Longleat Ahoy!

The adventure continues…….. where was I going for my 30th, everyone knew but me! But being in the Wiltshire area, I had an inkling, but it wasnt until we saw the first sign was it confirmed we were going to Longleat! Yes that fabulous safari park that we watched for years on TV! Not only were we going to the Safari Park but we were staying on the estate in one of their cottage, awesome!

A cute cottage but the highlight was definitely the view, through the  garden fence was the Park, giraffes and zebra right up to the garden fence, how amazing. Now I have been on safari in Africa and loved it but you do not get to sit and observe the life of animals like this, they were so close and after the park closes it was magical sitting in the garden with a glass of wine watching animal life unfold. Whats better than watching young giraffe playing chase, the monkey troop going crazy after closing time and keepers trying to herd hoofed animals indoors when it’s all just a big game to the animals.

Just chillin Lemur style

Just chillin Lemur style

Our fabulous vehicle!

Our fabulous vehicle!

Seen as it was my birthday, the being spoilt rotten continued with a VIP tour of the park. This includes going in one of their fabulous zebra print jeeps with a guide and getting to go off-road, up close and personal with the animals. Our guide Steve was fantastic. Having been a zoo keeper for over 20 years he was a font of knowledge and funny! This was a man who enjoyed his job and loved the animals he worked with.

Big kitty!

Big kitty!

Cute!

Cute!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you looking at?!

What you looking at?!

Penguin encounter

Penguin encounter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now as well as the Safari Park, there is an area next to the Big House that houses its smaller animals and Lake cruise. Both are set up to give you full on animal encounters, from walking through the penguin enclosure ( watch out penguin poo is projectile and smelly) to the manta-ray pool. I know some people do not believe in Safari Parks and Zoos, but Longleat was the first Safari Park outside Africa and their work on conservation is vital to keeping species alive especially when maniacs are running around Africa killing animals just for fun or for ‘traditional’ medicine. Not cool! Yes there are places around the world that keep animals in small cages, and they have no form of active life or enrichment but having watched life at Longleat I didn’t see one animal that looked unhealthy or mistreated. Just watching life in the giraffe and zebra field every morning and evening, these were animals going about the life they would lead in Africa and yes they have less space than they would in the Masai or Kruger but they have no threats and enough space from what I could tell for both species to get a good run on.

With Longleats position in Wiltshire its a great base for visiting the surrounding area, one day we went to Bath ( do the park and ride!) and I showed the family around the cute Spa city. But Bristol is also close by and of course you could go to Stonehenge as we did on the way. Wiltshire and the Cotswolds is a font of things to do and see so if you want a base in the area then definitely try here and of course there is also a Centre Parcs.

Bath Cathedral

Bath Cathedral

The fabulous baths of Bath

The fabulous baths of Bath

Fancy a dip

Fancy a dip

Longleat was an amazing treat and definitely somewhere I would want to go back to as an animal lover and now my friends have seen the pictures I am sure someone will find an excuse to celebrate something there!!

Secret Stonehenge

It has been a while since I properly wrote something on here; I have been rather slack over the summer with so much going on and holidays. It has been a crazy couple of months and there is still so much more going on.

Where shall I start…. I know…. My Birthday, always a good place to start! So it was a decade year this time around, sob, and my lovely family decided to treat me to a fabulous week away to celebrate/ commiserate me turning 30!

My snazzy stonehenge hut!

My snazzy stonehenge hut!

It was a total surprise, so as a control freak it was hard to let someone else take the reins on my holiday planning. However, these guys did good!!! The journey began with a sibling road trip. Trying my very best not to look out of the car window as we three kids drove to the destination the first stop on our tour arrived, Stonehenge. It was very exciting indeed as I have never been before. It was amazing, driving down the road and all of a sudden there on the horizon was the famous, glorious stone ring. It looks exactly as it does in the pictures. So we clambered out of the car (minus the delicious strawberries we picked up from a guy selling them by the side of the road – only in the countryside!) and dashed for the entrance trying to beat the buses full of tourists. It’s a popular spot and there is no way of getting away from the tourists that visit, but it’s not the end of the world.

delicious!

delicious road side treats

ingenious!

ingenious!

Now there are two ways to get up to Stonehenge from the new snazzy visitors centre with its 360 degree view of the stones, you can walk across cow dotted fields or take the little shuttle bus service. We had time limits on the visit as we had places to be so we chose the lazy option and got the bus. Naughty!

Getting off the bus the walking route takes you around the stones, it may have been cloudy but on occasion the clouds cleared and the sun shone through and even more the crowds cleared and there was periods when you could see through the stones and not people, hurrah! As you walk around you cannot help but be amazed at the sure size of the stones, their age and the skill that went into getting them to this spot and carving them. The sheer wonder of this ancient site!

The Glorious Stonehenge

The Glorious Stonehenge

Stonehenge StonehengeIf you are ever in the area then I highly recommend a stop. Even if ancient history isn’t your thing, you have to appreciate the wonder of these things.

