Jordan (July 2017)

2 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WADI RUM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PETRA

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

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

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

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

DAY 1: the main sights

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

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

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

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

DAY TWO: the backstreets of Petra and The Monastery 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEAD SEA, MADABA AND JERASH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summary

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

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

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

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

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East Africa Part 2: Tanzania/Zanzibar

25 Jun

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

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

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

Onto my trip!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, I got to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Things Stone Town is famous for;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim and I did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Africa Part 1: Kenya

18 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Views for dayyyys and definitely worth a stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A post shared by Hannah (@hannahlujah123) on

^ click the above for the video to play.

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

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

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

28 Mar

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

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

Sorry, champagne. Forgot I was being fancy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s ‘getting on’.

It’s ‘wanting to fuck’.

It’s ‘confidence’.

It’s having similar goals.

But it’s not a ‘spark’.

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

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

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

12 Mar

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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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.