Thursday, 14 September 2017

Bali is...

A foodie’s paradise: ripe, pink dragon fruits and peppers that could slip past your eyes but won’t escape your tongue. Bananas break stereotypes, either palm-size or thick as a forearm. Fruits you’ve never heard of, flavours you might not taste again. If you can’t choose what to go for, rice is always an option – breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Mazes of motorbikes and cars too large for the island’s streets. The roads make music, all drive to the rhythm of beeps and tourist squeals. Traffic is a constant; a journey of just three kilometres can last an hour. Not recommended for those who get carsick.

For morning people. 6am alarms and 7am starts, sips of iced coffee with sleepy eyes and slow thoughts, all to beat the afternoon tide that recedes to leave the shores bare.

A world of contrasts. On your left, a five-star hotel, guests sipping orange-infused gin tonics on their sea-view balconies. On your right, a mismatched mound of bricks someone is proud to call home. Glimpses of golden temples between wooden ruins. A place where one’s mindless spending can feed another’s chubby-cheeked new-born.

Learning to nap in any position and waking up to embarrassing photos of yourself, wide mouth and eyes half open.

The ‘good morning’ of locals with palms pressed together and white flowers tucked behind their ears. Their mouths are moulded into smiles, even if they lack a full set of teeth.

Skin sticky with sun cream, mosquito repellent, and a permanent layer of sweat.

Monkeys treated like citizens. They have pedestrian priorities; make way for the families crossing the street. If you dare to feed them, you can marvel as they peel bananas with human hands and chew on the fruit with teeth, although a little less white, otherwise identical to yours and mine. Direct eye contact is considered a sign of aggression. Avoid it.

Footprints left by Brits, Australians, Chinese, Argentinians. A multi-cultural hub, something for everyone.

Fast-paced card games with rules that distract from the mosquitoes and competitive cries deafen their hum.

Pocketing your phone and looking up, down and around. Your camera roll has seen enough sunsets. Let your eyes be the lens - focus and capture. Not every moment needs to become an immediate memory.

Getting lost in temples, listening to the stories of barefoot Hindu men, those that wear sarongs and have spiritual traditions engraved into their bones.

Midnight conversations that turn friends into family.

Market stalls that mirror each other; every street a mosaic of elephant prints and wooden carvings. Each vendor fights for the optimal bargain – a compromise between you and them.

Google Images in reality. Beaches where the sand glistens and the water is turquoise no matter the colour of the sky. Other shores have waves double, triple your size, ready to wrestle in a fight they’ll always win. The ocean is dotted with speedboats and jet skis, surfboards and parasails, activities on every end of the adrenalin spectrum.

Palm trees that act as skyscrapers, trunks so skinny it’s a wonder they survive monsoon season.

Every spare minute spent being grateful for whatever it is that got you there.   

Open-air yoga classes taught by a local whose limbs bend in what seem like impossible directions. As you inhale and exhale the million shades of green, let your body adopt the flow of the nearby waterfall to become that little bit more flexible.

Care, tradition, respect, positivity. Where being kind matters far more than being right. An island we could, and should, all learn a lesson from.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Budapest is...

High expectations. Every neighbour and chubby bartender and fellow morning dog-walker giving recommendations, predicting you’ll have the time of your life.

Waking up surrounded by strangers in the same hostel room, travellers from cities you’ve only heard of. And yet, you cross paths, each assigned an old metal bunk with what you can only hope are fresh sheets.

Pints for pennies.

A capital city with the air of a suburban village, bare boulevards and space to walk, talk, laugh, dream.

Midnight boat rides; parliament buildings that sparkle like the champagne swallowed. Corks float on the river, lingers of a night worth remembering.

Decades of history, sad, sad history, disguised with a breath of modernity. A museum making a tourist attraction out of torture chambers. A Starbucks on the exact corner a man was shot dead. A Burger King marking the spot tanks parked before their massacre.

Constant calculator use, checking and rechecking conversion rates to confirm that an entire meal costs a quarter of what you would pay at home. It does.

Free walking tours with guides that grin as they spill secrets that, for them, are obvious, guide you down avenues they could walk with their eyes closed. You keep yours wide open, staring at that which is at once so new for some and old for others.

Clubs in caves, dancing with sweaty strangers to music that you don’t remember knowing the lyrics to. And yet you scream every word.

Locals who smile despite your obvious confusion, or perhaps because of your obvious confusion. They point and gesture while you utter hello instead of thank you, swap yes for no because that’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Late nights that lighten into lazy mornings of mild headaches, fresh coffee and wandering without direction.

