Alphabet Dating - ideas for the letter 'A'

Alphabet Dating – A is for Alice and the Aquarium

Alice in Wonderland Exhibition and Sea Life Aquarium London

Alphabet dating is, quite simply, the idea where you go through each letter of the alphabet and plan a date around that letter. So rather than the usual “what do you wanna do this weekend?” “I dunno, what do you wanna do?” routine, my hubby and I have decided it would be fun for us to do this! So now once a month, we will plan a fun date based on whatever letter of the alphabet is next in the sequence.

As March was the beginning of our Alphabet dating, we obviously started with ‘A’ and between us decided to visit London for the day, or more specifically, the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the British Library and the Sea Life Aquarium on the Southbank.

Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the British Library in London - celebrating 150 years of Lewis Carroll's publication

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a little while now knows that I totally love Alice in Wonderland so when I heard that the British Library had a free exhibition on to celebrate 150 years of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I knew that I had to go visit.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - an exhibition at The British Library in London

The exhibition features drawings of Alice’s adventures by various artists such as Ralph Steadman, Salvador Dali and of course the original illustrator to the stories, John Tenniel. You can also see Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript as well as other books and artifacts for everything Alice. I adored the Alice in Wonderland pop-up book and would have loved to look through that but sadly all of the items on display were kept safely in glass display cases. Obviously.

A Ralph Steadman illustration of Alice in Wonderland
Illustration by Ralph Steadman
An illustration by Leonard Weisgard - Alice in Wonderland
Illustration by Leonard Weisgard
Alice in Wonderland quote
For the typography geeks

Photography is only permitted at the beginning where there is a mix of illustrations telling the story, so I have no ancient artifacts to show you here so you’ll have to go see for yourself!

There is also a pop-up shop in the library, which is beautifully decorated and features an assortment of books, accessories and other merchandise. Unfortunately copies of the pop-up book weren’t for sale in the shop as I had hoped but I did spot some cute jewellery I recognised as being by the same company that designed the panda necklace I bought at Hyper Japan last year.

John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. Cardboard figures part of the exhibit at the British Library.
John Tenniel’s Alices – cardboard figures outside the pop-up shop

The exhibition is fairly small, so we were there for less than an hour, but if you’re a fan of Alice’s adventures and you’re in London then I would definitely recommend, but hurry – it ends on 17th April!

After our brief visit to Wonderland, we hopped on the tube from Euston to Waterloo and made our way to the Southbank, where after a quick bite to eat we visited the Sea Life Aquarium.

Beautiful sea creatures that can be found at the Sea Life Centre on the Southbank in London
Beautiful!

I love an aquarium. I find them so fascinating and relaxing. Actually I would love to have my own aquarium one day… I’d give all the fish awesome old people names like Doris and Percy!

Colourful fish at the aquarium in London

Anyway…

Sea Life London do a good job of educating the public about marine life, rather than just “oh look at the pretty fish!” and they also raise awareness about the work they do for conservation. I found it very interesting and I feel like I learnt something.

90% of big fish including tuna, sharks, swordfish, cod and halibut are already gone!

I mean, I knew sharks were in danger of becoming extinct due to shark finning (killing the shark for its fin in order to make shark fin soup) but I had no idea that shark fin soup was something that was available in some chinese restaurants in London! You can sign the petition to help protect sharks around the world and also find out more here. Actually I think the huge shark tank was probably my favourite bit of the aquarium as it made me feel so small, I could have stood there for hours just watching these fascinating creatures just swimming around.

Shark tank at Sea Life London
My rubbish photo of the sharks swimming around
Piranha at the aquarium
Can you see the piranha’s teeth?

Unfortunately, the aquarium wasn’t quite as peaceful and relaxing as I had hoped (and have experienced in aquariums elsewhere). Perhaps it was our fault visiting on a Saturday afternoon, but the number of people visiting the aquarium made for quite a noisy and overcrowded experience, so much so that our visit was quite rushed. It would be better if visitor numbers could be controlled and staggered a little as it made me quite tetchy and claustrophobic.

Rays and fish gliding about at the Sea Life Centre

Finding Nemo at the Sea Life Aquarium in London
Finding Nemo
It's Squishy from Finding Nemo!
“I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine”
Celebs ain't got nothing on this fish with the perfect pout
Give us a kiss!

After the aquarium we were pretty tired so decided to head home. Bring on date ‘B’!

Aquarium selfie!
The only half decent photo of us both on our date!

Have you ever tried alphabet dating? What would you do for your ‘A’ date? Leave me a comment below.

Hyper Japan 2015

This Saturday I attended the Hyper Japan Festival at The o2 in London, an exhibition dedicated to all things Japanese. Naturally, being a bit of a Japanophile myself, I was eager to attend.

We opted for the Saturday morning slot (9am – 3pm) which was perfect as it wasn’t too busy when we arrived just before 9am but getting quite hectic by the time we left (around 2pm).

