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As much as I enjoy seeing everything that a full blown itinerary would suggest and checking off those must do bucket list experiences, there is nothing I fancy more than finding hidden gems off the radar of most. And so, once we had our fill of the gorgeous rock hewn churches of Lalibela there was time to wander off the well-trodden path and find our own adventures. Ah, how I adore this world of travel! The fire in my belly has me up at otherwise ungodly hours and I am ready and raring to go at times that I would consider unholy back home when getting ready for my lawyering day job. Once again, I am reminded that

“I travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape me…”

Stunning Landscapes of Lalibela

Hidden Gem Number 1: Yemerehana Cristos

A bumpy 42 km ride away from main town Lalibela lies a hidden gem: a little church known as Yemerehana Cristos. We head into our 4×4 with Bruk our driver and Abrham and make the journey through the mountains of Lalibela along a bumpy murram road interspersed with tarmac here and there: roadworks are ongoing so many of you will be able to make the trip on a smooth road now. An hour later, we arrive in the village of Yemerehana: the base from where we will make the ascent up to the church. It is a steep climb up a path in a shaded forest of juniper trees, with monkeys jumping around. My iWatch at the end of the hike shows an elevation gain of 90 for the 1 km trek which means we went quite high in a short amount of time. I am struggling a little bit but at the same time I can feel myself getting stronger not only physically but also mentally with every step I take: but once again, I am making mental checklists to start to incorporate more exercise into my otherwise sedentary lifestyle when back home! Twenty minutes of walking later, we approach an ugly wall beyond which is a cave in which the church of Yemerehana Cristos sits in all its glory.

The ascent up to Yemerehana Cristos

Pilgrim at Yemerehana Cristos

The church is beautiful. Set inside the cave, this is one of the first churches to be constructed from the ground up rather than excavated and is one of the best preserved late Aksumite buildings. The building is set on a carefully layered bed of olive wood panels and the main structure has layers alternating between marble and wood, which gives the illusion that the church is floating when seen from a distance. The floor beneath my sock clad feet is damp and cold and I am grateful for the bamboo matting that alleviates this somewhat.

The Church of Yemerehana Cristos

The inside of the church is something spectacular, its ceilings adorned with vividly coloured frescoes. They are so well preserved which I suppose has something to do with it being so cold inside the cave. Though the interior is dimly lit, the light of the candle that the priest is holding casts a magical warm glow and as I say a little prayer for my little cousin brother that we lost a month before my travels, I see that the flame starts to glow in the shape of a heart. I am honestly moved and I feel a sense of calm wash over me as I listen to the priest’s voice chanting prayers for us in Ge’ez. I feel the need to light candles and say a little prayer for all our loved ones in Heaven every time I go in to a church or a temple: and the candles lit out in Yemerehana Cristos are indeed special.

Vividly coloured ceiling inside Yemerehana Cristos

Lighting candles inside the Church

The cave is both mysterious and eerie at the same time. I suppose the energy here is off the rails because it was a place where pilgrims would make their final rite of passage and come to die, being buried at the back of the cave itself. This isn’t the practice any more but you can still see some well- preserved mummies if you fancy but I get creeped out by these things and prefer not to look. Some fears I am happy not to face! We leave the church and the priest leaves with us, locking up for the day. He says that this church isn’t popular at all and so if someone else comes, he will open it for them but for now, he is off home. We leave through another route, and it would appear that word has spread that there are visitors at the church for the path back down has villagers begging for money and little children wanting chewing gum. Sadly we have none, and we would have been happy to give them a few Birr but Abrham discourages us saying that this will only alleviate the problem and not help. Maybe pens and books would be better and I wish I had some, but now I know what to take with me when we travel to such a region next!

The Priest at Yemerehana Cristos

Back at base, Abrham says it is buna time: we have earned ourselves a cup of freshly brewed coffee, to have alongside some kitea, a sweet bread and some home-made injera and berbere chutney after our morning of exploration. We sit in the terrace of a locals house, sipping on this liquid gold from little cups and was share this humble yet delicious meal with Bruk and Abrham, tearing off injera from a common tray, each from our own corner. It is culturally acceptable in Ethiopia to eat off the same tray and is greatly encouraged: and I must admit that at first I found it awkward do this but we have now become friends, and so it feels pretty natural to be eating and chattering about our experiences that morning and truly appreciating this cultural quirk.

Hidden Gem Number 2: ToNeakutoleab Monastery

Based just off the road towards Lalibela airport lies the ToNeakutoleab Monastery. Set in a cave in the most gorgeous surroundings, this tiny church has been in existence for centuries and the pull here is not so much for the church but for a sprinkling of water that has no source and so is considered holy and believed to heal. Centuries old stone receptacles are lined up to collect this precious liquid and locals come to collect water from here on a daily basis.

Centuries old stone receptacles to collect the holy water

Water from a mysterious source at Neakotoleab Monastery

I look around and the scenery is visually stunning. The dry and arid landscape stretches on for miles with the mountains on the horizon looking like they have been chiselled by hand.

A hidden gem set amidst breathtaking scenery

The Monastery has a large collection of crosses and religious artefacts that are considered ancient treasures and the priest, who has just finished conducting a prayer ceremony for a local family is happy to show these to us. One is an Amharic Bible made with parchment and lettered by hand: its colours are so vivid that they look freshly painted and not eons old! As he turns the pages of the Bible, the priest chants some of the prayers and Abrham says that he has done a little blessing for us which is really nice: I must admit that I have no idea of the context but blessings are always welcome and so we leave the priest some Birr for his efforts before we leave the Monastery.

Inside the Monastery: the altar and more stone receptacles to collect holy water

Amharic Priest adorned in traditional garb

Chanting prayers in Ge’ez from an ancient Bible

A coffee ceremony

Coffee is to Ethiopia what tea is to England. Until I set Footsteps in Ethiopia, I was a tea addict. I must admit this was mainly because I had never tried coffee that I absolutely loved and so my default love was for tea. And then, I was introduced to the world of Ethiopian coffee and I haven’t looked back since!

Locals waiting for their coffee fix at an open air shack

Coffee ceremonies are part of the backbone of Ethiopian culture and occur frequently throughout the day. Green coffee beans are roasted over an open fire in a pan until they emit these enticing aromas, before they are freshly ground and placed into a stone teapot like receptacle with water and brewed over a coal fire. The result is a thick black liquid that you drink as you would an espresso: and it is absolutely delicious, akin to liquid gold. Locals take their coffee, also known as buna very seriously and so little coffee houses and open air roadside shacks are thronged at coffee time with locals waiting impatiently for their fix, munching on bowls of popcorn as they wait. Because you can’t rush a good thing…it takes time, and once a batch is brewed and finished, you will wait a while before the next one: and it is worth every second! I am loving observing the locals nattering away as we all wait in main downtown Lalibela for our fix, before we head out for sundowners and a night on the town!

Beautiful girl brewing a fresh pot of coffee

“Buna” – coffee being poured into cups

Ben Abeba

When we first arrived in Lalibela, I couldn’t help but notice this rather strange shaped building in the distance. I had read about Ben Abeba but I could never have imagined that it was this quirky flower shape until I actually saw it up close because it looks nothing like a flower from a distance!

Ben Abeba dominating the skyline of Lalibela

The quirky Ben Abeba up close

In any event, it has some pretty high terraces that offer amazing vantage points from where to appreciate the vast beauty of Lalibela and sunset is the perfect time to indulge in an “explorer”: the house cocktail of gin and homemade lemonade sipped whilst wrapped up in a cosy blanket. An evening at Ben Abeba is special, watching the sun melting into orange nothingness over the landscape and day turn into night, capping off yet another beautiful day of wanderlusting.

Sundowners on the terrace at Ben Abeba

It soon gets too windy and chilly to sit on the terrace and so we head down to sit by the bonfire, and get chatting with the couple sat next to us. I am amazed at how the Universe brings kindred spirits together and we have a great evening sharing stories of travels had and dreams of places that we want to go to and it feels like we are sat by a campfire in the middle of nowhere and sending wanderlustwishes up to the heavens above

Painting the town red at Torpedo!

We cannot end our sojourn in Lalibela without a night on the town and so, after dinner we head out to Torpedo, a local bar where everyone comes to hang out at to drink Tej: honey wine. Lalibela is the home of Tej, which is made with local red honey and brewed like beer with hops, barley, sorgum and other grains and left to ferment for three months before being served up in four different strengths: soft, medium, strong or special. Served in a contraption that looks like a round bottom flask in a chemistry lab, this drink tastes deceptively like melon juice with a beery aftertaste and I think it is very much an acquired taste: I managed one flask and wasn’t hankering for more!

Tej: Honey Wine

The atmosphere is like that of a night club: dim lighting and tables set to socialise. A musician is walking around strumming his Krar and dancers energetically performing the local shoulder dance, picking people at random to dance with them. As the night goes on, the drunken merry makers start to plaster money on the foreheads of the musician and the dancers as a sign of appreciation! We have a flight to catch to Gondar the next morning and so decide to call it a night…Lalibela has been fabulous and we are leaving with beautiful memories of our time here.

Torpedo Bar

I do hope you have enjoyed the last of my three part series on Lalibela: do leave me a comment below, and stay tuned for more Footsteps in Ethiopia! As always, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

Note: if this post is read on any other website save for https://www.harpreetswanderlust.com, it is stolen content or reproduced without my permission and I would appreciate being contacted. Thank you!

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Hello, hello wanderlustfam, albeit we are already well into January and I had fervently hoped to have had a lot of my ramblings on my adventures and misadventures up by now! Alas, the Universe has had other plans. It has been a crazy time (isn’t it always?) and I won’t go into boring you with the details because those are inconsequential: but the upshot of having a Universe imposed hiatus is oodles of time for soul searching! So, welcome once again, to my lil corner of the interwebs, grab a cuppa or a glass of champagne, and let’s delve right in, shall we? Hopefully, I will share some WanderInspo in the process!

I have been mulling over what to write and share with you all for weeks now. Yes, even when I am in the throes of life, this passion project of mine, Harpreet’s Wanderlust…Footsteps Across The Globe, is always on my mind. I thought about a round-up of 2018, which, other than some personal events in December was one of my best years and I would even dare to say it was epic, and so I thought that a post on the fab, the drab and the totally ugly things that happened in 2018 would be apt. But the words didn’t flow. So then, I thought about sharing what’s on my ever growing Wanderlustlist for this year and beyond. Again, the words didn’t flow…needless to say, I suffered from a case of writer’s block, because I have been reminded by a dear friend that I am an over-achiever and suffer from perfectionism, which distracts me from doing what I really want to do: to simply write.

In my soul searching these last few weeks, I have made a conscious effort to be fully present in whatever I choose to do. In my journal sessions I came to realise that I live very much in a cloudy haze and in so doing, I don’t appreciate the present moment. I also suffer(ed) from a disease that I blame social media for: comparisonitis and I forget that those “check in’s and feelings” on Facebook and those little squares on Instagram, as pretty as they may be, are just someone else’s highlight reel: and good for them really! But, in spending hours scrolling through the online world I forget to focus on my own patch, treating life like one big grocery list and I often don’t realise that really life is what is happening RIGHT NOW when I’m busy trying to live and Maya Angelou’s words come to mind:

“Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away…”

And so, this led me to trawl through the pages of my journals to truly delve into the moments over the last few years that have taken my breath away and made me grateful to be alive. Needless to say, I am most present when I travel and Wanderlust features strongly making a whopping 90% of what makes me happy being the memories created when Wanderlusting, which I am sure all you fellow serial Wanderlusters out there will identify with! Even more profound are the feelings that being in certain places and having specific experiences evoke. So, I thought I’d share a few with you to give you a little peek into the moments that have made me feel present and truly alive and the feeling that evoked it, because after all – feelings are what make you want to pursue something in the first place!

