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It's That Time

You know the one. Where all of sudden it's not just the people on the periphery of your life getting engaged but your actual friends, people you genuinely care about, at a wedding that could potentially actually involve you to a greater or lesser extent. 

Yep. I'm 25 and last week my oldest friend (we've known each other since we were two years old) was proposed to and promptly said 'yes'. I cannot tell you how bloody fantastic this is. They are the perfect couple, head over heels in love, and looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together. The proposal was beautiful, I basically cried all evening so god knows what I'll be like at the actual wedding. 

But my point is, this is it. Adulthood is 100% definitely here. It's been too long since university to still clutch at those ageing straws and being a teenager was so long ago now that I genuinely pity people in the 13-19 age bracket, blissfully unaware of how bloody easy their lives are. Bastards. So being a proper grown-up and stuff, that's the plan for me from here. I'm going to three weddings this year, my boyfriend is actually playing an active part in one of them. My housemate and I have bets on who will be next to get a rock on their finger because let's be honest, it won't be that long. 

I guess this is a blog-worthy topic because it's come around so fast and because now automatically assume I will be getting engaged, well, RIGHT NOW. Expectations have started burrowing away in the minds of anyone over 25 and that puts quite a bit of pressure on those of us that are just taking every day as it comes. I've spent a month wandering around Australia and Hong Kong and realised that making the most of my freedom (from responsibilities like kids and mortgages, I mean) is so important to me. I almost feel guilty wanting to stay acting young for a few more years yet but my recent realisation is this: we all have our own path and happiness is key. Maybe I've spent too much time looking at Buddhist temples and it's changed my outlook on life, but from now on I'm taking one day at a time and kicking the arse of adulthood FOMO right off my Facebook feed.

To all of you recently engaged folk and soon-to-be marrieds: congratulations! And remember, everyone appreciates an open bar and at least one Take That song before kicking out time.

WIWT: Peter Pilotto for Target

Yes, I caved and was one of the frantic fashion obsessives that crashed Net-a-Porter the day this collection came out. Out of the five things I had on my wish list, this top was the one thing I managed to nab. But isn't it pretty? 

The quality is what you would expect for a collection made for a high street store (Target is the US version of Primark from what I can gather), but the pattern is perfect. Is it floral? I'm not sure, but the darker colour palette and long sleeves mean I can wear it even before Spring officially hits. I wore this to work with my new super skinny trousers from Zara that I picked up while I was in Sydney (but are available from the UK here), and comfy-but-battered Converse. I've worn it tucked into a high waisted pencil skirt before as well which is great for something a bit more formal.

Did you manage to get anything from the collection?

Monthly Mixtape #2

The last month has rolled around so quickly, but I guess that's always the way when you're on holiday! I've been listening to so much music as I've been travelling around, it makes journeys go faster and wandering around less lonely. To be honest, I'm still obsessed with the songs from last month's post but these are some of the tunes I've been listening to on repeat in addition to those:

Break In (Knightlife Remix) by Owl Eyes

This song has the funk essence of a disco classic and a beat that makes me wish I had an afro and platforms. It's totally something I'd dance to in a club (if I ever went to clubs...), and is just the sort of thing I would've played on my student radio show back in the day. Catchy as anything!

Wide Open Space by Mansun

Ah, an old classic! This takes me back to being 16 and mixing with an oh-so-Indie crowd at The Cooper Temple Clause gigs. This is just one of those songs that everyone knows the words to, a good karaoke belter with lots of emphasis and not understanding how he catches his breath while singing really long notes. A crowd pleaser on any playlist. 

Once Upon a Dream by Lana del Rey

OK, this is a bit of an odd choice, but ever since I heard these haunting vocals over the top of the latest Maleficent trailer, I fell in love. The song is perfect for the film: an update of a classic Disney product, turned dark and spooky. It's all about her voice in this, although the choral element and dramatic strings are suitably dramatic and just as engrossing. I cannot wait to see this film!

