Tuesday, 23 January 2018

A Britt Abroad - Volume 2 - Brussels January 2018

Welcome to my travel blog series, A Britt Abroad! Previously in my first edition, I talked about my trip to Fuerteventura, you can read more bout that here.

This blog, however is all about my recent trip to Belgium!

You may or may not know but my future husband Tim runs and teaches a method called CONTROL. In this seven step system for change he teaches people how to make positive and lasting changes in their lives. He is absolutely amazing and teaches these workshops all around the UK. Recently he was invited to Belgium by fellow hypnotist Rob de Groof to teach this system to clients and colleagues of Rob's and had sold out three dates there. 

Tim and I support each other in everything we do and it's one of the things I love that about our relationship. So naturally, I too packed my bags for a long weekend on the continent! A quick two hour Eurostar train journey and we were there!

The town that Rob's centre is in and where Tim would be teaching, is a place called Aarschot and is about 30 minutes outside Brussels. I had never heard of it before and although it may be small, it's steeped in great history which dates back to the Roman era. It also has a dark past in World War I, where German troops occupied the city, set alight to homes and ordered the entire population to evacuate completely. Today's Aarschot however, is a sleepy town with cobbled streets and a winding river that passes through, called the Demer. 

Our hotel also had its own unique history. 's Hertogenmolens Aarschot is an old water-mill complex dating back to the 16th century, now a charming small hotel and restaurant. With exposed white brick work and beams in the 25 hotel rooms available, it has both an old and new feeling about it. Our room also had lovely views of the river which runs straight underneath. 

We arrived on the Thursday and once we had checked in and unpacked, went for a stroll to check out the local town. We then met with Rob and his lovely wife Daniela for dinner in the restaurant next to the hotel. I had steak and new potatoes which was delicious! We then retired for an early night as we were both tired from travelling and of course, Tim had his workshops to teach.

The following morning after Rob picked Tim up, I went on a solo Britt adventure! The hotel was very near the train station so I hopped on a double decker train (I think these are a bloody marvellous idea by the way!) and travelled to Brussels. Having never been before, I was relying on my keen travel instincts (and Apple maps...) to see the sights and get around. I had asked my Twitter followers for any tips, advice and recommendations when in Belgium and apart from the chorus of 'waffles', 'chocolate' and 'beer' a few ideas had come in the shape of checking out the Grand Place and surrounding area. Luckily, it was a bright sunny day, albeit freezing but great weather for exploring.

After arriving in Brussels Central I walked through the busy streets, passing both tourists and locals, chocolate shops in abundance and street entertainment and made my way to Grand Place. While the square itself reminded me of the square in Bruges (having visited in December 2015), it is easy to see why it is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. The tall, imposing nature of the Brussels Town Hall is both beautiful and humbling. At 315ft high, it's a magnificent sight to behold. This, as well as the Museum of the City of Brussels opposite and the Guild Houses of The Grand Place, makes it a must see on any Belgian trip! I also saw the famous Manneken Pis.

It was time for lunch and I enjoyed a massive cone of chips with ketchup! Before anyone badgers me about not doing it right because I didn't have mayonnaise (Amy McManus, I'm looking at you!) I should point out I'm allergic to egg and therefore enjoying a bit of mayo would have landed me in a European hospital rather sharpish. Haha!

Then, to follow the chips, I had a local delicacy of a warm tasty waffle COVERED in melted Nutella. I enjoyed these sitting on the steps of the museum, taking in the sights and sounds, people watching and making sure it's an experience I would remember.

The following day and the weather was abysmal! Windy and raining and freezing cold. I didn't fancy going out and so instead I relaxed by the fire in the hotel and read Harry Potter. I'm currently re-reading the series as it's one I adore.

Sunday the weather was a little better and so I decided to venture out to see the sights of Aasrscot. However, it was very clear I had chosen the wrong day! I did an Instagram story of me basically walking around a closed and empty town trying to find a latte, unsuccessfully I might add. I did, however, find a large naked man (in the form of a peeking statue) and a lot of unwanted sad Christmas trees left on the side of the road.

