A Short Break Away

As you may have gathered from my previous blog, Gary and I decided we wanted to take a break away and discover the newest in the family of Center Parcs. Situated in Woburn, it’s a short drive from where we live, but being familiar with Center Parcs we knew it would still feel like we were on holiday.

As I write this, it feels as though I’m going to be writing a very negative review of this place. Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful time. It was relaxing and beautiful and lovely to be in nature and away together. However, knowing what we know about Center Parcs in general, we won’t be coming back to this particular venue, unless we visit the Aqua Sana.

On checking into the Parc we were both given rubber wrist bands. These were our room keys, access to lockers in the spa and Subtropical Swimming Paradise. It also allowed you to make payments in certain shops and the pool snack bar. Really handy. Mine was a little large with no way to make it smaller, so I just let Gary wear his and left mine in our room. Staying in the hotel meant we didn’t have to worry about self catering. We’ve stayed in the hotel at one other location and really liked it. This hotel, being new, was plush.

You can see from the photo it’s very basic. The hotel rooms in the Woburn hotel are all air conditioned which was a big plus for us. This means windows hadn’t been left open to air the room out and no bugs had gotten in. You can see behind the double bed is a mirror and lit up area, which is the ‘dressing room’ area with sink and vanity shelf. And then to the right of the bed (left in our room) is a large walk in shower. I really don’t like showers but very much enjoyed using this one. You might be able to see the glass door of the shower, so you can gather there’s not much privacy if you want to share a room with someone who hasn’t seen you in your ‘natural beauty’ before. Something to think about! Don’t panic, there is a toilet with a door as you walk into the room.

One thing that bugs me about hotels in general is that they don’t seem to put enough plug sockets in. In this room there was a USB charging socket on ONE side of the bed (why they don’t put them on both sides, I have no idea.) There was one double plug socket by the balcony doors, where you could plug in the kettle tray. It’s about 2.5 metres from the wardrobe mirror which made blow drying and straightening my hair a little tricky. Incidentally, the kettle wouldn’t fit under the tap in the sink so I had to fill up a cup and pour it in. (And our water glasses were never changed the whole time we were there, which I found a little gross.)

Maid service was daily and towels were changed every other day, or if you leave towels on the floor they’ll replace them. The balcony was lovely to sit on and watch the lake and crazy-golf players.

Everything is very close together in this Center Parcs, which is great if you don’t like to walk or have a toddler. But I do like to walk, and I like to investigate places. There’s no investigating to be had at this location. There aren’t any places to walk to and sit and relax and people watch. This was problem number one for me. I love to people watch. The lake was tiny. You could hire boats and pedalows but you’d be done within 5 minutes.

We found, on the map, an area called ‘Nature Area’. I eagerly got my camera and headed off to walk and find it. Within 15 minutes we found a scummy pond with a bench by it, and two chavvy girls having a cheeky smoke. Yes, I know it’s a new location, but knowing what I know about the other Center Parcs, I was a little disappointed.

There are no golfing or country club type areas. There’s no rustic pub in the midst of the trees. It’s all in one place and just felt a little more down market than the others. Yep, I’m a snob, but I like things how I like them when I’ve paid my money.

Don’t worry, I thought, we can spend our spare time in the pool! I was wrong. We headed into the Swimming Paradise, walked past the baby pool, saw the lazy river and ended up by the baby pool. Hang on a minute, we thought – if that’s the baby pool, that means the first pool we walked past was the main pool…… eek! The tiniest pool you’ve ever seen, with a massive depth of 1.5 metres. I could stand at the ‘deep’ end without my chin going into the water….. The pool wasn’t full with people but you couldn’t swim in it, or do anything much at all. One of the things I love about the other Subtropical Swimming Paradise locations is that you can lie on your back and see the sky and clouds, but this one was just a concrete box with a roof. Blah!

Yes, guys and gals – that’s the WHOLE pool (note people standing at the far end)

We waited for the waves and then headed to the outside bit. Outside was river rapids but not many places to frolick in the outside water, before the tide swept you all the way around and then back inside….. great. This pool does have some inflatible flume rides, but they’re not my cup of tea. And there’s only so many times you can do that before you’ve ‘done’ it.

We found ourselves wishing we were back in the Aqua Sana pool, but resolved to spend the day of our return home in our gym pool instead!

The restaurants were okay, but it always bothered me that they replaced most of their ‘home grown’ restaurants with chains like Cafe Rouge and Strada which are the kind of places we actively avoid when home. Various issues like slow service and hairs in our food (and other people’s) were experienced but I was impressed by some of the restaurants choices for lactose intolerant diners. The Sports Bar even had a seperate menu, though I was able to eat from the usual menu most of the time with the help of my handy lactase tablets. There was a good choice of ‘healthy’ options, however one thing the place was screaming for was a juice and smoothie bar.

