Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent (Tour & Afternoon Tea)

Cats are amazing! And when it comes to even bigger cats, like lions and tigers, there is so much more to love! I visited the Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent for a tour and afternoon tea experience and had a great time finding out more about them.

I know there is protective glass here but having a tiger so close to my face was pretty scary
The sanctuary expands over 30 acres of land and holds 50 big cats within 40 enclosures. Out of those, there are 15 unique species of cats, 8 of which are part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Program. This is important, because that is how they ensure the species continue and there is enough genetic diversity to avoid any issues that could occur from inbreeding.

Now let's have a look at the beautiful majestic cats you will find in the sanctuary!

Male and female lions live separately.

The tigers would most certainly eat you for lunch.

This snow leopard likes watching people.

Some of the wild cats may look cute and pretty much house cat sized but are still dangerous.

This gorgeous black lady apparently started digging a tunnel under her cage to escape. When that failed she tried playing dead until the staff opened the door to check her, when she jumped up and tried to run.

And some overviews of the facility... There is no clearly planned route and moving from cage to cage means walking through grass and mud so wellies are recommended.

There is also the option to book an overnight stay at the Sanctuary, staying at one of these beautiful lodges. This also gives you the chance to go inside some of the cages of the smaller, less dangerous cats and feed them.

They also now take bookings for weddings. The package includes a tour of the grounds, but apparently throwing the mother in law to the lions is frowned upon (at least that's what they told us).

As for the afternoon tea after the tour, we enjoyed sandwiches, a large scone and a generous piece of cake, everything delicious and fresh. Personally I would have done with less cake and an extra sandwich, but if you have a sweet tooth this is perfect.

All in all, this was a brilliant day out, I loved seeing all the cats and learning more information about the individual animals they have here, their temperaments and history, as well as more information on the conservation efforts of their species.

I would totally recommend visiting the sanctuary and supporting them, as they are doing a great job to ensure the animals in their care have good lives and are well looked after. You can book the tour and afternoon tea experience on Red Letter Days. And, if you have previously visited them I'd love to know what you thought.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Taking A Cocktail Cruise Of East London

With summer fast approaching and the days getting warmer, it's time to start thinking of outdoor activities, to maximise our time out in the sun. So, how about a canal boat ride?

Hackney Wick

London canals provide perfect spots to spend your summer days by the water, with a variety of pubs and cafes ready to capitalise on the nice breeze and feeling of not being in the middle of one of the biggest European capitals. Sitting by the water and enjoying a cocktail is as close as you can get to a holiday without leaving the city.

canal London

Now, we have already checked out a lovely route to go for a walk by Regent's Canal, but, if you are feeling particularly lazy, you can hop on a canal boat and let it take you up and down the canal for an hour or two, while you can focus on the important task of sipping cocktails.

canal boat

To do just that and to reward some of our top volunteers at work, I arranged a lovely Saturday out in East London, on board the Alfred Le Roy canal boat cruise. The cruise begins at Hackney Wick, following the river Lea all the way to the Olympic Park, down to Limehouse (or Springfield Park) and back again.

canal boats

Along the way, you can either sit inside the boat, the roof may be removed if the weather is warm enough, or go to the front of the boat for some Titanic reenactment (aka Jack I'm flying and such) and pretend you are the captain of the boat. The actual captain is at the back and controls the boat from the rear.

Alfred Le Roy Cocktail Cruise

Still, the front of the boat is the best place to take photos of the canal with an unobstructed view and also get your photo taken with it (like I did below).

Kristine Tsiknaki

Now, let's talk about the cocktails, pretty much a huge part of a cocktail cruise... In a few words, well, they are awesome! The cruise offers five signature cocktails (the menu can be found here), out of which you get one as part of your ticket, which is pretty cool. I then of course proceeded to try all the others as well, my favourite being the Toffee Apple Sour (bourbon, apple, citrus and egg white), which is pretty much like a whiskey sour but with sweet apple. In the photo below it is the one with the foamy top. 

Alfred Le Roy Cocktail Cruise

One particularly strange thing I enjoyed, which you do not really get by walking along the canal, is being inside the lock when the boat goes from a high to a low part and the reverse. I for some reason find it fascinating going higher or lower on the river and greatly admire the engineering work that is required to do so. Being from an island, boats were just in the sea and no such mechanisms were needed. I think the novelty has not worn out for me yet.

