Saturday, 30 December 2017

Oh the places I'll go - My Ultimate Travel Bucket List


As 2017 draws to a close it's time to dust off the old travel bucket list and dream of new adventures. My own list is well worn, having been revised a million times from countless idle hours spent daydreaming about my next adventure, and I love to hear about other people's bucket lists almost as much. In fact my favourite ice-breaker that I always seem to bring out at parties, is to ask people if a 'mystery benefactor' gave them an all expenses paid round the world ticket with ten stops (with the catch that these are the only countries they are allowed to visit in their lifetime) what would make their list. I put on this mysterious, Morgan Freeman-esque voiceover when I do this schtick, all of which results in an awful lot of people suddenly seeing someone across the room that they must say hello to and promptly disappearing .....................is this the reason I am not invited to more parties??

Anyway back on topic, I really enjoyed updating my list again so I decided why not share my current top 10.

N.B. - as these locations are all on the wishlist, all the pictures below have been borrowed from elsewhere and credited accordingly. Enjoy!

(1) An Asian adventure in Japan
Everyone I know who has visited Japan is adamant that it is an absolute must-see, as few places fuse ultra-high tech modern living, with immersive history and culture with quite the same unique charm.

My list of places to visit here is long and varied, but as a sample it would be a crying shame to miss bathing alongside wild macaque against a backdrop of snow covered mountains at Jigokudani Monkey Park.............

Souce: http://jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/uploads/en/sites/2/top_001.jpg

And surely no trip would be complete without a visit to the Robot Restaurant and the famous Cat Island which sounds like a feline version of the Planet of the Apes, albeit a little less violent on account that it is populated by cats and therefore in the toss up between world domination and nap time, sleep will always win out.

(2) Trekking to the top of the world in Nepal

One of my new year's resolutions is to go from my current state of wheezing while climbing stairs to being able to practically skip up mountains in the next twelve months. The reason - hearing from several friends who have returned from trekking in Nepal raving about just how incredible it is.

But which trekking circuit to do? It's a really tough call between Annapurna and Everest Base Camp so my dream (budget permitting) is to do both.

Trekking the Annapurna circuit to experience incredible views like this.......

Source: https://cdn.tourradar.com/s3/tour/original/5541_6cf844cb.jpg

Then cheating and flying up to get the obligatory selfie at Base Camp

Source: https://cdn2.wanderlust.co.uk/media/1230/dreamstime_l_23432319.jpg?anchor=center&mode=crop&width=1120&height=420&rnd=131455360240000000&slimmage=true

(3)  Visiting Cape Town, South Africa
Although I love books in general, there are few I have found as compelling as Nelson Mandela's 'Long Walk To Freedom'. Ever since reading it I have wanted to visit Robben Island, where Madiba was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years. Add to this the opportunity to get amazing views of the city atop Table Mountain, see the penguins at Boulders Beach, visit wineries and cage dive with sharks and I am practically booking my ticket to Cape Town as I type this.

Source: http://www.capetown.travel/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Two_penguins_looking_into_camera_boulders_craig_howes-1024x683.jpg

(4) Experiencing New Orleans
Jazz in the air, bodies swaying to beats, sipping on bourbon and feasting on po'boys, beignets and jambalaya. This is the place that writer Tennessee Williams called "the last frontier of Bohemia", a place were magic and mystery combine in an intoxicating combination and a place that I simply must see myself.

Source: http://www.bravotv.com/sites/nbcubravotv/files/styles/blog-post--mobile/public/field_blog_image/2017/04/dish-042617-southern-charm-new-orleans.jpg?itok=9SxR_7vR&timestamp=1493302348

(5) Sailing to 
Antarctica
Admittedly technically a continent rather than a country, either way Antarctica is firmly on my travel bucket list. The more I read about it, the more it basically sounds like being inside an episode of Blue Planet - a mesmerising, awe-inspiring experience. There are no permanent settlements here so it is just stillness, silence, ice and then seeing the incredible sight of an orca rise up out of the water, and emperor penguins waddling across the snow. It's the kind of experience which doesn't come cheap, but surely that's what credit cards were invented for??

