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.



Is it possible to drink yourself sober?

‘Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, it’s just god when he’s drunk’ – Tom Waits

It’s no secret that I enjoy a glass bottle of wine or two on a weekend so I believe I’m able to speak with some authority when it comes to being drunk. I’m afraid to say as well that I’m probably one of those annoying drunks who speaks too loud, has an opinion on everything, exposes everyone’s secrets then ends the night crying.

20160227_165357Who doesn’t love being in the pub at 2pm?!

My absolute favourite type of drinking is daytime drinking. Having a glass of wine with lunch in a pub on a Saturday (or Sunday if you’re not at work the next day) afternoon is the stuff dreams are made of. Of course that glass of wine with lunch inevitably leads to a few post drinks and before you know it it’s 5pm and you’re eyeballs deep in a session! So in my vast experience in all different types of drinking, it occurred to last Christmas day when we were cracking open the 6th bottle of wine (there were 10 of us!) is it actually possible to drink yourself sober?


First, in true L’Oreal style, here comes the science bit so concentrate…It takes your liver approximately 1 hour to metabolise 1 unit of alcohol so technically if you drink less than 1 unit an hour you’ll never really be drunk (and where’s the fun in that?) so if you drank 5 pints it would take you 15 hours to fully sober up. In short, no, it is not medically possible to drink yourself sober.


We/I turn to alcohol for almost everything, if I’m celebrating, commiserating, bored, tired, can’t sleep, hungry, the list goes on. And we have quite a unique drinking culture in the UK as well, daytime and binge drinking are perfectly acceptable ways of passing the time (I’m not saying it’s a productive way to spend your time; it’s just acceptable). Every time I see my American friend Meagan and we open a bottle of wine she’ll inevitably end up saying something like ‘you’re so tiny but you can drink so much!’

I am of the belief that the longer period of time you’re drinking over, the more you pace yourself therefore the less drunk you feel. For me, it’s the Christmas day effect. We start drinking (albeit very slowly with a bucks fizz at about 11am) and continue through until perhaps midnight/1am. But because you don’t have as much of a time limit as you do when you’re just out for the evening, there’s no real rush and you’re just nicely keeping the alcohol levels steadily topped up thus giving your liver chance to metabolise it a bit better. As such I usually crawl into bed on Christmas night full of turkey and bubbles and bash out a solid 11 hour sleep.


Enjoying the all inclusive lifestyle back in January

We’ve also been on a few all inclusive holidays over the last few years and whilst we’ll no doubt have put away an obscene amount of units each day, I very rarely have hangovers on holiday because it’s nicely paced out throughout the day and when you can have whatever you want whenever you want, there isn’t the rush to get absolutely piss eyed. As with Christmas, you learn very quickly what’s appropriate to drunk when for example, bucks fizz, mimosa or bloody mary; very much a breakfast drink, after 1pm pretty much anything goes then you have your whiskeys and your baileys for the strasse.

This is all very tongue in cheek and I’m of course not trying to advocate excessively unhealthy lifetsyles. I try my best wherever possible to stay fit and healthy by going to the gym regularly, eating sensibly and almost never drink 5 days out of the week unless it’s a really special occasion. I just find it interesting that after I’ve been drinking slowly throughout the day have zero hangover the next morning whereas a few too many glasses on a Friday night because I’ve had a busy week at work and the Beer Monkey* has absolutely paid a visit and opened up the gates of hangover hell.

*Beer Monkey – n. Mythical Simian like creature that magically appears during the middle of the night to ruffle your hair, crap in your mouth and steal your money while you sleep. Often visits after you’ve been out on a heavy Friday or Saturday night and is known to favour between 3-4am whilst you’re totally wankered.

Ringtons – So much more than Tea

‘I like coffee because it gives me the illusion that I might be awake’ – Lewis Black

I can vividly remember the first cup of tea I ever had. I was trying to get something off the top shelf of a wall unit (hey it was the 90s) in my bedroom so stood on the bottom self to do so and only realised what a bad idea that was when I started falling backwards pulling the whole unit on top of me. Thankfully I was relatively unharmed apart from the shock, which my mum swiftly gave be a cup of hot sugary tea for. And i hated it.

