The Miami Connection 

Club Liv; Fontainebleau South Beach Miami; Home to important people and I bloody had no clue.
Facebook just reminded me!

3+ years already? I remember so vividly, we drove up from Jacksonville to Miami. Some crazy 6-7hrs. Think we must have hit the road at 8/9ish in the morning. 

After a bit of chill out time in our hotel, we freshened up with an aim to hit the club. 

C’mon now, you have to party hard in Miami. There was no disputing that in my mind. 

Earlier that day, I had gone for some beach time in South Beach just after food when I noticed the planes in the sky advertising a ‘big night’ in a club. I paid no attention to the detail until much later I was told the same club I had attended was the brand being promoted. I wondered about using planes and kites to advertise exotic parties in the U.S.

I had no clue how popular this club was until speaking to Stacey, and she was like “What!!, how did you guys get in, no one gets into that club not even people who have lived in the city since forever”. 😄

So I highlighted that ignorance may be a good thing (sometimes). We got to the reception of the hotel, had a drink, headed to the doors of the club all barricaded with all these giant black male bouncers and mini gates. 

There were lots of beautiful ladies (and a few men) waiting, begging to go in. Miami has so far been the only place in the world that made me drool in awe of how fucking beautiful most of the women are. Stunning all round and they barely wear anything. 

So trying not to feel under-dressed in my jeans, black top and red heels, I approached one of the the guys at the gates and said “Hey, sorry, is there a problem, can I be let in please?” and he lifted the rope tags and indicated us to walk in. Everyone on the line was literally like “how did that happen”? 

Went through to the door and basically we only realised there was no standard fee. Everyone pays random prices based on how the guy at the door feels. We ended up paying just under $400 which didn’t seem bad (only after I discovered this was a celebrity club). 

The lady in the picture won’t stop at me. She was besotted. One would have thought she was gay but her husband was right there with us. She was basically flirting the whole time lol. 


I asked her” are you flirting with me” in a very playful way and everyone burst into laughter. Really lovely American couple. They had flown in from New York.

They were lodging in the hotel and she was blown away that I was visiting from London. She had never been. Americans don’t travel much, do they? 

So we went in and danced our lives away. Of course a glass of wine cost like 5billion£ so I decided to sip on my large glass of wine very slowly. Couldn’t understand the value of paying more in a club when I could walk to a nice bar next door and have a good nice bottle of wine in a quieter place where no one is screaming, music is subtle and the lights are not fucking with my retina. 

So bloody expensive, Miami. Everything is overpriced for no reason. 

Anyway, days when things like this tripped me are over. Nothing beats quiet bars and hidden gems for me. I love dancing so I will always love the odd clubbing with my crew. But clubbing in Miami has been one of my top travel experiences. 

I kinda like the concept of Facebook memory reminders.

Milestones and Ramblings of the last 9 weeks

A few times in the last couple of weeks, I had felt a little disillusioned. I had a few ‘woe is me’ moments and probably cried once or twice quietly in the bathroom at work. Not because anyone upset me but because I had suffered a bout of extreme fatigue and had been absolutely overwhelmed with work to my bones, knees and soul. I felt silly crying but better after. Its felt like certain days I have only been able to move as a result of gravity. I could barely keep my eyes open most days. I am a coffee enthusiast which is really terrible for my condition but life is unfair so I have decided it’s one thing I wouldn’t give up. So I have had more and more coffees recently. 
I questioned the purpose of work and what days like the last couple of weeks meant. I had to adopt what I call my ‘robot girl mode’ and I only slip into that mode when there is a conscious need to do so- like returning from a lovely holiday and landing Heathrow. It’s the ‘switch’! 

This is coming from an extremely hardworking person with the craziest work ethic I could possibly muster. I am usually tired as a result of my anaemia but I tend to get on with stuff and undertake tens of projects at the same time and achieve the end results. But when I say “I am fatigued”, I have reached rock bottom physically. I rest twice as much as I work but there are times when I cannot physically find any time for rest because I compete with myself to achieve great outcomes for conflicting priorities. 

I am contracted to work 37.5hrs a week but I have done some mad hours recently, ranging from 50hrs a week to 60 p.w not taking into account other hours I do outside my main employment. 

For a lover of work-life balance and a girl who loves to play and work hard, it’s been extremely difficult to function out of that comfort zone of mine. 

I really enjoy spending time with people I really really like. It’s important to me to do so because I have learned that life is too short and so when I feel like one part of my life (my career- which is equally an important part) is taking me away from being with people I love, I start to feel out of touch with life. 

My career is important to me. Afterall, we all spend time building it and working hard. But my dad always says you want to look back when you have peaked your career and give yourself a good pat on the back for the terrific things you have achieved because people will talk about you and acknowledge your work when you do great things. However, he says always continue to build those important relationships and never put work ahead of anything. Balance is a critical factor to my existence. 

I need a great career to enable me achieve my infinite (expensive) bucket list. 

I never seek validation for my work but everyone needs some motivation from the people who matter in an organisation. I got an amazing appraisal yesterday. Someone even used the f-word to express an adjective that put emphasis on how brilliant she thought I was. I burst into laughter and I felt so damn good. 

But this came with its limitations as I haven’t spoken to Mum or Dad as much as I do and would love to. Haven’t spent any time with my brother recently. I crawl out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning to get to the office early and I return home after dinner time. This means I have barely spent any time with my buh either. I rarely even say goodbye to him in the mornings as I hate the thought of waking him up that early so I tiptoe between the bathroom and bedroom and end up creeping out of the door. But I am a lucky girl because I know I would have ended up skipping dinners if I didn’t have him. The thought of making dinner after leaving the office at 8pm never comes to mind. 

I haven’t spoken to some of my best friends in weeks. Sonia, Jermaine, Ijay, Sandra, and lots of loved ones. 

I mean weeks…

I speak to Sonia nearly every morning on my way to work.

I haven’t seen my god-children or had any headspace for them recently.

My sister has been the only one sort of very engaged in this madness and somehow we still get a chance to speak or text daily, no matter how monosyllabic and vague those conversations are. I gave her the heads up weeks before I delved into this intensity so she was well aware of my situation. 

I have missed working out recently, haven’t had my meditations or any sort of wellness recently. 
I am behind on admin functions with my mentoring programme and there are more requests for mentoring coming up. 
I missed the board meeting for my support group this week, forgot to attend an event I was invited to at the All Party Parliamentary reception, haven’t opened my posts for weeks, behind on my emails, my blogs, articles, books, tv series, movies, other personal projects and planning for my holidays. 
But I know on 31st October, things will settle and it will be worth something beautiful in my career. 
Over the last 9 weeks, I have written the maternity transformation strategy for the whole of East London (all 7 boroughs) and this will potentially come with investment from the Department of Health/Treasury for the local population to transform maternity services for local women of East London. The outcome for me is that we receive at least half of what we require (£). The report will be submitted to NHS England and will be widely published. There are 6 providers of maternity services in East London. This should you give an indication of the level of work involved. I work for 20 organisations as a partnership and maternity is just one workstream I lead on. 

But in all of this, the most important thing is the outcomes for local women including myself (perhaps in the future) to have the best quality of world class care from maternity services esp given that I reside in East London, I hope I can benefit from it. 

To top it all, the highlights of these terrible weeks came with these emails from the lovely ladies I work with (quite senior people, I must add) including the most amazing feedback from my exec lead, a woman who isn’t that easy to please. She said, “June, this is an amazing piece of work and will be a positive footprint for other workstreams”. 

I take pride in my work.

Today I caught up with most people I haven’t spoke with. I spoke to Ijay my friend, text Juno, saw a movie with my brother, text Sandra to arrange a meet up, had a lie in with my man and had fresh hot croissants and latte brought to me in bed! Spoke to Dad, text Mum and feel like I am back to life. 

After I press send on 31st October. I would be a happy girl looking forward to her long haul holiday and an amazing Christmas and start to a new year. 

Note to self: Hard work and determination is an amazing thing but never lose yourself in work…


Angel Jasmine 

The night stars shone so bright
It transpired to an epic night
Filled with purity of love
A reunion, a passion
Jasmine just like the infused jasmine
Fresh fragrance sweet and beautiful
The morning fetched my heart a river of tears
Death ever in its cruelty
Snatched my beautiful Jasmine flower away
The one my hands never held
The one my eyes never beheld
Her baby skin whose fragrance my nose never smelt
Her innocence
Her growth
Her frailty
Her lungs
Her beauty
Her gentility
Her little life
Taken away
When she stopped breathing
When she gave up
When the doctors couldn’t save her
For the 1st year she couldn’t live
The birthday she couldn’t see
And the last day she couldn’t die
I watch as her angelic soul elevated to heaven
Where peace and love knows no bounds
Where love and light feeds her soul
Where perfection exists for the little ones
Where her body lay to rest for eternity.
Until I meet her someday in heaven.
Sleep beautifully baby
I love you Jasmine. x
28.02.16

June’s love for Juan Les Pins

Yacht filled harbors, fields of lavender, fragrance of fresh pine, Provence a’ la marches, hip art galleries, vintage jewelry shops, rural mountainous hiking spots. bohemian sophistication, artists legacies breed, Art Deco architecture, volavents with fresh espressos on Juliet Balconets, David Sedaris’ witty novels digested avec du vin rouge a’ la fine fromage, sunglasses and flipflops whilst overlooking the seaside, sunset and glamorous beaches. Try to convince me how the Riviera cannot be my heaven on earth…
2.30am! Ring the alarm!

“Bonjour Hen” I utter in a croaky French accent.

Hen replied, “Non, June, Bonsoir”

I giggled. “Ha! Very funny. Get up Hen, we have a cab booked for 3 for a 4.30 coach to Victoria with a 7.00am flight to catch”.

“Err, ok, can I buy a little bit of sleep and some cuddles”? He adds.

“No, sorry, we haven’t got time for that, we can cuddle lots when we arrive the Provence but up, now!”

Right…

Cab, Coach, Gatwick North Terminal, Security Gates, Board, Air Bound, Land.
Just as we had taxied into the terminal, I whispered “Hen, we are in my most favorite place in the world”. He nods in approval at the beauty of the Cote d’Azur.

The view from the window seat as we hovered round the Riviera before touch down was enriched with hues of blue between the sky and the sea. It was absolutely stunning.

We arrive Nice at about 8.30am. It’s 26 degrees with a lovely sea breeze blowing our faces as we walk out through the airport exit.
We wander for a bit, get lost and then opt for google maps to walk to Saint Laurent du-var to get the train to our hotel in Juan Les Pins.

A bit about Juan Les Pins

JLP is one on my southern France list I have long desired to go to. It’s a town in the commune of Antibes on the Cote d’Azur. Its between Nice and Cannes, two of my most fave cities in the world. The lovely Antibes has stolen mine and the hearts of so many artists and writers: including Graham Greene, Max Ernst and obviously Picasso, who featured the town in many of his paintings and now has a museum dedicated to him, which of course we visited.
Nearby Cap d’Antibes, is a wooded cap studded with seaside mansions. The 2km beach resort of Juan-les-Pins, was famously the home of F Scott Fitzgerald, who lived there with his wife Zelda and daughter Scottie until 1927 (their house is now a posh hotel). I read Great Gatsby as part of my core literature module in 3rd Year. The movie was a bit of a joke though. My connection with this town and Fitzgerald was a reality.

Anyway, seeing as we couldn’t afford the daily rate at ‘Fitzgerald’s ‘former-home-turned posh- hotel’, we opted for a family owned, chic French boutique hotel. Eden.

Really my style!

Locals claim that only Antibes’ attractive old town would be recognisable to any of its famous former residents. That’s an amazing fact. The modern town, like many along the Riviera, has sprawled rather unbecomingly along the coast and inland, so the best vantage point is from the sea – ideally in one of the many posh yachts that pull into the port throughout summer.

***********

Considering how knackered and sleep deprived we were, we agree to get some lunch after check-in and have a nice Provence early afternoon nap, errr just like the rest of the French.
2hrs later, We head to the Le Promenade resturant recommended by the hotel as one of the best for lunch. A family owned business as well. I noticed how the owners of Eden hotel were quick at recommending family owned local restaurants and businesses to their guests. I almost could have interpreted it as a genuine way of supporting fellow small businesses such as theirs.

Everytime I walked into those recommended businesses, I always mentioned that Eden directed us here! Just in case they are meant to be paid commission.

