Elsie & Nell - An Etsy Shop

It's no secret that I LOVE small businesses and supporting them where I can. The gorgeous Laura from Elsie and Nell very kindly sent me a couple of goodies to feature on Instagram and I was that impressed by her work that I wanted to write a blog post to go alongside the photos I took to show off her brand even more, especially with the festive season fast approaching!

Upon entering the Elsie and Nell website, I didn't know where to look first; there are so many different categories to browse ranging from home wares to makeup accessories, stationery, gifts and a style to suit anybody. Laura sent me one of her adorable magic quote prints which I believe is A5 size, perhaps a fraction smaller but the quality is amazing with thick, pure white card and crisp jet black letting. Plus how fun and perfect is the Harry Potter themed makeup bag? This is such a decent size, especially for those of you who prefer to carry around a little bit more makeup or may be wanting a travel case for cosmetics. It's fairly big and I'll be using mine as a sketchbook and pen case for when I travel around. Again the quality is brilliant and the lettering is super sparkly, firmly in place and the glitter doesn't come off when touched (which can be a little annoying, can it not?).

Included in my parcel was a little note from Laura on the back of one of her postcards and there is a whole section of them you can purchase from her shop for just £1 each. They'd make awesome little gifts if framed and so inexpensive too! What I also adored about the packaging from Elsie and Nell were the stickers, one decorating the outer packaging and one sealing shut the candy striped paper bag containing my treats. It was all so exciting and fun to open which is exactly why I prefer shopping with a small business. It just feels so much more thought out and personal.

Elsie and Nell will absolutely be joining my growing list of awesome small businesses and I'll be returning to the shop to buy my friends some cute little gifts for Christmas. With all of the different quotes available, it'd be difficult to not find one to suit the person you have in mind.

Thanks for reading!

Vienna House Dream Castle Hotel Review

To finish off this week's series of Paris themed blog posts, I thought I'd go into detail on where we stayed which was the Dream Castle hotel by the Austrian chain, Vienna House. I feel a little awkward with regards to what I'm about to say as I wouldn't go back to this hotel nor would I recommend it to others, but a review is a review and since we paid for this trip with our own money, I'm not obliged to sing it's praises, especially where they don't exist *ouch*.

We knew the hotel was close enough to the Disneyland Park's to get a free shuttle bus to the Disney Village which was perfect for us as we were travelling from the hotel to the train station daily, which is next door to the Disney Village. Little did we know upon arriving at the hotel however, was how 'Disney' like the hotel would be and really, it was more aimed at families with super young children rather than a couple's break. It was musketeer and King Arthur themed, with a mini arcade area for kids, pool tables and various photo opportunity points with statues.

Let's start with the free shuttle bus service. Shouldn't really complain too much I guess since this is a 'free' ride into the parks (if you ask me, the price of your hotel room covers the usage of the buses so it's not really free at all) but these are meant to run every 10-15 minutes. Having used the shuttle buses before from the Newport Bay hotel which is much closer to the parks, I can say these usually ran on time, but not to the Dream Castle. Morning's weren't as bad and we waited around 20 minutes for each bus apart from the last day when we were actually checking out of the hotel were we waiting literally 30 seconds, typically. But getting back to the hotel after a long day in the city, we were waiting at least half an hour each time and on one occasion it was a 40 minute wait.

When we first checked into the hotel, it took a further 30 minutes to be greeted by a member of staff as there was only one lady manning the desks as a queue started to form. Considering there were at least 4 spaces behind the front desks for staff to be present, it literally felt like when you're in a supermarket and the tills are closed despite the amount of people trying to pay. Check in was pretty quick and we were given our keys and directions to our room, however when we got to our corridor we noticed a foul smell like someone had dropped their guts. We laughed it off and decided it must just be a passing smell, but unfortunately it smelt the entire time we were there. Five stinking nights! The room itself wasn't smelly but it certainly could have been a lot cleaner...

