Friday, 13 April 2018

Travel: 48 Hours In Shoreditch, London

I grew up 20 miles north of London, and lived bang in the centre of town for nine(!) years. London may be cold, grey and wet but it's still home and still a city that I have a lot of love for. I was super excited to spend an all too short period of time there last week - 48 hours sandwiched between a trip down to Bath for a spring wedding.

Landing in Heathrow at 6am and jumping on the Piccadilly Line was a slight shock to the system after over a year in Dubai. Once the feeling had returned to my hands and feet (and the heating in our hotel room cranked up to a blissful 25 degrees), so did my love for the city where most of my formative memories were made, where every street sparks an anecdote, a forgotten memory which quickly resurfaces (to be shared or suppressed at one's own risk) or a slight sinking feeling when a once-loved watering hole has since been converted to a chain restaurant.

Stay:


The Hoxton Hotel: my first ever hotel stay in London didn't disappoint. The Hoxton in Shoreditch is a gem of a city hotel, I loved the reception area which is home to The Hoxton Grill, open fires, cosy sofas and people far cooler than me tapping away on MacBooks. Staff were super friendly and we were able to check into our room at 8am which felt like such a gift after an overnight flight. The rooms aren't huge but are comfortable and filled with cute details (and some...interesting second-hand books), the free bottled water and vegan-friendly toiletries were a really nice touch. Top marks for the avocado on toast the following morning, too.


airbnb: our second London home was a beautiful apartment in Shoreditch. I loved the location, the decor and the way that everything had been thought of (extra long charging cables which reached the sofa, mood lighting and hair conditioner for the girl who packed two mini shampoos). Staying here felt like house-sitting for a very cool pal and, having lived in a teeny tiny studio during my time in London, having so much space (the photos aren't taken with a fish-eye lens) in central London felt amazing.

Eat:


Ozone: I thought I had London's breakfast options down but Ozone was a new discovery for me. Surprisingly buzzing at 9am on a Thursday morning, we sat at the counter overlooking the open kitchen. A caffeine boost (oat-milk cappuccino) was very much required after taking the dreaded 1.30am flight. I had the vegan banana bread with nut butter and jam, my dining companion had something involving real bacon and we shared a side of avocado. Yum.


Ottolenghi Spitalfields: resisting the siren calls of Pret and Itsu, Ottolenghi's late lunch menu was the perfect pick sat at the window in a beam of sunshine with the realisation that Londoners are so effortlessly stylish (said the girl wearing a cardigan under a jumper...yep). This plate of three salads was so tasty and just enough to fuel an afternoon's shopping without spoiling my appetite for a dinner reservation at Bird of Smithfield. No photos of dinner but highly recommend for delicious food, unobtrusive service and the pink peppercorn gin cocktail.

Shop:


Not my shopping list... We hit up Montezuma's for (very) dark chocolate, Amathus for rare gins, The Ordinary's Spitalfields store for skincare, Nude Expresso for yet more coffee and Spitalfields market for all things you didn't know you wanted.

Until next time, London.

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Sunday, 1 April 2018

Life: March Round-up

Well, this one was eventful. Some things that happened: I moved apartments, went to Hong Kong, billed my last billable hour as a corporate lawyer, had a visit from my friend F which encompassed barre and bars, hosted my parents in said new apartment, met one of my aunties and my cousin for the first time ever (that multicultural life) and marked eight whole months since my first date with a certain boy. I'm happiest when I simultaneously have at least twenty things on my to do list, a G&T in hand and new and old friends with which to share stories. Almost enough to distract me from y'know, a slight career re-direction and the not small epiphany that I've (finally, really this time) reached actual adulthood and that I'm more than okay about that.

March, when photographed, looked like this:



1. Yes, this is just a Pret coffee but I am enjoying having a taste of "home", even if the prices are a little too "Dubai".

2. Lauren and I went to Hong Kong and took in this magnificent view from the top of the Peak.

3. I broke out my old ~fashion blogger poses in front of a pink wall.

4. My first visit to Macau and there were lots of tourists but I didn't photoshop them out of my pictures.

5. I could eat Baker and Spice's avocado on toast every day - its the best.

6. Happy Hour at Weslodge for cucumber gimlets, good views and good tunes.

7. Someone needed to sample the dessert menu at Mina Brasserie and the s'mores bar was almost worth the inevitable sugar crash.

