Friday, 23 November 2012

Foodie Treats For Friends: Rocky Road and Savoury Palmiers

It has already been one whole month since Chris and I first visited our friends Lyd and Rob in Shropshire, and today we are off there again for a weekend of  frivolity at Ludlow's Medieval Festival. Instead of taking the regular bunch of flowers and wine as a thank you for having us, I thought it would be nice to get into the kitchen and cook up some foodie treats instead. After all, I have lots of time on my hands at the moment! Having scoured the Internet for good festive gift ideas, I finally settled on a savoury and a sweet option; savoury palmiers and rocky road bites.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


Last Friday night Chris, a couple of friends and I popped along for a civilised evening at the Royal Geographic Society. It was the opening night of their "Explore 2012" conference and Sarah Outen, youngest woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean, was talking about her recent attempts to travel around the world using only her own human power (cycling the land bits, rowing the oceans and canoeing the small watery bits). Pretty epic stuff!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Taking to the seas in Turkey.

A stand out highlight of the whole trip, but most definitely our time in Turkey, was our few days aboard a traditional wooden gulet in Southern Turkey. Charlie, Chris and I made our way from ballooning in Cappaddocia, to the hippie beach hangout of Olympos, the start of our blue cruise. The trip lasted four days, sailing the Mediterranean  making new friends, swimming in the sea, basking in the sun and generally enjoying ourselves immensely. Sailing trips are the way forward, so we have decided! irritating sand getting into every nook and cranny, and a new destination each day; sailing trips to us young'uns are what cruises are to the oldies - simply awesome!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Scrubbed and soaped the Turkish way!

On our pre-pampering trek
Like most girls, I LOVE being pampered. Unfortunately, in the UK such things are usually prohibitively expensive. In Turkey, however, for a mere £20 (or less at less touristy or fancy hammams) you can be scrubbed, massaged and soaped down in a stunning historical building and wander around the saunas, steam rooms and pools to your heart's content. A thoroughly lovely way to spend an afternoon or evening.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Up up and away!

Flying in a hot air balloon is the stuff that dreams are made of.The concept is wholly fairytale like, magical. Gliding silently through the air, high above the hustle and bustle below you, attached by basket to a giant, inflated bit of rubber has to be amazing, right!?I have always wanted to do it but somehow always felt that the occasion would never really arise, or at least, if it did, it would have to be done to mark some sort of momentous event, maybe a honeymoon style treat, organised well in advance.

Chris and I finished off our incredible year long adventure in Turkey, where we me up with our good friend Charlie for the final couple of weeks. We met in the captivating city of Istanbul and after a few days of taking in the sights there we made our way by overnight bus to Goreme. As the tourist capital of the Cappaddocia region, Goreme is famous for it's unique troglodyte landscapes guessed it...balloon rides over the regions beautiful valleys. Charlie was dead set on getting a ride and seeing as we were there and it was a 'once in a lifetime opportunity'  we figured why the hell not! We found  a cheapish deal, and booked for the next day. Safety records, pah! I laugh in the face of potential death!!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A few days in Ludlow, Shropshire

There is nothing quite like spending quality time with old friends. Chris and I headed to Ludlow in Shropshire this week to spend a few days catching up with our close friends, Lyd and Rob, and their happy little chappy Benjie, my godson. Lydia and Robbie recently moved back to this charming part of the UK where they grew up, and are now settled in their rural idyll in the countryside complete with rambling farm house, dog(s - imminently), and soon to be chickens and donkey! Robbie runs the family business, De Greys, a quintessentially English tea rooms, bakery and B&B in the centre of town; it is something of a Ludlow institution and well worth a visit if you're ever in this neck of the woods. Lydia spends her time looking after Benjie, painting whenever she can grab a spare minute, writing children's books, cooking lots of scrumptious things and generally adapting to country life, all of which is documented in her blog here.

