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.

India (November 2016)

10 Mar

Five months later and I’ve written the blog post. Better late than never, eh? Please ignore all typos because there definitely are a load. Whoops.

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India had been one of those places that always hovered in the back of my mind, but last year I decided I wanted to really push myself out of my comfort zone. To do this, I decided to go to Cuba on my own (I don’t speak Spanish, fun times) and to go to India… the stories I’d heard from people who’d visited led me to believe that even as a seasoned traveler, I’d probably still be blown away by the place.

And they were right. India is… a lot. When people ask me how my trip was I describe it as 80% amazing and 20% difficult… and the difficult parts were pretty damn difficult. To be fair most of this was due to the Indian government withdrawing two key notes (1000 and 500 rupees) out of circulation and not being organised enough to properly replace them – as a cash economy that messed things up A LOT. You can read about the madness and queues for hours and hours at every bank here. This blog post is just about the positives (mainly!); where I went and what I got up to in each place… as well as places to steer clear of!

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You know what? Everyone I spoke to about Delhi told me how MENTAL the place is… and they’re right. It’s busy. It’s dirty (well, Old Delhi is, New Delhi not so much). It’s crammed full of people, tuk-tuks and if you’ve never been to Asia before, it will bewilder you. Fortunately, I went to Vietnam a few years ago, so having streams of vehicles never stopping to let you cross the road wasn’t new to me. I live in London, so having hoards of people squeezed around you whilst trying to walk: also not new to me.  However, the smog and pollution was on another level… while in Delhi the pollution levels were 90x the safe level for humans. Despite being lovely and warm, you could barely see the sun through the smog – all of my photos came out foggy! Basically, when heading to Delhi, take something to wear over your mouth (I never understand why tourists in London do this, but after Delhi I think they’re a sensible invention…)

Anyway. Delhi is a LOT, but it’s not that scary if you’ve travelled. Enough about that… onto what to do there!

(While in Delhi I did/saw the following… highlights are below: Humayun’s Tomb, Karol Bagh Market, Khan Market, Lodhi Garden, Ghandi Smriti, India Gate, Lotus Temple, Gurudwala Bangla Sahib, Handicrafts Museum).

EAT: So Indian food is obviously a HUGE draw and there are a million horror stories about people getting ill from food in India. I was careful and kept to veggie food (although I did risk street food a couple of times and only got a little bit ill once)!

Anyway. Thali is basically Indian tapas and the portions are huge, delicious and cheap. I had about three or four portions of thali while in India and I had a few favourites! The thali below is from Hotel Saravana Bhavan on the east side of Connaught Place. Cost about £1 and SO filling.


The place is crazy busy; by the time we’d eaten there was a crowd of people (all locals actually, which means you know it’s actually a decent place for proper Indian food) so make sure you arrive hungry and be patient! Once in, there’s a huge menu (all veggie, but then again a lot of India is veggie so leave your bacon craving at home). My thali included a few different curries, pickles, chutney, rice and vegetables, chillies and a sweet paste which tasted a bit like palm sugar. Oh, and of course, pooli (those inflated thin pieces of bread. Great for dipping!)

Honestly. The food is SO CHEAP, tasted good and if it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me. Plus, read the hilarious sign in the window about a temple that gives you a baby. Worth visiting for that alone.

EAT: So, my last day in Delhi and I decided to head to the Handicrafts Museum – not only to see the sculptures and crafts but also the cafe located in the grounds. The cafe, Cafe Lota, is beautiful and open well after the museum closes (pretty sure it’s open until 10pm). But seriously, the ornate mosaics on the wall, lovely lighting and chilled out atmosphere make it well worth a visit… and we haven’t even got on to the AMAZING food yet.

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Ok, so the menu serves south Indian contemporary regional cuisine and it’s great. You can have large or small dishes and amazing desserts too. The above are crumb-fried dumplings of sago and potato with a green chilli dip. The dip was hot, the dumplings (more like fritters) were delicious too.

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And the above is a pistachio cheesecake. SO GOOD. I mean, I adore cheesecake and pistachios go really well with the sweetness of the cheesecake base. Well worth a try. The restaurant/museum is in New Delhi, north of Delhi Zoo.

SEE: Ghandi Smriti is a museum based at the house where Mahatma Ghandi spent his final months, and was assassinated following India’s independence.

Now, like a lot of people, I know who Ghandi is, had a vague idea of the role he played in the Indian Independence Movement against Britain and that he was a peaceful man who was assassinated. The reason I travel is to explore and to learn and no matter how much you know (or think you know) about Ghandi, the museum is absolutely worth a visit.

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The museum is home to numerous things, including paintings and sculptures, film and an exhibition which looks at his entire life, from birth to peaceful protest, to his death. His bedroom and his meager possessions have been preserved and it’s incredibly humbling to see that a man who did so much for so many lived so sparsely.


The museum is also home to a huge statue of Ghandi (‘My Life is My Message’) and it is the place where Ghandi was killed – with footsteps on the floor tracing his final steps and his place of prayer open to the public to view. The gardens are peaceful and it’s worth heading out to them after you’ve been inside and walked through the exhibition, as it makes it all the more poignant.

I have a lot of respect for Ghandi, far more so now I know more about him. He was an incredibly smart man – after all, by challenging the British salt tax he started the Indian Independence movement and his peaceful protests were genuinely effective. His compassion is extraordinary – I struggle in 2017 to comprehend how people can be so callous and cruel when they talk about people less fortunate than them, whether they be homeless, Syrian refugees or any poor person struggling to survive in any country. Ghandi’s quote below really struck a chord with me, and I hope it does for you too.

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SEE: Humayun’s tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun and it is located in west New Delhi. Interesting fact: it was designed by a Persian architect and pretty much set the pace for Mughal tombs and temple designs (garden split into four by water, symmetrical, etc) – in fact, it was actually the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

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Ok, so the smog didn’t really help make the place look as impressive as it really is. The gardens are beautiful and it’s a damn impressive building. You can walk around the inside (which features gorgeous windows, the tomb itself and fantastic views over the whole gardens).

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It’s also worth visiting the Isa Khan Tomb Enclosure (on the right hand side as you walk into the gardens after paying). The sandstone used is stunning – I love it when the stones are all different shapes and the wall surrounding the tomb I’m sure looks far better in the sun (damn you smog). One thing to note: if you see that entry is 30 rupees anywhere that’s for local people – it’s about 500 rupees (at the time I went) for tourists. I know, I know, it’s a crazy price difference. But at the end of the day 500 rupees is about £6 so, y’know, get over it and just go.

MISS: So the Lotus Temple, as a concept, is lovely. It’s one of seven Bahai temples in the world and is open to everyone, regardless of your religion, gender, sexuality… etc. Bahai laws basically say that all people should come together regardless of which god they worship (or whether they worship a god or not)… like I said, lovely concept.

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It’s also won architectural awards due to it looking like (you guessed it) a Lotus. The photo above was taken when the smog in Delhi was particularly bad, hence why it doesn’t look that impressive. Maybe if the smog hadn’t have ruined the view this wouldn’t be in the ‘miss’ section, who knows. But, personally, entering the temple was a long-winded process and when you actually got in there, it’s deadly silent and you basically just sit there, on wooden benches, not looking at much (it’s nothing like Catholic churches or Hindu temples where the inside is ornately decorated, it’s very sparse). And that’s why, lovely as the Lotus Temple is as a concept and pretty as its architectural leaves are, it’s a place I wouldn’t make a visit to unless already in the area.

JOHDPUR

Johdpur: the Blue City. And it really is. Went from Delhi to Johdpur by overnight train, travelling second class sleeper. Johdpur station is beautifully decorated (stop to take a photo) before you head into a winding maze of streets, smells and sights.

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EAT: Ok, so the potatoes in India are off the chain. Masala potatoes (yummy spices), Aloo Jeera (one of my faves – potato with cumin seeds) and saffron potatoes.


In Johdpur I went to a variety of places for food, but one of the nicest (both in terms of the meal and the decor) was Jhankar Choti-Haveli. As you can see above, it’s a lovely setting and this is just the entrance dining space. They also have a rather beautiful rooftop dining area too!

They serve Kingfisher beer in huge cans and with cute little ceramic mugs to drink it from. We tried the saffron potatoes and they were SO good. Seriously, if you’re in Johdpur, head here for them. Annoying I don’t have a photo (nooooo) because I ate them too bloody quickly to bother. However, I do have a photo of the very nice Thali I had there. So enjoy looking at that rather than the potatoes I would like to marry.

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SEE: So it wouldn’t be a trip of mine if I didn’t do something that could kill me. So, after loving ziplining in Costa Rica I decided to give it a bash at the majestic Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India dating back to 1460. The fort itself (below) is absolutely worth seeing, ziplining aside, as the inside of it has so many stunning parts to it.

You’ll see opulent rooms with baubles on the ceiling, stained glass windows, ornate door carvings and lovely views. That’s a terrible description really and it does NOT do the fort the service it deserves… but as it’s so huge and towers over Johdpur you can’t really visit Johdpur without visiting.

The ziplining I booked at the home stay I was staying at, but it also has a website and you can do it when at the fort too. Best to book in advance! For people who may not have travelled much and may think that India’s safety standards aren’t up to much, the experience was safe, staff well trained and all equipment is made in Europe. So chilllll.

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There are around 7 ziplines, some long some short, some over lakes, one with a spectacular view of the Blue City… I’d recommend doing the ziplining in the late afternoon so that when you get to the end the sun is starting to set and the blues of Johdpur are coming to life. The pace is quite chilled and the instructors were really cool and made the nervous people in the group feel at ease (they said that I was so good I should come and work for them which I sense may have been a lie, but a lie that was much appreciated and had me strutting up to be the first to do each line when no one else would hahaha).