Bright Lights by Gary Clark Jr

This guy is a friend of a friend and was introduced to me via Spotify one evening whilst I was in Sydney. The vocals are very similar to that of The Black Keys, and in fact the whole sound of this guy is reminiscent of their Rubber Factory days (their best days too, in my opinion). It's a bit more down-and-out blues though; I imagine a dingy bar on a hot evening. Tempted to see him at his Shepherd's Bush gig in June, I think he could become something quite special very soon. 

My First Trip to Hong Kong: a Summary

As I'm sure you're all very aware, I've spent three wonderful weeks in Australia and I knew that the thought of heading straight back to London would be too much to bear. To save myself from an uncomfortable bump back to reality, I stopped over for a week in Hong Kong before flying home. As it turns out, one of my best friends lives in HK so I was able to stay with her and explore too. As with my Australian posts I'll write up some of these explorations into more detail, but until then, here's what my time in Hong Kong consisted of (being written on the flight back to London, feeling very grumpy that I have to go back to the real world in the next 48 hours!):

Monday: I stayed in Sheung Wan which is very central and makes it easy to get everywhere very quickly. I took in my first temple, the small Man Mo temple and was instantly amazed by seeing something so different from anything I'd see in Europe. I then walked up to the Botanical and Zoological Gardens where there is a range of monkeys being held. It wasn't a very pleasant experience as I'm pretty sure the monkeys didn't have the room they needed and weren't very happy, so I headed off back down the hill to see some of the famous architecture. I gazed up at the Bank of China and went into the famous HSBC building, both of which tower above the streets below. I weaved in and out of the various streets in the Central area, including up Graham Street (famous for the wide array of fruits  and vegetables on offer) and the fishmongers of Lower Lascar Row (who have live fish right in front of you to pick from!). That evening I had my first genuine Chinese dim sum and drank my weight in green tea!

Tuesday: I ventured much further out of Central and headed to the 10,000 Buddhas Temple. I sweated up what felt like a million stairs in the boiling heat but it was so worth it - the gold gilded Buddhas were spectacular and the temple and pagodas at the top were like nothing I'd ever seen before. My temple excursions didn't stop there! I then went on to see Chi Lin Nunnery which was a beautiful building strikingly set right in front of looming residential skyscrapers, yet still surprisingly peaceful. Close by was Wong Tai Sin temple - probably the most famous temple in Hong Kong. Outside the street is lined with fortune tellers so I got my palm read! I then went to Apliu Street flea market. I didn't realise until my friend told me later, but that area of town is the poorest in Hong Kong. I was definitely the only western person in the area and the state of the apartments in the area should have signified it to me sooner. It was really eye opening. 

Wednesday: I finally made it up to Victoria Peak! Sadly the famous tram was having maintenance during my whole stay, so I took the bus up to the top. It was so staggering to see huge tower blocks still standing tall all over the mountain area and the views down to the city were very impressive. Once I was down I took the bus to Stanley, a seaside town in the south of Hong Kong. I saw the beautiful island beaches and then walked the promenade of Stanley next to its well known market area. Very calm. That evening I went to my first sky bar (the bars within the skyscrapers throughout the city that boast the best views around the city). Sadly the mist was bad that evening and we only saw over to Kowloon just before we left, but we did manage to catch the famous light show projected onto the skyscrapers on Kowloon but enjoyed by those on Hong Kong Island. 

Thursday: I headed up to the famous ladies market in Mong Kok to get my first glimpse of the famous fake designer goods so well associated with China. I could not believe the amount of imposter Mulberry, Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton bags there! It was full of British women loading up on whatever they could but I decided not to get anything. Instead I got some great oversized clutch bags and a cute pussy bow blouse - no designer names on them, but bargains nonetheless. I then headed to Kowloon promenade and walked the Avenue of Stars, culminating in a huge statue of Bruce Lee! I met my friend and we walked through to the Jordan area where Temple Street Night market is. We had dinner at a street side restaurant which I was a bit wary of at first but it was delicious!

