Saturday, 27 July 2013

Retirement - so good, so spoilt

(blog warning- lots of reading and photos - so much to say hee hee)

Well last Friday I finished working in education - I retired at the very young age of 47 !! Hubby and I have never moved, never wanted more than we have, been quite careful with our money but have had some amazing holidays with our children and family along the way. Now at our 'young' age our bills are done and I can leave work to look after the house and make evenings and weekends job free for Hubby. I am so very very lucky.

It was an amazing last day at school - I had stitched (cross stitch is my hobby) small gifts for my close colleagues who were so surprised when I gave them out. If you'd like to see my handiwork I have a blog for my stitching - Aimetu's Stitching This blog also has my beautiful gifts from school - how amazing in my new french sign but where it will go I just don't know (I can hear the offers already .... Tesco!!)

Hubby had booked us on the Eurostar to Brussels for a 3 day break. I had been really looking forward to it as it was our first trip on Eurostar and we were staying at the 4* Sheraton. Our holidays are usually driving as it is something we love, many a time we've watched the Eurostar fly past us on the way to the South coast and whilst travelling through France, so a trip on board was definitely something to be excited about.

After a rush home and a quick taxi we made the station in good time to catch our London Midland train to Euston which was very quick, and we managed to find seats. It was a short walk from Euston to St Pancras and finding the Eurostar terminal was so easy. After checking in we waiting excitedly in the Departure Lounge - we had a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, glasses, olives, bread and cold meats ready to enjoy on the journey, but we did enjoy a crepe and glass of wine in the amazing terminal. There is so much glass and such a high roof it doesn't feel anything like a railway station.

St Pancras International Station
Our boarding gate opened and all check-ins completed we sat waiting in anticipation. Our carriage was 17so we guessed it would be a long train. Gate opened we hurried to find our seats and settled in for the journey .... only the Train Manager approached and checked our names. My heart was racing as I thought for a moment we were on the wrong train but to our amazement he informed us we had been upgraded and could we follow him quickly to carriage 8.

I have never walked so fast in my life - I had visions of being on the platform and the train departing without us. Carriage 8 was Business Premier - we just settled in as the train departed. I was so shocked at what had happened - especially after such an emotional day at school too. The Train Manager came back to see us and knew all about my retirement - The Eurostar Social Team whom I had Tweeted to about being excited had tracked us down and really surprised us with the upgrade - it was such a treat, so special and quite overwhelming.

We were treated to champagne, a Raymond Blanc four course meal with wine, coffee and chocolate. The Eurostar team were all so lovely - I did enjoy the journey too as we travelled through some known and unknown countryside.

Business Premier on Eurostar - champagne !

Raymond Blanc menu

Raymond Blanc meal - we had a pork main too
Arriving in Brussels we thanked the Eurostar team and made our way to the Metro. Neither of us have travelled in Belgium before but we managed to work out which line we needed - the fact that 'jump' means journey and one jump was one journey so only 2euro. The Metro was very quick and we soon emerged from the Rogier station to see the Sheraton right in front of us; quite a relief as it was now nearly 11.30pm.

Checkin done - and two free drink vouchers obtained for the bar as we took out a loyalty card - we made our way to our room - 16th floor. I have never been so high but it didn't feel odd, the lift was so smooth and took seconds, not like some shuddery ones we've been in when you worry about getting to the second floor. Our room was lovely, very spacious with a massive bed and two armchairs, lovely ensuite and much needed tea and coffee.

We didn't take breakfast at the hotel but had a buffet style one in our room with goodies we'd bought. It was actually quite nice not to have to get up at a certain time and be ready to go down for breakfast - this might be something we do again in other hotels as it was a far more relaxing way to start the day. We found local bakeries and supermarkets and purchased quite a breakfast variety.

Saturday we walked into the centre of Brussels and all around - it was very hot but with plenty of bars it was easy to take a rest. Unfortunately beer was cheaper than coca cola,coffee or water so we sampled quite a few varieties on our stops. There is so much to see but these are the main places we visited.