Le Promenade was just about to close for lunch, managed to get in quickly to grub some original charcuterie with some quality French fromage, fresh sea bream and salmon caught on the day. We stayed away from wine for lunch…

The sun was so intense at 2pm, we had to run back to our air-conditioned room. Not of course after a lovely walk on a’la plage to cool off!

I love the French Juliet Balconets. It’s one my little favorite quirks. Ours overlooked the sea from the south of the hotel and was absolute pure therapy for my soul every evening.

After a lovely little siesta, we head to one the poshest restaurants in Antibes for dinner, Cap Riveria. We order top class French cuisine and classic Provence du vin as we absorb the fantastic view overlooking the beach while the sun set. This was heaven on earth.

Hen and I noticed the fact that we were the only young couple in Cap Riveria but to add to that, I was the only black person in the restaurant. We laughed about it. It’s never strange to me to often be the only young black female in many places I find myself in Europe. I am conditioned to enjoy doing things a lot of African/black young women may not necessarily be interested in and that, my friends is a fact of life tens of people have eluded to. The down side is I do get ‘the stares’. Hen thinks it’s because “I am stunning”. I honestly don’t know about that!!

But anyway back to my evening before I totally digress.

**************

After dinner, we take a lovely walk in town and spot the cocktail Bar, PamPam with full blown entertainment, red lights and music sprawling into the night. We go in to watch the Brazilians dance in this hippy cocktail bar as drummers lead the rhythm and direction of the natives.

The name of the bar reminded me of my sister-inlaw, Pamela. ‘PamPamPam’ is her pet-name at home. I told Henry and we laughed at the coincidence.

To end off such a fantastic first day, we, of course head for a swim in the private beach of Garden Hotel, just across our hotel.

And that’s day 1 of my 2016’s Summer Riveria jaunt.
Anyway, without writing a novel about my stay in Juan Les Pins, (because I just can’t help myself!) these are some of the beautiful things we did in this beautiful town in no particular order:
Musee Picasso. You need a bit of Pablo inspiration please! The man was beyond genius.
Musee de Raymond Peynet. Not everyone’s cup of tea. However a little bit of satirical comedy translating in art was refreshing 🙂

Jardin Botanique de la villa thuret (if you love nature/parks & exotic gardens)

The historic Fort Carre was worth a view!

Bastion St Jaume- Promenade des Arts walkway to the harbour/yachts (sea side)

Beach time – we had lots of it!

Visited Hotel Belles Rives- Home to Fitzgerald and got a feel for what his home looked like.

Wandered around Vieil Antibes ( the old town)

Lit a candle in the Cathedral Notre Dame and said a prayer or two.

But we also checked out the historic pilgrimage chapel, Notre Dame de bon port la Garoupe. It was an intimate and spiritual experience for us both! Mind your head if you are as tall as us when entering and exiting the chapel.

Checked out the Nomade at the Bastion Saint-Jaume and took a sneak peek and of course a few photographs.

A few of the local French Restaurants we ate could pass for Michelin starred. I don’t know whether it’s my obsession for French cuisine but Hen did think the same.

Restaurant Le J – for the food enthusiasts, talk about culinary inspiration. My highlight here was the octopus salad with this fresh summer organic Provence wine called Domaine de la fouquette, cuvee aurora, cote de Provence. Please make sure you try it if you ever visit the Provence.

Le Promenade – bistro style and great for life lunches.

Cap Riveria – fancy pants for fine dinning or romantic date nights. Be ready in £££!!! and make sure you make a reservation at least 24 hrs before. Didn’t lift my purse for this one 🙂
Eat the freshest mussels and escargot in Le Capitole another quality and intimate family-owned restaurant.

L’horizon is another fab one for lunches.

PamPam serve the most exotic cocktails I have ever tasted ever (and I have tasted quite a few!) plus they serve complimentary and unlimited nibbles, the best salted chilly popcorn and tasty organic peanuts.
And because I am a sucker for Provence flea markets, I obviously got some Provence lavender, cooking herbs, amongst other bits and bobs from Marche Provencal.
Make new friends with the locals. We did. We met this lovely local couple at dinner at the Le Capitole Restaurant.
And of course Je’ parle’ Francais un peu!
Upon conversations with them, I realised they were actually Sicilian born French locals in their 50s. We drank and got to know each other but I had to translate to Hen as he cannot speak or understand basic French for the life of him!
As I finished off the last of my mussels, they double kissed me on the cheeks and hugged me goodbye. We got more tips of amazing places to visit in Antibes.

I get to make friends for life too when I meet people on trips.
My travel stories are beyond me…

We ate breakfast in random local patisseries consisting of freshly baked basket of pastries – croissants, volauvents, madeleine, pain au raisins, pain au chocolat, palmiers and fresh baked coffees.

So when I count the towns in Southern France that I have been to, I am somewhat content at my travel pace and I suppose as one of my favourite places in the world, I haven’t done too badly with ‘whoring’ across geographical boundaries in my ambitious quest not just to travel the world before I am 40 but to know the ins and outs of SoF as it may be an option amongst a few more to where I plan to go back to for a few life milestones.

To date I have covered:
Antibes

Juan Le Pins

Cannes

Nice

Marseille

Saint Tropez

Uzes (my heart is here)

Avignon (oh the Pont du Avignon over the River Rhone was worth my highlights in 2012!)

Orange’

Saint Laurent du-var

Monaco (well, kinda borders east from the Cote d’ azur so ideally should count)

Aix en Provence

****************
Next up:

Grasse

St Remy de Provence

Mougins

Arles

Nimes

Eze

Menerbes

And that ladies and gentlemen was how I spent a small part of my summer.

In short, J’aime le sud de la France avec tout mon coeur 💗

Totally…

A Viennese Easter

I know, I know, Easter has been a while now and it’s a little bit outdated to write this but had to.

His birthday was Tuesday. We arrived Vienna early afternoon on Easter Monday, it was a lovely day, the sun shone and there was a cool gentle breeze which filled the air with freshness.  We headed to our hotel, which is to date, Austria´s tallest skyscraper, overlooking the Danube City Tower with a 360 sea view of the Danube River and Vienna city. We had one of the best rooms in the hotel with something they called ‘level’ access which gave us unlimited access to the level floor bar and restaurant. Our minibar was re-filled once each day. The value was fantastic. And we got a birthday bottle of bubbly too!

We checked in, left luggage behind and headed out to explore the beautiful city.

Vienna is beautiful, vibrant, has this relaxed vibe, with lots of cafes, people drinking espressos, Viennese coffees and Sachertorte (Viennese cake), young and older people chilling out, basking in the sun. There is activity everywhere with tourists occupying several places of history and art. It also has this calmness and peace that resonates with what I love about city life. London seemed like a zoo at that instance.

So I will write this blog like the ones we see on the internet- things to do in Vienna. No! ‘Things we did in Vienna over the Easter break’.

Wander, Observe & Discover

Walk around Vienna city and experience the vibrancy of this beautiful clean city. If you are a lover of art, there are art galleries and vintage shops at the artistic hotspot in Schleifmühlgasse, located in the emerging 4th district. Soak in some of that contemporary modern artistry. From the abstract gallery exhibitions to a wide range of displays of urban artistic collaboration of local Austrian art scenes and internationally recognised paintings and photography, to theatre and classical performances, it’s all in there at Austrian’s beautiful capital city.

Go to the Sigmund Freud museum

Take a trip to understand what Sigmund Freud was up in his days. We were in his apartment where Freud lived and worked. This amazing founder of psychoanalysis whom we have all read/studied lived there for decades until he was forced into exile by the Nazis. There is so much history to take out from here if you are Freudian fan from letters to notes, books and other expression of his works that gives one this insight of what a great icon he was and his contribution to humanity, Go Freudian!.

Need a classical bit of Mozart?

Mozart is one of the classical musicians I listen to often after Bach and Handel. We had to drop in to see his home/museum. Mozart, due to his youthful exuberant personality lived in many homes and moved homes a lot that people couldn’t figure out where he really called home. He owed money during his last days from excessive gambling and his lifestyle choices. But Mozart was an interesting chap. The reason why this home was identified and conserved as his legacy/museum was because Mozart lived on the first floor from 1784 to 1787 which reportedly was the lengthiest time he had ever been in any home. It was reported that he was happy there and wrote and composed one of his classical pieces ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. See pictures below.

Try a tour round Hofburg’s Palace

The imperial palace in the centre of Vienna used to be home to monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty but now is the official seat of the Austrian President. In Hofburg, you will find more than two dozen collections of international standings. There are also tourist shops, cafés, restaurants, squares and parks to while away time and sight see. But what stood out for us in Hofburg were two sites. Two specifically… Sisi Museum and the Spanish Riding School.

Sisi Museum

Go discover the private life of Empress Elisabeth and her life from birth to her tragic death. Explore the exhibition of art expressed from her lifetime in the imperial apartments. From her obsession of beauty and appearance, to her interest in art and dark morbid poetry, to her exquisite collection of collections and her lack of interest in politics and royalty which affected her role as a Monarch in her time and then sadly, her unfortunate assassination in Geneva. It was all so splendid and I could connect with several aspects of her life. My partner said the same. “You like the same things she liked”. I think a lot of young women will be inspired by her story. She was a beautiful Empress. I fell in love with her. He and I did. We spent the whole day at Sisi’s. You need at least half a day here.

The (World) Spanish Riding School

He is equalky a lover of horses as I am and an experienced professional in the business of horse racing. If we didn’t go to this, the trip would probably not have been complete. I saw as his eyes lit and he beamed cheek to cheek as we walked in with our tour guide and walked into the stables. Listed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, you cannot miss it.  We joined the afternoon group walk at 4pm as had bought tickets the day before. Highlight for us? Meeting the horses. I had tears in my eyes looking at some of them in the eyes. The experience was phenomenal. It inspired me to resume my horse riding classes which I start this weekend. He loved it, I loved it. You have to go. We hope one day to watch a live performance there. Oh, and FYI, no (flash) photography is allowed as this could upset the horses so there were no physical memories for me here only the ones in my mind. If I had dementia or Alzheimer in the future, then that’s one memory unliveable. Photography is me reliving my moments each time I see them. 

If you love European flea markets

…then Nashcmrkt is one to visit for brunch or dinner. Walking through this clean open air market and browsing through the food stalls, the wine and liquor shops, the spice shops, experiencing the aroma of fresh sea food, pickles and olives with the mildest fragrance of fresh cheese made me want to cook and wished I had stayed in a holiday apartment. But we came back that evening for his birthday dinner and had the best seafood platter I have ever tasted with a sharp, fruity Austrian wine in a restaurant lit up with lights in subtle illumination just for the evening. Oh, I got a pretty porcelain floral teapot on our way out too. 

Go wine tasting

Why not feel like a cultured vulture and go wine tasting in Vienna. Explore the amazing fresh taste of Austrian wines with a platter of charcuterie. My partner thinks I am pretentious (whatever!). I love the finest things in life…he absolutely loved it anyway. I take the lead in arranging most of our social hangouts and culture jaunts. 

So I arranged to visit this small intimate family-owned wine tasting bar called Vinothek W-Einkehr. The address is Laurenzerberg 1 | 1010 Vienna, Vienna 1010, Austria if you want to go sometime. The closest station is Schwednplatz on the Metro. It was a delight. We were the only ones there at the time. Early afternoon pleasure. The owner was a gentleman who was helpful and explained the origins and flavours of all the wines. We tasted 6 whites and 6 reds, all Austrian with a platter of charcuterie, which was all fresh. Loved the selection of cheeses.  I wondered whether there was a deliberate action to have a wine tasting bar next to the Police station, you know? just incase some twats decide to…ahem.

The Glory of Vienna

Are you a fan of European Cathedrals? Whether you are religious or not, a tourist trip to a church on a European break is worthwhile. Visit the St Stephen’s Cathedral and explore the wonders of this phenomenal edifice. Light a candle for a couple of pennies or a euro. A trek to the top of the tower and crypts would be worth your while for fantastic views of the city. The interior art of the roof is stunning and I was in awe. I experienced a little moment of Dejavu to the Basilica in Rome. The architecture is mind blowing and represented a lot of pride for me as I walked out. I appreciate Western European architecture.

Wine and dine in style and class

Looking for that one meal to have in style?, lunch or dine at Melia Hotel at the exclusive Level floor (57th floor) and experience a 360 panoramic view of Vienna city including close sights of the banks of Danube river whilst enjoying a traditional meal or locally made Austrian wine. You will not regret it. I promise. Ok just have nibbles and wine —or even a beer, which alone can be drunk in class. It’s not as pricey as London’s fancy restaurants, I promise. Watch the sun set in Vienna sipping on your tea or wine…

Then jump on the Giant Ferris Wheel and then go home!!!

