Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Autumn weekend break in the country coming up ..

I've just booked a lovely weekend break in the English countryside for the end of the month!

The autumn colours should be spectacular as the leaf fall is later than this time last year. It's my favourite season.

I'm looking forward to quiet, long walks (even if it rains), antique shop browsing, open fires and scrumptious food. 

I'm keeping the location a secret for now but will fill you in when I get back. It can't come soon enough!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Spectacular scenery and sunsets .. north of the border

I have just come back from another trip to Scotland where it was mostly all work and not very much play. Instead of banging on about the trials and tribulations of my day job, the early starts, long hours, etc I thought it would be good to have a wee look at what else was on offer in this beautiful part of the world.

We flew into Edinburgh airport and were transported to our place of work for the next week, Auchterarder, about an hour's drive away. On the uneventful drive up the M9 motorway we passed The Kelpies, two giant horse head sculptures by the artist Andy Scott. It's a pity we didn't have time to stop and at least take a photo as they looked magnificent. Auchterarder is home to Gleneagles golf club where the 40th Ryder Cup was held this year. Luckily for us the weather was mostly dry and cool, if a little breezy at times. Being Scotland the pessimists amongst us were predicting rain and cold temperatures so we had to come prepared just in case.
The first thing I noticed on our journey to our accommodation at the Stirling Court Hotel - situated in the grounds of Stirling University - was the beautiful light of the evening sky. Autumn had arrived but not all the leaves had changed and as the bus drove through the beautiful town of Bridge of Allan I couldn't wait to dump my bags in my room and go for a walk through the grounds and see the sun setting through the woods that surrounded us.  

Ready for 1st tee off at sunrise
Working at the Ryder Cup was an experience in itself .. for us very long hours, up at silly o'clock and being transported around in golf buggies with the dust blowing in our eyes and hair, (all very glamorous of course) but the atmosphere was amazing and the crowds vocal and well behaved. 

On our drive to and from work every day (except our last 3 days we travelled in darkness both ways!) all we could see for miles were rolling hills and fields occupied by sheep and cattle .. for me a welcome variation from my usual traffic jammed streets and high rise buildings!

If I have the opportunity to come to this region again in my own time, I would explore the lochs and villages, go for long walks and wind down for the evening in a lovely little pub with an open fire eating bangers and mash washed down with a fruity glass of red! 

Dream on HQ ...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

HQ's day job on location ..

My set bag
I travel quite a lot .. mostly for pleasure but also in my role as a make-up artist. For a change I thought it might be an idea to give you an insight into my working day on location this time. Of course every job is different .. some are a doddle and others are not, but for me I enjoy them all because there's always an end result and it has to be good.

I have just returned from working at the US Open, a grand slam tennis championship held at Flushing Meadows which is situated in the borough of Queens in the city of New York. The competition lasts for 15 days and is played in the height of the summer where the temperatures can reach well into the 90's. There is also always a chance of rain and for the past three years that I have been there we have endured hurricanes, tornadoes and good old fashioned thunder storms where the rain can drench you in under a minute if you get caught in it! 

We were lucky this year with only a couple of days of rain which didn't last more than half an hour so it all progressed without much delay thankfully.

My typical day started with a 25 minute bus journey from midtown Manhattan to the site. Some days it would take longer (the worst being around an hour) depending on the day and weight of traffic but we would allow enough time so that we could have a bite to eat before starting work. After breakfast I set up my work station and then the talent I would be making up would come in one by one. I received a copy of the day's schedule the night before so I generally had an idea of what my workload would be before hand although it was always subject to change!  Sometimes we would transmit from the studio and at other times from various locations around the site so it was essential to wear shoes that were comfortable and ones I would be able to power walk in as the site is vast! There was more than one occasion where we had to cut lunch short in order to run to the studio for a last minute interview. At every entry point there is a security check and our passes would have to be scanned. My set bag which holds all my essential items from eye drops to dental floss is transparent so I wouldn't have to have it searched every time except by the most 'jobs worth' of people. 