Alfred Le Roy Cocktail Cruise

At the end of the cruise, the boat returns to its original place, where there is a lovely pub/brewery (CRATE Bar & Pizzeria) to sit at and have some food by the water and more drinks before you head home, so the day does not have to end when the cruise does, which is a big plus for me.

Alfred Le Roy Cocktail Cruise

If you are in fact considering going on this cruise, I particularly recommend it for bigger groups, as you can easily fill up the boat and have a pretty much private cruise if you can get 30-40 people together. Birthday parties, team days out and such would be ideal for this cruise, you will do something unusual, explore the city and take some great photos to remember it all afterwards. 

Alfred Le Roy Cocktail Cruise

The prices were about £25 per person when I booked it, although I checked again now and they seem to encourage group bookings rather than individual tickets, meaning you may have to get some people together for it anyway, even if that does not actually affect the price per individual at the end. You can book, read more about the cruise and check out the menus for food and drinks on their Design My Night page.

Alfred Le Roy Cocktail Cruise

Are there any other canal boat tours you've been on and what's your favourite canal in London? Leave a comment and let me know!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

How To Make New Friends When You Move To A New City - My Citysocializer Story

Let's get this out of the way... I hate moving! And I have moved a lot and started over in terms of social life and discovering a new city a few times. I moved from Heraklion to Thessaloniki, then to Norwich, then back to Thessaloniki, then to London.

silent disco
Silent Disco
Moving to Thessaloniki and Norwich were fairly easy; I was going there to study so I met and made friends with other students like me. We were all there in the same classes, sports clubs, societies and a very organised social life. Moving to London was a bit different. As a student in London you have the whole city at your disposal so you no longer depend on your student union to go out and the student life is decentralised. While I met a couple of friends as soon as our masters were finished we split up, some moved away, some got jobs and were too busy to go out and even when they were free our schedules hardly coincided.

meet new people
Brixton Pub Crawl
Trying to build a career, apply for jobs and figure out what I wanted to do was already stressful enough and I spent a lot of hours seeing other people on facebook having friends, going out and having fun, when I could barely manage to get some people together once a month. It was early spring, just when people started having barbecues, when I reached the limit and typed on my phone 'app to make friends' you know, because whatever you need nowadays there is an app for that. To my surprise, there was an app for that: citysocializer.

meet new people

I immediately joined, paid for my membership and booked on an event that was a couple of hours later, on the other side of the city, in London Fields park. It was a barbecue, a photo of which you can see below. I got ready, took the tube and overground and was there in time, only to see that everyone else was running late. It being the first time I tried something like this, I sat on a bench in the park, panicking, wondering how I could just go up to a bunch of strangers and ask if anyone would want to be my friend. Honestly, I almost left to go home, but at that moment I got a message from the host of the social, Andrea, who said he was there with a few more people, posted a photo of the group and their location and I decided to at least give it a chance and go say hi. If I did not like it I could always come up with an excuse and go home.

meet new people
Barbecue in London Fields
As soon as I met the group everyone treated me like we had known each other forever, we chatted about everything from how our weekend was to what music festivals we were thinking of going to and even made some plans to go to a few more things happening in the next few weeks. We got the barbecues ready and cooked sausages and burgers, shared cold beers in the sun and even started talking with a group of black dancers, who had brought massive speakers and proceeded to teach everyone in the park to dance to African music. When it got dark our group moved to a pub. When the pub closed we went to Piccadilly Institute. When Piccadilly Institute closed at 3 in the morning we went got get chips. I ended up going back home at 6 in the morning, just as the sun was coming up, after 18 hours! Of course I was totally in love with the app. 

meet new people
Brighton Trip
In the next couple of weeks I had attended 8 more socials and had applied for a job at the company, which I got and I have been their marketing manager for the past 2.5 years. Over this time, I have been to 114 socials and have hosted another 70 myself. I took a group to Brighton for a weekend and went up to Leeds to meet our community there. When there is something I want to do but I do not want to go alone, all I have to do is post it on the website and other members will see it and join me. Through citysocializer I ended up meeting my closest friends here in London and even my boyfriend, Chris. Social and personal life sorted. I could never imagine all of this when I was at that park bench panicking and wanting to go home.

