Finland/Lapland/Iceland (November 2017)

28 Jan

I’ve never done a cold holiday before. Well, not intentionally. I went to Chicago in winter a few years ago and FROZE but stupidly didn’t realise just how cold it would be.

Last November I was in India. This October, I was doing jury service – so I had time booked off work but nothing *actually* booked. By the time I got out of jury service the Northern Lights were in my head and I couldn’t get them out… so I decided to spend 12 days exploring Finland (and Finnish Lapland) and Iceland. Yes, it was super cold. It snowed. I had to purchase thermals, thermal socks, thermal gloves and a ski jacket. But it was totally worth it and a trip I couldn’t recommend enough!

Over the course of 12 days, I crammed so much into my holiday. If I didn’t have a big ‘thing’ to do on a particular day (flying, hiking, snorkelling, husky sleighing) then I walked 10 miles per day around whichever place I happened to be in. So, I have a fair bit I want to remember, and this blog post should cover all of my adventures.

FINLAND (Helsinki)
EAT: Before heading to Lapland, I stayed one night in Helsinki, in a North Western part of town called Toolo. I stayed in Toolo Towers (uni accommodation that they rent out) and I kinda assumed that I’d be a little bit in the middle of nowhere. True, the area directly around me wasn’t bursting with trendy eateries, but there were a few gems. One of which is Linko Pizzabar.

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It’s a cosily-lit bar/restaurant which is pretty informal and also does live music. They have all the pizza written up by the bar on a chalkboard and you pay at the bar. They have a pretty damn delicious sounding menu. I like to try local delicacies and ‘new things’ (wanker traveller alert) when I’m abroad, so I decided that a combination of lingonberry and reindeer pizza was exactly what I need.

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Lingonberries are found in the Arctic and Northern cold climates, and they’re quite tart – the sharp, sweet taste was awesome on the pizza. All reindeers in Finland is ‘free-range’. They have so much space that they roam about and the reindeer on my pizza was sautéed… kinda tasted like venison! The pizza came with Finnish Koskenlaskija cheese, parsley and black pepper, and was a punchy 17E. However, I soon learned that everything in Finland and Iceland is CRAZY EXPENSIVE, so this was actually a decent price for such a huuuuge delicious pizza. Go get.

EAT: Turns out Toolo was an awesome place to spend my first night in Helsinki, as I was only a 15 minute walk from one of the quirkiest (and true, tourist-y) cafes in the whole city. Café Regatta is home to what are often called the most delicious cinnamon rolls in Finland, which is no mean feat! Sometimes in the winter they set a fire up outside and let you toast sausages for hotdogs and marshmallows for your hot chocolate there too (which would have rocked but they weren’t doing it when I went to visit).

It’s a little (honestly, TINY) café on the water’s edge in Toolo and in the summer it was a lovely outside area. However, in winter, you’re confined to the small café which can fit about 12 people inside, everyone basically going in there for hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls. The interior is super cosy and the whole place is… well… quirky. That’s basically the perfect word for it.

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The cinnamon roll was damn good. Perfectly fluffy when you hear it open, crispy on the outside and cinnamon goodness throughout. BIG FAN. So wander through the fairy lights and Christmas decorations into the café filled with vintage artwork and photographs and grab a seat.

EAT: There’s a café in Helsinki that apparently does EPIC blinit: but only in January. However it sounded like such an interesting dish that I made it my mission to find a place that did decent blinit in November when I was there, and I found a pretty good place called Cella in the North East of Helsinki, in the trendy area of Kallio (it’s basically Helsinki’s version of Shoreditch) – see the ‘LOVE’ section of this blog for more info on Kallio!

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So: blinit. Basically, it’s a Russian traditional disk and Finland has got their own take on it. Blinit are thick savoury pancakes which are served with pickles, honey and sour cream. The Russian version are thinner but in Finland, they’re fat and packed with herbs too. The pickles, sour cream and honey is a really odd combination and even though it’s a bit of an acquired taste, I did enjoy it. But it definitely won’t be to everyone’s liking!
Cella as a restaurant? It was ok. It seemed popular with the locals and it’s one of the few places to get blinit outside of January, but it’s not an absolute must-visit unless you fancy the sound of the blinit!

EAT: Mizu is a great little place to stop off – a Japanese café which does basically everything macha you could ever think of, including a particularly lovely Macha latte. Didn’t try to sushi, but if the latte and macha roll are anything to go by, I bet it’s awesome.

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Macha (if you don’t know) is the ground powder of green tea leaves. It’s stronger than green tea and the way the leaves are ground means you get a lovely intense colour when mixed with milk too. Mizu is just around the corner from the Rock Church, so pop in after you’ve marvelled at that!

SEE: Helsinki isn’t like London. Or Paris. Or Rome. There aren’t endless numbers of historical buildings and museums to keep a traveller entertained and informed – you can do all the ‘key’ sites in a day. But as I had three days to make the most of the city, I started to branch out on day two and seek out things that particularly interest me, and one of them was the Kiasma Modern Art Museum.

As I work in digital/social media, one of the exhibitions on particularly interested me: ARS17. ARS17 is a major exhibition of international contemporary art on the theme of digital revolution. The exhibition will showcase artists of the new millennium and offer a fresh approach to contemporary art by also expanding the viewing experience into the online realm.

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Some highlights of the exhibition for me where an immersive video installation which has you sit in a calm, serene forest which you watch crumble away as dark image from the world of gaming force themselves into the frame. This is surrounded by beautifully haunting sculptures by Jon Rafeman of animals eating themselves (vorarephilia, the erotic desire to eat another person or creature) as a way of showing our desire to constantly feed on digital stimuli.

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Another fave piece of work for me was by Charles Richardson: a floral sofa facing a video playing the Afro-American spiritual song Dem Bones, as the video shows how we now construct our identities via tech devices and possessions.

There was also an ‘Artist of 2017’ exhibition showing while I was there on the top floor, which also featured some really interesting artwork (above). The museum is a little hard to get your head around to start with (took me a few minutes to work out how I should be moving around the exhibitions), but the café and shop downstairs are wonderful and if you’re into contemporary artwork and have a few hours spare, definitely hit up Kiasma!

SEE: Helsinki has a stoooorming bar scene. If you like your cocktails unique and your bars speak-easy style (and lighting dimmed) then Helsinki has plenty to offer. I went to two bars which I particularly loved and one is called Trillby and Chadwick Detective Agency.

If you’re a Londoner, you’ll have heard of the Evans and Peel Detective Agency. Trillby and Chadwick is the same thing, basically. A hidden door on a quiet street and a secret entrance leads you into a beautifully decorate speakeasy style bar with gorgeous cocktails. I had a PROPER NIGHTMARE finding the bar, so imma help you out: there’s a little archway that leads you to a shop called Lumoan: if you’re facing the archway, it’s the door on the left hand side of the archway 😊

You can’t take photos in the bar because they naturally want to keep its secrets, err, secret. But the cocktail menu is brilliant and written out like a detective story and the drinks are delicious. They even have an ‘experimental’ cocktail menu on which you can find cocktails featuring cheese, meats and more… give it a try if you’re feeling adventurous!

The second bar was at the end of the main high street, and it’s called Liberty or Death. This is owned by the same group that owns Trillby and Chadwick Detective Agency, and pretty much all of the other trendy bars in Helsinki (like Liberty or Death, 100 dogs or Antiques and Books).

The bar is really small and it plays laid-back hip hop music while super-cool bartenders avoid making eye contact (true hipsters, hah). The cocktail list was short but has a little something for everyone. It’s well worth a stop if you’re in this part of town, or if you’re staying in the same (brilliant!) hostel I did: Hostel Diana Park.

LISTEN: I’m putting the Rock Church under ‘listen’ because when I arrived there happened to be a piano/opera recital happening in there: which was EPIC.

The church is carved into rock from the Ice Age and it creates not only a beautiful sight, but beautiful acoustics too. The rock lines the walls with a semi-glass ceiling and plenty of candles to add to the atmosphere. It’s only open at certain times for the public (and on certain days) so make sure you check before you arrive. True, I’m not making it sound like much, but it’s a proper architectural feat and one of the main ‘attractions’ in Helsinki: plus, it’s in a lovely area with a few nice cafes and second-hand/vintage shops close by.

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If there hadn’t have been music on, it’s a lovely quiet haven in the middle of a busy city and well worth spending half an hour in. I actually ended up staying for an hour listening to the music – it was so relaxing. I’ve no idea if they advertise when the recitals are happening (it seems quite impromptu) but if they do advertise it, make sure you pop in!

One of the things I particularly liked were the bits of paper decorated with sayings in languages from around the world: true,. They were about Jesus and God etc, but I picked up a couple in Lappish and Swahili (as well as other more obscure languages which looked pretty)!

LISTEN: When I’ve had a day of travelling, I usually want to relax… but obviously, I don’t want to relax in a hotel or a hostel room because that’s not what I’ve flown however many miles to see! So, I usually try to seek out a church or a quiet space… fortunately, there are some great options in Helsinki if you want to grab some quiet time.

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First up: The Chapel of Silence. It’s a small chapel which look curiously out-of-place in the middle of the busy shopping distract. Walk in and you’ll find total silence (well, aside from tourists who don’t bother turning their phones on silent. *glares*). The Chapel was built with curved walls and it’s completely serene inside, with a minimalist design and a few candles here and there. It’s designed to be as quiet as possible and cancels out all the noise from the main street and people outside.

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The next lovely quiet place I found was the National Library. It’s located right next to the Cathedral (another key place to visit in Helsinki) and the inside is STUNNING. You have to leave your coat and bag at the door before you enter, and when you do you’ll find gorgeous pillars and an entrance hall filled with old, colourful books. There also happened to be festive decorations scattered around as I was there at the end of November, which made it all the more magical!

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Wander into the second room and you’ll see spiral staircases leading to more books and if you head right, out of the entrance room you’ll find more walls lined with multicoloured books and the photo and video archives with the projectors you need to use to view old newspaper articles! Super silent and slightly dimmed lighting all made for a lovely place to take a breather.

The guy on reception (who looks after your bags and coats) got chatting to me and as soon as he heard my accent, he asked about Brexit (fml). Long story short: the Fins for the most part can’t comprehend why we’re leaving, they think we’re doomed and it’s a huge mistake… and I agreed with him, of course. Was really interesting hearing from him the popular opinion of the Fins when it comes to Brexit and how their government and media have been presenting the UK as, essentially, in a whole heap of trouble.

Yaaaaay.

LOVE: I’m putting the public Sauna and the area of Kallio in ‘love’ because it’s the kind of area I’d want to live (and go on dates) if I were to move to Helsinki, and the saunas are an AMAZING way of embracing your body.

Let me explain. You’ll have heard of the Finnish Sauna – saunas are a huge part of Finnish culture and most hotels and homes will have one. These days, they’re electric saunas (so they’re warmed up by flicking a switch) and some add hot coals (again, warmed by electricity to start with) which you can pour water on to up the amount of steam and heat in the sauna.

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Most saunas and private (hotels, homes) but there are still a few public saunas which you pay a small fee to go and use, and are open to everyone, in Finland. And of the public saunas, most of them are actually part of a fancy spa or hotel. However, in Kallio there is one independent public sauna and, to make it even better and more authentic, it’s a wood burning sauna. All that means is that it’s heated by burning wood in the same room as the sauna which is the traditional way of doing it and it creates a LOVELY smell in the sauna too – you don’t come out smelling of smoke at all, it’s just… woody. Don’t know how to describe it.

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Saunas in Finland are a naked affair. Sure, you can wear bikinis, but seriously: what’s the point. Brits are notoriously ashamed of their bodies and shy away from nudist beaches and the thought of getting naked in public scares a lot of people. However, the saunas are split into male and female saunas and all the women in there are totally chill. It’s a great way of breaking free of being a prudish Brit and just accepting that everyone has a body, so chill out and get it out 😉

When you enter the public sauna there’s a locker room where you put your things and wrap yourself in a towel. Then, you head into the shower room (you have to shower before you go in the sauna so that you don’t have all the grossness of the day and your clothes on your skin when you enter.  This is where you drop your towel and get naaaaaked. The nice thing about places like saunas in foreign countries is that no one judges. Women were in there with cellulite, stretch marks and absolutely perfect tanned skin, scars, botched tattoos… give a shit.

Then, you walk into the sauna. The heat hits you immediately and you climb up onto the wood steps and take a seat. Or lie down. Y’know, whatever. I stayed in for about 20 minutes and after about 10 minutes, the sweat was pooouring off me Super sexy. But honestly, it felt great. It’s oddly satisfying to see literally all of your body sweating and you leave the sauna feeling so cleaned and refreshed, it’s crazy.

Make sure you don’t eat a big meal before you enter the sauna and also make sure you drink a good pint of water, because that’s honestly how much you’ll sweat out in about 15 minutes… if you don’t drink water you’ll get dehydrated, dizzy and it’ll suck. Don’t ever stay in for longer than 30 minutes at a time (minimum 10 minutes to start really feeling the sweat drip off you!) and ENJOY YOUR BEAUTIFUL NAKED SELF.

Can’t finish this section on Helsinki without chattin’ a bit more about Kallio. Kallio is well worth a wander – it’s filled with vintage and second-hand shops and it’s pretty much the small-city version of Shoreditch in Helsinki. Lots of trendy cafes and bars are knocking about and good food options too. But seriously, the vintage and second-hand shopping here is the best in the whole of Helsinki, so make sure you dedicate a good few hours to exploring this part of town! You can walk back into the middle of Helsinki from Kallio in about 45 minutes and the walk over the water is lovely, plus it’s a great way to get to know the city better.

Basically, thumbs up for Helsinki. It’s small but packs a punch and it’s really making a mark for itself against the likes of Stockholm and Copenhagen, the more frequented Nordic capitals. Definitely worth a stop here for a few days as there’s more to see and do than you may think.

FINALND (Lapland)

Lapland is exactly like the photos. Everything in November is covered in snow and it’s magical as fuck. Reindeer wander about. The roads are so thick with snow you wonder how the hell anyone knows where the road ends and the grass begins. Cold in the day and REALLY cold at night. Trees on trees on trees and all of them covered in snow. Crystal clear sky. And did I mention how bloody magical all the snow is?

I spent 3 days in Lapland and I really wish I’d spent more. The whole place is so serene, quiet and magical (need to find another word…) I could have easily meandered through Finnish Lapland for a couple of weeks! But the snapshot I saw is enough to make me want to see more of Lapland sometime soon. Below are my highlights from my time in Finnish Lapland.

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EAT: You’ve probably seen that photo above. It’s of Kakslauttanen and it’s in the middle of nowhere, a resort in Finnish Lapland. As life is short I decided to spend a night there in one of their glass igloos, with the hope of seeing the Northern Lights as I lay in bed. And delicious, gorgeous food. Nom.

Ivalo (ee-va-low) is the gateway to Northern Lapland and I flew into Ivalo airport from Helsinki with Norwegian Air (a quick and cheap flights, would recommend them for this one). As the plane dips beneath the clouds you’ll just be awestruck at how WHITE everything is… and how despite being covered in snow, the airport still functions (unlike in the UK when 1cm of snow causes Heathrow to go into meltdown…) From Ivalo to Ivalo village it’s a short 1 minute taxi ride, but to the Kakslauttanen resort I got a shuttle bus, which took about an hour.

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This is my igloo! It was super cute. When you arrive at the resort, you pick your keys up from a super toasty warm and wooden reception area and you can either have someone take you to your igloo, or you can get a sleigh from outside reception, dump your luggage, and sleigh your way to your igloo. OBVIOUSLY, I chose this option and I can confirm moving all luggage by sleigh is the most fun way of moving luggage EVER.

The igloo I had was a small igloo: it has a toilet and sink and two single beds. It’s cosy, but plenty of space for two people. As soon as you step inside out of the -14 degree cold, the warmth hits you. At one point when I was getting out of my fleece gear, a reindeer walked past my igloo. I tried to take a photo (above) but failed miserably. (Don’t worry, I found more reindeer later)!

Onto the ‘EAT’ portion of my experience. At the resort, a three-course meal and breakfast is included in your stay and the three course meal was incredible. The dining area is beautiful (I’m not used to staying in fancy places so I was super impressed) and the service was amazing. You don’t get an a-la-carte menu, you just have a veggie or meat option. For my starter I had soup and for my main course I had local fish in a mushroom sauce. The fish was divine, as was all the fish I had on this trip, and I’m really glad I chose it over the chicken option! For dessert I had apple and cinnamon puree with berry cake. YUM.

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Attached to the restaurant is the igloo bar (above): if the Northern Lights are out, make sure you grab a cocktail and admire them from in here. I decided I wanted to explore the resort more than have a cocktail, so I wrapped up and sought out Santa. Basically, you’re given a map of the resort and I was able to wander around and see the ‘winter bridge’, ‘Santa’s home’ (if you want to pay extra, you can book to go in and see Santa which for families must be EPIC) and lots other things to see along the way. There’s a winter marketplace with lovely carved pillars and surrounded by random candles and lighting. There’s also a reindeer paddock (is paddock the right word? I’m going with it) and I there were some reindeer who came and said hello to me when I wandered over. I felt TERRIBLE because I’d had my reindeer pizza the day before :-\ On the way back to my igloo (LOVE THAT I CAN SAY THAT!) I passed lots of other festive houses and beautiful lights to make sure people can see in the darkness without ruining the magic. T’was lovely.

Back in my igloo, I waited for the Northern Lights to appear, but they didn’t. It was a perfectly clear sky though, so I was lucky enough to fall asleep under the brilliant stars and even saw a couple of shooting stars too! I also had the pleasure of watching a car try to drive through 4ft deep snow and get stuck, and have to call a tow truck…I preferred having the reindeer for entertainment, but ho hum.

The morning after I had one of the most delicious breakfasts ever: there is NOTHING that they didn’t provide here, I swear to god. Fruit, cereals, full English, fish, meats and cheese, toast and alllll the spreads and traditional Finnish breakfast pastries too. Took about three bloody cinnamon rolls for the road (so tasty) and also tried a Karelian pastry too: rye crust with a filling of rice or potato, then coated in butter. I didn’t like it that much because I just found it to be a bit tasteless, but they’re super popular and really filling, so I can get why people devour them in winter!

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As a single traveller, it was pretty steep at Kakslauttanen Resort (£350 for one night in my small igloo, fml) for a small igloo, but if you’re travelling as a couple, it’s SO worth £175 a night. And if I’d seen the Northern Lights I could have justified the £350… but without them, it’s an experience I’m glad I’ve had, but wouldn’t pay for as a solo traveller again. That’s not to discourage anyone from going: it was a great experience and if you can afford it then give it a go!

SEE: Public transport ain’t so hot in Lapland, for obvious reasons. So one E100 taxi later (I know, fml) and I got to Ivalo village. I had a bit of an explore and picked up some food in the local supermarket (by food I mean ‘more cinnamon rolls’) and then headed towards my next destination: Guesthouse Husky!

