August 2021 will be remembered for years to come for one of the greatest betrayals in human history. The premature withdrawal from Afghanistan by coalition forces has effectively pulled the rug from beneath the feet of millions of Afghan citizens striving for a better future.
The NATO coalition led by the USA & keenly supported by the UK, Canada and many others has “aimed to create the conditions whereby the Afghan government could exercise its authority throughout the country”. Upon completion of that mission in late 2014, the Alliance had the sole objective to help the local Afghan population build the infrastructure for a brighter tomorrow (Resolute Support Mission).
These missions have come at great cost for all involved; over 7,000 days elapsed, with the loss of over 240,000 lives including 70,000 civilians. The financial cost is estimated in excess of $2.1tn (£1.5tn).
Political Popularity Trumps Morals
The endeavours of the Western coalition were of course not completely selfless – the rationale for intervening in Afghanistan was linked directly to the Taliban providing refuge and resources to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the run up to, and immediately following the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
It was therefore politically convenient at that point in time for the US to announce an invasion of the Taliban controlled territory, made internationally palatable by the presence of allied forces from NATO.
The opinion polls soared for George W Bush with his overall approval ratings hitting 90% in late 2001 & remaining consistently over 80% through 2002. There was a similar story in the UK with parliament overwhelmingly backing Tony Blair in a vote by 317 votes to 13.
Following early successful advances from the Northern Alliance backed by the Allied forces, there came an opportunity to strike a deal with the Taliban; they would surrender on the condition that their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar could remain in Kandahar under supervision from the appropriate military forces.
However Donald Rumsfeld quickly rejected this offer to effectively end the war before it had gathered momentum. Why? There are many explanations, including;
The perception that the offer would result in the leader of the Taliban receiving relatively little punishment. This was politically unpalatable to the Allied forces given the Taliban’s collusion with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.
Defeating the Taliban in such quick time would raise uncomfortable questions about how such a comparatively weak organisations (Taliban & Al-Qaeda) had caused so much damage and destruction on US soil and evaded capture. A longer effort that saw the complete destruction of the Taliban would be a better “show of force” and deterrent.
The economic benefits of war would be lost. War drives employment figures up, and also justifies exorbitant amounts of money to be invested in defence budgets and the development of new military technologies. In effect the US (and to a lesser extent their Allies) could make large advances without much scrutiny.
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
The common thread amongst all the above explanations being they would all almost certainly cause significant damage to the approval ratings of Bush, Blair et al.
Fast forward 20 years, and the narrative surrounding the acrimonious departure of the Allied forces from Afghanistan seems to be avoiding this key thread. Political popularity.
Why was President Joe Biden so quick to reject calls to reverse the Trump administration decision to withdraw from Afghanistan?
The perception that the war has run its course – Punishment has been served. Osama bin Laden has been found and executed, and any further action was a waste of much needed money and American (& Allies) lives.
To do so would further divide the US politically, and result in the Afghan war and all its previous failings becoming Biden’s War – causing significant damage to chances of a second term in office.
The economic benefits have waned. There is no longer any real benefit in this regard and so it becomes purely ideological.
In other words Biden, Johnson and Trudeau et al have calculated that any U-turn here would cause significant damage in the polls. As we have seen throughout this war, ultimately for the ruling elite political popularity trumps morals.
However where Bush & Blair’s gamble initially paid off in the early days of the conflict in Afghanistan, the Allied gamble of 2020/1 has backfired spectacularly.
Criticism has rained down from all sides across each Allied nation. The gains made in Afghanistan now seen as lost. Service men and women, over 3500 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in support of the mission statements above, seemingly now betrayed – with a catastrophic impact on the mental health of both those who served and the families of those who never returned.
There is now a very real fear of reprisals and the return of terrorist factions to Afghanistan, plotting attacks in the region as well as in the USA, UK & Canada. The complete betrayal and subsequent lack of compassion shown to the Afghan people by each Allied government will now serve as the ultimate recruiting tool for the Taliban and other extremist groups.
The Convenient By-product
Back to the mission statement; to help the local Afghan population build the infrastructure for a brighter tomorrow.
The truly positive by-product of this popularity contest has been the progress made across Afghanistan, be it girls attending schools, women holding office, businesses flourishing, or simply freedom of expression and thought. The green shoots of progress have been clear to see.
Sadly, these green shoots, 20 years in the making, have been all but destroyed in a matter of weeks. The news is a continuous cycle of scenes of desperate crowds at Kabul Airport / various Embassy buildings trying to flee the country, and harrowing stories of the Taliban’s aggression against so called “collaborators”.
The true intentions of the governments of the US and its Allies now laid clear for the world to see – the so called mission statement abandoned and left in tatters, yet each government still claiming a success…
Light in the darkness
But where there was once growth, it shall return. Whilst the green shoots above the ground may have been temporarily destroyed, the roots run deep.
Brave Afghans have been protesting in the streets against the Taliban, celebrating Afghanistan independence day, waving their national flag as opposed to the flag of the Taliban. Brave young girls continue to go to school. Valiant government ministers such as Rangina Hamidi make a stand and refuse to leave their country behind. Courageous female journalists such as Beheshta Arghand continue to hold the Taliban to account.
The resolve of the Afghan people, who have been in an almost continuous state of war for half a century, should not be questioned. They will rise from the ashes and create a beautiful tomorrow for their country.
What Happens Next?
It’s already clear to see the Taliban will not live up to their promises of peaceful rule – those seen as having worked for or alongside Allied forces have in some instances been tortured, and executed in others. Citizens attempting to leave via Kabul Airport have been whipped and beaten as they run the gauntlet past Taliban fighters to get to the overcrowded airport gates.
Some commentators are expecting the Northern Alliance to regroup and a civil war to break out in the coming weeks and months in Afghanistan. Others are anticipating China and Russia having a growing influence with the Taliban – China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi met with leaders of the Taliban as recently as July in Tianjin. But the prediction most experts agree on is the expectation the Taliban will implement a brutal and bloody regime similar to that of two decades ago, only this time armed with new weaponry left behind by the Allied troops, and having learnt the art of political propaganda.
Whether some or all of the above forecasts are correct, the months and years ahead for Afghanistan are going to be tumultuous. It is vitally important that across the globe we keep helping in any way we can – by applying pressure to our politicians, donating to charities where possible (some suggestions down below), maintaining the current high profile of the ongoing situation, and letting the Afghan people know that we are aware of what is happening and we care about them.
The solution in Afghanistan should not be one decided in the wings of the White House or the corridors of Whitehall – but by the Afghan people. Our role is to help facilitate that solution in any way we can.
The West needs to avoid thinking about this in terms of implementing “democracy” as we know it. The western style of democracy is fundamentally broken – to implement this system elsewhere is guaranteed to result in future failure. Countries such as Afghanistan are not capitalist countries in the West. They are their own country with a fantastic culture and deep history in the East. The identity of the Afghan nation and the structure of the government should be reflective of that.
As the main stream news coverage of the situation in Afghanistan starts to slowly decline over the coming days and weeks, it is our responsibility to make sure the Afghan people remain at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. The cameras will soon stop rolling, and the eyes of the world will move on, but the Afghan people will remain engaged in their battle for survival and a brighter future. I urge anyone reading this to help in any way you can.
Please don’t forget about Afghanistan.
Charities & NGOs
Here are some links to charities and other organisations who are providing support to Afghan people, both refugees and those still in Afghanistan;
It has been well over a week since my last post, and I need to be honest about why I have missed both Friday and Sunday’s posts.
The truth is I’m scared. I don’t like admitting it, but I am scared of making major life changes, of failing in following my dreams, of losing everything whilst in pursuit of my purpose.
I’m not sure why it has hit me so hard this past week or so. There have been no major events, no particular setbacks to speak of. Yet by Thursday afternoon my chest was tightening, my breathing a little laborious, and I felt trapped.
Rock And A Hard Place
It boils down to what feels like a lose – lose situation. I am unhappy in one part of my life, and yet to rectify that situation I have to temporarily sacrifice another. It would seem I have two options;
I stay in a job situation that is making me unhappy and having a negative impact on my mental wellbeing, but (just about) allows me to carry on chasing my dreams and developing the Pursuit Of Purpose brand;
I change jobs and move to a new organisation – but I accept that for the next 6 months at least my dreams are on hold. The blog will drop to 1 post per week at a maximum and the videos and other activities will grind to a halt.
Doesn’t sound like such a tricky situation, does it? I should go for option 2 and protect my mental wellbeing and put things at Pursuit Of Purpose on hold for 6 months or so. Seems pretty clear cut.
Except that throws me back in to the position I found myself in at the start of this year. Going back to that place would be to reinstate the feelings of being unfulfilled, the feeling that I am sleepwalking my way through life. Retreating isn’t an option.
So it’s the first option then? Stay where I am and tough it out. Sacrifice my mental wellbeing for the ‘greater good’. But then what if this also sacrifices the benefits being realised from Pursuit Of Purpose? What if it impacts the content I produce?
So here I am, back at square one.
But then there are no meaningful journeys in life that don’t involve some level of sacrifice and hardship. Even in the airbrushed reality of the movies or on TV shows, there is always a struggle along the way to the happily ever after!
However the difference between Hollywood and real life is that those struggles and hard times are unpredictable and there is no guaranteed rainbow and pot of gold waiting at the end. As a society it feels as though we have become so conditioned to the augmented reality we digest on a weekly basis that we have forgotten
that its ok to struggle
how to persevere through tough times, &
that dreams don’t become reality without 1 & 2
“Think, think, think.”
I have spent the past few days thinking through my options and processing the decision. It’s time to answer the question.
What do I do now? Where do I go from here?
Which means somewhat ironically I stay where I am with regards work. I take the rough with the smooth and carry on chasing my dreams – because life is too short, and time is too precious to waste another 6 months treading water. I know where I want to be, and where I want to go – and I promised myself I would make decisions in pursuit of that end goal.
But I am making some subtle changes…
The content we are all used to ingesting across every medium is 95% airbrushed and/or carefully curated to show a side of life we all aspire to experience, whether it be lifestyle, happiness, love, or adventure.