Anyway, exiting through the gift shop, where else, we headed back to the car for the next stop on our secret adventure…… lunch! And what a great lunch stop it was, the Lincoln Inn. This is a small local pub that serves delicious food. The staff were friendly and attentive, the food was great and it was in a stunning location. This was of course the location that my parents arrived as a ‘surprise’ …. Not going to lie the table set for five was a giveaway, plus a few other things! But a fabulous gastropub lunch it was.

Setting sail one more, now in convoy, where on earth were we heading……..

Memories of Nepal

The beautiful land of Nepal has been in the press an incredible amount since Saturday due to the horrific earthquake that struck. This has been the worse quake in over 80 years and has caused awful damage throughout the country and an incredibly loss of life. The current death toll is over 5,500 people but this will only continue to go up as they clear the rubble and slowly get to the communities outside the capital. I know for friends and myself who have traveled there and have worked with the Nepalese for years it has been shocking to see the images flash across the tv and media. Luckily everyone we know out there is ok but with infrastructure damaged its going to be a long road to recovery for the country.

I visited Nepal for the first time in 2008 as part of a trip that went through North India and into Nepal. When I crossed that border it was an odd experience, leaving the chaos and mayhem of India behind and entering the tranquil world of peaceful Nepal. The first stop was Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha so of course there was an air of peace around the place. We then headed to Chitwan, onto Pokhara and explored the Annapurna region and then onto crazy Kathmandu. I have such great memories of the country, so great that I am supposed to be going back in October to trek up to Everest Base Camp. With the devastation going on at the moment I have found it hard not to think about my time there, the country I have worked with for so long and a place I desperately want to return to as its such a welcoming country with wonderful people.

With all this in mind I thought I would share some of my favourite images and memories to remind people of the country it was and how the people need help to get back on their feet and recover. It will be hard, it’s a poor country who cannot simply snap their fingers and quickly rebuild everything. The world community will have to help!!

Leaving the chaos if India behind for the peaceful boarders of Nepal

Leaving the chaos of India behind for the peaceful boarders of Nepal

Lumbini - the birth place of Buddha - this is one of the most tranquil spots I have ever been. Prayer flags coat the trees and on a sunny day it is all just rather lovely to sit under a tree and listen to them gentle rustle in the wind!

Lumbini – the birth place of Buddha – this is one of the most tranquil spots I have ever been. Prayer flags coat the trees and on a sunny day it is all just rather lovely to sit under a tree and listen to them gentle rustle in the wind!

What a way to commute to work!

What a way to commute to work!

The humble tuk tuk!

The humble tuk tuk!

A family who live within Chitwan National Park, we visited their village and their farm while we were on safari there. They were so welcoming.

A family who live within Chitwan National Park, we visited their village and their farm while we were on safari there. They were so welcoming. It is not only the people initially effected by the earthquake that will suffer. Those that escaped the damage will have the knock on effect of tourism stopping, supplies not getting where they should.  They may not have lost their home or a loved one but they may be loosing their lively hood as so many people in Nepal rely on tourism to put food on the table.

The beautiful Pokhara Lake

The beautiful Pokhara Lake

Pashupatinath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, it is where Hindu's come to say good by to their dead. On the banks of the river funeral pires are lit and the bodies washed away with the river.

Pashupatinath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, it is where Hindu’s come to say good-bye to their dead. On the banks of the river funeral pyres are lit and the bodies washed away with the river.

boudhanath stupa - the eyes on this stupa are synonymous with Kathmandu, they seem to watch you from wherever you are standing, it is a wonderful structure

Boudhanath stupa – the eyes on this stupa are synonymous with Kathmandu, they seem to watch you from wherever you are standing, it is a wonderful structure

I like this image as it shows old Kathmandu against new Kathmandu. The stunning architecture of Kathmandu's past against a modern building in the background. This is like much of the city, and is part of the problem they have now as so many buildings are old and they just were not able to withstand the earthquake.

I like this image as it shows old Kathmandu against new Kathmandu. The stunning architecture of Kathmandu’s past against a modern building in the background. This is like much of the city, and is part of the problem they have now as so many buildings are old and they just were not able to withstand the earthquake.

The narrow chaotic streets of Kathmandu, shops pouring out onto the streets, people selling things from everywhere. It can feel a little chlostraphobic but you get used to it - this is a way of life that has not changed, the warren of streets that spread through the city.

The narrow chaotic streets of Kathmandu, shops pouring out onto the streets, people selling things from everywhere. It can feel a little claustrophobic but you get used to it – this is a way of life that has not changed, the warren of streets that spread through the city.

It is such a beautiful and charming country, if you are able to help then please do through the many charities and organisations raising money!

Berlin: New Food Discoveries

Having the luck of being to Berlin many a time now I have started to branch out and explore the food scene of this great city much more. As much as I love Bratwurst mit Brot as a lunch time stop there has to be more to Berlin than sausage. This trip I ended up having the least German food of any of my trips to this fabulous city but it just shows the diversity that Berlin has, that like London you can find any cuisine, fun restaurants and great people watching.

