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.
When you've over indulged in the food department, you…attempt to compensate in pursuit of cultural exploration?! Now that's a warped argument if ever there was one but I've been on the UNESCO trail as my time in India comes to an end, including the magnificent Humayun's Tomb. One more sleep till some luxurious beach time!
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.
"That's me in the corner. That's me in the spotlight." My favourite song of all time by my favourite band of all time. Except, it's sunlight rather than a spotlight. And I'm not losing my religion, I'm finding my calling, my passions, my aspirations & purpose, the fuel that lights my fire. Exploring & travelling, helping others & writing, living both in the moment & for it & most importantly of all, never taking for granted the precious moments & priceless opportunities that come my way. #ForeverGrateful
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.
5 years since I first wore this purple & gold number that weighs more than most newborn babies. It was outfit 3 of 3 on our special day (I did tell you Indian weddings are never just one outfit) but this year, I got to do something most brides don't & managed to wear it again!! And details of why are up on the blog. #weddinganniversary
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.
For most of my blogging life, I have had a tradition of sharing a nostalgic post about our honeymoon to coincide with our wedding anniversary week. This year, I fell behind so you'll have to hear about the spice plantation tour in Zanzibar some other time but in the meantime, I did end up blogging about someone else's wedding?!? It seems my content & posting schedule are about as random, impulsive & last minute as my travel plans! Watch this space!
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.
If you happen to have seen my Insta feed or stories yesterday, you'll know that I took Pumpkin on a surprise UK adventure yesterday as a very belated birthday treat. Why make such an effort you ask? Well, the last 3 gifts I've "treated" him to included ketchup, Marmite & a pizza cutter so you could say that this was long overdue! We couldn't have chosen a better weather day to have ended up at this world renowned restaurant of Alain Roux's Waterside Inn. 1 dinner, 3 Michelin stars, around 11 courses & 3 hours later, I was pretty stuffed! Now time for the in-room brekky!
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.
Oh Windsor, you're so pretty even with the crowds. After checking out from the Waterside Inn, we hopscotched down the road to Windsor in the naive hope that on a Monday, we might be among that few that do. In actual fact, it was a sunny ☀ day during Easter holidays so we may have misjudged that. But they're so on the ball at handling large groups so after just a 20 minute queue (& a long gaze at the portrait of Queenie with her great-grandchildren trying to figure out which kiddie was which), we made it inside the castle for the first time. It's VERY impressive!
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 😊
One last pre bedtime pic from me showcasing all the lovely touches that comprise a typical Bulgarian Easter, which include the hand painted eggs left for us by the sweet hotel staff here 🥚🥚 & this very traditional Bulgarian Easter bread known as Kozunak, only found at this time of year & filled with raisins, nuts & candied peel. I was feeling pretty smug with myself for not eating even a single chocolate egg this year…but that was soon offset by the guilt I'm feeling about carb loading on this instead! But then again, who am I to offend the Bulgarians at Easter time right?! 😉
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.
When I was a child, my Dad went on a work trip to Berlin & brought me back a souvenir snow globe of the Brandenburg Gate. I loved it & felt such excitement watching the sparkles rise & fall as I turned it upside down, its charm heightened further by virtue of the fact that this was a monument I had never visited & a country whose history I'd been avidly learning at school. Today, there may not have been any sparkles & it certainly wasn't suspended in water but it was still glorious seeing it in person, just as a burst of blue sky peeped through the temperamental clouds. Who knew this weekend's #CheapFlightsChallenge would be filled with such nostalgia?!
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?!
I can't draw or paint or sculpt. You get the gist. My one & only art-related party trick is being able to draw an upright cat entirely out of semi circles & triangles, which I learned on a TV show when I was 9 (& which Pumpkin didn't think looked anything like a cat when I showed him!) I don't have an artistic bone in my body essentially – so this stuff in Berlin just blows my mind. Everyone who finds street art intriguing (however little or much they may know about it) should go 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.