Friday, 26 October 2012

An unexpected love affair with Cape Town

You will no doubt be unsurprised by my summation that Cape Town is an awesome city. After all it has a certain notoriety for its beauty and, post-World Cup fever, its vibrancy. Chris and I were blown away by the place. Thankfully so, for having cut time a little on the fine side we only had ten days to spend in the whole of South Africa before heading to Turkey to meet our friend Charlie. Instead of charging around like mad people we had decided to stay put in the Cape area for the whole time and do excursions from there. As a result we really got to explore the city and its surroundings and totally fell in love with what we saw! It's like New Zealand with more culture, San Fran without the Americanisms, or Vancouver with better weather!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Waterside Inn, Bray

View down the river from the inn.
I love a treat for no real reason at all...who doesn't! Chris and I have been back in Blighty for about six weeks now and last week he announced that I should keep Friday free for a surprise. Whoop! Chris wouldn't be Chris if he didn't let slip a few bits and bobs and I basically deduced pretty quickly that we were going out for lunch somewhere nice...mmm I love lunch! What I wasn't expecting was a three Michelin star extravaganza at The Waterside Inn in Bray. Luckily Chris got confirmation of his new consultancy job at GAM the day before so we actually had something to celebrate and didn't feel too over indulgent!

Bray is a small picturesque village that for some unfathomable reason has attracted a wealth of top notch restaurants all vying for the greatest number of Michelin stars they can muster. Chris and I joked as we made our way to The Waterside Inn that popping down to the local pub for a pint and a pie and chips held a whole new meaning for the residents here. The Waterside Inn was the first fancy restaurant to open in the village, forty years ago, and has retained it's three Michelin star accolade for a whopping twenty five of those years...the first restaurant to do so outside of France! Move over Heston and The Fat Duck! It was founded by the Roux brothers after the success of their London restaurant Le Gavroche and is currently run by Michel's son, Alain Roux. With an enviable position on the riverbank complete with their own private boat to shuttle guests too and fro and take them on jaunts, aperitifs in hand, it is the perfect place to while away an afternoon.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Land of the Orange Sand Dunes

Namibia, despite its tiny population and vast surface area, is a very accessible place to visit. The roads are pretty well maintained, the cars and buses actually work, the towns are modern and sparklingly clean and even budget tourism is surprisingly well established here. It is every inch the efficient German ex-colony! Windhoek, the capital, saw us staying in the busiest and most professionally run hostel we'd come across since touristy Antigua in Guatemala, enjoying a slap up dinner of kudu and crocodile in a Deutsche style brauhaus and browsing around plush department stores. Refreshingly, it didn't seem that these luxuries were reserved solely for the expat community and the tourists we made our way around the country there seemed to be distinctly more money to go around than we had seen in either East Africa or Zambia and reportedly a lot less crime.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Spice Island

Chris and I landed in Zanzibar with no expectations whatsoever. All we wanted was a beach on which to rest our weary legs post-Kili and we hadn't thought any further than that. Zanzibar was the obvious choice and after a full day on the bus, arriving in a crowded and scary bus station, missing our evening ferry and a night in a seedy Dar es Salaam hotel cum brothel, we were more than ready to get there.

I have been to an embarrassing number of beaches in my time. Yellow sand, white sand, black sand, pebbly, wavy, calm, crystal clear, murky, sunny, windy, tropical, Arctic. It is amazing how different they can be, yet how they draw people from far and wide. Everyone loves going to the seaside, they are the focus of  annual holidays yet if you look closely, very few have all the elements that make them truly special; that make them places you really want to go to unwind. Most of the time, if we're honest, it can be a bit of a chore going to the beach. I have already waxed lyrical about my love of Palolem beach in Goa so I won't bore you with that again but I do think that Zanzibar may be the only place I have been to in a long time which ticked the majority of my extremely demanding and fussy beach holiday boxes!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Kenyan Safari, Masai Mara

Our first glimpse of the sleeping lions
There is no adequate way to explain what it is like to go on safari; to spend hours searching the vast African savannah for just a glimpse of an animal, any animal. For those of you who have been, you will know what I'm talking about and for those who haven't, I can only attempt to describe my feelings during the experience. It was so much more magical than I could have ever imagined to see so many beautiful animals in their natural habitat. My first glimpse of a wild lion really did send me into a state of childish euphoria. Not quite sure where to put myself, I hopped around our safari vehicle like a mad woman trying both to calmly observe them and let the moment sink in, and to get a prize winning snap all at the same time; God help anyone who was in my way...Chris!. I was in a constant state of alert for the entire duration of our game drives, adrenalin coursing through my veins at the excitement of what might be around the corner. Naturally, most of the time there was nothing around the corner and there are actually quite long stints where you don't see much at all, but when you did come across an animal hidden in the bushes it was incredibly exhilarating, like winning the lottery (or how I imagine that would be!). Every now and then my excitement would bubble over and I would be convinced I'd seen a leopard stalking through the tall grass....nope, just a log! I think our guide Alex grew a little tired of my 'sightings' after a while!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

'Real Africa' - A road less travelled.

