s been completely redecorated, and Alkis made two separate trips to the airport to pick us up and drop us off, and he brought Madden birthday cake. Oh yeah. More on that in a bit. Anyway, if you go to Chania, stay here. It was fantastic. (Just a side note: this isn’t sponsored or anything, it was just really great.)

Ok. So, I had three and a half days in Crete, and it was just stunning. I arrived at about lunchtime, and after getting changed out of my jeans because it was boiling, I went for a wander into the Old Town to have a look at what was there and get some food. Madden and Jack didn’t arrive until a bit later, so I had the afternoon to myself. The Old Town was about a ten minute walk along the beach from the apartment, and the fortress wall is the first part of it you see, before you walk around it and it opens up into the harbour. And it’s beautiful.

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I sat at one of the little restaurants on the water after chatting to the guys outside (if we’ve learned anything from this holiday, it’s that Terri Likes To Talk To Strangers), and I had an enormous bowl of pasta, and a carafe of wine, and I stayed there for three hours, and got more wine for free, and raki, and ice cream. It was great. So far, Crete = 10/10. I left at about 5pm, partly because I wanted to sit on the beach for a couple of hours, and partly because day drinking is great, but not when you have places to be at 7pm.

I was back at the apartment, de-sanded, re-clothed, and sober(ish) when Madden and Jack arrived, and YAY!! They are two of my favourite people and I love them. We went out for food, I chatted to more strangers, and we found out that one shot of raki is bearable, two is pretty gross, and three is just the worst. Jack did most of the raki experimenting.

We got up in the morning, kitted up, and went running (!) before abandoning our run and climbing up walls to get to the lighthouse on the harbour. The trainers helped, but we all agreed that we should’ve brought money so we could stop at bars. Ha. We went back to the apartment to get money and beach stuff, and then went out for brunch and wine, and more wandering around the Old Town, and along to the next bay. We took lots of touristy photos, and made lots of notes about just how clear the water was.

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There was a huge market leading from the apartment all the way up to the Old Town, which we walked through and were amazed at the amount of home made Greek cheese. So good. We had dinner in one of the restaurants near where we were staying, and we ordered way too much (because we thought we’d share some starters and then have salad, and everything turned out to be enormous), so we had Cretan mizithra cheese for breakfast for the rest of the trip. Yum. Cheese, greek salad, and fresh croissants from the bakery. And chocolate cake. Because holidays. We spent quite a lot of time eating actually, and drinking wine.

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Madden and I left Jack to have a lie in on Friday morning, and went shopping. Please let’s all vote to stay in the EU, and petition for European prices at Bershka and Zara. Haha. I bought some swishy culottes and a jumpsuit, and spent all of my money on jewellery, but now I have the knowledge of Knossos, and I am doubly protected from evil with my necklace. Ha. The Old Town is full of windy little cobbled streets, and all the shops are little boutiques, and super super cute. We collected Jack from Starbucks (because there’s no escape) after a couple of hours, and went to the beach because it was hot, and Madden was excited to get in the sea.

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We actually had a really big day of walking around in the sun, so we decided that we’d do a night in, and I volunteered to order Dominos, thinking I’d be clever and do it on my phone. By the time I worked out that Greek is actually a very difficult language to understand when you don’t even know how to spell your street name, we all were kind of decided on wanting Dominos. So I ran across the road to the little bar/internet cafe opposite, gatecrashed a very serious conversation about yoga being about worshipping the devil, and asked for some help. I ended up on the phone to Dominos in Athens, ordering pizza in English, having it repeated back to me in Greek, and hoping that somehow, whatever it was I was assured would be arriving in half an hour was right. Miraculously, twenty minutes later our buzzer rang, and I paid for two pizzas and all the extras, and we ate it all watching The Dark Knight.

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Saturday was our last day, and Madden’s birthday, so we had a day of her choices. Whilst Madden and I were out getting last shopping bits, Alkis brought Madden a huge birthday baklava, and pastries from the best bakery on the island. It was amazing. The pastry was like spinach and nuts and cheese all wrapped up. So, so good. And baklava is just always great. A whole cake made of baklava though? I wish I had taken a picture of Madden’s face as she ate it, because I have honestly not seen that level of happiness ever.

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We attempted to go to the beach, but it was insanely windy, so we abandoned the idea pretty quickly after getting faces full of sand, and went to a bar instead. It was fancy and hipster, and their tagline was something about pasta and cocktails, and they had nice glass water bottles with inspirational quotes on them. Haha. I popped in to town to post my postcards, and do a bit more mooching, and we all met back up for more birthday drinks and dinner. We had dinner in a little corner of the Old Town, and the food was amazing. Dolmas and fava dip forever, please. We found a tiny bar wedged into an alleyway, where we were the only people there who didn’t speak Greek, and a Cretan folk band struck up on the table behind us. It was crazily busy, and they served us pitchers of wine in tiny little tumblers. As our last night in Crete, it was a pretty perfect finish.

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Weirdly, I don’t have any trips booked now, so I’m open to ideas.  Not having flights booked somewhere makes my feet itchy, so tell me, where do I need to go next?

Surfcamp!

