30 September 2016

Updates - Travels, Theatre and Random London

It's been a while since I've posted an update on what I've been up to... three months in fact! How time does fly! So buckle up ladies and gents, I'm going to try and distil 3 months worth of London life, travels, thoughts, and more into a few paragraphs or before you nod off to sleep...whichever comes first.


Holy cow was it a busy month. It saw the end of Ramadan and a celebratory Eid picnic with my London friends family, just a before starting my travels. I spent 10 days checking out Salzburg and Vienna in Austria before flying home, packing like a mad woman (and organising last minute movers) moving flats and then flying out to Tallinn, Estonia for a few days.

Both Austria and Estonia are beautiful and I had a great time exploring. As you no doubt noticed though, I have failed to write anything about them save a favourite moments post from Tallinn. I will get there...one day...(What? It's possible!)

On the moving side, it was hard to say goodbye to almost two years with my flatmate who had become like a sister to me :( but I'm happy that she is following her dream of living in sunny Spain. I was nervous about moving in with a bunch of strangers...moving in with people has always been odd to me...but two months in and things are still going well.


Back from my travels, I settled back into life in London, restarting my couch to 5K, catching up with friends over lunches, dinners and coffee. Not content to sit still for long though, I booked on to a London street art tour (wish I'd done it sooner!) and went on a couple of escapes from London. One escape was a taster of the Peaks district national park in Derbyshire and one to explore the seaside town of Whitstable.

And what's London life without a little bit of culture? I was over the moon about going to a talk by an author fast becoming one of my favourites and getting a couple of books signed - total bookworm heaven for me. Plus I managed to squeeze in a trip to the theatre to see Kinky Boots! It is such a fun musical, I highly recommend it.

The month ended on a warm and fuzzy note. An old flight attendant friend of mine popped into London for a few hours, I hadn't seen him in years and it was great to catch up, I only wish we'd had longer! There is something about old friends which is very comforting, it's like being home and grounds you, don't you think?


OK so London was on form this month. The city put on not one but two events. It was the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London so they had a bunch of events for that. I saw two of them, one was a light installation on St Paul's dome and the second was a fire garden at the front of the Tate Modern complete with live atmospheric music which made for a very unusual night.

The second event was the annual London Open House weekend (if I had a pound for every Londoner asking me what that is...!). Basically, London opens its doors to the public, for free. There are a mix of buildings; private homes, government buildings, members only clubs, churches, museums, places of worship, company buildings, theatres, community centres, libraries... the list goes on. Some you need to prebook, some have a ballot (like 10 Downing street) and other you just arrive and queue for.

I had an idea of where I wanted to go and managed to fill my weekend peeking behind closed doors. The highlights for me were seeing inside the Astronomical and Geological Societies (they had some serious #bookshelfporn) and the bizarre only-in-London moment, lying on the auditorium floor looking up at the spiral staircase of London's City Hall.

Aside from London's festivities, I hit up the theatre again...three times. Harry Potter (tickets booked 10 months earlier), Matilda, and a couple of nights ago, Secret Studio Lab.

It was also the month I got to know my flatmates a bit more, we went out for dinner and hit up Colombia Road flower markets for some flowers for our garden - stopping for brunch and coffee of course. They are fun and lively and really down to earth, I'm so relieved that things are going well so far!

There were more brunches and dinners with friends to be had too. Oh, and did I mention that time I watched Notting Hill in a bed under the open sky? Or when I saw Bumblebee and Anthony Hopkins filming for Transformers 5 in central London?


Despite the rosy picture all this paints, the past few months had its difficult moments and quite a bit of naval gazing. A close friend of mine was going through a rough patch both on the work and family front and needed support which I did my best to give. Inevitably though, being so close to that made me think about my own family situation, I worry about my mum all the time and it's hard not being able to be there for her - it has made me rethink a few things. I don't know if this is a case all expats face or if everyone gets it expat or not?