I had to be mindful of the weather conditions and prepare the skin and hair accordingly. Some days when the humidity and heat were high I watched in dismay as the on-air talent started to drip with perspiration and there was nothing I could do in this situation until there was a commercial break or VT. On days like these there are constant touch ups and repair jobs and I now also carry with me little personal air-con units which were very helpful and appreciated this year!

Most days averaged 12 hours where we would be on standby between pre/post match transmission not knowing how long it would last and keeping an eye on the scores and grabbing lunch when we could. We did have an exceptionally long day of 18.5 hours as we were committed to staying till the end of the last match of the day. We wearily got back to our hotel at 2.45 in the morning knowing that we would have to be up again in a few hours to get that bus back to work. There's no place to complain on a job like this .. you just do it!

Fortunately the days got easier after that and we could see the end in sight. By then we were all more than ready for a much needed day off to come down from the grueling schedule of the previous 2 weeks plus. The last day arrived and selfishly for us we were glad the final only lasted 3 sets. Once it was over it was time to pack down, clear out and head back to the city.

I stayed on in New York for 36 hours afterwards to hang with good friends and give myself a very welcoming couple of mornings sleeping on way past my usual wake up time .. another great experience but always great to be home again.. until the next time.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Retail therapy and eating out in Milan

*The Excelsior
HQ's annual pilgrimage to the fashion capital of Italy, Milan has been another enjoyable and almost budget breaking experience! We always go in August as all the new collections are available and we add what we need (read 'want') to our existing winter wardrobe. When my friend and I first started going way back in 2000 we would come home with our suitcases stuffed to the brim with bargains galore and often another suitcase to carry on board with all the extras that wouldn't fit! 
As each year's visit came and went the purchases were less as our tastes became more discerning. Between then and now many of the brands we couldn't get in the UK are now available here and vice versa so the excitement of buying something no one else would be likely to have has been curtailed. 

Retail therapy
There are still a few boutique stores and labels which are either not available or in limited supply in the UK and we now tend to concentrate on those rather than traipse around the cobbled streets of Milan, our feet swollen from the heat and humidity of high summer.
Before we go we check out our favourite brands online and get an idea of the things we would like and the cost. Personally I give myself a budget and try to stick to it. I have to say I did quite well this year and only slipped over the edge a little!

The other thing we enjoy in Italy is the food! The downside of going in August is the closure of many establishments for the summer holidays so the choices are limited but we always manage to find something worthwhile that isn't in the crowded touristy centre. The area of Brera has a few good restaurants and our concierge recommended Osteria di Brera.  They bring a complementary glass of prosecco as an aperitif and we dined on a first course of lobster linguini with sea bass to follow. Absolutely delicious and only a ten to fifteen minute walk from the Duomo and the Hotel Straf where we stayed this time.

The hotel is less than 10 years old and right next door to the Rinascente department store. Even though it is on a busy street and practically on the Duomo piazza with all it's street performers and the din of the crowds you cannot hear any noise at all unless you open the windows. The drawback of this hotel is that the rooms are not particularly user friendly. It all looks very hip and cool and I quite liked the decor of dark slate and metal but that's about it. You have to crawl on the floor under the 'desk' to plug in any electrical devices and there are no drawers - only a wardrobe with 4 hangers. (You could ask for more hangers if need be.) Our bathroom was interesting .. very 'arty' and would probably not be suitable for anyone who is tall given that the surface for your toiletries is about 40cm above the floor! In contrast the ceiling is high along with the showerhead over the black bath. I'm not sure the designer had practicality in mind. There is no restaurant except for a small breakfast room (the breakfast was good and included) and there is a small bar that is accessed from the street. When it first opened back in 2005 it was the cool place to go but now it seems to be frequented by young locals sitting on the pavement with their beer and cigarettes .. vespas parked nearby. Other than that it was clean and comfortable, the staff were friendly and helpful and the location couldn't be better if you want to be in the midst of it all. 

