My Happy Place

Having  a happy place, somewhere where you feel content and at ease, is very important, I think. When SACO, who own serviced apartments in Birmingham which allow visitors to the city to live like a local, asked if I’d like to join in with their happy place campaign, I actually struggled to decide where to write about.

SACO surveyed Brummies to find out where we’re happiest. 23% of those surveyed chose a gastro pub in the Cotswolds as their happy place, which sounds excellent to me. A good cosy pub lunch is an excellent thing. Other popular options included eating ice cream on Brighton beach, eating fish and chips in Padstow (from Rick Stein’s I assume, having seen the queues out of the door when I visited Padstow recently), enjoying candy floss on Blackpool Beach and tucking into a pasty in St Ives. It seems to me that Birmingham residents are clearly pretty happy as long you as you feed us. I can relate.

Padstow

I thought about what makes for a happy eating place, and some of my own favourites. For me, there are several criteria. I don’t think somewhere fancy counts as a happy place, as I like to feel cosy, comfy and at home. Good food is obviously a must, as is friendly staff and good company. So where do I go to fill my face if I want to feel happy?

My first though was of The Lichfield Vaults in Hereford. The Lich, as it affectionately known locally, is a pretty traditional pub, tucked away behind the cathedral. They serve good beer, a selection of well-kept real ales and a menu of pub classics such as a Ploughman’s and a Soup of the Day. There is a twist though. Andy, the landlord, is Greek, and the bulk of the menu reflects his Greek roots, with amazing platters of mezze and greek dishes such as KlefticoKeftedes and Gigantes. The pub itself looks like a classic ‘old man boozer’ with dark wood and heavy beams, but I love the unexpected twist of the Greek menu. I frequented this place so much when I lived locally, that our group actually had our own table we nicknamed ‘the family table.’ Andy is the dream pub landlord; he’s so friendly and he always made sure we could get a table when we went in, and he’s always delighted to see us whenever we all make it home from our various scattered corners of the UK. I love mezze style food, so I’m always delighted by a menu of sharers, and the food here is always plentiful, delicious and reasonably priced.

Shawarma

A little nearer to home, I might as well move into the city centre branch of Damascena with the amount of time I spend there. I’ve written about it before, and it’s a very popular spot with foodie friends. The cafe itself is so welcoming. I think it always smells delicious as soon as you walk in the door, and the decor is warm and inviting. The food is a bit of a bargain, and is always beyond delicious. Take a friend, order some mezze and an excessive amount of hummus and feel all your cares melt away. We have to walk past Damascena to reach our bus stop, and after a bad day at work, a chai latte and some shawarma in their comfy seats is spot on, and always cheers me up.

This post was sponsored by SACO. All opinions are honest and my own. 

10 Tips to Have the Best Walt Disney World Trip

Taking up 40 square miles, across 4 theme parks, Walt Disney World can be a pretty overwhelming prospect when you first arrive. After a pretty epic trip to the parks, here’s my top 10 tips to have the best Walt Disney World Trip ever.

Magic Kingdom

buy a rain poncho

Look, I know you’ve spent weeks planning your holiday wardrobe or your Disney bounds, and you don’t want to wear those highly attractive rain ponchos, but honestly? Suck it up. Florida rain, especially in the summer, is no joke, and it will happen and it will be torrential. Disney’s own ponchos are about $10 each, so I’d suggest being more organised than us and buy some much cheaper ones before you go. You can buy a box full on Amazon for less than £6.

Hydrate for free

It’s Florida. It’s probably hot. Disney’s cast members are constantly reminding you to hydrate, so do it. There are water fountains around the park (often in queues, which is a great idea) which you can use, and you can ask for a cup of water in the restaurants too which they’ll give you for free.

Cinderella Castle

Get the my disney app

Before your trip, you can add your whole party to the app, and you can use it to book fast passes before you go. When you get to the parks, you can keep booking fast passes, access your memory maker photos, find park maps, get directions, check queue times, reserve tables for restaurants, browse menus, order food and see which characters are out and about. It’s really helpful, and we used it almost constantly.

Grab a badge

If you’re celebrating virtually anything, Disney have a badge for it. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, engagements, family reunions…there’s even a badge for first visits. Cast members do chat to you more with the badges, and I’ve heard rumour of some lucky badge wearers getting freebies. You can pick these up from guest services, or from the till in any of the shops.

Hollywood Studios

Get on the wifi

I guarantee you’re going to take approximately eight trillion photos and want to bombard your Instagram with your snaps. save your data. There is free wifi across all parks (it kicks in right by each park entrance, I found), and it’s strong, fast and reliable.

Get the picture

Charge your camera, and make sure you have plenty of memory space. I found I was taking around 150 photos every day. The Memory Maker pack means you can get professional shots taken at popular locations all over the park. If you haven’t gone for the pack, the PhotoPass cast members will take photos for free using your own camera, if you ask them nicely.

Cinderella's Castle

Hunt for hidden mickeys

There are several books and apps to help you hunt for Hidden Mickeys, but there are lots around the park. It’s a fun extra game for kids and adults. There’s also an Imagineering Field Guide which helps you spot some of the amazing hidden details around the park.

