Punta Cana.

This years summer holiday was booked a year ago. We decided on Punta Cana, after the anxious Virgo in me had googled ‘safest places for family travel 2019’.

We had originally booked a different resort to the one we ended up at, however the sensational news stories and bad publicity led to a change of heart, and we cancelled the first booking, in favour of The Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real.

We generally tend to book our flights and hotel separately which meant that there was no huge change to the holiday plans, although we did lose a deposit which we had paid to our agent for the first booking.

I’m going to start at the beginning, and take you right through the whole experience, so if you’re interested, read on-it’s probably going to be a lengthy one!

Our flights were from Gatwick, and I haven’t flown from here since I was a child, so it felt very unfamiliar. As we were flying with British Airways, our flights were from the South Terminal, and the long stay car-park was pretty close-by. We had checked in on-line, and had priority queue access as we were flying in Club World, so bag drop was a breeze, as was security. I explained that I’m a nervous flyer and the check-in agent was kind enough to provide a hidden disability lanyard, which lets security staff know that you may need to get through the queue system quicker than other passengers. My daughters were travelling with us, so security was very quick anyway- I think Gatwick are particularly good with families.

Once through, we had a little peruse in Duty Free, and then headed to the lounge. I had been led to believe that the lounge at Gatwick isn’t as impressive or well-stocked as the ones at Heathrow- however I found this to be inaccurate and really enjoyed the time in the lounge, and the views of the runway.

The flight itself was really good, and I think that British Airways sometimes gets a bad rap, but they were brilliant. We were lucky to be travelling in Business Class which meant I could get the girls comfortable and settled, with plenty to watch and lots to eat. It was a daytime flight, and none of us slept, but it didn’t feel too long and before we knew it, we had touched down at PUJ.

The heat hit me immediately as we exited the aircraft into the jetty. getting through the passport control was quick as they took us a through a fast-track lane for families with young children. Once through, and baggage collected, we went through a customs check – again very quick, and out to the transfer reservations desk. we were escorted to our vehicle by the friendly agent for Transfers.do and once we were all strapped in and luggage loaded, we made the 10-15 minute drive to the resort.

Pulling up to The Grand Reserve, I remember thinking it looked just as beautiful as it did online, and in the various youtube vlogs I had watched before we left.

The check in-process was quick and friendly, and they upgraded us to a swim-up suite. The upgrade was a nice touch and the room itself was spacious, clean, airy and furnished in a nice modern style. It also smelled amazing, and I immediately slipped into holiday mode. It was already the evening by now, so we all showered and got changed, and headed to Dominicana the buffet restaurant for dinner. This is one of the two places that doesn’t require reservations at the resort, the other being Rubi Rocks, the sports bar.

After dinner we were all quite exhausted, so it was an early night in prep for the next day.

We took breakfast in Dominicana everyday- the only other breakfast option was Mangu-the poolside restaurant or room service.

We had booked an all-inclusive package so all our meals were included, as well as a fully stocked mini bar and 24 hour room service (with a very limited menu).

Every group booking or room type gets assigned a concierge, who handles all your needs whilst at the resort and makes your dinner reservations for your stay. We had to cancel/change a few of ours as two people in our group were vegetarian and some of the A’la carte restaurants offered no vegetarian options at all! The concierge is a bit of a faff and to be honest we could have done without her. She was nice enough, but her English was pretty bad and she didnt really serve a purpose.

Our days were mostly spent in the pools (beautiful), and on the beach, which was a short buggy ride from the main lobby and worth it. The sand is beautiful in Punta Cana, soft and white and perfect. Its a shame the same cant be said of the sea- sea weed galore, and lots of annoying ‘salespeople’ on the beachfront  selling various things from parasailing to drugs!

The drinks were plentiful and although we don’t really drink alcohol, they made nice mock-tails and the diet coke is strangely delicious in DR. I had to keep checking that it really was diet!

