Tuesday, December 06, 2016


During my time at university, when spare time was as common as my accent, I would spend hours watching panda videos on YouTube. Pandas sneezing, rolling down hills and throwing themselves off a slide were personal favourites. Every second of footage made my eyes water with cuteness overload. They looked unlike anything I had ever seen, it was almost impossible to believe that they weren't men dressed in suits fooling us all.

For five years I planned a trip to China, I would climb the Great Wall, take a selfie with the Terracotta Warriors and stroll down the bund. But, most importantly, I would spend a day at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding... and it was more than I could have imagined.

Pandas have fast become a symbol of China. Now we will make no assumptions that animal welfare is China's most pressing concern, pandas are a tourist attraction - and that is most likely the sole reason for their survival. And it worked, because I flew 5,700 miles just to see them.

The amount of science involved in making pandas breed is exhausting. Female pandas are only in heat once a year and are normally only in the mood for a few days. Not to mention they live off bamboo, which makes their milk a terrible nutrient for newborns. Now I'm no expert, but that sounds like bad odds for panda babies.

I am fully aware of the conservationist argument for letting them die off, and maybe if the situation were different I would wholeheartedly agree. Pandas are notoriously silly, and the amount of money spent on keeping them alive could easily be used for more worthwhile conservation projects. I mean, what's the point of keeping a species alive when it clearly has no concept of how to survive in its natural habitat? But seeing the amount of visitors that flock to the research centre every year, it's easy to see how this conservation programme is working as a tourism business. And of course the most obvious reason being that they are so darn cute.

I thus had a picture in my head that the facility would be one enormous science laboratory, solely for the purpose of pumping out baby pandas on a conveyor belt, sending them to panda nursery until they were old enough to continue the cycle.

But as I turned up at the entrance, feeling like a 5 year old at Disneyland, my predispositions seemed to wash away. The park, and I use the word park because it felt a little Jurassic Parkesque the moment I arrived, has everything you could imagine (minus the dinosaurs and electric fences). Two seconds in and there I was, standing 5 metres away from a panda shovelling bamboo into its mouth. Was it worth it? Yes.

The enclosures were large, covered in thick bush allowing privacy from the prying eyes of tourists. An inside area provided air conditioning when the weather got too hot for them and the breeding programme seems to be in full steam, as I arrived to see 16 baby pandas lying together on a bed - until one shoved another off the end – poor guy.

The crowds were intense, mostly Chinese nationals coming to see their country's homage. I showed no mercy, and persistence paid off as I got prime viewing time at every spot.

There was one unpleasant story I overheard of a hot summer day that resulted in copious complaints from tourists who wanted to see the pandas playing outside. It apparently resulted in staff forcing them out and locking the hatch - meaning roasting pandas banging on doors wanting to go back inside. I attended on a cold winter’s day, so I cannot attribute any validity to that story, but it is definitely something to bear in mind when deciding what time of year to visit. Pandas don't like the heat, and certainly shouldn't be outside in it.

There is no denying it though; I was impressed by what I saw. Hats off to China for creating such an incredibly magical place and bringing a species back from the brink of extinction.

I would go back and see the beautiful bears in a heartbeat.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Sintra, Portugal

I had never heard of Sintra, but followed a recommendation from a friend at work, and I was over the moon that I did. The home of monarchs, the town is filled with castles and palaces, all situated among the mountains. Whether you like your castles traditional, gothic, or a little whacky, you will find what you're after here.

The town is busy, and the roads leading into the mountains are more like tiny off road tracks. If you're arriving by car you may want to make sure you're a good driver (and definitely a good parker), I think I would have had a meltdown was I not with my brother.

Cabo da Roca was our first stop. As the westernmost part of Portugal, it took the longest to get to and sadly was sitting in the middle of a cloud when we arrived. It made for some beautiful photographs but we could just about see 5 metres in front of us, so marvelling at the cliffside wasn't an option. The journey however, was definitely an experience (like I said, make sure you're a good driver).

We ended up at the palace of all palaces, The Pena Palace. From a distance it looks like it belongs on a children's TV show, with fiery colour, sharp edges and quirky patterns. The place was heaving with tourists, but that can be forgiven considering how beautiful the spot was. The surrounding gardens are also rather lovely, providing a scenic hike up to the palace and offering different buildings and annexes to explore on your way.

If you enjoy a hike and want to feel like a princess for a day, I can't recommend this place enough.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

What to do in Lisbon

Bright, charismatic, and good looking - yes I'm talking about a city and not Tom Hardy. Lisbon feels old, but modern and fresh at the same time. Like it was built recently but made to look antique. I was travelling with a city scrooge who wanted to spend our entire trip beach hunting, so I didn't see as much of the place as I would of liked. But the best part of 48 hours was spent wandering, shopping, eating and taking an astounding amount of pictures.

Here is what I would recommend...