•Conquering fear and not negotiating with my mind: Snorkelling with Whale Sharks in Djibouti, seeing the Victoria Falls and hanging out with Gorillas in Rwanda.

Perhaps the greatest thing about these experiences are the control that I had over my own monkey mind because firstly, being in the vicinity of Silverbacks and usurping in their territory isn’t an easy feat to achieve, and secondly, I have a serious phobia of large bodies of water, especially the ocean and waterfalls. In all three countries – Rwanda, Djibouti and Zimbabwe, it was one of those mind over matter moments where I felt the fear and did it anyway: hung out with Gorillas, jumped in to swim alongside a gentle giant in the blue depths of the Indian Ocean, and walked on the edges of cliffs to marvel at the gushing of water into an abyss below. I am still working on my mind but know that when I really want to, the yapper within loses to the braver me that wants to conquer fear once and for all.

The feeling: Dealing with Fear and honing in the power of the mind. Something that I want to explore even more this year.

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Djibouti

The gushing Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

• Exploring uncharted territory – Ethiopia: a country that I am not yet done with…

As I said in my article Footsteps in Ethiopia…A Travel Guide for an Epic Trip to the Land of Origins (which was shamelessly stolen by not one but two blogs which I would love to name and shame so that the none the wiser readers know that they are indulging in stolen content!!!):

….Ethiopia is mesmerising. To date, it remains firmly at the top of my Wanderlustlist of places I have set Footsteps in. This country, its treasures and her people have left an indelible mark on me and I only want to explore it more…. Harpreet’s Wanderlust

The feeling: Being truly alive! Triumph, glee and a sense of having satisfied Wanderlust exploring a place that is so off the beaten path and is so raw and real. Oh, and not to forget having billions of pictures to freeze beautiful memories in time and look back in awe at some of the truly surreal experiences Wanderlustmate M and I had out here: from exploring ancient Churches (some hidden in craggy peaks of hard to reach mountains) to marvelling at martian like landscapes and sleeping under the stars in the salt pans as salt caravans traipse silently alongside to conquering the climb up and sleeping on the rim of a live volcano: indeed there is no choice but to be fully present and feel alive!

Surreal landscapes in the Simien Mountains

Salt Caravans heading from the Danakil Depression to Mekelle

The martian like landscapes – sulphur lakes of Dallol

• Having Wanderlust dreams come true

When life is hurtling past faster than two shakes of a lambs tail, it is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and forget that you are living/have lived what was once a dream. Because truly, everything starts off as a dream! Taking stock, there have been a myriad of moments where I have had Wanderlust dreams come true. Visiting Lake Bled in Slovenia, hiking up to the Tigers Nest (Taktsang) Monastery, lighting 108 Butter Lamps and having tea with a Monk in Paro, Bhutan, watching the sun rise in Cappadocia with Hot Air Balloons dotted around in a cotton candy sky and over Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, lighting a candle in a tiny Church perched high up in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia…these are but a handful of moments where Wanderlust dreams have come true, and I know there are plenty more where that came from!

The feeling: Pure and Simple – Gratitude. Something that I need to focus more on again, in 2019.

Prayer Flags fly over Taktsang

Taktsang (Tigers Nest) Monastery, Bhutan

Watching Hot Air Balloons in Cappadocia

Magical Lake Bled in Slovenia

The most magical sunrise in Angkor Wat

• Food, food glorious food…and wine!

I couldn’t possibly leave out how I feel when I am eating and it is very often food or wine that connects me to a place. Earthy truffles in Tuscany, fresh Pesto in Liguria, sweet shrimp with baby strawberries and peppery arugula in Evora, blue lobster in a Michelin Star restaurant in Beaune…these are but a few dishes that take me right back to the places I set Footsteps in. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the wine…the beautiful journeys Wanderlustmate M and I have taken to indulge the budding oenophiles within us: from the vineyards of Southern Africa to the stunning wine regions of Tuscany, Portugal and France, and off the beaten path to the wine region of Kakheti in Georgia where we even managed to harvest and stomp grapes!

The feeling: Appreciation for the simple things that make something ordinary totally extraordinary – again, the feeling of being truly ALIVE!

Beautiful Tuscan Vineyards

Indulging our inner budding oenophile in Tuscany

Delectable shrimp and strawberry salad

• Exploring true hidden gems at home in Kenya

I have begun to appreciate my homeland a lot more these last few years. The adventures had in places like Finch Hattons, Lentorre, Solio and Segera have only whet my appetite for more. To think that in a couple of hours you can be sat on a deck listening to chirping birds, or by your own private plunge pool in the wilderness overlooking a waterhole or sat in vicinity of gentle giants like rhino and elephants is something that until recently, I took for granted. In my attempt at living a more present and mindful life, I intend to explore Kenya a lot more!

The feeling: finding acres of diamonds in your own backyard: and not taking for granted the hidden gems you can find on your own doorstep!

The pond at Finch Hattons

Soaking in the vistas at Lentorre

Hanging out with rhinos in Solio

Hanging out with elephants in Segera

It has been such fun leafing through the pages of my journals and walking down memory lane with you all and I hope that there has been some WanderInspo shared. Have any of my feelings resonated with you? Do let me know in the comments, I truly enjoy hearing from you! I will leave you this quote that I came across on Instagram this morning that I think sums up being mindful and living in the present for me:

…be so fiercely committed to the things YOU care about and the vision of the life you want that you don’t have the time, energy or need to compare yourself to other people… Jamie Varon.

…and in so doing, may there be many moments in life that take your breath away! Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

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…Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world…Gustave Flaubert

Feeling small in the face of such magnanimity

I cannot help but wonder how true this quote is as we start off the second half of our exploration of the subterranean Churches of Lalibela and make our ascent to the twin church: Bets Gabriel-Rufael. This is the first church of the south eastern cluster, set on the other side of the River Jordan and all I can see as I huff and puff up the hill is a large, reddish building looming before me that looks like it is rising out of a cliff. Indeed, as we cross a bridge aptly named “way to heaven”, I look down and see we are crossing over a deep moat like trench. The outside of the church is more memorable than the inside merely for its gargantuan size and my memory of how I felt when I was actually making my way into Bets Gabriel-Rufael. We enter the dimly lit Bet Gabriel, scout around and quickly make our way into adjacent Bet Rufael through an interconnecting doorway and then step outside onto a terrace like platform from where the colossal depth of the ravine is truly appreciated. As I stand on that terrace and just soak in the sheer magnamity of these structures, I am grateful that we have the place to ourselves to appreciate its raw and natural beauty. I feel tiny in the face of such colossal structures, and the depth of the ravine reminds me that one misstep on the unprotected edge and poof, that could be the end. Morbid I know, but honestly a humbling moment because in the grand scheme of things, we are all mere specks in a giant universe!

The beautiful churches of the southern cluster

Standing on the “Bridge to Heaven”


Could I be in an Indiana Jones movie?

Hand on heart, I can say that the south eastern cluster left their mark on me as my personal favourite churches to explore, not because they are architecturally more stunning than the earlier cluster but more for the adventures we had in reaching each of them. Unlike the north western cluster, these churches are farther apart and being connected by an enticing series of narrow doorways, tunnels and trenches, are super fun to navigate and get to. The lighting of late afternoon is just perfect. With warm rays of sunshine glinting off the pink rock, making the doorways glow like something ethereal, I wonder if this is what Indiana Jones felt like, exploring nooks and crannies of places that one cannot help but feel exist only in the imagination?

Wanderlustmate M in one of the nooks of the churches

Truly living in the moment

Indeed, I am in my happy place. Wanderlusting, exploring and most importantly, experiencing. The places that call my name to set Footsteps in seem to wave a magic wand and cast a spell on me. The whys and wherefores of life back home are cast off: all the stuff I was stressing about before getting to Lalibela seems trivial in this moment. I can’t even remember what my tribulations were and what I am obsessing about now are places, their people and more importantly experiences. I am living in the present moment, not worrying about the past or the future and honestly, I am loving this new version of myself!

Through the Tunnel of Hell…

My elated state is short lived as Abrham announces, with a smirk in his voice that we are about to descend into what is known as the “tunnel of hell” in order for us to get to “heaven” on the other side. Now, this is a 35 metre (some say 40 metre) pitch dark tunnel that connects Bets Gabriel-Rufael with Bet Merkorios. And I am almost peeing myself. Because, dear Wanderlusters, I am petrified of the dark. There. Now you know. Legend has it that you have to walk this tunnel in the dark, without any form of light whatsoever and as tempted as I am to put the torch on my iPhone on, I decide that this is the year I will conquer some of my fears. Today: it is that of the dark. I am reassured by Abrham going in front and am immensely grateful to have Wanderlustmate M guiding me along the narrow passageway, and I am bent so as not to bump my head, feeling my way alongside by keeping one hand on the wall alongside me and one hand above feeling the roof of the tunnel. Wanderlustmate M has one hand on my back, quelling my fear of being in the dark and calming the claustrophobia somewhat. Being pitch dark it is uncanny how all the senses kick in when one is inhibited but I cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief as I see the literal light at the end of the tunnel…I have made it through hell and could not be happier!

Navigating the “Tunnel of Hell”

Seeing the light at the end of the “Tunnel of Hell”

…and into Heaven at Bet Merkorios

I would like to imagine that that this church was nick-named “Heaven” because at 4:30 pm, the sunlight streams into the tiny interior from a cross shaped window bathing it in light that can only be described as other worldly. The rays of the sun pour in like beams sent from the heavens and it almost feels like you expect a choir of angels to appear! Bet Merkorios is nondescript from the outside and visited mainly for an original fresco of the three wise men which is semi-visible, but for me, is memorable simply because of this cross shaped window. The priest in this church is a friendly chap and noticing how enthralled I am with this window, has a quick word with Abrham who asks if we want to take some pictures of him. The next thing I know, he appears all clad in his traditional robes and poses in front of the window with an Orthodox Ethiopian Cross, making one heck of a photo opportunity. We leave a couple of Birr for him and a donation to the Church, noting that he didn’t actually ask for this, which is so refreshing!

The beautiful cross shaped window at Bet Merkorios

Sunlight streaming through the window and through the Cross

…and onwards to the Valley into to the “Petra” of Ethiopia

Leaving Bet Merkorios, we traverse a deep valley and criss-cross through yet more tunnels, to emerge from within a doorway to descend into the enclave of Bet Amanuel, a monolithic church which is deemed the most finely carved church in Lalibela. Flanked with almost barely there large vertical pillars, the locals have nicknamed it the “Petra” of Ethiopia, because the external façade resembles that of the Treasury in the famed city of Petra in Jordan. The inside is probably the fanciest we have seen from all the churches and there is various paraphernalia peppered about, suggesting that this was once the Royal Family’s private chapel. A closed hole in the ground covers up a tunnel that links this church with Bet Merkorios. I sit on a wooden bench and gaze around, in awe. I have been pinching myself all afternoon as we amble along this cluster and I know I am not dreaming, yet this adventure feels like one! We exit Bet Amanuel and peek in to the only grotto Church in Lalibela: Bet Abba Libanos. The tiniest church in this complex is said to have been built by King Lalibela’s wife in one night with help from the angels and is the last in this cluster of churches.

