Sunday, 25 February 2018

Travel: Amritsar and The Golden Temple

Our penultimate stop on our speedy galavant around Northern India was Amritsar (before heading back to New Delhi). Leaving Jaipur bright and early (are you sensing a theme here?) we took two internal flights and landed in a much cooler climate. I have clearly acclimatised to Dubai life as Amritsar's chilly 19 degrees had me rushing to H&M to buy a jumper when London me would have been breaking out a flimsy floral dress and sandals.

Amritsar golden temple

The jumper turned out to be a wise purchase as our first evening in the city took us to the Golden Temple to witness the Palki Sahib ceremony where the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is carried from the temple to the religious parliament for the night. The next morning, the TV in my hotel room showed live footage of the holy book being "woken up" for the day and taken back to the temple.

Amritsar golden temple

Amritsar golden temple

Amritsar golden temple

Amritsar golden temple

We went back to the Golden Temple early the next morning to see it by day. Shoes must be removed and you have to walk through a shallow moat to get into the temple - slip on shoes and leggings which can be stylishly rolled up was my attire of choice. Men and women alike need to cover their heads within the temple and grounds as a sign of respect. The men in our group enjoyed a turban-tying session at our hotel before we left, I re-acquainted myself with my trusty sarong.

The temple in the morning was one of my favourite experiences of the entire trip - the place is truly magical. Despite being busy, it's a place of serene calm, no raised voices, no one rushing. Unlike the Taj Mahal, the temple is a living building with pilgrims visiting from all over India to pray and to bathe in the holy waters. The temple kitchens are a sight to behold - all pilgrims are fed for free and the giant kitchen spends all day cooking up generous portions of vegetarian food. The kitchens making roti smelled absolutely divine!

kuoni india amritsar

kuoni india amritsar

Shoes back on, we wandered the streets around the temple for a spot of shopping. I, to my annoyance, was not hungry enough to pop into the fully vegetarian McDonalds.  We also visited the Jalianwala Bagh, the sight of the tragic Amritsar Massacre which took place during British rule - colonialism has left a long shadow indeed.

kuoni india amritsar

kuoni india amritsar

kuoni india amritsar

The afternoon involved my most not-how-I-expected experience - the change of the guard at the Wagah Border, the only road crossing between India and Pakistan. Unlike the London "change of the guard" this is a rather raucous affair, locals and tourists alike pack the benches of a football-stadium-cum-amphitheatre while Bollywood music blares and ice cream and Coca-Cola sellers mingle among the crowds. A cat, oblivious to national borders, slunk between the India and Pakistan gates oblivious to the fuss being made on either side. The ceremony itself involved a lot of high kicks and a choreographed "dance" between guards on either side of the boarder. It's sort of light-hearted but also a little sad given the history of the partitioning. The fog / smog / pollution makes these photos look duller than the experience actually was.

So...that concludes my India postings! We did this Kuoni tour which was a thorough but fast-paced jaunt around Northern India - the perfect introduction to a country I can't wait to go back to.


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Food: Brunch at Sesame Dubai

breakfast menu sesame dubai

My current Saturday routine is a good one - brunch at a new spot, a walk on the beach and an afternoon nap. I would say that I could get used to this but...I already have. It won't be long before we're back in the "indoor only" months so now is the time for exploring my still-sort-of-new city. Last Saturday we headed to Sesame Dubai for their breakfast menu. Located in Sunset Mall, the beach is a two minute walk away for a post-brunch wander and the menu promised tasty, healthy fare with a lot of veggie options.

breakfast menu sesame dubai

breakfast menu sesame dubai

breakfast menu sesame dubai

While browsing the menu and taking in the decor I ordered a "black milk" - homemade cashew milk, black sesame seeds, banana and honey. It was delicious and a great alternative to coffee, although I would have loved to have seen some coffee-based drinks on the menu featuring the homemade cashew milk, too.

