Sunday, 26 April 2015

Want to win a Northern Lights adventure?

Are you a blogger? Have you, like me, always wanted to see the Northern Lights? Read on; this post is guaranteed to put you in a good mood.

My Twitter and other social media feeds have been filled with entries for this competition, and, given the prize on offer, this is not surprising in the least. 

Transun will be giving away a trip for two to the Arctic Circle to witness the Northern Lights in all their glory. The prize includes flights, full-board accommodation, a reindeer camp visit, a husky safari and a snowmobile adventure. 

To be in it to win it, all you need to do is write a blog post detailing your top three travel bucket list items. Once you've penned this, send out a tweet to @transun, using the hashtag #Transunlights.

The competition closes at 23:59 on 30 April, so there's still enough time to enter in the next few days.

I assure you that it's worth the effort; if you don't believe me, here's a visual reminder of what's up for grabs!


Take me here! Creative Commons image by Timo Newton-Syms.

Now onto my own entry. 

I've never had a physical travel bucket list as such. Instead, as I come across the countless blog posts and armchair travel books that I read, I feel like I need to go everywhere and experience everything. This extremely open-minded approach to travel would result in a never-ending list.

That said, there are a few places and experiences that have been on my mind since I caught the travel bug as a teenager.

I say this truthfully - a Northern Lights sighting has been one of these. Having read about this phenomenon in so many books - fiction and non-fiction - I've often dreamed of being in a wintry, snow-covered location, waiting for the appearance of those otherworldly colours shimmering above me. 

I hope I'll get to see the lights someday soon, and, since we're on the subject, these are three more travel experiences that are high up on my priority list.


Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro


I would love to see this sign in person - the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

I grew up in Cape Town and loved the outdoors from a young age. With so many mountains and trails almost literally on my doorstep, I soon became an avid hiker.

There are several great mountains and trails of the world that I'd love to traverse, but Mount Kilimanjaro has had me obsessed for years. I've researched the hike to great detail and already know which route I'd want to take to the 5,892-metre-high summit. 

In terms of my companions, I would love to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with my dad, as he was the person who first introduced me to hiking. It would be a challenging 7/8-day trek but reaching the summit would be an amazing memory to hold on to... And would probably lead to even more big hiking adventures!


An epic rail journey


A station stop of the Trans-Siberian Railway journey. Creative Commons image by Brams.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Bunny Chow: South African flavour in London

While I go about my daily life here in London, there are many things that can suddenly make me miss South Africa, my home country of 25 years. I may think of friends, an event in the past or, more often than not, something as simple as a flavour or a dish that I loved.

In my latest spell of hunger pangs for South African food, I had an idea of where I should be. London happens to be home to several South African restaurants, but there's one that specialises in one of our more traditional dishes.

Bunny Chow started out as a food truck in London but, after gathering rave reviews over its delectable offerings, they opened up a permanent restaurant in Soho last year.

I had actually been to the Soho branch a few months ago, but Bunny Chow has recently had a launch of its all-new - and all-South African - menu. I couldn't wait to check it out.

Located on Wardour Street, the atmosphere within Bunny Chow is relaxed and fun, with communal tables as well as smaller ones for those looking for more privacy.



Bunny masks and awards.

If you're wondering what that traditional dish that Bunny Chow specialises in is, well, the name totally gives it away.

Bunny chow is a popular type of street food in South Africa. It's thought to have originated within the Indian community in Durban. In a nutshell, a bunny chow usually consists of a hollowed-out half-loaf of bread, which is then filled with some sort of curry or stew.

And don't worry - this sign will clear up the thought that's just popped into your head...


Phew!

While the bunny chow you might get in South Africa is as 'fast food' as you can get, Bunny Chow has given this dish the London treatment.

Behind the counter, you'll see all of your different options. 

For the first step, you choose your bunny chow's filling. I tend to veer away from anything too spicy, so, going on the advice of the friendly folk behind the counter, I chose the Durban bunny. Chris went all out and opted for the spicy chicken chakalaka. 

Other fillings include a piri-piri pork, a vegetarian curry as well as something much more British - the all-day Full English breakfast bunny.


Decisions, decisions!

After choosing the filling, it's time to select a bread. And these aren't just any old loaves of bread; these individual bunny chow-sized loaves have been created just for the restaurant. There's a choice of white, wholemeal, brioche and gluten-free.

I'm happy to say that those are all of the steps involved; then you just wait for your meal. To tide us over, we sampled some of Bunny Chow's new cocktails. I can confirm that the Madiba cocktail is particularly good.

Then our bunny chows arrived. 




A bunny chow close-up.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A day tour to the Giant's Causeway

On this blog and on my travels, I always make a point of checking out quirkier spots and destinations that happen to be off the beaten track.

But, sometimes, I can't resist doing the popular stuff too - and going on the Giant's Causeway day tour from Belfast is as touristy as you can get.

The reason for my temptation was simple: I had wanted to visit the Giant's Causeway for as long as I could remember. While I've never had a tangible bucket list, if I did, this destination would be at the top of it.

My boyfriend, Chris, and I had decided to go to Belfast at the last minute. He had some annual leave left over and, well, I just use any old excuse to travel. Because of this, we put together an itinerary in a hurry and Chris managed to track down an affordable day tour to the Giant's Causeway.

As you walk through Belfast, you'll see countless tour operators offering these tours, and you'll have to snoop around to get the best price. In the end, we decided to go with Finn McCools tours, as they offered the tour for just £18 per person.

The name is slightly deceptive, as none of these tours only go to the Giant's Causeway. Instead, you'll see some other coastal spots along the way. It's a full day of exploring, much of which will be spent on the bus, but I hope I can convince you, like us, to join the tourist trail when in Belfast.


