Thursday, 10 August 2017

REVIEW // Brush & Bubbles, London

Creativity is something that comes so naturally to some, ideas and inspiration bounce off the walls of the brain, an artistic streak quite literally, runs through the body. It can relax and destress a person, excite and fulfill them - creativity, for many, is what keeps them going, keeps them hustling.

Now, I like to think of myself as creative, I mean hey, I’m like totally creating content over here, however when it comes to an artistic streak, when it comes to holding an actual paintbrush in my actual human hand, I have about as much talent as a wounded deer.

And that’s actually an insult to the poor deer.

Anyway.

Holding a paintbrush is quite the unnatural activity for me however holding a glass brimming with prosecco is pretty much what my hands were made for so when my BFF told me about a ‘Brush and Bubbles’ class in London, I simply had to give it go.

I envisaged myself sat there, blank canvas in front of me with brush in my left hand, fizz in my right and with one sip, I would paint something so wondrous, so magical, that people around me would marvel, oh how they’d marvel at my talents.

And then I woke up and remembered that I can’t bloody paint so what the flipping flip was I thinking signing up to an art class?



Brush and Bubbles is described as an art class which ‘brings people together and encourages creativity’. It is about meeting up with friends, having a good old chat whilst painting and, well, drinking and honestly, it was just a really lovely day.

The class begins with the two lovely ladies, Lara and Tiffany, meeting everyone with huge, friendly smiles and a glass of prosecco. Run by a resident artist and over a period of 2 and a half hours, you are given step by step instructions on how to create your very own gorgeous canvas painting and it’s so much fun!









When you are first shown what the finished piece will look like, you hear the nervous giggles and the exhaling of air which can basically be translated as ‘how the bloody hell am I, a person with no artistic talent, meant to create THAT’. Fear not though, and seriously don’t be put off, because the steps are simple, the teaching is super relaxed and it actually doesn’t matter whether you’re set to be the next Van Gogh or if the only use you can conjure up of a brush is to sweep the floor - the ladies really do mean it when they say ‘no experience necessary’.

Source - Rosie Willan
No pictures please, no meet and greets...

Source - Brush and Bubbles

The hustle and bustle of London can be intense sometimes - great but intense - and this was just the perfect way to relax and wind down after a long week. Whether it be your own #treatyourself present, a birthday gift or simply a new and different thing to try out with friends, I couldn’t recommend spending a few hours at a Brush and Bubbles class more. With a glass of fizz in hand and a paintbrush in the other, with the freedom to chat to those around you or take some time for yourself to just chill and create, it really is a fun, relaxing and unique experience - and hey, it’s a whole lot cheaper than therapy!
                                                                                              
                                                                                              
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INFO
Where are the classes held?
I attended the class at View94 in Putney however they also hold classes in Covent Garden & Chelsea.

When are the classes held?
They are currently held on a Saturday, with one session 11am-1:30pm and the other 2:30pm-5pm.

How much is it?
The price of the class is £29.99 which includes a glass of prosecco, unlimited paint (!) and your very own canvas art to take home with you.

To book tickets or get more information, click here.


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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Eating in London #7 | MNKY House, Mayfair

Moving to London was exciting for so many reasons - the fast paced lifestyle (we don’t talk about the tube at rush hour), being immersed in such a diverse and lively city (let’s move past the 3am Mcdonald’s trips) and, the people because as bad a reputation as London gets, the UK’s capital is for the most part a rather friendly bunch. Of course, if you’ve followed this blog for awhile you’re probably yawning at this point, maybe you’re about to be a sassy so and so being all like ‘er yeah Charlotte, get to the actual point you’re excited’ because we both know that perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of city life in London for me is...food.

And a whole lot of it.

From sushi, ramen and noodles to tapas and tortillas, restaurants dedicated to chicken to cafes serving solely avocado, there really is something for absolutely every tastebud in London. With this in mind however, and with my bank balance going into a pre-meditated ‘crouching with head in hands position’, there has had to be a strict (ish, okay not at all) limit to eating out habits, so my BFF and I have made it a once a week treat.

Ugh, okay we try and do once a week but if we’re walking along the street and we mistakenly slip into an establishment that just happens to sell and serve food right to us, then we really can’t be at fault.

We just can’t.

Apparently, travelling the world together for a year and living together in London just wasn’t enough for the universe, as we both actually managed to secure jobs on...the exact same day so to celebrate (another rule in the ‘eating out limit’, celebrations don’t count), we headed to Soho with some of Rosie’s family.