Manekin Pis
I wanted to try four particular things in Brussels; chocolate, beer, chips with mayonnaise and waffles....and I did:

chips and mayonnaise
There are some amazing side streets around the Grand Place that are no more than tiny alleyways but filled with restaurants all with outside tables. It was an amazing atmosphere and great value if you took one of the set menus. On returning to the hotel we decided to use our vouchers in the bar and I had a real treat - a beautiful, perfectly chilled glass of Sancere. I didn't get to look at the label but it was just perfect.  
Sunday was another special day but not for me this time - the new King of Belgium Philippe. His father Albert II had abdicated and as 21st July was Belgium's National Day all the official ceremonies where taking place including the swearing in of the new king. The day before we had walked around the Palace and the cathedral and seen all the festivities being set up - tv cameras everywhere and red carpets being laid.It was far too hot for me on Sunday so after a stroll round in the morning we bought a bottle of wine and sat in our air conditioned room watching all the celebrations on tv.

Later in the evening we went out for a meal at the Cheesecake Cafe - such another great place, full of atmosphere and brilliant food. We did not venture back into the city but retired back to the hotel to watch the fabulous fireworks on the tv - a much better view too.

Monday was our journey home although we had the morning to stroll through the city one last time. It is certainly a city we will be returning too as there is so much to see. It was very easy to find the station and we were soon onboard Eurostar ready for home. We had a bottle of red wine and a speciality bread ready to enjoy and as soon as the train moved the wine was uncorked and bread torn.

I nearly died when the Train Manager came along, stopped and checked our names. She was so lovely, asking if we'd had a good time, where we'd been, what we'd done. Again it was Eurostar Social Team - they knew our return train and had asked her to just pop along to see how the weekend went - such customer service - I am still in amazement at their kindness.

So that was my retirement trip to Brussels - this post has been far too long already to include wine details but now I'm retired I'm sure it will not be too long before the wine post appears - I have plenty of news to share too; Tesco prize, gifts, wine in Brussels - I will be posting soon as August sees us of to France for our man holiday and I'm sure I will have something to blog about then.

Thank you so much for reading my lengthy news - it would be lovely if you left a comment too, thanks.

And finally a HUGE thanks to my Hubby Nick without whom many of our adventures would not be possible; I certainly couldn't retire and life would just be boring !!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Bastille Day !!

Google France has just a perfect image for Bastille Day
This year we are having a quiet Bastille Day - mainly due to the amazing heat the UK is enjoying this weekend - I am with many many others for whom heat triggers additional medical symptoms - MS is not a heat fan but by staying indoors and taking things easy it's do-able :)

And by it being Bastille Day we will of course be opening a bottle of vin francais - but which one?

Red - Chateau de Petit Thouars - a gorgeous 2009 cabernet franc

Red - Tesco Vintage Claret  Bordeaux  - a deep intenseive red

White - Jean de la Roche Sauvignon Blanc - a crisp white from Calais Wine

White - Oisly et Thesee, 'Les Mazelles’ Sauvignon de Touraine 2010 - full of gooseberries and kiwi from S H Jones

Bubbly - Nicolas Feuillatte Brut - the best champagne in my eyes.

It will probably be a red  as it's bbq steak tonight but may mean a trip back to the Loire Valley in the near future to replace stock - Chateau de Petit Thouars is just outside Chinon. It's a stunning chateau with rolling lawns, a beautifully manicured garden, and great vineyards producing fantastic Cabernet Franc wine and Cremant de Loire sparkling. Definitely a place to visit in the Loire.

And it will not be Nicolas Feuillatte as we're saving that for next weekend when we travel Brussels on Eurostar - special mini break which I'll share next time.

Looking behind last weekend was amazing !! I organised a trip to Birmingham for my work colleagues to watch The Lion King at Birmingham Hippodrome. Thee are few words to descibe it - unbelievable costumes and set.

Travelling by train to Birmingham was for a change quite enjoyable.We all had seats on an uncrowded train which arrived on time in New Street - thanks Cross Country. Before the show we met with everyone outside The Old Fox Pub just next door to the theatre, beautiful weather just added to the pre-theatre wine/beer.
A trip to the theatre is never complete without sweets and there is the perfect shop on the corner, opposite the pub. Mr Chill's Traditional Sweet Shop has all your favourites - ours being liquorice allsorts, vimto bon bons, rhubard and custard and chewing nuts. Such a great place full of childhood memories and of course sweet treats.
After the show we invaded the Big Wok - a great chinese restaurant - their buffet has a huge variety including a large salad bar and sushi range - perfect for Slimming World members. Starters and mains devourved we moved onto puddings and took great delight in trying to make a perfect ice cream cornet shaping the ice cream from the serve yourself machine - a little practice needed maybe.
A great weekend with a perfect finish on Sunday - Andy Murray winning Wimbledon