Yes, I finally got myself over to the USA. My version of a road trip over the last 15 years or so have involved a few hours drive from Cambridge to either the north or south of the UK with a service station pit stop in the middle for a depressing cup of "Starbucks Coffee" en route. So, imagine my sheer pleasure when I was offered the opportunity to not only visit Florida for a few weeks with my (not-so) new boyfriend, but also to join him and his family on a little trip up to the state of Georgia for a few days whilst there. We were headed to Savannah, said to be the most haunted City in the United States of America, to spend some downtime relaxing after a hard few weeks of partying and relaxing… It's a tough life! This really was such an exciting adventure, a mini break within my holiday, what every vacation needs I'd say. Even with all the city exploring we were plotting, I managed to do it all comfortably in my Primark sandals the whole duration without a blister or any sore foot issues whatsoever - unheard of in new shoes for my huge size 8's - it's a great place to walk. With half a day travel each way in our convoy of monster trucks... ok, perhaps a little exaggerated, but the Americans know how to own cars I can tell you... we enjoyed 48 hours of exploring and munching our way around the beautiful City and Coast of Savannah. As a group of eleven, we hired a stunning Victorian mansion overlooking Forsyth Park, the perfect home away from home for being central and easily accessible to most of Savannah on foot. If you find yourself heading to Savannah, I'd say that you'd most likely enjoy exploring absolutely anywhere you happen to stumble upon, it's a very exciting place indeed. Crammed with green parks, superb eateries and coffee houses, bars and pubs on every corner and amazing shopping districts scattered between galleries and museums - there's truly something to keep you occupied for every day of the year. So, here's my guide to the top spots that I discovered during my whirlwind tour here, I hope you find it useful/interesting! Food & Drink: The Original Crab Shack at Tybee Island - Make sure you head to the Atlantic coastline and check out this fantastic outdoor fish shack, complete with its own "Gator Lagoon" - this is the place "where the elite eat in their bare feet", apparently. A waterside wooden-decked restaurant serving all kinds of freshly caught seafood and the best ribs I'd had during my entire trip to the States, if you like good food then this is a must. With a bin underneath the middle of the table for bones or shells and a sink with a salt scrub to wash off afterwards, this is a well-thought out place and it was packed during our midweek lunch stop. Although not technically in Florida anymore, I tried my first key lime pie and I was far from disappointed, WOW. Wet Willies - This is the perfect pit stop for frozen cocktails whilst doing a spot of shopping in City Market. Savannah is one of only a handful of cities in the US that allows Al fresco drinking, so grab a beer or cocktail to go. Try a banana daiquiri for something a little different to cool you down! Tubby's Seafood Restaurant - Seeing as I was touring with the "Tubby family", it seemed only right that we all dined at this waterside seafood venue for the evening. With great wines on offer and my first chance to try the local delicacy that had been on my mind for some time, the Shrimp & Grits were delicious and very filling indeed. We shared lots of different dishes & salads and I chose a grilled salmon packed full of flavour with collared greens. It might be wise to call ahead to book a table during peak times, or you may be in for a squeeze. A great riverside location! Mabel's Cupcake Emporium – I'd spotted this cute cupcake store on the first day and seeing as this was THE perfect place to try their traditional Red Velvet creations, well, it was rude not to, seeing as this is where Red Velvet came from… Not forgetting the apple & cinnamon macaron we nibbled too – yum! Clary's Cafe - Established in 1903 and famously appears in the film "In The Garden Of Good And Evil" with Kevin Spacey & John Cusack (Yep, we have since swotted up and watched this great "who dunnit?" film!) - If you like bacon, add a side of bacon – you won't regret it! I tried something a little different – the Farmhouse Omelette – folded inside was apple, cinnamon…. and cheese. It was interesting… Byrd's Famous Cookies – You should know by now that I can't pass up local sweet treats. This is the perfect place for the cutest souvenir tins filled with delicious sweet cookies… we enjoyed lots of sampling in their City Market store. Their ice cream cookie sandwiches looked epic, but alas, didn't get to try on this occasion – next time! The Olde Pink House – A fine restaurant if you're looking for an extra special