Source:
https://www.naturalworldsafaris.com/~/media/images/destinations/antarctica/nws-st-antarctica-icebergs-2.ashx

(6) Uncovering the treasures of Tanzania

I remember going to a travel talk over a decade ago about a trip to Tanzania which included what sounded like the most incredible night spent sleeping in a treehouse overlooking a river on an elephant migration route. Ever since I have wanted to visit Tanzania, to see the Serengeti myself, visit the leaping Maassai warriors and perhaps, if I am feeling really, really energetic, to scale Kilimanjaro.

Source: http://www.onlyadayaway.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/06-visiting-the-maasai-warriors-1.jpg

(7) Trekking gorillas in Rwanda
A place too often overlooked because of specter of the horrific genocide in 1994, I have longed to visit myself and see the country behind the headlines. This is a place of incredible strength and beauty. It is also one of the only places on earth that you can see one of the world's most endangered animals - mountain gorillas -  in their natural habitat. The experience of being meters from these incredible creatures and indulging your inner Jane Goodall, is quoted time and time again by visitors as being amongst the best experiences of their life,

Souce: https://www.kandooadventures.com/assets/Uploads/safari-gorilla-Copy.jpg

(8) Get up close to a live volcano in Vanuatu

I must confess that I had hardly heard of this South Pacific nation till a few years back when I met some friends who lived there for several years. However having heard the stories, seen the photos and read up, I am now completely hooked. As someone who has never been keen on spending my holidays lying on a beach, the opportunity to get right up close to Mt Yasur, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, to go diving and explore underwater wrecks and to learn about the tribal communities that invented bungee jumping and worship Prince Philip, seems like my idea of a perfect island adventure.

Source:
https://destinationsmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Diving-President-Coolidge-Espiritu-Santo-Vanuatu-Image-supplied-by-the-Vanuatu-Tourism-Office-Photographer-David-Kirkland.jpg

(9) Experiencing Colombian hospitality
"Soaring Andean summits, unspoiled Caribbean coast, enigmatic Amazon jungle, cryptic archaeological ruins and cobbled colonial communities. Colombia boasts all of South America's allure and more." As soon as I read this line in the Lonely Planet travel review I was sold and immediately started looking up flights - then I remembered just how broke I was and came back to earth with a bang. Still it was a beautiful moment and one day I'll absolutely make this trip happen.

Souce:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Santuario_de_Las_Lajas%2C_Ipiales%2C_Colombia%2C_2015-07-21%2C_DD_21-23_HDR-Edit.JPG

(10) Riding across the Gobi Desert in Mongolia
An usual pick I appreciate, but much as I love London, after battling the crowds during rush hour one too many times,  the idea of travelling to one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth is unbelievably appealing. Tales of local hospitality are legendary and spending a night in a yurt which a local family is of course a must. This is the home of Genghis Khan, dinosaur fossils and the Gobi desert - a place where adventure off the beaten track awaits.

Source: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-blog/tip-article/wordpress_uploads/2014/09/eagle-hunters-001.jpg

So that's it - my bucket list top 10...........well at least until next year when I inevitably pull out the list and revise it again. Will I get to visit this list of countries during 2018? Sadly probably not because in case you haven't guessed it, I'm not actually a millionaire and this blog brings in a grand total of £0 (ah but love it despite its abysmal returns). So I might have to wait just a little bit longer to do these adventures, but that will make it even sweeter and more exciting when I do finally get to go and and in the meantime I will keep on saving up those pennies, reading, planning and dreaming.

So here's to 2018 and all the adventures it will hopefully bring. Now tell me what's on your travel bucket list?

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Monday, 13 November 2017

From London with Love...