 

 

我的遗愿清单 Wǒ de yíyuàn qīngdān

Often, I have a collaborated sense of what my to-do/achieve-list each year is and what seems like a bucket list. The truth is I decided to be adult about it by separating both lists, as my desire to achieve something in my life time can be logically argued as differing from the need to complete daily or yearly tasks and projects. Especially when tasks and projects are a drag and require time and mental effort  (and most often gets procrastinated because I tend to be content simply from this satisfaction which comes from an organised characteristic to write a to-do-list) but bucket lists most often requires money, space and time.

So, personally, I have always felt like I am on borrowed time as doctors once told me I wouldn’t live past the age of 18. Errr, thanks but I am still here.

Get in!!!

But before my creator decides its time to return, I was thinking the other day of some realistic and practical things I would like to do in my lifetime and came up with over a 100 things on my list then filtered down to these 20.

  • Eat at the La Chevre d’Or in Eze
  • Ride on the Wall of China
  • See the Taj Mahal
  • Visit Oscar Wilde’s graveyard in Paris
  • See the Pyramids
  • Visit Marilyn Monroe’s grave- Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles, California, United States
  • See the Northern Lights
  • Experience an eclipse from start to finish
  • Learn to ride horses expertly
  • Go on a cruise
  • Attend a major city fashion show
  • Get married on a beach island as a chic hippie
  • Learn to speak Mandarin
  • Own a classic vintage 1920-60s car
  • Own or live in a beach cottage for at least 6 months
  • Survive in a very remote rural area doing charity work
  • Watch 300 classical movies
  • Own my own collection of collections
  • Learn to play chess
  • Appear on television 🙂

I will review them each year and see how realistic my goals are. But in the meantime, who speaks Mandarin please?

J xx

My anti-depressant; Gratitude

Let me tell you a little bit about this small, yet significant part of me.

Whatever challenge I find myself, I have learned something so simple yet so difficult. I have learned to ALWAYS remain grateful. Gratitude is everything. My ‘gratitude-maturity’ is not yet where I aspire to be, but it is working progress..

Living with an incurable (and debilitating) disease is hard enough but top it up with life’s daily challenges (which we all have)- it gets horribly exhausting sometimes.

Some of us are healthy and well. Great!  Many others have to live up to the fact that their heart diseases, respiratory problems, cancers, endometriosis, learning disorders, blood and genetic  disorders such as mine may never be cured.

But we live. Sometimes we don’t. Other times, sadly, some don’t make it.

Quality of life (QoL) is everything.

QoL is my wellbeing, my family, the health system, my employer, my communities, my society. I have a fantastic quality of life, truly. But QoL is not only about what they all give me, it is also about what I give back.

However, I always talk about ‘mind over matter’. Gratitude. A healthy consciousness. Sharing with others. Looking past one’s self. Focusing on others… These are the simple yet powerful aspects of life that have improved the quality of my health, my being.

There is no cure for sickle cell partly because it is still seen as a rare disease that affects a small majority of the global population, which I completely disagree with by the way. But more importantly, because it’s a genetic disorder and we know it’s nearly scientifically  impossible to cure flawed genes. It’s been many years since Western medicine evolved. It’s also been over a 100 years since sickle was first discovered from the Islands of Grenada and today there are millions of people living with this disease globally and people still talk about it being a rare disease?

There are currently only 4 ways to manage sickle in western medicine: (not alternative medicine or nutrition)

 

A double whammy really. These manage our sickle but leave us with potential side effects.

We are left with little or no options.

But I cannot cry over things I have no control over. It is stupidity in its entirety.

I cannot control the fact that there is no cure for this- as people living with cancers, heart diseases, endometriosis, pulmonary conditions etc. We are all in it together.

But I can say ‘thank you’ daily. Because I am left with the star quality of care and support I receive from:

  • My phenomenal doctors and nurses at the Homerton hospital
  • These great clinicians at Guys & St Thomas, UCL, Great Ormond St researching into all these amazing therapies that may eventually pave way to a potential cure for this disease.
  • The UK Sickle Cell Society staff who support me and open doors of opportunities for me to touch lives and spread the message through being a part of the charity.
  • The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for approving this treatment to support the 15000 people in the UK living with this and putting clinical standards in place that pave for clinical quality in our care.
  • My GPs (even though I barely see them) LOL
  • The Paramedics who convey me to hospital and make me feel so comfortable even when I feel guilty for being sick and ringing them.
  • The entire National Health Service that looks after my retina, my lungs, my red cells, my chest, my pain, my head, my sexual health, my mental health, everything.
  • My Church – for teaching me and reminding me of the morals of being good and keeping faith in God even when I lose it all – sometimes.
  • The Kabballah centre – who teach me not to have the desire to receive for self alone and share love and light but most importantly have built my spiritual maturity.
  • My family and loved ones who continuously show me unconditional love and care when my body is going through its ‘thing’ and is unable to function at its best on some days.
  • My partner who loves me accepts me as I am and does it all
  • Me – for believing in my own strength

 

No, Genuine gratitude has to be the ultimate reason to be here…

 

 

This extraordinary literal and figurative link between Vienna & Venice

‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ the movie.

The movie actually drew my attention to the concept of this story.

I love everything ‘arty’- from independent cinema, to arty films, to Woody Allen’s antics, paintings, artistic provocateurs, theatrics, jazz, neo-soul, stage and art creativity, foreign movies, travel, poetry, book culture, French vintage, shabby chic interior. The list could go on and on. Studying English Lit makes me a story teller and a sucker for art, creativity and romance.

I draw life’s inspiration from the phenomenon of art.

‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ was released in 2003 and directed by Audrey Wells. I generally think men are iconic directors. However, on this occasion, no one could have directed this movie better than Wells. She also wrote and produced it but gave an obvious, personal and artistic vision to the script.

The film is about a recently divorced writer who buys a villa in Tuscany on a whim, hoping it will lead to a change in her life. It’s a simple story yet written in a sophisticated and complex thought process.

Without going deep into the plot, Frances (lead actress) is in conversation with Martini, the realtor who helped her negotiate the purchase of the villa. He says to her in a conversation which stood out ever so poignantly in this movie for me:

Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew some day, the train would come.

And yes a train, not just one BUT SEVERAL currently run through the railway to date.

#hope

It’s incredible. Fascinating. Mind blowing.

How please? How have these workers done it? Construct a railway with no insight or information on estimated measurements of the width of the trains, its technology, or as a matter of fact, the type of train that may eventually run through the tracks? It’s incredible.

I have read a bit about the Semmering railway, the history of its design and development. I am fascinated by it all. Semmering itself is a town in the district of Neunkirchen, popular for skiing in the State of Lower Austria. The railway is documented to be the first ever in Europe but also commonly referred to as the first in the world, constructed in 1848 to 1854 stretching around 41km.

My friend’s daughter is currently skiing there at the moment on a school excursion from Hackney.

Designed by a man called Karl Ritter von Ghega, he was born in Venice, to an Albanian family. Upon the implementation of his genius design, the crossing of the Semmering was not even believed to be possible. He however went ahead and initially transported 5000 men from Vienna to begin construction. He rejected the use of iron and steel to build as a matter of ethical principle which explains the ‘bricked railway’ concept.

See picture.

Semmeringbahn_um_1900

Ghega died in Vienna from tuberculosis before its completion and obviously, (I assume) never saw a train cross the Semmering.

I hear or read about stories of this nature and it just gives me so much hope that one can achieve anything they set to achieve. Anything. It’s like learning about the history of Stonehenge and how it was constructed. And that’s one for another day!

It makes me question in my mind “who the hell are these super-humans who lived in the mediaeval/renaissance ages with tremendous sophisticated minds?”

But legacy is one of the greatest things on earth.

Ghega is gone but his legacy lives on and will do till the end of time. This is what I call legendary leadership. A leadership that leaves a legacy for generations to come is the greatest leadership one can ever achieve.

So I am off to Austria in a few weeks to surprise someone for his birthday. He loves war history. He has no idea where we are off to. He will be so inundated with information on post 2nd world war history and a few planned jaunts to Nazi war cemeteries, war sites, war museums etc. But I am going to endeavour to visit the Semmering. It’s actually a UNESCO world heritage site, why not? But Vienna is also a beautiful, romantic and scenic city.

With Ghega and his 20,000 workers, they never lived to see or experience today’s railway run trains on those tracks. They never lived to see this substantial incredible design and hard work they put into transporting millions of people from one city to the other. But as it stands, it remains a continuing testament to their insightful, futuristic and incredible engineering genius.

There was no question in their minds that eventually, one day Vienna and Venice will connect and the train arrives.

Today I ponder about life and crossroads…voila!

#reflect

 

 

 

Marriage; the easy art of losing friendships 

More like- get hitched, start to ditch!

Ok, rather grey area, I must admit. I have always struggled with this subject most of my adult life.

Married friends!!!

Not friends you acquired after they had far long established their marital statuses but friends you have known way before they got married.

Friends of the opposite sex (who you may have experienced get married).

In recent decades, people are now getting married or remarry later in life i.e late 30s/40s even 50s. They are bringing into the marriage, long term, (sometimes decades of) friendships with them. And whilst being single, these friendships were often considered healthy, cherished etc. In a marriage, it could potentially pose a threat.

You have two options and there is usually no grey area around this.

Either you stand the chance of being assertive to your spouse about the boundaries or perhaps the possibility of finality to those friendships and sounding like a right moron or a cold hearted fish…

or (and)

…you man up, be mature about it and accept these friends into the marriage, accepting that there could be a chance of letting these friendships in for the sake of good health of the marriage or on the other hand, risk that it could potentially become problematic to you and your spouse. So this is where open communication should play a vital role, no?

Now, hear this. I grew up with this friend whom I spent most of my lazy youthful days with. He became one of the closest people to me. We also worked together. He relocated to the States. I was in my early 20s. We spent almost every single day together! I met his family, he knew mine. We had lunch together, listened to hiphop together, spoke about our lives and growing up, our past and future, our partners, the idiots in our lives, our careers, life and love, rubbish etc. We would go out together, hang with each other’s friends together; we invested in the same dreams. Yeah? We were like siblings and yes stuff like that still exists in its purity. Fuck off!

He knew my dark sides. He reprimanded me for my dumb mistakes. I was comfortable in my friendship with this human being. He was an excellent friend to me. Notice how I use the word ‘was’?

So now this, a friend who is male, unmarried, single as you are, no feelings of sexual intimacy involved, no sex involved, an innate establishment of the pure fact that nothing will EVER ensue between you two! The friendship becomes precious because it’s unbelievably difficult to develop and maintain a platonic relationship with the opposite sex, right?

Well so society suggests…

We live in a fucked up world of scepticism, man-made standards, rules, should-nots, can-nots, constant suspicion. We are all ethically bankrupt that even the simplest things of life, we negate them and we build them like Legos on a bed of paranoia, doubt, ulterior motive, negativity. There is no longer truth in simplicity. Purity has ceased to exist. All our friends are friends with benefits. Friends that can validate our existence. Friends we can benefit from. Ones who benefit from us.

So with years of a beautiful friendship, bonds, moments lived, most things shared, we walk our separate ways. We geographically separate. We grew up. We moved on – from our lazy youthful days. We left dependency from our guardians and let them depend on us.

With this separation we still cling, (like we were hanging on the side of a cliff) to our friendship. I dated, broke up, got my heart broken (well so I thought) he found love. He lost her. He had a health scare. He struggled with his studies, a job, dynamics with his family etc and all through all our individual and unique ups and downs, we remained present for and with each other, cared about each other (still) ‘kept it real’ with tech- FaceTime, Skpye and all that jazz.

His line was, ‘yo, I will hit you up on FT later’. The American way of saying I will ring you at some point.

He, I understood the value of our friendship and the role we both played in each other’s lives. My sister was his friend. He knew my brothers and they would talk about the latest news on hiphop, football etc

I knew about the condition of his heart when he spoke about the loss of his mum, living without her. Bless her soul.

He was keen to help me build my business when I and my sister set up. We used his address in New York to receive our online delivery parcels.

