Saturday, 3 December 2016

Winter in the City wrapped up




Why have I started this post with a picture of a marshmallow and pretzel snowman luxuriating in a mug of hot chocolate? Is it a terribly intelligent comment on the meaning of life?............Nope you'll have to wait for a future post for that. It's simply that, as the temperature drops and I gradually start resembling a human icicle this picture never fails to simultaneously make me smile and feel a teeny bit warmer just by staring at it. Just look at the wee guy - how can you resist?
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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Sensational seaside escapes that won't break the bank!


I've been meaning to write a blog post on those fabulous beaches ideal for a day-trip from city since the start of the summer. Unfortunately it took me so long to put pen to paper that by the time I actually started writing I received a clear and unceremonious sign of a change of season, by being caught in the mother of all downpours and arriving back home looking like a drowned rat in a wet t-shirt contest.

Despite this and the predictions of four months of snow ahead, in a show of unrelenting optimism I have decided to plough on with writing this post regardless.

During those glorious summer days basking in the sunshine is a favourite pastime for many a Londoner . Unfortunately unlike New York which has Coney Island, London doesn't have its own neighbourhood beach where we can go to soak up the sun, unless you count the Costa del Thames (that tiny stretch of sand on the Southbank next to the Thames). 

However jump in the car or grab a train and within no time at all you will be whisked away to some truly impressive beaches within a stone's throw of the city. 

Here are a couple of my favourites places that I have come across in my travels so far -


Dungeness Beach

If Charlotte Bronte and Dr Who designed a beach, Dungeness is undoubtedly what they would have ended up with - a deserted shingle beach with a nuclear power station looming in the distance. It's like a spooky graveyard for old fishing boats and the combination of abandoned huts, discarded machinery dotted randomly across the beach and disused rail tracks (used in days gone by to transport the day's fishing haul across the shingle beach to the nearby road) gives it an eerie feel which is like no beach you will have ever seen before.  

In reality this is still a working fishing village and a number of the boats are still in regular use, yet despite this you'll rarely see another soul while walking along the beach, making it the perfect, quirky beach break to truly get away from the unrelenting buzz of the big city.

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

10 must see places for Harry Potter fans!


The first sign that I wasn't of wizarding kin should have been when I was riding my bike down a hill as a kid. The brakes failed and frozen in fear I went headlong into a wall, which disappointingly did not prove to be a secret passageway to a train enroute to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 
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Thursday, 7 July 2016

Why Brixton is London at its best


For some folks the Big Smoke can feel cold, aloof, frustratingly self assured and slightly intimidating, enough for them to give it a fairly wide berth forever more. But London is a city whose appeal increases exponentially as you peel back its layers. Artists, musicians, writers, inventors and ordinary folks from every country around the globe have been drawn to this bustling metropolis, shaping it over time and creating an incredible melting pot of people, cultures and influences.
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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Ten unmissable eateries in Hong Kong for budget travellers


Life in London is so busy that I love those moments when the whole family gets together to catch up. As a tribe of food lovers, at some point the conversation inevitably turns to this crucial topic, leading to a never-ending stream of banter between my sister-in-law and I, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that my love of (very occasionally slightly dodgy) cheap eats is matched only by her love for fancy, Michelin style dining.

So I knew I was setting her a Herculean task when I challenged her to come up with ten can't miss budget eats in her birthplace, Hong Kong. True, Hong Kong is known across the world as a food lover’s paradise. However it’s also a travel destination where, the perception at least is, that a healthy bank balance is an essential travel requirement.

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Sunday, 12 June 2016

The ultimate guide to a fabulous citybreak in Zurich





"Chocolate" and "banks". Unsurprisingly these were the answers I got when I asked people the first thing that pops into their mind when I mention Zurich. So if you're not a chocolate loving banker does that mean that mean that you should give Zurich a wide berth? As someone who visited Zurich several years ago with similar misconceptions my answer is a resounding "No".

I'm keen to peel back the layers and show you that this beautiful city has so much more to offer. 
And to do this I've enlisted the help of a good friend, Nichola, who moved there over 4 years ago and has been having a whale of a time exploring  the city and spending weekends road-tripping across mainland Europe ever since. This is the first in a special series of guest posts from those who haven't just visited cities but have lived them.