I will admit I spent longer choosing my outfit for the day than I have spent picking out some wedding outfits! Although I didn’t go full on cosplay, I wore some accessories I bought in Tokyo (cat tights, robot earrings, Alice in Wonderland bag) and threw on a light summer kimono over the top of a black skirt and pink top. I also pinned all my hair up and slicked on the red lippy and winged eyeliner… I guess I looked somewhere between a wannabe geisha crossed with a 90s girl band member.

However, I was happy to see that there were plenty of cosplayers walking around inside the o2 and I even asked a few of them if I could take their photographs, all of them happy to oblige. It’s funny because I saw more Harajuku-inspired outfits here in London than I did in actual Harajuku while I was there!

Hyper Japan cosplayers

The festival was quite disjointed within the o2 as it wasn’t in the arena itself, but dotted around outside, where the restaurants are. We headed to the main section first where there were many stalls selling food and gifts. We posed for a picture with Domokun and were given some free Snapea rice sticks from the Yushoi stall – they were pretty good!

Hyper Japan London

I personally found that alot of the stalls were quite expensive, which I guess is understandable as they are selling Japanese imports but when I paid around £5 for a box of KitKats in Japan (expensive enough!) I wasn’t prepared to pay £17 for the privilege here. There were many etsy stalls selling cute crafts and jewellery but many of these were UK based and appealed to the Japanese kawaii lovers rather than being authentic Japanese themselves.

I did end up buying a necklace though. Anyone who knows me knows that-

  1. I love quirky jewellery
    and
  2. I love animals

It seems to me that I have a bit of a thing for baby pandas at the moment and treated myself to this super kawaii necklace from Little Moose.

kawaii-panda-necklace

We were in need of some refreshment so headed up to the Maid Cafe where we had Dorayaki (basically like two pancakes with a filling in the middle). I opted for strawberry and the maid drew a little face on my Dorayaki in chocolate sauce – much like the real Maid Cafes of Akihabara but much much less expensive!

After our yummy pancakes we watched a performance on the stage below. Although I’m a Japan fan I’m not really familiar with any J-Pop acts so I have no idea who the group were but the crowd seemed to love them.

Next we headed into the Hyper Game and Anime Park – a section full of people playing video games and shopping for anime. I know very little about anime and the queues to play the various Nintendo games were too long for my patience so I just stopped by to have my photo taken with Pikachu before moving back to the main section for some lunch.

Hyper Japan 2015

I was surprised at the lack of seating and lack of sushi in the food section, but between us we had vegetable noodles, okonomiyaki, tempura prawns and gyoza. And later on we bought some ice cream from one of the stalls – I chose yuzu flavour (Japanese citrus) sorbet. Yum!

Hyper Japan was a good experience but I definitely didn’t need any longer there, I would have also liked to have seen a few more interactive stalls and freebies but if you need a kawaii culture fix then this is the place to come. Next time though, I think I would like to go cosplay for the full Japantastic experience!

Destinations: Inspirations

I’m ashamed to say I’ve neglected the blog for a couple of weeks now, I’ve wanted to write but every time I do it just seems to take too long to get the words out. I’ve lost my blogging mojo. Plus I’m a terrible procrastinator. But also I am slightly distracted by being in the midst of planning the next big adventure!

And in planning and getting some advice for the next adventure, this Sunday I made a visit to The Times Destinations Show. I have been before, but this time it was held at Olympia, London and the big feature of the show was the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival. Last time around I was all about the freebies and experiences… this time however, I didn’t feel there was as much to be had and not nearly enough interactive stalls and performances as I have seen the last two times I have been. The only saving grace was Stanfords.

The first talk we listened to was from Rob Forkan from Gandys. Rob told us his incredible, inspiring story of how he and his family were travelling and doing volunteer work in India and Sri Lanka, when the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami hit the town they were staying in and tragically killed both of his parents.

After returning home with his siblings, finishing his education and travelling some more, Rob and his brother Paul decided they wanted to do something to help other orphans. The idea of Gandys came about after Rob woke up at a festival one day with “a mouth like Gandhi’s flip flop”. And from there, Gandys flip flops was born. A percentage of the profits from Gandys flip flops goes into the Forkan brother’s mission – Orphans for orphans – to help children less fortunate than themselves, all in the memory of their parents.

Rob Forkan from Gandys
Rob Forkan from Gandys

The second talk we attended was Simon Reeve, TV presenter and author. His talk was in conversation with Paul Blezard and more in the form of a relaxed Q&A session. I’ve only watched a selection of Simon’s tv shows (Indian Ocean, The Coffee Trail) but I will definitely be tuning in to his new series ‘Caribbean’ this spring. He comes across on television as quite a friendly and optimistic person and he was exactly the same up on stage. And incase you’re wondering the favourite place of someone so well travelled, well his answer was Somaliland!

