Posted in Travel

The Moments That Take Your Breath Away

I don’t often stop to think about how fortunate I am to be able to travel the world, to see all the places that I only used to read about in books, and to experience things that are on most people’s bucket list. I take for granted that I live in a city that in its own right is also a sought-after travel destination, as well as a place that allows me easy access to Europe and the rest of the world.

I admit to sometimes getting carried away by the social media hype, and sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get the perfect instagram shot, that what matters is immersing yourself in the moment and appreciating the opportunities that come your way.

I woke up at the unholy hour of 2 in the morning for our Capadoccia Hot Air Balloon excursion. The Turkish heat must have driven me temporarily insane because I became obsessed with the idea of taking the perfect photo, so I changed my outfit three times and spent at least half an hour curling my hair.

Our pick-up time was at 03:45 am and by 4:30 we arrived at a building where we were then sorted into groups. I was very excited to see that there were only four of us in our group and I thought, great, less photo-bombers. We then drove another half hour to Red Valley where the tour company was already setting up our balloon.

At this point it was nearing sunrise and I was getting quite frustrated. I’ve seen many photos of hot air balloons in Capadoccia and I knew the timing had to be right. It wouldn’t do to see it when the sun has risen completely. The whole experience is at its most dramatic during that glorious magical moment when the sun is just about to come up and the colours of the balloons are set against some of the most stunning backdrops you will ever see in your lifetime.

Needless to say I was nearly cursing as full daylight started to set in and everyone else’s balloon was up in the air except for ours. I didn’t want to hassle anyone because I certainly didn’t want them to take shortcuts and compromise our safety. I was not planning on falling off any hot-air balloons that day, that’s for sure. But I was becoming increasingly impatient and irritated from the wait, and I was even more annoyed when I saw a van full of people and was then told they were actually joining us in our basket.

I was also disappointed that, as I was going to actually be IN the balloon, I wouldn’t be able to have any photos with me in it. I was actually very briefly pissed that I wouldn’t have the chance to pose on some balcony somewhere while the balloons were floating up around me.

Thankfully I managed to get over myself and finally decided to stop being so damn pretentious and stupid and to just enjoy the moment.

And dear readers, what a moment it was.

Before I knew it I was climbing the basket and the pilots were blowing up the hot air balloon. We started ascending minutes later and if I had the time to think about what I was actually doing I probably would have been more scared. But as it was, all I could do was marvel at the view. I was too busy soaking in the wondrous feeling of being up in the sky, with the wind against my face, while I take in something that no camera would ever be able to capture.

The lesson here, guys, is that in this day and age where our self-esteem is directly proportional to the number of likes we receive on Facebook, its important to remind ourselves of the reasons why we travel.

We travel to learn about different cultures, to experience the way other people live, and appreciate the fact that despite our differences we are all the same. We travel to fall in love with the people we meet and the places we see, and we travel to have fun.

But most of all, we travel for the moments that take our breath away.

Posted in Travel

Twilight Over Istanbul

Life doesn’t get any more surreal than when you’re cruising down the river that straddles and bridges the gap between two continents, and between two very different cultures.

I love travelling. I’ve left pieces of my heart in all the places I’ve been to and am looking forward to falling in love with the places I’ve yet to see. But I know for a fact that Istanbul, and Turkey as a whole, will always hold a special place in my heart.

For one thing, the people we met were so warm and hospitable. We booked our tour through Chora Travels who were kind enough to arrange all the pick-ups, transfers and domestic flights for us on top of booking all our hotels.

The Turkish people also had a unique sense of humour and an innate playfulness that I didn’t really expect. For example, our driver was chatty and kind enough to tell me that apparently there were a lot of Filipino women working for the hammam places. Thank you. That’s good to know if I ever want or need a career change.

Our hotel could not be closer to the Hagia Sophia if it tried, any closer and we’d actually be in Sultahnamet Square. Although we arrived really late due to stupid European air restrictions they welcomed us with warm smiles and hospitable greetings. They even booked our sunset Bosphorus cruise for us before bringing our bags to our room.

Restaurants open until late in Istanbul on a Friday night. As the owner told us when we asked about closing times, he’ll close when people stop coming to his doors for a meal or when he feels like it. What a marvellously relaxed way of running a business. He gave us free baklava, cocktails with sparklers on it and a cup of Turkish tea that just hit the spot in all the best ways.

