World in Pictures: The Colours of Bali

If I had to choose one word to describe Bali it would be colourful. Every day vibrant colours drew me in like a magpie to diamonds… The dazzling shades of pinks, reds and yellows in its flowers, the ripe, rich greens of its rice paddies and its brilliant blue skies. To put it simply, I fell in love with its colours.

Even the greyest of pavements are lit up by dozens of colourful offerings for the Hindu Gods. Seemingly discarded on the floor, they are found everywhere from shops and restaurants to outside hotel doors. We found them at the top of Bali’s highest mountain Gunung Agung, lying on the sandy beaches (which Matty accidentally trampled on, burning his foot on the incense – but no one seemed to mind) and precariously balanced on taxi meters.

Varying in shapes and sizes, the offerings can be as small as a few grains of rice on a banana leaf, or as lavish as a full size meal, decorated in orchids with sweet, floral scented incense burning. Some had brightly packaged biscuits, most were made with rice and flowers, but all were beautifully colourful, decorating miles of pavements across the island.

It was quite magical to watch women, carrying trays of burning incense and brightly coloured flowers, bless each offering as they laid it down. Silent and transfixed, their mouths moved as their fingers sprinkled water over the small presentation, as if they were casting a beautiful, enchanting spell.

Here’s a few of our favourite picture that I hope convey some of the colours of Bali…




And these beautiful structures, which I think must be made from palm leaves, lined many of the streets and were found outside homes, shops and restaurants. Most had small platforms at eye level that were laden with offerings.



It is an island blessed with vibrant natural beauty…




And the sunsets, which paint the sky with colours at dusk, are second to none.


We found dazzling displays of colour when we least expected it… Like this golden shrine at the top of Gunung Agung.


And perhaps unsurprisingly, the Balinese traditional dress is also colourful.


As is everything else from their dogs to their graveyards…



Whatever the spell, I’ve fallen under it.

Where to eat in Denpasar? Everywhere.

I often wish I was a cow. More specifically, a cow with four stomachs. Can you imagine going off to have lunch somewhere and filling one stomach, while deliberating over your next few restaurants for the remaining three stomachs? In fact, by the time the fourth one was full, the first stomach would probably be ready for its next fill. You could literally eat all day.

The irony, of course, is that while we have so many different flavours and cuisines with which to fill our one stomach, cows only have grass. Life’s a bitch.

Denpasar, the capital of Bali, is definitely a cow’s haven. If I could be a cow for one day, I think I would be one in Denpasar. Admittedly, the city’s busy, traffic-choked streets are a bit of a shock to the system after so much horizontal time around the island’s coastline, but it has hundreds of little warungs, in which to seek refuge.

We travelled to Denpasar from Bali’s infamous town Kuta, purely for lunch. We had a wonderful taxi driver who regaled tales of life in his village and was seemingly bemused by our desire to travel to Denpasar (more than an hour in hideous traffic) just for lunch. We explained we had heard the food was very good and very cheap.

‘But after the taxi price, it is the same price in Kuta,’ he said, chuckling to himself. He had a point there, but Kuta is where food goes to die (there will be a blog on this to follow).

With dozens and dozens of shack-like warungs, lining the city’s roads, heaving with locals, it was tricky to know which one to go for. We had been recommended a little place called Cak Asm and as we only had one chance to get it right, unlike cows, we headed straight there.

I was delighted to find we were the only tourists there, always a good sign.

There’s Matty sticking out like a sore thumb.

Nevertheless, the menu was largely translated into English and we were given our own little waitress’ notepad to jot down our order. The food was seriously cheap. The Indonesian classic dish of Nasi Goreng (delicious fried rice with an egg on top) was a mere 9,000 Rupiahs (50p), about three times cheaper than we’d found it elsewhere. And the calamari was a mere 21,000 Rupiahs (£1.40). They were basically giving it away. We ordered more dishes than two people really should.


Our food arrived and adequately covered the table. We’d ordered a chicken in chilli sauce, which was served in a tasty chilli infused oyster sauce, providing a delightful spice kick and tasty contrast to the other dishes. The vegetable stir fry was light and crunchy and the Nasi Goreng tasted more like a Chinese stir fried rice than the Balinese dish, but was good nevertheless.


However, it was the calamari that really stole the show.


I’m quite fussy when it comes to fried calamari. I like the squid to be soft and not rubbery, and I like the batter to be crispy – not wet – a nice, firm crispy crust, thank you very much. But not too thick or heavy. Oh, and ideally some fresh lemon to squeeze and coarse black pepper to grind, while it’s all still hot from the fryer.

This was better than any of that. The crisp, firm batter, which we were told is a mix of eggs and garlic, was so heavenly it needed no accompaniment. The calamari alone was worth the taxi ride. It was beautiful.

