Wednesday, 28 September 2016

You Don't Always Have to Go Off the Beaten Track

Travel blogger at The Bund, Shanghai

It's very strange but there seems to be a lot of stigma around visiting a country's most well-known sights when abroad. For some reason it's perceived that flocking to where everyone else goes and being a 'tourist' isn't how you should spend your money, but I totally disagree. I'm as guilty as the next travel obsessive for seeking out local haunts and secret gems as they do often show a side of a country that isn't as frequently seen, but there are so many reasons why I love to go to the 'main show'.

1) 'I'm really here'


So the dodgy cab ride, the far too spicy meal and the hectic streets have definitely made you feel out of your comfort zone, but seeing a famous monument just cements that feeling of 'I'm really here'. I remember seeing the famous Shanghai skyline all lit up from The Bund and being genuinely amazed that I was there, in China, seeing those famous lights. You can tell by my grin in the photo above that I was giddy with excitement.

2) You don't just see it


OK, you can look at pictures online, in magazines and on billboards, but when you're at a monument you get all the other senses as well. You can hear the excitement from others and the click of their cameras; you can smell the surroundings, from the harbourside next to Sydney Opera House to the dust of the Terracotta Warriors. It makes it a reality.

View of Sydney from Shangri-La hotel

Terracotta Warriors

3) They're famous for a reason


Ever wondered why millions of people flock to these places? It's not just a clever marketing job, it's because they are actually worth seeing. You don't have to go up the Petronas Towers (although I highly recommend it) or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but definitely pay them a visit. You can decide how involved you want to get but don't rule them out of your itinerary entirely. You don't know what you might be missing out on.

Petronas Towers

4) They are what everyone wants to hear about


No-one wants a postcard from some back alley thrift shop in Auckland; they want Hobbiton to put up on their fridge and nothing less. People will ask if it's worth going to said famous place and you can say with authority that it was in fact a cess pit/absolutely amazing (delete as applicable). You can tell them that the Badaling entrance to the Great Wall is full of crazy tourists, however if you turn left instead of right, it's utterly peaceful. TRUE STORY.

Great Wall of China

5) They're often at the centre of the action


I tend to tick off tourist attractions in one fell swoop. Gardens by the Bay is next to Marina Bay Sands - ta-dah! Two major sights in Singapore ticked off together. Think of London: walk along the Thames and hit the Tower of London, St Paul's, the Tate, the London Eye and Houses of Parliament in one leisurely stroll. See one sight, see them all!

Marina Bay Sands and Helix Bridge

Don't let travel snobs pressure you into missing the must-sees. Embrace them in whatever capacity you want and they'll fit perfectly into your trip.

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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Added Extras #43

Weekly round-up from London lifestyle blogger

This last week I've been living the quintessential London yuppie lifestyle. Sushi and brunch and shopping and theatre - I'm basically a Kardashian. Except, all that frivolity means I'm now poor and tired but it was all worth it. I was dreading my birthday this year but my fabulous friends made sure that being away from my family wasn't as bad as I had anticipated. I'm a lucky gal.

Here's this week's Added Extras:

1) Rather than a sad sandwich at my desk, my friend Simon took me for birthday lunch at Sticks and Sushi in Covent Garden. It's somewhere that's been on my to-eat list for a long time and it was SO delicious. We had a huge variety of dishes and I left feeling suitably stuffed and ill-equipped for an afternoon back in the office.

2) Carrying on the celebrations on my birthday, Katy invited me to go and see Wicked with her. I've never seen it before despite being a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan so I was very excited. We sank a bottle of red whilst I asked numerous questions about the plot, and although there were a few points I didn't really agree with, overall I loved it and would totally see it again.

Wicked musical, London
Image source

3) Along the theme of stuffing my face to forget my getting older, I hit Honest Burger with a couple of girlfriends and fell face first into a plate of their amazing rosemary fries.

4) I got a healthy amount of Zara vouchers for my birthday and hit the Westfield White City store with gusto. Metallic A-line mini skirt and velvet crossover body, be mine!

5) Katy and I spent Friday evening at the Jamie Oliver Cookery School where we learnt how to rustle up a Japanese feast. Teriyaki and miso and gyoza goodness to stuff our faces with. So much fun and good prep for our trip to Japan next year!