I also realised that I can shoot myself in the foot by being too polite. I can come off as indifferent and I forget to relax and just be myself. Not smart. And it has the additional downside of feeding my bad habit of putting others first All. The. Time. (I'm not saying you shouldn't put others first, sometimes its important, I'm just saying that I do it beyond what is healthy).

I did find out (in a rather convoluted way) proof that I have pretty strong will power and a bit of courage. There was something bothering me and you would not believe the lengths my subconscious went to, to ignore that something and pretend everything was fine. Eventually it took my painfully acknowledging that it was a weakness (what? I have a weakness? no way!) to turn it into the first step in building up some strength, after all, we are human and we all have strengths and weaknesses.

Right, enough deep and meaningfuls. Did you fall asleep? You have some drool on the corner of your mouth...don't worry, I wont tell...here's a tissue ;) If you didn't fall asleep during all that...seriously, you probably need to reduce your caffeine intake.

Till next time!
Read More

21 September 2016

A night at the Luna Cinema

Take the beautiful Fulham Palace (which I have been wanting to visit since I first came across it in 2012!) add an outdoor film screening of Notting Hill by the Luna Cinema and you have the beginnings of what, to me, is classic London catnip. I have been wanting to do an outdoor cinema event in London for ages, and when I saw this, I was clicking book before you could say floppy-haired-Hugh-Grant.

My flatmate D- and I met up after work last night and, even though the Palace wasn't open, I couldn't resist poking my head into the courtyard before going around the side to where the cinema was set up. There were people handing out promotional items as we walked by (we scored a drink and a choc-chip cookie) and we happily took them before plonking down in a spot and settling in.

There we were, picnic blanket laid out in front of the inflatable screen, nibbles open and already nibbled at and Fulham Palace providing the setting behind us. While D- and I chatted, we watched other people stream in finding a spot to claim for the evening, catch up with friends, celebrate a birthday, or snap a selfie with neon-green cardboard glasses. My flatmate envied anyone who had brought a pillow or extra blanket...no D- you cannot steal that mans pillow, don't even think about it...

We were interrupted from enjoying the buzz of the night when the organisers came over the loud speakers to direct us to where the loos & food were, start a pass the (inflatable) cookie contest to win prizes, warn of squirrels who might get to the promo cookies and remind everyone of another contest by Double Tree to watch the movie in bed, to be announced later - this sent everyone in to a selfie taking frenzy. I shot daggers at all the selfie takers...dammit, if they all entered there was no way we'd win.

Finally dark enough, before starting the movie, one of the organisers stood up to announce the winner of the evening in bed - and before we knew what was happening, a photo of D- and I in neon-green cardboard glasses was staring back at us from the huge screen...Oh. My. God.

We'd won!

We won??

But I don't win anything!

We get to watch the move tucked up in bed but still outdoors? Free drinks and nibbles too?

D- couldn't stop laughing. I couldn't stop saying 'I cant believe it!' How we would have gotten from our picnic blanket, with all our stuff, to the bed, without the help of the two organisers, I don't know.

Needless to say, we would have had a great time even if we didn't win. D- and I both like the movie, we were all set for a picnic and the atmosphere was great, but winning was a super sweet cherry-on-top bonus. There is something so decadent about being curled up under a fluffy duvet with your head on soft pillows...while you are outside under the stars...

The only problem with winning was getting out of the bed at the end to go home!

So A) No, this is in no way a sponsored post by Luna Cinema or Double Tree and B) If you haven't been to an outdoor screening, grab some friends or your family and go. Its a fun way to spend a night (even if you don't win a bed!) and there are still several showings for another week or so. The Luna Cinema tickets cost me £15 which is almost the same as most normal cinema prices so it's a great alternative evening and, hey, at least in London, while the weather is still mild for September, why not make the most of it?