See? huge part of my, our lives. My best friends still ask of him. We shared the same dumb ass stockbroker!!! We used to laugh about the scruffy little poor man! Not laugh at him but laugh about him!  We often wondered how a stock broker looked so sheepish and scruffy on a daily basis with no business charisma whatsoever.

So love comes, well, it did, to him! He finds comfort, friendship, heartfelt love, a safe haven. He bounces back into life. I am happy. He tells me about it all. I, naturally and honestly (but selfishly) saw my friendship with him potentially hitting the rocks. It was threatened but I needed to be happy for him. I was. I am. I envisaged a loss. It happened.

Calls went down from thrice a week to once a week, to every other weekend, to once a month, once in six months and then deteriorated to nothing…

The friendship was silenced.

In that time I never realized he had gotten married as we never really spoke again. You know what they say about boundaries? I kept them. He didn’t only keep them. He breathed them. I learned why later.

We had to recognize these vaguely raised and grey boundaries. We never so much spoke about it or planned to develop them but subconsciously ended up doing so.

So he got married. I recognized a massive wall of China had literally and figuratively been raised. 

It’s interesting. Fast forward this to recent days. After becoming buddies with his wife, I then learnt from her that all the time I was gradually mourning my friendship with her husband, she, on the other end had identified red flags re my relationship with him. She couldn’t understand why we spoke that frequently and why he always talked about me as one of the closest people to him. And you know what?. If roles were reversed, I would feel the same way. It would be a massive issue for me. Personally, because I do not see ‘grey’ in these things as she probably did.

But perspective is a powerful phenomenon.

Theory of mind, moreso.

But there were no grey lines. I loved him genuinely, purely and unconditionally. It wasn’t superficial. When I love or care about people, I go all the way. Ask about me. My love is all the way.

So even the birthday wishes stopped, Christmas, New Year, Easter, silenced! I became a paranoid piece of bacon. Wondering if I had done anything wrong but also not being able to communicate because of this thing called boundaries.

She drew closer to me. I became a friend to his wife. She is amazing and I love her for him.

Subsequently, in the girl-code-bid to support a single female-friend -of her -husband whom she had also become quite close to, she decided to hook me up with a friend of hers whom she thought would be great for me.

I met said guy, we talked for a number of months. I subsequently visit. It didn’t work out with said friend.

My lost friendship even became more ostracised.

In that same trip was when I saw my bff after 6 years. It felt quite awkward to even give him a proper hug. Boundaries, no? Oblivion wasn’t here, rather a full sense of awareness, appropriation, purity, heart.

Conversations were minimalist. I saw him twice in a visit lasting about 3 weeks in Florida. He worked in Tampa. We never could catch up on anything after 6 years. That was it!

We spoke at length (about 20 mins) when I returned to England as he is one who checks on any loved one when they travel to ensure they had safe travels. One of his amazing qualities. Very kind.

I just couldn’t salvage it.

And with time zone, geography and distance, wife of bud subsequently withdrew. More awkwardly after said friend and I never worked out.

The tiny bit of link I had to my friend was her. She drifted. I drifted.

So that was it!
In my evaluation of the situation, I didn’t realize that when people say ‘I do’ that this was the end of sustaining old friends. Your spouse becomes your forever ‘go-to’ person. I didn’t recognize that.

I then asked. Do our spouses satisfy all our needs.? Do we bin our invaluable friendships because we become married?

If I have known you for decades and I didn’t end up with you, date you, sleep with you, marry you, divorce you, then what makes you think or perhaps consider that my continued friendship with you could threaten your marriage? Is there something I do not know?

Shouldn’t a healthy marriage with happiness and love be dependent on having a support network outside your spouse? Am I deluded?

I have another male friend who has done the complete opposite here and has integrated me into his family because couldn’t afford the risk of losing me as a friend. I am the god-mother to his daughter. I hang out with his wife. We have been on a few double dates.

Isn’t life beautiful and simple? Same similar amount of years of friendship as the one I  described. In fact very similar history but different outcomes.

So in my bid to try to understand life, I believe I have gone through a painful process losing him. Everything, a friendship that meant the world to me is dead.

I think females who make a lot of male friends in their youth (which I did as I have always preferred men as friends) could suffer the risk of losing friendships in the long run- by default as these friends get hitched. It’s an interesting one I never thought about. At least with female friends, it’s safe. You will always have your girlfriends, married or not.

So this is what I tell my partner now and a in a lot of these life situations, common sense needs to be applied:

“I am happy with you keeping your female friends because I want to keep my male friends as long as”:

I am aware of the friendships, the histories and the dynamics of the friendships. If people are friends for a long time, way before I came into the picture of their lives then I think it’s unfair to make them lose their friends. Genuine ones, I must stress.

So my logic and emotional intelligence then makes me ask these questions:

  • Is or was there an attraction physically or emotionally with said friend(s)
  • Would you act any different with so-called friend if I was there or not?
  • Would you feel our marriage is threatened if I had the same level or quality of relationship with the opposite sex (that you have with yours)?
  • Do you ever compare them to me (sub) consciously?
  • Would you discuss things you don’t feel comfortable about – with me or rather with them?
  • Do you always discuss me with them?
  • Would you entertain inappropriate flirtatious messages from them even though you don’t text back? Emotional cheating?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions then we could potentially have a serious problem. If it’s no on all fronts, I welcome your friendship into our marriage. 

I use it as a yardstick to measure the status of my boundaries with my male friends and it gives me a clear stance of how (un)/healthy my relationships are with married friends.

I scored negative on all points upon reflection on my friendship status with the BFF.

  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Marrakech 

As-salamu alaykum, we were greeted by most locals. Then coming from more locals was also  ‘Bonjour, C’est bon’? Oh, the dichotomy…

Day 1

BA Flight was for 9:45am. Woke at 4.30am. Was grouchy as hell but was excited. Met Carol at Victoria Station. Got the Gatwick Express. After changing currency to Moroccan Dirhams, we head to Boots to pick up mini travel essentials. I have an ‘Airport Angel’ card. Seeing as we had some time in our hands to play with, we head to the Aspire Executive Lounge for breakfast and then board (on schedule)!

We arrived Marrakech just under 13:00hrs. Its 21 degrees. Seems like…

Border security was tight. It was crazy. We had to complete the Cadre reserve a’ l’ Administration card and hand to authorities before entry. 3 officials scrutinised our passports thrice.

But we got through. It felt like Africa. I was in North Africa. I have only been to the West.

We hop into the Taxi arranged by the Riad, for €30! Because of recent and historical news of chaos in Morocco, we felt it was safer and more sensible to get a licensed Taxi that was accountable or at least could be linked to the hotel, no, sorry the Riad. We travelled with a tad of uncertainty and it felt quite unsettling as friends kept telling us “you need to be careful out there”. The horrid incident in Paris had just happened and reports were coming that the master planner had roots of heritage from Morocco. It wasn’t the best time to be going away to Morocco. Anyway moving on, we ride to the Medina where the Riad is located. Riads are traditional Moroccan style houses built around a courtyard, and converted to a hotel. There are usually the equivalents of modern European boutique hotels as they tend not to be as large as hotels, with very few rooms and have different interior design themes to each room.

Things I observed instantly riding in the taxi; Bikes are a means of transportation with even women riding them. Caleches are too. Men in construction sites standing on significant levels of heights, building and constructing but not wearing helmets or any personal and protective equipment. I gasped!

Marrakech is a city where there is almost a clear cut combination of European, Arabic and French cultural influences with several locals speaking French and Arabic. We literally crossed the Mediterranean in 3hrs to get there from the UK. 

So we arrive a busy station road, well it seemed like. The bustling and craziness of Marrakech that I have always watched in movies or read about is faced me in reality. We followed the driver’s lead and walked through lots of alleyways. It seemed again a bit weird walking via these narrow alleyways and my anxieties returned.

But then again, typical Gemini, my sense of adventure became alive. We finally arrived the Riad Khol.

LaLie, a lovely lady who was manager of the Riad with roots from Madagascar showed us round the hotel after offering and welcoming us with Mint tea in a traditional Moroccan tea pot and shot cups. That was divine. This was a chic Riad, by all traditional standards.

Our room was a ‘Riad Rouge’ with soft furnishings of a rich Moroccan red, stone walls, rustic furniture, white roses, pavement floors with more Moroccan tapestries and cushions. I could confidently say from my tiny experience of interior décor, most furnishings were handmade by the artisans of Morocco. It was all combined with the elegance of Moroccan design with the originality of every piece being handmade and vintage with a flavour of French antiques. It was my ideal sort of interior decor. Loved it. Was wowed! This Riad is owned by a French family.

So we catch our breath and head to the Souk Kafe and then into the famous Le’ Jardin restaurant for late lunch. They served traditional Moroccan dishes and had a boutique on the roof top. There were beautiful birds and garden flowers around the courtyard. I had a lovely, freshly made courgette soup with a poached egg and some Moroccan style cooked fish for mains. We head back to the Riad, sit by the pool and drink more mint teas with our magazines, listening to Berber Folk music, something I call, Moroccan Jazz.

Day 2

Was our main day of exploring this exotic city. We get breakfast on the roof top of the Riad with rays of sun hitting our faces and skin, sipping on mint tea, eating fresh pomegranates, yoghurt and a hot breakfast of pastries and pancakes.

We then head to the Jardin Majorelle Gardens dressed in desert chic boho outfits. We looked colourful and stunning! The garden was colourful with fresh flowers and was a rich amazing site to cover in detail. The Garden belonged to the famous French designer, Yves Saint Laurent. He died on my birthday 1st June 2008 and his ashes were scattered there in his memorial.  The Garden was designed by a French artiste Jacques Majorelle who the garden was named after.

We toured the museum and gallery and had brunch at the gardens cafe. We then head to the popular Jemma el fna market still in the old medina about 19 mins walk from the Riad. All I can say is wow!!! This market square is epic! Make sure you check it out. We saw snake charmers, teeth pullers, traders selling everything you could possibly imagine under this planet. Every type of Moroccan fruit, food, spices etc. Other souks surrounded the JEF like the Souk Foundouk which we walked through to get back to the Riad. We also saw the Kasbah Wall which separates the old and new medina also known as ba dughal. We saw the famous Koutoubia mosque, the oldest mosque in North Africa dating to the 12th Century and is just about 200 metres away from the JEF. It’s a beautiful building made of bricks and sandstone, I always felt that if you hit it with your knuckles it could fall apart. We were not allowed in, seeing as we were not Muslims but like other non-Muslim tourists we took pictures outside the mosque.

One thing I observed there was that 70% of tourists were French from France and other Francophone countries in Africa. Then of course the other 20% was more Brits, Aussies etc. 

Day 3

We had breakfast at the courtyard, served home-made Moroccan crepes, home-made croissants, cakes, more fresh yoghurt, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit and friend eggs, all Moroccan style. I think after American breakfast, Moroccan comes next for me, truly.

Abdul, a taxi driver whom we met after the Majorelle tour from the day before had promised to return to pick us up from the Riad to drive us to the Atlas. We had made a friend in him. He was a lovely gentleman, born and bred in Marrakesh.

We head at 10:00 for our road trip to the Atlas Mountains.

We stopped at Avenue Mohammed VI, the longest avenue in Africa about 14km long with trendy clubs, cafes, restaurants and stores. We stop at a bank to get some cash from the ATM. We passed through the popular Menara mall – I hear it is new and opened in the Ramadan. There was the famous Pacca club where all the celebrities who visit Marrakesh attend. We passed through the Kenzi Menara Palace, the Big Manderin farm with herdsmen and cattle, Aqua Fun Park/ Club Park, through the agricultural farms etc. It was a scenic road trip.

We then arrive a very green area called Jemma Dhermat- the proper old Marrakesh built in the 12th century. We parked and got down, met the Berber who had a store of everything he had made with his hands. Carol and I took some pictures on the roof top of the Berber’s shop and then had a short tour at the local handmade Berber’s store. We pass through a town called Akrab meaning Scorpion. Home to mineral water, I heard! We also went via Oukaimeden, Marrakech’s home of skiing. It’s interesting how the weather split in this city separates a land of desert like the Palms and Oukaimeden, one of snow. I was astonished.

