About Harriet Constable
Harriet Constable is a communications executive and freelance travel writer and blogger. At the age of 23 she stepped foot on Antarctica, and in doing so achieved her aspiration of traveling to every continent.
Harriet is the founder of Harri Travels aka http://www.harrietconstable.com/, a travel blog focused on providing affordable stylish adventure inspiration across the globe. Harriet lives in London and when she isn’t half way across the world she can be found exploring her home city for awesome new things to do. You can follow her on twitter: @Hconstable.
Latest Posts by Harriet Constable
Week two in Nairobi and our friends were kind enough to lend us their car. Eager to adventure, we shoved our camping stuff in the boot on Friday afternoon and made a break to the Kenyan countryside and Lake Naivasha – north of Nairobi.
The drive was spectacular, in both good and bad ways. On the outskirts of the city we passed bedraggled areas with torn up old bags plastic everywhere, and cattle whose ribs shone hungrily through their skin. Yet as we ventured further, a flurry of markets selling colourful fruit displayed on shelves for oncoming traffic greeted us, and our road provided a mesmerising view down over the lush Rift Valley where humans first evolved about 2 million years ago. I wrote this blog post whilst staying there on Saturday.
I am lying under the whispy, jaggedy trees at Camp Carnelly’s on the shores of Lake Naivasha. The sun is gleaming through the branches above. The fact that it is not directly overhead, but glinting into my right eye causing me to squint tells me it’s not yet midday. I’m writing this on a scrap of paper which I was using as a bookmark in my copy of ‘Out of Africa’ – how fitting.
Like a camera finding focus, my eyes zoom in on the different aspects around me. The more you look, the more there is going on: I notice the sharp tiny spikes lining the branches high above my head; the glint of a string of spiders’ web up in the trees as it catches the sun’s light; the neon yellow frantic flutter of a bird’s wing crossing the sky. The bark of the trees surrounding me is aged and intricately patterned. To my right, a weed stands high above the grass, waving lightly in the wind. I notice the shadow of a monkey in a tree before I can find the animal itself with my binoculars.
There is something prehistoric about this area, where the boggy land gives way to lake. A sign here reads ‘Beware hippos: cross this fence at your own risk’. I heard them coming up to shore and snorting whilst lying in the tent last night. Now, they wallow in the shallow waters, keeping cool from the hot sun.
Some trees look beaten by thunder or lightning and the water’s edge looks just the place where amoebas would have wriggled their way from the waters to one day evolve into a species that would become human.
The camp itself has a lot of charm. In the centre of the bar/ restaurant a large open fire blazes, and funky African print cushions from Tanzania line the loungy seats and sofas.
The food is great – a range of pizzas and salads mainly plus a couple of curry-type-dishes, and a great stock of drinks. At dinner, I asked the waiter what wine they stock, “red, white and rosé, Miss”. It is simple and I like it. In the background, some asshole started strumming at his guitar (there’s always one).
Our pitch cost 600 ksh per person per night (about £4), but there are also lodges should a double bed be more your thing for about £10 a night. We headed back into Nairobi on Saturday evening, thrilled from our first adventure out-of-town and buzzing about the beauty of our new home: Kenya!!
Things I learned on this trip:
- When you camp by a lake, there are a shit-ton of mosquitos
- Applying bug spray in the car it has a rather asphyxiating effect
- The mosquitos will congregate in the toilets, making the act of taking down your trousers to pee a rather unpleasant one
- The caterpillars know how to shift here (I noticed this as one crawled over my hip whilst I was eating)
- Beetle spiders are a thing
In early March, a light breeze rippled through the trees surrounding Nairobi Kenyatta airport as I stepped out onto the street in my new city.
It wasn’t the most elegant of entrances. The five large bags I brought were piled precariously high on a trolley by the guard at bag collection. I struggled my way up the exit ramp, dragging my hand luggage full of books (!) behind, to meet Owen. I had planned to come swanning in like some kind of film star, but what he actually saw was a small ginger head bobbing up and down behind a tower of suitcases.
