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I’ve never been the biggest fan of wine. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be accepted as a twenty something. It’s been a drink I’ve tried to like my entire life (well perhaps since I was 16) and I’ve wanted to like it more and more as I’ve got older. If you go out for a business meeting, it’s not really socially acceptable to order a gin and tonic with dinner and I’ve always longed to like the thought of having a cold glass of wine waiting at home for me after a stressful Friday. Don’t get me wrong I’ve drunk wine, plenty of it. It’s often the cheapest thing on the menu so of course I have. But I’ve never liked it, I’d always rather a vodka lemonade and that makes me just sound like I’m still 18.

So recently my boyfriend has been on a mission to get me to like wine. He says he managed to make himself like beer at around 15 so figured he can do the same for me with wine. And his main argument is that I’ve only ever drunk cheap wine – always house white or ‘what’s cheapest on your menu?’ He tells me that’s what’s put me off the drink. So this Valentine’s Day, keen to avoid all the crazy couples and heart shaped balloons, we skipped the typical romantic evening out and headed instead to a wine shop. 

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Bottle Apostle is a chain across London and we went to the one in Clapham South. At first glance it’s just a wine shop selling a hell of a lot of wine. It was empty when we first arrived, but single men kept popping in to pick up their last minute offering for Valentine’s Day. Bottle Apostle isn’t just a wine shop though, it also has its own wine tasting machines – a bit like very special vending machines. You pre-load one of their cards with some cash and get tasting – we went for £15 and tried 8 different wines between us. It’s really easy, you just take your card over to the white or red wine machine, select your wine from a little description card and how much you want to try of it and then press a button and fill a glass. It was honestly so much fun – we tried red wines ‘not for the faint hearted’, Austrian white wine that was ‘light and tasted of oranges’, a sweet dessert wine, all sorts. And we gave it the whole smell, swill, spit treatment too! The shop attendant was so knowledgeable and wasn’t even too offended when I told him I didn’t like wine.

I’m not going to lie, the experience hasn’t made me love wine. I enjoyed some more than others and can definitely taste the difference now so would stop and read the descriptions before just ordering house white in future. But we had so much fun, it was worth it. Just the two of us using the machine and trying all sorts of different wines. We even walked away a bit tipsy – and all for £15. Bargain! 

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I’ve never visited Germany before and what better time to tick Deutschland off my list than at Christmas. Did you know it was the Germans who invented the Christmas tree and Prince Albert was the one to bring it over to England? They also invented those wonderful Christmas markets that have now flooded English cities, so I couldn’t wait to get into the festive spirit in the home of the festivities. 

Where we stayed…

It was my third experience with Air BnB this year and once again I wasn’t disappointed. We got to the main street in Baden Baden and found we were at the flat! It was right above one of the shops so we were truly in the heart of the action. And the flat was beautiful too, the bathroom in particular!  I would so recommend Air BnB, it’s so much cheaper than a hotel and it’s true that you do feel more like a local in the city you’re visiting.

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What we ate…

We ate at possibly the most Christmassy restaurant I have ever seen in my life, it looked like Christmas had thrown up all over it and I loved it. There was more lights than your eyes could absorb and even fake snow! The food wasn’t brilliant to be honest, but then I didn’t massively expect Germany to be great for Vegetarians. I did however drink the best Gluhwein (mulled wine) ever and I drank way too much of it too!

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What we did…

When we arrived on Saturday, we headed straight down to the Christmas markets. It was the best Christmas market I’ve been to, full of stalls with souvenirs, Christmas decorations (of which I took a few too many home), and amazing food. We ate a giant doughnut type thing filled with nutella, it was delicious.

Sunday was our main day in Baden Baden, so we started early and packed it full. After a wander around the cute town – and after discovering most things are closed on a Sunday – we had breakfast and headed into the Black Forest. Hearing it was voted one of the most beautiful forests in the world, we boarded the Merkur Funicular Railway into the trees. It was rather foggy so we missed out on the spectacular views but it did feel quite mystical and magical not being able to see the hand in front of your face. We even climbed the lonely viewing tower at the top to see very little and freaked ourselves out hearing noises as we climbed back down. After a walk back to the town through the trees, it was time for another trip to the market to buy some more souvenirs and then onto the spa. The spa was a definite highlight. There are two – Caracalla Therme and Friedrichsbad. They’re both rated amazingly but the second is nudist! So we went for the first and for €14 we got two hours there. There were two warm outdoor pools, jacuzzis, whirlpools, steam rooms, everything you could wish for and I felt truly relaxed when I came out. I’ll definitely remember sitting in that outdoor jacuzzi looking over the town filled with Christmas trees.

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We headed home on Sunday but I wish we’d had a little longer. Baden Baden is the perfect place for a wintery Christmas break and really got me in the festive spirit.

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I love London at Christmas time. Most of the year London feels like the place I work in only. It’s the crowds and the fast pace and the queues. I’m either too impatient or my little legs can’t keep up! But at Christmas the smiles come out and everyone is a bit more jolly – you even find people apologising when they bash into you on the Underground stairs. That’s got to be a Christmas miracle. Having dedicated the last few festive seasons to exploring a lot of what London has to offer, here are my recommendations.

1.Go ice skating

Over the years I’ve tried Hampton Court, Somerset House, the Natural History Museum and Winter Wonderland. I couldn’t pick a favourite, with the fairy lights, cold air, giant Christmas trees and mulled wine for afterwards, they can’t fail to put you in a good mood and into the Christmas spirit. This year I want to give Canary Wharf’s a try. 

