Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Monthly Round-Up: April 2019

A third of the year has already gone by? I meant to sit down and pen a blog post or two many times in April but finally finishing "Killing Commendatore", finishing up at my corporate job, teaching myself how to make macrame plant hangers and, yes, indulging in morning and afternoon naps on each weekend day has meant little time for blogging.

I've also been spending spare moments studying for my holistic health coach course, and I'm working with one of my favourite bloggers/health coaches/all round inspirers, Laura, to launch my own coaching business. I'll be working through her Kickstarter course in May to really focus on the direction I want to take, and also continuing my studies as I can't let my 100% pass rate slip now...

I'm taking a bit of time out from the (don't we wish it was just) 9-5 to delve more into all the little things that have piqued my interest since taking a step back from an all-consuming career path last year. The upcoming time on my hands is also making me consider making a long-contemplated move to Wordpress after over nine years on Blogger...I still find it slightly crazy how typing into this white box and clicking the little orange "Publish" button has been the one constant in my life since 2009!

Here's what April looked like...

1. Breakfast at Myocum - pretty much a weekend staple, I love their matcha lattes, changing weekend specials menu and super friendly vibe.

2. In a rare moment of domesticity, we purchased a food processor and I put it to good use making a batch of maca energy balls (equal amounts dates and almonds with maca powder and cinnamon) which didn't last very long in the fridge.

3. Enjoying the last days of being able to eat outdoors in Dubai with breakfast at Amongst Few.

4. My first macrame plant holder - these are for sale on Etsy and Saffron Souk and I'll be adding lots more soon as our guest bedroom is becoming overrun with my creations. 

5. A pre-summer party at Caesar's Palace on Bluewaters Island with my now former employer! 

6. After finishing Killing Commendatore (and enjoying every page of it's beautifully slow tale), I picked Men Without Women back up for a second attempt - short stories will never really be my thing but I'm enjoying this one on a second attempt. 

7. Lunch at Coya in Abu Dhabi - if you're a vegan/veggie who doesn't like mushrooms then you are missing out on the likes of this shiitake maki.

8. I've been experimenting with making pancakes at home again - these ones might just be my best yet (100g oats, 2 scoops of Vanilla Huel, 2 bananas, 200ml almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon) served on my favourite plate.

9. Another macrame project - a very simple knotted wall hanging. 


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Beirut: A Three-Day Itinerary

One of my goals for this year was to travel more within the Middle East and Beirut was a great starting point. Situated on the Mediterranean cost, Beirut feels like the perfect mix of a European and Middle Eastern city, and a great starting point for exploring more of the region that is now home.

Three nights and three days was the perfect amount of time to explore Beirut, here's my three day itinerary and map of the city.

Day 1:

8am: Wake up early at the Three O Nine Hotel in Hamra after landing in Beirut the night before. Our hotel arranged us a taxi from the airport and we checked in, grabbed a drink in the hotel's rooftop bar and called it an early night. The hotel provided a simple breakfast of coffee, tea, juices, fruit and pastries to start the day.

9.30am: Explore the grounds of the American University of Beirut (enter through the main gate on Bliss Street and provide a form of ID to the main desk), a beautiful campus bordering the Mediterranean and home to many, many cats. Some will definitely approach and want a quick cuddle before being distracted by butterflies/food/another cat.

11am: Have brunch at Urbanista on Bliss Street, a cafe/working space serving Lebanese and Western dishes with plenty of vegan options and almond milk coffees. I had a great matcha latte.

12pm: Wander through Beirut's winding streets to the promenade and Raouche Rocks, two large rock formations just off of the coast. The Starbucks here provides the best viewing gallery through its picture windows and roof terrace, and provides a (coconut milk) caffeinated pit stop.

2pm: Wander back through Hamra's shopping streets to Dar Bistro and Books for a late lunch. This cafe is tucked away just off of "Rome" before the junction with Clemenceau Clinic and has a cute colourful terrace area and an on-site book shop. The grilled avocados were delicious.

3.30pm: Walk to Downtown Beirut, the city's upscale district of chic apartment buildings, designer brands and upscale eateries.

5pm: During the summer, check out a rooftop bar at Le Patio or Iris Beirut. These weren't opened on our visit so we opted for a meandering walk along the corniche back to Hamra.

7pm: Grab a drink at one of Hamra's many bars - The Liquor Coffee Store is open 24 hours for coffee by day and cocktails by night (and has a popcorn machine). Sit in the open window and don't be surprised if a cat jumps on to your table. Shout out to the tattooed DJs doing shots of Absinthe at 7pm.

Day 2:

9am: Hire a driver for a day trip out of the city. Our hotel arranged this for us for $130 for the two of us and it meant we were able to take the day at our own pace.

10am: Just a thirty minute drive from Beirut (traffic permitting) the Jeita Grotto is a must-visit. A cable car takes you to the upper grotto which is a huge, cavernous space filled with limestone stalectites and stalecmites, a wander downhill after takes you to the lower grotto which you visit by boat. The grottos are magical, even more so due to no phones or cameras being allowed.