Snippets of Vienna, Paris, London, Barcelona: a city that borrows the best from others and moulds it into its own.

Finding familiarity in the unfamiliar. Planning another visit to remedy the first having ended. Having the time of your life.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lives apart

He sat on the opposite aisle, one row in front of me. The bald patch on his head had the same shape and shine as a ceramic plate fresh out of the dishwasher. Around circled patches of hair that seemed to have grown grey from the scalp, rather than whitened with age. As if he were a boy born with the wisdom of a man. And, though he can’t have been born with the earring (a silver disk in the lobe of his left ear), he wore it like it was second nature. A personality trait, not an accessory.


The earring didn’t look like it had been his mother’s idea. Perhaps it was a secret kept from her, a tired and wrinkled woman waiting for her son to come home, olive eyes a magnet to the kitchen window. She’d been baking all afternoon – warm wafts of bread lined the cracks in the walls and holes in the ceiling.

“What took you so long?” She asked with open arms. He came closer - her rosy cheeks paled as his white ears crimsoned. “What do you call that?” The silver disk was as much of a staple as her son’s smile: both gleamed with mischief.  

“A fashion statement,” he said.

Burnt bread has a very distinctive smell.


Perhaps it had been peer pressure - the cigarettes and vodka shots of forty years ago. In a group of three friends, one always feels like they have to prove themselves.

“Not afraid of a needle are you?”

“I’ll do it if you do it first.”

“We’ll be like the Three Musketeers.”

Teenage boys are all talk. Their words inflated like balloons, popped by the mere stab of a needle. Two friends unsure what to do with themselves. The third still didn’t belong.

“We didn’t think you’d actually agree to it.”


Perhaps he was trying to bond with his daughter, searching for his feminine side to disguise his disappointment in his first-born not being a son.

“Daddy, will you get one too?”

“I don’t think Daddy would suit an earring very well, darling.”

Little girls always get what they want. Twenty minutes later, daddy and daughter walked out with three piercings, her two silver stars centred, his slightly lower, somewhat crooked. He had an odd earlobe, he’d learnt.


There we both sat, hungry yet bloated from travelling, coffee-breathed but craving more caffeine. Not just a row but an entire lifetime apart. Passengers of the same low budget airline whose paths happened to coincide. His earring twinkled under the plane’s artificial lights. His smile, directed at his daughter, did too.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Spotted: Central Park

A couple still discovering each other’s birthmarks and bad habits, sprawled over a plaid picnic mat dotted with breadcrumbs and chocolate stains. She smells of vanilla, he sprayed extra deodorant.

Fathers sprinting after their son’s baseballs, legs buckling and breath panting but smile static, constant, a homerun.

Fresh paint licking a canvas, the painter’s cheeks as textured as his picture, wrinkles sculpted into his skin.

A mutual smile between a dog and its owner, faces alike like they often become between those who live together.

Sweat droplets and the thick smell of sun cream. Shirtless men absorbing afternoon rays, proud of their sagging skin and beer-bellies.

Wafts of fried onions, plump white buns and sausages that sizzle.
“Ketchup or mustard?”

Breakups, private tears becoming public.

Scratched knees and bruised elbows, unstable kids on roller-skates, learning the art of balance.
“I won’t let go.”
They always let go.

Yoga poses, limbs bent and held in ways that seem unnatural. People, young and old, learning from each other.  

Coins sinking to the bottom of fountains, heavy with the weight of their wishes.

First kisses, slow and awkward. Tiptoes and sore necks, unsure where best to place palms.

The sharp crunch of leaves beneath tyres as bikes zig-zag through morning jogs and afternoon strolls.

Bare branches and white ice, rink dotted with couples and parents whose children remembered their promises. Cameras flash, memories captured, left to linger on mantelpieces and beneath fridge magnets.

Snippets of conversations condensing through frost-filled air, Chinese words wafting between Russian, Spanish, Arabic.

The rumbles of the surrounding city, millions of lives co-existing, sharing streets and sidewalks, injecting their own “new” into New York.

Horses clicking and clacking over pavements they know by memory, their hooves tattooed onto the cement.

Men in ironed suits, some with paper cups of black coffee, others with a cigarette hanging from their lips. One eye checks their watch, the other refreshes their email.

Coins being pulled out of the bottoms of fountains: children craving an extra penny out of greed, the homeless out of need.

Guitar strums and raspy voices, pencil sketches and notebook scribbles, self-taught jugglers and toned tap dancers. Doers and dreamers.

Another new couple, fingertips tickling each other’s cheeks, smiles crooked like the park’s daffodils, just beginning to bloom.