Ottawa Tulip Festival: Insta-look

In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll do a quick recap: I went to Ottawa Tulip Festival. I loved it. There were many many flowers. I took many many photos.

My previous post of tulip photos was ridiculously long anyway, far too long to include Instagram photos too, so here’s what I was ‘gramming while I was away… 🌷

And that, believe it or not, isn’t even all of them! But I think I’d better let my blog have a bit of a rest from tulips and maybe post something else, like, oh I don’t know, maybe my photos from Niagara Falls?! (so far I’ve just posted about how terrible my first impressions were, which was brutally honest but dreadfully miserable so now I need a happy post about it…)

On a final note, since I don’t think it’s totally clear yet… I love tulips! 🌷❤️

Ottawa Tulip Festival

Flowers. Is there anything better than flowers? (Crikey, on second thoughts, don’t answer that, hayfever sufferers!)

After a very protracted (and highly enjoyable) period of obsessively taking only black and white photos, I’m taking a little break and injecting some well-deserved colour back into my photography. That is, of course, not to say that I’ll be shooting only in colour, but there will hopefully be more of it than there has been lately.

So. Tulips! Ottawa Tulip Festival was just magical; I’ve never seen so many flowers! It was like being in a dream – tulips as far as the eye could see, in every colour. They’d even popped up in random flowerbeds which weren’t part of the bigger displays, just in case you’d forgotten that the city was in festival-mode (I hadn’t!)

I don’t think any words will really do justice to the colour and beauty, so have a whole bunch of photos instead!

The next part, when I get around to writing it, will show the Tulip Festival through my Instagram photos (no seriously, I took over 1,300 photos and I dread to think about how many are of tulips! Until next time…! 🌷🌷🌷

Niagara Falls – first impressions

Arriving in Niagara Falls on the Greyhound bus from Toronto, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the bus driver had gotten lost and stopped to ask for directions. It looks rather like you’ve stopped on an abandoned film set, with derelict buildings everywhere. Where are the fancy fallsview hotels, the casinos, the children’s entertainment, the falls? C’mon, make with the motherf*ckin’ water!


Could it be that Niagara Falls is all an elaborate ruse to defraud tourists, who arrive to find the town actually doesn’t exist?

The Greyhound bus station is as uninspired as its surroundings, with not even a sandwich shop to make spending time there a little more bearable.


It was clearly built about 40 years ago and hasn’t been modernised since.


The toilets are definitely the kind which you could get some kind of venereal disease just from using, and definitely haven’t had a good clean or seen a bottle of disinfectant within my lifetime.

One of the doors featured this particularly charming piece of information:


Considering the Greyhound station and its surroundings are the first impression a lot of people will get of the town, to say that it’s getting your trip off to a bad start is a ridiculous understatement. The local council or tourism board really ought to up their game.

Luckily, after escaping the dilapidated backwater area, Niagara Falls itself actually isn’t bad – the good stuff is coming up in my next post…

Middlesbrough in postcards

It might have been a while since I did any postcard-geeking, but it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped loving them, because I haven’t – my bank account just needed a rest!  As my job has been somewhat lacking in history recently and I’m having withdrawals, here are a few of my fave postcards illustrating the history of Middlesbrough.

Middlesbrough - Marton Hall
Marton Hall

Built in the 1850s when local industrialist Henry Bolckow decided his growing fortune should be reflected in a suitably grand home, Marton Hall sat in 300 acres of land on the outskirts of Middlesbrough, in Marton. The building fell into disrepair after Bolckow’s death and eventually passed to his great-nephew, also Henry Bolckow, who tried to sell it to the local council. After negotiations, he dropped his price, and the council bought a portion of the land, with Thomas Dormand Stewart, Esq., J.P., stepping forward with an offer to purchase the remaining land (including the hall) to present it to the town of Middlesbrough as a gift, to be permanently kept as an open space or park. Unfortunately, the hall was judged to be beyond repair and was condemned, and in the event (thought to be due to a carelessly discarded cigarette butt) actually burned down during the demolition period.

