Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is the youngest city I have ever been to and it looks like the young development that it is. The whole of Dubai sprang up only a few decades ago so everything looks new, clean and oddly perfect. It felt like walking into a new but furnished mansion that hasn’t been lived in. Dubai looks like a “show city”, the perfect city you sell to people, a dream, an aspiration.

View of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa

However, there is an area in the city called old Dubai, which I will talk about later on. Now old Dubai looks more like a well-lived in space with all the quirks, character and anomalies that emerge as things get older.

I was in Dubai for 4 and a half days in November 2019, which was a pleasant time to go as its their “winter”, meaning the sun isn’t so hot that you’re tempted to peel your own skin off. We had bearable temperatures of about 20 to 25 degrees celsius during the day which is my happy place, weather-wise.

I stayed at Five hotel. As at November, 2019, the hotel had only been open for a few months. It is cool and fresh, with interesting architecture – the whole 50 something floors of the hotel is in a cylindrical structure. Never stayed in a circular hotel before! Talk about thinking out of the box, literally! The hotel is definitely geared towards young 20 somethings (or the young at heart) as the pool side is a makeshift bar with loud music playing from afternoon till evening almost daily.

So, what did I get up to in this Emirati City?

  • Desert Experience – I had an amazing afternoon/evening organised by an experience curating company called Carlton Noble Group. We were picked up by a four by four at around 3pm. The vehicle could fit 6 people, and already had one couple in it when myself and my friend were picked up. We collected one more couple from their hotel and then headed to the desert. We went dune bashing (where the four by four takes us on a rollercoaster ride up and down the many dunes), quad biking and camel back riding. We also watched a nice show out in the desert under the night sky – there were dancers and a fire breather. The food served was simple but delicious and even had vegetarian options (Hello, I’m Sope and I’m a Vegetarian). A henna service was also part of the experience. We were delivered back to our hotel around 10pm that same day. I was pleased we went for the Carlton Noble option as it meant less crowds. As said earlier, there were 6 people in our car whom we had most of the experiences with, so no waiting around for quad bikes or anything. Also, at the location, (where we watched the night entertainment) there was only about 40 of us all together. On our way to the location, we saw other groups having similar experiences in much bigger groups. We paid a little more for our less crowded experience and it was worth every penny.

  • The Burj Khalifa – Of course we went up the Burj Khalifa – but it was my least favourite experience in Dubai. You know how our desert experience was amazing because we were in a small group? Well, our Burj Khalifa experience was meh, because it was way too busy and crowded – understandably so. We got our tickets online and the ticket included a visit to the Burj and also entrance to the Dubai Mall Aquarium. We paid about $60 for both sites and I believe entry to just the Burj costs the same amount, so I am happy we found this bargain. The Burj is stunning and breathtaking – when you are looking at it from outside on the ground. The Burj becomes a gigantic screen after 6pm showing colourful graphics just as the famous Dubai Fountain displays, just beside it, begins. Experiencing the Burj Khalifa from the outside is fun and less claustrophobic. You really do appreciate human ingenuity. Inside, however, there are way too many people, so the queues are quite long, except you get some sort of queue-jumping ticket. Once up the Burj, there are people everywhere fighting for the best spots to take panoramic pictures of sprawling Dubai and the Gulf Sea below. We struggled to take good pictures with our phone cameras and finding a clear vantage spot to take a picture was next to impossible. Once you finally get a spot, you can’t comfortably stay there long enough to get a good shot as you can see others wanting to use that same spot huffing, puffing and staring at you, waiting for your exit from the prime piece of space. By the way, most tourists, like ourselves, can only get to the 124th floor of the Burj as opposed to the actual top floor which is the 163rd.
The Burj Khalifa
Selfie atop the Burj Khalifa
  • Dubai Fountain – The glorious Dubai fountain, located beside the Burj Khalifa, deserves a mention of its own. It is the world’s largest choreographed water fountain display. The display is on at certain times of the day and it is just an amazing creative spectacle. The company behind building the fountain is the same one responsible for the famous fountain in Las Vegas by the Bellagio Hotel. Apparently, the music that is played alongside the water display is tightly controlled and chosen by either the company that operate it or by EMAAR Properties, the developer.
  • Aquaventure – I LOVE water and I love slides and rollercoasters. So, for me, waterparks are the perfect combination! I recently learnt to swim (a story for another day) and going to a waterpark was a perfect way to celebrate and try out my new found confidence in water. I have been to a waterpark before in Greece, but I spent a lot of the time slightly paranoid that I may drown and latching on to my friends legs to buoy myself. This time, at Aquaventure waterpark in Dubai, I handled myself in water much better. I loved Aquaventure, it is not an overwhelming park in the sense that you can go on all the rides in a day easily and also go to the beach. However, it is overpriced as these sorts of places always are. I did cringe forking out over £70 for the experience but I REALLY wanted to go as I REALLY LOVE waterparks! Aquaventure is right beside the humoungous Atlantis hotel on the Palm. There is also a Dolphin experience next to Aquaventure, where you can watch Dolphin shows and swim with them. You need a separate ticket for that. After splashing, sliding and floating around at Aquaventure, we had a more sedate experience at Hakkasan, the famous International Chinese restaurant which is also at Atlantis, so a few mins walk from Aquaventure. I highly recommend Aquaventure. If you do go, let me know how the Leap of Faith body slide is, I did not have the courage to make that drop….
  • Old Dubai – You must visit old Dubai. Old Dubai is really nothing like the Dubai you see on TV. It is more traditional and not as perfect as “new” Dubai. It’s in old Dubai you will find the souks such as the spice and gold souks. We got to old Dubai by crossing a river on a 1AED per person boat which was a nice chill evening experience before our wander in the markets. You can also just get a cab to old Dubai if you’d rather. Old Dubai is more vibrant and less plasticy. New Dubai is like your glossy perfect over-achieving cousin and old Dubai is the spontaneous rogue cousin that doesn’t care what you think of them and their crazy hair.
  • The Dubai Mall – Now I can’t talk about Dubai and not talk about the consumerist temple that is the Dubai Mall! People actually come to Dubai solely to shop at this vast outlet which boasts thousands of stores. Apparently, in 2011, the mall attracted more visitors than the whole of New York City! The mall is so huge that it has a luxury hotel, an ice rink, an aquarium (which I visited) and many other attractions besides shops. It really is a mind boggling experience to be in a mall that huge. I usually hate malls as I prefer an outdoor shopping experience, I tend to fill jammed in inside enclosed malls but for some reason I didn’t feel as claustrophobic as I thought I would at the Dubai Mall. I would suggest that the Dubai Mall management initiates indoor scooters or motorised vehicles of some sort that people can hire, because after a while, it becomes an existential pain in the back to take even one more step.
Inside the Dubai Mall

