A Perfect June Weekend in Brighton

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Have you ever travelled to a location that just epitomises happy? A Disneyland of sorts, (which for some of you may actually be Disneyland,) a destination that exudes colour and vibrancy, energy and put plainly, a place filled with fun.

As travel writers, we read and we write page upon page about exotic locations and far flung destinations. I’m not alone in aspiring to visit Bora Bora beaches and Serengeti safaris and yet, for most of us anyway, for large chunks of our lives, the pursuit of the fun factor was far more readily accessible.

As a child living in South East England, day trips to Brighton were a highlight of any summer with sun-kissed afternoons on the pier, soft serve plummeting down the sides of the cone, my hands a gluey mess of delight.

As one of the most liberal, welcoming and environmentally conscious cities in the UK, Brighton has rapidly become a popular residential base for the London commuter hub and after my recent anniversary weekend in Brighton, I could see why.

The city encapsulates all that I love about London but is more compact, quirkier, dare I say it friendlier, is right by the sea and who, I mean who doesn’t like to be beside the seaside?!

A City Break in Brighton

It might have been a drive away rather than a flight but visiting Brighton together was a first for us and I make no exaggeration when I state that our perfect summer weekend in Brighton neatly tucks itself into my top five most fun weekends of all time.

Ready to join me on a tour of one of England’s most famous seaside towns? Grab your party hat and your dancing shoes (no, literally) – let’s go.

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The Thames Rockets Ultimate London Adventure

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“Are they Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks” I ask, as I spot the sultry contrast of a red sole on a black stiletto? My encyclopaedia of designer shoe knowledge spans no further than a handful of Sex and the City episodes. A girl, a young woman rather, throws a beaming smile in our direction. It isn’t meant for us, this much we know, as she stands beside her relatives, smiling at a camera. The wide grin of achievement deflects from her footwear, whilst the charcoal tassel suspended from her graduation hat dances to a beat of its own in the river breeze. How could a student afford such heels I wonder?

London Eye boat ride

Like her, there are many. More capes fill Millennium Bridge, more blow dries and polished shoes, more proud parents and black caps. We reminisce over our own brief stints in these gowns with memories as crisp as yesterday, yet painfully aware of the longevity of years that have passed since. We look at their youthful faces with a mix of envy and wisdom and owing much of our professional lives to London universities, we ponder curiously about the establishments these giggling graduates have blossomed from.

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It is 24 degrees Celsius on this particular convocation day and 24 years since I met the friend I walk this bridge with. She saw me through my own graduation day – because it was her graduation day too. She saw me through high school and through my wedding day. And whilst these are words we are supposed to reserve for only our spouses, she has seen me through richer and poorer, through better and worse.

Tower Bridge boat ride

We walk between Charing Cross and Waterloo, the Thames Rockets text message open on my phone directing me towards the London Eye Pier. During our first week at university, the hedonism-infused and for many, the alcohol-fuelled Freshers’ Week, we boarded a boat party on the River Thames and toasted to the start of our independent lives. And so, it seems wholly fitting that all these years later, as homeowners and career women, we have been given an opportunity to take our friendship back to these very waters.

Thames Rockets review

Today, we will discover that despite walking along the banks of the River Thames hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of times, we still have so much to learn about this city, its riverside landmarks and the stories that lie within the Thames.

sunset river Thames

The Thames Rockets Experience

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A Walking and Driving Tour of Rome

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A Tour of Rome, 1980

It is a scorching July day in Rome in 1980. The dry heat takes its toll on the group, eyes deflecting to water bottle vendors in close proximity. My Mum, however, raised in land-encased regions of Northern India, remains unfazed by such heat and so she sits solo on the Spanish Steps at Plaza Espana, the afternoon blaze above her, in quiet amazement of the ancient city she has found herself in.

Armed with his Pentax armoury, my Dad shuffles around his lenses and equipment, rummaging between the wide angles and the zoom to determine which would be most suited for this quintessential Rome moment. International leisure travel has always been for the elite, the aristocracy, the icons of the Bollywood world. That they have found themselves on holiday in continental Europe is a blessing they embrace tightly, each landmark an achievement, each step they take a privilege in its own right.

