10 Reasons to Swoon Over Shangri-la Al Husn, Oman

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If my memory serves me well and my childhood visits to see family in India are anything to go by, then we, as a family, always had a tendency to try and avoid booking indirect flight options where feasible. After all, if a direct route is affordable, available and price comparable for a long haul adventure, then surely there can be no good reason to prolong an already stretchy journey.

Or can there?

Oman luxury travel

A couple of years ago, when we stopped off in Abu Dhabi en route to the Seychelles, my perspective on stopovers changed. It lent an opportunity to see a new destination without any extra effort and allowed me to reacquaint myself with the Middle East; it eased the jet-lag trajectory, added a contrasting dimension to our otherwise water-predominant holiday and showed us one of the most gleaming mosques we have ever seen, our number one Abu Dhabi highlight.

beaches in Oman

Shangri-la Al Husn, Oman

This year, therefore, after a hectic five days of Indian wedding debauchery, we used the stopover plan as the handiest excuse going to indulge in another luxurious Arabian adventure –  Hello Oman!

Oman hotel travel blog

That’s Oman 2017 (not our holiday time capsule of 2027…)

When I put out some tweets for Oman hotel recommendations, raving reviews arose time and again for the Shangri-la, Ritz Carlton (we had loved Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi) and the Chedi. After much deliberation, we chose Shangri-la, having previously had wonderful experiences at their Myanmar and Borneo hotels but that wasn’t the end of the hotel decision-making. With 3 entirely separate Shangri-la resorts all within one gigantic area of land and all falling under the one umbrella of Shangri-la Barr al Jissah in Oman, the next step was selecting which one most aptly suited our travel style.

luxury hotels Oman

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A Cherry Blossom Tour in Tokyo

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It is frequently claimed that to get the most out of your travels, you need to research and plan well in advance. Mostly, the people who make such proclamations are the serial spreadsheet sorts, who fail to see any thrill in putting together itineraries at zero hours notice, who prefer concrete plans over impulsive gambles and who must, no doubt, be secretly judging my style of travel planning.

cherry blossom viewing Tokyo

In my own book of travel tales, however, some of the most memorable and inspiring experiences from around the world were born from those very gambles – the surprise finds that I never studied, never considered and sometimes, had never even heard of. Piran in Slovenia was one example and the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina was another; the third and most recent surprise was the discovery of the cherry blossom season in Japan, one of the most delightful and unanticipated treasures I have unearthed to date.

cherry blossom season Japan

When we booked our Japanese adventure at only six weeks notice, we genuinely had no idea that our dates would fall within cherry blossom season, albeit the end of it. As someone who isn’t green-fingered at all and definitely doesn’t know their hydrangea from their chrysanthemum, this was nothing short of a coincidence.

Tokyo scenic photo locations

Never could I have predicted that our last-minute adventure would bestow upon us one of nature’s most inspiring marvels.

where to find cherry blossoms in Tokyo

Cherry Blossom Viewing in Tokyo

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The Captivating Colours of Havana, Cuba

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When it comes to Havana, Cuba, there are no clones. There are no “it reminds me of” epilogues or over-simplified comparisons, no white collars or corporate characters. But what Havana lacks in the Western World’s (often short-sighted) definition of prosperity and wealth, it more than compensates for in character and colour, its rainbow tones unapologetically lathered across every facade of the city’s corners.

Why Waste Annual Leave Cuba

With its eclectic patchwork tapestry of architectural styles, bustling neighbourhoods and street-side entertainers, I felt a little stifled trying to encapsulate this city’s energy into the tiny, black and white contours of the WordPress font.

colourful car architecture Havana Cuba photos

That was when it dawned on me that I was trying too hard to be a writer rather than the travel bug that I am; that if I wanted to express my Cuban moments in the most authentic way possible, then I ought to do so in the same way that the city had expressed itself to me – plainly and simply through its fearless palette of colours.

Havana photography

South Africa may be the official Rainbow Nation but Cuba’s vibrant landscape could quite easily put it in the running.

Vintage car taxi tour Havana

The Colours of Havana

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Best Desserts in Japan Hit List 

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One day, in another lifetime, I might be born with less of a sweet tooth but until that day arrives, I find myself in a bit of a calorific pickle. Perhaps, with insight into this issue, I ought to have selected a life partner who doesn’t share my love of desserts but with Pumpkin being just as guilty of sugar-crimes against our bodies, we both confess that our diets could do with a spot of tweaking. I’m working on it, I’m working on it – less of the judgement please.

Japanese desserts

Purple Potato & Black Sesame Gelato

When it came to our trip to Japan last year, however, even Pumpkin bowed out, asserting that he would not be partaking in any Japanese dessert-related shenanigans with me, totally un-inspired by flavours such as black sesame, red bean and green tea.