From Lake Naivasha we braced ourselves for the journey west into 'real Kenya'; the bit that not many people visit. A couple of years ago our good friends Jess and Graham spent six months plus in this little known corner of Africa and we were keen to see the places they spoke so fondly of, the place they had made their home.

Perhaps most famous for the shocking tribal violence that erupted around the 2008 elections, Kisumu, set on the banks of Lake Victoria,  is Kenya's third largest city (though it was only granted city status in 2001and has a population of only about 400,000) and more importantly, home to Obama's grandmother! Read any guidebook and descriptions of the place are slim on the details. There are no lions, leopards or beaches to lure the crowds of foreign visitors that Kenya receives each year. Instead it is an area known for its high levels of malaria, poverty and HIV and is home to an impressive number of NGOs and aid agencies all trying to address these endemic problems. However, despite all of this, Jess had managed to build a successful tour agency business out of the sights to see in the area, a wonderful community based tourism project that not only has brought this corner of Kenya to life for tourists who are after something a little more authentic but that also gives back to the people who need it most and supports some of the vital work that is being done in the area; Integritour. It sounded like people were missing a trick leaving this part of the country off their holiday itineraries and we were keen to explore. We weren't sure what to expect as we bundled ourselves into a series of matatus and made our way from the paved roads and tourist infrastructure of the East to the dusty bumpy roads of the west, all the way to Kisumu.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Karibuni Africa!

I'm not going to lie to ya, setting down late at night in Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta airport and being driven through the pitch black, potholed streets to our deserted hostel in the middle of nowhere was an unsettling introduction to Africa. Especially when the lonely planet and the FCO website has instilled you with perhaps irrational fears that you are going to be carjacked and shot dead at every street corner. Still, we made it in one piece and in the morning we planned our escape out to Lake Naivasha, which was to be a welcome break on our long journey to Kisumu in Western Kenya. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

A place to live?

I have spent a fair amount of time in San Fran in the past few years. After finals I took advantage of my Aunt and Uncle's wonderful hospitality and descended upon them for a whole month with my trusty side-kick Lydia. My uncle Stuart was kind (stupid?) enough to lend us his beautiful red convertible to cruise around California on a road trip and for those couple of weeks we felt akin to the legendary Thelma and Louise - young, carefree, and having the time of our lives!

Perhaps it is these youthful memories that make me incredibly favourably disposed to this captivating city but everytime I visit I am struck by its vibrancy. San Francisco oozes creativity and flair. It is a happening place where innovative ideas are born and played out, where everyone knows the founder of some ridiculously successful and everyone is an entrepreneur; its residents just seem the sorts of people who make things happen. It might not have the flawless weather that typifies the rest of California but somehow the misty fog adds to it's mystique and charm and may even be responsible for blowing away the cobwebs of apathy that seem to entangle many Californians ensconced on their sunkissed beaches.

The Greyhound...dah dah daaaaaaaaaah!

Sounds exciting eh!! You'll be glad to know, riveting as the title sounds, that I will try to keep this brief. However, I felt this trip deserved a mention, if only due to the infamy of the North American bus company. Nothing super eventful happened but somehow it was one of the more surreal journeys we've undertaken.

Having finished our course in Whistler and spent a few days taking in the sights of Vancouver we finally made the decision to head down to San Francisco to visit my aunty Jenny for a few days. We were right on the doorstep; it made sense to have some home time. Flights, too expensive; Greyhound, a bargain and only 24 hours...we could manage that, we'd travelled in India, Asia, the world. Besides we'd taken the Greyhound up and down between Whistler and Vancouver a few times and all seemed fine. It was only when we'd booked our tickets and started talking to Erin and Carolyn, our friends in Vancouver, that we started to have doubts. Turns out a madman notoriously decapitated someone on a Greyhound bus in Canada a couple of years ago, locked himself inside and proceeded to eat the dead man's head whilst traumatised escapee passengers looked on from outside. Nice...still, we told ourselves this could happen anywhere, right!?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Yes we can!

