Nicky Lazou Review - Worth the hair hype?

HI! Hey! I'm here! Eeek I'm back on my blog, weird feelings all round! I've been away for a few reason and I'll go into these in another post but after a rocky few months, the first thing that I definitely want to select from my HUGE 'to post' blog topic list is when I had my hair done by Nicky Lazou!

You might already follow this balayage queen for not only the fun content but also her thumb-stopping before/after shots of 'before' hair looking brassy, frizzy and yellow next to some seriously luscious 'after' locks. I was scrolling one day and saw a girl comment that Nicky lives in Birmingham. Say what? Now this was around November time when I was about to head off to Dubai and was probably feeling super flush. I'd been blonde-ish for a while but the upkeep of highlights was putting a strain on my time and the quality of my hair, which I use heat on every day also when curling it or drying it. For the first time in around five years, I was considering going back to my ginger roots too! A big step, but if anyone could get me there, I hoped Nicky would.

Now be warned: I've probably never wrote a post so passionately about hair but Nicky has relit my fire! And I'm a hair girl through and through. Growing up it was what stood out most about me, and while this might have prompted some tormenting mostly by random people in the street (nice), if you have ginger hair, a lot of people will say nice things too. I've strayed from my colour and to tried new looks, but last year I kept noticing people with such beautiful red hair and it planted the seed to go back to natural.

After a few texts I'd booked my Nicky appointment and had an idea of prices. Warning: this ain't cheap, but I'll go into that later. I'm very much a person who doesn't spend without thought, but if I decide I really want something, I will find a means to achieve that purchase! I'm not impulsive but I'm not afraid to spend either, and I really wanted my hair to go right.

I had a few reservations but off I went to the nearby countryside on a Saturday morning, pulling up to the beautiful setting of Nicky's space. Along with helping hands from her family, there are a few large, chic basement rooms in Nicky's home where she works here magic. I assumed I would be the only client but there are a few girls there at a time, each at different stages of dying, toning or perfecting. It's a really welcoming vibe, with girly conversation and Drake in the air. And after being there a few minutes, I realised other girls has travelled from further than London!

First up is your consultation with Nicky, where I showed in a bunch of photos and discussed what my aim was - to take my top half to my natural colour and cascade blonde balayage through the middle and ends. As mentioned to most of the girls that arrived while I was there, on Instagram everyone thinks you can go from dark to light in one sitting, when in fact going from brown to blonde can take time, especially if you naturally have darker hair. Even I needed two sessions to take my colour as light as I wanted, and that's just because Nicky will not damage your hair, even if you want to pay the price for platinum. Even if you beg to go lighter than light, it won't happen. That was an over riding vibe you get from Nicky - she will not go down the road of treating you as an anonymous customer and delivering something that is going to ruin your hair down the line. She won't slap the bleach on and take you there! This was fine by me as I didn't mind having a second session in a few months if this one went well. Soon I was under foils and the process had begun!

Even though it isn't a salon experience, it's actually really chilled at Nicky's and you leave feeling relaxed and fantastic. She literally preaches the hair gospel as she works by revealing tips, tricks and science behind hair, and you really start to appreciate the art that goes into this. Nicky also has thick, dry, darker hair and so she knows the advice to give. It's really inspiring to hear her hair secrets and as you are getting the 'Nicky' treatment, it feels even more special! She explained how the dyes used for my hair were especially expensive and unique too as I requested a warm, golden, honey colour, whereas most blonde stay clear of anything warm or 'brassy'. I thought she had her work cut out for her really as you can see from my 'before' picture below!

As I was having my treatment, I saw the girls around me emerge with such incredible hair, literally seeing the transformation before my eyes! Soon my blow dry was complete and the change was insane! I have no idea how she took my all-over streaky hair to smooth on top and blonde on the ends?! And I'm a red head - these dyes are hard to come by. We've all seen the 'natural' red head box dyes in Superdrug that are bright orange or dark with a flash of red in certain lights. I was so pleased to have something unique again, though the colour was a touch darker than my natural hue. Nicky promised that the blonde ends would also brighten after washes, rather than going yellow after washes. I can confirm this is true;  after the first few washes my blonde layers turned even more true and bright.

Nicky didn't even know I had a blog before visiting (this is not a prompted review - I paid full price!) and I cannot tell you how just lovely and open she is naturally, and so complimentary and sweet. She treats each customer like their hair is a precious jewel in her hands and the goal is always to do something that she knows is a beautiful style, as after all, it's her name attached.

I also returned a few months later to take my roots to my lightest, most natural colour, and the ends even more sun-kissed for spring. Nicky and her sister remembered me which I was so surprised about as they see so many girls, but the repeat customers do speak for themselves, and many girls while I were there had been multiple times. Her sister adds so much to the team too - she's just fabulous.

Now I have the colour of dreams! I have not touched it for months and never need to because it will just grow out - there are no roots! This is the beauty of balayage.

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Are you considering visiting Nicky? First I would manage expectations and consider how many sessions you would need to get your desired colour. Consult a few salons and think about if it's money you won't regret, as it will set you back a few hundred pounds.

Balayage is all about the subtly, and we're so used to seeing a major contrast of hair colours that ombre gives, Keep in mind that balayage tricks the eye - the top and bottom colour are totally different yet the result is so seamless that most people will not be fixated on the transition, and may not even notice! But hair looks thicker, glossier, lighter, and full of body and warmth, without the brass. Nicky does it her way and I admire her for that because true authenticity can take you far.

It's not like a 5* hotel experience or a VIP day out when you visit Nicky - she's set up at home because people are willing to come to her from far and wide. Leaving with a perfect blow dry isn't the goal (although for the record, it's really lovely), it's the colour that should be your deciding factor.

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If you want a 1;1 salon experience, this isn't it, but does it need to be? Nicky is clear in what is offered and if super light hair is your goal, you would either go a few times or leave with damaged hair in one trip that could be brassy and orange. There will be other girls there during the experience but it's because the demand is SO high. And this is Nicky's style; she's not a salon, she's a talented hairdresser who gets the work done. I'd happily skip the head massage, etc, as long as my hair is looking the best it can.

And being part of the 'Nicky club' is so cool. I feel like I've bought a designer bag - I could survive without one, but it just feels like it has that extra sparkle, even 6 months on. It really gave a  confidence boost, not only from the results I was so pleased with but from the experience in general. Will I be back? Yes!


New Season, New Square

Hey all! Last year I had a fabulous time at New Square Shopping Centre in West Bromwich, which you saw in my vlog below. It was awesome to hang out with style guru Emily-Jayne and rush around the shops in a fashion frenzy to choose an entire outfit under £150, and it was featured in the local paper; so many people at work randomly saw my face in there!

 
It was around that time that I really got my fashion mojo back and started to dive into trends again - something which I'd paired back as minimal, chic dressing had it's flash in the pan. 

And now it's all change again! There are SO MANY trends up my street this season, especially chokers, off shoulder cuts, a-line skirts, applique denim - the list goes on! Put 11th June in your diary as New Square are hosting a Pop up Fashion Show with this season's trends being modelled and plenty of prizes to share out - oh yes! I'll be stopping by with my vlogging camera to see the stylists and check out the showcase myself too.

Luckily I have a prize right now of a massive £100 gift voucher to give away to a lucky gal or guy to spend at ANY store! That's Topshop, River Island, Primark... the list goes on. Simply enter below for a chance to win before 12:00AM 11/06/16 .

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you at the show!