meet new people
The Goblin King's Masquerade Ball
For me the most important lesson out of all this is that you have to take chances, say yes to new things no matter how crazy and unusual they seem and just go for it. I never thought I would use an app to completely transform my social life but that is exactly what happened. And 3 years down the line there are so many more options to meet people. 

meet new people
Star Wars Secret Cinema
Of course there is citysocializer, with a variety of social events, drinks, parties, cinema, dinners, art gallery visit, even day trips and small breaks abroad. The there is facebook and meetup with a selection of interest based groups. Last year I joined a fairy kei group and have met lots of new people who also like japanese fashion as well as some social networking groups for bloggers and youtubers. 

meet new people
Medieval Banquet
Basically, when you need to find other people like you as an adult the internet is your best friend. Join as many groups as you can, go out as much as possible and meet as many people as you can find. Out of all those, you are bound to make some great friends, who share the same interests and want to go out and do the same things as you.

Bonus gift for my readers: If you do want to try citysocializer out you can use my special discount code 'getsocial' for 50% off your first membership period. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Bompas & Parr - Beyond The Waterfall

Ever wish you could go under the sea, find a bar full of mermen, sip squid ink cocktails and pretty much pretend you are in another world? Well, I did that last month in Bompas and Parr's Beyond The Waterfall popup and let me tell you it was amazing!

To start with, you enter into the reception room, where the hostess greets you and directs you to the curiosity cabinet, which is covered with specimens from the sea, shells, strange vials and pots, all labeled with some explanation or other.

Once the group is assembled, you are given a pouch with two silver seashells and led through a small tunnel, directing you to the waterfall area.

In this area, consisting of a small pool with an island in the middle, a few boats and a lot of smoke hovering over the water, you meet the ferry man. 

He helps you on your boat, gives you your ores and sends you off to go around the pool. You also find out that the smoke over the water is actually vaporised gin and tonic, a nod to Bompas and Parr's previous installation, Alcoholic Architecture, in which you entered a room of vaporised gin and tonic for 10-15 minutes and were instructed to breathe responsibly. I had also attended that one last year so I was happy to see it come back in some form.

Once you are through the cloud, you return to the ferry man on the other side of the island. In order to proceed, you need to give him one of your silver shells in exchange for a bottle of dark liquid, which contains mainly fortified wine with glitter.

Then you pass through the waterfall, an umbrella is provided for cover your head, and reach the end of the lake. 

In the next area you meet an old man, who shows you the aquarium with lots of small jellyfish and then directs you to the jewel well. You are instructed to look at all the stones and crystals, focus and pick one that speaks to you to take and keep. I picked up a rose quartz crystal and we ended up having a small discussion over it and the energies of crystals.

Next step: the bar! To enter you go through a pitch black tunnel and come out in a blue room, with orange sofas and mermen in tanks.

You receive a welcome cocktail and sit down to enjoy it and look at the menu of the other cocktails on offer.

To get your second cocktail you must exchange it for your other silver shell.

This is also a good time to drink your other cocktail, what you received earlier from the ferry man.

While you would not think so, squid ink margarita is actually a thing and actually tastes good. I would love to get more of those if I could.

Now moving on the the mermen. There is a selection of mermen, all with different skills and a variety of way to interact with them. 

While one of them is reading fortunes in Tarot cards, another tells you your future according to your star sign or plays the violin.

You can also pick up a sponge and wash their tails or go up the rocks and take a photo with them.

I ended up being singled out from the crowd due to my outfit - I went as a pastel mermaid with almost as much glitter as the merman had - and spent most of my time at the bar up there with this merman, chatting about relationships, events, career and family. It was my favourite part of the evening and we took some selfies as well.

I also filmed a few clips while I was there, so you can see more details in my video from the event below!

All in all, Bompas and Parr did it again, with another brilliant instalment in their popup cocktail experiences, making them my favourite team to look out for. You just know everything they do will be amazing.

Unfortunately, this event was limited time only so you will not be able to visit any more, but the team behind it constantly put on new creative things, so I recommend following their social media and joining their mailing list to find out as soon as something new comes up and buying your tickets immediately, because they sell out fast.