Easter 2016 at Disneyland Paris

When to go:
This Easter I went to Disneyland Paris (or Euro Disney as it used to be called) with Olly, my brother, sister-in-law, nephews (10 and 3) and niece (7) where we spent four nights at Disney's Newport Bay Club. We arrived Thursday evening and left Monday morning so we had three full days in the two parks, which was more than enough time. Other than Crush's Coaster and the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop in the Studios, and a few small rides in the main park, we got on most rides - some of the big rides we went on two or three times.

As it wasn't the French school holidays, the park was fairly quiet on Good Friday and only a little busier on Easter Monday; the Studios park was busy all the time. Saturday, as it always tends to be, was very busy in both parks. It's worth checking out when the French school holidays are when planning your trip.

I'm lucky enough to have been to Disneyland Paris quite a bit before, but usually in August when it's really busy - my brother and I went with my parents when the park opened, and I went back with them for the 5th year celebrations (sans my brother). I've also been on a school trip there, and I went one September, a few years after the Walt Disney Studios Park opened. September tends to be a quieter month but it's still warm - if you can go outside school holidays, it's a good month to visit.

Where to stay:
Most of the Disney hotels are located on/near Lake Disney in the Disney Village, about a ten-minute walk from the park entrance. We pretty much just slept at the Newport Bay Club, though we did come back on the last afternoon for a quick swim and sauna. Newport Bay Club is one of the 4* Disney hotels and it really is a lovely hotel - I adored the Cape Cod/Steamboat Willie influences.
Continental breakfast is included, though if you can't get a pass to eat breakfast before 7.15 at your hotel, it's worth asking to get a park breakfast pass to make the most of the Magic Hours. (We did this on all three days we spent in the park, and only ate at the hotel on our final morning - the food and drinks are the same.)

Magic Hours are an excellent reason for staying in a Disney hotel as hotel guests get into the park two hours before it opens to the general public - hurrah! These hours are invaluable to get a lot of rides ticked off, but also if you want to meet the core characters - Minnie, Pluto, Donald Duck, Goofy, Chip and Dale all hang around Main Street when the park opens for hotel guests. Get those autograph books and cameras ready!

How to get there:
We took the Eurostar to Lille Europe, and then the TGV service from Lille Europe to Marne la Vallée-Chessy, which is where the park is (the station is at the Disney Village entrance). There are direct Eurostar trains from St Pancras to Marne la Vallée-Chessy, but these are infrequent and more expensive. It's super easy to change at Lille Europe, so I really recommend going this way if you're travelling from London.

If you are in Paris, you can hop on the RER A train to get to the park, but it's a lot busier as you go through central Paris. If you want to fly, Charles de Gaulle airport is an eight minute train ride away from the park.

Disney Village:
You don't need a park ticket to enter the Disney Village, which is where you'll find the PanoraMagique balloon (below), shops, restaurants, a cinema, other entertainment and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (more about this later). It's a great place to pick up missed souvenirs that you didn't get in the park (all what we bought is in the top picture), including Minnie Mouse ears - you *must* wear these all the time!

As we didn't go into the park on our first night, we ate in the Village at the Rainforest Cafe - Olly woke up in the night with horrific food poisoning from his burger, so I would avoid eating there. Despite this bad start to our Easter break, we had a brilliant time and I'll be sharing what we got up to over the next few weeks.

Have you been to Disneyland Paris? x

Marley Spoon

I've been meaning to try Marley Spoon for a while, which is a food subscription box like Gousto and Hello Fresh where you get sent all the ingredients to cook your dinners. Like I did with those two I used the introductory offer to get my box for £19 for three meals (for two people). I wouldn't, to be honest, pay full price for a box (ditto for Gousto and Hello Fresh), but it was worth doing at the introductory price.

The first dish I cooked from my brown paper bag was the chicken and kaffir lime curry with green beans and brown rice. It was straight-forward enough, and tasted nice enough, though I make better Thai curries from scratch so I wouldn't cook this recipe again. There was nothing wrong with it all but, like I said, I have better recipes in my repertoire that I already do.