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Abu Dhabi & Dubai Bae-cation Part 5: Old Dubai, Crystal at Raffles & Dubai Mall

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It's the fifth and final part of my latest holiday series! It actually made me cool off holidays for a while and I know my next one will be relaxed to the max and anything but flashy. My Dubai dreams were dashed by food poisoning and I tried my best to perk up at the one week point as it was now or never! My last blog post left off with me holed up in our hotel room for a few days watching random movies and a lot of BBC World News. Our hotel didn't have free wifi in the rooms so I was determined to get out for at least a few hours. We took a taxi to Old Dubai and started the day at Dubai Museum, which only costs 3AED which is around just 50p. It was a great insight into the recent history that the city has sprung up from and a light look at the development of what Dubai is today. There are a fair few wax dummies involved in the exhibitions but it was an interesting hour!

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A few minutes walk from Dubai Museum are the souks, and I had these in my mind as exotic thriving markets. They were a little less authentic than we'd hoped and most things had a 'made in China' label and came in a plastic packet! We had fun bartering with the shopkeepers though and exploring the winding precincts. I forgot to mention until now that it was recently UAE day so there were flags everywhere!

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We jumped on an abra boat ride to take us across the river to the Gold Souk, which cost around 18p. The boat was so old and wooden that this was the most authentic thing we'd done all week! We clunked across to the other side and browsed the second souk but the most I picked up was a magnet for a lady at work.

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We hopped back on an abra and caught a taxi home down the hot motorway and chilled in the hotel for a little while, before heading out towards JBR for dinner. I hadn't ate anything for the past few days apart from crackers, so I tested myself with a light dinner and more mint tea. I have not had mint tea since I returned, it has scarred me for life! JBR was a little like a mall on a beach - the strip is very plush and perfect with lovely restaurants on decking, but then the beach is a few steps away, making it seem rather surreal. It's not like a seaside or port but more man made and artificial.

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My friend's cousin had got us a table at the club Crystal at Raffles, a highly expensive table but you get free drinks and entry along with this. Considering drinks were around £15-20 each anyway, it was more economical to get a table deal. We first had a drink booked at the top of the Burj al Arab, aka the surf board building. We had around an hour to get ready and unfortunately our hotel room had a shower that leaked everywhere and terrible lighting. Have you ever been in a hotel room where literally you cannot see yourself properly in any mirror? I put my makeup on by memory and assumed all of the colour matched and soon we were off out in yet another taxi. A few golf buggies later and we were rode up to the Burj al Arab, an extremely grand and extremely quiet space. There were a few other people there taking photos and two ladies who I'm just going to say were obviously looking for 'clients', and we took the lift together up to one of the top floors. Our planned drink was in more of a restaurant space so we all sat down at a huge table with one cocktail each. We didn't stay long and made sure we checked out how fancy the bathrooms were as there wasn't actually a view out of the windows. And the cocktails cost £30 each, oh my!

We had some photos near the entrance where the aquarium walls were, though I just wasn't really in a photo mood that holiday as I just wasn't feeling great. As we waited at the entrance of the building for taxis, the fanciest cars with impeccably dressed passengers were pulling up constantly - definitely not our taxis! Soon we were dropped off at a huge private hotel and were confused where the club was, as my friend's cousin had took a personal taxi to the club himself. We were told the club was around the corner but it felt like we were walking down into a carpark and various boys were lurking there trying to talk to us. Another group of girls were coming around the corner too though and we followed them to the entrance of the club, lined with super cars. It turns out the boys were probably trying to get into the club with girls! We had no problem getting in (unlike New York) and that's when I noticed a poster saying Thursday was Ladies Night, which means free entry and free drinks?! We'd just paid for a table with free drinks and after going up a few levels in the lift and walking into the dark circular space with various levels, we found our table was a two seater sofa with a coffee table anyway, haha!

Now this club was playing the best music, totally my perfect place, but we grabbed our drinks (mine soft) and did some people watching. The problem with having a table is that you might look elite and like a 'somebody', but it just means you naturally confine yourself to one area and feel separated from everyone else. I would have rather walked in unaccompanied and found a great place to be, surrounded by cool new people to meet. It will be the first and last time I'd ever willingly get a table. Also I thought we would have to really dress so carefully to get into clubs as it was so tricky in New York, but there were girls in the club wearing rara skirts (yes) and jeans, so it was a UK vibe really and nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately after about half an hour I started to get such bad tummy cramps and was feeling awful even sitting down at the mini sofa so my friends took me back out to the taxis and I made my best not to seem as though I was in fact drunk on the way home, as you can be driven straight to the police station if you are disorderly! The driver was definitely watching me very closely in the rear mirror when I said I wasn't feeling well. So after one £30 virgin cocktail and a £50 club entry, I was home! My friends followed after around an hour as the club shut at 3am and we had arrived at around 12.30am, and my room mate didn't feel great either. The next day we were going to go for food at JBR but we all spent the day watching edited romcoms and I ate more of the room service vegetable broth then I ever want to eat again!

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And then it was Saturday, our last day. All of the other gals had left by then so it was just myself and my friend, and we decided to go to the Dubai Mall as an easy way to spend the last hours. I had such random clothes left, I didn't even care what I was wearing or looked like at this point as I just wanted to be comfortable. The mall was amazingly huge and luxe, with two massive waterfalls and acres to browse across each floor. The only shops that appealed were Bath and Body Works and Sephora, but I didn't make a purchase at either as we had been to New York some months ago. We ate at a restaurant by the water where I had a quinoa salad and veggies, and it was so nice to eat some actual food; then we watched the water fountain shows before heading off. Surrounded by English shops and people, it didn't feel like I was really that far from home!

That night we tried to go for drinks even though it was Saturday night, which is technically Sunday night in Dubai so few places are open. We dressed casually and I was so gutted that this was basically one of my only nights out when usually its all about getting ready and playing music, gossiping and laughing before heading out every night on holiday. It was such a waste on my part! We went to the Hilton rooftop for a drink, were pleasantly surprised when a guy spoke to us and then sent over drinks before he left with his family, got really freaked out that they were potentially poison, checked he wasn't hiding watching us, got over how ridiculous we were being, and then tried to locate somewhere else to head. Nowhere was open so we went back to the hotel and decided to duck into one of the hotel's clubs. Now the Marina Byblos hotel was good because it lived up to its claims of the decor and breakfast, but the clientèle was more of a night time kind if you get my drift here, and who we met in the lifts were either tourist couples, old balding men, and plastic surgery-loving ladies of the night (and in this case, the day). It wasn't uncommon to see ladies getting in and out of the lifts at different floors at all hours of the day, eek. The hotel website looked like it had the coolest bars and clubs and for some nights we had planned we could even just party in our hotel but on arrival, we saw they were seriously cheesy. After entering the one bar on this last night for a laugh, we were sat by the hostess with a free drink in the centre of crowded tables facing a live band pumping out the likes of 'I love rock 'n' roll' and 'You are so beautiful' in heavy accents. Upon peering casually around, the room was full of ladies wearing not a lot and groups of men looking and making eye contact with them. We left pretty sharpish once the gazes of the men were too much to avoid, as it was quite hilarious but not somewhere we were sticking around!

And then it was the final day, with only time to pack up and head to the airport. Our flight home was during a really windy patch and had us holding hands with the lady next to us during some crazy turbulence, who had just been on a 10 week Bikram yoga course and was feeling VERY emotional anyway! When all the TVs cut out and were reduced to fuzz, I did think we were going to die. Thankfully we got home safely and I had to take almost a week off work trying to get myself on the road to full recovery.

All in all, what a trip! I don't know if my expectations were too far from reality or if being ill just totally scuppered it all, but I won't be going back to Dubai very soon I don't think. I would recommend it to couples as the restaurants and attractions means there is loads to see and do, but it might not be the place for exploring in an impulsive way or feeling very far from home. Here s my vlog too - from reading my posts, was this how it seemed?


