I recently returned to grey and not-really-warm-anymore London from a week long work trip to the Philippines. Yes I know, it’s hard <ahem>. My initial reason for being there was to attend PHITEX – The Philippines Travel Exchange. Essentially a whole lot of people like me (tour operators and travel agents) sat at an assigned table while a LOT of Philippine hotels, destination management companies (those are like the people on the ground who help us organise everything for our clients) and other tourist companies came to meet with us, show us what they have on offer and convince us to send our clients their way.

Welcome to Manila

Welcome to Manila

It made for a very. very. long. day. But an interesting one. It’s the first conference type event my company has ever sent me on and it was definitely an interesting one to attend. I was one of a handful from the UK, the large majority of the visiting travel agents were either Russian or Korean. No idea that Russia had such a huge interest in the Philippines. So learned that.

But, believe it or not, that wasn’t the part of the trip I was most excited about. I couldn’t wait for hotels, beaches, and HEAT. Yes, it was rainy season, and yes, it rained in Manila, but I didn’t care. It was hot, I was staying in beautiful rooms, and I was in the Philippines. Any other traveller <not the gypsy kind> can understand I hope.

So what were the Philippines like? I had no idea what to expect from Manila. Some people told me it was good, others had a very different opinion. Things like ‘trash on the streets’ and ‘pollution’ come to mind…

My first impression was nothing but positive. Okay, so I was a little more spoiled than on my average holiday. I was met at my airport gate, after a very long flight, by my hosts and given a necklace of flowers that smelled a lot better than me. I was escorted through immigration, got my bag, and into my awaiting taxi to my first hotel, The Peninsula.

The Peninsula's Grand Lobby. See the sailors??

The Peninsula's Grand Lobby. See the sailors??

I was sleep deprived and unwashed and probably slightly delirious, but walking through those doors was…like walking onboard the Titanic. Really, people. Yes, I mean the ship. The doors of the lobby were opened by men in SAILOR SUITS. So that confused me. Then there was the grand lobby. Marble everywhere, a double sweeping staircase, a live jazz band, chandeliers bigger than my bedroom… All it needed was couples waltzing away while men with big fat cigars sat in their private room dealing blackjack or whatever it is they played on the Titanic… Come to think of it, this definitely could have been a grand lobby in Las Vegas, or Monaco too, minus the casino games. But I’m pretty sure the flash cars were parked outside as required by any high flying casino (right?).

Unfortunately <or not> I didn’t get up to any crazy late cigar-smoking nights in Manila or anywhere else in the Philippines. More sleeping at every possible chance, and dinners hosted by our hotel.

After PHITEX ended the real fun began. It was time to go to Palawan. Me and about 15 other very smart travel agents (not the unfortunate other 100 or so who headed off to the more well known islands and were plagued with rain. Muahaha. Sorry.)

The fun was paused, briefly, whilst my stomach reminded me that I was in Asia and what the heck happened to food like pasta and chips. Enough said about that.

On our way to see some fireflies

On our way to see some fireflies

I recovered just in time for a meal hosted by the Mayor of Palawan just to boost our egos <and give us rainmakers which I thoroughly enjoyed carting through airports on the way home…> and then an amazing firefly tour. I had no idea what this was going to be, but we were all herded onto long narrow boats in the pitch dark while a lovely man rowed us down a mangrove river where I could see…nothing. Nothing, except hundreds and hundreds of little tiny lights. Fireflies! It was absolutely stunning. The mangroves were covered in them, and as long as you stay away from the thoughts that these are actually just little bugs; essentially flies; then it really is a beautiful sight.

Getting ready for the underground river

Getting ready for the underground river

After that night, and my first decent sleep, we were taken to what is one of the Philippines best assets. The underground river. I’ve been into mountain caves before where you learn all about stalactites and stalagmites (stalaCtite – ceiling, stalaGmite – from the ground. I did remember something) but there was something even more astounding about being able to row down a river and see it all. The bats were pretty neat too… Then it was back to the mangrove rivers for snake spotting. No monkeys though. We really wanted to see the monkeys.

Stalactites inside the underground river caves. Or the Virgin Mary. Apparently.

Stalactites inside the underground river caves. Or the Virgin Mary. Apparently.

