World in Pictures: Uzbekistan – Amazing Tiles and Yum Bread

When I mentioned I was in Uzbekistan to my friend Treebeard (her name is another story but for now I’ll allow you to believe she looks like a tree and has a beard), I got an excitable message in reply: ‘UZBEKISTAN!!! Enjoy the amazing tiles and more yum bread…”

Treebeard is the only other person I know who has visited this delightful little country, nestled between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In fact it is one of only two double-landlocked countries in the world. But that’s enough of the facts, back to amazing tiles and yum bread.

At the time when I received this message I had not been in the country long and had spent much of that time largely been confined to the desert, hunting out a shrinking sea (that obviously does not connect to an ocean) and frankly had no idea what she was talking about. And then I left the desert and wow, the abundance of delicous hot, crusty, melt-in-your-mouth bread hit me like a sack of… bread.

And the turquoise and blue tiles that decorate the mosques, minarets and medrassas across the evocative cities of Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara, caught me unaware like a magpie starved of diamonds. I should probably be telling you some fascinating tales of the impressive history of these cities, that are at the very heart of our Silk Road journey, but I think the pictures may just do it better.

So here’s to the amazing tiles, yum bread and much more of Uzbekistan…




















Follow my blog with Bloglovin

World in Pictures: Baku, Azerbaijan

Places with pavements that are too clean alarm me. I am used to pigeon-crap splattered floors that have been discoloured by dozens of discarded pieces of chewing gum, spat out then slowly and gently trodden into paving slabs over the years. I am used to frowning and shaking my head at occasional pieces of litter on the floor – or, as was the case in our Nottingham street, entire contents of wheelie bins strewn out for all to see.

So one of the first thing I noticed about Baku was how clean its streets were. They were not just clean, they sparkled – as if polished by a team of undercover street fairies who dance over them in silk shoes when the city sleeps. And this unnerved me.





But then you step into the old town and it feels a bit like a set out of Aladdin. Cobbled pavements are lined with ‘magic carpets’ and little stone doors lead into cave-like shops selling richly decorated fabrics and shiny brass trinkets. But even the odd, cobbled little stones on the ground were very clean.




But the prize for the cleanest, most sparkling floor in all of Baku must go to the marble viewing platform. Yes you heard me right, a far cry from the well-trodden floors of the Eiffel Tower or London Eye pods, Baku has a grand, shiny marble staircase (a bit like that one in the Sound of Music house, but this is outside) that leads up to a huge, impressive viewing platform with tremendous views across the city. The floor was so shiny I needed sunglasses to look down. And, to top it off, it was built in honour of Eurovision.


As we said our farewells to Baku (via a three-day ferry crossing, but more on that later), I concluded, just as I once did about tablecloths determining the expense of restaurants, that street cleanliness is indeed a clue to a city’s wealth. And that I am more more likely to fall in love with the poorer cousins of the street scene.

Travel tips

Baku is a very expensive city for budget travellers. The cheapest accommodation in Baku that we could find, after searching countless websites, was the Caspian hostel. It has a fab location in the middle of the old walled town but was overpriced. It cost 16 manat (about £13) for a dorm bed in a room that was cramped with beds. In saying that it was clean enough and the owner was friendly and helpful.

I would also really recommend the old city audio walking tour. It costs 5 Manat, takes about two hours and really brings the old town to life. Well worth it. Baku is also great for shopping and makes for an ideal place to stock up before travelling east to Central Asia.

World in Pictures: Armenian Churches

Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion more than 1,700 years ago. As a result the country is scattered with stunning churches and ancient, atmospheric monasteries on every hilltop, grassy plain and city street.

Despite the Soviet Union’s determined efforts to suppress Christianity in the country (closing all but one church for the best part of seven decades ), the Armenian’s devotion appears to have bounced back stronger than ever.

The priests, dressed in grand black robes, chant and pray in the old Armenian language during Sunday services, leaving many of the congregation in tbe dark.

“Often we wonder if they make up stories,” our guide joked, adding that most people can not understand everything.

But nevertheless, the church is a special place to most Armenians and as we stepped into the old, sparsely decorated buildings, often lit by just a single shaft of light from the sky, I could understand why. Armenia is also home to the world’s oldest state built church, which was constructed from 301-303, and remains in surprisingly good condition today.

So without any further chatter, I shall let you enjoy our church pics. I have thrown them all into black and white and played around with the contrast on this occasion, to emphasise the dark, antique-like atmoshphere of Armenian churches.


A man prays at Khor Virap Church


Sevanavank Monastery besides Lake Sevan, Armenia


Me gazing into the ray of light inside Sevanavank Monastery, on Lake Sevan.