First stop on the trip The Bird. Now this restaurant come recommended by my sisters friend. I am always one to check out a new burger place especially as Berlin does them so well.  We headed out to the Kreuzberg branch ( they have two one in Kreuzberg and one in Prenzlauer Berg ). As it was a Friday night the place was packed and from recommendation we booked a table and glad we did because walking in and getting a table would have meant a long wait or no table at all. Turning up 10 minutes early we waited at the bar and all the staff here spoke English and seemed to prefer to communicate in English rather than my terrible German. So beers in and our table was ready. The list of burgers is vast, and there is really something for everyone. They also offer a range of steaks that come all the way from the US of A!

One of the longest burger lists I have ever seen

One of the longest burger lists I have ever seen

Having wandered through the restaurant to get to the table I saw the burgers and they looked good, so was excited to get one ordered. However, this is where the issues started. We ended up having one of the weirdest experiences of bad customer service I have ever had in a restaurant. We were ignored, then inundated with apologies, food didn’t turn up, and then we were asked to vacate our table before our allotted 2 hours was up ( you are told on booking you have the reservation for 2 hours!). I would like to say it was because it was busy, but this is the kind of restaurant that is always this busy so therefore should know what they are doing. Thank goodness the food was good because otherwise we maybe wouldn’t have seen the funny side of how terrible the service was.  The burger, 250g of premium German beef, was great, the meat juicy and full of flavour . Cooked to order and served in what looked like an English muffin it was piled high with toppings.This was an outrageously big meal but good as a rare occasion. The fries were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, but were huge in number. The size of the meal was like you were in the States. The second beer may have been a mistake, not enough room in the old stomach.

The monsterous burger and fries at the Bird

The monstrous burger and fries at the Bird

Cheesecake, not the best, not the worst

Cheesecake, not the best, not the worst

However, as good as food is I would be dubious to return as I cannot bear paying my hard earned money on bad service!  This was a good burger, but there are burgers just as good in Berlin, such as the one at White Trash, so with bad service marking it down I am not sure about returning any time soon. Maybe I will try the other location before closing my door to The Bird altogether, we will see.

The second discovery was a much more peaceful affair. We discovered a little bit of Californian Mexican at Delores. This burrito restaurant with its neon sign, brightly decorated inside and music beckons you in from the cold winters eve. It’s counter service and it’s small inside but do not be put off by this because it’s fairly quick turn around, so loiter for a few minutes I am sure someone will have left. So with a table secured it was time to decide, burrito, quessadila, taco or bowl! Loving the simplicity and pleasure of a burrito I had to go all carb, choosing from a selection of meat fillings you place your order ( nachos on the side with a range of dips of course obligatory) at the counter and you are given your number so when its ready you just come back. This is great as it means the staff have time to prepare the food properly rather than the conveyor belt style you get in the UK and can sip your beer at a table. The staff were all rather chirpy which was a nice change to the evening before staff.

Dolores

The bright and welcoming decore of Dolores

The bright and welcoming decore of Dolores

The burritos turned up and they were fine, mighty fine. Big and bulging with their range of fillings. The nachos fresh and crispy and the guacamole was big and chunky, none of this smooth stuff you get from supermarkets, this bad boy was made by hand. Everything in the burrito tasted fresh and had flavour and the difference between the chain burrito places that are popping up all over the place.

Nachos!

Nachos!

The monster burrito

The monster burrito

Now I know burritos are not everyone’s cup of tea and certainly not the meal you think of when you go to Berlin, but as someone who goes at least once a year it’s all about discovering these hidden gems and avoiding the tourist traps.  It’s the perfect stopping point after a busy day sightseeing and being on your feet all day. It’s also the perfect location ( just behind Alexanderplatz) for a lunch stop. This place had a constant stream of people coming and going the whole time we were there. Gosh if you lived near by it could be dangerous.

The final find, was a meat haven. I love meat, and am always on the hunt for a new spin on meat. I have now found a new favourite, a new meat paradise and it is called Chicago Williams! It’s hard not to fall in love with this place straight away, as you walk in from the street you are beckoned to the bar area and offered a small cup of soup – perfect when its freezing outside, and the spicy corn chowder hit the spot. The guys working there were so friendly and explained how it all worked, the different things on the menu, instantly feeling like you have been coming here for years. The menu is easy, its meat, it’s all on one big black board and you order up at the bar.

Nothing beats a cup of welcome soup

Nothing beats a cup of welcome soup

Nice Wall Art

Nice Wall Art

Inside my new meat haven

Inside my new meat haven

What’s also great about CW is that it pairs great American BBQ with a great array of German beers, one of which they brew themselves. These are guys passionate about meat and beer – amazing!! And whats more they are happy to talk you through the beer selection so you find the right one.

Back to the meat, this is all about the meat now, its easy, your order your BBQ meat, be it ribs, pulled pork, sausage, brisket or chicken, then you order your sides. The mash was so creamy, and the beans full of flavour, I would recommend them both. There are the options of sandwiches or full on meat platters so you get a bit of everything to try. I went crazy and ordered the lady like ribs and I am glad I did. The BBQ glaze was brilliant, sticky, sweet and full of tang. The meat was tender and just fell off the bone, this was not a meal you had to work at. With everything turning up on a big plastic tray you could have through yourself at a BBQ joint in the deep south. I couldn’t fault this meal. It was everything it said on the tin, relaxed American BBQ with great German beers. This is somewhere I will keep going back to, because it was great good, great service and so relaxed!