The honest reality is that the lifestyle they are selling to you is unattainable, because that lifestyle is their dream – not yours. We spend so much time watching other people successfully chasing their dreams that we give up chasing our own when we don’t have the success we have come to expect, or we forget to chase our own dreams altogether.
How many times have you watched YouTube videos, read blog articles, or listened to podcasts where the host has shared with you their doubts and their struggles as well as their successes?
More often than not the only struggles discussed are ones that already have a happy ending. This isn’t healthy. It’s time to redress the balance.
I am going to persevere, share with you my struggles and tough times, as well as the happy moments, to show you the unfiltered reality of my journey chasing my dreams.
My promise to you is that I will always be honest, no matter how hard that will be at times. This is your invite to invest time in the journey, and share in the achievements along the way.
How we book holidays has changed drastically over the last decade – we now have more control over our trip than ever before! The package holiday is no longer the only option we have, the world is our oyster…
So you have done your research and found the perfect destination(s) for your trip. You have selected the best value flights, but now you have the ultimate decision. The decision that can make or break your trip… the choice of accommodation.
With so many choices, its easy to get this decision disastrously wrong (believe me). But fear not – follow these 5 tips to guarantee yourself a brilliant stay at a fantastic price!
5. Metasearch Engines (Aggregators)
To start you need a price comparison website. I highly recommend using Sky Scanner at this stage. Sky Scanner is a metasearch engine – they take all the prices for the various types of accommodation across multiple marketplace websites and show you the best rates for your chosen dates! You don’t book directly with Sky Scanner, they provide affiliate links to the marketplace websites where you can complete your booking.
BOOM! Job done… right?
Well no, not quite – whilst Sky Scanner gives you a brilliant head start, it comes with some health warnings. Obviously Sky Scanner will promote certain hotels at certain times. On top of this, the order of the hotels is dictated by the website algorithm alongside your chosen filters. Whilst Sky Scanner will do its best to give you the right options, it can only be personalised based on the limited information you provide in your search.
In plain English… you may be missing out on some of the best deals for YOU.
So here is how to use it;
Search for your destination on the chosen travel dates
Click on “filters” and select Guest Rating of both 4.5 and 5.0
I also recommend selecting Free Cancellation for added flexibility – however if you want to save more money, leave this unchecked.
Click on “show results”
Now use the map feature (on laptop, this will be on the right hand side of the list results)
Zoom in to the centre of the destination – e.g. for a city break, find the old town and zoom in slightly.
The results will refresh once you zoom. And now its time to browse!
Click on a minimum of 5 hotels and note down the type of accommodation (e.g. hotel, apartment, hostel) and the total cost of your stay. CAREFUL – the first price you will see is the nightly rate, the total cost is just below in smaller text.
4. Use 2 (or more) Marketplace Websites
So now you have a minimum of 5 prices for varying types of accommodation.
It may seem obvious to some, but now its time to use the ‘marketplace’ websites. You should use AT LEAST 2 for each hotel booking. Let me explain why…
There are so many marketplace websites these days and the standards of these websites vary so much that it is always worth sticking to the better known providers. When it comes to booking, I recommend looking for names such as Booking.com, Trivago and Hotels.com.
Travel marketplace websites will try and tie some accommodation providers in to exclusivity deals so the only place to book is through their marketplace. This is less common now than it once was, however following this tip ensures that you have visibility across 2 of the main marketplace providers!
Marketplace websites are also well known for paid promotions. In other words, they charge accommodation owners to boost their properties up to the top of search results. But there is a way to avoid the forced results and find the best ones for you. For this walkthrough I am using Booking.com;
Once again enter in the location and desired dates in to the search bar and click ‘search’
On the left hand side you will see a series of filters; ignore star rating and head to review score – I recommend starting with 9+. Consider adding free cancellation for added flexibility.
Choose your property type e.g. hotel, apartment
Set the maximum price you are prepared to pay – this way you don’t get suckered in to any places outside of your budget
Click on map view, and zoom in to your desired location to eliminate any places out of town!
For the risk adverse – I would advise avoiding places that have less than 50 reviews. If you like living life on the edge, then lower that minimum number to 25.
At this point there should only be a handful of places left, however if you find there are more than 15, add a minimum price as well as a maximum and select options such as “self catering” or “breakfast included”.
Now its time to rinse and repeat. Head to your second marketplace website and do the same again!
Choose your top 5 options from the photos and user reviews… and there you have it… your shortlist is complete!
Now comes the nice bit. You’ve got up to 5 places that meet your requirements. Wherever you choose now is sure to be a good option! However you want to choose the best one… so its time to refine and separate the good from the brilliant.
(For anyone travelling to less familiar locations, if you start with less than 5 options on your shortlist, then stop refining once you get to your final 2).
If you have followed the steps above then all of the options are affordable – so price should be the last parameter you use to further refine your search.
Lets start with reviews. The lowest reviewed accommodation should be the first removed, followed by the second lowest reviewed UNLESS you have any places with under 100 reviews (or for those risk takers, under 50 reviews).
And then there were 3… that feels a little crowded! So we need to eliminate another one. Time for a slightly more detailed review of the offerings; the filters you have applied during the search phase will have removed most differentiating factors that are of importance however there are a couple to look out for;
Check in / out times – Check the time your flights are due to arrive / leave, and factor in travel time to and from the airport. From this you can work out the ideal time to check in and out.
For example – if your flight is due to arrive at 9am, and its a 20min taxi journey to the accommodation, then with some contingency time to get through passport control and collect your bags, 10am would be ideal check in time. Your flight home is at 3pm, and you need to get to the airport for 1pm with 20 minute travel time – the ideal check out time would be 12pm.
Check the check in and check out times offered by the hotels – if any of them are way off, its time to eliminate them! If they are all slightly out, then try contact them and ask if they can give you early check in or late check out.
Size Matters – if you still can’t separate them, move on to the size of the room and the size of the bed! I cannot stress enough how much difference extra space can make, both in bed and also in the room itself. If you have an outlier – either a double bed versus a king size, or a smaller room, its time to kick it out of the running!
Tie-breaker – If all else fails, revert to price and remove the most expensive. Now you have some extra spending money for your days out or an evening meal!
2. When 2 become 1
I am sincerely hope you sang the Spice Girls hit as you read that heading…
Now comes the final decision – you are down to the final 2. Its time to stop using filters and logical analysis, and let your heart rule your head. You have 2 amazing options – there is no poor choice! Sit down with your travel partner, or if you are a solo traveller then grab some snacks, get comfy and flick through the photographs. Which option is giving you that excited feeling? Which option is giving you the best vibes? One of them will have the edge for you personally, you just have to find it!
If you are unsure, then take a few days to think about it. Have a break and come back in 48 or 72 hours and look again. Sooner or later one of them will edge ahead – once it does, BOOK IT!
1. STEP AWAY FROM THE BOOKING SITES!
You’ve done it. From a list of thousands, you have whittled it down to a shortlist. You have used the tools at your disposal to find the perfect options for you and your requirements. The shortlist has been refined, and you have booked the perfect option!
NOW STOP. There is always the temptation to keep looking – to check back every now and again to see if there are better prices, to see if there are any new places that have become available. It is a complete waste of time. Rest assured that you have booked the perfect spot at a brilliant price for you!
Spend your time looking at day trips for when you arrive, at restaurants for a celebratory evening meal, planning the sights you want to see, experiences you want to live.
Give these tips a try and let me know how you get on! If there are any must share tips to add to my list, let me know in the comments below!
Every day we digest the news, whether it be watching on TV, listening on the radio, browsing on social media, or reading physical newspapers. Every day it’s the same. From deadly conflicts in the likes of Afghanistan and Syria to political movements in the US & UK, the underlying story boils down to one core principle – division through fear.
Many people these days try to avoid the news – apathetic to the world and its struggles because it’s too hard to hear constant depressing news stories of struggle and horror. Those people have found a way to “switch off” from these stories. How? Because those struggling are different, its happening somewhere else and to someone else.
Then there are those people who ingest the news through their desired medium, and feel the sadness and pain of the stories of those suffering. They vow to make a difference and oppose these evil groups – often making pledges to do so. They ultimately do one of two things… 1. go to battle with supporters of the other side or 2. feel strongly about it, but then life gets in the way, and the news feeds refresh, and the cycle continues.
Then there are those people who ingest the news through their desired medium, and feel anger and fear at a perceived attack on them and their way of life. They want to maintain the status quo, or in some cases revert back to a bygone era, and anything that comes close to threatening this will be vociferously opposed.
If we are being honest, all of us will largely fit in to one of the above 3 categories, sometimes moving between them depending on the situation in question.
The Common Theme; Us versus Them.
But why? Why does everything revert back to division?
The answer; power and control. I am sure many of you have heard the phrase “United we stand, divided we fall”. Ironically often used by those in power to inspire a sense of unity on a particular topic that benefits them.
We are divided on a daily basis. By the continent we reside in, the nation we were born in, the region we live in, the colour of our skin, the money in our bank accounts, by religion, food choices and so on.
So when you hear a story of an explosion in Afghanistan, what goes through your mind?
“That’s sad – another bomb in Afghanistan. Poor people“… “The Taliban are bombing their own people“… “How barbaric.”
Now think back to stories of bombings ant attacks in western nations – 9/11 attacks in the US in 2001, London in 2005, Paris in 2015 or Manchester 2017. It was a different feeling, wasn’t it?
We have been conditioned to see the latter group as attacks on us and our way of life, whilst the attacks in Afghanistan are just to be expected. For both the groups behind the attacks, and the governments of our countries, the goal is the same. Widen divisions and capitalise on fear.
Because the more we fear, the more power and control they have. The more we as a society will fall in to line and unite behind them and against outside threats. Look at the rise of Donald Trump, of Nigel Farage, of Boris Johnson, of Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini. They all garnered support by inciting division and fear, through polarising every debate – you are either on their side, or their mortal enemy.
In reality each and every attack, no matter where it is in the world, is an attack on humanity, an attack on each and every one of us.