I also visited the Dubai Mall aquarium which was a part of my Burj Khalifa package, the aquarium is much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. On the outside, you get a sneak peek of all sorts of sea life including sharks and huge sting rays. Inside, however, there are many more creatures including two enormous crocodiles to see and birds flying around freely.

Dubai is quite an expensive place to be in but like most places in the world, you can always find restaurants and hotel options that are more pocket-friendly if you look close enough. Something else not to miss out on is the variety of cuisines available in Dubai. Dubai is made up of over 70% internationals, so local Emiratis are actually in the minority. Hence, there are restaurants offering delicacies from all over the world.

In terms of hospitality, I found the people welcoming and kind generally speaking and I also felt safe through out my stay even late at night when outside.

A note on what to wear – Although Dubai is in the UAE which of course is a conservative muslim nation, you can dress as you please there. Dress the way you’d normally dress in the summer, and for most people this includes shorts and tank tops. Don’t wear anything crazy, as I assume you won’t at home, and you’ll be fine.

I really enjoyed my final trip of the year in Dubai and if there is one place I wish I went to and didn’t, it would be the Burj al Arab, which is the iconic sail boat structure that houses a seven star hotel. They do high tea and brunches and if it wasn’t that we’d run out of time, I’d have loved to go.

Delicious Dates from Bateel

Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey

Turkey was my first venture into the Arab world and it was as vibrant as expected.

I aim to celebrate each birthday in a different part of the world and this year was not any different – I celebrated my last year in my 20s in Turkey!

Istanbul has the buzz and hustle of most big cities across the world. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the bazaars – I love markets. I usually hate crowds but I can abide the madness of a good market, I am after all a true Lagosian. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is apparently one of the biggest covered markets in the world. It is crammed full of stalls, merchants, their wares, shoppers and tourists. The Grand Bazaar has on offer a wide variety of things and I was especially taken over by the spices and teas! Everyauthentic market always has an abundance of merchants feverishly calling out for you, and it’s no different when at the Grand Bazaar. The only thing is the soliciting for customers turns weird when it happens to be three Black women (me and my friends) who are the buyers. The sellers, all men (I don’t recall seeing any female sellers) kept calling us various female African-American celebrities – from “Beyonce” to “Rihanna” 🥴. It’s getting old (was the same in Greece too).

 

Something I highly recommend experiencing whilst in Istanbul is to take the 45min (about, there is a fast boat and a much slower one. We took the faster option) boat ride to Buyukada Island. It is the largest of the 9 Prince’s Islands. Its a serene dream! It has no cars except working vehicles like trucks, and I only saw a couple of those. The main mode of moving around especially for tourists is by horse and carriage. The houses are huge and terraced. There is greenery everywhere. It looked like what I imagine a Caribbean Island to be. Some people find the Island depressing and indeed it is an Island that feels trapped in time but I found it to be a respite from the bustle of Istanbul main land.