8. Spent my last few hours as a lawyer taking part in a slightly-more-challenging-than-anticipated beach olympics and not falling off a paddle-board.

9. Turns out that one of my favourite bars, La Serre, does a great breakfast, too. I had an acai bowl and lots of coffee.

April includes a trip to the UK, one wedding, one new job and...yes, that's probably enough really.



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Monday, 26 March 2018

Travel: The Mini Hotel, Central, Hong Kong

mini hotel central hong kong review

An appropriately-named hotel if ever there was one... 

March started with Lauren and I meeting in the lobby of the aptly-named Mini Hotel in Central, Hong Kong. It's always quite surreal (in a good way) seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar location and the start of a fun-packed three days exploring the city.

Located on Ice House Street, the Mini Hotel is a short walk from Central / Hong Kong MTR stations, the tiny cafes of Sheung Wang and the mid-level escalators. The location is the perfect base for exploring Hong Kong from. Yes, the rooms are tiny but it's Hong Kong - there's too much to do outside.


mini hotel central hong kong review

The hotel is easy to find but, slight warning, if you're walking from Central / Hong Kong MTR it a steep road followed by some very steep steps. Maybe take a taxi if you are not a light traveller... Spot the facade b the red vending machine and red post box.

mini hotel central hong kong review

The reception area has a lounge for chilling out / working and there's a vending machine stocked with snacks and travel essentials. The rooms aren't quite capsule hotel size but they are small! I am 5'1 and didn't really find this an issue - the room was spotlessly clean, towels were changed daily and I've had worse showers in 5* hotels. The wifi was free and, again, better than in some far pricier hotels I've stayed in.

mini hotel central hong kong review

The hotel doesn't provide much in the way of added extras - no breakfast (although there are a lot of options very nearby) and no toiletries. Given the tiny rooms and central location, I expected the hotel to be noisy at night but my worries were unfounded (or I was just exhausted from walking the vertical incline streets of Hong Kong and feel asleep the moment my head hit the pillow each night).

mini hotel central hong kong review

In a city which isn't particularly budget-friendly, the Mini Hotel was a great base from which to explore and at £200 (HK$ 2,200) for three nights it worked out as much cheaper than a traditional hotel or the quite uninspiring AirBnbs in the same price range.

Book here: https://www.minihotel.hk/ 
Mini Hotel, 38 Ice House Street, Central, Hong Kong 
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Saturday, 10 March 2018

Travel: Three Breakfast Cafes in Hong Kong

Yes, I went to Hong Kong and ate avocado on toast everyday. I know what I like. Here are three spots to get your avocado on toast fix in Hong Kong. Other breakfast items are available at them all.

1. The Cupping Room, Sheung Wang
287 - 299 Queen's Road Central

best cafe breakfast hong kong

Grabbing a seat at the bar in the Cupping Room was the perfect Hong Kong first day breakfast experience. The brunch menu is served until 5pm so there's no rush to get up early but the tiny cafe was pretty busy at 10.30am on a Monday morning. The avocado toast comes with mayo, ricotta cheese, almonds and radish on sourdough - a slightly different take on my favourite breakfast menu item. The house black filter coffee with oat milk on the side was delicious, too. Service was super speedy and while the tiny space doesn't really encourage one to linger over breakfast for too long, staff were friendly, taking our orders on a iPad to go directly to the tiny open kitchen, and we didn't feel rushed to give up our spots.

2. Brew Bros, Central
33 Hillier Street 

best cafe breakfast hong kong

Another small but perfectly formed cafe, Brew Bros was recommended by the team at Hilton Suggests who got in touch while I was in Hong Kong to see if I needed any recommendations. Obviously I asked where I could eat avocado on toast and drink good coffee. The Brew Bros HK$90 set breakfast menu has a range of dishes served with a choice of black or white coffee. The avocado on toast here was really simple but really delicious, served on a thick slice of sourdough. Another great spot for a speedy breakfast to fuel a day of exploring the city and my pick for a slice of HK cafe culture if I had to chose a favourite. 

