Who doesn't love watching Channel 4's Grand Designs? For me it combines two of my favourite pastimes - indulging my fantasy for picture perfect designer rooms in my house, as well as getting a glimpse into the real agony and joy of others on their quest to make their own grand design happen.

The plus of course is Kevin McCloud,  design guru and silver fox of the interiors world.   Do I need to say more?

Based on the hugely successful TV series, this year's Grand Designs Live show runs for 9 days from 29th April - 7th May at Excel London.

The show offers visitors a unique opportunity to see all the latest trends for the home including many products never seen before.

Packed with over 500 exhibitors, across seven different sections, it promises to be a show not to be missed.

What's not to like? It ticks all my boxes and if like me, you harbour dreams of a grand design project, hopefully it will tick yours too.

The good news is to help make your dreams a reality, I  am really excited to have tickets to giveaway courtesy of CLC World Resorts & Hotels, Europe's largest independent resort operator and developer who are also providing the main prize of the show ....so if you are in the middle of planning a small or grand design of your own and are in need of some inspiration or expert advice, this is the giveaway for you.

The entry requirements are really simple and please don't forget to leave a comment on my blog letting me know about your own Grand Design plans, past or present, small or large, I would love to hear about it.

Good Luck!

 

How To Enter - Rules

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Retweet the competition pinned post on my Twitter page

Follow @clcworld on Twitter or visit their facebook page CLC World Resorts

 

Terms & Conditions

  • Competition details form part of these terms and conditions.
  • Entry is open to residents of the UK except employees (and their families) of CLC World, its printers and agents, the suppliers of the prizes and any other companies associated with the competitions.
  • The entrant(s) must be aged 18 or over. Proof of identity and age may be required.
  • Use of a false name or address will result in disqualification.
  • The competition opens at 12.00am on 20th April 2017 and ends at 12.00am on 27th April 2017. Entries that are incomplete, illegible, indecipherable, duplicated or which contain profanity will not be valid and deemed void.
  • To enter, applicants must follow the rules outlined above.
  • All entries must be made directly by the person entering the competition.
  • No responsibility can be accepted for entries lost, due to computer error in transit.
  • The prizes are as stated and comprises of two tickets for Grand Designs Live (valid between the 29th April – 7th May) to be awarded to one winner. The prize is not transferable to another individual and no cash or other alternatives will be offered.
  • Prizes are subject to availability and the prize suppliers' terms and conditions.
  • Prizes will be posted to the winner within 48 hours of them providing their postage details.
  • The winner will be contacted via Twitter on 28th April.
  • Entrants must be prepared to be able to organise their own travel to Grand Designs Live on a date between the 29th April – 7th May , in the case that they are selected to win the competition.
  • The promoters reserve the right to amend or alter the terms of competitions at any time and reject entries from entrants not entering into the spirit of the competition.
  • In the event of a prize being unavailable, the promoter reserves the right to offer an alternative prize of equal or greater value.
  • The winner(s) agree(s) to the use of their name, photograph and disclosure of county of residence and will co-operate with any other reasonable requests by Mother of Teenagers and/or CLC World, relating to any post-winning publicity.
  • Unless stated otherwise the winner(s) will be drawn at random from all correct entries received by the closing date stated within the promotional material 27th April 2017.
  • Reasonable efforts will be made to contact the winner(s). If the winner(s) cannot be reached within 24 hours of being notified of their win, or they are unable to comply with these terms and conditions, the Promoter reserves the right to offer the prize to the next eligible entrant drawn at random, or in the event that the promotion is being judged, the Promoter reserves the right to offer the prize to the runner(s)-up selected by the same judges.
  • Confirmation of the prize will be made via online correspondence to the winner.
  • Failure to respond and/or provide an address for delivery, or failure to meet the eligibility requirements may result in forfeiture of the prize.
  • Where applicable, the decision of the judges is final based on the criteria set out in the promotion and no correspondence will be entered over this decision.
  • Competitions may be modified or withdrawn at any time

 

 

 

 

 

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For the next stage of our Californa Road Trip we headed South.  From San Francisco we took Highway 1 over the Golden Gate Bridge, following the same route we had taken only two days previously on our bikes and started our journey down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) along one of the most spectacular and dramatic scenic routes I have ever travelled.

