Monday, 3 August 2015

Book Review: Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

*Ahoy! Spoilers ahead…*

This isn't my usual type of book, so I'm finding it quite hard to write about it. I definitely didn't love it, but then as I don't read this sort of thing very often it's hard to judge whether that is just because it's not my usual type! I know that it was nominated for the booker long-list though so I'm assuming it must be a good one of its type.

I think my personal favourite thing about it all was the backdrop - it's a really hard setting to write against and he must have done so much research into Russia's history to be able to feel as though he could tell this story appropriately. It was an interesting story to tell, purely because reading it now I'm sure that these sorts of crimes were covered up in exactly this sort of way, although I'm not sure how many have-a-go-heroes would have been around to try and fulfil their own vigilante justice systems?

I didn't know that this was a trilogy until I read the blurb at the end, so I read it having no idea what the fates of the main characters would have been. I found the ending a little bit oh-so-convenient, and I think that if I had known that there were two more books to come (and therefore I think would have assumed Leo would make it through OK) I would have found it a bit more of an annoying read; I didn't feel there was a huge amount of jeopardy as it was. I felt it was so clear from the start that we were going to read about Leo's redemption and journey into becoming a hero that I found his relationship with Raisa a bit of a by-line - you could tell that she was just a plot device to pit Leo's personality changes against. That's all well and good for a storyteller, but it did make me care little for whether she lived or died.

I did wonder why the Andrei / Pavel story was told at first, but I just figured it was a backstory to set the scene for us about the harsh realities of Russian life. I have to admit, when Andrei's name was first revealed it didn't ring any bells at all - it was only when I learned Leo's name was Pavel that I flicked back to the first chapter to double check the names and realised where the book was going. I also found the resolution with Andrei's character a bit disappointing - I don't think enough was done to make the reader have any sort of understanding as to why Andrei would behave that way (his brother left = he becomes a serial killer.. really?!) and Leo / Pavel's reaction to the situation seemed muted - I was left wondering why more wasn't made of the potential connection between these two men if this was what the whole book was leading up to? Maybe that's something for the sequel, I don't know.

I don't think I'd read the next one in the trilogy but the book I got had the film poster as the cover, which has Tom Hardy in so I might watch that if it comes on telly! I'd prob give it 5 out of 10 - I read it quickly and generally enjoyed it, but I have no inclination to read the next one. I think, for me, the ending was just a bit too neat - it was a pretty long book but everything got tied up really nicely within about 20 pages.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Solo Outings: Mishkin's and Woolf Works

I never used to be a fan of hanging out by myself. I remember when I first got to university I hated the idea of spending even a single evening on my own in my room in our halls made me feel so insecure. I don't think that's an uncommon feeling, but I definitely think I maybe took it to an extreme - I remember once stopping at a service station driving back from somewhere, and made the point of sitting at a table by myself to have a cup of tea and read a magazine. And I remember really feeling like it was an important moment (which, clearly it must have been as I still remember it now) as the idea of it didn't make me feel like a massive loser. 

Anyway, since then I've been forced into becoming more used to my own company; relationships ending have meant I have spent time living by myself in houses designed for two and anyway you gain a maturity and knowledge about yourself as you get older. Basically, you're not as clueless. For me, I think as I've got older I've realised how important it is to be able to be alone without getting agitated, and this is something that I think I will continually be trying to improve upon.

So, with this in mind I thought I'd start noting these things down more, with the hope that it will force me to push myself out of my comfort zone a bit more. 

Over a year ago I saw a story on the BBC news site about the Woolf Works ballet that would be coming to the Royal Opera House. I promptly put the date the tickets would go on sale in my diary and waited until the date rolled around. Being a huge fan of everything Virginia Woolf related, the very second the tickets went on sale I went online and bought two. And then I thought about it. And thought about who I should make come with me, and I realised that nobody I know loves Virginia Woolf as much as I do. So I manned up, and emailed them and asked to get a refund on one of my tickets (which, luckily, they agreed to as I was so quick off the mark).
The Royal Opera House is in Covent Garden, so I decided to get some dinner beforehand at Mishkin's, which is conveniently about 30 seconds away and also conveniently one of my all-time favourites. I was a bit nervous about going to the ballet by myself, so I decided to have dinner by myself beforehand as well - this is a much less scary prospect to me because I really don't care about eating by myself. Mishkin's is a good one for this anyway - they have a bar area that sits around 15 people, which they hold back for walk-ins. Perfect for solitary diners. I had the meatloaf to start and then the pumpkin cheesecake, along with two glasses of red wine. I read my book, ate my food, and then trotted over to the opera house. I got there with only a few minutes to go before the performance started as I didn't want to sit by myself for too long so that worked quite well - however in this particular performance there were two relatively long intervals which I really felt the length of. The ballet itself was fantastic though - I was so glad I went and I think I made the right call in going by myself, it would have been harder to "fully immerse" myself in it if I'd been explaining to the person next to me what story they were interpreting or whatnot. And most importantly of all - I did it. I actually felt like a proper grown-up (I'm 30 so I suppose I already am one) going to something that I knew I would love, and next time I find something I would love to see that nobody else I know would, it won't seem like such a big deal to go by myself.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

