As we are going to be on a boat for three weeks over Xmas, I’m extending the festive period so that it starts in November (I don’t care, I like Christmas, so go on shoot me!) and we went to our first Xmas market of the season last weekend. This was the first time we’ve visited the Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market.

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

We’ve been to both Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market and are regulars at Blenheim Festival of Lights, so this made a nice a change. Gloucester Quays is an outlet shopping village, based around the old dockyards. It’s really grown in the last ten years since we’ve been heading there and the Xmas market is one of the highlights.

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

All the stallholders dress up in Victorian costume and there are character actors milling around to engage you in some ‘ye olde chat!’ The Victorian Christmas market will be open at Gloucester Quays from Thursday 15 November 2018 to Sunday 25 November 2018. So this is the last weekend you have to visit this year!

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

Here are our five top tips for visiting:

  1. Parking is busy

Ok this is a boring topic, but just be prepared for the fact that this is a popular event and there is never enough parking – the car park by Gloucester Quays itself was full and closed by the time we got there at 1.30pm.

However, there are lots of car parks in Gloucester – a quick ‘google map it’ job will give you a clear steer when you’re there. We parked in Gloucester Docks Car Park. Just be patient, you’ll get a space eventually.

  1. Hetty’s Hot Chocolate

I saw people milling around with these enticing looking hot chocolates. I eventually found Hetty’s stand where she was dishing up traditional Belgian hot chocolate, piped with a topping of sticky marshmallow which she then blowtorched! It was as epic as it sounds.

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

There are two or three different food areas at the Victorian Xmas market, so make sure you fully explore before you plump for your choice. The Healthy Hotdog stand was particularly popular this year and always had a super long queue, but it was tasty. I think though on reflection Tom had the better choice, as he went for lamb kofta naanwich from another stand. 

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

  1. Vintage fair rides and ice rink

    Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

Nothing says Victorian Xmas Market like a carousel or a helter-skelter. Both attractions were actually at different ends of the market stands which was a good idea as it kept people moving through the market, rather than clustering at one end.  The open air ice rink is £9.50 for adults and £7.00 for a child.

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

  1. Shopping!

This year the Xmas market has 160 stallholders – artisan producers from all over the area (and country!) This year there was A LOT of gin, but who’s complaining. Our particular favourites were the British Cassis supplier, the marshmallow guy, Tilly’s tearoom in Tewkesbury plus the Dutch cheese people.

 

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

 

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

  1. General festive-ness

Despite the fact that it is called the ‘Victorian Xmas Market’ I was actually slightly taken aback with how Christmassy it actually felt – it was the first time I’ve heard Christmas songs this year! Do time your trip so that it includes early evening when it feels super festive with the twinkly lights.

 

Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market - our top five favourite things to do!

So the title of this blog post is a bit disputed in the Cotswolds Bloggers Facebook group. If you’re in Stow on the Wold, then it’s Coach House Coffee, in Cheltenham it’s School House Cafe. But if you live in the North Cotswolds, then everybody knows that it’s Bakergirl in Great Tew.

 

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for, frankly, years. In fact, I had a whole bunch of pictures lined up, but then the Bakergirl closed its doors on it previous location at Wykham Farm near Banbury, after their lease ran out.

Bakergirl in Great Tew

After many anguished months, it finally found a new location in Great Tew, the place to celeb spot in the Cotswolds with Soho Farmhouse attracting both Beckhams and the latest royal newlyweds (or so it’s rumoured.)

The best artisan bakehouse in the Cotswolds.

When Bakergirl re-opened, first their bakery in Wroxton and then the cafe in Great Tew, such was the joy that people queued for hours just to get their hands on one of their infamous cinnamon buns. See this post if you don’t believe me!

The artisan bakehouse is the creation of Sharon Tomkinson and Sarah Jeffery, who moved from London and felt that they couldn’t find any real bread in the area. So they created their own, establishing a micro home bakery.  And four years later, Bakergirl was born.