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Eventually, I get around to blogging things.  I’ll catch up at some point.  I wanted to share some of the pictures from the awesome week I had at surfcamp with Rachel and Kate (who already blogged about it, here, because she’s a much better blogger than I am)

We’d decided at some point earlier this year that going surfing would be an amazing idea, and so, regardless of the fact that only one of us had ever been on a surfboard before, we jumped straight in at the deep end and booked not one, sensible, lesson, but a full week at Cascais Surf School in Portugal.

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We flew into Lisbon on a beautiful sunny day, after kicking off with breakfast and prosecco at Stansted like the luxury bitches we are, and checked in at the Nice Way Hostel in Cascais after a quick 30-minute transfer.  After unpacking and deciding that we really didn’t need to be wearing jeans, we headed into town for some food and photo ops (of which there were many. Snapchat had a really good week).

As our surf lessons started on Monday, we planned a day on the beach on Sunday, which we managed spectacularly, with drink and snack breaks.  We also managed to get spectacularly burnt, because it turns out that factor 15 is not high enough for pasty English skin which hasn’t seen daylight for approximately 1454 months.  Oops.

Monday morning saw me sprinting to the supermarket at 8am for factor 50+ suncream, which we duly slathered on before our first surf lesson, and after getting our wetsuits sorted, we were off to the beach!  Carcavelos had the best waves the week we were there, so that’s where we headed.  There was a group of guys from Germany there the same week as us, so we had our lessons with them. It was really nice to have a bigger group, and it’s definitely a plus point to staying at a hostel that you pretty instantly have friends who are also terrified of drowning (except that they were all really good, straight away. Damnit). I did not manage to stand up on Monday, but I also did not drown, so I’m counting it as a win.  I did, however, get myself an enormous yellow bruise on my hip, because it turns out that the sea actually hurts.  Luckily, it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cured with wine and carbs.  Surfing is (un)surprisingly knackering, especially when you are mostly flailing around trying to get your surfboard round the right way.

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The weather on Tuesday was terrible, and I’ll admit, I was genuinely a bit frightened walking towards the sea at 9am.  By 11am, I was absolutely exhausted, covered in bruises, but I’d managed to get on my surfboard, albeit without enough room for manoeuvre number three – standing up.  Wednesday, though, we had stopped dicking about in the sea, and learnt to give it the respect it deserves. In return, we’d earned the seas respect, and all of us stood up, more than once. Boom. (Note to self: excitement is great, but immediately waving your arms in the air when you stand up means you will instantly lose any sense of balance you had, and you will go head first off the front of the surfboard. #wipeout)

After surfing, we headed into Cascais most afternoons, and the town is beautiful – there are loads of little alleys you can wander down, and the harbour is beautiful.  We had some lunches with the guys at the hostel, and it was nice to come back, shower, and then laze about in the garden, listening to spotify and attempting to stand on ridiculous/impossible balance boards.  Ha.  We had an afternoon in Lisbon too, which was only half an hour away on the train, and is a really cool city – I’d like to go back and see some more of it.  It’s very hilly, there are churches everywhere, and white wine sangria is a beverage I definitely need to sample more of.  I think it took us until about Monday to decide that we are all doing life wrong by spending it in offices, because everyone at the surf hostel was super happy, all the time.  Pretty much, I just want to run away and go travelling again. Preferably forever. Someone send me some writing gigs.

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Obviously, by Thursday we were surf pros, which is good really, as Thursday was Photo Day.  After the lesson, we went back to the hostel, I disappeared in a Fiat Punto to do some very efficient barbecue shopping with the Germans, and then it was time for coaching.

We watched all the videos and looked at all the photos from the day, which was super helpful to see what we were doing, where the mistakes were, and how to fix them.  I earned myself the nickname of The Ballerina, and Kate won Best Face.  Rachel was already surfing sideways by Thursday, because it turns out that being incredibly laid back about everything makes you a really good surfer.  After the coaching, we had a huge barbecue, and then went out dancing to the Flamingo, where I definitely drank too many mojitos and definitely danced too much.  (Note to self #2: surfing hungover is way more difficult than surfing sober. And surfing sober is hard.

Due to the amount of mojitos involved in Thursday night, Friday’s lesson was not hugely inspiring.  Basically, we respected the sea enough for it to let us mostly just zone out watching waves, or lie on our boards and float around whilst slowly dying.  Floating around in the sea is, however, a pretty great hangover cure, and by the time we got back, we were all pretty much feeling ok.  Rachel and Kate had the mother of all naps, I read an entire book, and it was a pretty chilled afternoon all round.

Saturday was our last day, and Kate and I went shopping and to the botanical gardens (where they had BABY TURTLES and DUCKLINGS) whilst Rachel braved some outside waves and very nearly drowned. (Direct quote from Ale: You nearly lost your friend today.)  By all accounts, it was the best/worst wipeout of the week.  Rachel’s respect for the sea carried her through though, and she (just) made it out the other side. Post surfing/shopping/carb-loading and some leaving-time tears, we headed back to Lisbon, and after too much trouble finding the bus, we went to the airport.

It was a fantastic week, and I’d absolutely go back.  There wasn’t any surfing in Crete this week (so many trips!), but I’m going to find some, before the sea forgets me, and I forget how to do a chicken leg.