Helen, Georgia

‘If I’m gonna tell a real story, I’m gonna start with my name’ – Kendrick Lamar

It’s a well known fact that in The Simpsons they chose the name Springfield because it’s the most popular town name in America and they never had to divulge (or decide) which state it’s in. When you have a country the size of the US you’re bound to come across some weird and wacky place names, however it’s pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit somewhere that shares your own name.

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Last time we went to Florida we found it cheaper to fly in and out of Atlanta and drive down. This meant we needed somewhere to stay in Georgia a few days before our flight back home so we weren’t driving some 6 hours just to catch a flight. Imagine my glee to find out that only an hour and a half away from Atlanta airport, was a town called Helen. For the photo opportunities alone, we had to visit.


Dave was skeptical at first, he was concerned that once we’d driven through, had my picture taken with every street sign possible, made various jokes about how expensive it is to park in Helen, there’d actually be very little to do and would be a waste of a few days that could have been spent exploring somewhere actually cool.


Turns out there isn’t a place in America that’s cooler than Helen. It’s an amazingly quaint, kitsch former logging down that was in severe decline so they decided to rebuild it as a Bavarian alpine village and that’s how it still looks today. You can tell it’s super touristy and mostly serves as a weekend get away retreat for the people of Atlanta. We stayed at the Riverbend Motel which is situated directly on the Chattahoochee River where you can do tubing and canoeing and is a 10 minute drive away from the  Anna Ruby Falls, part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is a lovely little walk.


When it comes to dining options, Helen is a delight; we wanted some wurst, and some wurst we had. We decided on Bodensee Restaurant, because they seemed to offer a decently priced sausage. Saying that, I let Dave take on the sausage fest while I plumped for the equally Bavarian but less artery clogging Schnitzel. However Helen has a lot to offer when it comes to German sausage, mostly of the Bavarian persuasion but they even have a Wendy’s and a couple of Mexican restaurants should you not be a fan of fatty, salty meat.


It was quite an experience being able to visit a town with the same name as me; and in many ways there are similarities. We both have strong European roots, with a nice amount of American in us and we both love a good sausage (steady).

We visited off our visit eating pizza and cake in bed. Well, when in Helen….



Aspire Lounge, Manchester terminal 1

‘Everything has changed. The flying has changed. The airports have changed’ – Eydie Gorme

My mum always said that holidays start at the airport and were as most of the time I would tend to agree, I’ve never been a massive fan of hanging around in busy departure lounges and paying twice the price for a whopper at Burger King.

Checking in to an airport lounge has become a relatively new thing for us since we treated ourself to the Aspire lounge in Newcastle when going on our honeymoon in 2013. Since then it’s something we do almost every time we fly. In fact I’m amazed more people don’t do it as well as it makes so much economical sense!


The last lounge we stayed in was No1 at Edinburgh Airport and I should have known better than to veer away from the trusted Aspire brand but the promise of hot food and the higher price tag swayed us into thinking it might be better. You can read the full review here but needless to say we were underwhelmed. Aspire in Manchester’s Terminal 1 is far superior in almost every way and certainly got our recently holiday to Thailand off to a flying start (see what I did there?)

The Food

Flying at 7pm meant were were almost certainly going to be in need of some nourishment before our 16 hour journey and there was plenty of food on offer. There are always 2 hot dishes available which changes on a monthly basis. We had the option of pasta carbonara or vegetable curry which were both tasty. I mean it’s not Michelin Star or anything but certainly decent enough. The showstopper for me is all the other snacks on offer; olive, nuts, cheese and crackers, a salad bar, crisps, scones and cakes all available to help yourself to as much as your little heart desires. The vanilla sponge cake was particularly delicious!

The Drinks

The Aspire Lounge in Newcastle always used to be self serve which suited us better as we could just help ourselves to beer wine and spirits without feeling judged however it was a staffed bar at Manchester. Not that we felt judged in the slightest of course as staff were happy to keep us topped up with gin & tonics beer and wine, all completely free, well, included in the price. There’s also tea, coffee, juice and soft drinks available which are self serve.

Other Facilities

The Aspire lounge is part of an executive lounge complex within the terminal so the toilets are just outside the main door. In terms of other non food & drink related services there’s free high speed wifi and plenty of sofas, booths or bar style table and chairs to sit at with charging points to keep all your precious electronics juiced up before your flight. If you happen to be visiting on the one day a year it’s not raining you’ll be treated to some nice air side views too.