Jerónimos Monastery | For the architect in all of us
This building is astounding. So much so that the photographs I have taken don't do any justice to the amount of detail that has been carved onto the outside. The crowds were minimal, which meant we could have a look around without feeling like herded cattle, and the sunshine made the whole building sparkle

The fountain in front of Jerónimos Monastery |
With a light summer breeze, you can stand downwind from the fountain and cool yourself down in the mist. The gardens are picturesque, meaning you can sit down, cool off and just stare at the Monastery

Flea market at LX Factory |
If you're into second hand bargains, this place is a dream. It's only small, taking up the length of one street but it's filled to the brim with clothes, jewellery, ornaments and paintings. The weather was scorching when we went and the street provided zero shade - meaning I had little motivation to rummage and left without making a purchase. On a cooler day it would have been perfect.
It's open from 10am - 4pm every Sunday.

Doca de Santo Amaro |
This was my favourite spot in the city. You can look out to the 25 de Abril Bridge, and see Christ the King in the distance. At night, the bridge lights up, and you can grab dinner at one of the restaurants lining the dock.

25 de Abril Bridge | Love at first sight
I think it is fair to say I became obsessed during my brief stop in Lisbon. This bridge was stunning, from every angle, and at every time of day. I probably have hundreds of photos (and a film of us crossing over it), but I will spare you the torture and just share my favourites. It really it beautiful though, and considering it was built three decades before I was born, it has definitely stood the test of time.

Christ the King | Am I in Rio?
Standing at 25m, the monument sits pretty high above the city. Knowing it would be better from a distance we held no plans to go up to where he stood, but after taking a wrong turn we inevitably ended up there. You don't quite realise how big he is until you're sat at his feet looking up at him, you can take an elevator to the top if you don't mind heights - but if not, the site he is sat on offers the best views of the bridge (which one could argue was even more stunning).

Live music at Teatro Nacional D. Maria II |  
I have no idea if this is a regular occurrence, but we heard music and went looking, only to stumble across the strangest band I have ever seen. What looked like the most random bunch of people at band practice, turned into a really great performance by some incredibly talented musicians.

Find all the street art |
There is graffiti everywhere in Lisbon, some of it is questionable, but most of it is impressive.

Go looking for Dinosaurs | Praia dos Lagosteiros
If you fancy heading out of the city, we stumbled across an incredible spot due to a sign we saw with pictures of dinosaurs. The cliffs are steep, so maybe take a buddy and watch where you put your feet. I may go as far as to say this was the best spot in the world (or at least close to).

There is so much to do, what would you recommend? 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Travel essentials | What's in my rucksack?

Rucksack | Lowe Alpine Cloud Peak ND backpack (Sea blue/quartz, size 50)
I’ve tried a few rucksacks over the years and I’ll be honest, I give them a tough time. It’s hard to look after a rucksack properly when you’re on the move so it was important that I found one both durable and light (I’m certainly not strong). This Lowe Alpine rucksack were perfect. It’s a great size as it prevents me from over-packing, it fits comfortably around my hips and moves all the weight away from my lower back. I strongly recommend it.
Hiking boots | Berghaus Expeditor AQ Trek women's walking boots
I bought these last minute and wore them for the first time in Austria. I’m a sucker for forgetting to break in shoes. I spent the best part of nine days with them permanently on my feet and I didn’t get an ounce of bother. They’re comfortable, durable and apparently work as great in warm weather as they do in the cold (I have yet to test that out). There is nothing worse than blisters on the move, especially if you don’t have a backup pair of shoes.

Sunglasses | Ray Ban Round Metal Green Classic G-15
I’m from London. Even if I’m heading to Iceland my sunglasses are coming with me (just in case). I got these bad boys for my birthday and they’re my absolute favourite.  

Headphones – Bose
To drone out the five year old screaming the plane down (I can’t complain, when I was five I was the worst travel companion in the world). I like to take both these and my little earphones. These are great for cutting out noise but can get slightly annoying when you’re trying to sleep.

Canon 70D
I call this my main camera. It used to be a Canon 1100D but I recently upgraded. Great for day trips and sunset shots.

Polaroid camera | Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 plus
I’m a sucker for Polaroids and as much as carrying an extra camera is a faff, it’s worth it for travel memories that are going to age with time.

Phone case | Lifeproof
I like having my phone, both because I’m with Three (meaning free calls abroad) and because it’s a nice camera for quick snaps on the move. However, I’m a liability, which means I break absolutely everything. If I had a pound for every phone that I put in the washing machine, I’d be a very rich woman. This case is a God send. I had my phone a week before I dropped it in the bath, down the stairs and onto a radiator (separate incidents) and thanks to lifeproof, there wasn’t even a scratch. It’s the best phone insurance you could purchase while you’re on the move.

Bikini - Victoria Secret’s Pink
I can forgive the dodgy tan-lines for this beautiful creation. Even if you’re going to colder destinations, it’s a sad day when you find out that your hotel has a pool and you didn’t bring a swimsuit.

Your own miniature pharmacy
Buying pharmaceutical drugs abroad is tricky, particularly if you don’t speak the language. I tend to stock up for every scenario and make myself a little life saver kit for emergencies. 

St. Christopher necklace

Whether you believe in it or not, nothing beats a little bit of extra luck. This necklace was gifted to me on my 21st birthday and hasn't left my neck since.

God protect us as we travel, by air or land or sea.
Keep us safe, and guide us, wherever we may be.