Rome tour reviews

Theirs was a generation when it was on trend to smile at the camera and not away from it. With one flash and the sound of the timeless “cheeeese,” she smiles, the moment crystallised in time, the misty mauve glaze of their Italian snaps, nowadays reborn a vintage filter.

Nearly forty years later, I copy my Mum’s pose. It is me this time, sitting on the Spanish Steps, much less stoic in the heat than she had been. “Photo, photo” she yelps as a gap emerges between the masses and this time, it is Mum behind the camera, the “camera” now a telephone. We swap places and my parents sit side by side once again, a little older, a little wiser but no less appreciative for the experience than they had been first time around.

Rome city tours

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8 of the Best Desserts I Tried in Paris

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I frequently tell friends that if I worked in the centre of London, I would be enormous and much to my dismay, to date, not one of them has disagreed. As someone with a soft spot for the sweeter pleasures in life, the temptation is too much in this capital city of foodiepreneurs, pop-up kitchens, freakshakes, fried food trucks, Creme Egg Camps, liquid nitrogen ice cream parlours and Ferrero Rocher Events and the only saving grace for my arteries is the fact that my working hours and location of work keep me well away from such dessert dilemmas during the working week.

But Paris? Paris is an entirely different ball game.

Where to eat in Paris

In London, when an eclair focused patisserie store sets up shop (not mentioning any names Maitre Choux,) queues start forming almost immediately with hordes of Insta-millenials flapping their I phones in a frenzy. In Paris, however, these eclair shops are on every corner.

Low and Behold.

Best patisserie Paris

And alongside them stand world renowned macaron houses, boulangeries that summon you in with the scent of their lethal, straight-out-the-oven, buttery croissant aroma and row upon row of madeleines, Mont Blancs, souffles, Mille feuilles and even the eponymous Paris Brest. In Paris, patisserie is virtually a law and far be it for me to disrespect that so I’ve compiled this catalogue of the French dessert highlights clocked up during my recent birithday weekend in Paris for those of you equally concerned with…ahem….engaging in local customs in the French capital.

Pierre Herme macarons Paris

Judgey sorts can feel free to exit this window now but those of you who long to live in the Hansel and Gretel house and secretly wish they were born into Willy Wonka’s world, come on in because I’ve got a treat (or seven) in store today.

Pralus Paris

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Could Sofia, Bulgaria be your Best Value Europe City Break?

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Stop the press, travellers of the world. I come with a breaking news announcement today. After years of excavation in the holiday fields (and numerous failed attempts,) on a holy weekend in 2017 in the hugely underrated country of Bulgaria, I finally unearthed a treasure – and her name was Sofia.

This one goes out to all those of you, who have ever parted with 6 Francs for a bottle of water in Switzerland (been there), wasted 40 Euros on rubbery tapas from an overpriced restaurant on Las Ramblas, Barcelona (done that) or lost £200 on a shoebox sized musty European hotel room (that one’s happened to me a few times.)

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Sofia, Bulgaria

And the buck doesn’t stop at Europe either. Hop into a new window now, do a quick Google search for New York City hotels and no further explanation needed. NYC is my favourite city – I’ve been thrice in 8 years and it would have been double that had it not been for those pesky hotel prices, (although click here for my review on a great NYC hotel option.) I wouldn’t say I fall under the umbrella of budget traveller (my stays in the Seychelles and Oman are examples of that) but I do resent eye-watering accommodation prices, stomach-turning tube fares and the fact that it can be cheaper to spend 10 days in Asia than 5 days in Italy?!

alternative European weekend breaks

What if I were to tell you, though, that I had found a city, where you could stay in 5* hotels at 3* prices and sip cocktails on a beer budget, a country largely untouched by mass tourism, filled with ancient ruins and a growing, innovative foodie scene? This was the trip I made on Easter Weekend last year, booked at 10 days notice and proving to be one of the most delightful European cities I have visited. A travel tip I wrote about why it is such an excellent value destination was even published in the national press later in the year and today, I will fill in all the blanks in the hope it may inspire some of you to visit.

what to do in Sofia Bulgaria

A Bargain Break in Bulgaria

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Four Fabulously Fun & Alternative Phone Boxes

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The humble telephone – how it has transformed our worlds. My parents still talk of their lives here in the UK in the 1970s and the way they would try and seek a connection for a phone line back home to relatives in India. It would sometimes require up to three days notice, the line was fuzzy, intermittent and barely existent – and that was a good day. The bad days saw no lines at all, each heart-sinking disappointment widening the berth of home-sickness that they already coped with on a daily basis.

