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September 30, 2016

Book Club No. 5



Hello fellow bookworms - today I'm going to rant and rave about a couple of things I've read lately that were really super good for so many reasons. If you're a fan of graphic novels/comics or if you're someone who's never actually thought of reading them, I have a couple to mention that I think are brilliant and well worth a read no matter what your usual reading preferences are. I also have an honourable mention of a biography because a) they're not usually 'my bag' and b) it was about a favourite musician of mine who has led an interesting life so again, it's worth some reading time. So let's get into it:

Injection - First up I'll talk about Injection from Image Comics. Matt bought Injection for me to read way back in March for my birthday and it took me ages to finally sit down and read it but once I did, I demolished it in one sitting. It is a new series from Image Comics but I'm definitely going to keep getting future installments when they are released because I was really hooked by the story. Reading the blurb, Injection is described as being "science fiction, tales of horror, strange crime fiction, techno-thriller, and a ghost story all at the same time". That alone grabbed my interest. The story basically follows the tale of 5 'geniuses' in different fields/with different specialisms who created Injection which poisoned the 21st century. They tried to *play God* essentially, and tampered with the world and the natural state of it and the story starts with the repercutions of their tampering starting to show across the world. Strange things start happening and they need to come together again to try and sort it out.

At first I found the story a little bit confusing because it jumped back and forth in time and of course because of the mix of genres, the story is riddled with terms and words which you later come to understand, but it can make you feel a little bit stumped when you first start reading it. But once I got my teeth into it - I was hooked. The story is really different to anything I've ever read before because it does successfully mix sci-fi, horror, post-apocolypse on the horizon etc. sort of aspects in a really clever way that makes you keep turning the page. They also managed to leave the Injection #5 (last chapter in the collected Volume 1) on a great cliff hanger so I can't wait to read what happens next. The mix of characters who are normal and 'otherworldly' is great, the illustration style is really clean and crisp but gritty in a good way, and the story seems so different to anything else, I can't recommend it enough.

Book Club: Currently Reading

Descender - The latest comic I've picked up is Descender which - surprise surprise - is another whopper from Image Comics. If you couldn't tell already, Image is one of my favourite comic presses (the other being Vertigo) and that's because the variety of comics they release is so extensive yet so many of them tick so many boxes for me. Anyway I have had my eye on Descender for some time now and finally gave in a purchased it during a rummage in Newcastle's Forbidden Planet store. It is a straight up science fiction-based story and instantly screamed "Mass Effect" for me. If anything reminds me of Mass Effect, you can pretty much assume I'm going to go bat-shit bananas with excitement and love it. So let me give you some info about this awesome series.

The story is set in space ten years after planet-sized robots called Harvesters appeared and basically destroyed/caused mayhem across the galaxy which resulted in the various other alien species across the galaxy outlawing robots of all kinds as they were seen as dangerous, unpredictable and responsible for what happened. One of the main characters, TIM-21 wakes up to find that he may be the only robot currently alive and thus becomes the most wanted robot in the universe. The scientist who created him and some other characters (who are essentially part of a sort of inter-galactic government) want to try and find TIM-21 in order to look at and test his DNA as it is thought his DNA could hold the key as to why and how the Harvesters were created and could help them stop the Harvesters from attacking the galaxy again in the future. Of course because TIM-21 is pretty much the only guy on the "most wanted" list, he has bounty hunters in abundance after him too so it's a very quick pace, action packed comic which I've really enjoyed reading. Again, just like Injection, I read this first volume in one sitting and fell in love. The story is great so far, the character designs are rich and varied as there are so many alien races and the artwork is beautiful. Unlike Injection's clean, *traditional* comic book illustration style, each panel in Descender looks like it has been hand drawn and painted with watercolour ink giving it a slightly softer edge but a gorgeous colour palette. Again, Volume 1 ended on a *huge* cliff hanger so I need to pick up Vol. 2 ASAP!

Seasick Steve Ramblin' Man: The Biography - Like I said at the start of this post, I tend to read a lot of fiction and the only non-fiction I like is true/real crime and thus biographies very rarely enter my life. However on a recent shop in HMV, I saw this biography about one of my favourite guys, Seasick Steve, and decided at £5.99, I may as well pick it up and see what it's all about. For those of you who may not have a clue who I'm talking about Seasick Steve is a bluesy, raw musician who shot to stardom after appearing on Jools Holland's Hootenanny because people fell in love with his redneck hillbilly style and the fact that he played a three-string guitar and stomped on a wooden box to make his music and it actually sounded *great*. I've loved him for years but as a fan, I've never really known much about him as he's an elusive character who keeps himself and his life out of the public eye for the most part. As an elderly gentleman who is thought to be a former homeless man, I knew his backstory and life would be interesting to find out more about.

