Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Weekend In Paris...In The Spring!

It's no secret we love a getaway. And over the years Paris has proved a popular destination for us to visit, as a couple and with others.

A few of our Paris posts:
Fun Fact Friday: Oui Oui Paris j'adore
A Weekend In Paris
A Week In Paris

Our recent trip to Paris involved taking the Eurostar from St Pancras in London to Gare Du Nord in central Paris. From Gare Du Nord we made our way on foot to our apartment in the Monmarte district, a slightly uphill 15 minute walk.

The friends we were meeting at arrived earlier that day and were already checked into our Airbnb - a great 2 bed flat just 10 minutes walk to the Sacre Coeur, an area we had fallen in love with when spending a week in Paris.

Friday evening was spent catching up and agreeing plans for the next 48 hours.

Saturday involved a 10am start and visit to the boulangerie over the road to stock up on fresh croissants and baguettes. The perfect way to start our day in Paris. Once well fed we started the day. Thankfully we had a Metro station just 4 minutes walk away so we could start the day quickly. Our first purchase was book of 10 Metro tickets for €14.90 allowing us to travel freely.

The first stop of the day was Notre Dame. On arrival the rain was pouring so we went straight to Sainte Chapelle, a gothic style royal chapel and home to Kings of France in the 14th century. It is most famous for it's 15.5m stain glass windows that tell stories from the bible.

We had hoped our time in the chapel would let the rain finish, unfortunately the rain got worse. Nevertheless we continued and headed to Pont Nerf, the bridge that now holds all the love locks. We had got our friends a lock and wanted to give them the opportunity to add theirs to the 1000's already locked in. From there we headed to the Notre Dame and then the snow started.

That was our time to head for the Metro and to lunch back nearer the Sacre Coeur. We wanted to revisit the La Taverne De Montmarte  - a must if you like raclette, warm fires and delicious food. We sat and chatted for almost 2 hours in the warmth before braving the snow.

From the Sacre Coeur we strolled to the Moulin Rouge, through quaint market squares and past building topped off with windmills. We had never walked that way before and really enjoyed the views.

By the time we reached the Moulin Rouge, quite the sight in the snow, we all agreed that we should head back to the apartment to dry off. That led to our friend offering to cook us dinner and when an Italian offers you dinner - always say yes! It was a much needed refuel and delicious.

Our stroll back also included taking in some interesting artwork - something you can find in so many places in Paris.

After dinner we decided to head to the Eiffel Tower. Even though the snow was still falling we wanted to see the tower lit up. What we did find on arrival was that security has really been stepped up, to get under the Eiffel Tower you now need to go through security checks. In addition you can't get to the tower itself as fences now guard the bases.

After that we called it a night so we could get a good night sleep and prepare for the next day.

Sunday started the same way Saturday did, with fresh treats from the bakery.

This time our destination was Arc De Triomphe. We planned to head up and enjoy the view but with clouds settling in we decided against it and instead decided to walk the Champs Elysees.

We detoured to Pont Alexandre III to enjoy the view of the Seine and take in the Eiffel Tower

And ended our walk down the Rue de Rivoli, a road packed with shops and restaurants next to the Jardin des Tuileries. We stopped in at Cafe Rivoli for a croquet monsieur and chips and then Framboise Les Moments Crepes for crepes. It was all so good. 

After being well fed we continued to Carrousel du Louvre, a shopping mall under the Lourve that is well worth a visit. From here we got the Metro back to the apartment to head back to the apartment. 

Sadly our journey back was ruined by EuroStars' terrible handling of a system failure. After arriving 90 minutes before our train we were made to queue in freezing temperatures for the 90 minutes, without the queue moving. At 5 months pregnant it was far from ideal and there was not a signal member of staff telling us what was going on. Our train was eventually delayed meaning we spent our journey stressed that we miss our connection to get home to Birmingham. 

Thanks to an epic effort by Laura, carrying our case up three escalators we were able to make it from St Pancras to Euston in 15 minutes and made our train with 2 minutes to go. 

Next time we head to Paris we may be doing it as a family of three and we can't wait to see what that trip will hold. 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Baby Blogging - Weeks 13 - 19!

For any of you following the blog you may notice this post is firstly out of order (as we shared news of our 20 week scan here) and also a bit behind (as I am at 23 weeks currently) but nevertheless I drafted this post at the time and thought it was worth sharing.

Starting the new year pregnant involved sleeping intermittently between 10 - 12pm, waking up for the London fireworks on TV, toasting the new year with Appletiser and then heading to bed. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't my ideal way to celebrate.

We were in Cornwall at a lovely cottage with friends and we had spent the few days before exploring the local area and eating a lot. It was a great way to spend out our last child-free new year.

