Thursday, 30 April 2015

Travel: My Travel Bucket List. #TransunLights

Singapore 2014.

Boarding my first plane at four years old for my first fourteen-hour trip of many to the Philippines, the travel bug bit me at a very young age (or I suppose you could call it the travel gene; I hope to take after my Dad, who constantly boasts a full passport of stamps, although the thought of having over 700 flights under my belt makes me feel a little queasy- I'm that person who squeezes the hand of the person next to me so hard during take off that it might break and panics at any signs of turbulence). As I grew older and started attending school trips to Rome and New York, and finally making journeys without a familiar face (or hand to squeeze) by my side to Calvi, France and most recently Singapore, I was captivated by the beauty and culture of places unfamiliar to me and have since craved more adventures. There is an endless list of places that I would like to visit during my life time, from quaint and quirky European cities such as Paris and Amsterdam, to Walt Disney World to relive the part of my childhood I never got chance to experience, and of course, to see the Northern Lights (but that need not be mentioned, after all, this blog post is an entry to Transun's amazing competition to win a trip to see the fascinating Auroras). However, here is a list of some of the top destinations on my travel bucket list:

Rickshaw Run, India.
Whilst the sun, sand and surf of typical holiday destinations is usually enough to keep me happy, sometimes the bolder side of me craves something a little more adventurous and down-right ridiculous, and what says that better than travelling 3,500km across India in your own pimped up tuktuk- or what The Adventurists describe as a "7 horsepower glorified lawnmower". Since watching the JacksGap series on their Indian adventure, the Rickshaw Run has been right at the top of my bucket list, not only for the feeling of accomplishment as we cross the finish line, the sheer stupidity of it and the laughs (and probably tears) that would be shared with my friends, but to stop and enjoy views such as the Taj Mahal and have a authentic Indian curry or five along the way.

I've got to hand it over to the lovely Amy over at The Little Magpie for the mini-series she has recently written documenting her trip to Iceland for the fact that I am now completely obsessed with the idea of visiting this slightly cooler holiday destination. Iceland was never a country that had crossed my mind as somewhere that I needed to see, but where else can I bathe in mineral-rich 37 degree hot springs with a face mask on and a cocktail in hand whilst enjoying the view of snow-covered mountain tops?
The Golden Circle Tour sounds amazing also; unsurprisingly one of Iceland's most popular tours amongst travelers, watching the Strokkur Geyser intermittently erupt in to a turbulent blast of hot water and steam, witnessing the powerful flow of the Gullfoss waterfall and strolling around villages of quaint little brightly-coloured houses isn't something that you get to do at home (or many other places, for that matter).

The Philippines (well, more of it).
As mentioned before, I have visited the Philippines a lot throughout my life- nine times to be exact- and whilst I know the streets of the capital city, Manila and my mother's home province, Zambales like the back of my hand, having half of my family and a little house at our convenience has meant that I haven't really had the chance to explore much of the country that holds half of my heritage (did you know that the Republic of the Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands in total? That's a lot of islands to explore!). One of the saddest things about Zambales is that the devastating eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 left the surrounding beaches covered in a layer of volcanic ash, so whilst they are still lovely to visit with their own beauty and stories to tell, I would love to travel over to the island of Boracay, one of the Philippines' more popular tourist destinations which luckily still boasts beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise waters. The island of Bohol is home to one of my favourite animals, the Philippine tarsier, and it has been on my bucket list for many years to see one of these boggle-eyed, pint-sized primates in the flesh.
As well as these, it would be amazing to see some of the Philippines' very own wonders in real life, including the Chocolate Hills, the incredible 2,000-year-old Baneue Rice Terraces and the (almost) perfectly conicle Mayon Volcano.

What are your dream travel destinations?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: This blog post is an entry in to Transun's #TransunLights blogger competition.
Sunday, 12 April 2015

Lifestyle: Let Your Shoes Do The Talking.

