The Hello Kitty Cafe in Seoul, South Korea

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I fear my gushy internal smile seeps to the surface when I reflect on the ways in which life with Pumpkin has skewed my tastes. Six years ago, the overlapping segment of our collective Venn diagram was barely a linear sliver but as the minutes ticked on, the country count toll rose and the experiences became increasingly memorable, our scrawny overlap ballooned like an expectant mother, as our interests and tastes meshed into an indecipherable, blurry cloud.

The influence we have had on each other is easily apparent to all those who know us well.

Hello Kitty cafe Seoul blog review

For starters, I now own a pair of hiking boots and he now understands the word, “amuse bouche.” He has slowed his gait after learning that my little legs struggle to keep up with his brisk pace and I have learned that travel is far more liberating when you don’t pack your hair straighteners. He has slowly come to love the uplifting, unwinding qualities of a beach break with no itinerary and I have surprised myself by volunteering to go on jungle walks in the pouring rain.

Ever since we met, he has worn his previously rarely-seen beaming smile (those are his parents’ words not me patting myself on the back here) and I have learned from him to live in the moment, on our own terms and that life can be much more of an adventure than any stereotypical societal mould would have us believe.

unique quirky cafes around the world

Even more moving though, is when Pumpkin’s tastes don’t overlap with mine – when he finds an activity I will love that he knows he will loathe that he not only agrees to participate in but actually proactively suggests. It is this form of selfless kindness that moves me the most and nothing exemplifies it better than when he accompanied me to the Hello Kitty Café in Hongdae Seoul earlier this year.

Hello Kitty Coffee Dessert Shop

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​Which is the Best Cinque Terre Village to stay in?

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I read many an article about Cinque Terre, Italy before I finally booked my visit and with each colourful clifftop photograph and each glimpse of the small boats cluttered along narrow harbours in the sunshine, my urge to visit heightened. I couldn’t quite grasp what was so special about Cinque Terre, the UNESCO listed cluster of little villages in the La Spezia region of Liguria – but I knew I wanted to be there to find out.

Cinque Terre Vernazza views

The most confusing part, though, was deciding where to stay because I simply wasn’t able to find a consensus. In a place so enchanting, it is not surprising that you develop an inherent bias and compelling affinity towards the village you based yourself in and here I am, aware of this, yet falling under the same spell.

Cinque Terre travel guide information

It is true that each village comes with its own sense of character and vibe, some miniature and sleepy, some more pulsatile and energised but in truth, it makes little difference which one you stay in since travelling between them is quick and easy – so how exactly do you go about choosing which Cinque Terre village is best to stay in?

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A Visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum

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I remember when I first heard of the city of Hiroshima. It was around my teenage puppy fat era that I went through circa fourteen years old. Several sequential high school history lessons focused on the US/Japanese relations around the time of World War Two. As one of the subjects I was most keen on and very much unlike her despairing physics counterpart, there was no real challenge for my history teacher in keeping me engaged.

bridge Hiroshima peace park

Indeed, I could have regurgitated more to you then about the intricacies of European history then than I could now. The passage of time has a way of grating away the crisper details of a once sponge-like adolescent brain. I still remember the tears that rolled, during one class, from the innocent eyes of a fellow classmate, whose heritage was part Japanese. The horror of the atrocities documented in our textbooks, the onus of having it confirmed verbally by a teacher who we respected unquestionably, was too much for her to contain.

It was for these reasons and my Dad’s insistence, bordering on assertion that I must not go to Japan without visiting Hiroshima that alongside Tokyo and Kyoto, it became one of the three essential cities firmly ingrained into an itinerary for a Japan trip that had not even been conceived at that stage let alone pinned down in time.