Welcome to JustACurlInTheWorld Nichola! So let's kick off with an 'easy' one. I've got just 24 hours to experience Zurich. What would I be mad to miss?


Head to the top of Lake Zurich - on a nice clear day, you'll struggle to get a better postcard picture of the mountains.

The Old Town is well worth a walk to. It is a system of cobbled streets. beautiful buildings and has some lovely quaint shops. It's also a great place to find bars and restaurants, particularly in the evenings.





On the subject of shopping, don’t miss seeing one of the most expensive streets in Switzerland – Bahnhofstrasse. Some shops are reasonably priced (by Swiss standards), others are worth a look in the window especially as there are bouncers on the doors.

Also “Grossmünster” church sits in the Old Town area, and is a great viewpoint.




Great tips. Do you have a favourite place that is off the standard tourist trail?

If you are looking for something completely different, visit the Museum of Wax Moulages which contains a study collection of skin diseases for teaching at the University and has a 1800 wax models depicting every ailment from STDs to skin cancer.  To get there you can take the Tram 9 or 10 to Haldenbach. Best of all the entrance is free!

An unorthodox choice to be sure, and perhaps not one for the squeamish.

Moving swiftly on, Zurich is known for being one of the most expensive cities in the world where you can't swing a cat without hitting a rich banker. Is it really possible for ordinary folk on a budget to visit the city?

I wish I had a cat to swing! It is possible to visit Zurich without a huge bank balance, yes things are more expensive but normally the quality, reliability and good service justifies the price.

If you are travelling only in Zurich City then the cost is about £8.00 for a travel card, this covers the buses, trams, boats and trains. But be aware you need to buy zone extensions if you travel outside the city centre area.

For eating there are lots of places around the main train station of Zurich HB that are reasonably priced. In some shops - Jelmoli, Coop, Migros there are restaurants were you pay what the plate weighs, once the food is on it! Yes, it means you do not fill up on potatoes but it is always nice to have some variety. You could always grab something small from one of the stalls that are about the city, or make up a picnic.


Phew! That's good news. On to the really important stuff, what should I be feasting on while in Zurich?

For sausage (or Bratwurst) lovers, Sternen grill sits at the top of the lake near one of the transport hubs - Bellevue. It is considered by many as unmissable, as highlighted by the queue outside the shop. They do offer vegetarian alternatives, or if preferred, there is a café owned by the same company on Bellevue itself. 





I would also recommend Hiltl restaurant, this is a vegetarian restaurant that is so good even meat lovers do not always realise there is no meat in the meals! Hiltl is found on Sihlstrasse which is near Zurich HB, approximately a 15 minute walk.

You must also eat lots of chocolate but not just Lindt, try some Callier or Frey. Yum Yum Yum!


Oooohhh I remember Hiltl from my visit. As a meat-eater I can confirm that I absolutely loved it. 

But after all that food I suppose it's time I did a wee bit of exercise. Does Zurich have anything to offer me if I enjoy the great outdoors?

For sure! On Lake Zurich you can hire out boats and go for a little adventure, watch out though for the other boat companies as they will expect you to move!  



If you don’t have time to head to the Alps then you could also take a walk up the Üetliberg mountain, it is smaller than most at only 869m. The Üetliberg offers views of the entire city of Zurich and Lake Zurich. 


Love it! But now I have a taste for adventure. I've hired a car and have a sat nav at the ready to explore beyond the city walls. Where should I head?

Attractions outside the city are wide and varied. There are factories producing anything from chocolate to Formula 1 cars. Historians are treated to a few impressive castles and monasteries. Meanwhile, those who prefer landscapes have the choice of some of Europe’s tallest mountains to the South, and the continent’s largest waterfall to the North.




Further afield, driving for 1-2 hours would be sufficient to reach the vineyards of Alsace (France), the Black Forest (Germany), Lake Constance (Germany and Austria), or the Principality of Liechtenstein.


Before I head home I need to sample some of the incredible chocolate which the Swiss are known for. Where should I got to get my chocolate fix?