meal whilst staying in Savannah. I enjoyed the most beautiful & elegant take on "Shrimp & Grits" and a Hummingbird (Elderflower Fizz) cocktail to refresh me on a warm Spring evening. Apparently the haunted painting with eyes watch over you in their grand first floor dining room… Six Pence Pub - Savannahs' original authentic British pub in the heart of the historic district – we stopped here for "road beers" on the second evening, great little place with a red phone box outside – you couldn't miss it! J. Christopher's - After a quick shower, once the gang had been rounded up, we headed out for a good and filling American breakfast on our last morning. The blueberry & granola pancakes were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and having our coffee topped up after every swig, I HEART America. Road Snacks – No road trip back to Florida is complete without stopping at an isolated gas station that looks like something from 'The Walking Dead', complete with guns for sale - eep. I love trying the new and exciting flavours of Oreos, as well as trying my very first 'Nutter Butter' biscuits and the different variations on Snickers to fuel our journey! Be A Tourist: Forsyth Park - The biggest of the handfuls of green and sprawling parks within Savannah, a 30-acre urban park is there for you to walk off some lunch and take in some early afternoon sunshine. It's home to a stunning water fountain in the centre, a large child's play area and an outdoor stage of which hosts concerts and events throughout the year. We were, however, advised to avoid this particular park at night, so we did. Carriage & Tours of Savannah - Jacob was our guide, showing us the City by horse and carriage, he even pointed out where the famous "Forest Gump Bench" scene was filmed, much to our amusement as we had tried to hunt this out on foot earlier and had taken a group photo on the completely wrong spot within Chippewa Square – oops! Chippewa Square – If you want to get your geek on, "Forest Gump" sat on the famous bench waiting for a bus with his box of chocolates in this beautiful park. That bench was something we searched for over a good hour or so, only to find out that it was in fact a prop and is now situated in the Savannah History Museum – should you fancy a visit! Ellis Square Fountain - It was a rather hot week in April, nieces & nephews were sweating buckets after our tour, so there was simply nothing to lose, joining everybody else by leaping into and running through the fountains – literally the most fun of the day, for all of the kids – young and old! Hearse Ghost Tours - A local brewery hosts a poltergeist, The Olde Pink House heard whispers in the night, many footsteps & voices echo around hallways and houses across one of the most haunted cities in the world (in the top 10 apparently) – we left a fine dining restaurant in the back of a hearse for a ghost tour of the city – seriously! House Museums – If you like your history, there are many old & restored houses to look around, such as the Davenport House Museum, Andrew Low House, and the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (the original Girl Scout founder). Savannah Slow Ride – If you get a chance, take to the streets on this round "group" bicycle and enjoy pedaling around the City with drinks on the go. We wanted to try this out, but the kids with us were a little too young for this one. A Run In The City - After all of our eating, a gentle run was in order, so Jordan & I headed out at the crack of dawn for a jog before breakfast. We were smiled at by fellow joggers as we crossed parkway paths & picturesque Georgian streets with the morning sun shining down on us. At one point a gentleman even doffed his Stetson and gave us a "howdy ladies" - swoon, my most favourite run. Ever. We managed to fit in just over and hour of the city, crossing at least 5 different parks, many different streets to spot the cutest houses I've ever seen and even making it to the Wilmington River before heading back to our humble abode. Shopping: ShopSCAD – Savannah is well known for hosting a talented community of artists and SCAD is a collaborative force of creative individuals who showcase their art in exclusive galleries and sell their jewellery and home goods across the city – you must take a look, you'll feel inspired just browsing. Woof Gang Bakery – If you like to pamper your pooch, then this is the place for you – quirky dog accessories, pretty beds and blankets or some cute personalized dog biscuits to take home for Fido – sweet treats for dogs, so much fun! Banana Republic – Yes, I know this is a chain and probably like saying head to "Next" for some great clothes and shoes, but this was my very first experience of this American store and I loved it. I left armed with beautiful tiny perfumes for my handbag and