Monday, 21 April 2014

“Affordable Luxury” for the Modern Traveller - Citizen M Hotels

Looking for a city hotel with a difference? Why not try Citizen M?

On a recent visit to our wonderful capital city, my hubby and I decided to try the new concept in accommodation and hospitality that is... ‘Citizen M’.

Citizen M is a ‘new breed’ of hotel, (currently in London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, New York and Paris, with hotels also being considered for Istanbul and Asia Pacific) whose aim is to provide “affordable luxury for the people”.  Did they deliver?  Well, we stayed for two nights at London Bankside, and this is what we thought...

Great!  Close to the Shard and Tate Modern, with a short ten minute walk to Southwark tube station.  Apparently, all Citizen M hotels are situated either at the heart of the city in which they’re located, or next to a major airport.

Check in / Check out:
Brilliant! No fuss, no frills, (no over-friendly, grinning receptionist making polite conversation, when (after a long and tiring journey) all you want to do is get to your room.  Instead half a dozen touch screens for simple, easy, self-serve check-in and payment.  There is however a very pleasant and friendly member of staff on stand-by (24/7), ready to offer help and assistance, but only if you need, or ask for it.

Lobby (aka Living Room):
Citizen M likes to refer to ‘its lobby’ as ‘your living-room’, and actually for me this is the jewel in the Citizen M crown.  The living-room area is fantastic.  Incredibly chic and ultra modern, yet cosy and comfortable, with several open plan areas and a very relaxed atmostphere.  From cosy fire-place, LED TV and comfy sofas, to cafe style environment, cocktail bar to courtyard, each area is perfectly designed for eating, working, meeting with friends, or simply relaxing with a cocktail after a hard day’s sight-seeing.

The Vitra furniture has been cleverly designed and is both stylish and comfortable.  There are pieces of specially selected and commissioned art decorating the walls, and there’s even a Mendo bookstore (smaller version of the bookstore in Amsterdam).  The whole place is scattered with interesting artefacts and photographs and the bookshelves are full of literary classics for guests to enjoy.

Food and Drink:
The informal, yet very stylish, bar and ‘canteen’ area is staffed 24 hours a day (but there’s no room service), which wasn’t an issue for us.

If you book in advance, a full English breakfast will cost you £11.95, or if purchased on the day it will set you back £14.95 – a bit pricey we thought.  If you’re not a fan of the full English, or, like us, are trying not to over-spend, there are plenty alternatives on offer which you can just select from the self-serve bar. Keen to get out there and on with our sight-seeing, we simply grabbed a coffee and a croissant, which cost around £4 per person.  Apart from this, we didn’t eat at all in the hotel.  We saw what was on offer and, from sushi to sandwiches and hot meals alike, it all looked excellent, we just wanted to get out and about as much as we possibly could during our short stay.

We did though have a night-cap each evening, in the hotel lounge, before crashing into our incredible comfy Citizen M king size bed (more about this later).   The bar staff were really attentive and friendly, and the drinks cost just about what you’d expect to pay in a London hotel (£12 ish for a glass of good red and a beer / cocktails from about £7 ish each).

The Bedrooms:
Pretty much everything at Citizen M could be described as ultra modern, and a little bit ‘quirky’ – this is especially so when it comes to the bedrooms.

Small and perfectly formed are words I would also use to describe the bedrooms.  It has to be said, there’s not much room to swing a cat, but the wall to wall windows and extremely comfortable king size bed with luxurious Frette linens, kind of make up for the lack of floor space.

Each room has free WiFi and movies on demand, and is also equipped with a tablet which controls pretty much everything, from the TV to the colourful mood-lighting.

The toilet and shower are located in a kind of futuristic looking, frosted glass, ‘pod’ (which actually, in our opinion, felt a little ‘caravanesque’!)  The shower was in fact excellent, complete with a choice of complimentary ‘am’ and ‘pm’ shower gels and a ‘rain shower’ feature.

If you’ve got more money than sense, and usually like to make the most of your hotel room mini-bar, then you will be disappointed with Citizen M.  There is no mini-bar!  Instead, each room is equipped with a small fridge, just in case you want to chill any drinks you may have brought with you, or have bought locally. Complimentary bottled water is also supplied and is replenished daily.

As with many hotels these days, each room is equipped with a pretty decent hairdryer – but unlike many other hotel rooms, there’s not an iron or trouser press in sight.  There is however an ironing room on each floor, where hotel guests can de-crumple their clothes, with a pretty snazzy looking steam iron, if they absolutely must – I have to say I was not, at any point during my stay, tempted to take advantage of this facility.