The bathroom we got was an absolute disgrace and part of me feels like a bit of a snob for being what some may feel is quite picky but if there's one thing that makes me super uncomfortable in a hotel, it's a dirty looking shower and bath. To make matters worse, the water was never warm let alone hot and luckily I managed to get away with only washing my hair once whilst away for the week because it was torture having such a cold shower that dribbled out water and had no power behind it whatsoever. 

The room we got was an okay size, some of the space was taken up by a set of bunk beds which luckily had a curtain around them which you could draw across and pretend weren't there. Or banish away your kids, whichever you fancied really. I used the lower bunk as a dumping ground for my clothes and suitcase so this wasn't so bad. Our bed however had two measly pillows and I mean they were tiny, looking ridiculous on what must have been a queen sized bed. The bed was a little too soft for us but it wasn't terrible to sleep in, I think James suffered with it more than I did.

Screenshot from a vlog of our bed in the hotel room

We got free wifi in the hotel which is very important to me when travelling anywhere, I like to not worry about data usage and be able to watch Netflix or YouTube videos back in the hotel. We took our own teabags as we're crazy vegans and weren't able to take advantage of the teas/coffees that they left for us in the hotel room but the kettle worked fine and it meant we were able to cosy up in bed with the biscuits we took with us after a mad day in the city.

We tried out the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant on the first evening just because it was easy after a day of travelling and at €30 a person along with our dietary requirements, we weren't really able to get our money's worth out of it so we didn't go again. One positive about the buffet though was the selection of cakes and puddings. Any sweet treat lover would have adored it as there was a range of tarts, doughnuts, sponge cakes, drizzles, pancakes wrapped around fruit and even a chocolate fondue with a selection of sweets, fruit and popcorn to make little kebabs with to dip into the chocolate. Kids would have loved this! We obviously weren't able to have any of it so instead I took a banana back to the room with me.

The breakfast was included in the hotel price and was a typical continental all you can eat job, always bustling and hectic - not the nicest of environments to wake up and go down to I have to say. On the first morning, we stuck to toast and a glass of orange juice but the following morning I discovered the soya milk tucked away behind the yoghurts so I was able to attempt a milky coffee with some cereals, toast and a fruit salad. It's a shame we couldn't try the croissants and it was the first time I'd seen things like scrambled eggs at one of these breakfasts but the veganism is our choice so tough luck. There were also some freshly baked baguettes available so what we did was took a whole one back to the table with us after cutting it in half and filled it with some of the vegetables from the breakfast bar like sweetcorn, olives, cucumber and beetroot, then wrapped it up for lunch later in the day. There was some 100% vegetable based butter available so the sarnies we made weren't bad at all. Aside from the food, I didn't like how close the tables were to each other and some mornings you were practically eating breakfast on the same table as the family next to you.

Back in the hotel room, one of the biggest things I struggled with was the lighting and I noticed my eyesight started to get really bad along with headaches the further into the week we got. The room didn't actually have any lighting apart from a dull lamp on either side of the bed and another on the desk area where the kettle was. Doing my makeup was an absolute nightmare as was vlogging, but my eyes started to hurt so much as time went on and I was always glad to get outside into natural daylight because even our window didn't let that much in.

Screenshot from a vlog of the lighting in the hotel room

We paid around £600 for the room for 5 nights plus city tax of around £2 a person per night. To be honest, if we'd have stayed at one of the other Disney hotels for that length of time, we would have paid quite a bit more and the reason we didn't just stay in Paris and get a train to Disneyland for the one day we spent there was the city tax was a lot more expensive in the city centre. Definitely something to think about when travelling next time though...would it have been cheaper to go with staying in the middle of Paris and not have to pay for the train travel cards from our hotel?

The only way I would return to a Disney hotel now is if we stayed at the actually Disneyland Hotel which costs mega bucks and I have heard it's not that much different in terms of quality and comfort, you're just paying for the experience of staying on the doorstep of the Disneyland Parks. After choosing a vegan lifestyle especially, it's clear to us now that Disneyland isn't a great choice and hopefully when we have a child of our own, we're able to afford to stay at the Disneyland Hotel and do the whole shebang with them.