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Guesthouse Husky is about a 10 minute drive from Ivalo village and feels SO remote. It’s fantastic. The fact it’s so remote makes it the ideal place for seeking out the Northern Lights and, as you can guess, it’s FULL OF HUSKIES. That cute lil pup above was with its siblings outside my bedroom window and there’s hundreds of huskies at the Guesthouse. I learned so much about them while I was there!

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Main thing I learned: huskies are wild dogs. Properly wild: like wolves. The owners of the guesthouse were chatting with me about how they believe it’s crueller to try and domesticate a husky (compared to having them so sleigh rides) because a husky is designed to consume about 10,000 calories per day and run up to about 80k per day. So taking them for a stroll around Hyde Park ain’t their dream: running like maniacs around Lapland 100% is. I did lots of research into whether riding with huskies was cruel or not and the overwhelming consensus is that the huskies, genuinely, love it. Which they totally seemed to do when I went for a ride with them!

I signed up for a 90 minute ride with the huskies and thought that I was just going to be chilling out in the sleigh. Turns out, for half of the time, I was driving the bloody things which is actually easier than you’d think. The instructor was really good at letting me know when to throw my weight on the brake (the ‘brake’ is a pad that grips onto the snow to slow the dogs down… because they will NOT slow down if they’re not forced to!) and how to guide the sleigh too. I’d really recommend doing the husky ride at Guesthouse husky, for a few reasons:

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  1. The view. LOOK AT THAT VIEW. You basically spend 90 minutes in the middle of nowhere, whizzing past wild reindeer into the middle of the wild forest that’s next to Guesthouse Husky. Seriously: that view though.

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  2. The guide. My guide was wicked: as everyone else was in a couple (whatevs) it meant I got to share a sleigh with the guide which meant I chatted to him about huskies, Lapland and learned a lot from him. They also kit you out with allll the cold gear (see super sexy photo above) because, guaranteed, even if you think you’re dressed warmly, you won’t be!IMG_2028
  3. It’s honestly a once in a lifetime experience. You see ‘husky sledding in Lapland’ in all the Bucket List travel books and there’s a good reason for that. Seeing the huskies do what they’ve evolved to do – run like maniac – and doing so through the gorgeous landscape is an absolutely amazing experience.
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LISTEN: How can you NOT listen to Christmas songs when in Lapland in November? It’s impossible and madness to try to avoid them. The song below is a fave of mine and I happened to be listening to this just before I headed outside to try and spot the Northern Lights at Guesthouse Husky.

(I did actually manage to see the Aurora, for a few minutes, in Lapland. I saw it far stronger in Iceland, but being in the perfectly still, snow-covered forest ad having that be my first time seeing them was everything I could have asked for. I didn’t get a photo as I hadn’t set my DSLR up properly, but Guesthouse Husky is a brilliant place for trying to spot them.)

Anyway, onto one of my favourite Christmas songs which will always remind me of this trip.


LOVE
: In the UK, snow causes havoc. People like looking at it until they have to get somewhere and then realise the airport is shut, the train is cancelled or it’s not possible to drive anywhere. But in Lapland, everything functions perfectly when it snows and it was such a lovely experience to just roam around and walk through snow that’s about 2-4 foot deep!

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Snow is super romantic. Obviously. And the snow in Lapland was so perfectly white. So powdery that when I tried to build a Snow-Lion I wasn’t able to because the snow wouldn’t stick together! It’s really odd that walking for miles through a landscape covered in snow (which is pretty damn repetitive) can be so enchanting. Whether you’re on your own, with your family or friends or with a partner, you can guarantee that you’ll fall in love with Lapland very quickly.

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I take a photo of my cat, Totty, on all my travels and take a photo of her at amazing places to send back home to Mum. Above it Totty in the middle of a snow-covered forest. STUFF OF DREAMS.

Basically, as you can tell, I loved Finnish Lapland. I just wish I’d had more time to explore and go even more remote! Cannot recommend enough.

ICELAND (Reykjavik)

Onto Iceland! I flew from Finland to Iceland with Iceland Air and it took about 4 hours from Helsinki. Weirdly, my passport wasn’t checked once… not when I got on the plane and nor when I got off. Iceland Air seem to have no idea why this happened (dodgy…) but apparently, I’m now able to travel between Nordic countries with free reign, which is pretty cool.

As soon as I landed in Iceland, I was struck by the landscape and if you’ve never been, it’s a place to take your DSLR. There is something wild, stunning and natural around ever corner, I swear to God. I learned a fair bit about Iceland when I was there by speaking to the locals – about Icelandic folklore, its politics and more. I also learned that when people said it’s expensive, they were NOT joking… about £14 for a bowl of soup with a salad and if you want a pint of beer it’s going to be about £10. Much as I loved Iceland, I honestly couldn’t afford to go for more than a week or two at a time, despite the fact that my one week there felt like nowhere near long enough.

First stop in Iceland: Reykjavik!

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EAT: Just around the corner from Hallgrímskirkja (the church in the centre of the city) there’s a little building with rainbow colours and fairy lights. Obvs I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Turns out, it was Braud & Co, a DELICIOUS bakery.

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I got the above which was an almond and cinnamon pile of deliciousness in perfect pastry, with nuts and seeds on top (which makes it healthy, ok?). They do all kinds of sweet pastries (from cinnamon rolls to toffee buns), as well as breads and cakes.

I don’t need to say anything further. Just scroll through their Instagram feed and I dare you not to start salivating.

EAT: Before I visit a city, I always check the city’s hashtags to see if I can find any food or activity inspiration. Fortunately, I checked #Reykjavikfood and Sandholt has posted a photo of an epic burger. So, off I went!

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It took me a little while to work out where the restaurant is: true, it’s on the main street, but Google will try to take you to the Sandholt bakery. The restaurant is actually the building to the right of the bakery and is situated inside the SandHotel and the restaurant is confusingly called Brennda Brauðið and finding a menu on the hotel website is impossible, so I’ve hyperlinked you to their Instagram account!

At the restaurant I went for the burger, obvs, which came with smoked cheese, pickled cabbage and fried potatoes. As you can see from the above photo, there’s a lot of it and it really was brilliant. You could taste every part of it, whereas sometimes with burgers a condiment or extra gets lost: not here. As a nice little extra, before my main course arrived I was given free Sandholt bakery bread and butter too (which was also fab).

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I wasn’t going to have dessert but I spotted this on the restaurant’s Instagram feed too and once I got told the Brennda apríkósan had won the Reykjavik dessert of the year, I decided ‘fuck it’ and ordered it. WHICH WAS A GOOD DECISION BECAUSE IT WAS DELICIOUS. It’s basically a small apricot tart, and the apricot is gooey a little sweet (but not too much), some kind of hazelnut crunchy mound and apricot ice cream. Yesssss.

EAT: Basically, you can’t go to Iceland without trying lamb or fish. I wanted to go somewhere that was a little off the beaten path and where I’d be likely to find some locals. Turns out Kaffivagninn was the perfect place – it’s right by the harbour (about a 20 minute walk from downtown) and is known for its fish. It’s also a really cosy little place and most of the people in there when I went were locals. Which is how you know it’s a good’un.

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They have a happy hour too, which makes the beer a normal price rather than Iceland’s crazy expensive pricing. But the main thing you’ll want is the fish and chips. The above was probably the best fish I’ve ever had. SO light and the batter wasn’t too oily – nice and light too. It came with fries (which were nice but nowt mind blowing) and three sauces (cocktail sauce, thousand island and tartare).

The staff were also lovely and the fairy lights make it a great place to have meal. Highly recommend!

SEE: Hallgrímskirkja is the cathedral in the middle of the city and it’s definitely the biggest tourist attraction in Reykjavik. Its design was inspired by the cooling basalt rocks of the volcanos in Iceland and as you get closer to it, it becomes all the more striking! Especially with the statue outside: at dusk, it looks all kinds of impressive.

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It’s one of the tallest buildings in Reykjavik and when I arrived there was a constant stream of people in and out of the cathedral, and a queue for the viewing gallery. But I persevered and went up there anyway!

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But first, the cathedral. It’s a sleek design punctuated with gorgeous stained-glass windows and an epic organ. Seriously, it’s huge.

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For a small fee, you can take a lift to the top of the tower and it gives you fantastic views of the entire city. It actually makes you realise just how small Reykjavik is… and how colourful! I went up there at about 3.30pm as the sun was starting to set, so it was still daylight, and it was also a bit quieter at this time too, so I’d recommend leaving the crazy tourists to do it at midday. Well worth a trip up there – and if you can find out when the organ gets played, I bet it sounds just as epic as it looks!

SEE: As soon as you land in Iceland, the landscape hits you. A mix of choppy seas, snow-topped mountains, volcanos and fields of lava rock all welcome your flight in, and once you’re in Reykjavik the mountains are a stunning backdrop to the city.

The best places to see them isn’t from the harbour (way too many ships in the way), but actually from the Harpa Concert Hall. The building itself is worth a look around as it’s really striking and the colourful lights that run through the glass are awesome. But, step outside and turn to face the mountains and you’ll get some brilliant photos.

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See?

SEE: So, the Northern Lights are top of plenty of bucket lists. And they’ve always been something I’ve been interested in seeing (of course), but it’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve been determined to see ‘em! Fortunately, I was lucky enough to see them three times on my travels: once in Lapland (quite faint though, only last 5 minutes), once when I was camped out next to a thermal energy plant outside Reykjavik (don’t ask – again, quite faint) and a third time, when I chased them.

By ‘chased them’ I mean I took a gamble and went out of my way to find them in Iceland. No, I didn’t join a Northern Lights tour. Mainly because all they do is drive lazy tourists into the middle of nowhere and hope for them best – and I ain’t a lazy tourist.

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First thing I did was find where on the outskirts of Reykjavik was dark and where I could get to using local buses. I opted for the lighthouse which is away from people’s homes, right by the ocean and you can get there using the local buses. Ooh, and it has a mini thermal pool next to it which can help to keep you a bit warm! Top tip: download the Straeto app: it’s the local bus service in Iceland and all you need to do is type in where you want to go and it’ll tell you how to get there. It also offers the ability to pay for tickets via the app and it shows you where the buses are in real-time (so you don’t have to wait in the cold)! Honestly, it’s great and because I did a bit of research a local bus took me straight to the Aurora 😊

My experience watching the Northern Lights was mixed. On the one hand YESSSSS NORTHERN LIGHTS! It’s so odd to see the sky slowly and suddenly fill with green, and to watch the green move across the night sky. It falls in and out of nowhere and is pretty damn magical. However, on the other hand I was fucking freezing, as it was about 11pm and I was right next to the sea, so the wind was mental. Hence why my photo has come out so blurry… I was shaking too much to take a decent shot!

It really is an amazing experience and just hammers home how incredible travel can be. I mean – sure. You can see the Aurora from time to time ion Scotland and Ireland. But seeking it out and being successful in somewhere as beautiful as Iceland is an experience I’ll never forget. We live in a bloody magical universe. Big love for solar particles.

(To get to the lighthouse in Reykjavik, get the Number 11 bus from the main street to bus stop Lindarbraut / Hofgarðar. It takes about 20 mins from the main street (stop Bio Paradis) to get here. Once you do, walk to the end of the road and turn left… then just follow the ocean wall! Be warned that the very last bus back into the centre of the city leaves the Lindarbraut / Hofgarðar bus stop at about 11.20pm. The Northern Lights are brightest from about 10pm onwards, so you still have lots of time… all good!)

LISTEN: I happened to be in Reykjavik at the same time as a lady I used to work with – Ceinwen – and I met her and her husband for a drink at a bar they recommended. Turns out it was a brilliant recommendation, so I’m passing it on!

The bar is part of Kex Hostel. Yes, yes, I know – you hear the word ‘hostel’ and you think it must be a dive bar. I promise you, it isn’t. It’s a brilliant, stylish bar, decorated with books and cartography and lots of shabby chic furniture, moody dim lighting and fantastic music too. They do ‘slightly upmarket’ pub grub there too, as well as having an epic range of drinks, including lots of beer on tap. Fun fact: beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989 (no one is completely sure why), and the Icelandic beers are all brewed using filtered volcanic water: so you can be sure that any beer you have will taste extra special.

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Kex is the Icelandic word for ‘biscuit’ and the hostel is situated in an old biscuit factory. The first time I went there it has laid-back hip hop playing and Ceinwen and her hubby were drinking a red wine they both seemed to completely fall in love with. The bar staff actually gave them the rest of the bottle for free, which is awesome! But the second time I went on my own, I happened to arrive when a jazz and blues band were playing, and it was ACE. The atmosphere was perfection, he surrounding were beautiful and it’s the kind of bar where it really doesn’t matter if you’re there as a big group, a romantic couple of a solo traveller: everyone is comfortable and can relax.

I’d VERY strongly recommend going there if you’re in Reykjavik. Seriously. Good. Bar.

LOVE: For a couple of hours one afternoon, I decided to spend my time with the largest collection of mammal penises in the world. The Icelandic Phallological Museum is an interesting way to spend a little time out of the cold. And, true, if you don’t go you’re not missing a huge amount, but if you do have the time to stop by it’s an interesting little (but well hung) place! For example, did you know that some mammalian penises have bones in them? WELL NOW YOU DO!

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Dicks. Everywhere. As well as penises belonging to deer, whales, dolphins, polar bears… if you can find it in or around Iceland, its penis will be in this building. The exhibition takes about 90 minutes to properly go around, as there are lots of descriptions to read. You’ll also learn interesting facts about phallic culture around the world and there’s lots of laughs too: various men have left their penis in their will to the museum, and these declarations line the walls! So, someday, homosapien phallus’ will also join the crowd.

In one little room of the museum there are phallic fairy tales and folklore –  there’s even the penis of a merman on display. Yup, seriously. It’s green and everything…

The museum is hilarious and well worth a visit. C’mon. You know you want to. If only for the fact the toilet doors have giant penis handles and it has a fully stocked shop too.

ICELAND (South Iceland)
EAT: So Icelandic lamb is kinda a big deal. You’ll see official lamb plaques all over the country, so restaurants can show off if they serve the properly amazing authentic Iceland lamb.

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I don’t usually eat lamb, but it’s such a big deal I wanted to give it a try. (Should point out that according to everyone else I was with it WAS really good.) I had the above at a hotel in the middle of nowhere (seriously) when I was roaming the south of the island, but all of the lamb in Iceland tastes equally brilliant, I was assured by all the locals! Basically, the lambs are totally free range and they live off of grass that grows thanks to water filtered through volcanic rocks. Basically, the lambs are powered by amazing nature and fresh air… which makes them taste delish.

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: As well as fire and ice, there’s also some water that moves in Iceland. I visited two of the main waterfalls and y’know what? Both were ok. If you’ve not seen a waterfall before then you’ll love ‘em. But… I just wasn’t crazy for them. However, this may be because it was winter and they were a little treacherous to explore.

Seljalandsfoss is very pretty in winter and as you walk up to it you walk over a crystal clear stream. When it’s less icy you can walk around the back of the waterfall which is pretty cool – but when I was there it was so icy that you weren’t allowed to do it!

The second waterfall I visited I liked more because I was able to climb up to the top of it. It’s called Skógafoss and it’s only about a ten-minute drive from Seljalandsfoss. There’s a stairway to the side of it and if you climb to the top (the climb isn’t too hard) and up top you can lean right over to the pool at the top of the waterfall. It’s pretty cool.

SEE: The glacier lagoon is the stuff of dreams. And, of films. Apparently, this is the place Hollywood comes to film any scene that needs a lil bit of ice (including James Bond and various action movies).

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The glacier lagoon is in the South East of the island and it’s a stunner. When I was there SEALS WERE FROLICKING IN THE WATER. It was too much, honestly.

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Fun fact: a glacier is a piece of ice that moves under its own weight. An iceberg moves because of the water. A glacier moves because the weight of the ice building on the glacier which then forces the rest of the ice to move.

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You can wander around the shore of the glacier or walk up the small hill to look over the whole place. It’s magical AF. Make sure you go if you’re taking a circle

SEE: Mountains? Whatever. These days, I hike across glaciers. Specifically, glaciers where people have gone missing and never been found (which I was told on the way to Svínafellsjökull [the glacier] which was super reassuring).

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Svínafellsjökull has been used as a filming location for the likes of Game of Thrones and Batman begins which basically means I’m a hero for hiking it. You’re set up with crampons (metal spikes that go over your hiking boots), a helmet and a pick axe. Once you’re on the glacier you have about 20 minutes to careeeeefully hike over the muddy part onto the lovely ice. The reason it’s muddy because as the glacier moves, the mud gets pushed to the top of the ice (so the mud is on the outside), leaving just the plain ol’ ice in the middle.

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I was on the ice for about 90 minutes and the sun setting over the glacier is beautiful. So are the cracks in the ice and seeing bits of the glacier that don’t have crampon marks on them (I went all adventurous and made it my mission to explore bits of ice that no one had trodden on). There are little icy steps dotted about for hiking up and down too.

The hike was included in my tour of Southern Iceland so I’m not sure how much it would have cost to do it – but my mini tour included everything in this ‘Southern Iceland’ section and was run by Xtreme Iceland. My tour guide was called Adolf (yes, he hates his name) and he was brilliant! Really down to earth and incredibly knowledgeable. He taught me all about the Icelandic love of swimming pools (seriously, it’s mental), told me lots of Icelandic folk tales and also talked a lot about Icelandic politics!

LISTEN: On the way to the glacier, I stopped off at the black sand beach which was quite an experience. The fact the wind was howling sounds like a total mood killer, but actually it made the whole place seem really spooky: especially when the snow was blown over the black sand! It was really striking and I felt all magical (and cold. It was fucking cold.).

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The beach has a few other interesting features, black sand aside. The basalt pillars on the beach are really striking, and either side of them are caves. There are also two famous rock formations in the sea to the left hand side of the beach which make a great photo!

However, the best thing about Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is the Icelandic folktale that’s set here. According to legend, the rock stacks in the ocean are actually trolls who tried to drag a boat to the beach but weren’t able to do so before the sun came up (which is when they turn to stone). The folk tales of Iceland are brilliant. There’s another one about a group of seals who took off their skin and turned human for one night only, then fell asleep after the danced the whole night. A fisherman tool the skin of one of the seals, and in the morning all the other seals had gone but this one human naked lady was left in the cave… as the only way she can get back to the ocean is if she has her seal skin.

The fisherman comforted her and took her back to his house. Long story short, he married her and she had seven children with him. He was a dick, basically, and he hid her seal skin for years and years. Until, one day, she went into the locked room and found the seal skin. When he returned, he found her gone and a note saying she had children in the ocean and children on land, but she decided to go and stay in the ocean.

…I told that really badly. I promise Icelandic folk talks are awesome when someone competent tells them!

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Anyway, back to the beach. Wind howling. Atlantic waves crashing. Cave echoing. Get a-listenin’!

LOVE: The reason I’ve put Diamond beach in the love category is just because it was such a beautiful place. How can you help falling in love with this place?!

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Diamond beach is named so because when the ice leaves the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon (the one I wrote about above) it travels not very far (approximately 100m) out to the ocean… but some of it gets caught up on Diamond Beach. Because it’s so cold, the ice takes ages to melt and in the sunshine, the ice really does shine and sparkles like diamonds on the beach!

