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A trip to Marrakech is impossible without visiting Majorelle Garden, a serene oasis inside city walls and the final resting place of Yves Saint Laurent.

To me, Marrakech is all about colour. Reds, oranges, yellows and blues. You cannot travel anywhere within Marrakech without being amazed at all the colour that surrounds you. It’s no surprise that when Jacques Majorelle made Marrakech his home in the 1920’s that he painted his studio home a vibrant blue, taking influence from all over Marrakech.

Majorelle Garden - Majorelle Painting Studio

Jacques Majorelle and I have something in common- the love of this strong, deep and intense shade of blue. The colour became so renowned with the garden that it was trademarked Bleu Majorelle shortly before his death.

A true colour explosion

The Marrakech colour scheme (as I like to call it!) is also interpreted throughout Majorelle Garden. Vivid, bright, contrasting colours perfectly matched with cacti, bamboo and water fountains in the 2.5 acre gardens tucked away in Rue Yves Saint Laurent.

Majorelle Garden - Colour Explosion

The garden was eventually open to the public in 1947 to help with the growing costs. Forty years of passion and dedication by Jacques Majorelle until his death in 1962 resulted in his greatest masterpiece featuring plants from all five continents. A staggering 300 different plant species now feature. 

Majorelle Garden - Water Lily Pond

Majorelle Garden - Palm Trees

Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé discovered Majorelle Garden in 1966, during their first stay in Marrakech and fell in love with this little slice of paradise. After hearing that the garden and villa may be sold to a real estate developer in the 1980’s to be turned into a hotel complex, they bought it!

Over the years, they restored the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle.”  They have truly delivered on this.

Majorelle Garden - Walkway

When Yves passed away in 2008, his ashes were scattered within the rose garden of Villa Oasis and a memorial built within the garden. Designed around a Roman pillar which was brought from Tangier and set on a pedestal with a plate bearing his name for the public to pay their respects.

Majorelle Garden - Yves Saint Laurent Memorial

Serene and Secluded

There is a stark contrast between the hectic city medina and the garden. You are transported to an oasis inside city walls. A secret garden as such. One which I didn’t want to leave. It’s no wonder that this is the most visited “tourist” attraction in Marrakech.

Majorelle Garden - Idillic Canopy

When you enter the garden, an impressive cacti collection catches your eye in the distance. Jacques Majorelle adored cacti, respecting this, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé continued to expand the collection, which today includes about thirty members of the cactus family.

Majorelle Garden - Cacti

Majorelle Garden - Cacti overlooking fountain

Walking along admiring the cacti (and resisting the urge to touch them!) the glorious Majorelle Blue square fountain overlooking the studio is a wonderful location to soak up your surroundings.

Majorelle Garden - Cactus Close Up

Galerie Love 

Tucked away within the grounds of the garden is Galerie Love, a tiny room which houses the entire collection of Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Love Cards’. From 1970 until 2000, he created a card every year to send to his friends and clients to celebrate the New Year. Bold and colourful, he showed his appreciation with a single word- love.

Naturally, I had to hunt out the year I was born- 1982. A beautiful seascape.

Berber Museum

Majorelle’s original studio has been transformed into a museum which is dedicated to Berber culture, housing the personal Berber collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Items displayed show the diversity of Berber traditional skills – whether in wood, leather, pottery, metalwork, or basket weaving – all demonstrate the variety of craftsmanship. I was particularly enamored with all the jewels and their exquisite craftsmanship.

No matter your location whether it be the pavilion, the water-lily pool, the palm trees or en route to the museum, as soon as you hear birds chirping and the smell of exotic plants as the wind blows you’ll soon realize you are in a truly magical place and never want to leave.

Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle)
Rue Yves Saint Laurent
Marrakech, Morocco
Web: jardinmajorelle.com

Opening times
October 1 – April 30: 8 am – 5:30 pm
May 1 – September 30: 8 am – 6 pm
The month of Ramadan: 9 am – 5 pm

Admission
Garden: 70 Dhs (around £5)
Museum: 30 Dhs (around £2)

At just over an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, The Atlas Mountains transport you into another world with breathtaking views, tranquil surroundings and the undeniably friendly Berber hospitality. 

At the tail end of last year, I was whisked away to Marrakesh as a guest of the Moroccan Tourist Board to experience what this North African country has to offer. It was my first time visiting Morocco and with the country only being a 4 hour direct flight away from Glasgow, it was a no brainer location to escape the freezing temperatures. 

With a jam-packed itinerary mapping out our 4 day adventure, one stood out the most for me- The Atlas Mountains. I had heard about these mountains in the past from my father. He had previously visited Marrakech with work but was unable to visit them at the time. The downfall? A walk in the mountains, me? The panic set in. How big a walk would this be? Would I be able to cope? I’m not fit in the slightest. It’s going to be a challenge!

With equal excitement and dread, the group all bundled into our mini van for the 90 minute trip watching the bright lights of Marrakech fade away before being met with desert, cacti and Berbers along the road side with their mules and carts. 

Atlas Mountains- Marrakech- Mosque

Our destination?

We were heading for Imlil Village, 1,740 metres above sea level. Imlil Village is the main starting point for any trek on the Atlas Mountains. A quaint little village, local Berbers are accustomed to tourists from all over the world congregating in the village. Previously, the villages main source of income was agriculture but over the years, tourism has overtaken this. 