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Calls abroad were prohibitively expensive so the phone conversations themselves were more a matter of informing family they were alive and less of a chit-chatty catch up scenario. How could they have possibly ever imagined a world in which they and everyone around them would own a pocket-sized phone that could read the time, show the news, reveal the weather, take a photograph and pay a bill? Nowadays, we laugh that it is my Mum out of all of us who is most glued to her Samsung but even I, a generation beneath my parents, could never have imagined a world like this.

flat lay food photographyHand Model – @LondonKiwiEmma

Day upon day for years throughout high school, I would stand at our local train station using the last couple of coins in my purse to phone my Mum from a public phone box outside Platform 5. I would let her know my train home from school had just pulled in, my hungry appetite and impatient teenage temperament desperately hoping she would be done from work in good time. Those phone booths were the only channel of communication Mum and I had during the school run time of day (and importantly, my only way of knowing whether I had time to squeeze in a bag of peanut M&Ms from the newsagent just outside the station.)

fun phone boxes blog

It was my generation that observed the transition from a mobile phone-less world to a world in which a day without our phone becomes a (somewhat first world) catastrophe. It leads me to wonder who, now, uses the phone boxes that are still dotted around my city so affectionately and so many other cities across the world? Are they merely for the few who have left their phones at home or been the victim of phone theft ? Are they solely for the posers who hang their heads out of red London phone booths and post a gram an hour or so later – or are these iconic emblems that were once such an integral requirement on our streets, simply now being defaced and used as urinals for late night drunken revellers?

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A Weekend in Cheshire & Chester

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For a hobby that involves sitting behind a screen in silence, blogging has turned out to be surprisingly sociable. Write enough words, throw yourself into enough Twitter chats, engage in enough Instagram banter and before you know it, you will find yourself immersed within a network of blogging companions. Initially, this starts off in a virtual sense and subsequently (once you feel bold and brave enough,) you take things to the next level by arranging a rendez-vous on the other side of the screen for a real life meet up (or what has affectionately come to be known within inner circles as a Tweet up.)

I have made some genuine friends in the blogosphere and I hope they know who they are but as with new jobs and new schools, some of the people you encounter along the way fall under the umbrella of acquaintances rather than friends, people who leave an impression in your life softly and transiently, flitting in and out, leaving faint trails of nostalgia behind them.

But then, there are the other type; the friends you feel you have known a lifetime, the ones you can converse with for hours without even an utterance about your respective blogs, the ones you trust implicitly, who continue to leave a treasured imprint in your life, even if the blogging stops or the geographical distance between you grows.

A Weekend in Cheshire

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What to do during A 2 Day Layover in Doha, Qatar

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Our plane commences its descent into Doha. I yawn mechanically with the mandibles of a predator, ridding myself of that familiar, cloying, ear popping sensation that leaves me transiently deaf. The monitor ahead of me reads 1am local time and with a delayed flight under my sleeve, my yawns hardly come as a chore.

I am not sure how many feet below 35,000 I am when the borders of nostalgia and exhaustion fuse indistinctly. Every time I fly above the Middle East, I feel like I am coming home. I curse myself for the silliness of this simplistic generalisation but the sentiment persists stubbornly.

2 days in Doha

Museum of Islamic Art,Doha

Home, you see, was never Qatar. It was once Saudi Arabia, an entirely different nation albeit in the same region of the world, a different culture with different norms, different facades.

traditional markets Doha Qatar

I have no right to feel like I am returning home as I land in Doha and yet, there is something oddly familiar and endearingly reminiscent about the prospect of impossibly succulent Medjool dates and hypnotic Islamic prayer calls, the chequered fabrics of the fez sported by local men and the dry heat of the desert. There is something in the aroma of Arabian Oud concealed by the Qatari women that transports me back to the first home I knew.

Islamic Art Museum Doha

Islamic Art Museum Doha

A Layover in Doha

But Doha and I meet for the first time. I have no in-depth knowledge of the place. I arrive in jet lag and I leave in haste. I lack the tools to give you an in-depth insight into this controversial destination but I am better placed than I was a year ago to show you what you could do if you found yourself with a 1-2 day layover in Qatar.