Teriyaki chicken and pork gyoza from Jamie Oliver's Cookery School

6) As is now tradition, around my birthday I gather with some of my favourite people to indulge in bottomless brunch. This year we went to Made Kitchen in Camden which sadly didn't live up to the promising reviews I'd read online. However, after a few complaints I finally managed to get my monies worth and we moved on to the pub afterwards anyway!

Peach bellini at Made Kitchen, Camden, London

Toast, waffles, croissants, pastries

Lock Tavern beer garden, Camden

7) I managed to get to the gym on Sunday for the first time in ages and despite being unable to walk yesterday, I was glad to go and felt much better for it!

8) I've been spoilt with some beautiful presents this year, but two of my besties encouraged my Tatty Devine obsession with these gorgeous pieces. You might recognise the sewing machine one from my post on the Tatty AW16 collections, and my clever friend in Hong Kong ordered it for me as a surprise after stalking my Instagram account. What a legend.

Red lipstick necklace from Tatty Devine

Sewing machine necklace from Tatty Devine

This week I have very few plans as there's a load of deadlines at work, but on Saturday me, Katy, Emma and Emma are heading up to Leeds for the Bloggers Blog Awards. I'm up for Best Travel Blog so keep everything crossed for me!

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Sunday, 25 September 2016

Lumos Charity Gala at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Lumos Charity Ambassadors with Evanna Lynch

Sometimes, something amazing will drop into my inbox. Over and above the 15% ASOS discount for my birthday (although let's not lie, I totally used that) and the general newsletter nonsense that I forget I've subscribed to, there is an email to stop me in my tracks, throw down my phone and do a happy dance in my chair. And that's how I began my journey with Lumos.

You probably know Lumos as the light-giving spell in Harry Potter and that is exactly what the charity of the same name does for orphans across the world. J.K. Rowling's foundation was set up to help kids out there who live in appalling conditions, away from their families, and give their lives some light by placing them into loving, caring homes.

Continental breakfast

I was invited to a breakfast presentation at The Hospital Club to hear more and was horrified to find out that there are 8 million children in orphanages. That's basically the population of London (and it's pretty damn busy here). When I hear the word 'orphanage' I think of Tracy Beaker and the Dumping Ground; a place where children are taken away from a home that is unsafe, potentially where they've suffered emotional and/or physical abuse from their 'carers'. Around the world it could not be more different. A staggering 80% of children are in orphanages because their parents simply cannot afford to keep them at home, through poverty or disability. They genuinely think that they are giving their children a better life.

Lumos charity foundation for orphanages

We were lucky enough to hear the on-the-ground experiences from Harry Potter stars Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davies and Jason Isaacs, as well as Georgette Mulheir and Billy DiMichele who chair Lumos in the UK and the US respectively. They spoke of a disabled man in his 40s, still living in an orphanage in Moldova because he simply cannot get care or housing elsewhere. The story of children in Haiti who have been taken from their families as a money-making opportunity for crooks riding on the misfortune of earthquake victims. They know that the international community will give them aid, but that money so rarely goes to the children - instead it lines the pockets of monsters. And let's be honest, that's not a word to use lightly.

Lumos charity ambassadors

Harry Potter stars at Lumos charity gala

Lumos are going to these places and either reconnecting children with their families or placing them with loving, caring guardians. They are even helping to retrain and re-place the staff at these orphanages; fully aware that they need jobs and most of the time they really are doing their best for the children in their care.

It was asked: so, how can we help? Which is a fair question when I know people who have volunteered at orphanages in the past. They're already trying to help but is there something more that we could be doing?

The answer: spread the word about Lumos. Whether it's telling their story, donating money or buying one of the awesome t-shirts we're wearing in the pic below. 

Lumos charity ambassadors

I feel there are a lot of skepticism about charities, with donations paying for overheads and the little guys never getting a cut. However, J.K. Rowling told us at a gala preview of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, that she covers all costs for Lumos, meaning 100% of donations go towards the cause at hand. I read the other day that she is the first person to be demoted from a billionaire status because of her charitable contributions. If I wasn't emotional enough about going to see the play for the second time, this tipped it for me (you can see my spoiler-free thoughts on the play in my previous post here).

I'm already thankful enough to J.K. Rowling for bringing the light to my own childhood with the beautiful Harry Potter books, but knowing that I can help her do the same for millions of children across the world is something incredibly special.

Thank you to Lumos for asking me to be an ambassador for their charity. I have not been paid for this post, or any of the upcoming work I will be doing with them.

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