some gorgeous jewellery to remind me of a great time here. Missing Pieces - 'Poo Pourri' is something that we all headed home with for our bathrooms after being told about this miracle toilet scent – it's the name that tickled our funny bone first, but it works wonders, especially when in a new-ish relationship haha – a great little gift shop here. City Market – This is a great place to enjoy not only a fun shopping experience, but there's plenty to eat, drink and see too – this is a lively place to visit at day or night. Our Victorian Mansion: We hit the jackpot with our private house for our stay, this was a stunning mansion with plenty of rooms to explore and play hide-and-seek within, it was so much fun being with a huge group, kids and all – they loved exploring it as much as we did! My words couldn't do this house with a gorgeous park view proud – just take a look for yourself within my photo album link below! If You Get A Chance: Head to the outskirts of the city to see the iconic "Bird Girl" statue, of which sits in Bonaventure Cemetery overlooking the Wilmington River - she appears in scenes from the film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" with Kevin Spacey and Jude Law of which was recommended to us by new friends back in Florida. This Colonial park cemetery also harbours the remaining casualties of the 'Yellow Fever' from 1750. Savannah is my new favourite happy place… The oldest city in Georgia and with it's cobbled streets, relaxing green parks and old historic houses to nosey at on every street & corner, this is somewhere I desperately want to return to in the future to explore further – I've only just touched it. Make sure you peek into the nooks and crannies as you wander this exciting city - every alley and corner has a fascinating story to tell. #VisitSavannah Want more? Take a look at my video of this stunning city here - enjoy! See my full Facebook photo album for this stay here. Read my new "About Me" page here! See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Please note – I paid my way during this visit and I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:email@example.com All images © 2016 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Thursday, 7 January 2016
It's been one heck of a year, with travelling to far flung destinations that have been on my travel hit list for a very long time... But sometimes a girl simply craves some peace & quiet in a spa for a day or two. After a quick discussion on where we might like to go for a weekend pre-Xmas break, the bearded one agreed that he fancied shutting himself away in a luxurious spa with me by his side - he's a winner that boy! Philip had enjoyed a taste of spa life in the summer at a local spa to me, but a day just wasn't enough. So we booked ourselves in for a couples break at the Lifehouse Spa at Frinton-On-Sea in Essex. This was simple enough to get to from Cambridge on a Friday night straight from work, traffic allowing us to arrive at 7:30pm where we were swiftly shown to our dimly lit room and left to relax for a while before dinner. A candlelit table for two was waiting for us, with one of the friendliest waiters I've ever encountered, he made our stay both nights as we dined here - he was knowledgable and went the extra mile every time we asked him something. I truly wish service was like this all the time, our waiter could show every service team a thing or two! Whilst we dined at this spa, we enjoyed the best of both worlds - healthy dining, mixed with the odd treat or two - perfect. During our two night stay we enjoyed courgette spaghetti with mushroom ragu, Italian sausages with roasted vegetables and we both couldn't resist the venison burger with a soft brioche roll and fries - this burger was truly delicious! The cheesecake was off the menu by the time we got to dessert on the first night, but I managed to grab a wedge of delicious lime and coconut on the second night. We sampled the "healthier sounding" avocado & chocolate mousse, but it still didn't convince me that this was a nice tasting pud, it's a little unusual for my tastes haha. Sometimes you've just got to combine good food with a serious relaxation session. We booked ourselves in for a couples massage (the first I've ever had and absolutely loved it) followed by a snooze in a private "sleep pod" to curl up together afterwards to snore away zzzzzz. In fact, I think we were either ever so slightly forgotten... or simply left to it because the pod wasn't being used for the rest of the day.... Either way, we woke up (drool and all!) almost 3 hours later, oops! These pods were fabulous, complete with private lighting and sound systems to help you unwind - these are well worth trying out. Chilling out in, around and even over the pool, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi was just what the doctor ordered. We swam, read our books, chatted, walked around the stunning grounds of spa and did what we had intended to do - we switched off, well and truly. The Little Extras: We had treated ourselves to this break at our own cost, however after an excited chat prior to our arrival, the spa offered a few extras for our stay, such as a three course dinner on the first night and a bottle of superb prosecco to kick start our relaxation. They had even left us some delicious alcoholic cocktail-inspired chocolates to nibble on in our room - I can't thank them enough for these little touches to our stay, we truly felt like we had switched off and that's the exact result we had wished for on booking. The breakfast was fantastic, everything you could imagine on offer, from fresh fruit and cereals, warm croissants, meats and cheeses through to a full English buffet. I liked that you could order different options when it came to eggs, I indulged in freshly poached eggs with runny yolks with my toast and bacon, perfect. Our massage therapists gave us a choice of pressure and didn't mess around....sometimes spa therapists disappear for a fair while until they come back to massage you after stripping down - they were prompt in returning and didn't push products on us afterwards - I liked that there was no pressure to but their products, as can sometimes happen in my experience. The Little Niggles: Whilst outside walking, we had wandered back towards the rear of the spa and found we couldn't get back inside, the doors only pushed outwards. We tried two or three doors and even knocked for a member of housekeeping but he couldn't let us in.... It wasn't easy to get back in. The spa was busy from what we saw and it was sometimes tricky to find lounger space around the pool, they are lacking in physical/extra space around the pool, so I can understand it may be tricky. Whilst enjoying our massages, the only fault would be that doors were banging outside our room (quiet closers should be standard in spas!) and a therapist walked into our room loudly and then stumbled around apologising... how could they not know it was occupied??.... Not the most relaxing it could have been to start with, but this wasn't the fault of the therapists themselves in this case. An express checkout option is available on leaving, but if you want to stay on to use the spa on the day of departure you still need to go to the front desk to arrange a key fob, etc for the separate changing area. It was all a little confusing once in there, as it's also used for general leisure members. My locker wasn't locking and nobody had shown me how their locking system worked with a key card - I had to walk back to reception in my robe to ask, not too glamorous. Overall: This was one of my favourite spas within the UK - polite staff, great food, relaxing atmosphere. If I had to be picky, a little more in the way of spa facilities would be great, perhaps they will plan to give it an overhaul sometime soon. It could probably do with more facilities and a little spruce up, however the team on the days we were staying kept on top of clearing away cups, towels and sweeping down the water from the floors regularly, they were very good. We didn't make use of any relaxation or fitness classes, this was a purely lazy spa break, but you could turn is into a fitness retreat, complete with use of their smoothie bar for the ultimate in detoxing. They do offer afternoon tea and it looks delicious, so perhaps next time... if they'll have us again in the future? www.lifehouse.co.uk See my full Facebook photo album for this stay here. Read my new "About Me" page here! You can also read about Miss Sue Flay's "Around The World In 80 Stays Challenge"and other Secret Stays & Reviews here. See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Please note – I paid my way during this visit and I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:firstname.lastname@example.org All images © 2016 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
As true Brits, we all know and love this Cornish brand when it comes to topping our scones at afternoon tea. In fact, we love it so much that we get into deep conversations and even debates over how we should eat it. It's a truly important topic when it comes to enjoying afternoon tea and Rodda's is the crowning glory when done right. I've always used Rodda's for my own afternoon tea events & spreads, they've never bribed or endorsed me to do so, it's just the "right" way when it comes to the trusty cream tea... In my humble opinion! Well, just imagine my sheer excitement when the lovely team at Rodda's HQ invited me to join them for a VIP day whilst visiting Cornwall for national Afternoon Tea Week back in August. This was a "money-can't-buy" experience, as the