Friday: I jumped on the MTR and went all the way to Tung Chung to get on the famous cable car (with a glass bottom!) to the village of Ngong Ping on Lantau Island where the famous bronze Buddha statue sits. It's the biggest seated bronze Buddha in the world and sits atop a hill looking serene and beautiful every vantage point. This was awesome in the truest sense of the word. As cheesy as it may sound, I felt really blessed to see something so impressive and imposing - it's really unlike anything I've ever seen. That evening we went for cocktails at a sky bar which was probably a mistake considering we had an early start in Saturday. 

Saturday: We went to Macau! Another country ticked off my list! We took the ferry to the strange country, previously owned by Portugal and it is without a doubt, the oddest place I've ever been in my life. My blonde friend was a tourist attraction in herself, with Chinese tourists taking her photo everywhere we went which was so weird. There wasn't a huge amount to see in the town although the architecture is very strange: European style but covered in Chinese writing and signs. Macau is obviously famous for its casinos and it's basically the Las Vegas of the east. We went to the Venetian and it was bizarre! The hotel was painted to look like Venice, with a river with gondolas on it floating through the centre! I was glad to get back to the relative sanity of Hong Kong after that!

And now here I am, sat on a plane home. I can't believe a month has gone and I'm headed back to London. Three hours in to a 12.5 hour flight so I've got plenty of time to get used to the idea of being back!

Australian Adventure: Sydney & Melbourne, Week 3

Week 3 saw the beginning of my actual holiday. No more office hours needed, so I planned to cram lot of stuff into my last few remaining days in Oz. Initially I'd hoped to go to the Gold Coast to visit my friend's in laws, but due to various reasons, I decided to spend my spare time in Melbourne, and I'm so glad I did! There will definitely be more written on this blog about Melbourne, but as I'm currently in Hong Kong on my last week of adventure, here is my third week summary.

Day 15: At last I had a weekend day in the glorious sunshine! Staying in Bondi and not being able to make the most of the beach was almost torture, but finally I had my way! I was joined on the beach by my best friend, her other half and another ex-Brit we know from home and we had a great day just sunbathing, swimming and eating. 

Day 16: I flew to Melbourne early in the morning and instantly fell in love with the city a) because it's so easy to get around and b) because I was upgraded to a bigger room for no extra cost! I stayed in St Kilda and spent the whole day exploring the area including the pier and promenade, Luna Park and the local botanical gardens. Later on I met with an old colleague who took me to an amazing bar in one of the laneways called Section 8, which was basically built from old crates and corregated iron. Not very waterproof, but luckily us and the fabulous live band, it didn't rain. 

Day 17: I headed to the laneways for breakfast then hit a few of the quirky independent shops on Degraves Street, Flinders Lane and the Block Arcade. I gave in temptation and bought a few bits, including some gifts for home. It's much cheaper and more varied than Sydney so I recommend it as the place to shop if you're on the east coast of Australia. My friend from Sydney came to stay with me and after lunch we walked through the city and found incredible street apart and an exhibition of typical household scenes made out of icing! We then walked over to Cooks Cottage before torrential rain hit us! When it cleared up that evening, we went to St Kilda pier to spot the little penguins that nest there every night before heading out to Chinta Blues for absolutely incredible Malaysian food. 

Day 18: We walked so far on this day! After breakfast in St Kilda, we walked to Chapel Street, the well known area for vintage shopping (or 'opp shops' as they're known in Australia). Once we'd made our way to the top, we walked through the stunning botanical gardens and stopped for lunch there. That led us to the imposing Shrine of Remembrance, with amazing views over the city. We then headed to the National Gallery of Victoria for some interactive art installations until it was closing time. We had dinner at the sublime Cumulus, and sat at the bar facing the kitchen so we could see all of our food being delicately prepared. The evening came in the form of rooftop drinks at Goldilocks with an old school friend and then late night cake buying to eat in bed in our pjs!