11.30am: Stop at the village of Harissa and board another cable car for a trip up the mountains into the clouds. Visit the Our Lady of Lebanon statue and tiny church underneath before returning to sea level - the views from the cable car are amazing but maybe one to avoid if you have a fear of heights.

1.30pm: Stop on the way for Byblos for lunch - our driver recommended us a restaurant on the coast which served up a feast of Lebanese food and enough fruit to feed a family for desert.

3pm: Arrive at Byblos and explore the narrow streets filled with cafes and gift shops, be sure to pay a visit to the fossilised fish museum!

4pm: Pay the entrance fee for the Byblos Castle and explore the ruins of the castle and surrounding settlement. The scant regard for health and safety rules means that the castle is your playground.

5pm: Return to Beirut to avoid the worst of the traffic.

7pm: Head to Falafel Karim Sahyoun for a quick bite - a falafel wrap here is only £1.50. If falafel isn't your thing, there are plenty of shwarma and crepe stalls dotted along every street in this student-friendly part of town.

8pm: Bar hopping along Cheikh Elias Gaspard Street - we settled in Ales and Tails, a three story cocktail bar with a chakra-themed cocktail menu (much synchronicity!) and which serves made-in-Beirut Three Brothers' Gin. The Crystal Healing cocktail (gin, rosemary and crystal oil) was my favourite.

Day 3:

10am: Enjoy a lazy breakfast at Cafe Younes in Hamra and/or a coffee from Kaldi Coffee bar to ease in to the morning.

11am: Wander back to Downtown Beirut, stopping by the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque, Saint George Creek Orthodox Cathedral and the Lebanese Parliament. Grab a coffee in Nijmeh Square by the clocktower which was reinstated after the civil war.

1pm: Head to Liza Beirut via Saifi Village, a smart neighborhood dotted with galleries and independent shops. Liza is located in an old Lebanese house in the Achrafieh district, just set back from the main street and came highly recommended.

1.30pm: Enjoy a leisurely lunch in beautiful surroundings, I don't usually go for higher-end restaurants when on holiday but this one was stunning, the food delicious and service unpretentious. I'd recommend making a booking for dinner or for the Sunday brunch which are popular with locals and visitors alike.

3pm: Walk back to Hamra, grabbing a post-lunch coffee or matcha latte at Urbanista.

4.30pm: Hop in a taxi back to Beirut airport.

7.30pm: Bid farewell, and see you soon, to Beirut.

Some Tips

- the official currency is Lebanese Pounds (1000LBP is £0.50) but its best to take dollars and receive Lebanese Pounds in change.

- be careful crossing roads, the "green man" appears to be advisory only but Beirut is very walkable. Aside from our day trip and airport runs we only traveled by foot.

- for budgeting, a cocktail is around $10, a nice brunch or lunch for two around $30 and a coffee $3-4. Street food is very budget friendly (although mostly not gluten/dairy intolerant friendly) and every restaurant we visited had vegan options (in a traditional restaurant skip the mains and get a selection of cold meze and side dishes).

- don't be surprised to see armed soldiers everywhere, and checkpoints throughout the city, especially in the area around the parliament. Yes, Beirut has some history but I felt no more or less safe than on my last visit to London or Paris.

- Beirut is a really friendly city so be sure to ask for recommendations, we wouldn't have discovered a few of the places we visited without chatting to locals and bartenders.

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Monday, 1 April 2019

Monthly Round-Up: March 2019

We're a quarter of the way through 2019. How are everyone's new year goals holding up? If I'm going to hit my reading goal of 52 books in a year I had better get back to Murakami once I've finished writing this...

1. A long-awaited new piercing at Maria Tash in Dubai Mall as a treat to myself for the early repayment of a loan owed to the Bank of Dad. Yes I appreciate the irony of celebrating being debt-free by spending more money. I opted for a tiny paisley forward helix, the experience was very pleasant and less than a month later my new piercing has pretty much healed.

2. The weather has been rather mixed for the last month which made for a blustery sea walk and fluffy clouds at sunset beach. I will miss the cooler days and occasional rain once summer truly arrives.

3. Pancake day at L'Eto - this cafe in Fashion Avenue is my new favourite, it's always so busy and while it's not the cheapest, the iced latte served as coffee ice cubes with warm milk is a must-try and something that I now want every single day, despite not really drinking coffee anymore.

4. Lunch at Myocum, one of my regular weekend spots (lots of plant-based options and the staff are so nice). The raw pad Thai salad with tofu wontons was really good, and this cafe does my favourite matcha latte in all of Dubai. My boyfriend declared the warm breakfast bowl with poached eggs and chorizo to be the "best breakfast ever" too.

