23 September 2019

My Guide To Amsterdam



Okay, so this blog post is way overdue but I've finally found time to sit down and tell you all about our incredible trip to Amsterdam. I'm just going to start by saying that it is potentially one of my favourite cities I have ever visited.

If you read my 2019 Resolutions, you'll know that Amsterdam has been at the top of my Travel Bucket List for a while now and this year I was determined to get there. It's a place I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember, especially since reading Anne Frank's diary when I was eleven.

In early June, my friend Mercydes and I booked a last minute trip to the Dam via LoveHolidays, who I would highly recommend booking with if you're looking for the best deal on the market. To put our trip into context, we visited at the end of July for 3 nights (4 days).

If you're thinking of visiting this absolutely stunning place, hopefully some of these recommendations will help you out!

Flights


Our flights to Amsterdam cost £101 return which is on the pricer side for a flight to the city, I know you can get flights a lot cheaper which is why I would definitely recommend booking in advance. We flew from Liverpool John Lennon Airport with Easy Jet and it was a super short flight, just over an hour each way, which is perfect if you're a nervous flyer or just looking for something quick. 

Getting Around


Amsterdam Schipol can be incredibly daunting for even the most experienced travellers but getting to and from the airport couldn't have been easier! If you're staying in the centre there's a regular tram service that takes you straight to Amsterdam Central but if that's not your thing, then the majority of hotels offer a free shuttle service to and from the airport so it's definitely worth doing your research.


In terms of the actual city itself, Amsterdam is relatively easy to navigate. The majority of the main attractions are a good walk away from one another so take a comfy pair of shoes and a portable charger because Google Maps will be your best friend. It's also worth taking advantage of the underground tram system (which we wish we would've discovered sooner), book on a river cruise, or take the more traditional option and rent a bicycle but be careful because they're absolutely everywhere. Have you even been to Amsterdam if you've not nearly been killed by a bike?

Where To Stay 


We stayed in one of the urban rooms at the Corendon Village Hotel, just ten minutes from Amsterdam Schipol. The hotel offers a free shuttle to and from the airport as well as a bus to and from the city centre for €7 return. 

Our room was absolutely stunning; not only was it spotless but we had two of the comfiest beds, a spacious bathroom and a gigantic window meaning we were blessed with a breathtaking view of the sunset every night. The hotel itself had a rooftop bar, various restaurants and its own little shop which was open 24 hours. The staff were incredibly friendly, they couldn't have done enough to make us feel at home. 

Three nights in the hotel, including a continental breakfast each morning, cost £133 each which was absolutely perfect for what we needed. 


Where To Eat

If I'm being honest, we didn't try as much of the cuisine as we would have liked. I'm blaming this on the fact that we filled up on bacon and eggs in the hotel each morning. Having breakfast in our hotel package was definitely worth it, it saved us so much money as eating was probably the most expensive part of our visit to Amsterdam. 

It was around €3 for a bottle of water and €1 to use the toilet in most places. A little tip is to stock up on food and drink from the little supermarkets dotted around the city and have a toilet stop when you visit the museums, it'll save you a few euros! 

Plus, because Amsterdam is a city you can always rely on McDonalds and Starbucks to be of service. We had to eat in McDonalds on our first night because everywhere was full! 

The Pancake Bakery

Prinsengracht 191


The Pancake Bakery was the one place that everyone said we had to visit. It's self explanatory really; a little restaurant at the side of the canal that does, quite literally, the best pancakes in Amsterdam. We visited in the late afternoon when it was quieter and I was a little overwhelmed by the huge selection of pancakes to choose from. I'd have ordered about three if I could stomach it! 

It's around €13.40 for a basic pancake which is very reasonable - I opted for the banana and Nutella which was to die for! It was the perfect place for a little afternoon snack and the staff were so friendly. I can understand why so many people recommend it now! 

