The Wanderings


I think when Adam and I get married we should change our name to Mr and Mrs Wandering.

It seems like every time we go on holiday, we kind of forget to plan it. I mean, we plan where we're going to go as in what country, region, town, accommodation - that's the bit I find stressful. But what we do when we get there? That's usually left up to chance. Which I love, it's my favourite way to travel, the real adventuring kind. Set out in a car or on foot and just get lost.

Some of the places we ended up while traveling in Tuscany, I can't even remember the name of. We went from town to town, walked up the highest hills around and back down again to pinpoint another location on the map and say "let's go there!"... "sure why not".

My mum gave us some Tuscany guide books and we didn't open them until the night before when we were sitting around the fire thinking about what to do the next day. 

I've traveled with people who want to tick off all the land marks, all the museums, all the sights to see. It's not for me I don't think. Having no plan can be a bit on the stressful side, don't get me wrong, but it does mean that you occasionally stumble across a real gem. 

What kind of traveler are you? Are you a planner, or do you just wing it?

 

Our Little Italian Home

What with family here and there, most of our holidays are taken up with visits to Toronto, or Zurich, or even right here in England. So when Adam and I finally hit the road on our own, in our little rented Fiat 500, we were beyond excited! We've travelled a lot as individuals, but we haven't been to many new places as a couple and it was such an amazing feeling to set out on our own to explore Tuscany.

And I have to say, I was nervous to drive on the right side of the road for the first time in eleven years (!!!) but I totally nailed it! With lots and lots of helpful reminders from Adam.

We stayed in this little AirBnb flat, and it was just so wonderful. The owner, Maria, was so welcoming and generous. She left us a bottle of wine and some of her homemade honey, she even opened up her own dining room so that we could use the fireplace on chilly evenings.

It was so homely and just wonderful to have somewhere more personal to come home to every day, much better than a hotel. And it allowed us to cooked for ourselves most nights because I couldn't wait to get my hands on all the fresh ingredients that Tuscany has to offer.

Also, that view! Have you ever seen anything like it?

Italy Adventures: Pisa to Buti





Before Adam and I went to Italy we couldn't decide where to stay. We knew we would be in Lucca but we couldn't figure out if we wanted a country break or a city break. We didn't booked our accommodation until the last minute because we were so indecisive - but by the time the holiday came around we were so in need of some rest and relaxation just the two of us, we opted for a remote country cottage.

We stayed with Adam's sister and her family for a couple of nights in Buti and it was the perfect start to our country vacation. Their cottage was so remote in the Tuscan countryside, and so high up on a hilltop somewhere that they regretted not hiring a truck to get them up and down the dirt track.

When we arrived late at night I whipped out my camera and couldn't help but photograph everything. It was so beautiful and dreamy in the dusk and the fog. We sat around drinking wine and chatting until late, but woke up early ready to explore. Adam and I grabbed our coffees and went for a wander through the olive trees and to check out the view.

There's something about Tuscany that simply demands a feeling of relaxation and indulgence. Everything is so beautiful, there's so much food to be eaten and wine to be drunk. It's just impossible not to feel content.

More Italian adventures to come soon...

Italy Continued






Time keeps running away from me! Every day I mean to write a blog post, then I blink and suddenly it's 11:30 at night, my hair is frazzled, my clothes slightly askew, and I'm at a loss as to where the day has gone. I'm in serious need of a moment to come back down to earth. I hate the feeling of rushing through life, and not taking a moment to enjoy it!

Which is in stark contrast to what I was doing this time two weeks ago... When we were flying from London to Pisa, I found out that Adam had one last surprise up his sleeve. I told me mid-air that we weren't going where I thought we were going for our first night in Italy, but he had actually booked us into a spa! We going to spend the next two days floating in thermal waters, having massages, and balancing out all that goodness with wine, pasta and gelato!

We stayed in the Bagni di Pisa Palace, where they gave us an upgraded room and free passes to the spa. It was all very swish!

After floating in the waters until we were all pruney, Adam asked at reception where we should have dinner. Naturally the recommended the hotel restaurant, because as it turns out there was only one other restaurant in the town. We opted for the one other restaurant and I'm pretty sure it was the best meal we had the whole time we were in Italy, though when we drank some of their water and said "this tastes amazing!!!", we became a bit suspicious that we were just on cloud nine and anything would have tasted amazing and been the "best ever" at that point. 

As everything was in Italian, and neither of us speak Italian, we pulled the old What's Her Face from Eat, Pray, Love trick and asked for the best dish on the menue. We weren't disappointed - but who can be with pasta?

The next day, we hopped on a train the Pisa! But more to come on that soon. I promise!

Benabbio



That's how I spent my birthday yesterday. With that view, watching the sun go down, having a cup of tea with my new fiancé (holy crumbs! that's going to take some getting used to).

