I love travelling, and if my journalist salary allowed, I’d spend every weekend and all my annual leave jetting off to various destinations across Europe and the world (it doesn’t, obvs).

Recently I headed off the Lisbon on a surprise trip for my boyfriend’s 30th birthday. Amazingly he didn’t guess beforehand, even though I kept blathering on about the terrible exchange rate for Euros, and it was only the day before he turned 30 that I revealed we’d be jetting off on a glamorous EasyJet flight to the Portugese capital on his birthday. I totally recommend giving presents that mean you also get to go on holiday, btw.

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Anyway, I had a little look around beforehand to find out the best things to do in Lisbon but, as always, there was an overwhelming amount of information online. So I’ve decided to make it simpler/add to the deluge by rounding up my favourite things to do during a long weekend there…

Day 1 – Walking Tour

I’m the kind of gal who likes to get their bearings in a new city, so the Chill-Out walking tour, which leaves from the Plaza Luis de Camoes at various times (check here) was a good option on the first day. Even better it’s free! By which I mean, there’s no set charge, although you are pretty much expected to tip at the end.

To be fair though, you do get a lot for your money – our tour lasted a good three and a half hours, taking in the main sights of central Lisbon, with plenty of good restaurant recommendations and a cherry liquor stop thrown in along the way.

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My favourite bit of the tour by far was Alfama. This is Lisbon’s oldest district, full of narrow, winding cobbled streets and brightly painted buildings where locals shout to each other across the balconies! It’s the type of area that would have been totally refurbished and turned into luxury period property in London, but in Lisbon this is still, apparently, the neighbourhood of the poor. It’s also where you can find Fado restaurants in the evening, home to traditional guitar music and singing which you enjoy while eating your meal.

The view at the end of the tour is not bad either!

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Day 2 – Belém

Before I went to Lisbon my mum told me approx. 400 times that I must visit Belém once I was there, so dutifully we trundled off on the tram to get there on our second day in Lisbon (take tram route 15, it’s around 40 minutes).

The area is special because it’s home to some of Lisbon’s most notable historic monuments, including the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Jerónimos Monastery. Obviously because I’m a complete moron and it was Easter Sunday the monastery was closed, but here is a lovely picture of it from the outside, and I’m sure it’s very interesting inside should you be a more sensible person and check opening times.

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Anyway, all was not lost, because there were still some cool things to see in Belém, including the Monument to the Discoveries (below), a huge and impressive stone slab erected in the 1960s, and Belém Tower, a little fort built just out into the sea. We also whizzed round the (free) modern art gallery which was vaguely interesting to us, but probably would be utterly absorbing to a proper art enthusiast.

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Is it terrible for me to say the highlight of Belém was a cafe? Not just any cafe though – the Fábrica de Pasteis de Belém, which since the 1800s has been serving up Lisbon’s famous custard tarts (forget all notion of those anaemic-looking tarts they sell in Greggs, these are INCREDIBLE). Once they come to the table you can choose whether to sprinkle yours with sugar or cinnamon – I went for the latter and it was so bloody gorgeous I’m drooling a bit just writing this. We had ours with hot chocolate just for extra fat points.

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When you get the tram back, jump off at the Praça do Comércio (a big square with a statue of a dude on a horse – you’ll learn more about him on the tour) and then have a wander of the centre and shopping districts. Unfortunately I can confirm that Zara is no cheaper in Portugal *sad face*.

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Day 3 – Sintra

Now that you’ve done the centre of town and the historical districts, where the hell else are you gonna go?

Well, chatting to our taxi driver on the way into Lisbon we’d been told about a ‘fairytale place, up in the hills’ called Sintra, and as soon as he’d said that I was immediately envisaging the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang castle and had to visit.

The train takes just under an hour to get from Lisbon to Sintra, leaving from Rossio train station, which was conveniently close to our hotel (Casa Balthazar, not dirt cheap but highly recommended). In my opinion, it was totally worth it – there is so much to see once you get there, including palaces, beautiful gardens and a cute little town. Yet again, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you can see why.

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My highlight was the Castle of the Moors (where I’m getting my pose on above) a stunning medieval castle located right up on the mountainside (you have to get a bus up, don’t even try and walk!) It has to be seen to be believed – the views and scenery were stunning.

Another fun place to visit in Sintra is the Quinta da Regaleira. We umm-ed and ahh-ed about going there but I’m so glad we did – it’s basically this crazy, fairytale garden featuring lakes with stepping stones, fountains, turrets you can climb up, grottoes and pitch black tunnels that you run through screaming (just me?!)

There’s also an ‘Initiation Well’ – a deep well which you can look at from the top before climbing right down to the bottom (I had lots of horrific flashbacks to seeing The Ring at the cinema during this point but it was all fun and games really. No, really).