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Because I was there at the start of winter, the sun was really low on the horizon, so it looked like it was setting/rising the entire day, which made the beach so magical. The ice isn’t heavy so picking up the crystal clear bits of ice is a must-do (obvs), as is walking along the shore and watching the waves crash around the chunks of glistening ice.

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Omg seriously. So beautiful. ❤

ICELAND (Other fun stuff I did)
EAT: I always ready the in-flight magazines on planes. It kills time and I nearly always pick up an interesting tip or place to visit! The magazine on the Icelandair flights to Iceland was no different: it had a little article on Malt og Applesin.

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THIS DRINK IS DELICIOUS. It’s a Christmas drink in Iceland (their version of mulled wine or eggnog I guess) and it’s crazy good. Basically it’s a malt drink (so it tastes a bit like beer, but it’s non-alcoholic) and it’s mixed with organic. ALCOHOL FREE ORANGE BEER. It’s so bloody festive and yummy. I had it on the plane, in the bar… everywhere, basically. Give it a go if you visit Iceland!

SEE: I have a book by Rough Guides and I use it to inspire me whenever I’ve booked a holiday, or when I’m not sure where to go. One of the recommendations in the book is to head to Silfra. It’s a damn good recommendations because in Silfa you can snorkel or dive in lava filtered water between two tectonic plates.

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HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!

I went with Dive.Is because you can only go between the tectonic plates if you’re with a guide. You also can’t dive unless you have lots of experience, so I opted for snorkelling. Silfra is in a National Park about a hour’s drive from Reykjavik and it’s a fissure between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate. Apparently there are lots of teeny tiny earthquakes there everyday, but you don’t feel them. Instead, you get to look down into some of the clearest water on earth about 45m into the earth, which is about as amazing as you’d expect!

The water is so fresh and clear because it’s filtered for dozens of years through lava rock before it gets to this point. So if you get a load of water in your mouth, you can just swallow it and feel refreshed. Silfra is also the only place where one can dive or snorkel directly in the crack between two continental plates, which makes it pretty damn special.

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The experience was bloody freezing, just to warn you. I went when it was about -7 degrees out of the water and when you get in you’re only in a wet suit, so you’re not kept warm… just dry. And even then, not THAT dry because water gets into your gloves. Sigh.


The water was about 1 degree when I was there and the 45 minutes in the water was more than enough. I’d LOVE to go again in the summer when I could get out and not feel like I’m going to freeze to bloody death… but I’m still so so so glad I did it. And I’d 100% recommend DIVE.IS – as you can see, the photos they took of my snorkelling were amazing and the guide was fantastic too!

SEE: As I didn’t hire a care, I used public transport to get me to a place called Hveragerði, which is the starting point of my mental day trying to get to the Reykjadalur Hot Springs. I took a little local bus to the bus depot on the outskirts of Reykjavik and then hopped onto a coach which departs every couple of hours and takes you to Hveragerði.

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Warning: it’s a 3k walk up a hill to get to the starting point for the hike up to the thermal river and the café at the start point WAS NOT OPEN. So I hiked 3k to get to the point where I start to hike another 4k up a hill to get to the river. But s’all good. The hike to the start point is on a road and there are lots of geothermal pools you pass along the way – the billowing steam coming from them is like glorious Icelandic thermal foreplay.

It’s as beautiful as it is FREEZING. #HotSpring #ColdFace

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When you get o the start point you see a bit of greenery and immediately steam coming from the water: even at the start point the stream is warm! You’ll also pass some mud pools bubbling away and letting off stream too, which is pretty cool. By cool, I mean scorching hot, so watch your step. Then comes the snow and the ice…

…which would have been fine if I’d been properly prepared, but my snow boots have no grip on them whatsoever. So, I managed to get up about 1k of the hill before I slipped backwards, scraped my knee and gave up. Trust me, I had a few falls before I packed in my attempt (as it took me so long to get there!) but it’s up a big old hill and the entire path was just COVERED in packed snow and ice – there was no way I was going to make it.

So, I got a plastic bag out of my backpack, sat on it and whizzed down the hill for 1k: SO Much FUN! True, not as much fun as getting to the top and bathing in a natural warm river would have been, but ho hum. I enjoyed myself and had an adventure, so that’s the main thing 😊 If you have a car and you’re properly dressed, give this place a visit. Not getting up to the top just means I HAVE to come back in the summer and give it another go when it’s grassy. Whoop!

LISTEN: Keflavik airport is ok. Nicely laid out, but small. There’s a Joe and the Juice in the middle of it and while I was waiting to leave Iceland, it was playing some killer tines. Some of them were Icelandic hip hop! I really liked the song below – it’s by Joey Christ and it’s called Turisti.

LOVE: Last year, the Blue Lagoon in Iceland has nearly as many people visit it as there were tourists entering the country. The reason? Because the Blue Lagoon is super famous and only about 15 minutes from Keflavik airport, so alllll tourists head there as they enter or leave the country.

I went on my way outta Iceland which personally I think was the better way to do it. Airport days are usually a bit meah because you know you can’t do anything BIG because you need to get to the airport in good time, so heading to the Blue lagoon about five hours before your flight means you get a solid three hours bathing in its warm, bright blue waters.

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The Blue Lagoon, on paper, sounds gross. It’s supplied by water from the geothermal power plant and it in the middle of a load of lava rock. However: when you learn that the water is beautifully warm and is incredible for your skin (YAY TO GEOTHERMAL POWER!) then you’ll start to see the appeal.

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The day I went, it was really cold so after taking a shower before getting in (which everyone has to do), I headed out to the lagoon. It’s actually quite nice walking out into the freezing cold and slowly submerging yourself in the warm water… but if you ain’t that brave, there’s a little bit of the lagoon inside which you can get in, and you can swim to a door that lets you outside. But if you bear it, go cold then warm. So good.

It was very steamy when I was there, and the water was perfectly blue. Everyone just looked so bloody relaxed it was ridiculous. I got a basic ticket to the lagoon, which included a mud mask. The mud mask you apply while in the lagoon, you wait about 15 minutes and then you just wash it off in the lagoon – it doesn’t make a mess in the water at all! There’s also a couple of bars in the lagoon so you can stay warm whilst ordering your beer/wine/cider/etc. When you arrive, you’re given a wristband which you use to pay for everything and they scan the band before you leave. Well smart.

I loved it. Yes, there are LOTS if other geothermal lagoons which are less expensive and less crowded. But this place is popular for a reason: the facilities are great and the blue water against the lava rock covered in snow was pretty special!

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In short: Iceland is stunning. It’s a natural wonder with fantastic food, lovely people, some of the most spectacular sights and experiences on earth and it’s CRAZY EXPENSIVE. But don’t let that put you off – just make sure you save enough to really enjoy yourself 😊

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Quick note about the places I stayed, as they were great. In the Lapland part of the blog I went into a lot of detail about where I stayed in Lapland, but the hostels/places I stayed in in Helsinki and Reykjavik.

  • First place I stayed in Helsinki was the Toolo Tower apartments: basically, university accommodation that they rent out. I didn’t take any photos, but it was in a good location and was basically a mini apartment. Really great value and I’d recommend.
  • The other place I stayed in Helsinki was Hostel Diana Park. It’s small but really well-kept and in a FANTASTIC location. The rooms were airy and comfortable, the bathrooms were clean and the kitchen area was really nice. Wifi was fast and I really recommend it. Seriously: the location ROCKED.
  • First place I stayed in Reykjavik was the HI Hostel. It was about a half an hour walk out of the city and to be honest it wasn’t great. The bed was ok but the showers were dirty which sucked. To get to the showers I also had to go down a freezing cold stairway which wasn’t great. Also, the wifi wasn’t amazing either.
  • For the rest of the time I was in Reykjavik I stayed at the Galaxy Pod Hostel. It was GREAT. Amazing location and every bed is its own little self-contained pod. The pod  has charging points, air conditioning and lots of hooks and places to store things. REALLY good wifi too, as well as a locker which auto-locks and is big enough to fit a small suitcase in there.

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The hostel also has a brilliant atmosphere: there’s a huge TV in the common area which is hooked up to Netflix and the lounge area is super cool – good lighting, really comfy trendy sofas, etc. The kitchen is well stocked and big too. Showers and toilets are clean (and warm!) and the walls are all chalkboards so you can write messages on them 🙂

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2017 / / 2018

31 Dec

2017 was a pretty good year. Not the best (my best is hard to beat) and nowhere near the worst. Definitely more positives than negatives, which is all you can really ask for, right?

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2017 highlights

  • My friends have had an amazing year which has made me gloriously happy. Olly and Katie, Emma, Lauren and Tom have all got engaged and they all rock. So that’s been awesome. I had a reunion with my Uni mates as we’ve known each other for 10 years and seeing Nat (who now lives in Dubai), my friend Cate is in good health, Nick and Tim have both had epic promotions and my bezzer Jude and I have been to some really cool bars and events in London this year.
  • My travels have been amazing. I’ve visited Jordan, Kenya, Tanzania, Spain and Denmark with my Nana and Finland and Iceland. I went to Kenya and Tanzania with friends I made on my travels around Africa a couple of years ago, and made some great friends while out there too!

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    I re-visited Barcelona and Copenhagen with my Nana and Dad, which also rocked. My Nana is 97 years old and she, without complaining or getting too tired, walked about 15 miles each trip. I got her to try new foods, learn a little more about the world and make the most of her free passport ❤ I just wanted to give her some wonderful memories and to show her she’s NEVER TOO OLD TO TRAVEL… and I think I succeeded 🙂

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    Jordan has been on my bucket list for years. I actually looked back on this blog to a bucket list I wrote about 5 years ago and visiting Jordan (specifically Petra) was on there. I not only visited one of the wonders of the world, but I floated on the Dead Sea, ate some truly delicious food in Amman and camped in Wadi Rum.

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    A more recent addition to my bucket list was to see the Northern Lights. I put off booking a November holiday because I had Jury Service (which I managed to get out of via a letter to the judge from my CEO!) so last minute I decided to see Helsinki, Lapland and Iceland. On my way I ate reindeer, I rode with huskies, saw the Northern Lights, hiked a glacier, shivered on black sand beaches and slept in an igloo.

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  • My work. I started the year with a team of three people and I ended the year with a team of eight. And they all rock. I’m very lucky to work with not only people who I genuinely like and respect, but who are also brilliant at what they do. True, the year has had its ups and downs when it comes to client dramas, pitch wins and losses, but all in all I feel happy looking forward to what’s going to come in 2018!

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  • My love life has been… interesting in 2017. And confusing. I’m seeing someone who I’m not seeing and not going on dates with someone I’m dating. Whatever the hell is happening with him, we’ve now been seeing each other for nearly 18 months and he’s been a big part of 2017.

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    Other 2017 highlights include:

  • Finding people to go to Ru Paul’s Drag Race with. YAAAS QUEENS!
  • Visited way too many brilliant bars with Jude, including one where you have to break secret codes and one where we (I…) drunkenly stole a giant toy lion. (Don’t ask.) Ooh, and went to Evans and Peel at loooong last!
  • Went to Sketch with the Digi Team of Dreams and Bob Bob Ricard with the mini Digi Team of Dreams.
  • Discovering Gin and burrata. Yes, I sound so middle class. WHATEVS. They’re delicious.
  • Seeing the Barber Shop Chronicles with Ryan. SUCH a good play, total theatrical highlight for me.
  • Touring Highgate Cemetery. I’d wanted to go for ages and the gravestones and architecture generally was beautiful.
  • My birthday. I had all my best friends come out in Brixton with me and then was treated to a brilliant birthday Escape Room and night out too. Very blessed.
  • Meeting up with my Mum’s father and partner (my biological grandfather) and then seeing Merry and Noelle again in August!
  • Meeting Jessy and Zoe – Jessy is a total babe and she actually has dating stories to rival mine!
  • Chris (my brother) going travelling. So happy he went for it and ended up spending 5 months exploring Asia!
  • The Lavender fields in Surrey! They smelled as beautiful as they looked.

And the low lights…

  • Getting my purse stolen in Berlin at the airport and having to spend 2 days trying to find an open Western Union and realising (as I scoured the grass for spare change) that a tramp was doing the same thing. Fml.
  • I got flu for the first time. I have since had my flu jab because I never, ever want to go through that crap again. Ugh. Double ugh.
  • Getting soaking wet on a Welsh hillside making a totally pointless video for a client. The blogger I was with was nice though… but yeah, so cold. Not the greatest.
  • Thinking I might have to move outta my flat. But I didn’t. So alllll good 🙂

2018 resolutions…

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  • I’m going veggie. It’s something I should have done a while ago and it’s been playing on my mind for a while now. After reading Sapiens (fantastic book) and generally learning more about the farming industry, I just can’t face eating meat anymore. I was going to go vegan, but thought that’s probably unrealistic to maintain, so for now I’ve just swapped cow’s milk with almond milk and imma see how I go… but yeah. No more meat.

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  • I’m 30 in 2018. Which is fine as I don’t have ol’ biological clock-tick that freaks a lot of other women out. But, it’s still a significant milestone and I want to get back on track when it comes to my fitness. I’m taking up weights, cutting out booze and getting myself into the shape I want to be for the rest of my life. Basically: that means getting stronger, losing about a stone and a half (of fat, not muscle) and taking better care of myself. I’m going to moisturise, use body scrub and walk even more than I do now… and do so in proper walking shoes!
  • A few years ago I made a resolution to leave my comfort zone when travelling. What I meant, at the time, was to travel to more places outside the Western World on my own… so I went to Cuba!

    I’m making the same resolution this year too, but I mean it in a different way. I want to challenge myself to have more difficult travel experiences: ones which teach me more about human history and ones which will stick with me. I have so far booked a holiday to Poland to visit Auschwitz and I’m also heading to Cambodia where I’ll go to the Killing Fields. It won’t be fun, but it’s far too important to keep the memory of these terrible events alive so we can learn more these horrific events and make sure the people who suffered are not forgotten.

    …I’ll also go to some nice places too, I’m sure.

  • I want to do something worthwhile about a cause I care about in 2018. I currently give to a few charities, but I really want to take a more active role and give my time rather than just money to causes I believe in.

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    So, I’m going to see what I can do in the world of animal and environmental conservation, and safe sex education. I’d like to think I can make a tiny difference to both, but realistically I’ll need to do one or the other. On a day to day basis I do small things for the environment and wildlife, but signing petitions and shouting at idiots in my office who don’t recycle paper won’t always cut it. I might actually start social media advertising towards young people trying to teach them about the importance of wearing condoms. We’ll see. But it’s definitely something I want to work on!

 

 

 

 

Jordan (July 2017)

2 Dec

I haven’t blogged here for about 5 months. Which is super annoying as I use this blog as a diary, so I’ve done a whole heap of stuff I want to remember, but I haven’t written about it. The reason? Because I kept telling myself I wouldn’t put up a blog post until I finished this one, about my time in Jordan back in July 2017.

But life, work, Netflix, books etc got in the way and now I’ve just returned from another adventure to Finland/Lapland/Iceland. And I’ve sworn to myself that I won’t blog about THAT until I finished off my Jordan post. But, at last, Jordan is finished. Enjoy – both the post and the country!

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Me: “I’ve booked another holiday!’
Mum: “Of course you have. Where are you off to this time?”
Me: “Jordan.”
Mum: “…Seriously?”
Me: “Yes, I’ll be totally safe, don’t worry. I want to see Petra, one of the modern wonders of the world, the Dead Sea, follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia in Wadi Rum and the see the oldest surviving mosaic depicting the biblical world.”
Mum: “Please don’t go.”

I had similar conversations with various family members when I said I’d booked an 8-day holiday in Jordan. True, there are plenty of reasons to think it best not go to Jordan; it’s bordered by Israel, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Oh, and Syria. Syria was the main one Mum freaked out about.

For the traveller though, Jordan is perfectly safe. Yes, they’ve accepted over 2 million Syrian refugees in the last few years and have had the odd terrorist attack in their capital city (that’s less than London on both the former and the latter), but unless you actively head off for the North of Jordan to the Syrian border or decide to go for a wander in the refugee camps, you’re going to be completely fine. I mean… of course you are – it frustrates me that this needs spelling out, but Jordan has been so hugely affected by the drop in tourists visiting that unfortunately we’re in a situation where scaremongering needs to be addressed by stating the bleeding obvious.

So get that terrifying Daily Mail version of the Middle East out of your head and get ready to see one which includes a long and rich history, delicious food, spectacular natural and man-made wonders and some wonderful local people. I went to Jordan with Geckos, a tour company for 18-29 year olds on this tour here. I’ll do a mini review of the tour at the bottom of the post. For now… on to Jordan!

AMMAN

I was in Amman for a couple of days on my own, sans tour group, so had lots of opportunity to explore. True, you can only explore so much in a couple of days I tried my damn best.

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Amman is basically a series of hills. It is not an easy city to walk. Just when you think you’ve conquered the last hill, you’ll see some steps which go up ANOTHER HILL. Basically, get ready to walk. Of course, the taxis are cheap in Amman and I got a few when I was with the tour group because they weren’t up for walking, but if you CAN walk do, do so. The city has some lovely building and it’s the only way to really see what the people living there actually experience! Plus, Amman seems to have a thing for multicoloured graffiti steps – which are far easier to discover on foot 😊

EAT: So I’m obsessed with knafeh. Obsessed. I had this delicious, sticky-sweet dessert every single day I was in Amman. And when I wasn’t in Amman I was thinking about it. And I dragged my entire tour group to Habibah, a dessert shop in Amman, where they sell it.

There are two branches of Habibah in Amman Old Town – one is a standard shop, but one is a little shop hidden in an alleyway with street seating. This is my preference because there’s always a group of locals and tourists gathered outside, soaking up the sun and indulging in the delicious Palestinian masterpiece of a dessert. It was started by a man who moved to Amman from Jerusalem (the dessert being brought over from Palestine) and the rest is history.

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It looks weird, I admit. Basically, it’s a layer of sweetened ricotta and mozzarella cheese bedded underneath a layer of filo shredded pastry which has been soaked in butter before the whole thing is covered in a lemon and rose-water syrup. LOOKS WEIRD BUT SOUNDS AMAZING. And really unhealthy, obvs.

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You can get two types of this delicious dessert from Habibah; one with the shredded filo pastry (one above) and one with more tightly packed crusty pastry top and pistachios (first photo). Both are divine and served straight out the pan, scorching hot. A large slice is only 1.40JDR and a small slice (which is still biiiiiig) is only 0.7JDR (that’s about 75p. SEVENTY-FIVE PENCE. Incredible).

Right, well if my ranting hasn’t convinced you to try this then you’re clearly an idiot. Because although it’s super sweet it’s crazy delicious. True, some members of my tour group said it tasted weird (the cheese element put them off) but if you like cheese and sugar like any normal person this dessert is a must. I love it so much I’ve found a decent place in London that makes it (Hiba) and I even made it myself using this recipe! Had to visit a local Middle-Eastern shop to get the pastry (it’s called kataifi) and it actually tasted pretty damn good!

