Traverse 17 – My First Travel Blogging Conference

Last weekend I attended my first travel blogging conference. This is what it was like.

There are a lot of travel blogging conferences around such as TBEX and WITS. I see a lot about them online and they seem like they’d be both good fun and a good opportunity for learning and networking. I’ve quite fancied the idea of going to one for a while now, but various things have held me back.

They’re too far away, too expensive, not at the right time, my blog isn’t big enough and I won’t be able to take advantage of all the opportunities on offer …

All good reasons, but even so they’re holding me back. Continue reading “Traverse 17 – My First Travel Blogging Conference”

Borough Market – A Photo Essay

Prosecco, goat ice cream and tales of marauding Vikings are just some of the things waiting to be discovered at Britain’s oldest market.

Good markets are getting harder and harder to find. The traditional markets with cheap clothes, dish cloths and ‘3 for a pound’ fruit and veg are even rarer. The traditional markets were good for a bargain, but not so great for a day out. These days when you do find a market it’s far more likely to be of the artisanal type and to be expensive, but lovely for a day out. Continue reading “Borough Market – A Photo Essay”

Kensington Palace

A Christmas trip to Kensington Palace involved music, gambling and an early version of a ‘Shewee’.

Over the Christmas break I took my ten old niece on her first ever trip to London. As a princess obsessive, when I suggested a visit to Kensington Palace, London home of Will and Kate, she jumped at the chance. Continue reading “Kensington Palace”

Freud Museum

A visit to the final home of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud, Austrian Jew and renowned psychoanalyst, fled the Nazis and arrived in London in 1938. Until his death the following the year he lived in a large house in North London, just off Finchley Road and not far from Finchley Road underground station. Continue reading “Freud Museum”

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

An afternoon spent masquerading as a posh lady got another challenge ticked off my 60 things to do before I’m 60 list.

Dodging showers we made it to the Ritz, not looking our best, but not looking too bedraggled either. Back in February when I’d booked our afternoon tea I’d half hoped for rain so I could have one of the top-hatted doormen hold a golf umbrella over my head as I went up to the steps to the entrance. Continue reading “Afternoon Tea at the Ritz”

Friday Flickr – Borough Market

I’m so glad I don’t live near Borough Market. I’d spend all my money on cheese and licorice.

Last Saturday morning I arrived in London far too early for my afternoon tea at the Ritz, so to while away a few hours I went to Borough Market. I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to pay this foodie haven a visit. Continue reading “Friday Flickr – Borough Market”

Tea at the Ritz

Afternoon tea at the Ritz will be another challenge ticked off my list.

One of the more sedate challenges on my 60 before 60 list is to have afternoon tea at the Ritz.

When I first lived in London I worked at a sandwich bar on a hidden alleyway near St James’s Palace. I used to get the tube to Green Park and so twice a day I would walk past the Ritz on Piccadilly. I never ventured inside. Doormen in tophats and tails would swing the doors open for expensively clad people alighting from taxis outside; if it was raining they even held huge golf umbrellas to prevent elegant hairdos from turning frizzy.

I imagined the same doormen slamming the doors shut if I ever tried to enter in my old jeans and trainers. One day, I thought, I will go there and they will hold the doors open for me and I will go inside and have afternoon tea. (I considered afternoon tea to be the poshest of the posh when it comes to food.)

Although I’ll happily do most things on my own, this is one of those things that I think will be enjoyed more if I have someone to share the experience with. And as it’s expensive I knew it could take a while before I found someone willing. Fortunately, I’ve now found that someone.

A good friend and I were at the funeral of another friend this week. She was only 45 and died suddenly. After the funeral we went for a drink in her memory and got onto a maudlin discussion of how life is short and you never know what’s round the corner. I kind of know this already which is one of the reasons I have a list in the first place, but sometimes I need reminding of it.

By the end of the drink we’d decided that part of making the most of life should involve a weekend in London and afternoon tea at the Ritz. I went home and booked it.

Because we want a weekend date and don’t want to have afternoon tea at 7.30pm in the evening (that’s just wrong), the earliest date I could get is in October. At least we’ve got plenty of time to save up for it.

And maybe it will be raining in October. Even if it’s not, I might still ask the doorman to hold an umbrella over my head.



Wild Food Cafe

A restaurant that doesn’t cook the food.

Over the New Year holidays I had a day in London. I was staying with friends in Kent for a few days and caught the train in on the 2nd. I had a long list of things I wanted to do, but when I researched them I found many places were still closed for the holidays and so that limited my choices somewhat.

One of the decisions I had to make was where to have lunch. I like trying out new places, but also have a lot of old favourites that I like to have the chance to get back to. The first few places I checked out were closed, so I decided to go to an old haunt, The World Food Cafe in Neal’s Yard. This was run by a couple who have travelled the world taking amazing photographs and researching recipes. They have published a couple of beautiful cookbooks combining photos and recipes and also displayed some of their photos on the walls of the cafe. The food was always great and the menu consisted of a range of dishes from around the world.

Yes, I’m talking past tense. The World Food Cafe is no longer and has been replaced by The Wild Food Cafe. It looks the same, except the photos are gone. The concept of the new establishment is to serve food that hasn’t been heated to anything above 39 degrees. Most of the food on the menu is served raw although the grains they serve with some meals have been cooked properly before being cooled down. They refer to their way of preparing and serving food as ‘sunfood’.