You would have thought that this may have paused me in my saccharine tracks.

You would have been wrong.

black sesame choux cream puff

Black Sesame Cream Puffs

As promised in my earlier post on 15 foods you must try in Japan, today I present to you,  my (worryingly long) list of Japanese dessert highlights. Ranking them presented too much of a culinary conundrum (and had me raiding the house for Japanese dessert stashes – hardly sensible and hardly a store cupboard ingredient in most homes) so I gave up on that idea and boxed them into categories. In the interests of blogger research, I of course, had no choice but to sample one from each category 😀

Dessert Highlights from Japan

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A Fragrance Tapas Experience at Jo Loves, London

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If you author a fashion and beauty only blog, then the chances are, I don’t read it. This is no reflection on the quality of the blogs in question nor on the size; in fact, many of us are well aware of the fashion bloggers who have gone on to amass millions in revenue from successful blog and social media channels, far more than I will ever earn in my day job but ultimately, we read what interests us and for me, that is very rarely fashion and beauty. After all, this is the girl who had her first ever professional manicure the week of her wedding!!

Charlotte Tilbury Makeover

Maybe, all I really needed was the right person to show me a side of the fashion and beauty world that I would enjoy and to unleash the girly girl within me. (Though if you read my Hello Kitty Cafe post, surely you would agree I’m girly girl enough?!) In any case, along came my sister, who despite being younger than me, was the first to show me how to use mascara, the first to show me how to use eyeliner, (I somehow got through university without owning this) and that not everything I spray on myself needs to come out of an 8-year-old perfume dispenser found in a Christmas stocking, donated by a distant Aunt.

Perhaps, she suggested, that the time had come to invest in a little something more special. Still, a hundred bob spent on a bottle of perfume? I’d take a well-priced airline ticket over that any day but with both sister and I on a day of annual leave to celebrate her birthday, I left it to her to decide what we ought to do on our afternoon off together.

Peggy Porschen chocolate cupcake

And, after an obligatory round of coffee and cake at Peggy Porschen just opposite for quite possibly the best cupcakes in the prettiest pink cafe in all of London town, this was what she proposed:

The Jo Loves Fragrance Tapas Experience

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My Best “Only in Japan” Moments

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I may have an aversion to roller coasters and an irrational phobia of creepie crawlies but to say that I fear a culture shock is simply untrue. I was raised (for at least part of my childhood) in an Indian family on the east coast of Saudi Arabia. I went to an international school, where I would learn to pronounce names from all over the world even earlier than I could spell my own and a few years later with the same family by my side, I boarded a flight to London and never looked back. Now, I feel blessed to work in an occupation where every day, I see society around me for what it really is and not just the little bubble that I am part of.

sunset Miyajima Island Japan

Sunset at Miyajima Island, Japan

Different cultures rarely surprise me; they are the very essence of who I am.

Yet, somehow, Japan did.

Nara temples

Only in Japan

This was a nation that put the spring back in my step. It blew me away with its high-tech wizardry and timeless traditions. It enthralled me with its neon jungles and embraced me with its courteous bows. It stunned me with its daily newfound treasures and age-old temples and it propelled me to rise at dawn and sleep past midnight so my senses would stretch to the seams of intrigue with the most unfamiliar and the most curiously entertaining Only in Japan moments that I never expected to find.

Kabukitcho Tokyo

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The Dolce by Ferrero Rocher Pop Up in London

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Here in London, just about anything goes. You can dress like a glamazon or dress like you’ve just rolled out of bed; both will work and depending on the camps you mingle with and the part of the city you inhabit, one will seem decidedly inferior compared to the other. This is a city where you can find paintings in used chewing gum, spend an afternoon learning how to make doughnuts, become a whizz at ice sculpting or if, like me, you are rubbish at art, you can spend a freezing winter’s day at an ice sculpture festival instead.

In London, you’ll find a tour devoted to all things matcha (a Japanese green tea powder, which most of my friends and family have never even heard of let alone toured) and even a focused London walk specifically revolving around former serial killer, Jack the Ripper.

Ferrero Rocher chocolate gift boxes

Endless Ferrero Rocher Temptation

London is the place to look when you need something quirky and perfect for even the trickiest people to buy for (not mentioning any names Pumpkin), whose birthday we once spent competing on a London Underground Treasure Hunt and whose recent Christmas gift from me will soon see him playing pilot in a flight simulator. When a travel-addict has seen as much  of the world as he has, a girl must deploy some lateral thinking…

Covent Garden at Christmas

Covent Garden at Christmas – Views from the Ferrero Rocher Pop Up

Whatever your interests, there is something for just about everyone in London and no matter how niche, how specific and how bizarre a concept is, my guess is that if you can spread the word that it’s out there, you’ll find a few fanatics willing to cough up to enjoy it. The Crème Egg Pop Up Café that took place earlier in the year was a case in point. By the time I had come to hear of it, all the dates had fully sold out.

