Sunday, 31 May 2015

May Favourites 2015 | The Small Desk

This month has been an excellent month, as I was on holiday for half of it! I know, I know, it looks like I'm always going on this amazing holidays, which recently I have... BUT I have now decided that after turning 27 I need to be more careful with my money and start saving for the 'big things' in life. You will see this is one of my favourites this month. I know everyone says you should travel as much as possible whilst you're young, but I think I need to put a temporary stop to it until I have been able to buy a house... in London. Next month looks to be fairly stressful work-wise, as I am trying to complete a project management course, so I'm not sure I'll have quite as many favourites next month!

1. Scandinavia trip
This is top favourite for obvious reasons. It was actually one of my New Year's Resolutions to go on a Scandinavian holiday, so I'm very pleased I've been able to tick that one off my list. We were thinking primarily about visiting the Norwegian fjords but when we added up all the costs we decided we couldn't afford it. In the end we found cheap flights to Copenhagen and designed the trip around those flights.

We went to Copenhagen, then went inter railing to Linkoping, Stockholm and Gothenburg and flew back from Copenhagen. I have put up my top eats from Copenhagen, Stockholm and Gothenburg and will, in time, be putting up posts about things to explore in each of these cities. We went to Linkoping just so I could see the outdoor museum there. We only stayed one night but there is something about outdoor museums that I just love, I think it stems from my childhood obsession with the Weald and Downland museum!

2. Pretty Little Liars
This is a love/hate thing. I've put it in my favourites because there is no doubt I am obsessed with it, so obsessed in fact, I might write a blog post about my obsession! In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, it is a TV show on Netflix about four high school girls trying to find out who murdered their friend. There are six seasons and each season has about 20+ episodes. I'm only on season one, but am watching it ALL the time, except for at work or when I'm commuting! Any ideas as to how to stop my addiction would be gladly received!!

3. Friend's birthday picnic
This was the day we got back from Copenhagen, and whilst spending two weeks with one person is lovely, it's great to come back and see other people. We had a picnic in a park close to where I live. There were cakes, drinks, snacks, fruit, all the classic picnic food! There were about ten or so of us, and the weather was perfect.

4. Seeing an old friend from Uni
I left Uni six years ago now. It feels so weird to say that. I lived in the same building as my friend Jon in first year, then we lived in the same shared house for second and third year. He lives in Sheffield and I live in London, so it's not that easy for us to meet up. Anyhow he was down in London and I hadn't seen him for about two or three years. We went to a cafe and walked along the Southbank. It was so nice, it felt like it was only yesterday that we'd seen each other and it was great to reminisce about Uni days.

5. Eurovision with my sister
I watch Eurovision every year. I know the British are never going to win, but that never puts me off. It is unique, it is hilarious, there is nothing else like it, and with Graham Norton's sharp, witty comments narrating the whole thing, it always has me in stitches at some point. My sister came over to watch it and I cooked us a nice dinner and made sure we had enough snacks for the rest of the night.

6. Celebratory dinner with my sister
I'm glad to have spent a fair bit of time with my sister this month, and am also incredibly proud of her this month as she completed her two-year MA. To celebrate I took her to Bill's. We chatted, giggled and ate for two and a half hours.

7. Puttin' on the Ritz
Now, I'm not sure this is the best performance I have seen of late, but it is in my favourites because I ended up cry-laughing at how bad one of the singers was! Is that mean!?! There were however two dancers from Strictly who were amazing.

8. Watching my friends finish Race for Life 10k
I did the 10k Race for Life last year, but when my friends asked if I wanted to do it again, but gave me two months warning, I decided that I wasn't prepared enough and still wouldn't be in two months time. This didn't stop me from going to support them. They all did it in an hour or less, I was very impressed and I think it has motivated me to start running regularly again. We went for brunch after the race as well.

9. Sorting out my finances
As I said in the introduction to this favourites post, I have been sorting out my finances this month/trying to be a responsible adult! I've changed banks, and even started the process of getting a pension. This has been on my 'to do' list for so long and I'm relieved I've started on the journey to sorting everything out, and not being the only one of my friends not to have a pension!

What have you been up to this month? What has been your favourite moment of the month?


Monday, 25 May 2015

Gothenburg Eats | The Small Desk

The final destination of my Scandinavian holiday was Gothenburg. This was the one city on my trip that I had not previously visited. It is much smaller than Copenhagen and Stockholm, and thus has less choice. This post only highlights three restaurants, rather than five as the previous ones have done. 