Then in the evening we again had lunch with Rob and Daniela but this time we visited a sushi restaurant called Shokudo and we enjoyed a massive sushi boat called 'Titanic'. It was amazing! I'd never seen so much sushi all in one place. If you ever find yourself in Aarschot, I highly recommend the place! Attentive staff, tasty food and strong drinks!

Finally on our last day, Tim and I got some time together. Our Eurostar was booked for the evening so we had a whole day to enjoy Brussels before heading home. I showed him around where I had visited on the Friday, once again having a chip cone and a waffle! 

It was a lovely and relaxing few days, for me anyway! Tim's trainings went very well and we are scheduled to go back out there again later this year for another weekend! 

If you have been, what did you think, where did you go? I'd love to hear your Belgian stories.

Until next time,

B xo


Monday, 4 December 2017

This Art Of Mine - Christmas Pottery Painting

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Last week my very good friend Ciara invited me to go pottery painting at an art studio in the Kent countryside called This Art Of Mine.

Despite being a cake decorator and baker, I actually struggle to do any other creative art. I can't draw, I can't paint, I'm just not very artistic! So I was a little apprehensive about going initially. Ciara put me at ease as she had visited the studio many times and told me help was on hand if I needed it and there were so many different things I could paint.

We got to the studio and there was a buzz of excitement and festivities when we walked in. We were made to feel very welcome by two members of staff and we were shown to our decorating station. A table with paintbrushes in the centre, a pot of water and two ceramic paint palettes.

Ciara showed me around and there were hundreds of options to paint! On the windowsill was all of the Christmas specific ranges from baubles to candle holders, trinket plates and so much more. Then on the other shelves was money boxes, unicorn busts, vases, mugs, there was just so much choice!

I opted for a gingerbread house tea light holder and Ciara went for a cat money box.

We chose our colours and got to work. I must admit I got really quite into it, the tongue of concentration was out in force!

Once you've painted your masterpiece you then leave it there for a week to get fired in the kiln. This sets the painting, deepens the colours and gives it a nice shiny finish! I was so pleased with my one. I didn't think I would be able to make anything like that so I'm rather proud of myself!

This was my house before it went into the kiln -

And after!

It's really reasonable priced too, with prices ranging from £12 to £50 including all painting and firing costs. They also have workshops, events and parties there too.

If you're local or you can get down to Kent, I highly recommend popping by. They are open every weekend 10am - 5pm, every Tuesday evening 7pm - 9pm, every Wednesday morning 10am - 1pm during November and December and every day during the school holidays 10am - 5pm.

They are based in Thurnham near Maidstone in Kent and you can find out more about them here.

B xo

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Wedding Planning - Westenhanger Castle

In all of the excitement of our annual Halloween party (more on that here), the launch of my first book Cakes, Bakes & Business, and diving head first into the new Blogging Consultancy side of my business, sadly wedding planning had taken a little bit of a back seat in the past few months.

But now, I've bought a new notebook (so you know I mean business) and set about planning the Box Wedding 2018. We have so far booked the actual wedding, which will be in Barbados. Just the two of us, on a beach saying our vows and becoming husband and wife. Exactly how we want. Booked through Travel By Lesley on a Sandals resort. More on that side of the wedding to come!

We, of course wanted to celebrate with friends on our return home and so we have booked the stunning Westenhanger Castle in Hythe, Kent for a 'coming home' wedding reception a week after we get back. It's not far from us and is absolutely beautiful!

The castle walls were built in around 1400 set in fourteen acres of wonderful Kentish countryside. Two manor houses stood on the site and merged in 1509. The castle was sold to Henry VIII and remained in crown property until 1585. Now privately owned and a popular wedding venue and conference centre.

Sarah, who runs all of the events there is fantastic. Making sure all of your needs are met, answering any questions and making you feel at ease about all the organisation!

I'll be posting more about this amazing venue on the lead up to the wedding next year. They have lots of events and shows on, including a Christmas market in a couple of weeks I'm really excited about going to!

Let the wedding planning fully commence! Haha!