Lunch on our final day was in the Maio Restaurant, situated on the 7th floor of the Rinascente. 
If you sit outside on the terrace you get a fabulous view of the Duomo. We kept it simple with a glass of prosecco (of course!) and ginger chicken stylishly (some would say pretentiously) presented on a slate slab. In Italy they often refer to chicken in the masculine or feminine .. distinguishing between the rooster and the hen! Here they did not and interestingly the menu is not only in Italian and English but also Chinese and Russian giving a clue to the changing face of tourism in Europe.

*Excelsior Milano - high end store featuring major brands including many International designers. I go there for the food department in the basement - it has wonderful Italian produce including my favourite Mamma Andrea marmalade.

HQ flew direct to Milano Linate from London City Airport with Alitalia - 1.5 hour flight with no delays and friendly service.

#covet #fashion #winter2015 #food #HotelStraf #Alitalia 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

HQ update ..

Milano Duomo at night
Forgive me for I have sinned (well not really) .. it's been 3 weeks since my last blog post and I did sort of promise to update you on any new plans.  I have been rediculously busy with work and I finally have a full weekend off and the weather is great! We have to make the most of it so it was a late breakfast in the courtyard and a discussion with my travel mate (who popped by to join me) as to where we should stay in Milan this year. We always used to get a deal in August because it was notoriously quiet, but that is no more. We are going to spread our wings and try a new hotel! It's only 3 weeks away so we have to get cracking! I think it's time to try something new .. we have stayed in the same one since 2000!

I also promised to give you an update on my next early winter holiday and I'm pleased to report that it's now all booked and we are heading back to the Caribbean - but it's not Barbados this time. We were finally able to get the place we wanted in St Lucia so I'm looking forward to it and sharing it with you. I have wanted to go there for such a long time and am really excited about it.

My thought for the day ... "A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot. Think BIG. And then think bigger than THAT." Dr Joe Vitale

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Summer in the City

July already! The longest day - Summer Solstice has been and gone, Trooping the Colour, Ascot Races, Fourth of July over, Henley Regatta in progress and Wimbledon finals this weekend .. oh and the Tour de France starts today in Yorkshire. That's without taking into account the World Cup in Brazil, the cricket etc etc etc. Maybe some or none of these things interest you but in any case .. a crazy busy start to summer in the Northern Hemisphere!

Summer in London can be hit and miss weather wise, but in true Brit fashion people carry on with their plans regardless. Last weekend was a prime example - every year my neighbourhood has a street party. The road is closed and all the residents set tables with flowers, real crockery and cutlery (no plastic here), bring food and drink and some even bring their musical instruments. Children and dogs play in the street and there is a real sense of community. This year was no exception
although there was always a threat of an afternoon shower. When it did rain, the umbrellas went up and everyone stayed put until a torrential downpour eventually scuppered any attempt to 'keep calm and carry on'. We had to concede and move the party indoors which was a bit of a shame as the party fragmented into the various houses but all in all a lovely day and happy to report not a scrap of litter left behind.

Doorways in Milano
My summer is set to be a busy one .. apart from work I have just booked my ticket for my annual long weekend trip to Milano, Italy in mid August. I'm glad I got that out the way as there were few seats left and no deals to be had unless I wanted to stop off for a couple of hours at an airport and extend my journey time unnecessarily! Why would I? I just want to get there! It's always hot and sunny and I so look forward to having a glass of prosecco or a coffee in an outdoor caffe/bar watching the world go by.

Next week I am closer to home and off to Edinburgh and Cardiff for work and doubt I'll get any time to get out and about but if I do I'll let you know. I've been to both cities before but only ever for work so I can't claim to have seen much of either of them sadly.

I'm also in the process of planning my early winter getaway - a new destination .. I'll update you when I know more! Ciao for now!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Santorini .. towering cliffs and whitewashed buildings

June is a beautiful time to visit Santorini. It's not quite the height of the season and the weather is not too hot. In fact in the week leading up to our trip the temperatures looked like they were only going to be peaking in the low 20's! What will be will be so we headed off ready to accept whatever was our fate. HQ's motto .. never let the weather dictate what you do in life. We were fortunate however and we had beautiful days averaging 26-28C and only one day of winds, which was perfect because we spent most of our days relaxing by the pool.