Two ladies sit outside St Gayane Church, built in 630 AD and home to Armenia's only two nuns.


Inside St Hripsimeh Church, where a nun by the same name lies after being killed by an Armenian king because she would not marry him.


A girl looks into a tray of candles, sitting in water, lit in memory of loved ones


The roof top of Haghartsin Monastery through the 'lucky' tree stump beside it.


Inside the county's oldest church, the 'mother cathedral', at Echmiadzin, Armenia


One of rmenia's beautiful, old battered cars, in front of Hayravank Monastery near Lake Sevan


A priest walks through the entrance to one of the cave churches at Geghard Monastery


The beautifully located Noravank Monastery

Travel Tips

Churches and monasteries can be seen all over Armenia, but one of the best ways to see a good selection if you don’t have much time is to take day tours from Yerevan. We stayed at the Envoy Hostel in Yerevan, which runs fantastic trips from the city, taking in all of the highlights above. The tours are led by the hostel’s manager Arpine Yesayan, who is excellent and gave us a fantastic insight into Armenian culture and spirit as well as the fascinating history of the churches pictured here. It was so good that we signed up to a second tour there.

World In Pictures: Paris, Munich and Salzburg in 48 hours

For me travel is about immersing yourself into another world, exploring new cultures and embracing different ways of thinking. But right now we’re not really doing that… We’re just a-hoppin’, skippin’ and runnin’ across Europe before starting a four month journey across the Silk Road from Turkey to China.

So, since leaving the UK on Tuesday we’ve travelled from London to Paris, to Munich and Salzburg – and tonight we shall be dining in Budapest. Of course I say that in the loosest sense of the word as we have rediscovered our old travelling ways and have been frequenting curry shacks and markets for ‘supper’. I even refused to use the loo at Munich Station because it cost a €1 – I don’t mind spending a penny… But a Euro?! Outraged.

Anyway, in keeping with our fleeting pace across Europe I thought a ‘World in Pictures’ post would be most appropriate (where I write less and let the pictures give an overview). We can’t pretend to have got under the skin of these cities but my, we’ve had great fun surfing the surface.

Our time in Paris totalled just 3 hours… We decided to spend it on the Montmartre, picnicking outside the Sancrecerre. This guy turned up with a football.

He was impressive.

So was the picnic. Matty wore stripes especially for the occasion.

Then it was off to Munich on this sexy sleeper train.

We threw ourselves right in the deep end with this wonderful lederhosen-adorned tour guide.

And concluded dat bratwurst ist gut.

The handsome Feldherrnnhalle in the Odeonsplatz square, Munich.

Lovely old state building with huge glass extensions, Munich.

The Englischer Garten, in the heart of Munich is the biggest public garden in Europe. People also sunbathe naked. I went there to gaze at the colourful fauna. Obviously.

When in Rome… We drank beer in Munich. We finished beer in Munich. Here’s me through Matty’s beer goggles.

And we’re in Salzburg! No, I don’t really get this either.

Donagh looking pretty with the flowers in Salzburg.

Salzburg Cathedral is a baroque beauty.

Inside the cathedral…

The beef goulash with dumpling was mighty fine indeed.

A view of Salzburg from the impenetrable fortress of Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg.

I am still coming to terms with the fact I have visited Salzburg without doing the Sound of Music tour… Tragic combination of travelling with two boys and having only an afternoon in the city. Somebody pass me a schnaps.

World in Pictures: Hyson Green, Nottingham

What is it about leaving a place that makes you fall in love with it all over again? As we prepare for our big journey across Central Asia I find myself looking around at all the little things I have on my doorstep, and appreciating them more than ever.

The things that make me smile, things that hold so many memories, and things I will miss…

I want to make it clear that curry is not the ONLY thing I will miss. I’m sure my body will get used to eating fatty morsels of meat on kebab sticks as we travel over the ‘stans, I’m sure it will be fine. There will be no tears – or waking in the middle of the night, interrupted from dreams where I was about to tuck into a spicy melt-in-your mouth lamb curry with a freshly baked, soft naan bread to my side – none of that.

The problem is, I live in Hyson Green – home to some of Nottingham’s finest curry houses. If you are reading this and have not yet sampled such delights then can I suggest you grab your purse and go straight away. Now. My personal favourites are Kabul (where Mantu, steamed dumplings of chopped lamb, onions and herbs topped with yoghurt, is an absolute must) and Desi Express, which has an array of delicious curries and the amazing takka-tak dishes, where the meat is chopped up as it cooks on a large metal grill. It literally makes the sound ‘takka-tak takka-tak takka-tak’ as the chef chops away, which incidentally is a beautiful sound. A curry and a naan bread in both establishments will set you back £5.