Atlas Mountains- Marrakech- Mountain Houses

In Scotland, we need to make the most of a sunny day. As my dad is currently over from Paris for a few weeks, we thought that we would make the most of the giant shiny thing in the sky and go on a little road trip along with the dog, Bobby (the dog formerly known by the code name Doggy Dog).

When we set off on Sunday morning, we weren’t 100% sure where we’d end up as we had no set plans. As my mom was driving, we left it up to her to decide. Ayr Beach it was. Located on the western coastline of Ayrshire in the south-west of Scotland, it has been recognized as one of the best beaches in Scotland. Yes, we have beaches here. Sadly, we rarely have hot sunny days. 

Ananyah- Road Trip Adventures- Bobby at Ayr Beach

& to make it even better, it’s a dog friendly beach. Clearly it got a paw of approval from Bobby himself!

I first heard about Maître Choux on Twitter after one of my followers retweeted an article about the newly opened shop. The pictures of their eclairs, choux and chouquettes sold the deal for me. I was definitely going to make the trip to buy some fluffy pieces of heaven.

Brainchild of Joakim Prat, he has a rather impressive Michelin starred resume and has been working with choux pastry for over 15 years. Joakim came to London to work as Head Chef for Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier, then went on to Mayfair’s The Greenhouse. He also held the same position at Can Fabes in Barcelona, which has resulted in making Maître Choux the only UK pastry shop with a three Michelin star experienced chef.

Only a few minutes from the underground station, Maître Choux is situated in the, what seems to be, the French Quarter of South Kensington. Perfect location for a French patisserie. It was the last day of our trip to London and I was adamant that I was going to buy some goodies to take back to Glasgow so that my mom, fellow member of the chocolate eclair appreciation society could try one. Or two. 

Walking along Harrington Road, we weren’t quite sure if we were in the right location but then I spotted the unique colourful shop front and the wonderful full length glass window giving passers by a rather tempting glimpse of the full array of eclairs they offer. Swoon.

Maître Choux- Shop Front

When we entered Maître Choux, a friendly waitress offered us a warm chouquette while browsing and Ross ordered a Monmouth coffee espresso. My little beady eyes instantly spotted pistachio eclairs and choux. Boy did they look good. In fact, everything did!

Maître Choux sell eclairs and choux in a range of flavours- Pure Arabica Coffee, Spanish Raspberry Pink, Italian Lemon Meringue, Persian Pistachio, Tahitian Vanilla and Pecan, Salted Butter with Homemade Caramel, Very Dark Multi-Origin Chocolate, Violet and Wild Berries and lastly Tiramisu.

Maître Choux- Eclairs

Maître Choux- Choux

After much debate, we settled on a box containing Tahitian Vanilla and Pecan, Very Dark Multi-Origin Chocolate, Pure Arabica Coffee, Italian Lemon Meringue and two Persian Pistachio. I may have also purchased a Persian Pistachio choux thrown in for good measure to eat while walking around South Kensington.

Maître Choux- Eclair Purchases

At around £5 for an eclair and just over £3 for choux, they aren’t cheap by any measure. However, if you look at the list of high quality ingredients, time, effort and design that goes into each individual pastry, it is well worth it.

They transported well back on the plane to Glasgow and I’m led to believe that it was their first time ever on an aeroplane! I’m also happy to report that they tasted as good as they looked. My favourite, other than the Persian Pistachio, was Pure Arabica Coffee. Delicious.

Maître Choux- Persian Pistachio Eclair

After a few bites, they were all gone. Now I’m back to my eclair-less existence. It’s a dark dark place.If you’re in London, make sure you add Maître Choux to your go-to list. You won’t regret it!

Maître Choux
15 Harrington Road
London, SW7 3ES
Tel: 020 3583 4561
Web: http://www.maitrechoux.com

After flying into London City Airport, making our way into Central London to leave our luggage at Kings Cross Station, it was definitely time for some well deserved food. We had plans to go see Wicked that evening so we needed something substantial that would fill us up, keeping the hunger monsters at bay. Honest Burgers did just that.

Ross had raved about Honest Burgers as he previously had one of their special burgers, onion rings and chicken wings while he was in town for the London Coffee Festival and was adamant that I should try it.

Even though they have Honest Burgers Locations dotted all over London, trusty Google Maps ensured us that it was only a stone’s throw away from Kings Cross. My tired sore feet were rejoicing. Being a Bank Holiday, we weren’t quiet sure if they’d be open but luckily they were and were able to get a table without any difficultly. A rare occurrence in London for the most part.

The menu is petite, pretty much like the restaurant, but the food sure does pack a punch. I opted for the Tribute Burger (£10) after playing a game of eenie meenie miney mo. My burger was topped with bacon (naturally, you can never have too much bacon, as long as it’s crispy!), American cheese, burger sauce, French’s mustard, onions, pickles and lettuce. Ross decided to try the namesake Honest Burger (£10) which was topped with red onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, picked cucumber and lettuce. Our waitress asked if we’d like our burgers medium, definitely. It’s the best way to enjoy a burger in my opinion.

What I love about Honest Burgers (other than the great ingredients they use) is that all burgers come with fries. Not just any fries though, skin-on rosemary fries. It’s a nuisance at times having to order separate fries, or should I say actually remember to. As we were starving and my boyfriend is a human dustbin, we also got BBQ Chicken Wings and Onion Rings on the side.

Honest Burgers, Kings Cross, London

We didn’t have to wait long before our food was in front of us. First impressions? It looked rather inviting with the cheese oozing down the sides. Oh boy. I’m currently salivating. 

