Happy Birthday to Me

It has been a lovely few days! On the day before my birthday, myself and three friends headed to the Esplanade to watch a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with Mendelssohn score. Fantastic!

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On the 27th, my birthday, I opened my lovely cards from home, and got into the office early to set up my computer before heading down to the gym for my training session (I know, I know, I went to the gym on my birthday, I’m awesome). When I came back upstairs, I was greeted by this:

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Which included presents:

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(Including a selfie stick, God help us all…)

Donuts (spelling included in line with the bag):

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(The middle ones are honey dipped, and one of the most amazing things I have eaten this year!)

Three of the girls for work had set up my cube for my birthday, and it was absolutely magic. I still can’t quite get my head around it, it was so lovely! There was a manager meeting in the morning, and our office managing partner gave me a shout out for my birthday and, essentially, forced everyone in there to wish me a happy birthday. Which was rather nice as no one really needed the push. After that, one of my audit teams popped over, bringing more food…

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(By this point I was very sugared up and a bit shakey!).

After lunch with the girls, I had a call with a group of women across the US for a leadership event. It was a video conference, and when one of the directors snuck in behind me to give me a cupcake, and I admitted it was my birthday, they all sang to me… Which was a bit bizarre!

In the evening a group of us went to see “Fever Pitch” (the US version with Jimmy Fallon) at Fenway Park. It was great!

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Then it was home to hang out with my balloon. And to be told off for not making a bigger deal of my birthday at home, and told that Sunday was now my official birthday on Enfield Street…

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A lovely day!

Friday involved a leaving do, which is almost always sad, and Saturday had shopping, dinner (Cheesecake Factory, but healthy!) and a film (Ricky and the Flash), all preceded by the gym (get me) and followed by shopping for the week to come (at 11pm… Thank goodness for late opening!).

Today was another lovely day – lots of cooking for lunches next week (low fat buffalo chicken for sandwiches or potatoes, plus curried cauliflower and a lemon pudding for the house), plus cooking dinner – bit of a cheat tonight, but after four loads of washing and finally unpacking from the trip, I figure that is allowed!

And then, after dinner, the boys disappeared briefly outside and reappeared bringing a card (with lovely pedicure voucher!) and gorgeous bunch of flowers! What a lovely end to my birthday celebrations!

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Sigh, now back to work tomorrow…

Miami and back to work…

Yes, yes I know.  I missed some days.  But there were reasons….

 

Our last day in Orlando was amazing.  We started it off with a little breakfast…

 

Nisa Croissant

 

Yummmmmmm…

 

Which we followed up with a trip to the shops around Universal, with various purchases being made along the way.  Don’t ask questions, I won’t tell you.  But things might be in the post…

 

Then it was back to the hotel to pick up the rental car.  The first one they offered us was something called a Chevy Spark.  It looks like this:

 

Spark

 

Our bags didn’t fit without putting all the back seats down.  And it smelled of smoke.  N argued with the Hertz hotel rep (never pick up a car at a hotel, pick up at the airport – they are much better providers there!), and we got a free tank of fuel.  Then we started driving to Miami, and after about 2 minutes I tested the windscreen wipers… the left one’s wiper component promptly fell off.  So it was back to the hotel, where I went and argued with the rep, and we ended up with a sincere apology, a free tank of petrol and a very nice Hyundai, which fitted all our bags in the boot without issue.  The joy of American-style arguing…

 

Then it was off on the trip to Miami.  It took 4 hours, so I drove the first two before swapping with N so that she could get a taste of driving on the US side of the road.  Lucky that I did, really, because I got an email from Mum which led to a phone call, and, well, it was lucky I didn’t need to drive after that.  Dad was taken ill at home, and had been admitted to hospital (while still very much being himself – i.e. walking rather than getting in the wheelchairs, and having to be told to stop demonstrating the dexterity in his fingers and sit still so the doctors can do tests, please), which was very scary.  The major worry with living abroad, in one phone call. (To stop you being in suspense, he’s fine now – he was released yesterday.  Sighs of relief all around, and the countdown to Florida in November has restarted in earnest!!)

