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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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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.

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

9 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

LISTEN: Had to be this. Enjoy.

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

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Guys I date usually fall into the following categories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LISTEN: Small hands, big lies, must lose.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish in a Tie, Make A Wish, Childish Gambino and festive hiatus.

10 Dec

LOOK. I’M WRITING A BLOG POST. It’s been ages since I’ve actually sat down (pfft, ‘laid face down on my bed’) and written anything, so as I’m a bit ill (yay) I figured it’s time to get back on it. I returned from India 3 weeks ago now and my next blog is going to be about my travels in India… need to write it all down in case I forget anything!

However, that will be a reasonably epic blog post, so for now, Imma do my usual thing (rambling on about what I’ve been up to in London).

EAT: I have walked past a little bistro called Fish in a Tie about 5 times a week for the last 5 years. And every single week, I swear, I’m made a note to head in and give the place a try. Well, at long last, I managed it! And I have to say, it was an absolute dream!

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Fish in a Tie is an independent restaurant sitting on a street corner, painted purple, near the back end of Clapham Junction train station. On chalkboards outside you’ll see too-good-to-be-true deals (£7.95 for a two course lunch set menu, £19.95 for a two course a’la carte).. I admit, it’s the price and the fact the place looks so lovely that’s had my attention all these years.

So, the other day, I went in for lunch with my Dad. We did the £7.95 for two course menu and MY WORD, the quality of the food, and the portion size, was absolutely incredible. My Dad has told my entire family about it (seriously: my nan, mum and brother all asked where I took him because he’s been raving about it so much)!

For my first course I went with goats cheese croquettes (below). They were beautiful. They packed a punch in terms of taste but weren’t too overpowering and the came with a light, fresh salad. My dad went for whitebait; he’s a big fan of fish and he said the bowl of them were the best he’d ever had. Me and Dad were also 99% sure that the tartare sauce used is home-made because it’s DELICIOUS and I usually hate the stuff… it’s worth getting a fish dish for their sauce, honestly.

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For mains, I went for battered cod and chips and it smelled so good I didn’t even bother to take a photo. But the fish was cooked to perfecccctiioooon – super-filling, batter wasn’t too thick, fish was fluffy and beautiful. My Dad went for a fish that neither of us had heard of before – and it’s KILLING ME that I can’t remember what it was! Basically, if you don’t recognise a fish on the specials board, try it, because this place has fish totally nailed.

Finally, for an extra £3.50 I went for dessert (obvs). Behold the Amaretto cheesecake… I mean, like I could pass that up? Very light cheesecake, all in all a solid choice. Not the best I’ve ever had, but as part of a three course meal which ended up costing me less than £12, it rocked.

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To put this place in perspective; two starters, two mains, one dessert, two beers and two coffees cost us £30. In total, NOT EACH. Not only was the food quality fantastic, but the staff were nice, the place was charming and relaxing and I can’t recommend heading here enough. It’s one of the only true hidden gems you’ll find in SW11.

SEE: I was offered a place at the Make A Wish Winter Ball this year (I did their social media in exchange) and had a fabulous time. If you’re not aware of Make A Wish, they grant magical wishes to enrich the lives of children and young people fighting life-threatening conditions. Some of the wishes granted to these children are a trip to Disneyland, to fly with Batman, to be a princess or to meet their football hero… all of which bring them SUCH joy, but, of course, cost money to create.

The Make A Wish ball was amazing. Hundreds of people turned up for an evening of fantastic food, drink, entertainment and to take part in various charity auctions. The auction was amazing – the man I was sat next to on my table had just retired from the board of directors at British Airways and had donated the chance to fly business class to LA and meet Al Pacino. HOW COOL IS THAT?! Jeffrey Archer played the role of auctioneer and all in all they raised an incredible amount of money for children across the UK.

Wish-granting aside, the Winter Ball was held at The Dorchester… somewhere I have never set foot in because I’m not a classy bird. The hotel is beautiful and one day I would love to go there for a meal just to soak up the atmosphere. In the main room (the event was in the ballroom and you had to walk through the main room off reception to get there) where Christmas lights, a grand piano and a lot of fancy looking people sipping cocktails. Meanwhile, there’s me wandering through in the dress below (£15 from ASOS and now too big for me, so being held in with a safety pin at the back). See? Classy bird.