The Summit!
And we did...I'm not sure what made Chris and I decide to undertake the Kili climb. It has been on my list for a long time, we've been talking about doing a peak all year (since our Nepal trek) and we were both feeling a bit aimless. Having a focus and a challenge seemed as good a reason as any to give it a go. Plus we were there and it would seem almost rude not to!

On further  reflection, we started to worry that this decision, taken in a rum induced haze on a Belizean beach, was actually slightly rash. As we read up on the climb it became clear that people train for months beforehand, they spend thousands of pounds on the right gear for the minus thirty degree summit trek and hours researching the right route and company for them. In short, they take it pretty seriously. Here we were, rocking up to book it the day before departure with no gear, no preparation and expecting to smash it (naturally!).

Friday, 18 May 2012 rock!

Based on my past travelling experience, I have come to the conclusion that on every extended trip you make there are only, realistically, a handful of places and experiences that really stand out as special, life changing and perspective altering, as truly memorable. Whistler was one of these moments and I think our experiences there will colour the remainder of the trip substantially.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

New Zealand in a nutshell

I think my review of New Zealand has been a little negative thus far, or at least cryptic (apart from the uberly awesome cafes that is). Tina and Natalie, whom we met trekking in Nepal, left us with a lasting legacy of the 'Top 5' game which has provided hours of amusement throughout our trip. So I thought it fitting to leave you with our top five highlights of the country along with some random observations of the place.

Valentines day feast with Vanny!
1. Vanny - Exploring New Zealand by camper van really is the only way to do it. There are so many vans on the tourist trail that you will just end up being ridiculously jealous if you don't have one of your own - we looked down on cars...boring!! We have had a 'totally awesome' time in our van and I know that when we look back on our adventures it will be a highlight of the trip. Being entirely self sufficient and having our own wheels has made us feel so free. We may even invest in an old banger when we end up back in the UK!! Buying and selling a 20 year old vehicle is nerve wracking though and despite what people will tell you, you probably won't get all your money back. We heard many horror stories from fellow van owners and were thankful that our trip went without any mechanical hitches. So, if you do ever decide to do it yourselves, go in with your eyes open. But do it. You won't regret it :)

Friday, 23 March 2012

A Winter Whistler Wonderland

After what can only be described as the journey from hell, Chris and I finally made it to Whistler last weekend, via Singapore, Hong Kong, LA and Vancouver...don't ask...somehow the aviation industry is so entirely messed up that it makes more financial sense to go Auckland - Vancouver via most of Asia and America (with a two week break in Bali, of course) rather than to fly direct. Mental!

We have spent our first week here finding our ski legs in the famous Whistler powder, revelling in the joy of having our own little apartment to chillax in and gawping at the 75+cm of snow which has fallen since we got here. It is an absolutely stunning resort with a great vibe and our time here got off to a flying start when we bumped into a group of Old Somervillians in the first bar we walked into. It was lovely to see some faces from home and have a bit of company to introduce us to the apres scene.

We start our ski instructor course next Monday which we're both extremely excited about but also slightly nervous at what lies in store. More updates on this next Friday  - you might even get some videos if you're lucky :)

For now though, I will leave you with a taste of the beautiful Whistler scenery.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Cafe Culture - Great Coffee, Great Cakes

I ain't nothin' but a hound log...
Forget the scenery, the activities, the is NZ's cafes that really steal the show! The Kiwi's have more cafes per head of the population than sheep*, or brands of pet food. They are mad for them. And so they should be. Their cafe culture is the most sophisticated and darn brilliant that I have ever come across. Think the most delicious cakes you have ever seen, the most inventive sandwiches with the freshest ingredients, healthy and not so healthy salads, breakfast food, pastas, gourmet burgers, seafood....and most of them are licensed too so they double up as cutesy, low key places to spend an evening. In a country where the cheapest way to eat is to stuff your face with burgers, fish and chips and pies, cafes are also reasonable  places to get a decent meal.

Perhaps the best bit about them is that they are all unique too, barely a Starbucks in sight. This is true of a lot of businesses in New Zealand, which are, in the majority, privately owned. Local chains are few and far between, leaving the franchise models to McDonald's and KFC and keeping the local joints fresh and individual.