No mess plastic tray ribs - dig in!!

No mess plastic tray ribs – dig in!!

Cheesecake with a frozen shot!

Cheesecake with a frozen shot!

This was a trip of many new discoveries and a couple that will be regular haunts. Berlin has so many great restaurants to try so do not get bogged down thinking you have to eat sausage and schnitzel every night. Do as the Berliners do and dive on into their great restaurant scene.

Fusterland: A photo essay

Any visit to Havana is not complete without a visit to Fusterland, the home and studio of Jose Fuster. Having moved to the small town of Jaimanitas 30 years ago to set up his studio in this Havana suburb he has slowly created a living art gallery that no longer can be contained inside his own home but has spilled out onto the street.

This small fishing town on the outskirts of Havana has embraced the imagination of Fuster and over 80 of his neighbours have allowed him to decorate their homes with his paintings, mosaics and sculptures. As you walk around the streets they are filled with colour. Its stunning. Each painted tile or mosaic is different, everything coming out of one mans imagination.

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster's House

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster’s House

Cowboy

Cowboy

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Fusterland

Mojito anyone?

Fusterland Fusterland

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster's house.

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster’s house.

Fusterland

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Fusterland

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

Fusterland Fusterland Fusterland

This is one of the most stunning art galleries I have had the privilege of visiting. It’s so inclusive, everyone is welcome and that is what Fuster wants, art for all and not just those who can visit galleries or collect art.

Cuba!

The streets are alive with music! It’s everywhere, from the bands playing in cafes, the busker with his saxophone on a stoop to the radio playing in someone’s car. You cannot escape the musical beat that pumps its way around Cuba. This is an island full of life, soul and music, and you just do not want to leave.

Music everywhere!

Music everywhere!

Walking around Old Havana is like walking around a time capsule, the architecture, and the cobbled streets and of course the 50’s cars. It’s a city that exudes life. With the streets being narrow you find very few cars in and around the old squares which adds a tranquility to your wandering. One thing I found surprising about Havana and Cuba in general is their attitude to tourists, they are friendly and will ask you to look in their shop as you pass but there is no hassle, life just goes on in Havana. You would never think you are in one of the most visited destinations in the world. The streets are filled with people going about their business; in fact we are probably an inconvenience to them with tour groups filing through on walking tours. It’s by far one of the most relax capital cities I have ever visited.

The Capitol Building in Havana

The Capitol Building in Havana

With such architectural variety, from the colonial to the art deco you could wander around for days taking everything in. The amazing thing I found about Havana is, if a city was protected by UNESCO it could almost feel a bit Disney – everything a little too bright and shiny – but it doesn’t. The buildings are crumbling around you, a huge amount of restoration is going on, but people are still living in these buildings and life goes on. This is one of the contradictory things about Cuba and one of things that left me asking more questions. The Old City is protected and there is a huge amount of preservation going on but you have so many people living in these cramped buildings. Yes they are building new housing outside the historic centre but then you are in the suburbs and have to travel in (on highly unreliable public transport). Having all this amazing architecture protected is a privilege and it’s a reason tourist’s love Havana but with houses in need of dire repair how good is it for the actual Cuban people when they are being relocated out of their homes.

The colourful streets of Havana

The colourful streets of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

IMG_6034Havana is a city with so much to see and take in that it can be hard to leave, but leave you must as there is still so much of this country to see. Setting out we headed to Las Terrazas, a community and nature reserve named a biosphere reserve in 1985 by UNESCO. It’s a beautiful place. This community tries to be as self-sustaining as possible and was a dream of Castro’s soon after the revolution when he ordered a reforestation programme due to the heavy deforestation that had been taking place over the centuries. It’s like a small paradise in a bubble, the standard of living here is higher than in much of Cuba but you cannot simply move to Las Terrazas, there is a waiting list as they do not want to over populate the area. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by a community working together and by using what they have around them to attract visitors it creates an income for the community. I would certainly not hesitate going back and staying within the community for a short time in their hotel, the Hotel Mako. Leaving the lush green forests we headed further west to the Vinales valley and its stunning karst landscape which is encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome like limestone outcrops (mogotes). The moment you descend into the valley and you get your first view of the mogotes you want to whip out your camera and start taking photos, but resist you must because there will be plenty of opportunity for photos in this photogenic landscape. With much of the land being fertile this is a key tobacco growing region, but also home to more than one organic farm that is striving to promote vegetables and growing your own, something Cubans need to take on board because eating their greens is something they are not doing. If more people grew their own food then they wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on rationing as they would be able to supplement their food much more easily, but with a diet focused on rice, beans and meat getting them to eat their greens may be a long term project for the government. In fact the food at one of these organic farms was the best food I had the entire time we had in Cuba, farm to table in a matter of hours!

Vinales doesn't have a bad angle

Vinales doesn’t have a bad angle

The stunning Vinales

The stunning Vinales

IMG_6124

P1070771

A beautiful organic farm

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

Vinales is one of those places I could have quite happily meandered around for a few days but alas our time there was short and having done a cave tour and tobacco farm visit we had to leave after 2 nights. With the quaint little town full of paladars to try this is definitely somewhere to take your time, rent a bike, go for a walk, explore the valley do not rush it. With the forests and valleys done we headed towards the coast and the colonial town of Cienfuegos, the only town in Cuba to have been settled by French colonists. The long roads, colonnaded walk ways and squares this is a chilled out town. The brightly coloured buildings entice you to explore.