So, yes I am a bit worried there might be some curry-starved-tantrums on the Silk Road. But just to prove that is not all I will miss about this lovely ‘hood, here are a few pics I’ve taken in recent weeks of my other favourite things…


The Forest Recreation Ground… thank you for the wine-fuelled summer evenings and crisp, snowy walks



Oh Gregory Boulevard, we’ve had some times, haven’t we? You look prettier in the snow.



Thank you tram for stopping at the end of my road and sometimes making me a little bit less late to things.



Asda, we’ve had a love-hate relationship, but thank you for always serving me wine at 21:59.



You’re one of my favourite doors in Nottingham (and no, I have not been behind it)



Hyson Green, you have buildings of all shapes and sizes. I like your eclectic style.



And I love your rows of red-brick terraces with big bay windows



Errrrm… you have some nice trees?!



The fabulous New Art Exchange: For art, music, craft and FOOD.



Hello My Name is… Hyson Green



Art on every corner.

And yes, there probably will be another post yet on the colourful vegetable stalls, Indian-sweet stores and ahem, curry houses of Hyson Green. Talking of which, I’m getting peckish… time to “make the most” of what’s down the road, eh?

What have I missed? Feel free to share your favourite haunts.

World in Pictures: Beating the January Blues

Oh bugger, it’s almost January.

Poor old January, he really has the worst deal of the year doesn’t he? All the other months must feel so smug when they look at his blue, bitter ways with his short, frost-bitten days.

April’s running around crying, ‘I might bloody shower on you but summmmmer’s ahead!’, August is all ‘I’ll bring you sunshine [In the pouring rain]’, September seduces us with, ‘I know August was a two-second wonder – he always is, but I’ll bring you an Indian summer’, while December just sits on her gold encrusted, red throne with Santa on her side and elves rubbing her feet. But even February, with his dark, gloomy days, just pulls up a seat, orders a gin and tonic, and says: ‘Hey I’m only 28 days long,’ and we all swoon a little. ‘And I’m not January,’ he adds, with a mischievous wink.

Bless January, he tries his best to impress us. ‘I’ll make you fit and healthy – let’s start using that gym membership,’ he promises desperately. ‘Let’s give your liver a rest – walk away from the wine, in fact I will transform you into a new person this year… Just make a list, lets do it together.’

But he just always ends up disappointing us, doesn’t he? He’s all talk… and throwing down hail, sleet and snow, while sending us back into work with a belly full of turkey does not help. And let’s not mention the stinking hangover he always insists on starting the year with. The bastard.

In a bid to combat the somewhat aggressive January blues that I can already feel coming on, I have searched high and low for my favourite blue pictures that Matty and I have taken in recent years. Because really, if you stop to think about it, blue is a rather beautiful colour. Maybe January should start using that as his chat up line instead…


The wonderful Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. Especially wonderful in March 2011 as it marked the end of our west to east coast bike ride of England. Thank God for Star Bursts.


Some arty, blue plastic bottles at the Musee d’art Moderne et d’art Contemporain in Nice (which I am reliably informed is French for modern art museum).


One of the beautiful palm-leaf swinging trees of Bali… with oodles of offerings at their base


One of my favourite bluesy pictures of all times, so must give credit to Matty who snapped this (while I was probably filing my nails or something) in Essaouira, Morocco in 2008


The infamous sky-mirror at the Nottingham Playhouse on a particularly merry July evening in 2012.


And this, folks, is my dear friend Nicki at a particularly blue-infused rave at Glastonbury in 2010. I told you blue could be brilliant.


Well no blue collection could be complete without a cheeky little snap of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul



A Kenyan man in a a Nairobi slum from my trip with Christian Aid in 2010.


And we’re back in Nice, which I visited in March 2012. I love this place.


And a funky blue head on a posh hotel in Nice.


Hungerford Bridge in London baby! (Taken at some point in the last five years).


From the soon to be demolished Lenton Flats in Nottingham, snapped in 2011.


And another from the Lenton Flats complex, 2011.


Finally, some flying shoes in Ljubljana, Slovenia… snapped in 2011.

So, ahem, please feel free to share your views on the months of the year. Don’t pretend I’m the only one to give them sexes and personalities… Which one do you fancy the most?