38 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay

best cafe breakfast hong kong

Hopping over to Causeway Bay for the third and final Hong Kong breakfast, The Coffee Academics is a bigger space so perfect for lingering over coffee and breakfast, and for doing a spot of people-watching. A chain across HK, Singapore and China, The Coffee Academics has a menu dedicated to, no prizes, coffee. There's also a mostly Western all day food menu. The breakfast menu includes avocado on toast and each dish comes with a coffee of choice. This was delicious but I would have liked a little more avocado, there was some hiding under the salad. Service is speedy and the food and coffee was great but this definitely felt more like a cafe that could be at home (and be a regular spot to drop into) in any big city rather than a quintessentially HK experience.

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Life: February Round-Up

This month saw me mark one year in Dubai, re-cap my end-of-2017 trip to India (New Dehli, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur and Amritsar) and continue to find new spots in my still-quite-new city.

February looked like this:


1. I got my creative fix thanks to We Love Art - an evening painting a grown-up "paint by numbers" fuelled by gin cocktails means that I finally have something for the walls of my apartment.

2. I finally made it to the adorable (and very Instagram-able) Boston Lane for lunch.

3. I'm still running! The Dubai Water Canal Boardwalk is a great spot for making the most of the "cooler" mornings.

4. I made use of my kitchen for the first time in...a while by making some vegan pancakes for Pancake Day (full disclosure but I made these at the weekend so I could Instagram them on the day itself because #content).

5. My bookclub read Pandemic by Sonia Shah - I'm not usually a non-fiction fan (I did a law degree so have had my fill of non-fiction) but this was an easily readable, well-researched and very interesting read. Not one to read over lunch.

6. The launch of Flair No. 5 made for a fun mid-week sampling gin-based cocktails in an urban jungle setting in DIFC. Shout out to the waitress who brought me all the veggie canapes.

7. I had my haircut for the second time since moving here! I've heard horror stories about haircuts here but can highly recommend Shakira at Pastels Salon.

8. I don't often do "business lunches" but I make sure to photograph it when I do - Zuma in DIFC is so good!

9. Brunching at home on avocado, eggs and sourdough because I'm still trying to tell myself this on Deliveroo is beyond lazy when it takes all of three minutes to throw together.

How was your February?

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Sunday, 25 February 2018

Travel: Amritsar and The Golden Temple

Our penultimate stop on our speedy galavant around Northern India was Amritsar (before heading back to New Delhi). Leaving Jaipur bright and early (are you sensing a theme here?) we took two internal flights and landed in a much cooler climate. I have clearly acclimatised to Dubai life as Amritsar's chilly 19 degrees had me rushing to H&M to buy a jumper when London me would have been breaking out a flimsy floral dress and sandals.

Amritsar golden temple

The jumper turned out to be a wise purchase as our first evening in the city took us to the Golden Temple to witness the Palki Sahib ceremony where the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is carried from the temple to the religious parliament for the night. The next morning, the TV in my hotel room showed live footage of the holy book being "woken up" for the day and taken back to the temple.

Amritsar golden temple

Amritsar golden temple

Amritsar golden temple

Amritsar golden temple

We went back to the Golden Temple early the next morning to see it by day. Shoes must be removed and you have to walk through a shallow moat to get into the temple - slip on shoes and leggings which can be stylishly rolled up was my attire of choice. Men and women alike need to cover their heads within the temple and grounds as a sign of respect. The men in our group enjoyed a turban-tying session at our hotel before we left, I re-acquainted myself with my trusty sarong.