For longer than I can remember if anyone was complaining about London I would enthusiastically join the charge, gleefully reciting the laundry list of things which irritated me about the city. It was an intense and long-standing dislike formed when on my first solo visit, I hadn't quite figured out the rules of the tube system and due to excessive politeness had struggled to cross the sea of people on the platform to board the train, and only managed to jump on just as the doors closed. The result was that one leg and one arm were left flailing about outside the carriage, whilst the other half of me was tucked safely inside. This being one of my first experiences of London's transport system I started panic - would the train leave the station? Exactly how tight were those tunnels? Would I be cut in two?  Rather than coming forward to help I got a mix of quizzical looks and annoyed glares from the other passengers and after what felt like way too long, the doors were opened and I escaped the fate of being sawed in half. My cheeks burning with embarrassment I retreated into a corner of the carriage and firmly decided I would never, ever make this place my home. But life had other plans and dragged me back to the city kicking and screaming for work about a decade ago. This time I lasted six months - six months of hating my job and the city and feeling truly miserable - before again packing up and promising to never return.


But after a year away, I somehow again found myself drawn back to this city like a moth to a flame. And while I promised myself I would only stay a couple of years, life again had other plans and this year I found myself making a fairly monumental move (particularly for someone with permanently itchy feet) by actually choosing to set down roots here and buy my first home in London (more about that one in another post).

So what had changed?


The first shift came fairly early on, even before arriving for latest stint in the city - I made a decision, if I was going to live in London it may only be for a year or two, so it was time to make the most of all that was on offer and not wait for a plus one to do anything. And so I began working through an encyclopedia of activities - from dodgeball to dodgy dates, from dancing to my own beat at hip-hop classes to going on ghost walks, from going solo to see incredible theatre shows and music gigs, to getting Robert Downey Jnr's autograph at a film premiere, to eating my way around food markets and visiting quirky pop-up restaurants. I saw sides of the city I had never known existed and realised that this place is limitless grotto of offerings, a place where boredom is a distant memory. It is one of London's great selling points and if you're new to it yourself, probably the best way to start your love affair with the city.

Chelsea Flower Show


Leicester Square Film premiere with Robert Downey Jnr and Guy Ritchie

The second shift was that  London started to change me. Living here isn't easy - it's tough and exhausting and it drives you right to your limits and far beyond, which is why I can completely understand the wish to escape somewhere which offers a more relaxing existence. But it also shapes you in unexpected ways - I remain in essence myself (I still walk at a glacial pace and laugh freely and easily at every opportunity) but I'm also a lot tougher, more resilient, more self-confident and have honed the subtle art of not giving a f**k about what people think. Also surrounded by people who are proactively pursuing their dreams (whether that's to smash it in work, or run their own business or write a book or bag that dream job or travel the world) I'm inspired to push myself too, to see what I'm capable of and to quieten that negative internal chat which tries to tell you're not good enough or that you should dream a little smaller, or follow the same course in life as everyone else.

Wildlife in London parks

Comic Con London

Big Food Feastival

That leads on to the third shift which was meeting people who made the city feel like home. From knowing practically no-one when I arrived, I have been blessed over the years to have gathered together a wonderful and inspiring collection of friends from around the world, who are on hand to share a bottle of wine and set the world to rights, or provide a pep talk or a reality check as needed. In my first stint of living in London I was desperately lonely and would have given up a lot sooner if hadn't been for the kindness of one of my flatmates who took me under her wing and shared her own experiences which showed me things would get better. So if you've just landed in the city and feel like you'll never make friends here, 
believe me you will - over time you'll meet people through work, living situations, joining social groups etc. and soon enough find similar or indeed wildly different souls who you bond with and who become something of a surrogate family for you.