EAT: Hashem is one of the oldest restaurants in Amman. You’ll find it in Lonely Planet, top of Tripadvisor and on all the blogs. However, it’s frequented by locals – more so than tourists still – and the reason it’s such a must-visit is because the food is delicious and cheap.

The food is Middle-Eastern staples; hummus, falafel, flatbread. You walk in, sit down and just ask for hummus and falafel. Don’t ask for a menu, there isn’t one. Don’t ask the price because it’s so cheap it doesn’t matter. You’ll get a salad brought to your table, a bowl of 12 falafels, a huge bowl of hummus with plenty of oil and if you ask for it, you can get a bowl of delicious beans and chickpeas too.

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The falafels are perfect, which is no surprise as this place is constantly making them and they clearly have the recipe down to an art. The outside is crispy, inside if fluffy and each falafel is yummy AS. You can also get four big falafels which have sesame seeds on them too, but you have to ask for these. (They’re worth asking for). The hummus is also great; fresh, tasty and loaded with olive oil (like all hummus you’ll get in Jordan and the Middle-East). And like every Middle-Eastern meal, you’ll get a bag of flatbread too!

For a bowl of falafel, a bottle of water, a huge bowl of hummus, salad and bag of flatbreads came to 2.40JDR. That’s £2.50 for an entire meal and water. It’s insane and it’s a must-visit.

EAT: Final food highlight in Amman goes to Shams El Balad. It’s a café/restaurant just off Rainbow Street and it specialises in brunch and lunch… but the food is varied enough for a sold dinner too. Should warn you, the outside tables don’t have lights and the places closes at 9am – because of the lack of lights presumably!

I admit, the service was a shambles but this is only because the waiters speak limited English and because we turned up so late (8pm) so they’d run out of eggs and everyone had to make a last minute order change. And that meant no one knew what they’d ordered and paying the bill was a nightmare… as I said, just make sure you remember what you order and you’ll be fine!

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I decided to try some more local specialities so I went for a starter of labneh balls and fresh watermelon juice. The labneh balls are thick creamy balls of yoghurt… so thick it’s sort of like cheese. They come with seasonal herbs and spices and have an interesting taste, more sour than I expected, and are worth trying as they’re a staple of Jordanian cooking.

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This was followed by rose and date flatbread, called taboon flatbread. It comes with sea salt, pistachio and it’s amazing. The bread is cooked so it’s a crispy crust but a warm, soft base. The date and rose topping is sticky and sweet and the pistachios and shredded filo pastry sticks to it perfectly and has a great crunch. I wish I’d got a whole one rather than just a half!

As well as the above they have the usual delicacies (hummus, falafel and halloumi served about a million ways) as well as some strong brunch options (eggs with halloumi, roasted tomatoes etc etc). One of the gals on the tour also had a rosewater and watermelon drink which was divine, so make sure you don’t miss out on that too!

SEE: I did a lot of walking around Amman and you know what I noticed? Painted steps. Everywhere.

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These were the first I stumbled across. I was walking from King Abdullah Mosque to downtown Amman and I wouldn’t have even noticed them if I hadn’t been lost and looking for the right road sign. They’re at the top of (one of) the hill out of downtown Amman and it was the first of many. Turns out, Amman has some damn good street art and it’s not confined to just Rainbow Street (the tourist area)!

Close to Paris Square (lots of nice restaurants there FYI, all very al-fresco) are some steps which take you sharply downhill into the middle of downtown Amman. These steps are not noticeable in the slightest at either end. But wander down them and you’ll find some lovely cafes and some vibrant artwork.

The artwork above is all along the walk and there’s a lovely little art gallery, a bookshop and some cafes there too. They were selling plants there too and it’s a nice little diversion which I’d recommend.

And these beauts can be found on the steep road just off Rainbow St. Again, there’s plenty of artwork to be seen along Rainbow St, but this step artwork was my fave. When I was having a drink in a rooftop café I was able to see the whole of Amman and I also noticed even more undiscovered multi-coloured steps, so please try and track ‘em down for me if you go!

SEE: Along the main street in Old Town is a small doorway. Look inside and you’ll see some turquoise steps leading into what looks like someone’s home. Except, these steps actually take you to The Duke’s Diwan, the oldest townhouse in Amman which is now open to the public.

Head upstairs and you’ll find a calm atmosphere with the open plan living space free to wander around. The man who owns the place has left various newspaper clippings about The Duke’s Diwan, and why he wants to open it for all to see. This quote from him really got me: “In order to appreciate modern life, we have to be aware of where we came from and how things were”.

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The Duke’s Diwan is beautifully tiled and offers fantastic views from the balcony of the hustle and bustle of downtown Amman below. If you head into one of the side rooms you can also look down on the people eating delicious knafeh from Habibah on the street! (Hopefully that will help give you some indication as to where the entrance to this townhouse is.)

You don’t need longer than about 20-30 minutes here, but it’s a worthwhile diversion. You can see what the inside of the townhouses lining the streets looks like, learn about Jordanian history and get a lovely break from the streets as you relax back into one of the chairs on the balcony. Warning – there is a toilet here which doesn’t work, no refreshments are on offer and although it’s free entry be a decent person and give a donation. After all, you just got to wander around the oldest townhouse in Amman for free. C’mon now.

SEE: My hotel in Amman was right next to King Abdullah II mosque so I had to pop in and see what one of the largest mosques in Amman (and the whole of Jordan I believe) looks like.  Although I’m atheist, religious buildings always instil a sense of calm in me and they’re usually beautiful places to take a few moments to relax. Plus, I’m a firm believer in not judging a book by its cover, so a visit to the home of the Qur’an was a must as I admit, my understanding of Islam is more limited than I’d like it to be.

There are 5 pillars to Islam, each interpreted by Muslims in different ways. Some put more focus on one particular pillar, for example. The five pillars showcase just what a peaceful and compassionate Islam can be.

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  • Pillar 1: Ramadan. Muslims undertake this fast for a month each year so they can empathise with people who do not have the money to buy food. They want to better understand those who are not as fortunate as them. Which is a remarkable and wonderful reason for fasting, in my person opinion.
  • Pillar 2: Pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims are expected/encourage to make pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. It is an immensely holy site for Muslims, located in Saudi Arabia.
  • Pillar 3: daily prayer. Muslims pray five times a day: sunrise, lunchtime, afternoon, evening and night. They do so facing the direction of Mecca. In every Jordanian hotel room and restaurant there was a sticker which I didn’t understand for a few days. Then I realise the sticker was showing you where Mecca is, making it easier for people to pray.
  • Pillar 4: Charity. Every Muslim must give a portion of their monthly income to charity, or those in need. If they do not have money or an income, they can do this in other ways; volunteering or donating their leftover food, for example. Another pillar I have a hell of a lot of respect for.
  • Pillar 5: Declaration of faith and belief there is only one God Allah. In order to become Muslim you have to say ‘there is no god but God and Muhammed is the messenger of God’.

I learned all this by speaking with a lovely lady in the shop underneath King Abdullah mosque. You have to enter the mosque outside of prayer time (so between about 8am – midday) and she told me virtually all women who visit aren’t covered up enough. I went in trousers, shoulders covered and a scarf round my head and she laughed and said my body shape can’t be visible at all, hence the silky hooded number below that I had to put on in 90 degree heat (fml).

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Onto the mosque. I took my shoes off outside and stepped onto the intricately decorated carpet, only one other worshipper in there so it was completely silent. The lights are arranged in a circular patter too and they work beautifully with the ceiling. Make sure you head up to the walls and look at the ornate patterns there – the place really is beautiful and relaxing.

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Finally, go and look at the Qur’ans. They are gorgeously decorated.

SEE: The Citadel in Amman overlooks the entire city. It’s a solid hour walk to the top of a very big hill in very hot weather, but I like a challenge. I was running out of cash at this point so I opted not to go for a guided tour of the place – but I wish I had now, as there was clearly a lot I was missing from just gazing at the ancient pillars and ruins. There’s lots of guides waiting at the entrance, so just pick one up with you arrive.

Once up there, the main highlights are the Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace (above) – but there’s certainly way more than that to look at! Artefacts from the Bronze Age can be viewed at The Citadel and there’s even a cave (which you can go inside) from the Bronze Age, around 2250 BC. IT’S A WELL OLD CAVE. It feels all mystical to be in there and know that the black bits on the ceiling of the cave were from when people who lived thousands and thousands of years ago had open fires in the cave. Mind-blowing.

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The Temple of Hercules is above. The Romans invaded the Arab world and the Emperor at the time built this in about AD 170. Aside from the grand Roman pillars that are still standing, you can also see ‘The Hand of Hercules’: a giant marble hand which belonged to a statue of the Roman God, before an earthquake destroyed the majority of the building.

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A lot of the buildings on the hill were ruined by various earthquakes, but their ruins and the museum located on the hill alongside them, are absolutely well worth a visit. Their rich history aside, you can also see the entire city from up here and an impressive view of the Roman Threatre (below) which has a secret stairway leading from the hill straight there). See if you can find it yourself without having to ask the guide!

The Theatre itself costs a small amount to enter (can’t remember how much but it really wasn’t much) and if you’ve been to Italy or Greece, you’ll have come across a lot of these types of theatres. However, I’d say it’s still well worth exploring and if there’s a show/gig on in the city there it would make an absolutely INCREDIBLE place to spend an evening. Seriously, they still use it to put shows on. So cool.

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It got to about 10pm one night and the rest of group were done for the night (or were drinking in their rooms). So I decided to take an Uber (they’re illegal in Jordan, but still widely used and I’m still alive to tell the tale, so all good) to Amman’s first (and only?) jazz and blues cocktail speakeasy bar.

The bar is called Off The Record and it’s super cool. You rock up to a hotel and there’s a gate. Head inside the gate and a small entrance on the side will take you to the bar. It’s a prohibition-era style bar with lovely lighting, an exceptional playlist and a fantastic cocktail selection.

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Soooo sexy. Obviously picking up a date in Jordan isn’t quite as simple as London, so I went to this place on my own, but it was pretty quiet and the staff were nice so it wasn’t a problem. Note: people were smoking inside. That’s still a gross thing that’s a-ok to do in Jordan, so you’ve been warned. I went for a vodka-based cocktail and settled down to listen to the music.

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Ella Fitzgerald. Sinatra. Nine Simone. The classics were all there and there were plenty more tracks played which I didn’t recognise but absolutely loved. Honestly, if you’re a jazz and/or blues and/or soul fan, this place is a great choice. If you’re there alone, the music is the perfect accompaniment to a good drink. It’s the PERFECT date spot too. For a great end to your evening (or start y’know, y’all don’t have to be as dull as me heading to bed at midnight!) then this is a great place to go. True, it’s a little out of the way, but the best places are, right?

LOVE: Ok, so it’s not ‘love’ really, but I wanted to note down that Amman is a place where you can walk about in respectful western clothing and you’ll be totally fine. I always wore trousers or a skirt that came below my knees and ran into no trouble at all, not even when wearing a strap stop.

However one girl on the tour (she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed) decided to wear denim short shorts into the middle of Amman Old Town. Unsurprisingly she got a lot of negative attention and she was actually groped too. True, she shouldn’t have been, but she was also completely disrespecting the culture of the country.

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/\As covered as you need to be. Basically: if you don’t want to cover up, don’t go to the Middle East. However, if you don’t want to miss out on an incredible part of the world, treat the culture of the country with respect. That’s the way a traveler, not a tourist, acts. You only need to be covered from head to toe as a woman when entering mosques, and most mosques will give you something to wear anyway. So long as you have down to your knees covered, and your boobs aren’t show, you’ll be fine.

WADI RUM

EAT: So throughout Wadi Rum are Bedouin camps – traditional lodging where you can sleep under the stars in the desert with Bedouin hosts. Wadi Rum has been inhabited since prehistoric times and on entering the desert we stopped off for lunch in the middle of nowhere, which happened to be next to a rock with Thamudic inscriptions (thousands of years old and a language that hasn’t really been properly studied yet) which is pretty incredible.

The Bedouin have lived in the desert for thousands and years and the local Bedouin now make their money by organising activities in the desert for tourists and setting up camps for people. It was horrible to hear from my Bedouin host that due to the issues with Syria, their numbers have plummeted and most of the Bedouin in the area are struggling to get by. They offer amazing insight into the desert and the history of the Bedouin culture, well worth experiencing!

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Their insight includes showing you how the Bedouin cook in the desert. It’s called a ‘zarb’ and is basically a Bedouin BBQ! Basically they created huge holes in the sand and putting the coals under a tiered tray system. Then, they submerge the trays into a pot in the sand and cover it with sand. When it re-emerges, your meat and vegetables ad potatoes and deliciously cooked. Due to the fact it’s slow roasted (it takes a couple of hours in the sand to cook) the meat and veg is SO flavoursome. Yum.

SEE: I mean… there’s a lot of sand, but Wadi Rum is more than that. What’s so striking about Wadi Rum is the rock formations soaring out of the sand and dominating the landscape.

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A few highlights of mine were: hiking, with great difficulty, up this giant sand dune. A couple of my group got boards and tried to board down the dune, but it took a fair bit of effort! Views and the rich colour of the sand was amazing though.

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Wandering alone through the desert for an hour. Honestly, it’s so peaceful. I just left the people at camp and wandered around. The shadows cast by the rocks and stepping across sand with no footprints was pretty magical.

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Watching the sunset from the top of a fucking huge rock. Had to climb it, obviously, which was slightly treacherous, but totally worth it. The colour of the sky paired with the colour of the desert below was to die for.

LISTEN: I mentioned before how eerily quiet the desert is. Wander away from your campsite and you’ll hear nothing. Possibly the rustle of the wind against the sand, but that’s about it.

A highlight of the experience for me was laying for about an hour just looking up at the stars as the sky is crystal clear. Look for long enough and you’ll see shooting stars too (managed to spot two, whoop)! It’s also warm enough to stay out in the dark for a while before heading to bed, so take the chance to relax and just stare at the sky. (Don’t sleep outside though, otherwise desert snakes might come getcha!)

LOVE:  This view. Seriously though: look at it. Swoon.

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PETRA

Sometimes you hear so much about a place that when you get there it can seem very underwhelming. The Taj Mahal is an example of this happening to me recently: don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible, but I think if you hear something is a Wonder of the World, you have absurdly high expectations for building.

Petra meets all expectations. The place is astounding. Created between 200 BC – 200 AD by the Nabateans, it came to be as it was a key point in the Middle Eastern trading routes. But, it went undiscovered for thousands of years and the Western world came to hear about Petra only about 100 years ago when a Western historian was taken to Petra by a local… and the rest is history.

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Well, history that is still be uncovered and they’ve barely scratched the surface of. They believe that only about 5% of Petra has been uncovered, and even at this stage there is plenty of explore over the course of two days!

I spent two days in Petra and managed to see virtually all that’s there to see. Petra is split into about 5 key routes: On the first day I saw the key sites along the main route through Petra, and took the climb up the steeeep hillside to get to the Treasury look out point and on the second day I did the 30k hike around the back entrance to Petra and climbed up to the Monastery. Two days is enough to spend in Petra (but I’m positive if you’re a keen walker you could find enough to fill three days). My highlights are below.

DAY 1: the main sights

  • To even get to the start point of Petra (the Treasury, basically) you have to walk for about 30 minutes through a narrow crevice, called The Siq, – sometimes only 2m wide, sometimes more like 5m. This is really shady and keep your eyes peeled – carved into the walls of The Siq you’ll spot horses and human figures, pillars and more.

    Included in your entrance ticket is a free horse ride through the crevice. Don’t. Take. The. Horse. Ride. Just tell the drivers that you want to walk. Not only are the horses treated badly (and therefore by using them you feed demand for them) but you’ll miss so much too. Seriously, WALK. And look around! And once you’ve been walking for about 30 minutes, almost out of nowhere, comes…

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  • The Treasury. It’s immense. I mean… it really is. The area just outside the treasure is busy with people taking photos and random horses and camels milling about. You’ll also see people praying next to the walls of the Treasury if you’re there at prayer time and if you get up close you can look down into the below-ground vaults too. A few years ago they closed off the entrance to the Treasury because tourists are terrible and they were messing it up, so you’ll have to gaze from outside. It’s not actually the biggest temple in Petra, or the most technically impressive, however the fact it appears from nowhere to greet you just makes it so immense.
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  • Walk around the Treasury and you’ll spot various Royal Tombs tombs and then you’ll come across am amphitheatre – opposite which is the Street of Facades. It’s a line of tall, impressive tombs which overlook various refreshment stands and local artists stalls. You can climb up and actually go inside these tombs, so definitely go and have a look!

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  • Ok, so this next bit should only be attempted if you don’t mind getting a bit knackered in the boiling sun. But, if you’re fit enough to do it, I can’t recommend I enough. Basically, to the far left hand side on the Street of Facades, there are some steps. These steps (there’s 500 of them and they’re pretty steep) will walk you behind the tombs carved into the rocks and high up above Petra. You’ll get great views of the Theatre and the main street while you’re up there, but be warned: the trail is unmarked for the most part and the only refreshments available are found in a little café at the very end of the trail. Once you’ve walked up the steps, you’ll see one sign to the Treasury viewpoint: following down some steps and across what basically looks like rocky wasteland… and keep going.
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    Eventually, you’ll see a Bedouin tent and from in here, you get a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Treasury. And there’s refreshments to purchase too. And cushions. AND SHADE. Totally worth it.

DAY TWO: the backstreets of Petra and The Monastery 

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  • Ok, so in the map above you’ll see an orange walking route, one which looks like it goes into the middle of nowhere. I walked that route. And it was by far the highlight of Petra for me. It’s a pathway with a few signs to keep you going in the right direction, and because it’s so long (about 15k!) and more hidden, you’ll meet barely any other tourists along it. I, seriously, met about 6 other tourists the entire time.
  • The start point: when you turn right at the Treasury and make your way along the main path into Petra, you’ll pass some toilets and a café/shop on your right hand side. There are some steps leading into what looks like nothing right next to the shop: that’s where you begin!

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  • Along it you’ll see the place of Sacrifice and this also offers you another immense bird’s eye view of the main street of Petra. There’s also a Jordanian flag up there for you to take a photo next to, obvs. I also passed a lion waterfall (epic), lots of different tombs and you also get to see the home of the Bedouin. Basically these holes in the rock are where the Bedouin people lived, and still live today. When Petra became a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Bedouin were told to leave Petra so it could be preserved. However, some of them have just ignored UNESCO and still live in the rock caves today.