 

Where to eat?

Apart from the custard tarts of DREAMS, I haven’t really mentioned food yet, but yes, have some! We enjoyed the Tagide wine and tapas bar, which had lovely views, tasty cheese and the opportunity to sample lots of different wines from a clever wine-dispensing machine.

Also worth trotting down to is the Mercado da Ribeira, which actually seems to be sponsored by Time Out (umm, how come they don’t have their own hipster street food market in London?!) It’s basically a massive hall with loads of table and benches in the middle, then round the outside lots of food stalls to choose from, ranging from traditional Portugese food to sushi. Be warned – it can get absolutely heaving at lunchtime, and it took us quite a while to find seats, but the atmosphere is pretty fun and raucous.

Basically though, just make sure you have as many custard tarts as humanly possible. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go to the Next SS’16 press day at the Ham Yard Hotel (schwanky!)

Here are a few of the lovely things I spotted…

  1. These gorgeous backless dresses

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2. This beautifully embellished white dress

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3. These cute l’il bags perfect for holiday jaunting

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4. These incredibly under-stated shoes (guffaw guffaw)

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5. Oh, and these ones because guuurl can never have enough shoes (AmIRight?!)

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6. This clutch that looks like a beautiful rose garden

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7. These trainers which strike the correct balance between cool and clown (I think)

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8. All this gold cutlery. Why has no one thought of THIS before?

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All this stuff will be available in Next this spring. See you there!

  1. Someone complimenting your eyeliner is literally the best thing that can happen. Oh this old thing? I’ve only spent TEN YEARS perfecting it.

2. Learning to do perfect cat flicks while on public transport was your greatest life make-up achievement. On the bus, on the tube – your eyeliner is on fleek gurrrl.

3. You’re constantly reprimanding your mates for not pointing out smudges.. We’ve been hanging out together all day – WHY have you not told me there is a big black mark under my eyebrow?

4. You’ve ended up looking like Amy Winehouse after 15 mins spent trying to balance up your flicks. I’ll just make this one a bit bigger… and this one… and  a bit more here…

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5. It’s basically impossible to remove all your eye make-up at the end of the day. You’ve been through five cotton pads and two gallons of micellar water and still the black stuff is coming…

6. You understand that not all liquid eyeliners are created equal. Some are flakey, others smudgy, and if you find one you love, you hold onto it forever (Rimmel Exaggerate Eye Liner, I’m looking at you bae).

7. You watched Cian Twomey’s ‘When girls rush their eyeliner’ video and literally cried with laughter. That is your life right there on film.

8. When you see a girl with incredible eyeliner, you want to stand up and applaud. And also follow her home so you can see how she does it (in a totally non-creepy way).

9. People are seriously concerned for your health when you don’t wear eyeliner. ‘Are you ill? You look REALLY ill.’ Thanks guys.

10. Boiling hot weather is not your friend. Eyeliner and the beach will just never get along, but you’re still gonna try.

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11. Ditto rain. Ugh.

12. You could not give less of a s**t when people say ‘men prefer the natural look’.  I prefer the Tom Hardy look, but none of you seem to be working that.

13. You suspect you’ll be the old lady in the nursing home still insisting on full make-up everyday even when you can’t change your pants. But you’re pretty sure you’ll still be able to nail a graphic eye.

14. You have experienced the ‘eye bogey’. Black eye bogeys, in fact *shudders forever*

Oh my lordy I have miraculous beauty product news to share.

It’s not often I discover a product that I am genuinely wowed by, but when I walked out of a hair salon recently with highlights that were a whole lot more golden than the ‘cool, ash blonde’ colours I had asked for, I needed to find one quickly.

Luckily a bit of internet research (cheers Mumsnet) brought me to Provoke Touch of Silver Shampoo and Conditioner – and BLIMEY did they do the job.

The products are pretty cheap given how well they work, and can be picked up in bigger Boots stores (normally loitering on a bottom shelf somewhere – look out for the purple packaging).

I get the impression it’s designed for older ladies to keep their greys a nice cool tone, but I knew it was exactly what I was looking for when I read loads of raving reviews online about how it can neutralise yellow/golden tones in highlighted hair.

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In the words of Kelis, this is the good stuff

Anyway, the first thing to mention is that you should leave the shampoo on your hair for the FULL 10 MINUTES specified. When I first tried these products I thought ‘ah screw that’ when I read the instructions – but obviously they are on there for a reason. Results: negligible.

So time for round two, and this time I decided to turn the pace down *cue cheesy RnB music* and try out the products alongside a relaxing bath and last week’s Stylist magazine (my Kindle isn’t allowed anywhere near the bath, sadly).

I even put a clock on the edge of the sink so I couldn’t cheat on timings. Let me tell you, it’s amazing how slowly 10 minutes goes when you’re in the bath, and yet when you’re rushing to get ready for work, it’s flies by quicker than you can say ‘Seriously where the f**k is my Oyster card?’