The decor is really lovely and its clear that a lot of thought has gone into make Sesame a place to linger - my phone did not go in the box but it's a cute idea! There are magazines to read and succulents decorating the tables. We arrived at around 10am (probably a personal best for a Saturday) and grabbed a booth in the naturally lit dining area (so important for Instagram-worthy food photos!).

breakfast menu sesame dubai

I obviously had to have the avocado on toast with goats' cheese, honey and thyme. Such a good combination! The sourdough bread was delicious and the portion sized was perfect. My boyfriend had the potato rosti with poached eggs and avocado (I'm a good Instagram girlfriend and he is allowed to start eating while I photograph mine from seven angles). Service was speedy and friendly but it pretty much always is in Dubai!

breakfast menu sesame dubai

We were the only diners at first but by the time we left a few more tables were occupied. It was a shame that such a lovely spot wasn't as busy as it should be but maybe when more stores open inside Sunset Mall that will change (and maybe we were just there painfully early for a Saturday morning). They are on Deliveroo, too, and while I'm trying to curb my Deliveroo habit I definitely want to order some of the lunch options soon.

Sesame Dubai
Sunset Mall
Jumeirah 3 

Sesame Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Friday, 16 February 2018

Travel: Jaipur - The Pink City

After leaving Ranthambore, at some point while travelling the opposite way along the bumpy road I thought I had seen the back of two days previously, I had my first inkling of a feeling I will call: I-never-want-to-go-back-to-wherever-home-is-please-let-me-stay-in-India-and-find-myself-forever-and-ever. Arriving in Jaipur cemented my ~girl travels to India~ groove, I mean, it's a pink city, what is not to like?

After an evening visiting a Hindu temple for the ceremony of light, we had one packed day in Jaipur, ending in a few more "Blue Riband" gins, possibly some slightly tipsy WhatsApp-ing of the above sentiments before a morning flight to Amritsar.

The highlight of Jaipur is the City Palace. It is so beautiful and Instagram-worthy and yes, I spent ages waiting by the peacock door to get a perfect snap when no one was walking through. The back of the door depicts the back of the peacocks. Wonderful. 

The Amber Fort is set high on a hillside and we took a bumpy open-back jeep ride to the entrance which was my favourite part. My mother and I tried and failed to come up with fort puns. The never-ending stream of elephants through the gates is a sad sight - such majestic creatures should not be reduced to carting selfie-stick wielding tourists on their backs. Pleased to confirm that our group did not partake. 

The Palace of the Winds is as Accidentally-Wes-Anderson as they come. It's not an actual palace - it's just a facade built so that society ladies could discreetly glimpse at the happenings on the street below without being spotted. Tourist accoutrements a-plenty in the shops opposite!

We also visited the observatory and learned out to tell the time using sundials and had lunch at the beautiful Samode Haveli, as well as perusing silks, gemstones and carpets, loaning out my father as a "carpet broker" in the process because Persians can spot the difference between 300 and 400 knots-per-inch at five metres (possibly).

We stayed at the Trident Jaipur which is opposite the Water Palace which reflects beautifully in the surrounding lake at night. We started our Jaipur day with an early morning yoga session with a "yoga guru" who later poured me a gin at the bar because #balance.

Well, that was a whirlwind Jaipur run-down. Final destination, Amritsar, coming very soon! 

Monday, 12 February 2018

Travel: Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

After bidding Agra farewell, we embarked on the "long road to Ranthambore". If six hours of bumping along dusty roads on a bus doesn't give you a hefty serving of perspective then nothing will. Travelling in India is oftentimes a strange experience, it's not always easy to embrace the holiday feeling when your purported "luxury travel" experience is so far removed from the day-to-day of small roadside villages, the lives that are glimpsed through a window briefly.

Our first stop was the abandoned city of Fatepur Sikri, the once-capital of the Mughal Empire was a thriving fortress until it was abandoned in 1610. It's still pretty much in-tact and provided ample stretching of legs before continuing our journey. "I am all fort-ed out" I told my mother - forgetting the above regarding perspective and being bloody well lucky enough to be galavanting around a new country just for the fun of it. 