Gothenburg is a city of two halves. In the centre sits the largest shopping mall in Scandinavia, which I quickly walked out of as it is packed full of people pushing cups in your face asking for money, and on the outskirts of the city is Magasinsgatan, with some of the trendiest shops and restaurants in Sweden. 

It either feels very commercial and a bit rough, or very expensive and exclusive. Maybe I didn't have enough time to explore and find the middle ground, I would love to know your thoughts if you have been there or know it well. These are the three places I most enjoyed.

1. Clarion Hotel Post, Norda Bar and Grill
Good for: Experience

We got a good deal online to stay at the Clarion Hotel. It is directly across from Gothenburg central station and right next to the tram that takes you to the archipelago, so it really is in a perfect location. On the first night it was pouring with rain and we decided to have dinner in the hotel, so that we didn't have to go outside. Little did I realise their restaurant is one of the smartest places to eat in the whole of Gothenburg!

The decor is incredibly decadent and the service is of a very high standard. It is one of those places where they tell you what is on the plate when they serve it to you, even though you read it on the menu. I had the only vegetarian option on the menu, which was a little odd: spring roll stuffed with quinoa and soft cheese.

2. Magnus and Magnus
Good for: Swedish food

I found this place on Tripadvisor. It is in the hip area of Magasinsgatan and my god it is hip! The first time we tried to go there we couldn't get in because they were opening their nightclub and it was a members only event. The second time we went there they asked if we wanted the tasting menu with the tasting wine menu! We opted for a la carte! The food is a little wacky and a little out there, I had a wild garlic sauce with radishes and crumbled rye bread for one of my courses... but if you're up for trying something new then this is definitely the right place to go.

3. Lou Lou
Good for: Service

For some reason I was craving salmon, and the best place to find salmon in Sweden is at a steak house. Despite being a pescatarian, we sought out this steak house! They were incredibly accommodating; they read the menu in English to us, made me aware that the salmon normally came with bacon, and made me a cocktail that wasn't on the menu. The food was excellent, but it really was the service that made this place for me.

Other posts you might like:
Copenhagen Eats
Stockholm Eats

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Stockholm Eats Vegetarian | The Small Desk

As you may or may not know, I recently went on an Inter-railing trip around Scandinavia. The second stop on my holiday was Stockholm. I've been to this city once before, but it was at New Year, and therefore freezing and in turn less exploring was undertaken! This time we went in May and the weather was ten times better, and allowed us to discover new places to eat through exploring the city. As a vegetarian I find Scandinavia quite tricky to find anywhere to eat out. I felt it was important to dedicate a post to those veggies looking to go to Stockholm who are worried about what they might be able to eat. Here are my top five:

1. Fotografiska
Good for: Location

Fotografiska is the main photography gallery in Stockholm. It is widely acclaimed for being one of the best photography galleries in Europe. I also heard that the restaurant wasn't bad either! We had set out to go to Hermans vegetarian buffet for lunch, as I had heard very favourable reviews, however when we got there we found it was closed until July! Luckily Fotografiska is only over the road from Hermans, so we decided to go there instead. We went at lunchtime and the menu is, let's say... limited. There are two options for lunch, one veggie and one meat. You decide which one you want and then you are allowed to top it up by taking as much as you want from their incredibly varied, healthy and delicious buffet salad bar. It isn't cheap, but the view of the sea and the city compensates for the price!

2. Guru
Good for: Cheap eat

Sometimes you just want a curry. This was another place we stumbled upon. We were on our way back from a restaurant we thought would be good, but the menu was just too Swedish for me! This place has all the classic Indian dishes you would expect, at a reasonable price and of a pretty decent quality. It is more Indian takeaway style food, but it's not greasy and all the starters seem as though they are made from scratch, including the samosas. Definitely worth a try if you are craving a curry whilst in Stockholm.

3. Knut
Good for: Hipsters

After getting very lost looking for a vegetarian restaurant we'd found on Tripadvisor, we came across Knut. It looked very trendy and had all the qualities of a place you'd expect to find in this incredibly hip city. We went inside and all the tables were empty, but when we asked for a table were two we were told we'd have to wait ten minutes, as all the tables were booked. I looked at my watch and it was ten to seven. I couldn't believe all these tables would be full within ten minutes, but I was wrong! Everyone arrived like clockwork! Luckily not everyone arrived and we were able to get a table. The menu is pretty varied but there was one veggie option: goat's cheese and beetroot pizza. The pizza base was more like a crisp bread, but it was absolutely delicious and one of the best pizzas I've ever had!

