Books about places: Little Princes by Connor Grennan

From the pubs of Ireland last month to the mountains of Nepal, this month I read another first-person non-fiction book, this time about Nepal; which is definitely somewhere that’s on my bucket list. Little Princes is about an American volunteer’s experiences trying to reunite trafficked children with their parents; it’s heart-wrenchingly sad at times but fascinating and taught me a lot about a country I was pretty ignorant about.

Little Princes.jpg (sml)

Connor Grennan turned up at a Nepalese orphanage mostly to justify the frivolity of a round-the-world trip (by his own admission) but ended up caring deeply for the children he was looking after, who he was led to believe were orphans.

A chance encounter led to the discovery that one of the children in the orphanage was, in fact, not an orphan but a victim of child trafficking, too scared to tell the truth about his past. It emerged that many of the supposedly orphaned children in Kathmandu and beyond in fact still had living parents, and over a series of visits, by setting up his own non-profit, Connor set out to reunite them.

There’s more than a little bit of Americans-know-best and white-saviour-complex going on in Little Princes, but if you can take that for what it is, it’s an interesting read and a real eye-opener. The civil war that was fought very recently had barely registered on my radar at the time, but Little Princes explains who was fighting whom and why without getting bogged down in too much extraneous detail.

It’s also got some beautiful descriptions of some of the remote mountain villages in Nepal that the children were taken from, and from the complimentary picture that Connor paints of the Nepalese people, I think a trip will definitely have to be on the cards at some point in the future.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was almost in tears on the flight home from Marrakech when I was reading this book – so maybe don’t crack it open in public if you’re an emotional wreck like me!

20160321_175325

What have you been reading recently? Do you have any suggestions for my books about places series?

Sunday link round-up – 27.03.16

Someone on my Twitter feed last week said that Easter is the best of all the holidays, because you get two bank holidays and a good chunk of time off work, but there are none of the big meal/happy family time/board game expectations of Christmas. I thought it was a very astute observation indeed!

DSC_0785

I hope you’re having a lovely Easter break and stuffing your face with as much chocolate as one human can physically handle, because I believe that’s what it’s all about?

This is what I’ve been enjoying on the internet this week…

  • I always enjoy Desert Island Disks and I caught this one on Friday, in which the castaway is the amazing writer and feminist Gloria Steinem, who was an advocate for reproductive rights (among other things) long before it was socially acceptable. She sounds like a wonderful person and she made some great musical choices too!
  • Megan of Twenty-something Travel wrote about swimming with manatees in Florida, which sounds like a lot of fun – I’ve always wanted to swim with whales in the wild and this may have to go on the bucket list too.
  • Victoria Coren-Mitchell hit the nail on the head with this opinion piece about how there’s no grey area with child abuse
  • On a lighter note, this clay cactus bud vase on A Beautiful Mess is very cute and I’d love to try something similar.
  • And a recent dalliance with beautifully buttery pearl barley in Marrakech has inspired me to try using it in more dishes – starting with this delicious looking pearl barley and roasted beetroot salad from Amuse Your Bouche.

What to expect at a Moroccan hammam: Hammam Ziani review

I don’t know if I mentioned that I’ve just come back from Marrakech? I think my friends and family are pretty close to banning the m-word I’ve been raving about it so much.

What to expect visiting a Moroccan hammam

One of my favourite experiences in Morocco was visiting a hammam, which is somewhere between a spa, a public baths and the doctor. It’s a relaxing and you feel amazing afterwards, but don’t expect it to be anything like a spa in the west! You’ll be steamed, scrubbed and pummelled to within an inch of your life.

In a public hammam you take your own soaps, scrubs and even your bucket and just wash yourself down, but as I don’t speak Arabic, French or Berber and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I decided to choose one of the tourist-friendly hammams in Marrakech.