There are lots of places to go for chocolate. If you like the tourist chocolate of Lindt there is a factory down the right hand side of the lake, they have a factory shop where you can buy lots of different varieties. However, if you want to try other local chocolate I would recommend you try Callier or Frey – both yummy. In addition to this we have an amazing shop called Läderlach, they sell chocolate in slabs and take chunks off to sell.




Slabs of chocolate? Sounds like heaven! 

Finally let's end with your elevator pitch for folks to visit your fair city

Zurich is a city with something for everyone. Visitors of any age, nationality, interests or palate won't be disappointed. Although it's a financial capital, it is full of culture, spectacular views and a great atmosphere at any time of year. To top it off, the transport network makes it easy to reach anywhere in the city with ease. It is no mistake that Zurich is listed as one of the world's best places to live.


Sold! Right I am off to book my flight. 

Make up the spare room for me will you. You're going to pick me up at the airport right? I'll have my eggs sunny-side up in the morning, it would be great to be waited on hand and foot, and oh a wee mint on my pillow would be fab and.......hold on Nichola??.......Nichola?????


{Nichola has left the building}


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Sunday, 5 June 2016

Rolling back time at Stonehenge


While I love my adventures around the world, when I have a weekend free it can be just as fun unearthing those gems in my own backyard. To kick off this new blog series about fantastic places to visit around the UK I am taking you waaaaayyyyy, waaayyyy back in time to one of most famous wonders of the ancient world, a place filled with myth and mystery - Stonehenge.


4,500 years ago ancient man painstakingly transported and raised a huge stone structure in the middle of a field in South West England. The reason why remains a complete mystery which has captured the imagination of generations ever since.

Whether a visit to this place captures your imagination too is very much down to your expectations and perspective. Some people were undoubtedly disappointed as they expected to be able to be right next to the structure (this simply isn't feasible any more on a daily basis as there was serious erosion caused by visitors touching, climbing or even stealing bits of the monument - yep all of you who have a bit of Stonehenge on your shelf are to blame!), or they expect it to be bigger or flashier (it's not Disneyworld folks!)

However the more that you know the story behind Stonehenge, the more you fall under its spell. For example some of the stones were transported 150 miles and others weighed as much as 6 elephants each. This is at a time before the invention of wheel, when those that built the monument had to literally drag the stones to their current location, shape them by hitting stone on stone (as there were no tools), before hoisting the horizontal stones atop the vertical ones. No wonder it took 1500 years to build. All that effort is surely reason enough to be a teeny bit impressed?








Then there is all the mystery surrounding its purpose. Nobody really knows for sure why it was built, but of course this just means that everyone has a theory. One theory beloved by sci-fi geeks is that it is a landing pod built by aliens and that's why crop circles are often found nearby. Of all the places on earth that they could go, why aliens would choose to holiday in a field in Wiltshire is perhaps the greatest mystery.




The earliest picture of Stonehenge from a 12th Century manuscript has fueled another theory that Merlin instructed giants to build the monument. I've added my own bit to this theory that these giants were chased out of England and now only live mountainous areas of the world and are known as Yetis or Sasquatch. Brilliant right???






The reality is probably a little closer to home, but no less intriguing. Human and animal remains indicate at one point it was used quite creepily for ritual sacrifice (personally this makes me like the giant theory even more). 

The placement of the rocks which lines up with the sunrise during the summer and winter solstice also indicate it was also used as a giant celestial calendar.  

It also almost certainly seems to have been a giant burial ground as it is surrounded by round mounds (where VIPs were buried with their possessions and enough food and water to transport them to the afterlife) and long barrows or burial chambers housing the bones of hundreds of ordinary folks. The idea was to return the bones of ancestors to the earth, ready for re-birth. 

And on a more upbeat note new evidence suggests that it was a famous pilgrimage site where people would travel vast distances in order to soak up its healing powers (given this is before Facebook and any form of transport, how folks across Europe heard about Stonehenge and were then able to make the journey is pretty amazing in itself).

As you can see Stonehenge worked its magic on me. If you want to visit and see if it has the same effect on you, the cheapest way to visit is probably by car as it's just 2hours outside London but you can also travel by train to Salisbury and then a bus to Stonehenge, or by one of the many tourist buses direct from London. Entry costs £15.50 and you can pay extra for an audio guide or download the tour guide app to your iPhone.