Soho is notorious for being pretty difficult to a) find the place you need and b) to find a seat in those places without booking or waiting a while so we decided to roll the dice and pick somewhere on Open Table - a website which shows you restaurants nearby which have free tables - and luckily, we managed to get a table at the infamous MNKY House.

Situated in Mayfair, MNKY House is a luxury Latin American bar and restaurant with a musical twist - a live DJ playing until the early hours of the morning. As one of the area’s most vibrant eateries, MNKY House provides guests with a real taste of Latin American food, using high quality and local ingredients to produce authentic yet modern dishes in a fine dining setting.

So, have they got it right?

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a handful of lovely and attentive staff members who led us through the cosy bar area downstairs into the main restaurant where we were joined by, yep you guessed it, a monkey or three.


The menu is extensive without being too much, it is quirky without being pretentious and everything sounded so delicious that it was a true team effort to decide on our dishes of choice. After a hard task of decision making (I know, but someone’s got to do it), we chose a selection of dishes to share...and they were all utterly stunning.

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Each dish, from the glazed soy chicken marinated in tasty spices to the prawn ceviche tortillas, was utterly delicious and made every taste bud in your mouth stand up and take note. The beef sirloin was brimming with juices, cooked to absolute perfection whilst the yellowtail was delicate and fruity in a stunning orange, passionfruit, ginger and jacama sauce.



Our waiter was nothing short of amazing - not only was his knowledge of the menu absolutely superb but when a certain someone decided it would be a good idea to put an entire chili in her mouth...and the rest of the table followed suit, he practically ran to the kitchen and brought us a glass of milk. If that isn’t service for some particularly strange guests, I don’t know what is…!



Unfortunately, we were a little too early to really get the feel for the place once the DJ had started as we moved upstairs to the bar (shocker, I know) however the atmosphere was great throughout and the ambience was really relaxed, chilled and comfortable. Despite the area, it wasn’t particularly posey or pretentious, but a restaurant with high energy and vibrancy, with a definite ‘New York’ feeling to it.

From the divine dishes to the quirky decor to the attentive staff, MNKY House was a fantastic place to spend a Friday evening. Whilst it’s a special occasion kinda place, it’s definitely somewhere that provides you with an authentic dining experience and is certainly not just a ‘bums on seat, food on plate and leave’ restaurant. If you’re thinking about heading to MNKY House soon, I really couldn’t recommend it more - plus, the Pornstar Martinis go down a real treat too!


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Friday, 28 July 2017

Adjusting to life after travelling

For the past few weeks, I’ve opened up a draft post to start writing about a restaurant in Soho, a cafe in Covent Garden...and then stopped. I’ve repeated the same action over and over again and I’ve simply put it down to being a little too tired or a little too, ahem, lazy. ‘You’ve just gotten a bout of writer’s block, Charlotte, it’s nothing new’ I’ve told myself, whilst reaching over for a bar of Dairy Milk and switching the Kardashians on..but over the past couple of days, I don’t think it is a block.

I think it’s not wanting to let go.

After arriving back in the UK after a year away, the first couple of weeks were a blur of hugs and tears, family and friends, trips and tales. People who have been in the same position in the past warn of preparing for the adjustment period, for the low to hit you, for the sense of ‘real life’ to kick back in.

Looking back now though, I don’t agree. It’s not the first couple of weeks you need to prepare for. Night upon night in your own bed is blissful, face to face chats with family are special, revelling in the home comforts you have dreamt about is just, lovely. It’s not those first couple of weeks when everything is novelty including yourself, it’s now.

It’s two months in.

I’m now in London. I live with my best friend, I have a job, I no longer have the niggling panic that my dog has forgotten who I am - in many senses of the word, I’m settled. I’m back on my feet. I’m in a very privileged position to have gotten to this point so quickly and I am very thankful but sometimes, sometimes I sit back and wonder if that year ever actually happened.

And I panic.

Where has the travelling me gone? I liked her. She gained confidence, she began to realise her worth, she, of course, drank far too much and made embarrassing errors but she was so carefree. She was free.

What if I forget things that happened? Really amazing times or special experiences? Did I really call Cape Town my home? It was all so blase, it was all so...obvious but now, now I want to grab those days and weeks and months and hold on to them so tight that the air is squeezed out of them.


Of course, once the taunting part of my brain settles down for a welcome slumber (can you just like, never come back?), I know that of course, those times are never gone, they did actually happen in actual real life. But once you’ve gotten back from a trip like that, you are quite literally re-building your life from pretty much scratch.

People have gotten used to a life where you catch up through a phone or a computer, and you’ve gotten used to that too. It’s about making space in your life again for more than just you and your travelling companion and people making room for you too. It’s not easy, adjusting to normal life again.