Polaberry

Prinsengracht 232H


Oh Polaberry, I'm still dreaming about you!
Are you ready for the most instagrammable chocolate covered fruit in the world? Because I really don't think you are. For around €9 you can get a little box these delicious chocolate covered strawberries, and trust me when I say they taste as good as they look. Even if strawberries aren't your thing, just do it for the gram!

Pizza & Wine Canal Cruise 


As a special treat on the last night of our trip, Mercydes and I booked a Pizza and Wine Canal Cruise. Not only was this a meal sorted but it meant that we got to see the beauty of Amsterdam in the best way - with wine, pizza and on a pretty little boat. 

We pre-booked the cruise via Get Your Guide and for €42 we got a 90 minute guided canal cruise, a pizza of our choice, a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and unlimited wine/beer. Lets be honest, who doesn't love unlimited wine!? 

It was absolutely beautiful and an experience I'll remember for the rest of my life. We were able to see the stunning sights of the city whilst getting a little bit tipsy with the best company. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny evening in Amsterdam and believe me when I say, my wine glass was never empty! 

Get Your Guide offer a variety of different canal cruises including a burger cruise, an ice cream cruise and a beer cruise! I'd definitely check them out if you're looking to do something a bit different. 

What To Do

Rent a Pedal Boat


First up, I want to tell you about my favourite Amsterdam memory. I think Cyde will agree when I say that this was both the best and worst decision we have ever made in our entire lives.

On the hottest day of the trip, Cyde and I were sat relaxing at the side of a canal when she thought it'd be a brilliant idea to rent a peddle boat because 'how hard can it be?'

Let me tell you now, it's bloody hard!! 

There are various stops around the city and for €10 (plus a €20 refundable deposit) you can rent a peddle boat for an hour. They give you a map with an impossible route to follow, an emergency number and assign you a boat. If you don't have it back within the hour, you don't get your deposit back - it's as simple as that.

It was all fun and games at first, peddling along, having a laugh and Cyde doing the steering. Then, our legs started to ache, our feet started to cramp, the sweat started pumping and to top it all off nicely, when it was my turn to steer I crashed us into another passenger boat and we had to be rescued!!

It was the most embarrassingly hilarious experience of my life but I'd highly recommend doing it, just make sure there's four of you in a boat and at least two people who can steer (sorry Cyde!).

The Anne Frank House

Westermarkt 20 


Visiting the Anne Frank house was at the top of my list of things I so desperately wanted to do in Amsterdam. I first heard about Anne Frank in a history lesson when I was eleven and have been fascinated by her family and her story ever since. I suppose you could call it a childhood dream of mine.

First things first, I highly recommend booking your tickets in advance as it gets booked up very quickly and you can't rely on just turning up on the day if, like us, it's something you really want to do.

It's €10.50 for a ticket which includes a free audio tour. It took an hour to get round the house, including looking at all the artefacts and listening to the information plus there's a lot of steep steps so if you're bad on your feet, maybe it's not the thing for you.

The experience itself is incredibly moving, I was close to tears a few times.  It's shocking to see the living conditions of the cramped Annex where the Frank family spent years in hiding, as well as the heart breaking effects of the holocaust. The Annex has been left exactly as it was when the Frank family were captured - nothing, no furniture, just old magazine cut outs which Anne used to decorate her bedroom wall. It's truly an eye opening experience and a must-do if you're visiting Amsterdam.

The Fault In Our Stars Bench

Leidsegracht Canal 


This is the moment my sixteen year old self was absolutely freaking out!

The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most iconic stories of our generation and to be able to visit the bench where Gus and Hazel sat was magical. It's one of my favourite moments from one of my favourite books and a place that you can tell is so special to so many people.

The bench itself is covered in quotes from the book, song lyrics and has love locks attached to the handles. It's the perfect place to sit and relax but it can get busy - we visited in the early evening and although there were crowds, we managed to get photos and have a little sit down next to the canal.