The effect of the changes above on my perception of London was so gradual that right up until last summer whilst I would have been kinder in my evaluation of the city I was still clear on it's flaws and was adamant that I would never choose to stay here long-term. Then the Brexit vote and the resulting fallout happened. Whilst I'm not going to get political, it honestly made me look at London through a whole different lens. I looked at it as somewhere where several million people of completely different means, nationalities, races, backgrounds and ideologies have come together in a beautifully chaotic social experiment. And by virtue of the fact there is so little homogeneity and there are so many people co-existing in the same place, there is as a result no one unifying code of conduct that everyone subscribes to, but despite all this it somehow still manages to work, not always perfectly, but in its own uniquely imperfect way. That sense of community may not look the same here as it does in other places but the way that ordinary people came out to support each other after the Grenfell Tower fire show that it is just as strong. Yes that means that you have to put up with that fella who decides the tube is the ideal place to cut his toenails, but he is just one of the characters make up the rich tapestry of this incredible place. This light bulb moment; this change in perception has meant that every day, ever daily commute I take has become this opportunity to get a snapshot into hundreds of different lives, each with their own story - it's genuinely fascinating!



And so this morning as I sat in my armchair in my little flat, with the fire on, nursing a mug of tea and listening to the rustling as the wind nudged the trees, tipping crisp yellow and brown Autumn leaves onto the ground, I felt overwhelmed with this sense, for the first time in forever, of a place feeling like home. Has London has suddenly become less polluted, hectic etc? No it's just as it has always been but it's just that I have finally come to appreciate it, warts and all. To quote Bridget Jones..........(London) I love you.....................just as you are.

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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A leap into the unknown - skydiving in New Zealand





I have a confession............I am a gigantic wuss. In fact have a whole list of things which give me the heebie-jeebies - spiders (check), snakes (ummm have you seen the film Anaconda??), deep water, serial killers (I think this one is justified but perhaps less justifiable is my habit of checking in cupboards and under beds before I go to sleep in case one has slipped in ready to jump out and murder me in the middle of the night). 

Pretty high on that list of things which makes my belly do flip-flops is heights - as a child going too high on the swings would even terrify me. So it is may seem a bit surprising that a couple of weeks ago whilst on a roadtrip across New Zealand I decided it would be 'fun' to throw myself out of a plane.

But before we get to that let's start with the context. So basically it all started with me writing my first ever bucket list about a decade ago. Among this wishlist were several entries which seemed like total pipe dreams at the time - running a marathon, living in New York City and doing a skydive.

Well just over three years ago on a bit of a whim I signed up to do the London Marathon and went from being a running novice to crossing the finish line (albeit very slowly!) - a massive personal challenge. Similarly one weekend in my late 20's after a call from my best friend I handed in my notice in my job and flat and moved from London to a super cute little flat of my own in the West Village in the Big Apple to follow that dream (at least until my visa ran out) - an incredible experience which I will always cherish. 

So you can see how when my sister and her boyfriend mentioned their plans to do a skydive when in New Zealand despite my fears I might find myself pipping up, "Me too!!"

We were due to undertake the jump over the crystal-clear waters of the famed jump site in Lake Wanaka. However as the day of the skydive drew near the nerves well and truly set in. 

That morning I woke at 3am with a start and found my palms were sweating profusely. Unable to go back to sleep I had used insomnia's nemesis Mr Google to research skydive accidents. By the time everyone was awake I was a tightly wound bundle of nerves. However the weather came to my rescue as I soon found out that the jump had to be cancelled due to cloud coverage. Relief flooded over me, followed by something I hadn't expected........a twinge of disappointment.

A couple of days later my sister and her boyfriend found another jump site, Skydive Abel Tasman (enroute to Abel Tasman National Park) and I was faced with the same question - to jump or not to jump. This time round I had a realistic view of the risks (on average tandem skydive fatalities are just 0.002% - a tiny risk compared to other activities we wouldn't think twice about doing) and had time to consider and chat to others who I had known had done a skydive (including my friend's granny who did a birthday skydive in her 90's) so all things considered I decided that if I didn't make that leap I would always regret it.

And so I found myself strapped to a perfect stranger (who bore an uncanny resemblance to one of the brothers from the noughties pop group Hanson), squeezing myself into a tiny plane and ascending to 13,000 feet. 