30 for 30: Trips Still to Do

I love planning holidays almost as much as I love going on them (almost). My smythson notebook is continually updated with new trip ideas, and all it takes will be overhearing someone in the lift at work talking about a recent holiday to make me furiously start googling. I don't think there are many (any?) places in the world, danger-of-death withstanding, that I wouldn't be interested to see, but there are certain places that are permanently on the list. These are the ones that if I haven't done by the time I'm on my deathbed, well, I'll be very cross with myself. In no particular order:

1) Slovenia - Maybe 3 nights in Ljubljana and 1 night in Lake Bled?
2) Texas Road Trip - Houston, San Antonio, Marfa, Dalas, Houston. Maybe Austin? Need to research this more.
3) New Orleans.
4) Mexico.
5) Boston & DC - and everywhere in between?
6) South America - Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Uspallata Pass, Los Andes, Santiago, Laguna Verde.
7) San Francisco, Portland, Hawaii - honeymoon???
8) India - incorporating the Mumbai - Goa train.
9) Inter-railing - initially planned for this year, put off due to money. Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague.
10) St Petersburg - I totally want to stay at the W there.
11) Baltic Countries - when I was younger I went on a baltic cruise with my parents and I would love to go back to all the countries we visited and explore them properly.
12) Bath - staying at The Pig, and OBVY visiting the spa.
13) Cornwall - only been as a youngster, find this weird.
14) Scotland - as remote as possible.
15) Dublin - never been, find that weird.
16) Girls only trip - Tenerife?
17) Vegas, San Diego, Palm Springs.
18) St Barths / Maldives / Mauritius / somewhere super lush. Just once in my life.
19) Rural France - house, bread, red wine, done.
20) Thailand / Cambodia / etc.
21) Fort Lauderdale / South Beach.
22) Yoga retreat - not really my thing but maybe if I went on one it would become my trip?
23) Somewhere with a plunge pool. Somewhere, anywhere!
24) Revisiting Australia and doing a proper, all-encompassing, trip round the whole place.
25) Canada - roadtrippin'.
26) Iceland - I feel like I'm the only person in the world who hasn't visited that blue lagoon.
27) NY at Christmas.
28) Belgium - it was a family hotspot when I was younger so I feel I owe it to go back and visit again as an adult.
29) Skiing. Don't care where, but I haven't been in years and would like to go again.
30) Palm Springs. I know it's on here already, but it's my absolute fave and deserves a second mention.

NOTE! I started writing this a couple of months ago and then forgot about it. I finished adding to it today, then noticed that the first trip on my list is the one I recently went on. Good motivation to visit everywhere else on it!

What would make your list?

Monday, 13 July 2015

I Heart Paris! Paris thinks I'm "just OK"

Paris is awesome. The end. Well, not really the end - but I really feel it's worth saying as I, honestly, truly, 100% love Paris. It's a super awesome city with great food, great parks and you can literally walk everywhere. I last visited in May, a trip we initially planned after booking tickets for the French Open. As an aside - this was amazing. I'd never been before and it was everything I was hoping for. We had bought tickets for the cheaper court (of course) but actually ending up seeing both Murray and Nadal play (separate matches) so I would have been bummed if I'd been on the more 'spensive court watching Djokovic play Gasquet.

We spent the rest of our time in Paris, drinking, eating, wandering, parking (as in, being in parks, not parking cars) and sightseeing, and I could waffle on about all the lush things we did if I thought anything I said would be new information to anyone.

