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.

Pin for later:
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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...

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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? 
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