The temple in the morning was one of my favourite experiences of the entire trip - the place is truly magical. Despite being busy, it's a place of serene calm, no raised voices, no one rushing. Unlike the Taj Mahal, the temple is a living building with pilgrims visiting from all over India to pray and to bathe in the holy waters. The temple kitchens are a sight to behold - all pilgrims are fed for free and the giant kitchen spends all day cooking up generous portions of vegetarian food. The kitchens making roti smelled absolutely divine!

kuoni india amritsar

kuoni india amritsar

Shoes back on, we wandered the streets around the temple for a spot of shopping. I, to my annoyance, was not hungry enough to pop into the fully vegetarian McDonalds.  We also visited the Jalianwala Bagh, the sight of the tragic Amritsar Massacre which took place during British rule - colonialism has left a long shadow indeed.

kuoni india amritsar

kuoni india amritsar

kuoni india amritsar

The afternoon involved my most not-how-I-expected experience - the change of the guard at the Wagah Border, the only road crossing between India and Pakistan. Unlike the London "change of the guard" this is a rather raucous affair, locals and tourists alike pack the benches of a football-stadium-cum-amphitheatre while Bollywood music blares and ice cream and Coca-Cola sellers mingle among the crowds. A cat, oblivious to national borders, slunk between the India and Pakistan gates oblivious to the fuss being made on either side. The ceremony itself involved a lot of high kicks and a choreographed "dance" between guards on either side of the boarder. It's sort of light-hearted but also a little sad given the history of the partitioning. The fog / smog / pollution makes these photos look duller than the experience actually was.

So...that concludes my India postings! We did this Kuoni tour which was a thorough but fast-paced jaunt around Northern India - the perfect introduction to a country I can't wait to go back to.



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Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Food: Brunch at Sesame Dubai

breakfast menu sesame dubai

My current Saturday routine is a good one - brunch at a new spot, a walk on the beach and an afternoon nap. I would say that I could get used to this but...I already have. It won't be long before we're back in the "indoor only" months so now is the time for exploring my still-sort-of-new city. Last Saturday we headed to Sesame Dubai for their breakfast menu. Located in Sunset Mall, the beach is a two minute walk away for a post-brunch wander and the menu promised tasty, healthy fare with a lot of veggie options.

breakfast menu sesame dubai

breakfast menu sesame dubai

breakfast menu sesame dubai

While browsing the menu and taking in the decor I ordered a "black milk" - homemade cashew milk, black sesame seeds, banana and honey. It was delicious and a great alternative to coffee, although I would have loved to have seen some coffee-based drinks on the menu featuring the homemade cashew milk, too.

The decor is really lovely and its clear that a lot of thought has gone into make Sesame a place to linger - my phone did not go in the box but it's a cute idea! There are magazines to read and succulents decorating the tables. We arrived at around 10am (probably a personal best for a Saturday) and grabbed a booth in the naturally lit dining area (so important for Instagram-worthy food photos!).

breakfast menu sesame dubai

I obviously had to have the avocado on toast with goats' cheese, honey and thyme. Such a good combination! The sourdough bread was delicious and the portion sized was perfect. My boyfriend had the potato rosti with poached eggs and avocado (I'm a good Instagram girlfriend and he is allowed to start eating while I photograph mine from seven angles). Service was speedy and friendly but it pretty much always is in Dubai!

breakfast menu sesame dubai

We were the only diners at first but by the time we left a few more tables were occupied. It was a shame that such a lovely spot wasn't as busy as it should be but maybe when more stores open inside Sunset Mall that will change (and maybe we were just there painfully early for a Saturday morning). They are on Deliveroo, too, and while I'm trying to curb my Deliveroo habit I definitely want to order some of the lunch options soon.

Sesame Dubai
Sunset Mall
Jumeirah 3 

Sesame Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
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Friday, 16 February 2018

Travel: Jaipur - The Pink City

After leaving Ranthambore, at some point while travelling the opposite way along the bumpy road I thought I had seen the back of two days previously, I had my first inkling of a feeling I will call: I-never-want-to-go-back-to-wherever-home-is-please-let-me-stay-in-India-and-find-myself-forever-and-ever. Arriving in Jaipur cemented my ~girl travels to India~ groove, I mean, it's a pink city, what is not to like?

After an evening visiting a Hindu temple for the ceremony of light, we had one packed day in Jaipur, ending in a few more "Blue Riband" gins, possibly some slightly tipsy WhatsApp-ing of the above sentiments before a morning flight to Amritsar.