At this very moment I am sitting by a fire, in the middle of Tuscany, in a little cottage, in a tiny town called Benabbio which sits at the end of a very steep and winding road. The wind is rushing around the hills, the rain is falling hard, Adam is in the next room planning tomorrow's adventure, and I don't think I have ever been so comfortable or so happy.

We have only a day left in Italy but already it feels like we have been here for weeks - we have done so much. And I have so much to catch up on! Prepare yourselves for London posts, engagement posts, party posts, birthday posts, travel posts, and much much more over the coming weeks.


Honest Ed's














What can I tell you about Honest Ed's? As far as ancient department stores go, it's pretty much the chief purveyor of half-priced junk you would never ordinarily buy, but do anyway because you can always find something you didn't know you've always needed - if that makes any sense.

This cavernous (and I really do mean cavernous) bargain bin is shabby in an iconic way. It has stood on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst for what seems like forever, and even though I was in Canada for roughly thirteen years, these photos are from my first and only visit a couple of weeks ago. 

As it turns out, Honest Ed's probably won't be around next time we go back to the city, the whole block on which it sits is up for sale. This seems to be happening a lot in Toronto lately, places like this that really give the city a personality are being knocked down to make way for condos and a Walmart. It's all a bit depressing.

Since the store opened in 1948 it has gained a reputation not only for bargains, but also for the lavish birthday parties thrown by Ed Mervish and their innovative marketing techniques. For example, Adam assured me that with every purchase at Honest Ed's you receive a free baby raccoon.

Even though I never got my baby raccoon, and I've only ever been to Honest Ed's once, I'll certainly miss seeing it whenever I head to downtown Toronto. With its hand-painted signs and the 23,000 lighbulbs it requires to light up its signs, there really isn't anything like it left in the city.

The Cottage - a Photo an Hour
















7am the mornings are a bit chilly so we light the fire
8am coffee x 3
9am pancakes for breakfast
10am go fishing, without success
11am snack time for baby Felix
12pm time to chop some wood
1pm give Friday some cuddles
2pm currently reading The Rose Project (it's ok...)
3pm cut some trails until the bugs get too bad
4pm go for a walk, maybe a swim
5pm scrabble, I never win.
6pm bath time in the best tub ever
7pm ribs on the BBQ
8pm give Friday some cuddles
9pm watch the sun set
10pm bedtime, because the quiet just puts you to sleep

I look forward to this week up at the cottage every year and I'm always more than a little sad when it's over, I may have shed a tear or two this time. I spend the whole week reading while Adam goes all 'old man river' and chops wood for hours while talking about future construction projects and wearing his dad's beat up old Patagonia.

It really is my idea of heaven on earth. We have plans to one day live up there for an entire summer, but until then, we'll just have to wait until next year.


That Holiday Feeling










Looking back over these photos it's hard to believe that we were in Canada just two days ago. I was looking forward to that holiday so much, for so long, and then it just went by in a flash. I tried not to count the days while I was there, and lose time a little bit - just long enough to let that holiday feeling set in.

I'm glad to be back in London though, in my own place and my own bed. I'm also glad to be back to blogging, it's nice to take a break once in a while but I do miss it.

I've got some pretty fun posts to share over the next little while (including a couple of recipes that'll knock your socks off), I'm really looking forward to posting them.

Istanbul - Four

 





I can't believe I forgot to post the last of my Istanbul photos! I was saving the best for last, too. I blame the sunny weather, it's cleared my head of everything but sunbathing and cocktails on the back porch.

My favourite thing we did in Istanbul was go to the Rustem Pasha Mosque. It's a smaller mosque and less grand than some of the other ones but in my opinion it's the most beautiful, it's the one thing in Istanbul I would say is absolutely not to be missed. Also the sunsets... but those can hardly be avoided. They're so beautiful!

I'm so looking forward to my next trip. Canada is coming up in the near future, and then after that who knows... I've got a few plans in the works but nothing is certain. It's definitely going to be somewhere amazing though.

Istanbul - Three

While in Istanbul we spent one entire day indoors. Several hours went into wandering all around the Grand Bazaar, which is one of the most intense and adventurous shopping arenas I have ever entered into. We got completely lost and turned around several times and somehow we ended up buying a carpet. I'm still not too sure how that happened.






The cats in Istanbul can be pretty shy.

Until they realise you have food. They have fine-tuned the art of the awkward stare to perfection.





I find shopping a bit stressful at the best of times, so shopping in an environment where people are actively trying to sell you something can be very overwhelming. Having said that, the Grand Bazaar was one of my favourite things about the city. Setting aside the usual designer knockoffs and the tourist memorabilia, the place was full of genuinely beautiful handmade jewelry, scarves, paintings, lamps and carpets. I have to confess, I definitely spent a bit too much.