5. Brunch (the all-afternoon Dubai variety) at All'onda at the Kempinski Emerald Palace Hotel. The views of the Palm are amazing and the Japanese/Italian fusion cuisine was delicious. I graciously let my boyfriend eat all the meat dishes and I loved the spicy bloody Mary, sweet potato maki rolls and truffle arancini balls. [Disclosure - PR invite]

6. Art night in DIFC - I missed the evening itself as haven't really kept pace with what's been going on in Dubai recently but snapped these flamingos while on an afternoon "buying a matcha latte" excursion.

7. I finally got my haircut (at Y-12 in DIFC) and, for the first time in nearly two years, it feels like I have my actual hair back after losing around a third of it in my first few months in Dubai. Crediting the regrowth on hair vitamins (just Holland and Barratt's own brand), one tub of collagen powder which I didn't repurchase as it isn't vegan-friendly, lots of yoga and no longer doing a job I despise.

8. A long weekend in Beirut to end the month, mostly spent walking around and petting cats. My three-day itinerary will be up soon.

9. Out on a school night to celebrate four years of La Cantine (one of my favourite evening haunts). The theme was "rock chic" if you cannot tell from my pose/outfit. After a long time of feeling uncomfortable in front of the camera I'm finally starting to feel a bit better about how I look and being photographed again - you might see a bit more of "me" on my own Instagram if this continues...

How was your March?

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Reading List: March 2019

A slightly slower month on the reading front but here are my reads from March...

book blogger, book review

Everything Under, Daisy Johnson

I finished this at the beginning of March. It turned out to be much more of a complex book than I imagined, with multiple themes, a dash of mysticism and a pervading sense of darkness throughout. It's not the easiest read, both in writing style and subject matter, but it was a rewarding one. Very much looking forward to discussing this at my book club.

American Like Me, America Ferrera 

A collection of essays compiled and contributed to by America Ferrera which delves into the experience of life between cultures in modern day America. The range of essayists is as diverse as the subject matters covered - political activists, actors, writers, athletes and models delve into what it means being American today by way of long-form essays, short anecdotes, jovial recollections of childhood and deeper ruminations on culture, race and politics. As a bi-cultural person myself, I related to more than a few of the anecdotes, challenges but also the joys in growing up between two cultures and given the current political situation in the US, this book feels deeply relevant right now to everyone.

Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami 

I'm at the halfway point! I'm still making progress on this and reading a chapter before I go to sleep each night really helps me wind down in the evenings. I'm enjoying the slow pace of this one and the welcome return of some of Murakami's themes (but with enough novelty to make this not feel like a re-read of his earlier works) and I'd be happy for it to never end.

A Knight in the Seven Kingdoms, George RR Martin

I started reading this book last year but only got one chapter in. I found this on my bookshelf after finishing American Like Me and needing something to throw in my bag for lunch breaks and while waiting for appointments (I can never not be reading something) and am going to give it another go. I read (and LOVED) the original Game of Thrones novels back in 2016 so I'm looking forward to delving back into this world ahead of the final TV series being released.

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What have you been reading this month?


Friday, 15 March 2019

Seychelles Money Diary - A Week In Paradise On A Budget

A 31-year-old working at a law firm in Dubai spends a week in the Seychelles and spends some of her money on avocados...

seychelles, seychelles budget travel, seychelles travel blog
They Seychelles isn't an obvious budget destination but given the direct, four hour flights from Dubai, my boyfriend and I spent a week on Mahe Island in February in an attempt to prove everyone who told us that the only way to visit is to spend £500+ per night on a luxury resort wrong.

Having been to Vietnam and Bali I knew that we wouldn't be able to get a meal for £2 or a massage for £6 as almost all the food is imported, mostly from France, and this pushes the prices up, especially for items aimed at the tourist market.

All prices here are in pounds and are for the both of us. The official currency of the Seychelles is the Seychelles Rupee (which you cannot get hold of outside of the Seychelles). I took EUR600 with me in cash which larger establishments will accept, giving you change in Rupees and also used my credit card on a few bigger purchases. Obviously there's the small issue of the current poor Pound-Euro exchange rate which meant that some items were pricer than I thought they were at the time.

The basics:

Accommodation: We stayed in a cute, 1970s style Airbnb in Machabee, a two minute walk from a practically private beach and a 10-15 minute drive from Beau Vallon, the main beach resort on Mahe Island (£644.20) 

Flights: Emirates fly direct from Dubai to Mahe Island in 4 hours. (£675 

Travel insurance: we both have medical insurance that would cover us in the Seychelles, so opted not to get an additional travel insurance policy.

Pre-holiday spending: living in Dubai we have summer clothes and suncream a-plenty so no purchases were made.

seychelles travel blog, seychelles on a budget
The view from the terrace at our Airbnb

Day 1: 

7am: airport spending on a bottle of Hendrinks (£32) and breakfast (reminder that Dubai is expensive here). (£18.50)

2.30pm: two bottles of water after landing in the Seychelles after a smooth four hour flight. (£3.40)

2.35pm: pick up and pay for our hire car for the week. (£375)

3pm: arrive at our Airbnb and meet our hosts, Gene and Philip. They are super lovely and left some bread, jam, eggs, milk and bottled water in the fridge for us. We unpack and explore the rock pool behind our home for the week.