The Red Light District


I'll admit this one isn't for everyone but it's something that Cyde and I were curious about and wanted to go and see. It wasn't what I was expecting at all, in fact it was incredibly eye opening and in a strange way made me proud to be a woman. They're working and they're so in control. It's a completely different culture over there but definitely something that needs to be seen.

Sex Museum

Damrak 18 


If you want a hilariously funny way to fill in a drizzly morning in Amsterdam then the Sex Museum is an absolute must-do. It took us around an hour to walk round but it does get very busy as it's one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. For just €5 you can have potentially one of the most eye opening experiences of your entire life and trust me when I say, you will see things that you won't be forgetting in a hurry!

The Ice Bar

Amstel 194 - 196


The Ice Bar is quite literally one of the coolest things I have ever experienced (punny, I know).

We booked via the reception in our hotel and for around €20 we got a drink on arrival, either two pints of Heineken or two straight vodka shots from the actual Ice Bar. It wasn't something that we had planned to do and it was a very last minute booking but I'm so glad we did it. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!

We got thick coats and gloves to keep us warm but I literally couldn't feel my legs as we stupidly wore dresses so next time I visit, I'll be going in my jeans. We spent over an hour dancing around the Ice Bar with our new friends Cara and Natalia, shot glasses (made of ice) in hand and giving the hilarious friendly staff a rendition of Starships by Nicki Minaj.

It was one of my favourite things I have ever done and I cannot wait to visit again!



We did so much walking and sight-seeing in Amsterdam, even stumbling across a few little hidden gems along the way. One of my favourite things to do, especially as it was so warm, was sit with my legs dangling over the side of the canal and watch the world go by. We spoke to so many different people including a very lovely couple from America who were absolutely fascinated by our accents.

One thing I absolutely loved about Amsterdam is that everyone was so friendly and would go out of their way to help you. It made my first experience of the city just that little bit more special.


After we met Cara and Natalia at the Ice Bar we spent the rest of the afternoon and the evening with them. It's important to remember that Amsterdam is a city so there's a lot of shopping to do and a huge Primark on the Main Street if that's your kind of thing.

The night life in Amsterdam is amazing, there's so many bars to sit outside, so many restaurants to try and so much culture to experience. On our last night Cara, Natalia, Cyde and I spent the evening drinking wine, making new friends and having such a laugh! It truly was the perfect end to the most incredible holiday.



As you can probably tell, I had the most amazing trip with the best company and I would go back to Amsterdam in a heartbeat.  I knew I was going to enjoy the city but I didn't think I was going to fall in love with it as much as I did. I'd love to go and visit again in the winter as I can imagine it's so magical - that's another one on the bucket list!

I hope my little guide to Amsterdam gave you some fun ideas of things to do and a general idea of how much things cost. I'd love to hear if you have any other recommendations for people so leave them in the comments!

Amsterdam, you truly have a piece of my heart and I cannot wait to visit you again soon.

Lots of love,
Meg x




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15 August 2019

A Summer Soiree At Aether

Photography by Jason Roberts

What's the perfect way to spend a British Summer Evening?
If you're anything like me then your answer will include cocktails, a sunset and people who bring out the best in you. There's nothing I love more than a warm evening spent drinking, laughing and reminiscing with friends, to me that's what summer is all about AND I've found the perfect place to do it.

Introducing Aether

Situated in the heart of the city above Liverpool One, Aether is celebrated for its experimentally crafted cocktails and opulent interiors and is quickly becoming one of my favourite bars in the city. 

On Friday 9th August, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Aether Summer Soiree for an evening of cocktails, canapés and live music. On arrival we enjoyed a glass of Fiero Spritz, along with cocktails from their new Summer menu; including a zesty Chill Chocolate cocktail featuring Santa Teresa rum, and the Instagram worthy Tanqueray based Bee Sting cocktail. I can fully confirm Aether make the best cocktails in Liverpool. 

