Kappa Alpha What?: My Greatest Adventure

Recently, The Blogger’s Lounge got in touch about a competition they are running in conjunction with gapyear.com. The prompt – your greatest adventure – got my attention immediately.

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There’s nothing quite like booking a one-way flight to the US of A. It was almost exactly three years ago now (almost to the day, I remember booking them during my first year Easter hols) and I remember the moment as if it was last week some time. I’d almost finished my first year at Exe, and that summer, I’d be jetting off to Virginia, where I’d spend a year as an exchange student at the (extremely prestigious, academically rigorous) College of William & Mary.

I am being 100% honest when I say I wasn’t nervous, not one bit. It just didn’t occur to me that I should be nervous, really. It seemed perfectly natural that I’d be spending a year of my life living across the pond and I had never really questioned the fact that I would. So one evening in August 2011, my partner in crime Sophie and I had a last farewell meal with my parents – in the oldest pub in the country, apparently, where we dined on ostrich burgers and too much wine – and then we got ourselves stuck in the lift of a Heathrow hotel, and then the next morning we got up and jumped on a plane to Richmond, Virginia (by way of the hellish airport that is New York JFK).

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The first few weeks were a blur. After a week of non-stop orientation activities in Virginian summer humidity, Hurricane Irene descended and we were promptly evacuated to nearby Charlottesville (a gem of a college town in itself and well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area!). A week after that, I began the crazy process of rushing a sorority, and two weeks after that, I was a (nearly) fully fledged sister of Kappa Alpha Theta, navigating frat parties, endless games of beer pong and plastic “handles” of cheap vodka like I’d been doing it all my life. Sounding like a made for TV movie yet?

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I won’t pretend it was all frat party fun and repeating things in a British accent for the fun of our American pals, though. William & Mary boasts a dreamy, impossibly picturesque campus (complete with free boating lake and free gym usage) and a climate to match, but the workload was heavy. We’d been warned, but there’s no way that the first year of an English degree at a UK university can prepare you for the sheer amount of classtime, assignments and god knows what else that we were thrown into. Luckily we’d formed a little gang of British exchange girls and the four of us would often spend hours locked in the basement of Sophie’s building, moaning and whining and eating terrible/delicious American snacks as we ploughed through hours and hours of work with no end in sight and (the worst) no clubs, no question of going out or predrinking until Friday night (Thursday if we were lucky) hit. Sometimes I’d look at pictures of my beloved friends back home throwing themselves into second year life with abandon and be just desperate to return.

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And yet I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even when things looked at their very dullest, there was always a mixer (one frat, one sorority, yet more beer pong) to look forward to, or a sunny day when suddenly shorts were acceptable in February. And there were always the people. Fro-yo dates, beach trips, lunches in the dining hall, a dinner cooked by a middle-aged Scottish expat who hosted two strange British girls for the most wonderful, homely evening. You know what? Turns out southern hospitality is a very real thing. Nothing was ever awkward, nothing was ever too much trouble. Americans make it easy for you to throw themselves into their midst and we embraced it just as much as they did us.

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By the end of the school year, I’d written more papers than I care to count but I’d also attended two frat formals (debauchery-filled overnight stays at beachside motels under fake names), developed a new taste for Mexican food and country music, become accustomed to dollar dollar bills, sidewalks and trashcans, and made a whole host of friends that even now, I know I could call upon whenever and wherever I needed them. William and Mary was a bubble that I did not want to burst – but waiting on the other side was a three week trip through the deep American South and a funpacked week in Disney World, the best possible way to end the best possible year abroad and another adventure in itself.

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I experienced the reality behind those cheesy American movies and I absolutely loved it.

 

Country Fun

So as I mentioned at the end of my last post, a diversion around Derby meant that I arrived at Rory’s house an entire evening earlier than planned – exciting! We spent the evening relaxing and watching the Great British Sewing Bee (never watched it before…I’m undecided) but Wednesday saw a funpacked country day planned entirely by the man himself.