Day 19: After a great brunch at the organically focused Silo by Joost, we flew back to Sydney. Travelling took up most of our day and luckily we had Phoebe's other half to make us a great dinner and sneakily tell me that he planned to propose to her in just two days time. Let the panic commence!

Day 20: I SAW A KOALA BABY. That pretty much sums up the day at Taronga Zoo. It was stupidly hot but we had amazing views over to the Opera House and saw so many cute and cuddly animals. 

Day 21: The secret proposal! I had to make a panic trip to Bondi Junction to get a dress for the occasion and then spent a large part of my day doing the following: trying not to cry, making sure Phoebe ate and drank enough, persuading said friend to paint her nails, lying through my teeth. I'll keep the details of the proposal quiet, as that's their story to tell, but this photo is after I made a speech on behalf of all her friends and family in the UK. Emotional doesn't even sum it up and needless to say, she said yes!

Australian Adventure: Sydney, Week 2

My second week in Sydney was even more jam packed than the first.The weather improved and I got to experience some classic tourist situations as well as some hidden local gems. As with my last post, this is purely a summary of what I've been up to, but I will definitely be writing some more in depth posts on my favourite parts of this trip once I'm back at the end of the month.

Day 8: Thanks to the torrential rain there wasn't a great deal we could do, however I did get to Skype my mum and boyfriend which was well needed. We headed to an Italian restaurant called Da Mario where my friends knew the head chef. He treated us to some amazing dishes including a gorgeous tuna and some battered olives which even I liked (and ordinarily I HATE olives).

Day 9: The team I was working with in the Sydney office have been working with The Voice Australia on their latest sponsor for the new series and as a result we were invited to go and watch a filming! I got a great seat at the famous Fox Studios and watched a number of the battlerounds being filmed. The judges were Ricky Martin, Joel Madden, Kylie Minogue and Will.I.Am (the last one inducing quite an excited squeal from me when he came on stage!), so the calibre of celebs wasn't shabby. In fact, the talent of the contestants was extremely high too, so if you're in Australia definitely give it a go this year!

Day 10: After a day in the office we headed to the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel to have cocktails with an incredible view. I'll definitley write more about this at another point, but the photo here gives you enough of an idea of how high up we were and why it was worth a visit. Afterwards we had dinner at a little place called Vini in the Surry Hills area of Sydney. It was a concept evening where all the food was based on the local ingredients and dishes of Puglia in Italy. Look out for more info on my meal here, but needless to say it was one of my favourite meals since I've been in Sydney!

Day 11: With a bit of a hangover from the cocktails and wine the night before, we jumped in the car and headed to the Blue Mountains which are about an hour out of Sydney. It was great to get into the countryside and see outside of the main city area. The little towns of Katoomba and Leura were full of curious vintage shops, cute cafes and beautiful views - I fell in love with them almost instantly. We rode the world's steepest railway and a cable car with a glass floor which I wasn't too much of a fan of as you can see!

Day 12: I was incredibly lucky to be invited to watch my best friend's wonderful other half at work, shooting a fashion story for Elle Australia at Sun Studios. Georges is an incredibly talented photographer and since I've been in Australia I've seen his photos everywhere from billboards to shop windows, so I feel very honoured to see him at work. I'm gutted I won't be able to watch him host The Face Australia (it hits screens two days after I leave!), but I will be frantically hunting for it online!

Day 13: My last day working in the Sydney office! The whole team over here is so friendly and have really made me feel welcome which is obviously highly appreciated when you're so far from home! I learnt so much from the way the company is run as it is very different to the UK (we're a team of 30 in a company of 300+, they are a team of 3 in a company of around 100!), and I definitely want to take that close feeling of a smaller agency back with me. They saw me off with lunch on a wonderful rooftop  overlooking Sydney Opera House - a view that never gets boring! (the obscene gesture was in response to a colleague sending me a message saying it was 18 degrees in London when it was 27 in Sydney!)