Thanks for reading,

The Paris Itinerary

After a fun week away in Paris, I thought I'd capture everything we got up to and rather than do a post on each day I just threw everything together for a super jam packed photo diary style post so grab a cuppa and the biscuits! I go a bit more in depth around the food places we visited in this post if you were curious to know how we got on.

Day 1 - Travelling & Hotel First Impressions
After a rather stressful start (our lift to the train station never turned up) we eventually made it to Grantham where we caught the train to London. This felt super quick and when we arrived in London, we had a quick mooch around St Pancras to pass an hour, grabbed a soya Pumpkin Spice Latte from Pret then made our way to the Eurostar terminal. Getting through was just as quick, efficient and stress free (as possible) as the past two times I've been through so this was great, despite having to have a pat down which is always fun. It wasn't long before we were able to board our train and whizz across the channel to Lille where again, we were only waiting around 25 minutes before being able to get our next train. Upon arriving at our hotel, we were less than impressed to be quite honest but a whole post reviewing the hotel will be up at the weekend for those of you who are intrigued! We went down to dinner at the hotel then had a fairly early night ready for the next day of exploring.

Day 2 - The Catacombs and Notre Dame
The Catacombs was the place I was most excited to visit as I love anything macabre...you wouldn't think it would you since I'm a bit of a pastel princess but I can honestly say that down there it's so peaceful and a truly incredible sight. Over six million Parisian remains rest 20 metres below Paris and it was like nothing I have ever seen before. If you're thinking of visiting the Catacombs, definitely grab a ticket online beforehand which you can collect in the city in a nearby wine shop and you can skip the enormous queue that goes around the block which apparently ends up being hours long! We also got given an audio guide which made the visit even more fascinating.

 We visited Notre Dame afterwards and I have to say, Disney got this entire place spot on in the movie. It's such a beautiful cathedral. It was a shame about the skimpy K-Pop dancers who were showing their ass cheeks right outside though...no idea what that was all about. We also got a feel for the Paris metro and train systems - they're a little confusing but made me appreciate the London tube so much more after my experience with the Paris metros. They're full of people either pretending to be refugees or either are genuine people in need (they looked very clean and wore designer clothes so ya know) constantly begging for money and leaving notes on your seats with a sob story asking for more money. Very awkward and uncomfortable but hey the metro gets you around quickly, just don't make eye contact. We discovered a vegan cafe online called Cloud Cakes so decided to hunt it down. Turns out this was our new regular for the next three days and we couldn't get enough of their Pumpkin Spice Latte's, salads and sweet treats.

Day 3 - The Louvre
Seeing the Mona Lisa was on my bucket list as was visiting the Louvre in general so this was an absolute must for us. Be warned though, it's absolutely enormous! So big that I ended up getting ridiculously tired and had to keep stopping for a sit down. After ages of walking through ancient artefacts, the Louvre houses thousands upon thousands of them, we got to the Mona Lisa and this was both an amazing yet terrible experience. There is no system in place for viewing her; you just have to barge your way in through hundreds of people all trying to do the same thing whilst the gallery staff just sit and watch. People get nasty, very rude and be prepared to be shoved, kicked, elbowed and sworn at. With James' help, I managed to get to the front to quickly see her and grab a snap and a tiny bit of video footage before giving up being abused and retreated to the back of the gallery room. Seeing the Mona Lisa though, is SUCH a bizarre feeling. She stares right at you no matter where you stand. You feel her assessing you and that smile...I can't quite decide what she means and it's a shame you can't stand long enough looking at her to try and work out for yourself what makes her so magnificent.
After this, we were in much need of some lunch and a proper sit down so we ventured off to Cloud Cakes again, then to an awesome place called Hank Pizza which was an entire pizzeria dedicated to vegan food. Amazing.