Hiroshima Peace Park Fountain

Nobody visits the memorial museum in Hiroshima without anticipating a level of emotional upset but nothing quite prepared me for the profound impact of visiting a city like this until I actually arrived in person. I chose to write about it partly to share my own reflections but mostly to fulfill a promise we made that day.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Upon stepping off the tram at the Peace Park stop, we crossed the road to find ourselves immediately inside the Hiroshima Peace Park grounds. With broad boulevards, spotlessly groomed lawns and bursts of spring blossoms, the very layout exuded a dignified tranquility. Benches were a-plenty and contrary to what I expected, it seemed there were just as many locals seated contentedly under the midday sun as there were tourists pointing lenses at the memorial statues.

gardens Hiroshima

The A-Bomb Dome (atomic bomb dome) as it has long been referred to, is perhaps the most visually striking preservation of the literal moment of impact when the bomb was dropped. In the aftermath of the bombing, the Genbaku Dome was the only remaining building still standing. The decision was made to maintain and preserve the original wreckage after initially dividing opinion among local citizens, some of whom were unsurprisingly wary of the heartbreaking memories it would evoke.

Hiroshima Dome Japan

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A Romantic Santorini Photo Shoot with Localgrapher

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Contrary to what popular blog press would have you believe, not all of us twenty or thirty something female bloggers ooze the self-confidence that is needed to routinely plaster our mug shots across the multitude of screens that increasingly exist in our daily lives. If you’ve chosen to immerse yourself in the world of travel blogging, you probably already veer towards the generous, big-boned end of the trigger-happy spectrum as far cameras are concerned; but it’s one thing feeling at ease whilst taking a photograph and quite another when you suddenly become the subject of one.

Santorini Photo Shoot Localgrapher

Let’s place this in a semi-autobiographical context by looking at my Instagram account for example. I’ve shared around 600 photos on this social media platform since I joined it a couple of years ago – only around six of them feature my face and absolutely none of them feature me with Pumpkin, despite the fact that nearly all my travels are with him.

Localgrapher Photo Shoot Blog Review

The Couples’ Holiday Photo Conundrum

I am sure many of you who travel with your significant other can relate to having hard drives full of photos that tell a story of “here’s me at…..” (insert landmark of your choice), swiftly followed by “here’s you at….” (insert same landmark).

If you want any photos together at said landmark, you are left with a collection of options as underwhelming as a sparse dessert menu you wish you’d never saved space for:

(1) Through a melange of mixed languages, ask the only random stranger who seems vaguely approachable but risk having your arm accidentally amputated in the photo and sigh five  minutes too late when you spot the missing peak of the Eiffel Tower.

(2) Deploy handheld selfie mode, which the world never intended for couples with a height discrepancy (and which yield such gigantic close-ups of your face that you will locate freckles on your nose that you hadn’t even realised existed).

Oia photography viewpoints

(3) Successfully capture photograph without bothering any strangers (on 8th attempt after half an hour spent on auto-mode camera set up with tripod. Great way to make the most of the money invested in flights and hotels. NOT.)

(4) Then there’s the scenario I simply refuse to entertain, which goes a little something like this: “here’s us at landmark in what appears to be a decent photo.”

Success finally?

Sadly not, as just hours before you Snapchatted that pic, an innocent passer-by had his eyes lopped out after walking into your intrusive eyesore (pun acknowledged) of a selfie stick.

(Disclaimer – no actual eyes were lopped out in the making of this blog post.)

Romantic Couples Photo Shoot Santorini

A Romantic Travel Photo Shoot in Santorini, Greece

Where does that leave you then, if you’re travelling as a couple or a group of loved ones and want some decent photos on an island as photogenic as, let’s say Santorini – a destination we visited just last week and whose immaculate scenery frankly upstages even the most beautiful members of the celebrity glitterati that step on it?

In a day and age where you can check your emails on a watch and be caught out in your PJs at 2pm on a Sunday (thanks Skype), surely, SURELY there is a better way to get some half respectable photos as a couple or as a group of family/friends on holiday?