Upon first bite, the burger was full of flavour. You could taste the fresh ingredients and as I was battling to not let the cheese drip onto my white t-shirt, I proclaimed that this was the best burger I had ever tasted. High praise indeed. I may have had my mouth full of juicy burger goodness at said time as well. The beef did all the talking, the combination of toppings were icing on the burger cake. It was divine. A joy to eat. 

Honest Burgers, Kings Cross, London- Tribute Burger and Rosemary Fries

A little pet peeve of mine is when burger restaurants ask how you’d like your burger cooked and what you get in front of you is not what you asked for. If they state that their burgers come medium or even recommend it themselves, ensure it is medium and not well done. Luckily, Honest Burgers get it right. It was perfectly pink.

Honest Burgers, Kings Cross, London- Tribute Burger

Mid burger munch, I tried the skin-on rosemary fries. Perfectly seasoned, these fries were crisped to perfection. Marvellous. Not too crispy, not too limp. I loved the addition of rosemary which was different to the norm you’d get at other burger outlets. I couldn’t get enough of them. Cheesy thumbs up from me!

Sadly, I was a little let down with the rings and wings, which I hate to admit. As I bit into an onion ring, it was rather watery which in turn made them slightly flavourless. The BBQ Chicken Wings on the other hand were nice but a little underwhelming compared to the burgers. I adore chicken wings, but I just can’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong with them, maybe the tangy sweet BBQ sauce?

My boyfriend who has ordered both of these sides in the past even admitted himself that they were “different” this time. Both were edible but not as rememberable as the burger. 

Honest Burgers, Kings Cross, London- BBQ Chicken Wings

It’s hard to fault a place when the staff are so friendly, attentive & always had a smile of their faces. I loved the décor and the chilled out relaxed vibe. Prices weren’t as expensive as I thought they were going to be and unlike some places I’ve eaten in, there was no rush to get you out the door as soon as you had finished your food. The food, for the most part, was superb hence the high overall score and I would honest-ly (heh!) go back in a heartbeat.

Now if only they’d open in Glasgow…. until then, see you soon Honest Burgers

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Growing up in the Middle East exposed me to Lebanese and Gulf Arabic food. I instantly fell in love with dishes such as falafel, tabouli, kebbeh, shawarma, fatayer and machboos laham to name a few. When I moved back to Scotland, it soon became apparent that I would find it rather hard to get my hands on my favourite food.

Ahead of my current trip to London with Ross, I asked my twitter followers for Lebanese restaurant suggestions. Noura Restaurant spotted my tweet and invited me to dine at their Belgravia restaurant. After checking our their menu, reviews and realising it was only a short journey away from our hotel, we booked a table. 

We were welcomed by owner Hani Bou Antoun who talked us through the extensive menu. In the end, I left it to Hani to choose our dishes as quite frankly, I couldn’t choose. Hani picked some popular dishes for us a try and it turned into a feast! To complement our dishes, Hani suggested we try his favourite Lebanese Wine, Ixsir Grande Reserve Red 2010. The wine is a mixture of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, perfect to accompany red meat. 

Our waiter brought us a bowl of crudités to snack on along with a basket of fresh Lebanese bread which they make in-house. Not quite sure how lady like it is to snack on a whole cucumber and tomato in public though!

Not before long, our selection of hot and cold mezze started appearing at the table as and when they were ready. It didn’t take long for our table to be overloaded. Everything looked too good to eat and smelt wonderful. 

The first dishes we tried were the cold mezze; hummous (puree of chickpeas with sesame oil and lemon)moutabbal (puree of grilled aubergine with sesame seed oil and lemon juice) and tabbouleh (parsley, crushed wheat, tomatoes, onion, lemon juice and olive oil). 

Using our fresh bread, I scooped up some hummous to try. It was the smoothest I had ever tasted. I couldn’t get enough. By far the best hummous I had the pleasure of tasting. I asked Hani how they made it and he revealed the secret was blending the chickpeas with ice cubes. By using ice cubes, it helps to regulate the temperature while ensuring that it’s the smoothest it can possibly be.

I personally wasn’t a fan of the moutabbal, Ross loved it though and almost finished the entire bowl himself. There wasn’t any wrong with the dish, I’m just not a fan of blended aubergine or the texture. 

Tabbouleh has always been a favourite of mine and I haven’t had it in years. Upon first taste, you could tell how fresh the produce were. It was clean, crisp and well-balanced. A beautiful delicious salad. It worked well in the bread with some hummous added for good measure. 

Following the cold mezze, we were presented with plates of kebbeh (lamb and cracked wheat shell filled with seasoned minced lamb and pine kernels)sojok (spicy sausages), rikakat (filo pastry filled with mixed cheese), arayess (Lebanese bread filled with seasoned minced lamb and pine kernels) and my all time favourite falafel (bean croquettes chickpeas, garlic and sesame oil).

Kebbeh is one of my favourite Lebanese dishes and Noura did not disappoint. They were utterly mouth-watering. Lebanese food is designed to be shared and I reluctantly shared them with Ross as he had never tried them before. Instant hit with the boyfriend. I added some hummous with kebbeh onto my fork, great combination. I couldn’t get enough of them.

Hani recommended that we tried the spicy sausages, sojok, which were one of his favourites. The beef sausage meat are mixed with lots of garlic and a mix of aromatic spices. The intensity of the garlic is what you are first met with but luckily, it does not overpower the sausages. I could only eat a few though as I still had to try so many other dishes. 