Valentine's ❤ Bullring | Birmingham Life

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It is finally February and that means a host of key calendar events are on the horizon, the first being Valentine's Day! Romantic love, self-love, it's all about the love. And let's face it, after a lengthy January, we all need any excuse for gifts and pampering ASAP. Bullring invited me to take a peek at their retailer offers and pick out a few select gift ideas to suit different budgets, whether that's a treat for yourself or a heavy hint to drop to the person you have in mind.

One of my New Year's resolutions of 2015 was to be more adventurous with dating and to say yes to any offers (within reason...), and that resulted in a host of experiences, from the Tinder matches and the cash-flashing guys who plan a second date abroad a few sips into the first drink, to the local lads that actually live half way across the country and the First Dates experience. Yes I even auditioned for that show! These experiences were just for the fun of meeting new people, think more Sex and the City rather than Bridget Jones, not that I don't think our Bridge is awesome. Dating is so fun and while this year has began more promisingly, it's so rewarding to embrace chance encounters and shower someone with gifts and eventually... love!

Be sure to download the Bullring Plus app before you set out as speaking of sets, you can pick up a sweet gift with every Boux Avenue purchase. There is just something satisfying about browsing rows and rows matching sets and sliding open the white draws to pluck out your size. I jumped on that band wagon and read The Magic Art of Tidying last year, where Marie Kondo spoke lavishly about stacking your underwear drawer so delicately that my dream is now to have drawers of this style in my own future home. I picked out this beautiful set as a chic alternative to pink or red, and I'm determined to find a way to show off the gorgeous racer back feature of the bra as part of an outfit. A swipe of the app later and there's a sweet free gingham heart-shaped hand mirror and set of scented roses in with your gift wrapped purchase! Make a beeline for Boux, pronto.

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It wouldn't be a Bullring day without visiting Selfridges of course; the home of quirky gifts from the most desirable brands. I stumbled across this adorable collection of pink presents, the most cost-savvy being fruity EOS lip balms in strawberry sorbet and summer fruit. At less than £7 a pop, these are a cute accompaniment to a statement card or as part of a selection of wrapped items. It's almost even more fun to open lots of little gifts than one big one!

But if you're looking for a grander gesture, Gucci Bamboo is my scent of the moment. I have at least one version of all of the Gucci fragrance releases and I've lost count of the times people have revealed they turned their head to follow the scent in a bar or confessed a few dates down the line that they can't get enough of this perfume. Bamboo is the latest addition and it's much more earthy and gritty than the rest. Trust me on this one, it's the fragrance that stands out in the best way.

As the gift for those who don't want any of the frills and faff of this Hallmark holiday, a more practical present is a BKR glass water bottle, the chemical-free way to appreciate each one of your eight glasses each day. This will look so pretty yet sophisticated perched on any office desk and would spark a few questions in meetings. I like the open screw-top rather than a stopper too as it encourages you to drink even more. Apparently the Kardashians drink 6 litres per day!

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Here are my gifts suited to gents who are lucky enough to have our shopping skills at their advantage. Men rarely invest in a skincare regime and a few Clinique products will pep up their mornings - and you can have a little dabble yourself! This River Island bag will also solve those overnight and weekend stay issues where their things are slung into something resembling a bin bag. Music is always a winner and a browse of the Selfridges tech section showcased the Bose headphones that my brother spend a year saving up for and the Beats Pill he can only dream of owning. Serious brownie points for cool technology gifts are to be had! This Jo Malone fragrance would never be wasted on a trip to the pub - it's worth sniffing out your favourite so you can borrow it too and layer it with your favourite fragrances! And how chic will this Krups coffee maker look on your - I mean their - kitchen counter?

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I was browsing for gifts with my BFF as it's so handy to get a second opinion, even if most gifts end up being for yourself! We were treated to lunch at Chi Kitchen in Debenhams and after stepping into the scenic blue and copper space tucked away in the beauty hall, we enjoyed a lavish three hour lunch - no joke! This will be my go-to when dining in Birmingham from now on as just look at these gorgeous dishes, all made fresh to order, including this heavenly sushi. The best sushi I've ever had! They are also offering three course Valentine's menus featuring a host of dishes inspired by the lengths of South East Asia - it should definitely be the contender for your special evening.

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Following this heavenly selection of morsels, we shared a Chocolate Sphere dessert that melted in front of our eyes as warm caramel sauce was poured, revealing cold vanilla ice cream. Amazing!

And soon enough we had completed our tasks and were heading home with our bags. Thank you to Chi and Bullring for the challenge, I'm so ready for the big day!

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Abu Dhabi & Dubai Bae-cation Part 4: Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

I hope my previous post didn't send you into despair but here is my penultimate round up of my holiday! We were onto the Dubai stretch and it was bliss to have a shower without a queue of eight girls, though I still felt pretty horrible. One of our group had a cousin who works in Dubai and stays at the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Resort. Let's just say it was fancy. And I mean fancy!

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He said we could use the resort's beach that day and we all trooped off in taxis with me skipping breakfast. I was wearing my new River Island bikini with a gorgeous jewel toned maxi dress from Boohoo that I'd picked up for next to nothing, but was feeling quite quiet and took more of a back seat. Usually I'm the one sharing plans, gossiping and laughing at every moment so it really was rather rubbish to be feeling so under the weather! 

After a few questionable moments on whether we were allowed in, we soon met the elusive cousin and were setting off in golf buggies towards the resort, as of course you do not take one step on foot when you stay in a place that costs £6,000 a WEEK! It was such a strange place - who is this rich?! It was hard to figure out if it was full of holiday makers having a dream vacation or just filthy rich people. Of course it was amazing to be there and just so surreal.

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You can just see the golden horses lining the drive, which we whipped past and soon came to the most luxurious villas with incredibly plush interiors and personal butlers. Another buggy later and we were at Jumeirah beach. The paradise was complete with massage tents and various waiters bringing around fresh fruit, ice lollies and of course cocktails. Feeling like I was surely going to turn a corner at some point, I ordered some plain wedges and a drink with ginger beer, hoping to keep my stomach settled. I've always wanted to go to an idyllic beach like this but in reality it was missing any character. It's quite artificial and like a picture had come to life; there's nothing to take away because it's all aesthetic. It's quite hard to explain but maybe there just wasn't the atmosphere that a seaside or natural beach can have. That said, instead of feeling fabulous and glorious, I was feeling pants so maybe that is why! It was of course absolutely beautiful.

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I took a dip in the sea and relaxed on the sun loungers, just chilling really as there wasn't a lot of potential for people watching. Sadly I started to get really bad tummy pain and literally found the nearest bathroom and just sat on the floor of it for about half an hour feeling so terrible and absolutely gutted that things were not getting better. I had to get back to the hotel as soon as possible and just lie the heck down, you literally couldn't have got me there fast enough! I dramatically said a very swift goodbye to the group and tried to find my way out of the maze of the resort with one of my friends, covering my tears with sunglasses. Oh it was miserable! What felt like an eternity later, I was finally in the hotel room. I was so sad to be missing out on the event of the holiday which is when we always make the time to have a really lovely meal, and my friends were heading out that night for the first night out in Dubai. I would have definitely been keen to even go out the night before if I'd felt better and I gossiped with my room mate as she got ready before she headed off out to Mahiki with everyone. They were of course all gutted too and I wished them an awesome night and watched BBC World News for the rest of the evening!