The scenery was beautiful and I felt strangely calm on the ascent. That was until the dreaded moment came - the side door of the plane was swung open, noise filled the space and my fate was imminent. My camerawoman clambered out and held on to the side of the plane to capture my jump and my instructor and I swung round so that I was hanging outside the plane, We rocked backwards and forwards and then before I had a chance to say, "Wait there! Hold on a second I've changed my mind!" I made that giant leap into the unknown.



Those first few seconds when we were tumbling out of the plane in freefall were utterly terrifying and ridiculously exhilarating at exactly the same time. I distinctly remember thinking "Ah so this is how I'm going to die" - a thought that had zero basis at all as I was strapped to a seasoned instructor who didn't have a death wish but it's hard to be rational when you are in freefall.

However I quickly reached terminal velocity and at that point, it's a pretty incredible feeling because............I was flying! Up in the clouds, with my arms outstretched, with what felt like a giant fan below me it no longer felt like I was plummeting to my death. In face it was an indescribable and utterly unique experience.



I looked up and there was my camerwoman flying in front of me, I did a couple of poses to the camera before my instructor indicated it was time to open the parachute. There was a rip and a whoosh as the force of the parachute bounced us back upwards towards the stars, then a quietness and stillness descended and I slowly began floating back to the ground enjoying the incredible views of mountains, trees, fields and lakes from a unique vantage point. It was the ideal end to an unforgettable experience. As we neared the ground following the advice of my instructor I lifted up my feet up and landed very gracefully on my bum. 






And that was it. It's was all over...........and I had survived. My legs were like jelly and I was unable to stand up straight away but I was so proud and happy that I had faced my fears and had a chance to experience something so unique and special that I threw my arms round my instructor and gave him a massive hug. 


And like doing anything outside your comfort zone it has spawned a whole new list of things that I am keen to try that I would never have considered before.

I would wholeheartedly recommend that you consider doing a skydive at least once in your lifetime whether you are scared of heights or simply have a healthy sense of self-preservation. It's one of those experiences which you're going to think back on when you are old and grey and smile at how brave (or crazy) and badass you were. 

Hopefully this post has made you realise if I can do it then can too. So what are you waiting for? Ready.........Set...................JUMP!!


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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Citybreaks on a Budget - Amsterdam


If like me, the last few months in world politics have made you feel like you've accidentally stumbled into some Stranger Things style parallel reality, then solo travel and the way it reminds you how lovely the world can be, is the perfect antidote.

Last month prompted by an ad for cheap flights in my news feed (dammit Facebook you have figured out my kryptonite) I booked two mini European city breaks in a row on a complete whim. The first of these trips was to the Netherlands' supremely chilled capital Amsterdam. 

My base in the city was a cute little budget hotel next to the river which shall remain nameless for reasons that will soon become clear. It was an incredibly friendly, quirky place - the building was from the 1700's when its owner was a captain in the Dutch East India Company so it had tons of character including the narrowest, windiest staircase I've ever climbed up. My room had plenty of electronic devices including a TV, but randomly no sockets to plug them into which it turned out was an excellent safety precaution as the torrential downpours which were common during my stay caused the ceiling to leak which in the absence of an alarm proved a very useful morning wake-up call. However I didn't visit Amsterdam to stay in my hotel so I didn't mind too much and just grabbed a bag and headed out to explore the city.


Getting lost in the city
First stop was a wander through what I had heard was one of most picturesque areas of the city - the Jordaan. I popped on a podcast, checked my free map and figured it didn't seem that far on paper so headed out on foot, in what I assumed was the right direction. Two hours later I eventually gave in and asked for directions and was told I had walked in completely the opposite way (in fact I had gone so far wrong I was almost off-map). However the kindness of strangers meant that I was guided to the tram stop and onto the right tram to where I needed to go. Needless to say when I eventually arrived in Jordaan my expectations were sky high, and thankfully it was worth the wait. Traditionally the poorest area of the city, popular with immigrants and labourers, the neighbourhood has since grown exponentially in popularity and price. Losing yourself in the labyrinth of cobbled streets, courtyard gardens, tree-lined canals and bridges, traditional architecture, independent cafes and boutique stores, is just magical and the ideal introduction to the city.