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

From Cienfuegos it’s the perfect opportunity to head into the mountains and to Topes de Collantes National Park. Here you are overwhelmed by the views you get climbing high into the mountains to the dense forest that cover these mountains. There is an abundance of flora and fauna and the birds, oh the birds, if you like birds this is the place to come and look. As someone who isn’t too bothered by twitching, having hummingbirds flutter around you is just breath taking, stunning miniature creatures.

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Disappointingly we had to leave being this landscape and head down to the coast and the beautiful town of Trinidad. This sleepy colonial down a short drive from white sand beaches is an ideal place to settle down for a couple of days. Take in the colourful cobbled streets, enjoy the delicious food of the paladars and take your book down to calm crystal waters of the Caribbean. Trinidad is an ideal place to relax and take in everything you have experienced in Cuba so far.

The colonial square of Trinidad

The colonial square of Trinidad

Cuba

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

IMG_6289Before heading back to the happening city of Havana we headed to Santa Clara, the home of Che. His memorial and mausoleum is the main point for passing through. It dominates. It certainly made me wonder what they have planned for when Fidel dies. It certainly makes you think about the part he played in the revolution, his drive and passions for the communist and socialist movements. He is much more than just a face on a t-shirt that has become a bit of a fashion statement. This is a man who is an idol, a founder of modern Cuba, the respect for this man can be felt as you enter his mausoleum and walk around his memorial. It’s certainly thought provoking. Cuba

The monumental Che

The monumental Che

Arriving back into Havana I scrambled to fit in the last bits of sightseeing but just didn’t have enough time. There are still lots of galleries to explore, streets to wander and bars to try out. Cuba is a country that just keeps on giving, the friendliness of its people, its culture, and the way it makes you think about your perceived thoughts about its politics. There are so many reasons to return to Cuba. I have so many unanswered questions, and things will only keep changing and evolving there, especially if the continuing talks with the USA hold. Hopefully things will not change too quickly for the sake of the people and the islands innocence. Cuba

Roaming about Rome

Going to Rome for me is like going home. It’s a place I have spent years studying its history, getting under the skin of its ruins and ancient citizens and of course it has amazing food. Its been ten years since my last trip to Rome, how it has been so long I have no idea. The last time I was there was while I was at University, we had a three-week study tour and we spent most of it in Rome with a mid way session around the Bay of Naples. In that time we wandered around taking in as much as we could, visiting all the museums and galleries and making random jokes about Cicero that no one else would get – yes I am that much of a Classics Geek!

I think what does it for me with Rome is that everywhere you go there is history. This is a city that grows within itself. So much was buried over the centuries but then other bits were incorporated, buildings built into the side of ancient theatres, all that remains to remind you are the columns protruding out of the back. There are so many layers to this city. Around every corner there is something new… and some new food to try!

Sun setting over the Roman Forum

Sun setting over the Roman Forum

Having been to Rome a few times, I have got to the point where I no longer have to follow the tourist routes, but can go out and explore the periphery of the ancient city. For instance in our flat that we rented (good old Airbnb) we were just around the corner from a vast expanse of Roman wall that I didn’t know existed. Towering above us it just reminded you of the might of this city and the power of those that invaded it eventually. Heading further away from the tourist centre you come across forgotten triumphal arches, tombs of bakers and tiny little excavation sites that have been forgotten now they have been dug up.

Fabulous Roman Walls

Fabulous Roman Walls

the forgotten triumphal arches of an empire long gone

the forgotten triumphal arches of an empire long gone

wandering around Rome

wandering around Rome

the Colosseum, what else!

the Colosseum, what else!

Of course there is so much to explore outside of Rome. One of my favourite places is Ostia. Once the port of Rome it is now a ghost town. Lived in long after Pompeii was destroyed this is a perfect example of how a Roman town developed, its architecture and its life. There are examples of two story buildings, fabulous mosaics and rather splendid Baths. It fell into decline as the Roman Empire split and invaders moved south as it was no longer the main port and the people moved away. This ancient town, left to ruin is a remarkable and tranquil place. Wander through its streets, sit in its theatre, explore the forum and the baths and all the time it is peaceful, and surrounded by nature. There are never hoards of tourists, it’s not crowded, sometimes you can wander down two or three streets without seeing anyone – perfect!