Traversing the valleys of Lalibela

Emerging from one of the tunnels into the “Petra” of Ethiopia

Sundowner at the iconic Bet Saint Giorgis – the Church of Saint George

At last, it is time to head to Bet Saint Giorgis, the church that I have been waiting with eager anticipation to see all day and I am not disappointed. Set apart from the other eleven churches, this iconic church in the shape of a cross is the symbol of Lalibela and is probably the reason why a lot of people, myself included, come here in the first place. Seen from above, this is the most visually perfect church of all and because it is so well preserved, it has been spared being covered with the visually unpleasing UNESCO tarpaulin tarps (sorry UNESCO), for now at least. Now that I am here, I want time to stand still for a while so that I can gaze upon this splendid creation and just live in the moment because this too, was once a dream and the moment will pass before I know it and become a dream once again. There are several vantage points from where to appreciate the beauty of this church and I am indulging in every one of them: from up atop a little hillock to peering in at the edge of the rim of the crater from where the church rises. We have arrived just before sunset because we want to see the inside of the church as well, and given that the priest will lock up and head home at 5:30 pm, we have timed our arrival to allow for exploring inside and then heading back up to witness sunset over the iconic church.

Iconic St Giorgis

The perfect cross shape of St. Giorgis

The Icon of Lalibela – St Giorgis

Being at ground level of the church makes me appreciate how high the structure is: a 15 metre three tiered plinth in the perfect shape of a cross: no mean feat to achieve! The inside is as humble as any of the other churches in Lalibela, carved with crosses however this church contains some of the treasures that were thought to belong to King Lalibela: olive wooden chests with an interlocking mechanism that baffles most scientists today, being one of them. The priest is anxious to leave, it’s been a long day but this is a popular church for tourists and people keep filtering in.

Our shadows on St. Giorgis

The sun is setting fast and so we head out to watch as the last golden rays bathe the top of the cross shaped building, highlighting the carvings perfectly. As I sit gazing at this epochal structure, I see the priest clad in his white robe amble past, homeward bound, the large keys to the church jingling in one hand. He raises a hand in greeting and I wave back. The priest smiles and carries on his merry way, another day done. And I am left there thinking just how in the end, we are all the same. No words pass between us and yet we seem to have had a whole conversation. A wave, a smile, a nod: and that dear Wanderlusters, is how

Travel: leaves you speechless and then turns you into a storyteller.

Priest waving goodbye, followed by a cat

Thank you as always, for spending a part of your day with me. I hope you have enjoyed my memoirs of traversing a super special part of Africa – do leave me some comment love below if you did, I love love love hearing from you! Stay tuned for the final post in my series on Lalibela, coming up next week. Until then, Happy Wanderlusting! xoxo

WanderNuggets

Watching the sun go down at Bet Giorgis – Magical!

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Chaos rules the early morning at Bole airport’s domestic terminal in Addis as passengers hustle to get their bags on to the security belt before heading to the check in counter. Travel is calling and everyone is rushing off somewhere: the airport is buzzing with the familiar energy that a traveller is accustomed to: the bustle of people scurrying to get checked in and then to their gates on time. Even I am giddy with excitement as Wanderlustmate M and I finally make it past all the airport formalities to Gate 18, and start to board ET 160 to Lalibela, a place that has been on my Africa Wanderlustlist for some time now. As the plane glides between cotton wool clouds, we leave the shiny metropolis of skyscrapers behind and make our way towards craggy landscapes and historical treasures. An hour after take-off, we are descending in Lalibela and our adventures out in the Amhara region of Ethiopia are beginning…

Arriving-in-Lalibela

It is so dry, arid and otherworldly out here and yet there is something enchanting about how this place seems to rise out of the bowels of the craggy Rift Valley. The ride to main town Lalibela is along a road that is carved into hills alongside a valley and an hour after landing, we arrive in Lalibela village, have met Abrham, our guide for the next few days and have checked in to Hotel Maribela, home for the next few nights. With no time to lose, exploring is on the agenda. The raison d’etre: are the world famous subterranean rock hewn churches of Lalibela, part of the historic route of Ethiopia. A total of twelve churches await moseying around and we are starting off with the north western cluster first, where the entrance to this UNESCO World Heritage Site also happens to be. It is hard to believe that amidst a cluster of houses that form Lalibela village lie some of the most revered buildings of the Orthodox Ethiopian faith. The town doesn’t offer much else in terms of activity and the only reason it features so prominently is for these churches that are carved out of the soft pink volcanic rock and which are still active sites. Every day, devout worshippers make the journey to come and pay their respects at the various churches and every year, hoardes of pilgrims descend upon them for Timkat, the festival of Baptism, making Lalibela the equivalent of Jerusalem…and I cannot wait to get discovering!

Entrance to Lalibela – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

A nugget of history

The churches of Lalibela are 900 years old. Carved right from the earth and immaculately preserved, they were discovered by a Portuguese priest in 1520 and today, are protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Legend has it that the churches are named after King Lalibela, who ordered their construction however given the different architectural styles, experts argue that this was next to impossible. Whatever the story, I am grateful that such monuments exist! There are a total of twelve churches set out in three different clusters amidst a traditional village on either side of a small stream known as River Jordan. Some are carved into the rock, others are semi-monolithic (joined to the rock) and a few are monolithic (free standing). Interconnected with mazes of trenches, tunnels and passageways, it is thrilling to jaunt from church to church and being very active religious sites, it is both amazing and humbling to both watch and interact and be immersed into the Orthodox Ethiopian faith.

The North Western Cluster
Bet Medhena Alem: Church of the Saviour of the World

Information sign for Bet Medhana Alem

Bet Medhane Alem – the largest church in Lalibela

Right after the entrance and a short uphill climb later, we are looking down upon our first church: a building that has been carved out of a single rock and covered with a rather unsightly but necessary tarp from UNESCO to protect the exterior from the elements. Bete Medhane Alem, is the first and largest church in Lalibela built with colonnades and carved from the stone. Looking from above, I am almost scared to lose my balance and fall into the pit as I observe pilgrims clad in white cloaks sat amidst nooks and crannies, praying. Most have their backs turned away from the world, deep in prayer and oblivious to any activity around them. We head down the roughly hewn steps to venture inside: the church is dimly lit with artificial white light whilst a glimmer of natural light pours in from a cross shaped window. Carpets adorn the floor and I can feel the cold of the stone seep through to my sock clad feet. The altar is covered but a variety of colourful paintings depicting various religious scenes are dotted around. Worshippers come in and kowtow to the paintings, then commence their prayers. I am fascinated and humbled at the same time at how devout the faithful are. I am no atheist however if I were, I would soon be converted into a faith just by watching the reverence with which religion is practiced!

Pilgrim meditating in prayer in a nook at Bet Medhane Alem

Inside Bet Medhane Alem

The altar at Bet Medhane Alem

Bets Maryam, Meskel and Dannagel

As we make our way through a tunnel from the first church towards the next, I am a little surprised at how roughly hewn everything is: I had half expected the churches to be almost manicured but it is wonderful to see that their natural environment has been so well preserved. An open tunnel alongside a narrow precipice leads towards a courtyard which houses the next three churches in this cluster and we walk gingerly across, being cautious not to nudge into the meditating worshippers who are pressed against the walls in prayer.

Interconnecting tunnel to Bet Maryam

Pilgrims in Lalibela

Bet Maryam, being dedicated to the Virgin Mary whom the Ethiopians hold revered is the most popular church and its small interior is heavily decorated and teeming with pilgrims: all in various forms of worship. Some hold bibles whilst others simply gaze up to the heavens above and mutter prayers under their breath. Vivid paintings of the Virgin Mary adorn the altar and are probably some of the largest that I recall seeing in any of the churches. We stay a while and observe, enchanted by the rituals ongoing in the tiny church before exploring the other two smaller churches: Bet Meskel, a tiny chapel carved into a northern wall and Bet Dannagel, also known as the House of the Virgins and said to be constructed in the memory of martyred nuns.

The intricately carved interior of Bet Maryam

Portrait of Our Lady in Bet Maryam

Bet Golgotha and Bet Debre Sina Mikael

A deep trench in between high walls leaving the courtyard of Bet Maryam leads to one of my personal favourites in this cluster: Bet Debre Sina Mikael. It is no easy feat clambering up the steep walls into the church and I watch in awe as pilgrims help one another navigate the pathway into the church itself. Most of the worshippers are elderly folk and their determination to scale some of these walls to get into the churches is impressive: because even I am double guessing my step in some places!

Worshippers helping each other navigate entry into the church

The entrance to Debre Sina Mikael

There is a chanting ceremony going on inside and we can hear the echoes bouncing off the walls from the outside as we approach the church. I peek in and the tiny church is filled to the brim with worshippers: everyone is standing, leaning on their staffs for support. Abrham tells us that these ceremonies can go on for hours and only the very elderly get to sit down wherever they can find some space, but most pilgrims choose to lean on their sticks and shift their weight from leg to leg. We go in and the energy that is emanating from the congregation and within the church is electric. A priest chants in Ge’ez, the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church. Drums beat alongside the chanting, both echoes melding in a perfect symphony of uplifting reverberations that leave me both awed and fascinated. The devout worshippers are incredibly friendly and make room for me to come and stand beside them, which I am happy to do because Wanderlustmate M and Abrham have to leave me to head into the twin church of Bet Golgotha, one of the most sacred churches in this cluster where King Lalibela is rumoured to be buried. Sadly, women aren’t allowed in there. We must have stayed in Bet Debre Sina Mikael for about half an hour, just listening to the chanting and soaking in all the energy but I remember those moments as though it were yesterday. You really do leave your heart in some places, and I know a part of mine has remained in that church, frozen in time.

Priest in meditation at Debre Sina Mikael

Inside Debre Sina Mikael

Witnessing a chanting ceremony at Debre Sina Mikael

Bet Uraiel

We reluctantly leave Bet Debre Sina Mikael to have a peek into the last church in this cluster, which was opened in 1988 and rumoured to have been a storeroom because of its incredibly rough hewn interior. This church is one that isn’t frequented by either worshippers or tourists however being on the way out of the cluster, is worth a quick look anyway.The priest here is excited to have some company and lets me hold his cross for a picture, which I am happy to do!

With the priest at Bet Uraiel

Leaving the north western cluster through a cross shaped doorway, I am even more excited to be exploring the next batch given the fascinating experiences we have had so far in these churches. Abrham tells me that we have been lucky today, to have partaken in a chanting ceremony and I cannot help but agree. It is a rare opportunity indeed to have been a part of what is real life, something that isn’t a show put on for the tourists but a true way of living and I am incredibly grateful to have had the fortune to have witnessed this in my lifetime.

The exit of the North Western cluster

Pilgrim in a nook above Bet Uraiel

The energy of Lalibela is indescribable. Nothing prepares you for what you are about to experience: no amount of research matches up to what the churches have to offer. Some say that they have a mysterious draw and I would have to agree. It is as if centuries of prayer have seeped into the well-worn floors and walls of these churches and become a part of their fabric: now reverberating back as you wander amidst them. Months after coming back, my mind still wanders and I still feel a sense of peace wash over me as I reminisce about my time wandering around these sacred sites. Stay with me as I explore the next batch of churches, but for now, thank you for spending a part of your day with me. As always, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

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Ethiopia is mesmerising. To date, it remains firmly at the top of my Wanderlustlist of places I have set Footsteps in. This country, its treasures and her people have left an indelible mark on me and I only want to explore it more. This is the first part in my series titled Footsteps in Ethiopia: please do stay tuned for upcoming posts on my musings and memoirs from our adventures in the places that we explored in what is truly an epic country. For now, I hope you enjoy this snapshot into Ethiopia following the itinerary that Wanderlustmate M and I curated after lots of research on what we wanted to experience.