Middlesbrough - in 1836
Middlesbrough in 1836

An old view but oddly not an old postcard (relatively speaking anyway); the inscription on the back, which quotes population figures for 1908, dates it to that year or even later.  Between 1831 and 1841 the population of ‘Middlesbrough’ grew from 154 to 5,463.

The Ship Inn, just five years old at the time of the painting, is depicted just left of centre, with the branded gable end facing the artist.  Built in 1831 and still standing today, the oldest pub in Middlesbrough was standing empty when it was gutted by fire in April 2012.

The small building just right of centre, also with the gable end facing the artist, is thought to be Middlesbrough’s first ‘lock-up’ – possibly necessitated by the opening of the Ship Inn!

Middlesbrough - Iron Works
Newport and Acklam iron works

Iron works were a common feature of Middlesbrough’s landscape.  In 1841, Bolckow and Vaughan opened the first ironworks in Middlesbrough. By 1875, the number of blast furnaces in the area had increased to 100, and the town was producing two million tons of iron per year. Such was Middlesbrough’s ironmaking prowess that the town was nicknamed ‘Ironopolis’.

Middlesbrough - Dorman Museum
Dorman Museum

The Dorman Memorial Museum opened in 1904, a gift to the town from Sir Arthur Dorman, in memory of his son George Lockwood Dorman, who died in the Boer War. The museum originally showcased the impressive personal collections of notable local figures, including Ancient Roman and Egyptian artefacts, and the extensive T. H. Nelson ornithological collection, which was bequeathed to the museum in 1914.

Today, the museum holds the largest public collection of locally-produced Linthorpe Art Pottery in the world, and a large, highly impressive collection of items designed by the visionary Victorian industrial designer, Dr. Christopher Dresser.

Middlesbrough - Opera House
Grand Opera House

The loss of Middlesbrough’s Grand Opera House is, for me, possibly the saddest of all the old buildings lost – though I’m slightly biased because of my obvious love of theatre.

It was opened in 1903, making it quite a bit later than venues like Theatre Royal (1866), Oxford Palace of Varieties (1867), and the Prince of Wales Theatre (1875), which are all now lost.

Other later venues in the town, like the Empire Palace of Varieties (1897) and the Hippodrome (1908), have managed to survive, albeit in a different form to their original purpose (the Empire is now a nightclub, and the Hippodrome, having been innumerable nightclubs has now become a wedding venue).  Unfortunately, the Grand Opera House wasn’t so lucky and was demolished in 1971, to be replaced with a frankly hideous modern office building.

(The Arthur Lloyd theatre and music hall website is an invaluable source of info for anyone interested in entertainment history)

Phone photography and Snapseed

Phones are great. I know I go on about loving my iPhone but it’s true, I do. I can take photos of blossom on my way home, or make random Boomerang videos of wind turbines, or pretty much anything I want. But having a good camera on your phone doesn’t mean your shots are perfect straight away. Having a good editing programme on your phone is absolutely essential if you want your photos to stand out in the endless stream of Instagram posts or even just on Facebook.

Since getting my new phone, my go-to app for editing has been Snapseed.

This is going to sound like a sponsored post, but it’s absolutely not (I wish I could monetise my blog though!) – I just really love Snapseed.

It’s great for moving away from ‘auto-level’ kind of corrections and into some understanding of how different elements make up an edited photo..

You can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, shadows, highlights, and more – and that’s just in the first menu.  You can also do the usual crops and rotations, and there’s some great more powerful tools in there too, like white balance and perspective changes.

My favourite tool is ‘structure’ which really brings out the details of a photo – although it’s easy to overdo it, so it’s worth being a little bit cautious if you’re planning on using your photos anywhere that will be viewed on a desktop rather than a mobile.

It has absolutely heaps of other feature I’ve not even started to explore, like a double exposure filter, and using curves to edit photos – they have a bunch of presets for beginners, or you can edit red, green or blue tones yourself, or all three together.

Here are just a few examples of my pics edited with Snapseed – I don’t have many before and after examples because I tend to overwrite the original image file with the amends.