5pm: drive to Beau Vallon in search of a supermarket to buy food for dinner. The one promising-looking shop is closed so head to a tiny supermarket and buy a single Diet Coke, four cans of tonic water, almond milk, bottled water and...nothing remotely dinner-worthy. (£12.80)

7pm: make G&Ts and a sad first night dinner of quinoa (brought from home) and poached eggs (from our Airbnb host). It is...not the most visually appealing meal but we are starving and in the Seychelles and can barely stop laughing to even eat it.

Day 2:

8.30am: breakfast on our Airbnb terrace - oats (brought from home) with almond milk and trail mix (brought from home) while side-eyeing the under-ripe papaya on the tree in our garden and yearning for fresh fruit.

11am: wander around Victoria (Africa's smallest capital city), check out the covered market and buy two bottles of water while wandering. (£0.90) 

11.30am: stop at a coffee shop to cool down, green juice for me and a coffee for H (the Aussie coffee culture hasn't yet reached the Seychelles). (£7.80)

12.00pm: a full tank of petrol for our hire car. (£42.60)

12.30pm: a visit to the island's largest "hypermarket" - the fruit and vegetables looked better at the covered market in Victoria but this avoids the need to haggle over prices and also means we can pick up some large bottles of water (the tap water isn't drinkable), halloumi, banana chips, rice cakes, two bottles of Seybrew, dark chocolate, tonic water, limes and various fruit. We pay for a couple of fabric shopping bags as nowhere in the Seychelles gives out plastic bags anymore and throughout the whole week I see very little plastic pollution which is amazing. (£55.40)

2pm: I make a "salad" of sorts which doesn't contain lettuce or cucumber (both out of stock in the supermarket) but is actually quite tasty eaten on our terrace with the view of the sea.

4pm: drive into Beau Vallon for a wander around, stop for a drink in the Boathouse bar (a G&T for me and a local Seybrew for my boyfriend). (£10.20)

6pm: look at a few dinner options and don't feel particularly inspired by the choices or high prices. Spot a sushi / general Asian restaurant at the Coral Strand Hotel and have dinner watching the sun set (sushi for me, bibimbap for my boyfriend and soft drinks as we're driving back). (£25)

8pm: buy some more fruit from a street vendor (£2.80) and drive back to our airbnb. Fresh fruit is surprisingly expensive until we realise that most people have fruit trees growing in their gardens and probably never pay for fruit.

Day 3:

8am: lazy morning breakfasting on oats and fresh fruit and reading on the terrace.

12pm: drive to Carana Beach Hotel for lunch at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the sea, a poke bowl and sparkling water for me and a mix of tapas plates and still water for H. (£43.50)

2pm: spend the afternoon on the hotel's beach reading our books.

5pm: drinks at hotel bar watching the sunset (a gin and tonic for H and a sparkling water for me). (£11.10)

7pm: drive to Beau Vallon in search of avocados for dinner as the supermarket ones are rock hard. This is possibly the most middle class mission ever and I enjoy both the task at hand and driving on the narrow winding coastal road as the sun sets. (£4.10)

8pm: dinner in our airbnb of quinoa salad, followed by fresh pineapple, dark chocolate and G&Ts.

9pm: purchase a new book on my Kindle, Lullaby by Leila Slimani (£3.56) (my holiday book reviews are here).

seychelles travel blog, seychelles on a budget
Breakfast is served...

Day 4:

7am: same breakfast routine, followed by driving in to Beau Vallon.

8am: set out on a morning scuba/snorkle boat trip only to end up back on the beach approximately three minutes later - the sea currents in the Seychelles are so strong that not only do I almost drown trying to get on to the boat but my prescription sunglasses are knocked off of my face and claimed by the sea (I wouldn't have worn them had it been made clear that we would be swimming to the boat through two metre waves) (£55.90 to repurchase on return and gratitude that I packed one pair of contact lenses for the week).

8.30am: sun lounger and parasol rental for the day on Beau Vallon beach, the setting is too beautiful to stay upset about my sunglasses and failure to conquer my ongoing (and now possibly embedded) fear of water. (£17)

12pm: restorative Diet Coke for me - I stopped drinking Diet Coke on a daily basis a while ago but I'm on holiday and the odd dose of artificial sweetener probably ins't going to kill me (FYI every sip is absolute JOY) after so long without my first love. (£2.80)

1pm: a sandwich and smoothie for H from the Boathouse deli (£12.80),  I am not particularly hungry so snack on some trail mix (brought from home).

3pm: buy some fresh starfruit from a beachside stall. (£3.30)

6pm: home for a variant on the previous night's dinner, gin and dark chocolate.