Day 14: I was so happy to drive a little way out of Sydney and head to Narrabeen Lakes to see an old family friend who moved out to Australia 10 years ago. My stepdad and Hannah's dad went to school together and we've known each other since we were about 5 years old. She now has a full Australian accent and has two abslolutely beautiful children, Charlie and Summer. It was so nice to see her after so many years and catch up!

Sherlock Pub Quiz with Geeks Inc

Oh my! With preparing to go to Australia, I completely forgot to write about this awesome pub quiz I went to a few weeks ago! 

Geeks Inc hold a number of pub quizzes inspired by the best cult TV shows, films and comics that have acquired their own crazy fandoms. It's no secret that I'm a bit of a Sherlock fan and I was so excited to see this quiz pop up in my news feed! Me and my housemate Ashleigh skipped on down to The Monarch on Chalk Farm Road to get our geek on in our proud little team of two called Long Coat, Short Friend (check out Ashleigh's blog to see why that name is appropriate!).

There was a round for each series which was all well and good until series three. I mean, how do people know that much about something that's only aired once, eight weeks ago?! It was the typical pub quiz scenario of being one number out on a question, or feeling that itch on the tip of your brain where you know the answer is lying dormant waiting for you to finally get it. So many questions that we should have know the answers to and we just missed out! 

There was a round on Benedict Cumberbatch himself which we were pretty crap at (how am I supposed to know his birthday?!), one of the character of John Watson and another one on Irene Adler. Oh yes, and a drawing round. The less mentioned about that the better!

We came 10th out of 18, which we were very pleased about considering we were a team of just two people! The quiz was so popular in fact, that it was held in multiple pubs across London simultaneously, with 48 teams in total. We came 23rd out of all of those which is a definite success!

Other quizzes run by the Geeks Inc lot include Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. The guys who run it are all super enthusiastic and really do love the shows they're talking about. A quick chat with one of them about Doctor Who turned into a very enthusiastic, over exaggerated gestures sort of conversation that you only find with real fans. You can find the full line-up of Geeks Inc quizzes at their website and also by following them on Twitter. I'll see you at the next Doctor Who one!

Australian Adventure: Sydney, Week 1

I've seen and done so much in my short time in Sydney already, and there are some things that I've done that I want to dedicate more detailed blog posts to when I have time to write. However, for now, I'm just going to give a quick insight into each week I'm away as I'm so busy everyday, it seems a shame not to share it now in a quick bullet point format so I don't miss anything!

Day 1: Breakfast and a walk up Bondi beach, lunch of schnitzel at a German social club, walked from Bondi beach to Bronte beach before jet lag hit me at 8pm and I pretty much passed out!

Day 2: First day in the office and had lunch with an awesome view of Harbour Bridge. Took the ferry home from Circular Quay and had my first view of the world famous Sydney Opera House. Jet lag was threatening to take over again so my friend took me to for a swim in the sea at Bondi then a walk to Bronte. Before sleep hit we had an amazing Thai meal and I managed to make it to 9pm without falling asleep standing up. 

Day 3: I explored The Rocks on my lunch break and found a great chicken curry. My exploration took me to the Observatory Hill which was so beautiful in the sunshine and had another ace view of Harbour Bridge. I got the bus home which gave me my first glimpse of Central Sydney and the surrounding areas before heading to Hurricanes in Bondi for a stupid amount of ribs!

Day 4: More lunch time exploring led me to finding the steps up to where cars go to drive over the Harbour Bridge and I could see people climbing over it too. Later that day I went to a pub quiz in Bondi and met up with an old colleague who happened to be in town. There was an almighty thunderstorm which was amazing to watch over the sea, although was the beginning of a spate of rainy weather which has been annoying but I won't let it stop me from exploring!