We stopped at the Berber’s town just before we arrive the mountains and we were told that Berbers are tight and very conservative so do not like to share information about their culture. They are like secretive and extreme preservers of their culture.  Berbers’ locals eat goats predominantly for meat as a form of anti- cholesterol. Apparently the goats they eat, do eat herbs such as lavender, wheat etc so I thought these goats must be posh goats. The Berbers have great skin I must say though. Anyway, this particular Berber woman opens her home to tourists for people like me to experience what it feels like to be them. What their culture is and how they live their lives. I was astonished. I won’t go into so much detail on that one, but one to do if you travel there. We climbed the Atlas Mountains and passed via three waterfalls which equates to about maybe 3,500ft. The mountains are over 13,000 ft for God’s sake. Please cut me some slack. The altitude began to affect my life, my breathing became laboured. I panted, and then prayed to God not to pass out. I survived. I am a wimp!

On our way back to Marrakech, Abdul stops on the side of the road and buys from a local Berber this Berbern fruit which has no English name but it’s called either- ‘sesno’ or ‘cest nous’. Its red, rich, has an amazing flavour, looks and has texture like strawberries. Please if you know what it’s called, in English, can you tell me? We arrive the Riad, have dinner and then mint teas and relax for bed.

Day 4

After breakfast, we drove through the King’s Palace which is forbidden for tourists and members of the public! However, Abdul being a local and quite friendly with the fleet of army lumbered all over the Palace had special access through the gates. He did that for us to get a glimpse of the palace. I guess we were lucky tourists. This is why I love to hang with the locals when I travel. I would rather pay them and get the raw deal than pay these tourists companies with their extortionate costs and boring tours. It seemed quite intimidating with all that army, all armed standing everywhere. Pictures are forbidden btw! We then head to Bahia Palace, built by craftsmen from Fez in the early 19th C for the personal use of the Si Moussa; this courtyard garden represents the Arabic and Moroccan culture of Morocco. ‘Bahia’- meaning ‘wonderful’ was the name the King (at the time, Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan) bestowed on his 4th wife after she bore him a son. The other wives had several daughters! The birth of his son was everything to him.

We left an hour later. On our way into town, we watched a small crowd carrying a corpse wrapped in white on a plank of wood, chanting in arabic! It caused a small traffic. Life eh? We then drove through ‘Mellah’- Marrakech Jewish community like Golders Green and Stamford Hill of London. We arrived the Palm trees also known as El- Nakhil measuring about 13,000 acres- historically owned by the wealthy locals before the French owned it. There were camels riding tourists etc. It’s such a beautiful place and we ended up taking pictures and a little walk around.  We drove past the Palace of the Mother of the King. She lived close to the Palms. The Public are forbidden to go close to mum’s Palace. We drove along the Palace of the brother of the King also. It was barely a construction site being developed.

We had such a beautiful, scenic drive around modern Marrakech. I had Nikki beach on my list of places to go but we were told it wasn’t going to be open at that time of the year. It was. We drove past Nikki Beach, the golf course next door with all the posh expensive hotels and restaurants. East of the end of that road led to Casablanca.

Modern Marrakech is beautiful and green and fresh. It was a little respite from the gritty, dusty, bustle of old medina/Marrakech. It was good to breathe again. My lungs needed the release.

The New Marrakech has the ‘Marjane’ shopping mall, I saw a Carrefour, Marrakech Railway station and then we stopped for brunch at 16 Café at Marrakech Plaza. After a lovely romance with the new medina, we head back to our Riad, rest for an hour and head to our traditional Moroccan Hamman and massage booked for 2hrs at the Oriental Spa (another chic Riad) 3 mins away from our Riad. We got beat. That’s all I have to say!

There were cats all over this exotic city.

On our way to the airport, we went via the famous Menara garden, home to the olive gardens. We saw the King’s private airport where other Heads of State and world dignitaries will tend to land and take off from.

We arrive at the airport and east to the entrance is T2 being constructed. I hoped by the time I visit again, we may be landing there. Everywhere you go in Marrakech; there were white roses, we had them each morning in our room, at the reception of the Riad, at the spa, in stores and now I saw a garden of them at the airport.

I asked Abdul, “Abdul, what do these white roses signify, I see them everywhere”. He smiled and said, “June, white roses is a symbol of peace” Marrakech is a city of peace.

We depart Morocco in one piece and leave with peace. I loved it…

 

My Canadian Affair

Day 1

So I flew with BA from T3 to JFK, New York. Had to take a connecting flight with American Airlines from La Guardia Airport to Toronto, seeing as that was the cheaper option; by a good £350. I arrived JFK on time. However, had a 5 hour layover in NYC so decided to take the shuttle which drives through the city for some sight-seeing as opposed to my original plan of a yellow cab straight to the airport. It’s one of those ones where you think – do I take a chance and go into Manhattan and explore a bit of NYC or head straight to the airport so I don’t miss my flight to Toronto. I picked the sensible option. So with a little bit of sight seeing, I head to La Guardia ahead of my departure time and I wait endlessly for boarding time which was supposedly for 21:00hrs to Toronto. At 21:00hrs, flight is pushed to 22:00, then again to 22:15, then 22:30, and then 22:45, then 23:10, then 23:40 then 00.15 and finally, we board!. Its me feeling like death at at this point as you can imagine! Each time, my BA app pushes a notification updating the departure time, I felt like throwing my phone at one of the attendants at the desk. But I do not have anger management issues! So I held it together.

Laura, my beaut friend and reason for this trip was meant to pick me up from the airport and we had agreed that she shouldn’t because we thought 22:00hrs (which was the original arrival time) was a bit late to be driving from Mississauga (where she resides) to Toronto airport when I could easily jump into a cab to her. Imagine if she actually came, how long she could have waited. Good call!

I dare say, American Airlines is by far the shittyest airline I have ever flown with and will ever fly with. What bothers me is I didn’t have any choice in flying with them. It’s their association with BA in the States. I think they take the piss because passengers are unable to claim compensation. The EU Aviation regulation laws stipulates that an airline will pay compensation to passengers when a flight has been delayed for over 3hrs. if they were part of the EU or the flights were fro or to EU, they would definitely up their game. It was interstate.

Anyway I arrive at 1:30am, clear customs and do baggage reclaim then head for a cab to Mississauga. I am in bed 2.15am chatting with Lau. Oh and this is me at Canadian Borders very jaded, answering questions like how long are you here for? What did you go the UAE for? (I whispered, to blow!…off some steam) What do you do? Nothing!, What was your granny’s pubic hair like? I dont know! How long are you here for? (Forever!, no sorry- 9 days) Who are you staying with?- My shadows!!! Where do you work? I am a Russian spy! Where does your friend work? Shouldn’t you know? What the actual f&*k?

Day 2

Head out to breakfast at a place called Denise in Mississauga. Have I talked about my obsession for American breakfast? Mississauga is located south of the Ontario province and is one of the largest cities in Canada. It has a sub-urban feel to it and the houses are like modern cottage homes with massive space and life.

The weather was relatively warm, about 26°C.

Laura and I catch up on everything seeing that I haven’t seen this sweetheart in 3 years after she left England. We had a great bonding moment. I learnt so much more about how amazing a person, friend and human being she is. Not that I didn’t know anyway x

Day 3

Its Friday, Laura’s sister, J, had a wedding reception party she needed to attend later that evening so Laura and I were tasked to baby sit the kids. I love a good evening of babysitting. Today was my first proper day of exploring Toronto. We head for breakfast at Cora’s. Again, have I mentioned my obsession for a good American breakfast? Why doesn’t London have more places where they serve American breakfast? From Cora’s, I had to grab Canada’s signature of Tim Horton’s coffee and doughnuts!! Duh! We head downtown Toronto, first to Ripley’s aquarium which was simply phenomenal and headed to the CN Tower, another mind blowing experience. We decided to do the 360 restaurant for the experience. I would advise people to do this as opposed to the regular tours. I say this because our booking included complimentary access to the lock out and glass floor and it was fascinating. Lau posed in different positions on the glass floor for photographs. I didn’t have the balls to even look at it. So the restaurant literally revolves in 360 degrees at 1.200 ft above ground level for a period 72 mins with magnificent views of Toronto city. We had a three course meal. The food wasn’t exceptional but the experience was. We then went to the Toronto Railway museum and the Brewer industrial building for a quick use of facilities! We caught the train from down-town Toronto to Square one and Lau drove to Oakville (another amazing suburban town on the South of Ontario) where J, her sister resides and we baby sat whilst watching the recently released ‘Made in Compton’ and sipping on some red wine. It was a glorious day! I must add the views of Lake Ontario driving to Oakville was fantastic.

Day 4

Woke at Oakville, J’s hubby made us breakfast in Canadian style. We spent some time with the kids and the family and said goodbye. I am not sure we did much on this day. I think we drove back to Mississauga and just chilled at home, ordered in and grabbed a few bottles from LCBO! Canada’s Liquor Control Board of Ontario! You cannot find alcohol in any random grocery store in Ontario as you do in the UK. LCBO and only a few stores are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages!!! I wondered whether the English, Scottish and Irish could live in Toronto if access to alcohol was that limited!

Day 5

We had breakfast at one of the most popular places in Toronto. This place is called Sunset Grill. I think for me, it was the 5 star breakfast experience – and funny enough great value for money!

Did I mention how obsessed I am with American breakfast? We then drove to Square One and took the bus with my ‘Presto’ which is the Canadian equivalent for an Oystercard. I wondered why these transport cards had food inferences attached to them. Oysters and Presto?? Anyway, Nous sommes allés au Musée royal de l’Ontario! I said that in French because it sounded really sexy and I try to be pretentious about speaking French but moreso speaking with a French accent in Canada. This would have been more appropriate if I was at the French speaking provinces of Canada.

So we paid for the special ‘Pompeii‘ exhibition at the museum. A touch of Roman history was all we needed. It was an education! The traffic in Toronto was ridiculous so we decide to head back to Mississauga, have dinner and head home.
Day 6

Highlight of my trip, we drove to Niagara! It was epic. We arrive our hotel. It was a family owners boutique hotel next to the Falls. I am not going to write much about this wonder of the world as people need to experience it themselves to understand how fascinating it is!  Watching it was a surreal moment and I couldn’t appreciate nature more. We buy some souvenirs, get some hot-dogs and soda! Niagara was scorching and then became colder almost after an hour, coupled with cold splashes from the falls with the clouds beginning to trail. We then head to Marine Land, nature park for both marine and land animals. Watched the Dolphins and the sea lions etc. Saw the deers. Oh dear, I exclaimed! No pun intended, the smell was awful! We couldn’t do the rides due to fear of heights and speed. It was a full-on day so we head back to the hotel. Got some rest.

Hours later, we went to dinner at this restaurant recommended by the hotel manager. We made a new friend. The waiter who served us was handsome, talk and dark. His name is Jay – for Jason. We admired him while we had dinner and he was quite chatty with us. So we hooked up on face book and later hooked up that evening. Jay being a local of Niagara took us round town that night and we had a great time. The local pubs and bars were great. We had walks round town and went for a late cuppa and wonton soup at a place called ‘Country Fresh Donuts‘. The history of this place;— it is quite popular for its wonton soups and donuts and open 24 hrs. One faithful night, a drunken local drove into the restaurant and rammed into the walls, leaving it in crumbles. It had just reopened and we were glad to share a piece of local legacy with the locals there.Jay and Lau had soups. I grabbed a hot choc and a donut!  Jay dropped us off at our hotel and the night ended.
Day 7

We check out after breakfast at the hotel. Did I mention how obsessed I am with American breakfast? We drove from Niagara to (another highlight of my trip) The African Lion Safari!! Woohoo!! This place is epic. I lack adjectives to describe it. There was no animal on earth I didn’t see or find there. We explored all the scheduled adventures except the elephants swims at 3pm. From the rail trip of scenic views of the jungle to the boat cruise to the coach trip into the main jungle to the animal shows. Words can’t describe how fascinated we were but maybe another time I can blog about this experience.
Day 8

Breakfast at Cora’s again. Didn’t I get to mention my obsession for American breakfast? So we head to the Black Pioneer Creek Village, an outdoor museum which exhibits a recreation of what Ontario looked like in the early 19th C. We did most of the homes of these Pennsylvanian German first settlers of Toronto. We went to the Masonic lodge where it was believed actual members of The Masons held their meetings. There were all sorts of features of barns, craftsmen, saddler’s, farms, pubs, blacksmiths etc. Another fascinating place of interest in Toronto. We then went to St Lawrence Market, one of the world’s famous food and vintage market. We bought bits and bobs and then had chocolate crepes with hazelnuts and cream. On our way home, bloody Ontario Provence Police (OPP) pulled us for not bloody stopping at the STOP ALL THE WAY sign! Wtf!! Our evening was an anti- climax!!! We got a bloody ticket!!!
Day 9

Next day we had street food lunch at Square One Mall. Did a bit of shopping. I loved this mall btw. They totally had my style in most stores. We then head to the nail studio in Mississauga to have a bit of girl time- a little manicure and shellac application was a lovely little treat. We grabbed dinner at Mississauga and some cocktails. It’s my last full day in Canada… I am nostalgic and Lau and I become emosh! I am struggling to say goodbye and so was she. I loved her even more…
Day 10

Laura drives me to the airport at noon as flight at 3.15. We are both upset (good upset) and hug each other tightly. I flew via Chicago with another layover to connect with shitty American Airlines. Guess what? You guessed right! Another 5 hours delay on top of the 3 hours layover time. I nearly died!!! But we finally fly. I am jet-lagged upon arrival. I suffer withdrawal symptoms whilst returning to work. I dread this anti-climax/ holiday blues. Its hard… My time in Toronto was memorable. I miss Laura incredibly so…back home to England!