Read More

05 September 2016

Day trip from London: London to Whitstable

This time last week I was returning from Whitstable, a charming coastal town, east of London. Being a bank holiday, the lovely Emma and I were more than happy to whisk ourselves away to spend the fleeting summer days by the seaside. We were lucky as the weather held up and stayed warm and sunny.

Aside from Margate, I've yet to visit another sandy beach in the UK. But Whitstable was charming. Maybe it was the last of the summer sun, maybe it was just the bank holiday weekend or maybe, Whitstable really is just that warm and welcoming.

Sandy beaches, sexy lifeguards, sun loungers, beach bars with amazing cocktails, ice cream every 100 meters, girls in bikinis and makeup, fit boys in budgie smugglers – you won't find any of this at Whitstable. What you will find is a long pebbly beach (similar to that of Brighton but minus the pier), lots of fresh oysters for sale, rows and rows of colourful beach huts, a pub with the best beach view in the country (I'm guessing!), a charming village high street, lovely sunsets and a chilled local vibe. To be honest, aside from the sandy beach part, Whitstable is my kinda beach.

Aside from the cute beach huts (which I'm now obsessed with and totally want to rent one come next summer), I just loved the vibe of the place - is it weird if I say it was 'homely'? We saw so many friends and families hanging out together in front of their beach huts or having a meal on the beach. It was comfortable, friendly and familiar - that's not the usual vibe I get from a beach so it was a pleasant surprise and made it difficult to leave at the end of the day.

We were there at low tide and boy, was it out...meters and meters away from the shoreline and I'd barely reached the edge of the water. For those with swimming, they could wade even further out and still only be knee deep in water. The water was calm, clearer (and warmer) than I expected - next time I'm taking swimmers!

We spent the day walking along the shore line, snapping photos of the colourful beach huts, exploring a bit of the town itself and of course, grabbed a bite to eat.

If you fancy heading down the coming weekend, here are some handy tips.

Tips for visiting Whitstable

  • Try and grab a direct train from London Victoria rail station, it'll take roughly 1.5hrs so bring a book! 
  • Whitstable is only half an hour north of Canterbury so you could travel from there too.
  • To get to the harbour front from Whitstable station, just follow the signs, or easier still, follow everyone else...
  • Whitstable is known for fresh seafood – oysters specifically – we ate at Crab & Winkle but in hindsight, it would have been better to buy freshly shucked oysters and fish and chips and eat them on the beach.
  • Be sure to check out the charming Harbour street
  • Bring flip-flops! It is a pebbly beach so not the best for walking barefoot! 
  • Have an ice cream! You're on a beach, you cant not have an ice cream!
  • Stay till sunset, its beautiful

I know not everyone is a fan of beaches, and with us entering Autumn, you might prefer a different day trip...in which case, have a look here...I have 10 other day trip ideas to choose from!

As always, if you have your own tips or experiences you'd like to share, do leave me a comment :)

Read More

31 August 2016

Why everyone should go on a street art tour.

I have been wanting to do a street art tour for ages, but, as always, the list of things I want to do is about as long as my arm, times 100. Anyway, what are bank holidays for if not to dust off that list, drag a friend along and go see some amazing street art in trendy east London's Shoreditch?

I loved, loved, loved the tour. I learned so much and it felt like I was entering an entire world hidden in plain sight. Our tour guide, Nelly, was a lady who has been photographing artists and getting to know them for the past 4.5 years (her Instagram is here).

Artist - Roa (the bird) only does animals and very well known. It took him a day to put this up. He is so good and respected that, even after the owner of the building offered the other side for other artists, no one took him up on the offer so as not to be compared with Roa - until the break dancing soldier that is, and the artist who did that did get a bit of a backlash.

Nelly was very knowledgeable and had a wealth of information to share. Some of the really interesting things she mentioned were that roughly 80% of the artists have a traditional art background (eg in fine arts or graphic design) and for a lot of them street art is a way to get exposure for galleries to pick them up or companies/brands to work with them.