I also remember the first cup of coffee I ever had. It was in 2007 in New York with Patricia and we were both intent of playing as real a game of Sex and the City as we could so we got some iced coffees to strut over to the Empire State Building with. And I hated it.

I was happy to let the tea thing go, it seems to come with some kind of faux nationalism, fixer of all problems that makes me cringe and as someone who didn’t even live in this country for the first part of my life, is something I struggle to jump on board with. Coffee however was something I was desperate to like, I wouldn’t consider myself a European, nay an adult, nay a human until I liked coffee. So thank heavens for Starbucks and their super milky lattes which contain no more than 2 coffee beans per cup, i gradually weaned myself onto the black stuff and i’m now pretty much a caffeine addict – the stronger the better.

I was having a particularly crappy Monday at work back in January when I arrived home to a lovely hamper full of goodies from North East Tea legends Ringtons. I’ll admit I opened the box gingerly, wondering if they were trying where other had failed in converting me over to team Tea. Thankfully, although they had sent some of their classic teabags and some herbal fruity tea, they’d also sent some of their Traditional Blend Filter coffee. And some yummy biscuits and toffees. They were ever so slowly bringing me round to their way of thinking.

Being the professional single couple on the go we usually reserve our coffee indulgence to weekends, opting for frozen instant stuff we take to work. So thank god when we did sample a cup from our cafetiere it was well worth the wait. When you predominantly drink instant coffee, treating yourself to a decent cup really makes all the difference. The traditional blend is smoky and full of flavour without feeling migraine inducing, and you don’t have to use a lot to get a full cafetiere, so a bag lasts a long time. Pair with some of the chocolate brazil nut biscuits  (which are heavy on the chocolate, heavy on the nuts and heavy on the crunch) and it’s a match made in heaven, not to mention pretty good Saturday morning spinning class fuel. Hubs was chief tester of the teabags and they got a resounding thumbs up!
I’m normally a fan of a biscuit unless it’s chocolate so it’s usually out of sheer desperation I’ll eat anything else but the Ginger Snaps and Creamy Shortbread were also top quality, so good in fact that I soon regretted taking them into work to share and the locusts on my team had them polished off by 11.15am. Gannets. What was nice though was it sparked lively debate about Ringtons as a company and the fond place it seems to sit in every north easterners heart. Everyone, it appears has a Ringtons van story (for those who aren’t familiar one of the things that set and still sets the company apart is that they hand deliver their wares by car or van – a quaint personal touch that is nice to see hasn’t been killed off by the digital age)
After indulging myself on all the goodies, even the loose leaf tea, which we discovered brews very nicely in a cafetiere if you don’t have a strainer, I was concerned I was now a Ringtons addict without sufficient funds to support my habit. So I was please try surprised when I checked out their website to find their prices are actually very competitive. Sure you can get some Asda smart price bourbons for 50p a pack, but they’re Asda smart price bourbons. Think Chips Ahoy or Tesco’s finest triple choc cookies and you’re in the right ballpark of quality. Special mention also goes to the Smooth & chewy butter toffee which served as excellent little fat bombs for Dave’s long runs.

Despite building their empire mainly on tea, they’ve expended well to accommodate the ever changing market and now offer an array on non tea related products including over 15 different types of coffee (beans, ground and instant) coffee syrups as well as hot chocolates, cakes, preserves and crockery. I’ve got a very close eye on their Triple Chocolate Cookies and their chocolate mallows with their rich blend roast coffee to wash it down with!