The highway literally hugs the cliffs, winding along the coast and giving you open views of the Pacific and the beaches below.  There are frequent pull off points for cars and it is almost impossible to avoid stopping to take a picture whenever you can and to just stand and stare at the view.  Brought up near the coast in Norfolk, I am naturally drawn to the sea but this was like nothing I had ever seen.  It is overwhelmingly beautiful.

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  • DAYS 4-5 CARMEL/MONTEREY

As well as viewing spots to take photographs, there are also many places to park and enjoy a picnic with seating areas looking out to the Ocean, in fact I challenge anyone to find a finer place to eat a sandwich.  Our destination was Carmel which allowing for stops along the route was approximately  a 3 hour drive.  Carmel is a town in Monterey County, well known for its famous mayor Clint Eastwood and its multitude of art galleries.  In fact there are reported to be 100 in the town itself and with such stunning scenery to inspire them it is not hard to see why.

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A charming oddity of the town is that it is illegal to wear high heels on the cobbled pavements, which made me smile as the town, although small is full of designer boutiques and perfectly coiffured ladies walking their picture perfect dogs along the streets and would in my opinion seem the ideal place to take a stroll in a pair of Manolo's.

Carmel is, however, a convenient spot for visiting the more touristy town of  Monterey for a spot of whale watching which is why we were there.  Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey is home to various whale watching tours but a keen diver Mr MoT had booked in advance with Monterey Bay Whale Watch as the trips are conducted by experienced marine biologists.

Despite my love for being near the sea, I am not keen on boats and tend to avoid them at all costs, so on the day of the trip I was feeling mildly nervous.  My husband kept assuring me it would be fine whilst pointing out that the sea was like a "mill pond" so there really was nothing to be afraid of.  However, that was the bit of the sea that we could see immediately in front of us, you didn't need to be a brain surgeon to work out that the bit with the whales in would not be like that.  Informed by the shore staff that it was "choppy" on the day of our trip we took motion sickness tablets and prepared to board.

Anyone prone to sea sickness will tell you that the only place to be is at the back of the boat with your eyes on the horizon and that is where I sat.  The boat was small in comparison to the others we had seen in the harbour yet I had been assured that a single hulled boat in choppy waters is better for managing the nausea.   We were soon to find out.

As we left the harbour we were surrounded by sea lions basking in the sunlight on the piers and old abandoned boats in the harbour and as we headed out to sea the cacophany of their barks rang in our ears.  As promised it was choppy.  In fact I had to avoid looking at the swell of the waves to maintain my calm and all this whilst being quizzed by a friendly group of Californians on Brexit!  Nothing like taking your mind of it I suppose.

Every now and then the skipper would kill the engines as we were confronted by a huge wave and we would all whoop with delight as we went up and down as if on a roller coaster.  A lovely lady who spends all her spare time on whale trips kept regaling me with tales of her previous whale watching trip in the Antarctic which was apparently alot calmer.  I am sure she meant well!!

After about an hour and a half of heading out beyond the headlands of Santa Cruz, we stopped.  It was at this point that many passengers hit by the sudden stillness after the continual swell, promptly dashed to the back of the boat for a quick chunder.  This included Teen 2 who encouraged by her father had been enthusiastically enjoying the views from the front of the boat which clearly took the brunt of the ferocity of the waves.  Sickness over it was time to take in the view.

Shouts rang out around the boat "Whale 2 o''clock" "Dolphins 7 o'clock" this being the agreed language for us all to alert each other to any sightings rather than "Over there!"  It was a tried and tested method and it worked.

There are two seasons for whale watching in Monterey Bay, mid-December through mid-April to see gray whales, dolphins and killer whales migrating, or alternatively mid-April through mid-December to see humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins and killer whales.  So October was the right time of the year for whale sightings but nevertheless as with anything there are no guarantees.  We were lucky.  Not only did we see schools of dolphins jumping in the water we saw what we had all paid for really a whale and not just one, several.  In fact on the day of our trip the guide and biologist recorded a total of 12 humpback whales.

What you see varies obviously, but the first indication is a rainbow spout of water as the whale prepares to surface then it might be its back you glimpse or its tail as it dives down.  On our trip, however, we were also lucky enough to see a bait ball.  This is when fish swarm in a tightly packed spherical formation, in a last ditch attempt to defend themselves from predators.  It was a spectacular sight and was followed by the fish looking as if they were jumping out of the water as the whales came up from underneath with open mouths to feed.  It was spectacular.