Our suggestion for improvement:
We know Citizen M is ‘new breed’, and that they are introducing a totally new concept in hotel accommodation, we get that, and it’s great, but, please...  bring back tea and coffee making facilities to the hotel bedroom!  We really missed being able to make ourselves a brew in the room whilst getting ready in the morning.  And, although my hubby thoroughly enjoyed himself playing around with the tablet and the mood lighting, he would have gladly traded this ‘gimicky’ feature for a good old-fashioned kettle!

To summarise:
This hotel is pretty new so, as you would expect, from lobby and lounge areas, to toilets and bedrooms, everything is still very clean and fresh looking.  I did however get a sense that the staff take great pride in their hotel, and that the high standards that have already been set, will continue to be maintained – I suppose only time will tell.

To be honest, when we travel, we tend to spend very little time in our hotel of choice and are usually more than satisfied with a simple Premier Inn or Travelodge (which would definitely have been cheaper).   Having said that, this trip was part of my husband’s 50th birthday celebrations, so we wanted something a little more special this time, but couldn’t possibly afford some of the higher end, London hotels.

Citizen M for us, was the perfect choice on this occasion – a refreshing change and definite upgrade from our usual budget hotels, but (at £292 for two nights) without completely breaking the bank.

All in all, I would highly recommend Citizen M, and yes, I think a touch of ‘affordable luxury’ is exactly what they deliver. 

Which fabulous city to try next?? ;-)

Have you stayed in any of the other Citizen M hotels?  Would love to hear what you think.

All you need to leave a comment is a Google account - Don't have one? click here

PS:  All views and opinions on Citizen M are my own, honest ones.
Sadly I've not received any payment or other incentive from Citizen M to write this post :-(

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Twenty-Two Years of Motherhood... the Pleasures and the Pains!

Tomorrow, my eldest ‘child’ (daughter Elissa), will reach the ripe-old age of twenty-two ... and next month, my ‘baby’ (son Mitch) will turn twenty... where have the years gone?!

Reflecting on the past twenty-two years, and with Mothers’ Day still fresh in my mind, I felt inspired to write a post about my own thoughts on being a mum, about the pleasures and pains, and about the amazing, often unpredictable, roller coaster ride that is Motherhood.

Where to start?  Well, I guess, at the very beginning... giving birth!  I won’t go into too much detail here but, after a relatively pleasant and uncomplicated first pregnancy, my forceps delivery wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.  Second-time round was quicker and easier, but it still hurt like hell!  Having said that, difficult as it all felt at the time, I had the best medical care I could have hoped for, and effective pain relief to help me through.  It was at this point I had a renewed and deepened respect for my own mother, and women like her, who have gone through childbirth without any pain relief whatsoever, and without their partner by their side to comfort and encourage them. Apparently in ‘the olden days’ (yes, I was born longer ago than I care to remember), your other half was banished from the delivery suite, and left to pace the hospital corridors alone – thank goodness times have changed!

So, having gone through all that pain, you have this delicate little bundle of joy to take home and care for.  You are totally responsible for this tiny person’s every need.  They will pull at your heart (and purse) strings, for at least for the next 18 years of his/her life, and quite possibly beyond that, although to a lesser degree (you hope!)  Very scary and yet wonderfully exciting, all at the same time.

Okay, what comes next?  Well, I guess some things are inevitable for all of us new mums and babies. I bet there’s not a single mum out there who can’t relate to what feels like the constant juggling act of everyday life, particularly in those early days. Feeding, nappy changing, endless washing and mountainous piles of ironing, shopping (that is of the grocery sort, not the shoes, handbags and lunch with the girls sort), and mopping up baby sick... all on little more than two hours sleep (if you’re lucky!)

And that’s just the practical side of things.  Even more of a shock to the system for me, were the emotions.  Oh my word, I have never experienced such a mixed bag of love, pride... and worry! I also remember the feeling of depression as I doubted I would ever leave the house again without a huge baby-changing bag slung over my shoulder.  Nor could I envisage a time when I would again have time to spend styling my hair or putting on a bit of lippy, or even just going to the loo in peace!  As the years go by, well, the pleasures and pains continue, they just change.

You delight in watching them take their first tentative steps, whilst worrying that they might fall and hurt themselves.  You’re proud as you wave them off for their first day at school, but at the same time have a tear in your eye thinking ‘what if they don’t cope without me?’ (or is it that you might not cope without them?) You watch them in their first school play, front row, tissues in hand, hanging on to their every word and movement, hoping they’re not feeling too nervous, and clapping ‘til your hands are sore once their performance is over.

Your heart breaks when they’re unhappy about something (even if it’s only the fact that they had a fall out with their best friend... which lasted all of three hours!), and when they’re happy, well, the world is a marvellous place.