To complete our food odyssey, we headed to the local market. We’d read that it was worth exploring and were not disappointed. Almost like an old multi-storey car park, the market is absolutely rammed full of every fruit, vegetable and spice that you can think of. Few tourists seem to make it to Denpasar so as we weaved our way through the gritty, warehouse-like nooks and crannies of the market, we were very much a spectacle. There was a lot of oohing, ahhhhing and shrieking from old woman. One asked for a kiss from me, while another shoved flowers up Matt’s nose. We think they were all gestures of love.




Gili Trawangan: More Than Just a Rave

Stepping off the boat onto Gili Trawangan, one of the first things I noticed was the signs posted along the main strip. One sign, positioned above a restaurant (of the shack variety), resounded with me for obvious reasons. It read: ‘I’m on a seafood diet, I see food and have to eat it.’ I might have to get that tattooed.

The second one I saw, as we wandered down the island’s main dusty coastal road in search of accommodation, said: ‘Get your bloody fucking amazing magic mushrooms here.’ A little unnecessary perhaps, but it certainly gets your attention.

Welcome to Gili T. Near Lombok and just a short (but death-defying) boat ride from Bali, it is one of three islands, alongside Gili Air and Gili Meno. The latter, I am told, is the quietest of the three, the former is described as the most cultural, while Gili T is best known as The Party Island. All three have one thing in common; sun kissed white sandy shores and beautifully clear water – the kind that so often, and unfairly, appear on British TV adverts during a typically wet summer.


I have fallen in love with Balinese culture but as our trip so far has been an orgy of calmness, quietness and culture (having avoided all the ‘Blackpool for Australians’ hotspots), we were craving a little party or two. We had come to the right pace, the east coast of tiny Gili T is lined with quirky little bars and restaurants, where you can lounge around all day on beanbags. Come evening it is a hive of twinkling lanterns and funky beats, with ‘the party’ taking place at a different bar every other night.

In fact, if you were to believe the Lonely Planet you would think there is nothing on the west coast at all, the map just shows a big empty void. But after failing to make it up for a single sunrise on the east coast (I blame the local vodka and their red bull that comes in a medicine bottle), we decided to venture into the abyss to try and see a sunset on the west coast.

We packed water, torches, lip gloss (Matty insisted) and the useless Lonely Planet map and began our one-mile trek across the island. At first we tried to follow the little lines on the Planet’s map but pretty soon the dusty zig-zagging paths were indistinguishable and so I just followed my nose crying ‘here, this way’ randomly. Matty suggested it would make more sense to follow the sun, which after a while I begrudgingly agreed to.

So our little one mile journey, across the arid, dry landscape of the island became more like a two or three mile adventure. But it was a wonderful contrast to the Bintang-guzzling joys of the east coast; we passed palm tree forests scattered with cows and spied on locals going about their rural work.



Eventually our sweaty, dusty faces emerged out of the woodland and we could hear the crashing of waves. We had made it. The West Coast.

With Columbus-like pioneering spirit we eagerly made our way to the sea, expecting to find well, nothing, nada, no one. Instead we were greeted with a couple of very plush resorts with large sea-facing decking and infinity pools. They sold Bintang.

Somewhat defeated we wandered further south until we reached about a few hundred metres of isolated, rugged coastline, broken up only by large, dreamlike pieces of driftwood. It made for the perfect Robinson Crusoe sunset… Especially with me singing the Travis classic, ‘You’re driftwood floating underwater, breaking into pieces, pieces, pieces…’



Then suddenly, as the sun got lower in the sky, ready to take its hat off for the day, it illuminated Bali’s highest mountain Gunung Agung across the ocean. The volcano is not even visible from Gili T during the day, or at least it wasn’t when we were there, so it felt quite magical to see its brooding silhouette appear on the horizon in the last few minutes of the day. Especially after our enduring trek up it.


There are other hidden gems on the west coast, namely a couple of sunset bars that offer cold drinks and refreshments so you can toast the sinking sun. And after the sun has gone down, the bonfires and fire dancers come to life.



While it all feels like a well kept secret for now, the plush resorts, coupled with the construction work we saw, suggests the west coast of Gili T could soon be firmly on the Lonely Planet map. All the signs are there… Even if the magic mushroom ones aren’t, yet.

Traveller’s Tips

There are many boats travelling between Bali and the Gili islands, some take as little as an hour while others take about four hours. We paid 450,000 Indonesian Rupiahs for the one-hour fast boat from Padang Bai, the journey was treacherous so make sure it’s a reputable-ish company.

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation on Gili Trawangan. The beach side stuff is pricier but we stayed down one of the back streets, which is known as ‘the village’ at a homestay called Black Sands. The room was nice, spacious and clean, and the staff were lovely. It only set us back 200,000 Rupiahs a night.