Rodda's office and creamery is not on offer to the general public, so this was a very special invitation indeed. The only other person to have the Cornish red carpet rolled out for them to summer had been the Prime Minister.... I felt super special next to such a name on the guest list. I honestly didn't need asking twice, I was a little nervous about the idea, as I would be with a small crowd whilst visiting Cornwall, my gorgeous bearded manfriend, his sister and his two energetic nieces and a nephew (and we had a lot plotted out on our limited itinerary!).... How would this even work? Well, I can tell you, the Rodda's team well & truly rolled out the red carpet for us, I am still in shock at the amazing hospitality they offered us all for the day of our visit, we were treated like afternoon tea royalty...with superb, twinkly, jingly bells on! Everything we did was a real first for Rodda's, as they don't usually open their HQ for tours or visitors, so this was one truly special day, none of us will ever forget it. Whilst Philip and myself were shown around the Rodda's Creamery, the others were joined by Mr Nicholas Rodda (yes, this is a family run business, through and through - four generations of the Rodda family wander around and work under these roofs, it's fantastic to see). Mr Rodda supplied the children with delicious treats, gave them a mini tour of their offices and read the official Rodda's story book to them to keep them entertained. This really was a money-can't-buy experience, they were even joined by the main character from the story, "Merrion the cat burglar" hehe... The kids had a whale of a time, almost as much fun as we did as adults! We all received a special signed copy of this beautifully drawn and written book from Mr Rodda and the kids are enjoying reading it even now, I think this has created special memories for three very lucky little people - they'll be telling their friends for many years to come, as will we! So, What Exactly Is Clotted Cream?: It's thick cream made by cooking/heating milk very slowly and then allowing it to cool, whilst the cream content rises to the top in coagulated lumps - this is how the thick "skin" forms on the top. When it comes to authenticity for the consumer, Rodda's ensure their customers know they're buying the real thing by having a "PDO" for their "Cornish Clotted Cream". This stands for Protected Designation of Origin, an award given by the European Commission, designed to protect traditional, regional foods against imitation. If you see the words 'Cornish clotted cream' on a label, you can be sure that the product inside has been made from the distinctive local milk used for this top-notch product. The Rodda's Creamery: Most of this tour is completely off limits to you, my dear reader - I'm very sorry, but my lips are sealed as to how their Cornish Clotted cream is baked. We had to swear on our cream teas' life that we would divulge the secrets behind how their clotted cream is baked, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say the entire process is mightily impressive. I feel as though this video below might be a better way to show you what we saw, this is very special, not many people get to see this, so you're very special too now to have a sneaky peek into their world - enjoy! [youtube height="HEIGHT" width="WIDTH"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgwRfNPrNyE[/youtube] Rodda's Family History: In 1890, Eliza Jane - Nicholas' great great grandmother - provided clotted cream from her Cornish range to her family, using a way she had devised to keep it fresh from her aga. Young Willie Rodda went up to London at the age of 16 to share the cream and orders soon came in fast... their business was born. The cream would go up on the local train and British Rail would take it out at the other end to distribute into London hotels or Tearooms - how distribution has changed over the past 120+ years! Read more about their family history here if you want to find out more later on. What Else Can You Do With Rodda's Clotted Cream?: So, what else can you do with clotted cream, other than dollop it generously on top of your warm, freshly baked fruit scones? Here's just a few ideas, you can actually use it just as you would double cream, so you can get fairly creative for a richness to many dishes, add it to: Bread Hot chocolate Porridge Meringues Brandy sauce for steak Fruit smoothie Mashed potatoes Victoria sponge (or any cake!) Creamy pasta sauce Stewed fruit Truffles Even topped on cornflakes, just like Eric Rodda's himself enjoys every day for breakfast! In fact, Rodda's have a mini booklet titled "101 uses and excuses for clotted cream", so it certainly isn't just perfect to top off your scones - who would have thought it?! You could even do as some Cornish pasty makers do, adding a