It’s no secret that I adore falafel. I cannot get enough of it. I can honestly say that the falafel I tried at Noura‘s were the best I’ve ever had. They were beautifully crisp on the outside, soft and flavourful in the inside. Words cannot express how much I loved them. Dipped into some tahini as well as hummous along with some of the fresh bread, sensational.  I want them right now as I’m writing this.

Rikakat are little spring rolls normally with a mix of feta and cheddar cheese along with herbs and then deep-fried. They are delicious little parcels of pastry, simple to make and wonderful as little snacks. I could snack on these hot or cold. Yum!

We still had more food to try but if I ate anything else at that moment in time, I’d burst. Unfortunately I did not try the arayess so left it up to Ross to try. They are rather similar to quesadillas, with the Lebanese bread being filled with minced lamb, pine nuts and toasted. Ross likened them to a kebbeh sandwich and that does sound rather good to me! Will need to save that for next time.

Managing to find some space, Ross & I shared the Mixed Grill. Noura‘s version comes with three skewers of chargrilled meat; lahm meshwi (lamb), shish taouk (marinated chicken) and kafta meshwiyeh (minced lamb) along with a fattoush salad (mixed salad, lettuce, tomatoes, mint, sumak, onion and fried Lebanese bread). Each skewer was perfectly cooked on charcoal, lahm meshwi and shish taouk being personal favourites. Sometimes when you ordered meat that has been cooked on charcoals, it can be overcooked and dry. Thankfully, Noura impressed me yet again with flavorful, succulent and mouth-watering pieces of meat. Perfect scooped up with some hummous and Lebanese bread.

Noura Belgravia- Mixed Grill

After a well deserved break and chatting with Hani about the food, we were unexpectedly given a plate of baklawa and a selection of ice creams which are made in-house. I’ve loved baklawa ever since I was a child, I think that is where my love for anything pistachio based comes from. The baklawa we were given were so light and soft. Thankfully they weren’t heavy as I doubt I could have handled them. Hani informed us that they used to make the baklawa in-house but when the chef making the baklawa opened his own bakery, they now order from him instead.

The ice cream selections (chocolate, mango, vanilla and strawberry) were smooth and creamy. The strawberry and mango were more like a sorbet and very well received after the amount of food we ate, but in all honestly, I could only fit in a little spoonful before resigning to the fact that I was well and truly stuffed.

Overall, the food I tasted at Noura, has to have been one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. I’ve missed good quality, authentic, home-style healthy Lebanese food and I now know where I’ll be returning on my future visits to London. The staff were very friendly and attentive throughout, even when the restaurant was filling up. It is a little on the pricey side for some dishes, but the quality of ingredients and  food produced makes it value for money. 

What I loved about the restaurant, other than the food, was the vast amount of Arabic friends, families and embassy staff dining at the restaurant, the sign of a good Lebanese restaurant. If you are in the area or visiting London, Noura is not to be missed. 

Disclaimer: I was invited by  Noura Restaurant as a guest in return for a review. Whilst my meal was complimentary, I was under no obligation to write a positive review and my comments reflect my true experience that evening.

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Sometimes, all you really need is a little break away from the reality of your daily life. Ross & I did just that by recently spending 72 hours in London. We both went to London last summer and spent 3 great days exploring the city, seeing a musical, touring coffee shops, discovering new restaurants and shopping. This time around, we pretty much did the same.

Monday

We flew down to London City Airport with British Airways. This is definitely the best way to get to London and also so much handier than dealing with Gatwick or Heathrow Airport, not to mention the dreaded rail services. Oh and children. Screaming children.

72 hours in London- Glasgow Airport

Our first port of call after hopping on the DLR and Underground? Kings Cross Station to drop our baggage in the left luggage area so we could roam around before checking into our apartment at 3pm for the night. We fought our way through Norwich and Middlesbrough fans then headed straight for the closest Honest Burgers. Thanks to prior research and Google Maps, it was only a 5 minute walk away, in basking sunshine. I’m going to be posting up a separate review of Honest Burgers so keep a look out for that in the next few days.

72 hours in London- Honest Burgers

As we still had a few hours to go before checking into the apartment, Ross dragged took me to a few coffee shops that he had previously been to during the London Coffee Festival and his subsequent coffee tour. My favourite place? Shoreditch Grind, just outside of Old Street Station. We visited this place several times in the space of 24 hours and we couldn’t get enough of their espresso, iced coffee and cold brew on tap. It’s definitely a must visit if you are nearby.

I was lucky enough to book a Smart City Apartment on City Road (Islington) during their annual flash sale. Instead of around £230 a night, we got a two bedroom apartment for £1. Yes, just £1. Bargain. You could only get the apartment at a reduced rate for one night so for the next night, we booked into the Lancaster London right next to Hyde Park.

After a much-needed dog cat nap, it was time to make our way to the Apollo Theatre to see Wicked. I’ve been dying to see Wicked for years and missed out getting tickets for the Glasgow tour. As a lovely gesture, Ross’s dad bought us two tickets as my birthday present. I’ve never been so excited! The show was mesmerizing. I loved every part of it. The singing was sensational. If you’ve never seen it, you definitely should!

72 hours in London- Wicked Apollo Theatre

Tuesday

We checked out of the apartment and made our way to Shoreditch to explore the area, check out Brooklyn Coffee on Commercial Street and then grab some lunch at Old Spitalfields Market. We had a Turkish lamb wrap from an unknown stall, Roast Chicken with a mix of salads from Le Camion Gourmand, an amazing green grass-covered food truck and mixed fries from Bleecker Street. There was so much food to choose from and so little time. I really need to go back again to try more of the stalls!