Our visit was relaxing and enjoyable. We were forced to do a lot of sitting around and wandering, which was nice. It’s reignited my like of swimming, and since I pay for a gym membership with a lovely inside and outdoor pool area, I’m glad I’ll be making good use of it in the months going forward. We still spent our time doing activities (playing pool, mini golf, gaming in the arcades) and chilling out, but overall Gary and I both felt a little disappointed. Mainly because we know how good a Center Parcs can be, and this just wasn’t. I really look forward to coming to a Center Parcs with my book club girls, partners and kids – but it might have to be to a different location if we want to get our money’s worth.

Aqua Sana, Woburn

This week Gary and I have taken a little holiday to the newest in the Center Parcs family, Woburn Forest.

It being about 40 mins drive from our house, we knew it would be more of a staycation, but knowing Center Parcs well we also knew it would still feel far removed from our usual day-to-day lives.

This holiday park (if you want to call it that!) opened a little under a year ago. Knowing that their Spa had been given the special treatment, I decided to pop my Spa cherry and take a visit to the Aqua Sana. Gary and I chose the Twilight Taster for Two package, which allowed you to experience all the different rooms as well as their infinity pool.

After arriving and being told where to get our robe and towel we were ushered through to the changing rooms. Our package promised us a glass of bubbly each before we started the experience, but this was never mentioned or offered. Neither of us are big drinkers, but this bothered me a little since we’d paid for it. Ever the Brits, neither of us mentioned this as we were inside the spa proper by the time we saw someone. This staff member could obviously see we were lost, and made the effort to explain in which order to enjoy the rooms in and where we could go.

The various different rooms were very nice, though I didn’t really like the steam rooms, I did enjoy the saunas. The water beds were really comfy and I could have fallen asleep. The whole place had a very relaxed and holistic feel to it. The highlight of the experience for me was the infinity pool. Outside as it started to rain, we swam in a 1.4m deep pool which was salty as opposed to chloriney. I’m also really glad that we got the use of this pool, since the main pool in the park turned out to be less exciting than we had expected (more on that next time!).

I didn’t really get the rooms which were literally just seats with ding dongy music since I wasn’t really experiencing anything, but that’s just not my style I guess.

We managed to spend 3 hours in the Spa but if you wanted to experience every room fully you could easily spend the whole 5 hours allowed, or even a day if you booked a suite.

After leaving the main Spa I immediately booked a Swedish massage for the next day, knowing I would benefit. Having never had a massage either, I thought I should continue my week of firsts!

So the next day I trotted back to the Aqua Sana and checked in. After changing into my robe, I managed to find my way into the treatment waiting area, but there being no one there I wasn’t sure if I had to fill out one of the medical forms everyone else had. As I say, I’m a total newbie and a little direction would have been helpful. My masseuse introduced herself and promptly asked for my form. So I had to fill it out quickly whilst she waited. I did mark that I had muscle injury, but she never asked me where this was, thought she did ask if I had any tension in my back worth noting. I honestly think tense is my default shoulder position so I just told her no.

The massage was wonderful, though I don’t feel that it made a massive difference to my life. I think maybe I’m just not a treatment kind of girl! But I’m glad I experienced it. That being said, I walked out of the spa feeling a lot lighter than I had when I walked in so it must have done something.

On leaving through the treatment waiting room I could see 5 or 6 staff members waiting to assist people as they walked in, and I realise that I should have had this assistance when I entered. They must have all been on their breaks or something – not the greatest service.

Overall we were really impressed with the Aqua Sana, not so much with the staff. It being so close to where we live I think we both decided that if we had the cash and time we’d like to come back and experience it again, and I might even try the steam rooms for a little longer this time!

Jurassic World 4DX

Today is Musings of a So-Called Shutterbug’s 6th birthday! Thank you to all those who follow, comment and share. If you’ve been following Shutterbug for all 6 of those years then you deserve a treat today!

On Saturday evening Gary and I headed to the XScape building in Milton Keynes and to the newly refurbished Cineworld cinema.

We were off to see the eagerly anticipated Jurassic World – in 4DX. If you don’t know what 4DX is then I’ll tell you – you watch the movie in 3D where available, on special seats which move appropriately to the movie. There are lights, fog, water, smell and air to experience too. I knew this would be the perfect movie to try out 4DX for the first time, but I was a little nervous for some reason. Probably nervous excitement! Milton Keynes is home to the country’s only 4DX cinema, and we’re very lucky to live on the doorstep.

If you haven’t seen Jurassic World yet or experienced 4DX and don’t want to be spoiled, it’s probably best that you don’t read on. But do come back once you have, and let me know what you thought!