Ethiopia is a huge country, almost 5 times larger than the United Kingdom and unless you are a full time wanderluster with oodles of time on your hands, chances are you will have to pick and choose what parts to see. Tourism is still developing, solo or independent travel is still a new concept and a handful of luxury operators have tours for the Northern and Southern parts for which they charge a handsome price, which is fine if you have deep pockets however you will still not get to do some of the truly off the beaten path routes like the Afar region that make the trip epic. This guide seeks to give an insight into how to travel to the Land of Origins as a semi-independent traveller, focusing on the Northern circuit, also known as the “historical route” in 11 days. Long post alert: this is quite detailed so do grab a cuppa to come along with me on this wanderlust inducing journey!

Epic Ethiopia

Highlights of the Northern Circuit:

A few experiences you should not miss that will truly make the trip memorable:
1. Exploring the rock hewn churches of Lalibela, walking the “tunnel of hell” and partaking in a chanting ceremony.
2. The coffee! Buna is the backbone of Ethiopia and akin to liquid gold. A coffee ceremony is a must out here.
3. Chilling with the Geladas in the Simien Mountains and driving up to Chennek Camp.
4. Driving the Limalimo to Axum, home of the legendary Queen of Sheba: the landscapes will leave you breathless!
5. Climbing up to the Debre Damo Monastery (if you are a man).
6. Hiking up to the seemingly impossible to reach churches of Maryam and Daniel Korkor and Abuna Yamata Guh in Tigray.
7. Visiting the Afar region: one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
8. Sleeping under the stars in the Danakil Depression amidst silent salt caravans of camels that traverse the night.
9. Seeing the colourful sulphur lakes of Dallol.
10. Hiking up Erta Ale: one of the few active volcanoes on earth and sleeping on the rim after seeing the lava lake.

Have I got you excited yet? I certainly hope so, because I am super stoked to be sharing this itinerary with you all and I cannot wait to recount my adventures in more detail in upcoming posts. So, without further ado, let’s explore, shall we?

The day by day itinerary below will detail all we did, however in a nutshell, our itinerary covered the top experiences I have detailed above.

Itinerary: Exploring the Northern Historical Circuit in 11 days Day 1 – Flying in to Addis

Wanderlustmate M and I flew from Nairobi into Addis on a direct flight on Ethiopian Airways which got in at lunchtime. As Kenyans, we do not need visas and immigration is a breeze. We planned to use Addis only as a base for getting in and out of Ethiopia, but for history buffs you can go visit Lucy, the “grandmother of humanity” at the National Museum of Ethiopia. Wanderlustmate M flies frequently to Addis for work and he discovered a couple of good places to eat at: one being Sishu Burger, a funky converted warehouse where you can have what is hands down the BEST burger I have ever eaten and while away some time on a couch whilst gearing up for the upcoming days. The other place to try out would be Habesha 2000 Cultural Restaurant which is a great introduction to Ethiopian cuisine if you are a newbie to this type of food. You can also watch and partake in traditional Ethiopian dances at this restaurant.

Check in: we stayed at the Radisson Blu in Addis. Only 6 km from the airport, this is a great place to stay at for a night or two before you hit the circuit.

Connectivity: You can get an Ethiotel Sim with data in Addis using your passport however the network is highly Government regulated. We bought a sim however we didn’t have data as it had been switched off countrywide. WiFi is available at most hotels and domestic airports.

Top tip: Addis is amongst one of the world’s highest capitals which means one is prone to altitude sickness. Take a day or two to acclimatise or pop a Diamox if it gets too bad (but only if prescribed by a doctor before you travel).

Coffee in Addis

Day 2 – Pilgrimage to Lalibela

Your day starts bright and early as you fly to Lalibela in the Amhara region, home to the famous subterranean rock hewn Orthodox Ethiopian Churches, also known as Bets. The one hour flight takes you over craggy valleys and you see the landscape change from a cityscape to almost desert like as you land in Lalibela. Once you have checked in to your hotel, hit the ground running. There are eleven churches in total, set in clusters in a traditional village on either side of a small stream known as River Jordan. Interconnected with tunnels and passageways, it is thrilling to jaunt from Church to Church and being very active religious sites, it is both amazing and humbling to interact and immerse yourself into this culture as you watch with fascination: pilgrims deep in prayer and possibly even partake in a chanting ceremony or two. The energy is indescribable. I would recommend exploring the six Churches forming the North-western cluster first: being Bet Medhane Alem, Bet Maryam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danagel, Bet Golgotha (which women sadly cannot enter) and Debre Sina Mikael.

Pilgrims in Lalibela

Inside one of the Churches

Break for lunch, and then head out to explore the next batch of Churches south of the River Jordan being Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Bet Merkerios, Bet Amanuel and Bet Abba. End your pilgrimage in Lalibela with sunset at the isolated Church of St. George: the iconic Church in the shape of an Orthodox Ethiopian Cross and the only one that can be seen from above.

Bet St George in Lalibela

Fly: 8 am Ethiopian Airlines flight to Lalibela from Addis Bole Airport Domestic Terminal.

Check in: Hotel Maribela. Ask for Room 103 for the best views and great WiFi connectivity.

Entry into the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lalibela: US$ 50 per person* 300 Birr for Videos, which include any form of gadget that takes videos including your phone. A guard checks up on this at pretty much every Church so it is best to just pay up and enjoy taking footage of this incredible place in peace. *The ticket is valid for 5 days and gives you access to all churches within the Lalibela complex.

Top Tip: Be prepared for a lot of walking, and wear sturdy shoes as the ground is uneven. Socks are useful as you will have to remove your shoes to go inside the Churches. Go through the “tunnel of hell” to get from Bet Gabriel-Rufael to Bet Merkorios which is one heck of an experience! If you time this for about 4:30 pm, the sunlight streams through the cross shaped window in Bet Merkorios making a great photo opportunity.

Day 3 – Lalibela: Off the beaten path

Today, explore sights that are off the beaten path. The Church of Yemrehana Cristos is 42 km away from Lalibela and worth the drive as it is the only Church out here that is set inside a cave and constructed from the ground up rather than excavated. The layers alternate between marble and wood. The energy is surreal: pilgrims would come here as a final rite of passage to die, and there are well preserved mummies at the back of the cave.

Entry: 400 Birr per person, 100 Birr video camera fee.

Top tip: you need a guide at Yemrehana Cristos if only to prevent being hassled by the villagers for money on the path back down. Your guide will also know the locals and can arrange for you to have some freshly brewed coffee with some home-made injera, berbere chutney and kitea (sweet bread).

Prayers by candlelight in Yemrehana Cristos

After lunch, head to the ToNeakutoleab Monastery, also set in a cave in the most gorgeous surroundings. The draw here is a sprinkling of water that has no source and so is considered holy and believed to heal. This Monastery also has an Amharic Bible made with parchment, and the priest will be more than happy to adorn his traditional garb and chant some prayers for you for a couple of Birr. Once you are done, head to Lalibela for some shopping and a coffee ceremony with the locals.

The sacred water dripping from the cave at ToNeakutoleab Monastery

Amharic Priest and Ancient Bible at ToNeakutoleab Monastery

Coffee ceremony with the locals in Lalibela

Go for sundowners at the quirky flower shaped restaurant Ben Abeba. Ask to be sat by the bonfire once the sun goes down and enjoy your dinner by firelight, and then head out to Torpedo for a night on the town. This is a local bar which brews Tej: local honey wine. For girls: don’t visit the loo here if you can avoid it…

Day 4 – Heading to the Simien Mountains

Today is a full day of travel as you head to the Simien Mountains. Fly from Lalibela to Gondar, the only town with an airport that is closest to Debark where the Simien Mountain range is located. Debark is 100 km away from Gondar and the drive there is amidst simply stunning landscapes and gorgeous vistas with views to die for. Enjoy the heat of the day as the mountains are super cold! The tarmac road network is great however out in rural Ethiopia, humans and livestock have right of way and this will slow the journey down somewhat. Once in Debark, you must register at the Simien Mountain National Park Office and pick both a guide and a scout. These are allocated at random and are the luck of the draw, and our guide Gismu and scout Abrham turned out to be amazing people.

Fly: 12:20 am Ethiopian Airways from Lalibela to Gondar.

Lunch at Four Sisters in Debark to try amazing Doro Wat.

Check in: I would recommend staying at Simien Lodge as it is the only semi luxurious lodge inside the National Park. There are more luxurious lodges available however these are almost an hour away from the park, and given the time limitations, the closer you are to the park the more time you have to explore.

Epic drive from Simiens to Axum

Entry: 90 Birr per person per day. 300 Birr for a scout and guide for 1-4 people excluding tips.

Day 5 – Exploring the Simiens

I would highly recommend waking up for sunrise over this spectacular chain of mountains. The magic of having the park to yourself and watching the world come alive in the crisp morning breeze is ethereal. Head back to the lodge after sunrise for breakfast and hop into your 4×4 with your guide and scout to explore the rest of the park starting with hanging out with the Gelada Baboons and ending at the highest point: Chenek Camp, set 4300 metres above sea level. Though the most popular way of getting to Chenek is by hiking the Sankabar-Geech- Chenek trail within the park, for those with time constraints it is also possible to drive though you will need a sturdy 4×4 to traverse the bone shaking road.

Sunrise in the Simiens

First up: the Geladas, also known as the bleeding heart baboon because of the distinctive red patch on their chest and only found in the Simiens. They are the last surviving species of grazing monkey in the world and are so docile you can sit amongst them and observe their almost human like behaviour for hours on end.

Wanderlustmate M chilling with the Geladas

Male Gelada

Next: make your way towards Chenek a 30 km drive up from Simien Lodge. The landscape changes dramatically the higher you climb: the Simiens cliffs rise from bottomless canyons adorned with the occasional firestick making the otherwise dry landscape burst with colour. The road is cut into the mountainside and every turn has you gasping in awe at the dramatic vistas before you. Chenek and beyond is where you will find the elusive Ethiopian wolf, Walia Ibex and giant lobelias: in a terrain so cold that even the streams of water are ice! You can hike short distances here to get a feel of what the trails are like and then break for a picnic lunch at Chenek before making your way back down to Simien Lodge. Your guide can recommend short trails during the day to show you dramatic vistas, such as the short 7 km hike to the Jinbar waterfall. End your day amongst the Geladas near Simien Lodge.

Day 6 – Onward to Axum: ancient capital of Abyssinia and home to the legendary Queen of Sheba

More traversing by road today on the 300 km journey from Debark to Axum. Leaving at the crack of dawn, it takes 45 minutes from Simien Lodge to Debark and then you join the “limalimo” – one of the most scenic but hair raising roads we have ever driven on. Cut into the side of the mountain, the road twists and turns and hairpin bends its way amidst the almost Toblerone shaped hills to Zarima, where the tarmac road begins and you start snaking your way along the mountains towards Axum. You leave the Amhara region behind and enter the Tigray region, the whole journey taking approximately 8 hours with a break for coffee and lunch. After checking in to the only semi luxurious hotel in Axum, head out to explore the sights which include: the Stellae (obelisk) park, Queen of Sheba bath, the Tombs and the Queen of Sheba Palace Ruins.

Check in: Sabean International Hotel – the only semi luxurious hotel in town.

Entry into Axum’s Sights: Stellae Park: 50 Birr per person which includes the park, museum and Queen of Sheba’s Palace ruins.

Stellae in Axum

Day 7 – En route to Tigray

The last two legs of this trip are perhaps the most exciting because of just how remote the sights you will be visiting are. Hawzen, where the Wukro cluster of churches are located is a 190 km drive from Axum. For guys: do not give up the opportunity to visit Debre Damo in Adigrat which is en route to Hawszen, one of the most important monasteries in Ethiopia set on the top of a formidable cliff only accessible by climbing a rope. Sadly, no females are allowed in any shape or form and so Wanderlustmate M made the climb up and described it as exhilarating and unbelievable. Given the distance travelled today, you won’t have time to explore the churches as they close at 5:30 pm.