After that, my last few days were spent on Apulit Island in the north part of Palawan doing things like snorkelling, exploring caves, feeding the tropical fish, more snorkelling, candlelit dinners on the beach and relaxing in my villa standing on stilts over the water. Leaving <on our private plane> was not easy…

My Apulit Island home

My Apulit Island home

A week definitely wasn’t long enough so hopefully I’ll be back again whenever I can make it. Until then, as always, the photos will have to suffice.

Philippines Love

Philippines Love


A friend of mine recently announced that he was headed to Boston, Massachusetts for a couple of weeks. As the resident Boston expert (you get that label after four years of university there) we got to chatting about why I loved Boston.

Introding other Brits to Annapolis' delights

Introding other Brits to Annapolis' delights

One of the most important things to me when traveling is food. Pretty sure I’m not alone there and often, from the places I’ve lived, it’s the thing I remember and miss the most.

In Thailand I was all about the Som Tam salad, from Australia I miss the best barbeques I’ve ever had and in the USA? It’s all about crabs. I was an East Coast girl, from New York to Maryland to Massachusetts, and the East Coast knows how to do a good crab feast.

I’d been thinking about them already when my friend returned from her holiday to Florida talking all about her new find – Joe’s Stone Crab. Apparently some crab claws to go, eaten on the cliffs by the beach is up there with top meal experiences around. I almost had my flights to Miami booked, but when it comes down to it, I’m still faithful to Boston and Annapolis.

Sorry Mr Crab...

Sorry Mr Crab...

New England knows its seafood, and crabs are no exception. Legal Sea Foods restaurant is nothing but amazing. Enough said. If you’re in Boston, there are no excuses.

But my favourite crab feasting destination of them all? Drum roll… Okay, it’s not that dramatic, but all Annapolitans (that’s people native to Annapolis, Maryland) should know about Cantler’s. Hard to find by car, but easy if you’re on a boat and you know the way… A big wooden bench, some newspaper, a bucket, a hammer and a big pile of Maryland Blue Crabs. Mouth. Watering. Summer is coming, it is JUNE now (terrifying) and I may love a London summer, but nothing defines summer like a good messy crab feast at Cantler’s.

Working on a way to get them shipped over now…

*This post was sponsored by cheapflights.co.uk however they did not influence the writing of the content.

My travelling feet have been getting very itchy lately. A full time job and stretched funds (thank you London rent prices) mean I’ve been staying put a whole lot more over the last year than I would perhaps choose. I have had a few lovely trips here and there, but while I’m more limited to Saturday and Sunday freedom, I’ve decided to do a little domestic travelling.

MSN Travel recently did a slideshow on Britain’s 50 unbeatable sights and I decided to finally do what I’ve always talked about – explore my home country. I’ve seen a few places here and there, but there are far more that I haven’t seen. I’ve taken ideas from this MSN article, but I’m also open to suggestions – so where should I go? I’ll be travelling whenever I can, reporting on what I’ve seen, and generally learning more about this place as I go along.

The UK is a bit of an underdog in the Europe holiday hotspots game if you ask me, so here’s one more person giving it it’s dues. Watch this space.

Water. Drink it

Water. Drink it

All of you out there who think you drink enough water – I bet you don’t. Okay, maybe some of you do, but I thought I was one of those people and turns out…Nope. Or maybe it’s my potassium levels…

So I’ve told you already that I broke the ice and started running for my journey from Couch to 42k with Heather. Well guess what happened after that first run? Probably mere hours after I told you about it. The. worst. muscle. cramps. ever.

I’ve had muscle cramps before. I was an athlete in a former American high school life, and I remember the times when I’d be doing my laps in the pool and suddenly my foot would decide to try curling up into a ball. Then it was out of the pool, bottle of water in one hand, banana in the other, while the physio did things to your foot that felt worse than the cramp in the first place.

I thought that was bad.

So the day of my first run went great. I got up early, jogged around Clissold Park, got home, got ready and jumped on my bike to head to work. Left work and (this may have been the mistake) headed straight to my weekly netball game.