B xo


Thursday, 19 October 2017

Progress Not Perfection

The picture on the left was taken in 2013. It's a picture of me but it's also a picture of a girl I don't recognise. When my confidence an self esteem were at it's lowest and my depression and anxiety high. It was around the time of my second suicide attempt. The photo on the right was taken this week. I've lost some weight, around 4 stone, but that's not the more important change to me. I feel happier, healthier, stronger. I love and appreciate all my body can do. I still have off days (don't we all?) but now I find the joy in the days when all I saw was darkness.
I used to be scared of getting older but as I approach my 30th year I've realised how much I've changed and how much I love the woman I've become. I'm excited for the future and all it holds, and that's something I didn't think I'd ever be able to say.
B xo

Friday, 29 September 2017

My day at Dreamland Margate!

Dating back to the early 1860's, Dreamland in Margate is considered to be the oldest surviving amusement park in Great Britain. Originally called 'Hall by the Sea' and operated by the famous circus impresario Lord George Sanger, the park has been an institution on the Kent coast for many years.

The plans to close Dreamland in 2003 were halted by the 'Save Dreamland' campaign by locals and amusement park enthusiasts, whose successful campaigning led to securing £18m public funding to restore Dreamland to its former glory.

I actually never went to Margate or Dreamland as a child so I don't remember it back in its heyday. However, a chance visit to the coast August Bank Holiday Monday a few weeks ago changed all of that!

Wondering what to do on our day off, Tim and I visited the coat and ended up in Margate. We had been wondering around the beach, eating chips when we saw the entrance to Dreamland. Tim had gone there as a kid and loved it but hadn't even back since it's reopen in 2015. We popped in and it looked awesome! From the bright colours to the vintage signs, rides, attractions and more. We didn't go on any of the rides that day but we knew we would be back!

A few weeks later we had put in our diary a Dreamland Day Out! We drove down on a lovely Sunny September Sunday. We received our wristbands and felt like big kids upon entering the park. With the vibrant colours, nostalgic music and large attractions, it's hard not to smile at what has been done here. The first thing we gravitated towards was the carousel. One of my absolute favourites, it reminds me of care free childhood and all the fun of the fair. We both had big grins on our faces from start to finish, it actually went rather fast!!

Next up was the big wheel. We wanted to get a look at the entire park and what better way to do it than to be 35 meters up in the air. Something I might not have done when I was younger as I had a bit of a fear of heights, but I'm so glad we went up. We could see for miles around. From the coast, into town and every detail of Dreamland. It was amazing!

We then stopped for a bit of lunch and we were spoiled for choice! There's the diner inside the roller disco as well as the 'Friendliest Food Court Ever' offering artisan street food vendors of all types of cuisines. From fish and chips, classic burgers, Asian delights, Mexican tacos, chicken dishes and stone baked pizzas, there's something for everyone! We had burger and chips while sitting on the big Dreamland letters and it was delicious!

Then it was back to the rides! The afternoon consisted of a go on the Dodgems (my fave!), a super slippy slide, losing Tim in the mirror maze and having a ridiculous amount of fun on Magic Mouse (seriously, this one looks super slick and is so much more than you bargain for once you go on it!). Then we went on the Scenic Railway, the oldest rollercoaster in the UK. This one was great fun!!

As our day was drawing to a close, we knew we could count on the beautiful British weather. It had been lovely and sunny all day then the heavens opened half way through out second go on the Magic Mouse! We made our way back to the car, soaking wet and laughing. 

During the Summer season the park is open daily but the rest of the year it's open at weekends. This isn't one of those places where you need a hot sunny day to enjoy it (lucky, as it's in England), so I can highly recommend visiting anytime of the year!
You can find out more about Dreamland here.

We had such an amazing day and can't wait to go back!

Have you been to Dreamland? Either as a kid or since it's been renovated? I'd love to hear your memories of the place!

Until next time,

B xo

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Saying farewell to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff

I am a massive Whovian! I have been for years. The first time I can remember watching Doctor Who was when I was 7 years of age, not long after I moved to England from Canada. I was watching an old episode with my nan whilst my mum was at work. It was from the Tom Baker era and I instantly became obsessed with the show and all things time travel. 

