The Hatfield Galleria opened in 1991 and sits above the A1 motorway tunnel. It was designed in the shape of an aircraft hangar to celebrate Hatfield’s aeronautical history.

As it’s a cold wet afternoon and only a ten-minute drive away, we decide to go and have a look around at it’s many designer outlets. It feels different from St Albans in some ways, more urban, with a younger crowd, nine-screen cinema and lots of restaurants to choose from.

Before we shop, we sip a cappuccino in Costa. I’m currently reading a book on Venice by Jan Morris, my favourite travel writer. We can hear the children’s train bell ringing out in the play area as it travels in a circle in the background while students from the nearby De Havilland campus of the University of Hertfordshire sit and chat in the warm.

My first shopping stop is TK Maxx, how on earth do I describe this place? It evokes prehistoric hunter-gatherer tendencies buried deep within my female psyche. Bombarded with a huge quantity of discounted stock in disarray, I naturally step closer to pick things up, have a good look at them and check their price. It is a marmite experience, love it or hate it!

The good value means that before I know it, I’m carrying a basket filled with some random items that I probably don’t need like a pair of Calvin Klein tights, a random Figue de Provence soap and a notebook decorated with gold spots; so many jumbled sections, colourful packaging and brand names. I seem to have forgotten who or where I am; that’s the effect it has on me. I leave the store and re-balance with a few deep breaths.

I discover that my husband has left the store and texted me. I find him in Waterstones seated in a comfy leather armchair already on chapter two of the latest Robert Harris book. I love this branch as it’s really spacious and well stocked with fiction. I leave him to it and go and have a look at some fun stationary displayed at the front of the store and travel guides for our summer holiday.

I never quite understood how Sports-direct works. I have a look at some sports vests only to discover that the ones I like are actually arranged on a top shelf close to the ceiling! The place is busy and the sales assistant has to go and fetch a ladder that reaches up to the sky just so that I can have a look at them!

By now my husband’s patience is wearing thin so I sit him on a bench and promise that if he waits for me to have a brows in Ghost downstairs, we can go to CEX before we head home.

It’s a warm sunlit afternoon; we sit on the brick wall under the ancient clock tower, relaxing and taking in the fresh air and scenery; after the long winter I feel as if I need to sit outside as much as possible and soak up the sun.

My daughter bites into a hot cross bun as I enjoy a cappuccino. I can hear a group of visitors chatting in Spanish and realize that St Albans is increasingly becoming more of a tourist destination. The market is in full swing and the steamy paella smoke drifts through the air.

People linger sitting under the tree, the curved wooden benches giving the intimate feel of a small market square as the busker entertains us with his guitar riff while playing “Here comes the sun.”

St Albans clock Tower, and a significant local landmark, built some time between 1403 and 1412, is still in use after six hundred years. It remains the only medieval town belfry in England. An expression of civic power, the ringing of the curfew bell every evening was a summons to the local merchants to close their shops for the day empowering them to sound their own hours rather than those decided by the peel of the Abbey bells.

Grade I listed, it is about 64ft high and has five floors. At weekends you can brave the very narrow staircase and climb up as many as 93 steps spiraling up to the top and leading to a fantastic 360 degree view of St Albans and the surrounding countryside.

The tower contains two bells, the larger Gabriel bell dating from the 14th century, dedicated to the Archangel with the Latin inscription “I have the name Gabriel sent from heaven”; and the Market bell from the 18th century intended as an alarm for fires.

It was built close to the site of the Eleanor cross as indicated in the plaque above us. Twelve Eleanor crosses were constructed throughout eastern England under the orders of King Edward I between 1290 and 1294 in memory of his wife Eleanor of Castile. The site of each cross marks the nightly resting place of Eleanor’s funeral procession.

When we first came to St Albans on a day trip all those years ago I was pretty unaware of the city’s history, but was immediately drawn to its charm; the cobble streets, Tudor buildings, clean air and sense of peace and within a matter of months we had moved here.

Despite it’s huge historical significance, this city is in forward motion, with Britain’s First Saint Project in the pipeline at the cathedral, and the new state of the art museum opening within the next few months; we locals might soon find ourselves welcoming even more guests from near and far. I think it’s time we all learned another language or two, perhaps Spanish, or maybe even some Mandarin!