Photography by Jason Roberts

The bar has a very sophisticated vibe, with its chic décor, large open windows and wooden terrace decked with sofas and chairs for those warmer evenings (which we sadly weren't blessed with). It's the perfect place for a date night or an evening drinking cocktails with the girls, even spending time with the family. My Dad accompanied me to the event and even though he's not a cocktail drinker, he can't wait to go back (and believe me, if it's got my Dad's approval, it must be bloody good!).

We spent the evening chatting, sipping on a wide variety of cocktails and listening to the live band put some modern twists on classic tunes. Being in such a chilled environment with such positive lovely vibes put me in the best mood. It was the perfect way to end the working week and start the weekend off in style.

Photography by Jason Roberts

East River, a new restaurant based on Allerton Road which is inspired by the delis of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, provided canapés for the evening. We enjoyed succulent lamb skewers, bagel samples, fresh salmon bowls along with more light bites. I was very fond of the salmon bowl which we were able to eat with chopsticks (although I gave up half way through, far too twiddly for me). 



We stayed at Aether late into the evening as the live band was replaced by a DJ playing soul, jazz and modern classics which, as you can imagine, was right up my street. We even tried a Gin Fizz cocktail from the 'Seasonal Spritz' menu (a mix of Tanqueray, tonic, elderflower and violette soda) which was absolutely divine - definitely my favourite of the night.

Although I would class the bar as high-end, the cocktails are reasonably priced and well worth the money especially when you consider your beautiful surroundings and the skill of the bar staff who make, shake and prepare each drink in front of you.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that each cocktail on the menu is inspired by the elements. I can't wait to go back and try 'Peaches and Bae Daiquiri' from the Earth menu. A blend of bay leaf ketel one, peaches, vanilla, citrus and creamy peach - now doesn't that sound dreamy? *inserts heart eyes*


It was a place that was full of so much love and calmness that we didn't want to leave but sadly, the night couldn't last forever. Upon leaving, we were given miniature bottles of flavoured liquor to take home, which when added to a mixer created the perfect summer cocktail. 

With its innovative cocktail menu, stylish interiors, and lively ambiance, often enhanced with live music, Aether is already a firm-favourite with cocktail aficionados and provides the perfect spot for socialising with family and friends this summer, or any season for that matter. 

I can't wait to visit Aether again, it's my go-to place for a date night, an evening with the girls, a birthday celebration, a quick drink after a shopping trip and any other opportunity I get to try a new cocktail from the menu. 

Thanks for a fabulous evening Aether, you're my new favourite bar in the city, that's for sure. 

Lots of Love,
Meg x


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9 July 2019

My Skin Journey: Roaccutane

Last Week, after almost two years of dermatology appointments, I officially finished my course of roaccutane.

I've had acne since I was ten years old. I'm now twenty-two. That's twelve years of my life spent feeling insecure, dealing with bullies and waking up every morning to red cysts covering my cheeks. Twelve years of avoiding social situations, editing my blemishes out of photos and the sight of my own reflection bringing me to tears. I wrote a big ol' post about my skin story, if you fancy a read. 

I know most people say that they tried everything to clear up their skin but trust me when I say, I seriously explored every avenue possible, even the little side streets. Most of this was to avoid taking roaccutane, a drug I'd heard so much about; some things good, others not so much.

What Stopped Me Taking It?

I was first referred to start taking roaccutane (aka isotretinoin - a quick google search will tell you all about it) back in February 2018. However, after doing a lot of research and scaring myself silly, I chose to take yet another course of antibiotics. Granted, they did their job and cleared my skin up beautifully but when I stopped taking them, the acne came back in full force.

Although roaccutane is known as a 'miracle drug', it also receives a lot of bad press for the severe side effects associated with it; from skin as dry as the Sahara to issues as serious as low mood and in the worst cases, suicide. This was the side effect that scared me the most; there's no way I could put my mind and body through that. I knew my skin had to get worse before it got better but what if it didn't improve? So many questions! So many thoughts! My brain was a pile of mush.

I spent my nights watching vlogs, reading blog posts, interrogating friends and doing every ounce of research I could. However, no experience is the same and no matter how many people you talk to, everyone has something different to say.