I think the issues with food hygiene are across the board in DR as all 7 of us were unwell at some point during the trip, and the food just didn’t look or taste as fresh as we would have liked. I think the food and the service were definitely the biggest let downs of the trip.

The Grand Reserve is a Melia group of hotels and they do invite you to a special ‘breakfast presentation’ where they try to sell you a time-share time infinite vacation scheme. Avoid this at all costs! The whole meeting can very quickly turn nasty when they think that you’re losing interest.

The resort was gorgeous and the beaches really are lovely, but I think DR has a long way to go before they achieve that luxury destination status that they are trying so hard get to.

In short-would I visit again? Not a chance I’m afraid. I think other destinations in the Caribbean have a lot more to offer.

The flight back was really good, and being a night flight the girls made full use of BA Club world flatbeds, and slept for most of the way back. I was glad to be home, and I’m looking forward to my next trip-wherever it may be, but DR- been there, done that.

 

 

 

Keeping a Journal

Some of us love to write, and for others, getting our words down on paper just seems like a far too tedious and time-consuming task.

Whilst I agree that the process of channeling your thoughts and organising them into some kind of coherency does sound like it would take up a lot of time, I feel like it would be time well spent. Also, ‘some kind of coherency’ means something that makes sense to YOU. Your journal is for your eyes only and doesn’t need to be written to an audience of any kind -unless of course you are writing your memoirs!

Thoughts can be chaotic and cause turmoil, stress and anxiety, or at the very least aggravate the existence of those things.

In order to process your thoughts and the feelings that go along with them, it can often be helpful to get them organised somehow. Writing a journal can help to get rid of the emotions that burden us, much like writing a letter to someone, with no intention of ever sending it. This is a common technique used by therapists to help clients free themselves from those thoughts and emotions that bear heavy on the mind.

In the same way that those letters are never intended to be seen by the person they are aimed at, your journal should be an honest view of your feelings, without the fear of judgement.

Once you fully understand the therapeutic and confidential nature of keeping a journal you will find how cathartic and liberating it can be. It could very well end up becoming part of your regular self-care routine. Why not give it a go and see if it works for you?

Longleat Safari Park

Half term- the joy of having to plan some family friendly fun, whilst juggling a hectic job is what dreams are made of – surely?

If like me, you prefer to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to school holiday activities, then you can’t go far wrong with a visit to Longleat Safari Park. Amrit and I both work, and our jobs are pretty demanding, so we can only take the odd day off during the school breaks, and as ‘luck’ would have it, Leya (our eldest) gets two weeks off for the Spring half term. Owing to this fact, we usually save our days off for the second week, as most places are noticeably quieter then.

As a family we’re quite late to the party with this place – but for reasons elaborated on in previous posts, the Safari experience is something I could not have coped with until very recently.

On arrival at the park, with two very excited young girls in tow, we were greeted by a really friendly, smiling member of staff, who did not care that we couldn’t find our email confirmation. She was more than happy to look our details up, which I wasn’t expecting, having read some unflattering reviews about the staff there. There was no queue to speak of and we drove straight in. We decided to do the drive through first, and this was a brilliant idea (for which I will take all the credit) , as the weather took a turn later on in the afternoon.

Once you are in the park, you can do the drive through as often as you like.

To be perfectly honest, I was more excited than I let on, but Amrit had decided that this was going to a sub-standard experience as we weren’t in Africa (cue eye-rolling from moi). His disappointment quickly faded when we were next to a group of majestic looking Giraffes and Zebras in the first enclosure, and the excitement only grew as an ostrich made its way over to our car and proceeded to peck the window with some serious determination! The drive through enclosures in the first part of the safari were open and large, allowing for great views of the beautiful animals. I had read online that the monkey enclosure could be by-passed, and I have to say my husband was very keen to go with that option. Unfortunately for him, he was outnumbered 3-1 in the vote and we headed in, despite the warning signs about the potential vehicle damage these little guys could do. It was so worth the risk! The monkeys were small, playful and cute, with one jumping up on the hood of the car, to shrieks of joy from the girls, and giving us a cheeky display. Once he was bored by the wipers he swiftly moved on to another car, but not before I had the chance to look into those gorgeous brown eyes.