So there I lay – 10 minutes for the shampoo, and a further five for the conditioner. Be careful not to get the purple liquid all over the grouting in your bathroom tiles, otherwise your boyfriend will tell you off (can you tell I’m speaking from experience, ladies?)

After rinsing my hair, I could immediately tell there was a difference. That gentle orange sheen that had been glinting from my locks was gone, replaced by a much cooler tone. When I dried my hair it genuinely looked like a new dye job. Gone was the ‘strawberry blonde’ that my darling bf had pointed out when I first had it done – instead I had a lovely ash blonde, just as I’d wanted in the first place.

After, innit.

After, innit.

For less than a tenner for both products, you just can’t go wrong.

Provoke Touch of Silver Brightening Shampoo, £3.19, and Touch of Silver Intensive Conditioner, £3.19, both Boots.com

Bold claim huh? And of course, some people will  be like ‘no, it’s War and Peace, you cretin’, while others are going ‘duh, Take Me Out‘ (I love them both, btw).

But to my mind First Dates is simply fabulous. It’s reality TV, but without the cruelty of The X Factor, the madness of Big Brother or the general ‘why are we all doing this?’ of The Voice.

Of course, reality TV is popular because we’re all inherently nosy, and there is nothing more interesting than watching people as they go through the exciting,  excruciating and, for all they know, life-changing experience of a first date.

After all,  it’s hard to relate to the person belting out Whitney tunes to impress some arsey talent show judges, or the bloke fannying about inside The Cube, but nearly all of us have experienced a first date and that super nervous,  slightly thrilled, oh-my-god-I-think-I’m-actually-hysterical feeling that it brings.

You can see it on the faces of the First Dates singles as they’re sitting waiting at the bar – terror mixed with glee, because this might actually be the moment they meet the love of their life. It reminds you how exhilarating and full of potential dating can be – a helpful reminder for those who feel that Tinder and Happn have turned romance into, well, the most unromantic thing ever.

And what I really love is that the Channel 4 producers truly want to make good matches. Imagine if ITV did First Dates – we’d have horrifically awkward pairings just to have viewers peeking out from behind their sofa cushions and screeching, as if they were watching an I’m A Celebrity Bushtucker Trial.

But Ch4 take the time to match couples who might really get along – and they often do. When the series returned on Friday, we saw one pair matched up for their love of pugs (ok, turned out they had nothing else in common, but the producers had tried) and a lovely older couple, David and Margaret, who got on like a house on fire ( ‘I couldn’t have written a personal description better than the one you found me’ David told the cameras afterwards. D’aww).

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Given the excellent match-making, it’s no surprise that the previous series led to a good number of loved up couples – gay, straight, old and young – and even a proposal (desperate to know how those two are getting on, btw).

Another brilliant thing about this show is that it serves to remind us that a) everyone is so, SO different and b) there really is someone for everyone. When the male pug lover, Gareth, relayed tales of being asked at weddings why he was single and wanting to reply ‘I don’t know… because I’m a knob’ I bet there were thousands of people who could relate. But what First Dates demonstrates is that actually, there are loads of wonderful people who’ve taken years to find a partner – and it certainly isn’t because there’s anything wrong with them.

It also demonstrates that just because you like a person, and they don’t like you back (pug lovers, I’m looking at you) doesn’t mean they are more fun, or better, or more interesting than you – just different. A good lesson for all those people who’ve received the dreaded ‘It’s not you it’s me’ text after a few dates they really thought were going somewhere.

Perhaps my favourite couple from last night were Arunima and Simon. Arunima was gorgeous, funny, clever and completely unashamed of the fact that her fave hobby was to hang out at the bingo with her ‘Grandma’ squad (people who have a weird hobby and don’t give a sh*t about telling everyone are my favourite, by the way). Anyway, Arunima also happened to be in a wheelchair, which she evidently felt was a huge burden to put on her date, and bound to put men off.

Luckily Simon was unfazed and, more importantly, forgot about the wheelchair as soon as he realised what a gem she was. When Arunima welled up at the end of the show, telling the camera that his reaction had made her ‘re-evaluate’ herself (‘I think I need to give myself more credit’) we were all air-punching along with her. Again, the point the shows makes is that you should never deem yourself ‘unlovable’, and that, if you meet the right person, they see past your supposed ‘imperfections’.

I know First Dates is not world class drama, nor is it some kind of intellectual documentary teaching me more about, say, the Chinese economy. It’s just  a bunch of ordinary folk, doing what nearly everyone tries to do in life – find love. But that’s why I find it so fascinating. And why I’m encouraging all my single mates to sign up to appear on it ASAP.

(Pics: Channel 4)