Back in 2005 when the show came back to our screens, I can remember both my mum and I being really excited to watch it together. She told me she used to hide behind the sofa when the Daleks were on the TV! We watched the first three episodes together throughout March and April but sadly she died before the fourth episode aired. I know she would have loved it though. The rest of the series and the subsequent years of David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. 

I have been visiting Cardiff since 2007 when I made friends with a fellow Doctor Who enthusiast, Emma, who went on to become one of my closest friends. I would go visit her and we would sneakily watch Doctor Who being filmed in the Cardiff streets early hours of the morning as well as visiting the Doctor Who museum in the Red dragon Centre. It was great fun. Then in July 2012, the Doctor Who Experience opened in Cardiff Bay! It quickly became one of my favourite places to go. With props, costumes, sets and more, it was heaven for Whovians. 

Here's a quick little trip down memory lane of all the Doctor Who exhibits, museums and experiences I have visited!

So imagine my upset and dismay when it was revealed the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay would be closing its doors for good in September 2017. I couldn't let is close without visiting one last time. Tim and I had booked the week off and planned a trip to Wales. We firstly visited my good friend Hollie's Feline Good Cat Cafe and booked tickets for one last trip to the TARDIS. 

It was so good to see it again. There was an air of sadness as we had visited the day before it shut and it was packed with fans all wanting to say farewell to the experience. The staff were, as usual, super friendly and enthusiastic and the exhibition was full of new things since I last visited. 

I've actually got a Doctor Who themed tattoo on my wrist. Writing in Gallifreyan (the ancient language of the Time Lords of course). It appeared that the TARDIS was reading it and conversing with me.

All in all, it was an enjoyable but bittersweet day. I had really enjoyed seeing all of the exhibits have a picture on the green screen, see all of the sets and enjoy the fun crystal hunt, it was amazing to go as it always is, but sad to know I'll never go there again. There are humous it may relocate and open up somewhere else (possibly Manchester or so I've heard). But that odd shaped looking building on Cardiff Bay will no longer be the Doctor Who Experience I have come to know and love. It was somewhere I will always have very fond memories over the years and for that I am very grateful. Times I will look back on and smile. 

"It's the end... but the moment has been prepared for" - The Fourth Doctor
"I don't want to go..." - The Tenth Doctor 

Britt xo

Friday, 15 September 2017

One Year To Go!

Exactly one year from now, I will marry my best friend. The man who has changed my life, makes me so unbelievably happy and who is perfect for me in every way. I cannot wait to be your wife. I love you so much Mr Box. Let the countdown begin!

Britt xo

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Feline Good - Cardiff Cat Cafe

There's something so heart warming about watching your friends succeed and follow their dreams. My very good friend and constant source of inspiration, Hollie Bowler-Brown told me a few years ago that she wanted to leave her IT job to set up her own cat cafe and I thought it was a fantastic idea!

She crowdfunded for the cafe through an Indigogo campaign and raised the money needed for the business venture to go ahead. She then went on to open Wales' first cat cafe and I couldn't be prouder of her. Not only is it a fantastic tearoom, but it is also a home for up to ten rescue cats at a time. 
It's an amazing way to support the kitties who have found themselves homeless, through support of their partner charity Mittens Cat Rescue, as well as a great place for cat lovers.

Tim and I went to Cardiff for a few days to visit friends, see the sights and of course, visit Hollie's Cat Cafe! 

Cardiff actually has quite a special place in my heart. I have been regularly visiting friends down there for years and even looked at transferring my job at the time and moving down to an apartment in Cardiff Bay back in 2009. However, life and circumstances got in the way and I never became a resident, but I am still a frequent visitor.

Rory and Marie. Two of the cool cats at the cafe!

We booked our table on the Feline Good website and packed our bags for the weekend away. I was super excited! We arrived at the cafe just before our booking and were greeted at the door by one of the 'Kitty Buddies' who took us through a few house rules. We were then shown to our table and given menus. Because I had supported Hollie through her crowdfunding, I was entitled to my 'perk' of Afternoon Tea. 

I chose the humous and red pepper sandwiches, while Tim went for the cheese and pickle. We also had chocolate brownie and carrot cake as well as delicious scones with clotted cream and jam. Although you don't come to a cat cafe specifically for the food, you come to play with the kitties but I can honestly say the afternoon tea was delicious!! I highly recommend it. 