Ostia, where nature is coexists with ruins

Ostia, where nature is coexists with ruins

Ostia

Ostia

Of course there is more to Rome than ruins. I have spent many a happy day exploring its museums and art galleries but the thing we end up planning the most is…… the next meal. There is an abundance of choice when it comes to food. Fabulous little hole in the wall pizza place, delicious fresh pasta and fish, and of course the gelato. Being out of the main tourist hub this visit we found ourselves in the student quarter and surrounded by amazing little trattoria serving up fresh home-made food. There is also a problem when it comes to food in Rome (like many big tourist cities) that there are so many tourist traps! Wandering around the Piazza Navona at night ( we thought we would stroll down there to see our old friend the Pantheon) and carried on walking in the search for food. We got to the Piazza and decided to stop, but on looking at the menu we decided it was a no. The prices they were charging for food we had on the other side of Rome were almost double. No thank you! So we walked on a bit and discovered a little place, the waiter was friendly so we thought why not give it a go. The menu was covered in asterisk saying ‘from frozen’ …. how can pasta be from frozen unless it’s a horrid microwave meal! scandalous! You are in Italy how dare you serve something that resembles a microwave meal when fresh pasta takes 2 minutes to cook! We decided very quickly at that point we were staying away from food in the tourist centre and stick to our fabulous local finds! It does make you wonder how many people come to Rome and end up in places like this, over charged for food or with a microwaved dish!

the gorgeous Pantheon

the gorgeous Pantheon

Gelato time!

Gelatto time!

Despite being scared by tourist restaurants this was a fab trip to Rome…. well other than the being thrown from a horse – yes that happened while we decided to go horse riding along the Appian Way. It started so peacefully trotting along looking at funerary monuments until I very quickly hit the ground. EEK!

Riding along the Appian Way

Riding along the Appian Way

Along the Appian Way

Along the Appian Way

Anyway as always Rome was magical. Full of life, history and amazing food. It’s somewhere I will never get tired of visiting, strolling past the Colosseum, sitting on a marble column or eating way too much ice cream for one day. Until next time my darling eternal city!

Memories of Morocco – a photo essay

The winter is setting in for good here in the UK. It is cold and grey and it is making me think of bright sunny places. Countries that are filled with warmth and colour, places like Morocco! It is such a vibrant and diverse country. Busy, bustling cities, crowded souks, quiet and serene deserts and stunning coastlines. This is a country that can only really be appreciated through the senses, words in my opinion do not do it justice. Therefore I have decided to show you some of my favourite bits of Morocco through some of my favourite photos.

Enjoy! x

Morocco………………………….

Rooftop memories - life on the top of a riad is calm away from the hustle and bustle of the streets below.

Rooftop memories – life on the top of a riad is calm away from the hustle and bustle of the streets below.

Inside the souks you can find many wonderous, and surprising things. I was not expecting a camel head as I turned the corner in the Fez souk

Inside the souks you can find many wonderous, and surprising things. I was not expecting a camel head as I turned the corner in the Fez souk

Life in the Fez Souk remains so unchanged and unburdened by modern life. Donkey's still do quite a lot of the work as the alley ways are too narrow for vehicles.

Life in the Fez Souk remains so unchanged and unburdened by modern life. Donkey’s still do quite a lot of the work as the alley ways are too narrow for vehicles.

The tanneries in Fez continue a way of life that has been going since the Roman age.

The tanneries in Fez continue a way of life that has been going since the Roman age.

Its hard to deny the architecture amazes. The traditional architecture especially in Fez remains so untouched.

Its hard to deny the architecture amazes. The traditional architecture especially in Fez remains so untouched.

As you drive from Marakkesh into the Atlas mountains the scenery changes so much as you get deeper into the mountains and desert. The quiet mountains are a restbite from the chaos of the city

As you drive from Marrakech into the Atlas mountains the scenery changes so much as you get deeper into the mountains and desert. The quiet mountains are a respite from the chaos of the city

Tranquil villages dot the landscape of the Atlas Mountains. Life here like in the old centre of Fez remain quite unchanged over teh centuries.

Tranquil villages dot the landscape of the Atlas Mountains. Life here like in the old centre of Fez remain quite unchanged over teh centuries.

Walking inside Todra Gorge. Walking through the gorge it is beautiful. The colours changing with the sun, the walls towering above you. It just highlights the many faces of Morocco.

Walking inside Todra Gorge. Walking through the gorge it is beautiful. The colours changing with the sun, the walls towering above you. It just highlights the many faces of Morocco.

The desert, its changing sands, dramatic landscape and kalidascope of colours. It is breathtaking standing on the top of a dune as the sun is rising.

The desert, its changing sands, dramatic landscape and kalidascope of colours. It is breathtaking standing on the top of a dune as the sun is rising.

As the sun sets over the desert it creates the most dramatic effects.

As the sun sets over the desert it creates the most dramatic effects.

As the sun sets, things become silent in the desert. Its calming being in the middle of this vast space.

As the sun sets, things become silent in the desert. Its calming being in the middle of this vast space.

Camels, the only way to travel when travelling in the desert!

Camels, the only way to travel when travelling in the desert!

Marakkesh is fantastic chaos, the souks bustling, the roads packed with cars and all converge on Jemaa el Fna, the market square. As day draws to a close and dusk sets in things begin to change, everyone begins to relax as evening sets in.

Marrakech is fantastic chaos, the souks bustling, the roads packed with cars and all converge on Jemaa el Fna, the market square. As day draws to a close and dusk sets in things begin to change, everyone begins to relax as evening sets in.

Jemaa el Fna - music fills the air, the coals of open barbaques fill the air with smoke, people everywhere - this is an evening in Marakesh!

