Saturday, 31 December 2016

5 Unusual Ways to Spend New Year's Eve

Are you tired of stressing out trying to find something awesome to do on NYE and need some inspiration?  Why not do something a little out of the ordinary and check out some of the weird and wonderful events taking place across the globe.

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Madrid, Spain:
Why not hop a flight to the Spanish capital, hitch a ride to Puerta del Sol and spent Nochevieja (NYE) in the company of Cava drinking, grape eating Spaniards? All you need is twelve grapes, to be consumed one by one by the chimes of the clock counting down to midnight, and the ability to fiesta all night and you'll fit right in.  

The tradition comes from the belief that eating grapes on New Year's Eve will bring you a year of health and happiness. Also: this will totally start you off on the right foot on January 1st by covering one of your 5 a day, no?    Eating healthy in 2017: check!  

The street party is not just limited to Madrid, however, there's also a massive party held in the Plaza de Cataluyna Square in Barca, where even more Spaniards join together for the Twelve Grapes and to celebrate the coming of the New Year. 

12 Grapes, Spanish New Year
I prefer them when they're squashed in to liquid, but I could manage 12.

Allendale Tar Barrel Festival, Northumberland:
The village of Allendale is generally a quiet and peaceful place, but come New Year's Eve and all hell breaks loose.   No, really.   The men of the town have been keeping up the tradition of "Tar Barl' for the past 160 years, in which they wander down the high street at midnight, in fancy dress, with barrels on their heads.   And the barrels?  Well, they're on fire...obviously.   


It's certainly a novel way to keep warm on a Winter's night.   I hope the men take proper precautions so as not to roast their chestnuts.  


Fire Festival, Allendale
I am the God of Hellfire and I bring you....
Quito, Ecuador:
On the 31st December each year, the good people of Ecuador get together to set stuff on fire.   Why, I hear you ask?   Well, why not?  The townsfolk head out into the streets, armed with dummies representing famous faces, politicians, their mother in laws, etc, and proceed to douse them in whatever kind of accelerant (petrol?? tequila??) one would use for such a ceremony.    

It is a widely held belief that the symbolic gestures will bring you good luck for the year ahead and, let's face it, anything's worth a shot.    I know I'm not short of a person or two I'd like to set fire to (not literally, obviously) at the stroke of Midnight.


Ecuador Festival, New Year
Burn 'em...burn 'em all..
Comanesti, Romania:
The Dance of the Bear is a traditional festivities that take place across the former Soviet State on New Year's Eve.  Romanian Gypsies dress up in bear skins (mostly fake now...damn animals and their moaning about not being shot and worn at NY) and wander round the streets in the festival of Ursul.  

Bears are thought of as a sacred protector in Romania and the wearing of their skins is to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead. A procession of 'bears' take to the streets and celebrate the passing of the old year into the new.  
I imagine they don't walk too far, though....who needs to be carrying all the extra weight?  Still, I imagine it's quiet the terrifying spectable if you just happen to rock up at New Year and had no idea it was all going on.   OMG BEARS...BEARS EVERYWHERE!

Dance of the Bear, Romania
I'm sorry, you want to do what now?  Yeah, no, totally not going to happen. 

Stonehaven, Scotland:
Man, there's a lot of fire starting around the world on NYE and my home nation is not one to be left out, no Ma'am.  We don't be setting fire to puppets OR any barrels of tar, no - we like to swing large fireballs around our heads.   Because, when else in the year can you get away with this without someone calling the Police?    OK, so maybe in Greenock, but certainly not anywhere else.   

The aptly named Fireball Ceremony will leave no one in any doubt about the premise of the night, so I suggest you check out your nearest assembly points and dig out your high vis jacket well in advance.     

The actual firebally flinging thingy starts at 12pm, but if you want to see it in all its glory, best get to Aberdeenshire before 11pm.   You don't want to miss out on catching fire now, do you?   I jest, of course, it is a very well organised and very safe event.   Also: Stonhaven is a beautiful little coastal village, so if you DO catch fire, you're really close to the sea.    Result!


Fire, New Year
The remains of Stonehaven from last year's Festival.  

As for me, I won't be doing any of these things because I'll be having a drink with LT in the comfort of my lounge because I'm way too introverted to do any of the things I've written about.... 

What are you getting up to on NYE?  Whatever it is, I hope you have a great night!


Suzanne x


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Magical Lantern Festival, Birmingham

The Magic Lantern Festival, currently being held at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham, is the perfect event to get you fully immersed in the Christmas spirit. If, like me, you're a touch obsessed with fairy lights and have them hanging all round your house, this ticketed event will, undoubtedly, fill you with joy.  