Why Roaccutane?

In October of last year, I decided that roaccutane was my last resort and the only thing left for me to try. Taking this tablet is not a decision that should be taken lightly and I highly recommend that you make sure to do your research beforehand.

It took me a long time to decide I was finally ready to take roaccutane and I know I wouldn't have had the courage if it wasn't for the supportive network of people around me. Sure, some people tried to talk me out of it but deep down, I knew it was the right decision for me (and if worst came to worst, I could always stop taking it). At the end of the day, it's your decision and your decision only. You need to do what feels right for you.

I knew it was the one thing that could be a permanent solution to my acne and to be able to feel confident in myself again was something I so desperately longed for. I started my course of roaccutane on the 13th October 2018 and it truly is the best decision I have ever made.

Month 1 - Month 3

Dosage: 30mg

The first month of being on roaccutane is commonly known as the 'worst part' as your skin is supposed to purge all the badness which is why you're always told that it has to get worse before it gets better. However, my experience was a little bit backward.

I'd psyched myself up for this really bad breakout that was supposed to be brewing, yet nothing happened. I waited, and waited, and waited but my skin just seemed to be improving by the day. The overall texture was smooth and blemishes were few and far between, I'd be off this thing sooner than I thought (oh how naive you were, hun).

Side Effects

In terms of side effects, I think I was lucky. I got dry skin and dry lips pretty much straight away which was to be expected and nothing a bit of lip balm couldn't solve - even though nothing can prepare you for how many times you have to apply it during the day. 

Nearing the end of my first month I noticed myself feeling extremely tired and therefore sleeping a lot. This was potentially the worst side effect throughout the course as it brought a lack of motivation and hopelessness in some cases, not to mention it was bloody hard to get rid of. I continued to exercise and experienced sore joints however I found that taking a glucosamine supplement each day kept the aches and pains at bay. 

I also continued to drink alcohol in moderation and although it's not recommended, I had no major issues. Except that the hangovers are an absolute bitch. 

Other minor side effects included a few bad dreams, restless nights, nosebleeds, weight gain and painful periods but apart from that, the first few months were plain sailing. It seriously didn't feel like I was on medication. 

Mood

I'll be honest and say that my mood changed. It wasn't a dramatic change but I noticed myself feeling low and having a lack of interest in things. The only way I can describe it is feeling hungry, there's food there but you can't be bothered eating. However, it's hard to know if low mood is caused by roaccutane or personal issues. To help with this, I tried to keep myself busy and have some much needed me time. I also noticed that I let things get to me quicker than normal; I'd get upset about the smallest things and become aggravated quickly. 

Month 3 - Month 6

Dosage: 50mg

The next three months were the hardest and potentially the lowest I've ever felt. My dosage was upped to 50mg and subsequently, the bad breakout made an appearance. Seeing my skin get so bad made me feel disgusting, I couldn't bare to look in the mirror and the temptation to pick was so real. 

In all honesty, I felt like I'd made a massive mistake. I knew it had to get worse before it got better but I never imagined it would get that bad. It was really disheartening and I spent most nights crying to anyone who'd listen - I really was feeling sorry for myself. 

Side Effects

As expected, my side effects worsened and believe me when I say they really worsened. My periods became incredibly painful. I suffer with bad menstrual cramps anyway but roaccutane cramps were next level - I'd be in bed for days. 

The dryness also intensified, my lips started to crack and bleed and no amount of moisturiser could stop my foundation from clinging to the dry patches on my face. Eczema started to appear on my arms and legs and I was still incredibly tired all the bloody time. I had no motivation whatsoever. 

However, the worst side effect for me was hair loss. I went for my hair cut in February and my hair dresser pointed out that my hair had thinned so much it was falling out in her hands. As someone who takes pride in her appearance, especially her hair, this really upset me and my self esteem lowered even further. 


As you know, I will be truthful about this whole experience. I won't hide anything and I'll tell it like it is. So, if you want a summary of what these few months were like, I think my instagram post sums it up perfectly. 

