Monday, 19 October 2015

Orkney: NorthLink Ferries

I've lived in Scotland for my entire life but I'm constantly embarrassed when I speak to people who've visited for a couple of weeks and have seen parts of the country that I've never gotten to. Prior to this week I'd never ventured further north than Inverness and hadn't made it to any of the Northern or Western Isles. With the big move quickly approaching there's a bit more urgency to see parts of the country I may not get a chance to visit for some time so this week we travelled to Orkney for a few days with NorthLink ferries.

NorthLink, which is part of Serco, offer a couple of different ways to get to Orkney, either from Scrabster to Stromness, or Aberdeen to Kirkwall. We sailed from Aberdeen which gave us less time in the car to get there, essential when you're travelling with a one year old! The sailing itself takes six hours, which seemed a little daunting in advance but turned out to be perfectly pleasant due to the amenities available.

Aberdeen harbour

We arrived at Aberdeen harbour a little over an hour before we were due to depart and rolled straight on to the boat. Once on board we found some comfortable reclining seats and settled in, although not for long! There was so much to see and do on the ferry that we were soon up and about again. The boy and I headed straight to the cinema, where we spent a couple of hours watching Disney's Inside Out. There were two more films showing afterwards, so it would have been possible to spend the entire journey catching up on the latest Hollywood blockbusters but there was plenty more to do.

Northlink ferry Aberdeen to Orkney

After the movie we all headed for dinner at the onboard restaurant The Feast. My expectation of onboard dining was not too high to begin with but it rose when I saw this:

TripAdvisor Northlink Ferry restaurant

4.5/5 TripAdvisor rating for a restaurant on a ferry? It didn't disappoint! Serco are justifiably proud that 85% of all food and drink onboard is locally sourced. My steak pie was delicious and Blondie Boy gave his kids fish and chips two thumbs up!

Kid's fish and chips in a boat

After dinner BB had a play in the kids area and completed a viking treasure hunt around the ship. A couple of games on the Xbox and we were ready to pack everything back up and prepare to arrive. We were lucky with weather throughout our trip and the sailing was smooth the whole way. The six hour crossing flew in and the time on the ferry was more like a part of the holiday than the journey.

As a family, we instantly fell in love with Orkney. We spent two days touring by ourself and one with a guide. There is so much to see and do, and everything is relatively close together, so no long drives between attractions, which is ideal when travelling with a young family. On day one we visited Skara Brae, the world famous (it's even mentioned in Indiana Jones) Neolithic settlement. Both my Mum and I studied Skara Brae in high school, so this visit was almost half a century in the making for her! The whole three generations enjoyed the visit and the lunch we subsequently grabbed in the cafeteria there was to set a theme for every meal we had in Orkney, the produce was great quality, well cooked and reasonably priced.

Skara Brae heritage Scotland ancient

On the recommendation of a friend we visited Brough of Birsay, which is a small island at the North West of Mainland. The island has been used as a fort by the Picts and the Norse and there are the remains of an 8th Century Norse church and settlement. The island is connected by a causeway which is uncovered for two hours either side of low tide, so even getting across to it is an adventure in itself! We walked across the slippery causeway, while looking in the rockpools at either side of crabs and shells.

Brough of Birsay low tide

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at the Orkney Brewery and did the tour. I had to force myself to taste the beer too, for research's sake. It did not disappoint.

Orkney Brewery tasting flight

We stayed at the Ayre Hotel in Kirkwall and found it to be ideal. It is situated in the town centre, only a five minute drive from the ferry terminal. The rooms were modern and clean and the food was home cooked and tasty, with the Orkney lamb and breaded haddock being particular favourites. The staff could not have been more helpful, particularly saving our bacon when it turned out some idiot forgot to pack the travel cot...

