world according to sam

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. Mark Twain

Tag: travel bloggers

Z Shoreditch

  
Expensive train fares mean that when we plan to be in London at the weekends we occasionally treat ourselves to a hotel (return train fares for two are about £90 including tube) so we drive up, park somewhere hopefully for free (generally after 1.30 in the City) and spend a couple of days enjoying the delights London has to offer without the worry of having to catch the last train home that is invariably full of half sloshed callow youths who think it’s terribly funny to engage with the ‘old folks’ … 

So a hunt on Trivago to check out what’s available at what price will throw up grisly b&b’s as far out as Wembley but if you are fairly clued in on the geography of London you can on occasion pick up a bargain   Pre-Christmas we stayed at Z Shoreditch, a designer conversion of a former office building, with 111 bedrooms arranged over lower ground, ground and three upper floors.

Staying in Shoreditch, where space is at a premium this hotel concept is to provide maximum comfort in a compact space. But fear not, these are not anything like those Japanese sleep pods that remind me of a morgue! 

As they say on their website “You’re not intending to hold conferences in your room or throw parties, either.”

If  you are wanting to stay a couple of nights in central London, sleep in a really comfortable bed and wake in designer surroundings Z is a great choice. Rooms start at £59 ( we paid rather more but still great value for central London)

This is the description from their website and it’s all true! “Your  Z room will be carefully considered. With en suite wet room, crisp bed linen, 48” TV with a full selection of Sky channels, and of course, complimentary Wi-Fi.”
We had a basement room that had a small window panel to the side of the bed but as we rolled in at 1am, outside was still awash with late night revellers, window or not the room was perfect for our needs – sleep! A bedside control panel for lights and a/c mean even in the dead of night it’s easy to cool things down or illuminate a path to the loo! 

Breakfast is not included in their basic room rate but can be taken in the cafe next to reception. 

Soon to come … A review of Qbic Hotel 

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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

Long haul flights when travelling cattle class are tiring and anything that makes the travel experience more tolerable has to be good….. (#firstworldproblems I know and I am not complaining, I had a wonderful time and was very lucky to have gone! I am absolutely not seeking sympathy here!)

Having bought Mr H various Bose items over the years as gifts I thought we were all Bose’d up, with my final purchase 18 months ago of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones for his business trips. Last years 14+ hour flight had challenged me when seated at the back of the plane with regulation supply BA headphones I had observed Mr H languishing in his seat chuckling away or gripped in the action of his movie while I struggled the entire journey home, barely able to hear any dialogue on the in-flight entertainment – it is a very long way to have to lip read five or six blockbusters.
I am not a slave to technology … When out walking I like to be at one with nature, I don’t need the intrusion of piped music into my brain or on those rare occasions that I venture into the gym I am happy to listen to my decidedly uncool but uplifting  Now That’s What I call Running album on repeat at a low hum, but it’s no biggie if I forget my phone. Besides my auditory orifices are spatially challenged …. Earbuds/earphones of any shape or design simply will not stay in my ears, those peculiar Star Trek style earphones that slot over the ears present such difficulties to me putting them on I become like the child trying to force the square peg into the round hole, tense, frustrated and almost tearful. If I am ever lucky enough to get something to sit in my ear, within thirty minutes my ears are aflame and I want to rip the brain melting contraptions from my head.
So, though I had resisted Mr H’s offer of a Christmas gift to match his headphones, His n Hers Bose ‘phones and the promise of looking slightly ridiculous and a throwback to the 70’s … I politely declined, a new handbag or shoes seemed so MUCH more appealing

But then, knowing we had this epic journey ahead of us, Mr H plunged right in and gifted me with the new headphones for my birthday this year. Boy was I glad he did. These are a GAME CHANGER for long haul travel. No more struggling to hear the dialogue on the film listings, no more constant hum of the engines, not a peep from the unruly child three rows in front … Just super comfy headphones that make you feel as if you have gaffer taped a giant marshmallow to each side of your head.

When you need to remove them for a quick loo trip you realise just how obtrusive engine noise is on such a long trip, that sore inside your head feeling that is a result of constant noise – GONE!  The only downside I can think of is that if you don’t keep one eye on the aisle it’s all too easy to miss that all important question …. “Drink madam?”