Although I never think this kind of non-fiction reading is half as interesting as the fiction stuff I love, I did enjoy reading this as the author, Matthew Wright, tells Steve's story in a very informal, easy to read way. His writing style is quite casual and feels almost like diary inserts at times as if he's just typed up notes he's made on the man each day. It is easy reading with a nice relaxed twist but is still gripping enough to make you keep turning the page. Now, obviously I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone because I think you need to be a fan of Seasick Steve in the first place to pick it up, but if you are a fan or you are someone who enjoys reading celebrity/musician autobiographies/biographies, you might enjoy this one.

Catch up with previous Book Club posts here!


- A.
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September 27, 2016

When in Rome: Dos and Don'ts



I hate to say it (but maybe some of you will be pleased) but my posts covering my trip to Rome have finally come to an end! If you couldn't tell by the obscene amount of posts I've made, I had a brilliant time and I thought Rome was a beautiful city to visit and explore. To end this series of travel posts, I thought it would be a great idea to give you a little run down of some do's and don't's that I think are insightful little things I wish I had known before we visited. These things are mostly minor, but had I have known some of them before visiting, it would have made the trip even more smooth sailing than it was. I've also included some things that I just personally think helps when staying in Rome so if you're planning a trip there, hopefully my advice will help!

The Dos:
- Save money by making packed lunch/having dinner at home 1 night.
If you happen to be staying in an Air BnB place or anywhere with access to a kitchen, I'd strongly suggest making a packed lunch if you plan to spend all day out and about. Rome isn't ridiculously expensive, but when I think about our trip, all of my spending money was spent on food and entry into museums etc. so having the option to have a cheaper meal shouldn't be sniffed at. We didn't really eat at lunch time as we had quite big breakfasts every morning and found the midday heat put us off eating, but we did have dinner at our flat one night which was a nice quiet change to a busy restaurant and Matt's cooking was just as tasty!

- Take enough money for extra allowances such as taxis, bus, metro & daily person charge. This one depends on what sort of person you are when it comes to city breaks. Matt & I walked everywhere and the only time we paid for a taxi was back to the airport when we were leaving. The buses and metros are relatively cheap though (cheaper than the general UK prices it seems) so if you were to use them, you don't need to have a lot stashed away, but it is worth working into your budget if you think you're going to use them. About an hour away on the train, you can visit the Italian coast which we didn't get a chance to do, but if you fancied that, it's a reasonable price for a train ticket and again, just something to bear in mind. Depending on how your accommodation works, you might have to pay a daily person charge when staying in the city. It wasn't a lot of money but again, it's worth checking and worth working into your spending money.

- Plan where you are going for the day (even if its only roughly). Matt & I took the "let's just see where our feet takes us" approach and I personally like that as it means you don't stress yourself out about timings or where you need to be. However one thing we did do each evening/morning was plan a rough destination. For example, we decided to go to Trastevere one day as we wanted to check out the Santa Maria in Trastevere (which you can read about here!) so we wandered around the area too. Rome is separated into districts and pretty much each district has something of interest for tourists whether it be a museum, ruins, a park etc. so aiming to go to a specific area each day works really well!



- Make sure to pack appropriate clothing for a Roman Catholic country. I know this one might seem obvious, but it can honestly be overlooked so easily and I almost forgot about this myself! Depending on what time of year you're visiting Rome, it can hit up to 40 degrees and wearing clothing can be pretty unbearable but if you're planning to visit St. Peter's Basilica or any of the other 1983752 basilicas in the city, you need to wear appropriate clothing. That's not saying you need to be fully covered from head to toe, but shorts with your booty hanging out or deep plunging necklines shouldn't be worn in holy places out of respect. A good idea for ladies in particular is to always keep a lightweight thin chiffon/cotton scarf in your bag everyday as usually basilicas have a sign asking that the shoulders be covered upon entering so this is a quick easy way to make sure you won't be asked to leave or refused entry. It's also just a way to be respectful to those using the church!

- Be hard faced and don't give into people coaxing you into their establishments or people begging for money. I feel quite harsh typing that but you will have a lot of people trying to convince you to come into their restaurants and it's totally okay to say no. Most people are used to this happening and will just tell you to enjoy your day, but for those who are pushy, it's okay to brush them off. Secondly, there is a lot of people begging in Rome. A lot of people appear to be/are disabled and they will be quite forceful with asking for money. At first this upset me a little and I considered giving people money but you just can't afford to. People are very pushy, some are rude, and some are just out-right inappropriate so you need to be hard faced and not phased by it all the best you can. Seeing a group of women grabbing men's hands who were walking home from work and trying to make these men touch them in exchange for money was bad enough, but when I saw a 10 year old girl added into the mix doing it, I realised I needed to act like I didn't care and not give money.

- Nap during the midday heat. This only really applies if you go during the summer months (especially July/August time!) but midday can be excruciatingly hot. Between 12-3pm it's a good idea to either go indoors into a museum/somewhere well conditioned and just chill out for a few hours or retreat back to your hotel room/flat etc. and just rest!