Day two was spent on a tour with the wonderful Lorna from See Orkney tours. A native Orcadian, Lorna was both able to give us information about the points of interest and more general background on what it was like growing up on the island of Westray, even teaching us some local dialect. She was completely flexible about fitting in around the needs of the children, even finding a play park for us when the boy seemed to be flagging! With Lorna we visited the Italian Chapel, which has to be seen to be believed. Created from two huts by Italian prisoners of war, with little more than some concrete and some paint, the building is spectacular.

Italian Chapel Orkney

In the afternoon we visited two more Neolithic sites, the Ring of Brodgar and  the Unstan cairn tomb. The standing stones were spectacular and the preservation of the tomb was incredible. Lorna's local knowledge was second to none and really helped us make the most of our time.

Ring of Brodgar standing stones

In the afternoon and the next morning we spent some more time exploring Kirkwall. We were very impressed by the shopping in the town. It had everything you needed while still retaining it's local charm. There were lots of independent shops, many selling local goods. We had expected there might be a price premium coming from being on an island with the added supply costs but this wasn't the case at all. St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall was spectacular and the Orkney Museum was well worth a visit.

Our journey back was on the overnight ferry which had the benefit of giving us an extra full day to explore. With Orkney having spent as long as part of Scandanavia as it has as part of Scotland Blondie Boy was really enjoying learning about its Viking heritage. We spent the morning at Orphir learning about the Orkneyinga Saga and looking at the round kirk and Earl's Bu.

Orphir Scandanavian Scotland Orkney

In the afternoon we visited the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. Blondie Boy took part in a workshop which was running over the school holidays and had a great time, while the adults had time to enjoy the unique collection of modern art, including the recently acquired Two Forms (Orkney) by Barbara Hepworth.

Children's workshops Pier Arts Centre Orkney

Being on the overnight ferry meant that we spent our day on holiday as usual and then instead of going back to the hotel at night we checked in to the ferry and went to bed there instead. The cabin was comfortable. At 6'3" I am well used to single beds which are too small for me but the bunk onboard was long enough and wide enough to be comfortable. The cabin was ensuite with a shower and had tea and coffee making facilities and felt more like a hotel room than a mode of transport. The bar seemed to be in full swing when we arrived but with the kids we were more interested in a good nights sleep than a night cap and we certainly got that. As well as being comfortable the cabin was quiet and we all dropped off in Kirkwall and woke up about fifteen minutes away from Aberdeen the next morning.

Double Cabin Beds Northlink Ferry

Our trip to Orkney was unforgettable for all the right reasons. There is so much to see and do there, the people are warm and genuinely friendly and the scenery is spectacular. The journey there on NorthLink Ferries felt like a part of the holiday, it was quick, easy and entertaining, even with a five year old and a baby. While I can't ask the baby her opinion, here's what Blondie Boy thought of his trip and the journey.


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Transatlantic Blonde were provided ferry crossing, accommodation and a tour guide for the purpose of this review. All adventures & opinions are our own.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Whittard's of Chelsea Tea Tasting

I should introduce myself, I'm Katie, the London correspondent of the Transatlantic Blonde family. It makes me slightly further away from those beautiful babies, but I love London, almost as much as I love them. It also means that I get the chance to check out some cool London events, just like this one.

To add to the previously mentioned loves, I also love tea. I'm a green in the morning, white in the afternoon kind of girl, who still loves a good cup of builders. When the invitation came through from Whittard of Chelsea to join them for a private tasting session of their new range, I knew this was my kind of night out.

I went along to the Whittard Tea Bar on Regent Street on a cold, very rainy night to see what they had to offer. As I first stepped in and knew it was going to be perfect. The huge tea canisters that line the wall are beautiful, without even being opened. I loved the look of their range. At this point, I didn't know it was part of their very clever rebrand. They have updated the packaging of all the teas so you can find what you like, very easily. Each variety of tea comes in a different colour of packaging and each type (loose, tea bags, large leaf) in a different style.