Stay off the local spirits. Ouch.

Climbing Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest volcano

I am going to make a confession: I am a massive scaredy cat.

There, I’ve said it and now the whole world can see me for who I am. It’s true, I get scared about every day things most people don’t even think about – I find lifts terrifying, and stairs aren’t much better (I always see myself tumbling down them) and don’t even get me started on cycling. Despite cycling to work every day I am always convinced that every white van driver is out to mow me down or every school kid I pass will throw rocks at me.

So there you have it, a big old scaredy cat. But I refuse to let the cowardly cat inside me dictate my life. Instead I repeatedly sign up to things that terrify me.

And that is partly why I climbed Bali’s highest volcano Gunung Agung on Tuesday.

Gugung Agung is, according to our guide book, ‘Bali’s highest and most revered mountain’, the Balinese believe its peak houses ancestral spirits so it is regarded as the spiritual centre of the country.

Naturally I was terrified. Of everything. I doubled my asthma inhaler dosage the day before ‘just in case’, packed extra water ‘just in case’ and started regretting never having mastered the SOS code. I was even scared about trekking in the dark as we were to start the walk in the pitch black at 2am in order to be at the summit for sunrise.

Our guide picked us up from our hotel in Sidemen (which is beautiful valley in rice paddy land in east Bali) at 1am and began driving to the temple at Pura Pasar Agung, where we were to start our climb.

By 2am I had a headlamp fixed to my forehead, my feet firmly strapped into my new, waterproof walking shoes and a look of determination across my face. I was going to do this.

After climbing the 280 steps to the temple (that was the easy bit) our guide Gung Bawa asked us to turn our torches off and look up. The sky was alight with hundreds of thousands sparkling stars. While we gazed into the night sky, the sweet smell of burning incense wafted through the air as Gung prepared his offerings for the Hindu Gods. I was grateful. I needed all the Gods I could get on my side.

We began our slow, steady climb up the volcano. It began in woodland with tree roots and large stones providing some grip to the dusty ground. It was bizarre trekking in the dark, my eyes were transfixed on the spot of light on the ground that my headlamp provided, but I was otherwise oblivious to my surroundings.

We paused after 15 minutes or so. Gung’s wonderful wide smile lit up the night and he asked us if we practised yoga.

‘This is just like yoga,’ he explained
‘You balance yourself, you walk with your left foot, your right food. You breathe deeply. You enjoy every step.
‘If you get scared remember to enjoy every step and believe in yourself, what you put in is what you get out. If you believe you can do it, you will.
‘And smile, keep smiling’.

I felt inspired. There was something about our kind faced guide that just reassured me and silenced the scaredy cat within. We were in safe hands.

As we continued to climb through the forest, he would pause every time he sensed we were tired, he would inspire us with his words and pull some biscuits and sweets out of his big backpack. And he gave us regular altitude reports.

We soon emerged out the forest and were climbing up the hard, rocky surface of the volcano, which last erupted in 1963. Clambering across solidified lava, we gripped onto large smooth stones that jutted out form the volcano’s surface with our hands and feet.

We were more than 2,000 metres above sea level by this point with a sheer face of rock and woodland below us.

Looking up I could see the peak, it seemed so close but in reality we were still more than an hour away from our sunrise breakfast. As we scaled higher and higher, it became steeper and steeper and at one point, when I was clinging to some rocks with a seemingly vertical drop beneath me, the scaredy cat started talking. One wrong step and it could all be over, the cat said. It almost made me whimper.

Almost. Instead I smiled. Under my deep, calm breaths, I quietly chanted ‘enjoy every step, enjoy every step’ and I looked to Gung’s wide smile for further inspiration. I found some and managed to cross what felt like an impassably smooth part of the volcano that left my hands and feet with almost nothing to grip onto.

We reached a ridge in the rock and Gung motioned us to sit down. For the first time since it had got lighter I found the courage to look around me. We were high above a dense, green forest where some clouds were staring to gather and looking to the east, the horizon was a thin rainbow of colours as the sun started to make its entrance for the day.

We watched the small orange dot break through the colours of the horizon and grow bigger and brighter, illuminating everything around us. It was a moment I will never forget.



This is the wonderful Gung Bawa

We made our way up the last stretch of the volcano and as I stepped onto the lip of the volcano’s crater, at 2,800 metres above sea level, I hugged everyone around me. I’m not sure what came over me, it was like passing my driving test all over again. Only this time I’d done it on the first attempt.

We strolled around the rocky surface, and looked down into the 500 metre long crater while Gung prepared our breakfast. There was even a shrine perched on the summit, scattered with offerings.