When I was in high school my social studies project involved making a replica of the Hagia Sophia. At the time all I knew of it was that it represented wisdom, and that it was the bane of my life as I was born without the artistic gene. So I was really looking forward to visiting this church to see how my art project measured up. Newsflash: it doesn’t even come close to capturing the opulence and beauty of the original.

I love Istanbul’s history. I love the blend of Christian and Muslim influences and how in an almost strange way the city has made that dichotomy something to be celebrated. You can see elements of both in Hagia Sophia’s interior.

We also briefly visited the Blue Mosque, which was an actual working mosque and thus was closed to the public during prayer times. Having briefly experienced what it felt like to be all covered up in that blistering heat I can now empathise and sympathise with those who are obliged to wear it out of respect for their culture and religious belief. More power to you, I don’t know how you do it.

My second favourite part of our blitzed tour through the city was the Basilica Cistern. Its always fascinated me, especially since I read and then saw Dan Brown’s Inferno. Spoiler alert: they’ve taken out all the water so the term “sunken palace” doesn’t necessarily apply anymore but damn it didn’t take away from the atmospheric feel of the place.

Something you must experience at least once in your life and then NEVER EVER AGAIN is to ride the Istanbul tram at rush hour. It gives new meaning to the term “being one with humanity”. Believe me, there’s nothing like being pressed up against a stranger’s armpit to create the illusion that unity can be achieved in this world.

There’s always that one moment when visiting another country where the inevitable disappointment sets in because reality doesn’t quite live up to the pictures. The Galata Tower is one such experience. Sometimes I think Instagram has both enhanced and ruined travelling for everyone.

On one hand its great to be able to see other people’s travel photos and draw inspiration from it, but sometimes when a place becomes so instagrammable that its filled to the brim with tourists that you can hardly see the structure or take a decent photo yourself I curse all our addiction to social media.

By far the best moment of the tour was taking a cruise down the Bosphorus. Istanbul is the city where East meets West, where Europe ends and Asia begins, and that’s reflected in everything from the food to the architecture. On one hand you get beautiful minarets and lighted mosques, on the other hand its also really easy to find and order spaghetti bolognese.

Watching the sunset over such a beautiful city, and seeing it with the lights shining bright, is something truly spectacular to behold. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the distinct skyline, and of the Galata Bridge when the cover of night takes away the dirt and grime that would normally be visible in the light of day.

To add icing to the cake you are then able to get a delicious meal of mixed grills and kebabs for the hefty price of 70 Turkish liras, which is like 5 GBP.

Yum!!!

There’s so much more to see in Istanbul. In hindsight I should have stayed at least two full days not only so that we can see everything but also because the heat takes a lot out of you so you feel exhausted a lot of the time.

A city is only as good as the people who live in it, and going back to what I said at the beginning, I have never met a group of people who were so eager and willing to please. People who work in the tourism industry in Istanbul give everything they’ve got to making sure visitors have an awesome experience, and that, among other reasons is why I’m definitely going back to Istanbul someday.

Posted in Horror, Lifestyle, Travel

The Tower of Terror

A group of people go into an amusement park and plan what rides to go on. They decide, just for shits and giggles, to go on the scariest and most thrilling ride imaginable.

If there are 5 people in that group, you can bet your entire mortgage that 4 of them genuinely want to go on said ride. And then there’s that one sucker who’s been peer-pressured into it because FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

Being the sensible person that I am, I have never seen the value of paying big bucks to voluntarily put yourself in a room that’s been made to resemble an old elevator that will then drop over a hundred feet, simulating a free fall that once killed 5 people (or sent them into The Twilight Zone. Same thing).

Unfortunately, remember our friend who’s been peer-pressured into going on that ride? Yep. Most of the time, that friend is ME.

I am the sucker that inevitably finds herself clutching at the rails and asking myself, among other things, WHAT THE BLOODY HELL WAS I THINKING?

You know, when you’re strapped into a contraption that’s about to do a vertical drop of over a hundred feet, your life doesn’t quite flash before your eyes, but its a damn close thing.

So what was I thinking during those final moments before I plunge into certain death the bottom of the Tower of Terror? Let me illuminate you.

On the day of the BIG DAY:

Surely I don’t need to do this. My siblings and my cousin won’t disown me if I back out, after all we’re FAMILY.

When you see the windows of the tower opening and hear the god-awful screams:

Oh my god. What am I doing? Is it too late to back out?

When you realise what a Disney Fast Pass means:

Why are we jumping the queue?? I want to have time to contemplate my life before I go on this death trap.