Day 4 - Palace of Versailles
I honestly didn't know what to expect for Versailles and I believe a lot of it was closed for renovations when we visited. A little disappointing that we still paid £18 each for a ticket and it was very much room after room of paintings of men in wigs. The ceilings were incredible though and they were my favourite parts of the palace, absolutely plastered in impressive paintings. It took us around 2 hours to get there from our hotel so I think we were wanting a little bit more of a wow factor after how far we travelled but we did it and that's that. Afterwards we headed back into the city centre and headed for Cloud Cakes for the third and final time before venturing off to find Hank Burger which was the burger version of what we had at the pizza place the day before.

Day 5 - Disneyland
Each time I visit Disneyland, I feel less and less in love and that's rather difficult for me to say but I have finally admitted to myself I'm more attached to the memories I have there with my parents rather than the parks themselves. It was great to go back, but now I doubt we'll go again until we have a child of our own who is old enough to appreciate it as we did when we were little. I think a huge off-put is the lack of food options for us as vegans and also the place just seems to get tackier, especially the Disney Village which seriously needs a good makeover and an update. Regardless, we did all of our favourite rides and I was gutted that Big Thunder Mountain was closed, but we got on everything else. It was nice to see the Pirates ride had been updated a little to include Jack Sparrow at various points. Wasn't too keen on the makeover Space Mountain has had as it's now Star Wars themed but at least they're trying. We got a very rare selfie in front of the castle which I adore and overall it was a hilarious day with my husband.

Despite seeing a very large handful of awesome places and ticking a few off the bucket list, city breaks just aren't relaxing in the slightest and we were both nackered after the week, desperate to come home to see the dogs and have plenty of food options once again! I don't feel any desire to return to Paris now I've done it and did any of you notice we skipped seeing the Eiffel Tower? We passed it whilst on the train to Versailles and it looked that rubbish we didn't stop haha! I guess you could say we're not you're standard tourists who above all else loved the Catacombs the most but it was an adventure!

Next time though, we've decided to stay in the UK and find a lovely little cottage to take the dogs to. That sounds nice!

Thanks for reading,

Vegan Eating in France & Disneyland

As I spent last week in Paris, I wanted to do a bit of a series of blog posts on everything we got up to during our trip and one of the biggest challenges we faced was food. James and I decided to go completely vegan and change our lifestyle to be better, healthier and kinder to both the animals and the environment earlier this year and our trip to Paris was the first with our new diets. Being completely honest, neither of us did much research into eating vegan in France and we really should have because there are a few things to look out for.

For starters, the French don't see fish as meat so they will often label a fish dish as vegetarian. We both said to each other if it came to it then we would eat as vegetarians and not stress too much about the dairy if we really couldn't find somewhere suitable, so this was good to know since we were willing to consume a little bit of dairy but under no circumstances were we eating any kind of meat. So this was something to look out for in terms of even getting a vegetarian meal that could have been vegan friendly too, just not labelled. Luckily we did manage to eat completely vegan for the entire trip which I'm so relieved about; I'll admit on the first night I had a bit of an anxiety attack and was angry at myself for not researching into it before choosing Paris to visit. It's also considered very rude to ask a French restaurant to alter a dish even slightly so the pressure was on to find somewhere to eat without offending the country as well.

As we were in Paris to explore the city itself and weren't spending a great deal of time in Disneyland, we were able to do some research on the first night in the hotel and we circled on the map a little vegan cafe called Cloud Cakes near the Chatelet des Halles station and also in the same area were two vegan 'fast food' restaurants by the same business, Hank Pizza and Hank Burger. I say 'fast food' because it really was quick and was set out like a fast food place, but the food was awesome, healthy and the staff were super friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic about vegan food. We went to Cloud Cakes for lunch for three days in a row, enjoying their soya based pumpkin spiced lattes, vegan croissants and epic salad bowls and soups. After a mooch around the shops, we ventured off to find the Hank restaurants for dinner, first trying the pizza place and the next day returning to try the burger place. The restaurants were different buildings but on the same road so very easy to find. Their menu's were varied and the prices were incredibly reasonable, as were the portions! As I don't eat much we were able to box up my leftovers so we could take it back to the hotel with us for a snack later on.