Gung prepared a mighty fine breakfast of freshly cooked pancakes drizzled in a delicious sweet syrup, that were the envy of every other trekker on the summit. He also handed out his mother’s home cooked banana fritters and poured us steaming hot coffee from his flask. It was a breakfast for kings, only slightly marred by my fears of getting back down.


See? Long way down!

But actually I needn’t have worried as Gung expertly led us down via a different route, which was much more manageable. Of course I still struggled and inched my way down the mountain like a three-legged foal.

With the sun now burning down on us, I longed to get down into the clouds which we could see lying above the verdant forest. In many ways the trek down was much harder than the way up and once we entered the woodland, it took a great deal of concentration to stay upright on the seemingly never-ending dusty path, which left me skidding in all directions.

By the time we back to the temple stairs, where it had all begun 10 hours earlier, my feet and legs were throbbing, I was caked in dust and my shoulders were sunburnt. I had that strange heady, dizzy feeling of complete fatigue but an overwhelming sense of achievement… I had put scaredy cat back in her box, for now.

We did it! (Me with Gung and the two lovely German girls we climbed with).

Travel Notes
There are a lot of places to stay when climbing Gunung Agung, Sidemen was perfect because it’s stunning (think Ubud rice paddies but even more remote and beautiful) and it has a lot of accommodation. Most hotels will offer you a guide as well.

We stayed at Sawah Indah, which was stunning, with attentive staff and beautiful rooms.

A room with a view!

If you want Gung Bawa to be your guide, you can email him on

Happy climbing!

Food in Bali: Curries, Seafood and Noodles, Oh My.

I have been known to pick places to travel purely because of their cuisine. When my dear friend Carly and I planned our post-university trip around the world we decided, as a starting point, to shout out the countries we’d always wanted to visit. From what I recall Carly threw Australia, Thailand and Mexico into the mix, and I added India and Vietnam.

As a history graduate, I had long been fascinated by the latter after studying the Vietnam war. India, on the other hand, stemmed from a burning desire to eat curry on a daily basis and see how it varied region by region. By the end of that trip we were eating three curries between us at dinner, just to make the most of it. I even kept a curry diary… if only I had this blog then.

Carly, it transpired, picked Mexico because of her love of burritos. Unsurprisingly we made very good travelling buddies, although we never did make it to Mexico so I still owe her some fajitas there.

Now I find myself in Bali, and while it was not the food that brought me here, it is certainly one of the many reasons why I am falling head over heels in love with this little island. So if I may, I’d now like to eulogise about Balinese/Indonesian food.

The one dish that you can find almost everywhere here is Mie Goreng. This is a delicious fried noodle dish, which can be found mixed with with seafood, vegetables or meat, and there is also a very similar dish, Nasi Goreng, that uses fried rice instead of noodles. These simple stir-fries are juicy and rich in flavour and the key ingredient seems to be ‘sweet soy sauce’, which is almost like a sweet, plum sauce take on soy sauce. It is very good. Such dishes often cost as little as 20,000 Indonesian Rupiahs (about £1.30 at the time of writing) so make the ideal dinner for backpackers in Bali.

But most menus do not stop there. There is often a dazzling array of fresh fish with Balinese spiced sauces, creamy curries, shredded coconut infused dishes and satay delights. Some of the best food we’ve had on this trip so far has been in Ubud, and of all the places we’ve sampled (of which there were many) my favourite remains the tiny little warung beside our guest house – Wena Homestay.

Easy to miss, Warung Saya is tucked down Jalan Goutama and has just three small tables inside and a little table on a platform on the street where you can watch Balinese life walk on by. A ‘warung’ is traditionally a small kiosk-like cafe that sells cheap every-day food. But the take on Balinese street food here is really quite unique.

We ordered Fried Tempe Mendoan, having no idea what it was but we had spied someone else eating it and it looked delicious. As her plates were cleared I heard her ask the chef-cum-owner Amier if he ran cookery classes, high praise indeed. As we placed our order, Amier also recommended the Pad Thai so we went for that too. There are a lot of similarities between Balinese food and Thai food so the latter is often found on the menu.

Tempe, we soon learnt, is actually deep-fried soya bean. Similar I suppose to tofu, but much less watery. It came with a crisp golden coating, which gave way to the juicy but firm texture inside. However it was the rich, sweet sauce that really brought this simple dish to life, a blend of sweet sauce, with shallots and mini kaffir limes, to drizzle all over the tempeh. It was delightful.


Next up was the Pad Thai. I’ve always been a Pad Thai fan and regularly ate it from street vendors across Thailand a few years ago, but this was quite different to the traditionally dry noodle dish. Mixed with chicken tofu and egg, the dish was much juicer than I’ve had it before, with lime and fish flavours coming through. It was topped with peanuts to give a lovely crunchy finish.