I'm not so much a fan of Christmas, but I do love anything that glows in the dark, so after spotting an advert on Facebook for the event in Leeds and London, I conducted a quick Google search with the terminology 'big massive lantern festival in Wales' and, although Wales was not lucky enough to host such an event, it turns out that Birmingham was. I instantly signed my husband and me up for tickets via Eventbrite and started counting down the days.


The Magic Lantern Festival was launched in 2015 and, after huge success, it was decided that it would be expanded to other parts of the country. Well, we can't have Londoners having all the fun, can we?  Indeed. In 2016, Leeds and Birmingham have joined in the action and I though it would be rude not to go along and lend some support in the inaugural outing. With any luck, Scotland and Wales might be included in the line up in future years as we love a lantern, we do.

birmingham magical lantern festival

Anyway, tickets for the event at Birmingham were reasonably priced and you can choose a time slot to attend so that the event isn't overrun with people all at once. We chose a 7pm kick off and were pleased to see the entry area filled with Christmas market type food and drinks stalls, as well as a souvenir gift shop for all things Chinese. The event had no real theme, although clearly Chinese lanterns gave it an oriental feel, there were also lots of child friendly lanterns, which seemed to be making the younger visitors extremely happy. It's difficult to argue with a 30ft Cinderella, I feel.  

birmingham magical lantern festival
this would look SO good in my garden.
On entry, you walk through a 12 metre wide illuminated curved entrance before you start your walk through the gardens to celebrate more than 2,000 years of fabulous Chinese lanterns.  There are classic lanterns throughout the site, as well as modern designs and something local as a nod to Birmingham's wonderful bronze bull.  

The area is fenced off to stop anyone getting lost and it well signed throughout.  This is an excellent thing for me as I have zero sense of direction in the day light. At night, I have literally no chance of finding anything…even if it is a 10ft brightly lit Panda. For two adults, it took us around 45 minutes to walk around the entire site, and this included several thousand photo stops and some slow walking as the event was extremely busy.  

birmingham magic lantern festival
how cute are these little penguins??
There is a great mix of lanterns; some small and some simply enormous and the combination of the pitch black winter nights along with the gorgeous multicoloured displays are really wonderful.  Although the areas are all fenced off to stop people touching the exhibits, it is possible to get a close look at some of them and to appreciated the intricacy of the designs.   Lord only know just how long the lanterns take to design and construct, but I'm wiling to bet it's not a quick process.

The great thing about the Botanical Gardens is that it gives a large area to properly display each piece and keep everyone's attention all the way round the park.  The kids attending with their parents let out a collective gasp every time they spotted something new and colourful and I'm not ashamed to admit that I did a few times, too.  

magical lantern festival birmingham
I love this little guy
magical lantern festival birmingham
Monet would have been so proud
The Magical Lantern Festival is open until January 4th 2017 and is great attraction for all the family.  

Suzanne x 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Rocky Mountains: Mount Evans

Climbing the Rocky Mountains Is Easier Than You Think 
There are few things I hate more than getting up early. There's *nothing* I hate more than getting up early on holiday.

You can imagine my deep loathing when, on our first full day in Colorado, I was prised (literally) out of my peaceful slumber at 6am to go 'up a mountain'. 


I'm a Scottish woman who lives in Snowdonia in Wales, so I'm accustomed to seeing fabulous mountains. Ben Nevis, in my home nation is the highest peak in the UK and Snowdon in Wales, where I live now, is second. Although both are stunning, I much prefer to admire them from a distance. 

The prospect of a Rocky Mountain, without coffee, at 6am, wasn't really a thought that had me leaping out of bed, shouting: 'Woohoo! Let's do it!' But, apparently, this was *exactly* what was going to happen. 

We hit the road for the two hour drive to Mount Evans, getting tangled up in rush hour traffic along the way. The sun coming up over Castle Rock (the area we were staying in) was an angry red and made me relent for a few seconds about being roused at such an ungodly hour.  
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sunrise over Castle Rock, Colorado 
After a half hour or so, we turned on to the I-70 and headed west, taking us into the realms of road signs which read: 'All Truckers Must Have Chains' and 'There Wil Almost Definetly Be Elk and Other Wild Beast Crossing The Road Right In Front Of Your Car, So Good Luck with That'.

After driving through a pretty little town called Idaho Springs, the scenery changed dramatically and we began to climb long and winding trails towards the visitor centre. Here, the signs changed from warnings about suicidal wildlife to warnings about falling rocks.  
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starting the ascent

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friendly Rocky Mountain deer
Interestingly, it wasn't until we stopped being told about the potential for wildlife crossing the road that two deer bolted out in front of the car just ahead of us before diving back into the mountain on the other side. I can only assume they'd had their morning coffee as they extremely alert.

