A Suite Stay at InterContinental Doha The City

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“These samosas are as good as my Mum’s,” I said to Pumpkin.

They call us chalk and cheese but for us, it works. We agree on the important issues – like how to identify a distinguished samosa.

He gave a characteristic nod, knowingly, silently. He was aware, as I was, that the brief accolade I had imparted reflected the embracing, homely environment that was about to unfold around us in Doha; ironic really, considering how far away we were from home, unravelling breakfast plates somewhere high up in a skyscraper hotel in Qatar.

Al Jalsa Doha shisha

Al Jalsa Lounge, Doha

On paper, I never could have anticipated feeling so at home in a city business hotel, let alone one in a completely unfamiliar country but the subtle parallels would soon make themselves known.

Intercontinental Hotel Doha City

Not everyone has a joyous home life but I’m grateful that I was one of the lucky ones. For us, home was a place where we never went hungry and where sweet treats would surprise us when we walked in after an arduous, scorching Middle Eastern summer day. It was a place where we felt safe, where those around us always took an interest in what we had to say and where love was manifested in dinner plates. And always, always, there were are samosas.

Best Doha city hotels

Okay, so our hotel suite at InterContinental Doha the City may have been larger than many London apartments and I can’t say I ever grew up with a skyscraper studded view whilst brushing my teeth but if you bear with me & read on, I’ll try and explain what I mean about home.

First though, the logistics: Doha has no shortage of luxury hotels but with only 2 days at our disposal and having just flow back from the paradise beach break that was the Philippines, my goal in Doha was to lap up the city life and acclimatise my way back to London. My priority was a city hotel with all the convenience of a central location without compromising on any of the pampering of a resort hotel and this was how I found myself Googling “best city hotels in Doha.”

Suites at InterContinental Doha The City

When we first walked into the lobby at IC Doha The City, we were bleary eyed and dishevelled. At any other time of day, this may have perturbed me but at 2am after a flight delay, I didn’t much care about my smudged eyeliner. Thankfully, neither did the staff, whose key priority was to get us checked in, logged in, watered and of course – rather like my Mama – to get us fed so that we could rest without any further ado.

Travel blog review Intercontinental Doha City

The unexpected upgrade to the suite was a welcome surprise to two jet-lagged adults, who were so exhausted that they would have contentedly had a kip in an empty bath tub had it been proposed. Within 10 minutes of exiting our cab, we were up in our room, our muscles willing us to crawl beneath the covers, bidding a dramatic farewell to the alarm clock.

Our leaping hearts, however, thrilled like children at Christmas Eve, had us glued to the windows, as we gazed on at the panoramic views of Doha’s sparkling skyline. Awoken by its appeal, we could have headed straight for the Nespresso machine to revive us further but that didn’t get a second look once we saw those tasty welcome treats lurking beneath a glass dome and asking to be devoured.

Where to stay Doha

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My 10 Epic Travel Experiences of 2017

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Mental arithmetic is not my forte, not by any means. I may have fluked my way to some decent maths grades in high school but that, essentially, was where my expertise ended. And then with the advent of phones, smart phones, smarter phones and smartest phones, my brain no longer felt the need (or desire) to mathematically figure out anything but in place of that, the words started to flow unapologetically, both here on the blog much to the bane of you lovely people, my readers, and in real life, to the annoyance of my loving family and husband.

My 2017 in Travels

While division and subtraction might remain a challenge, one thing I can always tot up accurately is the number of flights and adventures amassed in a year. In 2017, a year in which I feel I could have potentially squeezed in more if I had been more organised, I still made it to….drum roll please…

  • 8 countries (5 new and 3 previously visited countries)
  • 22 flights
  • 15 hotels
  • A 3 Michelin starred UK staycation
  • Around 30 boat trips (if you go island hopping in the Philippines, you really will lose track of the exact number)

I am by no means breaking any records but for a full-time NHS employee, I think this proves just how much globetrotting is achievable if you use your pennies wisely and exhaust your annual leave to the max.

