Thursday, 29 September 2016

Keeping your home bright during the autumn, PLUS a huge discount and GIVEAWAY!


Every year as October creeps up on us and the days start getting shorter, I always feel like my flat is so much darker. Granted we have a lot of trees obscuring the sun at the best of times, but through autumn and winter it's even worse. It makes me feel sleepy at best, and cold and miserable at worst!

But there are plenty of ways you could brighten up the inside of your home over the cooler months. Candles and warm-toned cushions and throws are a must for creating the perfect cosy living room, but do you (like me!) forget about flowers once the summer is over?

During warmer months I always have some fresh blooms on show, but as we head into autumn and winter I all but forget about them which is a huge shame! Luckily, the guys at Blossoming Gifts were on hand to inject a burst of colour into my flat just when I needed it.

The team were kind enough to gift me this gorgeous (and frankly gigantic!) hand-tied bunch of seasonal goodness. The Autumnal Glee bouquet features red grand prix roses, beautifully fragrant lilies, blue agapanthus and deep burgundy hypericum berries - the perfect colour combination for this time of year!


Blossoming Gifts wants everyone to enjoy a little floral colour and warmth this autumn thanks to their seasonal range, so have supplied me not only with a discount code but with the chance to give away a bouquet to one of my lovely readers!

All you have to do to enter is make sure you're following me on Twitter and pop your email in the RaffleCopter widget below. There are chances to gain extra entries too! The giveaway is open to enter until midnight on 14 October, and a winner will be drawn at random and announced on the 15th!

Worried you won't win? You can still use the code BGIFTS33 to get a huge 33% off at the checkout at www.blossominggifts.com.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post features items that were sent to me as part of a brand collaboration, but all swooning over flowers is definitely my own!
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Sunday, 25 September 2016

How to have an awesome summer holiday on a budget

These days you can't so much as open up Instagram without luxurious far-off getaways being paraded around in front of you, but in reality most of us just can't stretch to that every 4-6 months. I firmly believe that everyone should be able to see the world, no matter their circumstances, so I've put together my top tips for curating the best trip possible for your money, along with a few photos from ours.

I'm extremely lucky that growing up my parents always took us to amazing places. From Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, to Greece, there were so many beautiful beaches and luxurious hotels to explore.

Now I'm older and paying for my own summer getaways I've started to realise just how hard they must have worked to afford those trips. We're currently saving for a mortgage deposit while renting in an expensive area, so most 5 star transatlantic destinations are a bit out of reach if we want to eat for the rest of the year!

That said, there's no reason you can't put together a nice, relaxing summer holiday that caters to a tight budget. Last year we traveled to Marrakech on an absolute shoestring, and this year we've just got back from a week in Turkey. Our carefully selected 4 star all inclusive holiday cost just shy of £350 per person including flights, accommodation, food, drink and transfers, and we spent barely anything while there. Here's how we did it:

Stunning Fethiye bay, just a short taxi ride from our hotel

Be flexible

It's no secret that the school holidays have a huge impact on prices and availability - the difference between one week and the next can be as much as double for certain flights and destinations. If like us you don't have kids, it pays to be open to other dates. In most countries tourist season starts around April time and lasts until October. Outside of this many resorts and towns all but close down, but going towards the beginning or end of the season can mean not only more bearable heat and less crowded beaches, but much lower prices.

Pricing can even be affected by the time of day and day of the week you want to travel. Being open to weird flight times (for example our flight home from Turkey took off at 2am) can sometimes take as much as £50-100 per person off the final cost of your holiday. For the sake of being a little tired it's well worth considering.

The adults only pool at our hotel

The best £4.99 I ever spent on eBay

Do your research

I know so many people that will only travel on certain airlines and book through certain operaters when it comes to summer getaways. I have my favourites too. I love Thomson/First Choice for pool and beach holidays, and Expedia for city breaks and going off the beaten track as they're always helpful and reliable. That said, there are a huge number of companies out there offering great deals and also plenty of comparison sites. Be prepared to spend a few evenings endlessly searching and comparing before making your choice, or you could miss an amazing deal!

That said, always, always, aaaaalways read reviews and try to find images of where you're going, research a few things to do in the area etc. Our holiday at the beautiful Hotel Greenland was the 3rd cheapest in my search at the time, and I initially wasn't sure if it was for us, but the endless positive reviews - one of which came from my sister who visited last year! - swayed me and it turned out to be even lovelier than we expected!

From our trip to a local farm

Be spontaneous

I'm someone who likes to have things planned and paid for well in advance so I know what's up, but there's a lot to be said for winging it. Our holiday would have been even cheaper if we'd booked it 3 weeks before. Even if you don't have much flexibility around work etc you can still decide on a two week window you'll book off, put aside a chunk of budget and book it much nearer the time to get a big discount. You can then just un-book any extra holiday days either side of the actual trip if you need to hang onto them for something else, or enjoy some time at home before and after. Just be open to a range of destinations, flight times etc and you're bound to find something great.

The gorgeous Sundial restaurant

Sunset cruise in Fethiye bay

Plan your spending

If you're going all inclusive then it's likely you won't need much money at all. I think we spent about £150 while there but we really didn't need to. We went on a day trip to some local ruins booked through the tour operator, as well as a sunset cruise, and did a little bit of shopping. While you can do these for a little less money on your own, you do miss out on a decent tour guide, which is why I like them. We also had a fancy meal out at the Sundial restaurant in Fethiye, but even this rather posh meal in a beautiful setting (see the restaurant terrace above) only cost the equivalent of £35!