I will return to explore Canada again next year…Quebec, Calgary etc. I shall see my beautiful friend again. True friends are hard to find. I love this one so!

E10

Somewhere in E10, riding on the bus, texting my sister. I look up and the bus going the opposite direction drew really close to the bus I was seated. The female driver driving the other bus, reached out and held hands with the male driver of the bus I was seated. I thought there was something quite romantic and special about it. Some passengers stared and I smiled. London Town is beaut!

My incurable disease

On 1st September – we had a small end-user consultation session for the Wellcome Trust Application organised by UCL/Kings College clinical partners at the Institute of Child Health close to Great Ormond Street by Russell Square. The aims were to provide information on a possible new treatment approach to sickle cell anemia called the In-utero transplantation & Fetal Gene Therapy and also answer questions/ get feedback on:

  • the concept of the fetal stem cell gene therapy approach
  • possible clinical trial
  • ethical concerns related to the approach
  • how they would want to engage in the grant and practicalities
  • to improve chances of WT funding and MHRA approval in future.

I work part-time, one day a week for the UK Sickle Cell Society, a charity that supports people living with sickle cell anaemia. I am the Volunteer Co-ordinator.

My role was to facilitate the attendance of about 8-10 patients who had attended the Annual General Meeting(AGM) of the Sickle Cell Society, earlier in the summer. The event was very much geared to obtain feedback (as much as possible) from these specific patients. You see, those patients who had attended the AGM had prior context and some background around the topic as Dr Stavros had introduced and presented the subject at the AGM. I succeeded in recruiting 8 people who also happen to be friends of mine. However, due to personal commitments and sickness, only 4 of us could attend.

The event started at 5:30pm which was great as I left Cockfosters on the Piccadilly line after work directly to R. Square.

There was light meals & refreshments before the meeting and wine/snacks after, which was nice. We also got refunds for our travel expenses.

We had 4 incredible clinicians address us:

  • Dr Michael Antoniou, Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London, Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics.
  • Dr Stavros Loukogeorgakis – (he presented at the AGM earlier in the summer) and oops, I forgot his title!! I think he is a Peadiatric Surgeon.
  • Dr Anna David- Consultant in Obstetrics and Maternal/Fetal, Medicine at UCL Hospitals and Reader at the UCL Institute, for Women’s Health. (Basically, she is a specialist in Fetal Medicine and Pregnancy).
  • Professor Paola De Coppi- Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Professor of Paediatric Surgery at the UCL Institute of Child Health in London (I recall he was in surgery and arrived later. My immediate thought was- how normal it was for these wonderful and sophisticated minds to carry out invasive surgeries one minute and then stand in front of an audience a minute after (quite untraumatised and unperturbed I must add). The sight alone of watching my sister give birth to her first child and the amount of blood around literally made me pass out! I am not lying. I am too sqeamish! Took weeks to recover!

Anyway, We were told this trial had happened in Milan. Basically in my own language, Bone marrow transplant (the only known and tested cure for sickle cell) works when you extract the bone marrow, genetically correct them and then put them back. It’s rarely successful and has been reported to be life threatening with high evidence of mortalities. No, thanks!

 In fetal gene therapy, it’s easier and cheaper to administer anywhere in the world. It reduces the problems around screening. This procedure requires sophisticated infrastructure. They basically treat the foetus in the womb, safely in the amniotic fluids; before its born. It is one of the most advanced discoveries in medicine to date. The clinicians discussed risks, challenges, and the safety of this procedure. It was very re-assuring as they answered 99% of questions and when they were not sure, they admittedly accepted, reassuring us they can come back to us with an answer. 

The challenge is to get resources to move to the clinical trial level and they reported this had become a very timely co-incidence for the possibility of the WT application.

My role and those of other patients?? To provide an endorsement from sickle patients to these wonderful clinicians to pursue the approach. If that’s what it takes to give them the go ahead to make a global impact, I would be willing to contribute my kidneys.

We went away thinking of the 3 concepts or principles which they sought to achieve:

  • Confidence of the treatment 
  • Involvement of patients
  • Obtaining the grant and how they engage with us.

Basically, if they succeed in getting this treatment around the world within this, or the next generation, these guys have made a major global impact of an incurable disease that has existed since the 17th C.

I have hope…I was elated. I want to be a part of this legacy, a part of this change. This is why I support the cause. I, people living with this debilitating sickness have suffered incredibly. It would be great to not have future generations suffer further.

A message from spring by folklore

Sometime just before spring this year, I received a letter in a sealed envelope addressed to me from a lovely lady, a beautiful friend Eli, (my pet name for her) asking me not to open the envelope until the first of March. In my curiosity, I kept fiddling with the envelope trying to get cues of what may be contained in it. I gave up and decided to be patient. On 1st March, I opened it and found a handmade red and white bracelet made from wool and a letter in it.

From Miss Petrova, the one who cares for me

It was a letter written from Eli to me and it read::

Chestita Baba Marta, June (In Bulgaria: Честита Баба Марта , June)

(This is something little from Bulgaria)

On the first of March, Bulgarian people celebrate a traditional holiday called Baba Marta (or Grandma Marta in English) and it is related to welcoming the approaching spring. People all over the world meet spring with joy and new hopes but in Bulgaria, it is saved as an ancient tradition.

On that day, Bulgarians exchange so called “Martenitsi” (“Martenitsa”- singular, “Martenitsi”- plural) and tell each other, Chestita Baba Marta!” (Happy Grandma Marta). This custom is essentially to wish great health, good luck and happiness to family and friends. The name “Martenitsa” is taken from the Bulgarian word for March, or as a legend tells, an angry old lady called Grandma Marta- Baba Marta in Bulgarian (“baba” means grandmother and Marta comes from the word “mart”, which means March in Bulgarian)

In Bulgarian folklore, Baba Marta is a grumpy old woman who changes her mood very rapidly and it reflects in the changeable March weather. When she is smiling the weather sunny and warm, but if she gets angry, the cold will stay for longer and it may even snow. By wearing the red and white colours of the Martenitsa, our predecessors asked Baba Marta for mercy. They hoped that it will make winter pass faster and bring spring.

The Martenitsa is made of twined red and white threads- woollen, silk, or cotton. The white is a symbol of strength, purity and happiness. The red is associated with health, blood, conception, and fertility.

The most typical Martenitsa represents two small wool dolls – Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the male doll, usually dominating in white colour. Penda is the female doll, usually dominating in red colour and distinguished by her skirt. There are many other variations and forms. Out of twined red and white threads are also made bracelets, necklaces, tassels, pompons, balls, squares, human or animal figures. Over the past several decades, the tradition has been innovated by attaching all kinds of representations and symbols made of wood, leather, ceramics, and metal foil to the thread-made Martenitsas.

When someone gives you a Martenitsa, you should wear it either pinned on your clothes, on the hand tied around the wrist, or around your neck until you see a stork or a fruit tree in blossom for the first time in the season. After that you can tie it on a blossoming tree for fertility. It is believed that the Martenitsa brings health, happiness and longevity. Like kind of an amulet, Martenitsa was attributed to a magic power believed to protect folks from “ill fortune”, diseases and an “evil eye”.

The custom of wearing Martenitsa is probably one of the most interesting Bulgarian (pagan) traditions and it is considered to be unique to Bulgaria. According to one of the many legends, this tradition is also related to the finding of the Bulgarian state in 681AD.

This exceptional piece of folklore /folktale became an education. A fact. This story was re-authored by Eli in a personalised letter to me. It left me fascinated into this revelation of how beautiful Eli and her people are. It’s the little things that matter…Lover of culture#, lover of tradition#, lover of people#Jtheexplorer#

Portugal’s Finest – The Uncovered Fishing Town of Olhao

I woke and muttered to myself ‘Ola June’

It’s Friday, 23rd January 2015, and I have RESFEBER (the restless race of a traveller’s heart before the journey begins. when anxiety and anticipation are entangled together; it’s a travel fever that could manifest as an illness) but I am not ill because it’s my first European jaunt this year. I am actually euphoric because I found myself later that day in Porto!(Portugal).

As I haven’t really scratched the surface of Southern Europe and this destination seemed like a warm-ish location to spend a long weekend. I tend to find any excuse to travel. Any! It’s one thing I can confidently say drives me to be an opportunist.

Travelling and exploring culture is what I live for and I get my kick from this. My beloved sister says I am a’ travel junkie’. I accept. My excuse for this trip, along with my travel buddy, was my brother, Tom, whose birthday happened to be on Sunday, 25th of that weekend. So we thought of a long beautiful weekend away from cold, gloomy miserable English weather- and I kinda suspected it could be perfect.

The reason and my choice of destination stems from my love to be non-conformist and individualist with my choices! No one I knew had heard of this town in the Algarve region. It surprised me further that a friend who lived in Portugal for many years had not heard of it.

I then quickly decided to declare this the town my found, untouched, unseen, secret and special run away haven. (After Uzes` in the Southern Provence of France). One would think I just travel to find unseen towns in Europe, eh? Its part of the deal.

Anyway, nuff of me (narcissism alert!)

So we arrive Faro Aeroport at 16:32 WET (Western European Time) and it’s about 8 degrees…and I am like- what?! No please, you have to be at least in double freaking figures…I became deflated, nostalgic!

BA crew announce landing and we are told that the Portuguese authorities require each passenger arriving Faro to obtain an information leaflet. I wondered what that was about. It was a declaration form to determine if one had been to West Africa in the last three months to complete for tests of the Ebola virus. C’mon now? I thought. Could this possibly be the best form of safeguard of a deadly virus which this government could come up with?

So much for managing infection control…

We take a cab and head to the Hotel Marina (in my beautiful discovery of an unseen town called Olhao). By the way, I pronounced this in an almost pure English fashion almost like Ohio but with a lingering “l” and I was immediately corrected by our taxi driver, Mr Coelho Simao, that it’s actually pronounced oyal-ow. It’s almost like the ‘L’ is silent but it isn’t. It’s a ‘linking L’. This reminded me of a Nigerian pidgin lingua used by the Western Nigerians called “oya oh” meaning “already now”. It made me smile. Linguistics is a bitch!

As we drive out of Faro towards the Algarve, we make conversation about London, the weather and all that nonsense and Coelho makes calculated recommendations of places to go and those not to. He specifically said, “Please do not visit Kinkash Restaurant, I had a bad tummy experience after eating fish and sea food there”. I chuckled. He spoke with a sort of mixed and almost confused accent of French and Portuguese. Coelho is French born but migrated to Portugal when he was a child. He was pleasant. He specifically advised to visit the Lighthouse Island otherwise known as the ”Faroul” and advised we could also have evening walks around the town and the popular Saturday fish and fruit market by the Marina with local traders selling freshly harvested oranges, mandarins, potatoes etc. I became even more excited at the thought of my typical and ideal Rural European weekend break.

We arrive the hotel and the staff are brilliantly polite and welcoming. Again, local and yay, they speak English too! Isn’t it refreshing to go abroad and not feel like you are in England?! Get the kicks from that local touch and suck it all in! We felt at home immediately.

Real Marina is by Portugal’s standards, a 5 *****Star Hotel and Spa and both interior and exterior looked like the property had been newly refurbished but it hadn’t. The lift was all glass; the lobby had soft furnishings and shiny new tiles. We head to our lovely, cosy double bedded room on the 4th floor (the penultimate floor to the pent house). Ha!