What to do on layover in Doha

Souq Waqif, Doha Souks

To the untrained eye, the Souks in Doha feel somewhat like the social heart of the city, particularly on a temperate December day. Locals, expats and tourists, outnumbered only by pigeons, gather outside the main entrance and within the maze of narrow alleyways sandwiched within the Souq Waqif.

Doha Qatar Souks

Some meander through in pursuit of Arabian textiles and handicrafts; others arrive solely to soak up the more traditional side to Doha, away from the luxury hotels and skyscrapers and some, like us, come in search of hot mezze and pots of steaming hot Arabic coffee.

Souq Waqif Doha

If a moving wheelbarrow passes your vision, pushed forcefully by a stooping gentleman, pause to take note of the slice of history unfolding in front of you – for generations, men have made a living by wandering these very souks and transporting the purchases of the wealthy in these wheelbarrows. And those who aren’t manning shops, serving hungry diners or gripping wheelbarrows simply stand in the sun with a cluster of helium balloons in hand, drawing in toddlers with their floating, shiny eye candy.

best of Doha

The Museum of Islamic Art

To help digest all those shish taouks you gobbled down greedily, wander out of the souks and take a gentle stroll in the direction of Doha’s renowned Museum of Islamic Art. Don’t for one minute think that you need to know about art or have a vested interest in it to enjoy this space. I, for one, know diddly squat about art but this museum is so much more than portraits and paintings. Here, you will find gilded sword sheaths and bejewelled birds.

Sword Museum of Islamic Art

The princess within me longed for the 16th century rosewater sprinkler to sit on my own dressing table or even to be the kind of woman worthy of a sprinkle of rosewater. The staff were extremely strict about leaving bottles of water and foodie items outside of the exhibition rooms and photography is permitted but you must keep those pesky flashes well away. In between being dazzled by gold and gemstones, I was given the challenging of recapping some of my med school anatomical knowledge with diagrams from hundreds of years ago that gave me a newfound respect for how my predecessors must have trained back then.

Rose water sprinkler Qatar

Old anatomical drawing

Even if none of this appeals though, I still urge you to visit this free museum during your squeeze of a layover for if none of the art catches your eye (which I suspect it will,) the very architecture of the building with its external, clean, white right angles and the beautifully bright café inside that overlooks the water are reason enough to stop by.

Doha best attractions

The Corniche

For someone who had never even been in a pool till the age of eight, I am ever the water baby when I travel and not a trip goes by when I am not either in the water, on the water or by the water. Doha was no different and whilst we didn’t have the time to dabble in a Dhow cruise, we did enjoy a slow stroll along the Corniche waterfront, where the flawless white of the Museum of Islamic Art is juxtaposed vividly against the teal blue water.

Pearl Monument Qatar

The Pearl Monument, Doha

We are rarely ones to shy away from a solid walk, once clocking up nearly 20 miles in a single day in New York City but a 36 hour layover only left us time for a brief lazy amble but with more time at your disposal, you could keep enjoying the Corniche for miles.

Doha Corniche Qatar

Now those of you with longer in Qatar could venture over to the expat filled micro-cosm that is “The Pearl” but if time prohibits, the good news is that your next best bet is the shimmering Pearl Monument and water feature; not quite an entire island but enough to give any other pearl you’ve seen a run for its money.

Tourist highlights Doha

Capture the Skyline

On a pub quiz I took part in during my first ever cruise experience, I remember being thrown a question about the world’s top 5 most impressive skylines. Quite how one gathers a consensus on this I am unsure but we accurately guessed some of the stunning yet predictable world cities that featured in the answers – Tokyo, New York City, Singapore.

But while Qatar’s capital failed to make the cut then, I found myself bedazzled by the Doha skyline during my mini escapade in the city. Those of you with a penchant for Prosecco and a flair for fine dining would be best placed parking yourselves at one of the city’s numerous sky-rise restaurants or bars from where to soak up the skyline. I, on the other hand, a little jet lagged from our recent visit to the Philippines, took the lazier option of admiring it in my pyjamas with an undeniably impressive view available to us from the comfort of our hotel suite.