Love Over Fear
What if we actually stand united, celebrating our superficial differences with the core understanding and belief that we are all fundamentally the same?
What if we reject the narrative of Us versus Them? What if we love each and every human being?
If you go back and look at all the phrases in italics in this post again;
“different”… “somewhere else”… “someone else”… “evil groups”… “other side”… “threatening”… “poor people”… “their own people”… “barbaric”… “attacks on us and our way of life”… “against outside threats”... “enemy”.
All of these terms are used to differentiate and divide us. To keep us apart. To maintain power over us. To control us.
F*ck all borders and fuck all boundaries
F*ck all flags and fuck nationalities
Fear begins to vanish when we realise
That countries are just lines
Drawn in the sand with a stick
…Meltdown, by Enter Shikari (written by Rou Reynolds)
I reject the narrative of fear and division. I embrace the notion that we are all one.
Restaurant review number 1 of a packed August schedule comes from…. Issho | Kori Bar | Japanese Restaurant. Set alongside its sibling restaurant East 59th on the upper floor of Victoria Gate in the centre of Leeds, ISSHO is one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the city… but is it worth the hype?
Money, Money, Money
If you are looking for affordable luxury, ISSHO probably isn’t the best choice for you. The below lunchtime meal for two with 1 mocktail and 2 diet cokes cost approximately £90. That does include a service charge, but more on that later…
It is recommended by the wait staff to select 3 to 5 dishes each, ‘tapas’ style. We opted for 6 dishes and a dessert between the two of us and that was more than enough.
Tempura Is King
Are you really testing a Japanese restaurant if you don’t order tempura?! Well to make sure I gave it a proper test, we got double… tempura vegetables and the soft shell crab.
The tempura batter was light and crisp, the vegetables incredibly fresh. This was quite possibly the best tempura veg I have ever had – £8 felt a little on the expensive side, but for the quality of this dish it was a fair price on balance.
The soft shell crab was one of the dishes I had been most looking forward to – one of my favourite ingredients! Unfortunately this one didn’t live up to expectations. The tempura batter was again light and crisp, the crab was fresh I am sure, but it just lacked in flavour. The spicy dashi sauce that accompanied the crab was good, however when used it took over the dish. I suspect it was an issue with seasoning, however at £10 for a relatively small portion, a lack of flavour was disappointing.
Everyone will have their go to, either nigiri or sashimi. I would normally get a mix, however in the end we opted for tuna and salmon nigiri. As you would expect, the tuna was slightly more expensive at £10 for 3 pieces, with the salmon costing £8 for 3 pieces.
Both the tuna and the salmon nigiri were beautifully fresh and prepared in our eyeline at the counter in the restaurant. The wasabi provided the perfect level of heat, and the pickled ginger perfect to cut through the flavour and cleanse before diving in for the next bite! For those who maybe haven’t had sushi at a restaurant before I appreciate this will seem expensive for a relatively small amount of food, however for fresh sushi grade fish of this quality, I would say this is a decent price.
As can be seen in the photos, the fish was generally cut well, but by no means perfect. Both the salmon and tuna were neither even in size, smoothly sliced, or neat on the edges. When paying this price, I would expect to see a higher quality finish.
From the ‘Robatayaki’ section of the menu we opted for the tiger prawns with chilli, and whilst not on the menu, chives. Lots and lots of chives!
The prawns were cooked well, although a little well done. They were a very generous size, and the flavour was in general good! It is hard to go wrong with a combination of tiger prawns, chilli and lime!
However the addition of chives was a little strange, I must admit! Coriander would have been a more obvious, and definitely a better choice in terms of flavour. It would seem the chives were selected for aesthetic purposes, however we ended up removing the vast majority to eat the prawns. If an ingredient has a neutral or negative impact on the overall flavour of a dish, it doesn’t have a place!
Four large tiger prawns for £9 feels just about right. Although without the chives, please!
I Like Big (bao) Buns & I Cannot Lie.
I am a huge fan of bao buns – one of the best trends to hit the UK food scene in years… when done right. When done wrong, they can be pretty awful! As you can probably tell from the photos below, these bao buns are certainly done right!
The Spicy Pork Bao Buns. If you visit ISSHO, you have to get these fluffy clouds filled with perfectly crispy and yet incredibly juicy and tender pork belly. The kimchi, crispy onions and cucumber, together with the sesame sauce combine to create a mouthful of pure unadulterated joy.
They come deconstructed, so you can choose how much sauce and sides you add to your bao – but if you’re anything like me that means exactly half of all of them on each one! I was surprised to see kimchi on the plate, but I am not sure why! It worked perfectly. Everything worked perfectly. They are perfect.
I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to eat them in one, but its almost impossible to resist the urge to smash your face straight in to these. If you find some self restraint, then savour every bite. Otherwise order 2 portions!
The cost? £12. The best £12 you will spend all day.
After quite a heavy meal in terms of flavours, we were both in need of something fresh and tart for dessert. We opted to share the Yuzu Tart – a Japanese citrus fruit, often likened to a lemon due to its colour but flavour wise is closer to a grapefruit / orange combination.
The raspberry gel provides a gentle contrast to the yuzu tart. Overall this was a nice way to end the meal. The sesame tuile was however rather non-descript. If you squint, you can just about see it perched on the raspberry gel – it sadly offered about as much in taste as it did visually. I would normally expect a tuile to be dark caramelised sugar, so maybe this one was just undercooked.
At £8 I would suggest this is not great value for money. It was a good solid dessert, but it wasn’t perfect. For a lunch time, I would expect a dessert to be executed to a high standard for £8 – whereas this was just, well, ok I guess.
Now for the all important scoring. I will score each restaurant I visit on 3 different elements; the food quality, the setting, and the price.
Food quality – overall the food was a really good standard. There were some dishes that weren’t quite as good as promised, but there were some that were near perfect. I must admit, the tempura veg and bao buns are significantly boosting this score!
The nigiri and tiger prawns pulled their weight, and were solid additions to the meal, however the soft shell crab and yuzu tart were below expectation. Without these two dishes, the score would have been up in the bao clouds, however with them it ends a little nearer the ground.
All in all it’s a strong performance. 8/10
Setting – the setting is in general of a very high quality. Occupying the top floor of the relatively new and high end Victoria Gate shopping & casino complex, ISSHO has been designed to ooze quality and luxury. On the whole it does its job well especially in the bar area, however some of the attention to detail was lacking in the restaurant. The decoration in this area is trying to be luxurious, but it has a feeling of the emperor’s new clothes.
The restaurant in general felt a little thrown together, with themes that weren’t quite seen through. The metal counter set along the wall running the length of the main seating area is open, which gives it the feel of a buffet bar in a hotel. Maybe this changes at night time, however for lunch the counter is only being used by one person at the far end slicing tuna and salmon. The windows directly behind us were generally quite dirty and absolutely covered in bird poo. The service was largely good, however felt rather standard which did not meet expectations in a place aiming at the upper end of the market.
It could be brilliant, but on this showing it is well wide of the mark at the moment. 5/10
Price – I am going to split this in to two sections – the food first. In general I think the prices are on the limit of acceptability for what you get. I would say 4 dishes were good value, 3 were poor value. To charge top prices, the quality has to be spot on, and it just felt a little clinical. The food lacked some care and attention at times. Even the dishes that I would consider good value were generally quite poorly presented. The nigiri had not been sliced evenly and wasn’t smooth as you would expect. The only dish I would say was presented to a high standard was the dessert, however the execution let this one down a little.
The second element that needs discussion is the service charge. In very small print at the bottom of the menu (and barely visible when using the QR code to view on your mobile, as instructed) it states “12.5% discretionary service charge will be added to your bill”. I must admit to not seeing this at the time, and as I wasn’t made aware of this by the wait staff it came as a surprise when we reviewed the itemised receipt one we got home. I personally think adding a service charge for a table of 2 on a lunch time to be very cheeky, especially when the service on offer was relatively standard. For clarity, in the UK a service charge is not added or expected as standard as it is in the USA. The wait staff are paid significantly higher hourly rates and do not rely on tips as is standard in the States.
When it came to requesting the bill, the receipt was brought to us with the card machine in hand, at which point the waiter proceeded to take my card and type in the amount prior to us having chance to review. Almost as if it is a deliberate tactic to rush the sale to limit the chance of the service charge being queried.
Unfortunately this tainted the experience quite significantly. 4/10
On this showing, I am not sure if I will be back. I just don’t think it offers good value for money, and I am left feeling like I have been ripped off a little with the sneaky service charge. The hype and the prices suggest an experience of the highest quality, however the reality is far more ordinary than that.
It’s time for the first tier list! I will be ranking up to 30 locations across 7 different tiers, from my ultimate travel destinations down to those not currently in my future plans. So sit back & buckle up, I suspect some of my decisions may cause some turbulence…
Back in early 2020 the guys at Big 7 Travel compiled a list of the “The 50 Most Instagrammable Places In The World”. In normal circumstances that would mean that the list would be severely out of date by now, however given the last 18 months has been a write off for adventurers, it is still as relevant now as it was then!
So, how did they score their list? I hear you ask. Well, in their own words;
…a comprehensive scoring system that analysed the amount of hashtags per destination, survey results from our audience, and votes cast by our global editorial team.
To make this tier list a little more challenging I will be ranking just the top 30 destinations as they appear in the Big 7 Travel list – minus those in the UK, namely London & Edinburgh. There are a maximum of 5 and minimum of 3 locations per tier meaning some difficult decisions will be required…
In total there are 7 tiers. They are;
Life? Completed it mate – The best in class, the crème de la crème. There is nothing higher than this. These are the locations that once visited, will be remembered until your final days. Truly life enhancing experiences. A very high bar to meet… Gold medallists. (League winners).
Worldie – or World Class – A hairs breadth away from the top. These locations are in the top league, and in some categories on a par with the destinations in the category above, but as a whole they just fall short. Silver medallists. (League runners up).
Elite – These locations are undoubtedly top tier. World renowned for a reason. They are destinations that will 100% be visited in my lifetime, but not quite dream level. Perform very well across all categories, but not best in the world in any of them. Bronze medallists. (League challengers, falling just short).
