Travel: Harvard & Cambridge Walking Tour

I'm loving having the chance to write up so many of our travels over this summer break. I've been so lucky with the sheer amount of places I've been able to visit in the past months and it's such fun to share about it all here!

On our US/Canada trip last fall we were mainly aiming to visit New York, Toronto and Las Vegas, but when the chance came for a couple of days in Boston too, we leapt at the chance. This city is such a big part of US history and we were excited to add it to the schedule.

After our Amtrak adventure we finally made it into the city and after checking in at our lovely hotel (more on which soon) we hightailed it to meet our group for a tour of Harvard and Cambridge. Being in Boston we couldn't skip the opportunity to visit one of the pillars of the Ivy League (and where Elle Woods went to law school ;)).

We arrived at the rendezvous point just in time for our train across the Charles River with our guide, where we also discovered that we were the group - no-one else had signed up for the evening tour so we had our guide all to ourselves!

First stop was the Longfellow House in Cambridge. So named as it was the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for several decades, it also served as the headquarters for George Washington between 1775 and 1776. The home was built in 1759 for John Vassall, who fled the Cambridge area at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War because of his loyalty to the king of England. Throughout Cambridge reminders of the War of Independence were everywhere and it was fascinating to learn more about this era of American history.

After touring Cambridge in the evening sunshine, as twilight drew in we toured some key parts of Harvard's campus. Having had a few friends attend the university it was so fun to get a glimpse of where they would have studied and spent their time.

Harvard is such an impressive school. According to Wikipedia (always good for a quick fact-check, right?), its alumni includes eight U.S. presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. In addition to this, some 130 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists, and 13 Turing Award winners have been affiliated as students, faculty, or staff.

The buildings and campus were really lovely, and I was kicking myself that I had my proper camera back at the hotel charging (hence the iPhone pics in this post!). The red bricks, the columns on so many of the buildings, the greenery all added to the gravitas of the place.

I'll definitely be hoping to head back to Harvard for another visit and some further exploring. The Harvard Library (the world's largest academic and private library system) is somewhere I definitely need to get to, if only to marvel in wonder.

Have you visited Harvard? Do you like visiting universities or colleges? If you do, be sure to check out the University of Aberdeen at Old Aberdeen, where I spent my undergraduate years - such a pretty campus!

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Travel: Paris is Always a Good Idea

Way back in February (it's been such a travel-heavy twelve months I'm going to be writing up our trips for a good long while - get comfy ;)), Matthew and I decided to take a quick daytrip somewhere. With his schedule being so busy and so much time already booked off for our trips to Italy and Northern Europe, we knew we could onloy really squeeze in a day.

We had a good long think, and several destinations were considered, from Winchester, to York, to Brum, until we popped onto the Eurostar site and before we know it, return tickets to Paris were in our possession. Because Paris is always a good idea! (Thanks, Audrey)

As soon as we arrived we hopped onto the metro and in a matter of minutes we were emerging to the sight of the Arc de Triomphe. There were tonnes of school kids exploring it, so we took our snaps and headed off for a stroll along the Champs-Elysees, a cafe au lait, and some window shopping.

As we continued walking we headed south, towards the Seine and before long we were rewarded with a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. I'm aware it's considered cool by some to be snobbish about the tower, but seeing it always makes my heart sing.

As demonstrated below.

"You can't escape the past in Paris, and yet what's so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn't seem to burden." 

Allen Ginsberg

We spent a couple of hours taking a boat trip along the Seine, which is a marvellous way to see the city. Even though I've been to Paris several times, I always feel like I'm spotting something new!

“…the whole of Paris is a vast university of Art, Literature and Music…it is worth anyone’s while to dally here for years. Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in Everything.” 

James Thurber

After our boat tour we strolled along the Left Bank and went to the Musee D'Orsay, one of my favourite museums in the capital. That gorgeous ceiling above? Is in the cafe! We stopped there for delicious food, glasses of crisp white wine and a break.

"What an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world!" 

Charles Dickens

We continued walking along, pausing often to take pictures, marvel over details, or peruse the displays in the charming little shops which dot the riverside.