As we climbed higher in to Rockies, the leaves began to change colour from dark green to brilliant yellow and the roads got progressively narrow enough to merit a 15mph maximum limit. That was absolutely fine by me as there was a chance of being crushed by bits of falling mountain on one side and a sheer death drop down the cliff face on the other. Clearly caution was key to surviving long enough to see my next birthday. Or, at least, my next meal. 



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scenic Echo Lake 

As you pass Echo Lake, which was dotted with fisherman enjoying their last chance to reel one in before the entire road closes for the winter, you also get the chance to see the Rocky Mountain Ducks (I'm sure that's a thing) and they were happily...ducking away (also a thing).

After passing your last piece of civilisation, you slowly ascend the mountain and the views just keep coming. As we visited just before the end of the season, it was completely peaceful, with very few other visitors around. There's a lot to be said for literally feeling like you're on top of the world and even better when it's just the two of you, staring out across the Colorado landscape in wonder.



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the glorious Fall colours in the Rockies
Lake Summit is where the road closes after Labor Day, so the cut off point is here, which is still a very impressive 12,300 feet high. There is spacious parking, toilets, and trails that lead off up to the peak. Although you can't take your car any further than this point, you can park up and walk..if you feel this is necessary.  I didn't. I was still recovering from driving the tiny, windy narrow roads from Idaho Springs. Also: it was cold. Like, Scotland cold, so I felt quite at home at the lake and decided to stay there.  

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beautiful views near Lake Summit

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We made it! A mere 12,300 ft above sea level 
Les, however, took a walk around to take shots and converse with the gorgeous little Chipmunks that were scurrying around on the trails. I wanted to take one home, but not sure how US Customs would have viewed that. UK immigration likely wouldn't have been too thrilled, either, so I bid them a good day and let them be.

Once you've exhausted yourself and your camera, you can slowly (and do go slowly as the bends are quite sharp and there are no barriers in many places) head back down Mount Evans before disappearing off into the Colorado sun. And, quite possibly, back to bed.

Note: there is a $10 charge for a pass to take your car past the visitor centre, which is just North of Echo Park. The pass is valid for the entire season.

Suzanne x

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Los Pollos Hermanos, anyone?

Grab a Burger and Meet a Meth Kingpin in Albuquerque
Anyone that's ever tuned in to Breaking Bad on TV will be all too familiar with this iconic eatery, frequented by Walt and Jesse during their dealings with evil meth manufacturer, Gus Frings.

Los Pollos Hermanos (The Chicken Brothers) was a main feature of the show and filming was done on location at Twisters fast food outlet, outside Albuquerque city centre.


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different sign, same place. 

The brand colours and interior are instantly recognisable to fans of the show and pulling into the parking lot, like you watched Walter do on so many occasions, has a surreal feeling to it.

The LPH signage obviously isn't above the doors as it is on the show, and the exterior signage is for Twisters but, the second you walk inside, there's a large LPH poster on entry, so you can have your photos taken while you randomly point at it (like I did...).  


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Possibly the best sign in the world

Although the location was a massive part of Breaking Bad, Twisters doesn't make a big deal about it. If it was *my* store, I'd be erecting neon flashing lights outside and dressing up as Heisenberg to get people in.

Twisters, however, has the large Los Pollos Hermanos sign on entry and a paper sign above the booth that Walter White sat in. A paper sign, people! Mine would be gold plated, but maybe I like the show a little too much and don't have to deal with Scottish tourists screaming with glee when they come in the door. I imagine that gets real annoying, real quick. Sorry, guys, but it was SO exciting! 


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The location where all those dodgy deals went down... 
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When Walter met Gus
As well as grinning from ear to eat and pretending we were meth dealers, we also had lunch at Twisters. Obviously, we ordered chicken. The fare is typical South western fast food and offered a range of burgers, enchiladas and fries. It's like a far more exciting McDonalds. Obviously, I sat in our booth, trying to work out if the Manager of the fast food joint actually *might* have been a secret Meth dealer, but he looked far too friendly and happy for that kind of thing.

If you're a fan of Breaking Bad, or just fast food, it's definitely worth a visit. I promise you'll instantly recognise the location the second you pull into the lot and will be desperate to go home and cook crystal meth. I jest, of course - please don't do that. Just eat your food and behave yourself.  
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Los pollo es muy bueno... 
Suzanne x