There are so many unwritten rules about who gets to paint where, who can paint over another artists work and how long they have to wait before they can do it. Nelly also talked about specific pieces and, where known, what they meant. It really was an eye-opener. I'm so intrigued now that I'm itching to try another street art tour and maybe pick up a book on the subject.

Artist: Dale Grimshaw. Protest piece for the West Papua tribe being killed off by the Indonesian government because they have gold on their land.
If you're unconvinced, here are 10 reasons why everyone should go on a street art tour, in no particular order.
  1. It's like learning a secret language
  2. You see things hidden in plain sight
  3. Find out about community gardens that make you say "how'd I not know this was here?!" (None of my photos do the community garden any justice so I haven't included any)
  4. It's an open air art gallery showcasing some very talented artists
  5. Hear about the unwritten rules and hierarchy of the sub culture
  6. It challenges any assumptions, stereotypes, preconceptions and prejudices
  7. Learn to identify big name artists other than Banksy and Invader
  8. See something that, due to its nature, might disappear the next day
  9. It's free! Well tip based if you go with these guys (This is not a sponsored post!)
  10. Learn about paste ups, social interventions and the difference between tagging, graffiti and street art.
  11. Social Interventions - where an artist has taken something seen everyday and given it a twist..can you see it in this photo?
    This is a paste up, with a twist - The artist is Dr Cream, he designed a series of these, that, when put together, form an animation
    Tagging is the bit you see over the woman's face - essentially the street name of an artist. Kind of ugly, and personally, I think it's closer to plain vandalism than anything artistic.
    Graffiti - Stylised typography, usually with letters meaning something only to those in the know.
    Street Art - My favourite by far, it's anything that is an image and can be easily understood (the first five images in this blog post are also brilliant examples of street art
And just coz I want to...here are some more photos I took during the tour to whet your appetite. I do think there is a place for street art, after all, we are bombarded daily with advertising on the streets, why can't we have a little art instead? What do you think?

Artist: Otto Shada.
Originally from Chile, he was an architect
who turned artist. The galleries rejected his
work but after becoming popular on the streets,
he now has shows everywhere.

Read More

21 August 2016

Countryside escape to the Peaks District

This time last week I was just getting into bed after a day full of road tripping, bubbling brooks, sleepy villages, long country walks, seeing sheep, cows and rolling hills, dinner in pubs in spa towns and bunting strung up in an incredibly cute village, hearty meals and lunch with breathtaking views. The were apple core throwing contests, cow pats to avoid, chats, friendly teasing, the crunch of gravel under boots, smells of campfires and laughter floating on country air.

The river Dove and Dovedale stepping stones

A few of us city slickers were invited up to Derbyshire for the weekend by my friend D- who had prepared a host of things for a calmer weekend in the country. One of the best things about the UK is the rolling green countryside and although I've seen a bit of the Cotswolds and the Lakes district, I haven't explored the countryside as much as I'd like. That weekend afforded me a peek at the Peaks district and it was breathtaking - my photos just don't do it justice.

If you fancy an escape - it's best to drive - there is an absolutely gorgeous (and easy!) walk that I loved and would recommend, it's from Dovedale to Milldale, can be found on Google maps, and only takes about an hour each way. We took a longer route, beyond Milldale, via some public footpaths, courtesy of our knowledgeable host, and I've since found many websites with guides to longer walks in the same area if you are interested.

Milldale - some of the cottages can be rented


Be warned, if you love cute cottages and tiny sleepy towns, you'll fall in love with Milldale - it has a handful of houses, a public phone box, a small takeaway snack bar, a bus service that runs every other day and that's about it. Totally want to move there.

Arriving at Milldale

Milldale's resident duck and greeting service

Matlock Spa where we stopped for dinner

The trip inspired me to get planning a few more escapes. Ashbourne and Matlock Spa have been added to my every growing list of places to visit in the UK and I cant wait to explore more. A big thank you to D- for organising a great weekend and to K- for being such a patient driver!

Read More