"Paris is the only city where you can step out of a railway station —and see, the Seine with its bridges and bookstalls, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde, the beginning of the Champs Elysees—what other city offers as much as you leave a train?" 

Margaret Anderson

No trip to Paris is complete without a look around Shakespeare and Company. I can find a bookshop anywhere, but in Paris I always love to stop by the store and its fabled bench.

As the evening began to draw in, we headed up towards Gare du Nord for our journey home. I'd booked us into Terminus Nord, not really knowing what to expect, but we were rewarded by this decision with rich, succulent steaks; delicious, dainty desserts and a cracking bottle of red. Sat to our left was a charming older French lady who I instantly knew was goals when she ordered herself a glass of excellent champagne and that big old pile of seafood! I can't eat seafood but if I could I'd definitely try it at this restaurant - the platters were amazing to behold.

With full bellies and happy hearts we popped over to the station and awaited our train home. We'll definetely be doing Paris in a day another time - such an easy trip from London!

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The Other F Word

I am fat.

I've been fat for a long time. First plump, then overweight, then obese, then very obese, then morbidly obese. Not a pretty term, but medical terms aren't coined for beauty, are they? I've hated my size, tried to make peace with it, but the fact remains that I am not a healthy shape and size. I am very grateful for the luck I've had being as big as I am for so long, but also aware that the thing with luck is that it runs out. And being the size I am raises the stakes in so many areas - for heart problems, for sleep problems, for joint problems, for diabetes - and that's something I'm not prepared to accept.

I feel at this point I should affirm that this is my personal journey, and these are my personal thoughts. I am well aware that there are lots of people my size who are happy, healthy, and fit...but I'm not. So this post is about the changes I'm making, and the changes I have made. Because when you've grown just a little bit over the years, each and every year (5 pounds, seven pounds, ten pounds), one day you will look in the mirror and no longer see a body you know. Your body won't be able to move or inhabit space in the same way, and if you're like me, that'll make you feel sad. These feelings, this journey, are deeply and intrinsically personal, and I share them here because it feels like time. No-one can tell people how they should feel about their bodies, but this is how I was feeling, and how I am feeling about mine.

That's exactly where I was at the start of this year. When I tried to put on a pair of size 22 trousers and they wouldn't do up. When I stepped on the scales and saw a number which sent a chill right down my spine. 280 pounds.

I've been at that point before, with different numbers. 265lbs. 250lbs. 230lbs. And my reaction has always been similar - diet hard, exercise hard, pile up the self-loathing, approach the whole matter as punitive proceedings. Punish myself for being fat/lazy/disgusting (delete as applicable, my mind told me all three, frequently), and go hard. And for four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks I'd be successful. Pounds would drop. People would notice. And then I'd run out of steam.

Because while the science is simple (calories in, calories out), the psychology is not. I didn't get to this size through healthy habits, and have a slightly effed up relationship with food. Years of yo-yo dieting, comfort eating and self-loathing piled up to a complex and not very nice relationship with what should be one of life's great pleasures, food. So this year, instead of going for the big January loss (which I'd always gain back with interest, naturally), I've been focused on the habits - in interrogating, unpacking and fixing the negative habits and building the positive ones, as well as introducing a few more in for good measure.

This is where I add the aside - I'm not an expert. I'm not a health professional. I'm just sharing a little bit of what's been going on, with me. A working group of one human. The changes I'm making are positive ones for me, and ones I'm determined to make, but everyone is different.

The changes I've made and am making are working. As I write this I'm smaller, healthier and fitter, but more importantly I'm happier and feel like I have more control over my habits around diet and exercise. I'm definitely still learning, and I certainly eff up from time to time, but I'm feeling stronger and more and more able to walk this path. I mess up often, and I need grace on plenty of occasions, but the changes I'm making are reaping rewards. I'm lucky enough to be in a position to make these changes, which have been...

1. Going flexitarian. I eat less meat, and this has really fed into a greater awareness of what foods I eat and enjoy.  This certainly isn't for everyone, but it's really helped me to feel more full and to choose my foods more wisely. It's also helped with the second change I've made, which is...