After some (deserved) mockery about my packing skills, we made our way to the area of Kilimani and our new home. It’s a strange feeling stepping into a flat that is ‘yours’, walking around the rooms and telling yourself ‘this is home’. I felt a buzz of excitement and the tummy wrench of the unknown.
Nairobi flats come unfurnished. We didn’t have a cooker, fridge, washing machine, bed… nada. Owen managed to get a ton of stuff sorted before I arrived, but after the first night in our new flat we ventured out to go furniture shopping!
The best place for furniture shopping here is the Ngong Road. Along the dusty stretch leading to Karen, furniture sellers exhibit at the side of the road, with workshops further back. It looks like a giant boot sale, with bed frames and bookshelves and mismatched chairs lining the street. The whole family seems to hang out there, with mothers’ breastfeeding babies, toddlers running around in dirty old Disney dresses, and the men running the shop, sanding or filing off curling shards of wood.
We walked along in the midday sun, stopping to sit under parasols here and there and negotiate prices for the furniture we needed. It’s possible to have whatever you like made for you. I pulled up a picture online of a dining table and bench, we discussed the size we needed, drew up measurements and paid our deposit for the materials and delivery.
Kenyan’s have mastered the art of negotiation, and we definitely felt pretty amateur trying to figure out how much we should pay for things. From talking to a few people since, the rule of thumb seems to be half the first price they give you and then take off a bit more. We’re pretty chuffed with the finished product:
Jaded from the heat after a few hours of negotiations, we got in a taxi to head back to Kilimani. As we drove off, a herd of calves started ambling across the busy Ngong road. Lorry drivers slowed to a halt as the animals sauntered between motorbikes and trucks. I was so concerned we had to stop and watch them all safely cross. Why on earth were they crossing such a busy road?! But as we watched them, I realised for a moment that we had rather a lot in common – we both felt the lure of the greener grass on the other side.
“Be careful” – the two words always uttered when you tell someone who has never been there before that you are going to Jo’Burg. Yet there is more light than dark in this city than many know…
A grey, overcast sky hung above as we drove cautiously through the central business district of Johannesburg, South Africa. From dark, derelict buildings people emerged with sunken faces, crowding around flame-licked rubbish cans for scraps or warmth before retreating back out of sight.
Johannesburg’s central business district has for years been home not to giant gleaming skyscrapers housing growth-inducing businesses, but to abandoned buildings filled with impoverished former township-dwellers. The residents sought refuge here after international anti-apartheid sanctions crippled Johannesburg’s economy in the 1980’s. It is still a shocking sight to behold.
However, in one area of town these once-forgotten areas are enjoying a sense of revival, thanks to the Maboneng precinct project.
A success story of urban regeneration, Maboneng, meaning ‘Place of Light’, is a privately developed urban neighbourhood on the east side of Johannesburg’s CBD and home to a thriving community of creative factory spaces, trendy loft apartments, restaurants and more.
On my trip to the capital last year, I visited a popular addition to the neighbourhood: the Arts on Main Sunday market. According to the South Africa tourism board, “The Arts on Main development is as much about paying homage to Johannesburg’s history as it is a vote of confidence in the future of the city and its vibrant community of artists”. The harsh juxtaposition of empty, derelict office blocks next to the grimy coolness of the renovated 1911 warehouse where Arts on Main is held is a defiant statement by the founders: we can breathe life and community that is diverse, arty and modern back into our city.
Jam-packed full of world foods, art, fashion and reclaimed vintagy-goods, the atmosphere at the market was buzzy and friendly. In the leafy courtyard, diners enjoy the temperate Jo’Burg climate, sitting under olive trees and taking advantage of the full breakfast menu and homemade lemonade from Canteen restaurant. Inside, a collection of some of the best South African contemporary art galleries reside, including the Goodman Gallery, the Seippel Gallery and Bailey’s African History Archives, which holds more than 40 years’ of South African photographic history.