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We also visited the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia started out as a Greek Orthodox cathedral AD 537 and at that time was an architectural feat! The Blue Mosque seemed to be undergoing some sort of renovation when we went in May, 2019 but I still found it worth seeing. Especially memorable was me and my friend trying to sneak in with what is considered inappropriate clothing and being caught swiftly by one of the guards who yelled “dress problem!” I suppose we wouldn’t have gotten far anyways even if we made it into the mosque. Thankfully, there is a place nearby to rent long skirts and scarves for free. A more sensible approach is to plan ahead and wear a long skirt/trousers and bring a scarf along. That way you avoid having to wear borrowed, possibly rarely washed, oversized garments 🤷🏾‍♀️.

On one of the evenings in Istanbul we went on a boat cruise. It had belly dancers and whirling dervishes and a very fun MC. My advice with this is to pay more to go on a classier cruise. Ours, though fun, was a bit over-packed and the food could have been better. We saw other nicer and quieter boats pass by and wished we’d paid a bit more to go on one of those.

Also, we had a Turkish bath at one of the oldest Hammams in the city and felt like new people afterwards! There are several things you really must do whilst in Turkey such as having delicious Turkish delights and visiting bazaars, another must-do is having a Turkish bath, it is purely mandatory. This is the one we went to, which I highly recommend.

CAPPADOCIA

The highlight of my time in Turkey was in Cappadocia. Cappadocia is a semi-arid region in Turkey which is about half an hours flight from Istanbul. It felt like being on Mars… with scores hot air balloons (instead of space ships) floating around. For most people, Cappadocia would fit on their ‘World’s Remarkable Places’ list. Jutting out of the ground all over Cappadocia are conical natural rock/sand formations. It does make you feel like you have left planet earth.

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There are various tours of Cappadocia and there is quite a lot to see from sprawling underground cities that hid thousands of refugees to churches carved into rocks. The popular tours are named after colours and I went on the Green Tour which is a day tour starting at 9am and ending at 6pm. You are picked up and dropped off at your hotel. On this tour I went to the Goreme Open Air Museum, Pigeon Valley, a Turkish Jewellery shop (featuring the most beautiful precious and semi-precious stones), a gift shop (which I am sure the tour company struck some sort of deal with which meant they dropped scores of tourists at the shop everyday as an ‘opportunity to try Turkish sweets’) and Ihlara Valley. I actually spent most of my birthday trekking though the Ihlara Valley, which is the second largest canyon in the world. The trek ended in a restaurant selling not great food, but the outdoor seating by a long stream in the depths of the valley made it bearable.

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Cappadocia is very famous for its cave hotels and we stayed in one of them. Again, it was quite the experience, being shrouded around by cool rock walls in the belly of the caves (ok, I exaggerate, not really the belly of the caves like the photo above of me in one of the many underground cities, more like at the precipice of a cave…)but I found it quite calming and grounding.

Istanbul and especially, Cappadocia were a delight and Cappadocia really did feel like an outer-worldly experience. Turkey is truly a city offering many worlds; it straddles both Asia and Europe,  Christianity and Islam. It’s spices and teas are reminiscent of the east and empires long gone. It truly is an exquisite ride on a pendulum that swings in many directions.

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What Traveling Taught me About Race

Stereotypes are still prevalent

There are archaic stereotypes attached to being Black that are still unashamedly thriving in parts of the world. Living in a country like the UK, where racism is more subtle, can easily numb one to the fact that there are places where people still hold obscenely derogatory beliefs about Black people and are guided, in their relations with Black people, by this misunderstanding. In other words, you might experience blatant racism when traveling. The bulk of this travel-related racism is pure ignorance and a lack of understanding on what not to say to or ask a Black person due to the fact that these people have little or no day-to-day interactions with Black people or may have never met one before. Some are down to lazy inane thinking, where people believe that what they see in the media and entertainment, as a representation of Black people, is actually true of ALL Black people, while a few will be conscious malignant discrimination. In my experience of traveling, I have only experienced the latter once

 

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Madrid, Spain

People are able to dismantle stereotypes

Though stereotypes exist as mentioned previously, people are capable of overlooking surface level differences between themselves and the Black traveler. Travel has the power to restore your faith in humanity. The joys of travel outweigh the negatives and not even racial differences have caused any issues which have made me second guess my love for travel. This is because I have never received really bad treatment due to race whilst traveling. As said earlier, I have only experienced blatant racism once, so far, as a traveler. I have mostly found that people from different cultures and backgrounds, who look nothing like me or who have never met someone like me have been very welcoming and open. I have been housed and fed by strangers, befriended by people with whom I had no language in common, involved in deep conversations with strangers in strange places and invited to family dinners where I stuck out due to the hue of my skin. Travel truly does show that in the end, we are all commonly human.