So enjoy both the history and the mystery and make your way to Stonehenge pronto.

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Sunday, 29 May 2016

The London Guide to eating your way around the globe


So it's one of those weekends when you've got a serious case of  the munchies but a bucket of chicken from the slightly suspect chicken shop round the corner isn't going to cut it. Instead you're dreaming of dining in Denmark, feasting in France, chomping your way through China and munching your way across Malaysia. You've mentally mapped out a route and then....... reality hits you like a ton of bricks that...........

1) Your bank balance won't get you past the M25
2) It's a Sunday morning and have to be back for work by tomorrow

[sigh!]

But before you fall into a bottomless pit of despair, be cheered by this thought -  you live in London, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, a city which people from every corner of the world have made home, where a smorgasbord of flavours awaits you just outside your front door. 

Of course good food is easy to find when money is no object, but wherever possible I am instead going to focus on cheap and mid-range restaurants which allow you to enjoy a champagne lifestyle on a bucks-fizz budget.

So let me be your guide, as together we head out into the world for a spot of gastronomic globe-trotting.


TURKEY

Address: Gokyuzu, 26-27 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, London, N4 1LG
Nearest tube station: Manor House
Price: Approx £12 per person for 2 courses




All aboard? First stop (Little) Istanbul, otherwise known as Green Lanes in Haringey, North London. There's a mind-boggling selection of Turkish restaurants in this area, so it's a testament to Gokyuzu that it is packed with people at all hours of the day. Gokyuzu has even been named one of the top restaurants in London on TripAdvisor, leaving Michelin started restaurants eating their dust. 

Your meal starts with an incredible array of freebies including a plate piled high with salad coated in a sweet dressing, a basket of bread cooked in the wood fired oven on the premises and a moreish tzatziki dip. I always get excited about free food but don't fill up too much as the best is yet to come. For main course my personal favourite has to be Sarma Kuzu Beyti (marinated mince lamb seasoned with garlic grilled over charcoal, wrapped in lavash bread with cheese and topped with tomato sauce, drizzled with butter and served with yogurt and bulgar), which is insanely good. Once you've licked your plate clean you'll be served a free little glass of Turkish tea to wash it all down. Perfection!!


JAPAN

Address: Misato, 11 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6PG
Nearest tube station: Leicester Square
Price: Approx £6 per person for one course



A tiny inconspicuous Japanese joint just of Leicester Square, Misato is known for serving huge portions at affordable prices. Despite the location, you won't see that many tourists here, as they are usually drawn like moths to the neon lights of nearby fast food joints or to the all you can eat buffets in Chinatown, but Misato has a faithful following of Far East students and locals alike which ensures that it does a roaring trade.

Sushi and sashami are a great value as are the bento boxes. My guilty pleasure is the chicken katsu curry which is absolutely HUGE, and served with a portion of rice and salad. It's not healthy but it is too good value and tastes too damn good to care. Photos are thanks to my friend and fellow blogger Marie as I was too busy tucking in.

Affordable restaurants are few and far between in Central London, and affordable Japanese restaurants that serve more than ramen are even more of an enigma, so for all this and more, Misato I salute you.



SRI LANKA

Address: Apollo Banana Leaf, 190 Tooting High Street, London, SW17 0SF
Nearest tube station: Tooting Broadway
Price: Approx £15 per person for 2 courses



Next stop Colombo, Sri Lanka. An Aussie Sri Lankan friend introduced me to Apollo Banana Leaf in Tooting describing it as her go to place when she was in need of a fix of authentic Sri Lankan food. It's a good 15-20 minute trek from the nearest tube station and some of the decor is undeniably questionable but fortune favours the brave and your perseverance will be rewarded by some top notch South Asian cuisine at very reasonable prices. My default is to start with the mutton roll, followed by the egg and onion fried stringhoppers and crab masala (served with whole piece of crabs cooked in the shell which is incredibly delicious and messy in equal measure). This place is so good that when I lived in North London I would make a 3 hour round trip to visit it when I couldn't resist the cravings any longer. Oh and did I mention it's BYO too. Cheers!