Day 5:

9am: catch-up with our airbnb hosts and they show us the other properties they manage and the edible fruits and plants in their garden. Our original plan for today had been to get the ferry to Praslin Island but the tickets are EUR100 each for a return and that seems a little crazy given that this is meant to be a (sort of) budget trip.

9.30am: hop in the car after breakfast and head south to explore more of Mahe island. Stop at a tiny store for water (£0.30) and then at a second store for banana chips (£1.90)

11am: visit the Takamaka Rum Distillery which is in the grounds of a former plantation, wander around, say hello to the turtles and buy a small bottle of coconut rum from the gift shop (I'm not usually a rum drinker but the free samples convinced me). (£8.30)

11.30am: check out the menu of the restaurant but there isn't really anything I can eat, visit the small shop attached where H buys reef safe suncream and I pick out a small soy wax candle. (£21.35)

2pm: continue driving along the coastal road, stopping by the deserted Petite Anse beach and a promising-looking restaurant which turns out to be closed on Tuesdays. Carry on driving and stop by a local restaurant - veggie creole curry for me and chicken creole curry for H with a lime juice and a still water. (£34.10)

4pm: drive back to our airbnb via the cross-country road and the hypermarket for more bottled water, fruit, rice milk and tonic water. (£9.40)

6pm: our airbnb host, Gene, drops by with a smoked fish and mango salad after taking away our sadly underripe mangoes the day before - it's delicious and such a sweet gesture.

Day 6: 

9am: back to Beau Vallon beach, rent two sun loungers for the day (£17) - of course lying on the sand on a towel is an option but I am react badly to insect bites so this seems a safer and more comfortable option.

12pm: a Diet Coke for me (£2.80) and a pizza and salad from a beachside restaurant (£20.50) for lunch.

5pm: I head for a massage at the Boat House spa, an entirely unnecessary indulgence as I already feel quite relaxed. (£44.30)

6.30pm: the weekly food market is at the beach tonight, we browse the stalls but nothing particularly appeals aside from some sweet potato crisps (£1.40) and a bunch of mini bananas (£2.80)

7pm: home for dinner - we are now expert quinoa chefs and have some of the salad from yesterday to finish off.

9pm: I purchase Normal People by Sally Rooney on my Kindle. (£6.64)

Day 7:

8am: back to Beau Vallon beach - H heads of scuba diving (£103 for two dives) and I rent us some loungers on the beach (£17) and read my book.

10am: a scoop of sorbet from The Boathouse deli and a cuddle with their kitten. (£1.70)

1pm: H is back from scuba-ing, head to the Boathouse restaurant for lunch (a salad each, a portion of chips to share, a Diet Coke and a passionfruit juice). I am sad not to have seen sea turtles. (£35.80)

2pm: coffee for H from the the Boathouse deli and another kitten cuddle (£3.05)

5pm: head home for a quick dinner (everywhere we've checked out is doing a set food menu of things I probably won't like for £90 per person) before getting ready for Valentine's night - decide to head back to Carana Beach and walk the 15 minutes there so that we can both enjoy some drinks before getting a taxi back.

8pm: the road on foot is (1) very dark (2) very steep but after 15 minutes we are back at Carana Beach where we are told that the bar is only open to hotel guests tonight. Oh. Decide to walk back and pick up some tonic water on the way and that the cocktails would have been overpriced anyway.

8.15pm: spot a dog barking at us from the other side of a fence. Suddenly, it and two other dogs are very much not behind a fence and are chasing us along a pitch black road barking loudly. I am not a dog person in any way so this is not ideal. The dogs are defeated once we turn to face them (ok, H turns to face them and I hide behind him), back slowly away and shine my powerbank/torch in their eyes. Buy tonic water (£3.60), walk back home, make gins and collapse in heap. Romance is your boyfriend stepping between you potentially rabid dogs. Happy Valentine's!

seychelles travel blog

Day 8:

9am: another road trip to explore more of the island. Drive to Port Claud and park at the Del Place restaurant.

11am: explore the beach which is the most beautiful yet, a local guy, Jeron, starts chatting to us and points out that the Estonian/Russian version of Love Island is being filmed just across the bay.

12pm: lunch at Del Place which turns out to be the best (and most expensive) of our entire trip - eggplant fritters to start, a Caesar salad for me, a croque monsieur for H and sorbet to share for desert all while looking out over actual paradise. (£61)

2pm: Jeron earlier promised to take us to a waterfall so we follow him past a church and away from the main road (£2.80 for the "entrance fee" paid to a man who has set up a table and log-book where we fill out our names). After scrambling over rocks, we reach a waterfall where I sit on the rocks as Jeron backflips into the water from 3 metres up and H has a swim in the rock pool. Jeron picks us starfruit, coconuts and mangoes, slicing them for us with the giant knife he has looped through his belt. I once crawled through an Alice in Wonderland-sized door to buy a fake Mulberry bag in Beijing so obviously I am not at all nervous in this situation.