2. Go shopping in the big department stores

I never visit the giant department stores in the year and then Christmas swings around and I can’t get enough. Okay, so I can’t actually afford to buy anything in them but I always go to Liberty’s, Harrods and Selfridges just to see their Christmas lights and displays. And sometimes I even buy myself a chocolate bar! 

3. Christmas Markets

Although I must confess I don’t think you can beat my uni city Birmingham’s Christmas market, but maybe that’s just because it’s the first one I went to. London has a million and they’re all unique but so cute. I would in particular recommend the South Bank’s because it’s so alive and there’s just so much amazing food. And of course the King of Christmas markets, Winter Wonderland. If you catch it when it’s not too busy it’s the best Christmassy night out with friends. Random thought: Are Christmas markets a new thing? I don’t remember them being around when I was little. 

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4. Visit a pop-up 

Every Christmas amazing festive pop ups appear all over London and I think they’re perfect for a Christmas meal or night out with friends. I love Forest on the Roof on top of Selfridges, it looks like an Alpine Forest. Also try the Lodge in Clapham which is designed like a Swiss Ski Lodge and has cheese fondue. And I’m desperate to try Coppa Club Igloos by the Tower of London. Giant PVC igloos with an incredible view and sheepskin blankets, what more could you want?

What are your favourite things to do in London at Christmas? 

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November was a month of dashing to and from a million English cities every weekend. I went from Brighton to Birmingham and finally to York to cross pretty much the whole country. I loved it, but I must admit I also loved not having to get on a train this weekend. Sunday was my first day not using public transport in an entire month, that’s just crazy. 

Anyway back to York, my little brother is at uni up there so we went to visit him and to explore the city just in time for Christmas to have hit.

Where we stayed…

We stayed at the amazing Hotel Indigo for one night, and although it was pricey it was also probably the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in in the UK. Big claim. But it was beautiful and quirky and just so English. I went around taking photos just so I could remember to design my future house exactly like the room. And the minibar equipped with chocolate and biscuits was free, what a way to win me over!

What we ate…

To be completely honest I didn’t love a lot of the places we ate in. We went off recommendations from people we don’t know that well and I don’t think I’ll be doing that again. But I would recommend Il Paradiso Del Cibo where we had dinner. It’s a tiny restaurant just down from our hotel and, although we found the service a bit strange – we weren’t quite sure if the waiter was joking or really did hate us for creating our own pizza and not picking one off the menu – the food was delicious. 

What we did…

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This is where I fell in love with York. There was so much to do and I honestly think we crammed as much as was physically possible into our two days. We went to the cute Christmas markets and drunk mulled wine. They’re not quite as good as Birmingham’s I have to say (or maybe I’m biased) but they are cute and really got me into the festive spirit. We went to The Shambles which JK Rowling apparently based Diagon Alley on. This was my favourite, it reminded me of Bath with the tall leaning old buildings, thin streets and fairy lights. I would definitely not have been surprised if I stumbled across a shop selling wands. We went to York Minster – top tip: you can see loads without paying the £10 entrance fee so wander inside even if you don’t want to cough up. We shopped. We toured York university. We ate got chocolate in York’s Chocolate Story – definitely worth a visit. We saw the castle all lit up. The only thing we’ve saved for our next visit is walking the castle walls. According to my iPhone I did walk 18,000 steps that day though, so I think doing that this time round might have been a step too far! 

In the evening we did something a little different and tried out an Escape Room. I would really recommend it, it puts your brain to the test but it was so much fun and I honestly think everyone would enjoy it. And we made it out with 5 minutes to spare! 

I loved every minute of my trip to York, which city do you think I need to visit next? 

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It’s becoming a little tradition for me and my little sister – every year for the past three we’ve gone to our local pick your own farm and chosen our own pumpkins for Halloween. The one closest to us is called Garson’s Farm, and i’ve been going there since i was quite little. There are all sorts of things you can pick, apples, plums, spinach, squash, broccoli, corn, strawberries, and many more. It’s just round the corner from a little village which surrounds a pond and green space. Me and my best friend used to talk about owning cottages next-door to each other there when we grew up, feeding the ducks together with our kids and making soup from our purchases from the pick your own farm. It’s funny to remember what seemed like a perfect life when you were a child.

But anyway back to pumpkin picking. We drove round the little fields, stopping at what takes our fancy. We were quite focussed this time, going straight for the pumpkins. But then we must have spent at least an hour in the pumpkin field trying to spot the most perfect, round, cute little pumpkin that my sister had in mind. I began to feel quite sad for all those rejected pumpkins still lying in the mud.

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But once we’d picked our favourites we took them back to the car and went to explore the corn field. We love that field the most because the corn plants grow up high and it’s like a little maze. After much mucking around – we got some dirty looks because we decided to have a race through the corn! – we got back in the car and made our final stop at the raspberry field. When it gets towards the middle of autumn and so much of the fruit has been picked you have to go right to the end of the field to find some juicy plump raspberries. We did just that and filled an entire pun net that I can’t wait to stir into my porridge this week – it’s the little things that make the weekdays so much better.

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After paying up we were thinking about heading to the cafe for a hot chocolate but it was closed so we came home via the shop to pick up some squirty cream and marshmallows to make our own! I love our little pumpkin picking tradition, now it’s just time to carve and save the inside for some pumpkin soup. Do you have any Halloween traditions?