The vibe of the Safari changes somewhat once you enter Big Cat territory. Things get serious. Each enclosure has a lock-in section, which has to be fully secure before the gate to the cats slides open.

The animals are beautiful, and powerful, and as long as you’re sensible and follow the rules, it is an enjoyable experience for all. We were lucky enough to see the King of the big cats show some of his savage nature when he took a piece of meat from a group of lionesses and sat down calmly to devour it in peace, undisturbed by the cats who obviously knew better than to challenge him.

once we had completed the drive through, we parked in the car park next to the main square. I was really impressed by the variety of food, drinks and snacks on offer, and was glad to see that they served sugar free slushies. We had some delicious fresh hot doughnuts, before taking a walk through Koala Creek and coming face to face with its cute inhabitants relaxing in the eucalyptus trees. The girls and I got to hold a stunning Royal Python in the animal handling centre and we had lunch at the pizzeria (after a good hand wash of course). We had a lovely time on the Jungle Safari, which is a boat ride on the lake. The lake is home to a lovely group of sea lions who relish the attention and the fish! We took a train ride, and the girls spent some time in the play area, which much to their delight, had zip wires, trampolines and slides galore! A quick visit to the old fashioned sweet shop before the downpour started, meant that we had a cup full of pick and mix to enjoy back at the hotel that evening.

We made it back round to the main entrance just in time to have one last drive through the enclosures, although many of the animals had retreated to sheltered areas in order to protect themselves from the rain. We didn’t mind this so much as the experience had been so brilliant the first time around. I would definitely recommend a day out here, and will be visiting again when I have the chance.

TIP: Buy your tickets at https://tickets.picniq.co.uk/longleat/ to get 20% off (correct at time of post), as the full admission prices can be pretty steep for a family.

Let me know what you thought of it 🙂

Review- Café Yolk

I say review, but really this is just an informative blog post about one of my favourite spots for breakfast/brunch in Reading.

Located close to the University, they get the best of the footfall around the area during term time, but the holidays do not see this place isolated. Its is always busy, and that’s no surprise.

I was born in Reading and have lived here for most of my life, but this area has never been a ‘go-to’ place to eat for me, not even when I studied at the University. That is, until CafĂ© Yolk came along. Although, it’s a little on the small side, which can often make getting seated a bit of a pain, you can rest assured that if you do have to wait for a table, it will be well worth it, and you’ll be glad you stuck around.

They do a lunch menu too, although they close at 4pm, and their strengths really lie in their breakfast menu. The lunch dishes of sandwiches, toasties and burgers are tasty, but the breakfast is superb!

My husband always says he’ll get something different ‘next time’ and then ALWAYS ends up ordering the ‘Yolk Full English’. The menu bills this as ‘A Real Gut Buster’ and they’re not wrong. It comes with 2 fried eggs, 2 sausages, bacon, baked beans, flat mushroom, grilled tomato, herby potatos and toast! The eggs are always perfectly cooked to your liking, the herby potatos are crispy and well seasoned, light and fluffy inside, the toast is thick and the sausages and bacon are great quality. If you’re looking for a hearty full English in Reading, that isn’t greasy, this one is hard to beat.

I usually have the ‘simply eggs’ which are served your way, on toasted or a toasted bagel, with herby potatos, and I always get a side of baked beans.

The Omelettes are delicious too and also come with toast and herby potatos. I particularly like the ham hock and cheese one.

They do yummy Benedicts; the classic smoked ham, Florentine, Royale and a Californian which is avocado and tomato. The hollandaise sauce is dreamy.

If you’re partial to a sweet breakfast, their Belgian waffles, sweet and crunchy, thick French toast, and fluffy pancakes with various delicious sweet toppings are a must!