So entering the screen, you could see there were less seats than in a normal cinema screen. In rows of about 8-12 seats, but these were in blocks of 4. The seats are ergonomic and high off the ground, with foot rests. There’s enough space in front of your seat and the one in front that people can walk through your row without you having to get up or move to let them past. On your arm rest there’s a button stating ‘water on’ ‘water off’. I chose to leave water on :D

The trailers started and I’d hoped we would experience a 4DX trailer to acclimatise us to the feel. And I wasn’t disappointed. Our trailer was for the new Terminator movie, not my cup of tea, but I loved feeling the seats tip forward, side to side, flashes to the sides of the auditorium, air from behind and in front and under the seat by the legs.

I couldn’t wait for the film to start. What surprised me from the beginning was the 4DX experience was all the way through, not just in certain action parts. When you’re introduced to the family at the start it’s snowing and there’s snow on the ground. You feel icy air all around you as if you’re there. The kids get on a boat and your seats move as if you’re on water, with a fresh sea breeze on your face. It’s incredible. Fast moving chases fling you around as if you’re being chased. The island, when you’re first introduced to it SMELLED GOOD. It was like being on the best ride, because it lasted the length of the film. Discussing with Gary, I discovered I experience more, as I was wearing a sleeveless dress so in certain parts I experienced things on my arms and legs that he didn’t. The water parts were fantastic (you don’t get soaked) and you could tell every effect had been thought through to complement the film.

I’ll stop talking 4DX now and talk about the film, but I’m so glad I saw the movie in this way. I genuinely want to experience it again, and it’s worth the extra few pounds.

So the movie; first of all fans of the original score won’t be disappointed. The important themes and phrases are in there and the new score is in keeping with the old, but new enough. During the film there are also massive references to the original movie, in a nostalgic and respectful way, which I really enjoyed.

The movie story and execution is brilliant from start to end, with nothing confusing or irrelevant. There’s masses of product placement but I guess that should be overlooked because of what the film is, you kind of have to expect it. (Starbucks, anyone?)

Most importantly, Jurassic World was in keeping with the other movies. In my opinion it’s up to the standard of the first and is no disappointment. I was fully immersed in this film, whether or not this was due to 4DX, I don’t know. All I’d say is if you don’t know whether to see it – go! See it in 3D or 4DX if you can, but if you liked the original, you’ll love this!

If you’ve seen the movie and/or experienced 4DX I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Summer, Fairs and Singing

Last weekend we headed off for Towcester racecourse, for their annual Food and Drink fair. The weather had taken a turn for the better, and despite it being windy it was mild and a great day to visit. Looking at the stalls only took us around an hour but we spotted a couple of dairy free stalls and some lovely places selling yummy sauces. We’re both partial to a good sauce, and since visiting Las Vegas I’ve been trying to find a mustard sauce to rival the one I had the Tap Sports Bar. We found one that came pretty close!

Heading back from there we realised that the West Bletchley Carnival was on so we walked down to the park where it was being held. It was the perfect day for it, and the musical entertainment was really good. Complete with mini fun fair and mini train rides, it was a great turn out!

Sunday was a busy day, as me and Mum were heading to the NEC in Birmingham, for Rock Choir 10 Live! A party to celebrate Rock Choir’s 10th birthday. The audience of the arena was made up of many choirs from around the country all sitting in their choir sections, with a catwalk stage down the middle. It was a great experience, with everyone singing along with the music they knew and the choir leaders performing too. We even had guests, Kiki Dee and Chesney Hawkes who came to sing with us.

RC5

It was a long day but really special to sing with everyone together and see how Rock Choir has changed people’s lives over the years. It was a great party!

RC8This past week has been another busy one, but made better by the weather seemingly improving for good. We’ve had some great warmth, but some crazy humidity with it. I’m hoping this trend continues because I’m on holiday at the end of this week and I’d rather like to work on my tan!

Also, great news is that all the Book Club are now back in the country after some amazing travels and we managed to get together (minus one of us who was on holiday in the UK – it’s hard to pin us down!) on Thursday. It was wonderful to be, mostly, back together again and start making plans for the rest of the summer!

More brilliant things are happening next weekend, but you’ll have to wait to hear about those!

London Bupa 10,000 Race Recap (aka Never Run with an Injury)

On Bank Holiday Monday I woke early, shoveled down a bagel and hopped in the car, headed for London. Gary and I were heading off for the Bupa 10,000, a race which promised to guide you around some of the sights of London whilst pounding the streets with 12,000 other runners.

Confession time: I wasn’t 100% race fit. The previous 2 weeks I’d been having hip pain and after a visit to a sports physio it turned out to be a TFL injury. I had two massages in the space of 8 days and was able to walk without any pain by the time race day arrived. Great! But I knew I would probably still have some pain, having not run for two weeks.