We polished the dishes off in no time, Matty even smiled at the camera for once.


In Ubud you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants but another favourite of ours was Biah Biah, which is in the same road. A very cute little open air restaurant with funky wooden tables and benches, it serves a variety of tasty rice and noodle dishes on banana leaves but has a fantastic selection of tapas sized side dishes, which were really different to anything we’ve found in Bali so far.

It was too dark to get any decent pictures, so sadly I have no food porn to offer you from this lovely little establishment. But one dish which I must tell you about is Urutan. Urutan is a type of pork sausage which is served as a delicacy at festivals and ceremonies. And let me tell you, the Balinese love their ceremonies.

Back to the sausage. It was described as being a blend of meat, seasoning and intestines, but that didn’t put us off. The truth of the matter is that when it comes to sausages, intestines give a lot of flavour. The Urutan arrived. Served small and chunky, there were about six sausages on the plate. They were fried so had a nice, crispy skin while the meat inside was spicy, bursting with flavour, and was reassuringly coarse in texture. All the other dishes we ordered were just as good.

In fact the food has been so tasty here that I felt compelled to sign up to a cookery class to better understand the local spices and tricks of the trade. But that’s another story for another time, it is after all, dinner time and I have new menus to explore!

I shall leave you with a picture of Amier’s dog Precious Lady Salsa. Yes that’s her name. Amier designs all her clothes and there is a whole album of her dressed up that you can flick through while you wait for your food. Her nails are often painted to match.


Need I give you more reasons to visit?

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Ubud: It’s Gorilla Warfare

Almost every traveller has a story about monkeys. And it took Matty just a few seconds after stepping into the Monkey Forest in Ubud to tell me his fable.

‘We were in Agra in India,’ he said, eyes wide with fear, taking in the monkeys around him. (Monkey Forest is, quite simply, a forest full of monkeys set around three old majestic temples.)

‘We’d checked into a cheap room, it was upstairs.’

His sentences were slightly disjointed, as he broke off to take 360 degree turns, assessing the threat levels around him.

‘I woke up early,’ he continued.

‘It was dawn and I went out onto the balcony for some fresh air.

‘Suddenly, out of nowhere this huge monkey just threw itself at me and went…’

At this point he screwed his face up into a hideous mess and uttered a fierce, guttural growl.

He added: ‘I tried to beat it off and just ran, but it clung on and dragged its claws down my back. It was terrifying.

‘At night they would rattle at the bars of our door. Trying to get in.

‘We had been given a stick as well as a key when we checked in. Only then did I realise the stick was to beat off the monkeys.’

A strange ending I thought, I wasn’t sure if he was most upset about the clawing or the guesthouse’s failure to adequately highlight the stick’s purpose.

Nevertheless we had just paid 20,000 Indonesian Rupiahs (about £1.70) each to go into Bali’s most notorious monkey forest. We were going in.

Matty was a little resentful at first and as I started snapping, he muttered: ‘I don’t even want any pictures of these buggers’, or something along those lines. But he soon joined in and was soon staring right at the strange, unnervingly human like creatures, thought the barrel of the lens.

Here’s a few of our favourites, enjoy!






Balangan Beach, Bali: Ice Cream You Scream

I’m trying to act just like a surfer… Just doing the tanned, nonchalant thing, looking cool. The only problem is I’m not yet tanned (day two in Bali and I have a red chest and white legs), I’m not really pulling off the cool thing (I keep getting over excited by bits in my book and squealing) and I don’t have a surf board – I have never surfed in my life.

I think I am the only person on Balangan Beach that can make such a claim. This beautiful, white sandy cove is scattered with tanned and toned beach bods who, when they are not out in the ocean riding the waves, are sitting in the sand hugging their surf boards, waiting for the right moment to get back in the water.

It means the sun beds are free for the likes of me. The beach has an ‘undiscovered’ feel to it, there are a handful of palm-thatched shacks that line the shore, providing some much needed shade, snacks and drinks, while also contributing to the rustic charm of the beach.


That’s the look I’m working on…

There’s not too much hassle and hardly any hawkers, but there is a lovely little man who wonders down the beach with his ice cream box crying, ‘Ice cream, you scream!’ That’s quite hard to say no to. Another bonus to this little cove, which is on the western coast of the very southern tip of Bali, is its beautiful sunsets. It is the perfect place to watch the day turn into the evening while digging your feet into the sand, which is scattered with corals and shells, and drinking a Bintang or two. (Bintang is the local beer and I thoroughly recommend it.)


We are staying at Flowerbud Bungalows, which sits on the cliff above the cove, just a few minutes walk away. The pretty little winding path down to the beach takes you past a few Balinese cows (I love cows!) that actually wear cow bells. This is brilliant, I thought they only wore these in Scandinavian films and songs.