They have a great selection of hot and cold drinks, as well as freshly made smoothies and milkshakes. The hot chocolate is fab.

Food aside, the service is always friendly and warm, even when it’s busy and the queues are out of the door. It’s clear to see that the owners are passionate about the business and that satisfied customers are a priority for them.

In case I haven’t made it clear, I highly recommend this place, next time you fancy a great breakfast or brunch, head to CafĂ© Yolk.

http://www.cafeyolk.com

44 Erleigh Road, Reading, Berkshire,

RG1 5NA

My Birthday.

Yesterday I turned 37. Yes, I’m saying that with a smile. What a huge contrast to turning 30. I remember feeling devastated that my 20’s were over, and thinking that it was all going to be downhill. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Some of the best things in my life happened after I turned 30. We moved out of our little apartment (which I loved), into the beautiful home we live in now, and I had my two amazing children.

Life in my 30’s has definitely been different, but so much fun. The fun and laughter are even more prevalent now, since I took control of my mental and physical well-being.

So, 37, a few laughter lines, more than a few grey hairs, but nothing that some concealer and a box of hair dye cant fix.

I love birthdays, they’re so special, and I’ve been lucky enough to always be made to feel special on mine. I’m so grateful for friends and family.

The girls were at school and nursery yesterday, so it was a good opportunity for  my husband and I to have a day out together alone. We took the day off work and went into London for lunch.

I’ve been wanting to go to Cantina Laredo in Covent Garden for a while now. I follow them on Instagram and always see posts of their delicious looking food on my feed. The traffic in London was horrendous, but once we got to the restaurant, there was a conveniently located car park close by.

The restaurant itself was light and airy, with comfortable seating. Our drinks order was taken promptly, my husband only ever drinks still bottled water when we eat out, but I ordered a non-alcoholic ‘Refresco’ called Live like a local. It was delicious. It arrived in a tall glass with lots of ice and was the perfect blend of lychee, coconut and lime. They do a very good lunch menu, which has all the favourites from the main menu, so we decided to go for that. You can have 2 or 3 courses, we had two as I wanted dessert elsewhere (more on that later).

To start with, we both had the Tacos Dorados, crispy chicken tacos, with a creamy chile sauce. They were amazing, hot, crispy and stuffed with spicy shredded chicken.

We had the Guacamole Clasico, which was made fresh at our table and was full of flavour, perfect with the big bowl of tortilla chips they placed in front of us.

For the second course my husband ordered the baby back ribs with scallions and fried leeks, with a side of Papas Con Crema Y Chile Ancho, a skillet of creamy potato gratin with a spicy, crispy breadcrumb topping. My husband really enjoyed his food and said it was better than he had been expecting it to be.

I had the tacos de Hongo Portabello, tempura mushroom soft tacos, with grilled sweetcorn and a side of Frijoles Negros, black beans, with queso fresco. The food was everything I had hoped it would be, and after eating all that we were stuffed. I would definitely go back.

Once back to our car, after a short walk around Covent Garden, we headed to Westfield in Shepherd Bush, sadly not to shop today, but just to pick up a Red Velvet cake from Lolas, to cut at home later, and to get the dessert I had been waiting all day for!

Westfield has a pop-up called ‘My Cookie Dough’ and I have been dying to try their freshly baked cookie dough . It comes in a little cardboard tray, with your choice of topping and vanilla soft serve ice cream. I opted for milk chocolate cookie dough with Nutella. They have their own little seating area where you can sit and eat your dessert. It was heavenly! If you have a sweet tooth then this one is for you. They have various pop-ups across the country, so I’m sure you’re never too far from a cookie dough sensation.

My husband didn’t have any though, as he had opted for some ice cream rolls from Pan ‘n’ Ice, freshly made on an ice pan, with your choice of fruit and cream, scraped off into rolls and neatly placed into a cup-yummy.