Must See – Locations that if possible must be seen in my lifetime. Great locations with a worthy place on the travel bucket list. No medal for these guys. (Always finish in the top half of the league).
Should See – Locations that if possible should be seen in my lifetime. Great locations that occupy the reserve spots on the travel bucket list. If at all possible, these are locations that should be explored, but may be sacrificed for those above. (Mid table specialists in the league).
Mayhap – May happen / may travel to if the opportunity arises. These locations aren’t write offs, but neither do they provide much excitement. If the opportunity arises to visit they will be considered, however they struggle to compete with the guys in the tiers above. (Top league, but bottom half of the table).
Relegated – Considered by some to be in the top league, but struggle to live up to the hype for one reason or another. No immediate plans to travel here, although these locations should not be written off for a return to greatness in the future. (Relegated to the second league).
So without further ado, lets get tiering;
30. Cartagena, Colombia
We are starting off with a strong contender! Cartagena sits inside over 13km of colonial stone walls. The cobbled streets home to an array of beautifully preserved & colourful buildings. This city has real historical significance alongside its striking beauty.
Founded in 1533 by the Spanish colonial forces, Cartagena was the port from which the fleets took produce and gold back to Spain. Pirate attacks were commonplace due to the presence of gold and silver. The walled city and fortress ensured the Spanish colonial forces could defend their riches from attack.
In the modern day, the colonial walled city and fortress are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and here you will find the majority of the key sights along with the vast majority of the bars and restaurants.
It will be impossible to visit all of the sights in Cartagena, so a more relaxed approach is advised. Cartagena is well set up for the tourist industry, boasting plenty of brilliant restaurants and bars. If your Spanish isn’t up to scratch, then fear not as unlike other areas of Colombia, the restaurants and bars of Cartagena are used to conversing in English for the tourist industry.
It is more than a strong contender. The jewel in Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, there is only one tier for Cartagena…
Tier:Life? Completed it mate
29. Boston, Massachusetts, USA
I am unsure whether my desire to visit Boston, Massachusetts is purely down to TV series, The Dropkick Murphys or the lobster rolls and Boston Beans. Whatever it is, Boston has been on my travel list for a number of years… however it has slowly dropped down the pecking order as time goes on.
Known as one of the most forward thinking cities in the United States of America, the official website of Boston states;
…whether it’s for a weekend getaway or for the foreseeable future, we love you like our own. We see you. We celebrate you. And we want to show you everything. We are all inclusive.
Another city of historical significance, the cobbled streets of Boston are jam packed with lively bars and fantastic restaurants.
I can’t talk about Boston without giving a quick mention to the sports franchises – whilst none of them are my team, you have to appreciate their prowess. From the New England Patriots in the NFL to the Boston Bruins in the NHL, the Celtics in the NBA and the Boston Red Sox in the MLB, Boston know how to play sport… and win!
It may not be up at the top of my list anymore, but Boston is certainly a city I will visit if I get the opportunity!
28. Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
I must admit I am surprised that Edinburgh scored lower than London. Given the choice, I would dodge London and head north to the capital of Scotland! Another city of historical significance, Edinburgh has something for everyone… if you are prepared to pay for it!
Based on a quick search, the cost of a short trip to Edinburgh is approximately £600 for 2 nights, based on return train travel to Edinburgh from Leeds, a 2 night stay in a hotel, and £150 for food and other spending money.
For the exact same dates and the same price I can book return flights and 4* hotel for 3 nights in Lisbon, Portugal with £250 spending money.
I know where my vote goes…
As a resident of the UK I am not tiering Edinburgh.
27. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
From the world famous Copacabana beach, to Christ the Redeemer, sugarloaf mountain to the Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro is one of the worlds ultimate travel destinations. Translating in to English as “The River of January”, the only thing missing in Rio is somewhat ironically, a river.
Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro occurs every year before lent and is a must if you are able to travel here whilst the carnival is in full flow!
This tiering is quite straightforward;
26. Ibiza, Spain
Here comes the controversy…
When I think of Ibiza I think of hard dance music, 18 year olds taking pills & drinking far too much, Wayne Lineker, and that song by Mike Posner about… taking pills in Ibiza. As first impressions go, it’s a stinker.
I can hear you shouting at your screen – BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ISLAND? I am just not sure I would want to be on the same island as that car crash of a combination.
Ibiza is undoubtedly beautiful, with golden beaches and clear waters, it’s place on this list of most Instagrammable locations is justified. But for me, as a travel destination, it has finished second bottom of the table with single figures.
Look on the bright side – that would be a bloody good result for the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest.
25. Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
I must admit to not having heard of Lake Tekapo before conducting my research for this piece. Being honest some of the photos have been a little underwhelming on first viewing, but when you dig a little deeper… wow!
This beautiful lake has a backdrop of snow capped mountains and is completely unspoilt. Approximately 3 hours drive from Christchurch, the lake gets its famous “milky-turquoise” colour from the rock sediment, ground down by glaciers, suspended in the water. Lake Tekapo is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect spot for stargazing after a day of exploring!
Would I add Lake Tekapo to my travel list as a stand alone location? No. Would I make sure to visit this location as part of a wider trip to New Zealand? Absolutely. It’s more than a must see, this location is on the cusp of Worldie…
24. Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Sin City? The City of Lights? Whatever you choose to call it, Las Vegas is known worldwide for casinos, stage shows and shopping. What’s not to love, right?
I understand why people love Vegas. I understand why some people go year after year, and why some go once and go wild. I just don’t want to do either! Built in the desert, Las Vegas is purpose built for entertainment. There is no real history to speak of, just some tacky replicas of tourist landmarks from around the world.
The shows sound great if you are in to the kind of acts that play in Las Vegas, there are restaurants from a number of world famous chefs if you like your food, there are world class cars on every street if you are in to motors. It just doesn’t tick enough boxes for me.
Should the opportunity arise in the future to travel to Las Vegas, would I consider it? Possibly. Would I go under my own steam? No.
Whilst controversial, given the strength of competition on this list there is only one option;
23. Istanbul, Turkey
The city where East meets West. The Western end of the Silk Road, Istanbul (or Constantinople as it was then) was once the capital of the Roman Empire. Today there are still signs of East meeting West – none clearer than at the Hagia Sophia, opposite the beautiful Sultan Ahmed Mosque (commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque). The building still bears the emblems and depictions of both its Christian and Islamic faiths side by side.
The Grand Bazaar in the heart of Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world. It is unsurprising to discover that it is one of the most visited tourist attraction in the world with some estimates of over 100m visitors per year!
I must admit my tiering and ranking here is influenced by the fact I have already been to Istanbul. Therefore naturally other locations will be more attractive and exciting to me in this moment. Istanbul is a location everyone should experience, but once is probably enough.
22. Petra, Jordan
Petra is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, dating back to 300BC. I have dreamt of visiting Petra for years. Whilst my dream travel list has changed a lot in and around it, Petra has stood proud at the very top.
Carved in to the pink sandstone cliffs are temples and tombs, still preserved to this day. Petra is quite rightly one of the 7 modern wonders of the world. The last 18 months have been a catastrophic for Jordan’s economy, of which tourism is a key pillar (around 15% GDP), as it suffered its worst contraction in decades. The return of tourists to Petra can’t come soon enough for the local businesses.
The Jordanian government have authorised excavations at the site during the pandemic, taking advantage of the quiet period – only 15% of the city has so far been excavated, so further discoveries are highly likely…
This tiering will come as no surprise;
Tier:Life? Completed it mate
21. The Ring Road, Iceland
A ring road seems a strange destination for a list like this, doesn’t it? Especially if you are, like me, picturing a ring road around the likes of Coventry. Well let me explain briefly… Iceland has one main ring road, Route 1, alongside which fall most of the popular tourist attractions that any adventurer would want to see – attractions such as Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
I am yet to find an area of Iceland that isn’t beautiful! I would most likely use Reykjavik as a base for much of my time here, from which you can visit volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields and massive glaciers. What more could you want?
I managed to get this far without mentioning the world famous Blue Lagoon and the Northern Lights!
Another absolute world class destination;
20. Los Angeles, California, USA
The home of the Film & TV industry, LA is known as both a celebrity city, and a city for hopeful creatives trying desperately to get their big break. The top things to do in LA are;
Visit the Santa Monica Beach, visit Venice Beach, go to Malibu, head to the Griffith Observatory, or the standard trips to various film / TV studios and the famous Hollywood sign.
None of the above has ever been high on my list of things to do. I am not a huge film & TV buff, and so the experience here would be somewhat lost on me. Rather like Vegas, the feeling I get about LA is materialistic and somewhat vapid. I am sure there is more to LA than that – and hopefully one day someone can show me the error in my ways! Until then, its a low maybe…
19. Paris, France
Ok so this one is going to anger a few… but Paris. Where do I start?
When you close your eyes and picture Paris do you think of the Eiffel Tower, the Champes-Élysées leading to the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, freshly baked goods & Fine dining?
Unfortunately I don’t. Well, I do, but before I picture all that good stuff, I get an overpriced and over saturated city packed with tourist traps. The Arc de Triomphe is the sole attraction that tempts me in, maybe the Palace of Versailles, but it all just feels a little overhyped and underwhelming.
I am sure for many, Paris offers everything they want. I can imagine it is a dream destination for many – however for me and my tastes, it isn’t. There are other areas of France I would love to visit, just not Paris.
Will I ever travel here? Yes, of course I will. It will make sense to stop over there as part of other travel – especially with the volume of flights out of Charles de Gaulle airport and its relative proximity to the UK. Maybe I will change my mind once I have been, who knows!
18. Moscow, Russia
Along with St Petersburg, Moscow has long held a spot high on my travel list. The Kremlin and Red Square are at the centre of Moscow both geographically and historically. Lenin’s Tomb serves a reminder of the recent history of Russia and the former USSR. St Basil’s Cathedral looms high over Red Square with its fantastic colourful domes.
If you are interested in the history of Russia, then Moscow is a perfect city to visit. Reminders can be found all over the city with monuments and museums. Moscow’s underground train network is home to opulent stations decorated beautifully, and are a must see!