Photo Shoot Oia Santorini

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A First Experience with an Airbnb Apartment in Hvar, Croatia

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I like to think that when it comes to accommodation, I am game to try most options. The type of stay that speaks out to me during my travels is one that features style and charm, convenience of location and that innate homely quality. That may be a cosy B&B near the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it might be an all-inclusive, adults only, beach front resort in Cuba ideal for couples wanting to escape that creche vibe; it might be a chic Budapest boutique or a luxurious private pool villa in Bali; it might be a 5 star club room oozing glamour in Abu Dhabi, a tranquil countryside cottage weekend with friends or even a romantic honeymoon safari tent in the middle of the wilderness in Africa.

One thing it has never been, however, is an Airbnb property  – until now that is – but on our recent visit to Croatia, Pumpkin and I decided it was time that changed. In fact, we made a real fruit punch of the accommodation in Croatia throwing in one Airbnb in Hvar, one actual B&B and one boutique hotel all into our into our six day trip.

Hvar Old Town Apartment

Hvar’s dainty old town

It dawned on us that on many occasions, particularly those with intensely concentrated itineraries, we often end up forking out for hotels that we only really wake up and fall asleep in. It’s one thing etching into those hard earned paychecks when you actually need or want the concierge, the room service, the spa, the in-room treats and the squilions of TV channels. ( In this paradise hotel in the Seychelles, for example, room service and a fully kitted out room were just what the doctor ordered when I had heatstroke.)

Hvar pebble beach feet

Hello Hvar

But is it worth spending £300 a night if all you’re using is the bed and the basin? Each to their own but that’s not my cuppa – I’d rather use that cash to book myself another flight (obvs!)

And so, after flirting with the Airbnb idea for a little while now, we were finally tempted to test it out for ourselves.

Hvar Old Town Streets

Keeping guard over Hvar

The reviews we had read about people’s experiences were a mixed bag and I am certainly under no illusion that it’s smooth sailing every time but that is true even with hotels and after reading about the warm, hospitable and positive experiences that both Emily (Cosy Traveller) and Emily (Grown Up Gap Year) had with their Airbnb stays recently, I was sold.

Air BnB Hvar Old Town

Our Hvar Abode

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The Great Wedding Bake Off

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It’s no secret to those who know me well that I am a big fan of the Great British Bake Off. I alluded it to it recently in this post and I would attribute much of the progressive love of baking that has emerged in our household over the last few years to this very show. In the last couple of weeks, the show has made headline national news in the UK after it was announced that it would be jumping ship from the nurturing comforts of its founding home at the BBC to the somewhat edgy and unexpected climes of Channel 4 (shocking for fans but in the context of global issues, it probably doesn’t take centre stage.)

Pink wedding cupcakes

In any case, it is not in my remit today to talk politics about said TV show moving from one channel to another but suffice to say, much debate has ensued, much uncertainty remains and many a baking-pun hashtag has been spotted infiltrating the social media channels of livid cake-bakers everywhere.

Peanut Butter Cups Cake

The level of outcry is testament to how much the British population have taken this programme into their hearts, so much so that the bake-off concept actually featured in my best friend’s wedding last year (I’m talking literally not Julia Roberts-related movie chat.)

A Great Wedding Bake Off

When my best friend got married last year, she figured, why have one wedding cake when you can have 20 (she has always been of high IQ), thereby launching the Great Wedding Bake Off.

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Finding the Best Skyline Views of Singapore at Night

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When you find yourself comparing travel destinations to loved ones in your life, perhaps the time has finally come to hang up your proverbial passport.

As the parallels started to pound my overactive imagination, I could recall the destination that made me feel at home, no matter how great the distance, no matter how much time lapsed. I could recall the glamorous cities that glitter, always energising those in their presence. I could recall the destinations that remain unpredictable, the ones that have left me with both intense frustration and puppy-dog comfort. And I could visualise the people in my life, who so snugly occupy each of these moulds.

Best Singapore Skyline Views

For Singapore though, I was stumped, perhaps because this was a country I connected with for far more superficial reasons that usually fail to inspire me. Singapore was not a destination, where I felt a seamless bond with the locals, nor was it a country where any specific sites resonate on in my mind. I would willingly re-visit if circumstance took me back but I would lack the intense longing to return that occurred with Bali, New York, with Tanzania, Italy or Argentina.