(I don’t call it entering the ‘real world’ again or adjusting to ‘real life’ because I don’t agree. You don’t think being stranded at the top of Signal Hill in Cape Town at night is real? Oh boy, it’s real all right.)

I suppose me now, writing this post, is adjusting. Acknowledging that I’m back but that it’s okay to give yourself time on some days to sit, to reminisce, to, well, be sad it’s over. And actually know that the travelling me hasn’t been lost along the way, I’ve just gotten used to this me now.

Sometimes I want to scream ‘this doesn’t maaaattteerrrrrrrr’ or ‘why do you CARE about this’, but I know it’s unfair. Sometimes I want to book a flight to Johannesburg for the weekend just to make sure everything is still there, that I didn’t just make this up in my mind, but I know that I didn’t. Sometimes, I just want to sit with my damn best friend and look at photos of ourselves and our friends we made and the food we ate and the places we visited and be damn self obsessed, okay.

I will always be so thankful for having had that time for myself. I know I’m a much, much better person for it and I’ve taken so many things from the good times and the bad. And now? Well now it’s time to take those experiences from the past and use them moving forward, in the present and the future.

Oh yes, and of course I have to plan my next trip, right?

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Saturday, 22 July 2017

A 48 hour guide to Nairobi, Kenya

Prior to flying to Nairobi last year, my BFF and I were dancing around our hotel room in Sydney singing (maybe screeching) along to Circle of Life over..and over…and over again. We were so stupendously excited that the thought of the 24 hours of travelling ahead of us didn’t even begin to phase us because..we were going on safari in Kenya!

It’s funny now to look back knowing that as we stepped on that plane, we had absolutely zero idea that our Eastern Africa road trip was about to be completely thrown over board and instead, we would spend the next four months in Nairobi.

‘4 months??’ I hear you say, ‘But…but what were you doing in Kenya for that long?’

My reply?

I was super busy having the time of my life.

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Say the word ‘Kenya’ to pretty much anyone, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the first word that springs into people’s mind is ‘safari’. Images of lions pacing the land of the Maasai Mara, of trucks hurtling across the national park in search of the inconspicuous leopard pack, in the heart stopping moment of being just yards away from the most incredibly beautiful wildlife you could ever wish to see.

And they’d be right, because oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, the Maasai Mara is truly a spectacle to see and it really is something that any travel or animal lover out there need to experience in their lifetime.

Maasai Mara, Kenya
However, say the word ‘Nairobi’ to someone and they take a little step back, perhaps scrunch their nose up a tad and ask ‘Oooh, it’s really dangerous there, isn't it’. Admittedly, before I touched down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I was feeling quite apprehensive about our decision. I say that with no qualms or fears that you reading this will judge me because, I took those feelings and those worries which had been subconsciously formed, added to from people who had never been, and threw them away. I went in with an open mind, ready to experience everything Nairobi had to offer, ready to see this city with my own eyes, create my own memories and form my own idea of the place.

And I did. And it’s a place that, in many ways, changed my complete outlook and perspective on travel, on life. It’s a place that educated me in never allowing a perception of a city or a country to override the reality. It’s a place that’s made me want to share with the whole world just how incredible it is but also want to whisper it veeeeery faintly because, well, can’t it just be our little secret?

Nairobi is one of the most incredible, friendly, vibrant and kindhearted cities I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. Having spent around four months there last year, we became pretty good pals, although we don’t talk about the couple of weeks where I was continuously drenched by sudden storms, do we N-dog?

Mmmhmmm, girl doesn't forget these things, she’ll forgive though.

I get asked quite a lot about what there is to do in and around Nairobi and instead of being that poor, poor person who gets stuck with me as I excitedly reel off activity after restaurant after activity after bar, I thought I’d do you all a favour and put it in a blog post instead.

Here’s how to spend a jam packed but INCREDIBLE 48 hours in this amazing city…

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DAY 1:

For a full 48 hours in Nairobi, I’d recommend going on safari after your time in the city because as weird as it sounds, you’re going to want to sleep for about 157 hours once you’re back from the Mara.

My friend and I stayed at Milimani Backpackers in a private room for our first week in Nairobi before we began working at sustainable charity, Marafiki Community International. We really liked it and would definitely recommend it.

For your first morning, get in a taxi and head to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, named 'the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world'. The entrance fee to get into the park is Ksh500 (approx £3/$5) and not only does this go towards the incredible protection and conservation programmes the Trust support across Eastern Africa, but you will also be able to watch baby elephants being fed, interacting with one another and the keepers as well as learn the history of the organisation and the little (or not so) guys themselves.