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My friend rose bright and early the next day as we had been booked onto a visit to the top of the Burj Khalifa and a desert safari. When she told me that the night had been terrible, I told her not to make it seem worse just because I couldn't go too, but apparently Mahiki was like any old mainstreme UK club, full of Brits abroad and the free ladies night drink was watered down mohito. I still didn't feel up to coming out so I stayed behind until around 3pm when the girls arrived back with a mission. They plied me with more tablets, crackets, bicarbonate of soda, and even asked if I wanted to fly home, but somehow the fact that we were still there until Sunday and it was only Wednesday really made me stay for sure. Even if I just chilled in the hotel room, I was there.

They trekked off to the desert safari and again I stayed in watching movies. At first I kept thinking the films were full of errors but then I realised that any scene to do with love or kissing was cut out due to the country's religious laws, and seems as all of the movies on the odd film channels were romcoms, half the plots were missing! It was actually quite funny. Another thing about Dubai is that there feels like a huge rich/poor divide and when the hotel porters were kindly cleaning around the room while I sat in a chair and were asking if I was OK, I think I tipped them about £30. I wasn't using my Dirhams anyway as I wasn't going anywhere!

Unfortunately my room mate pal returned and said the desert was essentially crowds of people at the side of a motorway road and hardly the middle of the desert, and the camel ride was just cruel. It wasn't quite the Sex and the City 2 vibe that I had hoped for and I even felt bad for putting it in our original itinerary!  The consensus of most of the group was the the top of the Burj Khalifa was also a slight waste of time. Three girls were heading home the next day and I think the general thoughts were that we'd had some surreal and amazing moments, but that we didn't have so many of the usual traditions we have when we go away together, such as spending hours getting ready while being super silly, having nights where we are the only English people in the bars or clubs and meeting the locals, and browsing around our destination at a more casual pace, rather than taking taxis everywhere and feeling like everything was making a huge effort to be flashy and luxe or in a rush. Have you ever been to Dubai? Well tomorrow I'll show how we explored Old Dubai and went to the top of the Burj Al Arab with lots of eventful happenings along the way... of course!


Abu Dhabi & Dubai Bae-cation Part 3: Things take a turn for the terrible...

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Oh no, the time as come to introduce the third day of my holiday and the beginning of the demise. We awoke on Sunday, the final day of the F1, with the big deciding race. I was excited for the best day yet, feeling as good as I could after a semi-decent number of hours' sleep. and vocally planned to actually start getting ready really, really early that day and spend ages on my hair and makeup in order to feel most fabulous later. Well I spoke too soon!

We all trooped out to the nearby shopping zone that had the Waitrose from yesterday and hit a restaurant for breakfast, pronto. I think I had maybe a juice and ordered eggs royale, which is smoked salmon, poached eggs and spinach usually. The restaurant was as lovely as they all are there and the food arrived on cool plates, mine being cold but nice. I suddenly felt really rough and I'll usually wait for my friends, but everything was telling me to get to the bathroom, pronto. I tapped through the echoing mall to the bathrooms that felt like 300 miles away and let's say that meal did not stay down. I'm never ill and I knew it wasn't from drinking the night before. I just felt seriously weird! We had planned to head to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque but I ducked out and went back to the apartment with one friend to chill as I was feeling a bit worried - what was going on?! It was already the afternoon and I laid on my foam mattress on the floor (at least I didn't have the popped airbed!) and felt disastrous. I started sipping lots of water but it just made me set up camp in the bathroom, not keeping anything down and afraid to drink any more. This was for a few hours and at one point I even made a bed of towels and just laid there, afraid to be too far away!

I'm so sorry if this is not the most fun read so I'll stop here! My friends kept dipping in and bringing tea and reassuring me that it would be a momentary thing, and I even started watching YouTube Vlogmas vlogs on my phone to try and keep calm, but they all involve food and it made me feel even worse! I surfaced a few hours later and by this time my friends were getting ready. I had a few choices really: I stayed in or headed out without eating or drinking anything. Well I chose the latter! I decided to start by getting ready to see how I felt and then whatever happened, I could always jump straight in a taxi and come home. It almost was OK that it was a foreign country as I had nothing to loose and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the F1 race. The overhwleming feeling I had at that point was mostly nervousness at whether I was legit about to die or what would happen next. I got ready slowly, this time focusing on a statement berry lip above everything else so I didn't get tied into a difficult eye look. Lace applique dress with bralette and skirt underneath chosen, I ventured out and tried to just keep calm and feel normal.

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As we were in a few separate taxis, we lost half the group once we'd arrived to Yas Island and so went into the nearest entrance. The cars were whizzing down the track and it wasn't as loud as I thought it would be, but it was awesome. We had no idea how long the race was and who was in each car so it was rather lost on us and soon enough we headed off to the bar! I was feeling incredibly tentative and sipped a lemonade for a bit of energy as the race finished and endless red fireworks were launched in all directions. We linked up with our other friends and headed towards the arena for the final concert - Blur! My body felt really sore and achy and I had absolutely no energy so headed to the boutique food stands where we had had the phenomenal falafel the day before. I'd based my illness on the food or water that morning as I had felt absolutely fine the day before, but as one friend and I queued up at the food stalls, some guys approached us with a box of Golden Circle wristbands, giving them out to select people in the area as they had lots left over and apparently needed to keep the front of the arena nice and full-looking. The stars were obviously shining on us and somehow my knack of getting us to VIP heights paid off again. If I was feeling better I definitely would have tried to work some Golden Circle magic anyway in order to get there again!

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The guys with the wrist bands couldn't give us the 15 we needed so my friend ran to get the rest of the group and soon we were all on the way to the side entrance leading straight to the front of the stage. I had felt quite wary about getting food anyway so I just carried on without any, still sipping on lemonade. My friend somehow bumped into a colleague who booked us into a club that apparently cost £1k a ticket, and we tried our best to part a man with crazy eyes we had somehow adopted, but he just would not leave! In the end we had to say a very firm 'nice to meet you, GOOD BYE' after Blur's set, which was all kinds of awesome and of course even better right infront of the stage.

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My friend who lives in Abu Dhabi had work the next day but she left us in the capable hands of her expat pals and we all got a shuttle bus to the club, which pulled up at a huge car park with a glowing white block far off in the distance, quietly pumping a beat that got louder and louder as we walked towards it. The fancy sports cars infront of the warehouse were insane and we collected our tickets (and yes, the other queuers paid upwards of £1k!?) and stepped onto the red carpet entrance.

The first warehouse room had the likes of cars and artwork up for sale... yes you can go clubbing while also buying a piece for your wall. Insane! Around the corner was the main club with a huge 15ft high catwalk and a bar around the base of it, plus side levels with tables looking over the dance floor. I was still on the lemonade and my tummy was all cramped up, and now I know what it's like to be a sober person around drinkers! I was happy but just less energised and not really in the party or holiday spirit as the day had been so draining. The expat friends came up trumps and actually started chatting to a very short and bald yet very rich and drunk man who had a table, which essentially means a table full of endless drinks at the ready. Sometimes it's cheaper to all put in money for a table if you get a good amount of free drinks in return, but this guy only had one friend and was damn crazy. Soon shot after shot were being passed around and he was flaunting himself all over the place, it was hilarious! It turned out he was a lawyer but he shouted 'there are no rules when we're rich!' before ordering more Grey Goose. I did tell him I wasn't drinking which was met with a funny look, and soon I was helping the group hide their shots in all manners of ways as this guy was insane! He had up most respect for my one friend who was taking every shot he gave her, but while taking a sip of her drink after she was subtly putting the vodka back in the glass through the straw, having never swallowed the shot! I was leaning at the table feeling more and more tired and sore, and soon a friend wanted to go back to the apartment and I volunteered to go with her. It is SO not like me to bow out of a night but it was SO time to go home.