Anyway, my point is, I love Paris. And I'll tell you what, Paris loves me! Actually no, that's not right - Paris loves my Kate Spade purse. I'd not been off the train 5 minutes and it was gone - having been to Paris before I practically stuffed my bag up my top once on the metro so it could only have departed from me during the shuffling to get off the Eurostar / across Gare du Nord / waiting for the metro. I mean, it happens. When you travel a lot it's bound to happen sooner or later - you get to the hotel front desk, go to grab your credit card and go 'fuck, it's not here'. Luckily I was with my boyfriend who was able to pay for everything during the weekend we were there but it really made me realise the obvious importance of not keeping all your important things in one place. What if I had my passport in there as well? Losing all my money, credit cards and debit cards in one go is bad enough, but what if I had been alone? How would I have even been able to get any emergency cash? It's a shitty lesson to learn but an important one nonetheless - luckily enough I was away for a long weekend not too far from home, but it could have been a million times worse. Why did I even need to take my whole purse with me? Whoever took it is now the proud owner of my gym, nectar and boots advantage card - and all power to them - but really, I could have just left them in my beaut Kate Spade on my bed and just taken the essentials. 

Main lesson - just because you're on holiday doesn't mean everyone is going to treat you nicely. In fact, some people are probably going to treat you worse. Just chalk it up to experience, by a new (better) purse, and leave your boots advantage card at home.

What's your worse travel-theft-horror story?

p.s. I will truly have eternal pity on anyone else who has to experience the Eurostar Customer Service team, but that's for another day...

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Review: Field Day 2015

I love a music festival. I have been to a whole bunch of them over the years and totally don't think I'm too old to go camping at one in the future. Unfortunately, most of my friends seem to be over the whole camping-no-showering thing, so Field Day is the perfect compromise - it's a great festival with interesting acts, and there's no camping required. It runs over a two-day weekend, but we went on the Saturday.

Our day started at Mile End station, following the crowds walking to Victoria Park. Festivals like this are always ideal at this point of the day, it's before the crowds are too big and there are no queues for either the bars or the toilets. After picking up our tickets from the We Got Tickets desk and having our bags thoroughly searched we were in, and we headed over to the Shacklewell Arms tent to catch Tei Shi. She was great - really seemed happy to be there and got the crowd going. After that we wandered over to the Village Fete area, where my boyfriend got involved in a Tug of War. His side didn't win so, defeated, we headed off for a restorative snack. I spotted the Bleecker St. burger van, so we made our orders and waited for our burgers - as it was still early in the day the wait was no more than 5 minutes. I walked past the van later in the day and the queue was enormous so I'm glad we went for one of these when we did. Obviously, I am super in to a burger (the burger crawl we went on will attest to this) but I hadn't had a Bleecker St. one before - I wasn't disappointed. They have a pop-up on the Southbank this summer so I'm definitely going to visit again in the not-too-distant future.

After that we headed back to the Shacklewell Arms to see Jagaraa. Our group was split on them - I enjoyed them but someone else said that they didn't interact with the crowd enough. Worth a listen on spotify though. After a quick toilet-break for me (I went while the others were watching Stealing Sheep and there was NO QUEUE) and then a sit down with some beer (craft ale) for them and red wine for me, we wandered to the Crack Magazine area to see Owen Pallett. He was GREAT - much better than we had thought and a real highlight of the whole day. Definitely one to have a look out for as his whole show was really enjoyable.

Time for another food stop after that, and I spotted the Good and Proper Tea Co. van. I had a iced tea of autumn darjeeling mixed with elderflower which was amazing, and a crumpet with smoked salmon and cream cheese. This is the type of festival Field Day is - loads of interesting food and drink choices that suit all tastes. Needless to say we all greatly appreciated the tea break.

Over to the main stage (Eat Your Own Ears) for Kindness, and then back to Shacklewell for Tune-yArds - I was pretty under-awed for them so went for another wee, only this time had to queue for about 20 minutes. By this point in the day the site was pretty full, so queues for everything were getting ridiculous and the amount of rubbish on the floor was even more so. It was definitely a shame to see paper plates and cups on the floor after seeing so many people using bins earlier in the day.

After that it was time for tea. We had originally decided on wood-fired pizza, but these were cooked to order and with a queue already in place we were told it would be at least a 30 minute wait. Instead we went for Spit and Roast fried chicken - which also had a queue but by this point everything did sooo... This is another one that has been on my food-van to-do list so I was pretty pumped to see them there. Needless to say the chicken was delicious and I would definitely go again.