***

We were picked up for the day trip outside our hotel and, after gathering up some other people, our packed bus set off for the day.

The castles

Our day tour was topped and tailed with visits to castles.

The first, Carrickfergus Castle. We didn't get to go inside, but we were given plenty of time to take some photos. It may not have looked terribly important from the outside, but a castle has been standing on this site since the 12th Century. Having survived numerous sieges in its long history, Carrickfergus Castle is considered to be one of the best-preserved medieval buildings in Northern Ireland.

Carrickfergus Castle.

I thought that Carrickfergus Castle was impressive, but the last stop - and our last castle - almost made me forget that we had seen anything else that day.

Set upon a rocky outcrop are the ruins of Dunluce Castle. With only the skeleton of the fortifications remaining, this is an atmospheric spot. I imagine the scene becomes even more dramatic when the weather takes a turn for the worst.

Dunluce Castle in the distance...

And a closer look.

I noticed a trend on both of my visits to Ireland; there is, more often than not, a blur where the solid line between myth and history should be. At Dunluce, we heard how the family that once lived here, the MacDonnells, simply deserted the entire castle when the kitchens completely collapsed into the sea.

Whether it was an immediate desertion or other contributing factors, the castle then deteriorated over time. Its spectacular ruined form has had a far-reaching influence, and CS Lewis is said to have used Dunluce as the inspiration for The Chronicles of Narnia's Cair Paravel.

Carrick-a-Rede

While the Giant's Causeway tours can differ slightly when it comes to their itineraries, Carrick-a-Rede is one of the staples.

This is for good reason too. A short coastal walk past some gorgeous views and plantlife brings visitors to the Carrick-a-Rede bridge - and it's an experience not for the faint of heart.


Chris rejoices after surviving Carrick-a-Rede bridge.

Monday, 20 April 2015

London Lately #6

Another month, another London Lately.

For anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you may have seen some regular posts called 'In the past seven days', which summarised some of the recent happenings in my life. To coincide with the launch of A London Life, from now on, I'll be writing these: London Lately.

The London Lately posts will be about just that: the recent places and events I visit/attend in the city, as well as London-related developments that I'm excited about.

It's been an eventful March/April, so here's the recap.


A long weekend in sunny Seville

I got to continue my long-running love affair with Spain last month with a long weekend in Seville. My mum and I had four action-packed days of sightseeing, walking and, naturally, eating. 

I don't know about you, fellow travellers, out there, but there have been a few places that I've been to in the past where, after exploring the destination for a while, I could easily see myself living there happily. Seville is definitely one of those places for me!




Mum and I know that it's not a real holiday until you've had ice cream.

I've already written about this city's incredible cathedral, but there'll be plenty more posts on the way. An ancient Roman city, sumptuous villas, giant mushrooms and Seville's foodie spots - these are just some of the things I can't wait to share with you here.


Two pop-ups

I love finding London's best food pop-ups and, last month, Chris and I came across two of these. 

We paid a visit to Shoreditch's Beer and Buns after hearing positive reviews from friends. This pop-up specialises in two things: Japanese craft beer and steamed Hirata buns. It's a buzzing place - perfect for an after-work meal - with retro pinball machines and communal tables. Be prepared to wait for the food, though. The place was packed when we visited, but, when the buns and Korean-style chicken wings arrived, we realised that these were worth the patience!




You can find Beer and Buns at K10, 3 Appold Street; they'll be here until the end of July.

The second pop-up was Kitchen Hijack at Deptford's Job Centre. I've already written about this excellent event, but I just have to highlight it again. For a month (until 25 April), the bar has invited five up-and-coming street food vendors to hijack their on-site kitchen. Fortunately for us, this means we get to taste the results. 



Serving at the time of our visit: these tasty Asian-inspired fries from Bill or Beak.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Cheap and cheerful: My stay at Clink261

When I'm travelling solo, I won't ever hesitate about my choice of accommodation; it will always be a hostel.

There are many reasons for this, and some of these will be revealed over the course of this review.

I've lived in London for a few years, so when the opportunity to experience the city like a tourist for a night came along, I couldn't resist. I cut a few corners, of course, as the tiny backpack I brought with me on this occasion didn't even slightly resemble the mass I dragged around when I was travelling through Thailand.


This photo of the reception area was taken early the next morning - a complete opposite to the bustle of the evening crowd.


Clink261 describes itself as a boutique hostel and it's located close to King's Cross/St Pancras rail stations. Upon walking within the doors, my first impression was that of a cheerful, colourful spot. The reception area, which doubles up as a communal space, was filled with people, all in the midst of their London trips.

I checked in and got handed my keycard. 

You may have heard of Clink before thanks to Clink261's sister hotel. Set in a repurposed courthouse, visitors to Clink78 even have the chance to sleep in one of the former prison cells. 

Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with a potential haunting situation involving a grumpy former inmate; my private room had no such use in the past. Instead, I was greeted by a clean room with a sink and coffee/tea-making facilities. 


My private room at Clink261.

If you've stayed in London on holiday before, you'll know that finding affordable accommodation may leave one feeling completely frazzled. My private room was a steal, since it could accommodate three people yet only cost £50 for the entire room per night. Staying in dorms is much cheaper, with beds starting at £13.

You can stay in mixed or girls-only dorms, with shared bathrooms located on each floor of the hostel.




I loved the cute signposts located throughout the hostel.

A continental breakfast is included in the room rate, with a variety of cereals, toast and tea/coffee available. For the rest of the time, you are free to use the kitchen to cook your own meals or sit on one of the comfortable couches in the adjacent lounge.

There's also free wi-fi in the hostel - perfect if you need to catch up on your social media (or, erm, blogging).



The comfy lounge area.

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