After our new year mini-break it was back to work. I'm lucky enough to get to work from home so the transition wasn't as bad as it was for Laura who had to get dressed and go to her office. On the Thursday I did venture into London though and remembered to order my 'Baby on Board' badge.  While 13 week pregnant me had no limitations getting around I thought it was getting in case I needed it later on.

We also were lucky enough be lent a doppler by Laura's colleague so we could hear Tater-Tots heart beat at home. Our first attempts were not hugely successful but over time we have figured out where Tater-Tot is hanging out and manage to find it first time - turns out they are super low, like just above my pubic bone. The bump is just all my organs being pushed up as the placenta grows. Fun fact.

January included a trip to Birmingham Women's for the first time for a blood test. Sadly the nuchal translucence reading at our first scan hadn't been conclusive - Tater-Tot refused to lay still making the reading hard- so I needed a further blood test that thankfully came back with a 1/1000 chance of downs.. The visit in itself was crazy. Turns our Birmingham Women's isn't just for maternity - as I had first thought - but all kinds of women's things. That led to the car park being manic.

After parking Tater-Tot and I had a quick jog to the hospital but that was just the start. On arrival reception sent me towards maternity, that desk sent me towards pre-natel, they sent me towards the baby unit who eventually pointed me towards an area where I had to grab a ticket and head to waiting area for blood tests. My fit bit step count appreciated the tour, I did not.

For the 15 minutes of walking the wait for the blood test was almost 45 so I was well and truly rested for my 2 minute blood test. Then a quick sprint back to get to the car park 2 minutes before my hour expired and the ticket price went up from £2.60 (extortionate) to  £5+ (super extortionate). Hopefully all future blood tests can happen at our local doctors.

It's definitely more of a mind screw than I thought. Without any real way of telling if Tater-Tot is developing as they should. I really freaked out after reading an article on how you shouldn't eat ham - I have eaten a fair amount of ham as a source of protein. Then there was the article that said don't eat any sandwich meat without heating it. How are you meant to survive business meetings where the only option is sandwiches?! These last few weeks I have panicked more about the fact that I could have eaten the wrong thing and impacted Tater-Tot more than anything else. It doesn't help that there is so many mixed messages either.

As we headed to Gran Canaria to meet my parents for a weeks break I made a list of everything I planned to eat that week, other than meals out I was sticking to a breakfast cereal then toast, eggs and canned spaghetti with a dessert of yogurt. It may not have been the healthiest but it was nutritious enough to cover the basics and avoided eating anything I shouldn't.

For meals out I was more adventurous and after a long debate even had a Chinese buffet. We had selected a restaurant based on reviews but on turning up that restaurant was closed so we picked another one that looked super busy - meaning the food would be quickly replenished, avoiding the 'don't eat food that has been sat out for too long' rule.

The holiday itself was a lovely opportunity to relax. The weather wasn't great but we explored a lot of the island at a relaxed pace and it was nice to be away, you can get read all about it here. I even got to feel Tater-Tots move for the first time while laid out on the sunbed. Another personal highlight was the ability to swim, I wished I could get my butt in gear and go in the UK, but it was nice to take advantage while away.

After a week back at work we were lucky enough to have a mini-break in Wales courtesy of Upper House and Spa. It was so good to get away just the two of us (plus bump and Bisbee) and explore a new place. We had arrived Friday evening after a 2 hour drive and were immediately welcomed by our host Emily. After showing us around the property we then had a treat of an afternoon tea set up. All food was pregnancy friendly and so, so good - a perfect - well fed start to the weekend.

As Upper House and Spa was well located to explore the local area we took advantage by making a short drive out to the local town to see the castle and walk around. In all honesty though the barn was so cosy and comfy that we were more than happy to relax there. With a log fire, kitchen and TV with wide selection of channels it was everything we needed. The other benefit was the onsite spa - that Laura got to use - it was small cabin with beds positioned to overlook the surrounding valley. Although as we visited in the evening it was an opportunity to star gaze.

It was like a baby moon and gave us some much needed time together. We can't thank Upper House and Spa enough. You can read the full review here.

We are so looking forward to the 20 week scan to make sure everything is okay and to see how big Tater-Tot has got.

I think I will be taking a pack lunch with me for the foreseeable future as I can't take the pressure of making a wrong choice.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Review: Rub Smokehouse, Birmingham, UK

You know when you really look forward to visiting a restaurant as there has been some hype around them, they have great marketing and their menu looks awesome. This is Rub Smokehouse.

We visited the Birmingham restaurant on the 12th March 2018 for a friends birthday and our experience was an interesting one.

There are plenty of gimmicks - you can win a prize when you book online, ours was a mystery prize that ended up being 10% off or a free cocktail or free dessert.

