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MITN: Newcastle Wine School


Hey everyone,

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow, and another one rolls around being very happily single.

And of course one of the joys is that I get to spend another GALentines Day with my fellow (sort-of) singleton Claire.
(Last year we went to a tea party at a cat shelter, then went back to her house for pizza and we watched The Simple Life into the early hours.)

We're going to Barcelona in May for my birthday, so when Claire discovered Newcastle Wine School was hosting a Spanish and Portuguese themed night so close to Love Day, we couldn't really say no.

    

Claire has been to a Newcastle Wine School event before (on a Tinder date!) so advised me to bring along a notebook, and something on my stomach.

Hosted in the conference room at Blackfriars, last time Claire reckons there was more of a mix of ages, friends, siblings and couples - but probably due to being so close to Valentines it was mostly middle aged couples apart from us and a couple in their early 30s - however everyone was very friendly.

Our host first of all gave a quick presentation about wine tasting - I've done coffee tasting before during my barista training, so I'm actually quite good at recognising flavours on different parts of my tongue:

(The only one you may not recognise above is 'umami' - which is difficult to describe but it's a savoury, almost drying sensation which causes salivation - making certain foods seem very 'more-ish.'
Food containing high levels of umami include green tea, shellfish, cured meats, cheese, soy sauce and Marmite/Vegemite.)


Watching wine experts like Jilly Goolden on TV sticking her nose into a wine glass always looked a bit poncey to me, but a lot of the taste is in the smell.
Every wondered when you have a blocked nose your food tastes a bit weird?
(Which I know all about - I have a sinus infection at least every other week.)

Our host demonstrated this by asking us to take a pinch of cinnamon, hold our nose and put the cinnamon on our tongue - and we couldn't taste it! As soon as we unblocked our noses, we all started coughing and spluttering.
At least my sinuses were happy! (First time for everything.)

For £25.00 per person, this bought us an evening of seven different themed wines: three white, three red and one sparkling.
We began with the Cava - I'm a huge fan of fizz and it was crisp, fresh and delicious.


The three whites were all very different - especially when you gave them a long sniff before.

The only one I wasn't too keen on, was the Vega de la Reina Verdejo 2014 which was very aromatic and fragrant.
However our host suggested it would be delicious with fatty tapas - rich garlicky prawns, chorico, cheese on bread, and I can certainly see her point.

I'm not a natural red wine drinker, so I did struggle a little.
However the last couple were full of delicious black cherry notes, and tasted similar to Port which I adore, and reminds me of Christmas.

Claire preferred the slightly paler red which was an El Chaparral De Vega Sindoa 2013, but for myself it tasted like I'd chugged a mouthful of pepper.
But as everyone in the room agreed, all tastes are different and nobody is every going to like the same thing.

While everyone is quite reserved and quiet at the beginning, once the wine starts flowing so does the conversation. Soon everyone is sharing tasting notes, what they like, what they don't - it's a very sociable, fun experience.


The host was kind enough to lay out jugs of wine which did come in useful - not only for cleansing your palette, but also to attempt to avoid a fuzzy head in the morning.

We were promised suitable snacks - however we only had baguette and a few bags of tortilla chips - it was definitely something to nibble at, but I would have preferred something a little more on theme, which is really my only critique of the night.

What I liked is that none of the wines were really out of our price range.
Real talk: me and Claire tend to stay around the £5.00 mark - bonus points if it's been marked down from a tenner.
But the wines were around the £10.00-£20.00 RRP mark - nothing that's really going to break the bank.

Other groups have been offered the opportunity to buy a bottle or two from the host, but this wasn't offered in our session. Perhaps we drank them dry!

If you have any interest in wine at all - whether you're deeply interested in the fine art of crushed grapes, or you just enjoy a bit of a knees up, I definitely recommend paying them a visit.

There are branches all around the country so do check them out.

The only dignified selfie of the evening. Just saying. 


Visit: www.NewcastleWineSchool.com to book your visit. Courses start from £22.50 per person.

Sessions are hosted at:

Blackfriars
Friars St, 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4XN


Muchos love,
Carla


THE JAPAN DIARIES PART I: Tokyo


Hey everyone,

So this is the first in a series about my trips to Japan.

Tokyo is so vast, I'm going to focus on specific areas in a few different blog posts.

For now, I'll just share some of my favourite photos from what I do my first week in the crazy, amazing Japanese capital...

 
If you've had a long journey (it's a 13 hour flight for myself to Tokyo - and that's after my connecting flight from Newcastle!) no matter what time I arrive I pretty much like to write the day off. 
I always stay in an AirBNB as I think you get a lot more value for money, and I find Tokyo hotels extortionate.

I like to unpack, take a long nap, then wander around my local neighbourhood - it's a good idea to source the closest metro stop and convenience store ("konbini") and browse the local stops and restaurants. 

Oh, and the above pic is the view from the first apartment I stayed in 2014, just outside Nakano. (I was above the bus depo.) While I loved the apartment, it was a little far out than I would have liked and it was tiring passing through Shinjuku station everyday. 

The year after I stayed in Meguro which was adorable and a lot cheaper, but not a lot as much to do locally. 

When I return in 2017 with my sister, I want to stay somewhere around Shibuya. 
Anyway, I digress...

 
It's also worth checking out your traditional Japanese bath - it's actually a lot more comfortable than it looks, although the first few tries you do feel like a laundry load.

If you're going to bath the correct way - if course you're supposed to shower before, stepping into the bath completely clean. 

This is because the bath is really only to be used for relaxation, and also in Japanese families the same water is shared by everyone. 

However I was by myself so just chucked a Lush bath bomb in. YOLO.