 

Luckily, N drove us all the way into Miami (doing a FANTASTIC job of it!!) and got us to our hotel – the Villa Italia, in South Beach.  Which I will get to later…  We (well, me, mainly) weren’t feeling much like going out, so after we tried and failed to find a pizza restaurant, we ordered takeaway pizza (with a ton of veggies on it) and watched some silly TV.  Which was, due to some technical problems, a bit buzzy…

 

The room was fine.  It was fine.  Well, it was OK.  When we arrived, half the toiletries in the bathroom had been used.  As in half the mouthwash, half the moisturiser (which had had its security seal redone, or attempted to be redone), etc.  Also, there was plastic sheeting under the top sheets of the beds.  WHAT had gone on in the room before we got there, I don’t know, but happily those sheets were removed after the first night, and we were much more comfortable after that.  Except for the lack of promised soundproofing (unless upstairs were, in fact, doing the cha-cha in sets of iron boots…) and the mosquito bites (which did NOT happen on the beach) and the manager (rude – very rude) and the smoke alarms on our last morning…  Sigh.  There is going to be a TripAdvisor review on it, but I am holding off for now…

 

Anyway, on to Miami.  We started off with a quick breakfast at the hotel (free breakfast was one of the big plusses!) and drove over to the SeaQuarium – it’s not huge, but it does have a Dolphin Centre, where you can interact with the dolphins!  N had never done this, and I was desperate to have another go, so we went and did the Dolphin Odyssey experience, which was AMAZING!  We got to get up close and personal with several different dolphins, who all seemed to love working with their trainers (I know, I know, what do I know, but that’s what it looked like).  And it was pretty magic:

 

Dolphin Hug

 

From there it was off to the Mall for some lunch (Cheesecake Factory appetizers and the only key lime pie of the trip…) and some shopping!  The less said on that the better, but it was very profitable (part driven by the fact that I was able to speak to Dad and was SO RELIEVED that he sounded like himself!).

 

That evening we got a bit dolled up and headed to the Fontaine Bleu Hotel, to the Scarpetta restaurant.  It.  Was.  AMAZING!  Beautiful pasta, and lovely wine/cocktails, and a lovely dessert.  We started with mushrooms with polenta (vegetarian friendly), then N had the spaghetti (which they are famous for) and I had the ravioli (another staple of the menu).  Then we finished with Amedei Chocolate cake, which was fabulous.  Yum!

 

Then it was off to the hotel bar for some cocktails (beautiful) and then onto a bar called The Broken Shaker, which was outdoors around a pool with great drinks and music.  And from there we taxi-ed back to the hotel.

 

We spent part of the next day in recovery on the beach (after breakfast at The News Cafe) – while it was really too hot and humid (don’t do Florida in the summer, it’s brutal), the beach was glorious, and the water was the temperature of a warm bath:

 

Miami Beach

 

Amazing!  Sadly there may have been a touch of sunburn, but it was all worth it for 4-5 hours of relaxation!

 

After dinner at a lovely French place just up the street, we briefly sampled the Miami-Saturday-Night-Party-Scene.  I felt rather old after about 20 minutes…  So we found a quieter bar just back from Ocean, and had a last cocktail of the holiday before heading back to the hotel.

 

Naturally, the next morning was when the smoke alarms in our room (and ONLY our room) went off before 8am…  But that’s another story.

 

So after an AMAZING trip, the flight home was simple (although delayed an hour) and the goodbye to N at Boston was very hard (bring on Christmas!!).  And then it was back to JP and back to work.  I need another holiday already…. only two weeks and a day until my next one, though!!  The countdown to NYC is really on now!  Can I start packing yet?

Orlando (day two)

Feeling a touch worse for wear after the early start and late dinner yesterday, we still made it up in time for a room service breakfast and to be at Islands of Adventure for 8am – as resort guests we could get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a whole hour before the general public, which was fantastic. We rode the Hogwarts Express to the other park and explored Diagon Alley, riding the new ride twice (on instructions from my mother I can’t say any more about any of this – so I will keep my mouth shut until November. All I will say is that I’ve never seen anything like any of it, and it blew me away!!).

For there it was onto the more standard rides (Men in Black – Mum, I hit the red button!! – The Simpsons, Minions Mayhem, Shrek 4D, and the Rip Ride Rocket… Which was more intense than I remember – so don’t worry, Mum, I’ll leave you alone about it!), followed by a bit of a mid-afternoon break at the hotel. The day started off unbelievably humid, and stayed very hot, so some time in the air conditioning was much needed (by me, N went to sunbathe!).

After a break, it was back to Universal to ride the train back to Hogsmede station, and to ride the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. Fantastic! And for there it was to CityWalk for dinner at a Mexican place. All very rock and roll.

Tomorrow we are off to Miami so I’d best get some sleep… This park exploration is hard work!!

Orlando

After a very early start, today we headed to Orlando, and the Universal Studios parks.

It was a fantastic afternoon. We only got to Islands of Adventure at about 4.30, but apparently that is when a lot of people clear out to get a break in the afternoon. We covered the Hulk, Spider-Man, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls (soaking), Popeye’s Bilge-Rat Barges (soaking), Jurassic Park River Adventure (soaking), Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (amazing as ever, with just a ten minute wait) and the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmede to London. Amazing!

And now, after room service, it’s time for bed.