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  • At the end of the trail, you’ll come back to the end of the main street leading through Petra and you’ll see the street with columns lining it and the old Palace (now partly ruined). Stop, get a drink and then realise you’re at the start point of your next adventure… the steps to The Monastery.
  • If you’re not a great climber, or the thought of walking for about 8 hours in one day doesn’t appeal to you, skip the back street trail and just go straight to The Monastery. Basically: don’t miss the Monastery! It’s bigger and far more impressive then The Treasury – it’s about 50m squared! – and it’s situated right next to some amazing hills, from which you can see Israel and the surrounding mountains.
  • IT IS HARD TO REACH THE MONASTARY. It’s about 800 steps in total and you need a good long hour to get up there, if you’re fit. It’s a little unforgiving too – not that much shade, although various stalls line the way where you can get ripped off for clothing (honestly, ignore the clothes sellers on your way up) and water/Coke etc. There’s lots of beautiful things to see on the way up though, the steps aside – one of which is a lovely tranquil spring about half way up.
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  • And fuuuuck when you get to the top? It’s immense. I mean… look at it. You can get right up to it (unlike The Treasury) and there’s a café ideally situated opposite with drinks, food and fans to cool you down. Just soak in that view. Sigh.
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  • Whilst you’re up there, you may as well climb a bit further and you’ll find other temples, caves and ‘The High Place’ – basically a viewpoint where you’ll be over 1000m above Wadi-Arabia, with stunning views of the surroundings.
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Ok, I’m done fangirling about Petra now. But, honestly: it’s as spectacular as you think it is and well worth a visit. Like… if you go to Jordan and DON’T visit, you’re mental. Just sayin’.

EAT: There’s a battle going on in Petra. A TripAdvisor battle. The number one rated restaurant in the area at the time I visited has reviews by people who have new accounts and have only reviewed this place… so it seems the number one spot has been claimed by fake reviews. The then number two is now number one again (WOO) and it’s called Deretna My Mum Recipe (catchy, eh?) and was it’s far and away some of the best food I had while I was travelling. Ignore Tripadvisor. Listen to me, and go to Deretna My Mum Recipe.

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In Petra everything is expensive due to the tourist. Makes sense. The food is a mix of Western and Middle Eastern, with some restaurants even having an alcohol licence (I went to one and if you sit outside they can’t serve you alcohol there so I had to drink beer poured into a Petra tourist mug – see above). But, if you want delicious Jordanian food and you can live without booze, go to Deretna My Mum Recipe.

The restaurant is a family run affair the staff are SO lovely. It has a small outside dining area and it’s right next to the mosque, so you can hear the evening call to prayer ringing out as you dine. The menu is affordable and so so good. Even their freshly made juices and milkshakes are to die for, but they really come into their own on the savoury dishes.

We were given complimentary bread, oil and herbs which is pretty standard in Jordan, and the herbs are always the same too: totally delicious. However, at Deretna My Mom Recipe they just tasted so much better. You dip the bread in the oil and smother the herbs onto it, giving you a delicious appetiser before the main meal rocks up.

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I ordered Mansaf for my main meal. It’s the national dish of Jordan, so obviously had to give it a go. According to my guide is had by families on special occasions (kinda like roast dinner in the UK). It consists of roast lamb usually, but I switched this out for chicken, layered on top of rice which is in turn layered on top of a thin layer of dough. The main even is the fermented yoghurt sauce that you pour all over it to get the rice to clump together: Mansaf is eaten by hand in the traditional style of the Bedouins, so you use the sauce to get everything to stick together, the layer of dough to pick everything up with.

It tastes amazing. I’ve actually found a couple of places in London that do it, but the portions Mansaf are cooked in are HUGE so I need to find someone to go with before I can take it on in the UK. If you go to Jordan, it’s an absolute must-try. I had it one other time in Amman and it was nowhere near as good as this version.

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On top of the beautiful prepared dish of Jordan, because my tour guide comes to this restaurant every time he’s in Jordan (oddly I was the one who recommended we go there – he didn’t suggest it because he thought we’d want alcohol LOL) we got given free dessert too! We had the sweet sticky balls of dough called awwamat. Lovely stuff and my entire meal only set me back about £10. Go, and then review the place so we can keep it at the top spot on TripAdvisor where it belongs.

LISTEN: For some reason, the call to prayer in Petra was particular lovely. So melodic and almost hypnotising, hearing the call was regularly a highlight as I travelled throughout Jordan. But yeah – Petra’s won, hands down. (Sorry King Abdullah II mosque in Amman!)

LOVE: Again, dating was not something I got up to in Petra. No no no. BUT: how’s a 2000 year old cave for an amazing date location? Or, y’know, just casual drinks with friends. It claims to be the ‘oldest bar in the world’, so it’d be a crime to miss it, even if you’re just in Petra for a day trip!

The Cave Bar is at the very entrance to The Siq, so when you’re leaving Petra for the day, pop in. The restaurant/bar has been put inside a 2000 year old cave and you can still see things carved into the walls of the cave in the bar area. It does cocktails at a slightly pricey price (c’mon, it’s the oldest bar in the world) but is well worth a visit.

DEAD SEA, MADABA AND JERASH

EAT: I now officially love Shawarma. Before Jordan, I lumped Chicken Shawarma in with kebabs – something you get as an unhealthy snack. But in Jordan, they are diviiiine. I had a few, but my favourite was from the Darma Take Away, in Madaba.

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Mmmmmmm. Chicken Shawarma is basically where chicken (or whichever meat you go for) are seasoned and placed a spit and cooked throughout the day. It gives the meat SUCH a rich flavour, a smokey yummy taste and when tabbouleh and fresh salad is paried with it and rolled up in Levantine bread, it’s the best.

EAT: The Jordanian side of the Dead Sea is accessible via one of the many hotels around the shore, some which are nicer than others. The hotel we used was nice, but I saw no more of it than the restaurant (buffet included in the ticket) and the swimming pool. Including a buffet in the ticket was a lethal idea because we were all hungry (yay to buffet) but all about to get into our swim stuff (boo to buffet).

Um Ali Bread Pudding(Photo from here because I ate the Om Ali too fast to take a photo of it….)

However, thanks to the buffet I did discover Om Ali, an amazing Egyptian coconut and pistachio dessert which is sort of fluffy and filled with sultanas, hazelnuts, biscuits and bread. It’s essentially a bread pudding filled with gloriousness. It’s actually quite easy to make at home too!

What I particularly like about Om Ali is the legend behind it. Apparently, Om Ali was the first wife of a sultan and when the sultan died, his second wife has a dispute with Om Ali (his first wife and therefore the most important) about which of their sons was going to be the next Sultan. Om Ali killed the second wife and to celebrate made this dessert. What a totally epic bitch, right?

SEE: The Dead Sea is one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had. In a good way, but also in a way which means it’s not necessarily I’d go out of my way and do again, despite loving it.

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The Dead Sea is about 40% salt and this is because it’s a closed off body of water – it can flow in from the Red Sea, but there’s nowhere for it to flow out to, so it just sits and evaporates, leaving a very salty water base behind. They estimate that due to the drilling in the southern part of the Dead Sea by both Israel and Jordan, that it may not exist within 50 years. At present, the water level drops over 1m per year as it is, meaning it’s likely to be gone within our lifetime.

The healing properties of the Dead Sea and infamous and are partly due to the fact it’s the lowest place on earth, around 400m below sea level. My water bottle compressed on the drive down to the sea and apparently and the combination of salt and sea level mean that the minerals in the Dead Sea are fantastic for the skin.

You can pay an extra 5JD to cover yourself in Dead Sea mud before you go into the Dead Sea and wash it off. It’s worth doing for the lols alone, but it’s fantastic for your skin (when I washed it off, honestly, my skin had never felt so smooth)!

Once you’re covered from head to toe, you head down to the beach. The beach appears sandy, but the closer you get to the water’s edge, you just see salt. It’s really bizarre and oddly beautiful. It’s also BOILING HOT so you’ll want to get in the water sharpish.

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When you’re in the mud starts to wash off you and when you get to about chest-height in the water, your legs are slowly forced from under you. It’s not possible to drown in the Dead Sea as the salt means you float, whether you like it or not! It’s really strange trying to put your legs back down, and trying to tread water but not being able to. You can seriously take a book and just float around for a while with no fear of the book getting wet.

Couple of things to be aware of though; salty water STINGS. It’s inevitable you’ll get it in your eyes, so wear goggles. I didn’t and it was horrible, I was blinded for about 5 minutes as I tried to flat to the water’s edge to get my towel, but like a salty eye bath, all of a sudden my eyes just clearer and were fine… but only after hurting like fuuuck. Also, what you might not get told is that your genitals (it’s worse for women than men apparently) will also feel sore and sting for a little while after you get out of the water. This happens even if you haven’t shaved recently (DO NOT SHAVE BEFORE YOU GET INTO THE DEAD SEA), so just be prepared for your eyes to hurt, your punani to hurt and for your skin to feel amazing.

SEE:  The Madaba Map is a Byzantine mosaic map of the holy lands and can be found in the town of Madaba on the floor of the Church of St. George, a Greek Orthodox church. It dates back to around 500AD and it is the oldest surviving map of the Holy Land. It covers the Mediterranean down to Egypt and across the main body of the Middle East, with the most detailed part surviving being Jerusalem. I love maps, so perhaps this is why it appealed to me so much: the history there is incredible.

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What isn’t so widely publicised is the miracle painting in the church. I overheard a guide leading a woman into a small room at the front of the church (to the right of the altar) and in there is a painting of a woman who has one regular hand and a blue hand… or at least, that’s what you think.

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What *apparently* happened is that the painting of the Virgin Mary and Child suddenly had a blue hand appear in it, from nowhere, in a church service. Rather than this being a fib and someone just painted it on there, the local people decided it came from nowhere, was a miracle, and it was God ‘landing them a helping hand’. Either way, take a peek at the supposed miracle while you’re there! Madabe is on the way to Petra, or a short detour if you’re heading to the Dead Sea from Amman.

SEE: Loving the Byzantine mosaic theme? Of course you are. Well, I have another one for you. You’ll recognise ‘Mount Nebo’ as the place where God showed Moses the Promised Land (and then told him he couldn’t have it because he was going to die. Not cool God). But Mount Nebo itself has more to offer than the tale of Moses – there’s an incredibly detailed, gorgeous Byzantine mosaic located on top of the hill too. Also: IT HAS A LION IN IT. Which makes it epic.

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On top of Mount Nebo you’ll find the famous sculpture (below) which gives a good old photo opportunity and the serpent represents the serpent created by Moses in the desert and the cross… well, I don’t need to explain that one to you.  It also offers lovely views of the ‘Promised Land’ too. Even if the religious significance of this place means little to you, the Byzantine mosaic is wonderful. So something for eeeveryone. Well done Jordan.

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SEE: Last, but by no means least, we come to Jerash. When I arrived I sent a text to my Mum: “Visiting the Roman ruins in Jerash – ’m only half an hour from the Syrian border.” Hahahaha. Went down a storm.

While to Westerns that sounds scary, it’s totally not. Jerash is split into the ‘New Town’ (where people actually work and live) and the Old Town, where you’ll find the ruins of a Greco-Roman settlement, which is actually quite well preserved (especially compared to the likes of The Citadel in Amman)! Even if you’re not a huge fan of either history of archaeology, it’s an impressive site to visit if you get the chance and have a little longer to spare in Jordan.

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You enter the ruins through the 2nd century archway (Hadrian’s Arch) which is amazing condition. One problem – there’s quiiite limited signage here, so might be a good idea to get a guide. Next, you’ll find a hippodrome where you obviously need to take a photo of you pretending to look at chariot racing. Then, you’ll walk towards the main entrance to the ruins and once you’ve shown your ticket (and purchased some water – it’s a huge site!) you’ll enter the Forum (a curved space with columns still well preserved).

You can easily spend half a day here (think I was there three hours) as there’s even more to see: temples (the Temple of Zeus is particularly awesome), a theatre or two and a ‘balancing column’ – this located to the far West of the site  at the Artemis Temple and basically it’s a huge pillar that moves… seriously, put a coin in there and you’ll see the column moving. S’all safe, don’t worry!

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Summary

That, my friends, is Jordan. Well, bits of it. I feel that spending a week there was a good amount of time to see all the major tourist attractions and to spend a decent amount of time in Amman too. Sure, with two weeks it would have been perfect and I could have done the country through and through.

I went with Geckos, who do tours for 18-29 year olds. At the upper end of that scale, I admit, it was tough going being with a bunch of people in their very early 20s, but I knew what I was signing up for. My guide was nice – a lot like an embarrassing Dad who made bad jokes and kept asking if you were ok (but that’s no bad thing, bless him) and the tour was generally great value for money and well organised. No major complaints, aside from the tour guide being a bit lopsided (not helping us speak with the locals as well as I felt he should have done) but it’s a minor thing and it didn’t ruin the tour or anything!

Long and short of it is, Jordan is a perfectly safe country if you’re going with a guided tour or a group. I got a fair bit of attention when alone and I’m not sure I’d want to deal with that allll the time, so I wouldn’t jump at the chance to visit Jordan solo. But, I’m sure I would have been fine if I did.

Highlights were absolutely discovering the delicious dessert of knafeh, the delicious Jordanian local dish of mansaf, completing a 35k trail around Petra and seeing allll the sights, getting muddy at the Dead Sea and watching the sunset in Wadi Rum. All in all, an amazing experience.

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East Africa Part 2: Tanzania/Zanzibar

25 Jun

Time for Part 2 of my adventures in East Africa! You can read Part 1 here.

Before I get into what I did in Tanzania, I want to make sure I don’t forget the little things I learned while I was there. Namely the following:

  • Tanzania used to be called Tanganyika. When the country gained independence in 1964, it incorporated Zanzibar into it and so they changed the name of the country to Tanzania to reflect Zanzibar’s inclusion!
  • They also speak Swahili in Tanzania, but it varies in pronunciation and local words. For example, in Kenya and in-land, you pronounce ‘j’ the same as you do in English. However, in Tanzania (Mainly Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar) it’s pronounced as a ‘y’.
  • Zanzibar is 99% Muslim. This is because Zanzibar used to be the hub of the East African slave trade (I went to the former trade market while I was there). Of course, the British were involved in the trading of slaves but it was mainly the Arabs who had control of the market. So, this meant that the Arabs brought their religion with them and when they married local women or enslaved local people they became Muslims. (That’s a very crude telling of the story, but it gives a bit of context I hope!)

Onto my trip!

Arusha
EAT: The trip from Kenya to Tanzania consisted of the Tucan Travel big yellow truck. Last time I went to Africa with Tucan I travelled in Peeky… this time it was Tom, but amazingly Timan was the driver again! Me, Donna and Alex were obviously overjoyed to see him and it was great to sit up front in the truck and chat about life, the universe and everything with him 😊

Life on the road entering #Tanzania in the trusty #TucanTravel truck! Flapping is GO.

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After crossing the border (after stopping for lunch on the side of the road and doing some good old flapping!) we ended up, 5-6 hours later, in Arusha. As Timan wasn’t going any further with us (booo) Kim arranged for us to have dinner at Snake Park where Timan was staying. Not only was it lovely to spend a little bit more time with Timan, but Snake Park put on an epic meal too!

Of course, at Snake Park you can camp and play with snakes… but it’s the traveller’s bar and the food which got my attention. We had a magnificent barbecue put on for us with beef, chicken, coleslaw, gorgeous potatoes and ugali, salad… honestly, it was an amazing meal. They even put on home-made garlic bread which was so strong and yummy that the mosquitos kept well away (and the men, hah).

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The bar at Snake Park is a bit special too. Lots of traveler’s have decorated the place with mementos, t-shirts, photos and more. There are plenty of cocktails, beers, ciders and more available and it’s just a great place to hang out with other campers and make new friends. True, it’s a 30 minute drive outside of Arusha town centre, but it’s close to the airport and worth popping in if you have the time!

SEE: On the way to Arusha airport you’ll pass the Cultural Heritage Centre and it’s well worth leaving for the airport an hour early to spend a bit of time (and inevitably money) here.

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The centre is a mix of small shops, eateries and am art gallery. It’s this gallery which is the highlight; I spent over an hour wandering around the five floors of stunning artwork and sculptures here. I completely fell in love with various pieces of artwork and SO much of it was wildlife based so obviously I bloody loved that too.

There’s also photography, furniture, animal sculptures and ornaments in the gallery. Most things are for sale and shipment to your home country can be arranged. I spend $15 on an A5 painting, done in the traditional stick figurine style; it’s filled with deep reds and yellows and the black stick figures with bright clothing are just beautiful.

Worth a wander round, if only for the calming water feature if you’re skint!

LISTEN: I wanted to go somewhere local in Arusha. To spend the night in bars and clubs where the people who actually live in Arusha go. And, fortunately, I managed to do exactly that.

The manager of the hotel I was staying at, James, came along with me and my friends and we started the night in Triple A. It’s a trendier bar which has live music and shows football. And, of course, sells Konyagi.

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Oh, Konyagi. It’s sort of like gin (but it’s not) and a little bit like vodka (but it’s not) and nothing at all like rum. But it’s just as strong, cheap and everyone drinks it with soda water. And it’s SO easy to drink… it really shouldn’t be, but it is.

Anyway, long story short me and my friends had way too much Konyagi and at about 10pm we left Triple A to head to Sky Lounge, which is far more like a club. To get there we were led by two local guys (who we sort of knew) down a pothole road to a car. Then about 7 of us got inside said car and drove for 10 minutes to Sky Lounge. I KNOW. I don’t do shit like this in England, I’m far too fucking sensible. The problem with everyone drink driving in Tanzania is 1. Everyone does it. 2. Because they all do it they’re actually quite good at it. To the point where, despite sitting across the knees of two people in the back of a very small car, I had a comfy ride to the club and got there safe and sound.

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That’s me, dancing to dancehall in a local club. I’m dancing with James, the manager of the hotel I was staying out. Dear GOD that man could dance. He didn’t even walk around the bar, he just glided around it, moving like nothing you’ve ever seen. Turns out he’s VERY into his music and he DJs, so dancing is ‘second nature’ to him. To be honest, I was pretty honoured he spent the night dancing with (ok, not with, ‘up against’) me because he was so damn good he could have swaggered up to anyone in that place and made an impression. (Like I said, I do far better in Africa than I do in London – must be the whole ‘being blissfully happy’ thing.)

Anyway, we spent the night dancing to dancehall and contemporary African Rhumba and it was a brilliant night. Aside from a guy, literally, dragging me over to his friend every 10 minutes (that got old fast) and another man filming me dancing (security guard told him to ‘leave the muzungu alone and delete the video, hahaha).

Again; if you’re with someone you know (or just people you’ve met recently on your tour who you trust) then people won’t cause (much) trouble – like you, everyone just wants to dance!

LOVE: If he loves you, Amarula. If he lusts you, Konyagi 😉

Serengeti / Ngorongogo Crater
EAT: So, I spend 3 days on safari in Tanzania and on day 1, we drove to the Ngorongogo crater. We passed through to get to the Serengeti, but on the way back spent lots of time here (see ‘see’ below)!

Tucan run the tour via third-party operators, so it’s not actually Tucan taking you on safari, but one of their partners. So, we had a small truck take us into the Serengeti and on the way to our campsite we saw SO MANY LIONS. But again, I’ll come on to the lions later. What I want to chat about now is the food.

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As well as a driver, the third-party tour operator brings a chef on safari with us, so we had a packed lunch everyday (usually chicken, boiled egg, sandwich, banana, cake and chocolate). In the evenings, when the sun had gone down and we were back at base-camp, we had a meal cooked for us. The best cooked on safari?