Intercontinenta Doha City Hotel views

Indulge and Unwind

If there is one thing I have come to learn about hotels in the Middle East, it’s that they don’t do things by halves and Qatar has adhered to that formula, just as well as Oman did earlier in the year. In summer months, these hotels stretch beyond the reams of luxury and into the territory of necessity for all those tourists unprepared for the scorching summers; but even in the winter months, it is worth freeing up some time to immerse yourself in a little slice of pampering and luxury and if your pockets allow, parking yourself at a hotel that offers some luxury.

Travel blog review Intercontinental Doha City

A quick Google search will soon prove there are no shortage of these in Doha so knock yourselves out choosing but from enormous hotel buffet brunches and swanky skyline bars to decadent dining and spacious suites, be sure to tap into the luxury dining and accommodation on offer. We gave up a whole evening and morning of our limited time in Doha to be able to make good use of the luxury Doha city hotel we had found ourselves in, using our suite to the max, munching the last of the welcome treats and dining in the newly refurbished garden lounge.

Al Jalsa Doha shisha

Al Jalsa Lounge, Doha

So, is this a comprehensive guide to Doha? No – and I’d be a fraud if I tried to pretend otherwise, having spent less than 2 days of my life there but hopefully, what this will give you is a realistic idea of how to skim the surface of some of Doha’s highlights at a leisurely pace even within the teeny time frame of a layover.

How do you usually spend a layover abroad?

Weekend Brunch at Iris and June, Victoria

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I remember when one of my colleagues caught wind of the fact that I write a blog in my spare time a couple of years ago. She asked what it was about and it came as no surprise to her, like all the others in the room at the time, when I declared my niche (or broad niche shall we say) to be travel. She went on to ask how frequently I blog and back then, unmarred by the cynicism or lethargy of a more seasoned blogger, I was fairly punctual with churning out posts once weekly, at one time even stepping up to twice weekly through means I can no longer recall (or believe) but the proof was in the WordPress and twice weekly, it was.

“Do you have enough to write about though if you’re writing that often,” she asked sincerely? I nodded affirmatively with a brief throwaway comment about how many article ideas may be conceived of one destination or holiday, swiftly averting the conversation back to the shop floor, forever uncomfortable with having too much attention drawn to myself.

Brunch Victoria London

The truth was, the truth is in fact, that my problem was quite the contrary – a stealth of ideas paragraphs, adjectives and photographs, chapters full of stories wanting to be told, waiting to be told, eventually losing hope of being told and an author, who despite her passion to write, never could quite keep up with her own heart. Speed was never my thing. Not in the 800m track run at high school and not in the blogging diaries either. It seems highly undisciplined, therefore, if not a little unhinged, to be throwing in content that falls outside of my boundaries when I am only, y’know, four years behind on the travel posts I so badly want to deliver.

Brunching at Iris and June, Victoria

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A Day Trip to Torres del Paine, Chile

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London, January 2014

Pumpkin: “Would you fancy doing a day trip to Torres del Paine from Argentina on our South America trip?”

Me: “You what? Of course I would but is that even an option?”

El Calafate, Argentina, March 2014

Pumpkin: “Straight to bed after dinner for me. I’m knackered. Weren’t we lucky the clouds lifted eventually? Are you going to blog about this?”

Me: “Yeh, it was amazing. Definitely going to share this on the blog. Might even pinch some of your photos, they’ve come out really well…”

most beautiful South America destinations

London, November 2015

Pumpkin: “Are you ever going to write about Torres del Paine? I’d love it if you did a blog post on it and I reckon people would be interested in hearing about the day trip option. I’d definitely have read a blog post like that when we were planning our South America trip.”

Me (hastily:) “I will, I will, I just haven’t got around to it yet.”

Pumpkin: “But surely if you don’t do it soon, you won’t remember any of it? You do write them in a strange order. That afternoon tea you’ve just blogged about was long after Chile…”

London, June 2016

Pumpkin: “Such a pity you never wrote about Chile.”

Me ( hanging my head in shame: )

No inverted commas, as no speech.

Out of excuses.

London, January 2018

Me: “Are the Torres del Paine photos on your laptop or mine?”

Pumpkin: “Dunno, why? Wait – are you actually writing about it finally?”

Me: “Yeh, I thought I might. This month’s travel link up theme is ‘once-in-a-lifetime experiences’ and this was what sprung to mind.

Pumpkin: “What’s a link up?”

best places to visit South America

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