It’s no secret that my boyfriend likes food much more than he likes me, so I wasn’t surprised when his itinerary for the day consisted of food, followed by more food. Luckily, he also has exquisite taste in local independents (or at least knows exactly what I like) and so I was very pleased when he introduced me to Nourish at No 44.

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Nourish is part cafe/part deli and their breakfast menu has a lot of crossover with their lunch menu, which is always a bonus in my eyes. Inside is delightfully shabby-chic and adorable.

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As I mentioned, there are two menus, the regular lunch menu and the deli menu (as well as the breakfast menu which serves until 12!), as well as a specials board. This meant that we spent a LOT of time deliberating, before eventually both going for specials: burger for him, and a warm chicken & chorizo salad for me.

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Top marks for presentation and it tasted great too – and for around £7 (I can’t remember exactly what we paid) I got a lot of food.

Nourish also serves a very tempting array of cakes that are displayed on the front counter (along with their deli salad ingredients which looked just as good) but we were determined to move to another venue for dessert. Luckily, next stop on our grand tour was right about the corner. I Should Cocoa is an equally adorable little cafe/shop that sells a dreamy range of chocolates, chocolate-themed baked goods, and Rob Ryan goodies. They specialise in hot chocolate, so naturally that was the order of the day. Rory went for a ginger flavour, while I opted for a kid’s version – told ya I was full! They can do any of their hot chocolates in milk, dark or white, but we both went for traditional milk. With marshmallows, obviously.

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Foodwise, we got a banana & toffee muffin and the “cake of the week”: a white chocolate sponge sandwiched with morello cherry and covered in a generous slathering of chocolate ganache. This was technically Rory’s choice but my serious case of food envy meant that we had to share both of them. And yep, they were as good as they look!

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Suitably stuffed, we took a little time out to rest before embarking on a country walk in order to burn off some of those calories. We headed for Allestree Park, which was gorgeous, and had lots of fun getting lost, spotting squirrels, and learning duck facts.

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We did end up going on another, second walk later that evening but that one took us on a circuit around a sewage plant and was slightly less picturesque – but no less lovely!

Since then I’ve been back home, come back to Exeter, and am heading off home again tomorrow (via London) so it’s been a busy couple of weeks and hopefully I’ll have lots more fun posts lined up in the next few days!

A Manchester Minibreak

Justin Timberlake has been top of my “people to see live” list for as long as I can remember. I have always said that I would pay any amount of money and trample over as many people as I had to in order to see him, so naturally when my sister informed me that she had booked tickets to see him I was basically beside myself with glee. And in the same week as Russell Brand? Dream. Come. True.

Anyway, the only slight hitch in the plan was that our tickets were for JT’s show in Manchester. Since driving two and a half hours (at best) home was basically out  of the question, my mum booked the three of us a room at the Renaissance Hotel Manchester. I thought this was a bit of a luxury perk at the time, but I was not prepared for just how gorgeous the hotel would be. Every single staff member we met was super friendly and really helpful, there were mini brownies, millionaire’s shortbread and Bakewell tarts awaiting us when we checked in, and the lobby is beautiful. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Manchester, I can’t recommend the Renaissance enough!

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Our room was gorgeous too and HUGE - we opened the door and figured it was a decent size, and then found a whole other bit around the corner. The beds, by the way, were super comfortable!

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My sister was wondering why I never put pictures of her on the blog…

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And then for the most important part of the night! As the DJ told us, you don’t sit down at a Justin Timberlake concert – and he was RIGHT. I’ve seen a fair few different people & bands live but I honestly think Justin was the best I’ve ever seen.

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He didn’t stop moving once and had a perfect mix of new songs and old – when he launched into Sexyback right at the end I honestly thought I was going to die of happiness. He is my absolute dream man, and needless to say the night flew by! We returned to the hotel for a little glass of Prosecco and some much-needed crisps (again served by a very helpful bartender, and even on a random Monday night the bar had a nice buzzy atmosphere!) before bed.