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

We stopped again for lunch at Laxmi Villas Palace, the opulence again strangely jarring against the villages we had driven through earlier in the day.

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

We arrived at the Sawai Madhopur Lodge in time for dinner. This was my favourite of all the places we stayed. HRH Queen Elizabeth herself once stayed here (albeit in the 1970s), continuing our Royal theme from New Delhi. The low-rise lodge felt at once like Out of Africa and a sixth form common room (not that my sixth form common room had tiger taxidermy, mind). The staff were so lovely, the bar stocked my new favourite "Blue Riband" gin and the paneer curry at dinner was delish.

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

Bright and early the next morning, we headed on our first game drive. The lodge had laid out a spread of tea, coffee and cakes with breakfast promised on our return. Warning - the drive is a little bumpy and there are no bathrooms on safari, so partake at your own risk! Mornings are chilly so wear the warmest item you have packed, preferably supplemented with a sarong-as-headscarf to avoid the dust.

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

We sadly did not see any tigers but I loved the peace and quiet of the national park and watching the sky get lighter and feeling a new day unfolding. Arriving back in time for a very late breakfast, the rest of the time in Ranthambore was spent relaxing at the lodge in anticipation of another day of moving on, this time to Jaipur...

kuoni temple tiger taj trail


Saturday, 10 February 2018

Life: Taking Stock - Dubai Edition

Today marks one year since I hopped on a one-way flight from London to Dubai. And what a year it has been. I thought I'd re-visit this "taking stock" post from 2014 to commemorate my one year "Dubai-versary" as I've already re-visited 2017, shared what I've "learned" and put together an FAQ of sorts.

Shameless use of Instagram Stories' filters.
Making :: Plans for one of the last "cooler' months.
Cooking :: I haven't cooked since I moved to Dubai. I make a good cocktail, though.
Drinking :: Water. Desert life is dehydrating and it's not gin o'clock yet.
Reading :: The Girls by Emma Cline. Halfway through and I love it.
Wanting :: To stop worrying about things that haven't / maybe won't ever happen.
Looking :: Like I near a haircut, can confirm an avocado-rich diet will work wonders.
Playing :: With my accidental "stacking rings" which I cannot get off my finger.
Deciding :: Whether a bubble tea is a reasonable Deliveroo order.
Wishing :: That this pleasant February temperature could stick around for the rest of the year.
Enjoying :: That life looks very different from this time last year and that it's all the better for it.
Waiting :: For my first Namshi (Dubai's sort-of ASOS) order to arrive.
Liking :: All of your Instagram photos that the algorithm shows me.
Wondering :: How I ever used to stay awake beyond midnight.
Loving :: All the people in my life who make this ride a little easier, who make me laugh and who help me remember that I'm not doing this on my own.
Pondering :: Do I really need a bubble tea? Is it worth 30dhs?
Considering :: An afternoon nap. A habit I scorned in my previous life.
Watching :: I haven't watched TV since it became cool enough to go outside.
Hoping :: For so much, all at once.
Marvelling :: That since moving here I've conquered my fear of water and now enthuse about snorkeling and stand-up paddle-boarding.
Needing :: To Kon-Mari my apartment before I move in...8 days!
Smelling :: My collection of Bath & Body Works candles after an accidental purchase earlier.
Wearing :: A dress purchased in a Madrid market for 5 Euros.
Following :: Instagram accounts of too-cute cafes in Hong Kong for my trip there next month.
Noticing :: A fly that has somehow got in to my apartment.
Knowing :: That everything will be okay.
Thinking :: That Instagram should let you group accounts you follow - the Hong Kong cafes are going to get lost amid the breakfast and slime accounts (life-changing) I follow.
Feeling :: Content and hopeful with just the tiniest sliver of help-what-am-I-doing-what-have-I-done which gets smaller and smaller each day.
Admiring :: My painting skills (evidence).
Sorting :: My wardrobe. It's going if I've not worn it since I moved here. I say.
Buying :: Birkenstocks (these) because I've worn heels once in the last six months.
Getting :: Impatient about things I have no control over.
Disliking :: The above.
Opening :: No post as I don't have a mailbox. Liberating unless someone wants to send me something.
Giggling :: After gin consumption, sometimes before.
Snacking :: The cost of food here does wonders to curb a snacking habit (is bubble tea a snack?).
Coveting :: All of Glossier. Still.
Helping :: In small ways, where I can.
Hearing :: The screech of supercars, where are we again?