Even Teen 1 who spent the early part of the journey terrified that we would overturn and be consumed by sharks and is rarely in awe of anything in the natural world, was rendered speechless and exclaimed afterwards that "This is the kind of thing you only see on the telly!"  It really was that good.

The whale trips vary in length.  We booked a 4 hour tour which with an hour and a half there and back left us with an hour just drifting out at sea spotting the whales.  Sitting on a relatively small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean watching whales was surreal and was without doubt one of the most incredible experiences for all of us and one we will never forget for sure.

 

This post is a part of a series, if you missed the first part you can see it by clicking the link below:

Part One - A California Road Trip with Teens

 

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America and more specifically the West Coast, has been the desired holiday destination of my Teens for some time now, so with both a 50th and an 18th milestone birthday on the horizon, we decided to make this year the one to remember with a California Road Trip.

Planning started back in January of this year.  We decided against a summer trip because of the heat and plumped instead for October, taking advantage of the two week half term holiday, which would give us a total of 16 days with a route along the Pacific Coast Highway which would take in San Francisco, Carmel, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and finish in Vegas, Nevada.

 

DAYS 1-3, SAN FRANCISCO & SAUSALITO

  • GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

Direct flights from the UK land early evening which gave us just the right amount of time to hail a cab, check in to our hotel, eat and jump into bed.  Thanks to the jet lag there was no hanging around the next morning, so we were up with the larks and off to hire bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.  We stayed in historic Fisherman's Wharf and from there you can take a cycle route alongside the bay to the foot of the bridge which is approximately an hour's cycle.   Although heavily populated, unlike London the cycle paths are wide and on the pavement, away from traffic so it feels safe.  There are a lot of hills on the route so it is physically challenging but the result is well worth the effort.

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The first sighting of the  Golden Gate Bridge is awe-inspiring.  It looms out of the mist connecting San Francisco to Marin County.  Nothing, however, can prepare you for the experience of cycling across it. You have to go up a steep and winding hill from the shoreline to the cyclepath on the bridge.  One side is for cyclists and one for pedestrians.  Once at the top the first thing that hits you is the noise of the cars.  Highway 101 crosses the bridge which is a busy route, but the cars also make a strange clackety-clack sound as they go over the bridge's expansion joints which is deafening.  The second is the height - at 220 ft above sea level, the views are stupendous, on one side there is the bay with Alcatraz Island, on the other the open Pacific Ocean with waves crashing on the rocks below.  At this height and in such an explosed spot it is also very windy up there.   The third is the speed of the bikes going across. It is single file, two way traffic and without doubt whilst it is breath-taking it is also terrifying in equal measure.

The bridge is 2.7km long and the outside railing is at chest height for adults.  There is nowhere to stop easily until you are half way across and for those that do try to stop before that point, there is the risk of a pile up or abuse from your fellow cyclists. There are cycling speedometers at intervals on the bridge and there were many who impatient by the slow line of tourists and their kids would overtake at speed which when you are focusing all your efforts on maintaining calm and supporting your 13 yr old novice cyclist daughter to just keep going and not look down is nerve jangling to say the least. Having said all that it is totally exhilerating and something as a tourist you will probably only do once in your life.

When we arrived on the other side we joined the multitude of tourist cyclists that gather to exclaim relief that they made it.  Then just when you think the thrill is all over, you have to make the descent from the foot of the bridge down a hill with a steep gradient that seems to wind on forever.  My lasting memory is of me screaming at the Teens to remember to just hold the left brake.  Mr MoT on the other hand is all about risk and turned the whole thing into a competition of who could get down in the quickest time!  Jesus.  Those are the times when our differences come to the fore.  I am doing "safety" and he is off encouraging the Teens to go for it whatever the consequences because "this is fun!"

  • SAUSALITO

On the Northern side of the bridge in Marin County is the charming little town of Sausalito with houses clinging to the steep hillside along the coastline with views to die for.  Sausalito is full of lovely shops and restaurants and from here you can take the ferry back with your bike to downtown San Francisco.  We did actually move over from San Francisco to Sausalito for a couple of nights to explore that area which is full of beautiful walks and were lucky enough to enjoy spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge from our hotelroom.  It was great to see it from a different perspective and it is certainly a view you could never tire of.  The only word of warning to anyone thinking of going is to make sure you pack some earplugs as the foghorns do go off quite frequently in the night so if you are not a deep sleeper they are a must.