It’s nearly 6.30pm and I just about manage to get up from my cosy sofa and set off to my Yoga class. I have attended quite a few classes over the years and find it to be a rewarding discipline that can be practiced at any age.

I’m always amazed that within the space of an hour, you can completely centre yourself through various postures, breathing and mindfulness. The Sanskrit root of the word Yoga means to unite, to bring the mind and body together, to dissolve the duality and bring inner peace.

Once I get there, we gather our props: yoga belt, blanket and two blocks and I chat with my classmates. The teacher starts us off gently and I’m immediately aware of my poor posture and shallow breathing as we’re asked to sit tall and cross-legged, lower our gaze and tune into our breathing, the starting position for the class.

The intake of breath and pushing up of the sternum immediately has an expansive and therapeutic effect. The out breath releases tension and enables us to focus on our bodies. Maintaining the stillness of the pose anchors and increases our body strength. We hold each posture until the teacher releases us and you can hear the group exhale with relief. Some postures I find easier than others like the Lord of the fishes twist or the Eagle pose.

The teacher walks around correcting our postures. The use of breath is crucial as his adjustments push your limits and it would be so easy to just fall over and give up. The in-breath allows me to reach a little further into the pose of a cobra stretching the spine, and holding still in the pose of a boat for toning the abdomen; balancing is always a challenge and I struggle to hold the dancer’s pose.

Next we attempt a seamless flow of postures like the Sun Salutation, a series of gentle flowing movements synchronized with the breath. Taking it slowly and checking our body alignment in the mirror is helpful at our amateur level. I’m in awe at how focusing on breathing and meditation techniques can empty the mind.

At the end of the session, the teacher dims the studio lights and we lie down and cover ourselves with blankets as we cool down. We keep our backs pressed into the floor, legs outstretched, arms out and palms facing upwards. My breathing is slow and I feel tuned out. We are relaxed and at peace. We have pressed the pause button. We are triumphant, “being” not “doing” in a society moving at breakneck speed.

St. Stephen’s church is located south of the city centre, over the road from the King Harry pub.

Based on the writings of Matthew Paris, a Benedictine Monk at St Albans Abbey in the 13th century, St. Stephen’s is one of the three ancient parish churches founded in around 948AD established to serve the pilgrims visiting the shrine of St Alban.

 I love the rural feel and openness of the churchyard as I walk through the gate; neat rows of rose bushes enclose the small garden of remembrance to my left. I step through the Victorian wooden porch and go into the church and linger at the back of the dark and dusky nave; the stone font before me dates back to the 14th century.

 I immediately feel enwombed and as silence descends and I can no longer hear the traffic; I almost feel as if I have trespassed into a private sacred dwelling. A rib vaulted ceiling arches over my head. I realize how fortunate I am to have the place to myself and absorb the holy ambience.

 The nave is carpeted in dark blue; I like the softness under my feet and the fact that I can’t hear my footsteps. I sit in the stillness admiring the dark wooden carved pews and the Victorian stained glass windows of Christ blessing little children and saints such as Saint Julian and Saint George.

 I am mesmerized by the beauty of Saint Cecilia and stop to stare. The window has a gilded feel to it as the golden bodice of her gown and the gold set in the musical instruments held by angels illuminate the entire window. A roman martyr and patroness of music, St. Cecilia’s radiant complexion and blonde locks shine into the darkness.

 I spot a pile of old musical scores beneath the lectern. I can feel that this church has been lived in and holds the memory of its history and congregation. I imagine all the prayers that have been offered up in this spot filling the space with peace.

 Apparently little remains of the original building, and the architectural style is largely medieval with Victorian restoration. It is thought that it started out as two interconnected rooms acting as a nave and a chancel with no tower, and this still forms the main structure of the church. The Lady Chapel was added in the 13th century, a simple space with a small altar and rose window.

 A decorated Oak pulpit dating from 1936 overlooks the chancel. The main altar has a triptych window depicting Christ raising Lazarus in the presence of Martha, Mary and three of the disciples; calming luminous blue skies surround the figures.