I sometimes get asked when I'm "planning to stop travelling", as if it's some kind of onerous task I'm obliged to participate in. I try & think of a more polite way of paraphrasing the phrase, "errr, when I stop breathing." But whilst there will always be people who judge others' choices & lifestyles, I consider myself fortunate to have some amazing friends & family, who not only support my travels but actively encourage them & in some cases, even plan them!! My talented artist friend @lincolnshiremarbledart is a great example, since it was her trip to the Azores that put it on my radar & her tips were so helpful that I didn't buy a guide book for the first time in yonks!
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.
My first visit back to Scotland in 7 years & the sun has decided to blaze brightly above us the entire day. What a fabulous vibe & climate for our first time at the Fringe Festival. 1 live show done, 2 more to go as well as several other birthday surprises for my special someone. Sorry it took me so long to return, Scotland – you sure are proving what a mistake that was! #edfringe
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.
Culture vulturing the bird's eye way this weekend with last night's views sought from the cabin of a Ferris wheel, today's from the heights of Edinburgh Castle & one more aerial viewpoint lined up tomorrow. Hmmm, I wonder how likely it is that a couple of hundred steps here & there have negated the copious food consumption we have been guilty of this weekend…
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 ever come to Russia to explore, you cannot & must not miss the Hermitage. If you're alteady a fully fledged, art-savvy culture vulture, then you won't need any convincing of that but even if you're not, even if you don't normally consider yourself an arts person, a museum person, a guided tour person or even if you're not normally a city break person, the Hermitage will blow your mind with room upon room of opulence & mystery. We spent 4 hours there & barely scratched the surface but it's a place that has to be seen to be believed & whilst pictures can't do it justice, I'm having a go regardless.
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.
Back in the UK with the post holiday blues but as potent as they are, they're no match for the Catherine's Palace blues, which was our final port of call in Russia. For a destination I had known so little about (aside from what I was taught in high school history,) I can't even begin to tell you how captivating it was to visit. If you've never thought about Russia as a wish-list destination, it's time to grab that pen & start re-drafting! #NoFilterNeededForThisBeauty
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.
Absolutely. No. Filters. After a brief stint in Manila, we've commenced our island hopping fortnight in the Philippines & our 1st stop is Boracay. So many people told me not to visit Boracay, citing it to be over crowded, dirty & too touristy. As you can see, sometimes, it pays to make up your own mind about the destinations you want to visit & the patch of coastline we're on is nothing short of paradise. #NoFiltersNeeded
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!
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.
After a flight delay on our Manila to Doha journey last night, followed by a longish queue at immigration, we finally arrived @icdohathecity Qatar in a dazed & dozey state but nothing wakes you up from jet lag quite like being told that you've been upgraded to a suite & walking into said suite to see this festive edible garden! The "plant pots" were made of chocolate, filled with blackforest mousse & topped with fresh fruits & chocolate shards but I was already full by the time I got to them after munching away at the crushed choccy biscuit soil on which the plants were laid. It's safe to say that life is both suite & sweet right now here in Doha 😊
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.
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.
I want to say something about symmetry & halves & oblong skies but it's Sunday morning under the quilt after a 6 course meal so the writer's part of my brain isn't functioning at all. If you're curious about the whereabouts of this Totem pole & what surrounds it though, then head over to whywasteannualleave.com, where you'll find a whole spiel from when that part of my brain (hopefully!) was functioning.
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!
If you want examples of inspiring women & role models in the world of sport & more specifically, cricket, you only need to look at the teams in this weekend's #WomensWorldCup final & most definitely NOT at my own performance at Lord's when former England international, Matthew Hoggard, tried to teach me the basics. After a shocking hit rate every time the ball came my way, I asked him if he'd ever coached anyone worse than me, to which he replied, "yes my son…….when he was 4!" #Mortificado!😩 But a true gentleman despite the banter & so grateful for the opportunity & that my sidekick @londonkiwiemma didn't judge me too much!
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!