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  • ALCATRAZ

Perhaps befittingly on the day of our Alcatraz visit, San Francisco was hit by a freak weather system which saw the Golden Gate Bridge closed due to high winds and torrential rain engulfed the city. Renowned as the holding pen for Civil War deserters as well as legendary gangsters including Al Capone, it is a must see on a visit to San Fran.  You do need to book tickets in advance for this trip as it is seriously popular as you can imagine so you can't just turn up.  The website takes bookings 3 months in advance and a night tour is an option.  The ferry for Alcatraz island leaves from Pier 33 and takes approximately 20-30 minutes.  It is all very organised and boats leave promptly.

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When you alight at the Alcatraz dock you are greeted by a National Park guard with a loud hailer giving instructions on where to go and warning people of walking hazards on the route.  The cellhouse sits at the top of the island and is as you would expect foreboding  and walking to it in the lashing rain and wind added to this atmosphere.  Much of the island is steep and hilly and the distance from the dock to the cellhouse at the top of the island is about 0.5km.

You first enter the cellhouse as the prisoners would have done themselves, into the communal shower area and here you can pick up the audio tour which is included in the admission price.  It is fantastic but eerie and really brings to life the terrible conditions of being imprisoned on the "rock" , through the voices of real life inmates and correctional officers.  As you would expect, everything as you go around is dark, dank and gloomy which is further accentuated by the lack of windows.  The cells themselves are horrific yet the solitary confinement units are soul-destroying.

 

Despite its size, Alcatraz was never filled to capacity with the maximum number of inmates during its 29 years as a federal penitentiary, only 260.  During this time 36 prisoners tried to escape and all but five were recaptured and to this day no-one knows what happened to those five prisoners.

The island is now a national parkland with historic gardens, tidepools and bird colonies.  No food service is available on the island but there is a large picnic area and as well as the cellhouse you can visit various points around the island itself, however, due to the weather on the day we went this was not advised.  All in all the tour takes around two hours.  When we came back we popped along to Pier 39 which is a bustling pier of shops and fab eateries with scenic views across the bay, combined with generous sightings of sea lions.

San Francisco is relatively compact with many of the major attractions quite close to each other, so there is a lot of walking involved - comfortable shoes are a must!  From Fisherman's Wharf we whiled away an afternoon exploring the nearby shopping on Union Street and then onto Chinatown, which is the largest outside of South East Asia and is an absolute sensory feast.

There are some cities that you visit in the world that you just fall in love with and for me San Francisco was one of them.  It is the perfect mix of cosmopolitan and bohemian and I would say is one of the most beautiful that I have visited.  In the limited time that we had for each of our stops on our road trip route, we definitely only scratched the surface of San Francisco and having now been I would definitely go back again for longer and explore further.  Next stop Carmel for some whale watching.

 

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Have you been away for half term? We have just returned from a Californian road trip (of which more posts later) but despite the whirlwind excitement of the last 16 days there is nothing quite like being home again.  So what is great about coming home?