4pm: arrive back at the beach and give Jeron the rest of our Rupees in thanks for our guided tour, feel intensely awkward that we should have given more but it's our last day and I don't have any more cash. (£13.90)

6pm: say goodbye to our airbnb hosts and settle our tab for the wifi for the week. (£25.60)

Day 9:

6.45am: drive back to the airport for our flight back to Dubai.

8am: buy some airport souvenirs for my parents and friends. (£12)

9am: hop on the plane home and furiously snap Instagram photos out of the window.

seychelles travel blog

The total: £2,509.80 for two people for a week (£2,443.70 if you subtract my sunglasses and book purchasing...)

The Seychelles is never going to be a tight budget trip - there aren't really any budget food options (a plate of street food at the Beau Vallon market is £8 - £10) and I don't think you can DIY the Seychelles without hiring a car. That said, this was one of the best trips I've been on and it didn't feel like a frugal trip as we didn't deny ourselves anything we wanted - had an almond milk matcha latte been up for grabs, you can bet I would have paid a fair amount for one on a daily basis.

If you take one thing from this diary it is that if you are visiting the Seychelles, and are not staying in a fancy resort, BRING YOUR OWN SNACKS. No matter how much you are willing to spend, there just isn't a wide choice of foods. I eat a mostly plant-based diet so I take snacks everywhere anyway and did not regret this use of suitcase space in the slightest.

So yes, you can visit the Seychelles on a "budget" of sorts, just be prepared for it not being a total five star experience, to bring snacks and make some of your own meals (I cooked/prepared food more in this week than I have done for the last year but realised I enjoy this when it's not time pressured or a chore after a working day) and stay relaxed about not everything going to plan - which should't be too hard when lying on a white sand beach, under a palm tree, sipping on a £2.80 Diet Coke...


Friday, 1 March 2019

Monthly Round-Up: February 2019

The shortest month of the year is over, spending a week in the middle of the month in the Seychelles made it feel shorter still. My blog to-do list has got longer this month as I've still got a chunk of blog admin to get through after changing my blog's name earlier this year, as well as a lot of half-written posts in my drafts. I hope to have this all sorted soon but thanks for stopping by during this somewhat transitional phase.

February looked like this:

seychelles holiday

1. Acai bowls for lunch in DIFC. The (prescription) sunglasses in this shot later fell victim to the sea in the Seychelles. 

2. Practicing a new yoga pose - I've been working on my core and upper body strength through Pilates classes and gym work and it's really made a difference to my yoga. I'm not a huge gym fan but I'm only there so that I can one day do a flawless chaturanga.

3. The beautiful Beau Vallon beach in the Seychelles. Possibly my favourite holiday ever.

4. The view from our Airbnb in Machabee.

5. There was a conspicuous absence of hipster coffee shops / Instagrammable breakfast spots in the Seychelles so I made our daily breakfast of bircher oats and fresh tropical fruits.

6. When you find the most beautiful beach on your last day.

7. Back in Dubai and after collecting out suitcases our first stop was Menangerie for a very late lunch. The Seychelles isn't the most foodie of destinations and I really missed eating a giant salad everyday.

8. My friends came to visit for the last weekend of February and requested a trip to the desert for an afternoon riding horses (I always go to these stables). They donned their own riding boots and cantered off in a haze of sand while I plodded along on Jai and got some good photos.

9. A final Seychelles shot - I have a post lined up on how to budget for a week in paradise, the Seychelles isn't really a purse friendly destination but I think we made it work without bankrupting ourselves (it's lucky I don't drink five Diet Cokes a day anymore as they were EUR4 each!). 

How was your February? 

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Reading List: February 2019

book review, elena varvello, reading list, book blogger
This month has been one of my best ever for reading. A week in the beautiful Seychelles definitely helped, reading an entire book in a day has to be one of the best feelings.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

A read picked by my book club, which on appearance was one I wasn't convinced would be discussion worthy, after all, it's a best seller with a quote from Marie Claire on the cover but this book snob was proved wrong... Set in 1970s American, the favourite daughter of a Chinese-American couple goes missing, letting the book explore race, gender dynamics, parenting and identity without these themes taking over. Celeste Ng's writing is beautiful, and elevates what would be a well-trodden plot path (husband doesn't understand the emotional needs of his children, wife feels unsatisfied having given up a medical career to raise children etc.) into a memorable read. I'll definitely be reading Little Fires Everywhere, which I've heard is even better.

Can You Hear Me? Elena Varvello

My first beach read in the Seychelles, this Italian thriller is full of darkness and suspense and probably needs to be read on a sunny beach... Set in a small town in Northern Italy in the late 1970s, 16-year-old Elia is living through the usual teenage boredom, arguments with his parents and his first love, as well as witnessing the decline of his father's mental health and his mother's need to protect both husband and son. From the first line of the book, it is clear that this isn't going to be a happy story, there's no big reveal but more a gradual unpicking of the how and why. The book is a short, anxiety-ridden read but one that drew me in with its taught prose, complex characters and the uneasy feeling that, for Elia, life will never be normal again.