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The next morning, we figured we might as well use the opportunity to explore and so we got up and meandered across the road (see? the hotel is SO conveniently located!) to Harvey Nicks for brunch.

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They had the world’s cutest sugars.

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I had some very delicious poached egg & smoked salmon on English muffins and mum went for the same, but with Hollandaise. Look at those eggs!

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And Milly went for the full on English breakfast, which came with the most baked beans I have ever seen.

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We spent the rest of the day wandering around the beauty, handbag & jewellery halls of Harvey Nicks & Selfridges and then having a little explore around the rest of the city. It was really nice to spend some time with my mum and sister – we’re all so busy (and I no longer live at home) we never really get to do any girly activities! All too soon, though, it was time to go home…promptly to find that the M6 was closed and we had to take a reroute via Derby, which meant an emergency call to Rory and a good hour and a half spent in a service station car park…but that’s a whole other post!

 

 

Afternoon Tea at the Talbot

So, as I said it has been a hectic, fun-packed week. After Russell Brand on Thursday night (highly recommend the show if you’re even the slightest fan and can get tickets to his tour!), some high spirited betting on the Grand National (I won nothing; mummy J put a wise bet on the eventual winner) and another fab meal at my old favourite The Pheasant, Sunday afternoon saw yet another activity: afternoon tea. We were initally considering Beckworth Emporium, but we always go there and so this time we decided to venture a bit further afield to The Talbot, in nearby-ish Oundle.

As towns go, Oundle is pretty picture-perfect and I couldn’t resist giving it the photoshoot treatment as we walked all of thirty yards from the car to the hotel.

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The Talbot itself is hidden away around a little courtyard and is a perfect blend of old and new – it reminds me a little bit of the Magdalen Chapter back in Exe, actually. We settled ourselves on comfy sofas, where there was an array of newspapers to dig into, and maltesers in little shot glasses to accompany tea and coffee. So far, so good!

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My mum and sister both went for their traditional afternoon tea. It is a little cake heavy (and doesn’t feature scones!) but looks impressive nonetheless and the jelly in little jam jars is an adorable touch if you ask me (excuse my sister’s discarded tomatoes!)

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Gemma opted for a pork sandwich, but I made by far the best menu choice if I do say so myself and went for the Talbot Club, which is an “open sandwich” involving chicken, lettuce, maple-cured bacon and tomato – all topped with a perfect fried egg. It was quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever eaten.

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The best thing about this sandwich is that it (hopefully) is super easy to recreate at home. I’m definitely planning on getting some avocado involved and making my own version. If you’re ever in the area and make a stop by The Talbot, I HIGHLY recommend this sandwich! We also ordered a couple of sides of chips which were hand cut, thick and generally delicious.

Service left maybe a little to be desired – relaxed at best, absent at worst, but overall it was a lovely, relaxed dining experience that perfectly fitted a slightly drizzly Sunday afternoon. And that sandwich!

The Highlight Reel Numero Dos

Hello! This week has been EXTREMELY busy and I’ve had the best few days ever – which has made it very difficult to come up with little things I’ve enjoyed! Here’s a snippet of what I’ve been up to, and expect some very exciting posts very soon!

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- Steak sandwiches. Enough said.

- Seeing Russell Brand in glamorous Northampton. I was wary now that he’s all spiritual, but he was SO funny and that man oozes charisma like nothing else.

- Having free reign over my parents’ Tassimo machine. Costa caramel lattes? Yes please.

- Seeing my little sister in action as a waitress. She’s all grown up!

- JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE live and in concert. More to come on that particular dream come true!

- Being reunited with my favourite boy for country walks and GBBO reruns

- A girly day in Manchester spent drooling over Victoria Beckham’s clothing line and Tom Ford perfume

I hope all of you are having wonderful weeks too!

Scents of Summer

It’s no secret that I’ve developed a total and utter obsession with perfumes. I used to be all about developing the signature scent and I’d use one perfume religiously (Marc Jacobs Daisy, and then Chance Eau Fraiche, both of which I adore, and Jimmy Choo, which I definitely overused) until it ran out.