Simon Reeve in conversation with Paul Blezard
Simon Reeve in conversation with Paul Blezard

Charities: The Henna Cafe and Right Tourism

In my last post, I mentioned a couple of the charities that were exhibiting at the Destinations Show at Earl’s Court. Well, as promised, here is a little more about them…

The Henna Cafe

I love henna tattoos. They’re perfect for those who are too indecisive and fickle to get a real tattoo (i.e. me). So when I visited Marrakech, all set to get one,  I was a little disappointed to learn that the henna used by the ladies on the square is toxic. I was even more disappointed to learn, upon my return home, about a place in Marrakech where the henna is safe and where you are also helping the local community by spending your money there. Not disappointed that it exists obviously, just miffed that I wasn’t aware of such place until it was too late!

The Henna Cafe is, as the name might suggest, a place where you can come and have a henna tattoo done whilst grabbing a bite to eat. But not only that, the money they make goes towards educating the local people to help them have a better life. There are many free courses available to those in the local community who need them and the lovely lady who drew me a beautiful tattoo at the Destinations Show even told me how the cafe is trying to educate the henna ladies on the square of Marrakech that they will receive more business if they stop using the toxic henna, they even gave them free (safe) henna to use.

If you are going to Marrakech, then you’d do no wrong by visiting the cafe and it is just a pity I can’t speak from first hand experience here. Nonetheless, if I find myself in Marrakech again I will be sure to stop by!

Getting a henna tattoo at the Destinations Show
Getting a henna tattoo at the Destinations Show

Right Tourism

Right Tourism are a charity that promote awareness of “Responsible, Informed, Guilt-free & Humane Tourism”. Their website is there to advise you of potential animal exploitation that occurs all around the world in tourist hotspots, while their aim is to inform and guide you into hopefully making a guilt-free and responsible decision about the activities you choose to partake in on holiday. Put it this way, most of us would shun going to see a bullfight because we know that it is a cruel sport, but what about the stuff you don’t see?

If you look up Morocco on the Right Tourism website, you will learn that the snake charmers of Jemaa el Fna keep their snakes (who are often endangered species captured from the wild) in very poor conditions – without water, food or a good standard of hygiene. It comes as no surprise to learn that these creatures have a high mortality rate.

The monkey men of Jemaa el Fna are no better, the monkeys are kept in cramped cages and often suffer from heat stroke and illness because of the poor conditions and the hot temperatures. They are also kept on chains for when the ‘owner’ wants to throw the monkey on an unsuspecting tourist – thus forcing the tourist to part with their cash in order to have the monkey removed from their shoulder.

Luckily, on this occasion I was well aware of the snake charmers and monkey men so kept well away. If you visit Marrakech, then do avoid them, those men don’t deserve your money. And be sure to check out the Right Tourism website so you can be fully informed of animal welfare issues before you travel.

Destinations: The Holiday and Travel Show

Destinations Show London

Last weekend I spent a day mooching around Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre in London for Destinations: The Holiday and Travel Show presented by The Times. It’s an exhibition that is on in London and Manchester every year and worth a look if you’re in need of some inspiration for your next holiday.

Essentially the exhibition consists of alot of niche holiday companies (although the big names like Virgin, Trailfinders and Kuoni were there too) and they basically try to flog you holidays. It isn’t quite as crass as it sounds as people are genuinely willing to chat to you and offer you a brochure or a leaflet. There are plenty of competitions to be entered and a few freebies to be had. The first time I went to Destinations I ended up with alot of free pens but also did win a book (sadly not a holiday!) so that was pretty sweet. This time round, not so much of the “stuff” but more tempting tipples and nibbles.

2013 saw the introduction of the ‘Taste the World’ zones so we got to sample Brazilian caipirinhas, Chinese egg and tomato rice, Indian Burfi sweets and Japanese Sake wine. There was a multitude of other dishes and drinks on offer but you can’t be everywhere at once! As well as the food stalls and holiday company stands, you can also purchase guide books and travel equipment – from mosquito nets to airplane pillows, there are also seminars (we didn’t attend any of these) and performances on stage (such as Turkish bellydancing). There are also a few surprises in companies exhibiting that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be there, Yakult for example were dishing out free samples of their probiotic drinks.

Destinations Show London - Tourism Thailand's beautiful fruit and veg carving
Tourism Thailand’s beautiful fruit and veg carving

Some of the stalls are pretty basic ‘have a chat, grab a leaflet’ type stalls. Others are more adventurous, in that they might draw you in with a seat inside their Mongolian ger (unfortunately I can’t remember which company that was!). The Tourism Thailand stand even had a guy sat carving beautiful things from fruit and vegetables! I was, however, disappointed that the Laughter Yoga people weren’t there on this occasion, although the henna tattoo I received from the Henna Cafe made up for it.

Top tip #1: I personally wouldn’t bother paying £15 a ticket to visit. If you’re into your travel and are signed up to quite a few email newsletters then it should be pretty easy to bag yourself some free tickets.

Top tip #2: Don’t forget to pop by some of the charity stands, the Henna Cafe and Care for the Wild/Right Tourism were particularly good so I shall be writing a little more about them in a later post.