FRANCE

Address: Le Mercury, 140a Upper Street, London, N1 1QY
Nearest tube station: Angel
Price: Approx £15 per person for 3 courses 




Flying in the face in geographical convention, our next stop after Sri Lanka is of course..... Paris (naturally). I have eaten at several fantastic and expensive French restaurants across the city (courtesy of my generous siblings) so it would be disingenuous to say that Le Mercury is the best French food I have eaten outside France. That said, it is unsurprising that the owners needed to set up an overspill restaurant (Le Mercury Deuxieme) just minutes down the road because it absolutely hits the mark on French bistro food at affordable prices such as roast barbary duck with garlic mash, savoy cabbage and red wine jus (pictured). 

The service is friendly and welcoming and the interior has a quaint, faintly romantic air about it, with candles in green bottles with wax dripping down the sides and cosy tables. However this works just as well as a spot to catch up with family and friends as it does for date night. Oh and did I mention the prices? £4.75 for starters, £9.95 for mains and £3.45 for desserts - Sacre Bleu!!



USA
Address: The Lockhart, 22-24 Seymour Place, London, W1H 7NL
Nearest tube station: Marble Arch
Price: Approx £15 per person for 1 course (based on 2 sharing 1 portion)







The final stop on the first leg of this culinary jaunt is my favourite American restaurant in the city, the Lockhart, which serves mouthwatering soul food straight out of the Deep South. The grits (hard to describe but something between polenta and mashed potatoes), buttermilk fried chicken and cornbread are to die for. This is the kind of food which forces you to politely explain to whoever you are eating with that you won't be speaking to them for at least the next 20mins as you savour every mouthwatering morsel. Admittedly the Lockhart can't really be described as a cheap eat but my advice is to order one portion and split it between you. That helps keep the price down and also lowers the risk of you falling into the fried chicken induced coma which is the inevitable result of trying to eat a full portion yourself.



Hope y'all enjoyed the first leg of our grand tour. Tune in again for more globe-trotting gastronomic adventures around the Big Smoke. In the meantime, Bon Appetit!  


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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Life and other pursuits - a round-up from the last few weeks


After a hiatus from the blogosphere I wanted to share a wee taster of some of what I have been up to in the last few weeks in those free moments between starting a new job and whiling (or perhaps more accurately wine-ing) away evenings in the pub with friends.

The day that music died....

If you passed the iconic Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton on 21st April you will have no doubt seen a simple and touching tribute to the passing of a musical juggernaut - "This is what it sounds like when doves cry. RIP Prince". It would be fair to say Prince definitely wasn't to everyone's taste (in fact his lyrics offended the Parents Music Resource Centre so much that they led to the introduction of the little black and white Parental Advisory stickers on CDs) but for me he will always be a complete legend. Music had always been in the background of my life, punctuating memories from my childhood (I can't listen to Roxette for example without thinking of my friend lending me her lipstick and bright blue bomber jacket in an attempt to look old enough to get into a over 16's club. We never actually made it inside, I chickened out when I saw the bouncer and spent the rest of the evening kicking an empty coke can around the carpark - rock and roll baby!) but in truth music was rarely something which made any lasting impression on me. Discovering two musicians (Bruce Springsteen and Prince) changed that for me forever. Much has already been written in the last fortnight about Prince's songwriting ability from the theatrical (When Doves Cry), to the iconic (Purple Rain), the unbelievably catchy (Raspberry Beret), to the romantic (The One and Most beautiful girl in the world) to the downright filthy (Darling Nikki and Get Off), his undoubted musical ability (he could play at least 27 instruments), his unique dress sense and those iconic Prince moments such as when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. It is for all of these reasons and much more that I for one will miss Prince. He was unapologetically original, unafraid to be different and to chart his own course. For a shy, introverted kid still figuring out who she was that fearlessness was inspirational. In a world which tries to get everyone to confirm to type he screamed from the rooftops to just be yourself. The Purple Reign may be over but I hope I never forgot that lesson. 

In the meantime check out this video of various musicians playing the Beatles's 'While my guitar gently weeps'. Skip to 3m29 and you will see Prince steal the show. RIP Purple One.