Price list:

Extra Fresh Tea bags (100) – £3.50
Traditional Blend Filter Coffee (227g) – £3.45
Ginger Snaps – £1.90
Creamy Shortbread Rounds – £1.90
Chocolate Brazil Nut Biscuits – £1.95
Smooth & Chewy butter toffees – £1.60

Th loose leaf tea was sample size but full bags are available on the Ringtons Website

The Kingslodge Inn – Durham

‘I much prefer very small dinners with close friends’ – Tom Ford

One look at my Instagram feed and and you’ll know how much I love my food. One look at my twitter feed and you’ll know how lazy I am. So when It comes to going out for dinner Dave and I inevitably go to our old favourites on our door step or in the centre of Newcastle. However as I’ve already mentioned, we’re trying to broaden our horizons this year and try out new places.


Just a 5 minute walk away from Durham train station The Kingslodge Inn really couldn’t be more central however when you arrive it’s quite set back from the main street so feels like you could be in the depths of the countryside. Snapped up by the Inn Collection Group (named best leisure business in the Northumberland Business Awards in 2015) in early 2016 what was the Kingslodge Hotel is now all revamped with a swanky new refurb, new restaurant and 2 new additional hotel rooms (ranging from £95-£125 per night).

We visited on a sunny Thursday night and there were plenty of parking spaces in the sizeable free car park. We were greeted with a warm welcome and taken to a nice booth on the top level. I never visited before the refurb but was impressed with the decor which looked suitably cosy and an inviting. I’ve always been a fan of tartan wall paper for that Scottish Highland feel and the pictures of local landmarks dotted around were a nice touch.

The food menu was extremely impressive – it’s always a good sign when you can’t decide what to go for, it all looked great! Over a pint of Ale (Black Sheep was all that was available) and a glass of wine we finally settled on our choices; Antipasto for Dave and Black Pudding topped with Poached Egg, Bacon Pieces and Peppercorn Sauce for me, I simply can’t resist anything with a poached egg on top!

The food was beautifully presented, and portion sizes weren’t too big or too measly. The basil oil in Dave’s antipasto was a nice twist and my black pudding had an excellent spicy flavour (without being overbearing). The bacon was super crispy – just how I like it however the egg could have done with being cooked a few second more as the white was a little runny , still, it’s better than being overcooked.

For mains Dave originally wanted to go for the Sirloin Grill however they were all out when we visited so plumped for the Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb instead. I, being a massive fan of Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America, was really intrigued to try the Hot Meat Dip in Warm Ciabatta as it’s not something you often see on menus in the UK.

Although my sandwich wasn’t ‘dipped’ as is customary in the states, it did come with it’s own gravy boat with which to smother it yourself, which in fact is better as you can then add as little or as much (as was my case) as you like, and it makes it a little more civilised for eating with a knife and fork! It came with chunky chips and a dressed salad, both of which were delicious. Both were good mansized portions, Dave’s lamb was off the bone and a tasty, chunky piece of meat, which came with mashed potatoes and veg – a slightly healthier option since he’s again in training for his next ultra marathon.

We’re normally the type of couple that just settles on a liquid dessert however I’d had a beady eye on the chocolate brownie since before arriving and the serving staff had been leaving us ample time between courses to ruminate over our drinks and let our food go down so we were feeling strong enough to tackle the dessert. Dave went for the cheesecake of the day which was White Chocolate and Raspberries and I stuck with my original choice of Warm Chocolate Brownie.

My brownie was everything I dreamed it would be and more! It was extremely gooey and chocloatey and warmed through enough that it melted the vanilla ice cream nicely but didn’t taste burnt. Dave was slightly disappointed with the cheesecake as it was more on the moussey side rather than the solid New York style which he prefers but said it tasted good and was served in it’s own dish rather than in a slice which was a nice change. Portions again were really good – you really feel like you’re getting good value for money.

Over all we had a lovely meal at the Kingslodge Inn; the staff were great and knowledgeable about their menus, the food was cooked to a very high standard and offered options you don’t regularly see on your average pub menu. Prices were really reasonable and very competitive to other places we’ve visited around the North East. It also have lots of vegetarian options and is dog and child friendly! It’s definitely encouraged us to be a bit more adventurous rather than sticking to the same old haunts around Newcastle.

This was a collaborative post but all views are our own.