 I pick up the newsletter on my way out and bump into the smiling vicar who tells me about the activities held in the adjoining halls. It’s wonderful that the church is so active within it’s community and I’m pleased to hear that after Easter, will be open to the general public everyday. Visitors are welcome.

Lingering in The Fleetville Larder our local coffee shop, I’m served a hot chocolate as I watch the snowfall; I take a sip, it’s the perfect temperature and immediately warms me as I think about what a crazy week it’s been! It feels cosy in here as snow flurries beat against the window and the place is filled with the sound of lively conversation and the smell of sweet pastries.

I’ve stayed local for the past few days and it has been an opportunity to relax a little and watch moving images on the news of those poor people stuck in blizzard conditions having to sleep in their cars overnight, or listening to those amazing junior doctors and nurses being interviewed as they walk for miles to get to work.

I, on the other hand, haven’t achieved a huge amount for humanity over these past couple of days. In fact, this week has been an opportunity to get to the bottom of my laundry basket, de-clutter my cupboards, bring some things to the local charity shop, polish my wooden floor and revise some of my old novellas relegated to my filing cabinet

I decide to cut across the park on my way home. Snowflakes continue to fall at a gracious pace into the white air.  Tall bare trees are silhouetted against a white canvas and I try to relax my muscles and lower my shoulders; surrendering to sub zero temperatures.

I breathe down the icy air under the white northern skies, wrapped up warm, I enjoy the bright stillness, the solitary pace of my steps crunching on the hard frozen grass through biting winds. A single gull circles in an upward sweep into the icy gusts.

Snow for me has always been associated with fun times as it was quite a rare occurrence when I was growing up and always resulted in playful snow fights with my brother and sister and building snowmen. As snow is really rare in Italy, my mother would get excited and whenever it snowed, would join us in launching snowballs.

I ask myself can it really be March? March has always been a time of daffodils, crocuses and tulips, buying Easter eggs, and putting winter jackets away in the wardrobe.

We’re told that we may be facing more extreme climatic conditions in the future, so be it; we can only accept Nature’s transience, but for now, Spring is almost here and I’m looking forward to the park being animated with life, and to sunlight bathing our pale complexions.

There’s a perfect balance of town and country in Harpenden. Located between Luton and St Albans, its centre is known locally as the village and it has certainly retained its charm. Harpenden is well protected by being in a conservation area and one of its main features is the Church and High street greens that stretch all along from the common.

It’s hard to believe that I’m only 25 miles north west of London as I feel a million miles away. I meander into an independent bookshop packed with shelves full of well selected books neatly divided into sections, then its off to Caffe Nero perfectly located overlooking the wide open green spaces. I sip a cappuccino enjoying the peace and quiet as I look out onto the common.

The arrival of the railway system from 1860 connected Harpenden’s rural environment to London and apparently in 1913 the National children’s home, housing over 200 children, was moved from the East End to the fresh country air of Harpenden. After only a year it was reported that the general health of the children had improved in the new surroundings! I’m not at all surprised.

The parade of shops shaded by Beech and Maple trees include a variety of independent boutiques and a glossy Space.NK that has just arrived. I step into Threads a family-run gift shop, and enjoy their huge selection of cards, Easter decorations, pretty notebooks and Estella Bartlett jewellery.

I walk on to discover Thorns, a traditional sweet and tobacco shop, established in 1918 celebrating its centenary. The dim lighting, smell of sweet confectionary mixed with the mild scent of menthol tobacco is the first thing I take in as I close the door behind me.

Surrounded by hundreds of varieties of traditional chocolates and sweets I have a chat with the assistant who tells me that the shop was opened by a man who had returned home after fighting in the First World War making it the oldest shop in town. I look up and am greeted by portraits of Sir Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria and can feel how deeply embedded this old confectioners is within its community.

The shelves are filled with boxes of orange and whiskey liquor chocolates. Behind the cash desk are paisley green tins of loose tobacco; on the other side are rows upon rows of old fashioned sweets in jars sold by the quarter from Cola Cubes to Aniseed Twists. I buy a packet of pear drops while my husband carefully selects some penny sweets for our daughter.

As we reach the cash register my husband points out a colouful box of Everlasting Gobstopppers and we smile at each other. I know exactly what he’s thinking and suggest that he doesn’t say a word!