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Being Colorblind is NOT ideal

Great discussions have been borne from my Blackness/African culture. We all know those moments when someone tries to skirt around the obvious fact that you are Black and it becomes this awkward elephant in the room. I prefer our differences to be celebrated not buried or worse, white-washed. We are who we are and the colour of our skin brings stories, cultures, traditions and rich histories. All these are the basis for great midnight conversations in foreign countries surrounded by the unfamiliar but feeling weirdly at home because you are given a platform to be you and discuss being you. Often, in countries where Black people are a minority, people are very open to hearing about you and your life and this sheer curiosity has made discussing race less tense. It is not my job to educate others on race and Blackness, there are plenty of books for this. But having an open dialogue where we bond over the similarities and differences in our culture can be fruitful for both parties.

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Money > Race

To put it crassly, no one cares about the colour of your skin as long as your wallet has hard currency. People will bend over backward, in most circumstances, to get a hand on that cash of yours and do all the boot licking necessary. I am not unaware of the fact that being a Black tourist might prove to be very different from being a Black immigrant. A Black tourist is often seen as a walking ATM machine as are all other races of tourists, on the other hand, a Black immigrant is usually seen very differently. A Black immigrant is often seen as a taker, someone who comes to take things away from the host community such as jobs or housing. A Black tourist, on the other hand, is usually seen more as a giver, as they are often purely consumers with no request/need for social benefits such as housing or jobs hence they are not “competing” with the locals.

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Bexley, England

You’ll Always Discover Similarities

No matter how different you think you are from the people in a country you travel to, you will find that you have common ground and usually more than you may have expected. I am always amazed at how at home I feel in some countries, such as parts of Italy. Usually, values such as respect and community are found in these collectivist societies which immediately transport me back to Nigeria. Travel throws a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliarity at the traveler but you will also find cases of familiarity which offer comfort and a serving of home.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Being Black doesn’t obstruct travel though it gives the experience a certain hue. In my experiences, openness is more common than discrimination – as curious as the traveler is, so is the host, both parties are inquisitive and usually both open.

I dare say if you want to escape subtle or more blatant discrimination due to race in your home country, become a traveler.

*Please note that all the above relate mostly to my experience of being a Black traveler as opposed to a Black immigrant.

Back from Sabbatical 😁

Beside, The Astronaut, one of Berlin’s most famous street art

I am back!

It is weird to see how time flies by looking at the last time I posted on my beloved blog, africanwildflower – BUT..I am back now and have blown the dust off this collection of travel experiences.

Since my last post about Hungary, I have been to 10 new countries which I can’t wait to tell you about. In addition, I now have a goal to hit 30 countries by 30, which was inspired by a colleague who aimed, and succeeded, at reaching 25 countries by the age of 25!

Here’s to keeping the africanwildlflower fire burning!

Budapest, Hungary – The City of Baths

Budapest is definitely the most unlikely city I have visited so far. By unlikely, I mean it was never on my “top ten” list of places to go and it seems not to be on the list of many people as my sister’s exclamation of “what are you doing in Budapest??”when I sent pictures to my siblings whatsapp group, shows.

The Danube

In short, Budapest was not planned. My friend and I had some other destination we wanted to visit, but the cost of accommodation and flights put us off. Just when we were about to pause on travelling at all, Budapest happened.

Heroes Square (Hosok Tere)

Kossuth Lajos ter


We were in Budapest in the middle of June – the heat was debilitating. However, thanks to the many baths and spas that Budapest is famous for – cooling off was never far away.

The first thing that struck me about Budapest was how manageable the crowd was. For a capital city, it didn’t feel as overwhelming as London but still managed to feel exciting. The people were also very polite, from strangers on the road to hotel staff.

Budapest isn’t the cheapest city I have been to but it is definitely not expensive either. It took me a while to get used to the conversion rate, for some reason, and truly understand the value of things but I can say it was a moderately affordable city. For me, Bogota, is the cheapest city I’ve been to where I would go on a 45mins Uber ride and pay less than £10!

Baths

Gellerts


We had the opportunity to visit 2 thermal baths whilst in Budapest – Gellerts and Szechenyi. Gellerts bath is elegant whilst Szechenyi is hip. Szechenyi was full of young people in their early twenties whilst Gellerts was more family friendly. Szechenyi was bigger and had glum, wet changing stalls that seemed to go on forever, my friend likened it them to prison cells and I don’t disagree, Gellerts, on the other hand is smaller and it’s changing stalls bore little similarities to a penitentiary. I won’t suggest one over the other as they were both fun and relaxing just with different vibes. Szechenyi’ yellow buldings is especially picturesque.
Jewish District

Budapest’s Jewish district is the soul of the city and you immediately feel a shift in vibe when you get there. The second biggest synagogue in the world, and the largest in Europe, is located here and so are several boutique restaurants and street art. Where the street art is, is usually where the most passion in a city lies – at least this is what I believe.