- Head to St. Peter's Square on Sunday to see the Pope. This isn't really a thing you *need* to do, but walking by St. Peter's Square when the Pope was addressing the Roman citizens was a once in a lifetime thing. Hearing him speak to his people and seeing just how many people were there was wonderful and humbling so I'd recommend it even if you're just passing by and catch a glimpse!

- See the city by day and night. You're bound to do this anyway, but seeing the same areas both during the day and during the evening can seem like two completely different places and brings different charms to your attention.



The Don'ts:
- Don't buy water, save your money using fountains.
This was a wee hint from our Air BnB host and it was the best little insider we were told. Although the fountains are dotted around Rome, I don't think we would have necessarily used them if we weren't told in advance they were safe to use. A lot of the fountains themselves are beautiful to look at but the water from them is ice cold and so tasty. You can taste the rich minerals with each mouthful and refilling your bottle keeps you hydrated in the insane heat and prevents you from wasting money. Some places can charge up to 5 euros for a normal 500ml bottle of water just because they know you will need to buy it at some point if you don't have any so don't be sucked into spending - use the fountains!

- Don't leave sightseeing to chance. As I mentioned in previous posts, some things are better off booked in advance and others aren't needed. For example, our trip to the Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Roman Forum would have taken a lot longer if we had booked in advance as the queue to pick up tickets was a lot longer and slow moving compared to the one for instantly going to buy tickets at the office. However if you're thinking about visiting the Vatican Museums, you really need to book in advance if you don't want to spend around 4 hours waiting outside in the boiling hot sun on a busy street corner. Booking stuff online is easy enough and all you need to do is print off your ticket receipts, pack them in your case and hand luggage and you're good to go! You can skip the queue then just show your receipt to the ticket office and that's it!

- Don't just go to whatever restaurant is nearest - read up on where you're going to be and therefore where you'll be eating. Although Rome proved to me you can't judge a good restaurant by the decor or by how many customers are in it, I'd definitely recommend having a little check about where is good to eat. If you're staying in an Air BnB place, ask the host where they would recommend in different areas and if you get chatting to any other locals - ask them too! There's a lot of tourist trap places that promise 3 course deals for super cheap but as you can probably guess, the food isn't authentic, it isn't tasty, and it will be a big waste of money. I did a little post on some places Matt & I loved during our visit, but you really do need to have a little check.



- Don't go without a hat, sunglasses and sun protection. Again this one is pretty obvious, but I didn't take a hat and regretted it for the whole holiday. There's plenty of cheap stalls selling various hats and parasols whilst you're there but if you want your own style, just remember to pack one. Like I've said, the sun can get intense and giving your scalp a break from it can help you stay sane.

- Don't wear silly shoes or fake leather. Another little 'silly' one but it's worth mentioning that in the heat, you really need to have good shoes on. Obviously if you're planning to walk everywhere like Matt & I did, you will want comfy shoes on as you can end up walking for miles and miles each day, but the heat of the sun and the pavements can cause havoc on cheap shoes. I took a cheap comfy pair of gladiator sandals with me and they genuinely melted a little bit when I was waiting to get into St. Peter's Basilica - I had "made in India | Size 3" printed on the tops of my feet for most of the holiday!

- Don't take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. My last 'Don't' is a very basic one but I think it's really important. If you visit the Sistine Chapel, it will undoubtedly be very busy and there will be a lot of security walking around through the crowds and there will also be a warning broadcast over some speakers about not taking pictures or talking. The chapel was so busy when visited but I couldn't believe how many people were being just plain rude. The Sistine has become a huge tourist attraction but at the end of the day, it is still an extremely religious place that, whether you're religious or not, whether you're Catholic or not, deserves a level of respect. When you are told to not take photos are talk over and over again, you should abide by the few rules they have and just enjoy the moment of being there. Also, after seeing one girl next to me take some photos and then be removed by a police guard in *the* most aggressive manner, I would say a photo of the chapel just isn't worth it.

And then that's it! These aren't hard and fast rules but I do hope they might help some of you if you're ever travelling to Rome - which you certainly should like, as soon as possible!

- A.
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September 23, 2016

Taxidermy for Beginners



After asking you guys over on Twitter if you'd like a post on a recent course I attended, and after a sizeable response, I thought I'd throw together this wee post on Taxidermy for total beginners as some of you curious cats were interested in just *what* on earth you do to create taxidermy. So last weekend, Matt & I attended a beginners taxidermy course with Mabel Edwards who has been in the taxidermy business for the last 4 years. Matt had found out about the course by chance so we quickly snapped up some tickets for the 4-hour session at the Winchester Discovery Centre and I was super excited. I'm really interested in taxidermy and like collecting but the thought of making my own? It had never crossed my mind. I knew it would be a fiddly job that you needed patience for which, as someone who enjoys creating art, I thought I could handle but even if I have to prepare raw meat for cooking I will freak out about touching it a whole deal. So the idea of cutting up and gutting an animal in order to stuff it? I didn't know if I would cope with it but it turns out - I found it fascinating!