I’ll be back for more sweeties and look forward to exploring the Farmer’s market held on the fourth Sunday of each month.

The bright winter sun is shining as we step into the Three Wise Monkeys, the vintage Emporium next to Osprey.  A musty air fills the space as we wander into the first room arranged with tall glass cabinets and Victorian bookcases. The shelves are packed with mostly seventies paraphernalia, from old puzzles still in their original boxes, to tall piles of worn paperbacks from The Wombles of Wimbledon to Peter and Jane Ladybird books.

I’m especially drawn to a Dr. Who jigsaw puzzle with a photo on the box of Peter Davidson as the Doctor pointing a laser gun directly at a menacing Dalek. I love it and think it would be perfect for my eleven year-old nephew who enjoys puzzles, and would evoke a sense of nostalgia in my brother.

Upstairs we meander through more rooms displaying a wonderful variety of curiosities from old paper packets of sewing patterns to colourful Vintage Dr. Martens. My daughter rummages around in the vintage clothing section; she loves the scarves and fiddles with some elaborate brooches. Meanwhile, I pick up a toy cash register so similar to the one I had as a child.

It’s the weirdest thing ever seeing a child of the digital era stepping through time and playing in fascination with an old dusty Gramophone. It seems pretty alien and my daughter asks me how it works as she winds the lever. I watch her touch it in fascination as she mumbles, “It’s so mechanical!”

Predictably, I’m drawn to a selection of old manual typewriters. I must admit I’m old enough to have typed my first poems on such typewriters in my early teens. I remember the rhythmic tapping sound of the keys and the imprint every letter made onto the blank page. Then the satisfaction I felt pulling the paper off the roller as another poem was completed, perfect and neat.

I’m suddenly transported back to the leafy London streets of my childhood when I spot an old pair of roller skates from the mid-seventies; two pieces of red leather are tied together with white laces to fit around your shoes on a metal base. I can see myself now running after my big sister and her friend Esther who whizz by me on their roller skates, older and so much cooler, leaving little sis behind.

We head downstairs passed the tea room and outside to find my husband sitting in the sun on a bench beside several pewter pots filled with daffodils, an arrangement of copper bed warmers and a large barrel filled with garden tools. It’s been a peaceful way to unwind on a Sunday afternoon and we look forward to popping back in March and bringing one or two of my antiquarian books for them to have a look at on their ‘Antiques Roadshow’ valuation day.

When I was a teenager I sometimes used to meet up with my cousin after school and go to a local café to discuss existential issues and boys over apple pie and custard and a hot cup of tea. Today walking into The Pudding Stop with my daughter reminds me of those days.

It’s a cold February afternoon and although she’d rather be hanging out with her friends I have persuaded her to come shopping then join me for a quick pudding. We step into the warm and take a seat at the back away from the cold. A huge etching on the wall depicts an old-fashioned baker’s stand with customers queuing and a friendly baker giving out traditional pastries.

The space is quite small and has a rustic and homely feel with wooden flooring and simple chairs. Six rectangular tables are arranged in neat rows each seating up to eight people and we can hear other people’s conversations. I can see that it’s a popular place attracting both a younger and older crowd.

As soon as we look at the menu divided into Breakfasts and Puddings. We immediately know what we want and the friendly waitress comes over and takes our order. It’s a difficult choice and once I have ordered, I’m still drawn by all of the other delights including Baileys hot chocolate, Nutella doughnuts and salted caramel and peanut butter brownies.

My apple and rhubarb crumble arrives in a ceramic pot alongside the custard. I like the presentation, scoop half of it out onto the plate and pour on the thick custard. My daughter has ordered a flourless chocolate and salted caramel cake covered in a rich dark chocolate sauce with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

We smile at each other realizing the absurdity of eating these puddings after having been to the gym in the morning. We take our first bite and my chatty teenage daughter is silenced as she enjoys a chocolate hit. My nutty crumble is the perfect consistency and the tart rhubarb compliments the sweetness of the apple.

I like the fact that The Pudding Stop is open as late as 11 at night like a New York diner. The waitress tells us about film night on Sundays when a projector is shone onto the back wall; such a clever use of space.