Info: The park is only between 11am-12pm however so make sure you get the most out of your experience and arrive on time!

Midday beckons and the park will close therefore next on the agenda, is heading to the suburb of Karen and continuing your Nairobi experience with a little history at the Karen Blixen Museum. Set in stunning grounds, take a guided tour of the property and grounds, learning all about the farm that the Danish author of the famous memoir, ‘Out of Africa’ lived on from 1917 to 1931.

Info: Would recommend reading the novel or watching the Oscar-winning movie adaptation (which was actually shot on the grounds!) to get the absolute most of your visit.

After a history filled few hours it’s time to get your animal fix once more soooo how does a little smooch with a giraffe sound? Great? Okay, well let's head to the Giraffe Centre just down the road.

Travel wise, there are a couple of options depending on your budget - you can either get a private taxi right to the gates or, if you're watching the ole shillings, you can catch the 24 matatu which will drop you off at the end of the road and will involve maybe a 15/20 minute walk to the centre itself.

Giraffe Centre, Karen
The Giraffe Centre combines exciting activite and responsible conservation, with it's main aim to educate the youth of Kenya whilst protecting the highly endangered Rothschild's giraffe. The adult entrance fee is Ksh1000 (equivalent to around £8/$10) and allows you the opportunity to feed the giraffes with directly from your hand or if you're feeling particularly loving (?), you can hold a pellet between your lips and one of these long necked creatures will give you a (VERY) slobbery kiss.

Info: The money from your entrance fee as well as your gift shop and cafe purchases goes towards providing conservation education for school children in Nairobi so it really is a great cause as well as an amazing experience.

Now, Nairobi is known for it's stunning landscapes and it's booming tea and coffee trade however it is also becoming increasingly renowned for it's global foodie scene. There are a number of restaurants and foods you must try whilst in Nairobi and that includes the local favourites (mmm gimme all the chapatti!) and an area you'll be utterly spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants and bars is Westlands. If you're looking for a buzzing area, great food and drink and a place or three to dance, get yourself over to this suburb and you'll be set for the night, I promise.

Artcaffe, Nairobi
Day 2:

On the morning of day 2, you should take a trip into the city centre. Despite a whole lot of scaremongering about the trials and tribulations of Nairobi city centre, simply act like you would in any other major city in the world - keep your belongings safe and secure, be aware of your surroundings and you will be absolutely fine.

Spending an hour or two in the Nairobi Gallery is definitely worth doing to learn a little more about the city's past and current creative history. Being oh so cultured is thirsty work though isn't it but fear not, you are only about a ten minute walk away to popular eatery, The Mug, which serves delicious coffee and even better cake. There are a huge variety of places to eat around this area however so if you're looking for something a little more substantial, local or not, you can't go more than a couple of yards without seeing a restaurant, cafe or takeout.

View from the KICC
Refreshments over, it's time to head to the KICC because whilst you've covered a lot of ground by now, it's time to see Nairobi from the rooftops, and not just any rooftop, but from the second highest building in Kenya. For tourists, the entrance fee is Ksh400 which is insanely good value to get stunning 360 views of the city of Nairobi for as far as the eye can see and you can stay for as long as you wish.

Next, hop in a taxi or catch a matatu to The Junction Shopping Mall because...it's Maasai Mara market time! (ONLY ON A THURSDAY, if it is a different day, please click here for the market's weekly schedule because locations change every day). The Maasai Mara market is where you get your haggle on, although I really cannot offer you any tips on what to do because I am truly abysmal at it and if anything, I end up paying more.

Seriously.

The market has everything you could possibly wish for, in every colour and pattern and design you could ever think of. From African print dresses and scarves, to wall canvas' and trinkets, to jewellery, handbags and shoes, there is something for everyone and anyone and even if you aren't suuuuuper bothered about shopping, it's an experience in itself just to walk around, take it all in and watch the live acts and dances that are performed.

Info: Catching a matatu from the city can be a little hectic as there are SO many different buses stationed in quite a few different locations but please just ask one of the drivers if you are unsure - in my experiences they have always been happy to help and tried their best to send us off in the right direction with the correct info. Don't be scared of asking for help!


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Night time beckons and the only place you can head on your final night in Nairobi, is Carnivore (except if you're a vegetarian for painfully obvious reasons..) Carnivore Restaurant describe themselves as a 'Beast of a Feast' and oh boy, they're nothing if not accurate.