I'll fast forward a few days until I have photos again as the next day we hit Yas Waterworld, which aside from a poor camel standing at the entrance all day, was pretty cool and free with our F1 tickets. It was around 24 hours since I had ate anything and I very tentatively went on a few slides until we worked out way onto the huge ones, which are probably not legal here as they were super crazy! Six people on a float literally entering a whirl pool and flying over huge bends. Insane! I was just thinking 'don't be sick' the whole time and I started to feel a bit rough after a while and really fed up that I was almost wasting the opportunity. It was miserable and I was in a rubbish mood and looked pretty awful too. My friend saw some lads she had met the day before (and told that we were at the water park that day) who had a go-pro. We all had a little snooze on the sun loungers (next to a pram with a baby in it - yes someone had left their sleeping baby completely alone and must have been off on the slides) and weirdly at one point a friend had woken up and saw one of the guys seemingly filming us from every angle as we were sleeping. He shrugged when she asked what he was doing, but later low and behold the guy send my friend around ten photos of us asleep for no apparent reason, 'just in case we wanted them'?! Weird!! They were definitely not contacted again.

That evening we headed to Dubai finally, which involved packing up and spending a few hours trying to flag a taxi that would take us. It was so tiring and I was exhausted. We ended up taking two taxi journeys, my friend lost a bag along the way, and I stopped at a pharmacy for a rather embarrassing yet hilarious conversation to get some medicine, walking away with about four different varieties. By the time we had got to our hotel we were just relieved to be there and didn't quite take a close look at the erm, clientèle. We headed to our room and wow, it was huge and lovely, with a gloriously plush bed. I've never stayed anywhere with nicer furnishings but we discovered a few things about the wifi, bars, water and lighting later as the week went on! After a few hours of BBC World News and the glorious feeling of being in a real room with a real bed and bathroom (I was sharing with just one friend instead of seven!), we went straight to sleep.


Abu Dhabi & Dubai Bae-cation Part 2: Florence + the Machine and the Golden Circle

Onto the second day of my Abu Dhabi adventure and we all woke up in our various air bed situations and headed out for breakfast. We look taxis to a local café and refuelled with eggs and smoothies, and it's great to note the restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are such a high standard. There are no tourist trap joints with laminated menus that usually litter our holidays!

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I'd bought a bunch of maxi dresses and kimonos from Boohoo for the trip but beach wear really isn't my vibe. I should have stuck to my usual style which I did in the most part, but none of my wardrobe suits anything remotely summery. I'm no beach babe! I'd also just had my hair done (more on that soon!) and it was back to my natural ginger shade with blonde ends, so I was getting used to a new look. That day I wore a bright blue kimono I believe that I'd managed to pull out of my unpacked case and again threw my hair up in a bun to save time, and to be fair it was difficult to get any mirror time! We headed to Waitrose near my friend's apartment, which was on the ground floor of the neighbouring sky scraper in a cool, sleek mall. Again there was no hustle and bustle, it's very sleek and calm in the air-conditioned buildings. The day before we had barely had time to even eat so we stocked up on snacks and a handy pizza for a late night return, and we had a peek in the designated separate room full of pork products in the supermarket, as the UAE is a Muslim country.

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We planned to head off to the first day of our Formula One package at around 5pm, and took a quick dip in my friend's apartment swimming deck, racing each other around the doughnut shaped pool and laughing our heads off until it was nearing an hour of getting-ready time - uh oh! I had a bit of a brain fail and began warm, rust coloured eye makeup, but having just a hand mirror, I couldn't save it and ended up not liking it too much. I'd planned to wear a skater dress that I'd worn to a friend's wedding earlier in the year but since the previous day, we had realised you could basically wear anything to the F1! I felt a bit too 'safe' so I threw on around five outfits and almost all were new so needed a little pinning or sewing. I'd bought one from House of CB (formerly known as Celeb Boutique) that was so low cut and gaping open, it was hilarious! With eight girls to a one bedroom apartment, it was another hour of chaos, with a memorable moment of my friend thinking I was topless but then I turned round perfectly concealed with a stick on bra! 

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Vowing that the next day I would spend hours getting ready, I settled on a Boohoo maxi dress that felt way too dressy for day time but was the best solution. I even wore it with flip flops because I couldn't figure out which shoes I had and the taxis were already eight floors down and calling us. Flip flops?! You probably wouldn't know the chaos that had happened once eight glammed up girls hit the lobby, and soon we were whizzing across the motorways to Yas Island again. Arriving at the F1 site is quite tricky as the cars can only reach so far and they drop you off at different points, but I think we all managed to link up and we explored The Hill - our spot for the race. Imagine humongous outdoor stadiums with crowds of smartly dressed spectators and groups of 'dad' racing fanatics. The Hill was basically everywhere in the area that wasn't the seated stands, so we stood for a while watching the cars practice and I must say, it was rather lost on me! With no sporting or racing knowledge, we were soon exploring the activities in the hub of the area and hit the bar zone with picnic tables and screens.

Sizing up the crowd, there were groups of people our age but it was mostly hoards of adult men. A few drinks later costing around £15 each, we were off down the huge roads to walk to the outdoor stadium for the Saturday night concert - Florence + the Machine! We grabbed some delicious food from a falafel stand, which was more boutique than your usual festival affair. We met up with other expat pals of my friend and it wasn't long before Florence took to the stage in an amazing white flared suit and did her thing. Their music is just made to be heard live! Our group was hanging near the back of the massive arena space but myself and two girls decided to head further forward. We couldn't convince the others to join us but it was just as spacious as we headed even further towards the stage, hitting the 'Golden Circle' barrier as we go so far. Often at festivals they put up a gigantic semi circle of barriers for so many metres in front of the stage so only select ticket holders have a chance to be up close to the front, We stayed as close as we could until the faux break before an obvious encore, and I saw my mission so clearly. I needed to get us into the Golden Circle!

Telling my friends to wait right there I dashed off through the crowd to the side of the arena, where there was a small opening in the barriers with security. Some lash fluttering and story of how my friends were inside but I'd lost my golden wristband later and the guards were happy to let me through. The only problem was my friends next. A group of guys were walking out and said they'd give me their wristbands as they were leaving. I said I needed three and they offered three 'for a kiss' which was pretty gross and I took two before saying a very speedy thank you and literally darting off into the crowd never to be seen again! Sure it's fun to blagg your way into somewhere but for a kiss, I think not.

I reached my two friends, produced the wristbands to their shock and we all dashed to the side, them flashing their newly acquired wrist candy to the guards and me exclaiming how I'd found my lost friends before slipping in. We'd made it! The crowds behind the barriers were thick but inside the circle it's more spacious and we weaved right to the front just as Florence came back for her encore. Being right under the stage is amazing! A few songs later and it was all over, and we got chatting to a group of the most weird and wonderfully beautiful people, who turned out to be part of an Alice in Wonderland show. They invited us there but to be honest I forgot all about this encounter until now as we were moving on swiftly to find our friends again and attempt to find cabs or a shuttle bus to a club, which was an adventure in itself as the expats guided us and thousands of people left the arena. We ended up in an Irish bar of a hotel with a hilarious live band, and let's say it's definitely true that if you even stand arm to arm with a member of the opposite sex, the bouncers will be approaching and ready to exit you from the premises! There's something so different about dancing with your friends abroad to being in your home city, and even if the music is old or cheesy, it's even better! The night ended with chatting to the taxi driver whose family, like most, lived on the other side of the continent, and all of us girls staying up chatting with pizza until the even earlier hours.