Our bungalow is beautiful. Thatched with a palm front, it is made from bamboo and has a lovely spacious porch area at the front with chairs and a chaise longue style day-bed for cheeky mid-day siestas. The room itself has a large four poster bed with a mosquito net draped over it but my favourite bit is the outdoor bathroom where the shower spout just chucks sun-heated water over you.



But we shall bid farewell to it tomorrow for we are off to Ubud, the ‘spiritual heart’ of Bali according to the Lonely Planet. So by this time tomorrow I will probably be a Buddhist surfer.

The Kiosk in Sherwood: The Best Breakfast in Nottingham

I am a breakfast diva. I take breakfast extremely seriously. Not because ‘it’s the most important meal of the day’ and ‘it gets your metabolism going’ blah, blah, blah. No, I take it seriously because I always wake up starving and I love eating, so naturally I want the first thing I eat to be brilliant.

And now I have found the perfect place to deal with this slightly high maintenance morning manner. It’s called The Kiosk in Sherwood, Nottingham.

Tucked away off Mansfield Road down Winchester Street, you will find this little gem which, as it’s name suggests, is little more than a small kiosk with some outdoor furniture and a large umbrella to protect you from the elements. If this description conjures up images of greasy truck stop on the A1 then think again. The Kiosk itself is a small, but delightfully cosy, open-plan kitchen where you will find Beth, and perhaps one or two others, cooking away. There is space for two or three people at the deli counter as you walk in, which has an array of mouth-waiting homemade delights.

The attention to detail is incredible; everything from the cute little brown paper table number that you are given after ordering your food to the funky watering cans that line the windowsills, it is irresistibly quirky.



So much character, right down to the salt and pepper pots.

The breakfast menu seems to change every day (according to Matty, who regularly sends me gloating texts reporting what he’s eating when he’s off during the week). But when I finally got round to visiting recently there was a Middle Eastern style breakfast on offer.

Gazing over the large chalk board propped up against the wall, I was spoilt for choice. The Persian potato patties with tahini and toast sounded delicious, but what was the Middle Eastern fried egg all about? And how could I turn down the Lebanese breakfast with yoghurt, olives, tahini, feta and pita bread with tomato salad when it was followed by ‘this is really lush’ in brackets.

Fortunately for me the line underneath said: ‘A little bit of everything – £5’. Anyone who caters to my chronic indecisiveness deserves a gold star for that alone. So we ordered and took our seats on the little terrace, trying to ignore our rumbling bellies.


Matty chilled in the deck chair…

Nicki was really hungry.

Now I had heard about Beth before arriving at the Kiosk. People talk and in a small city like Nottingham, word gets around quickly if you’re very good – or very bad – at anything. For Beth it is the former, she has a reputation for just popping up and cooking fabulous food at different locations across the city before disappearing again. So naturally, there is some buzz about her having a place of her own, which we can visit as often as we please.


And what a cute place it is. The terrace is lined with luscious green herbs.

Needless to say when the food arrived it did not disappoint. I’m not sure which part to rave about the most – the middle eastern fried egg that was impeccably runny with spices folded into the whites, or my chunky Persian potato pattie that was gone within minutes of it all arriving. The home made baked beans were the perfect accompaniment and as I mopped up the last of the flavours on my plate with the pitta bread, I declared it the best breakfast in Nottingham. And I do not say that lightly.


Where else can you finish breakfast with a slice of homemade syrupy, nutty baklava that melts in your mouth? I will be back. Oh, and if you’re worried about eating outside in the winter, Beth said she is looking into getting some ‘structures’ built, so watch this space!

Nottingham Contemporary Cafe: When Art becomes Food

I have to admit some art galleries intimidate me. When people talk about the likes of the Tate Modern and the Louvre in excited tones, I nod in agreement. I do not tell them that the first thing I look for is the board that tells you which floor the cafe is on. And I definitely do not tell them that I have been to the cafe of any good art gallery about 10 times more than I have visited the exhibitions. Until now.

An all-time favourite cafe of mine is that of the Tate Modern’s, which can be found on the sixth floor of the former Bankside Power Station; boasting stunning views across London with a wonderful selection of food and fine wines. And I can’t tell you how delighted I was when I realised that you could walk all over the roof of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice. Just thinking about endless floors of art makes me crave a pastry of some kind and a frothy coffee.

So whenever I tell people I have visited the Nottingham Contemporary, the chances are I didn’t explore its three impressive galleries of regularly-changing modern art. No, no, I probably went straight down to its wonderful cafe on the basement floor. And when my two friends Nicki and Nick came up from from London recently, that’s exactly what we did.