Cuisine

In relation to cuisine, I will say as a legit foodie, who has eaten food from different cultures, that the Hungarian delicacies did not disappoint. My favourite was this pancake stuffed with chicken soaked in a paprika stew. Typical of how I relate to international foods, I do not remember the name but I hope the description is crisp enough to help you find it if you ever go to Hungary. Goulash was also a staple in most restaurants we went to and is definitely something to eat in Hungary.

I can recommend 3 restaurants in order of amazingness which must not be missed if you’re in Budapest:

Bobyglar – this restaurant fell into our laps as we wondered away from Hosok Tere, a square with statues of important figures in Hungary’s history. It’s similar in structure, and its location centrally at a big crossroads, to Trafalgar Square in London. Of course, it was nowhere near as chaotic as Trafalgar Square but it was still beautiful and full of history.

Anyways, we wandered away from this monument and staggered hungrily into the hobbit-home-looking building to find a nicely furnished restaurant which had an outside seating area that we immediately settled into. The staff were top-notch and I will give not just the delicious food 5 stars, but also the service we received.

Cafe New York – Tagged the most beautiful cafe in the world, this is an absolute must-visit. I have never been to a restaurant that opulent and extravagant, let alone a cafe that exquisite. You might actually be intimidated by the setting and assume your pocket won’t survive the visit. For a place as beautiful as a palace, the Cafe is unbelievably affordable. It’s also a great place for taking unrivalled photos.

Mazel Tov – Tucked in the Jewish district is this Israeli restaurant which has sections outdoors whilst their indoor area is covered with clear canopies. It is teeming with greenery so that even when you are inside, you feel like you are outside. The food was was delightful – I had a sharwama that tasted authentic, fresh and delicious. To make the already charming atmosphere more special, there was live music by this guy with a guitar who sang heart-wrenching love songs all night.

Budapest is a truly beautiful city! The wide streets, yellow trams, Jewish district and Moorish architecture made Budapest feel idyllic and like a cross breed between Portugal, San Francisco and Tel Aviv (none of which I’ve been to, but Pinterest pictures tell you a lot).

Budapest is not very diverse, in the sense that non-White people are a rarity, so my friend and I were stared at quite a bit, but we have become used to this as we often find ourselves in situations where we stand out. If you’ve travelled through most countries in Europe as a Black person, you won’t find the stares in Budapest shocking. In fact, the stares were milder than I have experienced in other countries such as in areas of Greece or the South of Italy were I almost stopped traffic.
Budapest was an unexpected trip that has now become an unforgettable experience.

Venice, through the eyes of a Zimgirl

Hello All, 

This post, about the beautiful Venice, is a piece by my friend and fellow travel blogger, Goitsimang Makanda! You can find her witty blog on WordPress here. I am sure you’ll enjoy this post and it’s colourful pictures as much as I did!

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Venice is one of those cities that I’ve spent years drooling over the pictures and reading travel blogs about. Its waterways and bridges have long been plastered on my Pinterest boards. I just had to see it in person and my 27th birthday presented the perfect opportunity for a cultured weekend break.
Venice is a marvel of engineering, perfectly situated across a group of 118 small islands, separated by canals and linked together by bridges. This city of water is nothing short of a dream land.


I arrived at midnight and even under moonlight, you could still appreciate Venice’s untampered beauty. I stepped off the ferry and was confronted by the breath-taking beauty and romance of the city. Under the moonlight, the buildings were gleaming, standing tall in their ornate grandeur. It felt like I’d stepped back in time. The city is oozing with character and authenticity. There is no pretentiousness. I completely fell in love and our walk through the narrow lanes to our hotel filled me with so much excitement. I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise so I could see the city in its full glory.

I booked to spend 3 full days in Venice. The spontaneity in the way the trip was planned meant that I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do or see till I got there. Luckily, the owner of the gorgeous guest house I stayed in was more than happy to drop her pearls of wisdom about all things fabulous in Venice. This invaluable local insight, in conjunction with the help of the Get Your Guide app helped us make the most of our time there.

So, instead of boring you with how we woke up every morning and had breakfast on a terrace overlooking Venice’s tiled roofs and gorgeous canals, I thought I’d just give you a breakdown of the highlights. 

1. The three-island tour.

I usually HATE organised tours. It’s that feeling of being a herded sheep I cannot stand. But this one was so worth it due to the limited time we had.We used the Get Your Guide app to book the tour and it was perfect. All the tour company did was to drop us off at the location and then they told us what time to come back, so we were free to wander, marvel and explore. 

First, we visited the Murano Island where famous Murano Glass makers can be found. There we had the opportunity to watch a glassblower practice his craft, followed by a tour of the workshop gallery, showcasing breathtaking glass items made by the Master Glass Blowers. It’s amazing what you can do with glass, from the fluorescent coloured chandeliers to the grand floral mirrors, each petal and leaf painstakingly crafted in glass.

Next, we went to the island of my dreams. Burano. Imagine a rainbow just exploded and covered all the houses in bright happy colours. That’s Burano! The houses on this island are an eclectic mix of broad and vibrant colours. Every single house was the backdrop for a stunning picture. 