The 4-hour course was led by Mabel and she instructed and guided us through the process from start to finish. The class of 10 were an eager group and we all came into the room to see a little white mouse laid out in front of each seat with a scalpel and some tweezers nearby. In just 4 hours, we would take our mice from frozen ex-pet shop snake bait to a fully mounted taxidermy. So I'm going to talk through my experience, briefly what we did, and if I'd recommend the experience. Before I kick things off though, I should mention a couple of things: the taxidermy course and of course the mice used were completely ethically sourced. They were mice that were frozen to become food for the snakes in the store but instead were used for this - giving them a second life if you want to look at it that way! And secondly, I've purposefully not included any "gory" or bloody photographs for those of you who may be squeamish. Saying that though, there *is* going to be a couple of photographs of the mouse skin without it's innings, it's skin turned inside out and yep you guessed it, a photograph of a dead animal. So now that I've warned you, please carry on scrolling and reading only if you wish!



So first of all, we needed to tackle the little frozen fella. Using a scalpel, we cut an incision down the back of the mouse and had to de-skin it. It was strange - I was expecting this to be a lot more gory and grotesque than it was. It was quite clean to do. We all had medical gloves on but Mabel pointed out that she often chooses to work gloveless as as long as you wash your hands once you're done, there's nothing to worry about. The only downside to this part of the process was the smell of some of the mice. Overall it was a clean job but as some people had pushed a little too hard with their scalpel, they had nicked the innards and therefore had caused the insides of the mouse to leak a little and start to smell! Some members of the class found this harder to deal with than others but I honestly thought the smell was bearable. If you've ever had cooked meat stored in the fridge for a couple of days and then opened the tupperware - yeah, the smell is like that just a little stronger. Once the skin felt pretty loose, we had to cut the legs and arms off to keep the lower joints intact for stuffing later and we also had to decapitate the head to keep it looking as realistic as possible.

This was the longest part of the whole process as once we had totally removed the organs inside the mouse, we then had to make sure what we planning to stuff was as clean as possible too. By using the tweezers, we had to pick and scrape the inside of the skin to make sure no fat was attached. The skull also needed all of the fat and "gooey" bits like the eyes and cheeks removed so they wouldn't rot inside of the skin. By using some basic cleaning agents and the scalpel/tweezers, this was done in no time and next we washed and dried the skin, ready for stuffing! After a quick soak and swim in some water and washing up liquid and a quick blast with the hairdryer to fluff the little rascals up, we were ready to make the body and get them mounted.



As you can see, my little guy had lost his tail during the previous processes. The tail bone needed to be removed and the skin is much more delicate around the tale/anus area of the mouse so my heavy handedness caused it to all to snap off completely. The beauty with making a taxidermy mouse though is there seems to be very few mistakes during the course of making it that can't be rectified, so the tail could be added later. The first job once the mouse was fresh and clean was to give the little fella some eyes again. With some poly-filler and some black beads, this was a quick and easy job whilst the skin was turned inside out. We then simply needed to carefully push the skull back into the skin (the muzzle was still attached to make this easy) and the arms and legs also needed to be put the right way around again. Once back to "normal" we needed to make the body. Just out of shot of all of the photos, we had the organs/general insides left out on a paper towel. Sounds gross, but this was purely to help us get an idea of what size body we needed to create for our mice as obviously no two mice would be the same! We then began wrapping cotton thread tightly around cotton balls to get a realistic body. It was a simple job of getting the right size and shape by adding more and more cotton until it looked about right. Then, just using some craft wire, we wrapped it around the body to mimic arms and legs and now we needed to add the skin.



This was by far the most frustrating part for me. Getting the wires to feed through the limbs so you could pose the mouse was so fiddly and after 3 hours of nonstop making this little guy, I was quickly losing my patience. I finally cracked it though and all that was left was to sew up the back incision we have made at the start and then mount the mice! When I first thought about going to the course, I was convinced I wanted to make something realistic and not give the mouse cheesy props or poses but when I realised what I created was far from perfect (some areas of the skin tore, my sewing could have been better, the mount could have been neater etc. etc.) I figured I'd just have fun with it as I knew I wasn't going to keep it. So naturally, I rummaged through a box of goodies that could be added to my wee mouse - a bowler hat, a mini vacuum cleaner, a little book... But I settled on some bowling pins and a bowling ball...



And there we have it! As you can see I wasn't too careful by the end of the class. I didn't really mount it properly and I made zero effort to hide the wires in the limbs. By the end of the class I was quite tired and hadn't necessarily lost interest, but I had lost concentration. If you're someone who is interested in taxidermy or you're quite up for trying something new and different, I'd really recommend a class like this. I found it really insightful, it has made me think even more highly of taxidermists as I never truly realised how time-consuming and precise it all is, and it was also a great learning curve that others are intrigued to hear about. Although I didn't end up keeping my little guy because he was far from perfect, I do feel like I could always make one again myself in my own time because I understand what skills are involved now; it's just a matter of practice makes perfect. This class has also convinced me I would love to do a bird taxidermy class (although they are supposed to be much harder to do), and of course, a bug mounting course is high on the list now too. For £60, you have the opportunity to not only make your own taxidermy but to keep it too which is an absolute bargain in my opinion! We also got a free glass of G&T out of it too and it was a unique way to spend our afternoon.