I got home and everything was great. Had some dinner, watched some iPlayer, got ready for an early restful night. All nicely tucked up in bed, straighten my legs out. And it hits me. It starts at the toes. The arches of the foot. My calf, my shins, my….everything. My whole right leg was in one giant muscle spasm. This is a muscle cramp like I didn’t even know existed. Unfortunately in the middle of the night, home alone, with no idea how to just make it stop, I felt pretty helpless as I yelled at nobody in particular while trying my best to stand up on it.

According to the ever helpful WebMD (checked after the fact…) muscle cramps can be caused by:

-Poor circulation (think I’m okay here, I was recently told I had very good blood pressure)

-Over exertion of the calf muscles (Running, cycling and netball in the same day. Hmm….)

-Insufficient stretching (I stretched…for a few seconds…)

-Exercising in the heat (Obviously not)

-Muscle fatigue (Check)

-Dehydration (Check)

-Magnesium or potassium deficiency (Check)

-Calcium deficiency (I love cheese…so no)

-Malfunctioning nerves (think I’m okay here)

-Side effect to medicine (My drug intake is pretty low…)

So at least five of those symptoms are pretty likely to fit my description pretty well. And the worst one? Dehydration. Think about how much water you drink in a day. I mean really think about. I always thought my agua levels were all good. But when I’m jogging a couple of miles, cycling about 8 miles, AND playing netball? I need a LOT more water in this body of mine to keep going.

Anyway, lesson learned. Big time. Please don’t let my mistake be yours. Be all about the agua.

Okay. My first run is over. I’ve broken the ice, and now there’s no looking back. To start training, Heather and I are going to be using the NHS podcast Couch to 5k that talks you through your running over a nine week period to get you up to a 5k run.

Since there is almost exactly nine weeks until our first run – the Race for Life 5k in Hyde Park, it’s worked out pretty perfectly.

I’m not a morning person, and I really didn’t think I could do this, but with a hectic work schedule, a pre-work run was the only way this was going to happen. I live just by a park and surprised myself by enjoying my 30 minute walk/jog around the ponds (there are still so many baby ducks and geese! Cue the ‘awww’s) and around the petting zoo to say good morning to the billy goats. Yes, my park has a petting zoo. Beat that.

Week One of the NHS Couch to 5k is a nice gentle start, which is just what I needed. With a 5 minute warm up walk, and then alternating 60 seconds jogs and 90 second walks, it was just enough to start getting me in the mindset of what this is actually going to be like.

The next two runs will be the same, but it will start kicking up a few notches and I think I’m finally ready (in my head anyway…my legs may disagree). Wish me luck, and please do show your support by helping me our and giving some money to an amazing cause here: http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/fillingthepages

From Couch to 42k

Okay, well I’ve mentioned it already and now it’s becoming very real. I really am about to start training for a marathon. And throw in a 5k, a 10k and a half marathon in the meanwhile. My family has been affected by cancer more than once and I want celebrate the fact that those closest to me have come out the other end of treatments and surgery, and are still living happy lives, and luckily I’ve found a good friend with her own desires to give something back to Cancer Research.

Except, me and my running friend Heather have decided to try and put a little twist on things by running our races around the world. We’re starting with the Race for Life 5k in Hyde Park in July, then the idea is to do a 10k potentially in North Africa (still pending) before hitting a half marathon on the Great Wall of China. To top it all off – we’re really set on getting to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon. Because, well, if you’re going to run a marathon, why not do it on a beautiful island with beaches you can collapse on afterwards?

But we can’t do this alone – we need all the support we can get. We’re both raising money (hopefully we’ll manage to merge our two sites together, but for now if you can, please donate here: http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/fillingthepages) and we’re looking for any and all kinds of sponsors to help us along the way. We’ve already been contacted by a few experiences runners and a nutritionist who’s going to take away all our biscuits and chocolate (aahhh) but if you know of anyone, or if you yourself think you might be able to help us in some way, then please get in touch.

We’d love to try out new training programmes, fitness gear, anything really! If you happen to own a plane that could take us to China and Jamaica…well that’d be just fine too.

Most of all, we need lots of encouragement, so please keep checking back to hear how I’m doing, comment, donate, and if you want to join us in any or all of our runs, even better.

so...where are we?

so...where are we?

“You’re going to Cork over Easter weekend? Everything will be shut. Yes I mean everything. You might not be able to eat. Take food.”