There are around 600 churches in Moscow, from the small to the grand cathedrals. The Russian Orthodox Church is incredibly important to the Russian identity – and the churches in Moscow are a gateway in to life in Russia.
A nation shrouded in mystery and intrigue, Russia has always been high on my list of travel destinations – the tiering for Moscow is a reflection of that;
17. Amsterdam, Netherlands
I can’t believe I am writing this; I have never been to Amsterdam. I have travelled to 23 countries in Europe, and the Netherlands isn’t one.
Amsterdam is almost seen as a rite of passage by many – the liberal nature to both drugs and sex is attractive to youngsters venturing abroad for the first time. The stereotypes of smoking a spliff with a coffee at a cafe, or walking down a street lined with naked women dancing in windows are actually the very thing that has put me off.
I travel to experience culture and history – and I feel like Amsterdam has been hijacked by tourists wanting a very different kind of experience to me!
The city does look beautiful in parts, and I hope that in the future I have the opportunity to visit and prove my preconceptions wrong. For now, it remains a maybe…
16. Toronto, Canada
I’m a believer that the term cosmopolitan is often overused for the presence of many nationalities in one city, rather than when there is clear influence of said nationalities. Well, Toronto passes my definition with flying colours. Famed for its amazing array of restaurants spanning every continent, this city embodies multi-culturalism. Much like myself, their passion for food runs deep – Toronto is starting to carve itself a special place in my heart!
Toronto is itself a cultural phenomenon, with residents from around the world and scores of languages, foods, customs and celebrations – they’re what make the city great.
Whether you want world class restaurants, museums, art galleries, theatre shows, night life or green spaces – Toronto has it all in spades. It has the big city buzz, whilst maintaining a strong sense of culture and identity – and its luring me in!
Bonus: it is only 2 hours from Niagra falls, and it is often said that the Canadian side of the falls is the best one…
Tier: Must See
15. Cape Town, South Africa
Another cosmopolitan city, although not quite to the same degree as Toronto, Cape Town is a blend of nationalities and cultures, with Table Mountain looming in the background, and the beaches in the foreground, Cape Town has the best of both worlds.
South Africa has suffered over the years from colonial rule at the hands of multiple European nations, and Apartheid from the 1940’s to the 1990’s. The political landscape remains complex to say the least – however the cultural identity emerging in Cape Town in recent years is exciting and makes it all the more attractive as a destination to explore!
The city is undergoing exciting changes, turning old abandoned buildings in to cool destinations for locals and tourists alike – such as The Silo Hotel, built in the grain elevator portion of the historic grain silo complex. The Silo is the ultimate luxury comprising of a restaurant, bar & spa alongside a hotel – focussing on the art and culture of this amazing city.
14. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is famed for its historic monuments, large skyscrapers, street markets & nightlife. The Malay, Chinese and Indian communities all combine in Kuala Lumpur with mosques and temples across the city.
Key sights include the Petronas towers, Jalan Alor market, the Putra Mosque & the Batu Caves. Some of the cities best food is from the street food stalls, so be sure to explore on foot and try them out! Traffic is common, so it is advised to explore on foot – however at certain times of year the heat is rather oppressive, so make sure to stop regularly at bars and restaurants.
Other cities in the region have become more expensive as their popularity has risen (e.g. Singapore), however Kuala Lumpur is still amazing value for money, and offers history, culture and world class food all in one brilliant package. What more could you ask for?
13. Dubrovnik, Croatia
The home of Game Of Thrones… although after the last series I guess that is no longer a badge of honour.
Dubrovnik is a magnificent pedestrianised (one for the Partridge fans) walled city on the Adriatic coast. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and despite the shelling in 1991, Dubrovnik still entices visitors from all over the world. Explore the complex history of the former capital of the Republic of Ragusa in the museums, take the cable car to the top of mount Srđ, order a feast of fresh seafood, and enjoy the luxurious 5* surroundings.
Dubrovnik is not cheap, but it is worthy of its spot as an elite destination!
12. Rome, Italy
Rome is another city with many tourist attractions. In general, the more “touristy” spots a city has, the less it appeals to me. However Rome is a destination that should be seen if at all possible. The historical significance is undeniable and the food and drink on offer is sublime.
However points are lost and tiers dropped for the amount of mediocrity now present. That sounds a harsh statement, however Rome is very hit and miss. In the more “touristy” locations, food and drink is extortionate and the quality is at times questionable. There are genuine gems to be discovered in Rome, but you have to keep your wits about you.
Whether its the ruins, the art, the food or the romance, Rome has it all… you just have to squint a little sometimes.
Tier: Should See
There isn’t much to say about the Maldives. Home to some of the best beaches in the world across the 1000+ islands. Whichever island you find yourself on, a world class beach is guaranteed. Each resort has its own private island, offering varying degrees of luxury – up to a ridiculous 6* level.
There are cheaper resorts, however don’t expect a cheap trip… this is a bucket list, once in a lifetime kind of destination. Unless you are a millionaire, in which case I hope you are reading this from your resort in the Maldives. Cheers to you, I am not jealous at all… promise.
The clear waters are home to magnificent coral, tropical fish and underwater caves. For those who like diving and snorkelling, the warm waters of the Maldives are perfect!
10. Jaipur, India
Before reviewing the list from Big 7 Travel, Jaipur was not even on my radar. Nicknamed the Pink City thanks to its coral pink stucco buildings, Jaipur boasts many attractions from its colonial past, including the City Palace, the Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, and the Jaigarh fort.
Jaipur’s star attraction however is the Amer Fort in the hills just outside the city – be sure to set some time aside to visit this red sandstone and marble palace!
The streets of the city are busy with a mix of rickshaws, motorbikes and camels – take a detour through the bazaars to experience real Jaipur and collect your eclectic souvenir and some golgappa and kachoris.
9. London, England, UK
As per Edinburgh above, I wont be formally reviewing London.
I would chose the Scottish capital over a trip to London, and given my comments about the cost of Edinburgh, that says a lot about London.
I have spent a lot of time in London, both work and leisure, and I will continue to do so over the years ahead I have no doubt. So believe me when I say, unless it’s your first time and you have a dying urge to see Buckingham Palace, or the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben etc, I wouldn’t bother! If it wasn’t for work and family, I would seldom visit.
Full of tourist attractions? Yes.
Is it extortionately expensive? Yes.
Are the attractions worth the expense? No.
8. Bali, Indonesia
Does every successful travel content creator live in Bali these days? Or at least spend a lot of time there?
Bali is an Instagram haven – describing it as picturesque doesn’t do it justice! White beaches, waterfalls in the jungle, infinity pools with every villa, fantastic fresh fruit and veg with every meal. If you haven’t seen photos from Bali in recent times, I presume you are not on social media anymore.
Spirituality dominates this island paradise, and temples adorn the volcanic hills, such as Pura Luhur Batukau. Tourists should be incredibly respectful of the spirituality of the local population – if you are unsure, ask. Don’t just presume you can enter temples and take photographs.
I feel like I have already visited with the amount of videos and photographs plastered on social media, which has kind of ruined the surprise and dampened the intrigue…
Bali has to be in the top half of the tiers, but only just;
7. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon claims the sun shines 290 days a year and the temperature rarely drops below 15 celcius! Which is quite some claim, however one I can back up having managed to get sunburn in October!
The food in Lisbon is fantastic – the bacalhau, or salted cod, is the most popular base ingredient and will be cooked in a different way in each different restaurant you visit! Whether you want all out luxury, or affordable quality, Lisbon has you covered. Weekend breaks are incredibly good value at around £250 for 2 people, return flights and hotel for the weekend.
I would recommend adding a day to your travel plans & hiring a car to visit Sintra – approximately 30 mins away. Sintra is a treasure trove, including the Castle of the Moors, the Palace of Monserrate, rounded off with an evening meal watching the sunset across the Sintra valley. You can take the regular direct train to Sintra if you prefer – however you are more limited as to where you can stop along the way.
Whilst Porto didn’t make the Big 7 Travel list, Lisbon is flying the flag for Portugal – and what a flag bearer it is! There is only one adjective needed, elite.
6. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is a huge metropolis, stretching far and wide. A combination of different neighbourhoods with different identities makes Tokyo a brilliant melting pot of experiences for travellers exploring. Some areas are futuristic, with skyscrapers covered in neon lights and big screens, whilst next door you will find traditional wooden temples. Each time you turn a corner in Tokyo, a new surprise awaits – from restaurants to cocktail bars and the famous karaoke bars, to markets and museums such as the Samurai Museum.
Tokyo has a feel of Narnia about it – once you step through the wardrobe you don’t want to go back to the dull world on the other side. Whilst known for embracing the future, Tokyo and Japan as a whole has a fascinating history, making this an incredibly unique and exciting destination!
The unique offer from Tokyo sky rockets it towards the top of my tier list;
Tier:Life? Completed it mate
Singapore is a small independent island state off the coast of Malaysia. Incredibly efficient, immaculately clean and fast becoming a key hub to other destinations in Asia, Singapore may soon be a necessity in your travel plans.
The state of the art Jewel Changi Airport includes a 6 acre indoor forest complete with waterfall. Yes, you did just read that. An airport with a 6 acre indoor forest. Fancy a dip? It has a swimming pool and jacuzzi with poolside bar. Got a few hours to kill? Head to the cinema. All freely accessible (except the swimming pool & jacuzzi which costs around £10 unless you are staying at the onsite hotel) these features are somewhat mindboggling, but certainly guarantees an entertaining stop over!
Outside of the airport, a beautiful if not hectic city awaits. For those who watched series 1 of Race Across The World on BBC, the final destination point was the Marina Bay Sands observation deck – a skypark atop huge skyscrapers. Just around the corner, the Gardens By The Bay are also worth a visit.
If like me you love food – Singapore has you covered, from cheap street food to Michelin star level fine dining, the choice is yours!
This island nation is a must visit for anyone who has interests in exploring Asia. It is not a cheap destination, but you certainly get what you pay for!
4. New York City, New York, USA
New York, New York. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps.