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I could go on for pages about the entertainment, but I’ll keep it short and sweet; there were dances, sing-songs and one or two surprise acts! One was a guy who had just got booted off of the X Factor (he seems nice enough) and the other was Madness. Which was SO cool – cannot believe I got to see Madness so close up. I also got to meet the band backstage and take their photo to use on social which was pretty wicked too. All in all, a wonderful night. Thank you to my colleague at M&C Saatchi PR for the invite J

If you could spare even the smallest amount of money to help grant a wish child with a life-threatening illness then please, please do so. You can donate here by clicking here.

LISTEN: Childish Gambino dropped his latest album, Awaken My Love, the other week. It’s a move in a different direction – if you liked tracks like Heartbeat and Sweatpants then this won’t be quite what you’re after. It’s funk-heavy, lots of smooth soul and bass, and it’s great. It’s taken a few listen to really get under the skin of it, but some standout tracks to start with are ‘Have Some Love’ (SO funky), Zombies (“we’re coming out to get you, we’re oh so glad we met you, we’re eating you for profit, there is no way to stop it”) and Me and Your Mama.

It’s a record which looks 70s funk and soul music in the face and tries to get to grips with it in 2016. Have a listen to Have Some Love and get a feel for what I’m on about (“have some time for one another, really love one another, it’s so hard to find”):

LOVE: giving up dating for a couple of months. At Christmas I get chubby and busy. Plus, I’m super poor for some reason (can’t quite work out what I spent my cash on because at the moment it isn’t Christmas presents…) so having one less person to buy for never hurts. A Scrooge when it comes to Christmas and the world of dating, it seems.

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AMAZING burger pop-up, the history of the universe, Passing Clouds and what I don’t want.

9 Oct

Long time (well, kinda) no speak! I’ve been reasonably busy over the last few weeks… mainly heading on three holidays in September, so don’t feel sorry for me. But it did mean I was a bit slow updating the ol’ blog as I now have just TOO MUCH to chat about. So: I’m going to do a bit of a London update and then next week I’ll write up my September holiday highlights (Berlin and Barcelona – both places I’ve been before). Until then, enjoy reading about some of the things I’ve got up to recently!

EAT: A few months back I blogged about a Malaysian pop-up at Soho pub, the Sun and 13 Cantons. It was epic. And now, another can’t miss pop-up has taken residency in the kitchen of the Sun and 13. Chef Adam Rawson won the Slider Decider award and he’s brought his burgers to Soho for a limited time. And fuck me, they’re delicious.

If you’ve even read this blog ONCE you’ll know I’m a burger fan. So when I saw ks_ate_here (delicious food porn from around London) Instagram a gorgeous looking burger at the Sun and 13, my lunchtime was sorted. As was the lunchtime of half of the people of work with because we all follow ks_ate_here… and the Sun and 13 Cantons is about 30 seconds from my office!

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So, this is the deal: the burger above is the Pan Con Chicharron (Aged Galician patty, smoked cheddar, aji  rocotto ketchup, aji Amarillo mustard, salsa criolla & crispy pork ). The only side available (which OF COURSE I got as well) are onion rosemary and aioli chips. The chips were really good – very strong aioli, which I loved, and a generous helping of the stuff too, balanced nicely with the rosemary so it isn’t completely missed. Plus, crispy onions which are always welcome. True, no rosemary chips will ever beat Honest Burger’s in my opinion, but these were damn good.


The burger was one of the best I’ve ever had in London. The patty was thick and flavoursome – juicy so you can get a perfect bite with the brioche-esque bun, and it wasn’t overpowered by all the yummy extras. The onions were SO SO GOOD (plus, c’mon, really pretty) and the bun held together really well. One of my colleagues had the veggie options (Crispy aubergine, truffle aioli, wild rocket, gorgonzola & balsamic onions ) which looked packed and not the rubbish excuse for a burger some veggie options are – again, loads of filling and sauce, paired nicely with the right about of crispy aubergine.

Finally, anyone who tried both my burger and the Global Traveller said the Global Traveller was better. Don’t get me wrong, my burger (the Pan Con Chicharron was DAMN GOOD… but the Global Traveller is really damn good, basically. It comes with Aged Galician mince, truffle aioli, wild rocket, gorgonzola, Balsamic Onions & Pancetta.

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Go while you can, eat allllll the things and then go back again to eat everything you didn’t try first time around. It goes without saying I’ll be returning to feast on the Global Traveller burger! Burgers are between £7.50-£9 and chips are £3.50.