Day 5: I got to leave the office early so I went to look further afield than the area the office is in and Bondi (where I'm staying). I finally got to get up close and personal with Sydney Opera House (which is surprisingly small) and then walk through the main city. We walked up the central shopping streets and stopped for tea before walking to Darling Harbour. From there we headed to Chinatown and I discovered Emperor's Puffs - 30¢ worth of yumminess! We then found the glamorous drag queens of Oxford Street (there are so many places in Sydney named after London places!) and the awesome GAYTMS produced in time for Mardi Gras. The day was wrapped up with a meal in Bronte with more expats from the UK and a well deserved glass of wine. 

Day 6: I headed to my work's social day in the afternoon which consisted of the weirdest team games ever. I strapped a pedometer to my head and shook it for a full minute while others tried to empty a box of tissues as quickly as possible. Don't ask! After a tiring week, we settled on getting an Indian takeaway and having a bit of a sleepover watching crap tv. Perfect. 

Day 7: The rain scuppered our original plans, but that meant we ended up at Black Star Pastry and sampled some of its famous watermelon cake as well as a chocolate cream eclair - not too shabby! We had a wander around an outlet shopping place (I got a fabulous leopard print kimono jacket which I'm wearing in the pic below) before having some surprisingly good Chinese food at Bondi Junction Westfield. That evening we headed into Central for the famous Sydney Mardi Gras - the biggest LGBT parade in the southern hempishere. I'll write more on this later, but needless to say it was bright, loud and very, very proud. 

Life: February 2014

Obviously the big news for February is that I am currently in Australia! I've decided not to include any Sydney pics in this round up even though I arrived here at the end of the month, there will be plenty of Aussie pics coming up soon!

Beautiful views from Greenwich Park on the one sunny day in February
This Yumchaa sign made my day!
That's a lot of ribs at Bill's in Covent Garden
Settling in for a night of wine and RuPaul's Drag Race with one of my best friend's and his boyfriend on a trip to Sheffield

New shoes from ASOS for holiday!
Sherlock pub quiz
Last meal before heading off to Australia - my favourite local Indian takeaway
Figureheads at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

Churros at Wahaca
Sunrise view from the ferry during the tube strikes
Jeremy Kyle's biggest fan!
The sexiest out of office message I've ever put up

Food: Balthazar, Covent Garden

I'm not ashamed to say that when a new restaurant opens in London to a lot of hype, I am always beyond curious to go and try it myself. Balthazar originates from New York, although it serves French cuisine, and opened it's London outpost late last year in Covent Garden. 

The setting is incredible, taking you back to the 1920s with huge mirrors, red velvet chairs and dark wood making up the fixtures and fittings. The dim lighting wasn't off putting, although it wasn't easy to take good photos in there. We were seated next to a huge fresh seafood section with lobsters and shrimp in crushed ice, looking like they could be served up at the fanciest pick 'n' mix you've ever seen. 

I had the ham terrine with plum chutney for starter. Although the terrine wasn't really anything special, the chutney was perfect; not too vinegary but sharp enough to give the terrine the oomph it needed. I keep thinking about making my own chutneys and this has jolted the idea again, so watch this space!

My main was duck shepherd's pie. Yes, it was as rich as it sounds. Served in a shallow dish, this isn't made to eat in a large quantity or you'll probably just feel I'll afterwards. I could only eat half of it but it was delicious. I rarely have duck that isn't covered in hoisin sauce so it was a treat to eat it when it had been succulently roasted instead. On the side we had sautéed spinach and buttered mushrooms, two things that I'd happily eat with every meal. 

The pièce de résistance thought was the incredible dessert. Let's be honest, that's the main reason any of us go to a French restaurant. I had a rhubarb soufflé with creme anglaise which did not disappoint. I adore rhubarb; it reminds me of being a kid and having crumble for pudding and it's enough to hit my sweet tooth without being too overwhelming. This was soft and sweet without being sickly and the creme anglaise was like having thick melted vanilla ice cream. I fell in love, I'm not going to deny it. 

Next on my hit list is The Smoke House. I'll get there eventually and as ever, you can read about it here or see my pics on Instagram @charlienin
As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review