The last island was Torcello, which had some of the coolest bridges I’d seen in my time in the region. Torcello also had historical churches which are well preserved and I enjoyed the best fast food I’ve ever had there! 


2. The Libreria Acqua Alta

As an avid reader and lover of bookshops and libraries, I couldn’t leave Venice without visiting the Acqua Alta library. It was everything and more. The eclectic mixture of books was a reader’s dream. What makes the bookshop so unique and special is the presentation of the books. In the centre of the store, you find a gondola packed with books and as you walk about the store you will also find bathtubs filled with books. My favourite pastime is sitting in the bath with a good book. I have so many water-stained books at home so seeing this literature filled baths made my heart smile. 


3. The Gondola

“You can’t go to Venice without going for a Gondola ride” – That’s what everyone back home was saying to me when I told them I was in Venice. Personally, I didn’t see what the hype was about, it’s an overpriced ride on a long boat seeing the exact same sights I can appreciate by foot. But anyway, peer pressure got the best of me and I gave in. We found an experience deal on the Get Your Guide app for €27. 

I’m glad I had the experience. It was the perfect goodbye to this incredible city. Everything looked so different when gazing from the water. It was very peaceful and serene as we floated through the canals. The views were spectacular, including our hunky gondola driver (I’m sure that’s not what they are called?)! What they say about Italian men is true! Phwoaaarr!!!


 4. Getting Lost in Paradise

The super cool thing about Venice is that it’s a pedestrian-friendly city. There are so many picturesque and narrow alley ways and bridges connecting different parts of the city that it’s easy to get lost exploring. In almost every square you find something new. A cluster of unique shops or cafes, or my favourite, old grand buildings and churches with the most amazing doors. I loved wandering into the residential areas, seeing the clothes hanging up high and seeing native Venetians go about their day. They must feel like fish in a bowl. Tourist eyes peering into their private courtyards with vulgar curiosity. I’d have loved an opportunity to go into one of their homes. 

Now, before you start thinking we are uncultured – we of course also visited St Mark Square. How could we not? 

It was as incredible as the guide books said it was. 

I easily can rave about the beauty of Venice all day long but I must highlight at least one thing that annoyed me: Venice is EXPENSIVE!!! Getting food, particularly in the more central parts, is costly. Every restaurant seems to have an obligatory 12% service charge (but I must say the service is top notch, everywhere I went I felt welcomed and the waiters were consistently attentive) and an extra charge, ‘Coperto’, which is basically a charge for you sitting down. The mistake we made was going to eat in St Mark’s Square, as its more central, it’s pricier. I suggest eating at around lunch time as the lunch menus are cheaper. On a positive note, the food was incredible, I can still taste the mouth-watering carbonara I had on my first day. And the Bellini!!! OMG, that was incredible.

Oooooh and the freaking pigeons. OMG! Now everyone who knows me knows I have a profound phobia of winged creatures. The St Mark’s Square area is infested with the flying rats and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw people having them perch on them as they posed for pictures! One particularly distressful episode was when I was happily enjoying my Lasagne on one of the terraces and the woman on the adjacent table decided it was a good idea to start feeding her bread to the already obese pigeons. They were flapping all around my legs and almost gave me a heart attack. So, if you’re like me and you hate pigeons then avoid eating around St Mark’s Square.
 Other than those minor annoyances, Venice is spectacular and I highly recommend you go. 

London Series – Part 2, Kew Gardens

So I began my London Series with Columbia Flower Market and it is honestly a coincidence that the long overdue instalment also has a lot of flowers and plants involved.

I visited Kew Gardens with my mother a while back and we totally underestimated how huge the Gardens are. I recommend at least half a day to fully enjoy the wonders within the Gardens!

I truly felt like Alice in Wonderland the whole time 💐🌼🌻💃🏾

Enough of the talking and enjoy the sights from magnificent Kew Gardens!





Bogota, Colombia Part 2 – Graffiti 

Regardless of the fact that my stay in Bogota was quite short, I knew there were 2 things I had to do no matter what. The first was to go on the food tour by La Mesa, which I talk about in my previous post. The other was to go on the Bogota Graffiti Tour.

This was probably the highlight of my time in Bogota, which is shocking as I love my food! But I love street art and the stories they tell and how they define and redefine space. Bogota is full of beautiful street art from some of the world’s biggest street artists and I only saw a tip of the iceberg during my 3 hour tour. I must say that the Bogota Graffiti Tour are an amazing organisation and our tour guide was fantastic and very knowledgeable. The tour is free but tips are expected and encouraged! I bet you, after your tour you will be emptying your pockets and begging your tour guide to take all your money. It’s that great!

Little words are needed for this post as the pictures speak for themselves! It is so beautiful how the murals have molded themselves within their context, they look like they were always there and grew into the streets organically.