However, now I’m embracing a wider range. I’m still obsessed with Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, but it’s definitely an evening scent. With spring definitely upon us, it’s time to turn my attention (and my nose) to some lighter, daytime fragrances and lucky for me my favourite fragrance houses have been bringing out some gorgeous ones! Here’s a little rundown of my favourites so far. I’ve linked them all through to John Lewis to keep things easy but I bet you can find deals online if you want one…

Marc Jacobs Dot

 

I’ve had a sample tube of this but a while now and while I was indifferent to it at first, now I LOVE it. I’m a huge Marc Jacobs fan anyway, and this berry-scented concoction is perfect for summer days.

See By Chloe

See by Chloe is my go-to when I’m at work. I saw it on a really good offer in the January sales and I wish I’d bought it! It has notes of apple blossom, bergamot, ylang ylang, jasmine and vanilla so it’s quite a gentle, sweet scent, has great staying power, and comes in a really gorgeous, simple bottle that reminds me of a birdcage. What’s not to love?

L’Eau Couture by Elie Saab

L’Eau Couture by Elie Saab is gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous! I wasn’t sure about it when I first smelt it because I think it smells a bit like grass at first (not sure why, it has topnotes of bergamot & magnolia), but it dries beautifully and it’s a perfect fresh spring fragrance that I really love. Plus the bottle is really pretty and the perfume itself is a mint green colour that is bang on trend right now.

If you’re not looking to splash out on a new perfume, though (and I can’t really afford to) I am all about spring-scented lotions & bodywashes, and nobody does those better than Molton Brown. All of their scents are gorgeous, but their limited edition spring release, Rhubarb and Rose, is to die for. I don’t tend to like rose-scented things, but the rhubarb in this is fab and the hand lotion will leave your hands smelling nicely, subtly sweet alllll day long.

While I’m on the subject of Molton Brown, their Coco & Sandalwood body lotion (& matching body wash) is also delicious. I’m obsessed with coconut scented things and have made my way through my tub of Body Shop coconut body butter in record time, but the sandalwood in this adds a clean, fresh dimension that feels a bit more grown up than plain coconut. At £25 a bottle it’s not exactly cheap, but everyone deserves a treat, right?!

What are your favourite spring/summer scents?

 

The Highlight Reel #1

Hello gang! I’m trying a new thing this week. I’ve been doing loads of writing behind the scenes and I’m feeling quite on the top of my blogging game (have you noticed how often I’ve been posting?) so I’m going to try my hand at a bit of a regular feature. Inspired largely by Lisette’s Thankful Thursday posts, I want to keep a track of all the little things that are making me smile this week (or so – some of these are definitely from the last couple). I’m going to aim to do this every Wednesday, but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be every other Wednesday, or every sporadic couple of weeks, or even once a month. I don’t make promises I can’t keep!

Anyway, without further ado, here’s what’s been brightening up my days lately.

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  1. Gorgeous spring/summer skies brightening up evening walks.
  2. Discovering Stone’s Ginger Punch, a delicious mix of ginger wine (what is that), lemon and lime, all in a can. Utterly drinkable and made me revoke my strong feelings against pre-mixed-alcohol-in-a-can.
  3. Being met from work for date night at Zizzi with my best boy – and their guilt-free (ish) skinny pizza
  4. Finishing seminars forever! And starting to get to grips with the 20 000 word dissertation that lies ahead (sorry, I am a nerd at heart)
  5. Country music…this one stands for every week but country is just so much better when the sun is shining, am I right?
  6. Treating myself to some long-coveted bright blue & orange New Balances – with 30% off. Result.
  7. Getting home for a little Easter break to find fig rolls and Cook carrot cake awaiting me – it’s the little things!

Tell me what you’ve been up to lately!

(PS. Can anyone tell me if my comments are working properly? If anyone’s having problems and wants to comments, let me know on twitter @bella_jolly!)