Choosing a hammam in Marrakech

IMG_20160314_132338

I visited Hammam Ziani after scrupulously checking Tripadvisor and other bloggers’ reviews to find the best tourist hammam. As far as I understand it’s a kind of middle ground between a cheap local public hammam and a posh hotel hammam. There were only a couple of options to choose from but the man on reception spoke fluent English, so communicating wasn’t a problem and I chose a 270dh (£20ish) package. It included the hammam as well as a 40 minute massage – a bit of a bargain if you ask me.

Finding anywhere in the Medina is pretty tricky, but relatively speaking it’s easy to find Hammam Ziani – walk out of Jemaa el-Fnaa square and under the sign for ‘Souk Kessabine’, take the first right after you come out of the other end of the roofed bit and keep going for about 10 minutes, until you see the camel mural above – the hammam is directly opposite. Alternatively, if you’ve got internet access, google maps will get you there.

The hammam experience

Once I’d paid up I was led away by an assistant in a western-style beauty therapist outfit, who took me into a changing room and showed me where there was a locker I could store my clothes in. I’d been given a pair of disposable paper undies, but having read up online beforehand, I’d come prepared and was wearing my bikini bottoms.

It was a little bit awkward because the attendant just sort of stood there and watched me take off everything but my bikini bottoms – I was REALLY happy that I didn’t have to change those too. There’s only so much awkwardness a prudish English girl can bear!

I’d gone on my own because the friend I was travelling with wasn’t up for it, which made walking around with my boobs out a bit less weird – but only a bit! I was led into a steam room which was totally empty except for me, and not that hot when we went in. 20160314_103054

Not for long though! The attendant left me there, something near the room started chuntering, and suddenly the room was filled with a LOT of steam. Like, can’t see more than a metre or so thick. I imagine if you were there with friends it would help to dial down the awkwardness that your wobbly bits are mostly obscured by steam.

I was left there to chill out (not literally!) for almost 20 minutes as I sweated out most of my body weight. I was pretty woozy by the time the attendant came to collect me, and she led me into another room where she sluiced me down with lovely hot water – even though it was hot it felt really refreshing after the close atmosphere of the steam room.

Using rudimentary sign language (because of the language barrier) she asked me to climb up onto a bed, where I laid on my front and she used a pumice stone, a wiry mitt and a healthy dose of black soap (savon noir) to scrub me within an inch of my life! It wasn’t exactly painful but it wasn’t the most comfortable either – I’d describe it as smarting rather than hurting. When I laid down on my back my attendant showed me some of the massive, disgusting bits of grey skin that had come off me – extremely satisfying!

She scrubbed absolutely every bit of my body, including my underarms, my boobs and even my face, which scared me a little bit because of the coarseness of the mitt! It made me feel like a little kid, being scrubbed up and washed down by a motherly figure, and despite my grave concerns about the public nudity, it didn’t really feel awkward at all.

All of the yucky dead skin was washed off me, and then I was led into another room with soft music and low lights for a whole body massage.

It took about 40 minutes and was the most thorough massage I have ever enjoyed! Starting at my feet, the therapist massaged every inch of me, from the balls of my feet to my scalp. It felt more remedial than wholly relaxing, but was a new woman when she was done! She had stretched my calf muscles out to release tension I didn’t know was there and even worked on the palms of my hands.

After she’d left me to relax for a few minutes I was led back into the scrubbing room where I was soaped down and rinsed off – my attendant even washed my hair, which was left feeling silky smooth because of the argan oil that my scalp was massaged with. I even had help drying my hair and getting into a bathrobe, then I was led back into the changing room and on to the lounge to sip mint tea.

20160318_111358 (1)

One of the only parts of the experience I didn’t like was that my assistant/massage therapist asked for a tip when we were done. I’d been told there were strictly no tips allowed and had no money with me besides what I’d paid with – plus because of language barriers it took me until I was changed and sipping mint tea in the lounge area to realise what she’d been asking. It wasn’t a big deal but it played on my mind and made me feel a little guilty, spoiling the end of the experience a little bit.