72 hours in London- Shoreditch Street Art

Afterwards, we made our way to our new hotel, Lancaster London, before heading to do some shopping on Oxford Street. We made a bee line for Selfridges Food Hall. Forget clothes shopping, London is all about food for me. We picked up lots of pistachio chocolate, chilli marinades and other little gifts amongst other things. After a little wonder on Oxford Street picking up bits & bobs, we returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

72 hours in London- Oxford Street

We were dining at Noura, a Lebanese restaurant in Belgravia. I adore Lebanese food and in Glasgow, it’s rather hard to find an authentic restaurant that does the food justice. A separate review of Noura will be up on my blog rather soon, full of photographs, taken by an Architectural Photographer, that will make you want to reach in and grab the food from our plates. It was delicious and I could eat everything we had ordered all over again, right now.

72 hours in London- Noura Lebanese Belgravia

Wednesday

It was time for us to get ready to leave our surroundings, check out the hotel and leave our bags for the day until we headed back to London City Airport that evening. Lancaster London is situated right on the doorstep of Hyde Park and next to Lancaster Gate Underground Station on the Central line. Apart from its amazing location, sadly there wasn’t much else that was positive.

72 hours in London- Lancaster London Hotel

The hotel room we were given was very outdated and tired. The upholstery was torn on the chair and curtains ripped. Don’t get me started on the elevators. Out of four elevators in the hotel, only one was working. The others were out-of-order or used by room service. After almost 15 minutes waiting for an elevator with room on it, a staff member appeared and took us to the back of the hotel down the service elevator that staff members use. Not very customer friendly but definitely appreciate the staff member who helped us! Sadly, I doubt I will ever stay at this hotel again. If you class yourself as a 4 star hotel, the rooms and facilities should mirror that.

Our last day was spent around South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Covent Garden and Soho. To start our day, I dragged Ross to the Natural History Museum. I adore looking at Dinosaurs and other Mammals. We had to wait over 45 minutes just to enter the museum and then another 20 minutes to get close to the Dinosaur exhibition. I wasn’t very impressed with the exhibits though. The museum was so busy that you couldn’t get a great view, people were shoving you and almost everything is behind glass which makes all your photographs terrible. A very big let down.

72 hours in London- Natural History Museum

To cheer me up, we went to Maître Choux who make faboulous éclairs, choux and chouquettes. I discovered them via twitter and were on my must visit list, especially after discovering they have a line up of Pistachio choux. I loved the little shop and bought a box full of Ã©clairs to take with me back to Glasgow (the first time their products have been on a plane as well!). I’m glad to say they arrived in one piece, they weren’t squashed and tasted sensational. Well worth the price!

After a little pit stop for coffee and a much-needed trip to Harrods Food Hall, buying lots of things we didn’t really need, we headed for lunch to one of our favourite places, Homeslice in Neals Yard, Covent Garden. We first came here last year, waiting almost 30 minutes for a table for one of their infamous 20″ pizzas for £20. Luckily, as we were grabbing lunch, there were a few free tables. Instead of getting the Salami pizza again, we decided to change things up and get a half & half. Half Salami and Half Beef Brisket. We adored the pizza last year, proclaimed it as the best pizza in the UK. This year? Well, the base of the pizza was extremely salty, I actually had to brush salt off of the base to eat it. The flavours of the toppings as per usual were great. It’s a shame because when they get it right, they are amazing. Is it still the best pizza in the UK? I’ll hold off answering that until the next time I’m in London.

72 hours in London- Homeslice Neals Yard

We crammed a lot into our 72 hours in London but even then, it didn’t seem enough. I try to plan as much as possible so we can optimise our time. My legs and feet were well and truly damaged and after returning to Glasgow, I felt like I needed another little staycation to get over London!

Until next time though, my must visit list is ever-growing….

It’s been rather fun working alongside American Express to help discover the most inspiring hidden places in Glasgow and also to help inspire people to fall in love with Glasgow again. Glasgow is a wonderful city and at times, we all take it for granted. With the Commonwealth Games just finishing, the spotlight is on Glasgow at the moment and it’s the perfect time to discover new surroundings or reacquaint yourself with your old favourite spots.

Some of my favourite gems in Glasgow & the surrounding areas are Duck Bay Marina in Loch Lomond, a corner on Sauchiehall Street listening to some of the wonderful buskers Glasgow have to offer (and the occasional superstar!), sitting on the steps outside GoMA with coffee,  the fairy lights twinkling and people watch.

Royal Exchange Square Glasgow

After my endless social media hunt, I managed to get some great suggestions from you all including Baird in the Botanics, Sixty Steps, Necropolis, Zen Garden, Mansfield Park Farmer’s Market and Cathkin Braes. I had never heard of a lot of these locations so it was a rather educational experience for me. One that is sadly coming to an end after all of these months.

This wasn’t just a campaign in Glasgow, bloggers in London, Manchester , Leeds and Birmingham all took part to help discover their own hidden gems which were created to reconnect people with their home cities and discover new places of inspiration.