  • The front door.  Odd it maybe, but when you pull up outside your house for the first time after a holiday, am I alone in loving the front door?  For me it is more than the first real sign of our home - it signifies the entrance to our little bit of the world.
  • The house smell.  My family mock me for my sensitive nose but just as we have our own distinct smell so too do houses and after being away it is our "house smell" that is familiar and comforting and says "Yes!  We are home!"
  • Not living out of a suitcase.  Doesn't everyone hate this?  But for us this time after 15 days of non-stop travelling down the West Coast of California, from San Francisco to Los Angeles and then through the desert to Las Vegas, Nevada, the novelty of hanging up clothes for a maximum of 2 days and in some cases not at all, was wearing thin.
  • Your wardrobe.  I am renowned for not packing lightly and this time was made more complicated as we had to cater for a variety of temperatures and activities, from whale watching in the Pacific, to beach lounging in Santa Monica, but nothing is the same as having access to your "whole" wardrobe and a real choice of what to wear.
  • A washing machine.  Yes we stayed in hotels, but there wasn't time to do a laundry service so we had to make do, recycle and buy some extras, but nothing quite beats the joy of fresh laundry and particularly underwear!  Between us this time there was a grand total of 70 boxers/knickers and 120+socks.
  • Space.  Everyone loves a fabulous hotel bedroom and en-suite but after a while it is all just too claustrophobic.  I miss the overall space of our house when on holiday and being able to walk between more than two rooms and floors, as well having the ability to seek out a little bit of "personal space" too.
  • Dressing table.  I couldn't survive without my little corner of our bedroom for sorting myself out and doing your hair etc in the bathroom just doesn't cut it for me.
  • Cooking.  My love/hate relationship with food shopping and cooking and my love of eating out is well documented, but after 16 days of airline and restaurant food constituting a minimum of 50 meals I would be very happy to "not go out" for a while.  My excitement at stocking the fridge and planning a family roast today with bucket loads of veg is palpable!
  • Tea.  You cannot move in the U.S. for Starbucks and coffee shops but "tea" is just not their thing.  In fact where else does tea (and cake) like us Brits?
  • Post.  Admittedly there is less real post nowadays but nevertheless there is something really satisfying about sorting through a pile of post when you arrive home.
  • Newspapers.  Oh my word.  I miss "real" English newspapers and my magazine subscriptions and love curling up for a good thumb through on coming home.
  • Catch-Up TV.  Nothing quite beats returning from holiday and sitting down for a binge TV session of your favourite shows and I already have my afternoon mapped out.
  • Internet Access.  Data roaming is so expensive and free WiFi is limited, so it is great to be back and to have access to the online world again.
  • Friends & Family.  Being on holiday is fantastic and for me it is fabulous family time but it is always great to get back and catch up with your friends and extended family and be in the real world again.
  • Bed.  Isn't this what everyone misses the most?  Nothing beats your own bed, with your own pillows and your own duvet and fresh linen.

 

 

What do you love about coming home?  Is there anythign you would add to this list?

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Have I mentioned that Mr MoT spends a lot of his time away from home on business?    This is one of the reasons I have been firmly ensconced at home over the years, holding the fort so to speak. On the occasions he is in the UK we try to escape for a bit of us time.  The theatre is always a popular contender and where better than the Old Vic?  Admittedly, after the tumultuous day I had had, dashing up to town for a 7pm meet was not top of my agenda and I even considered pulling out. What a mistake that would have been!

If you don't know already, the play currently running at The Old Vic, is Pinter's The Caretaker with Timothy Spall. We had great seats up in the Dress Circle, perfectly positioned so we were informed by our chatty neighbour, who has been booking the same seats since 1972, to get a full view of the stage.  The central chandelier was pretty fabulous too!

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Although an English graduate I never touched on Pinter, so arrived unfamiliar with the drama.  The play is set in one location throughout, a shambolic London attic, piled high with junk, a bucket dangling precariously beneath a leak in the ceiling and lots of peeling wallpaper.  It is home to Mays' character Aston.  Spall is the hobo Davies, offered refuge by Aston and MacKay as Mick, is Aston's brother. Essentially, they are a motley group of misfits, isolated from the world and all with their own cross to bear.

Spall's appearance is that of a mix between Mr Twit and Steptoe.  His accent is thick and his speech on occasions faint, so concentration is key, particularly if you are up in the dress circle.  There is also a lot of racist language which 56 years on from its creation does make it challenging to listen to sometimes.  Balanced against this, however, is hilarious characterisation.  The script is very witty and there are some real "belly laugh" moments.  The play is three hours long with two intervals, giving plenty of time for sustenance, although you have to be quick to avoid being left with spicy tomato crisps - a hit with Mr MoT I might add but not so for me!

In Act 2 May delivers one of the most spell-binding moments in the play, with a monologue on his time in a mental institution when he was younger.  I would challenge anyone who watches it not to be completely enthralled by his rendition and having only recently watched him in Line of Duty as the dodgy policeman, it was interesting to see him in a different context and what superb acting.

Teenager No.2 is a big drama queen so helping her to learn her lines whether for a play or her next LAMDA exam is a common occurrence.  George Mackay, however, gives a whole new meaning to "line learning" with a couple of totally faultless deliveries of gabbling opinions most notably on his plans for redecorating the attic ready for letting, with teak veneer and cork.

All in all if you like a trip to the theatre this is a must see and the Old Vic is always good for a bit of celeb spotting too - the lovely Anna Chancellor was at the bar whilst Mr MoT fought over the last bag of spicy tomato crisps - he knows how to impress!

 

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