Foodhallen

While you're in the area don't miss Foodhallen (Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT) - an indoor food market housed in a beautiful old tram depot conversion. In the evenings it's teeming with merry people and there are plenty of tasty morsels on sale. If you have any trouble finding it just ask one of the super friendly locals - one went completely  out of her way to walk me right to the entrance.

Having had a lengthy conversation with the friendly check-in fella at my lodgings about my second favourite subject (food) I followed his advice and headed to The Butcher's stand for a truffle burger and Belgian fries. As the name suggests the focus here is on fresh ingredients and great quality beef. The result is an insanely good burger that I practically inhaled.

I foolishly decided I would walk back to my hotel and..............yes you guessed it..........I got lost yet again - I'm not really sure why I bother with maps - a 3 year old's squiggle on a piece of paper would be of equal use to me. This time I made it super close to home but still couldn't seem to locate the hotel but a lovely local fella came to my rescue and walked me home. Hilariously I got lost again the following night in exactly the same area and bumped into my Good Samaritan yet again, who instantly recognised me and greeted me with a cheer before walking me home for a second time - what a star!

New Amsterdam Free City Tour

The next day I headed out for a free city tour. This is a great way to get a feel for the city and to meet other solo travellers and to bond over travel stories and travel plans. 

These conversations can prove incredibly useful - for example I learnt about an app called MapsMe which provides offline maps for much of the world with turn-by-turn navigation - technology which was surely invented for me! Naturally when I finally said goodbye to my fellow travellers I gave them a huge hug to say thank you for introducing me to what I knew would be an absolute lifesaver of an app in future.

The tour itself was excellent - what comes across when you learn more about the city is its very pragmatic approach to life and its 'live and let live' attitude - if you are not hurting yourself or others and you are bringing income into the city, the authorities will (to use the Dutch turn of phrase) 'look through their fingers' at you and essentially leave you be. The perfect example of this is their approach to marijuana which has been decriminalised since the 70's when the distinction was made between hard and soft drugs, but has surprisingly never technically been made legal. You have to visit one of the city's many 'coffeeshops' (not to be confused with your standard Starbucks style cafe) to get your herbal high - but once inside you can enjoy yourself to your heart's content. Meanwhile Dutch pragmatism prevails as the city is able to control and collect taxes on an activity that technically exists in a legal grey area. 

Before visiting Amsterdam a friend had joked about how a decade ago he had smoked some super cheap, low-grade weed in Amsterdam and had experienced the weirdest trip where he was convinced he was going to meet his end by being run over by a tram and that to this day he still feels nervous when he sees tram tracks. If you hadn't guessed he told me that story to encourage me to visit a coffeeshop during my visit, but strangely enough it had the opposite effect. However if you do fancy a visit its worth reading a guide to coffeeshop etiquette.

Anyway back on topic, the Dutch have a similarly pragmatic approach to prostitution which has been a constant feature of the city ever since the 1300's when prostitutes would carry red lanterns and meet sailors near the port. The creation of the red-light district was an attempt to make the world's oldest trade a lot more safer for the women involved and the fact that legalising it means millions of euros are generated in taxes doesn't hurt either. During the day the 'shop windows' are mostly empty and this is a relatively normal and quiet neighbourhood, with a church and even a working creche in it. While learning more about the area hasn't converted me to being 100% behind the concept (my feminist instincts are just too strong for that), I can definitely understand the argument behind it much better.