When they’re older, you’re excited for them when they discover the fun to be had at wild parties, nights out, and on crazy holidays abroad with their mates.  Yet it doesn’t seem that long ago that you were doing those things yourself, and you know all too well that this stage may also involve experimentation with cigarettes, alcohol, and possibly worse! When they're out painting the town red (now there's a 'mum' phrase for you), any attempt to go to bed and sleep soundly is futile. You wait for them to come home well into the early hours, settling only when you hear them fall through the front door as the birds begin to sing.

A knowing smile spreads across your face when they find  love, and you want them to have that feeling forever, yet a part of you is preparing yourself to help mend a broken heart if it all goes wrong. Yes, you’d be there at the ready, with an over-sized duvet and an extra large tub of their favourite ice-cream... true Bridget Jones style!

You know through it all, at times, they will face disappointment, temptation, peer pressure, stressful situations and relationship difficulties, to name but a few of life’s challenges.  But you also know that you’ve done your best ...  that is, your best to guide them, teach them right from wrong and to instil moral values.  At the same time, and I believe just as (if not more) important, is to let them know it’s okay to be human, and that we all mess up at times (goodness knows, they’ve seen me mess up more than once).  They will make mistakes in life, but they can get over them, and what’s more learn from them.

You’ve done your best to equip them with the skills to become confident, sociable, independent and decent young adults who will hopefully go on to contribute to society, and the world, in a positive way.  If you’re really lucky they might even go on to become parents themselves (and bless you with grandchildren to worry about... and of course be proud of!)

It’s not an easy job, being a mum, and most of us enter into it not really appreciating the enormity of the responsibility, or  the impact it will have on our lives. So why do so many of us go on to have more children?  Because, as well as realising motherhood can be difficult and challenging, we also come to realise that it is the  most rewarding and worthwhile job we will ever do, and with it come feelings of love and pride that you never imagined possible.

You know the stage I described above? The one where you’re bogged down with the struggles of running a home as well as being a mum, and can’t see an end to it all?  Well... don’t blink.  Those times are gone in a flash, and together, you and your ‘baby(ies)’ will race through all of the above, at break-neck speed. Then, before you know it, that baby-changing bag has been replaced with a stylish clutch and once again, you’ve got all the time in the world to do your hair and lippy (and take as long as you like on the loo!). But wouldn’t you love to cast that lippy aside, turn the clock back, and hold your baby in your arms once again?.. well, maybe just for a little while.

As I write this, my son Mitch, is on his way back home for Easter, to Leeds from Guildford, where he’s studying for a degree at The Academy of Contemporary Music. I miss him, and am immensely proud of him, on a daily basis. From adorable brown-eyed little boy, to strong, handsome, and talented young man, he has enriched my life more than he will ever know (he’s made it quite stressful at times too... but we won’t mention any of that ;-) )

Anyhow, as it’s Elissa’s birthday tomorrow, I suppose I better just say a word or two about her.

From not so bonny baby, (she won’t mind me saying that, only the other night we were laughing together at some less than flattering photos from her early years... I blame the forceps!), to beautiful, smart, successful young woman, I have to say the last twenty-two years have been a privilege – perhaps easy to say on reflection as, like all mums and daughters, we’ve had our moments!

Packing her off to Newcastle University almost four years ago, it felt like I was waving good-bye to my little girl forever. She returned home, almost a year ago now, bringing with her an English Literature degree.  No, she’s not my little girl any more, she’s a woman in her own right, working full-time in digital marketing, with her own thoughts and opinions. I don’t have my little girl any longer, but I do have a very special, and hopefully life-long friend.  Who else would allow me to borrow their clothes on an almost daily basis, and give me such blunt (though I have to admit, useful) hair and make-up advice, telling me straight out if I’m starting to look, or act, anything like a forty-something year old mum of two (god forbid!! ;-)

Like all the other stages in her life, I know having Elissa home and being so close, won’t last forever. Indeed, both of my 'children' will find a permanent place of their own at some stage, and move out of the family home for good (she says... hopefully!)  But, wherever they are and whatever they do, I know one thing’s for sure... the pleasures and the pains will continue, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I guess that’s just part of life... just part of motherhood!

Happy Birthday Elissa x

Monday, 7 April 2014

Home-made afternoon tea... a delicious, affordable treat!

There’s nothing quite like a traditional afternoon tea (in fact I think it’s one of my all time favourite indulgences) but, for most of us, it’s an occasional treat reserved only for special occasions.