When you’re ushered into the converted library for a video introduction:

Is it normal for my legs to feel like jelly?

When you see a little boy who’s about 5 years old excitedly waiting for the elevator shaft:

Seriously. Get a grip. Kids do this all the time, surely YOU – an ADULT – will be able to handle it.

5 minutes later:

Nope, no way. Kids obviously don’t know enough to make an informed decision. Theirs is the courage that comes from ignorance.

When the elevator shaft opens:

Oh God, I am going to pass out.

While strapping yourself into your seat:

Shit. Shit. Shit. SHHHHIIIIIIT.

When the ride starts moving:

Why? Why am I doing this?? Why the bloody hell am I doing this? Let me out!

When they “fake-drop” you:

Okay, that wasn’t too bad. I got this. I think I can handle this.

When they drop you FOR REAL:

Holy mother of Christ! Help me Jesus!!!!

When they drop you for the second time:

Go to your happy place. Go to your happy place. It will all be over soon.

When they drop you the third time:

Surely this must be over soon!

When the camera flashes to take a reaction photo:

You expect me to be photogenic at a time like this???

* What I actually managed was this masterpiece:

And when its over:

I will never do this again. Its hard to conceive of anything that will motivate me to ever go on this ride again. Perhaps if the fate of the Brexit negotiations rest on it. And even then, I still say Nigel Farage and the other fools can literally take the fall for me.

Posted in bloggers, fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery, Travel

Life Lessons From Hiking

After a hectic four-day trip to Vegas, my aunt took my sister and I to a 15 kilometre hike around Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.

I’ve always considered myself a city girl, and I will probably never live more than commutable distance away from a major city, like London. If I have it my way I will be renting my flat in Soho (for the same price!) until I die.

But for some reason I’ve developed a strange fascination for hiking around nature this year. I’ve discovered how much I love to just walk with no particular destination in mind, to soak in the views around me and allow it to soothe my often anxious and high-strung city soul.

You learn a lot when you’re somewhere with no mobile phone coverage or Wifi, especially when you’re running low on battery and can’t even listen to music on your Spotify. In that instant, its just you and nature and whoever happens to be hiking with you (my family, in this case).

I’d like to share some of those lessons in the hopes that, like me, you find the time to get away from it all for a while and have the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures (and lessons!) of hiking.

Be prepared.

I’m very vain, and my instagram is filled to the brim with photos of me in various outfits. But there’s no room for vanity around nature. You have to be prepared for rain, sunshine, mud, water and whatever elements Mother Nature decides to throw your way.

For me, this really is a metaphor for life, and its something that I should really be sorting out now that I’m in my 30s. No one wants to think too hard about things like insurance and savings when life’s a party, but you can sure as hell guarantee they’ll be thinking about it when the challenges start pouring in like rain.

Disconnect and Unplug.

I’ve already blogged once about my increasing disillusion with social media, and yet I find myself still posting on Facebook and Instagram time after time after time. Its like I’ve been conditioned to think that anything I do in life is not worthwhile unless its validated by my “followers” in the form of likes.

Be honest. How often do you look around when you’re on holiday to find that you and your friends are all on your phones, racing to be the first to upload photos or post an Instagram story? Or wasting time trying to get the perfect shot that you fail to soak in the beautiful piece of the world that you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in?

Yesterday I had a phone that was dying and was without a Power-bank for a change. I also didn’t have mobile data or Wifi coverage. And I think it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me on this trip. To just be able to enjoy the experience without feeling the need to update the rest of the world about what I was doing, to really BE in the moment, was a gift.

I think for the rest of this trip I will try to be on airplane mode more often.

Put one foot in front of the other

I think of myself as a reasonably fit individual but I have to say I had reservations about the 15km hike, especially when I realised that a) there won’t be a toilet for miles and b) the trail will naturally have uphill, downhill and (did I mention?) uphill portions.

It requires stamina and good breath control, sure. But one should never underestimate the power of the mind. If you psych yourself out by thinking of all the ways it could go wrong, or decide that you’ll never make it before you even try, you’ll miss out on an incredible experience.

There were times during the hike that I thought a particularly challenging trail would never end, but eventually it evens out, and before I knew it I’ve made it to the finish line. It’s a lot like life, you really just need to keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other until you make it.

Breathe

I live in a city where life is so fast-paced that you wake up on Friday not knowing where the rest of the week had gone. I’ve built a career and most days I find that I actually love my job, but it does account for at least 30% of my overall stress and anxiety.