4. Rosendals Stradgard
Good for: Cakes

I had read about this place online but didn't realise quite how beautiful its surrounding would be. Rosendals Stradgard is set within the largest green island in Stockholm. You have to walk a fair way or have a car to get there, but it is definitely worth it. If anyone lives in South West London, it reminds me of Petersham nurseries. It is a cafe in a greenhouse, with lots of freshly made cakes, sandwiches and hot dishes. It is packed with super trendy mums and posh retired couples, but if you can get over that, you'll love it. Try the chocolate and chilli cookie.

5. HTL hotel
Good for: Pub grub

This is actually where we stayed in Stockholm. It is an affordable but chic hotel and their restaurant and bar is very popular with the locals. The menu is fairly small, but it has burgers, risotto and all the usuals you'd expect from a chain restaurant in the UK. It is a fail-safe place to eat and actually pretty quiet on weekdays. Only issue is that it doesn't serve food on a Sunday.

Let me know if you have any food recommendations for Stockholm, and whether or not you're planning a trip!

Other posts you might like:
Copenhagen Eats

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Copenhagen Eats | The Small Desk

Last week I got back from two weeks travelling around Scandinavia. The first stop on my trip was Copenhagen. It is definitely one of the hippest cities in the world; everyone is dressed unbelievably fashionably and everyone just oozes cool. One of my favourite things to do on holiday is to eat out. It is a chance for me to appreciate someone else's cooking, and to experience some of the culture. I'm a pescatarian so I cannot recommend the best meat restaurants, but I can definitely recommend some affordable eats in the city and places where I thought the service was good. Without further ado, here are my top five eats in Copenhagen.

1. PS Bar and Grill
Good for: 'Normal' food

This is a restaurant that we stumbled upon in our first night in Copenhagen. I saw that it had soy and ginger salmon on the menu, so before I knew it we had a table for two! It was a Monday night so it wasn't too busy, but they definitely have a type of cliental and that is young students. The lighting is very dark and there is fairly loud music, but the service was excellent, and the food was delicious. I had the salmon, green beans and chips with an elderflower juice. I would really recommend this restaurant if you are looking for some standard 'normal' food. Sometimes in Scandinavia it is hard to find a restaurant that doesn't pickle its fish!

2. 42 degrees Raw
Good for: Eat Clean dieters 

They used to have a 42 degrees Raw cafe in the Royal Academy in London, but that seems to have disappeared. I knew that the cafe originated in Denmark, and therefore sought it out when in Copenhagen. It serves raw food, but meals that you would normally have as hot food, such as a lasagne or a stir-fry. The dishes are really fresh and they do the most incredible juices. It is more like a cafe than a restaurant, but they do takeaway as well, so if it's a nice sunny day it is the perfect thing to take for a picnic in the park. It's a good place to go if you are craving a healthy dinner and really don't want anymore heavy restaurant food. The prices are also very reasonable.

3. Cafe Maroc
Good for: Vegetarians

We came across this cafe after walking for hours around Copenhagen. I was tired and hungry, and despite not being very impressed with the decor or design of the exterior, we ended up having lunch at this cafe. What a find! It was empty at lunchtime, which I always think must be a bad sign, but the food was actually really fresh, filling and tasty. You can choose either falafel or samosa and then you get a portion of each of the salads with them. It is a great place for vegetarians, and is friendly on the purse strings.

4. Wokshop
Good for: Cheap eat

Again, we just found this place by chance. I liked the look of the menu, it had a vegetarian dish and it was affordable, so it was win win. It reminded me a bit of Wagamamas, as you have to share a table with other customers. The restaurant is in the basement and takeaway can be ordered on the first floor. It is a bit of an odd set up, but the food is good and it is fuss-free.

5. Toldboden
Good for: Location

Whilst walking along the path next to what feels like a river but is actually the sea, we came across Toldboden. It looks a bit like a trendy pub from the outside with blackboards offering special deals, but inside it feels like the hippest restaurant in Shoreditch. With long wooden tables and benches covered in fur, Toldboden has a very Scandinavian feel to it and with huge floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the sea you almost feel as though you are dining on a remote island. The food is almost average pub food but with a Scandi twist. Don't expect to get away from those damn radishes with your fish and chips! I'm not sure why Scandis love radishes quite so much; they seem to be on every menu!