Well, I am sleeping on New York. I get the hype, I understand the attraction. But for me to travel from the UK to the US specifically for New York? Pretty unlikely. It is a shoppers heaven, and home to classic tourist attractions like central park, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
I would like to see all of the above, minus the shopping, but I just don’t have a burning desire to visit. It is an iconic location, incredibly busy with locals and tourists alike. The name New York carries a lot of status. I just don’t feel like it will deliver that much fulfilment for me personally.
I feel to really enjoy New York as a city, I would need a local guide to show me the real culture and steer me clear of the tourist traps. It is a long way to go for a few tall buildings and a large statue (yes, I am being facetious). So without the insider to guide me, New York remains in the may happen pile for now…
3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is the playground of the rich. Home to some of the worlds tallest buildings and some of the most luxurious hotels, Dubai has been growing in popularity over the last few years.
This is another destination that is likely struggling for ranking as I have been here previously. More than most places, unless money is no object, Dubai is the kind of place you visit once in your life. I had a great few days here, visiting the Burj Al Arab, having drinks at the top of the Burj Khalifa, brunch at Atlantis The Palm and a trip to Meydan Racecourse.
The choice of restaurants bearing the name of famous chefs is endless – and are largely high quality (and high price). However after a few days with the price racking up, unless you are in all inclusive accommodation, Dubai could become a bit of a burden.
Will I go back to Dubai? Maybe. But unless something changes, it isn’t high on my list of priorities.
2. Hong Kong
Given the current political situation in Hong Kong I do not advise that anyone travels there for the moment. The situation is unstable and volatile, with regular clashes between police and protestors.
Politics aside, Hong Kong is not of huge appeal to me. The concrete jungle is one of the most densely populated countries on earth. Travelling here for business makes sense, however leisure holidays are incredibly unlikely.
I am very surprised that Hong Kong appears on the Big 7 Travel list. If I am missing something, let me know in the comments below!
Due to the political situation and tensions with the UK, it is bottom of my list for the time being. This is not based on the place itself and I mean no offence to any residents.
And the number one is… Sydney?! Has someone handed Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope again?
There are glorious beaches nearby, and it is home to the famous Opera House, Darling Harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge. But number 1 most Instagrammable place in the world is somewhat of a surprise.
I have been to Sydney previously, and it is a lovely city with incredibly hospitable people (just as they were across Australia). However given the distance and cost from the UK to Australia, a return trip is somewhat unlikely.
If anyone knows why Sydney is considered the most Instagrammable location, please enlighten me. I don’t recall seeing any photos of the city on Instagram in the last couple of years!
I am afraid for me, the most Instagrammable city is destined for relegation.
Completed Tier List:
Ranking the 30 Most Instagrammable Places In The World in to tiers is a difficult task. There had to be winners and losers, and from an esteemed list like this one, coming bottom of the pile is no real insult.
Let me know what changes you would make to this list in the comments below!
The last 18 months will be remembered for the obvious reasons, however key trends have emerged that at least deserve a footnote in the history books. From a personal perspective, the key trend is not upward or downward, nor horizontal, but rather eerily still. The resolute perception and at times strongly held belief, though often not reality, that progress has halted in its entirety and key areas of life have become stagnant.
Too much time.
Back in February and March of 2020 as the pandemic took hold across the globe, life changed for each and every one of us. In a work setting – entire industries ground to a halt and millions around the world lost their jobs.
For those who remained in employment, new working arrangements were required. Many were required to work from home, whilst others were placed on schemes such as the “furlough” scheme in the UK. Those in key front line roles were to adopt new ways of working to maximise safety whilst ensure critical services were maintained.
But whatever the work situation you found yourself in, the one thing we all had far more of was time… even for those who were required to work longer hours than ever before.
That seems counterintuitive, but unpack it slightly. Once work has finished, even if its later than usual think about these 2 questions;
What did you do?
Where did you go?
Unless the rules were not adhered to, the answer will be pretty straightforward for most. For me;
What did I do? Moved from one room of the house to the other to watch TV and have food before bed.
Where did I go? Nowhere.
Now what about free time and weekends;
What did you do? Went for a walk or baked banana bread with varying degrees of success
Where did you go? Remained within a 3 mile radius of home.
Of course the number of hours in any given day or week remained constant. However with no plans, no social life and no events, the number of truly free hours – hours with no plans, increased significantly. We found ourselves with more free time, whatever our work situation.
The question was, what the hell do we do with it?
For me, as was the case for many others, I chose to use this time to analyse every element of my life. The starting point of the analysis was a feeling of unhappiness, and so the results were unsurprisingly negative.
I was wasting my time doing things that I didn’t want to do. Getting drunk each weekend, watching a lot of TV / Netflix, ordering takeaways and occasionally going for a walk in the local area. I live with my partner, I was seeing people on video calls each week, and yet I felt so lonely and unfulfilled.
From the outside my life would appear brilliant – a great job with a salary to match, engaged to be married, new house, new car. So what right did I have to feel lonely and unfulfilled? Numbing myself of these feelings seemed easier than accepting and addressing them.
For all intents and purposes, my life was stagnant. I felt as though everything was passing me by as I remained rooted to the spot, out of control and unable to drag myself forwards.
This all stems from the pressure that we all feel to continually make progress. Through this lens life is continuous motion – either forwards, or laterally initially with the goal of advancing in the near future.
The easiest way to satisfy this urge is through work. We strive for a career in a certain industry and we base our success on that of our peers, either at work or in our social lives. We see promotion and salary increases as progress, without giving much consideration to the destination. We spend far more time making sure we are seen to be moving that the destination almost becomes irrelevant.
And then it hits. The feeling of being stagnant.
Normally this is the time we become restless and strive for the next step just to keep moving. We seek to advance our careers and progress up the chain. In essence, to do what it takes to maintain the trajectory we have set for our life.
Keep busy, work hard, move forward.
But this time it was different. The thought of progression in my career wasn’t providing any sense of satisfaction. It dawned on me that I have spent so much time focussing on progression in my career that I haven’t taken the time to think about where I want to go and what I want to achieve.
Too much time?
If you have shared that feeling of being lonely and unfulfilled, and despite all the success you may have had in life there is still that unavoidable feeling of emptiness, a sense that you are yet to find your purpose, then it may be an indicator that you too have been focussed on the journey and neglecting the destination.
What better time than now to make a change! We all have more time on our hands to define our passions and dreams. We all have the ability to chase those dreams.
The direction of travel isn’t important. Life isn’t a graph, and you are not a business with “growth potential”. It’s about your destination – and as long as you are on your path that’s all that matters.
My journey began at the start of this year. Now in to month 8, I have identified my passions and defined my dreams. You guys are all sharing the journey towards that with me! It’s not easy, but I can promise you it is rewarding.
Remember to stop and appreciate the progress of the journey to date, and review the next leg of the journey ahead. You don’t need to be continually moving to be successful.
As a lover of cheese and chocolate, the initial symptoms of lactose intolerance were swiftly ignored and passed off as coincidence, but as time went on the symptoms became more frequent and the consequences more uncomfortable; my lactose intolerance was undeniable.
The Moment The Toffee Penny Dropped.
As a teenager I had started to notice a few stomach cramps after eating certain foods. It wasn’t constant, with months in between instances at times, but as time went by they became a little more frequent and so I decided to bite the bullet and eliminate different ingredients to work out what it was that was causing the discomfort. I tried everything else I could think of – chilli, garlic, red meat, chicken and wheat to name a few – and had no success in identifying the problem.
I begrudgingly decided that the only thing left to try was eliminating dairy products from my diet for a couple of weeks. Almost instantly on day 1 the discomfort stopped and didn’t return once over the 2 weeks. To test my theory, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Never had I been so unhappy to prove a theory correct, and locate the cause of a problem!
Now at this point in life my symptoms of lactose intolerance were mild in comparison to where they are now;
Tiredness – feeling more tired than usual after eating high lactose foods
Mild stomach ache – I wouldn’t describe them as cramps at this point, but definitely discomfort.
Bloating – visible bloating of my stomach after eating high lactose foods
Excess Gas – linked to the bloating… that gas builds up and then needs to be released!
Due to them being relatively mild, I came to accept these symptoms of lactose intolerance and proceeded to eat cheese and chocolate and everything in between!
Until the curious incident of the mini egg in the night time…
Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made Of Cheese.
Well, not for me anyway!
I had to have surgery on my spine in late summer 2019, and as part of my post op care I was prescribed some super strength antibiotics. The kind that make you feel poorly every time you take them and completely ruin your appetite!
Having not considered lactose intolerance for a few years, I planned to return to eating as usual after my course of antibiotics. I went to the cinema one Thursday evening in early September, and as is my ritual I decided to buy a large pot of overpriced pick n mix sweets – mixed penny candy for those Stateside! I chose all my favourites, including copious amounts of mini eggs.
Now for those who don’t know what mini eggs are – they are a hard candy shell encasing a milk chocolate egg. Yes, milk chocolate. For those struggling to picture them, here they are in all their glory…
So in to the movie theatre we go, and as soon as I hit the seat I am throwing sweets in to my mouth and drinking my extortionately priced Pepsi Max without a care in the world. This is my first time in the cinema in over a year so I am excited and making the most of it.
Am I feeling a little sick from the sugar? Sure.
Am I going to slow down? Hell no!
For anyone wondering the film was Good Boys. From what I remember of it, funny in parts and a little slow in others – however I must admit my concentration wasn’t at it’s best. About 10 minutes in I started to feel my stomach cramping. Insisting to myself that it wasn’t the sweets, I carried on eating them until mid crunch it dawned on me… mini eggs. Chocolate. Lactose.
As a young and normally well mannered Englishman, I feel uncomfortable getting up in the middle of a film to use the toilet and disturbing other people on my way past – they have paid good money to see the movie. However more importantly I think I should add at this point that I have a fear of using public toilets for anything other than a wee.
This fear is partly on hygienic grounds, but it is more the uncomfortability of other people being near by and having use of the same toilet. When I say public toilets, I mean pretty much any toilet except my own and a very small group of privileged toilets. Needless to say of which, the local cinema is not one.