In total, 50 of the UK’s best hidden gems were added to a guide by American Express. From all of the locations that were submitted, a former custard factory, a unique 15th century garden space in Glasgow,  a brutalist concrete tower block and a Birmingham bog feature alongside famous beauty spots Kensington Gardens and the Royal Observatory in the list. Familiar names in the guide include Isabella Plantations in Richmond Park, Little Venice in West London and Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square, with Salford’s media city a new arrival on a list that also includes many historic hidden gems from Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

The  digital interactive maps are alive over on Pinterest. I’d recommend you check it out (you can click on the widget below too for all you lazy bums!), especially if you’re planning on exploring a city, just like I am with London. The map has been a welcome addition to the plans I’m making. So far, they are mostly food, coffee and museums…. but I aim to add some more culture into my life!

Visit American Express UK’s profile on Pinterest.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to London. I’ve never really visited any attractions, unless you can call Selfridges an attraction? It’s a shame really as it’s such a beautiful city and I know nothing about it. At the end of the month, I’m heading to London for 3 nights and I’m going to use that opportunity to get out and explore. Sure you have all the famous tourist attractions, but what else does London have to offer?

World renowned fashion photographer Nick Knight collaborated with American Express to create #MySecretCity, a real-time photography exhibition hosted live from London on Twitter recently. Nick is one of the world’s most influential photographers, winning numerous awards for his editorial work for Vogue, Dazed & Confused, W magazine, i-D, and Visionaire, as well as for fashion and advertising projects for clients including Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent to name a few.

His mission was to leave the comfort of his studio, take to the streets and capture photos of the hidden inspiration he sees in the places he passes every day, shared in real time via @AmexUK. The exhibition aimed to uncover the hidden beauty in these unexpected places – including city gardens and urban habitats, brutalist architecture and metropolitan playgrounds to help people realise the full potential of London. Part of London that are generally forgotten about.

The exhibition comes after a study by American Express, which I’ve been involved in, suggested that Brits are stuck on ‘Urban Autopilot’ when it comes to exploring their day to day surroundings, failing to take advantage of everything that’s on offer. The research revealed that when out and about in their nearest city, seven out of ten Brits are looking down, distracted by smart phones and tablets. Just one in five take the time to look at their surroundings.

And explore Nick did…..

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Nick Knight stated “We get so stuck in our familiar ways around the city that we miss the sheer beauty and inspiration all around us, which is why I’m working with American Express to celebrate this wonderful city and help people see its hidden beauty.”

As stated above and in a few blog posts, I recently took part in my own mission with American Express to explore Glasgow from a different angle which I talked about here and here. It’s been rather enjoyable exploring new places in Glasgow and I cannot wait to explore must see locations that have been suggested by Nick and London bloggers.

Do you have any favourite places in London that I need to go visit? Let me know! I have a whole list ready and waiting!

Have you ever stopped and looked at your surroundings? When to-ing and fro-ing all over the city, have you ever just wanted to discover new places? I sure have but sometimes it’s hard to just stop “urban auto piloting” out of your own little bubble in the city. I know several people who never venture away from the West End unless they ultimately have to, and those who would never dream of heading to the South Side of the city into the unknown. However, how do you really know what those areas have to offer until you actually take advantage of them and explore?

Glasgow-Green-West-Brewery

Last month I teamed up with American Express to discover some hidden gems and inspirational places around Glasgow to create a digital map with the help of my readers and followers. The places could have been anything from your favourite place to people watch, to work out or even your favourite music hangout. After being inundated with responses, the list was whittled down and the map was starting to take shape.

Broomielaw-Street-Art-Glasgow

Research was also carried out with American Express who sound that just one in five people take the time to look at their surroundings. This is a stark contrast to our behaviour when we venture abroad. When visiting foreign cities, we are 49% more likely to research new places to visit and explore, compared to just 16% when we are at home.

Hillhead-Glasgow

I’ve started to change my own percentage by using apps on my iPhone such as Yelp and Twitter to discover new haunts in Glasgow and even further afield. I’ve been lucky to explore countries in Asia and the Middle East, yet I’ve hardly explored Glasgow and Scotland. Up until last year, I rarely frequented the West End and South Side, now I’m whizzing around them and can even list some of my favourite places.

Provands-Lordship-Garden-Glasgow

Dr Esmée Hanna, a demographic specialist, commented: “’Urban Autopilot’ is a great way to describe our behaviour in cities: all too often it’s about hurrying from one place to another rather than taking time to live in the present. As a result, we don’t always register the richness and diversity of our surroundings as we pass them by. When we go away we have our eyes and ears open to soak up the sights and sounds of the city we visit, if we did a bit more of this at home we would be amazed at how many inspiring and undiscovered places are waiting for us to experience.”

River-Clyde-Glasgow

To help overcome this, the map was created and is now live on Pinterest (ideally viewed via computer). To navigate you can either hover over each pin recommended by myself which matches an image I took along with a brief description of the location or zoom into the map itself and click on a location to be taken to the pin. It’s rather snazzy and will be expanded upon with your suggestions such as:

  • Sixty Steps on Queen Margaret Drive which is a massive retaining wall of steps that were created by Glasgow architect, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson in the early 1870’s.
  • Baird in the Botanics at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens bringing Shakespeare to life in our very own city.
  • Cathkin Braes for great walking and mountain bike treks, overlooking the city.
  • Mansfield Park Farmer’s Market where you can find some of Scotland’s best produce such as venison, shell fish and cheeses.
  • Glasgow’s Necropolis where you can view graves of the famous, inspirational and military as well as great views of the city.

 hidden gems and inspirational places around Glasgow

Glasgow is a truly wonderful city and it’s time to get your little explorer hats on and have a good day out. You can access it quickly via the widget below as well, just cause I’m nice.