Before  After

 

Hot chocolate is for life, not just winter

Anyone who spends any time looking at my Instagram will know that I love hot chocolate. I mean, you can’t fail to be happy when you have a (good) hot chocolate in your hand! In fact, you could almost say I’m a hot chocolate connoisseur (I can’t lie, my first attempt at spelling it was ‘connesuir’, so Google helped me. My English is great, but my French, not so much.)

I’m also someone who likes lists a lot, so what better way to present my favourite hot chocolates than in a list (with photos of course, because I can never resist taking a blogger-ish photo of my food or drink).

So here I present to you, my top 5 hot chocolates:

1. Caffe Nero (salted caramel)

I’m all about the independent businesses, but oh, this Caffe Nero one is so good!

It started off on their Christmas specials range, but now they’ve put the option to add syrups to your drink on their regular menu, so hello salted caramel hot chocolate all year round!

Caffe Nero

2. Baker Street Kitchen (BSK hot chocolate)

Hot chocolate! Marshmallows! Cream! And a Flake! Be still my beating heart!

As if the hot chocolate couldn’t possibly get any better, you also get a Flake or some other kind of super-melty chocolate bar to go with it, which you can put into your hot chocolate to make it even richer, or just eat it (guilty).

Baker Street Kitchen

3. Brewhouse (white chocolate)

I’m reliably informed that the proper Teesside way to say this coffee shop’s name is ‘Brew’ouse’, so here’s a white chocolate hot chocolate from Brew’ouse.

There’s not a lot to say really, other than why wouldn’t you want a hot chocolate that’s made with white chocolate? It literally tastes like drinking a Milkybar, none of this cheap powdered hot chocolate rubbish! Oh, and it comes with a Flake too; you can’t get much better than that!

Brew'ouse

4. Bedford St Coffee (white chocolate)

Okay, so I stupidly didn’t take a photo of it when I had it, so I’m posting this wonderful brownie photo instead.

The white chocolate hot chocolate in question isn’t quite on a level with the Brew’ouse one above, but it’s also not as thick so definitely more practical for everyday drinking (not that I drink hot chocolate every day, but I would if I could). And because Bedford St Coffee are all about the ethical and organic stuff – if I drank coffee those words would probably mean more to me – then I’m sure the hot chocolate is of similar saintliness!

Bedford St Coffee

5. Olde Young Tea House

You can’t write about hot drinks in Middlesbrough and not write about the Olde Young Tea House.

Everything there is served with a side order of adorbs (by that I obviously mean adorableness, not some weird new food called adorbs), which makes it wonderful in my book. Their hot chocolate comes with all the usual trimmings and my only complaint is that the mug could be bigger, but then I always want more hot chocolate!

Olde Young Tea House

Spring is here!

It wouldn’t be spring without some beautiful blossom, and I’ve been lucky enough to find some trees right by my house. So with my trusty and wonderful phone, I grabbed these pics on my way home last week.

#mbroinstameet

I may be slightly biased as I was one of the #MbroInstaMeet organisers, but yeah, it was quite fabulous! Despite the miserable weather forecast, we managed to have brilliant blue skies the whole way round, and sunshine!

Gibson House

Transporter Park

Transporter Bridge (with bonus sunburst!)

Vulcan Street wall

Flowers (of course, it’s me, there had to be flowers!)

Blossom! (Who can resist? Not me!)

Transporter Bridge and blossom

Transporter Bridge and blossom again!

Dock clock

Temenos (and another bonus sunburst) – why has no one ever noticed that it looks like the Deathly Hallows?!

Look at that dreamy blue sky!!

Middlesbrough College and more flowers

Architecture

And after all that glorious sunshine, this was the weather less than three hours later…

April-snow

No lie – it thundered, lightninged and hailstoned until the ground was literally covered, and there was flash flooding across the town, including a bunch of roads in the town centre. Happy April 1st!

Amsterdam: street art and curiosities

I remember being young and looking out of the window of a bus somewhere in Gateshead and seeing some graffiti and thinking that it was actually really attractive, and that when I was older and had loads of money, I’d employ graffiti artists to paint artworks like that.

Obviously that hasn’t happened, but street art has become much more socially acceptable recently – even local councils are getting in on the game and actually paying artists to create murals on buildings. I’m sure some people think that that dilutes the original point of graffiti and street art – that is, that it was illicit and artists didn’t have permission to do it – but I won’t weigh in on that because I’m not part of that community at all.