Throughout the day and up until lunchtime, we had bags of crisps which we'd put into our suitcase, our Voss bottles of water and fruit bars. These were just about enough but we're so glad we decided to fill out suitcases with snacks otherwise we'd have really struggled. Before I was a vegan, I would usually put some chocolate croissants or something similar into my bag from the continental breakfasts at the hotel but more on that side of things in just a sec. Taking snacks with you if you're a vegan is really important and we took packs of biscuits, green tea for the hotel room, some chocolate, crisps, nuts and fruit bars. Not the healthiest of foods but finding non-perishable items can be a little tricky. The first night we went to the all you can eat restaurant in the hotel for ease; it was €30 a person mind you so we didn't do it again, but I sneaked a couple of bananas back to the room from the pudding section to put in my bag for the following day. The all you can eat buffet consisted of a bit of veg, a tonne of meat, a fruit bowl and a huge selection of cakes which we couldn't eat so we really weren't able to get our money's worth of food.

The gorgeous sweet treats from Cloud Cakes in Paris

As for the continental breakfast at the hotel, before vegan life I was a huge lover of chocolate croissants and cereals. This time however, we were limited to toast on the first day as I didn't spot the soya milk until the next morning. Finding the soya milk meant that the following day I could make us a coffee and also try out some of the cereals. I had a fruit salad too one morning and to be honest it was a bit pathetic looking and it was a shame there wasn't a bowl of fruit to sneak away as that would have been ideal. For the toast, luckily they did a 100% vegetable based 'butter' and a couple of jams. On the last two days, we worked out that from the selection of veg available at breakfast like beetroot, sweetcorn, cucumber and olives, we could make ourselves baguette sandwiches to wrap up on the sly and pop into my bag so we totally did this and were amused to see other hotel users were also doing the same.

Now time for a brutal, honest truth around eating vegan at Disneyland. It's virtually impossible. The Disney village has a handful of restaurants but after scouring the menus, non of these had a vegan option. On the second night, we settled for Annette's Diner and had the veggie burger which aside from the small ball of mozzarella on a stick holding the burger together, appeared to be suitable for us to eat so we just left the mozzarella ball on the side of our plates. Literally all of the Disney food places have a basic salad available but the problem with this is you're not getting what you need out of a meal so you start to feel quite ill. It's pretty much just leaves, perhaps some grated carrot and that's it. There is of course popcorn and crisps available from various points throughout the park but again, you won't last long just eating this before you start to feel run down and sick. The Agrabah Cafe in Adventure Land is meant to have a couple of vegan options, again it's an all you can eat place at €32 a head so pretty bloody extortionate, but we got turned away at around 4pm and they told us they were closed. Luckily we were only in the Disney parks on our last day and we took our DIY sandwiches from the breakfast buffets with us.

Mooching around Paris itself, we did stumble across one of those little healthcare, mini supermarket type shops which was 100% vegan so we went inside and got chatting to the owner who was a Chinese lady but spoke great English. We grabbed a Vego chocolate bar each which I've been dying to try for ages and these are so delicious! Being quite big too, we ended up sharing the two bars as a snack for the following two days so they lasted us well considering they are just chocolate bars.

In all honesty, it's not like we went hungry but we were both ridiculously glad to get home to our own kitchen and eat a decent variety of food. I can't imagine ever returning to Disneyland now as a vegan and staying in one of their hotels because even just one day of being on the rides and wondering around nackering yourself out and not having the correct fuel to live off makes you feel so poorly and you end up not really enjoying yourself as much. Apparently even the fries and vegetables cooked on the Disney premises contain meat stock so it can be really difficult to know for sure what you're eating and it made even picking a vegetarian option very confusing. But, we managed the entire trip on a vegan diet despite it being painfully difficult at times. It's just a shame places as big as Disney don't offer more of a variety of food...don't even get me started on the prices of their meals!

Have you ever been away somewhere and had trouble finding somewhere for your dietary requirements? I'd love to know how you tackled it!

Thanks for reading,

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