Kate, the Whittard tea expert, met us and explained that we were going to taste one of each type of tea, one infusion (which is a fruit 'tea' to the rest of us, but actually contains no tea!), before being allowed to go wild and taste anything from the range. Kate was a brilliant host. She didn't just throw out lots of interesting tea facts, like black, green and white tea comes from the same leaf but is treated differently after picking, she has actually visited many of the plantations across the world, so she added plenty of little anecdotes along the way. Her enthusiasm made it hard not to be excited!

We tasted White Peony, Marrakesh Mint, Regal Blend and Mulled Wine. They were all delicious, and the loose leaves looked really pretty. My favourite from this bunch was the Marrakesh Mint. It was a great combination of a really fresh mint flavour, with a bit of a green tea kick. This has fast become my new morning tea of choice - it's a great wake-up when you are a bit sluggish! With each one, Kate showed us the differences in the leaves and gave us tips on the making the perfect cup. Interestingly, one of them was not make tea with boiling water, always to let the water cool slightly because the prime temperature for tea is about 75 - 95 degrees depending on the tea. Who knew?! It was also pretty cool to see the leaves before and after they've been brewed - I didn't realise some were so tightly rolled that they would end up pretty huge!

Aside from Marrakesh Mint, my favourites are Orange Blossom and Milk Oolong, which has an incredible slightly fudgy taste. All the teas have their own identification number with a quirky or cute story behind it, like Whisky Tea being 251 for Rabbie Burn's birthday or Coconut Truffle being 44 for the 1944 classic song, 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts'! So when you choose a new tea, make sure you ask for the story behind the number!

I could spend hours telling you about how amazing these teas were but instead, I'll just recommend that you get yourself to Whittard of Chelsea. There are stores across the country and all stores will allow you to taste tea before purchase so you can find the perfect tea and with the range increasing from 24 teas to 100, there is something for everyone. That doesn't even cover the coffee range or the new flaked hot chocolate, which looks and smells amazing. No surprise given that it's made from shaved pieces of chocolate instead of a powder!

I usually think that a book shop is the perfect place to spend cold, rainy autumn nights, but with beautiful setting, incredible smells and a massive list of tea I want to try, I think my new spot could very well be one of the Whittard of Chelsea Tea Bars!

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Transatlantic Blonde were provided a tasting for the purpose of this review but all opinions are our own. I mean come on who'd lie about tea?

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Iolla Prescription Eyewear

I've been wearing prescription glasses for the past 22 years (you decide what age I got my first pair!) but in that time I've only had 5 pairs of glasses. Prescription glasses can cost and arm in a leg with frames, lenses, thinning, special coatings--if I'm honest confusion as well as cost played a big role in my lack of eyewear. Luckily Iolla have come to save the world from confusing and expensive eyewear.

Iolla is a new brand of prescription eyewear that aims to revolutionise the traditional optical market. Glasses are designed and assembled in Scotland to provide higher-quality, better-looking eyewear at a fraction of the current price. £65 gets you fabulous frames, thin lenses and anti-glare and anti-scratch coating if your prescription is between certain parameters. I have a strong prescription and have a slight astigmatism and that was included, too!

I popped in to the Iolla showroom on a Saturday with Baby Girl unannounced; I had an appointment scheduled later in the week but had some time to kill and was passing by. Stefan, one of Iolla's founders, was so patient and helpful. It will come to no surprise to anyone who knows me that I tried on just about every frame in the showroom. Iolla have a variety of frames, all named after famous Scots, to suit every face shape and come in multiple colours. I went back and forth between a few different frames but in the end decided to go for a pair that were the complete opposite to my glasses I've had for the past 2 years.
blonde girl blue glasses

I love my new Stevenson frames in light blue crystal! They really make my eyes pop and are just so far removed from my big black frames. I love that at only £65 you can have glasses that are truly a fashion choice and not just functional. In fact I loved my Iolla glasses so much I went back 2 weeks later for another pair!

Can you believe in 22 years of wearing glasses I have never had prescription sunglasses? For me they were just an expense I couldn't justify so it meant always wearing contacts when it was sunny or using these gigantic sunglasses my Dad gave me that go over your existing glasses so you look like a glaucoma grandma!