When you get encouragement like that when you tell someone you’re going on holiday, you either laugh, or stare in shock, speechless. I did one, Cam did the other. Luckily, our hilariously sarcastic friends were wrong, but they weren’t all wrong.

Cam and I arrived very (very…) early on Good Friday morning in Cork, Ireland. After being greeted by the enormous hill that preceded the entrance to Sheila’s Hostel, and taking a much needed nap (I really did mean very early) we got up to discover that…nothing was open. Okay, not nothing. But when you’re on a girls holiday in Ireland of all places and the sale of alcohol is banned. Well, it may as well have been nothing as far as we were concerned that day.

tiny chocolatesDon’t worry, we did pull ourselves together and actually decide to explore Cork beyond the pint glasses. We found a Gourmet Burger place (not GBK…proper local like) and gorged on the biggest beef patties and buns I’ve seen in awhile, then over the river and into the high street we went. Heading down St Patrick’s Street, we explored Cork’s city centre. We found O’Connaill’s on French Church Street, where the hot chocolate had come highly recommended. It didn’t disappoint. Walked through the English Market and bought ourselves one tiny little chocolate each at the amazing chocolate truffle stand, and Cam discovered her new favourite necklace at one of the alleyway’s vintage shops.

Then, the perfect way to round off the evening – the one place, possibly in all of Cork that had a bottle of wine or two to share with us? Sheila’s Hostel. I knew I picked this place for a reason. We also spent the evening getting to know half of the Muycullen under-17’s boys basketball team who were staying in our hostel for a tournament. I hope they did well, I have no idea, but apparently they’re pretty good…

Saturday was reserved for the Franciscan Wells beer festival. From a completely dry day in Cork to a, well, not dry one. With some new friends from Sheila’s and fellow festival folk, we tried out as many different Irish beers as we could handle. We felt it was our obligation after all… only fair really.

We did manage to make appearances at both Crane Lane and Mutton Lane – two bars/pubs that had also come highly recommended. Crane Lane had a great outdoor area down the um, lane. Mutton Lane was the absolute definition of a pokey old man’s pub but was brimming with charm. We didn’t stay (they didn’t serve food, we were hungry) but I think I really liked that place.

Sunday was kicked off with a proper roast, a film, and yes, the beer festival. It ended, in my opinion, the best way possible. We had met a comedy group, also staying in our hostel (Sheila’s is clearly quite the hive of activity…) called Foil, Arms & Hog. We were meant to be seeing their act, but the lack of a crowd on Easter Sunday meant the night was canceled, and they went back off to their home city of Dublin. Leaving me and Cam and the City Limits Comedy Club owner, Brian, to ourselves. So what else was there to do except lock up the doors, help ourselves to the bar and have a pool/Connect Four/table football tournament between the three of us while I DJ-ed on my iPod. I have never had a proper lock in at a bar like this, but it was a pretty fantastic if not completely random night.

seaside town of Cobh

seaside town of Cobh

Monday we went crazy and did the tourist thing by taking a train to Cobh, a seaside town and also the last port of call for the Titanic. We chose not to go into the Heritage Museum which apparently was a huge mistake but Cobh – little tip for you – don’t make your museum look so small and unappealing from the outside if you’re going to charge for it. Apparently, once inside, it’s fascinating but the entrance was very deceiving. So we spent a few hours wandering the coast line, eating fish ‘n chips by the sea, and seeing the aftermath of a local fire disaster. Back on the train to Cork then…

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

Tuesday was a much more successful tourist day. It was also our last day in Ireland. We got up and headed on the bus to Blarney to kiss the damn stone I’ve been told so much about. It actually turns out that Blarney is a stunning little piece of land that isn’t all about the stone. The castle itself is pretty amazing, especially the tiny cavernous dungeons, and the poison garden is great, even if the police have confiscated the marijuana plants (seriously).

We explored Blarney’s Rock Cove with its Wishing Steps (apparently the witch here has agreed to grant everyone’s wishes if you go down the stairs backwards with your eyes closed in exchange for living in the grounds…) and Witch’s Kitchen and even searched for fairies in the grove.

Also – kissing that stone? Not as easy as you may think at first…

**More photos will hopefully be added, apologies for some gaps. To see a few more of my photos, you can click here.