2. Seven to ten portions of vegetables and fruits, at least six days a week (because sometimes we need a toast day!). I was concerned this might prove pricey, but with spending less money on meat and 'junk' foods, plus using my trusty fruit and veg guy on the High Road, our grocery bills have actually dropped. I've always been pretty good at getting my five a day, but this is even better.

3. Less junk food. I have prohibited no actual foods - chocolate, cheese, steak, wine, pasta, cake, pizza all have their place. I am, after all, trying to build habits for the rest of my life here. However, I am eagle-eyed in my consumption of food full of unpronounceables and try to limit things like sodas and processed foods to seldoms.

4. Portion control, with a healthy dollop of mindful eating thrown in. Rather than depriving myself of food, or eating mahoosive portions because I feel sad/angry/worried/bored, I'm trying to give my body the fuel it needs. And I'm enjoying my food more too.

5. Being kinder to myself, and expecting more from myself.

6. Moving more - my fitbit has been a godsend. There are weeks where I'm more stationary (for example a few weeks back when I was overseeing the first week of renovations), but this little gadget is a great motivator for me. I know there are several studies saying the 10k steps thing is a bit arbitrary, but I like feeling motivated to move more.

I'm happy with all of these habits, and having been working on them all for months, they are pretty solid now, and have weathered holidays, stressful times, and all that jazz.

Looking forward to the next part of the year, I want to continue with the good work and there are a few other areas I want to improve, namely:

1. Work on my sleep habits. I've been sleep deprived since forever, and this can have me feeling worn out and lacking in motivation. I'm lucky in that I don't need the most sleep, but I need to be getting at least 6 hours a night, and ideally aiming for 7 hours as an average.

2. Find three exercise classes or swim sessions I can put in the diary each week, or at least most weeks. I feel so much better when I make time for exercise, but I also find scheduling it a challenge. Luckily, this is the year for challenges.

3. Continue working on my mindfulness and meditation work.

4. Post about the journey more here. It's my journey and my life, and I feel like it's time I shared the journey.

The results so far?

I only started recording in June, and only thought to selfie it up after number three...the journey will be long but I feel like I've made some good first steps. Thanks for reading if you made it this far!

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Three Years/Nine Years

Happy Anniversary Matthew!

Thank you for three wonderful years of marriage and a whopping nine years together. Would you have believed those two kids up there would have started dating, let alone gone 'all in' on the love, house and marriage stuff?

Thank you for your kindness, your humour, your intelligence and your patience.

Thank you for loving me (even when I don't love myself). Thank you for spoiling me and those katzen. Thank you for inspiring me daily to be a better person, a better wife, and a better version of myself.

Thank you for supporting me, no matter what Claire-brained scheme I'm pursuing. Thank you for working so hard to help make our home and our life so comfortable and cosy. Thank you for listening.

Thank you for all the marvellous holidays you plan for us - I'm so lucky to see the world, Matthew-style.

Thank you for enjoying my silliness. Thank you for playing Monopoly with me. Thank you for the way you love my friends.

Thank you for nine wonderful years, and three of those as Mr and Mrs. When I first met you and started speaking franglais I had no idea where this journey would take us, but I'm so glad to be here, with you. Thank you for being my better half.

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I Love Your Blog: Connie Consumes

I have been reading Connie's blog for a couple of years now, and more recently have become friends with her through the most wonderful of members of PIZZA CLUB (the other two members, Vicky and Emma, have also been interviewed for this series!). Connie writes about her foodie and travel adventures over at Connie Consumes, and I'm forever getting great restaurant tips and major food envy from her shares!


How long have you been blogging?

I've been blogging at Connie Consumes for around three years and still love every minute of it!

What do you blog about?  Do you have a specific goal with your blog, or is it more a record of your life?

I blog about food and travel which are two huge parts of my life in London and the main reasons I moved here! I like to think of the blog as a diary and portfolio - it's a reminder of all the incredible adventures we've had and also a place for me to indulge in my love of story telling and writing.

All pictures in this post are courtesy of the lovely Connie!

What is your favourite thing about blogging?

It's a cliche but definitely the people I've met through blogging in London - as an expat, it can be hard to make new friends in a new city, but the blogging community has made this pretty easy!