Rather than a boring chronological recap of my year in travels (because frankly, no one other than my Mum will enjoy reading that,) instead, I thought I would sum up the trips of 2017 by telling you what made each one so memorable, annotating my travel tales with the Instagram updates that accompanied them. Is it lazy blogging? Quite probably but it’s Boxing as I start to draft this and the blood flow that usually supplies my writer’s brain has been diverted towards my gut to digest the festive turkey dinner so you get what you get.

The Best Party of The Year– New Delhi, India, February

When you start off 2017 with the best party of the year you’ve ever attended, surely your social life can only go downhill from there? Thankfully not but that was the very real risk we took when we flew abroad for the first time this year for a family wedding in New Delhi, a glittering, gleaming function of epic proportions, which also happened to fall during my own birthday week.

Why celebrate one occasion when you can celebrate two right, so whilst the bride and groom jetted off on their honeymoon, we used the opportunity to dine at Indian Accent, one of World’s 50 Best Restaurants with a menu worthy of the accolade. If the London foodies among you are tempted but can’t justify flying all the way to New Delhi to sample it, I have good news for you – they’ve just opened up a brand new shiny branch of it in London.

The Laziest Holiday of the Year – Oman, February

When you spend 3 consecutive days eating afternoon tea (in my defence, it was complimentary,) you don’t leave your resort for your entire time in the country (in my defence, I was unwell) and you spend most of your waking days quite literally on the lazy river (ok no defence for that one,) you pretty much have all the essential ingredients for the laziest trip of the year.

Our brief stint at the adult-only Shangri La Al Husn resort in Oman was the ideal peaceful and romantic antidote to a week of non-stop parties, celebrations and hopping between relatives’ houses in India; it was just a shame I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent healthwise but hey, what’s room service for right?!

The Most Gourmet Break of the Year – The Waterside Inn, UK, April

When it comes to Pumpkin’s birthday presents, you could say that I had a bit of making up to do, considering his gift from 2016 was nearly 10 months overdue. In the past, he has been the (less than) proud recipient of chocolate-flavoured ketchup and pizza cutters at the hands of his wife so this year, I compensated for this by splurging on a one-night 3 Michelin star dinner & hotel staycation at the legendary Roux establishment, The Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire.

The location for the break remained a surprise right until we pulled up outside, when our car was whisked away from us. A little valet? Don’t mind if I do. Despite the weather having been atrocious just a day before, we were thrown a lifeline for our Sunday night stay with a day bathed in warm sunshine, worthy of sleeveless clothing. It also meant that we could enjoy the eponymous waterside deck, where we spent a couple of hours sipping coffee ahead of our 3 Michelin star tasting menu. After a decadent in-room breakfast the following morning, loaded with handmade French pastries, we burnt off the carbohydrate load with a walk around the world-famous nearby royal town of Windsor.

The Best Value Destination of the Year – Sofia, Bulgaria April

Of all the destinations we explored this year, Sofia was by far the best value for money and considering that we flew out on Good Friday and returned Easter Monday, it proved to be the most economical on the annual leave front as well, deeming it one of the best last-minute bargains of the year.

With a hip, edgy and innovative foodie scene and magnificent monuments within easy reach both within the city and beyond, all travellers looking to explore a city still relatively protected from mass tourism should put this on their must-see lists. And if you do as we did by travelling over Easter, be sure to try out the traditional Bulgarian Easter bread – Kozunak. Trust me on this one – it is worth the carbs 😊

The “I feel like I could live here” Trip of the Year – Berlin, Germany, June

When I was asked to participate in the #CheapflightsChallenge in Berlin earlier this year, I went in with the mindset of exploring a new city and proving to you all that it is entirely possible for two adults to go on a 3 day holiday abroad for less than the cost of a designer wallet and prove this, I did.

What I was not expecting, however, was to find a liberal, easy-going, multi-cultural city filled with free-spirited individuals, colourful street art murals, countless food markets, green open spaces, live musicians on every corner and quaint neighbourhoods easily explored on foot. It was basically everything I love about London without the stifling crowds, with friendlier locals and with less ludicrous prices. Anyone want to join me on a move to Berlin?!