That aside, I loved surrendering myself to the hammam ladies and I felt relaxed and renewed, not to mention extremely soft, when I left. It’s pretty awkward to start with, but well worth getting over the cringe to enjoy an authentic hammam.

I visited Hammam Ziani in Marrakech Medina, where packages are between 270dh and 350dh, or £20-30ish. 

Short break in Marrakech

I just got back from a rather wonderful five days in Marrakech – and it’s definitely bagged a spot as one of my favourite ever destinations!

I’ll be reviewing some of the things we did and the places we ate and stayed in more detail at a later date, but for now, here are some photos and a few of my top picks for things to see and do on a short break to Marrakech.

12

Marrakech Menara is an absolutely beautiful airport – there’s something you don’t hear often! There’s an interesting looking extension being built right now, and this lovely canopy is over the front of the building.

20160318_144303 (1)

We stayed for five nights at an absolutely divine and criminally inexpensive riad – I’ll be doing a proper review of Riad Les Hibiscus in another post, but suffice to say I would wholly recommend it.

20160313_174452

After a couple of days exploring the city it was good to get out and see the Atlas Mountains up close and personal, en route to the spectacular Cascades d’Ouzoud.

DSC_0865 (1)

DSC_0960 (1)

The food in Marrakech is both very tasty and very cheap on the whole, but we splashed out on a couple of meals at Nomad and man, that food is something special. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the lamb and prune tagine with buttery barley – but the calamari in an anchovy and red pepper sauce was almost as good!

20160314_191739

Of course, I can’t talk about Marrakech without mentioning the amazing souks and how much more fun shopping is in Morocco. I got quite the haul of beautiful homewares, pretty scarves and exotic spices, but if you’re travelling hand luggage only, it’s just as fun to window-shop.

20160318_114855

20160318_110152

I’ll be posting loads more about my trip including a review of Riad Les Hibiscus, some of our favourite eateries and watering holes, what to expect from a trip to a hammam and why a trip to the Ouzoud Falls is SO WORTH IT. Keep your eyes peeled!

Have you been to Marrakech? What were your best bits?

Review: Sycamore Hill Airbnb, Sorrento

When we travelled to Italy last summer not many of our friends had used Airbnb, so we were going out on a bit of a limb by booking into Sycamore Hill B&B. We needn’t have worried, because it was a lovely experience from start to finish and very cheap.

We opted not to hire a car (which I don’t recommend…) and turned up at host Chiara’s doorstep very sweaty, stressed out and regretting that decision enormously. Chiara showed us into a huge room that was every bit as lovely as the photos and more.


Double bedroom in wonderful villa

(more…)

Sunday link round-up – 06.03.16

 

We celebrated Mother’s Day this morning with a brunch at home for my mum and grandma – I’m feeling like a bit of a domestic goddess after successfully making hollandaise sauce from scratch for our eggs benedict. Score! I hope you enjoyed your day as much as I did, whether you were with your mum or not.

flowers

Check out what I’ve been looking at on the interwebs this week below:

  • I adored Serial when it came out last winter, and Jasmine Charlotte’s round-up of similar true crime podcasts is something I can’t wait to get my teeth into.
  • The Night Manager is something I’ve heard people raving about over the last few weeks and I finally got around to watching it – it’s brilliant. Like Bond, but a bit smarter and more understated. Next on my list is Thirteen!
  • Life on the road as a trucker doesn’t exactly appeal to me, but Melissa Rojas, one of the few female truckers on the highways of America is a very interesting lady.
  • I discovered Josie of Sick Chick Chic‘s blog this week and spent a bit of time looking back through her archives – she’s a fashion blogger with Cystic Fybrosis and it’s interesting to learn a bit more about an illness I knew very little about.
  • I love cool design hotels but I don’t often have the dolla dolla to stay in them – Stylist has rounded up a few in Europe with rooms for less than £100 a night and some are even under £60! The picture below is The Daniel in Vienna where doubles start at just £76.
    Daniel, Austria
  • There’s definitely something voyeuristic about me and I adore the Experience series in the guardian, where one person describes an unusual event they’ve experienced. I spent a few hours trawling back through the archives this week, which was time well spent.

