The last seven days have been a total whirlwind and I can't believe it is only now that I am getting the chance to write this post and share it with you guys. If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram there's a good chance you already know about this but if not - after a long three months in the outback I completed my regional work for my second year Australian visa just an hour before finding out Absolutely Lucy had once again made it into the finals of the travel section of the UK Blog Awards! An amazing day - I was completely elated to find out that I had made the shortlist for the second year in a row. Last year this blog was awarded a highly commended award after just six months of being a travel blog, who knows what this year will bring! This year, Absolutely Lucy was shortlisted out of 2,000 blogs and the awards received total of 73,352 votes - a HUGE thank you for all the ones that were for me! Whether this year brings success or not, I am already over the moon at the fact that so many of you amazing people took time out of your day to vote for me, that you've been there every step of the way - liking, commenting and sharing my posts. This blog was started as a way of sharing with my friends and family what I had been up to, now that crowd has grown beyond anything I could have expected and it's giving me the opportunity to work with amazing companies and brands, all thanks to your support.
If the last year of travelling, and especially the last three months in the outback, have taught me anything, it's gratitude. I have never been more grateful for my life, for all the opportunities I get, and for the people who surround me. After completing my regional work on Friday, I moved across the country to Melbourne - something I have been looking forward to for months on end - and was finally reunited with some of the best friends I have made since travelling. Yes, that's right, the Dingos are back together and I could not be happier about it. I've spent the last three months missing my Darwin family more than I could ever put into words, we went through so much in such a short space of time and were closer than any group I have met. So to suddenly be parted from them all - the people I spent every second of every day with - and be completely on my own was pretty hard. What got me through were great friends in Charleville and the thought that soon I would be reunited with my gang - arriving in Melbourne and seeing my family again was the most amazing feeling. It's made arriving in Melbourne feel just like coming home.Spending three months in a place where there were no shops, no distractions, and the nearest McDonald's was three hours away has really made me appreciate all that I now have on my doorstep. I had forgotten how much fun it is to explore a city even if you're completely alone - I always remember the Sex and the City episode where Carrie talks about New York as her date. Now that's exactly how I feel, I have a whole city to explore whether I'm walking graffitied alleyways, checking out the sights, museums or cinemas. Some of my friends here are already working so I had a perfect opportunity to spend a day with myself - I went shopping, had my hair done, ate out and even went to the cinema. So many people hate doing these things alone but I can never understand why - it was a fantastic day and I always think if you can't stand to spend time with yourself then why should anyone else want to? Before coming travelling alone I had never really had to do anything by myself - there was always a friend, boyfriend or family member to keep me company - but ever since, I've really started to value the time I spend alone just as much as the time I spend with the ones I love. You should try it. Set yourself the challenge of doing something every day for a week completely alone - go eat out by yourself, grab a coffee, go to the cinema, go for a walk. Don't be self-conscious or care what others think - just do it and embrace the solitude. It feels strange at first but soon you start to crave those moments and really enjoy them. It gives you the confidence to put yourself out there and be proud of what you have to offer, it gave me the courage to enter the UK Blog Awards and to end up a finalist!
Have you tried going it solo lately? What are you too scared to do by yourself? What's the greatest thing you have achieved by yourself?
I've had so many lovely messages over the last few days celebrating my decision to stay in Australia instead of returning home on my pre-booked flights and cheering at my just having four weeks left in the outback before rejoining my friends. I've had several messages from friends asking for advice on blogging and how to get started, and I've lost track of the amount of people who have contacted me to ask for advice on travelling, going it solo and help with planning itineraries. It's amazing to think I started this blog just over two years ago and at the time barely anyone read what I was writing, much less wanted to know what I had to say on any of this. I feel so proud at how Absolutely Lucy has grown in that time and am still completely overwhelmed by the support of all my readers every single day. It's been pretty spectacular to experience this year's travelling independently but what has made it all the more special was sharing every step of the journey with you guys. Being able to immortalise all of my memories on these webpages and to share my highs and lows with every single one of you. You may not realise it but every single like, share, view and comment has meant the world to me over these last 12 months, it was the encouragement I needed to keep writing, to keep on travelling even when times were tough and I felt homesick.
Now some of you may remember around a year ago I couldn't stop talking about something called the UK Blog Awards - it's a great awards ceremony that is organised annually to celebrate the blogging community. Covering every genre of blogs, there is a chance for writers with followings of all sizes to be recognised for their hard work and dedication over the year by a group of industry professionals. It's an honour to be a part of something that is still so new and yet is making huge waves in the industry. Last year I entered for the first time and saw huge success as I was shortlisted and awarded a Highly Commended for the Travel section - just six months after transforming Absolutely Lucy into a travel blog. In true backpacker style, I was actually travelling Asia when the winners were announced and never had the opportunity to collect my award which is still in London at a friend's waiting to be collected! But I was overwhelmed with the fact that I had been chosen, it felt amazing and actually came at a time when I was losing my enthusiasm for blogging, to say it reinvigorated me was an understatement.