We then headed back to the Shacklewell Arms for Chet Faker - awesome - and FKA Twigs - super awesome. Chet Faker was great, he has a few singalong songs that everyone knew so people were really enjoying it. When the tent started to empty after he finished I rushed to the front to get into position for FKA Twigs who is one my current faves and I love love love. Of course, she was great. Her whole thing is about her stage persona, her outfits and movements are all so carefully thought-out that you can't help but get swept up in it all. It was the first time I had seen her live and I adored it.I would say though, I was so near the front I was really able to appreciate it, and I'm not sure whether my experience would have been the same if I had been at the back unable to see what was happening on-stage.

To round our evening off we headed back to the main stage to watch the end of Caribou. We all had a nice dance although the music at this stage could definitely have been louder - this is something I've seen a few comments about on twitter but then we were watching Caribou from quite far back so maybe that was our problem.

Field Day is a great festival - there's a great mix of acts and stages (we didn't even touch the sides) and there are loads of awesome food and drink choices. It's the perfect way to get that festival feeling without actually having to go without showering, and I will definitely be there again.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Book Review: Arthur and George - Julian Barnes

So I chose this because I got given a copy when it was on tv and it had been lying around on my desk for weeks. I don't know if I would have chosen it otherwise - the story itself didn't initially interest me and I didn't watch the TV adaptation. It actually took me a bit of an age to get through - most of it I didn't find particularly gripping and it wasn't something that I felt compelled to pick up and read through. I found the whole of the first section massively frustrating because you knew exactly what was going to happen and were careering towards this slightly ridiculous outcome without being able to do anything about it (obviously). This was the part I found the most slow-going.

Once the arrest had been made however and the trial started I enjoyed it a bit more - I still wouldn't say I loved it but it did become more engaging for me. Again though, it was so clear what was going to happen I didn't feel any jeopardy whilst reading it. I should also say here that the early Arthur parts of the book I found endlessly dull - I get that the point was to highlight the differences in upbringing etc but I just found it boring. Actually, I'm not too sure what the point of all the Arthur stuff was aside from him taking on the case under his own steam. I hated all the stuff about his wife and mistress, I didn't care for him at all, and for me those sections just distracted from the actual point of the story - seeing as I was struggling with getting on board with these aspects anyway, the Arthur parts just pulled my interest even further away!

Also - I found the entire last few pages utterly baffling. Obviously this is somewhat based on real-life accounts, but I couldn't tell you what this added to the rest of the novel or why it was included. Personal interest? I don't know, but it definitely changed the tone of the book for me at the end.
This is probably one of those books that would be a good book to study, as there are obviously themes that run throughout - Britishness, race, otherness, etc, blah - but I found myself rolling my eyes quite a lot. One bit I did enjoy though were the chapter names 'beginning with an ending' etc; I thought this was a clever way of connecting the story up.

Wouldn't read it again! 4/10

Read it? Enjoyed it? Agree? Disagree?

Thursday, 7 May 2015

A Week In... New York

Happy Birthday from
the Ace Hotel

I have had a draft email open on my computer with this subject for over a week now, and I just cannot find the inspiration to write anything about what I loved and what I would recommend.

I think it's because New York is one of those city's where there are a million things to do, and see, and eat, and even the things I loved the most on this visit I might not return to as there's such a long list to get through.

I still love re-reading my holiday posts though and getting a feel for what we did, and so I'm going to break with tradition on this one and actually just give you a picture-heavy account of our few days there.

 Magnetic Monkeys at the Museum of Mathematics
An excellent dinner at Bare Burger

A good start to lunch at Don Antonio
A chocolate breakfast courtesy of Breads Bakery
The fancy lift at Kate Spade
Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan side
Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn side 
Fried Chicken and Waffles, at the Brooklyn Star 
Brunch Mimoas at Agave
Obligatory Iced Tea photo 
9/11 Memorial
9/11 Memorial
The Freedom Tower and the Survivor Tree 

High Line 
High Line view
Sunset at the Top of the Rock

Empire State from the Top of the Rock
Empire State from the Top of the Rock

Bjork at MOMA 
Birthday Picnic in Central Park
Birthday Basketball

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

30 for 30: Favourite Travel Memories

Next week, I will turn 30. I'm going to be on holiday when it happens (OF COURSE) but to celebrate this "milestone", here are my 30 favourite travel memories.*

* i.e. the first 30 that popped into my head.

In no particular order...