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Cucumber soup. SERIOUSLY. It was amazing. Sounds totally rubbish, I know, but honestly, the spices and the way the Tanzanians cook just makes everything so delicious. The cook honestly couldn’t understand why the hell I was asking him for a recipe, haha. The last time I went to Africa I actually used the campsite hobs (basic, but they do the job) to make rosemary sweet potatoes and fish, which at the time I thought was an amazing achievement. But the chef not only made soup, but beef stews, spiced rice with vegetables, fresh COLESLAW and more. Makes you realise and appreciate that the most basic ingredients can create tasty meals.

Again: show the cucumber soup some love. And the delicious food we also had cooked for us by the Bee Eater Safari chef!

EAT/SEE: I hate early mornings. Anyone who knows me knows that if you wake me up before I’m ready to wake up you will get a pretty damn nasty look from me. However, I was up at 4.30am one morning in the Serengeti and I couldn’t have been happier. Why? Because I was about to embark on a hot air balloon ride.

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To get on the ride in the AM, you must have signed up and paid (gulp) around $550 the day before to guarantee a place. The ballooning company will come to your campsite within the Serengeti at 5am to have you at the balloon for 5.30am. There’s a bit of mooching about with your fellow passengers as the balloon, and pilot, get ready. While this is happening you stand in the middle of the Serengeti and watch as daylight creeps in to cover the moon, ready for the safety briefing to begin.

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To start, you get into the balloon basket and the balloon is tipped upright. And then; take off. The Serengeti is a spectacular sight from the ground of course, but from the sky? It’s not hard to understand why ‘Serengeti’ translates to ‘endless plains’ – the beauty of the National Reserve stretches on and on and on. From the sky you get to see the animals interacting in a way you couldn’t comprehend on the ground; I saw a lion leaving it’s kill and skulking off the road to the grasses. About 50m along the road, a hyena was waiting for the lion to disappear (as you’ll know, hyenas are nature’s greatest scavengers). While all this was taking place, vultures were soaring alongside the balloon and circling the kill the lion had just left.

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From the air you get the understand the sheer size of the zebra and wildebeest herds too – I went in early April, so they were starting to group together for their great migration and we saw hundreds of animals grouped in one spot. We soared over a closed-in rock formation and managed to spot two lions hiding in there too! After about an hour, we landed and made our way through the grasses to the vehicle waiting to take us to a full champagne breakfast in the Serengeti.

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On the way to the breakfast location (a beautiful spot under a baobab tree of course) we passed some lions… and then only drove about 200 meters away to the breakfast table. Slightly unnerving for the rest of the people in the balloon (one kid asked if the lions would come to get his bacon, haha) but I would have been SO up for lions to join the party!

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The breakfast was a brilliant end to something I’ve been meaning to tick off my bucket list for a while. Sipping champagne (lol, ok, it was clearly African prosecco but ho hum) and having a full English breakfast in the Serengeti, before heading back to my campsite, was a brilliant way to spend a morning. Yes, the cost is steep, but the experience is totally unforgettable. The reason I work is so I can do things like flying over the Serengeti in a hot air balloon and I couldn’t recommend it enough!

SEE: The Ngorongoro Crater is a stunner. Or, to be more historically accurate, it’s a huge cauldron-like depression in the land which was created when a volcano collapsed into itself around 2-3 million years ago. The crater is 100 square miles… which gives you some indication of how crazy huge the volcano must have been!

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We went through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to get to the Serengeti, but stopped off at a stunning viewpoint beforehand. You can see the full expanse of the Crater from this point and it’s  stunning. Only elephants are really visible from this height, but the greenery surrounding the vast expanse of water in the centre of the Crater is breath-taking. I was, obviously, on the lookout for lions and I convinced myself that I’d spotted one under a tree in the middle of the Crater. My group actually thought I might be right, but our driver quickly got his binoculars out and confirmed that I was looking at a bench. My spotting skills ain’t that hot.

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Two days later, after the Serengeti, we made our way back to the Crater and camped before we heading into the depression itself. As you can see from the photo above, it was super early and the mist and sunrise were pretty damn lovely, even if it was another early morning! You make your way into the Crater by a one-track road which skirts the edge before leading you into the middle. When you’re down there it’s amazing just how much wildlife lives there; flamingos lined the waters edge, hyenas were lying in the middle of the road chilling out, elephants and all kinds of birds strolling around. We even spotted, JUST about spotted, a rhino down there!

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Oh, and lions. YAAAAAY MORE LIONS. The lions we saw were quite something too. The first was a mum and her cubs, hiding by a rock in the middle of yellow and purple wild flowers. The mother did what everyone was hoping and sidled onto the rock and surveyed the land, before joining her cubs again, whose heads kept popping up and down between the flowers. SO CUTE.

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We also spotted a male lion out and about majestically lying down next to a stream. I’m always drawn to water (the sound brings me so much joy) so having a running stream behind me as I gazed at a lion was pretty much the dream! As well as meeting a man via a radio chat (see ‘LOVE’ section) that gives you flavour of my time in the Ngorongoro Crater. It truly is a stunning place.

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LISTEN: In the Serengeti, there are three options: basic campsites with toilets, fancy campsites with toilets or actual buildings to sleep in. Obviously I was in a basic campsite, so I crawled into my tent at night and tried to get to sleep. Of course, hearing a lion roar tends to make sleeping difficult… and hearing it roar so loudly you’re sure it’s only a few steps away is both completely exhilarating (I like things that have the potential to kill me apparently) and incredibly unnerving.

However, I got to sleep.

The next morning (the 4.30am balloon morning) I woke up before everyone else and made my way to the toilets. After putting my clothes on, I started to walk back to my tent and as I did, a hyena crossed my path and stopped. Like… 10 meters away. A proper, legit hyena. Now – they don’t really tell you what to do if you meet a hyena. So I stood completely still and wondered if I should be worried or not and after about 5 seconds, decided I probably should, but that moving was also probably a stupid idea.

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The hyena sauntered across my path, glanced at me and moved swiftly on. So, there you go my friends – if you meet a hyena, treat them much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and don’t move. Worked for me, so assuming it’s sound advice.

LOVE: Tinder is only really used in big cities across Africa. However, I was set up on a date thanks to the ‘African version of Tinder’ – that is, the radio system the safari guides use to communicate with each other.

Basically, I saw this guy at the Ngorongoro Crater campsite and decided he was hot and looked like Donald Glover (a.k.a Childish Gambino). Had his swagger and dressed a little like him too. The next morning when we were on safari in the crater, I spotted him and realised he was a safari driver and I told my group about my little crush. Then, things spiralled.

It was basically like the most embarrassing high-school set up ever, but taking place in a crater on safari. My group were not only looking for wildlife, but every bloody vehicle that went past was surveyed in case he was in it. It didn’t take long for the driver of my 4×4 to get wind of my crush, and I told him that the guy is hot and looks like a celebrity.

Long story short, my driver RADIOED ALL THE DRIVERS IN THE CRATER and found the guy I had a crush on and then RADIOED HIM DIRECTLY and got him to meet us at a mini-lake in the crater. Of course, their entire conversation was in Swahili so I had no idea what this driver was rocking up to the lake expecting. Super awkward doesn’t cover it.

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When he arrived I turned the sass on and pretended this is a totally normal way to meet people. Their first thing he asked was if he could see a photo of the celebrity he looks like (fml). I showed him, he agreed and then we chatted a bit more. Kim, my tour leader then invited him out with us that evening and gave him her number, and mine, so he could get in touch. She also took the above photo where I look like I’m playing it cool but I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN LESS COOL.

So there you have it. African Tinder. (In case you’re wondering what went on with the guy he tried to skip coming on a night out with me and my friends and just tried to take me straight back to his place. I didn’t go and he spent the 2 weeks after I came home Whatsapping me photos of lions he saw on Safari. Which was actually quite sweet, bless him.)

Zanzibar: Stone Town
Final stop on my tour of East Africa is Zanzibar. From Arusha we headed to Arusha airport (mainland Tanzania) and the airport was one of the cutest little airports I’ve ever seen. It was even smaller than Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls airport (and that’s saying something…) and then I saw the plane.

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The plane we took to Zanzibar was a propeller plane which seated about 20 people and wasn’t big enough to have a hold to put the suitcases in. Everyone’s suitcases were stacked in and outside the one tiny toilet on board, and there was no door to the cockpit… the pilots were just sat in full view. I’m not scared of flying so really enjoyed the experience!

Zanzibar is an island just off the coast of Tanzania. In the 1960s, when East African gained independence, Tanzania was actually called Tanganyika. Zanzibar became part of the country (although to this day it has its own government and operates alone in various maters), so they changed the name to Tanzania so Zanzibar got represented!

Anyway, brief airport story and history lesson over. Onto Stone Town, the capital city of Zanzibar!

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EAT: On the seafront is a restaurant called Monsoon. It’s one of those places that true, is less local and more touristy, but I only had a few meals in Stone Tour and to be honest, the food was great so HERE I AM BEING A TOURIST.

The restaurant has an outdoor terrace (when we got to Stone Town it was unbearable muggy so we sat outside fanning ourselves constantly) and inside the restaurant is covered in rugs and cushions and you have to remove your shoes and sit on the floor to eat. They also have local live music a few nights each week which I didn’t get to experience, but my tour leader Kim said it’s really good.

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The menu is filled with Swahili cuisine; it’s not cheap but it’s not a super high-end restaurant either. I went for a three course meal for what was about $15 and for the quality of the food and the setting it was a lovely meal. First course I went for chicken and passion fruit dressing with chapati (above). With the humidity it was a great light meal and really tasty too. Definitely getting passion fruit involved with chicken salad in future.

For my main course I had Swahili curried chicken (lots of spices, but not hot), chapati, beans, spinach, potato and a mango veggie bit on the side. The chicken was delicious (put coconut in anything and I’ll love it) and the food was just generally yummy. The photos really don’t do the food justice – it was really good and my photography skills aren’t up to much with the above.

For dessert I had Swahili date cake, baked with dates and cardamon with a bit of vanilla. Also very nice, but a tiny bit dry from what I remember! Worth a shot if you want to eat on a lovely terrace with the sound of the ocean to accompany you.

SEE: One morning I went on a walking tour of Stone Town which I totally recommend. Stone Town is a maze of alleyways, each bursting with history (and, honestly, if you don’t go on a tour you just get lost. True, this is a BIG part of the fun of Stone Town, but a guided tour to start you off is a good shout).

Our tour guide was a right character. He learned English from a cockney, so he kept dropping in a London accept to his tour, as well as cockney rhyming slang and lots of British colloquialisms! Total legend is below.

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Things Stone Town is famous for;

  • Being the birthplace of Freddie Mercury. Spoiler: his house looks like a house.
  • The doorways and architecture. The doorways in Stone Town are STUNNING. I’m a fan of architecture and I generally love colonial towns because of the mix of influences on the architecture. A few examples of the doors I spotted are below, and on the tour I learned that the things carved into the doors have meanings. For example, doors which had vines carved into them were ususlaly the homes of people who traded crops or owned plantations.

  • The slave trade. Zanzibar was the hub of the slave trade off the coast of East Africa and saw Arabs coming to East Africa, taking people from their homes and selling them into a life of hard labour lacking in freedom or dignity. The photo above is a sculpture that actually uses a chain from the slave market itself.

  • You might not be surprised to hear that a tour of the old slave market is both shocking and humbling; what East African (all African) slaves endured is beyond our comprehension. However, at the slave market, and the photo above is where they would keep up to 80 slaves. 80 people in that tiny space, having to sleep, eat and go to the toilet in there, and stay in there while they were either waiting to be sold or waiting to be transported.

    There’s an exhibition at the Slave Market too and it’s so worth taking 90 minutes out of the midday sun and heading inside here. The lives of both slaves and slave owners are documented here – everything from the lives of East Africans before the Arabs and Europeans invaded, to how slaves were captured (and subsequently tried to escape), the labour and other jobs they would have to do, their day to day lives… it’s thorough and worth reading everything in there. You’ll come out into the sunshine from a very dark place in history.

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    The food market is a tourist hot-spot and the place where locals actually go to get their food. It’s quite the experience! I entered in the fruit section and was hit but a riot of colour… and then I spotted red bananas, which I totally didn’t realise were a thing! They’re like yellow ripe bananas, but smaller and far sweeter. Delish.

    Then, you walk through the meat and fish market. You can tell the meat and fish is fresh because, eerr, you see stuff being chopped and carved up, with blood going everywhere and the place STINKING as you walk through. The fish section was particularly fragrant… not a spot to go if you’re either veggie, vegan or sensitive to any strong smells! The cats were bloody loving the fish guts spilling on the floor though 😉

  • On the walking tour we also went to a few famous buildings in Stone Town. The first (above) is called the House of Wonders, named so because it was the first building in Zanzibar to get electricity and it was the first building in East Africa to get a lift! It was built for the second Sultan of Zanzibar dontcha know.

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  • The Old Fort pretty much does what it says on the tin (well fort-y), but is worth a wander for the amphitheatre and to see the walls of the fort, which are made with a mix of limestone and coral.

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    Also make sure you pop across to Beit-al-Sahel. It’s now a museum but used to be Sultan Said’s home back in the nineteenth century. It’s worth a tour for the history of the Sultan, his wives and to get a sense of the Oman influence in Zanzibar. Plus, there’s some kick-ass furniture, a beautiful retro bathroom and a life-size painting of Queen Lizzy 2nd in there too (t’was a gift to the island when she visited back at the start of her reign).

    • The best bit of the walking tour? The walking. Through the narrow streets, getting lost, discovering some lovely boutique or just seeing the local women cooking their breakfast chapattis in the morning sun. I stumbled across plenty of beautiful street art, decorations and just poignant items whilst wandering. Some, but nowhere near all, are above.

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LISTEN: The rains in Africa are wanted and welcomed. Usually the rains begin In April, but for the first 13 days of my 14-day tour, we had glorious sunshine. Which is great for tourism, sure, but ruins the crops and means animals don’t have the drinking water they need. But when a storm comes, it comes down HARD.

The storm started as we were on our way back from North Zanzibar to Stone Town. When getting out the vehicle, we got absolutely drenched despite being outside for about 10 seconds. The rain was coming down so hard I wasn’t able to take a day trip to Prisoner Island because the boat would have filled up with water in the time it takes to get there apparently!

But, being able to sit inside with a cold Kilimanjaro beer and listen to the rain hammering it down was pretty great. The newly washed pathways in Stone Town were begging to be explored when the sun made its way past the clouds, so I decided to take a trip to get some mango lassi (Indian yoghurt drink) I’d seen at a film café on my walking tour of Stone Town.

LOVE: I made my way to the film café in a raincoat (the locals looked at me as if I was insane, which I was, because it was SO HOT despite the rain) and despite the narrow, winding, confusing streets of Stone Town, I found it! I went inside, ordered, and ended up having a totally random afternoon. The film café is here and it’s comfy sofas (about 6 in all) on a slope all facing a huge screen. The manager of the place, Omar, explained that he downloads films and people can simply come in and request what they want to watch while they eat. The sound quality was amazing and I ended up watching Public Enemy (well, most of it), Ice Age 4 and some sort of animated dinosaur movie (the last two were due to families coming in and me not wanting to leave because the storm had hit again).

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Or something like that, anyway. Let’s just say that I’ll always remember mango lassi, Omar Zanzibar, Public Enemy and this line: “I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whiskey— and you. What else you need to know?”

Zanzibar: Nungwi
You can’t head to Spice Island and not go to a Spice Plantation. Seriously. I know, I know, all the tourists do it, but it’s well good and you should go. (If that didn’t convince you, read on, I promise you’ll be convinced.)

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The tour involves walking around the spice plantation and learning about each of the things that are being grown there. I ate / sniffed / walked through everything, from lemongrass, tumeric, vanilla, cinnamon and more. The lemongrass was SO fragrant, and everything you were allowed to eat just tasted so much better having it straight from the source.

I also discovered Bilimbi and tried it for the first time (that’s the thing in my mouth in the photo above). It’s a REALLY sharp and sour fruit – honestly, with every small bite I was wincing, but it was mouthwateringly good and I couldn’t help but want to eat the entire bloody thing.

As obvious bloody tourists we got pounced on by various men working at the plantation who tried to see us everything from fragrant necklaces, bracelets made out of plants and one guy was selling beautiful perfume, all made from ingredients grown on the plantation. I went for the Jasmine perfume and a few people in the group got some gorgeous smelling soaps.


Then, we got to taste the fruit grown on the plantation and the teas made with the spices there. The guy in the left hand photo casually climbed a huge tree to get us some fruit (honestly, his climbing skills were insane) and we had delicious fresh pineapple and other fruits (photo on the right). SO YUMMY.

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We finished off the tour of the spice plantation by being very kindly invited into the home of one of the women who lives on the plantation. She cooked us a meal (above) of coconut chicken, with spiced rice (including cinnamon, cardamon and more) with fresh coleslaw. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Seriously. The flavours were insane and I ended up having three portions and I’ve since tried and failed to make it at home. Absolutely incredible stuff.

EAT: Most of the places to eat at Nungwi Beach are restaurants which are run by hotels along the beachfront. Now, the food in these places is nice. But you can’t help but be super aware that it’s all tailored to tourists and more expensive that the little local places which give you a real taste of the place.

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I was wandering along the beach and happened across a little wooden shack. To look at it, you’d only notice the clothes hanging in a shop underneath it. But I looked closer and noticed steep wooden stairs (basically a ladder) to a ramshackle terrace, with a counter underneath. There, you’ll find Lisa Cafeteria.

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What I ended up getting was a brilliant meal. I wandered in and realised that the place was a café – when I asked to see the menu they said that there wasn’t one. They just cook something and if you want a small plate of it it’s $3 and if you want a big plate it’s $5. I asked what they happened to be cooking that day and I was coconut beef, spiced rice and vegetables – which sounded amazing, so I got a small plate and a beer.

The food was delicious. Like… so good. Such amazing value for money and the fact that it’s not cooked to order, it’s just cooked because that’s what they wanted to cook that day, really came through. Just good food with a beautiful view.

It’s a tough place to find, but hopefully the link to the rough area it’s in on Google maps will lead you to it, if you choose to go. Be prepared to eat whatever happens to be available; I don’t doubt for a second it’ll be delicious.

SEE: Most people who go to Nungwi, understandably, just lay on the beach. Fair enough. These days, I have no problem at all wandering around in a bikini, but the beach is never going to keep me entertained for long. So, I decided to wander into Nungwi village.

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I was really glad I did. The road into Nungwi Village started off, obviously being full of local shops catering to tourists. But if you walk 20 minutes you start to see the village itself. The kids get more and more interested in you the further you go outside the tourist zone. I had one little girl and her friends start to follow me and they were speaking Swahili. I asked someone what they were saying and apparently they were asking why a white person was wearing such colourful clothes loooool.