Back to the action… there I am, sat in the cinema, stomach cramps getting progressively worse, the gargling noises becoming ever louder. I am starting to sweat at this point with fear of the impending situation. The official run time of the movie is 90 minutes, however I strongly dispute the time keeper on this one.
After what felt like an eternity, the credits finally started rolling. It was go time – although not too quickly for fear of slippage – I slalomed through the exiting crowds. Squat jogging to keep my glutes tight together, I jumped in the car and proceeded to drive back like my life, or at least the upholstery of my car, depended on it. I got to my driveway and had to exit the car, throw the keys to my partner to park up, whilst I headed straight for the toilet, hurdling obstacles like a prime Kriss Akabusi. I made it to the toilet with milliseconds to spare. As I lowered myself to the seat, the flood gates opened.
It was at this point I could no longer deny my truth – it wasn’t just symptoms of lactose intolerance, I am lactose intolerant. Full stop.
All joking aside, accepting that I could no longer eat food containing lactose was a pretty tough thing to come to terms with. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it really is hard! Especially when your favourite foods are now super strength laxatives (although much cheaper, I must admit).
The hardest part is the painstaking task of checking the ingredients list on everything you buy. There are so many products that contain lactose that you would think would be fine. Some of the sneakier diarrhoea inducing consumables are;
Salt & Vinegar Pringles – some flavours are lactose free… but not salt and vinegar. Why? Who knows. It is listed as a ‘flavouring’ and appeared when MSG was removed. Whether it is to help the flavour bind to the crisp, or to enhance the flavour, I have no idea. There are lactose free flavours, but check the label carefully!
White Bread – not all white bread contains milk – but when they do, it hits… hard. In my experience it is normally the cheaper white bread that contains milk.
Processed Meat – so the explanation on this one is that lactose and casein is often added to processed meat as an emulsifier to enhance the flavour. Again, it’s not all processed meat, but its a good excuse to avoid the cancerous sodium filled aisle at the supermarket.
Quorn – when you think of vegan food, especially if you are in the UK, you probably think of Quorn right? Well, wrong. Almost none of the Quorn brand is vegan, either due to the presence of eggs or milk. So not only does it taste vile, it makes me shit myself too. Its a lose / lose situation.
Other vegetarian or meat free brands / products – Quorn aren’t the only ones. There are a number of great tasting meat free products! However a number of them also contain lactose. Unfortunately I found out through trial and error… Get checking those labels!
So these are the ones to avoid, but what about the ones to gravitate towards?
In Queso Emergencies:
Sometimes all you want is that lactose riddled product, be it a cup of tea, a chocolate bar, a cheese board or a free choice of crisp flavours, you just want that milky hit without the guaranteed symptoms of lactose intolerance. Well I have you covered!
Here are my top lactose-free products to replace your favourites;
It took me a while to find milk that was anywhere near good enough as an alternative to the real thing for coffee. But fear not, I martyred myself so you don’t have to. Make sure you buy the Oatly Barista for coffee and cereal – it is creamy and is genuinely better than the real stuff. Make sure you give it a shake to get the barista style froth on top of your coffee. Give it a go – you won’t go back to cows milk afterwards!
For any chocolate milk lovers – Oatly Oat Drink Chocolate. Again, make sure you shake it well before use. Fancy a hot chocolate? Stick it in the microwave for 45 seconds. You are welcome!
Word of warning – do not use Oatly Barista in your cup of tea, it is not good at all! I am reliably informed cashew milk is the way to go for any tea lovers.
Butter – Flora ProActiv Buttery
I have always loved copious amounts of butter spread on to my toast for breakfast. I have also always hated margarine (does anyone like it?).
I have had a few false starts with butter alternatives. Flora buttery was my first go to, until they changed the recipe and added buttermilk! But I have found one even better than that – even closer to the real thing. Flora ProActiv Buttery is a brilliant alternative and helps to lower cholesterol too… healthy and lactose free? WINNER!
Biscuits – Bourbon Creams
A lot of biscuits are milk free, however some of the classics are off limits if you are needing to avoid lactose. However there are a few surprises in there. The new Chocolate Chip Hobnobs are lactose free, as are the regular Hobnobs.
My number 1 winner in this category has to be the Bourbon Cream. A staple of the biscuit barrel in any UK household – the chocolate sandwich biscuit is lactose free!! Don’t ask too many questions about the cream filling, just be happy that it doesn’t contain lactose and move on…
This is a controversial one, and I am sure people will disagree… but I find most lactose free “milk” chocolate to taste really bad. It is Hershey style sweet with very little flavour, and often doesnt melt in the mouth like proper milk chocolate does.
Nomo as an entire brand is an exception to this. I am yet to have a flavour I don’t love. My favourite flavour? Caramel Chocolate. This caramel filled bar is a dream! Notable mention to their Caramel & Sea Salt bar (this one is solid rather than caramel filled).
Takeaway Pizza – Papa John’s
Even in my lactose consuming days, I came to be a strong believer that big Papa J’s was the ultimate of the chain pizza joints. Well when it comes to lactose free options, they are in a league of their own! They have a range of vegan pizzas, or you can make your own meat topped pizza with vegan cheese so you aren’t forced to eat vegan just because you can’t have lactose.
Lactose free cheese in general is relatively crap. I have tried a number of options and I have not been very impressed at all. There are some brilliant vegan mozzarella options for pizza toppings, but other than that I would be cautious.
I asked at the top of this post which you would miss most, the pizza or the chocolate cakes? The answer is neither. They are both lactose free alternatives!
If you have any suggestions of lactose free alternatives, particularly cheeses, let me know in the comments below!
I love reading and writing reviews of places travelled, sharing experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. However I also love the buzz and excitement, dreaming of exploring those destinations as yet unvisited – a viewpoint I seldom see on other blogs / websites.
I wanted to share my excitement prior to visiting these locations so we all go on the journey together; from day dreaming, to trip planning and then finally living the dream and exploring each of these amazing destinations with each and every one of you. So here goes…
5. Bosnia and Herzegovina
First up, its Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yes, I know it’s a bit cheeky having an entire country on the list – but it is a land far too amazing to limit a trip to one spot. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most underrated and unexplored natural wonders in Europe, with just under 1.5m foreign tourists per year visiting the Balkan beauty based on 2019 figures (I have excluded 2020’s stats for obvious reasons).
For some the initial mental image conjured up when I say Bosnia & Herzegovina will be Mostar Bridge, however sadly for many the scenes of war from the news in years gone by will dominate.
Bosnia & Herzegovina has a troubled recent history – between 1992 and 1995 the Bosnian War saw an estimated 97,207 people killed. There have been many convictions for war crimes in the Bosnian war, including Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić & Ratko Mladić for committing genocide. It is incredibly important to bear this in mind when travelling to this region and be respectful of this. I strongly encourage you to visit the memorials across the country such as the Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial to pay your respects and learn about the history of the country.
Despite the troubled past, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a thriving country bursting with amazing culture and natural beauty. Bucket list activities include walking across the UNESCO world heritage bridge in Visegrad (pictured above), visiting the Pliva Waterfall located in Jajce town centre, exploring the capital Sarajevo, a trip to the aforementioned Mostar, climbing Maglic Mountain to swim in Trnovacko Lake in Sutjeska National Park, and finally rafting down Štrbački buk in Una National Park pictured below.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country rich with history, culture and natural beauty all bundled up in to one fantastic package. Whilst I love finding hidden gems off the well trodden tourist path, it feels wrong that only 1.5m foreign tourists visit this nation each year. For perspective, that means that on average the UK has more tourists in 2 weeks than visit Bosnia and Herzegovina in an entire year. This is definitely one to add to your bucket list!
4. Tibilisi & Batumi, Georgia
So number 5 was a little cheeky, but number 4 is as cheeky as it gets. The country of Georgia is in the Caucasus, right on the borderline between Eastern Europe and Western Asia – however as they are eligible for membership of European institutions including the EU and most importantly Eurovision… that qualifies Georgia for the European list in my book.
Now for the second elephant in the room. Yes, Tbilisi and Batumi are 2 separate cities approximately 400km apart – but let me explain…
The former Soviet state of Georgia is widely known as just that – a part of the old Soviet Union, but Georgia has so much culture and excitement to offer! A melting pot of Ottoman, Persian, Armenian and Soviet history and influences and a former stop along the famous Silk Road, Georgia is an intriguing and relatively unexplored nation. Tbilisi, the capital city, is one of Europes most up and coming cities, and is a must for my Top 5 list!
After exploring Tbilisi, the city becomes the perfect hub to launch out for day trips, my selection being;
the Monuments of Mtskheta, photographed above
a visit to Josef Stalin’s birthplace of Gori
exploring the oldest cave city in Georgia, Uplistsikhe
If a wine tasting floats your boat, then a trip to Sighnaghi is a must. Whilst visiting Sighnaghi is something I would like to do, this will be the trip I am prepared to sacrifice given I don’t really drink!
The chances are I will only ever visit Georgia once, so it makes sense to travel between cities & locations as and when required to ensure that key sights are not missed. So on that note…
Following exploring Tbilisi and the surrounding areas, a road trip to the Black Sea resort of Batumi is top of my list of priorities in Georgia (photographed below). The drive to Batumi would take at least a day, as there are a minimum of 10 stops to make along the way, my number 1 priority being a visit to Borjomi-Kharagauli national park in the lower Caucusus.
Once in Batumi my priorities are; taking the Argo Cable car in to the Anuria Mountain to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and its skyline, enjoying the pebbled beaches on the Black Sea, experiencing the restaurants & nightlife, and exploring the eclectic mix of neoclassical architecture alongside modern interpretations of architecture from the elite of Georgia in the present day.
Special thanks to Wander-lush.org for the inspiration to travel to Georgia and for some of the locations suggested above! If you want to check out their comprehensive Georgia travel guide, is is available here.
3.The Lofoten Islands, Norway
I have done it! At last, I have chosen an individual location. To be completely honest with you, there were 2 or 3 places in Norway that could have made this Top 5 list however I plan on multiple trips here and so I settled on just 1, and the winner is…. the Lofoten Islands.