Follow American Express UK’s board Glasgow’s top inspirational places on Pinterest.

ddPlanet Earth is a vast and varied world that contains areas from freezing cold wastelands to rainforests teeming with life, to places with almost continual rainfall to parts of the world that do not see rain for years at a time. With this variety there will always be something new to see around the globe and this is why so many people each year choose to leave their homelands to travel the world and discover the new sights, sounds and cultures that vary from continent to continent and country to country.

If you’ve made that decision to go travelling, the biggest question about your trip is where should you go? We list our favourite places to travel to here depending on what you’re favourite pastimes and interests are.

  • Top Places to Visit……If You’re an Animal Lover

Of course, where you choose to visit in the world as animal lover will of course will depend upon what kind of animals you are head over heels about, but there are numerous places around the world where you can volunteer to work and spend time with animals in their natural habitats. For those who are interested in helping primates, Sumatra is a perfect place to visit as there is ongoing work to assist the countries orang-utan population that is in serious danger of extinction due to deforestation. All volunteers are welcome for this project, while the Elephant Nature Park in North Thailand is also looking for volunteers to assist with rescued elephants and rainforest restoration.

Both of these will get you up close and personal with the animals, but if you’re a fan of smaller and furrier types of animals you could always visit the Japanese island of ÅŒkunoshima. The island is overrun with rabbits – they’re everywhere! – and with hunting and dogs forbidden the chance to surround yourself with countless bunnies could not be easier.

  • Top Places to Visit……If You’re a Gambler

Depending on where you’d like to go to spend your time playing casino games, such as poker, roulette, bingo, blackjack and countless others that allow you to turn your money into more – or lose it all trying – there are three main places you can go in the world, unless of course you like to play online. The most famous is, of course, the Las Vegas strip with its lights, bars, casinos and risqué entertainment located in the Nevada desert, If you’re traveling around Asia and you’re looking for the Vegas experience, then a trip to Macau, located near Hong Kong, would be right up your street.

For the classiest of all three major gambling hot spots around the world you’d need to arrive in Europe and help towards the Mediterranean and Monte Carlo. The Monaco tax haven is one of the most exclusive areas in Europe, if not the world, and it caters to gamblers at the other end of the scale to the Las Vegas party crowd. All are well worth a visit though. Las Vegas particularly around New Years Eve is fun

  • Top Places to Visit……If You’re a Sports Fan

Like the animal lovers, where to go in the world as a sports fan will depend entirely on what sports you are interested in. However, there are several places that cater to a large variety of events that will see you entertained no matter the sport of your choosing. Melbourne, Australia is one of these as it hosts the first Grand Slam of the tennis season at the end of January and for half of February before less than a month later showcasing the first Grand Prix of the Formula One season too. It also has the world famous Melbourne Cup horse race and the Melbourne Cricket Ground that has hosted The Ashes and Cricket World Cup matches, amongst many other games and sports.

Another excellent place to visit is Barcelona in Spain, with this city hosting a clay court tennis tournament that builds up to May’s French Open Grand Slam, the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix and it is the home of one of the most famous football teams in the world of soccer. If you’re interested in football then Rio de Janeiro in Brazil would be another place to check off your list with it hosting the World Cup this summer and then two years later, in 2016, it will be the home of the Olympic Games.

No matter the activity you wish to choose to partake in there will always be several places around the world that you can choose to stop and create some lifelong memories. As well as this our planet holds so many wonders to see and do you can continually travel for the rest of your life and experience something new and exciting each and every day. What are you waiting for?

Photo Credit: Elia Locardi

 

Growing up all over the world sure had it’s plus points. I lived in some pretty amazing countries, visited beautiful places, was introduced to different cuisines, mixed with different cultures and I got to experience a life only some could dream of, all thanks to my dad.

When I moved back to the UK for University, I felt so out of place. The UK wasn’t a place I called home and it wasn’t until years later I finally felt settled enough in the country (& city) of my birth. I’ve been back in Glasgow for 8 years now, but that doesn’t stop me from missing the places I grew up in and it got me thinking about my favourite haunts, the food I miss & of course, the friends I left behind after an email from giffgaff. The post will probably be rather long if I spoke about Singapore & Kuwait in one post so I’m going to start with the place I moved to first; Singapore. I’ll get to talking about Kuwait another day.

Growing up here was a truly wonderful experience. For the first 6 months, I couldn’t get a place in school so I spent my days learning to swim in the hotel we were staying in, eating in Chinatown with my mom and being home schooled by my mom (who was a teacher). After those 6 months were up, I went to Tanglin Junior School for just under a year. I hated that school. I was bullied daily and because I was behind in school work, I had to go into the lower Maths class. That didn’t help the bullies. I had no friends in my own year and instead played with kids in the lower years. It was pretty sad but thankfully I hired a logistics and moving company, packed my stuff, put it in storage and soon left and moved to Overseas Family School. I loved that school and was even lucky enough to go to Thailand for a week as part of a school trip! I had so many friends from various countries such as South Korea, Australia, America and Germany. It was there that my accent started changing into the International School mashup that it still is some 20 years later. Forget French or German, at school we got to learn Japanese or Mandarin. I was pretty good at Mandarin, I could pronounce the words properly and read/write at basic level. Sadly, I’ve forgotten all of it after moving to Kuwait (and then learning Arabic).