Wanderlustmate M scaling the cliff up to Debre Damo

Check in: Korkor Lodge. By far the most luxurious lodge in Ethiopia however booking is elusive and can only be done through your local agent, and even then, not guaranteed as I will detail in my upcoming Footsteps in Tigray post(s).

Entry into Debre Damo: 200 Birr for men only. You will have to get a guide and possibly a helper who come at 200 Birr and 100 Birr respectively: these are official prices however the helpers will no doubt ask for more as they claim to “save your life” as you make the arduous climb up the cliff.

Korkor Lodge – luxury in Tigray

Day 8 – Rock hewn Churches of Tigray

Perhaps the most memorable day of all, today you will hike to impossible to reach churches set high up in the Gheralta mountains. There are a number of Churches out here but the best two are Maryam and Daniel Korkor and Abuna Yemata Guh, where you are guaranteed to find the priests and be able to spend time absorbing the beauty of the Churches. Start off early by first visiting Maryam and Daniel Korkor. This is a 3 hour round trip trek and I will detail my experience in my upcoming posts on my Footsteps in Tigray. The hike is tough, over large boulders for a good 45 minutes before you have to navigate narrow trails and scale almost vertical rock faces. Maryam Korkor is an unassuming white Church, whilst Daniel Korkor, approached via a ledge along a cliff is set inside a cave and has breath takingly gorgeous frescoes within.

Top Tip: get yourself a 4×4 which will take you as close to the base as possible, shaving a good 1km off the trek and saving energy for the gruelling hike up to the churches.

Hiking to Maryam Korkor

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Travel. The mere thought of this word evokes so many feelings at the same time: excitement, passion, anticipation, being hopeful, happiness and to some extent, a tad bit of nervousness too, keeping fingers crossed that all will go as planned or envisioned and as dreamed of for ages before the actual event. Add the writing of a blog into that mix and the dynamic changes completely! I have written some WanderInspo posts on how I think that travel is a great teacher, and even confessed to my serial wanderlust, but what I have never really delved into is why I started Harpreet’s Wanderlust and chronicling my Footsteps Across The Globe in the first place: I may have alluded to it in previous posts, however, with this month’s #Travellinkup topic on how travel and/or blogging has had an impact on my life, I thought it would be the perfect insight to those curious to know the intricacies of this blog and the raison d’etre.

Being a part time Wanderluster

The seeds and Lesson 1

As is expected with me, there isn’t just one reason why I thought that writing a blog would be a fun endeavour. For one, I have always been fond of writing my musings and during my travels pre blog, I would find myself journaling to capture experiences to put them down permanently to someday look back on. I credit my mum for this habit. Every time we would take a road trip as a family, mum would buy me a little pink kartasi brand notebook, the one with a horse on it (my Kenyan people will know what I am talking about) and she would tell me to write all the things I saw along the way in its pages. I am sure for my mum it was an easy way of keeping me, already a nerdy bookworm entertained on our pretty long road trips but this little exercise was the beginning of my love of writing. Add to that the books I devoured and the innate need to write was inevitable. Fast forward to a couple of years later, the seed of writing a travel blog was planted in Ubud, Bali, when instead of frolicking amidst rice paddy fields, Wanderlustmate M and I were trying to solve a Visa crisis. By that time, my musings had also transitioned from paper journal to online entries on my laptop, which were stumbled upon during a clean-up, and together with Wanderlustmates M’s amazing photographs, hey presto, the seed that was planted began to sprout. Putting together a blog was harder than I thought and way more work than I ever imagined it to be: I had foolishly underestimated it all thinking -how hard can writing a bunch of words and putting up some pictures be? A lot of my blogger friends will agree that working at a blog is way more intense than even working at a day job, but I will admit that those seeds were the beginnings of what has been a great journey so far. Many of you will know that I started writing Harpreet’s Wanderlust in 2013, way before blogging was even a thing: and I kept it a secret for a long while, only announcing it to the world more than a year later. I wish I had gone live from day one, but before I thought of going live I had mentioned to someone that I had started writing a blog: only for that person to retort that “I thought I had travelled so much that I felt the need to show off about it” and that just killed my vibe. Not for long though, because my why was greater than someone’s opinion, and I soon learned that everyone has one and they are not always favourable: so the best thing to do is to do YOU. And that, dear wanderlusters, was Lesson 1 in the life of a Travel Blogger. There will always be someone putting you down, wondering why, thinking you are showing off, thinking you think you know too much, thinking that others are better than you, thinking your writing is awful: but the biggest thing you can do is block out the noise, and just do what makes you happy, first and foremost writing for YOU and always remembering your WHY.

And so, with that rather long winded ramble, Harpreet’s Wanderlust…Footsteps Across The Globe was put out into the blogosphere, and here I am, 5 years later, only working harder at it and my WHY gets defined and clearer every time I sit down to pen an article for all my dear wanderlusters.

Harpreet’s Wanderlust…Footsteps Across The Globe

I have mentioned that blogging is hard work. Even harder is juggling blogging with a full time pretty demanding day job, running a household and trying to be a wife, daughter and sister. This leaves little to no time for writing a blog but other than the innate need to travel and explore, capture the moments in words and pictures, there are two things that keep the passion burning.

My Kenyan Passport

1. Travel with a “Blue Passport”

If you have been following this travel blog long enough you will know that Wanderlustmate M and I travel on a Kenyan Passport. Being one that belongs to a rapidly developing country, it goes without saying that travel becomes a little less spontaneous and a little harder because of all the paperwork involved in procuring visas, but then again, getting a visa to most countries is not impossible. Yes, there are limitations as to where one can go on a whim, but where there is a will there is a way and Wanderlustmate M and I have travelled to some pretty awesome and off the beaten path countries with our blue passports : the most recent country being Georgia: not the state in the USA, the actual country in the Caucasus region known as EurAsia. I don’t say this to belittle anyone but there are people with more powerful passports than what we hold that haven’t even been past their backyard. This is a perfectly acceptable choice and ultimately, it doesn’t matter what kind of passport you hold. What counts is what you do with it. All I’m saying is that your passport shouldn’t be your limitation. Kenya is magical and there are loads of places to explore at home, but the big world yonder is even more exciting and it calls my name so loud. The last count showed that Kenyans can visit a little over 50 countries visa free, which is pretty good! And so, one of the main reasons for showcasing our Footsteps Across The Globe is to dispel the myth that travel with a “Blue Passport” is impossible and to inspire those with similar passports to explore what this world has to offer if they really want to: all it takes is being inspired by one person to set the ball rolling for what someone else can achieve. If I am that one person, I would consider it an honour. I would love nothing more than to inspire fellow Kenyans to use their “Blue Passports” to travel the world: we are received with so much excitement when we do go to places that aren’t used to stamping the pages of a Kenyan Passport. I will never forget immigration in Vietnam, where we had to point out Kenya on a map to the immigration officer to prove that it existed: and this was despite having procured a visa from the Vietnamese Embassy in Tanzania, not even back home! Yes, we did get in, and yes we loved every minute of our adventures in Vietnam. As the saying goes:

The best stories are those found between the pages of a passport!

The Type Awesome persona in me means always being prepared!

2. Sharing experiences with the blogosphere

Both Wanderlustmate M and I are full time lawyers here in Kenya. However, we love exploring, having different experiences especially if they are off the beaten path, trying out unique cuisines and indulging in other cultures, if only for a while. We aspire to have a work/life balance and with photography and travel being our passions, we started incorporating travel as a major part of our lifestyle. Being Type A personalities, we both like to research on where we are going: also because spontaneous travel is unlikely, it means that everything has to be perfect. This means thorough research into visas, immigration rules, cultures, traditions amongst other things like what to do where we are planning to go. I literally carry a dossier with me when we travel: because we have been asked for some pretty random documents in some countries. Funny story: at immigration in Porto, the immigration officer asked us to show him wads of cash to confirm that we were able to afford being in Portugal for the 10 days our visa let us. As we were going through this rigmarole, a lady with big yellow wedges who was in the immigration queue behind us exclaimed rather rudely that “people with dodgy passports were holding up the line and she couldn’t get out to get her holiday started”! She then decided to join another line just as the officer decided we were worthy of being gr anted entry only to have to stand behind 10 other people. I couldn’t help turning around and smiling at her with a cheeky wave: karma had gotten her for her rude comment and I, with my “dodgy passport” was off to get my holiday started! Equally, there have been countries where we have been stamped in within minutes of landing and without a question or a second glance. We just never know so we prefer to be prepared!

Road trippin’ around Tuscany, Guidebooks in tow!

In all our research, we found that there is not that much practical information for travellers. You will find tonnes of online journal like entries (a lot like my Footsteps in…series that I enjoy doing) and some of what sound like a student writing a high school essay on their holiday type writing amongst other styles. I’m not saying that these are wrong: each to their own and there are some days when I am looking for armchair inspiration and these kinds of blogs check the boxes, but on other days, I struggle to find answers for what I may be looking for. Yes, you can buy a tonne of guidebooks. But I have found that no guidebook will ever substitute personal experiences and while I do refer to Lonely Planet and the like, I am more likely to seek out a recommendation by a travel blogger that I am inspired by and whose work I have been following be it on their blog or social media channels. Caveat here: when I research, sponsored content is taken with a pinch of salt and authenticity is really important to me. I must admit that my earlier writing is borderline cringeworthy and it is only with practice and not finding what I want on the blogosphere that has led me to create some of what I would have liked to have known when researching a destination. My WanderNuggets and some of the itineraries I have crafted over the years and shared with a lot of readers offline seeks to share experiences. But like all things, ideas evolve over time and get perfected and I am slowly finding a style that fits me: an in between of rambling online journal like entries by way of sharing my experiences and thoughts as well as what I consider practical information by way of WanderNuggets. This means that when we travel, there are many times when I wear the the hat of an editor because I am not only travelling for the experience, but also to put information out into the blogosphere and I have a responsibility to ensure that what I do put out there is correct at the time of publishing the post. This means again, taking copious amounts of notes and trying to remember every little detail which can admittedly be exhausting and sometimes, I am grateful that this is a passion and not a full time job or else I may not be doing it!

And there we have it, fellow Wanderlusters. A lil insight into the whys and wherefores of Harpreet’s Wanderlust…Footsteps Across The Globe. Thank you for sharing in my ever evolving journey with me thus far…and as always, Happy Wanderlusting! xoxo

Yanking the lever of Gratitude

Our November topic is the impact that travel and/or blogging has had on you.

Just pop your post up over the first week of the month (the 1st – 7th November 2018), add it to the link up widget found on Adventures of a London Kiwi, SilverSpoon London, Follow Your Sunshine or on the blog of our lovely guest host Sima @ The Curious Pixie.

There are no rules – all we ask is that you check out some of the other cool bloggers that are involved in that months travel link up; make a few comments here and there and tweet a few of the posts out to your followers that you think they will love. It’s a great way to meet some new travel bloggers and share some blogging joy!

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Every place has a unique feature about it that instantly links it in your mind, be it a type of food, a tradition or even a part of its landscape. Quirks particular to countries add to the excitement when we travel: the anticipation in partaking in and experiencing some of these cultures which, in my book, only add to the magic of travel. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees and of course, flaky, buttery croissants. Singapore has their sumptuous chicken rice. Hong Kong has dim sum and Din Tai Fung! Germany has Oktoberfest, Italy is synonymous with pasta and Peru has Machu Pichu. You get the drift! Of course, the United Kingdom is no different and there are some things that can only be described as ‘Quintessentially British’. Think of the Monarchy, Royal Family, Princes and Princesses, castles, parks, markets, endless cups of tea, misty moors, postcard pretty villages and you instantly think: Britain! In my last post, I had a rendezvous with the City and explored some sights that I had always passed by when I visited London but never took the time to visit. Today, I am delving in to all the traditions and experiences that I think are quintessentially English which, when thought of, instantly take me back to glorious Britain!