Tip: you have to climb a little bit, over rocky terrain in some parts, so make sure you wear comfy shoes rather than plimsolls!

SEE: Before I went to India I hadn’t heard the term ‘stepwell’. I’d just call it a well and leave the fact it had steps out of it. However, I now like the combination of steps and wells and therefore stepwells.

The reason I like them is the same reason I like graveyards and parks – it’s a place in the middle of a busy town or city where you can find a bit of solitude. Stepwells can be found all over Rajasthan because maharajas wanted fresh water (Rajasthan is pretty much a desert region) and the reason they’re so deep (hence the need for the steps) is because they had to dig so far down to find groundwater for the well.

Most are architecturally beautiful and many are very symmetrical which pleases me greatly. Toor Ji Ki Bawari (the one in Johdpur) is filled with fish and is in a nice, calming spot. But if you like them as much as I do, you can find one in most towns or cities in Northern India (there’s another awesome one, Agrasen Ki Baoli, in New Delhi). Anyway: stepwells. They’re lovely. Don’t miss ’em.

SEE: The streets and the markets. Now, true, most places you visit are worth wandering around, but in Johdpur I particularly loved wandering through the maze of streets as I was continually finding something new and interesting.

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So, Johdpur is the place to get leather (Agra for jewellery and Jaipur for fabric FYI). However, there are so many incredible stalls in the marketplace and the streets that you’ll be hard pushed to not bring all sorts back with you. If you enter a fabric shop (well, any shop) in India, you will be immediately pounced on and forced to see a 5 minutes presentation about how all the fabrics are made… which I actually quite enjoyed, but make sure you’re firm when you haggle and leave if you’re not into it. Make sure you also check out the food market with Ghantaghar Clock at the centre – lots of spices and sweets, as well as some really good clothing stalls too.

Also, explore the temples! There are a few really spectacular temples in Johdpur and well worth a visit, but they’re quite hidden away in this square. Make sure you leave your shoes at the door, stay covered up and don’t stray into people’s prayers… usual temple etiquette. Achel Nath Temple (above) was my favourite as it had a model lion in there, alongside Krishna. There were also a lot of Hindus chanting and seemed genuinely happy when I started swaying to the chants (it’s so relaxing to listen to, ringing bells aside)…

Just across the square is Kunj Bihari Temple and is also well worth checking it – it’s SO colourful! Filled with marigolds and the above doorway. And right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the crazy market streets of Johdpur.

PUSHKAR

(What I did/saw in Pushkar… Lake Pushkar, Pushkar Camel Fair, Brami Temple, hiking up a hill to Savatri temple, Pushkar market, Hindu ritual ceremony, queuing at the bank for 2 hours… highlights are below:)

EAT: Pushkar is one of the holiest cities in India. This is because it’s the place that Lord Brahma (a well important Hindu God) created Pushkar Lake by shedding a single tear. It’s also the location of the only Brahma temple in India, so it’s a key pilgrimage site for Hindus.

The place is so holy that you cannot purchase alcohol or meat in the entire town (not ideal as Trump was announced as President while I was there and I really could have done with a drink….). So, veggie restaurants are plentiful! But the best of all of them (seriously, this place was incredible) is called Nature’s Blessing.

So, everything is cooked to order and from scratch using only fresh ingredients. The restaurant only seats around 16 people and this is because there’s only two staff members – the place is pretty much like someone’s personal kitchen and dining room. The menu is amazing and they have some really creative vegetarian food there.

For starts I had cucumber, sundried tomato, olive and mozzarella bites (the image above). They were really tasty! My friend Mark had Thai soup with coconut and lemongrass (also above) which was also gorgeous; you can really tell everything is fresh and home-made.

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My main meal was grilled tofu in barbecue sauce (homemade) with fenugreek creamed potatoes and rosemary sauteed veggies. It’s actually a vegan meal and was absolutely divine. The potatoes were unusual (in a good way) and the rosemary veggies were so tender! The plate is covered with seeds and pulses and every bite not only tastes great, but you KNOW it’s healthy. The tofu, like all tofu, didn’t really taste of much, but added something chewy to the crunchy veg and rich barbecue sauce.

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I also had an Amla fruit smoothie (it’s basically an Indian fruit a bit like a gooseberry) – CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS DRINK ENOUGH. So tasty.

And finally: the cheesecake. I love cheesecake. And this was no exception. It’s blueberry and was so light, god knows how they managed to do it. Summary: if you go to only place to eat in Pushkar, make it this place.

EAT: After hiking up a hill (read below) it was about 8am by the time I got back down to the bottom and I was huuungry. So, I went to a rooftop cafe for breakfast, obvs.

The place I went is Out of the Blue and the entrance is in the middle of the winding roads of Pushkar Market and is quite easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled for the decorated entrance. The cafe is about 3 stories high and has a lovely seating area at the top which gives you wicked views of the market, Pushkar Lake and the surrounding area.

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See? That view. BOOM.
So, the food is standard. Not bad at all (in fact, someone on my tour had a granola bowl and they said it was great) and I had nutella pancakes which were nice too. It’s one of those places where you can get all the usual breakfast food (and a bit more), decent coffee and have it all in a lovely setting with great views. Short and sweet review, but it’s worth a stop for breakfast, fo’ sure.

SEE: Pushkar is basically a big market and that’s totally fine because it’s a really, really good market. All the best clothes I picked up were from here – you can get street food, clothing, henna.. éverything. So if Lakes and Hikes ain’t your thing, it’s still a lovely place to visit.


SEE:
I had the opportunity to take part in a Hindu Ritual when I was in Pushkar – it involved having a Hindu Holy Man (someone who has dedicated their life to the religion) taking me to the holy Lake Pushkar (below) and combining chanting, flowers, a Tilaka mark and submerging myself in the Lake.

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Basically, Holy men in India dedicate their life to Hinduism. Apparently one man per family must do this (the holy man who performed the ritual for me said his Dad and Brother had their own business so he sort of ended up doing it. But loving it, as all holy men tend to, of course).

We started by chanting and I had to repeat phrases after him. I repeated ‘Om’ numerous times (it’s the sound that apparent Brahma uttered which created the universe) and had to tell the holy man about each member of my family that I wanted to wish good health to. He said, and I quote: “It is odd you do not have a husband or boyfriend. When you find one come back and we can do this again so he will always be healthy”. So there ya go fellas, I can give you great health no probs (putting that RIGHT on the ol’ dating profile).

I had to throw rice, salt, marigolds and dye into the lake and he tied a piece of yarn around my wrist (still have it on!) which apparently if I keep on will ensure that I remain in good health the whole time I’m in India and beyond. He then added a Tilaka (a mark on my forehead made using red paste) which is generally used in Hindu ceremonies.

Basically, my family members are still alive. Therefore, it worked. Ok? Also, it’s something that you donate to the holy man for, so (unless you’re a dick) it should set you back around 500 rupees. I’d recommend doing it as I learned some really interesting things from him whilst having the ritual performed and it’s a great way to get an insight into Hinduism.

SEE:
Because I’m mental I willingly woke up at 5am one morning in Pushkar and climbed a huge hill to see the sunrise over the town. The walk up to Savitiri Temple isn’t for you if you’re not reasonably fit – it’s a LOT of steps and the second half of the climb is basically climbing up rocky sort-of-steps-but-not-really-steps, so you need to have strong legs and good balance! Cue my Thunder Thighs.

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Anyway, health and safety warnings aside, it’s one helluva view when you get to the top. You can see the lake and surrounding town perfectly, with the sun rising over the hill in the distance; it’s quite the experience.

When you get to the top you can grab a cup of Chai tea (or water) and watch the sunrise, as well as the monkeys playing below. The monkeys are very cheeky as they’re clearly used to grabbing food, so make sure you’re careful when walking past them and don’t have any food or plastic bags in your hand.

Just drink in the view, drink in the Chai tea and feel better about having a huge breakfast as you’ve burned a ridiculous number of calories climbing to the top. Honestly: it’s SO worth doing. One of my Pushkar highlights, for sure!

MISS: The Pushkar Camel Fair. Right. BEAR WITH ME.

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This is controversial ‘Miss’ as the Pushkar Camel Fair is one of the main festivals in India and you’ll find it in every guide-book and things to not to miss lists. Now, I first got a glimpse of the fair when I got to the bottom of the Sivitiri Temple and saw dozens of camels walking past. I’ve never seen a camel before (well, not in their native habitat) so it was obviously well fun being surrounded by them

The Pushkar Camel Fair itself is more than just traders coming from across Northern India to trade camels. It’s turned into a marketplace with food stalls, local handicrafts (you can buy camel dung jewelry!), a fun fair (looks super dodgy, cannot recommend if you want to get off the big wheel alive…) and an entertainment program.

Now… I wasn’t a fan. It feels VERY commercial and not even remotely like a ‘thing not to miss in India’. The camels are tied up and do not look happy – as someone who cares about animal welfare, I decided I couldn’t take a camel ride as I didn’t believe the camels were looked after properly. Also, there were snake charmers who had removed the snake’s fangs (NOT COOL) and camels being ridden and whipped in the entertainment venue. Basically, it was a commercial festival that made me feel very uncomfortable.

Even my tour guide, who had never been before, was very disappointed. I’d strongly recommend not going out of your way to attend. If you happen to be in Pushkar when it’s on (like I was), go take a look. But please don’t give money to anyone with animals, aside from the animal charity stalls and for the love of god don’t go on the fairground rides.