(So keep these in mind as a very special gift for that very special someone, they neatly fold into a bag of their own with an adaptor for plane use. )

Lombok …. A Taste Of Indonesia…. Part II

Our trip to Indonesia and Lombok took us not only to mainland Lombok but to some of the outlying Gillis, both the smaller islands, Gilli Nanggu and Sudak in the South of Lombok and Gilli Trawangan off the West Coast – contrasting in every sense.  The southern islands are heavenly, largely uninhabited and provide an opportunity for snorkelling – though the Indonesians are yet to fully understand conservation, encouraging tourists to feed the fish with bread in bottles – we did it too I am ashamed to say, without it we were invisible to the sealife.  The bread encourages fish to swarm to the area for tourist driven photo opportunities but cheap white bread is not their natural diet … I imagine there are many carb bloated fish around the waters of Lombok!!

Gilli Trawangan is in contrast to Lombok, a party island for the young (and young at heart) … Gilli T is a little grubby around the edges, with a faint waft of the previous nights hedonistic over-indulgence.  However head around the island towards the sunset beaches and though dusty there are fewer people and a less trampled-in grimy feel, you do have to be mindful of the speeding Cidomos (horse drawn carriages that speed around the island with tourists and their bags hurtling along and peeping their horns at unwitting pedestrians and cyclists alike, we liked to call them the Lombok Ferraris).     Mr H and I enjoyed a cycle ride around the motor free island, the cycling was a triumph but despite my ample in-built padding the two hour stint was enough for both of us in the extreme heat. We attempted to snorkel but this was challenging due to boat traffic and a fierce drift that carried you along into the path of the numerous boats picking up and dropping off to the beach. We were promised turtles but sadly the only ones we got to see were at the turtle hatchery, which were very sweet but not what we had hoped for.

Lombok’s southern coast is drier, a little edgier but with the most spectacular beaches … we were encouraged to visit Kuta beach (nothing like its Bali namesake!) with some sweet little homestays and a clutch of small souvenir shops but for me the beach was a little disappointing, stony and sparse in the central part … it may have been better further around but we had already experienced the stunning sandy bay of Mawun beach and the rolling waves of Selong Balanak – two beautiful and in my mind superior beaches.  Mawun is ideal for sheer relaxation with a small reef to snorkel around safely without too much in the way of boat traffic and Selong Balanak or the mirrored beach, a vast expanse of white sand with soft tumbling breaks for novice surfers – even I would have attempted a surf lesson here had I more time.  For the serious surfer a boat can be taken to the huge breaks just off the coast.

We split all our sightseeing trips between a private driver from outside the resort and our hotel driver.  The driver commissioned outside of the hotel was certainly cheaper and came recommended, pre booking our guide for the trekking to the waterfalls and a private boat transfer to Gilli Nanggu. He invited us to his home for tea and to meet his wife and children. Something we would not have experienced had we stuck only to our hotel driver. Each have their merits, maybe the hotel driver experience was a little more polished but the private driver was more amenable to going ‘off piste’.

Lombok ….. A taste of Indonesia

A thoroughly exhausting journey (30 hours door to door) deposits you into a melting pot of heat, scent and noise. The island of Lombok, like so many tropical destinations is one of contrasts – luxury hotels sit amidst villages of shacks with chickens and children running free! The island sits a 20 minute journey by air  to bustling Bali and from Western Lombok you can see the sun setting over Mount Agung. Though we didn’t get to visit Bali, a trip to Gilli Trawangan gave us an insight into how busy Bali is in comparison to Lombok. Geographically close but culturally very different, Lombok is largely a Muslim country and this is what protects it from the day long happy hours and hedonistic excesses of its neighbours.

Lombok, which means chilli in Indonesian, is defined by its people and its people are wonderful, and rather like their fiery namesakes – warm natured, with a little spice!  There is such pride for their island and Sasak traditions, (the indigenous culture of the island). Many of the beach traders and local guides who, through poverty, lack of education and opportunities often don’t even know their true age,  have still taught themselves English, Dutch, Korean and numerous other international languages, explicitly to earn themselves a wage… they are tenacious in their selling techniques but not obtrusive.   I would however really like to know WHO it is that is travelling the Far East propagating the myth that we Brits go round saying ‘Lovely Jubbly’ in our daily lives? …. Whilst they are the most fabulous marketeers of their beautiful island, their souvenir and t-shirt selling repartee can sometimes leave a little to be desired …. ‘We have your exact size Sir, 3XL‘ …. perhaps a little sales training in subtlety would help (and besides there was room for Pavarotti and me inside that t-shirt!)  Everyone greets you with ‘Where you from?’ they are quick to tell you to visit the highlights of the island and engage in their culture and traditions. Many are reliant on the tourist trade but equally can live off the land with their own crops of rice, mango, sweet potato and corn.  It is not uncommon to hear the traders talking of hailing from the largely farmland East sharing the home of a friend or brother during the week to sell their wares and then returning home to their families.