Bakergirl in Great Tew

Bakergirl in Great Tew

Personally, I did like their old location – it had that barn loft feel, large and airy – but a tad industrial. The aesthetic has translated quite well to their new location in Great Tew, with its chocolate box cottage front and inside is cosy.

Bakergirl in Great Tew

The best artisan bakehouse in the Cotswolds.

The most important thing though is that the bread, croissants, pastries and coffee all remain melt-in-the-mouth delicious! And if you’re lucky, you might get to see a Duchess tucking into a doughnut.

Bakergirl in Great Tew

Bakergirl is open four days a week, Thursday to Sunday, 10am – 3pm. Lunchtimes are always busy, especially at weekends. A loaf costs about £3.50 but it’s worth it and remember to park in the car park on the edge of the village – otherwise, you’ll have the locals after you!  

Bakergirl in Great Tew

Bakergirl in Great Tew

Bakergirl in Great Tew

Bakergirl in Great Tew

 

Marina Bay Sands We had five days in Singapore as part of the first leg of our honeymoon and for our final night, my parents gifted us a stay at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. You might not have heard of it before, but you’ll certainly recognise it, as it’s that spaceship-looking highrise that you see on all those Instagram pics of Singapore.

One perfect night at Marina Bay Sands

One amazing night at Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

I’d been desperate to stay here after we watched Giles Coren and Monica Galetti’s BBC programme ‘Amazing Hotels’ where they go behind the scenes. In the programme, the pair visits the hotel’s infinity pool – the highest in the world and that was it, love at first site. The pool is reserved for guests only, so we had to stay.

Marina Bay Sands

It’s probably the largest hotel I’ve ever stayed in and has 2,561 rooms. I might have mentioned that we were on honeymoon when I made our reservation and the hotel upgraded us to a bigger and higher room which had a view facing the city skyline and dancing fountains (plus a later checkout time.)

Marina Bay Sands

The lobby is vast and it’s more akin to checking in at an airport than your average hotel desk. On arrival, it did look a little daunting with a mega queue for check-in and this was a sign of things to come, but it really didn’t take the shine off the place. The staff here really knew how to treat guests well.

Checking in at Marina Bay Sands

The line moved steadily and staff came down the queue with magnums, ice lollies, orange juice and water refreshments – in fact, Tom was a little disappointed to miss the free cornetto that was just edging its way towards us when we were called up to the counter.

Marina Bay Sands

The hotel is made up of three central towers with the SkyPark spanning the rooftops, which from the ground, looks like a floating ship.  Our ‘Premier Room’ (roughly £300 per night, plus breakfast £30) felt huge after our stay at the Hilton Garden in Little India (which I equally loved but it couldn’t match this place!)

Marina Bay Sands

It had a very comfortable king size bed plus some excellent towel sculpture. It was on Amazing Hotels that they interview one a Guest Service Agent who attended the rooms and showed all the comprehensive towel animals that they can create.

Marina Bay Sands

Fittingly, we had two swans. Tom asked if I would recreate this for him every morning back home, I said he was lucky I made the bed before I left for work in the morning..! As you’d expect it was spotless and the deep soak bath ginormous!

Afternoon tea at Pollen in the Flower Dome

Before we spent our afternoon at the swimming pool, we first headed to Pollen in the Flour Dome in Gardens by the Bay for afternoon tea. Pollen is a sister restaurant to Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social in London, which we visited earlier in the year, and like its older brother, you can expect the same delicate presentation and hearty flavours.   

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

Our tea included five savories: a beetroot dip with charcoal crisps, beef croquettes, mushroom volovants, egg and cress sandwiches and salmon rolls. Plus five sweets; an Earl Grey lemon cake, mint macarons, clementine profiteroles with crakalan, financiers, and the signature orange and white chocolate scones.  It would have impressed even Bake Off judges, Prue and Paul.