JAIPUR

(What I did/saw in Jaupir… highlights are below: Albert Museum, Astronomical clock, Observation winding tower, Hawamahal)

So. Jaipur. Delhi aside, it was one of the towns which I’d heard the most about. ‘The Pink City’. So let’s get a few things cleared up – it’s not pink. At all.  If you’re going for pink photos opps, go elsewhere. The below is as pink as you’ll get.

Secondly… All the best stuff in Japiur was the stuff I’d never heard anything about. For example, I discovered the Isarlate, tucked away behind some of the biggest tourist attractions – click on the hyperlink to where it is on Google maps… you’ll have to search for the tiny entrance! This place is hundreds of years old and used to have a spiral staircase to lead you up to the top for magnificent views… the stairs have been worn away, so it’s a slightly slippery shuffle up to the top these days (which is fun in itself and well worth braving for the views)!

EAT: The first place I went in Jaipur for food was Copper Chimney – it’s about a 20 minute walk away from the centre of the Pink City, but quick to get to via Tuk Tuk. I went for Thali (again) here and it was one of the best I had while in India!

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It’s more westernised than some of the other places I visited – they’ve got themselves into the right guidebooks and it’s paid off. But this doesn’t take away from the great food and the good service. Prices are reasonable (not a rip off like some of the tourist traps I was dragged to by my tour guide). Garlic naan here was EPIC and that Thali though. Joyous.

EAT: One night I was in the hotel and wanted to go out. So I tried to get our tour guide to take us to a little area of Jaipur which, I’d heard, is filled with rooftop bars and restaurants with gorgeous fairy lights. My tour guide – as he tended to do throughout the tour – said ‘oh yeah I’ve heard of that place, it’s meant to be really good, I haven’t been, off you trot’. Hmm.

So, I convinced a woman called Lizzy on my tour group to brave the streets of Jaipur at 9pm and head to check it out. The walk there took about 25 minutes and was dodgy – no safe places to cross roads, REALLY dark, and to get to the area you had to go through a very local area with minimal street lighting and windy streets. Personally, I think this is part of the adventure and fortunately so did Lizzy. But if you’re not a good walker and you want to play is safe, you can get a tuk tuk and be there in about 15 minutes from the old town.

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The first night, we went to The Kalyan Rooftop Bar, because The Peacock had queues out the door (it’s very popular – if you’re a big group, book in advance)! So, we went to the place opposite which had a charming rooftop bar – decked out with traditional Indian puppets and decorations and a separate terrace where you can consume alcohol. I had kheer – Indian rice pudding dessert with pistachios, almonds and sultanas. SO GOOD.

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The highlight of this place was the owner – a woman who I predicted within 2 minutes would mention TripAdvisor. I was right; once I’d promised her I’d write a review, she found out I lived in London and was telling me about her nephew who ‘moved to London to go to University, refuses to come back home and is 32 and not married’. I then got asked to explain why London makes people ‘not want to find a wife or have children’ and ‘why won’t he stay more than a day in the home he grew up in anymore’? Yikes. She then asked for my number so she could give it to him because I seemed to be ‘the right age for childbearing and he’s a lovely boy’. Double yikes.

Anyway. I loved this little area of Jaipur so much, I decided I wanted to go back the following night, but this time to The Peacock. I managed to get my friend Mike to accompany this time. The previous night Lizzy and I got stalked by a man walking on the way there and men in a car on the way back (trailed us, stopped and tried to get us to get in the car… so walking around with my substitute husband Mike did make me feel a bit safer).

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We managed to get in to The Peacock for drinks and the place is STUNNING. I mean… so beautiful. The lights, the decorations, the live music they were playing – it all created a stunning atmosphere. I cannot recommend the place enough – it’s perfect for romance or just for drinks with friends. While we didn’t eat, the food looked divine – so much so that we took a scroll menu for the walk home so we could kick ourselves for eating so much earlier!

SEE:
The Amber Fort is a key draw for people – it’s one of the most incredible forts in Rajasthan and if you don’t go, you’re an idiot. YES, THAT’S RIGHT, you’re an idiot. Top tip: outside the fort entrance there’s a lady who sells traditional Indian puppets, a pair for only 200 rupees. This is a crazy bargain and you should have a look.

Anyway. There’s so much to see at the Fort; it’s a steep climb to the top (do NOT ride an elephant up there, it’s cruel and the walk isn’t that bad) and when you get to the top, you’re met with stunning architecture, history, killer views, fountains, gardens and more. I can’t go into all the best bits because there were too many, but I’d absolutely recommend taking a guided tour or coming armed with a guide-book.

Highlight: the mirror room was immense. Basically a mirrored mosaic creates a gorgeous effect as the sun hits it and the backdrop is a courtyard with stunning flowers and fountains. Another highlight is the back part of the Fort – a labyrinth of corridors and rooms where the maharaja kept his mistresses and visited them at night *ahem*

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I spent about 2 hours there, but easily could have spent twice that long. I’d recommend hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day and including this as part of the day trip – it’s 11km out of Jaipur and the drive itself has lots of places to stop off (don’t miss the temple in the middle of a lake)!

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Did you know the peacock is the national bird of India? I did not until I raced up to Tiger Fort to try and beat the sunset (we faffed getting a tuk tuk and only JUST made it).

Our tuk tuk driver up there was a total babe – he raced through the bits with nothing to see, stopped as soon as a peacock appeared and told us lots of facts along the way. The road up to Tiger Fort is windy and steeeep – hence why Tiger Fort is THE place to view the sun as it sets over Jaipur city.

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Basically, once you’re in the Fort gates, you power through, pass the Fort and head to the far end of the complex where the restaurant is. THIS is where the views are. Warning: you have to pay to get in the restaurant and the beer is a total rip off here. But the setting IS beautiful and the views are unrivaled over Jaipur – at least, that’s what I was told by pretty much every Indian in Jaipur!

As the sunsets, grab a beer, pull up a chair and face the city. You’ll see a pinky glow replaced with twinkling lights… very much like looking down on the stars. Indian weddings kick off when the sun sets, so if you go there at the right time of year like I did, you’ll also be treated to fireworks kicking off across the city. Definitely worse ways to finish the evening!

SEE: Hawamahal (‘Palace of the Winds’) is one of the main attractions in Jaipur and for very good reason. The facade is only s small part of the stunning architecture – the windows were there so women back in bad ol’ 1700’s could look out over the streets and markets and Jaipur without being seen (apparently, women had to maintain their modesty by not being seen to actively give a shit about watching people, or something). The windows are mini gate mechanisms you unlock and these are scattered all over the complex.

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The inside of Hawamahal includes some lovely features, include lots of stained glass. Go in the afternoon when the light is in the right place to cast colours off the glass. You can also get some great views of the city if you walk up to the top of the balconies. Well worth rocking up to.

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MISS: There are lots of rip off restaurant tourist traps etc no matter where you go. Couple the blah food with the crazy expensive prices and awkward entertainment (women dancing and trying to get you to dance with them). Basically, all the places with dancers are promoted as ‘authentic India dining and dancing experience’ – they’re not. It’s a place for tour guides to take their tours, so the guides get a free meal and the restaurant gets to extract lots of cash from Westerners.

I think what made the particular place I was dragged to by my tour guide SO much worse was the money issues while we were there – our credit cards wouldn’t work and we only had limited currency as the banks were closed. So why on earth our Tucan Tour Guide thought it was acceptable to take us somewhere so expensive when we had no money is beyond me.

Anyway. Steer clear. You’ll only find Brits and Americas in these places – most against their will.

AGRA

(What I did/saw in Agra… Taj Mahal (obvs), Sadar Bazar, Café Sheroes hangout, Joney’s Place highlights are below:)

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Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The Taj has been on my bucket list for the longest time but I’d never been able to really pinpoint why aside from it being a great photo opp and ALL THE HYPE. But there ya go. However, Agra has more to it than just the Taj…. Although, with there being plenty more to explore (Taj aside) it’s also a place you need to be a bit weary of.

For the love of God, get out of the central Taj tourist area and make sure you head outside the ‘safe tourist lines’ to see the real Agra – the one where tourists don’t stray so much and where people don’t really give a crap about the Taj Mahal. It’s so worth it. Saying that, I honestly don’t think you need more three days and two nights in Agra. I spent three nights there and it was one night more than I needed!

EAT: Pinch of Spice was uhmayzing. So so good. I went there twice – the first time because my tour guide refused to take us there so I broke off from the group and grabbed a quick lunch there. The second time I went back with the tour group (minus the tour leader as he didn’t want to come which is MENTAL) because I banged on about how amazing the place was.

It’s a more upmarket place than it used to be and the menu is extensive and actually not overpriced at all. First visit I went for paneer curry (cheese and potato, mild curry) with garlic naan. Second time around I went for the garlic naan again because my DAYS it was good, and a veggie masala. When you arrive you get given a napkin which is folded and the waiters pour water on it so it blooms into a proper napkin – well fun. They do the standard Kingfisher beer but second time around I shared a fishbowl cocktail with Mark (modelling it below) because I hadn’t had any cocktails up to this point and if I’m gonna be fancy I’mma do it in a trashy way, haaaa.

EAT: Cafe Sheroes Hangout (another place my tour guide knew nothing about) is a must-visit. The food is good, but nothing special. However, it’s ‘pay what you want’… and the reason? Because Café Sheroes Hangout is run by women who have survived acid attacks – all money goes to the charity, helping save and support women who have been victims of these terrible attacks.

True, learning about how and why these attacks happen doesn’t sound like a relaxing way to spend lunch or dinner. But it’s SO important to see a side of Indian society which is present, but hidden, from tourists. When you walk in you are met by women whose faces are scarred by acid – some cannot see out of one eye, another woman had her entire face disfigured. They are friendly and welcoming and the café itself is a delight.