As we leave I mention that we’ll be back, as I glance over at the unusually deep cinnamon swirls and savoury tarts on display. The waitress gives us a loyalty card and recommends their brilliant Breakfast brunches!

We walk into Mokoko, an award winning cocktail bar on Verulam road; it’s just a small building from the outside but as I close the door behind me, the dim glowing lights, low ceiling, closed venetian blinds and background base tunes give it an intimate feel.

The barman is busy making drinks, shaking the mixer over his shoulder. We’re handed the champagne and cocktail menu with a smile then go and take a seat on the velvety sofas. I take my time to explore the menu packed with so many choices from creamy dessert concoctions to more zingy mixes.

I like the sound of Foxy lady but my husband assures me that I don’t need it! What’s he after this time? The Lanesborough sounds thirst quenching laced with Mercier champagne and Cointreau, but in the end I go for a Cuban Spiced Martini, as it’s the closest I’ll get to Cuba on a cold winter’s evening in Hertfordshire!

I feel like a child in a sweet shop as I watch the spirits, bitters and juices being blended with such skill. I take my first sip and feel the cool sweet hit of dark vermouth, spices and a honey and apple base.

Apparently, the first definition of cocktail appeared in 1806 in a New York newspaper wherein the editor claimed that a “Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits …. sugar, water, and bitters….it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time fuddles the head…”

I might suggest that my husband book us into a Mokoko cocktail master class for my next birthday when the bartenders become master mixologists! The barman tells me that each person learns the technical skills involved in making a couple of cocktails, as sophisticated or unusual as they like, then they’re split into groups and have a competitive fun tasting quiz to see if they can remember what they’ve learned.

It’s not my first time here and there always seems to be a lively group of girls in their twenties celebrating a birthday or a hen night. Apparently the comedy and jazz nights are entertaining and that they even hold speed dating evenings for singles. I read the menu again and am bombarded with a world of delicious possibilities from Japanese plum sake to cassis Tomoka gin. I try another cocktail with passion fruit juice, vanilla vodka and champagne; it has a slightly sweet and sour taste that blends perfectly.

I look forward to next time and trying out more strange new flavours. After only two cocktails, any stress seems to have melted away and my husband takes me by the hand making sure that I can see the steps on my way out! I smile sweetly at him dewy-eyed; it really has been a happy hour!

We head to Prime Steak and Grill, perfectly located across the road from the Odyssey cinema. The pretty LED cherry blossom trees light up a cold dark London Road on a wintry evening. We step passed the threshold and into a warm and convivial atmosphere.

Oak panelled walls and exposed brickwork decorated with mirrors and quirky oil paintings of cows create a contemporary feel and a stylish ambience. The parquet wooden flooring patterned in lighter and darker shades of wood and the comfortable dark leather chairs add a luxurious feel.

The waiter welcomes us in and takes our coats. We’re seated and have a look at the menu. Low hanging pendant lights and bright candles softly illuminate the tables. We take a look at the menu and order a full-bodied Chilean red wine. The menu is filled with all kinds of steak and sauces. I’m impressed with the wide choice of side dishes like: Irish black pudding, mustard mash and triple cooked chips.

I go for a sirloin steak with chestnut mushrooms on the side. I always feel a little self-conscious when asked how I would like my steak as I realize that connoisseurs eat it medium to rare, but I prefer it well done. My husband orders his steak on the bone as the waiter suggests it’s tastier.

Once it arrives, the waiter proudly presents the steak; it tastes excellent, and is cooked to perfection. I hear shouts and laughter behind me and there, in a circular booth, is a group of guys. They’re clearly having some fun male bonding time, washing down their prime rib eyes with a few beers.

The book Men are from Mars Women are from Venus that I read all those years ago comes to mind and at this very moment in time they seem complete, fulfilled and at peace.

So what is it about meat and men? An American poet, A.D Posey once said:  “Screw chocolate. A good steak is where it’s at!” Fortunately he wrote that in the comfort of his own study and not to a live female audience! According to a poll in Esquire magazine in 2016, men would prefer to give up smoking and drinking rather than steak!

The stodge in my stomach weighs me down and I try to get up from my seat, and I can feel that my face has reddened. It ‘s a relief to step out into the freezing cold air and get some exercise; we walk all the way to the cinema with only one thing on my mind, chocolate!