Firstly, I just wanted to apologise for the lack of blog posts over the last week or so- You know when you work a day job that you no longer enjoy and it diminishes any motivation you had to do the things you actually love? Yeah, that.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was able to take a short break from work and was treated to a romantic (albeit partially sponsored by Jacamo) night in by Simon, which involved dinner, a bubble bath and a chick flick with a glass of wine and a box of chocolates. Not a bad one, is he?
Now, I wish I could say that this was all for no reason, but this bout of romance came with a bit of a twist. Jacamo have recently launched a new campaign called, "Let Your Shoes Do The Talking", which has not only been created to try and prove that romance in relationships is, in fact, not dead, but also give a little advice to the men out there who need a little help getting off on the right foot (teehee) when it comes to dating. If you've been wondering where it keeps going wrong, guys, it could all be down to what you are wearing on your feet.
You see, Jacamo carried out a survey which showed that a man's shoes are often what us ladies notice first, and 51% of women use a man's shoes to try and figure out his personality (I suppose it's kind of true!). Now, before you throw out those battered old Nike Blazers that have probably been turning off the ladies, don't despair- Jacamo have made a dedicated Shoe-Duction page full of shoe success stories and advice on picking the right pair from some top British male fashion bloggers. You can also find out what type of shoe is the most popular amongst the female population in your region of the UK and then shop from Jacamo's collections (which are available in a huge range of sizes and are pretty spot on, if I may say so myself) right from their website. 
So guys, treat yourselves to a new pair of trainers or brogues and try your luck- You may find that it wasn't that cheesy chat up line that turned her away. And if shoes just aren't your thing, there's still hope; there's still another 49% of ladies who are attracted to other articles of clothing- I'm pretty sure I complimented Simon on his jacket on our first date!
Ladies, do you think that a man's shoes do all the talking?
Frances x
*DISCLOSURE: Jacamo kindly provided us with a date night hamper as part of their campaign.
Thursday, 2 April 2015

Review: Breakout Liverpool.

[Image credit: Breakout Liverpool]

Remember those online escape games that you used to sneakily play (along with The Impossible Quiz and all of Miniclip's procrastination-perfect offerings) instead of learning how to use Excel during I.T. lessons in high school? They've recently been popping up in the form of real-life escape rooms that you and your friends can pay to get locked in, in the hopes that you can break free in just an hour.
I was recently invited along to the Northwest's newest escape centre, Breakout Liverpool*, with my team consisting of my boyfriend, his brother and his brother's girlfriend, to try our luck at breaking out of their 'Classified' room. The second hardest of their three rooms and the prequel to their most difficult escape game, 'Sabotage', Classified saw us sitting our final exam to become a secret agent, in which we had to examine the various objects in the room for hidden clues, unlock a series of padlocks and find a sequence of cards in order escape from the room and pass the test.
Sixty minutes trapped in a room no bigger than your living room where every single object inside is relevant to your mission. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Whilst a GCSE in math isn't compulsory in becoming a top secret agent (a calculator is provided for any mathematic equations you may need to work out, who knew?), these escape rooms require a fair amount of logical thinking, common sense and a knowledge of how to actually open different kinds of padlocks after you have unlocked them (heh...). By the time we hit the thirty minute mark, the suspenseful music was getting to us, our patience with one another was wearing thin and nervous sweats were forming at the sound of the yelling coming from the escapees trying to break free from the room next to us. We had only managed to find three of the eight cards needed to work out the final combination and we had been stood staring at the same pictures on the wall for the past ten minutes- we were doomed, surely.
However, the Breakout team are on standby in the control room, watching your every move on the CCTV cameras and flashing up cryptic clues on the wall-mounted monitor whenever they felt you needed a little extra help (and probably laughing every time you walk past something obvious... suckers). These clues aren't easy, however- they are puzzles in themselves, there to jog your mind in to thinking outside the box and they often left us kicking ourselves for not noticing clues that were right in front of us.

With twenty minutes left to spare, the thought of continuing with our day jobs got too much for us and we picked up the pace, working out the last few combinations and discovering vital clues which led us to the remaining cards. With just over six minutes to spare before our dreams of becoming the next Jason Bourne would be crushed, we tapped the mathematical equation on the series of cards in to the calculator to reveal the four-digit padlock combination which broke away the chains on the final box containing our key to freedom. The name is Bond. Frances Bond.