I attended a talk once where the speaker said that stress is really just a series of tasks that you need to do. You’re stressed because you’ve either procrastinated so much that tasks have piled up, or you’ve set unrealistic goals in the first place.

I’ll add to that and say you get stressed because you forget to sit still and just breathe. This hike was extremely taxing, but there were periods when we stopped to catch our breath, relax, enjoy the scenery and work up to getting our second wind.

Life should be like that. You should be able to press pause and look out for your physical and mental health. I think one of the things I could definitely do when I get back to London is to work less extra shifts and have more time for me. Since getting back from Australia I feel like the energiser bunny that just keeps going and going and going. I feel like I never have enough time to breathe, to just BE.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Nothing’s so important that you lose your health and yourself over it.

The journey is the destination

Finally, and I know this is such a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason. Winnie the Pooh once said:

We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

We spend so much time worrying about where we’re going and what we’re going to do when we get there that we don’t stop to appreciate the journey.

I didn’t even realise we were nearing the end of the trail until my aunt pointed it out to me. I was having so much fun exploring the beauty of one of Oregon’s most beautiful state parks that I didn’t realise we’d walked 15 kilometres.

Whatever you do in this life, enjoy it. Make memories, make friends, try new things, push yourself. At the end of the day, where you go and when you get there won’t be as important as HOW you get there.

Posted in bloggers, Celebrities, Food, Lifestyle, Travel

Etiquette for Meeting Celebrities AKA What NOT to Do When Meeting Gordon Ramsay

While in Vegas, one does hope to meet celebrities of a certain calibre. Its almost a given. I mean, in the time that my sister and I stayed at the MGM Grand they hosted the Latin Grammy Awards and I am still convinced that I rode the lift with Jennifer Lopez (apparently it was a very convincing impersonator but whatever).

Anyway, I’m sure most of us would like to see celebrities but are we really fully prepared in the event that such a momentous occasion actually occurs?

Never fear, I am here to tell you exactly how to increase the likelihood of meeting one, what to expect, what to do and what not to to do. Are you ready for this?

First of all, its all about location, location, location.

If you want to see celebrities, be where the action’s happening. Do research. Where do they eat? What nightclubs do they frequent? In this world obsessed with social media its not hard to engage in some low-key stalking.

Or if you’re like me and you find the thought of doing the above ludicrous, then maybe just choose a nice restaurant with no hope, and no agenda, just the intention of enjoying a nice meal with your family, and wait for miracles to happen.

In our case, we chose to eat at Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas.

The casino itself was so opulent, it truly boggles the mind. Where else but in Vegas will you find yourself trying your luck on slot machines located at the base of the Eiffel Tower under a very convincing facade of a Parisian sky?

Anyway, I am now of the opinion that the difference between eating at say, McDonald’s, and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant is in the service. Instead of the sullen person in front of the till asking you if you wanted hash browns to go with your Egg McMuffins, you get personalised service, constant attention and GET THIS, an actual live meat presentation instead of an ordinary humdrum menu.

I have never had wagyu rib cap before and I probably won’t be able to afford to do so anytime soon, but can I just take the time to say this was absolutely delicious? Steak. Heaven.

Second, always have a celebrity-worthy outfit.

I mean, you have to dress up in Vegas anyway. Its almost a requirement. I got to Vegas and I felt underdressed and low maintenance for the first time in my life. They take dressing up to a whole new level.

What you mustn’t do is wear a jumpsuit that requires another person, like your sister for example, to fasten it. See Exhibit A below.

Because believe me, you will find yourself abandoned with the zipper and buttons at the back only half done-up, because said sibling has abandoned you in the toilet after your aunt has made the pronouncement that Gordon freakin’ Ramsay is in the restaurant.

You will then find yourself trying desperately not to have a wardrobe malfunction in front of one of the most famous chefs in the world.

Thirdly, pay attention during the photo op.

Celebrities are busy busy people, and they have loads of fans to meet. In this case, Gordon Ramsay had to go around the entire restaurant, table by table, to give diners indigestion secondary to the sheer awe of meeting him.

What you must NOT do is be too excited and hyper that you develop tunnel vision and not realise who’s actually taking the photo. You must NOT ignore Chef when he tries to tell you to look at the camera so the photo can finally be taken.

But then again, the result of not following this rule is truly hilarious and priceless.

Here’s Chef, telling my beloved Di-ko to please, please, PLEASE, look at the camera madam.