Santorini is well known as one of the most idyllic and spectacular islands in the Aegean Sea. There is a mystical feeling and energy about it which probably has something to do with the earth beneath still alive and breathing around a smouldering volcano. have always coveted the idea of going to this beautiful Greek island. I'd seen images of the whitewashed villages carved into the cliff side layers of volcanic rock, azure sky and the deep indigo blue waters .. all very alluring .. and it promises the most beautiful sunsets on the planet. Everything I'd ever heard about it was impressive and now I see why.

During the day the town of Thira is relatively quiet .. but it is just prior to the setting sun that the hoards come out to view what is meant to be the most photogenic place in the world (and I would add the most photographed judging by the amount of cameras capturing every moment .. mine included)! Most of the restaurants are terraced and boast views over the Caldera.

I loved the fact that we were there during the full moon and able to witness it in all it's glory! I have to say that the sunset each evening was beautiful and varied and despite the amount of people dining, there was an unexpected quietness adding a magical, peaceful ambience.

I have seen many beautiful and spectacular sunsets in different parts of the world so I would not like to make comparisons. To me they are all quite wonderful and amazing in their own right.

On our last night dining out on the terrace of Apiron Restaurant, the sun set in it's usual spectacular fashion and darkness descended. After a short while a mist began to rise from the sea and wafted up and over the cliff top. I asked the waiter what it was and he replied 'humidity .. it's what keeps the grapes alive." And the fog kept rolling in making the air damp and cool. The surrounding buildings looked like something out of medieval London! In my mind I could almost hear the howling of the Hound of the Baskervilles whilst walking back along the road to the hotel as well as witnessing a red waning moon rising through the mist on the opposite side of the island. Very surreal.

One thing I will warn you about if you plan to fly in to Santorini (as opposed to cruising) .. it appears the tiny airport has not been upgraded since it was a military base so be prepared to stand in line and generally expect some chaos prior to your departure. There is nothing there except a café/bar and a miniscule duty free shop so not worth being there too early either and there are few places to sit. It is very unorganised .. the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing and all the flights seem to leave at virtually the same time adding to the confusion. But we got there in the end .. boarding just 10 minutes before we were scheduled to leave and thankfully being blessed with a tail wind which got us in half an hour earlier than planned! Another fantastic holiday to remember!

Next time, and I hope to return, I would like to explore the island in more depth .. there is more to Santorini than idyllic villages and sunsets. There is also a wealth of history, archaeology, hot springs, hiking and exploring to experience and if you like art, galleries featuring local artist's work and artisan jewellery.

We stayed at El Greco, Fira

Restaurants we liked and would recommend ..
Sphinx, Fira
Argo, Fira
Apiron, Fira

Art Galleries we liked ..
AK Galleries, Fira Centre
Mati Art Gallery, Fira

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Great holiday reading ...

My good friend Nigel May has a short story in the Sunlounger 2 collection .. here is his blog post he is kind enough to let me share on Holiday Queen!  If you haven't already ready Nigel's first blockbuster TRINITY please have a look and if you like what you read you must follow it by his second book ADDICTED.  I promise you will be addicted yourself and want for more!

Hello all! It’s a very big week in bookland as the successor to last year’s short story chart topping anthology, Sunlounger, is on its way. Called Sunlounger 2 (see what we did there!) it’s launched online at Amazon on Saturday 21st June 2014 and looks set to be even more popular than last year’s globetrotting marathon.

Packed with over 40+ short stories, each set in a far-flung destination from every corner of the globe, Sunlounger 2 is the perfect accessory for anyone who is wanting to nibble on a bite size piece of quality fiction while lounging around the pool on holiday, sunning themselves on lazy heat-kissed days in the local park, or feeling the rays on their skin on every beach from Cromer to the Caribbean. And for the second year running I am as proud as a peacock to say that I am part of it all.