Lullaby, Leila Slimani

You're probably familiar with the cover of this book, a faceless shot of a girl wearing an eggshell blue blouse with a white Peter Pan collar. Yes, I sometimes judge a book by its rather perfect cover. Leila Slimani's voice (or at least the English translation of it) feels so different to anything else I've read.
Titled "The Perfect Nanny" in its native French, Lullaby is a story of race, class and the tensions faced by working parents. Set in Paris in the present day, the book follows a French-Moroccan lawyer's search for a nanny for her two children when she returns to work as a lawyer. The entire book has an unsettling undertone and the tension drips from every page, as the couple and the nanny go about their daily activities and become more and more dependent on one another. The ending comes quite suddenly and I had to flick back through the final chapter to see if I'd missed something when in fact, the lack of answers makes the story all the more horrifying.

Normal People, Sally Rooney

A book I have seen crop up on my Instagram feed many a time, Normal People was recommended by a dear friend and after a couple of slightly creepy books it was a needed change in pace. Normal People follows the story of Marianne and Connell as they transition from their small town life in rural Island to university and beyond. It has echos of David Nicholls' "One Day", only this one if for us millennials. I found the story a little slow at first, finding few parallels to my own life at this time and yet a third of the way though the novel, I was transfixed by the writing, the honestly and the minutiae of everyday details, so perfectly described. The novel drops us in to Marianne and Connell's lives at various points ("three weeks later" or "five months later") and the more I read, the more I could relate to that not-a-kid-but-not-yet-an-adult time of life and nostalgia for my own university days came pouring back.

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

A book club read, Born a Crime is a non-fiction book by Trevor Noah, host of the Tonight Show. It is a tale of his South African childhood where, with a black mother and white father, his very existence was illegal. Interspersed with the history of apartheid, Trever Noah's childhood is at times very ordinary (acne, questionable fashion choices) and at times unbelievable. His voice shines through the writing and despite tackling a serious theme, the book is hilarious, joyful and uplifting. My only complaint is that I wish it had been longer, and had told the story of the period between his late teens and now, too. The book is also Trevor's mother's story who, if you have read this, surely deserves a book of her own too.

Killing Commendatore, Haruki Muramkami 

I'm making progress with Murakami's latest tome. It's not exactly portable so I've been limited to a few pages each night or half an hour by the pool but I'm enjoying taking a book at a slower pace and really savouring each sentence. I spent a good two years reading all of Murakami's back catalogue and his books are so special to me. I am really enjoying this one so far and will continue to read it at a leisurely pace.

Everything Under, Daisy Johnson 

I'm halfway through Everything Under and it's more than a little chilling. Daisy Johnson is the youngest Booker Prize nominee in history and it's clear from this book that the she has a huge talent. The protagonist, Gretel, grows up on a barge with her mother. Isolated from the outside world, they speak a language of their own until one day, Gretel's mother disappears. Set in a bleak rural landscape, this book contains a hint of myth and mysticism (the inspiration for Johnson is the Oedipus tale) but it's hardly "mystical" - parts have been raw and hard to read. I'm looking forward to finding out how this tale is spun out, I have a feeling it's not going to be pretty...

What have you read this month? Have any of these featured?

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Saturday, 2 February 2019

Monthly Round-Up: January 2019

In the interests of full disclosure, January also feels about 65 days long despite not having to contend with freezing weather.

Getting into the groove of a new year always takes time, and I probably took on far too much this month - starting my holistic health coach training with IIN, learning macrame and promising to make more for friends and family, running the Dubai 10k and moving apartments for the third time in three years... suffice to say that there wasn't a lot of downtime this month.

Here are the highlights:

january, dubai, dubai expat

1. Exploring The Farm at Al Barari, a magical oasis in the desert.

2. Brunch at Myocum, one of my favourite spots for healthy, delicious food,

3. Learning to make macrame at Myocum with Why Knot Dubai. I've since bought 50m of string but not had time to start making another wall hanging.

4. Lunch at The Sum of Us before a coffee brewing class with Encounter Roasters - recommended for anyone who has ever drank coffee, I learned so much.

5. A new blog name for 2019 - I wrote a post about it here.

6. Breakfast at Baker and Spice after running the Dubai 10k for the second year, er, running?

7. Sunset at Safa Park. I joined Melissa and some of her friends for an outdoor yoga practice here one evening and learned how to do a "tripod crow".

8. Starting another year with 30 days of Yoga With Adriene. I love her videos and always walk away with a smile on my face.

9. Running to the beach while training for the Dubai 10k, I'm planning on keeping running outside until it gets too hot, realistically I think I can sweat it out until the end of March...

How was your January? 


Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Reading List: January 2019

murakami, killing commendatore, rupi kaur, books, stack of books

Kicking off this year's reading with a few good ones - I struggled my way through a few books at the end of 2018 so it's been such a joy to read books that I've looked forward to working my way through, and have felt sad when they've been over.

The first two were chosen by my bookclub, Dubai Bibliophiles and the third was discovered by way of a Refinery 29 Money Diarist.

Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari - my first read of 2019 was a non-fiction book which isn't my usual preferred way to relax, but I loved Sapiens. It's a whistle-stop tour through the entire history of humankind and every few pages I felt like I either learned something new or had an anecdote to retell in an imaginary future conversation. The writing style is very accessible, although sometimes feels a little patronising but I can forgive that for the breadth of the topic at hand and the easy, conversational flow of the book.

Less, Andrew Sean Greer - I was slightly dreading reading a Pulitzer Prize winner - sometimes the words "winner of the [x] prize" result in me struggling through a book, re-reading paragraphs and contemplating giving up but Less was not such a book. Arthur Less is a comically tragic character, and as I joined him on a round-the-world journey to avoid a wedding I went from asking "why should I care about this character?" to feeling deep sympathy for a man who, like us all, just wants to be loved. Beautifully written, at times very funny and one that I read in under a week and in all my spare moments which is exactly what I want from a novel.

Killing Commendatore, Murakami - I haven't bought a hardback book since Murakami's "Men Without Women" which I struggled with and left unfinished (somewhat forgivable as it's a book of short stories) but I am so excited to get my hands on a proper novel from one of my favourite authors. I haven't got more than a few pages in to this one yet, so I'll revisit it in next month's post - I hope it's one I love, lend to fellow book lovers, and one day re-read.

What have you read in January? 

Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Story of a New Name

After over 9(!) years blogging as LilyLipstick, it's time for a change...

2019, new year, IIN, health coach, holistic healthcoach

Last year I somewhat abandoned this corner of the internet, feeling lost in all the noise - was blogging dying? Was it already dead? I no longer wanted to post about my outfits, having not shopped since 2017, my (former) love for fashion has not translated to an interest in interiors and huge shifts in my offline life meant that I often found myself sitting in front of an empty white box on Blogger with too many thoughts and yet no words to express them properly.

Rather than continuing to blog under a name I came up with in my student bedroom in 2009, I'll now be Lillian Zahra on all my social media platforms (Lillian is my British great grandmother's name and Zahra is my Iranian grandmother's name). It already feels so good to not be cringing slightly as a 31 year old woman posting as "LilyLipstick" (although we went on some adventures, confused my local Royal Mail sorting office in the early blogging days and got quoted by The Guardian...).

This year I want to really tap back in to my creativity and post regularly again. I'll still be sharing snippets of what I've eaten, my travels and what I'm reading and I'll definitely do another money diary soon (partly to try to further reign in my spending). Super excitingly, I've enrolled with IIN, the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, to become a holistic health coach so I'll also be sharing my journey and the start of a new chapter. 

I hope you'll stick around (I promise I'll never be preachy or become a health bore!), here's to another 9 years! 

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Thursday, 3 January 2019

December Round-Up

The last month of 2018 was pretty packed - two corporate parties (work not play), a friend in town for 24 hours, my parents visiting for Christmas and New Year, starting running again (and not hating it) and saying goodbye to 2018 with our annual cheese toasty tradition (a gluten free and vegan one for me).

The January blues don't hit so hard when the weather's always good and there's no empty schedule to bemoan either, although January is less drinks-at-the-top-of-the-Burj-Khalifa and more moving-apartments-for-the-third-time-in-two years. As someone who LOVES planning, scheduling and life-admin I am actually pretty happy about having an organising kinda month.

Here's what December looked like:

1. Brunch at Aubaine, City Walk. My boyfriend and I loved this spot so much we took my parents back a couple of weeks later.

2. Morning skies while doing Yoga With Adriene - I am so excited to start her "Dedicate" 30 days of yoga series today.

3. Taking an abra across the Creek when my friend L was in town.

4. Gin martinis on the 123rd floor of the Burj Khalifa. So nice to see the sunset and Dubai looking like a mini toy town.

5. Breakfast at Parkhouse - vegan overnight oats for me. I'm doing Veganuary this year and looking forward to discovering more of Dubai's plant-based eats, and maybe cooking something myself, too.

6. The most extra Christmas decorations at The Kempinski Emerald Palace where I took my mother to the opening of all'onda and we had a fun evening sipping negronis and sampling their Venetian/Japanese fusion food.

7. Wandering along Sunset Beach, a (mostly) untouched strip of Jumeriah Beach.

8. Christmas presents from my boyfriend, who didn't deny that I'd be getting a kitten for Christmas...

9. The most delicious acai bowl at Maisan15 while my parents were in town - driving them around Dubai and taking them to my favourite places was so much fun!

What do you have planned for January?
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