Anyway, after some amazing examples in Belgium, and Brick Lane (plus this post, that post and here too) of course, I’m always on the look out for it.

So here are some gems I spotted in Amsterdam…

After spotting various bit of street furniture covered in stickers when I was in Belgium (GentBrugge and Brussels) a few years ago, it’s become something of an obsession. Amsterdam didn’t disappoint, although I’m sure some people thought I was very weird (standard).

And last but not least, some beautiful decoration on buildings, because why the hell not?

My Amsterdam holiday

I’ve still not finished processing all my photos from Amsterdam (this is less of a shock when I explain that I’ve still not finished processing my photos from Belgium which was two and a half years ago), so my very belated holiday roundup is having to use my phone photos instead.

First day


Just look at those dreamy clouds! I swear I must have looked like a child on their first holiday abroad, I was just sat with my face pressed to the glass (plastic, whatever) for most of the flight.


Not long after I got there, the sun started going down – just look how dreamy it looks!


Quite a lot of chips were consumed too, of course! And that mayo is incredible, not like the rubbish they have over here!


It even looks good in the dark and rain, just like my beautiful York!

Foggy morning


Next day started off pretty foggy – it was December after all…


…but what photographer wouldn’t love a foggy morning on the canal?


It just meant there was less sunlight to wash out the buildings!

Buildings

Of course, the main thing I wanted to go to Amsterdam for was the amazing buildings, and of course it didn’t disappoint!


That little black and white house next to the church is one of my faves!

Doors, windows and houses

I felt it would make me a terribly bad blogger/Instagrammer if I didn’t get photos of the wonderful doors and windows and houses I came across, even if I did feel a bit weird just taking photos of people’s homes!


What a window!


I wouldn’t mind working in there…the photo doesn’t do it justice at all!

Market

I was pretty disappointed to find out that Amsterdam isn’t really big on the mega Christmas markets that you get in places like Germany, although I did find a cute Christmas market going on close to my Airbnb one of the days.


Pretty good hot chocolate, plus it came with sprinkles! I 100% should have got my nails done before going on holiday though.


Face-sized meringues!

So, since I was being deprived of my Christmas market opportunity, I did what any (?) young woman on holiday in a foreign country alone for the first time would do… I booked a day trip over the border to Cologne, to see the Christmas market there…

Cologne

I definitely wasn’t disappointed…so dreamy!


Look at all those lights! I was literally in heaven! (Except for how hard it is to photograph fairylights with a phone or while hand-holding a camera)


So much Christmas!


Cute mug to take away with me…and awful nails again!


I could genuinely eat raclette every meal for ever and probably never get bored. Melted cheese of dreams!

Quirky Amsterdam

If you’ve read my quirky London post, you’ll have realised that I use the word to mean random things I’ve spotted and like the look of, so here are some things which caught my eye in Amsterdam…


Definitely getting into the Christmas spirit in this shop; this is what I want the front of my house to look like at Christmas!


Some subtle decoration here! 🎀


Okay, so since the secondary purpose of my Amsterdam trip was to see the Amsterdam Light Festival (the first, as I said earlier, being coloured buildings), I can’t exactly call this and the next pic ‘random things which caught my eye’. But who cares. This gay rainbow 🌈 (it really is a reference to the LGBT community) was definitely my favourite installation, and I went back on my last night with my camera to try and get some good night photos of it.


It wouldn’t be a trip to the Netherlands without a photo of some clogs, would it?


I found this random set-up outside an antique shop and couldn’t resist taking a photo.


I’ve no idea what this is, but I enjoyed it a lot.


Definitely my kind of gallery!


These are just fantastic – yarn bombers in Amsterdam!

I absolutely loved the Begijnhof, and would quite like to live there when I’m old…well, but for the religious element, anyway!


And of course I had to finish with this magical (and huge) Christmas tree, because who doesn’t love a giant Christmas tree in the middle of a shopping mall?

Thank you Amsterdam, you were magical, and I’ll definitely be back! ❤️