We also went to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar which was much smaller and a bit more manageable, but much more touristy - so much so it almost wasn't worth it. I think if I go back to Istanbul, I would visit the Grand Bazaar again but give the Spice Bazaar a miss.

A day spent shopping really takes it out of you, even if you take the occasional break to fuel up on baklava, so we spent a relaxing evening watching the sun set over dinner on the Galata Bridge.

Istanbul - One

A few weeks ago I arrived in Istanbul on my own. I wasn't expecting to go, it was a last minute trip, and it was one I was a nervous about taking. For all kinds of reasons, I wasn't at all sure the city and I were going to get on. But it turned out to be amazing and any preconceived ideas and feelings I had towards it were completely changed after only a few hours of wandering around.


I had a day to myself before my family arrived and so I decided to just explore. I marked my hotel on a map and then put it away; I just walked out the front door, turned right, and one of the first places I came across was Gulhane Park. I think it's where young couples go to spend time with each other away from their families, it felt like a very romantic place.


In every corner couples were sitting and talking, sometimes smoking, sometimes holding hands - they all seemed like they were trying to keep a low profile but maybe that's part of the fun (that or they weren't supposed to be there).


Doesn't she look beautiful in her wedding dress? I like to think that she chose to come here for her wedding photos because it was where her and her husband used to secretly meet against the wishes of their parents. 

I stopped at a cafe every so often to try all the things I knew I should try while in Istanbul. Baklava, yum. Turkish coffee, not so much. 





Turkish tea on the other hand, I'm hooked! I love tea no matter where I am in the world but I just couldn't get enough of this stuff. Turkish food is great, turkish delight is amazing, but the tea tops it all in my opinion.

I also ended up in the Blue Mosque which was unlike any other religious building I have ever been inside. It took my breath away. Everywhere in the world I travel I make sure to visit the mosques, churches, temples... basically any religious building I'm allowed in. I just love it, they are my favourite.

I love watching people pray. I always feel a bit guilty about photographing them during such a private moment but it's just too beautiful to miss.



Everywhere you look in Istanbul there's something to see, some beautiful little thing or a moment between two people. Being both asian and european it's such an interesting place to just sit and people watch.


























The sun sets in this city like nowhere else, it was so beautiful and almost peaceful. Later my brother would tell me that he thinks it's because of the smog - but I like to think it's because it's just naturally a romantic place.

And did you know that Istanbul is where my blog name comes from? But that's a story for another time.

Better Late Than Never


Remember when I went to Kenya? I mean, the first time I went to Kenya for work and then did some travelling afterwards - oh, say, about six months ago? Well here's a little something more about that trip:



If you don't remember it, then you can do a little catch up here, here and here if you feel like it. 

But on another note, looking back through those posts from half a year ago and seeing "0 comments" over and over again, it makes me so happy to know that now I have some blogging friends - and it really makes my day to read what you have to say, and carry on little email conversations with you all. So thanks a bunch guys, for always commenting and always being so amazing :)

Nicaragua - Until Next Time




snoozing in the sunshine

I know I've already said this loads, but Nicaragua is a country that I think I could learn to love pretty quickly. I really hope I get to go back.

These last few photos were taken in a place that seemed completely hidden from the rest of the city. We traveled down a dirt road as far as our van would take us on one punctured tire, and then we hopped in the back of a pickup truck to take us the rest of the way to a little farm house. Well, house is a little much, it was one room for twelve people.

The family who lived there were as poor as poor could be, without being destitute. And what stood out for me was that I couldn't hear any sound, no traffic, no electronics - not a phone or a light switch for miles. But I could hear non-stop laughter from the kids and the neighbours who had come to greet the visitors.

Theirs is incredibly hard life, not withstanding the active volcano and the vampire bats - but their laughter was contagious. Even now, it still makes me smile just a little.

Some More on Nicaragua



The only time I got really afraid on this trip was when I nearly got attacked by dogs while taking a picture of that chicken - just after explaining to a colleague who is afraid of dogs why she shouldn't worry about them. Silly me.




See those little black bits on this little kitten's nose? She was completely covered in fleas. It didn't stop us from cuddling her, but it did keep most of us scratching for the rest of the day. We didn't actually pick up any real fleas, but we did get what Kim calls psychological fleas: the kind that leave you thinking you've got them crawling all over.



Whenever I come back from a trip like this one to Nicaragua, people are often interested to know if I've seen all the sites, like the lakes or the volcano and such - and usually the answer is "no, I haven't." These trips are kind of like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, there's just no time! I often leave a city like Managua feeling like I haven't actually seen it at all, when of course I have really, I've just seen a different side of it.