We stayed in a tranquil hotel just outside of  Senggigi, the Benidorm of Lombok ….. but Benidorm on Tramadol, laid back, friendly, good parts and some that are a little …. seamier …. Senggigi is the hub of tourism for Lombok and a great place to position yourself  to discover other parts of the island.  Every other shop is a travel agent or Tourist Information as they like to call themselves.  Hire a driver to visit the glorious beaches in the South or the waterfalls of Mount Rinjani towards the North.  Soft trekking to the falls is perfect for those, like me who love to channel Jungle Jane and don a khaki short but have NO intention of performing any outdoor lavatorial ablutions! – A 2.5 hour round trip was sufficient for me to feel at one with nature without sharing toilet facilities with actual wildlife!! Wading through the water channels that run right through the heart of the mountain in complete darkness before returning to the hill station for a late lunch overlooking the terraced rice fields is the perfect end to an extraordinary excursion.

 

 One of our greatest joys was being taken to a village adjacent to our hotel by one of the hotel’s groundsmen on his afternoon off (?) to see 20 or more children playing in a freshly ploughed field, flying kites … simple pleasures, this is not a culture that relies on technology for its kicks. We were greeted along the way by families sitting outside their homes, pushing their little ones into our path to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the local mosquito population were utterly thrilled at the advent of our juicy white Western flesh!!

We discovered quite early on our trip, a local bar (Happy Cafe) with live music not too far from our hotel, a 60p taxi ride away!!!. The house band are open to requests and have an immense catalogue of rock hits taken straight from Jeremy Clarksons Seriously Hot Driving Tunes …. each night the band ask for requests and if its not some rock anthem, the request is cast aside …. every night we were there I requested Happy by Pharell, (a woman of simple tastes), adding more and more elaborate designs to my request slip but to no avail, each request faced the same demise of being crumpled up and thrown to the side of the stage by the cigarette wielding lead singer …. It was on our first night here that we met one of the young bartenders (Hero – great name, huh?) who had developed a complicated but very cool ‘street’ fist pump/hug/handshake that he greeted Mr H with every time we entered the bar, securing us seats at the front of house.  As tourists in Lombok we were unusual in that the tourism here is transient, largely backpackers spending only 2 or 3 days in one place – we spent 3 1/2 weeks on the island and so had an element of ‘celebrity’ about us in Senggigi, the nearest town to our hotel. One gravelly voiced trader sought us out for a chat most evenings that we were in town, even though we never purchased anything from him.

We visited a traditional Sasak village, but this was somewhat disappointing as an experience, our guide seemed world weary and could not have sped through the village any more quickly extolling the virtues of their family life, they only marry within their village (cousins), the chief lives at the entrance to the village, their houses have cow sheeeeeeet as flooring and there is a surfeit of houses set up to sell bought-in tourist tat and of course your guide passes swiftly past all these other retail opportunities to …. surprise, surprise …. his own humble abode that has its own wares for sale.  It must be intrusive to have a constant flow of tourists trailing through the streets of your village, peering through windows but everything is geared to bringing in those tourists and without those visitors I am not sure where they would earn their living.

Our hotel staff could not be nicer, virtually applauding us into breakfast each day as we were the longest ever staying residents affording us a certain celebrity, they had a particular fondness for Mr Calvin …..

The locals all want you to visit their home and we had tea at the home of our driver, watched the National sport of Muay Thai championships, had an unexpected supper on the beach with the finals of a Miss Indonesia contest taking place around us, went to a traditional stick-fighting (Presean) event to encourage much-needed rainfall, had our annual battle with the spa paper knickers, trekked to waterfalls, learned to cook traditional Indonesian dishes, had massages and were tutored in the art of massage, seen monkeys at close hand, thug like primates cynically lining the mountain road awaiting the next car load of tourists to feed them bananas (terrifying!), eaten authentic street food, watched beautiful sunsets and watched the sun spread its light at dawn after the 5 am call to prayer

Unfortunately Mr H experienced a second bout of the Lombok Trots….Revenge of The Nasi Goreng….,  so as our holiday drew to a close we toasted 26 years of marriage with a Dioralyte Martini and Immodium chaser …. Lombok has been memorable for (mostly) all the right reasons and we hope to return …. Though there are so many more new places to discover …….

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