Whilst wandering I found a little local shop selling LION PRINT TOPS (got one, obviously) and a square filled with men just playing draughts and cards. I grabbed a drink and was invited to watch, before starting to wander back to the beach.

At the beach, I decided that I wanted to get out the sun but didn’t fancy the beach. So for about $15 I got an hour long massage and it was AMAZING. There are two Muslim ladies who hang out by Nungwi Inn and they do everything from henna and hair braiding to massages. Seriously, the massage was great. Relaxing music and just enough pressure. I have it on good authority that they actually offer happy endings to men, so if that’s your kinda thing then you know where to go… (best I got was a sly boob massage which was more than enough, hahaha).

SEE: The Indian ocean. Well, ‘see’ might be the wrong section for this because rather than just looking at it, I’d recommend going in it. Beach porn below.

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LISTEN: Nungwi beach is lined with hotels. Each of the hotels has an offering – they either focus on seafood and cuisine, watersports, themed nights or parties. The Nungwi Inn, where I stay, is now famous for its Friday night party. They extend the bar well onto the beach, have huge speakers set up and locals and tourists alike (mainly locals to be honest) come along and dance.

The dancing is absolutely incredible, of course. While sipping cocktails on the beach the night before, we noticed that a lot of very attractive local men suddenly appeared and were doing a mixture of dancing, volleyball or press ups. My tour guide explained it’s because wealthy older women basically hire the men as gigolos, so it’s pretty much them advertising themselves as the sun sets, so they can attract an older woman for the evening.

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I mean… if I was at an age where I needed to pay for attractive men (and had the inclination to do so, obvs) then I’d have been spoilt for choice.

As it was, the local studs who hadn’t been picked up by an older woman and had the night free all came along to Nungwi Inn to dance and down Konyagi. The dancing was, of course, amazing. SO so good. Of course, when Kim and I were drunk at about 1am we decided that we wanted to join in and ended up trying to keep up with the guys by the blaring speakers (and failing, but they were nice about it)!

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The Nungwi Inn played a mix of music – Sean Paul appeared, as did Swahili hip hop – it was a great mix and a lot of effort is put in to the party, for sure. It goes on until about 2am, when everyone usually goes to bed.

Kim and I did not.

LOVE: Rather than going to bed, we were taken down a rubble road to someone’s house. We had some guys pay for us to get in and we were led into an apartment complex set up with lights, speakers and all the Nungwi locals dancing in a courtyard.

Now, I know that dancing under the stars is a romantic trope (and to be honest the way the guys were dancing was more of a grind than anything romantic). But there’s something about just being outside, in the warm air, under the beautiful crystal clear stars of African that you can’t beat.

All I did that night was dance with the locals and drink Konyagi (and take advantage of Kim’s hospitality haha), go to a local party (2am), then go to a local’s garden (3am) then go to the foundations of a guy’s house that he was in the process of having built (4am, long story) then wander down the beach (5am). Doesn’t sound like a special night but thanks to the people I was with and the beauty of simply being in Zanzibar, it was an amazing evening.

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And that brings me to an end (it’s taken me 2 months to write bloody blog post but reliving my time in East Africa has meant it’s not a chore)!

So many amazing people. So much I’ve learned. So many marriage proposals. So much Tusker. So many unforgettable experiences. I’m always the best version of myself whilst travelling, and in Africa this is truer than anywhere else. I’d already fallen for Africa, but I loved Kenya and Tanzania so much I’m now learning Swahili and planning a trip back within the next couple of years!

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My head may be back in London, but my heart is very much still here.

East Africa Part 1: Kenya

18 Jun

Oh, Africa. It’s a continent that you either visit once and don’t return to, or it gets under your skin and you have no choice to but explore it more. For me, it’s the latter. I couldn’t be more in love with the place; the history, languages, the people, the food, the views, the wildlife and more.

This time around I explored Kenya and Tanzania/Zanzibar. There’s so much to learn about; the history (how the Brits screwed both countries over), the change in culture (traditional Maasai vs modern life), the language (Swahili, I have decided is my favourite language in the world)… and of course, there’s the animals. OH HAI LIONS.

I went on an organised tour (this one by Tucan Travel) and it was epic. It visited all the main places I wanted to see in two weeks and included 5 safaris, some of the most spectacular scenery on earth, beaches, historical walking tours (sounds geeky, don’t care) and loads of opportunities to explore on my own and have wild nights out. Which I did.

Below are the main stop-off points of my tour, what I did, ate and saw there and more. Enjoy! AND FOR THE LOVE OF SIMBA, GO!

Nairobi
Nairobi. Usually called Nairobbery but I had no bad experiences there at all. Despite the fact that for the 2 nights prior to my tour I stayed in ‘Old Town’ – a place that Google would have you believe is incredibly dangerous. It’s not. It’s a fantastic snapshot of real-life Nairobi and while staying in that area I didn’t see a muzungu (white person in Swahili) for two days. It was GREAT. I also saw many variations on this poster below… really wish I’d called up and met with one of these Doctors. Just for a laugh, but I’m sure it would have been quite the experience…

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I walked from Old Town to Westlands (an hour in the dark) and again, had no problems. If you go somewhere thinking you’re going to get in trouble, then you might. But walk through the streets with your head high and try and speak the language with the people who live there and you’ll usually be fine I’ve found. True, I was there with two friends this time (a man and a woman) but I spent enough time walking around Nairobi on my own to know that no trouble was going to come my way.

EAT: I haven’t mentioned her much so far, but my Tucan Travel tour leader (Kim) was epic. She was so up for taking us to interesting places and fully embracing being in Africa and making the most of it. She actually visited London a couple of weeks back and I took her to a trendy al-fresco Brixton street food / bar place, a little like one she had taken me to when in Nairobi. The main reason she took me there was because: burgers. C’mon, as if I could go to a country that has agriculture at its heart and NOT have a burger.

We went to The Alchemist (near to Quik Fit in Westlands, Nairobi) – it’s basically got a few food trucks there, lots of seating and a huge DJ / dance area. We sat down and ordered Tusker beer (obviously) before browsing the Mama Rocks menu. Mama Rocks started in London before the founders moved their delicious burgers to Nairobi – and they were seriously delicious.

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I went for the chicken burger; Peanut crusted suya-spiced chicken breast, crispy lettuce and fiery chili, coconut mayo. It tasted as good as it sounds, trust me. The peanut spiced coating was crispy but not overpowering and broke away perfectly leaving you with delicious tender chicken to get at. Coconut mayo is also my new favourite thing. It all worked together gloriously… pair this with the plantain fries and you’re onto a total winner.

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Only downside of the evening was it TIPPED DOWN. Like, heavens hardcore opening. So we had to finish our meal, smiling and not giving a shit about the weather. Because when you’re in Africa, the rains are a good thing!

EAT: I read a short piece on Nyama Mama in the Kenya Airways in-flight magazine on the way to Nairobi. Not how I usually get my food tips when visiting new countries, but in this case it was a brilliant shout. Nyama Mama is reasonably new and is in Westlands, just off the super-highway. It plays to what I mentioned earlier – about East African traditions and modern life coexisting – and all of the food uses traditional Kenyan ingredients but served with a contemporary twist.

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First up; the ugali fries (in the back of shot). Ugali is a stodgy food, like thick starchy rice and is a staple of the Kenyan diet. It bulks up meals and is usually pretty tasteless. However, Nyama Mama turned ugali into ‘fries’, sprinkled them with paprika and served them with garlic sauce. They were completely delicious.

I went for Mama’s Matoke burger (no more burgers, promise) which consisted of plantain (matoke is another word for it, basically), cheese and chermoula which I discovered is a paste which is made of herbs and earthy spices. The bun wasn’t fantastic, but the burger and extras totally were!

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Oh, and I had to have the meal with Tusker. Tusker is Kenya’s best-selling lager and it has a yellow elephant on the label which immediately makes it better than ALL UK BEER (plus it tastes nice too). It was actually the creation of two British brothers in the 1920s – the British government were ‘encouraging investment in the colonies’ and two brothers came over and started brewing. One brother loved hunting and on a shooting trip got killed by a male elephant (SERVES YOU RIGHT DICKHEAD) – and male elephants with huge tusks are called… YES. TUSKERS. So, the surviving brother named the beer Tusker in his honour and the rest is cold, refreshing history.

I bring back a beer bottle from every country I visit, so this bad boy is sitting on my beer bottle shelf at home (500mls because in Africa they don’t faff about with 330ml bottles). If you go to Kenya, you can’t miss having a cold Tusker. Mwah.

Nyama Mama is a brilliant shout for an interesting spin on East African food, fantastic music (the soundtrack was painfully trendy African music) and beautiful décor.

SEE: I’d never done yoga, but it seemed easy. Bit of stretching, bit relaxing, etc. Before I went to Nairobi I came across the Africa Yoga Project. The AYP is captialising on the explosion and increasing investment in the ‘wellness industry’ and is training out of work Africans to become yoga teachers – it’s a really smart idea. So, where better to try my first yoga session than in Nairobi?

Obviously I rocked up wearing colourful cotton leggings, no sports bra and a stupid top and I walked from the centre of Nairobi to the yoga studio, about 45 minutes in the lovely midday sun (fml). So I was already warm. Once we started the session, it took about 2 minutes for me to realise the following:
1. Yoga is really hard.
2. I am not that bendy.
3. You sweat a LOT doing yoga. Especially when it’s 35 degrees.

The instructor’s assistant could tell I was crap and spend half the session trying to bend me into the right position, which he did in a way which helped me and didn’t make me feel totally incompetent. The instructor I had was in the middle of training, but was really good. He made it really clear what I needed to do and catered to all abilities. As the instructor was being trained, the session was ‘pay what you want’ too. If you like yoga, or want to try it, then definitely visit this place. You’ll be funding a brilliant project AND sweating like the African rains (but maybe that’s just me).

SEE: While in Nairobi I did make the effort to do some hardcore tourist stuff. First up was the Elephant Orphanage. It’s about a 20 min drive from central Nairobi (near the National Park) and it’s only open between 11-12.

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When you get there, you queue up and then are welcomed into a roped off area. All of a sudden, you’ll see the baby elephants come bounding towards you from the distance (they keep them in as close to a natural, open environment as they can) and once they get to the roped off area they lunge at the feeders who are waiting with milk for them. SO CUTE.


Most of these elephants have lost their parents in the wild due to natural causes or poachers. Some of them were abandoned by their parents because they couldn’t survive in the wild (one baby elephant has a limp because he was shot in the leg) but in the orphanage, they are free to roam, given milk and have allll the mud and water to roll around in they could possibly want.

Next on the well-beaten tourist trail is the Giraffe Centre. You may have heard of Giraffe Manor – it costs a LOT of money to stay there and it’s a hotel where the giraffes stick their head through the windows / ambush you on the patio / generally get in the way (nicely). Well, the Giraffe Centre is next to the Manor and the same giraffes hang around waiting for tourists to feed them veggie pellets. Again, they’re free to roam; if they decide they don’t want food, they’ll wander off and you can’t do anything about it.

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But, like most animals, they always want food. Basically, they slobber all over you and look really cute doing it with their huge, blue tongues. If you want to get up close and personal with giraffes, this is the place to do it.


SEE: I went to the Karen Blixen Museum without really knowing who she was or what she did, but having heard that it’s a place not to miss if you’re in Nairobi. Turns out, she wrote Out of Africa (I’ve never seen the film but have since read the book) and she’s a pretty extraordinary woman!

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A tour of her farm starts with a guide telling you all about Ms. Blixen. She moved to Africa in the early 1900s from Denmark with her husband. While in Africa she got a divorce from him (UNHEARD of back then?!), ran her own business (she turned the farm into a coffee plantation), she lived with her lover for about 10 years (extremely sassy 100 years ago) and she was a writer, a painter and acted as a nurse to the local people while she was here. You get to tour her farm grounds, the house and see some Out of Africa highlights… but learning all about this immense woman is the real highlight. I left with a bit of a girl-crush.

“You know you are truly alive when you_re living among lions.”

So much so that I went straight to a bookshop in Nairobi and purchased Out of Africa. I’ve now finished the book and, colonial mentality aside (she shoots animals and obviously is a white woman who just purchased some ‘native land’ for herself) but her heart is generally as in the right place as it could be for the time. The way she views Africa is the way I do – a place like no other and gets under your skin. The way she describes the landscape is beautiful and she honestly wants to help (as in with their help and offering employment, learning about their culture. Not the colonial version of ‘help’ which is take over and assume their customs and culture is wrong). Once you’ve been to Nairobi the book is well worth a read.

Ooh, also – about a 5-minute walk from the Museum is the Karen Blixen restaurant / café. It’s set in stunning landscaped gardens and the food is looovely (I had coconut and butternut squash soup and it’s as gorgeous as it sounds). True, it’s not a ‘local’ food place, but if you fancy a treat and want to eat surrounded by gorgeous artwork, head there too. According to my friends the coffee was brilliant!

SEE: Karura Forest is about a 20 minute drive outside of central Nairobi (or a nice long walk) and is well worth a visit. It’s a wonderfully peaceful place to wander around and has plenty of marked trails for exploring. Within 10 minutes of wandering through the forest I saw SO many colourful butterflies and spotted what looked like a dik-dik hiding in the bushes. *sniggers*

My aim was to get to Karura Waterfall and it took about 45 minutes to walk there from the North East entrance to the park. The walk was virtually all in the shade – see the beautiful canopy and trees with huge roots above!

The waterfall can be heard in the distance as soon as you stumbled across the small river. What’s so lovely about it is how secluded it feels and that you can walk across the front of it too.

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A woman sat down next to me to gaze at the waterfall and asked me about myself. We ended up chatting about the waterfall and she said that she’s been living in Nairobi her whole life and that this was the first time she’d visited! Apparently it’s a place people know about but don’t really go. So get yourself ahead of the locals and visit 😉 Is there anything better (lions aside) than the sound of water?

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Elsewhere in Karura Forest you’ll find wildlife, nature trails, the lovely lily pond above (again, very secluded, had to walk through a maze of bushes to get to it on the South West exit of the park) and a pricey cafe too. It’s pricey because the views are stunning… worth nipping in for a cold beer after you’ve meandered around the park though!

LISTEN: When I travel, I want to eat where the locals eat. Unfortunately, when you go on organised tours, the tour leader is forced to recommend places that are tried and tested (which I understand) – but I wasn’t having any of it. I did some digging and found a place called K’Osewe Ranalo Foods, about 5 minutes from my hotel. I loved it so much, I went there twice.

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First visit was just food. It’s back to basics Kenyan cuisine; beef, goat or Tilipia fish with either ugali or chapatti and either tomatoes or spinach. This is essentially as Kenyan as you can get. The food was simple but DELICIOUS. The beef was tender and the goat (not something I’ve actually tried before) was full of flavour. But the highlight was the chapatti; East Africa has a mix of British, Arab and Indian influence and chapatti is a Kenyan staple. Ronalo Foods have completely nailed the chapatti; it’s one of the best I’ve ever had (and trust me, I’ve had a lot). Add to this the fact that for a meal and a beer it only costs about £3 and you’ve discovered a new favourite hang out.

While I was there, they were playing music which I LOVE; African Rhumba. I asked the waiter for the name of the artist and it turns out it was Franco of TP OK Jazz; a group my Kenyan driver on my last Tucan Tour, Timan, had gotten me into. The waiter said that the following night there would be a live African Rhumba band. So, of course, I went back the next night to drink and dance.

The music was amazing, but more so was watching the Nairobians dancing. Kim and I were the only white people there (again, it’s the kind of restaurant / bar that locals go to and tourists would usually never know existed). The dancing was INCREDIBLE; Africans honestly have movement sewn up. The women would barely move at all – slow, sexy dancing, all with their bums and hips. The men would dance to the side of the women, barely touching them but again, allll the movement in the hips. It’s amazing to watch; they honestly don’t walk or ‘move’ when the music starts to play, every movement they make it a dance in itself.

The type of music that was playing is below. 2nd generation African Rhumba (from the 60s) and is from DR Congo – it’s incredible. It’s music you can’t keep still to.

(My white girl dancing went down a storm to this, hahaha). Can seriously recommend as well as checking out TP OK Jazz, you should definitely visit Ronalo Foods for great food, a fantastic atmosphere and a brilliant night out.

LOVE: Oh, Kenya. If you’re a white woman who has boobs and bum, head immediately to Kenya for an ego-boost. You’ll get hit on everywhere, by servers and tour guides to barmen and locals… and kids on the street. I got two marriage proposals in one day just wandering through the streets of Old Town – this isn’t me bragging at all, it’s just standard course in East Africa.

The local men seem to think:
1. That white women are easy (well, they’re certainly easier than local women I guess due to the religious society and that men still dominate in terms of rights and economics).
2. That white women are different (and in the same way I love speaking to people to learn about their culture, they love quizzing me).
And 3. They’re not used to seeing a white woman with boobs, bum and thighs but without a huge stomach. I’d get men shouting crap like ‘wow’ and making comments about the way my hips move when I was just minding my own business walking down the street. Honestly, the ego boost is insane. Pretty much felt like Beyonce must do on a minutely basis.

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I got the above information not only through my experience but by asking the local men / my tour leader. I also learned from my tour leader that in East Africa it’s legal for men to have multiple wives; the Maasai men have a ‘main’ wife (his first) and then various others. A lot of the men who work in Nairobi travel in there from hours out of town, so while they’re in Nairobi during the week they’ll get a mistress too. This is completely normal for the men and the women all know that this is going on too (wives included).

Having not had the chance to speak to any local women about it, I don’t know if they’re honestly ok with their husband doing what he wants with other women or if it’s just such a part of their culture that they feel they can’t fight it. Probably the latter, I’d imagine. Speaking with the men I told them I think it’s completely fine if their wives can sleep with other men too. Some local men understood my point of view, others Did. Not. At. All. Was interesting having conversations with them about it… and speaking with various men on nights out, only to have my tour leader tell me she knows they’re married. So yeah – watch out for that if being a mistress ain’t your thing!

Maasai Mara
The Maasai Mara is a National Park about a 5-hour drive from Nairobi. THERE ARE LOADS OF LIONS THERE so obviously I was very happy to be heading out from Nairobi to my first safari of the trip.

I went to the Maasai Mara using a third party (not Tucan Travel) and stayed in an eco-lodge just outside the park gates (sounds fancier than it was). When I was there I got my first bedbug bites (we slept in permanent tents) and one evening I heard a rustling next to my bed. I decided it must be something wandering around outside so went to unroll the tent flap to cover the ‘window’… and found a mouse clinging to the side of the tent. Obviously, I’m cool with lions and later in the trip came face to face with a hyena in the middle of the night, but I freaked out when I saw a mouse and went to get one of the Maasai to help get rid of it. To be honest, a mouse and some bed bugs are just part of the course when camping next to a National Park, so all good.

This section looks at things I learned and did while on my three day Maasai Mara trip! One of which (and I have to note this down) was discover one of the best soaps EVER: it’s on 8pm-9pm and every night after dinner we watched it with the locals who were just as obsessed with it. ALL SORTS OF DRAMA. And a girl with half white half black hair… who screwed over another girl by framing her and sending her to jail… or something. It got very complicated and it was also subtitled in Portuguese which didn’t make things any easier. Anyway, I cannot remember what it’s called for the LIFE of me but I couldn’t NOT reference it in this blog post.