A Skincare Transformation

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Last year I felt the urge to trade up my skincare. I was just really fed up of scrimping and feeling lacking. A final ripple of a quarter life crisis, I was ready to splash some hard-earned cash, even though it eternally feels like you do not have enough. I see friends and colleagues around me saving and going without for months, only to get on the property ladder and then have to scrimp even more! I work hard but I've decided I'm not going to spend my 20's stopping myself from doing things because I'm saving hard for the future. The future is now! And alongside a little saving, I can do a little spending. I've spent a couple of years really stepping away from luxury brands and skincare, visiting even Boots and Superdrug once in a very blue moon, and avoiding any impulse purchases. Well you only live once, and I'm still saving each month but I'm also spending a little, making the most of years I can't get back and perking up my life.

And I bit the bullet with my skincare! Mine was just not the one - I'd swipe away makeup with micellar water and splash on some moisturiser, then exfoliate when my skin was feeling especially drab or I was about to apply a lot of makeup. When your routine is minimal and has no real thought behind it, the last thing you want to do is go out and buy more products, clogging your face with layers of product and scent. I even had a few expensive oils but now I see there was no point in using them when my base was just not prepped. I never really cleared my skin to a high degree, and I never really fed it well. It was a cycle of not completely refreshing my skin and not feeling the benefits of any goodness.

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It began when I dived into Caroline Hiron's blog. Beauty bloggers rave about it and one day it was time for me to open my mind and listen to the skincare gospel. I'm not going to reiterate Caroline's advice but I can say that her routines work. Her advice works. It just does! I would start by reading her cheat sheets, the most succinct being the Routines cheat sheet that details the steps you should take. At first the sound of cleansing twice followed by acids (yikes), eye creams, oils, serums, moisturisers etc all in one morning seemed insane. In fact it's miraculous. After using products in this sequence, each step either perfects and clears my skin like nothing else, or gives it litres of goodness. Clogged, rough, irritated or heavy does not come into the equation. If you're not convinced on the need to double cleanse, check out this cheat sheet. To start formulating a shopping list back in September, I then browsed the other sheets that listed recommendations in each of the product categories, noting them down and shopping around websites to find which I could get the best deals on. Once your haul has arrived, visit the application cheat sheet to see which amounts best to use. Then you're on your way!

Since I've actually tried, tested and used up these products, here are my thoughts. You can search for them on Caroline's blog to hear the benefits of each one and why they are in her good books. I made orders on Feel Unique (great service and freebies), Cult Beauty (4 day delivery costs £4 and it came in ugly packaging) and on the high street, using discount codes and cash back sites to get even better deals.

Clinique Take The Day Off Balm - I thought Clinique was a brand all about the hype but it turns out it really does offer great skincare. I don't know how previously I was too tired or time-stretched to wash my face properly, and yet now it's something I look forward to as I know it's going to go well and I will end up with clear, clean and prepped skin, You get a mega 125ml of product so even four months later I have enough product left to last a couple more weeks, and teamed with a bog standard flannel, this takes off all of my makeup, including MAC Pro Longwear foundation. You don't necessarily need a specific balm if you don't wear heavy makeup every day, but I'm sure your face is covered in enough junk from transport, office air-con and pollution to justify it anyway. This is a definite repurchase. I toyed with Emma Hardy but this is half the price, or the Una Brenan oil which is always on offer in Boots.

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Ren Clarifying Clay - Now that most of your makeup is erased, the second cleanse can treat your skin type. I'm prone to a few blemishes and my skin can be clogged with city life so I chose a clay cleanser. This transforms into a milk, has a soothing botanical smell that is right up my street, and after a swipe of  flannel my skin is now just so clean and balanced. It's the best feeling, its almost addictive. The product is inside a sachet in a pump bottle, so in order to get all of the product out, I had to crack open the bottle somehow and cut into the sachet. Not very handy! But I would repurchase this, though I also considered the Clarins Extra Comfort Cleansing Cream which I would pick up if it was a better deal.

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Pixi Glow Tonic - I love exfoliators and when you don't take your makeup off properly, those dead skin cells really stack up. Previously my exfoliator gave me that fresh, smooth skin that was so ready for primer, foundation and concealer, but now I realise that is too harsh. The toner step in the iconic 'cleanse, tone and moisturise' routine that we all know was originally designed to be an acid toner, but the high street has taken the term and now any sort of water with a splash of chemicals can be called a toner. You're meant to use an acid to do all of the exfoliating work and not those scratchy, harsh beads or scrubs. Pop a touch of Pixi Glow Tonic on a cotton pad every night and you never ever feel the need to exfoliate with a scrub. Tight, flaky foundation is a thing of the past and my blusher and contour does not go patchy the way it used to. Your skin does 'glow' but in a natural way, not a red rashy way. I considered the Clarins Clarifying Lotion or the First Aid Beauty Pads but the Pixi toner has lasted me way longer than the 60 FA pads would have. I may try the Clarins lotion next as you can only get Pixi in certain places, but Caroline has stated only to use it a few times a week.

La Roche Posay Serozinc - This slipped out of my routine as I didn't really see the point! It doesn't add any benefit that's even comparable to the other products so why do I need a spray of water? It's a placebo product I feel!

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Body Shop Drops Of Youth range - I have reviewed these products already but they are all repurchases - especially the Bouncy Sleeping Mask. I use the eye serum morning and night and the other two exclusively at night. I want to try more of the Vitamin A and C ranges next so I have my eye out for a discount code! The Body Shop always exclusive their best products from their endless discount codes which is annoying.

Vichy Aqualia Thermal Serum - After I've cleansed, toned and rolled on the Body Shop eye serum above (do this before the following), I move onto an oil/serum and moisturiser/treatment. In the morning I use a serum and moisturiser, and in the evening I use an oil or the Body Shop concentrated serum above, and then a treatment like the Sleeping Mask. The Vichy serum was a great price in comparison to many serums and it's great under makeup as it sinks in beautifully. An oil or treatment that sticks around would really upset foundation. I'm not too dedicated to this though and may try another high street serum or maybe Clarins Hydraquench - can you see a Clarins theme here? They have good free gifts at the moment with multiple purchases hmm...

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Clinique Moisture Surge - I've ran out of this baby and I need another pronto. It's just perfect! Other brands offer similar gel moisturisers but this is so flawless under makeup, over the Vichy serum. I'd toy with exploring high street gel moisturisers though as I don't think its 'wet' formula is too unique, and a moisturiser can afford to be one of the cheaper products in your routine (ironic words there!) as it's just a barrier, rather than a treatment. I'm also sizing up the Indeed Labs Fillume.

Bio-Essence Aqua Droplet Sleeping Beauty Mask - Caroline Hirons flipped out about this mask but I felt stronger results in the morning from the Bouncy Sleeping Mask. Reading Caroline's review again, my rubbing motion may be better as a wipe and pat so I'll try that tonight as I never felt any 'droplets bursting'. I have quite a lot left so I'm unsure if it's a repurchase yet. It smells strongly of artificial watermelon and I'm not entirely sure that's on purpose. It's very cooling and like a whipped gel or very light jelly. It just doesn't feel like it sinks in and in the morning I can't spot a difference!

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So now I've ran out of my Ren second cleanser and the Clinique Moisture Surge, and I'm almost out of the Clinique TTDO, Pixi Glow Tonic and Body Shop Bouncy Sleeping Mask, although I have plenty of Bio-Essence left. The eye serum and serum concentrate from The Body Shop are still going strong, and the Vichy serum bit the dust first. Do you have any recommendations similar to these? I'm about to repurchase a bunch of things but I'm awaiting some great discount codes nearer the end of January! 