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On the walls are the photos of the women, post-attack, and their stories. Some were attacked by husbands and boyfriends. Others were attacked by men who wanted them, but they had turned down. Some have been attacks by their mothers or fathers for not marrying the men they had chosen for them. These women were some of the strongest women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and no matter what donation you give for your food, it probably won’t be enough.

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I purchased a graphic novel while I was there (again, ‘name your price’) which tells one woman’s story about how she was attacked, survived, and moved on to raise awareness of the (mostly) men who do this to women. It’s a stunning work of art and I just wish I spoke Hindu so I could have a proper conversation with these women. I cannot recommend this place enough; go armed with as many rupees as you can spare for a filling, no frills meal, and to donate to an immensely worthwhile cause.

EAT:  Joney’s Place is the definition of a hidden gem… except it’s within throwing distance of the Taj Mahal, but because of the tiny size and ‘basic’ appearance, it’s often overlooked.

You see, the beautiful thing about somewhere like Joney’s Place is that they have one ambition; to make cheap, tasty food. Sure, they could expand. They could up their prices. But they don’t, and as a result I had the cheapest (and one of the tastiest meals) here.

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See? The place is TINY. The kitchen is about the size of a airport toilet cubicle, so everyone is cosy and the sizzling of the food cooking is your background music. I went for my usual paneer masala and garlic naan, but with a pineapple lassi (thick milkshake-esque yogurt drink). As you can see, the food isn’t exactly gourmet, but as the entire thing cost me about £1, and it tasted good, it’s worth a shout.


SEE/EAT:
Sadar Bazar was (alright, after the Taj Mahal) the highlight of Agra for me. I’d probably count it as one of the highlights of the whole trip. On the outskirts of Agra you’ll find Sadar Bazaar, a block of shops, market stalls interspersed with houses, many of which are run down, colour Havana-esque buildings.

The stalls are great – all kinds on offer, from food to drink to shoes and clothing, to homeware. But it’s all properly local – none of your tourist trap stuff (well, there is on the main road, but wander through the bazaar and you’ll see the real deal). If you want to see an ACTUAL Indian market (not an air conditioned one made for tourists) then this is where you gotta go.

Then, there’s the architecture. Sure, the place is run down. But it’s different from the center of Agra, which is old and crumbling, but the people living there are used to tourists. Here, you’ll see goats and cows chilling with children as they play with water in front of their beautiful homes. Be respectful of course – I didn’t take photos of anyone without asking.

Finally, the food and drink here is awesome. I know ‘street food’ in India seems scary, but you HAVE to try the potato concoction above: fried potatoes with curry sauce. Sounds simple and it is – it was also DELICIOUS. You can find it roughly here. Then, there’s the tea stand. All the masala tea comes in little pottery cups which you can keep; it’s refreshingly good to wander around in the boiling sun drinking masala tea, especially when I have a lovely little cup to keep as a souvenir! Tea stand is roughly here.

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SEE:
Taj Mahal. Doesn’t need much of an intro, right? So I won’t bang on about the fact that it IS beautiful. I went at sunrise – tip: make sure you get to the ticket office at 6am (it opens at first dawn) so you’re first in the queue to get to the Taj before the sun is fully up!

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The history of the place is amazing. It’s SO SO worth getting a guide to go with you, for two reasons. First is, obviously, the history. Learning about how it’s actually a mausoleum, not a palace, learning that the Arabic script on the sides of the Taj actually gets bigger the higher up you go, so it appears to people standing at the bottom that it’s all the same size. Learning where the gems embedded in the walls came from, and hearing about how Shah Jahan was imprisoned after building it by his son because Jahan wanted to build a ‘black Taj Mahal’ on the opposite side of the river… his son thought this was an epic waste of money, so locked him up in the Red Fort. Spoilsport.

Key photos opps: the Diana shot is a must, obviously. The above was captured because an old man with a walking stick hit some Indian men (who to be fair had been on the seat for 10 minutes) and told them to get out the way so I could have a go, haaaa. Make sure you get the Taj reflected in the pools of water too. Finally, another reason to get a tour guide is because he’ll know exactly where you need to stand to make it look like you’re touching he top of the Taj. Essential stuff.

All in all – it was a great experience. I think I was a little underwhelmed, but only because it’s SUCH A BIG DEAL. If I’d never heard of it before and I happened to be taken there, I have no doubt I’d have been in awe.

Top tip: there are lots of places claiming to have unrivaled views of the Taj. Without a doubt, the best place I found was Saniya Palace Hotel. For the love of God, don’t eat here – the restaurant is terrible. But this little hotel, hidden away, has spectacular views of the Taj (below). So buy a beer and settle down to watch the Taj change colour as the sun sets.

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SEE: Red Fort; so, this was probably the most rushed Fort I went round (we were called back to the front when the currency exchange place opened as we were still desperate for cash in Agra) but it’s worth spending a couple of hours here.

Like allll these forts, the architecture is beautiful. I mean, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal and he totally live in the Red Fort, so guy must have some idea about building a nice place to chill, right?

It’s also a great place to get an alternative view of the Taj Mahal – the Red Fort is where Shah Jahan was locked up by his son. But his son was nice enough to ensure he could view the Taj from his chamber. Sweet kid. Make sure you visit Shah Jahan’s private mosque, the cold marble under your feet on a hot day will be just what you need.

Plus, the grounds and beautiful too. See me above chilling with something that looks like a squirrel and chilling under a tree. Model much? PFFT.

MISS: Omg omg omg, so the tuk tuk drivers in Agra are the WORST. They basically take you somewhere, then tell you they can take you somewhere better (better restaurant, better market, better shops) and then they take you to some place that they get commission from if you buy something.

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If they see you’re white, they see someone gullible with money. Do NOT let them take you elsewhere. I told one tuk tuk driver that if he took me to a shop rather than the market I wanted to go to then I wouldn’t pay him. Stupidly, I forgot to say this to the second driver and I ended up in another bloody material shop in which I didn’t buy any material. Because I didn’t want to be there. Sigh. Just make sure you’re savvy and firm with them – they’ll take you for the wrong kinda ride otherwise.

VARANASI

(What I did/saw in Varanasi… blue lassi shop, winding alleys, Varanasi market, Dosa café, Ganges river, henna… highlights are below:)

Varanasi was a joy, despite the fact getting there was a total nightmare. Because of the recall of old bank notes, all the trains were delayed (for some reason they run off the same electricity networks as the banks? God knows). Our train was delayed by 5 hours and then delayed a further 6 hours whilst we were on the train. So, we arrive in Varanasi at 1am rather than midday the day before. And we were only there for one night, so we either did the 5am Ganges boat ride on 4 hours sleep, or not at all.

For someone obsessed with sleep, when I’m travelling I’m so high on life, adrenaline, whatever that 4 hours sleep was more than enough time. There was no way I was missing that boat ride.

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Oh, and be warned: cows are EVERYWHERE. I mean, they’re everywhere no matter where you go in India, but I was confronted by an angry bull grunting on numerous occasions – and the alleyways are so small and winding in Varanasi you just have to turn around and go the other way (hint: the bulls don’t back down). I think the winding, confusing, narrow lanes are part of why I was so charmed by Varanasi – if you’re a fan of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter or Gamla Stan in Stockholm, then it’s the place for you. However, if you’re a fan of American blocks and wide roads then you’re not going to love Varanasi so much!

SEE: The early morning boat ride was a total highlight of my entire trip. Varanasi is one of the seven holy cities and Buddha is believed to have founded the religion here. Hindus are well into Varanasi because they believe if you die here you will have eternal salvation and that the Ganges in Varanasi offers a direct route to spiritual afterlife. Hence why you see so many people being cremated by the side of the river.

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However, life is lived by the river too. Hindus wake at dawn and you’ll see them washing, praying, doing their laundry and more, all in the same river which, 2 ghats down, just had a dead body immersed in it. (A ghat is a place by the embankment where ceremonies are performed.)

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By going on the boat tour up and down the Ganges, you’ll see life, death and more. You’ll see the artwork running alongside the river, you’ll see school kids chanting before their first lesson, you’ll see men fishing, cleaning themselves and their clothes… before you come across the first cremation. Wood piled up, with bodies being burned next to the river (post them having being dipped in the river). Women cannot attend the cremation (too emotional apparently) and you can take photos from afar here, but obviously, it’s essential you’re respectful. Not only has someone died, but it’s a highly spiritual ceremony – the importance of being cremated and having your final resting place in the Ganges is huge.

Oh, and you get to set a tea light, surrounded by marigolds, afloat on the river. In the evening, you’ll see holy men doing this along the banks of the Ganges as part of a ceremony – well worth a visit in the evening time too!

EAT: I’ve mentioned Lassi before and I’mma mention it again. Go to the Blue Lassi Shop in Varanasi for kick-ass yoghurt goodness.

The portions are huge, there’s fantastic free wifi and it’s a great place to cool down. Not much more to say than it’s highly recommended!

EAT: The Dosa Café was a place I discovered via Lonely Planet and Tripdvisor. My tour group, for the most part, had been pretty happy with the food I dragged them to eat and the Dosa Café was (for the most part) a success.

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Dosas are basically rice flour pancakes. At the Dosa café, you can have loads of different kinds and it’s really cheap. However, it’s another one of those places which is hidden away and very small, so make sure you get there at 5pm rather than 6pm so you miss the rush!

The great thing about this place is that you can totally customise what you have. Spend a tiny amount of money for a dosa made with refined soybean oil. Or, spend more and get it made with olive oil. They so savoury (potato, cheese, veg, curry) and sweet (jam, Nutella) options – all of which come in a perfectly crispy, huge dosa. For cheap eats, it’s a great pick in Varanasi.