Most of the time you can find me in the poorer neighbourhoods, the slums (isn't that a horrible word?) or as they call them in Managua, the Repartos. These are places that have sprung up out of need, without permission from the city, and with houses made of sheets of iron or plastic. Truthfully, I can sometimes find these places really scary - but it's all about who you're with and how you act. If you're with someone who knows the neighbourhood and knows the people, and if you act like you belong there, then you're fine. If you wander in alone and ignoring your instinct to run in the opposite direction, you walk out with pretty much nothing - one of our number found that out the hard way on this trip.

But it's amazing how quickly a shirtless man with cut-off shorts, a bandana, tattoos all over his chest and a pit bull can go from eyeing up your bag to joking around and jumping in front of your camera with his friends to have his picture taken. Acting just as excited about the whole thing as those kids up there.

I guess this is kind of an explanation of why I never have normal travel pictures like historical sites or yummy food photos when I come home and blog about an adventure, unless it's a holiday adventure. 

Home Again Home Again Jiggidy Jig








The whole time I was in Nicaragua it seemed like I would be there forever. And then suddenly the day arrived where I had to pack my suitcase and I found I really didn't want to.

When I finally made it home I slept for almost two days only to wake up with a horrible cold. And now that I'm in bed and feeling sorry for myself, I can't quite believe that I was ever away. But I keep dreaming about it: the lovely hot weather, the kind people, the busy days spent outdoors, the thunderstorms, the unpredictability and variety of my schedule. Sometimes I think I'm really not meant for office work, but then who is?

All of these photos were taken at a farm where people had gathered to talk about their animals. Because my work doesn't often require me to talk, more observe, it leaves me free to hover in the background pretending to be invisible, snapping and filming away with my cameras and hanging out with others whose input also is not often required: like the kids and the animals.

I also gave some impromptu photography lessons - the top two pictures were taken by that little boy holding the camera - pretty good, don't you think?

Mummy-ing


This dog was trying to mummy these piglets so much, she kept on attempting to herd them and groom them and keep them away from other animals and people. You can see from her face that she looks so worried about them, I think she thought she was their mum - or she just wanted to eat them, one or the other...

I've gone a little overboard with animal cuddling and photographs on this trip (I promise next week I will blog about other things) - I'm afraid I may have fleas (joking! I hope). So far I have managed to cuddle with a kitten, a foal, a couple of pit bulls, about a million horses, a baby cow, and a swarm of children. The children were a surprise because usually kids avoid me, I think they can sense my fear, but today they were following me around asking for hugs. It was actually kind of nice, until they started asking me for money or one of my cameras, cheeky buggers.

Such a Kind Face

 

This man was hilarious. His son in law invited us to visit his home to have a look at how they keep their animals, and I of course made sure I got some quick snaps of the kids because they're just so cute - they love posing for you and then running over to see their own photo.

This old man saw me photographing them and wanted me to photograph him with his youngest grandchildren - I mean I think that's what he wanted, my Spanish is pretty rubbish. Anyway he walked off and came back with a baby and posed - I took the picture, he liked it, and then he walked off... and came back with another baby! Trust me when I say this man had a lot of grandchildren that needed to be photographed.

But the house was such a lovely family set-up. They had a plot of land with one or two houses on it, and about twelve people all living there together. Babies everywhere, puppies, pigs hanging out with the dogs and chickens stealing everyones food. I don't know how many generations were under one roof, but I like the idea of a big family living and laughing together every day. They seemed such a jolly bunch.

Loving It So Far



So far, I'm loving it here in Nicaragua. Food: good, people: lovely, coffee: AMAZING!

It's so warm here, and everyone is so friendly. And most exciting of all: from what I've seen so far, and it's only been one day I know, but people here love their animals. I'm pretty sure I can promise you that I won't be having a blog melt-down like I did the last time I went on a work trip.

We celebrated my birthday last night by going to a Peruvian restaurant, the food was so delicious and I had this little strawberry pudding/jelly thing that looked dubious but was actually delicious. 

Hooray for new countries and new puddings! So far so good.

Guess Where I Am



I may actually be in Nicaragua (thats a picture of inside my hotel). I still can't believe it myself. I went from London to Spain (Adam took me as a present, I'm a lucky girl) to London to Houston to Managua in two days and while I don't think I've ever been so tired with only five hours sleep, I've also never been so excited. This is my first time in this part of the world and I am beyond excited to have a look around.

For now I'm jet lagged to the point of breaking into spontaneous giggles, and waking up in the middle of the night not knowing where I am. Oh, and today is my birthday, how lucky am I to be celebrating (ok not really, I'll be working all day) it in Nicaragua?!

More tomorrow when I have pictures and a functioning brain to write a coherent post.