Around the corner is Main Street Life, the younger of Maboneng’s two developments, which opened in 2010. The top floor is taken up by the 12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel, where each individually designed room represents one of the past 12 decades of Johannesburg’s history. Main Street Life also includes a rooftop events venue and shops. On the ground floor, Johannesburg’s independent cinema, the Bioscope, screens local, international and classic films.
Johannesburg is changing. Proud to be a country that has overcome monstrosity with immense positivity, respect and strength, there is a sense of ambition among Jo’Burgers to turn their city around. The Maboneng precinct is proof that Jo’Burg’s citizens have the gumption to take darkness and turn it into light: something positive, exciting and collaborative. The results are inspiring.
Budapest: capital of Hungary. A city brimming with stunning architecture, cheap food and drink and spectacular bathing options. We visited Budapest recently on our winter Eurotrip to Berlin, Prague and Budapest – its many redeeming features made it an easy addition to my favourite capital city list. Here it is, in pictures…
One of my favorite days of the year as festivity and excitement fill the air. The mince pies are baking and the mulled wine is steaming so it’s time to reveal my list of the best Christmassy pubs in London, some of which you might not yet have heard of…
THE RED LION, KENNINGTON
This hidden gem in the London borough of Kennington also happens to be my local. It’s a cosy, higgledy piggledy pub with sofas and stools, nooks to tuck into and candles flickering from chunky traditional beer tankards. Try the mulled cider or a Bloody Mary with oodles of Worcester Sauce.
THE CLARENCE, WESTMINSTER
Smack bang in the centre of London just a few steps from Trafalgar Square, The Clarence is a traditional pub which again offers great food and comfortable surroundings. There’s a big area upstairs if you’re a large group looking to hire, or nab a corner table by the frosted windows and enjoy a glass of mulled wine.
THE BRITANNIA, KENSINGTON
Nestled at the end of a mews in Kensington, The Britannia pub serves delicious food and has a beautiful bar area with open fire, tartan throws and cushions galore. There’s a separate, more formal dining area but reserve a table in the bar of an evening for the ultimate in festive cheer.
THE GOLDSMITH, SOUTHWARK
This has got to be one of my favourite pubs in town. It’s on Southwark Street, a quiet road about 10 minutes walk from Borough Market. The food is delicious, as are the wine options, and it’s got a lovely welcoming feel to it with mismatched furniture, frosted windows and games strewn around for everyone to play.
THE EDINBORO CASTLE, CAMDEN
This is a big, friendly pub right next to Regents Park so perfect for finishing up in after a New Year’s Day walk. The food is great and there’s a huge beer garden if the sun is shining and you need a little more fresh air.
Christmas may be steeped in traditional values, but the modern day reality has become a time of jam-packed events calendars. Parties, dinners, hot chocolate dates and food galore. From the cheeses to the chocolates and everything in between, you need to have completely mastered your will power to try to stay relatively in-shape at this time of year. Something the mere mortals among us will far from achieve this December.
Ever the problem solver, I’ve been searching high and low for delicious guilt free Christmas foods. These simple ideas that will give you all of the enjoyment with none of the guilt as you celebrate the holidays. Now doesn’t that sound like a merry Christmas!
MASHED SWEET POTATO WITH CINNAMON AND ROASTED NUTS
Mashed sweet potato is one of my ultimate favourite comfort foods. As well as being ridiculously tasty, they also happen to be really bloody good for you. Here’s all the health benefits of eating sweet potato.
To make this delicious dish, just peel and boil 500g sweet potatoes for about 15 minutes or until really soft and then mash with a tablespoon or two of raw organic coconut oil (you can get versions without the coconut taste if you prefer). Crush and toast and handful of mixed nuts in a frying pan until they start to smell great, then sprinkle them over the mash with a teaspoon of cinnamon and serve.