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EAT: Maize. It’s a staple of the Kenyan diet and is used to make ugali and basically most dishes. You’ll find people on the side of roads, on roundabouts, outside shops and in all sorts of places cooking maize over coal and you really shouldn’t visit Kenya without trying it. It’s smoky, chewy, and filling… and the photo above is me munching on maize whilst overlooking the Great Rift Valley. As ya do. Only thing that could have made it better is a bit of butter, but that’s just me being a fancy twat.

SEE: … which leads me nicely onto the Great Rift Valley! To get to the Maasai Mara we followed the road which hugs the Great Rift Valley. So, we obviously stopped to take some photos, eat some maize (and get hounded by souvenir shop owners).

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Bit of a stunner, right? The GRV spans both African and Asian countries and 3,700 miles. INSANE RIGHT?! So this is what Kenya’s section looks like. It was basically formed thanks to those lovely plates moving and a huge amount of land sinking. In the GRV life goes on much as it does outside it – Maasai tribes wander, monkeys roam, kids go to school… but just in a more epic place, I guess!

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Views for dayyyys and definitely worth a stop.

SEE: So the main thing to see in the Maasai Mara National Reserve are the incredible animals. Obviously numerous Lion King references were made (especially as the zebras and wildebeest were starting off on their migration) but when you go on Safari the Lion King disappears and you are just struck by the simple beauty of the plains and the wildlife.

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I saw all of the Big 5 except the leopard (Big 5 – Elephant, Lion, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino) in the Mara and around (what felt like) a million giraffes, zebra and wildebeest. I also spotted a crocodile, a fair few hippos and a vulture or two. Plus, saw cheetahs in the wild for the very first time!

Waking up at 5am for safari (the animals wander around and hunt when it’s cool and rest in the heat of the Kenyan sun… after all, the equator runs through Kenya, so they deserve a bit of a nap under a tree at midday)! I’m NOT a morning person, but have no problem whatsoever waking up knowing that I could see a lion. And, I totally did. LOOK AT THE BABES BELOW!

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A safari is a spectacular experience and every time it’s a mix of adrenaline (when you spot the animal you’ve been hoping for) and anticipation (hearing messages from the other safari drivers, wondering if we’ll get to the animals in time, searching the hills and ploughing over dirt tracks in the hope of spotting something, ANYTHING) – there’s nothing quite like it.

One thing – I’ve been on safaris in South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania and Botswana and of all the National Parks in Africa I’ve visited, the safari drivers made me feel more uncomfortable than usual in the Maasai Mara. Simply because they got SO close to the animals… which I don’t like. I don’t want a car to be blocking their path, I don’t want them to be scared or to change course to avoid a truck. But our driver (ALL drivers) got very, very close to the animals which, although wonderful in terms of taking photos, didn’t sit well with me. Unfortunately, it’s just how things are done in the Mara it seems, so something to be aware of!

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I didn’t see the black-maned lion of the Maasai Mara… which gives me a reason to go back 😊 The sunset  above is another reason. Sigh.

LISTEN: The Maasai are nomads – they (used to) rarely stay in one place longer than 6 months to a year before moving their cattle, family and belongings across the plains. The Maasai Mara is a ‘nature reserve’ because it is the Maasai’s land and from time to time you’d spot a Maasai wrapped in their usual red, checked cloaks, herding cattle across the plains next to an elephant or three. In a National Park, humans aren’t allowed free reign, so the Maasai must keep out.

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My campsite was next to a Maasai village so we went and had a tour and asked some questions of the Maasai; after all, the Maasai no longer move like they used to and are trying to live a traditional existence while incorporating modern teachings and technology into it.

Some things I learned about the Maasai: they still use cattle in dowries and dowries are totally still a thing. However, a man can pay a smaller dowry the higher he can jump. So obviously all the men on the tour (well, both of them) had a jumping contest and the Maasai men leapt about 4 foot in the air with us lot getting maybe 2 foot if we were REALLY enthusiastic.

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The Maasai wear red cloth to scare lions. Red is the colour of East Africa thanks to the Maasai culture. Interestingly, it’s the reason why EVERYONE in Kenya/Tanzania supports either Man U, Liverpool or Arsenal… because they have red football kit!

Boys are circumcised at aged 12 and without any drugs – it is done in the middle of the village with everyone watching, and if they cry or even move then they are considered a coward. Fuuuuck, right? Apparently it brings shame to the family and hurts your chances of marriage if you even flinch during the ‘ceremony’… to practice for this, the Maasai men give themselves ‘tattoos’, which basically consists of them heating wood and burning themselves with it. My Maasai guide (below) has about ten!

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Maasai men can have multiple wives – their first wife is their main one and the wife does basically everything aside from look after cattle. She builds the home using mud and cow dung, she keeps the home, she raises the kids… etc. It’s this traditional culture that is being, slowly, eroded and causing issues in Kenya. Apparently with the influx of Western TV and film, women are expecting men to be faithful and to, basically, make an effort: flowers, chocolates, etc. Something that they’ve not had to do before… interesting time in Kenya!

As part of the tour I not only got to jump a lot, learn Maasai chants, peek inside a Maasai home and learn how to make fire, but I visited a Masaai market too. A Maasai man tried to sell me, numerous times, a lion’s tooth necklace. Not only was I gutted that a lion died to make that necklace (he didn’t get that I was sad about a lion dying as the Maasai celebrate that happening) but he also failed to understand my government would be well unhappy with me bringing a lion’s tooth into the country. So I left empty handed, but having learnt a lot about Maasai culture.

LOVE: I REALLY LOVE LIONS. Like, so much. They are glorious. They are the best animal in the world and I would love to be one, basically.

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Let’s be honest, they’re a big part of why I adore Africa and why I keep going back. They’re independent, beautiful, serene, fierce and the only wild cats that work together as a group. I mean, they are the absolute best. Anyone who knows me knows I love lions (I adopt one via the WWF every year, have numerous pieces of clothing with lions all over them and petitioned my Managing Director to allow lions in the office. I think he’s nearly convinced. Nearly.)

When bae knows he gotcha attention but is acting like he don't care. ❤😍🦁😍🦁

A post shared by Hannah (@hannahlujah123) on

^ click the above for the video to play.

If I ever find a man I respect and love even half as much as I do all lions then I’ll be onto a winner.

Next blog post will be coming along within a few days and it’s about my time in Tanzania. (Hint: it involves more lions.)

Bubbledogs, Highgate Cemetery, Innovation Voices and ‘the spark’.

28 Mar

EAT: My friend Emma, one of the loveliest people EVER, recently got engaged. So, what better way to celebrate than with champagne and hotdogs? NONE. THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO CELEBRATE ANYTHING.

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Bubbledogs is a place I’ve been meaning to go for about 4 years, purely because of the novelty factor. However, when you turn up to Bubbledogs not only is the vibe non-pretentious (like most champagne places) or too hipster (like hotdog places these days)/ It’s a great place to go with a mate, or a date, and just have good food and very good wine.

Sorry, champagne. Forgot I was being fancy.

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The photo above is the New Yorker Dog (sauerkraut and caramalised onions) and the BLT (crispy bacon, caramalised lettuce and truffle mayo). We went for pork hotdogs, but you can get veggie or beef with all the menu options. They were gooood dogs too – generous portion, really tasty meat (so much so that all the toppings added to the flavour rather than masked it) and the menu is really customisable, which is always good.

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We also went for the sweet potato fries and ‘horny devils’ (tater tots with sauce, basically) both of which were just as good as you’d find in a good restaurant, but they didn’t break the mold. Which is not bad thing, of course!

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Of course, we had dessert. It was a celebration, so it’s fine, ok? Chocolate Hot Dogs (above) with  chocolate ganache in sweet cinnamon brioche, cherry & banana sauce. They were good, but not as good as they look. If you have a sweet tooth then they’re nice, get them – but they’re not worth taking a £5 punt on.

Finally, the bubbles. We opted for a glass (or three) of the Gaston Chiquet (£6.50 a glass) and it was… well, champagne. I’m not fancy at all, so it all tastes pretty much the same to me, so the £6 glass was worth just as much as the £11 in my opinion! You can, of course, also buy by the bottle.

SEE: I have a thing for graveyards. Cemeteries. Whatever you call them, I find it endlessly fascinating how people choose to represent themselves (or their loved ones) for the rest of eternity. Whenever I visit a new city, I always make sure I tick off the cemetery and park; they’re the places in every town and city where you can escape the hustle and get some peace and time to reflect.

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So, a few weeks ago I made a long overdue visit to Highgate Cemetery. And I cannot recommend it enough; it’s a beautiful piece of London with photo opportunities and interesting information a-plenty.

Highgate Cemetery is split into two, the East and the West. You can only enter the East Cemetery via a guided tour. This costs £12, but also includes access to the West Cemetery on top of the 75 minutes tour. The West Cemetery is only £3 to enter and you can do so alone. I would highly recommend the tour – both sides of Highgate Cemetery are well worth a visit and the tour guide I had was not only brilliant but I learned so many interesting things from him!


Did you know that the reason grave robbers were so prolific in Victorian times is because, by law, only the bodies of people convicted of murder could be used in scientific studies. But, as you’ll be aware, medicine flourished in Victorian times and with only about 50 bodies available per year to play with, the medical profession were willing to pay good money for bodies which had been ‘acquired’. Therefore, there was a lot of money in graverobbing, which understandably, worried middle and upper class people. Hence Victorian graveyards like Highgate Cemetery – it came with high walls and guards, making it far harder for your loved one to get dug and cut up. The cemetery could therefore charge more money to people who wanted to be buried there and therefore had more money to make the buildings and gardens of the graveyards beautiful!

In the West Cemetery tour you learn about a poet who buried his lover with his poems clasped in her hands… and then decided he wanted them back a few years later, so paid people to dig her up and get the poems. Lovely. You’ll also learn about the work the ‘Friends of Highgate’ do to maintain the stunning architecture of some of the crypts in the cemetery, as well as visiting the graves of some interesting characters. These include Alexander Litvinenko, a man who took wild animals to events and who has a lion on his grave and in the East Cemetery, Karl Marx.

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Did you know that in Highgate Cemetery there’s a rare spider which can only survive in TOTAL darkness? There are some crypts which are sealed tiiiiight and this spider was discovered when one of the doors was unlocked to add a new family into the crypt. You can learn more gems like that on the tours… again, cannot recommend it enough!

LISTEN: Croydon – somewhere which is becoming increasingly gentrified (buy a house while you can) but, in some parts of the area, you can still find plenty of independent gems. I went to an artist showcase, put on by Innovation Voices (a company who discover and nurture urban talent)  the other week and really enjoyed seeing artists who are not only not signed, but are in the very early stages of their career in some cases and are just doing what they love… and happening to be very talented!

The artists that performed were varied – hip hop, grime, R&B, soul, all bringing their own sound to the stage and really putting their all into the performance. The venue was Hoodoos Café (but this has since closed down).

Anyway. Check out the video below for a taste of the kind of artists who get up on stage.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQOavVQlj7Y/?taken-by=innovationvoices

LOVE: I’ve decided that the ‘spark’ doesn’t really exist.

It’s ‘getting on’.

It’s ‘wanting to fuck’.

It’s ‘confidence’.

It’s having similar goals.

But it’s not a ‘spark’.

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For every guy I’ve been on a date with (including the guy from last week) who were perfectly lovely, had interesting stories to tell and I had something in common with and wasn’t unattractive – I’m sorry I’ve had to use the term ‘no spark’ to describe why I don’ want to go on another date with you. It’s only because I don’t really know. All I know is that whatever *it* is, it wasn’t there.

But please. Let’s not call it a spark anymore.

Evans and Peel, Much Ado About Nothing, Oddisee and long term confusion.

12 Mar

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EAT: Evans and Peel Detective Agency has been on my London to-do list since… well, since about 6 years ago when I moved here actually. So, I suggested a speakeasy style bar and restaurant where you have to make up a fake case for a detective before you’re allowed in and my friend Jude didn’t need any further convincing to come.

We arrived and buzzed: by the time we got let in (they open at 5pm – had to call for a reservation, old school) there was another 4 pairs of people waiting for their 5pm appointment. So, after waiting for the guys ahead of us to finish their chat with the detective, we were let in.

So, the story we decided to go for (I say we, Jude had nothing to do with it although he did a good job at playing along and not being embarrassed by me) was that we wanted the Evans and Peel to investigate the suspected Ghost Brothel next door to my flat. I was pleased to see a genuine look of confusion on the woman’s face when I presented this, but she played along well – asking how we knew they were ghosts and/or prostitutes, had we heard any noises coming from next door? Etc. When the play acting was finished (it lasts about 3 minutes) our case was taken and a bookshelf swings open to reveal a dimly lit, prohibition-era bar. In we went.


Jude and I went all out – cocktails, beers, mains, dessert. Mainly because the atmosphere of the place was wicked – fantastic music (instrumental of course and perfectly in keeping with the prohibition style of the bar) and we basically just wanted to hang around for as long as possible! The menus are delivered to our table by a server, in plain brown envelopes (but the fancy kind which you have to loop string around in order to close them) and you’re also kitted out with the likes of a magnifying glass too.

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For mains, we went for burgers. The menu is a little limited – but not bad at all (see above) – and standard London prices. We also had a couple of beers to see us through too – again, limited selection, but a GOOD selection, which is the key thing. The burger was good. The way it’s cooked (on an old fashion grill or something) means you can only have it medium well done. It actually comes out medium which I wasn’t loving, but I ignored as most people like their burgers this way and it was still a tasty burger. Chips were solid too, as were the sauces; nowt ground-breaking (Patty and Bun have nothing to worry about) but you do get bacon and cheese with it, as well as coleslaw. All in all, a good burger.


Where Evans and Peel really shines is the spirits. The cocktails are pricy (£7-£15) but worth splashing out for just once. I went for a fruity one (passion fruit, egg white, rum) and Jude selected a Bourbon from their EXTENSIVE whiskey and bourbon list. They have stuff on there which is £25 a shot (seriously), so make sure you grab the magnifying glass and have a look!

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When I said we went all out, I meant it. I also opted for dessert (as did Jude) and we both went for the ice cream cookie sandwich – blueberry ice cream with jam sandwiched in between two chocolate chip cookies. SO GOOD. I warned Jude not to try and bite the bloody thing because it would go everywhere… which it totally did. Tip: eat one of the cookies first and then you can bite your way through. Super simple, really yummy.

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Basically; I loved Evans and Peel. It’s a KILLER date venue –  a little bit different, off the beaten track and the vibe is perfect for some romancing. It’s also a great place to catch up with friends. What it’s not is a place to ‘go out out’ for pre-drinks. Just sayin’. Seriously – go. It’s a place you’ve got to try while in London; I’m gutted it took me so long to get down there!

SEE: My favourite Shakespeare play is Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve seen it performed countless times, abroad, in London, in Stratford. And the latest production, currently showing at Theatre Royal is a really strong production. I should know… did I mention it’s my favourite Shakespeare play and I’ve seen it countless times? Yup? Cool.

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The setting is Autumn 1919, with the soldiers (Benedict and Claudio) returning from the war. The staging is simple – all the action takes place in a few different sets and, I admit, it got off to a slightly slow start. Benedict was fantastic the whole way through though; the scene where he overhears that Beatrice loves him was fantastically funny and I think the actor carried Beatrice a little bit at times, to be honest.

That’s not to say Beatrice wasn’t good, but the comic timing just wasn’t there at some points. The actor totally nailed the ‘give a shit’ disposition of Beatrice, but the scene where she overhears that Benedict loves her was lukewarm, with all the actors not really going as all-out as the male cast members had done.

For £10 however (which is how much I got my ticket for) it was a fantastic production and I can’t recommend it enough. Go!

LISTEN: I went to see Oddisee at the Islington Assembly Hall last weekend. I’ve seen him before, a few years back at the Jazz Café, but this time he was playing to a significantly bigger crowd, with a live band and a kick-ass new album.

If you haven’t heard of Oddisee, how can I describe him? He’s for people who want Drake to rap about something meaningful and put some thought into his music. BURN. But seriously; Oddisee blends hip hop, soul, funk and thrown in a hint of pop on a track here or there.

His latest album, The Iceberg is fantastic. Stand out tracks include Hold It Back, in which challenges inequality between women and men in the workplace, which refers to the current political climate; “We gon’ push the demons deeper in the closet, It ain’t no secret they just seeping out regardless, We’re keeping logic hostage”. Another of my favourite tracks is You Grew Up, which tells the story of Oddisee’s childhood friend. His (the father’s) friend loses his job, blames ‘immigrants’ like Oddisee’s father for it and their friendship has to end. Forward a good few years and we learn that his childhood friend is another white cop guilty of killing an innocent black man. There’s some ACTUAL shit going on in this album, but it’s thoughtful. It hasn’t been thrown together in anger; Oddisee is interrogating the situation with his lyrics and putting them against a blend of funk, soul, hip hop music, all played by an actual band rather than a Drake 808.

Cannot recommend the album enough. And if you love The Iceberg and Oddisee, check out the rest of his tracks on Spotify. I have a soft spot for ‘Miami’ – an instrumental off his album Travelling Man. For now, I’m going to leave you with a recent track: Like Really.

LOVE: So, I’ve been on a few dates with a few people over the last couple of months. And something wasn’t sitting right with any of them. That was, until the last guy I dated – then boom. It hit me.

The guys I meet online and usually on Tinder (so you can never tell if they’re looking for anything serious, but they’re usually not). Or, they’re on OK Cupid and they’ve listed ‘Long term relationship’, ‘Short term relationship’, ‘New Friends’ and ‘Casual Sex’ in their ‘Looking For section to make sure all bases are covered. Which is fine.

But now, I’m filtering out the guys who include ‘Casual Sex’ and ‘Short term relationships’. Because I’ve realised I want something a little more significant than that. I only realised this when I was sat with a perfectly nice, attractive, intelligent guy on a date, but who I know has just got out a relationship and isn’t looking for anything serious.

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Which is fine. But when I left the date, I realise I just want someone I can rely on to do stuff with. Hence why I’m not removing ‘New Friends’ from my OK Cupid searches – I want someone who will go to gigs with me. While I vent about my day to. Who wants to explore new restaurants in London. And I either need them to do this as friends or as someone I’m in a more long-term relationship with, because that’s the only way you can totally be yourself, right? If you’re dating someone short term JESUS it’s exhausting. The conversation, having to rock up looking great, having to always plan ahead in terms of what you’re doing. Second guessing the way they respond to you or touch you. Take all that crap out of the equation and I want a friend with time for me to explore London or I need to get past all that stressful dating stuff and just be comfortable.

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So, all this dawned on me. And I turned the last perfectly nice, intelligent, attractive guy I went on a date with down when he asked for a second date because ‘we want different things’. At least he knows his thing is sex. Mine? As you can tell from my rambling, I guess I’m still not 100% sure. Ho hum.