Marina Bay Sands

The observation deck

The SkyPark Observation Deck is on the same level as the hotel’s infinity pool and is open to the public. Guests can go up to the top for free, but others will need to buy a ticket (it’s $23 Singapore Dollars for an adult).

Marina Bay Sands

From here you can see Supertree Grove, Singapore Strait and a bird’s eye view of the shipping lanes.

Marina Bay Sands

An afternoon’s swimming (or should that be posing!)

The infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands is the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool and gazes down at the Singapore skyline from 57 levels above. Yet this is no swimmer’s pool, it’s pretty much purely for posing. I’ve never seen so many people trying to take the perfect selfie in the water.

Marina Bay Sands

And it took Tom some persuasion to stand in the water phone aloft, but I don’t regret it for one cotton moment. We spent all afternoon by the pool soaking up the view.  

Marina Bay Sands

Dinner at Lavo

We went back to our room around 7pm to get ready whilst watching the dancing fountains from our bedroom, which was a spectacular sight but due to the amazing glazed windows, you won’t hear the accompanying music.

Marina Bay Sands

We then headed up to Lavo the hotel’s New York Italian-concept restaurant. We made a reservation earlier on that day, which I would advise, as it’s a busy place and getting yourself a little organised helps keep everything running smoothly.

Marina Bay Sands

Alcohol in Singapore is expensive, conversely to a lot of other things which are actually fairly inexpensive. We each had a glass of red which came in at around £10 each, so we just had one and certainly did not have a bottle! Tom had a seafood linguine and I had an amazing venison ravioli, and we both had a springy lemon polenta cake for dessert.  Fully sated, we enjoyed using that giant bath before heading to bed.

Marina Bay Sands

Beating the breakfast rush

Our room note suggested that if we would like a ‘leisurely breakfast’ that we should head to one of the three restaurants serving breakfast before 8am.  We thought we’d follow the advice as we only had one more morning to really enjoy the hotel. Plus I particularly wanted to have breakfast at Spago Bar & Lounge which is located on level 57 next to the infinity pool.

My family knows that I absolutely LOVE a hotel breakfast, I never miss it. Marina Bay Sands certainly didn’t disappoint. It had a vast array of pastries, asian noodles, granola and exotic fruits. There was also a dedicated eggs chef, I ordered eggs benedict, whilst Tom had a fresh omelette. By the time we left Spago ready for our morning by the pool, the queue was already beginning to build. We’d simply walked in and had a lovely table for two.

Yet more pool photos

The day before I’d seen quite a few couples having their photo taken by the hotel’s official photography service in the pool (well let’s face it, they’d be fools not have such a set up!)

Originally, I’d been a bit put off due to the expense as they only seemed to have options where they gave you a print out. That wasn’t going to be much use to us as we had another three weeks to go before we headed home and it would have either got lost, bent, torn etc. So, I asked about a digital package which I was quoted as just $50 (roughly £30-£40), which I thought more reasonable.  

Well, we spent the morning taking more pictures ourselves, enjoying the view (it was much sunnier this morning unlike the previous overcast afternoon) and ordering fresh coconuts from the poolside service. We decided to have a last dip and one of the water photographers was wading around offering to take pictures. I persuaded Tom to indulge me.

Here’s the point of this story, after we had our picture taken I was quoted quite a different price for the pictures – double in fact. But after I mentioned that a colleague had said an alternative cheaper price, they were quite happy to go with that – so the tip is, do try a bit of negotiation. I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a set price for those digital pictures!

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

After we checked out, we stored our luggage at the lobby and went for a cruise around The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. (Tom found this spelling desperately annoying and no one seemed to know how it was actually supposed to be pronounced.)

It’s got 170 luxury and premium boutiques and we both quickly realised that neither of us had the paychecks to afford shopping here.  However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an interesting place to mosy round. First off, it’s got its own canal running through the shopping mall and tourists queue for a ride through the shops. Like a slightly dismal Disney ride. Odd.  