What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

All the boring technical, behind the scenes stuff which I still don't understand! I'm just a girl who wants to tell everyone what she had for dinner...

Do you have any favourite posts on your blog – pieces you’re really proud of, which document something special, or which seemed to strike a chord with your readers?

I've got an old post and a recent post which I really love... The recent one is about our experience at Gaggan, Asia's Best Restaurant according to World's 50 Best Awards; I'm really happy with the way I captured our overall disappointing experience in what I hope is a balanced and informative post. The old one is my recipe for a fancy sausage roll which despite my amateur photography skills is still one of the most popular posts on my blog!

Whose blogs do you love?  I’m always looking for recommendations :)

I love Dalton Banks because Vicky and I share a very similar food and travel style, Hand Luggage Only because their photography is to die for, and Woks Of Life for cooking inspiration!

You are the queen of finding amazing places to dine! Where are your go-to sites for inspiration and ideas?

I use instagram a lot... some might even say I'm a little obsessed with it, but I also love reading reviews from Marina O'Laughlin and Jay Rayner, and the Eater Hot Lists. I'm not someone who swears by a critic's review, as I believe people should try things for themselves and form their own opinions, but I do enjoy reading their commentaries!

What would be your perfect meal?

I think I've spent more time thinking about this one than a current issue I'm trying to resolve at work - such a tricky question! I would start with a selection of nigiri and a beef tartare, then follow that up with a stonkingly spicy laksa, before finishing with a gelato - and if anyone knows of a restaurant who can do all that in one meal, please for the love of god, let me know!

Which ingredients or dishes do you loathe?

Aubergine, pumpkin, sweet potato, and mint!

What tips do you have for bloggers growing and nurturing their blogs?

I truly believe the most successful and engaging blogs are the ones where the blogger is not only passionate, but also knowledgeable about their content - I value their opinions so much more and actually get excited about what they have to share.


Thank you so much for visiting today, Connie!
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Travel: The Grand Canyon by Helicopter

Hello, it's me.

The person still writing up posts on trips that were over a year ago.

But they were awesome, and I like looking back and writing 'em up, so enjoy, my lovelies!

Our Las Vegas-Hawaii-Las Vegas honeymoon was brilliant and filled with so many high points, but one of them truly has to be the helicopter flight we took on the final evening of our holiday. We wanted to end the holiday on a high, and we took that word, high, quite literally, with an evening flight out to the Grand Canyon and back across the city as the sun went down.

We took the sunset tour offered by Papillon, and it was truly worth every penny. We were whisked from our hotel by limo (only in Vegas would a limo be considered a par-for-the-course mode of transport) and taken out to the airfield with another couple. Once there we were checked in, weighed in (to balance the flights), and awaited our resignation.

The waiting room was busy, but not uncomfortably so as three helicopters were heading out. We were assigned a flight with a lovely family from Burnley and strapped ourselves in for the flight out to the canyon.

Up in the air we flew, over the beautiful houses of Lake Las Vegas and Lake Mead.

The enormous Hoover Dam looked tiny as we soared overhead!

After taking in the amazing views across the desert and the mountains, we were into the canyon and ready to land.

We stayed down in the canyon for about 45 minutes, enjoying a champagne picnic and taking in the beautiful views. Out here all was still and calm and the rocks and the river combined to make a stunning vista.

Isn't the helicopter cute?

After soaring upwards, we needed to top up our fuel for the return to Las Vegas, so we got to stop at the Grand Canyon airport!

The Red Rocks which we flew over on our way back to Las Vegas were beautiful! They looked simply otherworldly in the early evening light.

As we came into the city the lights were just turning on for the night. It was so cool to see the tower of The Stratosphere, the Eiffel Tower, the wheel and the Bellagio fountains from up on high!

Forgive the blur - we were at quite a pace! It was so special to see the city we like so much from up in the air.

If you're holidaying in Las Vegas I would heartily recommend a flight with Papillon. The flights felt smooth and safe, the pilots were knowledgeable, friendly and funny, and the whole arrangement ran like clock work. Definitely an ideal way to see the Grand Canyon.
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