Oh, and Happy New Year! X

World in Pictures: Collecting Christmas Tree Decorations

Souvenir shopping is a tricky business. The vibrant, bustling markets of India and Morocco leave me mentally decorating my home in glittering mirrors and patchwork cloth… I clutch abstract wooden carvings and lavishly decorated masks, convinced that they are exactly what my inner city Victorian terrace is lacking. But for some reason they never look quite so at home again as they did on that market stall.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve had some successes. Our huge green, hand painted Moroccan fruit bowl looks like it was made for our kitchen table and our Balinese coconut shell stores sugar just as well as anything that Ikea churns out… but, you get what I mean, it doesn’t always work.

However, have you ever noticed that EVERYTHING looks good on a Christmas tree? If it’s bright and colourful and a little bit garish, the chances are it will work just beautifully on the festive tree, if its a bit dark, sinister or just plain odd, it will probably work too – just like my Kenyan mask here.



I think this bright blue silk butterfly, which I picked up in Malaysia, more than confirms my point.

So ever since my first big travelling trip in 2006, I have collected Christmas tree decorations from around the world.

And next year I will go on my biggest Crimbo decoration shop yet… in fact I will be giving up my job in a bid to collect tree ornaments from France, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, China and Vietnam.


This little lady at the top of my tree comes from a previous trip to ‘nam

Admittedly, we are not just going to buy Christmas decorations, it is a trip we have wanted to do for years – and finally the time is right. But if truth be told, this Christmas feels a little strange… It’s going to be our last Crimbo in the UK for some time and perhaps the last ever in this little house.


Our trip from Hyson Green to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Nottingham to ‘nam) will begin in April and take about four to five months and we shall be doing it all overland… from tram, to train to tuk-tuk. We’ll rent out our house and find some new digs in Vietnam, or at least that’s the plan.

So there will be plenty more tales to come on this blog in the next year, but for now let me leave you with some souvenirs of beautiful trips gone by. And if I don’t write again before Christmas itself… Have a bloody good one.


The latest addition to the collection – the Bali ball… 2012


This little angel was the only thing not corrupted on the football tour to Riga, Latvia… 2009


From London with love… 2007


All the way to Scotland… 2012


My Indian elephant. The country I loved enough to get inked… 2006


My Deutsche fairy from Hamburg on my very first press trip… 2008


As if climbing his way to the top, this furry Koala is a Crimbo tree must… 2007


And who says you can’t decorate your tree in shells? Fiji… 2007


I heart Laos… 2006


A Moroccan slipper and a Thai delight… 2008 and 2006


And an angelic gift from Matty. Ljubljana, Slovenia… 2010

Merry Christmas and safe travels for 2013 x

World in Pictures: Istanbul – The Accidental Holiday

Travel is never without hiccups. Or at least it isn’t, when Matty and I are involved. I’ve already mentioned the time we got stranded up a Lebanese mountain, and now I’ll tell you about the time we were meant to be flying to Portugal and accidentally ended up in Turkey.

It was a cold frosty December morning when we arrived at East Midlands Airport and we were fully intending to run the Lisbon half marathon two days later. We had all our running gear packed, we’d been (kind of) training for months and we were sort of prepared and very excited about becoming “international runners”. Having been to Lisbon before, we had taken a fairly gung-ho attitude with the whole planning side of things and didn’t buy our city guide until we got to the airport, where we excitedly sat down and starting planning.

Sipping water (like athletes) we kept an eye on the flight board, which continued to show no information about our flight. Eventually we got up and asked someone.

“No, your flight has been cancelled,” we were told.
“All flights to Spain and Portugal are cancelled due to air traffic control strikes.”

Got to love the continentals with all their strikes. Scratching our heads and realising we would not be running in the Lisbon half marathon after all, we wandered over to the bar and sank a couple of large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Then we tackled the Easyjet desk.

It was like something out of a reality TV show – people doing their best angry faces, lots of loud phone calls being made in a variety of languages, there were even tears. Not from us mind you, we were just hoping they would fly us somewhere – anywhere a little bit warmer – plus I love airports, and felt like I was already on holiday (the Savvy B helped).

When we got to the front the woman looked up wearily and apologised for the cancelled flight.

“No worries,” we said cheerfully. “Where can you send us instead?”

She looked surprised, smiled and tapped away on her computer.

“Istanbul? Flight leaves in two hours,” she suggested.

Result. We were now flying twice the distance for the same price. So, clutching our freshly printed flight tickets, we headed back to WH Smiths to swap our unneeded Lisbon book with a much needed Istanbul one (much to the check-out girl’s amusement).

And that is why we ended up in Istanbul with nothing but the clothes on our backs and our running kits. And no, we didn’t run once.