We had ‘a view’ not a room with sea view. I was almost tempted to upgrade to a room with sea view which overlooked the Marina but then I thought – best to check before doing so. We actually did have a tad view of the Marina – However, I have to add that it came with an odd body position of an obvious twist of one’s neck and head, with the torso almost falling off the balcony rail to get a proper view, east of the hotel.

My brother worked the night shift the night before and we had headed to Gatwick at 9:30am to catch a 13:00hrs flight so he had no sleep and was suddenly grumpy! He needed sleep…I didn’t!

I let him sleep for a couple of hours while I indulged with the room, bathroom, our little private balcony, the premises of the hotel etc. I fell in love with this town. After three hours, I am famished so I speak to reception to find out where the best places to eat around this beautiful fishing town.

My dear friend, Carlos, a local (and hotel receptionist) whom I had a short holiday crush on and who was extremely kind and pleasant to me, but also terribly handsome (“in -a –Brazilian-‘Leandro’ -kind -of -way -and very tanned with a shade of light bronze which made his skin glow) explained that the best place to eat seafood and who served the best food in Olhao was a couple of minutes’ walk from the hotel just facing the Marina. It was called ‘Horta‘! My mouth waters, so I rush back up, wake the brother and say, “Please we must get food or I may pass out in a minute”…he tosses and turns for ages and finally with no patience for B.S, I wake him with some sprinkles of cold water on the face 🙂

There is something about being abroad on holiday and having a bigger crave/appetite for food and alcohol. I cannot understand it. Perhaps, the body has switched from its ‘crazy city (in this case*London) Rat Race clock’- to a ‘relaxed, holiday mood, chilled-out’ clock and the brain transmits this message to the stomach walls, no?

We head to Horta and to our amazement but anguish; the bloody restaurant was shut for improvement works. Damn! (I slurred in an American accent).

Tommy is staring at me and me at him, wondering, eat in hotel or eat out? So we keep walking and wandering and bump into a couple of places. This town is so quiet by the way and not so rural but borderline urban-rural and I loved that dichotomous nature of it.

We arrived at a Tapas restaurant called Terra I Mai just after the local Police Station where we anticipated could be good. There were more people there than there were anywhere else and we were invited in but almost immediately, was then told to wait at the door entrance whilst they verified seating capacity. Duh!? Unfortunately, they were all reserved!! So we went back to a restaurant called Sabores do Churrasco a couple of blocks from Terra I Mai and settled for it.

I later found that the lively, small local restaurant often packed most evenings called Terra I Mai was one of the best lounges, restaurants/ bars of the town and had a daily live band. If you love tapas you will love here.

The people of Olhao are very lovely and welcoming I must say. As a British- African tourist, I find that a lot of times, I go to European small unseen rural towns, I get a lot of impolite stares. This was different. Perhaps, maybe because this town had a predominant elderly demographic.

We got in settled to a table by the wine wooden stack, and immediately got some locally baked bread , butter and (a new one) fish pate!!!.(Oh, I forgot, we are in a fishing town) My mouth watered and I dug in immediately and cleared it all. Ooops, was that very obvious, I thought? We had Vinho do Porto or in my translation I kept calling it (Porto rouge du vin (red wine) which in itself is very exclusive to the Portuguese and made local at the Northern provinces of Portugal. It often has a lovely sweet and dry flavour and it went down well already with our starters. We ordered sea food rice (duh!) which arrived in a large pot (no, a bucket!) with the soup floating on the top which wasn’t what I expected but was glad it came that way as Olhao was already cold and had wondered with my brother whether it was a wise choice of destination after all, given the current weather. The dish had every form of sea food in this world! Don’t ask me what happened 10 minutes later!

We watched a live jazz performance followed by performance by (I suspect) a Spanish guitarist whilst having dinner. It was amazing. I think I could hear some Brits across our table but never really minded-as long as they weren’t several of them there. It makes it feel more like a holiday away from home when you don’t find lots of Brits in one place. Sorry!.

After my seafood rice served as a soup in a pail, really hot , it followed with a local dessert called talga natas. Its base is whipped cream topped with crushed cookies, yum! Its like the opposite of a cheese cake eh? Tommy then randomly ordered meat!!! Yes, MEAT! (I was saying to him, that’s rather random, you have just eaten a three course meal) He then says “this sea food business isn’t exactly working for me” so given that this restaurant was a steak/meat specialist- but made great sea food too, he decided to order some (take out) mixed platter of meats to indulge in when we arrive at the hotel with some beer!. So we ordered a platter of grilled special meats and when I tasted it, it was yum, it was divine. They served this with some rice and beans and some baked bananas. A vegetarian could have murdered him at the sight of that meal!

We head back to the room to relax and whizzed through the TV channels but everything was in Portuguese and we only had MTV in English. We settled. Wifi strength wasn’t great in the room but so weirdly strong in the bathroom so to communicate with loved ones, I had to sit on the toilet seat or the bathroom floor to chat or use apps which required internet.

I head down to check what happens exclusively at the hotel. I have a restless mind to dig for culture and find everything I can when I am abroad. I found the hotel plays Jantar Com Fado Ao Vivo which (means dinner with Fado) every Sundays from 20.30 – 22.30 at €30 with drinks from the hotel’s selection. They also serve cocktails and snacks (Aberto todos os dias) daily from 19.00- 01.00.

We already had too much food and wine. I contemplate we could try it on Sunday…

I eventually fall asleep.

It’s Saturday morning. We head down for a lovely local fresh selection of breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, fresh Danish bakery and local bread selections, cereals, cooked breakfast etc. Yum! We indulge and Tommy then heads to the gym while I head up to speak to my family and think of what to do. I am not someone who plans so I tend to be spontaneous when I travel.

I thought this was the best day to explore; the sun was out though it wasn’t as warm as expected but better than Friday when we arrived. It was about 13 degrees or so. I got dressed, head down and buy tickets from the tour companies stalls sitting at the front desk of reception. I planned to have a boat cruise to the Ria Formosa and Culatra Islands. This was the core highlight of this town. Apparently, the Farmosa is considered to be a humid zone of world interest.

Tickets cost €25 each but one must cruise as a group for that price. We didn’t have anyone join within two hours of take-off so was advised that its either we got our refund back or hire the entire boat (privately!) and as no one turned up, we paid €75 in total and ended up on a privately hired boat…but we needed to wait for take-off time at 11:00am.

It’s about 9:30am and I am dressed and restless, I remember it’s the Olhao Saturday fruits and fish market (you come out of the hotel doors and smell fresh sea air, I was so content) so we head to the flea market and walk through different stalls of the local traders to the very end of the market path. We buy bits and bobs.

We head back for 11:00am and start our tour from the Marina right across the hotel. We start North of the River towards the Ria Formosa (which means the beautiful river- but as Ria is gender specific to females, its indeed regarded in that light). We sail through to the boat with the “eye” which has some significance to Olhao’s strength and resilience during the time of the 16th C during Brazil’s colonization of Porto. You could also sight the markets from this angle.

The tides were 3.4 at about midday, so we were told. We sail towards the Japanese Boats parked at the East of the Marina. The Japanese are known to trade and export sea food from Olhao to Japan in heavy export quantities. The Ria Formosa sea food farms produce up to 80% of bi valves shells. The local sea farmers tend to clean the farms in seasons and spread sea food babies around this island for growth and cultivation. The difference between this kind of farming and traditional contemporary farming is the collection of sea food babies and reproduction of them, transcending in quality and revolving of the soil. The locals use red bags to collect them 🙂 I saw all of these with a binocular whist sailing on the boat. I was amazed. It was an education!

We head to municipalities of Tavira, then Culutra and the Deserta Island where I hear Christian Ronaldo hangs out for lunch on summer holidays when he is back home– (many locals repeatedly referred to this- so it became a consistent rumour)

We also sail through Fuseta beaches, East of the Island, Armona beaches, West of the Island- there we spotted the Cormorant birds. Oh, I forgot to mention, Ria Formosa is an amazing nature park for all sorts of birds on the planet. You can find up to 300 species of birds in this beautiful uncovered place. One of its popular qualities known by few tourists is bird watching. I can confidently say I saw at least 15 species of birds in the space of two hours.

We arrive Culatra Island and Jaime, (Jamie in English) our amazing tour guide/Helmsman, thought it would nice to give us some beach experience. He anchored our boat at the dock and made a call to pre-order our lunch. Tommy and I picked shells. I love picking shells and taking long walks on beaches. We head off after 15 mins and I spot Oyster Catchers (these are specialist sea birds by the way) with red long beaks. I hear from Jaime (lovely man) that sea horses are seen there sometimes too.

We are told that drowning chambers (otherwise known as the sea bull fight- quite similar to pitfall traps) are planted in the waters to catch Tuna sometimes worth up to 70 kilos, often by the Japanese. They have features of metallic nets that capture the Tunas as I learned and could be dangerous to human life.

Apparently, they are often injected when caught or killed with a shot gun (I shrivelled at the thought of this) We eat all of these exotic fancy sea food but we are often not aware that they sometimes undergo the same inhumane painful process as meat animals. I wondered if there had Halal fish at that instant. I also wondered whether the concept and philosophy of wild life and conservation was not such a great idea after all. Anyway, lets save that argument for another day.

Anyway, we arrive Culatra village, home of the local fishermen. This village has about a maximum of 1000 residents living here with 30 extended families and 400 nuclear families. It’s a village of close knitted families. It reminded me of my father’s village back home and how they had tight knitted clans and kinships.

We came out of the boat, went to the Café Resturante O Janoca, owned by a local called Timothy. Our tour guide, Jaime, he is lovely , (I had to repeat that again) had pre-ordered us grilled sea breams and sea bass as this takes a while to cook with *the way they grill it* so we didn’t have to wait ages to head back to Olhao. We walk in whist the boat is anchored to the dock.

Tommy and I are filled with so much overwhelming exhilaration for this place coupled with the fact that Tommy drove the boat half the time during our travel here. He loved it! The fresh sea breeze, the blue skies, the sun rays, the birds, the gentle tides, the couple on the boat who waved at us and all those beautiful memories will remain with him and me for eternity.

We swayed along on the white sands towards the Janoca and spotted a church, Gaviao e Atalaia and the café was right opposite it. We walked in and are greeted and welcomed. Timothy was expecting us. He introduces himself as Timothy with an air of authority and pride and I guessed he was either the manager or the owner of this place. Eventually, I found he was.

We sat and we are served again, with bread, butter and fish pate. Tommy has a cold bottle of (Sangres) beer and whilst I cant decide on what to drink due to my indecisive tendencies when I am faced with a world of choice, Timothy suggests I tried the locally made Porto sparkling green wine. I didn’t know what to expect but I trusted that sparkling wine (whether green or orange) with sea bream did go well together. The wine came and I died! It was divine and I started to get tipsy after 3 glasses. Tasted like no wine I had ever had (and I have had a lot of good wines) So we had the best grilled fish I had eaten in a very long time (other than when I return home). It was properly grilled with pan crusted edges but soft, white and fresh on the inside and very tasty and we ordered more because we couldn’t get enough!

Whist we waited for more fish to arrive, Jaime is vegetarian, and so ordered potatoes and veg and whilst that was been prepared, heads out with some locals to fetch oysters. Jaime returns with a bunch of oysters and opens them there, as we slurped to the freshness of fresh oysters sprinkled with fresh lemons and we ate like 8 each – and I said to him “Jamie, eat please and stop feeding us these oysters before we become used to them” but he said he will eat in a jiffy and wanted us to experience the freshness of sea food in this village.

We finalise food and bill. I paid for Jaime’s meal too and that was a tiny gesture compared to his devotion in making us feel like home from start of tour to finish. He puts the rest of the (80!) oysters in a plastic bag for us to take back.

On our way out, he speaks to another very elderly local sitting amongst the other men on a bench just watching life happen. He says something to him in Portuguese but I am unable to decipher what he said and after a few minutes, elderly man walks in with a tissue wrapped gift and places it in my palms and aims to cover my palms. It was heart touching. I opened up the tissue wrapped gift and to my bewilderment; it was a collection of three sea horses. Apparently, this kind man was a renowned local collector in his time and has thousands on display at his home, I ask Timothy to get him and his friends’ beers and we paid and I said thank you to him, holding his frail hands and they all smiled bowing their heads in greeting and gratitude. I fell in love once again with this place and its people. Love always wins they say. Love is the only language and culture that brought myself and the people of this village together.

Its my turn, I drive the boat for a few minutes back. It was an experience. It took shorter to get back for some reason, probably the tides, no?. We arrive the hotel and I am elated at my discovery. of these islands. We have a nap. I wake to the view of the sunset from my balcony. It was beautiful. The sun still shone. Town still very quiet.