If you've enjoyed this post please let me know as taxidermy is a big big interest of mine that I just don't talk about enough on NB!


- A.
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September 20, 2016

Air BnB > Hotels



Now that my Rome holiday posts have come to an end, I figured it would be a good idea to talk about the accommodation that we stayed in and give you an insight into that too. Air BnB has become increasingly popular over the past couple of years and I knew when Matt & I decided on our first holiday together, I wanted to try out Air BnB for myself. For those who might not know what it is, it is a website that allows you to find either room shares, flats or houses to stay in on your holidays/breaks away instead of your usual hotel or hostel options. People will put up a room or a flat/house of theirs for rent and holiday-goers can stay for as little or as long as they want. I wanted to try it because the process always gets rave reviews and some of the flats/homes I have seen others stay in look incredible and it gives you the chance to have a home away from home.

So after putting in the info of which city we wanted to stay in and the dates we would be staying there, I searched through lots of available places ranging in price, location, amenities, and ratings. A great option for first-time users of the site is that you can filter whether or not you only want to look at properties from "super hosts". Super hosts are people who have been used a lot on the site and who have great reviews so I opted for the filter as it meant the host of whichever accommodation we ended up staying in should be reliable and trustworthy which is just want I needed to hear when this was my first trip away to a different country for a long time. Being able to choose from a list of trusted, popular hosts is also a great function for those who are travelling alone. I've been thinking about going on holiday on my own for a while now and I know if I do, I will be using Air BnB and this option as it takes away the worry a little bit for a young petite woman travelling on her own! You can also filter the price, the size of accommodation you need as well as a number of other things. After whittling it down to a few promising looking places, we settled on a flat and got in touch with the host.



Our host was wonderful. He picked us up from the airport as we were getting into Rome quite late at night which was great as he could give us some ideas of what to do during our time there that we possibly wouldn't have got if we were in a taxi. Although our host won't obviously be the same as all the others, the fact that once we got to the flat, he told us all about the best places to eat and the best time to visit busy areas etc. is something we wouldn't have had if we checked into a hotel. Of course most hotels will provide the room with maps and tourist information, but they won't give you the nitty gritty bits you need to know - like which restaurants are great despite their not-so-welcoming exterior or where is best to avoid as it's just a tourist trap for getting money out of people. Getting the chance to speak to a local meant we instantly felt comfortable in a foreign city and felt much more prepared for our days out.

Another great things about the Air BnB option was that you had your own space. Obviously if you're only renting a room this might not be the same, but having a whole flat for the duration of our stay instead of just a glorified bedroom in a hotel meant we could have breakfast at our leisure - in our PJs if we wanted to - instead of having to rush down to a busy canteen with lots of other tourists every morning. It also meant we could prepare lunches if we wanted to save money and we could eat at home one evening instead of being in an expensive restaurant.



Having a flat to ourselves meant we didn't have to care about things like any curfews a hotel might have and we didn't have to think about a cleaner or maid coming into our rooms everyday etc. As Rome was so hot whilst we were there, it was nice to know we had the option to come back to the flat during the midday heat and just chill out until it cooled down a little. It also meant we just felt at home for the duration of our stay. My last reason for Air BnB being a better choice than a hotel is simply the expense. Buying direct flights to Rome and then paying for our Air BnB accommodation was more than half the price it would have been if we had stayed in a hotel. This meant we could afford to be more spendy whilst we were actually there and be more carefree about how much we spent on food etc when we were out and about. It also has meant I've got the itch to travel like never before because I now know I can stay in so many places for such a little price. If you check and book in advance, you can stay in accommodation for as little as £15 a night (depending on what city/country you're staying) but that price cannot be competed with.

Although I think Matt & I were lucky as our host was the most generous and welcoming friendly guy, it has certainly convinced me that Air BnB is the best option for travel and holiday accommodation and I will never use a hotel ever again unless I really need to.

Have you tried Air BnB? What was your experience like?

- A.
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September 16, 2016

Man Time: Beers



When it comes to the world of alcoholic beverages, I'm a simple creature who likes very few drinks and will usually only say 'yes' to having one if it involves ginger beer, ginger wine, gin, fruity cider or a mountain of fruity mixers and comes with a sparkler/umbrella/biscuit/some other cocktail decoration nonsense. Back when I felt a little more lively and didn't get two day hangovers (or any hangovers at all for that matter - *those* were the days) I would go out regularly drinking and uni certainly encouraged that tenfold. Fast forward to now though and I would identify as being t-total for the most part. When you tell people that they usually reel in horror, realising that as you don't drink you are undoubtedly going to be the most boring person they've ever met. It used to bother me but not anymore! Now I'm more than happy to say 'no' to drinks and actually enjoy a beverage that tastes nice to me but one person who does love a good alc-beverage is Matt.