Penny and Ash

Then it was kitty time! The cafe is so well set up with comfortable tables and chairs to enjoy your tea and cake as well as a plethora of cat entertainment including cat trees, toys and a giant cat wheel. Watching Marie run on the cat wheel was definitely a highlight of my visit.

It's clear to see just how happy and content the cats are here as they interact with the visitors, chill out on the soft furnishings and play with their state of the art gadgets. It's also clear to see just how loved they are, not just by owner Hollie, but all of the Kitty Buddies too. 

Rory and Freddie

There is a private area for the cats to go to as well for when they want some quiet time but every one of the cats at the cafe were loving life. To be fair, being pampered and made a fuss over, while having awesome toys and things to play with; I can understand their contentment!

As we were there, other guests came in to enjoy the cafe and it was so lovely to see. The cafe attracts all kinds of cat lovers. From those who just want to come hang out with kitties whilst enjoying a cuppa (because why not!) to those who can't have cats due to restrictions on their home, to those who have lost a cat and like the feline company. 

I honestly could not recommend this place highly enough. Delicious cake, wonderful food, super friendly staff and owner and most importantly, beautiful kitties to love. It's such a fantastic idea. If you are in the Cardiff area, you can book your table via their website here.
I recommend to book in advance as they get very busy!

Well done Hollie. I am so incredibly proud of you.
Britt xo

P.s. We didn't intentionally wear the same pattern. Happy accident. Haha!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Following In My Mum's Footsteps

Nothing can prepare you for losing a parent. Articles, magazines, websites, self-help books, they all give you tools and strategies to cope with your loss and not one of them worked for me. They tell you to focus on the good times, remember the happy moments. All of that is tremendously hard when you know you will never hear their voice again.
The day I lost her is one I'll remember always. Being told she was gone. It hit me like a freight train. I screamed I was being lied to. Of course, I wasn't. Who would lie about such a thing. I knew she was ill. I knew deep down it was a matter of time, but that doesn't make it easy. I remember thinking 'she'll get better', I thought she would be cured. But there is no cure for cancer. And day after day families around the world are given the heartbreaking news they will never see their loved one smile again.
This was my mum. My protector. My provider. My world.
I was 16. I was a good kid. I did my homework, I did after school activities, I performed in shows, I made my mum proud. As her only child she loved me with all her being and the feeling was very mutual. Yes, we argued, we had our moments, I was a hormonal teenager. There was a time I used to hate myself going over every argument in the last few months she was alive, but that did me no good. I've let go of that now.
That morning, I calmly called my head of year at school and told them I wound't be returning. I called my mums work and gave them the sad news. I tried to keep organised and busy, as my mum would have wanted me to be. I was just 16. It wasn't until a few weeks later I broke down and that was when my life spiralled into depression. I make no secret of my battle with my mental health as I tried, and failed, to cope with the loss of my mum. I quit school, I got a job, I carried on. But there's only so much front you can give when you haven't properly grieved.
And so I grieved, for years and years. Not fully accepting it. Not wanting it to be true. Going through the denial, the anger, the bargaining and all of the other steps they tell you about on a photocopied leaflet in a fluorescent lit waiting room.
My tale of depression and baking my way out of it is another story. What follows now is something different. This one is for her.
Brought up by my mum who was a single parent, having no siblings and having lost my grandparents by this point as well, there wasn't many people in my life who I saw every day who knew my mum. Memories and reminiscent conversations were scarce. Photos over the years had been lost and damaged and in the end, I wasn't left with much.
August 2015, on what would have been my mum's 62nd birthday, I found a picture. One I didn't remember seeing before. It was of my mum standing outside what looked to be a Tudor building. It intrigued me.  I had no idea when it was taken, where it was or who was with her.  After a quick search of the name on the building, I discovered it was only half an hour down the road from me!
Armed with my camera and a sat nav, Tim and I drove down and found the exact building. I got out of the car and was awash with so many emotions. I stood where she stood, saw what she saw and we recreated the shot.