The Staff

A special mention should go to the staff who really made our stay enjoyable. The lounge was kept spotlessly clean with tables being cleared away almost as soon as someone left and the bar staff were really friendly, asking where we were going and giving tips on what to expect. They even remembered our order by the end of the stay – a sign of a true professional!

I would say the only thing to be marginally conscious of is that because they want to maintain a quiet, chilled out atmosphere, you can’t her announcements in the lounges so be sure to keep an eye on the boarding screens; it would be easy to get carried away and miss your flight!

I get that some people may look at the £21.99 price tag and think that the best part of £50 for two people on top of what you’ve probably forked our for on top of your holiday is a little excessive. And if you’re the kind of people who are happy with a meal deal and a bottle of water from Boots in the departure lounge then you’re probably right. However if you’re like my mum and think your holiday really does start at the airport; and regularly shell out for a few pints and an over priced Burger then chances are you end up spending more than that already. See, economical sense.

And don’t get to have any vanilla cake. Sadface.

Our stay in the Aspire Lounge was complimentary but all views are my own.



Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm

Cornwall is famous for 3 things; pastys, cream teas and cider. My waistline was already full to bursting with the first two so on the last day of our recent Cornish staycastion we found ourselves with a free day so headed to Healeys Cornish Cyder Farm to see if we could get wasted on fermented apples.

I became most aware of the Healeys and and their apple crushing ways when I was given some Rattler on a hen do back in June, which sounds like some underground slang for something illegal however, is merely just cloudy cider, and isn’t too bad at all!

The cider farm itself has varying tour options depending on how much you want to spend or how much you want to see. You can get a fall guided tour around the orchard and the production room on a tractor for about £15, you do a self guided tour for £4 or you can just have a wander round yourself for free (without seeing the orchard or production room). An educated guess lead us to believe cider production was probably nothing more than apples go in, press, press, press, cider comes out, we decided to just walk around ourselves.


There’s certainly enough to keep you occupied for an hour or so too; there’s a non working example of a cider press to see (turns out our educated guess was pretty accurate by the look of the machinery), a cafe serving traditional Cornish cream teas, a restaurant if you wanted something more fancy to eat and a jam making room – they were making sweet chilli and Rattler jam when we were there and it smelt amazing!

There’s also a little farmyard to keep the kids (old and young) occupied with a couple of Shire Horses, pigs, rabbits, ferrets and some super SUPER cute pygmy goats.

The best part of the visit however has to be the gift shop and tasting area, which is completely free (Well, the gift shop isn’t free, you can’t just help yourself to anything in there) but the tasting is and we’ve done enough alcohol tours and tastings in the past to know this is one of the letter ones. It’s very rare that organisations will give away much for free so it’s refreshing to see initiatives being employed to create positive reviews and good word of mouth at very little cost to the company. In short, you very rarely get something for nothing.

The staff dishing out the tastings were all knowledgeable and great fun as they talked you through all the different types of cider they make and how long each one is brewed? Distilled? Matured? (Perhaps I should have gone on that tour afterall) for. You only get a little sample of each but there are quite a few to sample so must have had the equivalent of half a pint by the end.

I’m not entirely sure I would spend £15 for a full ticket, especially if you’re taking the family however the self guided tour at £4.50 wouldn’t break the bank and would certainly keeping the little ones entertained for another hour or so, it’s just a shame they wouldn’t be able to drive you home afterwards!


Address: Penhallow – Truro – Cornwall – TR4 9LW – United Kingdom
Website: https://healeyscyder.co.uk/ 
Email: info@healeyscyder.co.uk
Phone: 01872 573356

The Eden Project, Cornwall

‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts’ – Sigmund Freud

When I was 18 I used to work for a local newspaper which we sold holidays through. One of the trips that was really popular was coach trips to the Eden Project, which baffled me as from what I could tell is was just plants & shit.


That was when I was a bratty 18 year old though with not an ounce of culture in me. Fast forward to the ripe old age of 35 and on a family holiday staycation to Cornwall for a wedding and I actually fancied going along to see what it was all about. So me, my mum and sister in law Ruth went to see some plants & shit.

For those who don’t know the Eden Project is a complex which is dominated by two huge enclosures consisting of adjoining domes that house thousands of plant species, and each enclosure emulates a natural biome. The biomes consist of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal, inflated, plastic cells supported by steel frames. The two bimones emulate two natural environments; a rainforest and a mediterrainian climate. There is also an outside botanical garden which is home to many plants and wildlife native to Cornwall and the UK.