The concept of Carnivore is basically that a wide variety of meats including chicken, lamb, sirloin steak, crocodile and ostrrich, are carved at your individual table throughout the night. Whole joints of meat, which are roasted on traditional Maasai swords over a ginormous charcoal that you can see from pretty much anywhere in the restaurant, are brought to you, and you can decide whether you'd like to sample or swerve and this continues until your entire table is full at which point you wave the white flag and place it in the middle of your table to indicate you surrender.

For a set price, you receive unlimited meats, which even at one point includes having the opportunity to sample a bull's testicle (squidgy texture, less said the better...!), a delicious selection of side dishes and sauces, soup, dessert and Kenyan coffee.

The atmosphere is really, really great and made even better by the infamous Doctor Dawa, who serves house cocktail, the 'Dawa', on a portable tray - beware though, the doctor really likes to serve this fabulous concoction and you may wake up the next day cursing that damn medicine man...

It's a great experience and one that really stands out for me from the range of different places I ate in Kenya as a whole so whilst it isn't particularly cheap, I really think it's worth it.

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And there we have it - a 48 hour itinerary for your time in the Kenyan capital. There is, of course, so more to do and see in and around Nairobi so don't be confined to my recommendations above - I wrote a post last year on 10 amazing things to do in the city too so the possibilities of how to spend your time in Nairobi are endless!


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Saturday, 15 July 2017

13 amazing reasons to visit Johannesburg

Johannesburg is a city of many things - it is a city filled to the brim with diversity, culture and vibrance. It is a city constantly hustling, constantly working to make things happen, to get sh*t done and you know something, it's a city that draws you in and never lets go.

It's a city with everything you could wish for and yet needs none of it to remain special. It's a city bursting with life and possibility, with potential and creativity. It's a city you need to visit and here are 13 reasons why...

1. The people 
In Johannesburg, you will have the pleasure of coming across some of the friendliest people you could wish to meet. Warm, chatty and sociable, their vibrant energy will make you feel so welcome in their city but beware...this will make you never want to leave!

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2. The up and coming neighbourhoods 
From the creative quarter of Maboneng and the up and coming area of Braamfontein, to the bohemian suburb of Melville, there are a whole host of amazing neighbourhoods to explore in the city of Joburg.

3. The museums 
A trip to Joburg isn’t complete without visiting the Apartheid Museum in Soweto. Give yourself an afternoon and take a trip around one of, easily, the best but worst (you’ll understand if you’ve been) museums I’ve ever been too. It’s so incredibly well put together and I defy you not to come out with a heavy but hopeful heart.



4. The culture 
The city of Johannesburg is home to an incredibly diverse and vibrant culture. With a huge range of art galleries, theatres and museums, there is little wonder it's been crowned the country's capital of culture.

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5. The markets 
From the Neighbourgoods Food Market every final Friday of the month in Maboneng to the trendy weekend market at 27 Boxes, you can be rest assured that your fix of tasty food and live music will be satisfied in the city of gold.

6. The coffee 
Holy moly, caffeine addicts rejoice! It’s not just Cape Town that is home to some of the best coffee, oh no way, Joburg has got you covered. (Head to Father’s in Braam, you won’t be disappointed!)



7. The street art 
This city is one of the most arty and creative cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Almost every street corner is home to an amazing piece of street art, bare walls act as a blank canvas for artists with graffiti and tags so great that there are even dedicated walking tours available.



8. The nightlife 
If you’re quite the night owl and like a drink or five, Joburg will treat you just fine. Shakers in Maboneng and The Kitcheners in Braamfontein are two personal favourites…

9. The adventure 
It’s not just the Garden Route and CPT where you can get your adrenaline fix – fancy bungee jumping from the Soweto Towers? Yep? Get strapped up and go!



 9. The food 
Johannesburg is home to some of the best restaurants you could wish to visit – whether you fancy getting your red meat fix with a springbok burger to going all oriental and sampling a delicious couple of salmon sashimis, Joburg has it all.

10. The sunset 
If you think it’s solely Cape Town that you’ll find a stunning sunset, you can count yourself a tad mistaken and then quickly sought out a rooftop bar to watch the sun head down for some activity elsewhere over the vast cityscape of Joburg - you won’t be disappointed.



12. The No1 hostel in South Africa
If you want an experience and not simply a place to sleep, the only place to head in Johannesburg is Curiocity Hostels in Maboneng.

13. The nature 
Joburg is just traffic, buildings, some more traffic and some more buildings, right? Wrong. Escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre for a few hours and take a trip to the Botanical Gardens, Melville Koppies or maybe Klipriviersberg Municipal Nature Reserve and bask in the serenity. 

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Are you planning a trip to Johannesburg soon? Have you been recently and loved it? Let me know in the comments what YOU loved MOST about this diverse city...


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