The Contemporary is a wonderful airy space that opens out onto a lovely, large terrace area for alfresco snacking. Its exposed concrete walls are decorated with quirky, arty features and its high ceiling exacerbates the size of the room.


See, you can get your art fix without even leaving the cafe!

Perfect for a light lunch, the cafe has a ‘buffet table’ of salads, pasta and noodle dishes, and freshly baked tarts. You buy a small or large plate, for about £6 and £8 respectively, and you can fill it as high as you want. Almost like a really posh Pizza Hut salad bar.


Our salad plate did not disappoint. We tucked in to a delicious spicy brown rice and pea salad, which was reassuringly al dente. Packed with kidney beans and chick peas, it had fresh herbs shredded through it with crunchy vegetables mixed in. We also enjoyed a kale and green vegetable salad, a wholesome dish that would have made Popeye proud. Meanwhile the sweetness of the honey roasted butternut squash was the perfect antidote to the crab and sweetcorn tart, which had a wonderfully strong fish flavour. I hate a bland tart.


The menu also has a good mix of sandwiches (of the chunky ciabetta and doorstep style) as well as a mix of grilled meats (I intend to go back for the lamb kebab) and burgers, if you fancy something a bit heavier. We opted to also share a spicy bean burger and chunky chips, which was mouth wateringly good. The crispy coating of the burger held the spicy, mushy bean mix together perfectly and the chips were served piping hot.


Just to round things off, we opted for a slice of the coffee and walnut cake and a rhubarb and ginger cheesecake slice. Both disappeared from the plates quickly. Here’s a little pic of the coffee cake, which was wonderfully moist, before it was devoured. I didn’t even get a chance to photograph the cheesecake…


The exhibitions at the Contemporary change every few months. The salad bar, I am told, changes every month. And while the roasted butternut squash may not have the same mystery as the Mona Lisa, nor the coffee cake have the longevity of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, these muffins my friends, are my Water Lilies.


Giving up Alcohol: The Diary of a Gin Lover

So after two rigorous days of flipping tyres, swinging off ropes and generally grunting a lot, I am back from boot camp. On the last night our lovely trainer Kyle offered to buy us a glass of wine. It was the third night of abstinence (boot camp rules) and we all looked at each other unsure of whether we were ready to slip back into our boozy ways.

‘Nope, I’m going all the way,’ cried Lucy, one of my co-boot campers, which prompted some sniggers from the boys. But I knew what she meant, we had been healthy for two days now and surely it would be easy to just carry on, the hard bit was done, the camel’s back was well and truly broken, or whatever the phrase is.

‘Me too,’ I cried, inspired by Lucy’s passion. ‘I’m giving up alcohol!’

Well this got a few looks.

‘For how long?’ asked Simon, another lovely co-boot camper, from Sheffield.

‘Until my mother’s birthday and I go to Bali,’ I declared boldly. ‘Next Saturday,’ I added.

People started laughing and shaking their heads. I was confused, that included one and a half weekends, I had never gone without booze for so long. Turns out a week and a half isn’t very long according to a lot of people. But this was my Everest and here’s how I got on…


I won a bottle of wine at work. How’s that for a bit of irony. And to make matters worse it was a bottle of Tempranillo, my favourite. Or at least one of. I looked at it a lot today, wondering if because it was free, and in fact a prize, perhaps it didn’t count. I left it at work.


I’ve had a long day, 12 hours in the office, tackling a challenging story. I could murder a G&T… We have a beautiful gin in our cupboard. So beautiful you could, and should, drink it without tonic. Although it also goes beautifully with a Fever-Tree tonic water and a slice of cucumber. I touched it, just so I could take a photo you see.


Matty was cooking a delicious daal when I got home, with a beetroot and yoghurt raita and everything. He casually broke the news, while chopping coriander, that he has been given a promotion. Currently working as a district nurse he has been promoted to matron for the Hucknall area. ‘Oooooh, Matron,’ I cried, ‘We must drink some champagne!’

It was an empty offer. I poured us a glass of sparkling water each. (He’s working tomorrow and says he doesn’t mind, I feel guilty.)


It helps that I am skint this weekend. I can’t really afford to go out. Instead my good friend Gemma blagged me a day pass to her Virgin Active gym in Nottingham (much posher than mine – it has air conditioning, lanes in the swimming pool, conditioner in the showers and get this, make up remover in the changing rooms, not to mention the plastic bags they give away for wet swimming costumes). I am impressed. If I was rich I would join this gym. Or if I gave up drinking forever I could probably join this gym and have personal trainer sessions. I thought about this while I swam in the gym’s beautiful pool, which I think must have been the main lobby of the former Great Northern Railway Station, with it’s impressive architecture and high ceiling. I pretended I was an Olympian athlete for a while and attempted a length of butterfly. A lot of the water left the pool and I didn’t quite finish the length. I am better at drinking gin.