I’d heard of this way of eating before, but can’t say it has ever really appealed. However, I’m always up for a new experience and so was happy to give it a go.

I ordered a burger made from mushrooms and I think some kind of sprouts or seeds. It was served with salad, home-made ketchup, mustard and sweet potato wedges (these had been cooked and cooled). Instead of bread it was on a cracker made from seeds and things, all dehydrated and squished together. The cracker was really tasty. The burger was ok but I won’t list it amongst my favourites; if anything it was overpowered by the mustard and this spoilt the taste a bit.

I finished lunch with a coffee (hot and normal) and a piece of chocolate with high cocoa solids and made without cooking or heating.

So what’s my opinion overall? I quite liked it, but not enough to make it a ‘haunt’. It was interesting to try a different type of food and the staff were really friendly and happy to answer questions and explain the products. If I didn’t have so many other places that I like to go to in London, then I probably would go back, but as I have alternatives, I probably won’t.

Hajj Exhibition at the British Museum

A major exhibition at the British Museum.

The Hajj Exhibition at the British Museum was of relevance to me because of my interest in Islam. As an aspect of Islam, the Hajj is of particular fascination because it’s something I’m unlikely to ever experience. To be allowed to enter the area of Mecca I’d have to be a Muslim. As a female I’d have to be in the company of my husband or close male relative who would also need to be Muslim. Now that I’m over forty I could get around the unaccompanied female clause by going as part of an all female group, but there’s no way around the non-Muslim bit unless I was to convert. As I’m not religious and don’t hold any particular belief in God that would be rather hypocritical of me.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. All able-bodied Muslims must make this pilgrimage once in their lifetime as long as they can afford it. And of course it is something they should try to afford. As pilgrimages go this must be one of the, if not the, most ritualistic. Over the course of five or six days the various steps are followed by several million pilgrims, aided by around 12,000 guides. Bear in mind the setting is the red-hot Saudi Arabian desert, and one of the steps involves standing out on the plains of Mount Arafat for the whole day, and you can begin to see that this is no holiday but a real test of mind and body.

This site is the official Saudi Arabian site for the Hajj and gives lots of details.

But, back to the exhibition. I’d bought my ticket well in advance and so could go straight in. One of the first things I saw was a piece of a kisweh. The kiswah is the gigantic cloth, usually black and decorated with a band of Arabic inscriptions embroidered in gold thread, that covers Islam’s most holy place, the Ka’aba. It is to the Ka’aba that Muslims all over the world turn when they pray. A new cloth is produced each year. The piece in the exhibition was huge and it was wonderful to get so close to it. I can’t imagine the majority of pilgrims themselves getting that close. Although all pilgrims must circumambulate the Ka’aba seven times, sheer numbers must surely mean the majority are circumambulating at some distance.

Once inside the exhibition proper, the displays wound around the hall imitating the journey of the Hajj itself. The first section showed what it’s like to prepare for Hajj and had stories told by people departing from different countries. The next sections followed the days of Hajj culminating in the pilgrims’ arrival back at home. Each section had a range of exhibits, which I found quite interesting to see, and various short films, audio testimonies and photographs to complement them. There was plenty of information provided in each section so a visitor not so familiar with the procedures and meanings of Hajj should learn plenty and have no trouble understanding what they are looking at. I found this slightly less interesting as it was a little too basic for me. Any visitors who have studied Islam should go to the exhibition with the intention of seeing artefacts they would not normally get the chance to see, rather than to learn something new.

Would I recommend this exhibition? Yes. Is this one of the best exhibitions I’ve been to at the British Museum? No.

Here are some statistics about last year’s hajj that I’ve copied from the Telegraph website.

Key numbers for the Hajj this year:

– An estimated 2.5 million pilgrims are gathering in Mecca this year – 1.8 million from abroad and 700,000-800,000 from inside Saudi Arabia.

– Every Muslim country has a hajj quota of 1,000 pilgrims per million inhabitants and the biggest contingent – 200,000 pilgrims – will come from Indonesia.

– Saudi Arabia is deploying some 63,000 security forces, including 3,500 anti-riot policemen backed by 450 armoured vehicles, while the civil defence is deploying 22,000 forces and 6,000 vehicles.

– Some 1,500 CCTV cameras have been installed in and around Mecca’s Grand Mosque and 29 police stations will be open to serve the holy places.

– Some 20,000 health workers have been mobilised to cope with any emergency and five rescue helicopters also have been readied to serve the faithful.

– More than 12,000 male and female guides known as “mutawif” help organise the pilgrims’ stay.

– The Grand Mosque at the centre of Mecca, where pilgrims gather to pray and circle the cubic Kaaba building, covers 368,000 square meters and can hold more than 1.5 million people.

– The Kaaba rests on a marble base and is built from granite, and has a door made from 280 kilos (616 pounds) of pure gold. The black silk kiswa covering, made anew every year, is embroidered with holy phrases using 150 kilos (330 pounds) of gold and silver thread.

Whilst I was googling I came across this site – I’ve only had a quick look at it but it’s definitely one I’ll come back to.