We had a few hours to kill here before we headed to Singapore airport and our next stop Ubud in Bali, so we decided to have lunch at Din Tai Fung, which I know now, was voted as one of the world’s top ten best restaurants by the The New York Times. It is a Taiwanese institution.  

Initially, Tom wasn’t keen as it’s got quite a different ordering style. The maitre‘d gave us a clipboard with the menu on and we marked up the numbers according to the board posted outside the restaurant.

Now there was a lot of people clamouring to get a look at that board and Tom and I had a tag system, where I’d shout out the numbers of what we’d have and he’d scribble them down on the paper. We probably ordered way too much on reflection, but I’ve #noregrets.

Food certainly lived up to the New York Times billing and all these months later, it’s the place Tom and I recall most often.  The restaurant creates theatre with several open kitchens; one with chefs nimbly folding pork dumplings and another creating long stringy noodles – it’s enough to get the taste buds salivating even now.

Our lunch included noodles in a spicy sauce, fried vegetable gyoza, bok choy, steamed vegetable dumplings, the restaurant’s signature pork dumplings and sweet steamed red bean paste buns. Like I said #noregrets.

And you will be pleased to know that you can recreate this experience at home, as Din Tai Fung will soon be opening its first restaurant in Covent garden this December (Cue much excitement in the Friend-Bartlett household!)

 

It’s been a bit of busy time in the Friend Bartlett household; there’s the ongoing back garden project and in my day job, full of many award shindigs. However, my Mum, went to watch the Band at Oxford’s New Theatre when the opportunity came up as both my parents had watched the BBC series Let it Shine.

If you don’t recall the TV series, it was a reality show which auditioned singers and dancers for the chance to win a place in a new musical which featured the music, of the greatest boyband of all time, Take That.

To be clear, it’s a musical that features a boy band – ‘The Band’ – and five of their adoring fans. It’s not actually about Take That. However, Gary, Howard, Mark, and Robbie have all been involved in the show’s creation, which took seven years to get off the ground and was written by Tim Firth.

My mum went with my dad and both really enjoyed the show – I mean it’s not like Take That hasn’t had enough number ones!   I don’t want to give away too much of the plot line – but the musical follows the lives of five friends, all fans of the band (the one in the show) and about the hijinks this leads them too!

My mum says…

“With some musicals you watch, you often see one or two stars who have amazing singing voices or who have all the moves. However, all the members of the cast of ‘The Band’ were all really good with strong singing voices.

“Of course, the boys that played ‘The Band’ had that popstar vibe, reminiscent of Take That, Boyzone, Westlife and other boy bands that you recall.

“The other thing that I really enjoyed about the performance was to see such a range of people represented, it was a diverse cast (rather than all skinny twenty-somethings!) I imagine that Take That fans probably come from all walks of life.

“I was pleased to see Emily Joyce playing Heather, as I remember her from ‘My Hero’ and she played the part very well.

“I felt in many respects that The Band was a bit of a love letter from Take That to their fans, which is a nice touch.”

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!Really I thought I best get this post about Hidcote Garden up before it became too out of date. But really gardens never really ‘go out of date’ as there’s successional planting to make sure there’s interest all year round – that’s certainly the case a Broughton Grange and here at National Trust’s Hidcote.

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

This year has been difficult for many gardeners and head gardener, Jo, said in her August update: ‘It has been a difficult, hot and dry summer so far and the garden team have been very busy trying to ensure that all of the many annuals and tender perennials planted in spring and early June have been able to establish properly.’  Yet despite this, the garden’s were looking full and bountiful, here’s why you must visit Hidcote Gardens.

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

Hidcote is one of the country’s most celebrated gardens and is known worldwide. It was created by American anglophile, Lawrence Johnston, a soldier, gardener and plant hunter. It covers 4 hectares and the garden follows the Arts and Crafts principles and comprises a number of garden ‘rooms’ around the main house.