Typical British Grub

One of the first things I do when I get to the UK is hit up a pub. Not so much for alcohol but more for a traditional pub meal like cumberland sausage, mash and gravy, or more recently, curry! The UK is dotted with amazing pubs everywhere, and JD Wetherspoons were ever so popular when I was a student because you could get a pretty filling meal for a couple of quid. I quite enjoy reminiscing about those gold old days and a pub meal always hits the spot! When I think of British food, a couple of things instantly come to mind: Biscuits – because you can’t have tea without a couple of biscuits can you?! Egg & Cress Sandwiches, fish and chips, jacket potatoes with beans and cheese, pitchers of Pimms and the late night indulgence of a lamb kebab with chips, which take me right back to my uni days when we would end up in “chippy alley” after painting the town red…and which to date, my brother and I absolutely love, and is one of the first things I eat when I visit him, much to the disdain of my sister in law!

Typical pub grub

Quintessentially British

Afternoon Tea

There is nothing more quintessentially British than Afternoon Tea. I did some delving into how this tradition arose and my findings revealed that we have Anna Maria Russel, Duchess of Bedford to thank for the concept of Afternoon and High Tea (and yes, apparently they aren’t one and the same thing but that’s a story for another day). The Duchess had hunger pangs one afternoon between lunch and dinner and she ordered tea and snacks to her bedroom as refreshments, and they successfully sated said hunger pangs to the point that this became a frequent habit, resulting in her well-heeled friends joining her for this post lunch tea ritual. The traditional concept of afternoon tea revolves around crustless finger sandwiches, a spread of dainty cakes, pastries, biscuits and of course: scones.

In recent years though, London has embraced the culture of Afternoon Tea and many establishments have spun some glorious twists to the traditional concept. As a result, one can now indulge in all manner of teas from the conventional tea with crustless finger sandwiches with fillings such as cucumber and egg mayo to themed teas revolving around the latest Disney releases (and others) such as Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins, and even going one step further to include fashion, like the Berkeley’s Pret a Portea which changes with every season. My blogger friend and fellow wanderluster Binny of Binny’s Food and Travel Diaries and I have a sort of unwritten tradition whenever I am in London: of doing Afternoon Tea together. Though I am not in London as often as I like and there are still so many teas on my wanderlustlist, I am glad to have experienced two very special High Teas with Binny. One was the Pret a Portea, and the other was the Mad Hatter’s Tea at the Sanderson.

Mad Hatter Tea at the Sanderson

…Curiouser and curiouser, cried Alice…

I absolutely love Alice in Wonderland. One of my favourite scenes in the original movie was that of the Mad Hatters Tea Party, and so you can imagine my delight when Binny suggested we try out the whimsical Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at the quirky Sanderson hotel. Indeed, this tea is an ode to how far the concept of Afternoon Tea has come from just cucumber sandwiches. From the menu pasted between the pages of a book of this beloved fairytale, to the specially flavoured teas aptly named after characters like Alice and the Cheshire Cat to the crockery, everything is a dash of whimsy. The three tier stand with its array of delectable treats were all themed around the story: macarons with pocket watches on them depicting the white rabbit, cleverly moulded pastries of mushrooms and the caterpillar, and my favourite: a cute potion in a little bottle labelled “drink me”…the two hour tea really did transport me back to my childhood days of watching the movie.

The blue caterpillar and his mushroom

Drink me! Alice’s Potion in a bottle…

A Cosmopolitan City

I love that London is such a cosmopolitan city, embracing every culture from the length and breadth of the globe. Think of food from the most random part of the world and I guarantee that there will be a restaurant or a pop up stall somewhere in London serving up these delicacies that you would think you would only need to travel to eat! Hoppers and Bao are two that I can think of off the top of my head: here you have Sri Lanka and Vietnam on a plate! Two of my personal favourites in London are Coya and Nobu. It is no secret that Peru is on the top of my Wanderlustlist at the moment. If I won a million dollars today, the first thing I would do is book a one way ticket to explore Latin America with Wanderlustmate M and I would make my dream of going to Machu Picchu and other sites come true. But alas, whilst wishes bubble and boil in the wish cauldron waiting to be manifested, restaurants like Coya give me an insight into Peruvian cuisine. There are two branches in London: Mayfair and Angel, and a stop at Coya for their Ceviche and their purple potato dish is something that is non-negotiable! Sushi is also a cuisine that I would travel the world for and Nobu with their delectable Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi is one that has made it to the top of the list of places to go back to when in London.

Coya Mayfair

Coya Menu

One of the sumptuous dishes at Coya

Borough Market

Moseying around markets is something that I thoroughly enjoy doing. If there is a market to be explored in any part of the world that we may be wanderlusting in, then it is guaranteed to be on the itinerary to pop in to. Europe is famous for its markets, especially the Christmas Markets which again, are on my never ending wanderlustlist. I love markets so much so that I even find grocery shopping to be most therapeutic (yeah, nerd alert) because I amble from aisle to aisle looking for exciting produce and ingredients to bring the world to my kitchen through cuisine when Wanderlustmate M and I are not wanderlusting. So, it will come as no surprise that on my rendezvous with the City was a trip down to Borough Market. If you are a foodie as well as a wanderluster, you cannot leave London without taking a couple of hours to explore Borough Market. Yes, you will want to buy every cheese, artisan produce, exotic spice and more (I know I do) but even if you have luggage restrictions, there is always time for trying out some of the delicious foods in the market or just ambling through to see what is on offer. If you haven’t been, then put Borough Market on your Wanderlustlist – I promise you won’t regret it!

Fresh produce at Borough Market

Borough Market

Twinings Tea

“Tea is the elixir of Life”…Lao Tzu

Recently, I have become a coffee aficionado but Tea will always be my first love. When in London, I love nothing more than walking down the Strand to the unassuming little white shop tucked between two other giant buildings: Twinings Tea, which has been in these premises since 1706 and still going strong!

The outer facade of Twinings Tea, the Strand

They have over 200 varieties of tea from all over the world, from traditional English Breakfast Tea to the exotic green and white teas of Asia. I love Twinings for the unique flavours they come up with, to make ordinary green tea that much more exciting. Fruity flavours such as mango and lemon and more recently, their coconut chocolate and peach and cherry blossom are a literal hug in a mug for me. I enjoy brewing a pot at work when I am lawyering, for my elevenses, yet another quirky English tradition of a hot cuppa and a biscuit at 11 am, a little oddity I picked up as a student in the UK and which has continued to date!

My little “elevenses” Tea Tray

All stocked up with a new stash of Twinings Tea!

Enid Blyton

I grew up in Blytonland. A world where I would have my nose deep in a book and be transported to the land of pixies, fairies, magic dust and adventurous children. Somedays it would be the Famous Five, or the Secret Seven, others it would be Mr. Galliano’s Circus, The Naughtiest Girl in the School and the Malory Towers or St Clare’s Series. The setting for Enid’s stories is England and so some of what I thought were typically English traditions like Boarding School, Midnight Feasts and Tea are linked back to the books I read growing up. Enid certainly taught me how to have a vivid imagination because very often, after reading one of these books cover to cover, I would go looking out in my garden for adventure! Alas, I rarely found it but I did make up the most creative stories with my school essays instead! Midnight feasts were a thing, and my siblings and I have had more than one thanks to Enid. The one thing that always stood out about Enid’s books is how hungry they always made me. She would describe the food that the children in her stories ate so vividly that it would make me want to eat an Egg & Cress Sandwich, or Bacon & Eggs, crumbly honeycomb cake, raisin buns, lemonade and ginger beer and oh, something called a blancmange which I still haven’t seen or tasted! Now I know where my food addiction comes from. Thanks Enid. Yes, really, thanks! Enid created a fantastic world where I could escape, and to date, if I want to be a child for a while, I will pick up one of her books and transport myself back to this world. Granted that real life isn’t Blytonland and the real England is nothing like the fairytales, but stories spark up the imagination and make you want to visit a place: Enid certainly had me wanting to see Britain (and eat all those things she described in her books) as much as Lucy Maud Montgomery has put Prince Edward Island on to my Wanderlustlist thanks to Anne of Green Gables!

My St Clare’s Series

Enid Blyton: my introduction to all things English!

I do hope you enjoyed my ramblings through memory lane on what I think are Quintessentially British traditions. Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

WanderNuggets

Through the world of travel blogging, introductions from Binny and Instagram, I have interacted with some amazing London bloggers who have the nicest experiences of London on their blogs. For more inspiration on Afternoon Teas and fabulous places to eat at in London, as well as visiting Binny’s blog, do head on over to Angie of Silverspoon London. For interesting experiences and off the beaten path things to do in London as well as amazing places to grab a bite at check out Sima’s blog: The Curious Pixie.

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It is very easy to take things for granted because we think that we have oodles of time to do all we want to do. I have read that there are acres of diamonds to be found in your own backyard, but do we really take the time to find these? I was guilty of this very sin when many moons ago, I had the privilege of studying in the United Kingdom and calling this country home for a while, albeit as a student. I studied in Cardiff, Wales but took every opportunity to dash to London whenever my meagre student budget allowed it, however in the five years that I called this country home, I am ashamed to admit that I always thought that I would have time to do the things that I really wanted to do and so, when I had to return to Kenya after my graduation, there were many boxes left unchecked.

Iconic London: Black Cabs and Red Phone Booths

There are tonnes of blog posts and articles written about London but this is not one of them. I don’t think there could ever be a comprehensive enough guide about this fabulous city and so I won’t even attempt that herculean task. This is not meant to be a tour guide but merely my musings on London: re-discovering a city in a country I lived in for a chapter of my life, but never made the effort to explore or appreciate, taking it all for granted and thinking I would always have time. This is Harpreet’s Wanderlust, making up for lost time and being a tourist in a city in a place I once called home.

“When you are tired of London, you are tired of life”.

These words by Samuel L. Jackson ring so true every time I think of what is probably one of my favourite cities in the world. I cannot imagine a soul that has been to London and not been smitten by her charm. Despite the frequency of travel to London, back then as a student and now as a Wanderluster, each time I set Footsteps in London, I find that there is always something new to discover and I find myself drawn deeper into her charm.

The Sights and Sounds of London Town

It is fun being a tourist in a city you are somewhat familiar with. You know all the landmarks because you have seen them a thousand times before from various standpoints. As a student coming back to Kenya, I could rattle off all the places that are synonymous with London: the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, St. Pauls Cathedral…you get the point. But had I ever taken the time to visit these places? Ummmm, No. Why? Because I assumed there would always be time to do this “next time”…

…and thankfully there have been countless opportunities to travel back to London! On one of my recent visits I decided to steep myself in a day of discovery of all those places I had seen a thousand times before but never taken the time to truly explore. So, without further ado, let’s get exploring, shall we?