1) Being far too drunk at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood
2) Spending an entire day in Santa Monica with new friends and no plans
3) Climbing to the top of Arthur's Seat on my 29th birthday
4) Watching the sunset from the viewing point on the tallest hill in Laguna Beach
5) Dancing on the beach at Barasti Beach Bar in Dubai
6) Using the Virgin clubhouse for the first time
7) Pegging it through a ridiculous rain-storm in New York with the family
8) Having an Aroma Bath outside at the Rasa Sayang Shagri-La Hotel in Penang
9) Skiing above the clouds on my 16th birthday in France on a school trip
10) Being chosen by my school to be one of the 20 or so pupils to go to Canada on an exchange program
11) All and every minute spent by the pool at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs
12) Playing Sissy Bingo with Linda at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs
13) Forgetting what the handbrake is for, while stopped on a very steep hill in West Hollywood
14) Hanging out at the Cafe Arabe in Marrakech on a sunny afternoon
15) Indulging in a little wave machine pool time in Las Vegas
16) Enjoying the excellent water park Aqualibi in Belgium
17) Everything about the weekend I spent in Paris with a, now-ex, boyfriend
18) Visiting the stunning Santa Barbara City Hall
19) Being so much more awed by the whole Vatican experience than I thought I would be
20) Skydiving onto the beach in Australia
21) Camping in California
22) Being completely over-awed by the amazing deal we'd swung with Expedia on arriving at the Hotel Maya in Long Beach
23) Eating chips and soup for lunch whilst skiing in Austria
24) Gambling in Vegas. By gambling I mean playing Bingo...
25) Crying because I didn't want to leave Florida / Crying because I didn't want to leave a baltic cruise / Crying because I didn't want to leave Canada
26) Going to Cannes for work
27) Everything about Wales. Just, everything.
28) Relaxing in the Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest
29) Arranging a great hen-do in Stratford-upon-Avon
30) Every single time I've booked something, ever.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Weekending: Edinburgh (March 2015)

Edinburgh is one of my favourites. I've been there with friends and with boyfriends, for romantic trips away and to the festival. I have been there enough times to have my favourites that I always visit as well as always having a list of new places to try. On our most recent trip we (me, my boyfriend, my friend, her husband) were there mainly to visit a friend, but my boyf and I decided to make a long weekend of it to get the most out of the city.

We got the train there and back - going up at around 11am on the Friday and returning about 2.30pm on the Monday. My friends who joined us got the sleeper train up overnight arriving Saturday morning and then flew back Sunday evening. Like most UK cities, Edinburgh is easy to reach via a number of travel options, and if you book well enough in advance then it's more than affordable.

Once again, we stayed in the Nira Caledonia hotel - one of my favourite hotels in the world. This was my third stay there, and we definitely had the best room I've stayed in there so far as our bathroom had a bath with jets rather than just a shower that I've had in previous stays. The bed was as big and comfortable as I remembered, and I gave the huge bath a go (and used the jets, though be advised to not try and figure out how to turn them on until the bath is full) which was delightful. The hotel gifted us a bottle of wine as well which was a lovely touch. We ate there for breakfast all three mornings during our stay, and also ordered some room service on Sunday night, and each meal was exactly what we were after. I cannot recommend the Nira Caledonia highly enough - with the lovely staff and relaxing rooms I can't imagine staying anywhere else in Edinburgh.

Friday night - burgers at Red Squirrel - one beef and one chicken. They were awesome. We also shared a beetroot salad which was deffo in my top ten salads.
Saturday morning - breakfast at hotel (I believe I had poached eggs on toast, followed by some fruit and yoghurt)
Saturday evening - Hanams. We left it until that afternoon to decide where to eat, and after some googling I came across Hanams, which serves Kurdish and Middle Eastern cuisine. It's also BYOB with no corkage fee, which definitely made it a cheaper meal. Definitely one I would return to if I was in the mood for that type of food.
Sunday morning - breakfast at hotel (think this was my scrambled eggs and smoked salmon day)
Sunday lunch - Set-menu at Wedgwood. This was delicious, and such good value! I'd eaten there before on my birthday last year, and the food was just as inventive and interesting as I remembered. I believe I had goats cheese with curried lentils to start, then sooomething for my main (i'm annoyed I can't remember this) and then sticky toffee pudding. The food here is delicious, and the set lunch menu costs £12.95 / £16.95 for 2 / 3 courses. You can't really go wrong!
Sunday evening - room service. I had a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich, with some chips. Obviously.
Monday morning - final breakfast at the hotel.
Monday lunch - train picnic!