Ditch the shopping

If you’re staying at a Disney-owned hotel, you can have any shopping  you buy in the park sent to your hotel so you don’t have to carry it around all day. Much easier if you’re on rides!

Star Wars ears

Consider ditching your group to dodge the queues

Some rides have single rider lines that will save you a lot of time if you don’t mind splitting up from your group. You can save up to an hour on queue times.

Be ready for bag checks

Bags are checked as you go into all parks. The queues were moving pretty fast when we were there, but if you want to save time, ditch the bags and you can go through a seperate line. Be aware that Disney do not allow anything vaguely weapon like. This includes selfie sticks, and we saw lots being take away at the gates. You can leave it with guest services or take it back to the car, but save yourself the time and just don’t try and take one in.

 

Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff

I’ve written about the Doctor Who Experience before, but that was back in 2012, and it’s changed a fair bit since then. The Experience is actually closing in September, with no word on what will happen to the contents (most of it is actually owned by private collectors, but hopefully a lot of it will still be able to be seen by the general public). We went along for one last visit to the Doctor Who Experience before it closes in a couple of months.

Doctor Who Experience

The Experience starts with an ‘Adventure’. There is no photography or video allowed in this part of the Experience, to help keep it a surprise for first time visitors, so in respect of that, I’ll keep my review brief. You start being led by a tour guide into the Museum of Gallifrey, but of course, all is not what it seems and you soon find yourself on an adventure with the Doctor. Led by video messages from Capaldi’s Doctor, you search time and space for time crystals, flee from some of Doctor Who’s most iconic monsters, go inside the TARDIS and are eventually dropped off at the beginning of the Exhibition portion of the tour, in 1963. The Adventure part is always excellent; I’ve been through both versions more than once, with both Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi themed adventures. It’s perfect for littles, as it’s not too scary, but there’s enough peril to keep adult fans entertained too. The Experience’s staff really throw themselves into it, and I’ve never yet had a bad guide. It’s worth noting too, that if you have someone in the party who’s not a Who superfan, there’s fun to be had for them too. Dave has only ever watched odd episodes of the show, and he enjoyed the Adventure, and found the Exhibition really interesting. It’s also prompted him to go back and starting watching the start of Eccleston’s series, so maybe it’s  way to convert someone into a superfan…

TARDIS

K9

Doctor Who Exhibition

The Exhibition starts in 1963, the year Doctor Who first aired. The first displays are full of bits of set, script notes and office sets from 1960s BBC, and those early episodes. You then progress through the early Doctors, with different versions of the TARDIS exterior, and control panel. I was pleased to find K9 and Bessie, the third Doctor’s car. I’m less familiar with the original Doctors, being largely a fan of the reboot, but it’s lovely to see these iconic pieces.

TARDIS console

Next, you come a huge set piece, of the Tenth Doctors’ TARDIS. Tennant’s last moments as the Doctor play on a loop as you move around the console and see the open TARDIS door, inviting you to run out into the next adventure. This is always my favourite part. David Tennant is my favourite Doctor, so I remember this version of the TARDIS very fondly.

Davros

Davros Doctor Who

Cybermen

Cybermen Doctor Who

Upstairs, you start finding some of those classic monsters again. The Daleks, Davros and Cybermen have reappeared so often throughout Doctor Who, and these bad guys are lined up with examples from every era. It’s really interesting to see the evolution of how these monsters have changed. The Daleks look pretty consistent, but they do seem to have become absolutely enormous in recent years. Davros too, hasn’t changed. Cybermen, however, have changed a lot, from the original version with cloth masks to an extremely shiny 80s looking robot, to the first version in the reboots, which was bulky and muscular. The most recent version, pictured above, has been slimmed down considerably, and to me, looks almost like an Iron Man type armour, with the slimmer fit, and light in the chest.

Weeping Angel

The Silence

Doctor Who monsters

There’s also plenty of modern Doctor Who monsters to terrify you. These displays seem to change about quite a bit, which is really cool. There’s a lot of the classic 60s monsters on display now too, and apparently over this year there’s a lot of work being done to restore a lot of those early monster costumes. This makes me hopeful that there must be plans to do something with these pieces, even after the Experience closes. The items in the Exhibition are largely on loan from private collectors, with the rest coming from the BBC archives.

River Song

Captain Jack Harkness

Rose Tyler

Clara Oswald

Amy Pond

Next, there are currently rows and rows of costumes worn by companions. Apparently I only photographed the modern ones, but there are costume examples from Ace and Sarah Jane too. All the modern companions are here, including Astrid, young Amy Pond and Amy Pond’s kissogram uniform. With my cosplay head on, it’s really great to see these costumes up close and get a look at the details.

Doctor Who

And then of course…the man himself. From the first doctor to the current, these costumes are laid out in a timeline, which gives a very cool insight into how the Doctor has changed over the years. I love the era shown above, where the costumes were truly madcap and colourful. They’re just fun.

The shop, it’s worth saying, is excellent too, and you can access it without going through the Experience if you don’t want to. Both my Sonic Screwdrivers were bought here, and they have some great replicas of iconic costume pieces, which is of course great for cosplayers! Make sure you check it out while it’s still there.

We attended the Doctor Who Experience as a family, and paid in full. All opinions are honest and my own. They didn’t know I was a blogger.