SEE: My final recommendation? Wander. Wander around aimlessly. Get lost in the alleyways. No matter where I go, I often find the best places by pure chance when I get lost.

Whilst wandering around the narrow, shady alleyways of Varanasi I discovered numerous beautiful templates, babas (the old holy men who paint themselves), street art, lovely little cafes and great clothes shops.

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I also stumbled across my favourite cow of the trip: I named her Lana. Trust me, I met enough cows to have a favourite. Lana is a good’un. She was chilling out near the Ganges next to a water sprinkler (smart lady).

I mean… I have so many photos of my wanderings so I’ll just stop. But hopefully it brings to life how charming Varanasi is… if you manage to avoid the cow poo at every turn 😉

MISS: Ok, so this isn’t quite a ‘miss’, it’s just a warning. I went and had henna done because I love patterns and I’m a gap year style wankerrrr.

Now, the lady who did it for me was lovely – spoke basic English and I paid her around 400 rupees for half an hour of henna on one hand. That’s quite pricey, but I didn’t care – I wanted it done and I was at the end of my trip, so had the cash to get rid of. I actually let her child do a little bit of the henna for me (why not, eh?) – to be honest it didn’t look TOO different from the patterns her mum did.

That’s the warning – try and find someone who does henna without having to copy it from a pre-made book. There are plenty of women who’ll be able to do incredible designs across the front and back of your hands for no more than 500 rupees. Oh, and for the love of god, stock up on henna to bring home! It only costs 10 rupees for a tube and one tube will do both hands, back and front. I WISH I’d purchased more!

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Well, that’s all folks. As it’s taken me so long to write this blog post, I’m thinking it’s unlikely that I’ll write my cultural tips post, so for people travelling alone, here are a few tips. Sorry I couldn’t do more; if you want any advice about India, then just tweet me or leave a comment and I’ll happily help if I can!

TRAINS

  • The way to make sure you’re on the right train is to be guided by the platform number and location on the overhead monitors; but most importantly, keep an eye on the train number. This is the bit which will tell you if you’re on the right platform. The platforms at stations tend to change short notice, but the screens don’t update… so the train number is essential!
  • On the train, unless you’re travelling first class, you’ll have a squat toilet. They’re not THAT bad, but they ain’t great. Go to the loo before you get on and ladies, buy a she pee. Saved my life (well, my feet) many times.
  • On the overnight trains, there’s a kitchen which does basic rice, veg curry dishes and a guy will come round with masala tea. GET SOME. The best masala tea I had on my trip was the stuff on the trains. No idea why, but it’s so good.
  • Go second class and up – this is the only way you’re guaranteed a bed. If you go sleeper class you’re crammed in and you’ll spend the night sitting upright. Second class is less private than first class (no curtains) and you’re more crammed in: always pick the top bunk if you can. True, more hassle getting in and out of bed, but you have no space whatsoever if you’re landed with the bottom or middle bunks.
  • In second and first class, there are plug sockets next to all beds. So chillll about that phone charging.

ROADS

  • Driving in India is fucking mental. If you get car sick or scared easily on the roads, honestly? India isn’t for you.
  • Road lanes are ignored, people weave in and out, people overtake even when the traffic ISN’T MOVING (not sure how they managed it). For the first few days you’ll wonder what the fuck is going on and you’ll be convinced that death will come in the form of a tuk tuk/car accident. By day three you’ll realise it’s all good and you’ll probably survive.
  • Cows are traffic. They will be wandering down the middle of roads. You’ll be so bored by this sight after a week it’s mental.
  • Always allow way longer than you need to get to and from Delhi airport. On the way into Delhi it took me 2 hours longer than anticipated – the roads are terrible (new ones are being built, but slowly) so never assume you can leave transport to the last-minute.
  • If you hire a car in India you’re either fearless or insane.

BUSES

  • There are bus stations in all main towns (inc. the ones I visited above). Rock up the day before, buy a bus ticket and hop on – they leave on time, so don’t chance a late arrival.
  • I’d recommend getting a private bus rather than a public one. Public buses aren’t comfy, people are crammed on and you could spend 4 hours sharing with a man with seven chickens (I did see this on a public bus. Totally a thing).
  • Private buses range from plush to basic – personally, I was cool with the basic ones that came with aircon. You’ll usually get one planned loo break depending on how far you’re travelling.

MEN

  • Right, so men in India are a bit of a pain. They like to stare and if you get in a tuk tuk, within 5 minutes they’ll be trying to add you on Facebook.IMG_7893
    ^Fake husband. Worked a treat.
  • Keep your shoulders, boobs and thighs covered, especially in holy places such as Varanasi and Pushkar. Not only is it insulting to the locals if you don’t, but the harassment you’ll get just isn’t worth it.
  • Be firm. Say no. The men do understand this. I had guys trying to get me into cars, some teenage boys in Agra pulling on hair and forcing their hands between the legs of my friend. For the most part, you’ll be totally fine – but just be careful at night or anywhere off the tourist track. Be as vigilant as you would at home and you’ll be fine.

SHOPS

  • Haggle. They expect you to. It wouldn’t a trip to India if you didn’t. But – always pay what you think it’s worth. There’s no point paying half what you can afford because these people work hard and their work is worth paying for.
  • Johdpur is the place to buy leather goods, Varanasi and Agra are the places to wait and buy materials and spices and food are great in Jaipur.
  • Again, be careful of tuk tuk drivers. They will direct you to places where they get commission off your sales, meaning it isn’t necessarily a good place.

MONEY

  • Obviously I went at a nightmare time for money (this happened). But usually, it’s pretty easy to deal with money from what I’ve heard and seen!
  • Change big notes (500 rupees+) when you get there to 100 notes. This will mean you can pay for snacks, tuk tuks and most items.
  • ATMS are around in big towns, but don’t assume you can pay on card in restaurants; you almost certainly won’t be able to in a lot of shops unless it specifically says you can. There’s a reason that 87% of India’s transactions are cash, not card!

GENERAL

  • ‘The Indian half hour’ – basically, when there was any delay, we were always told it would be half an hour. The reality ranged from an hour to seven hours. If an Indian says something will take half an hour, be prepared to wait!
  • English is quite widely spoken – it’s the second language of India and you should be able to find most people have a good idea what you’re saying.IMG_7160
  • Cows are everywhere. Get used to them and nearly stepping in cow poo every 5 minutes. And monkeys are also everywhere (including above photo). Watch out – they grab EVERYTHING.
  • India is very dirty. Like… it really is. People piss and spit on the streets, cows shit on the streets, rubbish is burned rather than collected, meaning there’s smoke and charred rubbish on every street corner. Again – get used to it.
  • Begging is everywhere. Try not to give money if you can help it, especially to children. Many families force children to beg because they know they get more money. Instead, give the adults things like food, drink and clothing. Honestly, resist the child beggars – it’s far better in the long run.IMG_8275
  • Careful with the food – I didn’t eat meat the whole time I was there and I didn’t get sick. Most places in India are veggie anyway! If it looks dodgy and you don’t think it’s cooked properly, don’t risk it. Street food, so long as it’s hardcore fried in fresh oil, will be fine. But make sure the oil looks new – if it’s what was leftover from the day before, give it a miss. And make sure salad and fruit are washed with bottled water, not tap!IMG_7931
  • Go to an Indian wedding! They’re such wonderful occasions and the people are usually very quick to welcome you in. If you can go to one, definitely do 😊IMG_8227
  • Finally, be respectful. In my mind, this goes without saying, but it never hurts to repeat it. At the end of the day, I don’t agree with women’s role in India. I don’t agree with their class system. I’m not religious. But I chose to go to India and therefore will abide by their rules. Cover up when you need to. Don’t complain about not having meat or booze in Pushkar. Don’t take photos of children without asking permission from the parents. They’re poor, not on display for you. Be a traveller, not a tourist.

Dominic Ansell Bakery, Stour Space Gllery, Ice Cube and the definition of pedantic.

9 Feb

EAT: At long last I made my way down to the Dominic Ansell bakery near Victoria Bus Station in London. For those of you not in the know when it comes to all things baked good, Dominic Ansell is a chef from New York who came up with the ‘cronut’ (croissant combined with donut). As a result of this joyous invention, his bakery in New York has now found its way to the UK.

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The seating area in the café if small (and it is a café, not a restaurant) but service is reasonably fast, depending on what you order. I went for a green tea, cronut and cookie shot cup. So worth all of the calories – totally could have gone for their banoffee paella (all sweet, no meat, don’t worry) if I felt I could have justified it!

The cronut was delicious. Flaky and sugar-crusted on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. The lemon icing complimented the vanilla frosting on the inside perfectly and it’s basically as good as it looks/you imagine.

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And then there’s the cookie cup: a dark chocolate chip cookie turned into a gooey vessel, filled with vanilla milk. The cookie stays strong enough to hold the milk for a good while, but once the milk is gone it’s all nice and gooey. Yes yes, it’s essentially milk and cookie, but the novelty factor paired with the fact it tastes great make it well worth a shout.

I only have one negative about the experience (it’s absolutely not the desserts) – the service wasn’t great. Once you order, you’re given a number and your desserts are brought to you. I got my cronut right away and had to ask twice over the course of 20 minutes for my cookie cup. It rocked up, eventually, but only when I accidentally caught the manager and told her ow long I’d waited. That aside, I pretty much want to eat EVERYTHING there and I have no doubt that I’ll head back at some point to try one of their main dishes (macaroons, flowering hot chocolate) or one of their specials (the banoffee paella looks insane).