Now it is that time again, I've entered the Travel section once again and I'm asking each and every one of you guys to vote for me (it only takes two seconds!) so that I can stand a chance against the incredible bloggers also listed. There's some serious talent and some bloggers I really admire listed alongside me and although yes, I would obviously love to win, it's amazing to even be considered amongst these other bloggers. Last year there were around 5,000 entries and I made the shortlist - how on earth that happened I will never know, but I'm hoping some of that luck and some of those amazing votes will happen again this year and will start my year off amazingly! If you have spent the last year enjoying, reading and sharing my posts, if you've been wanderlustin' over my travel pics and if you've been inspired to travel the world yourself - it would mean the world if you would take two seconds to cast a quick vote for me. Click the link below to head to the webpage and cast your vote - make sure you select the TRAVEL section - and thanks so much for your support!
VOTE FOR ME
There's been a lot of big posts on the blog of late and I think it's time to take it back to one of my biggest loves - FOOD! Anyone who knows me will say how much I like my food - people are often shocked by the amount I can put away. But what is more important to me than quantity, is quality. I would always rather have something cooked from scratch, something with all natural ingredients, preferably local, and something delicious than a plateful of greasy crap. I know everyone says that, but I actually mean it. Of course we all have our days when only a takeaway will do, but after being raised in a house where everything is cooked from scratch I find I seem have have significantly less of these cravings than my friends. So for someone who is more than a bit of a foodie, this restaurant review was a long time coming!
I'm lucky enough to live just a short distance from the North-Norfolk coast, one of the most beautiful locations in the country, which is packed with gorgeous seaside towns, quaint old-fashioned pubs, and plenty of amazing gastro pubs. Working at the paper, we are always hearing about awards given to local pubs and restaurants for their fare and one name that comes up time and time again, is The Orange Tree at Thornham. We have wanted to go there for years and have heard so many amazing reviews and recommendations, but it is one of those things that has always been forgotten and put off to another date. Randomly, boyfriend decided to surprise me with dinner at this lovely little restaurant last weekend and I just couldn't resist sharing our amazing meal with you.
We started with a refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio which happily washed down our amazing starters. I had scorched king scallops, crispy ham hock with aloo gobi, black curry salt, mango sour, white chocolate and cauliflower purée (first picture). This dish was an incredible mix of flavours and I think you'll agree the presentation was stunning. I loved the combination of the curry salt and the ham hock, and the purée was very tasty. Mark had barbecue teriyaki and sesame pork fillet with satay, kohlrabi & apple rèmoulade, nuts and seeds (second picture) which was a really delicious dish - even I enjoyed a taste and I'm not usually a big pork lover, but the satay was fantastic. Both were the sort of dishes you really want everyone to experience, but you know it would be heartbreaking to share.
The restaurant itself was lovely and really cosy, with just enough tables to make it feel busy, but not so it was too loud. It was fully booked when we arrived, so we were glad we had booked a table, and they put us on a lovely one in the corner, right by the window. I was surprised to see a few families in there as I wouldn't have thought of it as the typical place for those with young children to head, but then we realised you could also order off the bar menu, which offered a more casual meal.
Our mouths were watering as we watched other peoples' mains being brought out, with a salmon special also catching my eye. But shortly after, our waitress headed over with two stunning dishes both trailing rich aromas of barbecue pork and Moroccan spice in their wake. I found it pretty difficult to conceal my excitement, which was a pretty big thing for me. An incident with some rotten lamb last Christmas - cheers Tesco - has meant I haven't happily eaten the meat since, but after a meal at The Orange Tree, I am firmly back in love with lamb.
My dish is pictured at the top - at least most of it is, I struggled to fit the cous cous in the frame! I ordered rump of salt marsh lamb with aubergine kofta, spiced vegetable tagine and rose water Israeli cous cous and all I can say really is WOW. This dish was a perfect combination of Moroccan flavours, the stunning blend of spices in the tagine set the kofta and cous cous off a treat. I reached the end of the dish and wished I could have eaten it all over again! Mark's dish was duo of Blythburgh slow roasted pork belly with seared bbq loin, smoked potato pie, wild mushrooms, 62° poached egg, caramelised onion purée and truffle jus. This fantastic combination of the smoky pork and potato flavours, mushroom and the truffle jus created a light but flavoursome dish - and again, I was impressed at how much I liked it for someone who is not much of a pork lover. We both cleared our plates - absolutely stuffed but refusing to waste even a morsel.
It seemed rude not to take them up on a dessert, but already full, we decided to share the pear, caramel and chocolate brownie with caramel bavarois, textures of pear, caramelized puff pastry, chocolate sauce and mascapone sorbet. A very rich dish, we were glad to have shared one as it provided just the right amount of sweetness to round off the meal. I adored the use of pear and caramel with the brownie, and I love sorbet, so it was a perfect dish for me. Mark really enjoyed the brownie, but left me the pear to enjoy as he wasn't a big fan of the texture - but I was pretty happy about that! It was an amazing meal and the staff were really welcoming and friendly, it had the aura of a country pub with the dining experience of a five-star restaurant.This family-owned business describes itself as "a stylish, contemporary dining pub that serves award-winning food, from top quality local produce in a laid back, ‘unstuffy’ environment." And I have to agree, if you like an informal and cosy setting combined with a fine dining experience, look no further than The Orange Tree. You won't regret it. Don't believe me? Take note of all the amazing awards they have won:
Check out the website, and pop in next time you're passing. You can even stay there and make a weekend of it!
Have you been to The Orange Tree - what did you think? Can you recommend any other fine dining pubs you think I'd like?