Matt is a big fan of his beers and also perno and lemonade (who'd have thought that would be something a new, young couple would bond over) so I figured as I'm *super* busy with work at the moment and Matthew is an excellent writer, he could do a little feature here on NB. When we were doing our weekly shop, we stumbled on an offer in Waitrose in the alcohol isles. A lot of beers and ales which we had never seen before were on some sort of offer so Matt went a little spend-happy and picked up seven new bottles to tickle his taste buds. When he was testing them out, we both thought it would be a great idea if he did a little review of each one that I could feature here as I reckon he knows a thing or two about beer (and hangovers but that's a whole different post). Now I know I've called this post "man time" and that isn't me being sexist and saying ladies can't enjoy a beer before any pedantic Petes jump on me, but it's man time because it's Matt time. So, enough of me rambling. If you like your beers and you'd like to read some reviews and check out what might be some new tasty recommendations for you, then carry on reading!


Erdinger Alkoholfrei Beer (0.5%)
Admission time - If I’d paid more attention when I picked this up and noticed that it was alcohol free (well, 0.5%) it may well have remained on the shelf. I have no particular issues with alcohol free beer, but I can think of so many more booze-less beverages I would rather drink if spending an evening on the waggon.

That said, this isotonic wheat beer is pretty tasty. It’s got a slightly fruity taste (a summer berry jam or red currant jelly type of vibe) and the thousands of tiny bubbles makes it feel soft in your mouth and more like drinking carbonated water than a lager or ale. That carbonated water feeling continues into the slightly salty aftertaste that’s unexpected, but not unpleasant.

I’m not sure if there is ever going to be such a thing as a truly healthy beer, but at the moment, this may be it. Not only is the alcohol content minimal, but it also contains folic acid (which your body uses to make new cells) and vitamin B12 (which helps maintain the nervous system and create new blood cells). The label proudly proclaims that one bottle per day “contributes to a healthy nutrition” and while I’m not going to indulge on a daily basis, I’d feel much less guilty cracking open one of these than a pilsner or porter.

Curious Brew (4.7%)
If I’ve learned anything about food over the last couple of years it’s that if you re-cook something it will taste even better than the first time. Triple cooked chips, refried beans, banh mi made with leftover roast pork. The list is almost endless. That’s why it comes as no surprise that this lager, re-fermented with champagne yeast, is bloody delicious. It’s crisp and refreshing, with a pilsner like taste that is mellowed by champagne flavours. And unlike champagne it doesn’t leave your mouth tasting like a badger has been sleeping in it, which is always a plus.

Treason West Coast IPA (6.0%)
If I head to the pub after work for a quick couple of jars, IPA is my go-to brew. For me it’s a brilliant all rounder, equally suited to being supped in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night as it is to being drunk in a beer garden in the middle of summer. Unfortunately, this IPA from Uprsing Craft Brewing doesn’t quite do it for me. The original flavours (citrus and grapefruit) are light and refreshing, but then the hops takes a bitter turn leaving an aftertaste that I just couldn’t get on with.

While the IPA doesn’t do it for me, Uprising also brew a Christmas stout called Scumbag Maggot (the bells are ringing out…) which I’ll definitely be sampling when winter once again comes south of the wall.



St. Stephanus (7%)
This Belgian blonde beer comes with a cellar release date and has been matured for three months before being put on the shelves. The bottle claims that it will continue to grow in flavour over a year and a half period, but the likelihood of a beer lasting 18 days, let alone 18 months, in the flat is slim to none. To me, blonde beers always taste like the smell of tinned sweetcorn. Does anyone else get that? Thankfully, St. Stephanus is low on flavours that the Jolly Green Giant would endorse and instead has a subtle blonde beer taste that’s quite pleasant.

Waitress Belgian Blonde (6.3%)
Another Belgian blonde. I’m not a huge fan of blonde beers and so I’m still trying to work out why I bought two of these. Whenever I have one it always feels as though I’m drinking a hangover (although, I think this is due to a bad experience with Blue Moon during my student days). The bottle talks of spice and honey, but to me, it tastes near identical to St. Stephanus. Again, it’s not bad and goes down easy enough. If you’re a fan of blonde beers it’s certainly worth a punt.

Camden Pale Ale (4.0%)
This is a lovely little beer. It’s clean and crisp, and has a hoppy taste that’s not accompanied by a bitter aftertaste that is common in beers like this. It’s a brilliant summer ale being incredibly refreshing and weak enough, at 4.0%, that you could sink a few while sat in the sun without fear of keeling over.

Hitachino Nest Beer (5.5%)
Amy picked this beer out and did so solely on the fact that it’s got an owl on the bottle. I hate to admit it (especially to her), but she picked out a really good one. This Japanese white ale tastes quite similar to the alcohol free beer, but has the added advantage of being, well, alcoholic. The bottle talks of coriander, orange peel and nutmeg - I’m not sure about the spices, but the orange definitely comes through and leaves a pleasant citrus aftertaste. I just wish Amy had persuaded me to pick up more than one.