My high school was just off of Orchard Road, the infamous street full of high end designer shops, shopping malls and some of the best restaurants around. Orchard Road was the main focal point for Christmas and Chinese New Year parades. Shopping malls would compete against each other for the best design. One of my favourite malls was Takashimaya (a Japanese mall) and Centre Point. I used to raid the stationary shops for pens, notebooks and stickers for my sticker album. I used to collect stickers as a kid, I had little books full of them and used to swap with friends. As a little weekend treat, when my mom was going to the supermarket, I used to get a Happy Meal at McDonalds. The toys were so good! So much better than the UK ones. Huge Hello Kitty Plush Toys anyone?!

Elephant Singapore

Since those days eating in Chinatown, I’ve been extremely picky about Chinese food and I always feel the need to compare the quality with what I was used to. Luckily, I found Banana Leaf which serves amazing Malaysian/Chinese food with my childhood favourite Kai Lan and Hainanese Chicken Rice. However, I still miss eating at Hawker Stalls within People’s Park. It may not look the most hygienic place to eat but the food is cheap, great quality and authentic. Deep Fried King Prawns, Kai Lan in Oyster Sauce, Egg Foo Yung as well as Sweet & Sour Pork  were my favourites. If you’re ever planning to go to Singapore, this is one place you need to go to. Kopitiams (Coffee Shops) are also great to go for breakfast; Roti Prata and Milo were my favourite staples. 

Talking about Supermarkets, the food oh the food (yes, my life pretty much revolves around it!). Hello Panda, Pocky and Maggi Chilli Sauce are three things that til this day, I cannot live without. I get a regular supply from my local Chinese supermarket (Hello Mr Lim!) which is good. Addictive things. I used to walk to the little corner shop near our apartment for my daily supply for Hello Panda, or to buy some Diet Pepsi or Tiger Beer for my dad. That was my little job in the family. Of course, my trips wouldn’t take 10 minutes, 30 minutes later I’d still be chatting away with the family that owned the store brushing up on my Singlish dialect. I was pretty good for an ang mo (white person). I was also given my own Chinese name by the family, Mi Xiang (literally translated to Honey Fragrance). 

Me & Gran

Singapore is literally one of the cleanest places on Earth. There is no rubbish on the streets and if you drop litter, you are automatically fined. You can get fined for a lot of things such as not flushing the toilet (yes!), jaywalking, buying chewing gum and eating durians (awful awful stinky fruit!) in public. I loved chewing gum but because you couldn’t buy it in Singapore & it was even forbidden to chew it in public. We used to walk over the causeway bridge to Johor Bahru in Malaysia when my dad had to go there for work, so we could specifically buy chewing gum (as well as pirate DVDs) and then smuggle them back into Singapore. International chewing gum smuggler aged 8.

Of course there are also the tourist haunts, the Merlion has to be the most well known. The Merlion was been revamped so many times & when you think of Singapore, you associate this statue with the country. It’s a beautiful statue and I’ve had many a photograph taken next to it. It holds great memories for me visiting the statue with my grandparents and going on junk boat trips around the island.

Merlion Singapore

My favourite tourist attractions though would have to be Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. I have so many memories of going to those places with my parents, my grandparents, aunt and uncle. One of the shows at the bird park allows you to have a Cockatoo bird fly into your hand to grab a $2 bill and then fly back with it. Anytime I was in the crowd, I instantly jumped up to be part of the show as I loved the bird flying over to me. Having a python wrap itself around my neck at the Zoo wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be, but I doubt I’d ever do that now! The Chinese and Japanese Gardens were beautiful. Giant Pagoda’s are amongst the Northern Chinese imperial gardens with tea houses and bridges galore. The Bridge of Double Beauty connects the Chinese to the Japanese Garden and you can get lost amongst the toro lanterns, traditional houses, ponds and bonsai. It is definitely one of my happy places.

Me & Gramps

Gran in Singapore

However, the visit that stands out the most of everyone in my family was when I got my photograph taken with a family of Orangutans at the Zoo and the mother thinking I was one of her cubs (the joys of red hair as a kid!) grabbing me tight and checking my hair for head lice. I still laugh my head off thinking about that and even have photographic evidence. I could have been the female version of Mogwai from the Jungle Book!

Singapore Zoo

Karaoke is also a huge part of the Singaporean culture and I immersed myself from a very early age. Children were allowed in bars so my parents took my brother & I along when they went sometimes (our “local” was Bermuda Triangle on Duxton Road) and I’d sit there with my Diet Coke, chat with everyone and make friends. I met my friend Kittina and her (now) husband Lye when I was 10 years old and til this day we are friends some 22 years later even though she was almost 10 years older than me. I used to sing Karaoke with my dad, our song was “A Whole New World” from Aladdin then I eventually branched out and sang songs such as Zombie from The Cranberries, Again by Janet Jackson, Hero by Mariah Carey and I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston… age 11. I rocked. Well thought I did. I could hit all the high notes but I’ve lost my golden touch now!

I adored Cantopop, in particular Jackie Chung. I learnt his songs off my heart and one night, he was actually outside the pub with Miss Hong Kong filming a music video. I was so excited that I grabbed some paper, pushed my way through the crowds of Chinese teenagers and asked for his autograph. I think he was shell shocked that a little white girl knew who he was and wanted his autograph!

Living and growing up in Singapore was a truly wonderful thing, I have so many memories that I will never forget and jumbled together makes me the person I am today 🙂

What are your favourite memories growing up? Did you live in any country other than the place of your birth? Let me know!