We take a walk around the town that evening, exploring the architecture and the rurality of this town. Got some cash by the ATM at the local Police Station, head to a local store couple of metres from the hotel called Frutaria e docaria, got some wine, water and nibbles and more souvenirs! I noticed the towns of Faro leading to Olhao are defaced with graffiti and I wondered whether this was the norm and part of their culture.

This town had fish shops everywhere!

We head back to the hotel, there is an art gallery by reception. I am a sucko for art too and Tommy’s eye caught this. We browse through the gallery and I noticed its got a flare of Portugal, Olhao on its canvases.

We head back, chill out for the night. Its midnight and his phone and mine are going off. Its

Tommy’s birthday. We drink to the night and I say “happy birthday bro. you are amazing”. He says, “Juno, this was the best birthday gift ever, love you sis”. I smiled. My bonding time with my brother and the memories I will hold forever. I love my family to bits.

Sunday morning- more calls from home and London wishing him a happy birthday. We head for breakfast, he heads to the gym, I head to get dressed and again think of our plan for today. I think Faro and remember Jaime drew up a mini itinerary of what we could do in Faro. We take a cab to Faro costing about €15. Stop at the museum (Museo da Mariaha) and of course, it was closed. Duh! It’s Sunday, I forgot.

We then walk to the popular Cathedral with an aim to visit the museum within it (Cidad Velha). The buildings there are spectacular. A lot of pre-poetry neolithic character and that European/medieval effect I adore in edifices in Europe. We walked into Mass as was literally 12:05 so the midday Mass was being held. Tommy and I are being Catholics just thought we might as well stay on then. Mass was obviously in Portuguese and we just had to herald on knowing when and what to do and say due to countless Masses we attended growing up. This church was built in the 14th Century and was one of the most astonishing pieces of art in Europe standing.

We left Mass and went for drinks at a bar/café called Cafe do Coreto and I had a mojito and Tommy his usual Sangres. It was really hot at this time and temperatures were up to 22 degrees. We are now famished and found a Brazilian restaurant for birthday lunch. More fish and sea food though Tom had meat this time. We explored Faro a little but many businesses were shut or closed for holidays and the weekend.

We hailed a cab from the street and headed back to Olhao. I spotted a Lidl on the main way from Faro Marina back to Olhao and I smiled.

There were small homes made of zinc and wood in the middle of farms with greenery and cattle amidst the environs. This place felt like home. I think I am a country girl, really!

Faro is about 7 miles approximately from Olhao. You could also take the train from Olhao to Faro. We got to the hotel for about 15:00 and had a long deserved Sunday birthday nap and then- a knock on our door. at about 17:15, its room service with meals on wheels (no, I lie, champagne in a bucket of ice and a nice chocolate cherry fruity cake with a card complimentary of the staff of Real Marina and flowers and 2 dishes and a cake cutter. I said to the man “errr, sorry but we didn’t order anything”, looking dazed and he replied, “yes we know”. This is for the birthday man complimentary of Real Marina. Wow! “Thank you” I said to him, “that’s really really thoughtful and kind, please leave it here” I direct him towards the balcony. I wake Tom with so much excitement. How could someone sleep through that noise?!!

“See what the hotel did for you”. He goes “Wow, that’s really kind of them” and asked how they knew and I said “your passport I guess, it probably shows them birthdays from your DOB”. As Tommy doesn’t eat chocolate cakes, I dug into it, we cheered to a glass of champagne. Headed for the jacuzzi and sauna before 18:00hrs when they close and then the outdoor pool as the weather was glorious.

Had our fill of hotel facilities. Wind down to packing for next day’s flight back to miserable England. We are nostalgic. I am becoming depressed to head back home. Tommy is really excited for the moment and said he will certainly relive it. This is the way men and women function. He is more logical, I am more deluded, and emotional; thinking, “but this cannot end”!.

Sunday morning , we pack, have breakfast, check out, flight is for 5:00pm, we have almost 6 hours to fly. There has to be something to do, I thought. I look around the hotel for more information leaflets, something! and bingo! We find the Nature Park in Olhao called Marim, the nature park of Ria Formosa. I request a cab, we paid about €5. Was about ten mins from the Hotel Marina.

We arrived Marim and found natural and cultural aspects of the Ria. The nature trail is about 3km long and takes 2-3 hours to be completed and we did it. I forgot to change to hiking shoes or perhaps more appropriate ones for this activity! (story of my life). Marked with yellow striped wooden poles, we saw stopping joints and took 1 minute breaks every 30 mins. This park is another nature’s beauty which remains unseen and untouched. The preservation of greenery overwhelmed me. The species of birds got me lost trying to identify what was what. Another bird watching spot for people who love stuff like that. We talked as we walked; about the features of this place. Tommy is also a sucko for nature.

It was a glorious day and great to explore nature as well as hike. We ask our cab driver to pick us up after 2.5 hours. Its about 14:00hrs now and we head back to the hotel, have drinks, charge our phones, chill out with drinks and wait for 15:00hrs to head to Faro Aeroport. Carlos, my lovely little crush takes our luggage to the car and I felt so sad leaving this town where I spent (what?) 3 nights but felt like eternity and more importantly, felt like home, a place I felt welcomed, covered quite a bit in that sparse of time but also felt like I absolutely did nothing too.(as we rested and slept and ate loads). It was one of the best trips I ever had since I started travelling. All I had was love for this place. I shake Carlos’ hands and say thanks and Tommy tips him with a handshake.(I often wonder how guys did that) We bid him and the other staff farewell and head to Faro.

Airport process was smooth, BA announces boarding just after I pick a few bottles of Porto wines for home and we board. My love for this place tells me that I will, I must return to Olhao with my loved one/s and relive this experience and I can bet it will be one of the highlights of my adult age on earth. I love Olhao. It has deposits of my heart.

JBug

> Feb 12, 2015 4-5:20pm

Where are the safeguards?

So one faithful  p.m 2013, I was conducting interviews with other managers at work for our summer student interns, then I hear what sounds like pretty aggressive screaming coming from the window of our board room. Luckily for us, we were just finalising.

As soon as our last candidate walked out of the room, we jumped up towards the window and there is a man from Asian background;(in the interest of full disclosure, this is by no means a story stereotyped against any race neither does it reflect any racial discriminate inferences) man is screaming from across the road. I stand there by the window trying to find who or what he may have been shouting at for the last couple of minutes. His son is by his side, should be about 8-9 years old. I realise on the other side of the road,is a woman who seems to be his wife with a little girl in a buggy. I am assuming, her daughter. She is standing by a car. He is shouting and swearing at her in a language I couldn’t understand, pointing in a warning and threatening manner towards her. The next scene I watched will live with me for some time. He grabs his son’s hand and runs towards her, still screaming, even now, more vehemently. He grabs her by the neck, literally twisting her neck, grabbing her hair, hitting her, pushing her and eventually, the loud impact of a slap on her face.

This frenzied attack was happening right in the presence of their son and daughter who I am guessing roughly were around the ages of 8 and 3 respectively. A really insignificant crowd had started to gather at this point. Only then does he realise he could be in danger of someone raising alarm. He runs into our office car park with his son towards his car. Wife walks right behind him pushing her toddler in the buggy, weeping. He gets into the car, with his son who at this point was also screaming at his mum, somewhat in a “veruca salty” manner requesting the contents of the shopping bag she had hanging on the buggy. As she tried to reach out for what seemed like a snack or drink for her son, this man drives off leaving woman and daughter at the car park. Infact, I thought he was going to run into her at the level of speed he took off with. Woman is left there weeping like a child and begins to push daughter’s buggy who at this point is upset as well. The tears of a woman physically and emotionally abused as well as a child experiencing violence from dad to mum left me pretty much jarred and exasperated. She walks away, using the scarf wrapped around her neck to wipe her tears. Drama is over… I had to get back to work. The whole office is conversing about this. Its funny how such dramas gets human beings a tad excited? I am here thinking we live in a civilised society, however, abusing women is still a huge issue in this country. And a very cultural issue as well. Whilst,I commend David Cameron and his government for tackling online pornography and encouraging online search engines to ban child abuse images as well as other associated child safeguards measures, there is still a lot of work to be done around protecting vulnerable women who have developed a 100% tolerance and acceptance of physical abuse because of what I call “stupid cultural influences”.

No culture should permit a man hitting a woman, more especially in a 1st world nation. And to think that he walked away? He will do it again and again just as he has been doing. That couldn’t have been the first time. How does the society protect such women and ring it into their heads that men abusing them is as a matter of fact NOT acceptable? Yes, our laws prohibit abuse of any sort and generally prosecute offenders. Is it sufficient for women as vulnerable as that poor lady I watched get battered and humiliated in public? Whilst I rant about a single ill in our society which is significantly culturally driven, I shall not stop this story without an outburst of emotions. That man was a raving, filthy, barbaric, crude, abusive and viscous coward and so is any man who does what he did. I feel sorry for his son too who has grown up and began to act the exact same way towards his mother and possibly towards other females. This man was lucky he drove off just before shock made me realise I had to call the police. It saddened my heart…

Eileen

She is a friend, my neighbour, a lady who I admire. She hasn’t got children of her own (not out of choice) so she always tells me she considers me ‘a daughter’. She tells me everything. We share a floor. She is number 15 and I, 13.

She would bring me red, fresh cherry tomatoes which she plants at her in-laws. She never misses to buy me presents on my birthdays, Easter eggs at Easter and more presents at Christmas. She receives my parcels when I am not in. She invites me in for tea frequently and Terry, her lovely husband entertains me with the Harmonica I ordered off Amazon for him. He plays to entertain when they go on cruises. She holds my keys when I travel and takes my posts in. They are both in their late 70s and live alone. I enjoy doing most things for them, clean, sort out their new gadgets because they don’t understand modern technology, make complaints on their behalf, call maintenance when something isn’t right in their home etc.

She fell recently, I cared for her. She was traumatised like many older people are when they have a fall…
When I used to go into crisis in the middle of the night and the ambulance came – she would hear the noise from the hallway and lifts or the voices from the paramedic crews and come out at 3:00am and say comforting words to me. She loves to pour her milk first before her tea and so every time I invite her round for tea and cake, I would serve her tea in her fave tea set because she is so cultured and I would pour her milk first!
She loves cakes too. She would tell me stories of her youth and how she grew up in a Catholic Covent. Some of the stories are just simply mind blowing but often times, horrendous. She grew up post 2nd WW in a Covent in Hillingdon and never met her mother until she was 15. She was tortured by Catholic nuns and when these nuns go to prayer sessions, the “bigger girls” would torture her further. She got boiling hot water thrown at her and sustained burns, she drank their urine, she got hit daily. She got hit, she was broken, abused, damaged.
My disgust as a Catholic for the Catholic Church sometimes knows no bounds. But who am I to judge eh? She has her beliefs but doesn’t practice anymore. Why blame her?
I am looking at a woman who ‘RESILIENCE’ is too small a word to describe…’STRENGTH’ is an under-estimated word to describe her.
Anyway, on a lighter note, she has travelled the world so we talk a lot about travel too. We would watch many BBC and ITV programmes together when I am not at work and then analyse world events and people.
…So, she brought me a card and a gift on June 1st and asked me what I did on my birthday and I said to her I had lunch with a special friend at Harrods (with lots of cake). She exclaimed “June, that’s amazing, I used to love going there when I was younger – for tea. It’s my favourite place in the world for afternoon tea. The last time I was there was about 20 years ago and I have always asked Terry to take me there but the f***ng bugger just sits on his bum all day ordering me around…”, and then she would roll her eyes. I laughed so hard. I laughed, laughed and then said “Eileen, you are just a handful”. Stories about Terry is for another day.
She is a typical English traditional lady who loves to curse and I love that we can curse together when we make conversation. I said to her… “20 years is a long time not to visit for a place you loved to hang out…I will book us a table for tea, Eileen…”. She was elated and her face shone with so much light and excitement. She told me “I would absolutely love that, I will look forward to that June”.
I made a reservation. I did. It was a month later.
On that faithful day, I took her in my hand, we head to Knightsbridge, we were sat there having afternoon tea at the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods, Eileen’s favourite place in the world. The waiter poured her milk first! She is a happy girl. She beamed from ear to ear. I am glad I brought back beautiful memories to her heart. We had a great time. Love this lady, Eileen Caesar. x