The sights and sounds of London- New Bond Street

Names you know: Park Lane, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Mayfair…

Do these sound like the names on the Monopoly board? A lil story for you all: as a student, I would come into London on the National Express, down Park Lane alongside Hyde Park and to the Marble Arch roundabout before hurtling through the City to Victoria Station and taking a train back out to a friend or relatives house in the suburbs. Looking out from the window of the bus, I would always wonder what it would feel like to stay in what I considered the “heart” of the City, especially Mayfair, on that purple piece of property on the Monopoly board that was always so coveted whenever we played the game…

London Signs

Well, would you know that wishes do come true! What were once lofty dreams of a naïve young girl matured into an actual experience for a Wanderluster and it is heart-warming to think that I now know what it feels like to stay in Mayfair! Perhaps the nicest thing is being able to walk from the hotel to places like Hyde Park, New Bond Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus with its glittering billboards and spending hours on end just discovering what hidden gems the city has to offer…

Piccadilly Circus

A day of exploring the “Landmark Sights”

My day of adventuring starts off in typical British fashion: on a rainy note. This is meant to be the peak of summer and long warm days, but London has a nip in the air. I am Kenyan and anything less than 20 degrees is sweater weather to me, much to the chagrin of the Londoners who are dressed for summer despite the rain that is coming down like mist. Barely there but wet anyway. The wind blows, bitter cold and I remember my days as a student, battling the rain which insisted on being accompanied with blustery gale force winds and I would be struggling to keep hold of my Poundland umbrella that insisted on being pulled inside out as I rushed to get to lectures. Nostalgia. Only this time, I am rushing nowhere except to tour London Town and what I consider my “landmark list” sights.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Yes, I am finally going in to that beautiful white dome shaped Cathedral that I had passed many a time, ogling at the exterior but never having taken the time to actually visit! I am not disappointed. The frescoes in the Cathedral are as detailed as what I would imagine the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to look like. The phenomenal work of art can only be appreciated by climbing up the 250 stairs to the Whispering Gallery: which are thankfully not steep but go up a winding staircase so by the time I get up I have vertigo, and am glad to take a pew and sit and admire the ceiling from a near. The colours are vivid, the gold stands out, and Jesus looks at you as if He is really there, looking down on you. Surreal. The kids around us however, are more fascinated with the fact that their whispers are carried around the gallery, and so when I can’t crane my neck looking up at the mural anymore, I sit back and chuckle at the whispers being carried around me!

150 steps more and we are on an outside balcony, with a stunning view of London. But, we want more and so tackle the last level: 180 iron steps to the top balcony of the Cathedral. And dull and grey as the day is: there is a saying that could not be more apt.

A bad day anywhere in the world is still a good day in London.

As I stand there and take it all in: the uninterrupted view before me, the skyline that has changed since I was a student with tall new buildings with apt nicknames: the gherkin, the cheese grater and the beehive – I can’t help but nod along. It may be cold and grey but it is indeed, a good day in London.

St Paul’s and Iconic Phone Booths

St Paul’s Cathedral

London Skyline from the balcony of St Paul’s Cathedral

The London Skyline from St Paul’s Terrace

View from the Upper Balcony of St Paul’s

The Crown Jewels at the Tower of London

The Crown Jewels have always been something that I have wanted to see, making Tower of London next on the WanderlustList. Moseying around London would lack charm if it wasn’t on a bus and so Wanderlustmate M and I hop on to one of the old red busses and amble across the city all the way to Tower Hill. Thank goodness for pre-purchased tickets that let you skip lines because that is exactly what we did: hop off the bus and swan right in!

The Tower of London is actually a castle where executions were carried out in the yesteryears. I vaguely remember something about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn from my history lessons, but I am unapologetically not a history buff and so head straight to the piece de resistance: the Jewel House, home to the Crown Jewels where they are kept under lock and key and under the watchful eye of armed guards. The line to get into this tower is a mile long: no skip the queue passes here I’m afraid, but thankfully moves relatively quickly into various chambers depicting the history of the jewels and the relation to the British Monarchy before we enter a proper vault, lock wheel and all that houses the pieces that we want to gaze open mouthed at. Indeed, these Crowns are fascinating. Set in locked glass cases that are viewed from a slow-moving travellator, I am tempted to travel up and down a couple of times to simply gasp in wonder at the treasures inside these glass cases. From their sheer sizes to the sizes of the jewels that are encrusted in them, some as big as rocks. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds and of course, diamonds. The Kohinoor is what I want to see, and I am gobsmacked when I see the size of the exquisite diamond, set in the middle of the Queen Mother’s Crown. Later, I learn that the Kohinoor was actually sent as a gift from India, in an amulet, and taken out and placed in the Queen Mother’s Crown. As there is no photography allowed, I have to rely on the images in my mind when thinking of these jewels, and as they are so bedazzling, thankfully reminiscing is not that difficult and I am excited that I have checked off another WanderlustList on my tour of London!

Tower Bridge

Ah, that one sight that is synonymous with London: the elegant suspension draw bridge with its two towers spanning the width of the River Thames. Unfortunately, it is turning out to be a blustery day and my visions of skipping across Tower Bridge in a little summer dress and hat have remained dreams. Tower Bridge is a sight I have seen many a time but never walked across: until now! Thanks to the wind, crossing the bridge is something that I do in a hurry to get to the other side but there is time to take it all in: the stunning architecture, looking across the Thames from the top and just being in awe of this magnificent London icon. What I wish I knew then but know now is that you can actually go inside Tower Bridge: and just like that, once again, this is something that is back on my WanderlustList!

Tower Bridge – the Icon of London

An alternative view of Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge and the “Beehive”

Westminster, Big Ben and the Red London Bus

London by night

No trip to London is complete without seeing the golden hues of the neo-gothic masterpiece that is known as the Houses of Parliament, elegantly perched alongside the banks of the Thames, its reflection perfectly captured in the waters of the river.

The iconic Big Ben chimes stands tall at one end and up until recently, would chime on the hour indicating the passing of time. Time almost stands still for me as I soak it all in: the red London bus hurtling past, the plethora of tourists with their selfie sticks: but I just want to stand here and stare a while…

Time stood still for a minute or two….

Covent Garden

The last stop for the day is in Covent Garden, a super cute and charming part of London’s West End where you will find a pedestrianised piazza with shops and restaurants, as well as the Apple Market. Given that it is home to the Theatre District, similar to New York’s Broadway, it is unsurprising to find buskers of all sorts in its cobbled streets, playing awesome music, pretending to be statues and doing magic tricks: always fun to watch for a while!

Magic tricks in Covent Garden

And for this Wanderluster, no trip to London is complete without ambling through the aisles of Stanfords Book Store – what I think is the world’s largest travel book store (but I may be wrong). What better place to leaf through the memoirs of well travelled authors and see the world through their eyes? I have been known to cart away no less than 15 books at any one given visit, much to Wanderlustmate M’s chagrin, and I always want more! Which reminds me that I have to crank out a Booklust post for you guys soonish….

Stanfords Book Store

The amazing floor at Stanfords Bookstore

My tour isn’t quite done yet, not without indulging in some food and some quintessentially British traditions which I will save for my next post. Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! xoxo

The-Serpentine, Hyde Park

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“Oh my goodness, look at those snow-capped peaks in the distance…how gorgeous do they look?!”

These words are responsible for a completely spur of the moment trip that Wanderlustmate M and I took into Engadin, a region in Switzerland whilst on our jaunts in Italy. Through following my series “Footsteps in Italy” my Wanderlusters will probably recall that our adventures out here involved a road trip all the way from Florence to Lake Como. It was whilst we were driving from Milan to Como that we saw snow-capped peaks en route, which in my vivid imagination were none other than the Alps, and I just HAD to find a way to see them up close.

The one thing I love about Europe is borderless travel and how easy this makes it to hop from one country into another. For a Kenyan Passport Holder, a Schengen Visa is the epitome of traveller’s heaven because in my world, this allows me to see multiple countries on one Visa and that is simply amazing! Despite their proximity, the landscapes in each of the countries in Europe differ so much from place to place and the perfect way to traverse and explore this diversity is by taking a road trip. The prospect of simply getting into a car and going somewhere that catches my fancy is to me, the crux of wanderlust, the very essence of travel: to discover those places that I once dreamed about and revel in those moments, pinching myself to make sure that I am not dreaming but now breathing life into what was once a dream.

Setting footsteps in Switzerland on my quest for snow..

So, fuelled with wanderlust and the image of snow-capped peaks in mind, Wanderlustmate M and I set out to find me some snow. Poring over some old-fashioned maps in our hotel room in Como revealed that the Engadin Region was the closest and easiest to get to from where we were and ideal for a day trip and so we headed out to St. Moritz, the most glamourous of ski resorts frequented by the rich and famous when it comes to skiing holidays. Now, in my imagination, we would see endless mountain peaks blanketed with snow that go on for miles on end. In reality, at the tail end of summer, there isn’t any snow because it has all melted away and what your eyes are treated to is the view of lush alpine scenery, complete with beautiful blue lakes with green pastures and meadows fringed with mountains. It is completely unspoiled nature, and there is nowhere quite like this in the world.

These Alpine Vistas!

I just cannot contain my excitement at the gorgeousness around me!

St. Moritz which would ordinarily be bustling with activity in the winter revealed a different side to it at the tail end of summer. Relatively quiet, we enjoyed a leisurely walk in its environs, just soaking in the atmosphere and simply wanderlusting. Surrounded by the Upper Engadin lakes and mountains, I can only imagine how pretty this place is in the winter, dusted with snow like powdered sugar on a Victoria sponge cake. The town itself is cutesy, lined with luxury boutiques and of course, irresistible Swiss chocolate shops selling the creamy bespoke gorgeousness that is Lindt. But that’s about it for St. Moritz in the summer, well for us anyway because we weren’t out here to indulge in any of the activities it has to offer other than to make my whims and fancies of seeing snow come true!

Walking around St. Moritz

These fantasies my dear Wanderlusters, the lust to see snow, is the reason we stumbled upon a little gem out in the Engadin region: Muottas Muragl. See, in my mind, the Alps are perennially laden with snow and there isn’t any such thing as summer or winter, but of course, the reality is something else. I was stubbornly refusing to believe that there would be no snow for me after driving for nearly 3 hours from Italy into Switzerland and my Wanderlust spirit was insistent that surely there was some snow SOMEWHERE along the Alps, hopefully nearby that would make this fantasy come alive?

It is so true, what Paolo Coelho says. When you want something bad enough the whole Universe conspires to make this happen. Some furious googling revealed that indeed there was a high enough peak of the Alps that wasn’t too far from where we were and with this came the promises of…you guessed it, snow!

“When you want something bad enough the whole Universe conspires to make this happen…”

The drive, oh my gosh, the drive to get to Muottas Muragl was just something else. I wish I had the words to describe what can only be deemed breath taking. Our trusty Jane’s screen highlighted crazy hairpin twists and turns winding up the mountain, and with each mile, as we drove higher and higher, all we could say mutter under our breath was “WOW”. Google had promised us the best landscapes and views of the Engadin region from Muottas Muragl, and as we know, Google doesn’t lie…indeed, the scenery out here is spectacular, to say the least. Lush Alpine pastures with peaks and valleys go on as far as the eyes can see, dotted with enchanting little villages with beautiful chalets and blue glacier lakes. It is indeed a landscape of pure fairy tale’esque beauty.

Our destination: the Romantik Hotel at the top of the mountain range. The view: a panoramic, uninterrupted idyllic scene of never ending peaks, beautiful meadows, classic Alpine scenery and the cherry on the cake: the glacier glistening at the top surrounded with dustings of snow. It still wasn’t the endless peaks blanketed with snow that haunted my imagination but my little Wanderlusting heart was content. I got to see snow and even stand amidst some on the terrace at the Romantik Hotel, because it was that cold out there!

Yay….finally got to feel some snow!

The twisty bendy roads leading to gorgeous vistas

Simply Gorgeous Switzerland

The snow dusted peaks of Muottas Muragl

I have a thing for signs!