Abu Dhabi & Dubai Bae-cation Part 1: Al Maya Island & Enrique

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Hello everybody! It's time to detail my trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in a few epic posts - just because! Writing these is pure indulgence and an awesome way to recall the memories. Now not all memories of this holiday were fantastic but we will come onto that. For now, here are the first two days!

As a little background, Dubai has always been on my list of top destinations and luckily for us, one of my girlfriends is now a teacher in Abu Dhabi and invited us over. She said a good time to visit is October/November as there are no religious holidays and it's just the right temperature at around 25-30 degrees. The final race of the Formula One is held in Abu Dhabi at the end of November and flights were exactly the same price as any other dates, so we booked up!

There were three of us in New York but this trip would mean eight girls, making for a totally different experience. We were all arriving in batches from different places and spent weeks chatting in a chaotic Whatsapp group. I tried to make headway by creating a huge itinerary to share in Google Docs, which was really time consuming and I didn't get a definite feel of how Dubai is laid out or more importantly, how to dress! Now this really was a bone of contention as people were offering such different advice. Many people stated shoulders and knees must be covered at all times, friends said that clubs and beaches were 'free' zones but you still have to get there via a taxi or public places of course, and some travellers told me they just dressed as usual. My friends and I spent weeks buying outfits and after ordering Missguided's entire stock, we all had an arsenal of knee length, 'nice' daytime dresses for the Formula One, and respectable outfits for the clubs, plus a host of maxi dresses and kimonos for the day time. I got most of mine in the Boohoo sale and picked up some rather lovely beachy pieces at seriously low prices. Not really my usual style as I'm not a summery person, but I got what I needed. I had a few bikinis in my draw but also bought an embellished River Island number, and then ensured all of my shoes were re-heeled and I had stocked up on products, makeup and lashes. My look was very Ibiza-inspired and I imagined wearing jewellery to the beach and sashaying into the club in gorgeous prints.

I really spent weeks planning this gig and even started going to the gym on the *sort of* regular, plus eating really well during November. Then sods law, I got sick. The exact same thing happened just before New York and I spent the Tuesday working my way through a million tissues while working my way through my workload. I had cunningly booked the Wednesday off work but had packed the day with nail, pedicure, brow and tan appointments, and I had to find dirhams in my local high street too, which is not an easy task. So I trudged around feeling like I just wanted to curl in bed, and finally packed up my case ready for a 4.45am early rise. 

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Luckily my cold cleared up almost as soon as I arrived so maybe the air pressure or the in-flight regime I adopted worked. We flew from Birmingham to Dubai with Emirates and while the personal movie selection was endless, the food was that stodgy, synthetic plane food that made us dash to grab a few Boots meal deals at the airport before boarding. I was flying with just one friend and we glugged litres of water and Lemsip before landing in the evening. The first impression you get at a airport is always interesting and Dubai was towering, chic and ominous, with huge indoor waterfalls, glass lifts and extensive marble surfaces stretching everywhere. Taking a taxi to Abu Dhabi was a little crazy as we had no idea if the driver was even taking us 1.5hrs in the right direction or not, but soon we were speeding past the Burj Khalifa on the impossibly fast, weaving motorway trails and trying to locate my friend's apartment on Reem Island. Abu Dhabi has no post codes and the driver didn't have a Sat Nav, but on the phone my friend advised to just to look up at the skyscrapers to pick out the one she was describing. The area is so vast that each tower powers into the blank sky above the spirals of tarmac, and we soon spotted just the building she meant. We managed to let ourselves into the 8th floor apartment with a key under the mat as my friend had already set off to pick up the next arriving party from Abu Dhabi airport.

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We sat in my friend's apartment for an hour basically asking ourselves 'what are we doing with our lives?!' The building was insane and the balcony view looked out onto a stretch of undisturbed warm, black night, only peppered with the odd 50 storey sk scraper. Being a teacher means my friend's apartment is totally funded and I can only dream of having my own flat to call my own! Well I'm not keen on tying myself to a bunch of bricks, but if it were free, then of course I would love to call a home like that my own! It was gorgeous. Far from the dreary weather in the UK, the night was balmy and just right in AD. After claiming one of the foam beds on the floor, finding a side of a wall to sit our suitcases and tentatively exploring the fridge, three more gals arrived with my international friend and we all caught up and cheered over the setting. We had somehow all made it half way across the world to visit one of our group and it was a real 'we've made it!' moment!

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We got a pretty good sleep compared with usual holiday evenings and awoke to tea and toast. Before visiting we knew the time would be first spent in Abu Dhabi for a few days for the Formula One and then onto Dubai, so I needed day outfits and F1 outfits first. I considered separating my suitcase into batches for when I needed things, but I basically needed to tap into every section of my case to get ready each day. This is pretty much impossible when you can't actually unpack and only have a hand mirror and seat on the floor to get yourself set for the day. Yes there were mirrors and plug sockets around the apartment, but one bathroom to six girls was difficult! It really reinforced the fact that I need time and focus to get ready and feel good about myself. It doesn't matter what I do, I just need to do things calmly or else I'll have a bit of a mind-blank when getting ready and just go through random robot motions, applying any makeup I tend to use and just getting at least ready enough to leave in case I'm running behind. Teamed with not being able to unpack and see what I had brought with me, I only managed to add a touch of BB cream, waterproof mascara and lip balm, shoved my hair in a bun as I knew I would be sorting it out later for the F1 concerts, and picked out my outfit of planned pieces from S365 for my collaboration. Chucking sun lotion, towel, dirhams, shoes, hat, camera, sim card, etc, etc into a beach bag also proved time consuming and soon enough we were all out of the door. Now this may not seem like a big deal but I can spend 15 minutes getting ready and feel better than if I'd spent an hour getting ready if it meant there was no rush or pressure. I can't rush basically! Also we were thinking about how revealing out outfits were, as we only jumped in taxis whenever we went anywhere, but there's a level of respect you need when in the UAE and that means outfit must be considered carefully.

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So we set off feeling pretty good really and I adapted to beach life best I could. I realised I'm not a beach person or a summer person maybe - I need outfits and layers and makeup and effort, and cool, boho vibes do not come naturally to me! Also I'd just had my hair coloured back to more of a natural red so I almost wish I'd stayed blonde and channelled a beachy look. Anyway - you're probably thinking wow, how self absorbed do you need to BE on holiday! Relax! Well I wasn't thinking of these things at the time, they are more of a reflection now on how I imagined the holiday would be but didn't quite have time to implement. I'd bought gold transfer tattoos, jewellery, hair crowns and all sorts for the beach, but what took priority was getting out into the beautiful sunshine and to the local beach club that my friend goes to at least once a month, and has sent us the pictures to prove it! We ordered taxis across the city of motorways and met up at a concrete dock with a few expats, and were first on the small boat to set off to Al Maya Island. I was worried I would find it really hot and burn easily but the temperature was perfect.

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One windy journey across the sea and 15 minutes later we stepped onto literal paradise. I didn't think in my lifetime that I would visit a place like this! Straight out of a Sandals advert, the wooden dock, lined with Absolut vodka banners, lead onto a gorgeous pool area with in-pool bar and pool-side DJ stage, neighbouring a creamy white beach leading into bright aqua water. Complete with endless cushioned sunbeds and straw parasols, this was IT. We bought towels and drinks and headed straight to the beach. It was so incredible that it almost felt artificial and surreal. The day before I was sniffling around Birmingham and now I was in the most turquoise sea with a cocktail in hand, surrounded by my friends! We've never actually been on a beach holiday together so that in itself was a novelty, and it was overwhelming and just amazing!  