And that's it! Big thanks to Matthew for putting this wee post together and I know I know, he's a wordy wizard and I suck at photography (the fact that the bottles aren't quite in height order has destroyed Matt & I's souls I assure you). But I hope you all enjoyed this slightly different injection on the blog and if you'd like to see more from Matt I imagine he won't take much convincing to dabble in the blog posting again sometime soon! If you'd also like to see some more food/drink related posts on NB, do let me know because has been a good while since my last recipe instalment so I should really rectify that soon.


- A.
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September 14, 2016

Dr. Botanicals Vegan & Cruelty Free



Recently the wonderful brand, Dr. Botanicals, reached out to NB to do a wee review of a couple of their products. They're a fantastic brand with very gentle and natural skincare products so of course I bit their hand off at the opportunity. I tested a couple of their skincare items that are all about hydration and healing the skin - something which I often overlook in my skincare routine. As I've mentioned a thousand times before, I'm an oily, acne prone skinned girl so a lot of my skincare products tend to target those specific areas but as you can imagine, these products can become quite stripping for my skin over prolonged periods of use so anything that can inject a bit of love back into my skin and heal where my blemishes have ran a muck is a-okay with me.

I will just quickly mention that although I have been sent these items to review, I will be 100% honest of my experience with these products and the outcome of them because at the end of the day, if I didn't like them, I wouldn't feature them on NB (unless I was writing a "disappointing products" style post which thankfully, for you guys, this post is a positive one!). So let's talk a little bit more about the brand before I discuss the products themselves. Dr. Botanicals are a London, England based skin care brand who believe in using what is available from nature to help improve and care for the skin. Therefore their products are made from 100% natural ingredients - which are usually plant-based - and are paraben and preservative free making them incredibly kind and gentle for the skin as there are no nasties hidden away in the small print of the ingredients label. Not only are their products vegan for those of you who search high and low for those kind of brands, they also are cruelty free as they never test any of their products on animals. They sound like a pretty damn dreamy brand, right? So let's talk about their great products now.

Dr Botanicals SkincareVegan and Cruelty Free Skin Care

This brand covers all of your skin care needs from bath & body needs to your cleansers and serums needs - even your lip care! My main skin care concern is my actual skin i.e. I need good care for my face especially due to my problematic skin so conditioning and protecting my skin is my main aim every day and night. My evening routine is my most important routine because my skin gets a break from pollution, from me picking at it, from makeup etc. during the night so making sure I cleanse, tone and moisturise well before I go to sleep is a priority. Therefore when I received my Dr. Botanicals items, I was super excited to get moisturising ASAP.

Super Concentrate Radiance Boosting Serum | 3o ml | £106.62 - After I've cleansed and toned the skin, the first product I add to my face is the radiance boosting serum. This serum is incredibly creamy and is more of a moisturiser texture than a serum. It is a white silky soft cream which feels incredibly light and isn't at all sticky or noticeable on the skin. As this is a super concentrate product, it is packed full of essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants which are designed to deeply nourish and soothe the skin whilst boosting the radiance of your skin. This serum can be be used both day and night but as my skin is so oily, I decided to just use it in the evenings as it is a product that is designed for dry skin. Now, although my skin type is not the type this product is aimed at, I was excited to try it because it includes ingredients such as blackcurrant seed oil - which aims to strengthen and nourish the skin - and bisabolol/chamomile which is a fantastic natural ingredient for healing and protecting the skin from irritation and stress-induced skin issues (which I certainly need some help with!).

After the first night of using this product, I honestly could see a difference in my skin. It looked noticeably plumper and healthier the next morning and the texture of my skin (which is usually quite rough and bumpy due to acne outbursts and healing blemishes) was much smoother to the touch. Of course I loved this huge leap in the difference of my skin because it has meant after using this serum for the past 3 weeks, I've noticed my skin getting better and better and it actually looks clearer than it used to. My skin doesn't look as congested as it used to and my pores don't look as dark, my skin texture is better than ever and my makeup looks much more radiant every day.

Dr Botanicals Facial Serum

Advanced 8-Hour Overnight Renewal Cream | 3o ml | £105.79 - Next, I use the overnight renewal cream which aims to fight the skin stress and the daily environmental pollution our skin faces. Pollution can be a huge factor for premature ageing so it would be interesting to see what this product can do in the long term. But for me, it was a good moisture-booster for my skin which often feels stripped from all of the oil-fighting, blemish-busting products I use. This cream is ideal for anyone who has mature skin as it supposed to tighten the skin and combat fine lines and wrinkles which at the age of 25 is actually becoming a concern of mine. The cream includes ingredients such as goji berries which have anti-ageing properties and can be a rich source of nutrition and can energise the skin and shea butter which can protect the skin in a multitude of ways including UV damage as well as pomegranate oil which can be a natural anti-inflammatory. I think because of this, my skin has been quite good with breakouts. Usually on the lead up to my period, my skin will extremely act out and will have a lot more breakouts than usual and not only the blemishes but my skin in general can be very sore to the touch.