Well rested? Good. Time to explore...
 

If you plan to travel around Japan quite a lot as I did my first year, I can not recommend a Japan Rail Pass enough. 

This allows you to use JR local lines which operate in major cities (most notably the Yamanote line in Tokyo which takes you to most touristy places) as well as most bullet train ("Shinkansen") servies nationally. 

However if you are just planning to stay in one city such as Tokyo, then it's not really worth it. Just buy an IC such as a Suica or which work the same way as Oyster Cards in London. 
Except they're much cooler as you can use it to buy from vending machines, convenience stores, fast food resteraunts and so much more. So it can be handy getting one anyway. 

(Check out this page from Japan-Guide to see which card is best for you during your stay.)
Don't forget to buy a cute case from...

   
Harajuku is a place I've been dreaming about for the best part of fifteen years. While the scene isn't as huge as it was in the 90s, it's still an awesome place to shop for cute, alternative fashion. 
(Think Camden in London). 

 I prefer going on the morning on a weekday when it isn't quite so manic - it's absolutely packed on weekends. However please note if you go during the week, some stores aren't open. 

Don't forget to stop for a famous Harajuku crepe. Though when I went in late 2015, there seemed to be a craze for huge, pastel candy floss (or cotton candy if you're from the USA!).

     
I'm a sucker for anything 'kawaii' so when I stumbled upon this PomPomPurin cafe I had to nip inside for lunch. 

I had a peach iced tea and a custard pudding, though the set meals also looked wonderful.
  Meiji Jingu is a beautful Shinto shrine, located a stone's throw from Harajuku station and offers a haven for quite reflection opposite the bright colours and loud music of Takeshitedori. 

It's very popular with locals and tourists alike - I went around lunchtime and there were several salarymen praying for prosperity on their break.

  For around 500 YEN you can buy a wooden plaque to hang your wish or prayer. This was mine.

 
Head to Akihabara - aka 'Electronic Town.' An otaku heaven. 
Sadly (and some would say surprisingly) I'm not a huge anime fan so a lot of the products in stores go right over my head.

I think it's still definitely worth a visit for the maid cafes, original cat cafes and if you bring your passport you can shop duty-free in the district's many electronics stores. 

It also looks amazing in the evening when the sun goes down, and the neon lights are still blaring. 

     
The 5-story Sega Centre where I got lost and had to ask an amused assistant where the exit was. 
A Maidreamin' maid drumming up business.

I actually much prefer Nakano for my geekery when I'm in Tokyo. 

It's a three-story shopping mall packed full of little independent shops selling mostly second hand goodies. Also the ice cream stall in the basement is something of a local legend and has been frequented by celebrities such as Naomi Watanabe and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

My personal favourite stores are one which sells second hand Nintendo memorabilia (I've got some amazing deals on plushies and figurines - nothing I've bought is over £10) and another which is a room full of gachapon capsule machines:

 
I've seen these machines around my local toystores in the UK,  but they're got usually pretty crappy prizes. 

However I've seen everything from Super Mario Bros, Totoro, Hello Kitty, Disney, Zelda, Animal Crossing, Hatsune Miku, Rilakkuma, even stationary..ranging from ¥200 to ¥400 they can make for super cheap, adorable souvenirs which won't take up lots of space in your suitcase. 
Beware - they can become very, very addictive! 

And yes, I did spot a gachapon where you can win panties. 
Not USED panties as legend dictates, but panties nonetheless.

Shibuya 109 is a huge department store which is definitely worth a look if you're at all into Japanese fashion. 

Being a size 18, there's not a lot I can squeeze my big butt into - however there is a branch of Punyus, which is an awesome store selling sizes UK 6 - 20. 

There are also plenty of other stores I found myself losing a whole afternoon in - accessories, jewellery, wigs, cosplay, beauty. 

Though beware if you're not keen on crowds, I wouldn't go on a Saturday. Bedlam. 

 
After you've inevitably spent all your holiday money in the places mentioned above you'll be in need of a cheap date. 

I recommend visiting the Tokyo Government Building - on the top floor there is a free observatory offering amazing views of Tokyo. There's also a gift shop and several cafes. 

I recommend getting there early to beat the crowds then treating yourself to an inexpensive ramen or udon lunch at one of the many shops nearby, surrounded by harassed salarymen.

OK, now back to the madness...
   
The Robot Restaurant is a must-do for all first-timers to Tokyo. 

(Though 'restaurant' is pushing it a bit - you really just receive an overpriced Bento box so I recommend eating before you go as we did.) 

While you are waiting for the show to start, a robot band treats you to elevator music and wedding party classics. 
You haven't lived until a robot has serenaded you to The Carpenter's 'Close To You.' Beer is 100% necessary. 

And the show... 

I know it's a very 2005 word, but 'random' is the only was I can really describe it. 

Bikini babes on traditional (albeit, covered in LED lights) drums, a boxing match between the robots and dinosaurs, pole dancing, idol girls riding sparkly unicorns singing Lady Gaga...it's just madness.

Me and my friend Hiro-chama were sitting near some fellow Brits who looked throughly unimpressed, but if you go in with an open mind, embracing the sheer hilarity and craziness for an hour or two, you'll have a great night! 

 Again - I reiterate - beer very much helps.

 
Don't forget you can take a robot selfie during the break!

And that should have you covered for the first week of your trip. 

I'm going to slot in a few extra posts about specific things to do in Tokyo I want to go into more detail about, such as the Studio Ghibli museum and a few more of the crazy themed bars. 

We'll also be moving on to a few other major cities soon so do check back for more soon!


Muchos love,
Carla