Improvements

Towards the end of March I noticed that most of my active spots were small or had disappeared, leaving redness and scaring behind. I could only hope that the worst was over. 

Month 6 - Month 9

Dosage: 50mg

After three months of absolute hell, I finally started to see the massive improvements I was promised. I was backwards and forwards from my dermatologist, hoping it would be the last month and the end of my roaccutane journey but each time I was told, 'just one more month' and handed another prescription.

The majority of redness was scarring but I was still getting a few active spots now and again and according to my dermatologist, I had to be four to eight weeks clear before he could discharge me from his care. In terms of texture, my skin was smooth and my complexion was getting brighter by the day.

In the final months, I noticed that the warmer weather had a positive impact on my skin. It also raised the importance of using SPF, not only on my face but on my body too - something I completely overlooked when taking the drug. Due to the warm weather, I started drinking lemon infused water which had a positive impact on my scarring, calming redness and fading marks.

Side Effects

Towards the end of my final month, my body was telling me that I'd had enough and I knew that too. 

My side effects continued to intensify. Along with the bleeding lips, nose bleeds and intense fatigue, I was experiencing blinding migraines and terrible hot sweats. I could do something as simple as walk to the corner shop and I'd be sweating like I'd ran the London Marathon. Apparently, this is a common side effect towards the end of your roaccutane journey.

In terms of mood, I was low. I was really, really low. I went for weeks feeling like I wasn't good enough, feeling down about my appearance (not just my skin but my body) and feeling incredibly sensitive. I'd find myself sobbing at minor inconveniences - the silliest occasion being in work when I gave someone the wrong change. I couldn't cope anymore.

I'm lucky that I was able to talk to my family and friends about the way I was feeling. If it hadn't been for them and the supportive acne community on Instagram, I really don't think I'd have been able to get through this drug.

And Then, It Was Over

On 26th June 2018, I officially finished my course of roaccutane and let me tell you, I couldn't be happier. I was discharged from the care of my dermatologist and sobbed as he handed me my final letter.  I can't thank him enough for his support, guidance and help throughout my skin journey - he truly is an amazing human being and he's restored my confidence not only in the way I look but in myself as a person. 

What Now?

So I know what you're thinking, my skin journey is over and I'll be acne free for the rest of my life. 

Well, that would be the ideal scenario but my acne treatment doesn't end here. I'll be using Differin (a mild chemical peel) to help clear up any scarring that has been left behind and, in the words of my dermatologist, 'help my skin get better and better every day.' 

There is also a very minor chance that my acne could reappear. This is rare (and fingers crossed it won't happen) but some people have to go on two to three courses of roaccutane to get permanent results. That's the part I'm dreading. 

So, Was It Worth it?

Absolutely. 

I know I've sat here and complained about dryness, hair loss and tiredness but it really hasn't been that bad. I may have had some of the rarer side effects but there's people who've gone through the course without any dryness at all. I think the important thing is to do your research and be prepared for the side effects that can occur - that way, you know what to expect. 

In all honesty, it's changed my life. 

For the first time, I feel proud and confident in my own skin. I don't care what other people think. I don't care if they stare. It's crazy to think that two years ago, I wouldn't be seen in public without make up on, and now it's rare that I even wear it. 

I know how much bad skin knocks your confidence and I know how lonely it feels. As a society, we are under the impression that acne isn't normal when in fact, it's the most normal thing in the world. I think it's about time we see more acne prone skin portrayed in the media - instead of creating this unattainable image for people, why don't we try to encourage them to be proud of their flaws? 

I suppose I'm trying to say that it's okay to embrace your natural beauty. Acne is a part of you; spots, scaring, freckles and everything in between. Be proud of it. 

If anyone has any questions about acne, roaccutane or anything skin related then don't hesitate to drop me a Tweet, message me on Instagram or send me a little Email. I'm more than happy to talk! 

Lots of Love,
Meg x















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