The Unimaginably Scenic Trip of the Year – Azores, June

When one of my best friends shared her photos of the Azores a little while ago, I only needed to scroll through three or four before I had already made my mind up that I had to see these mystical islands for myself. Pumpkin is an avid lover of the great outdoors so just as soon as I threw in the words, “mountains, lakes, hikes and nature,” he needed no further persuasion.

Little did we know that this cluster of islands scattered in the middle of the Atlantic but technically part of Portugal was akin to a gallery, showcasing the best of Earth’s magic. I have only managed to write about Ponta Delgada, the capital of Sao Miguel island so far but there will be plenty more posts coming your way in 2018 to entice you to visit this beautiful destination – only 3-4 hours away from the UK but worlds apart from any other European destination I had ever experienced before.

The Funniest Trip of the Year – Edinburgh, Scotland, August

I have to say, when planning my travel adventures, of all the specs I tend to think about (hotels, activities, excursions, climate etc,) “funny” is not one of them but in 2017, that changed, when Pumpkin’s more timely birthday gift this year was a long weekend in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

As our maiden visit to the festival, we booked ahead for 3 live stand up comedy shows at intimate venues, during which we laughed so hard that our abdominal muscles ached for hours. When we weren’t at pre-booked shows, we took in the sights of this quaint, charming city, found ourselves eating high tea in a library, soaked up the atmosphere of all the live entertainers and performers on the street and stumbled upon food festivals, cocktail festivals and even snuck in a retro Ferris wheel ride, which allowed us to watch over this bustling city by night.

The Most Opulent Destination of the Year – Russia, September

Russia might have seemed like an unusual choice for our first big family holiday in four years but when we put together everyone’s individual preferences for a September holiday, it was the one country that floated straight to the top of the list.

If you have any ill-conceived notions of Russia being a grey, dreary or uninspiring destination, then one snoop inside museums like the Winter Palace in St Petersburg or The Armoury Museum at the Kremlin in Moscow will soon eradicate those once and for all. Never before have I seen such unparalleled opulence and glamour from sexy skyline bars to ornate, regal Faberge eggs. If you don’t like gold trimmings, picture perfect manicured gardens and fairytale palaces, don’t go to Russia.

The Favourite Destination of the Year – The Philippines, November

I am a travel writer, traveller and I love exploring this planet. I am not supposed to have favourites. Do parents have favourite children? (OK, in reality, I suspect some do but you get my point!) Every country carries its own unique quirk and charm and it is both naïve and short-sighted to rank them in an over-simplified hierarchy; yet here I am shamelessly declaring the Philippines to be my favourite destination of the year – but it utterly and sincerely was.

The impossibly white beaches paralleled if not exceeded those that I had seen in the Maldives, which I had always imagined would be the most spectacular shore lines I would ever set foot on. The balmy, teal sea water, shallow enough to wade through and laden with rainbow shoals and pristine corals did little to alter that view and the friendliness of the loving, patriotic and hard-working locals only consolidated our infatuation with the islands of the Philippines. We wore swimwear almost every day for a fortnight and of the 5 pairs of footwear I packed, pretty much only the flip-flops were necessary, revealing just how relaxing, laid back and idyllic our island escape was.

The house reef at our hotel @elnidoresorts is one of the best for marine life in Palawan so we aren't allowing a small thing like jellyfish season to stop us snorkelling. Into the blue I went on day 1 here but after just 2 minutes in the water, I'd acquired 4 separate stings, the irony being that it happened 5 minutes after I''d purchased a rash guard (for my top half & arms) – looks like the jellyfish took a liking to my legs & cheek! The stings are nothing like as bothersome as that episode of Friends had led me to believe & we're still snorkelling away happily (if a little more covered up.) What's weirder, though, is that Pumpkin swam in the same water for the same duration yet didn't get stung once – seems I'm as popular with the Filipino jellyfish crew as I am with the global mozzie ones!