SEE: My Dad got me tickets to see Brian Cox live, and I found myself on a Saturday night learning about the cosmos, how many universes there are (hint: loads), learning about the big bang, how the universe is expanding and how bloody wonderful Einstein’s theory of Relatively is as a model. Plus, there were loads of stunning photographs and simulations of our solar system which I loved.

I was actually really happy to see a packed theater (about 1,200 people) paying £30 to sit and learn about physics on a Saturday night… it gives me hope that we’re not all happy with settling for dumbed-down X Factor as our Saturday night entertainment. And it WAS entertaining; Brian Cox is an engaging speaker anyway and he does a good job of making things simple enough for people to understand. I reckon I probably ‘got’ about 50% of it which, honestly, I’m very happy with! Plus, Robin Ince was there to break things up and give a little comic relief in parts, which worked well.

We were shown how a bowling ball and a feather fall in a vacuum (so, how gravity actually affects the motion of masses without pesky air resistance getting in the way). On top of this, we were told about how far back we can see in space (basically, no more than 30,8 billion years because before that point the atoms in the universe were opaque, and not transparent, so light couldn’t get out). True, I may never use that fact again. But that’s not why we learn – it’s to pique our curiosity and to have a better understanding of the world… galaxy… universe… etc.

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One of the highlights for me was the Cosmic Calendar. This is our universe, but shown as an Earth year. Basically, our galaxy has only been around since September (when Earth was formed). Complex organisms (predators, animals with eyes and teeth) evolved on December 17th (my birthday, whoop!) Dinosaurs became extinct on December 30th. And humans rocked up in the final seconds of New Years Eve. Which is a lot to get your head around and exceptionally humbling. It’s fascinating that our galaxy has been ‘stable’ (in terms of temperature and no supermassive black holes massively fucking things up) for billions of years, which is a key in factor in why life on Earth was able to evolve.

Anyway. I’m rambling and not explaining anything anywhere NEAR as clearly as Brian Cox did. But it was a great show which I’d recommend seeing – or, catch him next time he tours, for sure. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday night.

LISTEN: I went to a march a few weeks back to show Hackney Council, London and the rest of the UK that London cannot keep losing venues of such community importance as Passing Clouds. The venue was sold by their landlord to a developer who is going to strip away my favourite venue, a place with live music, poetry, dance classes, community projects, charity work and more, to be turned into yet more dull offices.

Trying to stop my spiritual home from being taken away @itspassingclouds #savepassingclouds

A post shared by Hannah (@hannahlujah123) on

So, I marched. I marched from Shoreditch to Haggerston, along with hundreds of other people, peacefully protesting the closure of the venue. We also marched to raise awareness of Passing Clouds, as they are trying one last thing: they’re applying to Hackney Council to become a listed place of community importance. Which, honestly, it is. They give up and coming artists and musicians a stage, they run soup kitchens and other charity initiatives and it’s the most inclusive and colourful/safe space I’ve found in London to go out.

If you would like to help, you can do so by simply signing the petition (for Hackney Council to list Passing Clouds as a place of community importance) here. Thank you. x

LOVE: So it’d been a fair few months since I’d been on a date (I decided to take a break and head to the gym instead), but in September I thought I’d give dating a bit of prioritisation (after food, sleep, holidays and work, lol) and I dating three different guys over the course of the month.

And in September, I realised a few things about what I want in a person. So, although I didn’t meet anyone who was right for me, I’ve learned some things which aren’t right for me. So, here those things are (mainly for my reference so I don’t make the same mistake again!)

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  • Much as I respect people’s choices, dating someone who is not only vegan, but also a tee-total anti-capitalist was a bit much, I Cannot stress enough that I have no issues with any of those things. And if he’d only been vegan/only been tee-total/only been anti-capitalist, I think it would have been fine. But as a meat eating, drinking woman who works in the advertising industry, there just wasn’t the meeting of minds that there needed to be to progress to a second date.
  • Dress sense matters. I happen to dress very colourfully and, much as I love a guy who embraces colour, I’m realistic and can happily deal with jeans and a white t-shirt. However, when someone rocks up to a date dressed like a pimp (velvet jackets, purple silk shirt, chain) AND then starts on men at the bar, it’s all a bit much. (This happened.)

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  • I hate the world spark. I really do. But if whatever physical thing you need to want to sleep with someone isn’t there, then it isn’t there. I think I have to admit that looks DO matter… what kind of looks I don’t know, but someone could have an amazing personality and want the same things as me in life… but if I don’t want to jump them, then there’s no point persevering with the dates.