Van Gogh Museum

From the city tour I headed to Museumplein (home to Amsterdam's best museums). Short on budget, I decided to just visit one of the many impressive museums and art galleries on offer. For most people the obvious choice would be the Rijksmuseum, which houses an impressive collection from all the old masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. However travel should be about visiting the places you really want to see not the places other people say you should see and there was only one place I knew I had to visit - the Van Gogh Museum. I'm glad I made this call as I absolutely loved this collection - I got a chill seeing famous pieces like 'The Sunflowers' in person and it was really interesting learning more about the life of this tortured genius.




Pancake Heaven

While my appetite for art had been fully satisfied, my stomach was crying out for food, so I headed to De Vier Pilaren (Stadhouderskade 11, 1054 ES) for a giant savoury pancake followed up by proffertjes (delicious sweet pancakes covered in icing sugar) with what I thought was a scoop of ice-cream but after ladling it on top of my pancake and taking a huge bite I realised was actually a giant chunk of butter - naturally I ate it anyway (well it would have been rude not to!). In case you were wondering what it was like - it was both seriously good...........and insanely unhealthy). When I managed to clean the plate the waiter looked supremely impressed and it was only then I realised that all the other tables were ordering one plate to share between two - There goes the diet! And it was going so well (not!!)




Canal Cruise

No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without cruising along the city's famed canals. Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North, as it has over 100 kilometers of canals and over 1000 bridges. Sitting back and watching it all sail by is a really lovely way to rest your weary legs after a busy day of sightseeing.



Anne Frank Museum
Another must-see is the Anne Frank Museum. Anne's diary chronicled the years she and her family and friends spent in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands before they were captured and sent to a concentration camp. When the diary was found and published after her death it became one of the most famous books in the world. Visiting the museum which includes the chance to see the Secret Annex where they all hid, is an emotional, sobering and utterly unmissable experience.

Floating Flower Market

With only an hour to go and keen to end my trip on cheery note, I headed to the world's only floating flower market (Bloemenmarkt). I found it pretty underwhelming to be honest as I had imagined a floating equivalent Colombia Road Flower Market in London. For the most part the stalls were filled with fake flowers and tulip bulbs. However right at the end of the street there is a very pretty floating flower stall which was definitely the highlight of my Bloemenmarkt visit as it is filled to the brim with beautiful fresh flowers, colours, scents and......... a pair of giant clogs!






Sampling local delicacies

Final stop was one of the city's herring carts. I had been reliably informed that the traditional way to eat this delicacy is to order one of the raw herrings, hold it by its tail, tilt your head back and swallow. However I was less than enamoured by that idea, so instead I went for a broodge haring where the raw herring is served in a bun with pickles and onions. I know this sounds massively unappetizing but actually it was pretty delicious - sweet, salty and tangy, with that fresh taste of the sea.




And with that tasty treat my mini-Amsterdam adventure had come to an end. My time in the city had really challenged the wink-wink, nudge-nudge reputation of Amsterdam as place that is only about pot and prostitutes. Instead in the way that only travel can, it had helped me peel back the layers to uncover a fascinating, friendly, chilled and beautiful city, and one which I look forward to visiting again very soon.


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Friday, 20 January 2017

A wee guide to Belfast and beyond


Whenever I left Northern Ireland back at the turn of the noughties, as soon as I opened my mouth and people heard my accent, conversation would inevitably turn to one of two things -
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Thursday, 12 January 2017

A Vietnamese Adventure: Part 2 - Phong Nha Ke Bang, Hoi An and HCMC


When l left you in Part 1 of my Vietnamese Adventure I was riding off into the sunset on a motorbike in Hue. But having had my appetite for temples, palaces and pagodas sufficiently satisfied there, I was keen to head on to my next destination, the rural idyll of Phong Nha Ke Bang.
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Sunday, 1 January 2017

A Vietnamese Adventure: Part 1 - Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hue



Happy New Year everyone!! What better resolution can you make to yourself, than to resolve to see more of our incredible world, to meet new people and experience new cultures and cuisines and have new adventures. With that in mind I thought I would start 2017 with a blog post on my travels around Vietnam.
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