My Bruce sunglasses in plum are far more stylish and made sunglare worries on my morning commute a thing of the past. I honestly can't believe I went this long without prescription sunglasses!

blonde girl purple sunglasses

Iolla frames can be purchased online and shipped straight to your door or you can pop in to the showroom on Argyle Street in Glasgow if you like to try on your frames before you buy. I love supporting local businesses and it's even more amazing when the local business service and product is better value for money than the corporate conglomerates!

All Iolla eyewear are at £65, with additional costs for multi-focus.

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Transatlantic Blonde was provided a pair of frames to review, but then loved them so much we bought a second pair out our own pocket. If that doesn't tell you our opinion is honest then what will?

Friday, 28 August 2015

Eleven months

Age - eleven months

Weight - 20lbs+ (I've not weighed her so I have no idea!)

Height -  29 1/2"+ (again no clue and she's sleeping so not going to try!)

Sleeping habits - She sleeps in her own bed but still ends up in bed with us in the early hours most days. She goes to bed 11pm or so and is up for 8am when her brother goes to school with a middle of the night cuddle in between.

Eating habits - Still breastfeeding and trying new foods. She's had chicken, beef and pork now. If it is easy enough to mash she gets to try it! She's also convinced yoghurt is a finger food. She will eat literally anything except for "real meal" baby food pouches. If it's actual real food she will give it a try and nom it up.

baby eating yogurt

Favorite activity - She is taking after her brother and loves music. She's currently a big Taylor Swift fan and goes crazy dancing when she hears "Shake it Off."

Milestones - TEETH! Her first tooth broke through the second one right next to it came two days later. Only a centimeter or so is through on each of them but we finally have teeth!

Firsts-  Teeth, sleepover at Grandma's-- NBH and I went to see Ben Folds at the Kelvingrove Bandstand so she and her brother stayed the night at Grandma's house

Like to compare/contrast? Here's the boy's 11 month update! They look vaguely similar, no?

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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Toy Testing at the St Enoch Centre

It goes without saying that Blondie Boy is a huge fan of toys: he’s five! He’s also a huge fan of toy reviews and reviewers. While I don’t quite get it, he’d quite happily spend days watching videos of people reviewing toys he would probably have little interest in normally, if it wasn’t for the fact he has limited screen time! So when and Hamleys at the St Enoch Centre got in touch to ask how he’d like to spend the afternoon as a toy reviewer, it’s fair to say I didn’t have to twist his arm too much, it’s pretty much his dream come true!

Toy Testers Hamleys

 We went along to Hamleys in the St Enoch Centre and met up with Nigel and the rest of the crew who showed us how they worked and let Blondie Boy (and me!) have a go! The St Enoch Centre was the launch of the toy summer tour and its only Scottish stop.


The RealFX racetrack not only takes slot car racing into the 21st century, it totally reinvents it. First off there are no slots, the cars race on paper tracks which means the cars aren’t limited to lanes, they can overtake at any time. The cars have AI which not only counts how many laps you have completed but can also race a car against you, should you want to play by yourself. There’s still the same principle of skill involved as you would have in a Scalextric or slot car system, too strong on the controller and your car will shoot off the track. Unlike slot car systems where setting up the track can take time to set up, the guys set up the track in seconds and Blondie Boy and the other Toy Testers had a great time racing. If this ends up on BB's Santa list I’m fairly sure I’ll have a shot or two once he’s in bed…

BB says: “I really liked it because I am a huge fan of racing cars.”

Little Live Pets Mice

The Little Live Pets Mice was probably the toy we spent the least amount of time with. Little Live Pets are the next generation of electronic pets. The little mice act like real mice, you can let them go in their track and they’ll wander around and run on their wheel.  

BB says: “ The mice were really cute.”