The anthology is the brainchild of Belinda Jones, an authoress of no less than 10 fabulous chick lit books (her latest, The Travelling Tea Shop, is in stores now) and a mate of mine for the last 15 or so years (not that either of us will admit to being that old!). Belinda wanted to bring together the best authors writing female fiction on Planet Book today and get them each to write a short story detailing love, fun, tomfoolery and general shenanigans at a featured exotic holiday destination. The end result is literally like taking a trip around the globe without ever having to reach for your passport or converting your currency.
My story in this year’s collection, which features over 40 authors including Belinda, Lucy Lord, Anna-Lou Weatherley, Holly Martin, Jo Carnegie, Alexandra Potter and Martel Maxwell, is called A Lost Night In Louisiana and is set in the Mardi Gras madness of New Orleans. It’s all about a young women called Kim who wakes up the morning after a rather riotous night before and thinks that something sweet may have happened…if only she could remember. The story follows her quest to try and piece together the blurry pieces of the night before. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. And going to New Orleans for research was an absolute blast – a city full of music on every corner, spooky voodoo traditions behind every doorway and the most colourful and alive place I have ever seen. Plus there was the odd gator or two, who may just get a mention in Sunlounger 2. Last year I was the only male author featured in Sunlounger, but this year I am thrilled to say I’ve been joined by a brilliant author called Matt Dunn, so I am no longer the only fella at the Sunlounger party!

Talking of parties, I was lucky enough to head down to London recently for the Sunlounger 2 press launch which was a great excuse to drink Mai Tais, meet up with fellow authors featured in the book and also meet some of the hugely important book bloggers who have been really amazingly good and generous in supporting me with my books TRINITY and ADDICTED. So, to all of them who came along and shared their ideas, joys, and general loveliness with me on the day, can I say thanks! I loved it! Truly. And speaking to them all on Twitter after the event is even more brilliant now than it was before as now I can put faces, laughs, actions and general bubbliness to names.

I really hope Sunlounger 2 is just as much as a success as it was last year when it remained at the top of the online short stories book chart all summer long. In fact I hope it’s an even bigger success. With all of that writing talent going on inside the virtual covers, how can it fail!

Sunlounger 2 is released on Amazon on Saturday 21st June. For more details head to and sign up for the Sunlounger newsletters. You can also check out the #Sunlounger2 twitter feed.
My books TRINITY and ADDICTED are available on Amazon too right now. TRINITY and ADDICTED 99p each.
Books by the other Sunlounger authors are out there too – everyone from Tasmina Perry and Victoria Fox through to Talli Roland and Lara Williamson. Every one a joy!
Dive on in and bag yourself a sun-soaked summer read with Sunlounger 2 – £2.99 at Amazon from 21st June.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Where to next?

I've had a few people ask me where I'm off to next so I'm happy to let you know that in a couple of week's time I am going to Santorini, a beautiful Greek Island in the South Aegean Sea.

My pals and I will be staying on the west side of the island right where you see that blue pin in the picture!

I love Greece, the food and the people and there's sure to be guaranteed sunshine and beautiful sunsets .. not to mention a glass of retsina or two!

I will be documenting my trip when I come back in mid June!

Τα λέμε σύντομα! (See you soon!)

Monday, 12 May 2014

HQ is three years old this week!

Riviera Maya, Mexico
Photographing seagulls - Miami FL
I can't believe how fast time flies! I have been writing my blog for three years now ... Using it as an online diary, I am astounded at how many trips I have actually done!

Here's a quick photographic flashback of some of my favourite memories ...

Sub zero temperatures and snow, New York NY
Montego Bay, Jamaica WI

Rethymnon, Crete Greece

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi UAE
Make up for US Open, New York NY

Beignets, New Orleans LA
Coffee time, Milano, Italy

Rhiad, Marrakech

The old and the new, Dubai UAE

The Grove, Crane Beach, Barbados

I invite you to continue to join me on my travels and I hope you enjoy reading as much I enjoy writing and sharing with you!

'Like' and follow my facebook page for updates and other useful travel and beauty tips as well as suggestions and ideas for places I have yet to go. Safe travels!