I am a foodie as much as I am a Wanderluster and so of course being in Switzerland meant that I also had fantasies of the cheesy goodness that is raclette and fondue. Back home, my parents have this red cookery book by Hamlyn. I am a firm believer that the sole purpose of this cook book is simply to tantalise our taste buds because all we ever seem to do is flip through the pages and look at the delicious looking pictures and then end up cooking pasta! Anyway, one of the pictures in this recipe book is that of an ooey, gooey melting wheel of cheese that I have long since associated with Switzerland and given that I was here, of course this is what I had in mind when Wanderlustmate M asked me that all too familiar question of what I wanted to eat. Well, you win some and you lose some because there was no fondue or raclette on the menu at this restaurant, but there was potato rosti and a meat that I hadn’t tried before and had some qualms about eating – reindeer! Yup, I ate Rudolph! Eeeek! My sister has never forgiven me for that little revelation but my rule in life is to try everything at least once. There are some things I draw the line at, but I must admit I was curious as to what Reindeer meat tasted like and I dare say it was delicious!

Yup, I ate Rudolph! Eeek!

The irony is that my fondue dreams could have come true. Walking around the gorgeous pathways of the hotel after we had eaten and soaked in the views from the panoramic terrace, we stumbled upon a cute log cabin offering none other than what I had been lusting after: fondue! Yup, right here in the gorgeousness of Muottas Muragl was a story book picture of Swiss perfection, barely 10 minutes from where we had been sat. The moral of the story is to explore before settling, though in hindsight we had a perfectly wonderful lunch and I doubt I would have changed that, even for fondue! There is always a next time and I can’t wait to set Footsteps in Switzerland properly to explore more Alpine treasures and indulge my inner child’s whims and fancies of making snow angels in powdered snow and easing myself into a cheese induced food coma by eating too much raclette and fondue! I do hope you have enjoyed this little ramble. Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo.

Fondue place in Muottas Muragl

Wandernuggets
On how we got to St.Moritz

St. Moritz is about a 2 hr 30 min to 3-hour drive away from Como. We simply input our current destination into our TomTom and followed the directions given. You can choose toll or non-toll roads, and we always find that though longer, the non-toll roads offer the best scenery and places for stopping to take beautiful pictures.

On the borderless travel aspect:
We did take our Passports with us for the border crossing in case of any checks, but there were none. I would still recommend you carry your passport even on day trips because you just never know, and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Of romance and fairytales in perfect settings

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Every place has a unique feature about it that instantly links it in your mind, be it a type of food, a tradition or even a part of its landscape. Quirks particular to countries add to the excitement when we travel: the anticipation in partaking in and experiencing some of these cultures which, in my book, only add to the magic of travel. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees and of course, flaky, buttery croissants. Singapore has their sumptuous chicken rice. Hong Kong has dim sum and Din Tai Fung! Germany has Oktoberfest, Italy is synonymous with pasta and Peru has Machu Pichu. You get the drift! Of course, the United Kingdom is no different and there are some things that can only be described as ‘Quintessentially British’. Think of the Monarchy, Royal Family, Princes and Princesses, castles, parks, markets, endless cups of tea, misty moors, postcard pretty villages and you instantly think: Britain! In my last post, I had a rendezvous with the City and explored some sights that I had always passed by when I visited London but never took the time to visit. Today, I am delving in to all the traditions and experiences that I think are quintessentially English which, when thought of, instantly take me back to glorious Britain!

Typical British Grub

One of the first things I do when I get to the UK is hit up a pub. Not so much for alcohol but more for a traditional pub meal like cumberland sausage, mash and gravy, or more recently, curry! The UK is dotted with amazing pubs everywhere, and JD Wetherspoons were ever so popular when I was a student because you could get a pretty filling meal for a couple of quid. I quite enjoy reminiscing about those gold old days and a pub meal always hits the spot! When I think of British food, a couple of things instantly come to mind: Biscuits – because you can’t have tea without a couple of biscuits can you?! Egg & Cress Sandwiches, fish and chips, jacket potatoes with beans and cheese, pitchers of Pimms and the late night indulgence of a lamb kebab with chips, which take me right back to my uni days when we would end up in “chippy alley” after painting the town red…and which to date, my brother and I absolutely love, and is one of the first things I eat when I visit him, much to the disdain of my sister in law!

Typical pub grub

Quintessentially British

Afternoon Tea

There is nothing more quintessentially British than Afternoon Tea. I did some delving into how this tradition arose and my findings revealed that we have Anna Maria Russel, Duchess of Bedford to thank for the concept of Afternoon and High Tea (and yes, apparently they aren’t one and the same thing but that’s a story for another day). The Duchess had hunger pangs one afternoon between lunch and dinner and she ordered tea and snacks to her bedroom as refreshments, and they successfully sated said hunger pangs to the point that this became a frequent habit, resulting in her well-heeled friends joining her for this post lunch tea ritual. The traditional concept of afternoon tea revolves around crustless finger sandwiches, a spread of dainty cakes, pastries, biscuits and of course: scones.

In recent years though, London has embraced the culture of Afternoon Tea and many establishments have spun some glorious twists to the traditional concept. As a result, one can now indulge in all manner of teas from the conventional tea with crustless finger sandwiches with fillings such as cucumber and egg mayo to themed teas revolving around the latest Disney releases (and others) such as Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins, and even going one step further to include fashion, like the Berkeley’s Pret a Portea which changes with every season. My blogger friend and fellow wanderluster Binny of Binny’s Food and Travel Diaries and I have a sort of unwritten tradition whenever I am in London: of doing Afternoon Tea together. Though I am not in London as often as I like and there are still so many teas on my wanderlustlist, I am glad to have experienced two very special High Teas with Binny. One was the Pret a Portea, and the other was the Mad Hatter’s Tea at the Sanderson.

Mad Hatter Tea at the Sanderson

…Curiouser and curiouser, cried Alice…

I absolutely love Alice in Wonderland. One of my favourite scenes in the original movie was that of the Mad Hatters Tea Party, and so you can imagine my delight when Binny suggested we try out the whimsical Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at the quirky Sanderson hotel. Indeed, this tea is an ode to how far the concept of Afternoon Tea has come from just cucumber sandwiches. From the menu pasted between the pages of a book of this beloved fairytale, to the specially flavoured teas aptly named after characters like Alice and the Cheshire Cat to the crockery, everything is a dash of whimsy. The three tier stand with its array of delectable treats were all themed around the story: macarons with pocket watches on them depicting the white rabbit, cleverly moulded pastries of mushrooms and the caterpillar, and my favourite: a cute potion in a little bottle labelled “drink me”…the two hour tea really did transport me back to my childhood days of watching the movie.

The blue caterpillar and his mushroom

Drink me! Alice’s Potion in a bottle…

A Cosmopolitan City

I love that London is such a cosmopolitan city, embracing every culture from the length and breadth of the globe. Think of food from the most random part of the world and I guarantee that there will be a restaurant or a pop up stall somewhere in London serving up these delicacies that you would think you would only need to travel to eat! Hoppers and Bao are two that I can think of off the top of my head: here you have Sri Lanka and Vietnam on a plate! Two of my personal favourites in London are Coya and Nobu. It is no secret that Peru is on the top of my Wanderlustlist at the moment. If I won a million dollars today, the first thing I would do is book a one way ticket to explore Latin America with Wanderlustmate M and I would make my dream of going to Machu Picchu and other sites come true. But alas, whilst wishes bubble and boil in the wish cauldron waiting to be manifested, restaurants like Coya give me an insight into Peruvian cuisine. There are two branches in London: Mayfair and Angel, and a stop at Coya for their Ceviche and their purple potato dish is something that is non-negotiable! Sushi is also a cuisine that I would travel the world for and Nobu with their delectable Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi is one that has made it to the top of the list of places to go back to when in London.

Coya Mayfair

Coya Menu

One of the sumptuous dishes at Coya

Borough Market

Moseying around markets is something that I thoroughly enjoy doing. If there is a market to be explored in any part of the world that we may be wanderlusting in, then it is guaranteed to be on the itinerary to pop in to. Europe is famous for its markets, especially the Christmas Markets which again, are on my never ending wanderlustlist. I love markets so much so that I even find grocery shopping to be most therapeutic (yeah, nerd alert) because I amble from aisle to aisle looking for exciting produce and ingredients to bring the world to my kitchen through cuisine when Wanderlustmate M and I are not wanderlusting. So, it will come as no surprise that on my rendezvous with the City was a trip down to Borough Market. If you are a foodie as well as a wanderluster, you cannot leave London without taking a couple of hours to explore Borough Market. Yes, you will want to buy every cheese, artisan produce, exotic spice and more (I know I do) but even if you have luggage restrictions, there is always time for trying out some of the delicious foods in the market or just ambling through to see what is on offer. If you haven’t been, then put Borough Market on your Wanderlustlist – I promise you won’t regret it!

Fresh produce at Borough Market

Borough Market

Twinings Tea

“Tea is the elixir of Life”…Lao Tzu

Recently, I have become a coffee aficionado but Tea will always be my first love. When in London, I love nothing more than walking down the Strand to the unassuming little white shop tucked between two other giant buildings: Twinings Tea, which has been in these premises since 1706 and still going strong!

The outer facade of Twinings Tea, the Strand

They have over 200 varieties of tea from all over the world, from traditional English Breakfast Tea to the exotic green and white teas of Asia. I love Twinings for the unique flavours they come up with, to make ordinary green tea that much more exciting. Fruity flavours such as mango and lemon and more recently, their coconut chocolate and peach and cherry blossom are a literal hug in a mug for me. I enjoy brewing a pot at work when I am lawyering, for my elevenses, yet another quirky English tradition of a hot cuppa and a biscuit at 11 am, a little oddity I picked up as a student in the UK and which has continued to date!

My little “elevenses” Tea Tray

All stocked up with a new stash of Twinings Tea!

Enid Blyton

I grew up in Blytonland. A world where I would have my nose deep in a book and be transported to the land of pixies, fairies, magic dust and adventurous children. Somedays it would be the Famous Five, or the Secret Seven, others it would be Mr. Galliano’s Circus, The Naughtiest Girl in the School and the Malory Towers or St Clare’s Series. The setting for Enid’s stories is England and so some of what I thought were typically English traditions like Boarding School, Midnight Feasts and Tea are linked back to the books I read growing up. Enid certainly taught me how to have a vivid imagination because very often, after reading one of these books cover to cover, I would go looking out in my garden for adventure! Alas, I rarely found it but I did make up the most creative stories with my school essays instead! Midnight feasts were a thing, and my siblings and I have had more than one thanks to Enid. The one thing that always stood out about Enid’s books is how hungry they always made me. She would describe the food that the children in her stories ate so vividly that it would make me want to eat an Egg & Cress Sandwich, or Bacon & Eggs, crumbly honeycomb cake, raisin buns, lemonade and ginger beer and oh, something called a blancmange which I still haven’t seen or tasted! Now I know where my food addiction comes from. Thanks Enid. Yes, really, thanks! Enid created a fantastic world where I could escape, and to date, if I want to be a child for a while, I will pick up one of her books and transport myself back to this world. Granted that real life isn’t Blytonland and the real England is nothing like the fairytales, but stories spark up the imagination and make you want to visit a place: Enid certainly had me wanting to see Britain (and eat all those things she described in her books) as much as Lucy Maud Montgomery has put Prince Edward Island on to my Wanderlustlist thanks to Anne of Green Gables!

My St Clare’s Series

Enid Blyton: my introduction to all things English!

I do hope you enjoyed my ramblings through memory lane on what I think are Quintessentially British traditions. Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

WanderNuggets

Through the world of travel blogging, introductions from Binny and Instagram, I have interacted with some amazing London bloggers who have the nicest experiences of London on their blogs. For more inspiration on Afternoon Teas and fabulous places to eat at in London, as well as visiting Binny’s blog, do head on over to Angie of Silverspoon London. For interesting experiences and off the beaten path things to do in London as well as amazing places to grab a bite at check out Sima’s blog: The Curious Pixie.

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