Jemaa el Fna – music fills the air, the coals of open barbaques fill the air with smoke, people everywhere – this is an evening in Marakesh!

Art in unusal places

I was recently invited to the opening of an art residency at a hotel. The hotel was the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel in London. The Art Movement, an art consultancy, has taken up residence in the hotel and will in their programme showcase some of the world’s finest contemporary artists within the hotel lobby and Lowndes Bar & Kitchen Restaurant. The first artist being Chuck Elliott. The aim being that guests can view the art and purchase. It’s intended to be a new way of displaying art as an alternative to a gallery. The Art Movement want to demystify the process of acquiring original art.

blast/first/fracturerefract by chuck elliott

Chuck Elliot Blast/FIRST/fractureRefract . Taken from artnet.com

I quite like this idea of creating new ‘art galleries’ accessible to people who maybe wouldn’t wander into an art gallery. I like it when art is accessible to all people, I think that is why I am so drawn and interested by graffiti and street art. It’s a way for people to express themselves on an open canvas to a wide audience and get them thinking. Street art is something that I always look for when I am abroad as it gives you another layer to the culture and the people of the country you are in.

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Amazing use of space for art in Soweto

Amazing use of space for art in Soweto

One of my favourite cities for Street Art is Berlin. This is a city rich with art and it has a long history of expressing itself through art – just look at the East Side Gallery – the remnants of the Berlin Wall. It is showcase of politics, oppression, freedom and culture. Its one of my favourite galleries. But along with the wall, the streets and buildings of Berlin are littered with graffiti and art all showing different thoughts and feelings.

Its not only the East Side Gallery that show cases the artistic talents of the city but all surfaces, no matter their height. The sides of apartment buildings are painted to look like gardens, a wall full of sunflowers or words of expression.

Its not only the East Side Gallery that show cases the artistic talents of the city but all surfaces, no matter their height. The sides of apartment buildings are painted to look like gardens, a wall full of sunflowers or words of expression.

The East Side Gallery, the worlds longest open air art gallery.

The East Side Gallery, the worlds longest open air art gallery.

Of course here in London and the UK we are not short of street art. Just look at Banksy, he made a name from creating art, originally on the streets of Bristol, and then further a field. In the eyes of some he is just a graffiti artist or vandal while others are willing to pay millions for an original Banksy. Wandering around Bristol and spotting a Banksy is part of the fun of going to visit the lovely city.

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Here in London of course we are spoilt… yes I am not going to deny it most of the graffiti out there is just tagging and pretty non descript but then you go to somewhere like Shoreditch which is starting to become like a living art gallery, around every corner is an artistic surprise, big and small. I follow quite a few people on Instagram but I particularly like following Anissa Helou as she is always putting up new pieces she finds wandering around Shoreditch – I can admire the art wherever I am thanks to her pictures! The art has become so popular that tours are popping up to show it all off.

Shoreditch art

Shoreditch Street Art

More recently I have been introduced to an art project in Cuba Fusterlandia,created by Jose Fuster, known as the Picasso of the Caribbean. As you enter the Havana suburb you are met by block after block of mosaic creations. It’s a suburb that has been turned into a living art project and encourages the inhabitants to express themselves through their houses, gates and gardens! This is definitely something that I am very excited to explore when I go to Cuba in January!

Stepping away from paint into the world of sculpture there are so many places that are now being used as galleries outside of the norm. I like the idea of sculpture parks, like the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail. Putting a piece of sculpture in the context of nature, where the elements can get to it. Of course this is not art you can buy but it can be appreciated, and your perception and feelings towards it are always going to be different depending on the weather. You are more likely to rush around when its cold and wet than if it was a warm sunny day where you can linger and explore all the aspects of it. Sculpture parks and walks allow you to go back time after time and experience the same things in different ways, something that isn’t really possible in a climate controlled museum or gallery.

P1020881 P1020900There is so much creativity out there that its hard to contain it all within the four walls of an art gallery – of course do not tell that to all those boutique private galleries that fill the streets of London and other cities a like trying to sell the wares of artists. As long as it isn’t hurting anyone I do not see a problem with using new spaces to express yourself through art. I hope to keep seeing art popping up in unusual places. I encourage you to go out and find art in unusal places. Find something and keep going back and see how the elements effect your perceptions of it. Go and explore art – I dare you!

Costa Rica – adventures in Manuel Antonio

Sitting on a white sand beach, the pacific ocean lapping at my feet, all around me is rainforest. The monkey’s play in the trees behind and on a fallen tree sits a stunning blue and green iguana. This is paradise, this is Costa Rica!

It’s a country only the size of Switzerland but is home to a range of ecological systems, countless wildlife species and fabulous white sand beaches. It offers so many reasons to visit.

Having no army means that the country spends its money on education and the environment instead of guns and tanks. This of course makes for a happy and positive population. With 26% of the country National Parks and protected it just reflects how important having 5% of the world’s biodiversity is to them and of course for everyone else its a key reason to visit this fabulous country.

I found myself leaving San Jose for the Central Pacific Coast for Manuel Antonio National Park, which is one of the 28 National Parks and Biological Reserves in the country. Sitting right on the Pacific Coast it’s where rainforest meets beach.