We arrived at the starting area, nipped to the portaloo and took in some of the atmosphere. Gary and I were starting in different pens so we split up and went to wait for our starting times.

IMG_3101That’s Buckingham Palace at the veeeery far end of the Mall in the photo.

And then we were off! I was aware of my hip, but within about 1k I couldn’t feel any problems. I quickly spotted the Dementia UK (the charity I was running for) cheering squad on the other side of the road and gave them a wave.

IMG_3114I felt great starting off, and I can see from photos of early on in the race that my posture has greatly improved since last year’s races.

Then the sun came out, and I got really rather warm. I don’t run well in the heat but still felt good, only taking a little water from both water stations, which was all I felt I needed. There was a great atmosphere, people cheering me on by name and a lot to see. I can’t say I really noticed much of London around me though. By about 7k I could feel my hip again and I was in quite a lot of pain by 8k. I powered on, but photos of me from this point show the pain in my face. I still managed to smile for Dementia UK as I passed them on my way towards the finish. (And my posture still remained good despite the heat and pain! Awesome!)

IMG_3117Coming into the finishing area I went as fast as I could, but didn’t manage a PB. I ended on 1:06:42 – though my Nike app stated 1:04 and the route was longer than 10k. I’m still happy with either of those times considering I slowed right down towards the end. Not the sub 60 mins I was after, but I know if I hadn’t had the hip issue I would have made it! I’m surprised I finished at all to be honest.

The organisers had laid on free massages, but because they were free the line was huge and I knew if I stood and waited in it my hip would seize up. So I walked. I walked back to the car and then hydrated and fueled on the journey back. By the time I’d got home my leg had seized up completely. At time of writing I’m still pretty crippled and unable to put weight on my right leg at all. Foam rolling and yoga seems to be helping, but I have a race in 5 weeks so I hope to be back to myself then. However, no medal is worth this kind of injury and pain, so we’ll see.

IMG_3103It is a darn pretty medal though!

I’ve raised £200.00 for Dementia UK so far – thanks to all who donated!

Singing In St Albans

I had a pretty busy (and extra long) bank holiday weekend. On Friday I performed with Rock Choir at a special event in St Albans Abbey. Rock Choir were performing alongside Rockabellas, Peter Howarth, Simon Wallfisch, Benjamin Holden and Pam Rhodes for an evening of music, singing and entertainment to raise money for Rennie Grove Hospice Care.

I woke on Friday morning and had an awesome breakfast:11324245_764731740291502_653132046_nBlimey that was a gorgeous breakfast. And then I had some Italian song lyrics and sign language to brush up on before I had to leave for soundcheck.

11287447_1610724112516776_2137104010_nBut not before a quick Rock Choir selfie!

Mum and I went for a yummy early dinner at Wagamamas and then headed to the Abbey for soundcheck. It was an intense few hours getting seated and having a little run through. Then we had to wait backstage in the Lady Chapel whilst the guests came in. Gary had bought some last minute tickets for him and his parents to come and watch so it was even more exciting.

11168081_640094909423359_4850439590504263411_nI’m in there somewhere! It was a really fun experience and as much as it’s hard work it’s really rewarding when you hear the sound you’re making as a choir.

I was shattered by the time I got home, and slept really well that night! Saturday was a day of getting stuff done. I had a physio appointment and I managed to sneak in a little nap so that I wasn’t too tired as I knew it would be another late night.

My Mum had a ticket to see Paul McCartney at the London 02 so Gary and I accompanied her and went out for a meal whilst she was in the gig. We went to the Big Easy which we normally love, but unfortunately the food wasn’t t,hat great this time around.

Another very late night, and we had a really chilled out day in preparation for the next day. Monday was the London Bupa 10,000, so stay tuned for my race recap!

I Love Lena

I’ve made no secret of how much I love Lena Dunham, but now I love her a little teeny bit more. Yesterday, whilst at work taking a break, I scrolled through my instagram and saw this photo:

I’m sad to say my first thought was ‘woah, why did she post that up?’. Quickly followed by ‘why shouldn’t she post that up?’ and then ‘I wish I had half the body confidence Lena has.’

This girl has so much body confidence. And it’s mainly because she’s so comfortable in her body that it doesn’t occur to her to be unconfident. The internet has exploded with comments on this photo and articles about her posting it up. I haven’t read any of it, mainly because I think some of it will make me angry.

A woman posted a photo of herself in a bra and pants – hold the front page! People are only talking about it because she’s not a classic size or shape. If it was a photo of a Victoria’s Secret model we’d just scroll past. It’s sad that this kind of amazing self-confidence is so unusual. It’s wonderful that she’s, once again, breaking the mould.

I know I’m just adding to the discussion by posting this, but I don’t care. People should see this photo of Lena looking gorgeous, and confident, and sexy and every inch Lena.