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The Fly-By Trip of the Year – Qatar, December

My final trip of the year was a complete fly-by visit to Qatar en route back from the Philippines. We could have flown home directly to London without stopping off but after reading so much about Doha from all the adventures that Polly from Follow Your Sunshine has had out there, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore the city ourselves.

With just one full day and night and one morning at our disposal as well as a luxury hotel to experience, there was no room for tardiness so even with our limited time there, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the souks, the iconic art museum in Doha, a stroll along the Corniche and a blogger lunch date with Polly herself, which was a delightful way to end the travel year and a fitting way to end the travel blogging year as well.

About last night – the Al Jalsa Restaurant & Lounge Bar @icdohathecity. If you've been following my travels in the Philippines over the last couple of weeks, then you'll have seen that island life suited me rather better than I would have imagined – living in flip flops & swimwear, travelling from A-B on boats rather than crowded tubes & living life at a slower, more laid back pace. BUT, with my imminent return to London, a reminder of the allure of city life & city lights was very much in order. It started with the Nobu dinner & hotel experience in Manila & I am very pleased to report that this whirlwind adventure of a trip has ended on a complete high with our final meal being held at this mellow, sexy lounge & outdoor city garden, where we feasted on some of my favourite Middle Eastern mezzes & grills amongst locals, who smoked fragrant shisha, mingled with friends & caught up on their correspondence over miniature cups of aromatic Arab coffee & trays of tempting Baklava.

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The Hometown – London

But just in case you think I’ve been sitting on the sofa lacksadaisically in between travels, I better give you a quick recap of the adventures that have taken place closer to home, which have included breakfasting in an ingloo, eating my weight in tapas at the Taste of London festival and finding ancient ruins and Totem poles in my childhood home county of Surrey at Virginia Water.

This is the year that has seen me return to the London Olympic stadium to watch the World Athletics Championships, a sporting venue that I was last at during the London Olympic Opening Ceremony, this was the year that I took in a final glimpse of Big Ben before the scaffolding took over and most bizarre of all, a year in which I played cricket with a former professional England player!

 

A huge thank you to all of you for being part of my blogging babbles this last year (and to the many of you who have been following along long before that.) I really am grateful for all the supportive comments and love and the travel inspiration you all give me. Hope you have all had a wonderful and restful festive season and wishing you a happy, travelicious 2018. Long may our collective global adventures continue!

Original Gift Ideas for Travellers & Travel Lovers

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It’s that time of year again; I’m not entirely sure how but it is. 2017’s blogging schedule may have been somewhat inconsistent but it seems like only yesterday that I was packing for my first adventure of the year, a brief but long overdue February return to the motherland that saw me attend the most epic wedding I have ever been to (including my own!)

festive Christmas places New York City

In the aftermath of the Christmas festivities and falling right in the centre of birthday month, I vividly recall feeling a little overly plump to be sporting a slinky evening gown for the wedding functions. Yet somehow, the months have rolled on in the tumultuous way they always seem to and I find myself here, on a particularly frosty November night, distracting myself with trashy TV, whilst I endeavour to complete the self-enforced task of compiling this year’s travel gift guide.

Marina Skyscraper Views Singapore

This one’s for all those live-for-the-moment, travel-mad jetsetters in your life. And as per my previous travel gift ideas post, all of these items/experiences have been tried and tested by yours truly and most of them are gifts that other people have rather thoughtfully given to me for previous birthdays, Christmases etc. There are no affiliate links in this post so I won’t be making any dough if you pinch these ideas. My goal today is simply to share the love, hopefully making it that little bit easier for those of you of you tearing your hair out for original travel gift ideas. Just call me travel Santa.

Christmas time Bruges

If, however. the overly commercialised, billion-dollar industry that is Christmas shopping ain’t your scene, then feel free to ignore my gift guide and do what Pumpkin and I are doing instead – we have scooted off to the other side of the world just before the mayhem starts so that we can live in blissful ignorance of the Christmas shopping chit-chat engulfing the high streets and avert our eyes from the archetypal English drizzle engulfing the atmosphere.