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Bogota, Colombia Part 1 – Delightful Cuisine

I just returned from Bogota, Colombia and to be honest it still feels like an amazing dream. I knew I’d get to travel the world but to be honest, some places just felt out of reach. Central and South America, yeah the whole region, felt like the stuff of wildest dreams – beautiful but beyond grasp. Well, I lived some of my wildest dreams a couple of days ago when I set foot on El Dorado Airport, Bogota.

First glimpse of South America 😱🎉

 

I was in Bogota for work but I had about 3 days to tour the capital of Colombia. Bogota is a beautiful but busy valley town, surrounded by the Andes. It is actually one of the highest cities in the world and you do lose your breath very quickly up there. 

I was in a consumers heaven whilst I was in Bogota because of the favourable exchange rate. Whilst I was there, £1 was about 4000 Colombian Peso! And things are more affordable there than in London, of course! For instance a 45min Uber ride cost just about £6 max.

My first full day of mooching started with a food tour by La Mesa Tour. Now, up until this trip, I didn’t know food tours existed. When I did find out though, I knew I had to go on one in Bogota come what may. I love food and seeing new places and this sounded like a great combination of both and it was. Not only did we get to eat a number of authentic Colombian and Bogotan cuisine, we also got some cultural sights thrown in! Our tour guide was amazing and very helpful, despite the fact that I was late (totally nothing to do with the fact that I’m Nigerian 😳) and held the whole group up. 

Three things to note about Colombian cuisine:

  • Big portions
  • Loads of meat
  • They love their plantain and make it in different ways! 

I do not remember the names of any thing I ate as they were all in Spanish of course and my brain doesn’t memorise anything Spanish as I don’t speak it. So all the names went in one ear and escaped out of the other. However, I remember 2 things, one was Ajiaco. Ajiaco is specific to Bogota and I had read prior to coming to Colombia that it was a must eat. Ajiaco is deliciously overwhelming. It has a lot going on as you can see below and portion sizes,as said earlier, are humongous. I don’t think I ever finished a meal whilst there, sadly. 

Ajiaco 😋

 

The second unforgettable edible was a drink called Chicha- fermented maize drink. Apparently, to get the real deal, the maize is masticated and spat out, the saliva works its magic and ferments the maize and voila you have your appetising Chicha. Ours was not made like that we were told though….let’s  just say the drink and I didn’t get along.

Chicha

 

I had many meals whilst in Colombia, but the food tour definitely helped get me stuck in really quick especially as I had so little time in the City.

A couple of popular places I went to eat in the city were Andres Carnes de res and Crepes y Waffles. Andres Carnes is the wildest restaurant I have ever been to, but I should have known. A restaurant that focuses solely on serving large portions of meat on platters would soon get crazy. The restaurant was huge and quirky, with performers milling around, dressed to impress and doing  interesting little shows. After eating or during eating, people get up to dance salsa and they keep going till morning fuelled by beef and pork.

Rapidly emptying meat platters at Andres Carnes de res 🎉💃🏾🍗🍖


Crepes y Waffles is an altogether different kind fo restaurant perhaps more of what most people conjure up in their minds eye when they think of restaurants. In short, it was more sedate in comparison to Andres Carnes de res.

Crepes y Waffles is extra special because it has a unique social action ethos – all its waiters are single mothers! It was super cool and had a great menu. Most people ordered sensible dishes for dinner but since it was called Crepes y Waffles, I decided to go for a waffle. I had such a great experience there that when leaving Colombia, I had my last meal on the continent at Crepes y Waffles at the airport – this time I had a bolognese crepe!

Waffles at Crepes y Waffles

Bolognese Crepe at Crepes y Waffles

 

Other delightful meals I had during my stay in Bogota are visually represented below. I apologise for two things; I do not remember what most are called and secondly, I am sorry you can only see and not taste 😋




Lagos, Nigeria – Chaotic Bliss

Lagos is chaos that manages to work. Like a piece of machinery that has all of its bits and bobs hanging loose but still manages to function. It’s chaotic harmony though sometimes just plain chaos.

Been looking forward to the day when I get to write about Nigeria, after all that’s where I was born and bred.

Finally, the time has come!

I went back home to Lagos a few days ago having been away from its blissful chaos for 4 years. The last time I went back I was surprised to find that I had completely deacclimatised from Lagos and it’s madness and friends literally had to hold my hand to cross the road! There was so much going on all at once, which really sums up Lagos, that crossing the road became mission impossible.

I especially enjoyed seeing all the colourful trees in full bloom , Lagos is truly evergreen.Returning to see the skeletal trees in London would be a shock.