(And also, my jumpsuit is holding up. Not a side-boob in sight, thank goodness).

Finally, enjoy the moment.

Celebrities are people too, and (surprise, surprise) when you engage them in conversation they will actually respond. I told Chef that we’d also just come from London, and he asked us where we lived and what we do. He even asked about the state of the NHS.

Sadly, he did not offer us a 20% discount on our meal so Nando’s, you’re still our favourite restaurant.

The whole experience was absolutely surreal, especially since we’ve been obsessed with watching Hell’s Kitchen reruns on Netflix this year.

I think my sister was tempted to ask Chef Ramsay to say “its raaaaawwwww” just to hear what it sounds like in person, but she didn’t want him to think we were stupid. I would have gone for it if I thought about it.

So there you go, everything you need to learn about celebrity sightings. All smiles and say cheese, everyone!

Posted in Travel

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

In an effort to save money, I decided to book our tickets to the States individually instead of purchasing all of them through a single airline.

Based on enthusiastic reviews from my friends, I booked Norwegian Airlines for our flight from London to Seattle, and a connecting flight with Alaskan Airlines to reach Portland, our final destination.

I then booked JetBlue for the domestic flight from Portland to Orlando, and Norwegian again from Orlando to London. All in all, it cost me 800£ to book all these flights instead of the 1300£ it would have cost me had I gone with my original plan to book United Airlines all the way through.

You know that saying about best-laid plans?

Well, five days before our scheduled departure to the States I got an email from our travel agent saying Norwegian has changed our destination airport from Seattle to LAX, which meant that we’d miss our connecting flight to Portland and they’d had to find alternative connections to get us there.

My carefully planned and well-budgeted 13-hour trip had now become a nightmarish 26-hour journey which consisted of me flying from London to LAX, LAX to San Francisco and from there to Portland. I was livid, to say the least.

I spent an entire evening being transferred from one agent to another, and I am convinced that at one point I was talking to someone from the Philippines. Not one of them could give me an alternative that I was happy with.

Fortunately, my aunt was planning for us to take a trip to Seattle anyway and had already booked hotels to that effect. So I had the option of telling the airlines that I’m happy with a flight that will get me to Seattle by Saturday (we were flying Friday morning, London time). Norwegian confidently offered me a flight that would get me to Seattle by Saturday evening, with only a 2-hour layover in LA, as our flight was apparently arriving Saturday afternoon.

I thought it was just me being stupid at first, but the more I thought about it the more sure I was that IT DOESN’T take 24 hours to get from London to LA, even if you factor in the time difference. Something did not feel right. And sure enough, Norwegian had made a bloody mistake and did not realise that there were more than 24 hours in between the two flights they’ve booked for us.

At this point I was ready to inflict actual damage on someone or something. It had already been a day of pointless conversations and phone charges, and it was clear to me that I had to take matters into my own hands if I wanted to survive this holiday without having a stroke.

What I lack in actual riches I truly make up for in friends.

I sent a quick Facebook message to my friends Kittin and Jamie who were based in LA, and within minutes I had someone who can pick me up from the airport and a place to stay overnight.

My sister and I landed in LA as planned and were given an awesome welcome. We got to see the sights and I got to have a catch-up session with my friends that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I haven’t seen Jamie since maybe college so there was so much to talk about.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a welcome in any city I go to, but I am really truly blessed when it comes to friends.

The next morning I found myself on the drive that overlooks the Hollywood sign and I thought to myself: things really do happen for a reason. I need to send Norwegian a thank-you card for fucking up my flights (excuse my language) because it gave me a truly amazing additional side-trip.

And yes, I would even fly with them again.

Posted in bloggers, Travel, Writing

Still Alive, People

Hi guys,

Just writing something short and quick to say I haven’t given up on blogging but I have been away on a three-week trip to the Philippines and Australia. Its been difficult to find the time to write something but I’m back now with plenty to write about.

I’ve learned so much about myself and about life in general while I’ve been gone and I will have plenty to blog about for the foreseeable future. I really want to get it right though, because the things I want to write about mean a lot to me, so I’m taking my time and really reflecting on the things I want to say.

Hope everyone’s enjoyed the epic British summer we had this year. I have to say though, I’m quite looking forward to chill Autumn nights and sleeping in when Winter comes. With that said, I’ve just been told I’ve celebrated one year with WordPress, so I’d like to thank everyone who’ve stuck with me for all the seasons, it means more than I am capable of saying.

Watch this space, blabbaholics and bookworms! x