New Orleans (day four)

A short post today as tomorrow is an early start for our flight to Orlando, but today was a day of beignets at Cafe du Monde:

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Yum!

… Followed by a bus tour round the city complete with stop at the original “Sucre” and self-guided cemetery tour (photos to follow – they are on my other camera), and dinner at Shaya, a very hip restaurant out in the Garden District on Magazine Street – it was a great place with extensive options that both N and I could enjoy (sharing grilled halloumi and hummus with curry roasted cauliflower, before a stuffed aubergine for the veggie and a beautiful lamb shank for me. And some cocktails, obviously….

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Followed, naturally, by more jazz…

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Marvelous.

New Orleans (day three)

Firstly, I have a stunning announcement to make. N and I went to the gym this morning. To work out. Before brunch. I know, impossible but TRUE!! Considering the air was like soup outside, it was god to stay in the air conditioning a bit longer…

Anyway, after gyming and changing, we headed down to board the Steamship Nachez, which is the only steam powered vessel working on the Mississippi. Well, that’s what they told us! But there was a a buffet, mimosas and a jazz band, and that made everything fabulous. Sadly I took photos on my camera rather than my phone, and they won’t upload… So you will just have to wait on that front!

From there we headed back to the hotel for some pool time. Followed by some “running from the rain” time and “shouting at Expedia” time (they are great, but cannot spell, which can sometimes cause issues…). Which was followed by “cocktails, macaroons and light bites at Sucre” time:

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Amazing.

After naps and a quick change, we discovered that our first choice of restaurant (Green Goddess) was closed for summer vacation. So we ended up at a pace called Galatoire’s, which is, as it turns out, on a lot of rather good lists. We do well, N and I!

From there it was in to the Maison Bourbon for some proper jazz, which was spectacular!

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And now I really must get to bed. After five cocktails today, I need my sleep. It’s all ok,you understand, we had six yesterday, so we are improving…!!

New Orleans (day two)

Despite yesterday being the day of travel and very tiring, it was great fun! There was pizza to be eaten and catching up to do, and it was all rather brilliant:

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Today, also, has been absolutely marvelous. That is the only way to describe it (particularly after four cocktails of indeterminate strength…).

This morning, after room service breakfast (including artichoke and spinach with poached eggs and toast for the veggie, and steak with crawfish hollandaise and grits (don’t do it. Even if you are tempted, don’t do it…) for me, we booked a plan for tomorrow and wandered down to the banks of the Mississippi. Which was rather exciting. We saw a jazz trio, Jackson Square, the St Louis cathedral and the line for Cafe du Monde (which is not to be underestimated). And we were invited to serve as air stewardesses on the private jet of one of the beggars down by the water. Our lucky day!

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After wandering the French Quarter for a little while (including discovering numerous tat shows, a gun/knife store and a cookery school which appeared to specialize in pralines) we headed for Canal Street and the Ritz Carlton for some spa time, with signature massages and add ons. And unforeseen trauma for being unable to not listen in on the hen party sharing the relaxation room. Who didn’t seem to understand the concept…

After some quality time in the spa we stopped off for begniets and some more jazz on Bourbon Street before heading back to the hotel to hang out by the pool and sunbathe a little.

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From there it was out to a SPECTACULAR dinner at GW Fins (I started with gumbo, which came as a thimbleful of rice which then had the soup poured on top) followed by the halibut, which was served with scallops and lobster risotto. Gorgeous. The veggie had a phenomenal beet salad with goat cheese, plus sides of roasted cauliflower and asparagus. Then we might have shared puddings (a bread pudding, and an ice cream). And there may have been cocktails… Amazing!

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After that it was a trip to The Old Absinthe House (NOT for absinthe, I confirm… We had rum cocktails and found some English people!!), and then Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Fantastic live performers!

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After that it was back to the hotel for our first Hurricane, which was rather lovely. Now I’m sitting up writing this while N doses off. We are going to attempt the gym tomorrow…

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… That could hurt a lot!

Packing

I have been packed for days.  At this point I am spending most evenings waiting by the door, counting down to when I can go and get on a plane.  There is one more work-day to go, and then I have a week and a bit off, with all sorts of fun!  Sadly I have some work to do before the end of tomorrow (it would be rather nice to just relax…) but it’ll stop me trying to find more things to do in the South, as I think we already have quite enough!

 

Exciting times!

… That next moment…

… When you realise you can’t do big nights without paying for it.  Lots of dancing plus drinks plus singing = sore and aching Helen with no voice.  Oh how things have changed…

Still, working at home today fave me that chance to find the following, which reports on the gig last night.

http://www.boston.com/entertainment/music/2015/08/10/steven-tyler-helped-zac-brown-band-wrap-nights-fenway/PKodpFDwU4E9sutrwG1m7H/story.html

Still exciting…!!