We arrived at about 12.30pm on a Monday in the summer holidays and I can tell you it’s been me a new respect to people with kids, it’s was HEAVING. I don’t pity parents who are are tied to those timescales of craziness that are the school holidays. We would never normally be holidaying outside of term time however as we were in the area for a family wedding so didn’t have the luxury of choice on this occasion. Top tip number 1:  Buy your tickets online before had and you get to skip the 40 minute queue we had to wait in – our punishment for being under prepared.


We were short on time so heading straight over to the rainforest biome as that’s the one we were looking forward to seeing most. Let me tell you it gets pretty hot and sticky in there, especially when it’s so rammed full of people and the higher up the biome you get the hotter it becomes. There’s plenty of cool stuff to see once inside though, bamboo, banana trees and some pretty interesting looking flora and fauna. Meandering through the jungle there are little activity stations dotted around for the kids and good descriptions of what everything is.


Next up was the Mediterranean biome which, surprisingly I enjoyed more than the rain forest. It had all my favourite types of plant; olive trees, vineyards (perhaps not so surprising it was my favourite afterall) but my absolute favourite section was the perfume garden which (again unsurprisingly) smelt divine. The Mediterranean biome was definitely more interesting, possibly because it housed stuff we can relate to like the fruits and vegetables we love to eat. It was a much more pleasant temperature and less busy as well which helped with the laid back atmosphere.


Outside the biomes is more agriculture where you’ll find working gardens growing local fruits and vegetables like courgettes and potatoes, all of which are used in the on-site restaurants.


Talking of food, there are plenty of options to eat from cafes for a sandwich to a full table service a la carte restaurant in the Mediterranean biome. The best value looked to be the canteen located in the connecting walkway between both biomes where you could get a full meal for £9 and everything is prepared in an open kitchen in front of you. However top tip number 2: they allow you to take your own food in and there are loads of grassy areas for a little pic nic. We treated ourselves to a Freakshake which wasn’t extortionate at £4.50 each – they’re not on the same level of the behemoths you get at The Great British Cupcakery but they were sustenance enough for us.


My honest opinion? Real talk, it was ok. Is it worth the £27.50 entry fee? Absolutely not, you’re talking over £100 for a family of 4 and i’m not entirely convinced it would be all that interesting for children anyway. Yeah it’s cool looking at all the big leaves and they have a few motion rides and a Space talk to keep the little ones occupied but bearing in mind you’re most likely to take them in the school holidays, you’ll probably going to spend the majority of the time standing in queues for things.

If you’re massive into botany then I’m sure it’s like Disneyland but we only spend a couple of hours there and felt we’d seen it all; my £30 would have been better spent elsewhere.

*Thanks to my sis-in-law Ruth who was my fantastic photographer for the day and let me use all her pictures!


Surfing in Newquay

‘Surfing isn’t really in my blood. It’s hard to catch a big wave in Billingham’ – Jamie Bell

I’ll be the first to admit that a bad habit of mine is having a tendency to have unrealistic ideas about things. I convinced myself once that harem pants would looks good on me, or i’d be able to pull off dark ginger hair. Oh how wrong I was on both counts. When I was away for the weekend in Newquay for my cousin’s hen do in June, I was completely convinced that i would ace surfing; I have good balance, strong legs and love being in the water. In my deluded little bubble, I was born to do this.


We booked through Escape surf school which cost around £25 for a two hour group lesson. We arrived and got into our wetsuits, which let me tell you is a workout in itself! We took our boards down to the beach and split into smaller groups of 5 where we went through a few basics on the beach. Pigeon, our instructor was brilliant fun a made a special fuss over Liz, our hen. I’d always been concerned with surfing lessons that, especially for the first lesson, you’d spend more time on the beach than you would in the water, however after about 15 minutes we were straight in.


We started of small, learning how to catch a wave and ride it to the shore whilst still lying on our front. So far so good. It didn’t feel too cold either, the wetsuits were nice and thick s protected you against the bracing Atlantic Ocean pretty well and when the water did hit your hands and face it was nice and refreshing. After plenty of practices in the water it was back to the beach to learn how to stand up.


This was what I was desperate to get right. My main ambition was to get up on my feet at least once, even if it was only for a couple of seconds. We went through the theory and were straight back into the surf (after one lesson i’m practically a pro, so know all the lingo – naturally!). This is were my delusions became all too apparent. Getting up onto the board from lying down is near on impossible and needless to say the furthest I got up was on to my hands and knees. Upper body strength has never been something I have possessed and no matter how good your balance or your core strength may be, if you can’t haul your massive pizza obsessed caboose onto the board, that balance doesn’t mean jack.