Aster collecting the cake, we headed home- I couldn’t wait to see the girls. After we had cut the cake, my day ended the same way it always does; dinner for the girls, homework, showers and bedtime, after which I sat and folded laundry! I wouldn’t have it any other way though. Having my family is my biggest blessing from the universe. A Happy Happy Birthday to me!

 

The Natural History Museum.

Visiting the Natural History Museum in London felt like a really difficult thing for me to do for a long time. Anxiety made the journey, the huge buildings and the often deep crowds, impossible to face.

With all the progress I’ve made, I really wanted to give it a go, Leya is 5 now and has various subjects at school that my husband and I both agreed, would be well supported by a trip to the museum.

It was busy. We decided to visit on a Sunday, for some reason thinking it would be quieter. It appears that everyone else had the same mistaken belief too!

However, from the moment we walked through the main entrance and I saw Leyas face light up at the sight of the various skeletons on display, I knew that the trip was going to be worth it.

We arrived at midday, so by the time we’d had a look around the first room,  and taken a few photos, the girls were starving. The T-Rex grill in the green zone seemed like the best option. It was a good choice. They had delicious burgers and pizzas for the kids and the childrens strawberry milkshakes were actually a child appropriate size, which is unusual for most restaurants. I had a chicken Caesar salad, which was huge, and as good as any I’ve ever had.

After lunch, we continued around the museum. The girls loved the bird room, and were amazed by all the different species.

Seeing the fossils up on the walls was fascinating, and I felt a wave of nostalgia from my own visits to the museum as a child. We visited the room about the planets in our solar system, and the girls loved the interactive learning tools, which basically meant that they got to press lots of buttons.

The earthquake simulator was fun, and surprisingly it didn’t frighten the girls. They were intrigued.

I think the proudest moment of my day was Aria sitting down in front of the huge statue of Charles Darwin and staring up at him in awe. I’m so excited for the girls to learn more about the world we live in, and I feel there will be many more trips to the museum in the years to come.

Our day ended with a detour on our walk back to the car park, with a trip to The Hummingbird Bakery, so I could educate the girls in the delicious art form that is cake!

Red Velvet is my usual go to, but I fancied a change and I can highly recommend a slice of the lemon and raspberry ripple cake – yummy.

Review – The Breakspear Arms.

On Saturday evening we went out for a family dinner, at one of our favourite casual dining spots for Indian food.

The Breakspear Arms is situated on the Breakspear Road South in Uxbridge, heading towards Ruislip.

For all intents and purposes, it’s a pub, and they do have a pub food menu and carvery too, but their real culinary merit lies in their traditional North Indian cuisine.

There is a converted conservatory area to the left of the main entrance, away from the hustle and bustle of the main pub, and this has been recently extended and refurbished, to make it a light, airy and comfortable place to enjoy your meal. There are large, conveniently placed TV screens on the wall, for those who want to watch the football.

OK, so the Food!!

The huge basket of freshly cooked poppadoms and selection of chutneys is a welcome appetiser while you wait to order.

The starters, are in my opinion, the best bit, order lots to share! Let me tell you about some of our favourites.

Chilli and Garlic Mogo: Fried cassava chips, tossed in spicy masala and coriander.

Chilli Paneer: Soft cubes of paneer cheese, in a delicious spicy sauce, with peppers, onions and chilli flakes.

Chicken Tikka: Mild and flavoursome, a classic.

Fish Tikka: Soft, flaky, mildly spiced white fish.

Lamb Kebabs: Juicy and aromatic, a little on the hot side so have some of their cool raita if you don’t enjoy the heat.

For Mains we tend to stick to Butter Chicken, Daal Makhni, Lamb Rara – a delicious dry, spicy lamb curry, Rice and an assortment of Naan and Paratha.

 

If you’re looking for fuss-free, tasty, authentic Indian food, and a relaxed family atmosphere, this is definitely a place to try. You’ll go back again and again.