Enjoy the pics x


Mmmm…. Turkish coffee should be adored by all



The markets are a dazzling array of colours


The super impressive Sultanahmet Camii (aka the Blue Mosque)


As if oblivious to the dozens of tourists in the Blue Mosque


The antique tram that runs down the main shopping throughfare Istikal Caddesi (and me)


Matty doing his research


The stunning interior of the Byzantine church Aya Sofya, which was the largest enclosed space in the world for almost 1,000 years (anyone know what is now?!)


Tee hee, this bird which was happily perched on a boulder at the top of the Gelata Tower, which offers superb views across the Golden Horn to the Old City, flew off after taking this picture… and landed on Matty’s head. Priceless.


City centre fishing: Dozens of fishermen line the Galata Bridge in Istanbul


The city has som fab street art…




Wicked arcitecture to be found at every turn

We fell in love with Istanbul, aside from its spectacular mosques and rich culture, it’s riddled with superb shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. The only city in the world to straddle two continents, perched across the Bosphorus that divides Asia from Europe, it really does feel like a wonderful mixing pot of many different worlds.

World in Pictures: Lenton Flats, Nottingham

The Lenton Flats in Nottingham are like the Eiffel Tower to Paris, the Shard to London, or the Empire State Building to New York.

Of course I’m exaggerating, they never quite made it as a tourist destination, but nevertheless the five 1960s tower blocks dominate Nottingham’s skyline, well if you live in that part of town anyway.

But not for much longer. Nottingham City Council is pulling the whole lot of them down… They are going the way of the dodo.

In my job as a reporter I went out there for resident reaction (yes I was the person ringing all the buzzers until someone let me in), which gave me the opportunity to explore a place that will soon become a little piece of history that separates generations. And contrary to the popular belief that no one would want to live in these ‘eyesores’, I found people in spacious, well looked after flats with tenants who were sad to leave. Yes, they said it was cold in the winter but they had raised their children here, their grand-children lived round the corner, Mavis upstairs is their best friend.

But the council says they are not financially viable and I’m sure they’re not. They are building new, warmer homes in their place. But as I walked around the estate that has been a landmark for so long, and a home to so many, I found myself singing ‘The Way of the Dodo’ by The Streets. And here are my pictures… to the lyrics.


I’m right behind you but don’t expect me to ride like it’s a race


Conspiracy theories – we all see these


Just another brother trying to love my son and mother


Scramble for the top, for the bottom of the ceiling


For the kids let’s make the rules


It’s not that I don’t care, just that I’m way too caught up with breathing air to grieve the trees


I can’t imagine the day when things have actually faded away

World in Pictures: The People of Bali

The people in Bali are a beautiful bunch. Blessed with big, bright smiles, glossy hair and romantically chiselled faces, many are undeniably good looking. But it is the beauty I found underneath all of that – their warmth, their friendliness, their sheer delight when you attempt to speak their language, that really sets them apart.


This beautiful man works at the Monkey Temple in Ubud and while hundreds of tourists coo and scream at the scavenging monkeys he just goes about his job, sweeping leaves and tidying the place up. He seemed quite bemused when I stopped him to ask if he’d mind being in my picture, he laughed and pointed at the monkeys as if to say ‘they’re the bloody attraction, not me!’ But nevertheless he obliged.

Fortunately, people in Bali always seemed quite happy for me to take their picture, I’d make that international sign of an over-exaggerated shutter push and they’d smile and nod and pause for a minute to allow me to capture a split second of their world.

I guess they’re used to it. But while hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on their tiny little island every year, most Balinese have never left. One of the nicest people I met in Bali was our lovely taxi driver Ketut, which literally means fourth son, who drove us from Kuta to Denpasar. Unbelievably they only have four names in Bali, each one represents the birth order and if a fifth child is born the cycle just starts again.

Anyhow it was on this journey that Ketut explained to us that the Balinese don’t have enough money to travel. Not just because their wages, which may allow them to live comfortably in their local villages, don’t translate into international air tickets, but more because of what they choose to spend their money on.

‘Ceremonies,’ he explained.
‘Our Hindu faith means we spend years and years saving for our ceremonies. Weddings, funerals, cremations are very, very expensive. We spend it all on ceremonies.’

So there you have it, while I am busy saving for a holiday for me, a new camera lens for me, some clothes for me, another holiday for… yep me, many Balinese spend their whole lives saving for ceremonies for their families. And I guess when you look at it like that, posing for a picture is an easy thing to give.

A taxi rank in Ubud.

A stall owner in Ubud… his stall must have one of the best backdrops in the world.

The children in Denpasar who put flowers in my hair…


A woman blesses her offerings for the day in Ubud.


Setting the scene for a traditional dance performance at Ubud Palace.

Jimbaran’s rambling beach band

And of course, my favourite man of all, Gung Bawa, who I will be eternally grateful to.