The highlight of Jaipur is the City Palace. It is so beautiful and Instagram-worthy and yes, I spent ages waiting by the peacock door to get a perfect snap when no one was walking through. The back of the door depicts the back of the peacocks. Wonderful. 



The Amber Fort is set high on a hillside and we took a bumpy open-back jeep ride to the entrance which was my favourite part. My mother and I tried and failed to come up with fort puns. The never-ending stream of elephants through the gates is a sad sight - such majestic creatures should not be reduced to carting selfie-stick wielding tourists on their backs. Pleased to confirm that our group did not partake. 


The Palace of the Winds is as Accidentally-Wes-Anderson as they come. It's not an actual palace - it's just a facade built so that society ladies could discreetly glimpse at the happenings on the street below without being spotted. Tourist accoutrements a-plenty in the shops opposite!

We also visited the observatory and learned out to tell the time using sundials and had lunch at the beautiful Samode Haveli, as well as perusing silks, gemstones and carpets, loaning out my father as a "carpet broker" in the process because Persians can spot the difference between 300 and 400 knots-per-inch at five metres (possibly).


We stayed at the Trident Jaipur which is opposite the Water Palace which reflects beautifully in the surrounding lake at night. We started our Jaipur day with an early morning yoga session with a "yoga guru" who later poured me a gin at the bar because #balance.

Well, that was a whirlwind Jaipur run-down. Final destination, Amritsar, coming very soon! 
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Monday, 12 February 2018

Travel: Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

After bidding Agra farewell, we embarked on the "long road to Ranthambore". If six hours of bumping along dusty roads on a bus doesn't give you a hefty serving of perspective then nothing will. Travelling in India is oftentimes a strange experience, it's not always easy to embrace the holiday feeling when your purported "luxury travel" experience is so far removed from the day-to-day of small roadside villages, the lives that are glimpsed through a window briefly.

Our first stop was the abandoned city of Fatepur Sikri, the once-capital of the Mughal Empire was a thriving fortress until it was abandoned in 1610. It's still pretty much in-tact and provided ample stretching of legs before continuing our journey. "I am all fort-ed out" I told my mother - forgetting the above regarding perspective and being bloody well lucky enough to be galavanting around a new country just for the fun of it. 

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

We stopped again for lunch at Laxmi Villas Palace, the opulence again strangely jarring against the villages we had driven through earlier in the day.

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

We arrived at the Sawai Madhopur Lodge in time for dinner. This was my favourite of all the places we stayed. HRH Queen Elizabeth herself once stayed here (albeit in the 1970s), continuing our Royal theme from New Delhi. The low-rise lodge felt at once like Out of Africa and a sixth form common room (not that my sixth form common room had tiger taxidermy, mind). The staff were so lovely, the bar stocked my new favourite "Blue Riband" gin and the paneer curry at dinner was delish.

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

Bright and early the next morning, we headed on our first game drive. The lodge had laid out a spread of tea, coffee and cakes with breakfast promised on our return. Warning - the drive is a little bumpy and there are no bathrooms on safari, so partake at your own risk! Mornings are chilly so wear the warmest item you have packed, preferably supplemented with a sarong-as-headscarf to avoid the dust.

kuoni temple tiger taj trail

We sadly did not see any tigers but I loved the peace and quiet of the national park and watching the sky get lighter and feeling a new day unfolding. Arriving back in time for a very late breakfast, the rest of the time in Ranthambore was spent relaxing at the lodge in anticipation of another day of moving on, this time to Jaipur...

kuoni temple tiger taj trail


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Saturday, 10 February 2018

Life: Taking Stock - Dubai Edition

Today marks one year since I hopped on a one-way flight from London to Dubai. And what a year it has been. I thought I'd re-visit this "taking stock" post from 2014 to commemorate my one year "Dubai-versary" as I've already re-visited 2017, shared what I've "learned" and put together an FAQ of sorts.