Who was this charismatic gardener behind Hidcote Garden?

Johnston was loved by his friends and his garden became the setting for many gatherings and parties hosting games of tennis, badminton and squash.

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

However, Johnston moved in highly horticultural-orientated circles, in fact he had his own ‘Bloomsbury-style set’ which included Mark Fenwick from Abbotswood; Heather Muir from Kiftsgate Court; Sir George Holford, founder of the Westonbirt Arboretum;  Reginald Cory, of Dyffryn garden fame in South Wales; and the Messels, the great plant collecting family from Nymans, West Sussex.

Johnstone was an adventurous plant collector whose expeditions not only furnished his own garden but that of the royal botanic gardens in Edinburgh and Kew. His friend American novelist, Edith Wharton, said that the garden was ‘tormentingly perfect.’

It seems that Johnstone had quite an unusual upbringing. His American mother, Gertrude, was divorced from his father, Elliott, and remarried a wall street banker and the family moved between the states and Europe. On the death of both his dad and stepfather, Johnstone wasn’t included in either will. So, Lawrence forged a career in the army, seeing action in Boer War and WWI and in 1900 applied to become a British citizen to join the Northumberland Hussars.  

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

He stayed with the Hussars until he retired in 1921, but throughout his life, Lawrence had continually developed a passion in horticultural – and as a young man, was elected as a fellow to RHS in 1904.

In 1907, Lawrence felt the need to lay down firmer roots and purchased Hidcote Manor when it came up for sale – likely as many of his friends were already in the area. When he moved in Johnstone had quite a blank canvas for the gardens, but he retained the large cedar tree which presides over the garden today.

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

During the 1930s Johnstone sponsored and joined plant hunting expeditions all over Europe as well as China, Taiwan and the Appalachian Mountains in USA returning with exotic species now found at Hidcote. Following WWII, Johnstone decided to retire in the South of France and approached the National Trust, who acquired the gardens as the first garden of national importance.

So why should you go to Hidcote Garden?

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

The vast amount of choice! In 1943, James Lees-Milne, from the National Trust, wrote: ‘The garden is not only beautiful but remarkable in that it is full of surprises. You are constantly led from one scene to another, into long vistas and little enclosures, which seems infinite. Moreover, the total area of this garden does not cover many acres.’

The garden is created in the Arts & Crafts style with ‘garden rooms’ so here are Tom & I’s top favourites:

The Bathing Pool Garden

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

The raised swimming pool was created in 1921 with a deeper end for diving and was frequently used by the Muir girls, who lived at Kiftsgate (also worth a visit I’m told – next year for us!) The planting includes cream hydrangeas and the vast pool reflects the open sky.

The Alpine Terrace

Has a large gravel terrace and undercover gazebos which shelter some of the garden’s more exotic species. It’s said that this garden is more reminiscent of the garden Johnstone had in South France.  

Mrs Winthrop’s Garden

This was an area created for Gertrude to sit and be warm in a sunny place. It’s based on a familiar design of a circle set within a square, it’s enclosed with beech and lime hedges on three sides and open on the south side.  A sundial sits in the middle and the borders are planted with yellow flowers – Gertrude’s favourite colour including the yellow-flowered Hypericum ‘Hidcote’. It’s also got the Mediterranean feel with terracotta pots planted with agave.

The Italian Shelter

I also loved the Italian Shelter with its thatched roof, the perfect spot for gin and tonic on a warm summer’s evening.

The red borders

Tom’s favourite spot – we weren’t able to actually walk down the borders they were roped off. But the red leaved banana trees looked impressive against the late summer flower; the mixture of large foliage and bold colours.

Why you must visit Hidcote Garden!

There are two coffee shops on site, plus a shop and small garden centre and adult entry is £14 with giftaid. National Trust members get in free.

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