This cream has kept my monthly breakout problem to a minimum in the time I have been using it and the spots I do get aren't as severe and don't take half as long to disappear and heal. Although this cream - especially combined with the serum - is incredibly hydrating and moisturising as it is a product for dry skin, I don't think it has made my oily skin any worse and by the morning, my skin has drank up all the product as my face feels dry to the touch. When I say dry, I don't mean that in a bad way, but the cream is rather greasy on application due to all of the oils and shea butter in it. I use the smallest amount (smaller than a pea size) and warm up the buttery gel-like texture cream between my fingers before smoothing over the whole face and neck. A little goes such a long way as the product is very oily and slippery so the product will last a long time. I can't comment on the increased firmness of the skin or if it helps hide those fine lines, but my skin has definitely felt more hydrated and looks in better condition than it did before I used this cream nightly.

Dr Botanicals Night Cream

Overall I think these products are fantastic and make obvious positive changes to your skin. My one drawback with these moisturisers is the price point. As you can see, Dr. Botanicals skin care is what I would call a luxury skin care brand as their prices are venturing up into the £60 - 100 price tag for each product. As I have only just finished my second stint at university, I'm someone who likes to budget quite low for products I will use a lot as I can't afford to replace expensive items on a monthly basis so if you cannot afford this range, I wouldn't worry about it as there are other great cheaper brands out there who are kind and good to the skin. However if you enjoy luxury skin care items or you are looking for products that work and are as natural as possible, this is the perfect brand to try out. Their packaging is simple but aesthetically lovely, their ingredients couldn't be better for the skin if they tried and if after only three weeks I've seen a positive change in my skin, that can only be a good sign! Of course skin care needs time to really work - you ideally need to give products around 3 months to really show their full potential as your skin takes time to get used to items, but I can honestly say I fully expect these products to make my skin even better in the coming weeks. I am really enjoying using these products and once I'm in a more comfortable position for spending my hard-earned cash on my skin care, I will certainly be testing out some of their other offerings!

Have you tried out any of the Dr. Botanicals skin care range?


- A.
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September 13, 2016

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Hello you lovely lot, I've decided this is going to be the last instalment from my trip to Rome! I still have a couple of posts lined up about my experience using Air BnB for the trip and my "Do's and Don't's" if you're planning to holiday in Rome (so keep your eyes peeled for those!), but this is the last post which is about a specific place I'd recommend paying a visit. On our last day in Rome, Matt & I decided to wander down through one area of Rome we hadn't visited yet which was Trastevere. Trastevere is almost a hidden gem as it doesn't seem *that great* when you first hit the outskirts of the area, but it's the best place for young people to go drinking and to get a bite to eat during the evenings and visiting during the day it boasts a rough charm and has an "old part of the city" feel. It's architecture is a little worn down but beautiful and it is home to the best place for breakfast (check out my review of said place, here!). It's quite a quiet area during the day too as it seems to not have as many tourists wandering around, but the best bit about it should be of no surprise as it is a beautiful basilica - the Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome and is considered by some to be first church in Rome to be dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus. The site on which the basilica sits has seen a holy House standing there from as early as the early 200's but the majority of what can be seen of the basilica today dates back to the fifth and eighth centuries as it went under restoration twice. I don't know much about the history of the basilica but I know it's absolutely gorgeous. Matt & I wanted to take a look at the basilica after seeing it in a guide book for Rome thinking the interior looked amazing and it honestly didn't disappoint in person! The dimly lit church is absolutely covered in gold and the mosaic artwork on the walls is breathtaking - I could have looked at it for hours. It was incredibly quiet when we visited as it was quite early in the morning and as I said, Trastevere just seems to be quieter than elsewhere so if you're a tourist in Rome and you want to go to a few places that are a little bit more of the beaten track, I'd really recommend checking this basilica out because well, just look at it:

Santa Maria in TrastevereSanta Maria WindowsSanta Maria InteriorSanta Maria, TrastevereSanta MariaSanta MariaDecorated CeilingArtworkSanta Maria in TrastevereSanta Maria ExteriorPiazza FountainSanta Maria, TrastevereSanta Maria in Trastevere

Beautiful huh? The church interior is wonderful but it is also really lovely outside of it too. Santa Maria in Trastevere sits on a small plaza with a water fountain in the centre which would be lovely to sit at with some gelato or pastries to watch the world go by. The basilica is also just around the corner from Tonnarello - where you can get amazing breakfast with even better service - and little jewellery and trinket market stalls will pop up along the winding narrow streets of the area as it gets closer to midday. I think Trastever is a very romantic little hidden gem of Rome and this basilica alone is enough of a reason to visit.


- A.
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