Sorry Ma and Pa, BFF and colleagues, this year, you’re all getting duty-free M&Ms (fear not though, we’ll treat you to those cute tins with the big grinning M&M,  perched garishly on top.)

Views of Singapore at Night

My 2017 Travel Gift Guide

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Dining in an Igloo in London

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Before we get into the igloos (literally and proverbially) and before I wax lyrical all about how I treated Pumpkin to a sporadic weekday breakfast one frosty November morning, I must ‘fess up as to why. (I should probably  keep schtum about the truth to preserve what is left of my reputation but where is the fun in that? Your lives are too busy for a dull read after all.)

Coppa Club igloos London

You see, the truth is, I might be a grown up and a professional entrusted to look after the health and welfare of the public but I also happen to be the woman who locked herself between her own two front doors, requiring a valiant knight in shining armour to come and rescue her.

I may even be the woman, who managed to do this twice.

Tower Bridge in sunshine

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Afternoon Tea at Colonnades, Signet Library, Edinburgh

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Ever been accused of gifting to others what you secretly want yourself? I admit that I have been guilty of this on many occasions (apart from that time I bought Pumpkin a metallic blue, multi-purpose, mini screwdriver from the Danish design museum in Copenhagen a few months after we had met.) That was a gift he could rest assured had been given with only the recipient in mind; you only need to know me for two minutes to know that my DIY skills are comparable to an average toddler.

He treasures and makes use of that mini screwdriver as much now as he did then and I don’t think any item I have given him since has come close to replicating the touched and weirdly delighted look on his face that day (it’s a screwdriver not a holiday to Hawaii but whatever floats your boat, husband.)

What if I were to tell you, though, that before I had even booked the train tickets to Edinburgh for his birthday weekend away this year, before he’d even given me the go ahead for the trip, I had already booked the afternoon tea. The confessions are coming out now and it’s starting to feel like therapy (or court.)

Colonnades Signet Library Edinburgh

This was to be our maiden visit to Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in my defence, ordinarily, I would have taken him out for a slap-up evening meal but with the risk of formal dinners clashing with performance times, afternoon tea seemed like a safer bet and always has a way of feeling like a celebration in itself no?

best afternoon teas Scotland

Still not convinced? My feeble arguments wouldn’t withstand the legal process but it is the outcome that matters and my motives aside, the outcome here was that Pumpkin loved it. Afternoon Tea at the Colonnades at the Signet Library in Edinburgh was anything but ordinary. And aside from cheeky bloggers trying to squeeze in extra scones in the name of spousal birthdays, there are a whole cohort of you, who I believe will be just as enamoured with the Signet Library Afternoon Tea as we were.

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Visiting the Golden Rock Temple, Myanmar

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The Road to Gold

A half an hour boat transfer, one hour car transfer, one hour domestic flight (that was ninety minutes late), followed by a three-hour taxi ride at the other end – and finally, embraced by the glowing arms of the evening sun, we had arrived. Add to this the recent spate of severe gastroenteritis that had afflicted one of us (unsurprisingly not the one penning the tale with the fuzzy retrospective warmth) and the journey seemed even more arduous.

what to see in Myanmar

Pumpkin has survived Delhi belly many a time but 2016’s Burma belly saw him at his most vulnerable, yet still he powered through our day-long marathon without even a hint of complaint or self-pity.