Fast forward 4 years on from my last visit, I hardly noticed a drastic change from London to Lagos despite the obvious differences. I fit right into Lagos life and had my “Lagos Sense” on a 100% (there’s an extra sense that you possess that only works in Lagos, it basically is a hyper sensitivity of all your other senses and a heightened awareness of your surroundings in addition, your brain is at optimum efficiency. Without Lagos sense in Lagos, you will quickly be outsmarted, outwitted and overwhelmed)

Can I start by saying thank God for Uber in Lagos. That’s how I mostly got around and it made nowhere seem beyond my reach. Also, Uber drivers make great conversations from talk about “Herculean tasks” to “bunch of aliens” (i.e.danfo drivers) to start-up fashion businesses to life threatening stops by major roads to get puff puff. 

My first stop in Lagos was Nike Art Gallery which was way beyond what I had expected. The gallery hosts hundreds of masterpieces made from artists all over the country. Stunning pieces that take your breath away and force you to stand and stare at their glorious beauty. Every single piece of painting or sculpture was pure artistic genius. The gallery was three floors high and stacked to the brim with art.

It is located in Lekki, Lagos and is a must-see!

Nike Art Gallery

Nike Art Gallery

Nike Art Gallery

 

Still on the Island in Lagos,(Lagos is divided into mainland and the island) I visited Terra Kulture. Terra Kulture is a popular spot in Nigeria to hang out as it has everything. It has a great restaurant serving some authentic dishes, it hosts a well stocked book shop which also has pieces such as African print wallets and bags and fridge magnets which tourists will love. On the top floor is situated a small art gallery which has some amazing pieces. So you get a really satisfying visit here. They are currently extending property and will continue to host theatrical shows as well. Terra Kulture is very Nigerian and was created to laud Nigerian creativity and inspire a desire to be educated on things Nigerian. You will often see people with their laptops working in the book shop. It’s a cool creative space.

Terra Kulture

Some other places I went to which might be helpful information are:

The Nail Studio 

Location – 9 Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Lagos Island

The studio offers more than just a nail bar, and is well equipped for beauty needs. I got a gel manicure and my first pedicure in a very loooong time!

KL’s Naturals Salon

Location – 29C Ikorodu Crescent, Dolphin Estate Lagos

I have been following this natural hair salon for almost a year on instagram, gazing in admiration at the amazing up-dos and styles created with natural hair. Of course, I had to go visit when I was in Lagos.

Now, I have been natural for over 2 years and only been to a natural hair stylist once. It was a bad experience and I had a pulsating scalp for over a week after the violent hair combing I experienced. I hardly comb my Afro hair and always finger detangle hence I am terrified of combs, especially wielded by other people, anywhere near my hair.

I was a bit nervous about visiting another hair stylist after my horror experience at the other stylist in London, however, I left happy and with a spring in my step after visiting KL’s naturals! They took the time to gently finger detangle my matted hair, which immediately impressed me. My hair wasn’t touched by a comb until the stylist had made sure my hair was well finger detangled and deep conditioned, then she gently combed my hair. I also had a trim and a blow dry which just exploded my usually shrunken hair into a lions mane. I was happy to better see how long my hair really was. To tame the mane, I asked for a French braid which was done really well and I was on my jolly way. If you have natural hair and are in Lagos just go to KL’s naturals.

Now something that may sound strange which I did a lot of in Lagos was go to the cinema. I watched 4 movies in less than 2 weeks because they were so cheap. You can watch a movie for as little as 500 Naira (£1) in Lagos. Movies also come out in cinemas when they do in America, so I was able to watch movies that are not yet in the cinemas in London. If you think cinemas are overpriced in London, if you are ever in Nigeria make sure you watch as many movies as you can but not to the detriment of more culturally enlightening experiences of course…..

As a farewell, my big brother took me to this amazing restaurant called Nok by Alara, a contemporary restaurant with food from not just Nigeria but other African countries such as Ivory Coast. Not exactly sure what to call it as people seemed to know it as Alara, which is actually the luxury shop attached to the restaurant but the restaurant itself is called Nok.
It was obviously quite posh, asides the fact it had a beautiful luxury boutique shop attached to it selling brands such as YSL. The decor was exquisite and the staff were on tip top form. The seating outside the restaurant was really gorgeous with colourful woven seats scattered around. Our meal was quite expensive as far as prices in Lagos restaurants go and for the first time since I got to Nigeria, the portions were small. However, the food was really good.

Nok by Alara

Nok

Tilapia fish and Eko

Outside seating, Nok

Lagos was no where near as stressful as I envisaged it to be though like London it is an inherently stressful place because it’s perpetually buzzing. Lagos can be a relaxing holiday destination if you want it to be. If you however really want to get your teeth into the beast that is Lagos, you need to step out of your car or Uber and hit the streets, buy street food, go to open markets and of course take danfo i.e. Nigerian public buses, which are an experience all of their own. All life is represented in any one of those 13 seater buses you see crazily speeding round the city. They are microcosms of life’s complexities, I kid you not. They can very easily become a therapists office, a pharmacists desk, a comedy show or a court room.

*Asides Lagos, I also visited Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. To hear of my time here which included beautiful rock formations and more yummy food, please read the second part of this blog post which will follow shortly!