As we had all visited the city before, we didn't feel the need to do any of the touristy sight-seeingy bits this time around. Instead, we did a few geocaches along the Leith River Walk, and visited the Camera Obscura museum, which, although pricey, I would definitely recommend.

The main shopping street in Edinburgh is Princes Street, which is full of all the standard high street shops. A couple to look out for though are Zara, which has a huge section upstairs of their child and baby clothes; Russell and Bromley, which has a great selection particularly from their mens range; and HMV, which has a really awesome vinyl section (I picked up Purple Rain and Blue whilst I was there).

Writing this all up now it doesn't seem like we did much aside from eat. But that's the great thing when you visit a city you know so well - you can just relax and wander and have a lovely time without feeling like you have to be go-go-go all the time. For me, that's what Edinburgh is all about.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Book Review: Three Men In A Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

I should probably start by saying this is not my sort of thing. I find this sort of rambly around-the-houses humour tiring rather than enjoyable, and more often than not I was rolling my eyes at this rather than tittering along. I found a lot of the sections long and uninteresting (though boring would probably be a step too far) and it was rare that I found myself speeding through the pages. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and to be honest there aren't many bits that I can still recall, though I did enjoy the disparaging remarks about Reading (I inadvertently got punched in the face there once). I don't want to be super negative though, so here are some of the plus points for me:

* I thought that the characterisation was good - it was easy to make sense of who was who by the behaviours being described.
* I appreciated the concept of the novel that it wasn't about anything in particular, and just about the everyday mundane intricacies of life.
* Montmorency is a good name for a dog.
* Short chapters - good for commuting.
* I enjoyed the way it ended - the way they just decided to finish up their trip when they did made it more accessible and, actually, this was the part I found most humorous.

To sum up! This just isn't a book for me. There was nothing wrong with the writing or characters or fundamental idea of the story, it's just that taking so long to get round to the point over and over again bugs me. I felt a few times when reading it that it would have worked better as a series of short stories, though, actually, I guess that's exactly what this is.
3 / 10

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

#ExploreTheElements Thomas Cook Travel Challenge

I'm not usually one for entering competitions on my blog, but when I saw this on Angie's I suddenly found a load of ideas popping into my head. The idea of this competition is to present four photos that represent the four elements. The photos I ended up going with don't take the themes too literally, but I really enjoyed reminiscing and writing about them.

Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.

Apparently, in part due to origins in greek mythology, the jellyfish is associated with the idea of feminine wrath. Being feminine myself, I can definitely say I can be defensive and emotional, but more importantly I can be adaptable. When I was looking for a photo to represent the element of water, I found myself inundated with pictures I had taken of various beaches (I love a wave shot) and waterfalls, rivers and lakes, but then I came across this one and it struck me as the perfect accompaniment to water element because the focus is on the jellyfish, rather than the water, one of the most flexible and supple creatures there is, along with the connotations mentioned above. Although needing it to survive, a jellyfish will also of course use the water for its own purpose, moving smoothly (and dangerously!) around it at its own will without a care in the world. [Disclaimer: I don't actually know if jellyfish have many cares, but I suspect if they do they're quite minimal.] Jellyfish have that combination of being beautiful to look at but risky (!) to touch, and I think they symbolise this element perfectly.
Picture taken in the Monterey Aquarium, California, USA.

Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.

What represents fire better than a massive, flaming ball of it? Everyone loves a sunset picture, but what I love about this picture - taken in Dubai - is that it captures all the elements of the city that make it what it is. What first stands out in the background of this picture are the outlines of all the super-yachts, however there are also some smaller fishing and tourist boats there - showing the contradictions Dubai represents. On the one hand you have the huge global businesses occupied by ex-pats, and on the other you have the smaller businesses of the local population. What they both have in common though is their motivation and desire to thrive and succeed in a place that has changed so much in the last 50 years it is almost beyond comprehension. When we talk about energy and moving things in a travel sense, the history and legacy of a place like Dubai must be included in that conversation. While it's definitely not for everyone, it's definitely a sight to behold.
Picture taken in Dubai, UAE.

Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.