dollop of clotted cream to the inside instead of butter for moisture and richness to to classic savoury treat. Did You Know?: Rodda's even produce small batches of salted butter (with the most beautiful pattern adorning it you ever did see) following a Royal request from Her Majesty The Queen. Being a fan of their clotted cream (Prince Charles sends it to her and Philip sends it to his friends at Christmas I'll have you know) Her Majesty requested if they might make them some butter. So to this day, at this most Royal request, one man stands in a room churning their butter, decorating and and wrapping with his own two hands - just fantastic. The Science Bit: The creamery holds 150,000 litres of Red Tractor Assured milk in silos on site, with each silo holding up to 20,000 litres. As this milk comes in from local dairy farmer within 30 miles, across 151 farms, it is tested (much like a pregnancy test) for quality and if it is unwanted for the cream, it goes off to local cheese makers so as not to waste it. That's a heck of a lot of milk! We asked ourselves what would happen if they ever burst.... Cornwall would be boogey boarding in milk rivers up and down the county! Cornwall is great for growing grass, so the cows are happy and able to graze for up to 10 months of the year (weather permitting!). The Cornish pastures are green and lush - this can be seen in the great quality of milk that they produce - and no milk is mixed to ensure a consistent batch every time it's used. Truly Fascinating Facts: 90% of production at Rodda's is clotted cream. 5 years ago Rodda's started bottling their own milk - now sold to local hotels and tea rooms as well as served freely within their staff rooms - I was almost tempted to half inch a pint myself, there were fridges full of it for the taking, ahem! Rodda's started with glass jars to store and supply their clotted cream, then tins and then the plastic containers we know and love today. Their clotted cream is poured into and baked in the plastic containers we buy in shops and supermarkets today. After much experimentation, they found a material that would withstand the heat of their ovens and, to save work, they found a perfect solution for baking and distributing. The clotted cream is produced in small batches - even the catering tubs are fairly small to ensure quality in every hand-checked batch. After the clotted cream has been cooked, it cools in refrigerators overnight and goes out the very next day - it's usually on the supermarket shelves approximately two days later. Rodda's produce 10,000 pots of clotted cream an hour! They employ around 150 staff members in Cornwall. Throughout our delightful afternoon with the team, I couldn't help but get truly geeky when it comes to afternoon tea. I asked Nick Rodda where he would suggest anyone visiting Cornwall should go for the perfect cream tea... His response was a troubled one, as there were far too many places for him to suggest - a man after my own scone-loving heart! If you were going to go anywhere in Cornwall for a cream tea, then his advice is to go for a scenic view above all else! The Rodda's team are actually looking into the "psychology of a cream tea" currently, which led to quite the conversation around our afternoon tea table. You'll have to wait and see what their findings are, as the research is still being conducted - exciting! Rodda's clotted cream is not only produced for us here in the UK (with Ascot, Christmas and Wimbledon keeping them very busy indeed!) - it also goes to Germany, Japan, South Africa and Spain! Concorde used to serve Rodda's clotted cream on their flights. Read The Book: If you're stuck for a gift or souvenir idea, then look no further than this beautifully written and illustrated book; "The Great Cream Robbery". Nick personally read this book to the children on the day of our visit is he's very proud of the story, which holds not only a cheeky little story about their clotted cream, but also their strong values within it. Merryn the cat even came to visit us whilst we enjoyed our afternoon tea, we really did get the Royal treatment, the kids were thrilled! I honestly can't thank Belinda, Zoe, Nick Rodda and the entire team on the day for making this such a truly memorable experience. I've been speaking fondly of this ever since and will be continuing to do so for the rest of my life - genuinely! Ps - I'm judging the latest round of Rodda's "Crown Your Puds" competition entries, so take a look here for more info and to enter your own treats! Read my new "About Me" page here! You can also read about Miss Sue Flay's "Around The World In 80 Stays Challenge"and other Secret Stays & Reviews here. See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:email@example.com All images © 2015 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.