We had traversed the country to see the Golden Rock – but it struck me that mine had been next to me the entire time.

best of Myanmar Burma

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The CineKamari Open Air Cinema, Santorini

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The years might be advancing upon me but as things stand, I am nowhere near prepared to consider myself old. My eyes still sparkle when I see ice cream cones covered in rainbow sprinkles, I still have an irrational affection for all things Hello Kitty and whilst my friends are busy talking potty training and kitchen renovations, all I find myself dreaming about is my next African safari, my maiden voyage to Machu Picchu and that magical day I might finally see the pandas in China.

best outdoor cinemas

I am Peter Pan and whatever my date of birth may be, I still feel young at heart (though I suspect there have been many episodes in my life where Pumpkin would have been tempted to replace the word, “young” with “immature”.)

must sees in Santorini

As much as I hate to use the phrase, “my generation,” it is indeed mine that has grown up during some of the most formative and pivotal digital changes in recent times. When I started school, I was writing essays. No, really writing them. By the time I finished, they were all typed. In those year eight IT lessons, I had never even heard of the internet but by my last day, I was proficient at using it. For my 15th birthday, I wanted a Discman to replace my Walkman but ten years later, no one was using either and don’t even get me started on what ever happened to Napster, Will and Grace or Blockbuster video rental.

Santorini movie theater

One thing that has remained, however, throughout all these changing landscapes, has been the dinner and movie phenomenon.

Santorini highlights

The screens may have widened over the decades, the graphics clearer and the popcorn menu extended to nachos but the fact remains that whether you are 18 or 48, whether you grew up in the 1960s or 1990s, this particular life pleasure is timeless. For as long as there are boys and girls to woo, there will be dinners and there will be movies.

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A Ponta Delgada Travel Guide, Sao Miguel, The Azores

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It is Pumpkin who first peers out over the yacht-studded marina, the boats bobbing like origami ornaments in the late afternoon lull.

Azor Hotel room view

This time, it is the balcony of our new abode where he surrenders, a welcome change from the corner of the bathroom, where he and his Instagram husband comrades have been imprisoned many a time before, whilst their often self-absorbed blogging wives photograph the room from all angles. The “it’s for the blog” drone fails to inspire him, the “I need to tweet this” challenges his core beliefs on human needs.

Ponta Delgada hotel reviews

Quietly, he has the last laugh. He recalls why we have really come here, the depth of his sentiment swelling in comparison to the paucity of his conversation.

marina views Sao Miguel Island

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A Sunday Stroll at Virginia Water, Surrey

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For the benefit of my readers outside the UK, let me start by telling you that Surrey is a leafy county in the south-east of England and just outside London. Frequently cited as one of the most sought after regions of the country to live in, its proximity to the Big Smoke makes it prime property along the commuter belt.

VIrginia Water Surrey blog

Surrey’s sprawling suburban mansions see its streets filled with young families seeking reams of school choices and with green-fingered pensioners, deserving of a more serene retreat in their retirement. More personally, for me, it also happens to be where I spent most of my childhood, a county I pop back to every two or three weekends, usually when I am craving a fix of my Mum’s biriyani.

lake views Surrey

It wouldn’t be proper to describe Surrey as my former home, when candidly, in my somewhat clingy heart, it will always remain my other home.

day trips from London

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Tasty Tapas at Taste of London

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Since joining the blogosphere, trending hashtags have led me into a realm of annual festivities that I never would have imagined even existed.

Taste of London Blog Review

When the three words, “World Chocolate Day”, start appearing on everyone’s Twitter feeds, I can’t help but scroll through my gallery to see which of my decadent cocoa-filled treats I can upload before rummaging through my drawers at home for the remnants of an old Milka bar.

Spanish cookery demo

And when everyone starts sharing photos of pizza in honour of National Pizza Day, I allow myself to tuck into the doughy isosceles without even a glimmer of guilt.

Pintxos Tasting

On World Tapas Day however, by its very definition, one is compelled to dabble not in one treat but in dozens, from the meat to the veg, the savoury to the sweet and even a drop of vino, though like any good teetotaler, I make my spouse smile by reserving my glasses of Spanish whites for him.

Spanish wine Basque country

Far be it for me to spoil the party with a no-show and I am all about the cultural integration so with a series of other watered down excuses, I tried to conceal my excitement as I accepted an invitation to the Spanish Tourism Board’s #TastePintxos Event at the Taste of London Festival.

olive anchovy peppers

16 years in this city and not one previous visit to said foodie and restaurant festival?! Perhaps you can see why I stick to travel blogging and not food.

Spanish restaurants London

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