Sleek but stark and sterile; hands up if you’ve heard words like this being used to describe Singapore? I have, for years now. The connotations conjure up images of skyrise after skyrise, a country so immaculate but ultimately somewhat soulless. For all those years, I always thought it was an unfair description, but now that I’ve returned to the country over a decade since my last visit, I am even more convinced that the description is just plain wrong. Of course there are elements of the sleek, stark and sterile in Singapore, as there would be in any other big, bustling city, but there are also many pockets of colour. In amongst the tall towers of grey are flashes of bright hues, and expanses of greenery. They have excelled at combining the new with the old, the man-made with the natural, and in order to make the most of your visit to Singapore, you should too…
Colombo is not a city which is often described in a favourable light. Before we arrived, I had read that it was far from being a traveller’s haven, was told that it was a tad boring, and generally not the kind of place you find yourself lingering in. Ever the optimist, I bowled on into town with an eagerness to see the best of this city and perhaps prove its critics wrong, but after arriving in the middle of a storm verging on cyclone territory, stepping into far too many puddles in the broken pavements, and seeing nothing but grey skies, I was defeated. At the end of day one, all I wanted was to curl up in the hotel and order room service, but by the end of day two I was starting to see the city in a whole new light thanks to Urban Adventures!
An afternoon spent talking about food and eating it often puts me in a good mood, but our Eat, Eat, Repeat food tour also gave me an insight into life in this frenzied urban sprawl. The city is vast, needs a lot of TLC in some parts, but does have its charms. We do agree with those who have come before us – this is not the most tourist-friendly city, but if you’re visiting Sri Lanka, it is highly likely this will be your first stop so I would suggest you do as we did and explore it through food. It’s definitely more interesting and provides a great introduction to Sri Lankan food which will stand you in good stead for the rest of your trip. Here’s a taste of what you can expect if you too decide to Eat, Eat, Repeat with Urban Adventures in Colombo…
If the streets of Palermo could talk, I am sure they would have some epic tales to tell. Sicily’s capital has endured more than its fair share of conquerers, rulers, and passer-bys, each bringing a dose of prosperity and turmoil to these shores as they came and went. What they left behind was an intriguing jumble of cultures and styles, layered on top of each other to create one which you could say is what makes Palermo so unique. This is quite evident in the city’s architecture where Norman facades give way to Byzantine mosaics, which are in turn housed under the Arab domes and arches, but it has also left its mark quite strongly on the cuisine.
While I am fond of getting lost in the warrens of an old city, what I love even more is to discover edible gems down the narrow alley ways and street corners which only the locals know about. Rumour had it that here in Palermo there were plenty such gems, all we needed was that local. Accosting strangers in the street didn’t seem wise, so we booked ourselves onto a street food tour with Streaty Palermo. Meandering through the streets with Marco, our exuberant born and bred Palermitan guide, was definitely the best way of getting a taste of the city.
Most days, I trawl through an obscene amount of (non-work) emails. I know most of them are destined for the trash folder and I should be better at unsubscribing, yet I find myself tied to my ritual of scroll-skim-delete, scroll-skim-delete, until the occasional one pops up which makes me stop, re-scroll and actually read the thing. It’s usually a catchy subject line which lures me in for the read, and hands down the best example I’ve had lately was one asking if I ‘fancy trying my hand at spinning rotis?’. I mean, does this person know me or what?!
This was clearly an offer I had to investigate further, which is how I ended up in Hankies, a Delhi street-food inspired restaurant in the heart of Shaftesbury Avenue, watching a chef transform dough to rotis with nothing but a bit of flour and some fancy flipping skills. Before I arrived, I was more than ready to roll up my sleeves and spin a few of these Roomali rotis (or hankies as they’re commonly called because of the way they’re folded and served) myself but after catching a glimpse of Head Chef Ani in action, I wasn’t so sure… My confidence dwindled with every flip and spin and I’m embarrassed to say, I chickened out.
A forecast for the slightest bit of rain over the weekend was enough to send the doom and gloomers into overdrive, proclaiming that the British summer was well and truly over! It probably is and it would be very un-British to not have a whinge about that fact, but let’s not get too down in the dumps about it… I’m going to be bold and say we had a rather good run of the sunshine and warm weather. There were a couple of false starts and unbearable heatwaves but overall, I can’t complain. We’ve spent some quality time in the deck chairs we lugged home on the tube about two years ago, and I’ve enjoyed many al fresco lunches at the office!
The only thing that stopped me from all out declaring that it was a good and proper summer was when I realised I hadn’t made the customary trip to the beach. In my humble opinion, no summer is complete without dipping at least my toes in the sea and enduring the hilarity of finding sand everywhere for weeks. If I can tick that off, then yep, this has been a goody.
I don’t watch much tv these days. I could blame it on a certain someone hogging the screen with a constant stream of football, golf, NFL, snooker, darts even but the truth is there’s not much that manages to grab hold of my pea-sized attention span. The only exceptions are the occasion crime drama (really got into True Detective and Broadchurch) and, drum roll please… food shows. That didn’t come as a surprise to anyone did it?
All it takes is an episode or two and I’m already hooked on those cooking competitions, my favourites are quickly found and I’ve decided who the villains are. I could easily spend an afternoon putting up with Jamie Oliver enthusiastically talk me through a 15 minute meal I know will take twice as long, and if there’s a marathon of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on? Well that’s me for the night.
So it seems I like to watch people cook. It’s my inherent nosiness that needs to know how someone turned a celeriac, pigs ears and blueberries into something edible, or how chefs meticulously plate the most pretty dishes. I’ve noticed that more restaurants seem to be opening up their kitchens and making them visible to the dining room- this is a trend I welcome. A well-oiled kitchen shouldn’t have anything to hide during service, and I can get dinner with a show.
Our final stop in Mexico- a week on the Yucatan Peninsula with the plan to see some Maya ruins and hit the beach. After some ‘umming and ahhing’ (cue: my worst case scenarios involving various combos of breakdowns in the dark, guns, and carjackings) we decided to rent a car to get us round for the week… nowhere near as luxurious as Penelope, it was a bit of a miracle that we and the Bambino lasted the week together! With a gruntless little engine and no power steering, we navigated through the pot-hole riddled ‘highways’ and jostled for position in the tiny town streets.