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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The Fairytale of New York at Christmas Time

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If I am not at home for Christmas, then there is only one place I would rather be and that, my festive friends, is New York City.

New York travel blog

Actually, who am I kidding? The truth is that I could (and do) proclaim the same any time of year, regardless of whether spring daffodils pepper my garden or whether the sturdy heel of my oh-so-unglamorous-but-ultra-comfy black boots trample the auburn fall foliage beneath with crispy aplomb.

Empire State Building blue lighting

Empire State of Christmas

Many of you may already be familiar with that (my love for New York I mean, not my ugly boots), since I have attested to it before many a time on this blog; but I myself remain puzzled as to where I acquired such an innate affection for a city I have never lived in and have been to just three times (four if you count a trip as a toddler).

New York Public Library Christmas Tree

New York Public Library

One can’t help but postulate whether in some former life, perhaps New York City was home, maybe it was the scene of an epic romance that I was privy to or perhaps the universe has plans to transport me there more permanently one day in this life… (wishful thinking but a girl can dream!)

NYC at Christmas travel guide

Christmas Light Displays in NYC

When I eventually win that Euro Millions jackpot or when NYC hotels come even within sniffing range of the term “affordable”, then I will make it an annual ritual to hop on board that trans-Atlantic flight. (For a great little Manhattan boutique hotel, check out my review of Cassa Times Square)

Cassa Hotel Times Square Lobby

Cassa Hotel Times Square

Until then though, I cherish the sporadic visits I make every few years, each time arriving on the streets of Manhattan with the kind of fresh-faced, enchanted glint in my eyes that would convince you I had never travelled outside my own house, let alone to the bright lights of the Big Apple.

New York at Christmas travel blog

New York City at Christmas Time

My previous visits to New York have always fallen in summer or autumn months and last year, just before we headed on board a Caribbean cruise in December, we took advantage of the timing to experience NYC at Christmas time. The Pogues & Kirsty McColl’s Fairytale in New York has long been  my favourite Christmas song (and not because it has New York in the title!) but I could never understand how a song that sounds so uplifting when it blares from the radio speakers could be filled with such grumpy undertones and words like “scumbag…maggot…cheap lousy…”

Christmas in New York City

At Christmas time though, the fairy tale of New York becomes a most apparent reality. The already heavily illuminated city becomes over-charged with shimmering shop displays and towering Christmas trees; ice rinks with picture-perfect backdrops that we know and love from countless Hollywood movies open up, where couples glide along hand in hand and children lurking beneath bobbled-woolly hats cart ahead of the parents tentatively grabbing the rails.

Christmas activities NYC

Bryant Park Ice Rink

Markets are brimming with jovial tradesman, who serve belly-warming snacks in quintessentially American-sized portions to keep visitors well-fuelled for the Arctic temperatures of a New York winter – or at least, that’s what normally happens but we lucked out by arriving during one of the warmest winter week’s in New York history!

Bryant Park Christmas Market New York

Bryant Park Winter Village

There are thousands of attractions in NYC even for the repeat visitor and 3 adult trips to NYC later, I have barely scratched the neon surface but for today’s post, I wanted to show you the sights and locations where I felt most festive and where the spirit of Christmas in New York City came most alive. I must thank Carolann and Cass, for the helpful insider tips they gave me before I went.

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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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