Books about places: McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy

As much as travelling is one of my favourite things to do, I love planning trips and reading about places I might like to go one day almost as much as I like actually going away.

I’m hoping that by reviewing (well, talking about) a book about somewhere different in the world each month I can expand my horizons and read a bit more.

McCarthys Bar collage

McCarthy’s Bar, by Pete McCarthy

As I mentioned before, my other half and I are planning a roadtrip around the perimeter of Ireland and Northern Ireland this summer/autumn. We’re planning to take the car across and drive mostly around the edge of the island, but some of the inland bits too, which was why when I spotted this in a charity shop I couldn’t resist.

It’s a first person piece of non-fiction about Pete McCarthy driving aimlessly around Ireland sort of trying to find himself, but mostly just trying to find a pub, and it’s really funny. According to Pete McCarthy:

The Eighth Rule of Travel states: Never Pass a Bar That Has Your Name On It. Other rules include: No. 7, Never Eat in a Restaurant with Laminated Menus; No. 13, Never Ask a British Airways Stewardess for Another Glass of Wine Until She’s Good and Ready; and No. 17, Never Try and Score Dope From Hassidic Jews While Under the Impression They’re Rastafarians.

The book is actually really quite old, it was published in 2000 so a lot of the information is wildly out of date but it’s already inspired my to add a few things to our itinerary – this Buddhist hostel on the edge of Cork with absolutely amazing views…

Dzogchen Beara

And the island of Inis Mor, where you can find this incredible ancient fort, Dún Aonghasa, looking out over the Atlantic ocean.

Dún Aonghasa

It’s very entertaining and a light read that won’t take you long to get through, but it definitely sparked my wanderlust, so a winner for me. For bonus points, I might re-read Round Ireland With a Fridge before we go, and see if it’s really as funny as 12yo me thought it was. I suspect not…

Travel with your tastebuds: Cheat’s smoked salmon ceviche with grapefruit and avocado

I’ve always wanted to go to South America, and I remain confident that I will do someday, but in the meantime ceviche is a pretty excellent way to pretend you’re in Peru. I first tried it at Andina in Shoreditch, had it again recently at Blixen and decided that I had to learn how to make it – the combination of sweet, salty and citrus flavours is absolutely addictive to me.

Final

(more…)

A Leap Day link round-up

I love round-ups of links on other people’s blogs, so I thought I’d make it a regular feature on my blog too. This is a (very eclectic) selection of what I’ve loved reading this week:

  • As a seriously nervous flier, the pilot who flew his plane into a mountain just over a year ago scared the life out of me, and I found the whole story grimly fascinating. The Real Story of Germanwings flight 9525 is a really interesting long read about it, and the circumstances which led up to the crash.
  • I loved travel blogger Rosie’s pics of the stray dogs that she met in Bali.
  • I’ve been a long time fan of Letters of Note and this letter written by Lili Elvenes, the historical figure who inspired The Danish Girl is really interesting. I haven’t seen the film yet but I’ve heard very mixed things about it – what can’t be argued with is the desperation and deep unhappiness that’s evident in this letter.
  • The Guardian’s Long Read is one of my favourite corners of the internet and their recent story about Taryn Wright, an American woman who exposes cancer hoaxers and fake tragedies on the internet is one of the best pieces they’ve published recently. Attention-seeking hoaxers on the internet is a very weird phenomenon, and it’s not the first time the Guardian has written about it either.
  • I’m off to Marrakech in a few weeks (have I mentioned that?) and I came across Emily’s blog when I first booked the trip – visiting a hammam is high on my list and I was keen to find out what visiting one entails (especially in the way of public nudity!)
  • We’re also planning a road-trip around Ireland and Northern Ireland this summer, and Angela at The Awkward Blog wrote a timely post about hiking Glendalough. It looks beautiful, and it’s been pencilled in to my itinerary.