The four main islands of Lofoten are Moskenesøy, Vestvågøy, Austvågøy and Flakstadøy. Located in the Arctic Circle, you would think that this is going to be a pretty bloody cold trip, right?! Well, you’d be wrong… or kind of wrong. The climate of the Lofoten Islands is described as mild winters and warm summers. Average winter temperatures are around 0 and on average in summer you can expect the low teens – so I would suggest the words “mild” and “warm” are a little generous by most standards, however this is the Arctic Circle after all!
Within the Lofoten Islands you will find beautiful fjords surrounded by imposing snow capped mountains. For the winter sport enthusiasts amongst you, if you travel here in the winter months one of the most popular activities is skiing. The winter is also the best time to see the humpback & killer whales around the Lofoten Islands – considered to be the best location in the world to see these ginormous species in real life, booking a whale watching trip is a must!
I will be travelling here in the winter months, but not primarily for the winter sports or the killer whales, but more for this…
The Lofoten Islands are the perfect location to see the aurora borealis, better known as the northern lights. This natural phenomenon occurs due to disturbances in the magnetosphere cause by solar winds (I have no idea either). But it is incredible!
Seeing the northern lights has been at the top of my travel wish list for years. Visiting Norway has been up at the top of that list for years too… I think its rather fitting that I check both items off the list in one trip! I know it is very much dependent on the weather conditions, however I will be booking a few days here to give myself the best possible chance to experience the northern lights in real life rather than through computer / TV screens!
2. Sardinia, Italy
Sadly, as I am writing this post, news has broken of wildfires burning through Sardinia. Already over 900 families have been forced to flee their homes and the fire has consumed over 20,000 hectares of land. The Italian fire fighters, with support planes from France and Greece are battling to get the fires under control. I wish them all the best in their brave efforts, and I send my love and support to the families impacted in this tragedy. Sardinia will be back just as beautiful, and stronger than ever.
From one extreme to the other – the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The warmth, the perfect golden beaches, and the clear waters with their famous turquoise shimmer sounds like the perfect trip to warm up after near frost bite conditions in Norway!
Sardinia is a large island, second only to Sicily in the Mediterranean, but wherever you choose to spend your time, you will be sure to make memories that last a lifetime.
I have previously had a full trip to Sardinia booked, but unfortunately had to cancel last minute due to injuries sustained in a car accident… but that’s a story for another time! It does however mean that I have a well researched plan of exactly what to do and where to stay, so here goes;
Starting with my number one tip for Italy, and specifically Sardinia, a stay at an Agriturismo. In short, taking the translation quite literally, they are tourist farms. Set in the rolling hills of Sardinia, there are hundreds of Agriturismo’s to choose from, some with views down to the sea, a chance to eat and drink produce directly from the farm, what is not to love?
Yes, I am sure some will be enhanced reality for the tourist trade, but that’s the same wherever you go! And it is certainly not a reason to avoid these little gems. I would recommend that you don’t spend your full trip here though – a night or 2 will suffice!
Next stop for me is the ancient walled city of Alghero, situated on the north west of the island. Alghero, captured by Catalan conquerors in the middle ages is one of the most beautiful and interesting destinations on the island. The historical charm of this stronghold has been preserved brilliantly, giving a chance to admire both its beauty and its history. The Catalan legacy is still visible today – with many inhabitants the direct descendants of the Catalonians, the co-official language of the town is the Alguerès dialect of the Catalan language.
A trip to Sardinia wouldn’t be complete without heading down south for a night in Cagliari before flying home! The historic capital of Sardinia, located on the seafront, the city rises up to Il Castello, giving breath-taking views back over the city itself. On the southern tip of the island, Cagliari is the most traditionally Italian city in an otherwise very unique island. The tight streets with plant lined balconies, Vespa scooters weaving in and out of tourists and locals alike. What is not to love?
1. The Bay Of Kotor, Montenegro
Here it is, my number 1 destination of my Top 5… As Yet Unseen: Europe list is the Bay of Kotor, or Boka Kotorska, Montenegro.
The Bay of Kotor has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, and encompasses several medieval towns such as Kotor, Tivat & Perast. It is incredibly hard to describe Boka Kotorska and do it justice.
Gorgeous, breathtaking, majestic, divine; however hefty your thesaurus, the brain-blowing beauty of the Bay of Kotor will leave you struggling for superlatives
They’re not wrong…
In the 18th century Boka Kotorska rivalled the naval fleets of Dubrovnik and Venice, however in the years since then its popularity declined. Kotor has had various ruling forces occupy their land…
From the French to Napoleon and the Italians, back to Montenegro with Russian backing and then to the Austrian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before becoming part of Yugoslavia, and then Serbia and Montenegro following the collapse of Yugoslavia, until 2006 when Montenegro seceded from the union gaining full independence.
Since then, Montenegro has flourished. Approximately 2.5m foreign tourists visit the country each year, of which a large proportion travel to Boka Kotorska. This figure is still relatively low compared to other destinations, however it has increased by over 50% between 2016 and 2019. The positive being that the infrastructure improves to accommodate the increased numbers of tourists, with the negative that some of the charm will inevitably be lost as the tourist trade is capitalised upon.
From kayaking through the Blue Cave on the Lustica Peninsula, to exploring Our Lady of Rocks and Perast old town, or hiking the Ladder of Kotor for the ultimate view back over Boka Kotorska, there are endless activities and amazing things to see in this region.
Flights from the UK are direct in to Tivat, meaning holidays here are very easy to arrange and flights often start around the £90 return mark meaning they are also incredibly affordable! This is a popular destination, and given its status as a not so hidden gem, it is not as cheap as some other locations in the Balkans. Boutique hotels will cost around £350-450 for a week based on 2 adults sharing, however there are good quality apartments for approximately £150-250 per week. If you want a luxurious stay, dates in September currently cost around £540 for 2 people flights and accommodation for 7 nights. Given the location and the experiences, I would suggest that is fantastic value for money!
So there you have it, my Top 5… As Yet Unseen: Europe! Are there any destinations here you have added to your travel plans? Or anywhere else you think I should have considered? Let me know in the comments below!
It’s the final Sunday of July, so its seems a pretty good time to look ahead to plans for August and what you can expect from Pursuit Of Purpose in the next month. It is quite a jam packed schedule already, but as always there will be additional posts and content along the way!
To make sure you catch all of my content, follow me on Instagram, Youtube & Twitter;
The footage has been captured, the recordings have been reviewed, and the editing is in full swing. It’s almost time to share my first video on the Pursuit of Purpose YouTube channel with you all!
I am teaching myself to use Premiere Pro as I go with this project, so it’s taking me far longer than it would for an experienced editor – but it’s coming along nicely! I’m aiming for a release date in the week of the 23rd of August.
Future videos will be reviewing trips & locations, documenting my journey and learnings as I go. But before we move forward, we need to head back to the beginning and where it all started.
So this video covers the start of Pursuit Of Purpose, why I am embarking on this journey & a trip back to a place very close to my heart, the Lake District.
I will share on here and my Instagram / Twitter when the video is uploaded – be sure to check it out!
Food, Food, Food
I have 3 restaurant trips booked in August already, so expect reviews and photos of delicious food!
I will be going on a culinary tour around the world with stops in Thailand, Italy and Japan confirmed, and potentially a couple of additional layovers on the way.
Zaap Thai, photograph above, is a fantastically decorated restaurant. Thai food is one of my favourites, and there is a lot of competition in Leeds, so I will be sharing comparisons between the restaurants over the coming weeks to let you know which one I think comes out on top!
It will be my first time at both Franco Manca & Issho – so I am really excited to try both and share my experience with you all!
If anyone has any other restaurant suggestions (ideally in Yorkshire for August) then comment below!
So as of last year, I am a homeowner for the first time! Wooooo! Although as anyone who has bought a new build house will know, every wall & ceiling is covered with a rather thin coat of bulk buy white emulsion. Now the house has dried, I can finally change that, so it’s time to get decorating…
First up is the living room / front room / sitting room / lounge, whatever you want to call it! To me, its the living room – and given its the room I spend most time in, its about time I decorate and furnish it properly! We have had the sofa & TV for a few months, however the rest of the decoration & furniture is yet to be decided.
Now, I wouldn’t describe myself as having the most experience with D.I.Y… so this could go one of two ways, either pretty well or disastorously wrong.
You will have front row seats to see the progress and the final outcome!
Mocktails and the Alcohol Free Life
Having decided to stop drinking alcohol, one of the questions often asked is, “do you drink alcohol free beer?” and the honest answer is no! I appreciate why it is so well liked by some, however from my perspective I don’t have an interest in drinking anymore, so I haven’t previously seen the attraction of trying the nolo (abbreviation for no or low alcohol) versions of classic alcoholic beverages.
The global alcohol free market is worth an estimated $1.4tn in 2021, an increase of 19% from 2020. So I think it’s about time I see what I am missing out on! I will be calling on my resident Alcohol Free specialist, The Sober Life Of Riley, to suggest & create a number of nolo alcohol options to test and review!
If you have any alcohol free alternative suggestions, comment below and let me know!
Time To Travel?
Due to the above activities and the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, I haven’t got much travel planned for August, but I have got a number of pre-pandemic trips abroad to review and share with you all, including a life changing stay in Beirut, Lebanon & an Interrailing adventure across Europe from Denmark to Croatia.
Other posts to expect in August include a ‘Tier List’ on European countries I am yet to visit and ‘Top 5’ tips for finding the perfect hotel for your holiday!
N.B. I am now double vaccinated (yay!), and my “covid passport” will soon be ready to let me travel abroad again. I have some trips already booked and confirmed, and some exciting plans in the piepline – I will provide a sneak peak of my travel plans in the next couple of months.
… And Breathe!
August is set to be a busy a month here at Pursuit Of Purpose, but certainly an exciting one! The content will be flowing here on the blog, on Instagram, Twitter & YouTube! Make sure you are following across the platforms so you don’t miss out. If you have any suggestions of content you would like to see, let me know in the comments below!
Quick reminder – the blog posting schedule is as follows;