Ferrero Rocher Pop Up Store

I had learned my lesson once so I when I caught the chocolate hazelnut whiff of the Ferrero Rocher Pop Up, I didn’t even read the blurb before I started texting the fellow chocoholics in my life….or Ferrero-Rolics to be precise, as we divas who lust after these decadent, gold-encased rounds are an entity in our own right.

The Dolce by Ferrero Rocher Pop Up, Covent Garden

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Beating the January blues at Lumiere London Festival

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Every year, around this time in January, the general mood in the UK starts to plummet. Any evidence of ardently devoured mince pies has all but evaporated into the ether alongside the remnants of the festive-flavoured brandy creams once so strategically placed beside them. The reams of unread work emails that you shunned without guilt for a fortnight now adhere to your fingers like an unwelcome, lingering resin. And the glowing beams of Christmas lights that illuminated London’s skies throughout December have hibernated for the winter, leaving a darker, drearier backdrop for the New Year…or did they?

Westminster Abbey at night

Rainbow tones at Westminster Abbey

Lumiere London

Last year, when the glistening Yuletide bulbs in London vanished, they left a blank canvas for the likes of the Lumiere London Festival to stain the sky with brazen neon strokes, showing Londoners and visitors alike that there is more colour to January than the blues.

Lumiere London Regent Street

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My 10 Weirdest Travel Moments from 2016

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Well that year flew by in the blink of  an eye did it not?! And as so many fellow writers have alluded to over the last few months, that hasn’t always been for  the cheeriest reasons. From the tragic passing of some high-profile figures to the tragic and unfortunate rise to power of others, from the divisive politics of xenophobia to the senseless politics claiming innocent civilian lives – and that says nothing of the ups and downs we all go through in our own personal lives; if there is one thing that many of us have witnessed this year, it is that life is full of uncertainty and unpredictability.

Lake Inle sunset

Lake Inle, Myanmar, Dec 2016

In my line of work, I am reminded of that every day. Lives can change in an instant, they can be lost in an instant. I could fill this blog with heartbreaking true stories which exemplify that and I have learned, accordingly, to be grateful for each day and that if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to live out your dreams, then live them.

That’s the reason I travel the globe with such fervour and spend so much time with my family – because I have never yearned for suburban mansions or expensive cars, for business class flights or designer clothes, those indulgences failing to accelerate my heart rate. My pulse, instead, dances to the dream of urban life in my exhilarating and chaotic city, caring for the public as best as I can by day, spending time with ma famille in between and witnessing our incredible planet with my own eyes with any time left thereafter.

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Snapped without my knowledge in Patagonia 2014 (before the “here’s my hair” photo movement began…)

Who knows where the road may lead me in 2017 (Alaska, Colombia and India have been mentioned in passing?) Either way, I will cherish this year’s travels that took us to incandescent, flaming sunsets, postcard-esque panoramas, waters possessing the clarity of diamonds and destinations that showered our hair with fragrant petals dispersed from swaying cherry blossom trees.

10 of my Most Bizarre Travel Memories from 2016

 

There was, however, another side to our travels of 2016 and that was the one filled with slivers of weirdness, whimsy and bizarre twists. So, to make a change from my 15 highlights of 2015, my Bali to Chile in 2014 round-up and my 2013 travel summary, this year, I bring you my most bizarre, “huh?!?” moments and I’d love to hear your weird travel moments of the year too.

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A New Year’s Eve Stay at the Athenaeum Hotel, Piccadilly

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When your other half is summoned to work on New Year’s Eve, do you (a) accept long-time friend’s invitation to join a dinner party on the other side of London (b) accept lovely blogger friend’s suggestion to join more local house party (c) stay home alone in jim jams eating Nutella out of the jar (not something I would ever advocate by the way…) or (d) hop back to Mum and Dad’s for the kind of nostalgic creature comforts only found in the warmth of your favourite childhood surroundings.

New Years Day London

The New Year’s Day Parade, London

Ahead of the final moments of 2015, however, I went with (e), the less obvious choice which essentially involved me tagging along with Pumpkin whilst he headed to work.

Christmas Lights in London

Now before you label me a serious clinger, let me clarify that Pumpkin didn’t technically need to be at work; he simply had to be near it in case his services were required.  If his work ended up being quiet and I was off revelling elsewhere in town, then he would have had to see in the New Year alone (or may well have slept through it).

So, with purely selfless intentions you understand, I sacrificed all the other offers on the table to be by Pumpkin’s side. Needless to say, the prospect of checking into a luxury London hotel for the night had no bearing whatsoever on my decision 😀

London at Christmas

The Athenaeum Hotel, Piccadilly

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