SEE: If you actually bother reading my blog on a regular basis (unlikely) you may remember that in my last post I mentioned Hackney Wick – I headed out there to visit the Olympic Park. Well, last week I went back out East again to go to an exhibition that caught my eye at the Stour Space – part creative space, gallery and café in Hackney Wick.

The exhibition was all about the song by Ice Cube, ‘It Was A Good Day’. Basically the song is about an amazing day that Ice Cube had, and someone actually worked out the only possible day Cube could have been talking about was January 20th, 1992. The blog post below is printed out for you to take, and also framed to start the exhibition.

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Essentially, a series of artworks which directly relate to the song have been curated and displayed. The song mentioned basketball, so there’s a fantastic screen print with gel of a basketball on display. I also really liked this ‘Saw the police and they rolled right past me’ print – there was also a collage about this particular line too. The blimp was represented too (in the song, Ice Cube sees a the Good Year blimp which says ‘Ice Cubes’s a Pimp’ (cue huge print of this blazoned on a blimp).


Most of the artwork was literal and it was quite an amateur exhibition, and I really enjoyed it. I admit, it could have been improved by having the song played in the area the artwork was presented in, or having the lyrics somewhere so it’s easier to understand the links between the artwork and the song. But, that aside, it was a different kind of exhibition and the Stour Space is a little hidden gem.

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In fact, I loved the café there so much I’m bunging my lunch into the ‘See’ section of this blog post. I had butternut squash and coconut soup with sourdough bread which was absolutely beautiful and SO filling. Amazing quality (and quantity!) for a fiver. I also indulged in a hot chocolate rather than going for one of the many delicious cakes they had on offer. The café space is a fantastic place to free-range too – people were in there working, reading the newspaper, stopping off on their dog walk… it’s well worth a visit. Especially when the sun is out, as they have a terrace right on the canal with a view of the Olympic stadium. GO!

LISTEN: Had to be this. Enjoy.

LOVE: I’ve reaslised I really like having my relationships defined. Not in a ‘so what are we, where is this going, wah wah wah’ way. It’s an internal definition which allows me know where to draw the line with guys and how to prioritise.

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Guys I date usually fall into the following categories:

‘Someone I’m casually sleeping with’ – regularly not leaving the house – to the point where we don’t ‘go out’ on dates. Super casual.

‘Someone I’m casually seeing’ – early on, may not have slept with them, but have been on more then five dates and we actually go out (restaurants, exhibitions etc) – making memories and having experiences together outside the bedroom.

‘Seeing someone’ – the above, with sex, but has been going on for months rather than weeks. Could turn into something, but not in a relationship (so can see other people but might not have the desire to do so’.

‘Boyfriend’ – the above, but monogamous (stop dating other people unless we’ve agreed to be in an open relationship) and don’t have to think twice about messaging them first and all that kinda dating crap you go through on dates 1-5.

Anyone else compartmentalise dating in the same way? I find I have to otherwise it gets too complicated. Especially if I’m ‘casually seeing’ two people, for example. I’ve only really had these descriptions set in my mind for the last year, but they seem to work. Plus, so long as I know where we’re at, I just don’t feel the need to ask the guy who the hell he thinks is going on until we’re verging on ‘boyfriend’ stage. Which NEVER, EVER happens. Pretty much gonna be in perpetual ‘seeing someone’ mode I reckon, haha.

Unlimited Tapas, basketball, trying to make a change and opposites attracting.

5 Feb

So over the last two weeks loads has been going on: I’ve been sick for starters. Kids: the flu SUUUUCKS. No longer will I avoid the flu jab (I hate wasting NHS resources if I don’t need to) but being confined to my flat for 5 days has made me think I should get vaccinated. Usually I keep the vaccinations or when I visit other countries (well exotic) but next year, Imma get a shot for the dangerous ol’ UK.

So, before I got sick (and part of what got me sick) I spent the weekend with my family – my mum is adopted and her biological father (Ken) and his partner (Merry) were in London to come and see us. Unfortunately, my biological grandpa got flu on the first day we met and was hotel-bound for the rest of the trip, which was SUCH a shame. Mum stayed in and spend a bit of time with him but his partner is a lot like me (redhead, colourful clothes, passion for travel) so wanted to explore London. Which I was than happy to help her do!

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We visited the Churchill War Rooms (not a fan of the man myself, but Americans LOVE him), and I learned a lot about Churchill’s life and learned more about the Second World War. We also went to a pub (well English), did a tour of Soho (showing Merry my usual haunts) and ate at Brasserie Zedel – always a big hit with parents and grandparents – plus did the following!

EAT: I found an all-you-can-eat Tapas place. Yes, you heard me. And not only was it a reasonable price, but the food was also good. MASSIVE WIN. (All photos aren’t taken by me because I totally forgot to take photos. So I’ve hyperlinked through to the owner of the photo – all photos show food that we ordered.)

Canas y Tapas does all-you-can-eat lunch for £14.95 and dinner for £19.95 and it’s a 5 minute walk from Angel tube station. This doesn’t include drinks, but it does include as many dishes of tapas as you want from an extensive menu. Only catch is that you have to order three dishes per person at a time (so if there are two of you, you can order 6 dishes at a time).

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We went for SO many dishes: padron peppers, chicken with caramelised onions, sauteed egg and patatas bravas, calamari, grilled vegetables, pork tenderloin and Iberian ham on flatbread topped with raisins, walnuts and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette (this was a fave), olives, battered veg with aioli and MORE. The menu is here – as you can see, pretty extensive and the portion sizes are really good!

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The best bit? THE DESSERT. Omg the desserts were amazing. You can only order two types of desserts as part of the all you can eat and they were both absolutely incredible. Seriously; one day I’m going to go in there and just 7 portions of these desserts for 90 minutes. Dessert one is churros (donuts dusted with sugar and served with chocolate sauce) – the donuts were warm and the chocolate gooey… honestly, they were a total dream. The second dessert was pastry bas filled with cream and served with some cream and chocolate. The pastry was really light, the crème DELICIOUS (so soft and light and taaaasty)… seriously, don’t go and not get dessert, ok?

As for the restaurant itself – it’s fine. It’s not quirky or anything and the staff are fine, but nothing special. I can’t complain about the service at all, the music was fine… you’re really there for all you can eat Tapas. SO EAT IT ALLLL.

SEE:  as I’m writing this, it’s Superbowl Sunday. Now, I don’t really give a crap about the Superbowl (analysing the adverts aside) – and, of course, the tall, hot men running about. Another sport I’m also not hugely fussed about is Basketball… again, the tall, hot men running about are about as interested as I can get.

So why the hell did I go to see the London Lions play the Worcester Wolves a couple of weeks ago? Well, my grandparents are American and we had a museum-heavy weekend, so we thought it best to include some sport in the activities so that my brother and grandpa could enjoy themselves.

However, with my grandpa being ill the whole weekend I was left with 6 tickets to the basketball and a bizarre determination to go. So, me and my grandpa’s partner, Merry, decided to suck it up and see the game.

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The game took place in the Copperbowl Arena in the Olympic Park. I’ve seen the Bulls play in Chicago and the Nicks play in New York and this was nothing. at. all. like. American. basketball. I must stress, it WAS enjoyable – the guys playing are clearly passionate and the crowd were fired up. But at the end of the day, American sports are designed around adverts and entertainment, and neither of things were present at the London Lions game. Well, aside from some English cheerleaders who couldn’t bring themselves to be as, err, American as the American cheerleaders. Does that make sense? Probably not.

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HIGHLIGHT: the London Lions have a lion mascot. I got to give him a high-five (because Merry shouted at him to come over and see me, hahaha). The game got off to a slow start but there, genuine, flashes of brilliance from both teams. There were also some really stupid mistakes made… such is sport.

Overall, it’s £10 a ticket and it’s a different way to spend the weekend. I’d say it’s worth going to see for the experience – I actually really enjoyed myself – and I’m a fan of the Hackney Wick area, especially in summer, so even if you get bored during the game, there’s plenty to explore nearby.

LISTEN: Small hands, big lies, must lose.

Donald Trump has been President for less than 3 weeks and has already been a total nightmare. So, the first week of his Presidency, I went on a march in London to protest his scaremongering misogyny and racism. Since going on the Women’s March on Jan 21st, Trump has brought in the ‘Muslim ban’, there have been countless more protests and the Muslim ban has been declared illegal. It’s hard to say if the protests have made a difference, but I think it’s essential to stand up and make your voice heard when there’s injustice of this magnitude taking place.


So why am I putting this in the ‘listen’ section of my blog post? Because I want you to listen to Tupac’s ‘Changes’. Yes yes, I’m sure you’ve heard it. But this song, recorded in 1992, bears terrifying relevance today. Things have not changed.

“Cops give a damn about a negro, Pull the trigger kill a nigga he’s a hero”
– Despite the numerous killings and shootings of innocent black people over the last 12 months, Trump has not announced any plans to address the institutional racism in America’s police force. In fact, he’s easing laws on background checks, making it easier for people to wield guns.

“I see no changes all I see is racist faces, Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races”
– Trump’s constant scaremongering has made an enemy of innocent Muslims, and pits people against each other, rather than encouraging people to work to together. Misplaced hate is SO relevant right now.

“It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live, and let’s change the way we treat each other.”

– so that’s what we’re doing. We’re protesting. We’re trying to get those in power to change, trying to get the people who voted for them to change. Trying to make the world a better place.

LOVE: How many times have you been told that ‘opposites attract’? It’s everywhere – yet, when you actually look at everyone in long-term, solid relationships, they usually have plenty of similarities.