If you're self-catering on a budget it's good to have an idea of what your spending limit will need to be each day. You could minimise costs by having breakfast in your apartment in the mornings, or by agreeing to splurge at a couple of restaurants while otherwise eating more cheaply. The choice is up to you.

If you like to get out and about while away, which I always do, look into braving the public transport as well (providing you're in a safe area, which we were but in some countries you may be more isolated or restricted). We used local buses that cost about 20p per way instead of taxis booked by the hotel at £6 a pop, so there was a huge saving there. Walking is also a great way to explore somewhere new providing you can take the heat!

So there you have it. There are plenty of ways to hunt down the best holiday deals and also to save while you're away. Where to next then?


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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Review: 5 reasons to read The Girl on the Train before you see the film


Let's start with a confession: I wasn't interested in reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins until I saw the trailer for the upcoming adaptation. I had sort of vaguely heard of it, but wasn't sure it was my thing. Boy was I wrong!

Too often I only discover a book exists once its movie publicity ends up in front of me, and that's a damn shame. I often then find the idea of just going to the cinema to find out what happens much more appealing, but I know I could be depriving myself of great reading experiences by taking the lazier option.

So while I'm late to the party on this one, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn't sure what to expect but ended up enjoying the book so much that I'll definitely be going to watch it too - here's why (without any spoilers!) you should get yourself a copy:

1. It's fast paced

I'm now incredibly glad I chose this as my book of choice for our holiday last week. When I read by the pool I need something that really grabs me and peaks my interest so even though I may not have picked this up in a normal book haul a thriller was the perfect purchase.

Hawkins' writing is very much 'in the moment' and as such you're whisked straight into the story. Any flashbacks or anecdotes only serve to drive the plot forward so there's very little 'fluff'. From the very first page I found this a difficult book to put down.

2. The central character is unbelievably flawed

Aside from the obvious theme of crime/murder, Hawkins also handles through three central female characters some of the struggles of being a women in your late twenties/early thirties. Protagonist Rachel is a 32-year-old alcoholic divorcee who has a tendency towards obsessive behaviour since her husband's affair came to light.

Since she's the one trying to uncover what happened to the mysterious and now missing Megan, who she has only ever seen from her seat on the train, you also can't help but question her observations, and actions. And yet, she's written so sympathetically that you can't resist rooting for her, even when you're a bit suspicious.

3. It's pretty dark

This thriller is anything but woolly.Alcoholism aside, the novel handles some very dark subjects and does so without glamourising or scandalising them and presents characters in a very real, raw way. I won't spoil any of the books twists and turns but I did find some aspects of the plot pretty sad as well as shocking.

4. You won't be totally sure who 'did it' until you're shown

All of the central characters in The Girl on the Train have a strong motive for harming Megan. I tend not to read thrillers that often because it's too obvious who actually did it, but in this case I only got an inkling around 30-40 pages before the big reveal. 

At one point or another you'll suspect everyone, you'll go over theories and evidence in your head, you'll have weird dreams about solving the crime yourself. By the end of it I felt like I'd become just as obsessive as Rachel herself about finding the answers, and that's why this book as such a cracking read.

So what are you waiting for? If you want to read something that's exciting and just a little bit different then make sure you pick up this book instead of just going to see the film! I only wish all thrillers were this gripping!

Have you read The Girl on the Train already? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.



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Tuesday, 6 September 2016

What I'm watching and reading right now


Oh autumn, I see you creeping up on us with your amber leaves, darker nights and cosy blankets. I always seem to seek out new shows to watch and books to read at this time of year to maximise the snug factor as much as possible and entertain myself in the evenings. Here's what I'm currently reading/viewing!

Stranger Things

There seem to be very few people left who haven't been sucked into this Sci-Fi Netflix original, and I can totally see why. The series has a real 80s Spielberg vibe (I couldn't stop thinking of E.T.) but also elements of horror that had me with my hands over my eyes. The series is really nostalgic and has themes of friendship, not fitting in and family bonds at its core. It also stars Winona Ryder who I adore. The only downside is that there's just one series until the next is made!

Peaky Blinders

Oh Cillian Murphy, how could I not watch anything you're in! Peaky Blinders has been shown on the BBC since the start, but I only discovered it this summer after finding it on Netflix. Set in post-WW1 Birmingham and featuring a family of wheeler dealer bookies, this show is so much fun to watch. It's a gang drama, and has been made really stylishly - Rock 'n' Rolla in the 1920s anyone?

High Rise

This short novel by JG Ballard has been haunting me ever since I first picked it up. I really couldn't get into it at first as the writing is quite plain and matter-of-fact, so I put it down for what must have been about three months. Last weekend though out of sheer determination to finish it I chomped through almost the entire book and now have just a few pages left.

After taking a fair few chapters to build the plot becomes exciting and violent, sometimes horrifying. The story centres around a huge high-rise block of apartments that becomes shut off from the world and sends it's inhabitants stir crazy. It's heavy going but it explores the way our animalistic nature comes out to play when social constructs are removed. Scary stuff.

What have you been reading or watching lately? Let me know in the comments below!
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© kelly anne rist

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