This picture was taken in Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech. We'd visited the square earlier that same day when it is pretty much just an empty space (minus the tourists) and returned that evening to see the spectacle of it once it had grown into the enormity that it is at night. There are so many things I love about the pictures I took that night - the steam in the air from the heat of all the people and smoke of the cooking food; the blue lights in the left of the picture in the crowd that aren't smartphones but locals selling light up toys to tourists; the sheer amount of people moving freely, and the fact that you can only really appreciate everything that's going on when you're sitting above it all looking down. I think this picture is a great one to symbolise air, as you can tell by looking at it that the air is thick with smoke, steam, heat and anticipation. Marrakech was somewhere I felt really out of my comfort zone, but at the same time felt like it was somewhere really important to see. The market really highlighted these parallels to me - understanding and feeling compassion for the people working there, at the same time as being an elusive and different world to my own.
Picture taken in Marrakech, Morocco.

Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness , physicality and gravity.

My final picture in this series was actually not taken too far from my own home, but to me this is what makes it the perfect picture to represent earth. To me, the earth element means being grounded in knowing who you are and where you come from - after all, it's only when you know these things that you can really start to think about where you want to go. Home is where I feel most together, there is a physicality to knowing your place that is hard to find elsewhere. In this picture we are cycling from our own village to the next, riding through country lanes and woods - the hard, solid parts of the earth that I always associate with being close to home. It is this part of the world that I truly feel I can connect to the stubbornness, collectiveness, physicality and gravity of the earth.
Picture taken in Kent, UK.

As part of the competition, I have to now tag five other bloggers in to complete this themselves.
Unica & Tigris

If you want to enter, you need to…

1) Publish an Explore the Elements post on your blog with an image for each element
2) Spread the word and nominate five of your fellow bloggers to take part
3) Let Thomas Cook know you've entered by tweeting @ThomasCookUK
4) Keep an eye on the Thomas Cook twitter account to see who's won!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Planning: New York

In April this year my boyfriend and I are visiting New York. I have been a few times before but he never has, so the holiday is going to be that mix of the sightseeing bits you have to do on your first trip, and the more relaxed things you can do when you've seen it all before. This will surprise nobody, but I have been planning planning planning pretty much since we booked it, and here is what I have so far...

One of my favourite hotels in the world is the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. They have a few hotels across the US (plus one in Shoreditch, London) including one in New York, and so it really was a no-brainer as to where we would stay. Luckily enough, the hotel is in a great location - Midtown - so we won't have to factor in loads of travel time to wherever we want to go just so I can stay there!

One of the reasons I wanted to go to New York this year is because of the upcoming Bjork exhibition at the MOMA, so this will be a definite must-visit when we get there. In addition to this, currently on the list are visits to the New York Transit Museum (boy's choice) and the Museum of Mathematics as it is a 5-minute walk from our hotel.

So, as I said, I have visited NY a few times and have seen a lot of the sights already. This is my list for the things I really think a first-timer has to make time to do.
* Ground Zero
* Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Centre (hoping to do this at dusk)
* Central Park
* Brooklyn Bridge (will schedule in walking across it when we have a Brooklyn day)
* Times Square (at night, as this is when it is at its most spectacle-esque)

Current choices on the list are:
* Egg
* Brennan & Carr

Other Stuff
It will be my birthday while we are there and we have booked tickets to the Brooklyn Nets vs Chicago Bulls Basketball game at the Barclays Centre. I'm still not 100% on what I want to do the rest of my birthday but I think maybe spending the day at the beach if the weather's up to it, so maybe a trip down to Coney Island? Something new since I last visited is the High Line so we're definitely going to do that and then there are a few bars I've been eyeing up but I think it's probably best to keep that open and see what we fancy while we're there. We're definitely going to spend some time in Williamsburg, and then I'm quite intrigued by the Brooklyn Night Bazaar.

Any must-dos I've missed off the list?

Monday, 16 February 2015

12 in 12 in 2015

Project 12 Months

Aim: 12 trips in 12 months. And not running out of money by August...

February: A Guide To: Rome
June: FAIL!!! 
July: Slovenia - BOOKED!
August: Camping in Walmer - BOOKED!
September: Whitstable - BOOKED!
October: TBC
November: Tenerife TBC
December: Bath TBC

Update July 13th:
Can't believe I failed in June! I had a few up-in-the-air plans and was considering a last-minute weekend away - work was far too busy to contemplate taking many days off - but then it all fell apart at the last minute when I had a boring work disaster to deal with. I did some other fun things in June though, such as visiting Field Day, and I'm not going to let it deter me continuing with the project for the rest of the year.