I had a brilliant time trying out all the different food in Copenhagen, but as I'm quite a fussy eater you will see there are no experimental or truly typically Scandi restaurants on this list. I would love to hear if you have been to Copenhagen and what you ate there. Please do leave me a comment below! I will be doing an 'Explore' Copenhagen post soon as well.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

How to increase your Twitter followers and make Twitter send traffic to your blog | The Small Desk

For so long I was stuck around the 450 Twitter followers mark. Now I'm not complaining here, because I have some amazing loyal readers and basically what more could you want!? But I was intrigued to know how other people's Twitter followings were so high. I knew a few tips and tricks but didn't put them to use as I was doubtful as to how helpful they were. Now after gaining a little over 100 more followers I thought I would share with you what has actually worked! Basically my aim at the moment is to keep my content relevant for my loyal readers but to eventually make some dollar from this blog. Here are my top tips for improving your Twitter following:

1. Add images to your tweets
When you're scrolling down your Twitter feed on your phone, which take up more space and grab your attention more? The ones with images of course! Enough said.

2. Schedule tweets to old content
You've written a hundred posts say, and you only ever get new hits to your new content, so you keep producing lots of new content to get hits? WRONG. This way you will be creating content for the sake of traffic and not for the sake of quality. Make sure to schedule tweets to old content. Your new followers won't have read it and if it is quality content then they will read it!

3. Schedule tweets to your other social media platforms
The reason I'm telling you to schedule tweets is that I am guessing 99% of you reading don't do this as your full-time job and already have little time to create quality content. Scheduling tweets really really saves time and is great to maintain an active presence on Twitter.

You might find that you find it easier to be more active on other social platforms, such as Instagram, so make sure you remind people to follow you on there. Also, whatever social media platform you are on, as a blogger, you HAVE to be on Bloglovin. It is so useful and connects you with other bloggers.

3. Recommend other people's content
Make sure to promote other people's content if you find it useful and relevant to your readers. Remember your readers trust your opinion and if you haven't got time to post quality content then share someone else's! In turn they might share yours one day too!

4. Be nice – engage in conversation with fellow bloggers
One of the best things about blogging is the community. Other bloggers can often be really friendly and by engaging in conversation with them you will make yourself visible in their feed and potentially connect with their followers as well. But always remember to be nice! Remember it is hard to read sarcasm online!

5. Make sure to @ anyone to whom your content is linked
If you write a book review make sure to @ the author and the publisher in your promotion tweets. They may well re-tweet you to their thousands of followers!

6. Write quality tweets that will get re-tweeted
This is something I struggle with this but I've seen other bloggers do it well. Basically write quality tweets, either info rich, or humour rich and you never know you might get thousands of re-tweets!

7. Take part in blog chats
Again, I'm not always the best at this as I find it hard to give an hour in an evening to them, but when I do I always make new friends/Twitter followers. Becky Bedbug has a good list.

8. Follow because you want to follow, not because you want someone to follow you
One of the things that annoys me no end about Twitter is people who follow you and then make a point that they've followed you to try and get you to follow them back. If you know what I mean! All this makes me want to do is block them! Don't do it!

9. Have the app on your phone
Have the Twitter app on your phone so that you can quickly tweet when you are out and about and see something interesting or inspiring.

10. Make sure your profile pic is friendly and not stern
It's ok to have an anonymous-type profile pic, but not ideal, as people like to see a friendly face to follow. Just make sure your profile pic doesn't scare people off because it is too stern or corporate!

11. Make sure your website name and link are up-to-date in your bio and your blog
The amount of times I've found it difficult to find someone's Twitter from their blog or vice versa is stupid. Seriously, make it easy for people to find both!

12. Make your Twitter handle relate to your blog so that you are easy to find
Again – make your Twitter handle relate to your blog. For example if your Twitter handle is something like 'apple' and your blog is called 'cucumber' people are going to get confused. I have 'alicesdesk' because it relates to The Small Desk, but I also wanted to make it friendly and not like a business.

Those are my tips and tricks, does anyone have any to add? I would be very interested to read more!


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Art Therapy, An Anti-Stress Colouring Book: Book Review | The Small Desk

I've seen these Art Therapy colouring in books in the Top 10 on Amazon for a while now, and have been very intrigued by them. I think they are linked to the Mindfulness theory. The boyf has been working his way through the Mindfulness book and finding it incredibly helpful to deal with work stress. I work in the arts and love most things artsy, hence my intrigued-ness! 