The day I decided to go on a healthy eating kick.........
It all started with a photo, or more accurately a series of photos where I was undoubtedly looking a little rounder than I had been a year or so ago. After admitting that the last 100 photos hadn't simply caught me at a bad angle, it was time face the truth and step away from the bacon rolls and all those other deliciously fattening treats. I read that losing weight is 80% diet related so if I wanted to ditch the pounds I would have to stop making my body a temple to Chicken Cottage and instead feast on veg. To give myself a bit of an incentive I watched 'Vegucated', a guerrilla-style documentary following three carnivorous New Yorkers converting to veganisam which explores the ethical and environmental argument for veganism. While it didn't convince me to go vegan, it definitely succeeded in convincing me to at least start by replacing some of my meat filled meals with veggie alternatives. The big challenge was finding recipes which wouldn't leave me thinking, "Hmm... that was nice.......but it would have been so much better with a wee bit of meat". That led me to try the tasty little South Indian vegetable curry below. I love it so much I thought I would share it with you all too.


SOUTH INDIAN VEG CURRY RECIPE
- Heat oil in a saucepan
- Add 1tsp mustard seeds, 3 cloves, 1 cardomn pod and 1 cinnamon stick and fry
- Add 1 onion, 1 teaspoon ginger paste, 1 teaspoon garlic paste and cook until onion is brown
- Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1tsp corriander, 1tsp garam masala, 1/2tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp chilli powder
- Add 1 medium beef tomato
- Add 1/2 bag of frozen veg (carrots, peas, green beans)
- Add 1 cup thin coconut milk (1tblsp coconut power mixed into a cup of warm water) and 1/2 cup of thick coconut milk (3tblsp coconut power mixed into 1 cup warm water - half to be used now and half to be saved for later)
- Simmer for 20mins, covered, on a low heat
- Add the other half a cup of thick coconut milk and salt to taste
- Cook for a further 10mins and then serve with brown rice

I know it might seem a bit expensive to buy all these spices and ingredients if you don't already have them in your cupboard but you only use very small amounts and they last for ages so it's definitely worth the investment and after you make this once it will definitely become a staple meal.


The day that I decided to be a hermit...........
It was a singularly miserable day, the kind of day where venturing outside for anything at all was essentially a fool's mission. The only answer was to retreat to the couch, curl up with a good book, Netflix, tea and of course chocolate. As a classic introvert I love having time like this to recharge after a crazy week.

Reading: I go to extremes with reading, from gorging on up to 5 books at the same time, to avoiding reading anything more strenuous than the free paper I get at the train station. But a friend recently encouraged me to re-join the wonderful world of books again by trying 'The Power of the Dog' by Don Winslow. I am only on chapter two but already it has me hooked. Part crime story, part historical novel, it tells the story of America's so called War on Drugs through the eyes of a cast of characters including an American Drug Enforcement Agent, a Mexican drug lord, a prostitute and a New York gangster. It's brutal but totally gripping. This isn't my usual kind of read at all but I highly recommend it if you're up for something a little different.



On the box: I know the thought of watching a documentary may not sound like your ideal way to spend an evening but this one is worth it even if you're not usually a documentary fan.  Virunga tells the story of those fighting to protect the world's last mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park in the DRC against poaching, the war and oil exploration - between the heroes, the villains, the action and the incredible wildlife, it could give any Hollywood movie a run for it's money and it's completely true - essentially it's utterly unmissable!



The day when I remembered why I love London...

I was waiting for the train one day when I spotted an advert for a new play at the National Theatre. I knew nothing about it and the poster gave little away but irrelevant of those minor details I decided it was a the perfect birthday gift for my flatmate and that's how ended up watching, 'Les Blancs', one of the best plays I have ever seen. This is immersive theatre in the real sense, transporting you through sights, smells and music to an unknown African country on the brink of revolution, unleashing itself from the shackles of colonial rule. It starts with a young African woman walking slowly around the stage - she never speaks but her every movement is so deliberate and filled with emotion that everyone in the theatre was utterly transfixed. It's the only play I have seen which got a standing ovation from the entire theatre. I don't want to say too much more other than WATCH IT before it finishes its run on 2nd June. You won't regret it. It reminded me why I love this city. Where else can you stumble upon such incredible theatre on your doorstep. London, sometimes I really do love you! 





Well there ends my mammoth round up blog from the last few weeks. So tell me what have you been up to?







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