Power Rangers Dino Charge

Power Rangers Dino Charge

Neither BB or I are fans of the Power Rangers shows but we both enjoyed the Dino Charge toys. The Dino Charge cannisters come in packs to collect and unlock sounds and features in the other toys. The Deluxe Dino Charge Morpher features lights and sounds which change depending on which canister is inserted. Once you insert the Dino Charger and spin to charge it, it makes unique sounds for each canister and lights up. The Deluxe Dino Charge Mega Zord features three dinosaur shaped robots which can be combined to form one giant robot.

BB says: “These are really cool.”


I-DO-3D was probably the surprise hit of the day with Blondie Boy. He does love drawing and the I-DO-3D pens let kids create in 3D. The pens come in a variety of colours, the kids draw with them and then dry their creations with the little torch provided which sets them in three dimensions. This was definitely a toy Blondie Boy kept coming back to. He made a couple of quick creations but I’m fairly sure given a bit more time he could make some pretty cool stuff. When Nigel asked him his favourite toy of the day BB had no hesitation in saying the I-DO-3D, which is no mean praise given the impressive high action toys that he also tried out.

BB says: “I loved it!”

Teksta Scorpion

The current trend for robotic pets has somewhat passed our house by, maybe because we have a real life barking dog and we’re not keen on scooping robot poop too. The Teksta Scorpion was somewhere between a robot animal and a remote control vehicle. The controller was pretty intuitive, it was worn on the back of your hand so it was easy to control by tilting your hand, even for a five year old. More than one scorpion can apparently battle, which seems like it might be fun.

BB says: “The scorpion is awesome.”

Thunderbirds Interactive Tracy Island

Toy Testers Glasgow

With the new series on CITV, Thunderbirds is instantly recognisable to everyone from kids of the 1960s to the 2010s. I was just a bit too old to have been caught up in the megahype surrounding the sold out Tracy Island toy in the 1990s and the subsequent build-your-own Blue Peter number but I still thought the new one was pretty cool. Thunderbird vehicles 1, 2 and 3 launch with sounds taken from the programme and flashing LEDs. While Blondie Boy doesn’t watch the show, he still loved the toy. He’s a bit of a car/ vehicle freak, so the cool International Rescue vehicles were right up his street, during the free play he came back to this toy again and again.

BB says: I really liked this. I liked the vehicles and the sounds.”

We had a great time testing toys at Hamleys at the St Enoch Centre and I'm pretty sure Blondie Boy picked up some ideas for his Christmas list! Some of the toys mentioned in the review haven't been released yet but all of them will be available at Hamleys once they are. The St Enoch Centre runs a wide variety of events over the summer for visitors of all ages.

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Blondie Boy was given some of the toys he tested on the day but all opinions are his own. Five year olds are brutally honest!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Ten months

Age - ten months

Weight - 20lbs

Height -  29 1/2"

Sleeping habits - She is officially in her own room and in her cot; no more basket. I know it's been 4 months since my last update but this is still a relatively new development. She still ends up in bed with me in the wee hours but it's better than nothing.

Eating habits - Still breastfeeding and she loves fruit and veggie purées. I've been giving her oatmeal (blended up oats) mixed with fruits which she loves too. She is also a massive fan of puffs and rice crackers. We've recently started letting her try bits of things we are eating which is the only real way she'll eat chunky things. Also giving a baby sweet potato fries means you'll get the chance to eat you're own dinner--win, win. She, much like her brother before her, is a big fan of a Scottish morning roll.

baby eating sweet potato fries

Favorite activity - She is all about pulling up and standing up, doing the hand movements to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and putting anything she can find in her mouth.

Milestones - Well I've not done this for 4 months so probably crawling and standing and other things I'm forgetting. Still no teeth.

Firsts-  Overnight away from Mom when I was in London for work in June, bath with her brother, Fourth of July, pigtails and big girl bath

baby girl fourth of july tutu

baby pigtails

Like to compare/contrast? Well tough I didn't do a 10 month update for Blondie Boy. It's nice to see I'm consistent with my inconsistency. Here's the boy's 9 month update though!

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