* This might not be 100% accurate but it sure feels like it...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Truman Show meets The Matrix

We have all heard how stunning New Zealand is, and this is very true. So beautiful in fact that Chris and I have been forced to ponder the authenticity of the entire country! Our first impressions are that everywhere you go everything is, well, perfect. There is no other word for it. The scenery almost looks painted on to the background, or like plastic models that you might find on a film set; on top of this, everything is SO easy to organise and they have the world's most wonderful wine and food. The towns are the same - miniature little toy towns with white picket fences and wide streets. If any of you have seen The Truman Show...well New Zealand is it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Very New and Different Land

A sad scene in Christchurch
Silence, silence and more silence....despite the jet lag and the 24hr+ journey from India to Christchurch, Chris and I could hardly sleep when we arrived at our hostel...because it was sooooooooo quiet. Our pick up at the airport drove through the most deserted streets we'd seen since the steppes of Mongolia and dropped us at our hostel which was dead to the world. We crept in, found our room and marvelled at the sound of...nothing. Having slept for the past three and a half weeks on Palolem beach front with the waves crashing, the crows cawing, the dogs barking and the bar music blaring (not to mention those Scouser lads swearing!...) it was surreal, and slightly unnerving. Particularly since we'd been told not to worry and that we'd "get used to the tremors after the first couple". As became all too obvious the following day, Christchurch is tragically nowhere near over their earthquake ordeal and is still subject to aggressive aftershocks. It is terribly sad to see what was once a thriving city become so desolate and deserted and it was a sobering and strange introduction to the country.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Festive Fun with Friends

Christmas is a time for treats and even though Chris and I were on the other side of the world and after a more low key affair than usual, we were determined that this year be no different. After several weeks of non-stop travelling around India we were looking forward to having friends come out to celebrate the festive season with us, and to a self-declared 'holiday' from our day to day travelling adventures (I know, it's a hard life, but someone has to do it!). Our plan was to meet Charlie and Phil in Rajasthan for some palacial luxury before heading to Goa on Xmas eve to beach it up. Things didn't quite go to plan with Charlie and Phil who sadly missed out on the Northern part of the trip (who knew you needed a visa!?!) , but the Neemrana Fort Palace certainly lived up to expectations!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Indian Thali Days

A trip to India is always difficult to describe, to do justice to. On this, my fourth visit, it presents no less of a conundrum. Chris mentioned to me that he felt our experiences there had been a bit like a thali - a taster of lots of different bits and pieces - and as I look back, this description seems to fit perfectly. Our time there conjures up a hodge podge of memories and experiences, tasty morsels of Indian culture that have all come together to make a perfectly balanced and truly wonderful travelling experience. The only thread, or staple (to maintain the culinary metaphor) binding it all together is the train trips that took us from A to B, often proving as experiential themselves as their destinations and introducing us to an intriguing cross section of India's vast people; otherwise each place or region that we visited has had a unique charm and focus of it's own enabling us to sample many different facets of the country in a fairly short space of time.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Playing with ice!

I have been utterly useless in updating the blog for a good couple of months now and the Foto Fridays have all but dried up BUT I intend to be a lot better now that xmas and new year are out of the way and we are in a bit more of a routine.

Chris and I are now in New Zealand. We arrived here a couple of weeks ago and have been racing around the South Island seeing what there is to see - more on this in future posts.This week's highlight was most certainly trekking on the Franz Josef glacier on the West Coast - we opted for a full day of walking around on the glacier, crampons and all and loved every minute of it. I'm a little concerned that the more mountain activities we carry on doing, the more likely it is that I lose Chris to a life as an explorer or something - we think he must have mountain folk in his ancestry somewhere as he is like a small child whenever near ice or snow!

For more photos of the trip (and many more to come once I can get a good enough connection to upload everything up to NZ) please just click on the big 'pathological picture taker' image on the right sidebar to take you through to my Picasa photo albums, else I have just done a mass facebook upload of a fair few so you can take a peek there.

More to come soon...promise.

Jekyll and Hyde

'You either love it or you hate it', 'be prepared for a culture shock', 'the poverty is overwhelming', 'beware of Delhi belly!' these are all things that people say when they hear you are going to India and to a degree they are all true. However, having been many times before, both alone and with family, friends, and Chris, I was pretty sure I knew what to expect and that I was going to LOVE it. Strangely this was not initially the case on this visit and for once I saw the side of India that people who 'hate' the place, or who can't quite stand the chaos, must experience, its 'dark' side if you like.