FESTIVE SPICED BANANA BREAD
Fact of the day: you can substitute ripe bananas for oil/butter in your baking to make deliciously moist cakes and biscuits. If you also replace the sugar with honey you’re looking at a totally guilt-free festive snack.
I use this Jamie Oilver banana bread recipe, but replace with butter with more mashed up ripe bananas and coconut oil, and replace the sugar with honey. Add a teaspoon of nutmeg too for a festive touch. The result is even more delicious than the original recipe!
MIXED NUTS GALORE
The health-concious sometimes tend to steer clear of mixed nuts, concerned by their high fat content. But nuts are packed full of protein, and the fats in nuts are healthy. Here’s why! Keep your portion size sensible and you have no reason to feel guilty. Tuck in and enjoy.
Research has shown that monounsaturated fats like olive oil are good for your heart. There’s been a lot of coverage recently hailing the way they eat in Mediterranean countries by substituting olive oil in place of butter and margarine. Another brilliant substitution for butter is raw, organic coconut oil. It’s delicious, full of healthy fatty acids that help your metabolism work faster and also contains antibiotic qualities.
The holidays and in particular Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year and I happen to consider myself something of an expert on the best activities to do in England’s capital city. Luckily for you, I have spent years crafting this perfectly pruned list of the very best festive holiday activities in London. From steaming mulled wine and mistletoe to bright frosty park walks and sparkly lights, oversized Christmas jumpers and Bridget Jones running through the snow in her knickers, Christmas is London at its most enchanting.
Here’s how to make the most of festive London this winter:
Carol Concerts at St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s puts on a series of spectacular carol concerts at Christmas in its magnificent domed cathedral. Some are free and some ticketed, so it’s worth looking at the website early to book a place if need be. If you’re attending the family carols arrive very early as the queues can wrap around the cathedral.
Ice skating at Somerset House
Each year as the winter chill enters the air ice rinks start to pop up across London. Somerset House is by far my favourite with its picturesque setting and rink-side bar where you can wrap your frosty fingers around a warm drink whilst the skaters slide by.
Lighting of the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square
At 6pm on December 4, the countdown to Christmas starts with the lighting of the tree in Trafalgar Square. The Norwegian Spruce is a gift from Norway to London to say thank you for Britain’s support during World War II, and the historic tradition has happened every year since 1947.
Mulled Wine at Borough Market
Borough Market has that magical ability to transport itself from summer sun spot with punters perching on pavements sipping Pimms to one of the most festive spots in London. Wrap up in your hat and mittens and take a stroll around Borough Market with a cinnamon mulled wine freshly scooped from a steaming cauldron.
Frosty walk followed by Bailey’s hot chocolate at a cosy pub by the fire
My favourite spots for a festive stroll in London – and cosy pub to follow – are: Hampstead Heath followed by The Wells, Regents Park followed by The Edinboro Castle or The Spread Eagle, St James’s Park followed by The Clarence on Whitehall, Hyde Park followed by The Brittania just off High Street Kensington.
Harrods, the food hall and Christmas window displays
The world’s most famous department store also happens to be one of the most fabulous for Christmas cheer in my opinion. Of an early evening the building twinkles into life as thousands of bulbs illuminate the snowy Christmas window displays. Inside, you can taste the food hall excitement where wrapped chocolate glistens in tall piles and the rich and famous purchase luxurious Christmas hampers.
Fortnum and Mason Christmas Department
As you enter the duck egg blue and gold building on Piccadilly in the lead up to Christmas the sound of carol singing drifts into range – singers regularly perform in the middle of the store by the spiralling stairs. A few levels above, London’s best Christmas department awaits with quintessentially British and traditional decorations beautifully displayed.
Southbank Centre Christmas Market
In November each year traditional wooden chalets line the Southbank waterfront serving up festive food, warming drinks and selling Christmas gifts. I love to take a stroll when it starts to get dark and the wooden cabins’ twinkly lights come on.