As I’m getting older, and dating more men, I’m realising that opposites can attract, but it doesn’t usually work out. Key word there: usually. I believe that people can absolutely get on if they’re different and that there’s more that unites us (as people) than divides us. But this doesn’t usually translate when it comes to romantic relationships.

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However. My grandpa and his partner, Merry, are SO opposite in all of the areas I consider important and areas where I’d usually assume I couldn’t compromise on. They’re on opposite ends of political spectrum. Merry loves to travel, Ken does not. Like… seriously, Merry spends her life travelling and Ken just doesn’t have much desire to do so at all. Merry likes dressing up and going to nice restaurants, Ken would far rather head to a sports bar and not don a suit unless he has to. Merry adores museums, Ken isn’t a fan. Ken is a massive sports fan and Merry couldn’t be less interested.

Recipe for disaster, right? Well… no. They totally work. I don’t know how to describe it, but they even each other out. She talks and he’ll happily listen. She gives great advice and seems to make decisions about what they should do, and Ken likes letting someone else organise things. It’s those really broad personality traits that means they work well together, despite their passions and interests being opposite.

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I guess I don’t have a specific conclusion to draw from my rambling. Just that I should perhaps be a little more mindful of the fact that despite differing opinions and opposite interests, I shouldn’t totally write someone off. Because when it comes to opposites attracting, it really works for some people.

Movin’ on up (2016 review / 2017 goals)

1 Jan

Well, you don’t need to hear from me that 2016 has been a helluva year. Personally, my 2016 has been great – but for the world, society and common sense it’s been a complete fucking ‘MARE.

As I love a bit of perspective, I’m always looking at my first blog post from 2016 where I laid out my resolutions and seeing how well I did. Then I’m going to look at my 2016 highlights and then I’m going to set my goals for 2017. Basically: if you follow my blog for travel tips and things to do in London, this post won’t interest you at all. But if you’re secretly in love with me and would like an insight into my life, then proceed (and make your 2017 resolution to tell me you love me. People love hearing that, lol.)

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MY AIMS FOR 2016 were…

Travel truly solo

  • This was about going somewhere long-haul, out of my comfort zone, without a tour company.
  • …and I totally did this in Cuba – organised everything myself, made my way around Cuba alone via public transport, all without speaking Spanish in a country that really does not have much exposure to English at all. I’m proud of myself for not going to just Havana, but packing in three different places so I could move around the island. I’m also SO glad that I went to Cuba before Fidel died – Cuba was already changing, but I think that the changes will come thick and fast now Fidel has gone. It was a joy to see Cuba *as it was* (well, as close as I could get to as it was I guess).

Get healthier

  • This was about reaching my goal weight, eating better and drinking less.
  • I total reached my goal weight (see the next section) and I’ve started to mix things up more when I’m cooking – making sure I’m trying different veg, only having egg whites and not yolks, swapping olive oil for coconut oil, making my own energy balls…
  • I walk SO much more than I did last year – it’s made a huge difference.
  • I did a terrible job at having a few ‘dry’ months in 2016 (November aside), so this can deffo be improved in 2017!

Don’t be lazy: learn

  • This was about actively educating myself while at home and swapping Netflix for books.
  • So, I did cancel my Netflix account and for a while I read more… but that fell away towards the end of the year. But I still devour my Delayed Gratification journal every three months and I have a pile of books on my to-do list; in 2017 I’m actually going to read them!
  • I didn’t do any Future Learn courses, but I did make bigger efforts to understand more about the current world political situation – about how bombing the middle-east in the 20s and 30s did sod all, about why people actually voted for Trump and the issues going on in the UK that led to Brexit, about the history of religious extremism… I feel like I can approach the world events, still angry, but at least more informed.

Do more for the animals

  • I’ve increased the amount of money I donate to wildlife charities this year, but that’s only really a starting point I guess. In order to feel like I’ve truly fulfilled this one I need to do more volunteer work.
  • I did get more up close and personal with cats this year via Catsitting – basically saving owners from sending a cat away from home and looking after them (feeding, cleaning, petting) which the owners are away. There are worse ways to earn a few extra quid!


WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN 2016…

HEALTH & FITNESS
This year, I hit my goal weight. The healthy weight I’ve been aiming to get to for the last FOREVER. I’m now 4 stone lighter than I was at University, I wear a size 10/12 (something I never thought possible) and I’ve managed to fit into a size 10 dress I purchased YEARS ago, with the hope that one day it would fit.

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As a result, my diabetes is better controlled and I’m SO much fitter. I usually exercise at the gym on the cross trainer because I fractured my foot when I was younger and it got a bit messed up. But yesterday, I ran 5k, on the road, in the cold, without stopping. True, I got super sweaty and my legs hate me today… but, again, that’s not something I ever thought I’d be fit enough to do. And my foot didn’t hurt, which is a HUGE bonus!

TRAVEL
This year, I’ve visited even countries: Cuba, Costa Rica, India, Italy, Czech Republic, Spain and Germany. Some highlights below (I mean, there’s just WAY too many to talk about all of them).

  • Zip-lining in Costa Rica. SO MUCH FUN. I loved it so much I also went zip-lining in India too – but nothing will beat zipping through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, screaming. Oh, and then zip-lining a full kilometer, like superman (horizontally) and being terrified as I see my tiny little shadow zooming across the tops of the trees faaaar below.
  • Oh and SEEING A JAGUAR IN THE WILD. GAAAAAH!
  • Everything about Cuba, basically. Cuba was a big one for me as it was one of my New Year’s Resolutions to do a solo trip that’s ‘out of my comfort zone’, and as I don’t speak Spanish, Cuba totally ticked that box.
    – Old Havana is a beautiful, jumbled maze of dilapidated, colourful buildings.
    – The section of town on the very outskirts of Havana where a local artist has made the entire place look like Guardi’s Barcelona.
    – The music and the cocktails are incredible all over the island – particularly at a bar in Vinales where I watched the sunset over the tobacco fields drinking the most incredible Pina Colada.
    – Trekking through the cobblestone streets of Trinidad, through the local (non-touristy) sections of town to hike up a huge hill with a café on the top. Oh, and the underground cave nightclub too.

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  • The colours of India – women in stunning saris, marigolds lining the doorways at temples and weddings… the Hindi temples themselves are a riot of colour too. So pretty and so happy.india
  • Turning every corner in Rome and finding another piece of history. Whether it be the place Caesar was killed (which is now home to a cat sanctuary!), more ornate archways and pillars or an unassuming church which happens to hold the skull of St. Valentine. As ya do.italy
  • The beer gardens of Prague were an absolute delight and I was very lucky to visit when the weather was so good. Prague, generally, is lovely (I was surprised just how easy it is to walk around). Another highlight was the house of an eccentric artist in the middle of a park which he’s opened to the public and is filled with mystical, colourful artwork and slightly creepy music.prague
  • Seeing Radiohead at a music festival in Berlin. RADIOHEAD FOR THE WIN. The moment they played Identikit was especially lovely. I saw Major Lazer there too, which was wicked… but nothing can beat Radiohead <3https://www.instagram.com/p/BKOokIeA_G1/?taken-by=hannahlujah123
  • Going to Barcelona for the first time on my own (the other 6 or 7 times I’ve always been with other people) – it meant that I got to see bits of the city which I’d compromised on previously. I walked 14 miles in one day heading to the outskirts of town to the GORGEOUS Montjuic Cemetary and funeral carriage museum. I also saw the most incredible stained glass in Palau de le Musica Catalana – another place I hadn’t visited before.barcelona

PEEPS

It’s been a huge year for my friends and family when it comes to life events – I’m in the same job, living in the same place and still going on ridiculous dates. But s’all good, so that’s not a complaint!

My friends and family have encountered deaths, graduations, becoming home owners, planning weddings, new jobs, redundancies, retirements… but they all seem to be reasonably happy now we’re at the end of 2016, which is all I can hope for! Jude and I still bemoan the politics of the UK (our poor, bleeding liberal hearts have been through a lot this year…), Nick and Tim are still the best couple I know (and and looking like absolute BABES), Jack and Sam are well loved up and will be moving in with their other halves in 2017 (most probs), Cate quit her job and has another lined up (and a puppy, massive win), Emma is still the loveiest, cheeriest lady EVS (NYE karaoke come at me), Ryan is loved up and being his usual creative self and all of my other friends who I don’t necessarily see as often are all in relationships, owning flats and being well grown up (not the be all and end all of course, but totally right for them).

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However, I do want to draw attention to all the friends I’ve made travelling. When you head off on your own it’s so much easier to make friends with people. And the kind of people who have any inclination whatsoever to visit places like India and Costa Rica are normally happy to pal up with a loner like me J A lady called Laura I met in Costa Rica is an absolute babe of a women (will always remember her trying to chat up men for me and us drinking wine in a car park), as are Jacqui and Lucy who I met on the Costa Rica tour too. In India Mark and Mike were a total pleasure to be around (and a nightmare as I can NEVER tell when they’re taking the piss or not) – in fact, I actually met up with them a few weeks ago. Not only do these people make the travel so enjoyable at the time, but it means I have places to stay around the world and they have a bed/tour guide in London if they ever need one.

MY AIMS FOR 2017

Right, aside from enduring the bullshit of Brexit and Trump (basically, politicians having no fucking clue what they’re doing and the right wing now thinking it’s ok to gloat about the terrible state we’re in), I do have other things that I want to do in 2017.

Help make the world less terrible

Ok, so ‘making the world a better place’ is going to be a tough call in 2017. Brexit will be a nightmare, Trump is past help… so I just want to improve things, in small ways, where I can.