So there we go. I learned a lot and had some interesting dates with some lovely men, but it just wasn’t going to work out. Onwards and upwards. Well… onwards, at least (I’m being realistic) 😉

Gail’s Bakery, Lights of Soho, RADIOHEAD ALBUM and vetting process

17 Apr

EAT: Gail’s Bakery has just opened on Battersea Square. That is where I live. So, feeling a little delicate, my friends and I dragged ourselves a full 2 minutes to Gail’s on Sunday where we were greeted with these scenes:

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Flour, glorious flour. To all you gluten-intolerant peeps out there, don’t worry, they have gluten free bread and flourless cake available too. (Apparently flourless cake is nice but I’m not willing to risk it. Soz.)

Not only are the cakes and breads divine to look at, but the café menu is also pretty badass in terms of carbs and flour. I went for the French Toast with berries and crème fraiche:


I. know, just LOOK at it. It was so good. The toast was THICK and perfectly cooked too (not burnt but not too light). There was enough berry compote and crème fraiche to have with pretty much every bite and it made everything feel lighter too. Not gonna lie, I could have done without the honey drizzled all over it as I think it made it verging on too sweet… but that’s my own fault for not asking to be removed, not theirs! All in all a SOLID and tasty  brunch.

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Sam had mushroom ragu which seemed to go down a treat (above) – very fresh and a gooood portion size too. I can’t remember what Tim went for but I remember eggs being involved – whatever it was, it looked good and came loaded on top of thick-cut, freshly baked bread. Nick had scrambled eggs on toast. It came 20 minutes after everyone else’s food and, bless them, after bringing the food and apologising, they also gave him two fully stamped loyalty cards, meaning he can get two coffees or two loaves of bread next time he visits. Plus, his scrambled eggs looked BRILLIANT (I consider myself a scrambled egg pro and these were fluffy AS and came on whole-seed delish bread).

Gail’s Bakery gets a huge thumbs up from me. It’s my new go-to place for hangover brunch and if I worked in the area I’d spend a small fortune on their lunch options. Definitely worth giving a try if you’re local – and still worth a punt if you don’t live closer to any of their other branches!

SEE: Oh god, EVERYONE has been to Lights of Soho (God’s Own Junkyard). I went there forever and a half ago, but just never got round to putting the photos up.

If you like neon lights, highly Instagrammable surrounds and want somewhere ‘quirky’ to take a date (they have a bar and serve coffee too) then this is the place for that. The downstairs area is cute – hidden and dark but, err… with neon lights everywhere. Downstairs is definitely worth a punt, feels far more seedy 😉

LISTEN: RADIOHEAD ARE RELEASING A NEW ALBUM IN JUNE. Obviously, as my favourite band and absolute dreamboats when it comes to making music, this is GOOD NEWS. I’m sad that I wasn’t able to get tour tickets *sob* but at least I’ll have more music to gobble up.

If you want to fall in love with Radiohead, here’s one of my favourite songs that I (somehow) haven’t yet posted on this blog. I always told myself that before I get a tattoo, I’d have to want it for at least 10 years first. I fell in love with this song when it was released in 2007 and I’m wanted to have some of the lyrics turned into a tattoo: “There’s always a siren singing you to shipwreck”.

I love it because despite being a pain in the ass and sharing my opinions too freely, I just like it when people to do the right thing.When they move away from the siren. People (myself included) never appreciate advice at the time, but I remain resolute in my belief that if people are making a mistake it’s good to try and guide them to safety, despite the fact they won’t thank you for it at the time 🙂

LOVE: Over the last week I have cancelled three dates. Reasonably last minute. Not to be a dick, but to save everyone a hell of a lot of time.
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Actually, I didn’t give them the ‘sick’ excuse. I just didn’t follow up with an exact time to meet, or I told them I was busy. The reason? If I don’t like them enough to be compelled to go and actually met them, then why bother? Yes, true, this is the perfect way to miss out on someone who could be crap via text message and glorious in person… but it never seems to work out that way. Without fail, every time I’ve found that if someone wasn’t much fun on a date I was surprised because the conversation flowed so well online.
Hence the problem with trying to get to know people while they’re hiding behind a screen I suppose. Can’t win either way. Sigh. My friend Laura (in her 50s and I met in Costa Rica, wise AF) said that I should always speak with a guy on the phone before I meet him so that he doesn’t have time to stop and think when I ask a question, and so that I can find out if the conversation actually flows.

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This idea seems hideous, but unfortunately does make a lot of sense. Might risk it.

Bound to end terribly, but that’s what makes it fun, right?