If you are in to puzzle-solving, team-building or simply yelling at the contestants on Fort Boyard/ The Crystal Maze on your TV, Breakout Liverpool is for you. Allowing teams of between two and five players, the more people you bring along with you, the cheaper it is for you to play. However, it is never going to cost you more than £20 a head, so Breakout Liverpool is a fun and affordable way to try something new with your friends, whether it be a birthday, a staff night out or just a much-needed break from essay-writing. Read more about the missions they offer and book in for a game here. Or, if you're not local to Liverpool, Breakout also have a centre in Manchester.

Have you visited Breakout Liverpool/Manchester yet? Did you escape?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: We were kindly invited along by the Breakout team to escape from a room for free in return for an honest review.
Friday, 27 March 2015

Outfit: Festival Bunting

Top: C/O Sugarhill Boutique* (buy) | Skirt: C/O Poppy Lux * (buy) | Shoes: Matalan (old) | Hair pins: Miss Selfridge (old)
It has been a little while since I had my last Sugarhill Boutique fix and I'll admit that I had almost forgotten how much I love the brand until their SS15 lookbook found it's way in to my inbox. In less than five clicks they had won me over yet again- I mean, it's hard to pass up a dress covered in Dalmatians and Corgis, isn't it? Feeling inspired by a couple of the looks that their gorgeous model was sporting in their lookbook, I opted for a midi skirt and t-shirt combo, and please, can we just take a minute to appreciate this elephant print that was hand-drawn by a complete design genius in the Sugarhill Boutique studio? I predict a new best seller coming on- I have my eye on the dreamy smock dress version, too.
Teamed with this classic PU panel midi skirt by Sugarhill's sister brand, Poppy Lux, which they now aptly describe as "a complimentary brand of wearable basics with trend-led shapes and finishes", I think I have found one of my favourite pairings for the Spring. And just when I thought I couldn't be more smitten, I tried it on to find that it has pockets. The little things, guys...

Have you taken a look at Sugarhill/Poppy Lux's Spring/Summer range?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Starred items are PR samples.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Food: Jamie's Italian, Liverpool.

A couple of weeks ago, Simon and I were invited down for dinner at Jamie's Italian in Liverpool*. We arrived at the dimly lit, rustically decorated restaurant and were greeted by our waiter, James, who was great and a huge help throughout the entire evening- after he had sat us down at our candlelit table, he handed us our menus and talked us through the specials that were written on the chalkboards on the wall beside us. When ordering, we also asked him about portion sizes and whether it was worth ordering side dishes with our main meals and he was totally honest and never pushed us in to ordering unnecessary extras.
We decided to start the evening with a cocktail each whilst we perused the menu- I tend to try new things whenever I eat out for the sake of my blog posts, so I went for the Grey Goose Le Fizz whilst Simon played it safe with Jamie's Mojito, which I think was the better choice in the end (can never go wrong with a good mojito, although the Grey Goose was still nice and refreshing).

To start, Simon and I opted to mix and match few items from the Antipasti menu; Pork Scratchings, Crispy Squid (the winner of this round) and the Music Bread, which partially won us over with its cool name even though we had no idea what it was. It turned out to be a thin and crispy flatbread (similar to Indian poppadoms) topped with generous slices of pecorino Sardo cheese and a dot of chilli jam. As expected along with Jamie's infamous rustic style, our food was served to us on wooden boards, copper chalices and terracotta tapas dishes.

We both ordered pasta dishes for our mains, Simon choosing Jamie's Famous Prawn Linguine and myself the rather scary-looking Squid & Mussel Spaghetti Nero, which featured black squid ink pasta with whole, flash-fried squid, mussels and slices of tender octopus. Both were delicious, although I am partial to dishes containing large amounts of seafood. However, staying true to tradition on our food-related escapades, we carried out a smooth and swift swapping of plates half way through the meal to avoid any food envy (I don't think anyone saw).

Of course, there's always room for desserts and we both decided to satisfy our sweet tooth with chocolate in the form of a warm and rich "Epic" Brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramelised popcorn for Simon, and a Chocolate & Hazelnut Arctic Roll for me, which featured an espresso semifreddo amongst the mound of chocolate sponge, chocolate ice cream and chocolate shavings (is the word chocolate starting to look weird to you...?), which took the edge off its richness.