Quinta do Frances Wine Tour in the Portuguese Algarve

‘I’d much rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0’ – Sophia Bush

I’d always thought that visiting a vineyard would be something I’d put on my bucket list until hubs pointed out that we have in fact visited one in Napa Valley in California in 2005 and then again in Northern Australia on Honeymoon in 2013. So I guess what that means is I’m a gal who loves her wine and will think of almost any excuse to visit a winery, even if that excuse turn out to be on the basis of fraud.

Staying at Uncle John’s cottage in the Algarve, the obvious wine choice would be to go and visit Cliff Richard’s gaff, but this is 2016 and word on the street is it’s up for sale now so thought we’d try out something a little less celebrity and a little more local.

We found Quinta do Frances on Trip Advisor, and it was handy that it was closest to where we were staying in Messines. Which brings me to finding the place. Whatever you do, do not follow your sat nav to get there, you’ll end up in the middle of nowhere (like we did) the Google Map on their website is pretty accurate, otherwise just follow the N124 from Silves and turn right when you see a sign for the winery. It’s pretty hidden away, but that just adds to its authenticity and charm.


We arrived, albeit 5 minutes late for our tour at 2pm, turns out no one else had booked that time so we had the place to ourselves. Tania was a brilliant guide, her English is impeccable and she took us through a brief history of he Vineyard, explaining that it’s relatively new and family run and owned by a french Doctor and his wife. The grapes they use to produce the wine (the red grapes are grown on the Vineyard but the white grapes are imported from France) are planted across 8 hectares of land and produce a signature white sauvingon blanc, a rose and a red, as well as a higher end white and two high end reds.

The tour then takes you inside and shows you the fermenting process and Tania talks you through the different ways each colour, and quality of wine is made. The barrel room in the cellar is particularly interesting as she explains how the wines get their signature smokey taste. Each barrel is used for 6 years and then discarded or sold on (Dave was particularly interested i this as he’d visited the Jack Daniels distillery whilst on his road trip around America who had explained they like to use old wine barrels for their Whiskey *starts singing The Circle of Life*)

The bottling room was a treat, showing how they bottle, box and label all their wines. Because hey’re such a small operation they rent a labeling truck that comes and does the labeling en masse however they do have a small label maker on site should they get and urgent (or important) order in that needs doing straight away. If you’re finding it hard to imagine what 32,000 bottles of wine looks like just think of the Newman’s recycle bin after a bank holiday weekend, or, just look at the picture below, whichever.


Once the tour is over it’s down to business and you get to taste the wine. Included in the tour is the 3 standard wines but you can pay a euro extra for each of the other wines you’d like to try (which of course I did, all in the name of research – Dave was driving, poor love). Its easy to see why these wines are all award winning, when your wine cellar at home is stocked full with Asda’s 3 for £10 bottles, your pallet really gets excited by something a little more high quality. What’s also refreshing is that their standard wines don’t cost the earth with their white, red and rose all coming in at around the 6 Euro mark.

Trying the higher end wines was a real treat for me as well and you could certainly taste the difference, not necessarily in quality, as they all taste good quality, but certainly in texture and flavour. Whilst the higher end reds were quite heavy, I could imagine them going perfectly with a good quality steak or some chocolate.

The price of the tour is a very reasonable 7.50 Euro which lasts about half an hour and includes a taste of 3 wines at the end. It’s certainy worth a visit if you’re in the Algarve and fancy a run out for the afternoon. They also have a roof terrace where you can enjoy some of your purchases (however there were no tables and chairs up their when we visited in June)

You don’t get the hard sell and aren’t obliged to buy anything after the tour. However, seeing as they don’t currently have a distributor in the UK, we thought we’d best buy a case of 6 (two of each color) if nothing else but to keep our Asda wine company.






Saturday at the Steamer

‘I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day’ – Frank Sinatra

It’s the first weekend in September, the mornings are getting darker and cooler. The only good thing about this time of year is that the dog over the back fence no longer gets let out at 6am to do its morning ablutions then yaps for half an hour to be let back in. So what better to do on an autumnal Saturday than hang out at the Boilershop Steamer with the rest of Newcastle’s hipsters and get drunk.