Have you taken stock lately?

Monday, 5 February 2018

Travel: Agra and The Taj Mahal

We left New Delhi bright and early, on the 7.30am train to Agra. Navigating an Indian train station after not even taking the tube for nearly six months was a challenge, especially pre-coffee. A few hours later we were dropping our bags at the Trident Hotel and setting off on a tour of the colonial parts of the city, taking in the Post Office and St George's Cathedral.

After a few hours of downtime (which may or may not have involved a pizza by the pool - I know) we headed to the Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, otherwise known as the "Baby Taj". Say hi to my parents in the below photo! The tomb is surrounded by gatehouses which are just as beautiful and it's the perfect prelude to the Taj.

The obvious highlight of Agra, the Taj Mahal, necessitated another early alarm call. We didn't quite see the sunrise but arriving early meant avoiding the worst of the queues and the crowds. Seeing such places is always a strange experience, I find, you sort of feel like you've seen it before you have actually seen it and then it's never quite what you're expecting but you're not sure what you were expecting. It's hard to put into words. I did get some great photos and yes, I did get told off for the yoga pose...

Our final stop in Agra was the Red Fort. I wandered around quoting Game of Thrones to my bemused father who has never read / watched it.

In the evening, I got my palm read and my star chart done which was spookily accurate and a really nice experience (I am very into all things "woo"). I headed up for an early night to scrawl everything down in my travel journal before tiredness and India's finest "Blue Riband" gin made me forget. Next stop - Ranthambore.. 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Life: January Round-Up

Oh, January, when you were good you were very very good and when you were bad you were horrid. Our first segment of 2018 is done, though, and this month has definitely seen some pieces fall into place which should make the rest of this year smoother sailing (cryptic I know). As January's go, it's been one of my best - selected and curated highlights below:

1. Seeing in the new year - the light show on the Burj Khalifa, the friendly neighbourhood tallest-building-in-the-world, was incredible. As was falling asleep before half-past midnight, remembering the entire night and contentedly staying in making grilled cheese sandwiches.

2. New year's day was spent stand-up paddle-boarding - we achieved the "stand-up" part and I was left with aching arms and an annoying, all encompassing sense of smugness.

3. Yoga with Adriene's "True" has been a January highlight, I love the idea of doing the same daily videos with hundreds and thousands of people around the world and I've gained so much more than a less-clicky neck.

4. I spotted this lightbulb installation in City Walk and so had to try to track the rest down - I didn't find them all as the clues were quite difficult but I love these types of things regardless (evidence here).

5. I ran the Dubai 10k after a long hiatus from running - not my best time ever but I felt pretty good crossing the finish line and it was lovely to catch-up with the amazing Anna (who had run the full marathon) for an iced Starbucks afterwards.

6. Re-creating one of my first ever Dubai meals (and Instagram photos) at Le Pain Quotidien. A lot has changed in the last year but I still love avocado on toast.

7. Trying out some new coffee pods - Belmio's pods are Nespresso-machine compatible, recyclable and taste great. Pastries on side not optional.

8. What's on my bedside table? My Bando planner for scrawling down thoughts before they have a chance to wake me at 4am, Rupi Kaurs's poetry, Ruby Tandoh's "Do What You Want", Jessica Bennett's "Feminist Fight Club" and a scattering of millennial pink.

9. I hosted my bookclub's latest meeting - we discussed The Power which I loved and others...didn't love so much...! The best books are the ones that spark debate and discussion - I'd love to know what you thought if you've read it.

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