Overall, we had a very pleasant experience at Jamie's Italian Liverpool; each course was brought to us promptly and the staff were friendly and accommodating. Thank you to the team for inviting us along! :)

Have you ever eaten at Jamie's Italian?

Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Jamie's Italian kindly provided partial payment for our meal in return for an honest review.
Sunday, 15 March 2015

Luxury Gift Guide for Her.

Going from being a full-time student to having a close-to-minimum-wage paid job means that luxury items and high-end brands rarely appear in my wardrobe or on my dressing table, except around birthdays and Christmas time when one or two extravagancies sneak their way on to my wishlist, or on the odd occasion that I receive especially good payslip. I believe that everybody deserves a little bit of luxury in their lives, whether it be emptying the penny jar to buy that Michael Kors purse you've had your eye on or treating someone special to a bottle of their favourite eau de parfum, so I decided to put together a little gift guide including some of the luxury items that I have been lucky enough to add to my collection.
My favourite thing to accessorize an outfit with is a statement watch, and the first designer piece I ever received was my beloved tortoiseshell Michael Kors watch (£185) from my dad one Christmas around the time when MK was all the rage. Both my Michael Kors watch and my rose gold Tommy Hilfiger* (£140) number have gotten so much wear over the past couple of years, a special wrist piece is definitely the perfect gift for any punctual fashionista.
I'm not a huge beauty fanatic so drugstore brands usually see fit for my daily winged eyeliner needs and the occasional red lip, however I do have a couple of high-end palettes tucked away in my makeup drawer for special occasions. The NARS Virtual Domination Cheek palette (£45.00) and the infamous Naked 3 palette by Urban Decay (£38.00) have been two very welcome pieces in my collection recently as they allow me to experiment with different looks without splashing too much cash, plus they last for ages. My two Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution lipsticks were extremely generous gifts from my grandparents last Christmas, and at £23 a pop they only get used on very special occasions as I'm terrified of ruining the bullet (this is exactly why I don't buy high-end makeup...)! They do look beautiful sat on my dresser in all their rose-gold glory though, right? (Shades Glastonberry and Bond Girl respectively, incase you wondered).
Buying luxury gifts doesn't necessarily mean forking out hundreds of pounds. This Ted Baker brogue notebook* (£11.04) and outdoors wood pen* (£16.99) set looks high-end with its intricate detailing and gold hardwear (the notebook features gold-edged pages and beautiful parrot-print endpapers also) but doesn't boast the designer price tag, and Flamingo Gifts stock them in plenty of colours and styles suitable for both men and women (plus lots of other fun, nice and quirky gifts- their website has fast become one of my favourite online stores for scoping out unique and affordable presents).

Perfumes have always been one of my favourites to give and receive as they are so personal to the recipient. I fell in love with my all-time favourite Freak by Illamasqua eau de parfum when I received the smaller 30ml bottle (£34.00) for Christmas two years ago. After using it sparingly over the next year, I finally bit the bullet and snapped up the 75ml bottle (£59.00) in Illamasqua's crazy end-of-season sale last month for an amazing 60% off, so it's worth keeping an eye out for super deals before you splurge.

One thing you can't go wrong with when buying for even the fussiest lady is jewellery. I recently discovered JewelStreet, a huge online marketplace stocking men and women's jewellery from over 250 designers, including Sari Jules, from whom I picked up these gorgeous 14 carat gold-filled statement earrings* (£59). They also stock designs by a few award winning online boutiques, including Sara Gunn and one of my most favourite jewellery designers, Jana Reindhart, who makes luxury gold and silver pieces in cute designs inspired by wildlife and her childhood, like this Hummingbird ring (£89) which I also have in my collection.

I think it's every girl's dream to one day have the likes of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo sitting in her shoe closet, and I was lucky enough to receive my very first pair of designer footwear from Harvey Nichols in the form of these butterfly print espadrilles by Valentino* (£285) last week. Just look at that packaging! Valentino also have a whole collection of pieces in the same butterfly print, including this clutch bag which I have somewhat fallen for, and you can find all of them plus lots of studded designer goodness by searching for Valentino over at Harvey Nichols.
What is your favourite luxury purchase/ what's on your wishlist?
Frances x

*DISCLOSURE: Starred items are PR samples.