Afterwards, Gemma suggested a drink at our favourite bar, the Jam Cafe in Nottingham(that’s my review for the Nottingham Post). I am worried, they have the wonderful Kwak Belguim beer (8%) you see, a heart warming brew that’s deliciously strong. Gemma even offers to buy me an alcoholic beverage. I watched her drink her Sauvignon Blanc, while I sipped my sparkling water. I was not bitter.

I was however, appeased by a delicious board of warm, crunchy bread served with a beautifully nutty homemade pesto and a hummus that had a wonderfully sweet flavour. We also munched on a reassuringly large bowl of olives. If you have never made it to the Jam Cafe you must go, I don’t care where you live.


Check out Gemma with those olives.

We moved on and had a drink in the beer garden of The Lion in Basford. I upped my game, had a diet coke and a water. Crazy times.

Tonight is actually fine. I am writing this, organising photos, doing ‘stuff’. Matty is working and it’s just me and the kettle. I’ve had about five cups of tea so far, but hey, who’s counting?


I won’t lie, I feel smug. The rest of the world woke with banging heads this morning but I woke feeling refreshed and did something I have never done on a Sunday before… and may never do again. I went to the gym. I barely recognised myself walking in and I’m sure even the staff even raised their eyebrows. As the receptionist swiped my membership card she gave me the why-aren’t-you-in-bed-with-a-raging-hangover look. I felt the need to tell her I wasn’t drinking. Must get over this desire to tell everybody who crosses my path.

So I went and pumped some iron, or something like that. Went to a ‘super circuit’ class, and if I’m honest now it hurts to pick up a full pint of water. A wine glass would be much lighter…


Mondays have never been a drinking day for me. The day of rest and recovery, it’s how the Big Man planned it. However this Monday was a bit different. Firstly, I was definitely perkier at work (was chatting to colleagues before even 10am) and secondly, I started craving beer and cheese at about noon. That’s strange, even by my standards and I can’t really explain it.

I went to see Michael McIntyre tonight, a funny man who is funnier live because he swears and is slightly less ‘prime time’. The interval was a strange affair, without a belly full of beer the was no need to queue for the loo, and with my water bottle only half empty there was no need to go to the bar. Intervals are a boring affair for tee-totalers.


Tonight as I cycled home from work I was greeted with perhaps one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in Nottingham yet. Like a child I threw my bike down at the Forest Recreation Ground and excitedly took some photos. Every few minutes the colour of the entire sky shifted, it was as if buckets of paint had been poured down on the clouds, and they were slowly mixing the colours together as they glided across the sky. I do love an urban sunset.

And this was just taken on the manual setting with no Photoshopping…. beautiful.


So I’ve skipped a few days. I was worried it might turn into a ‘Dear Diary, today I drank water. It was sparkling’ kind of journal if I wasn’t careful.

To summarise, Wednesday was tricky. Have you ever gone to a Chinese BYO and not drunk? I wasn’t even sure if that meant you also had to bring your own soft drinks. I fought the peer pressure. Thursday, I don’t even remember Thursday.

And then suddenly it was Friday, aka the-day-before-the-night-I-could-drink. I bounced home from work, I was extremely excitable, not just because it was the-day-before-the-night-I-could-drink. No, I was excitable because this weekend we go to Bali for our long awaited three week holiday.

I wanted to celebrate. I wanted toast the backpack, I wanted to toast my flip flops, my bikini, my passport. I wanted to toast the sun, which has not been out to play all that much in the UK this year. I wanted to toast my list of things to pack. You get the idea, I very much fancied a cheeky tipple, I was in holiday mood.

Matty did tell me that he wouldn’t tell anyone if I shared his can of Boddingtons. I’m not sure if it was my morals or my distaste for Boddingtons but instead I treated myself to some sparkling elderflower juice instead. And wow, I was a productive packer. No trying on random stuff that I always believe I will look nice in after a few drinks, no temptation to pack that thong bikini from Tenerife circa 2000 and no spilling wine on my clean holiday clothes. I was efficient.

And finally, at about 5pm today, after one week and six days of not drinking a single drop of alcohol, the time had arrived. It was time to break my sobriety. It’s my mother’s birthday so I had already decided that bubbles would be appropriate. A nice cold flute of Prosecco. For her you see, not for me. She couldn’t start her 63rd year any other way, I insisted. We held our glasses up and toasted to her good health and as I lifted the flute to my mouth I could feel the bubbles breaking against my nose.


It was perfect, the sun was setting and all the family was there. A chilled wind ran over us and I shivered.

‘We’ll be alright,’ said my brother’s girlfriend Becky.

‘We’ll just get our champagne jackets on.’

I nodded happily. My favourite jacket.