Shameless use of Instagram Stories' filters.
Making :: Plans for one of the last "cooler' months.
Cooking :: I haven't cooked since I moved to Dubai. I make a good cocktail, though.
Drinking :: Water. Desert life is dehydrating and it's not gin o'clock yet.
Reading :: The Girls by Emma Cline. Halfway through and I love it.
Wanting :: To stop worrying about things that haven't / maybe won't ever happen.
Looking :: Like I near a haircut, can confirm an avocado-rich diet will work wonders.
Playing :: With my accidental "stacking rings" which I cannot get off my finger.
Deciding :: Whether a bubble tea is a reasonable Deliveroo order.
Wishing :: That this pleasant February temperature could stick around for the rest of the year.
Enjoying :: That life looks very different from this time last year and that it's all the better for it.
Waiting :: For my first Namshi (Dubai's sort-of ASOS) order to arrive.
Liking :: All of your Instagram photos that the algorithm shows me.
Wondering :: How I ever used to stay awake beyond midnight.
Loving :: All the people in my life who make this ride a little easier, who make me laugh and who help me remember that I'm not doing this on my own.
Pondering :: Do I really need a bubble tea? Is it worth 30dhs?
Considering :: An afternoon nap. A habit I scorned in my previous life.
Watching :: I haven't watched TV since it became cool enough to go outside.
Hoping :: For so much, all at once.
Marvelling :: That since moving here I've conquered my fear of water and now enthuse about snorkeling and stand-up paddle-boarding.
Needing :: To Kon-Mari my apartment before I move in...8 days!
Smelling :: My collection of Bath & Body Works candles after an accidental purchase earlier.
Wearing :: A dress purchased in a Madrid market for 5 Euros.
Following :: Instagram accounts of too-cute cafes in Hong Kong for my trip there next month.
Noticing :: A fly that has somehow got in to my apartment.
Knowing :: That everything will be okay.
Thinking :: That Instagram should let you group accounts you follow - the Hong Kong cafes are going to get lost amid the breakfast and slime accounts (life-changing) I follow.
Feeling :: Content and hopeful with just the tiniest sliver of help-what-am-I-doing-what-have-I-done which gets smaller and smaller each day.
Admiring :: My painting skills (evidence).
Sorting :: My wardrobe. It's going if I've not worn it since I moved here. I say.
Buying :: Birkenstocks (these) because I've worn heels once in the last six months.
Getting :: Impatient about things I have no control over.
Disliking :: The above.
Opening :: No post as I don't have a mailbox. Liberating unless someone wants to send me something.
Giggling :: After gin consumption, sometimes before.
Snacking :: The cost of food here does wonders to curb a snacking habit (is bubble tea a snack?).
Coveting :: All of Glossier. Still.
Helping :: In small ways, where I can.
Hearing :: The screech of supercars, where are we again?

Have you taken stock lately?
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Monday, 5 February 2018

Travel: Agra and The Taj Mahal


We left New Delhi bright and early, on the 7.30am train to Agra. Navigating an Indian train station after not even taking the tube for nearly six months was a challenge, especially pre-coffee. A few hours later we were dropping our bags at the Trident Hotel and setting off on a tour of the colonial parts of the city, taking in the Post Office and St George's Cathedral.


After a few hours of downtime (which may or may not have involved a pizza by the pool - I know) we headed to the Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, otherwise known as the "Baby Taj". Say hi to my parents in the below photo! The tomb is surrounded by gatehouses which are just as beautiful and it's the perfect prelude to the Taj.



The obvious highlight of Agra, the Taj Mahal, necessitated another early alarm call. We didn't quite see the sunrise but arriving early meant avoiding the worst of the queues and the crowds. Seeing such places is always a strange experience, I find, you sort of feel like you've seen it before you have actually seen it and then it's never quite what you're expecting but you're not sure what you were expecting. It's hard to put into words. I did get some great photos and yes, I did get told off for the yoga pose...





Our final stop in Agra was the Red Fort. I wandered around quoting Game of Thrones to my bemused father who has never read / watched it.



In the evening, I got my palm read and my star chart done which was spookily accurate and a really nice experience (I am very into all things "woo"). I headed up for an early night to scrawl everything down in my travel journal before tiredness and India's finest "Blue Riband" gin made me forget. Next stop - Ranthambore.. 
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