My favourite dish was the roasted carrots and broccoli with farro and honey-miso vinaigrette - yes, surprisingly, a vegetarian dish! We both really enjoyed the flavours and textures of this dish, and a veggie recipe isn't something we'd automatically think to do so it was great doing something different. One of the main reasons I like doing these boxes is to learn new dishes/use ingredients that I wouldn't normally do/consider, so this dish ticked that box.

Finally, the Italian-American meatballs with tomato sauce and spaghetti dish was, again, nice enough, but I have a better spaghetti and meatballs recipe that I already use. I also struggled with making the meatballs as the recipe didn't include egg, so there wasn't anything to bind the meatballs together and they started to fall apart when I cooked them.

If you're a bit of a rookie in the kitchen or don't have the time to research and cook meals then subscription boxes like Marley Spoon are a great idea to get you cooking from scratch using fresh ingredients. If you're a reasonable cook, however, you'll probably find like I did that it's OK to order a box once in a blue moon, but you wouldn't order one weekly.

Have you tried subscription food boxes like Marley Spoon? x

Strawberry Hill House

The other weekend I hopped on the train to head to the rather lovely-sounding Strawberry Hill to meet my friend. (And then got Strawberry Fields Forever stuck in my head.) The reason? To visit the somewhat fairytale-looking Strawberry Hill House.

Strawberry Hill House was the Gothic summer villa of Horace Walpole, a novelist and also the son of the first British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Walpole wrote The Count of Otranto, amongst other things, and inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. Oh, and we have him to thank for the word "serendipity".

Unless you book on a guided tour, tours are described as "self-guided" though you will have an introductory talk upon entering the house and the stewards in the rooms are very eager to share titbits.

Strawberry Hill House is quite unusual as it's such a cobbled together place - it's kind of all style and no substance with wallpaper on the walls made to look like Gothic arches... because Horace couldn't afford *actual* Gothic arches. When you get deeper into the place, as time passes and Horace has some money to expand, you'll find an opulent gallery decorated heavily in gold leaf... though the decorative ceiling was made from paper mâché!

It was too cold for us to explore the gardens - how come it's been colder in March than it was in January? - but we enjoyed tea and cakes in the café afterwards. If you're in the area, Strawberry Hill House is worth a poke around and should only take you a few hours.

Strawberry Hill House, 268 Waldegrave Road, Twickenham, TW1 4ST
Tickets cost £12 for adults (£10.80 without Gift Aid); it's free to visit for under 16s.

The month that was: February 2016

What happened:
We moved - hurrah! I don't have much to report because the move swallowed up so much time (and money), but I love our new area, and I love our new home. We're split-level, so we're over three floors, and I love living in such a leafy part of London. I bought an awesome dresser to go in the kitchen, and I love our two gorgeous original cast iron Victorian fireplaces. Compy has settled in well, too!

We headed over to Chiswick and went to the Magic Lantern Festival. It was ridiculously cold, but definitely worth seeing, and it's on until March 6th. More photos here.

Finally, we went to a house party in Dalston, spent one of the weekends in Kent, and did our first two runs (I'm not as unfit as I thought; probably a bad thing!). I also did a lot of work on Found; I'll be passing the manuscript on to my editor at the end of March. Yey!

What I ate:
We met friends for dinner at Tao Tao Ju in Chinatown, I had dinner at Pho twice, and we did our first spot of entertaining. (I made this awesome chicken and bacon pie, which is a firm favourite.) I can't wait to try out some new recipes in March now I don't have a commute to do.

What I watched:
Very little! We had no internet for most of the month - not ideal when you rely on it to stream TV and movies - but we started watching Jessica Jones once we got it back, and I also caught up with Pretty Little Liars. I'll still watch it - of course I will - but I am finding PLL a bit tedious.

Film-wise we signed up to Cineworld's Unlimited Card, though we've not used it yet. I had one of these cards for six years; when we moved to Brixton we were no longer near a Cineworld so I cancelled it. The only film I can really remember catching in February was Morning Glory.

What I read:
In February I read ten books. My favourite was An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield.

How was your month? x


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