Still i persevered and the instructors were in the water with you the whole time to advise on potition and waiting for the right wave. One of the down sides of being is a lrage group was we were all trying to surf in the same area of the water so a few times i found myself ploughing into one of the other girls, or vice versa. That possibly has more to do with our lack of control as well of course but it did mean I left with some pretty corking bruises.


The two hours we had  was ore than enough time as I was pretty shattered by the end of the session. In fact with about half an hour to go, my arms were so done with trying to get my fat arse upright that I just decided to body surf the rest of the time, which was good fun in itself.

Above all of my frustrations though I’m really pleased I gave it ago because I love trying new things especially if they’re sporty or water based and I would highly recommend Escape Surf school who were ultimate pros. The glasses of prosecco that awaited us when we finished were certainly well received and well deserved!



The Joiners Arms – Newton by the Sea

‘When you get into a hotel room, you lock the door, and you know there is a secrecy, there is a luxury, there is fantasy. There is comfort. There is reassurance’ – Diane von Furstenberg

Since we got married in 2013, and despite our anniversary being at the end of March, we always try and go away or do something special. For the last couple of years we’ve just been out for dinner  but this year we decided to treat ourselves to a night away at one of our favourite pub hotels, The Joiners Arms in Newton by the Sea.


One of the only things I dislike about the Joiners is that it’s not actually where we got married, however everything else ticks all my boxes. From the outside it looks like your standard country pub. White and black with a generous beer garden at the front. The bar/restaurant is also your standard cosy country fayre, big windows that let in lots of natural sunlight, good food and a fully stocked bar with local real ales and an impressive wine cellar.

More about the restaurant later but the absolute show stopper, the hidden gem of this place is undoubtedly the absolutely beautiful guest rooms. This was out third visit and we always try and stay in a different room each time. This time round we were staying in Silver Beach which is one of the more expensive rooms that looks out towards the gorgeous Northumberland coast.


The room comes with a beautiful four poster kingsize bed, a Juliet balcony, dark mahogany desk and wardrobe, and large bathroom with walk in power shower and gorgeous natural local toiletries. Honestly I could have stood under that shower for hours, it was probably one of the nicest showers I’ve ever had!

Because we were celebrating, and had visited before so knew how beautiful the rooms were, he hung out there for a while before going down to the restaurant for dinner. On check in I was a little disappointed when they didn’t offer us a complimentary drink like they have done on previous visits however they have replaced this by putting ingredients in your room to make your own french martinis, which actually is a really nice touch – you can have a large glass of white wine any time, anywhere (like in my kitchen for example).  We’d been kindly given a bottle of moet from my brother and sister-in-law for our anniversary so we enjoyed that (and the french martinis) as our pre dinner drinks in the room.

We were having such a lovely time that we almost forgot to go down for dinner, however once in the restaurant our rumbling tummies took over as we perused the menu over (even more) drinks from the bar.

It’s a traditional gastro pub with a traditional menu and it’s coastal location means that fish dishes feature heavily on the specials board. When we visited the special was tuna steak however all our celebratory drinks meant we were after something a little more substantial so we started by sharing the camambert.

For mains we both decided to keep it simple, as in our minds, you simply can’t beat good hearty food done well. Dave paid homage to the fact it was a Friday night and went for fish and chips and I had the burger. Both hit the spot perfectly, the fish was meaty and not too greasy and the burger was just the right amount of pink to be able to really taste the quality of the meat.

After all of that there simply wan’t room left for pudding so we sat and finished our drinks then retired to our room. The hotel offers a complimentary turn down service so we we got back to the room the duvet was pulled back, the lights dimly lit and smooth radio on. I’m not sure what kind of behavior they were encouraging with that kind of decadence but it was straight to sleep for these full, drunken cats!

One of my favourite things about staying in food hotel in undoubtedly the breakfast and the meal the night before must have stretched my stomach because I was well up for my devilled eggs on toast the next morning. Now I’m sad to say despite being my favourite meal of the day this time the Joiners Arms let us down where it previously excelled. On our last two visits breakfast has has been served in your room and you were presented with a list of items on arrive and could just tick what you wanted. They even sourced me some marmite on my toast on one occasion even though it wasn’t listed. However this time breakfast was served down in the restaurant and you ordered off a menu.