Skyline Views Singapore

Singapore, rather, was a destination that swept me up into its web of tantalizing, eclectic flavours from hawker stall cereal prawns to waterside crab feasts. It was a destination that amazed me with its technological advancements and a digital e-world that made my city, London, seem archaic. And mostly, it was a city whose illustrious skyline views at night would catch my fixed gaze and leave me wondering how a collection of twinkling skyscrapers could engage me with such force.

Best Photo Viewpoints Singapore

Singapore Skyline Views at Night

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An Inside Tour of Celebrity Summit Cruise Ship

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Before I went on my first cruise last year to the Caribbean, I rather naively assumed not much planning was required. Pick a destination. Pick a cruise liner. Pack your passport and you’re good to go, right?

Wrong.

Caribbean islands cruise Barbados

Hello Barbados

That there is the approach of a novice first time cruiser. The savvy cruise-traveller will already have considered the large ship vs small ship experience and have sifted through the array of reviews on Cruise Critic (the cruise world’s answer to Trip Advisor;) they would have bagged a bargain on drinks and internet packages and be able to counsel you on the pros and cons of independent excursions vs cruise liner excursions.

Winter Cruise Destination Guide

I’ve already shared my first impressions of cruise travel in general but if the terminology above sounds like a foreign language to you, you’re in the same mindset that I was in around about a year ago and I hope this post will give you more of a flavour of what to expect on a cruise ship and certainly on Celebrity Summit itself. I had no media affiliations whatsoever during this cruise and was just another regular, fully paying customer (who happens to enjoy blogging and blabbing on about travel!)

Celebrity Cruise Caribbean Cruise Liners

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15 Foods You Must Try in Japan

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Did anyone else gawp in bemusement during last week’s opening episode of the 2016 Great British Bake Off, when Paul and Mary appeared never to have heard of matcha? No? Just me then. I accept I may be on one end of the spectrum (stark raving matcha mad) but as two of the country’s leading celebrity bakers, I certainly didn’t expect them to be on the other.

It did help me to re-frame my perspective though as frankly, unless you fall into the categories of (a) world foodie (b) all-things-Japan obsessed or (c) happen to do your weekly shop at a Japanese supermarket, there is really no reason why you should know about it.

matcha soft serve Japan food highlights

Take my mother for example: her’s is one of those “name an ingredient and you’ll find it in here” kind of larders – and even she has never had a tin of matcha powder in there.

Green tea aside, I had forgotten that I have a serious miso-glazed weakness for plenty of other dishes found in the Japanese flavour palette and not long after arriving, I found myself on an inadvertent mission to sample as many as possible of the must try foods in Japan (trickier than you may imagine in a two week trip and I almost never ate the same thing twice.)

conveyor belt sushi Osaka

Must-Try Foods in Japan

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One Day in St Maarten – Marigot and Maho Beach

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Last year, Pumpkin and I made the uncharacteristic move of booking ourselves a break in December, a month in which we rarely travel long haul. With Pumpkin scheduled to work much of the Christmas and New Year week, we, like all well-trained travel addicts, took this as a green light to squeeze in one final voyage for 2015 before his work could hamper our wanderlust. Plus, the last remaining droplets of my annual leave were still untouched. You’ve seen the blog title. You know the drill.

first impression cruise travel

After a few days in New York City that always steals my heart, we flew to Puerto Rico to escape the fluid-filled sombre clouds of the British winter in search of Vitamin D and Caribbean Calypso, partaking in our first ever cruise.

Those of you who read my first impressions on cruise travel may recall that one of the aspects I found a little offputting about cruising was the way in which it leaves such little time in each destination. What I did find highly appealing, however, was the flavour it gives of destinations you may never have visited otherwise – or even have heard of for that matter. Exhibit 1 – St Maarten in the Caribbean.

St Maarten island sign

Exploring St Maarten-St Martin in One Day

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