Afternoon tea for me is not just about the yummy little bite-sized  sandwiches with the crusts removed,  the gorgeous scones with lashings of clotted cream, or even just the wonderful taste of a good old cuppa.  It’s about the whole experience. You know what I mean... the tradition, the ritual, the Britishness, the use of delicate cups and saucers and the ‘chinking’ sound of teaspoons against them,  tea pots, sugar lumps and pretty floral table cloths, all of which are so reminiscent of childhood tea parties with your favourite dollies and teddy bears (or is that just me?!)

However, let’s face it, traditional afternoon tea is not exactly nutrient packed (unless you count the strawberries in your conserve as one of your five a day – or is it seven a day now?!) and we’d all be the size of a house, and a heart attack waiting to happen, if we stuffed ourselves with cake and cream every day.  But it’s not just that, even if the health implications of consuming such calorific treats too often don’t put you off, then surely the cost does.  Oh yes, those lovely little tea-rooms and fancy country hotels know how to serve an afternoon tea in style, but they also know how to charge for it!

Well, strapped for cash or not, you can treat yourself to a delicious home-made afternoon tea, anytime, with relatively little cost or effort.  And, whilst I can’t claim the home-made version is any more healthy for your body, it is perhaps healthier for your mind and soul... imagine the satisfaction, having created your very own scrumptious sarnies and fluffy sponges, and then devouring  them with a smug smile on your face, knowing that it’s cost you next to nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you start rustling up afternoon tea on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.  Afternoon tea is a special thing and arguably, as such, should be reserved for special occasions. But if you do just fancy having friends and family round in the afternoon, for a bite to eat and a cuppa, and would like to make it that little bit extra special, then read on and have a go.  I did this one for Mothers' Day but it would make a lovely tea-time treat for any occasion – add a few little glass dishes of mini eggs and a bunch of daffies to your table, and it would be perfect for Easter Sunday.

The beauty of afternoon tea is that it’s one of those meals you can completely prepare the day before... yes including the sandwiches, no, they won't be soggy.  So on the day itself, all you have to do is enjoy!

The Food

I’m a very thrifty missus these days, and do most of my food shopping at Aldi.  I managed to get everything I needed from there to make my afternoon tea (except the clotted cream) for just under £45 (including a few bottles of fizz).  This isn’t far off what you might pay per head in a tea-room or hotel, and there was more than enough to leave 6 adults feeling full to bursting, and also to make up two packed lunches for the following day.


Mary Berry top tip for fresh, moist sandwiches – made the day before.  Use fresh bread (obviously), mix of wholemeal and white, crusts removed (of course!), and don’t use fillings that are too ‘wet’, such as tomatoes.  Cut your sandwiches into quarter triangles and place them on a tray, packing them tightly together.  Cover with a clean moistened tea towel (tucking in around the edges).  Cover the whole tray with cling film or foil and pop in the fridge.  I did a selection of egg mayo and cress, ham and mustard, tuna mayo and cucumber, smoked salmon and cream cheese, pastrami and red onion chutney.

Mary Berry Orange Butterfly Cakes
I adapted the recipe for these gorgeous little cakes, and used lemons instead of oranges, as I thought I might struggle to find orange curd in any of my local supermarkets. Click here for full recipe.

Mary Berry Tea Time Scones
I added a few sultanas to this recipe and served them with fresh strawberries, strawberry conserve and clotted cream. Click here for full recipe.

Mary Berry Chocolate Tray Bake
The best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!  Beautifully crumbly and melts in the mouth. My feather icing wasn’t hugely successful (perhaps just need a bit of practice)... but who cares, it tasted amazing. Click here for full recipe.

The Finishing Touches

I love setting a nice table, and actually enjoy this bit far more than making the food.  For an afternoon tea table, I think it looks delightful when everything’s a little bit mixed up, not matching and a tad ‘vintage’ in style.  I’ve kind of stuck with a colour ‘theme’ but  the whole table’s made of up odds and ends, bits and pieces, either collected over the years, borrowed, or found in my local charity shops. My dining chairs aren’t upholstered so, to make them a little more comfortable for my guests, I placed a different coloured / patterned scatter cushion on each, which looked really lovely.  By having a bit of fun with this, enjoying being creative, and using the little finishing touches that make me smile,  I hope you'll agree, I managed to achieve the charming, and ‘evocative of a traditional tea party’ look I was going for.

Floral table-cloth, £2.50 local charity shop
Tea-light holders, collected over the years (gifts, charity shop finds, borrowed from daughter!)
Glass vase, £1.99 Ikea (beautiful tulips, Mother’s Day gift)
Cake stands - £2.99 each, Poundstretcher
Cups and saucers, some Ikea, some charity shop, some Next
Tea-pot, £4.99 Wilkinsons
Coloured champagne flutes £1 each, Poundstretcher

Have fun and enjoy!