In 2016 I’ve already started doing this; I’ve given more money to animal charities and to Unicef to support their aid workers in Syria. I’ve also started buying rough sleepers in Soho food and drink, just to brighten their day a little. At the end of the day a sandwich and a bottle of water costs so little and it can make a huge difference.

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But I want to actually volunteer this year. I tried last year to volunteer for Age UK but their London office messed up my appointment three times and then they just stopped emailing me (hmm). So this year, I’m going to volunteer at homeless shelters and animal shelters as often as I can. January will be about finding the places I can get to and who need support and then I’ll do what I can throughout the year. After all, people take so many things for granted (clean water, a roof over their heads) so I think it’s about time I substitute the time I spend lazing about for doing something worthwhile. I’d encourage you to do the same and join me if you can!
 

Take longer holidays to closer places

Ok, so last year was all about going REALLY FAR AWAY for two weeks, or going somewhere in Europe for 2 days. This year, I’m going to try and do a couple of holidays (say, 5 days to a week) and to really get under the skin of a smaller place. I’m considering spending 5 days heading up to Scotland to visit the Isle of Skye. I’d also really like to visit La Gomera – it’s next to Tenerife but so few people go there – the entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and looks like a place well worth exploring Perhaps my final trip could be a week somewhere like Sicily, Cape Verde or getting to the top of Norway and seeing the Northern lights.

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La Gomera

After all, I already have a trip to Kenya and Tanzania booked… so my desire to get as far away from Brexit Britain will be fulfilled once.

Get even healthier and fitter

Right, so at the moment I’m at my goal wright: that is, the top end of what is a healthy BMI. However, if I lose another stone then I will be sitting right in the middle of a healthy BMI and I no shits will be given whatsoever if I put on half a stone on holiday/at Christmas.

I’m going to lose the weight via the following ways – all of which are about making my body healthier and losing the weight just being an added bonus. After all, it’s easy to get thin; it requires patience and determination to get fit!

  • Cut out booze for three months (January, November and another one). Not only is booze a HUGE contributor to keeping weight on, but, honestly, I just don’t need it. The more regularly I cut it out, the better for my body it will be!
  • Always have five portions or fruit and veg a day. Sometimes I’m bad at this, but I got a blender for Christmas so I can have dates in the form of energy balls, a banana every morning and lots of fresh veg in the evening.
  • Do a park run. Now, I don’t mean THE park run because they involves me getting up at 8am at the weekend which is INSANE. But now I know that I can run on the road, I want to do it a little more. Might even set myself a goal (is 5k in 20 minutes realistic? Need to do some research) – but basically, just start mixing up my exercise routine a little bit. My bro got my weight for Christmas so they can get involved too!

Rein in the rage

So I tend to get easily exasperated with the state of the world and when people make terrible life decisions. But I shouldn’t – after all, it’s their life and a lot of people I know don’t actually care about the fact the world is going to shit. So, I’m going to attend to rein in my ranting and just be a bit more chill. That way, people might actually get a night out with me which doesn’t involve putting the world to rights (I’ll just do that in my head and not vocalise it… maybe when I’m out I’ll just go and shout at myself about injustice in the bathroom mirror.)

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This will also involve getting back into mindfulness and embrace Pura Vida. I did it for a while when I returned from Costa Rica and I felt SO much better for it. So, mindfulness is going to be something I pick up again. I’m also going to try meditation and this is one of the wankiest things I’ve ever said, but I really want a gong bath. You basically sit in a room and let the sound of gongs wash over you as you chiiiiilll. I know, what a twat. But I’ll be a RELAXED twat, so whatevs.

(This is my most ambitious resolution I reckon, but it’s something I definitely want to work on!)

Wish me luck folks. And here’s to hoping all the terrible things the minority voted to take place in 2017 aren’t actually as fucking awful as we all expect them to be. Sigh.

Flat Iron burger, walking ftw, George Michael and knowing your life plans.

28 Dec

Ok, so STILL writing my blog post on India. Apparently doing loads of stuff and visiting loads of places means it takes forever to write about it…

Anyway, just leaving a blog post here so I don’t forget what I’ve been up to in the lead up to Christmas!

EAT: At long last I went to Flat Iron when they had a burger special on. I know, they have them on a lot, but for some reason whenever I go the special is a fancy bit of steak. But, at last, I’ve had a Flat Iron burger and my GOD it was incredible.

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Look at it.  The ‘Cornish Burger’ special is a beef patty in lightly toasted sesame seed bun with a helluva lot of béarnaise sauce. Yup, that’s not cheese, that’s SAUCE. It was thick enough to hold the burger together but not so thick that it took away from the incredible taste of the meat.

I always have my burgers well done – it tasted amazing. The flavour was stronger than the burgers at the likes of Byron, Honest and others, stronger in a good way of course! I actually love the taste of the beef so much (it wasn’t even seasoned, it was just da bomb) I got rid of half of the burger bun so I could focus on béarnaise and burger.


Of course, a trip to Flat Iron isn’t complete without ALL THE SIDES. Triple cooked chips (so crispy), salad (for some reason so much fresher and tastier than salad elsewhere… I think it’s because they use so much lamb’s lettuce which is the best of all the leaves FACT), cheesey aubergine, creamed spinach and a lovely craft cider. For the love of god, if you haven’t been, sort your life out and go visit Flat Iron.

SEE: So, this isn’t going to be about a particular event I’ve been to or thing I’ve done. I just want to put down in writing how much I bloody love seeing London by walking. London is an easy city to walk – plenty of paths, hidden areas to explore, it’s pretty flat and you don’t really have much excuse for getting in a car (at the end of the day, if the bus is held up, your car will be too. USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT GUYS, especially when it’s as good as it is in London).

Basically, if it’s not tipping it down I’ll walk. In the final week before we broke up for the Christmas holidays, I walked to and from the tube station (around 35 minutes each way) and despite the air being a little chilly, it is such a nice, easy walk to do! In the summer I actually walked from home (Battersea) to work (Soho) just because it’s so lovely to be outside for that 75 minutes rather than crammed on the Tube for 20!

Plus, these days it’s SO easy to be lazy. I’d far rather get an extra 60 minutes exercise than not; then again, it’s only this last year since doing way more walking that I’ve acknowledged it’s actually an amazing form of exercise (I used to believe that if you ain’t sweating then you ain’t exercising), but that’s changed now.

Plus: great way to work out if the heels I’ve just purchased are keepers: if you can’t walk a mile in a pair of shoes, return them immediately  😉

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LISTEN: On Christmas day the news broke that George Michael had passed away, aged 53. Now, with a lot of celebs who have died this year, I’ve been fans of them but I because a fan after they were really at their peak (Bowie, for example). However, I remember as a kid George Michael’s Older and Patience being released and, along with my mum (uber fan) loving the records.

Yes, Wham were great for the Pop hits. But George Michael was, like Bowie and Prince, someone who did a lot to change the way male sexuality was discussed and viewed. He was slammed by the tabloids (who are fawning over him now he’s dead, fuck the S*n) for not only being gay, but for also having casual sex.

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In the video for ‘I Want Your Sex’ he wrote ‘explore monogamy’ – this is before he came out, even in the early 90s he was challenging the idea that in order to be in a relationship, or to be allowed to enjoy sex, you have to be monogamous (personally, I believe that non-monogamous relationships can absolutely work if both people are open to them and, honestly, they’re a lot more realistic in terms of basic biology. After all, monogamy, marriage and the like are simply social constructs).

Anyway; following I Want Your Sex we had the likes of Freedom, a BRILLIANT tune and anthem. Fast Love, Faith, Flawless, Amazing… all fantastic tunes. And that video for Outside? SO STRONG. Notice how the people arrested in the video are gay men and men; the women all escape and the straight couples manage to get away with public displays of affection.

Anyway. I sincerely doubt that I’m telling you anything you don’t already know. That George Michael, despite the drugs and mini scandals, was a brilliant man and musicians. What he did for the LGBT community, and his numerous *fuck yous* to the establishment and social norms, shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m going to leave you with one of my many favourites of his: Freedom.

LOVE: Christmas is a time when a lot of people tend to get depressed if they’re single. Which I can understand, if all they want from life is a wedding and a family. Which, many people do.

I met up with my old friends from home when I was back over the Christmas period and one is engaged, the other has just bought a flat with her boyfriend and the other has a flat, engagement ring and a wedding in August. Which is bloody wonderful, as they all have what they want with the people they want too 🙂

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But I was very aware that while talking to them they assumed that there was no point asking about my love life (which is actually pretty damn good, but maybe it was because it’s not heading towards a flat or a ring). Regarding the flat – it’s only possible to purchase a flat these days if you have rich family or you buy with a partner. Even if I had either of those options available to me I know what would happen (it’s what currently happens at the moment): I’d see some savings and think ‘fuck the flat, I want to go on an adventure’.

The point I’m making is; if you were feeling lonely or upset this Christmas, take a bit of time to work out what you actually want. WHY do you want the flat? WHY do you want a marriage… is it actually just a wedding you want, or to catch up with your friends and where they are in their lives? My wants and needs in life are seeing as much of the world as I’m able to – if someone is with me at the time then fantastic. But if not, it beats sitting on a sofa (whether I own the sofa or not).

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Everyone is different. In terms of what they need and what they want to get out of life. The only question you should be asking yourself this Christmas or at midnight on December 31st is “what do I want to get out of life”? It’s only then that you’ll work out whether hunting down a mate to make a baby and buy a house should top your priorities list. For me? It’s making sure my career stays rockin’, I can afford to go and see as much of the world as I possibly can, that I have a few bits put away for emergencies and I keep the people I love in my life: all of that achieved and I’m a happy gal.