There is the Nugzilla, a giant chicken nugget:

And the birthday cake burger, that is a burger in a birthday cake - with added meat and marshmallows:

The menu changes so it is worth checking online before you go: Menu with the latest version launching on March 13th. Having a read through they still have similar items and the ones we tried. What we did find interesting is they market themselves as 'Serving low n slow authentic American bbq food' but this is only a small portion of their menu, and if anything misses out the interesting parts - the 'EPIC' selection. I mean is it us or are smokehouses so 2017?! But how many places do a double cheeseburger in a calzone? Or a nugget birthday cake?

So here's the rub, excuse the pun, on our visit to the Birmingham restaurant:
  • Service was slow, and there were only 5 tables filled so it wasn't busy, it took them almost half an hour to get our drinks round sorted

  • The menu looked full of potential and between 5 of us we ordered quite a selection including the birthday burger, a taco pizza that came in a VW bus and a number of starters and sides
  • Starter sizes were fairly small for the price
  • The taco burger was dry, it needed melted cheese or something as it was also fairly tasteless - but looked EPIC
  • The birthday burger would have been better without the middle layer of cake, it became dry and thirsty work
  • Strangely the tap water, when provided was super cloudy - now we appreciate it's just minerals but wouldn't you let it settle before bringing it to the table? Cloudy water is never appealing!
  • The burger with melted cheese wedges was overcooked and the wedges appeared reheated - the cheese was solid rather than melty
  • The cheesy chips barely had cheese on them and were cold
  • The battered prawns were delicious though and most of the food had potential, just on this occasion it didn't deliver
  • For the cost there are places you can get a better meal and better service. It isn't a place for those who like great value
The potential for Rub Smokehouse is huge. There are tons of ways to engage with them - and not just on social media. If you are someone who likes to eat, a lot, you can take part in their food challenges like there Nugzilla challenge here. It certainly looks like a fun place, although maybe avoid Monday's - it's too quiet to have any atmosphere.

They also have deals for meal and a cocktail for £10 or a bottomless chicken tenders party where the person who eats the most baskets can win £250. 

Plus their desserts sounded delicious but we were too full to even attempt them. 

It also looks like a great place to go as a large group. For 5 of us the wait for drinks and then food was passed with plenty of conversation but as a date night it would have made things super awkward. Plus, and this may be because I'm pregnant, but when I have eaten a large meal I like to recline in my seat. Here the seats are bolt upright wooden palates so there is no sitting back and relaxing. In fact we decided if we were going to get dessert we would go to somewhere comfier. 

We wish Rub all the best but it doesn't make our recommendation list!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Baby Blogging - 10 Reasons My Wife Is Amazing!

There are so many reasons my wife is wonderful and since being pregnant, she has been absolutely amazing, so I wanted to dedicate this post to Laura with the top 10 reasons why she has been extra wonderful recently.

1. For almost 7 months (since we started trying) I have had a freshly made smoothie made for me daily, full of the good stuff.

2. The selection of healthy, home cooked meals is endless. I'm a fairly fussy eater and Laura has a way of sneaking all types of veg into meals in ways that mean I don't even notice. I've also been lucky enough to have a few batches of cookies made - not so healthy, but SO good!

3. Every night before I go to bed Laura supervises and advises me as I complete a stretching/exercise routine that means I can sleep better and wake up without back ache- she's researched everything so well.

4. The exercise routine is followed by a back massage from Laura  - which used to be a treat - but is now something I am lucky enough to experience nightly!

She's always got my back!
5. While spa music plays on Alexa, our nighttime routine finishes with a belly rub with bio oil to (hopefully) save me from stretch marks.

6. Thankfully, the main side effect of my pregnancy has been tiredness; it's improved in the second trimester, but Laura has been amazing, making sure when I do get tired she takes care of everything. She even preempts when I may get tired and makes sure I have a snack and drink ready.

7. Laura has always been organised and since we started on this journey it has been so useful. While I am capable of adding key appointments to my calendar, Laura makes sure I am heading to the right place at the right time, with the right information.

8. The further along I get in this pregnancy the more I realise I don't know, and thankfully Laura really knows how to calm me down. She is reassuring, knows how get me to focus and is ready with a soothing hug on so many occasions.

9. As we are both super excited to welcome our little girl, it's fair to say we talk about it a lot and thankfully Laura gets to talk about it with super helpful colleagues who are ready with advice, willing to answer our many questions and have even given us a few essentials to borrow. Laura is way better at asking all the right questions.

10. As we go through this journey, Laura is also remembering to keep track, with (almost) weekly photo shoots and I couldn't be more grateful. Time flies so fast and I am so glad she is thoughtful enough to make sure we have the memories.

I am a lucky wife and our little lady is super lucky to have Laura as a Mama.