That said breakfast was pretty lovely and there wasn’t much that wasn’t available. I’m just disappointed I couldn’t eat my breakfast in my pjs.

So whilst there were a few little perks that the Joiners seem to have done away with which is what made us so taken with it in the first place, it still stands up as a really high end b&b and we’re still on a quest to sleep in every room!


Address: B1340, High Newton-by-the-Sea, Alnwick NE66 3EA
Phone: 01665 576112
Website: www.joiners-arms.com

Excalibur Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

‘Las Vegas is the boiling pot of entertainment’ – Don Rickles

I’m lucky that throughout my travels in my adult life I’ve been able to visit Las Vegas 4 times now so by all accounts you could safely say I’ve ‘done’ Vegas. However when Meagan and I found out the lifelong childhood heroes The Backstreet Boys were doing a residency there, I knew I’d be heading over to the strip indulge in the craziness once again.

In previous trips I’ve stayed at the (now defunct) Sahara and the Stratosphere, both at the north end of the strip, which you usually find is the cheaper end. We almost booked into Circus Circus which always comes up the cheapest of all the big hotels in the strip, however the Trip Advisor reviews were putting me off and as lady luck would have it, Booking.com had a 40% discount on some better options so we plumped for the Excalibur.


Visually, Excalibur has always been my second favourite hotel on the strip after New York New York; cheesy and tacky and built to look like a Disney ye olde English castle and the red and blue turrets stick out a mile off, but it’s Vegas, and unless you’re a millionnaire or won big and can afford to stay in somewhere a little more classy like the Bellagio, then you need to embrace the tacky.


We booked a queen room, which came with two free buffets, for 4 nights which came out at about £250 each. The day we arrived I was sent an email with the option to check in remotely, this helped a ton as we ended up getting slightly delayed getting there so when we eventually did arrive, we were all checked in and all we needed to do was collect our keys.


The room (26126); which faced south so you could see the majority of the strip, was a decent size with two large queen beds, a TV and separate bathroom with toiletries. It was basic (no fridge for one) however spotlessly clean and in all honesty, for the amount of time you’re going to stay there, what more do you really need? The room was serviced and cleaned every day and once you’re up in your room and away from the chaos of the casino and strip downstairs it’s like a different world – so quiet and peaceful!

Throughout our stay we visited some of the newer hotels like The Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood, whilst in comparison they did make Excalibur look a little old and tired, they were all a bit too shiny, glitzy and trendy for me. I loved Excalibur’s old school feel, with it’s 1970s carpets and brighter lighting. Let’s be honest, we’re not in out 20s anymore and weren’t going to be strutting around in skimpy dresses and heels. The Excalibur was exactly the kind of vibe we were going for.


The entrance level is the extensive casino as you might expect along with a couple of bars, the front desk, guest services, Dicks Last Resort restaurant and Johnny Rockets burger joint (top tip: Johnny Rockets serves wine and beer which is a good couple of dollars cheaper tan the bars so if you want a drink to walk around with this might save you a few $$). Up one level is a food court which is where the buffet is as well and lots of other fast food type places, an Italian restaurant, Starbucks, Cinnabon etc. The level below the entrance level is where the Medieval tournament is held (this level is referred to as The Fun Dungeon – which just founds like a euphemism for something if you ask me!) and there’s also a Dairy Queen down there, just in case you haven’t have enough calories already!


Facilities wise, there’s everything you would expect. We were lucky with the weather and despite it being March, managed to spend an afternoon by the pool, which has plenty of facilitates for all; a kids pool with a water slide, and an adult only pool area (for an extra cost). Towels are free or you can use towels from your room. There’s a couple of pool bars where you can get wine, beer, spirits or cocktails in plastic cups (if you keep your cocktail cup you can get a refill for half price). There’s also a gym, which we did’t visit because you know we were on holiday but it looked a decent size and well equipped!


Location wise we couldn’t fault it, you’re right next door to some of the biggest hotels on the strip; New York New York is connected by a walk way and across the road is the MGM Grand which has a monorail station in if you wanted to go down to the other end of the strip without walking the 4 miles. To get to Planet Hollywood, where the concert was, it was about a 15 minute walk, but there’s so much going on along the way it really doesn’t feel like it. This means you’re an only 20 minute walk away from the fountain show at the Bellagio, which really is worth a watch!

I’m really struggling to find fault with anything about our stay, it was exactly what we needed for the perfect girls trip away, and I’d definitely go back, once I’ve paid off my massive Kate Spade credit card bill!