I heard a lot about the Steamer through Steph who’s been a few times, but I’d never really thought about it, the mix of my ever so slightly acrophobia husband and poorly reproduced street food (I went to a food festival in Bents Park in South Shields recently when the normally excellent Zapatista had a stand and the food was dreadful) doesn’t fill me with much confidence. I’ve often viewed these things the same way I’ve viewed music festivals, everyone else always looks like they’re having a great time but I’m always in the way, or too hot, or can’t see anything, or getting covered in someone else’s urine (ok, I’ll admit I would have been very shocked had that happened at the steamer, but you never know!). But I’m always up for trying new things and in the same way they say you’re never more than 6ft away from a rat in London, I try and never be more than 6ft away from some gin. Off me and my motley crew went.

We decided to go on the Saturday, got thee early as its free before 2pm (shout out to the cheapskates, woop!) and it was already starting to fill up. It was smaller than I imagined. People I know who’ve been before have said that it’s absolutely massive. The Boilershop it’s self though is impressive (the birthplace of Robert Stephenson’s Rocket – fact fans!) and an excellent use of space. We had a brief walk around to see what was there then settled on some drinks (doing nothing to banish any gender stereotypes we went for Real Ale for the boys and Prosecco for the girls). Prices for drinks weren’t outrageous (£3.50 for a pint of ale and £20 for a bottle of Proescco) and you got (albeit plastic) champagne flutes for the fizz, which is always nicer to drink out of than a crappy plastic half pint glass. There are very few places to sit so if you want a seat you need to get there really early and I’d advise if you do get a seat, don’t leave it!

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We stood around people watching for a while, it really was hipster heaven so i’m glad i was wearing my new checked shirt to blend in with the crowd. A game of ‘spot the longest beard’ is always fun after a few glasses of bubbly. It’s worth pointing out though that it’s really family friendly. Whilst there isn’t much in the way of entertainment for kids, there were lots of families there and they seemed to be made to feel very welcome, just watch where you put you feet as there might be a little person below your eyeline right behind you!

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When it came time to have something to eat there certainly was plenty of choice. Some went for pizza, some went for pulled pork burgers, some went for chilli and all of it looked very fresh and decent sized portions. I myself went for some sweet potato fries with sesame mayonnaise which was really tasty, although I wasn’t all that pleased to see them use frozen sweet potato out of a packet, especially for the £4 pricetag. The paying system was something else that bothered me. For drinks you could just pay cash but for food you had to buy tokens which were £2 each. To me it just seemed an excuse to charge more money. For example at the falafel stand where I got my fries, a lamb burger was 4 tokens. £8 seems a lot of money to pay for what it was. Dave’s mexican pulled pork filled taco bowl was 3 tokens and most of the taco bowl was burnt. Value for money, this place isn’t.

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I really love the idea of the steamer. I think it’s a great use of space there and there’s a great laid back atmosphere. I like that there’s something for everyone, you don’t all have to order off the same menu or drink the same drinks so it caters for all tastes. It’s something different from just sitting in a Wetherspoons all afternoon. However if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful afternoon out with your friends then this probably isn’t the place for you. The food is over priced and there wasn’t half the vendors there that were advertised on their website; Longhorns, Papa Ganoush, Fat Hippo and Fat Friars were all advertised as being in attendance but weren’t there (I personally was looking forward to visiting the ‘Hip Hop Chip Shop just for the photo op alone!) so that was disappointing. For me they could also do away with the token system, as it serves no purpose other than an excuse to charge more than if they were accepting cash. Later on in the day they had some live bands on,which is a great idea, and provides a great opportunity to listen to some local bands however with the building because the size it is, they’re were just way too loud and you couldn’t really hold a conversation. Saying that there is lots of outside space as well if you wanted somewhere a little quieter. We left after the first band as we wouldn’t hear a word anyone was saying.


The steamer is on the first weekend of every month with special events on for bank holidays

The Boiler Shop
Sussex Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear

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