When the boyf's mum asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year I immediately thought about these Art Therapy colouring in books. At the time I hadn't heard of the Enchanted Forests and these highly artistic ones that are now the most popular, so I asked for the original one, and that is the anti-stress colouring book by Richard Merritt and Hannah Davies. 

There are pros and cons to this book. I would say a big con is that parts of it are already coloured in for you. Therefore on those pages I don't think you can feel such a sense of achievement for completing it, as you didn't do all of it yourself. However that may just be me who finds that and others might find it helpful as it guides you as to what colours to use. 

The book doesn't come with colouring in pencils, so if you are not someone who just happens to have a bunch of colouring in pencils lying around you will need to make sure you invest in some of those to. This then naturally brings the price of the whole experience up. 

The big pro to this book is that it definitely takes your mind off things as there is a lot of intricate colouring in to do and you will want to make sure you stay inside the lines! When I first received this book I was making myself sit down and do a bit of colouring to relax, but now I find, like most other things that are good for you, I don't have the time. 

The message is, that if you really force yourself to sit down and colour and don't think of it as a waste of time, then this colouring in book will definitely help you relax. But if you are the sort of person who finds sitting down for more than five minutes not doing 'productive' work then you might struggle to use this 'productively'!

Has anyone else bought one of these adult colouring in books? What do you think of them?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

World map prints from Etsy and why I love to travel | The Small Desk

I love to travel. Why? It reminds me how there really is a world out there to explore, not only literally but also metaphorically. It reminds me that I live in a country where I have the freedom to travel and the choice to take time off work in order to explore.

By travelling the world it gives you greater humility, understanding of cultures and educates you in things you can only learn through experience. As Casey Neistat said in his recent vlog, there are two types of experiences, ones that happen to you and ones that you create. Either can go right or wrong, but it is important not to just let the world pass by, but to go out there and create experiences for yourself.

One way that I believe helps you to remember the scale of everything is to look at a world map. The background on my computer screen at work is a world map. It reminds me not to get too caught up in the tiny things at work and that work enables me to travel.

With that in mind I am looking to find a world map print, but because I am design obsessed, I wanted a pretty one. I have found Etsy do the most beautiful ones. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Paint Splashes Map of the World, Art Pause, prices start at £11.99

2. Travel Quote Map of the World, BySamantha, prices start at £5.43

3. Typography Map of the World, Kia co, £20

4. Pictorial Map of the World, blancucha, £20.35

5. Grid Map of the World, Macanaz, prices start at £20.35

6. Grey Map of the World, Macanaz, prices start at £20.35

Which is your favourite and do you also love to travel?

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Rosie Project: Book Review | The Small Desk

Another book, another bestseller, and another book that didn't disappoint! This time it's The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion; another debut author who has NAILED it with his witty, sensitive and relatable novel. This book has been such a success that it has reportedly made Simsion a millionaire!

Don Tillman is looking for love. He has a very specific idea in mind of what his perfect match would be; so much so that he devises a questionnaire and begins 'The Wife Project'. Don has many specific ideas about how things should and shouldn't be done, the Standardised Meal System being one of them! It is inferred throughout the novel that Don has Asperger's syndrome, but doesn't know it.

There is a really beautiful part in the book where Don is talking to a group of Asperger's children and tells them that they are not 'faulty', but a variant, and having the syndrome is potentially a major advantage as it is associated with 'organisation, focus, innovative thinking and rational detachment'. This is really where you start to understand how Don thinks. The book becomes a sort of portal into the world of what it is like to live with Asperger's.

Not far into the book Don meets Rosie and embarks on 'The Father Project', in order to help her find out who her biological father is. Unbeknownst to Don 'The Father Project' and 'The Wife Project' slowly start to merge, and Rosie teaches Don that not everything can be enjoyed in a structured, specific and routine manner. Don learns through many twists of fate and unpredictable events how to live life in the moment and slowly fall in love.

It is not a traditional love story, and the love parts of it are not sickly sweet. It is a book where you are hoping throughout that Don will survive another social situation and are page-turning to find out what out-of-character event Don will end up in next. To say that certain parts of the book did not remind me of myself would be inaccurate! Needless to say, I will definitely be reading the sequel, The Rosie Effect.
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