First stop was a mangrove river cruise in Guacalillo. We boarded our boats and before we even moved we were surrounded by the most stunning Scarlett Macaws. Flying above our heads from tree to tree in their pairs the colour of their feathers brightening up the sky. The colours were mesmerising. It always amazes me how the guides manage to spot animals in the forest when travelling at speed on a boat, but spot the guides did. Soon we were gazing upon water walking lizards, monkeys, birds of all kinds and then those giants of the river, the crocodile. Huge creatures just lounging in the sun until they disappear into the murky water just their eyes at the surface. It’s at this point you are glad to be in a large boat. Being out in the mangrove was a wonderful introduction to the huge amount of wildlife that Costa Rica holds, this small section of river that we journeyed on was teaming with life, truly amazing.

Heading out into the mangroves

Heading out into the mangroves

Scarlett Macaws

Scarlett Macaws

Water walking lizard

Water walking lizard

Racoons!

Racoons!

Don't disturb a sunbathing crocodile

Don’t disturb a sunbathing crocodile

Costa RIca

Costa Rica

As much as I would have loved to have spent many more hours journeying deeper into the mangroves it was time to leave and continue our journey to Manuel Antonio. Luck was clearly on our side because the moment we got back to the jetty the heavens opened and the much talked about rain of the rainy season started and did not stop until morning. This was epic rain like I have never seen, and rain we would continue to see every afternoon while in Costa Rica.

Travelling along the coast, passing through the beach towns that are frequented by the residents of San Jose at the weekend we eventually reached Manuel Antonio. Very few hotels actually have access to the beaches and those on the coast side vie for sea views. Many are perched on the cliff side or surrounded by forest. I spent the next two nights at the Hotel El Parador. It was a charming hotel with a colonial decor, dark wood and high ceilings. The main building offered spectacular views of the coast and the bays it created, the adult pool looking out over the cliff. The hotel offered a range of rooms, from the basic garden rooms which were ground floor and as the name suggests look out onto the garden. The rooms go up in grade offering more spectacular views of the sea and bays. The suites go as far as to have a hot tub on the balconies, a great place to enjoy the views. With a jam-packed itinerary we didn’t have much time to lounge around the hotel, but one evening we did spot the local toads and frogs making themselves at home in the main pool, an odd sight indeed!

The rain held itself back for our first morning in Manuel Antonio and the clouds cleared ready for us setting out on a catamaran tour. The 2.5 hour tour takes you out into the Pacific along the coast, the hope was to see whales and dolphins but they did not come out for us. Disappointed but the spectacular scenery made up for it. The rainforest spilling over the cliff edges into the ocean, this was true nature at its best. The blue sea crashing against the cliffs. Natural beaches etched into the bays offering an entrance into the dense rainforest, this is paradise. Going out onto the ocean of course means you can snorkel or swim in the warm waters, eagerly needed by everyone having sat in the hot sun for too long. After a refreshing dip and fish kebab cooked by the crew we headed back to shore because the afternoon was to be spent in the National Park, something I was greatly looking forward too.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park from teh Catamaran

Manuel Antonio National Park from the Catamaran

Inside the park is a beach, one that we had seen from the catamaran and this was to be our destination. The national park is currently going under quite a bit of work to make more trails for visitors so they can get deeper into the forest, something I definitely want to go back and experience. As we followed the main path into the park we were only a few hundred meters from the entrance when a troop of Capuchin monkeys appeared. They were crossing the path and were so at ease with us all being there. Not tame but not bothered by us at all. They were happy to pass between us on the path to get to the trees on the other side. This was odd for me having only experienced the Amazon Rainforest before where animal sightings are scarce in the dense forest. There was a Capuchin monkey standing right next to me – truly amazing.  As we carried on eyes peeled for any other sightings we soon found the one thing I really wanted to tick off my list, the sloth! High in the trees there he was climbing higher to get his leaves. He was just as I had imagined, long limbed, shaggy fur, the quizzical faces, my first sloth in the wild and he did not disappoint.

Capucin monkey's

Capuchin monkey’s

Costa Rica

Sharing the path with leaf cutter ants

Sharing the path with leaf cutter ants

Just a sloth hanging around

Just a sloth hanging around

Just this one path from the entrance to the beach was full of life, the path shared with leaf cutter ants going about their business, monkeys, sloths, beautiful birds and then the white sand beach, the trees spilling out onto the sand. As we walked along the sand we came across a fallen tree now the sun lounger for two impressive looking iguanas, one such tremendous shades of blue. Fallen coconuts being lapped by the waves on the beach. This is paradise. As I took everything in sitting on the sand there were more Capuchins behind us in the trees. I had only been in the park a couple of hours, imagine spending a few days here, or staying in a lodge within one of the national parks.

Manuel Antonio National Park beach

Manuel Antonio National Park beach

Beautiful blue iguana

Beautiful blue iguana

If you love wildlife, oh hell, if you are vaguely interested in it then this is the place to come because you cannot escape the wonders it offers. Of course there is so much more on offer than beaches and wildlife. Costa Rica is building a reputation for quite the adventure destination, be it zip lining through the forests, rafting on rivers or light trekking, there really is something for everyone in this tiny country!