The building looked a little worse for wear, I hear there was a fire. The garden is overgrown and the shop was shut. I have no idea how long had passed between these two photos but it hasn't really changed that much.

Skip forward to summer last year, I was looking through photos of a family day to the beach. My mum in a bikini top and shorts, my nan in a summer dress, my grandad in short trousers and a hanky on his head and a 4 year old Britt in a polka dot swimsuit (my love of polka dots started from an early age, clearly!). I was sure this was Leysdown. A beach I have many, many happy memories of visiting in the summer holidays. Tim and I drove down there, picture in hand. I looked around and remember feeling so disappointed. This wasn't the location. I was at a loss as I didn't really remember us going anywhere else.
We got ice cream, played mini golf and enjoyed our day out. But I was determined to find this beach.
Turns out, I wasn't that far off! It was Sheerness beach. On the same island and a short drive away. On our next free weekend we drove down and even though as I stepped out of the car, there wasn't the familiarity I had in Leysdown, as I held up the picture and saw the surroundings match, tears filled my eyes.

I sat on the plinth where my mum rested in the sun, looking over at my nan who took the picture. Tim sat where my nan did and we got this shot. You can see by my outfit compared to my mum's the weather must have been slightly different!

The last photo I have to share with you is one that has been in a frame for 15 years. Wherever I have lived, wherever I have ended up, it has always come with me. It's a photo of my mum and me that is rather special. It was taken in 2001 on my first and only foreign holiday, with my mum, to Mallorca. I remember getting sunburnt on the first day (some things never change!), my mum looking so beautiful in the sun with her Italian olive skin and long black hair. We had lost my nan earlier that year and she took us away to just be together and celebrate life. It was just a few months later she would be diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The bottom photo was taken last June, around my birthday. Tim and I didn't book our holiday so close to this location on purpose, it was a happy coincidence. When I saw we would be going there, I simply had to find the location of this photo. I cried when I saw it. I felt so grateful to be there again.

In these three photos, I'm sitting or standing in my mum's place as she now lives on in me.
My blogging and baking may have helped me out of one of the darkest times of my life, and for that I will always be thankful. Whilst I am aware my depression and mental health was sparked by the passing of my mum, I am also aware my grief is a different matter. It's a different kind of pain. One that stays with you. One you find ways to learn to cope with.
This is my way.

Everything I do and have in my life I dedicate to my mum. I would not be the strong, confident business woman you see without her. She taught me to go after my dreams, no matter how big they are. She taught me to always believe in myself, even if I didn't think I could do it, even if I didn't think I was worth it. She taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. She instilled so many values, morals and lessons in me that I will be grateful for, for the rest of my life.
I feel so lucky to have had her as my mum, to have been blessed with her presence, her humour, her smile, her laugh. Those memories are so precious to me and now, these recreated photos have a special place in my heart too.

Britt xo

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Engagement Photo Shoot

A few weeks ago Tim and I had an engagement photo shoot! I didn't know what to expect but we absolutely loved the day! We chose to take some pictures in Leysdown in Kent for a few reasons.

One being that we love being by the sea. Our best times are spent on the coast, we got engaged in the middle of the sea and we plan to get married on a beach. Leysdown is also a really special place for me, it's where my mum used to take me, my nan and my grandad on sunny days throughout my childhood. It was a way of having the memory of my mum involved in our pictures and that was really important to me.

Because I have such a strong nostalgic connection to Leysdown, we tend to go there quite regularly. It's only 20 minutes or so down the road from us and it's always good fun. A bit of arcade action, most usually air hockey and a go on the dance machine, followed by a stroll along the sea with an ice cream in tow. My perfect day!

We had such a fun day taking these photos. I want to say a massive thank you to Jim Drew from J Drew Photography for not only the beautiful shots but also for making us feel so at ease on the day. We were concerned being a popular place on a sunny day in the middle of the school holidays, taking photos might seem a bit awkward and draw unwanted attention. However we needn't have worried, we were able to simply enjoy ourselves playing the arcade games and being on the beach at the location whilst Jim snapped away capturing great moments. I highly recommend him for any photography work you may need.

I've popped some of my favourite pictures below and we're so happy to have these memories.

Britt xo