Covent Garden’s Christmas Decorations
Covent Garden is a beautiful part of London all year, but the Christmas decorations are always the best around and add an extra special something to the covered market. I prefer to visit Covent Garden when the market stalls are packed away and just the shops are open – it’s quieter and makes for better photos of the decorations.
Mince Pies and Festive Cheer at Leadenhall Market
In the cobbled walkways under the glass Victorian roof Leadenhall Market brims with festivities. The Christmas lights have just been turned on and the decorations are up, so head over for mince pies and a mulled cider from one of the many pubs in the Market.
Have you spent Christmas in London? I’d love to hear your favourite festive things to do!
Last weekend, I tested out the London Pass, which is sightseeing city card that gives you entry to a choice of over 60 popular tourist attractions in the city and is available for either 1, 2, 3, 6 or 10 days.
In one day, I reckon it’s possible to get around four tourist attractions if you start early – but be warned, you will be exhausted by the end of it. We managed to make it to the Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge and used our London Passes to get free tickets to the Curzon cinema in Mayfair to see The Imitation Game. I’ve put together a short break-down of each attraction below in the handy tabs below, and at the end I’ve summarised what I thought of the London Pass.
- CHURCHILL WAR ROOMS
- WESTMINSTER ABBEY
- TOWER BRIDGE
Buried in a once-secret basement next to Horse Guard’s Parade the Churchill War Rooms offer a fascinating insight into war-time London and the war cabinet that were secretly fighting for Britain from this dank dark basement. There’s an impressive museum section with tons of interesting Churchill facts and artefacts displayed in modern, visual ways. It’s also cool to see the original rooms like the Map Room where they planned their attacks and Churchill’s bedroom where he spent many a sleepless night.
However, do not be fooled – as we were – into going to the introductory talk by the Churchill War Rooms volunteer speaker. Yes, he was a nice chap, but he spoke for NEARLY AN HOUR about every minute detail you were about to see, from the tissue on Churchill’s desk to the pen he held to the toilet lid he sat on – thus rendering the experience of walking around the War Rooms somewhat pointless as we already knew everything the signs were telling us.
GOOD BITS: no que, great museum section
BAD BITS: boring bastard speaking for nearly an hour
London’s spectacular Westminster Abbey is at the top of many tourist’s hitlist. And quite rightly, it is one of London’s most spectacular Cathedrals and home to an impressive number of important dead people. We spent about half an hour wandering around, gazing at the impressive architecture, stained glass windows and elaborate coffins.
Sadly, it’s popularity meant that the queues outside were large and we had to wait 20 minutes in the cold to get in. This was particularly disappointing as the London Pass booklet that we were given with the cards advised that ‘fast track’ entry was available for London Pass holders at the Abbey. When we asked, this wasn’t the case and we were sent to the back of the line.
GOOD BITS: spectacular building
BAD BITS: massive queue, no fast track
Having once lived in Borough I had passed Tower Bridge many times but never gone up to the exhibition. Thus, we deemed it an important addition to our London tourist day activities. The queue was fairly small, although still no fast track (even though it was advertised). Within about 15 minutes we were up at the top of the bridge.
The exhibition wasn’t particularly impressive – just a video playing that was really aimed at children. And I’m afraid the view from the top wasn’t that spectacular either as all the iron infrastructure means there are only small gaps to look through and a mass of glass and padding (presumably to make it safe) obstructs the best views. Walking over the glass see-though walkway looking down to the river and bridge below was certainly entertaining, and fairly vertigo-inducing – that was certainly the best bit.
The London Pass will save you money, if you are prepared to do 4 or more tourist attractions in a day since it costs £49.If you are desperate to see all the London tourist sights and you only have a weekend or so to do it, a London Pass probably makes sense. However, London is full of so many fantastic free museums, markets, walks, cathedrals and icons I just don’t think you need to spend out £49 per person to make the most of it.