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We chilled at the beach, had a dip in the pool and looked on in curiosity at the other guests. Mostly expats, the island does get busy on weekends, which is Friday and Saturday in the UAE, but as it was theF1 weekend, it didn't get too hectic while we were there. Did I mention it is free entry for ladies too?!

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We didn't quite have chance to stay there and really get into the party spirit as it was soon time to head back to Reem Island for the concert later. The F1 takes place over 3 days with the race on the Sunday, and each night there is a concert. We had tickets to the Saturday and Sunday F1 events which were around £100 total and included entry into the concerts, but the Friday concert had loads of free tickets distributed so my friend had secured us some. We roamed around on what felt like an endless construction site for taxis to take us back to the apartment and began getting ready. By now there were eight girls, every inch of floor space was covered in a suitcase, and we all had to shower and be ready within the hour. One hour! In hind sight I would have gone basic on my makeup, added a bold lip, sorted my hair and threw on a dress, but at the time it was a 10 minute effort to even locate my toiletries inside my unpacked case.

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We soon determined too that our sophisticated (read: dowdy) outfits we had all sourced to look respectable at the F1 were not needed at all - we all threw caution to the wind and ended up in backless, mini and strappy dresses! My friend had advised you had to look chic and not have a combination of legs/boobs/bodycon all on show at the same time, but my friends and I are usually in midi dresses or the like anyway. The rules are relaxed at the F1 as it's a more Westernised event, but you still cannot touch or kiss a man! I ended up shoving my planned outfit to the side and throwing on three different dresses, all needing some sort of tit tape assistance, pinning or some maintenance that wasn't 'dress and go' ready within my 2 minute time frame. I'd applied my usual makeup, curled my hair a little while standing behind a few other girls of all different heights in a full length mirror, and ended up in a Boohoo berry-coloured midi dress with berry ankle strap heels. Not the outfit I had planned, and I barely had chance to assess what it even looked like in the mirror before the taxis were waiting outside and calling up repeatedly. And with that, we were off!

I hope this all seems like hilarious chaos rather than me moaning as I think it sounds negative, but it wasn't. Getting ready with friends is a mess of heels, hairspray and handbags anyway, and we were all surprised we had managed to step out again in the bright daylight dressed up to the nines in what was basically night club attire. We were heading to the Marina for drinks before the concert, which meant a 20 minute taxi across vast motorways to Yas Island, then a shuttle bus from the sandy drop off point and a walk past some pretty huge yachts. Yes the aim was to find a dude with a yacht of course! We picked out a bar next to the wooden deck of the Marina walkways and chose out incredibly expensive drinks - and note that the bar people keep the change as their tip. £25 down and one mojito up, we looked around and decided that the girls dress just as they do in classy bars at home, but it would not be the place for outfits fit for Walkabout, Oceana or any of those haunts. If there were no unspoken rules of the UAE, it would be an 'anything goes' vibe, where as the events had an air of prestige about them. We had barely ate and a few girls went off to fend for food while we sized up the crowds and were soon a shuttle ride way from the stadium for Enrique. Yes the Friday concert was Enrique Iglesias! Hilarious!

There were huge crowds slowly filtering into the huge stadium and we soon found each other and took out place in the crowd for Enrique. There were some strange warm up acts including a pole dancing cowboy, and the drinks were £16 for a double vodka. Soon the show began and thousands of people were having a blast - the concert was awesome! I love live music and being outside in the warm evening was superb, and everyone knows every word to Enrique songs even if you don't know you do. It was like a festival! We had met up with my friend's expat friends too and soon a troupe of us was walking to a hotel party. Like New York, the clubs and bars are in hotels rather than dedicated venues. We walked for what felt like 30 minutes down the huge sandy dual carriageway as all taxis were full and my feet were dying, but soon enough we were in the bar and enjoying the night. Far from being a place where being drunk is 'illegal', there was an incredibly rowdy group of Irish lads among the crowd and the drinks were flowing like normal. You can't be drunk in the street but you are allowed to drink on a dedicated premise. We ended up chatting to some guys who apparently fixed race cars but all they wanted to do was talk about themselves, despite my friend and I playing the 'who has the coolest job' game as I work for a chocolate company and she works for a jewellery brand. I didn't take my camera out as I wasn't sure I was allowed so I don't have any snaps to share, but that's a wrap for part 1! I have a whole eight more days to go so stay tuned for more including my blag into the golden circle, drinks at the 7* hotel and the reason why we definitely didn't go on a yacht!


Christmas @ Bullring | Birmingham Life

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I'm juuuust in the process of getting all of my holiday photos together (of the few I have - sob!) but we need to talk about Christmas. Since I was on holiday at the end of November and then seriously not very well for a week or so, I have literally done hardly any Christmas shopping, and Christmas is next week! I'm trialling a new strategy of buying presents quite late as I hope it will make me more speedy with my selections and now I've had some time to ponder away. Just in time was the Bullring Winter event and this was the first time I ventured out of my house in a few days so I was feeling so ready for a slice of retail!

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We are indeed lucky to have a major shopping centre right on the doorstep and with the newly upgraded River Island and Topshop, it means I can't shop anywhere else. If I haven't looked around huge stores, I feel like I am missing out on loads of things and just don't feel right making an uninformed purchase! Bullring is open until 10pm every weekday until Christmas Eve so my plan is to do what I can on Thursday when I have a day off work (yes it's the day after the Christmas partaaay!) and then pop in next week after work to get any final gifts. 10pm people! Shopping at that time is bliss as the stores are replenishing the stock for the next day so everything is plentiful and tidy.

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I sort of wanted to visit the hi-tech Santa's grotto to ask the jolly man himself if he can place a handsome gentleman under my tree (or mistletoe... or anywhere really!), but we were instead treated to a fabulous showcase of classic and new stores, including a Kiko! I Whatsapped a few friends as soon as I heard there is an entire Kiko store now near the Bull statue - I can't wait to take a look! The adorable SA told me there is a highlighter that beauty bloggers are going nuts over and it may come into stock soon. Just try and stop me!

Selfridges have a host of Elfridges on hand in the sweetest high school-style uniforms, ready to solve all of your present problems and gift woes. It's a FREE personalised shopping service to help you tick off your shopping list, and you can even sit back with a coffee or glass of champagne while they go off to grab all of your gifts! Their personalised ideas are so creative and I can think of a person I know suited to each of the name-adorned treats. I also really want to hit up Pavan's henna bar too!

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After nibbles from the likes of the new Bill's restaurant (I must visit), Chaophraya and Chi Kitchen @ Debenhams, we took a peek at the new Topshop Personal Shopping service in their revamped space. The transformation of the store is huge and now it really feels like a conceptual store. The personal shopping area is the living room of my dreams and of course the service is free for girls and guys. I love having makeovers but I've never had a proper style consultation so watch this space!

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We also explored the Oasis 'My Personal Stylist' space which surprised me as you don't often hear about Oasis making waves at Bullring. Well I was completely out of the loop because the store has some incredibly unique features and is the forefront of Oasis' most current store concepts, with the changing room area as an entire home of beautifully upholstered arm chairs, retro books and quirky detailing that my mom would adore (she's not a regular mom, she's a cool mom). Different cities have customised decor and the Birmingham themes were so sweet! Just being in the space felt like I wanted to bathe myself in Oasis' chunky knits and wool coats, and I'll be adding the store to my 'must visit' list each time I'm in town.

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Now I'm just left with the question of will I be seeing you at 8am on Boxing day for the sales?! I have my eye on some suede thigh high boots. Fingers crossed and elbows at the ready!