A Journey In Japan

This is a throwback destination guide. People often ask me which place has been my favourite travel destination. Years of travelling around the world means it is difficult to choose a favourite place. I have been fortunate to go to so many great places but if I had to choose one favourite, it would be Japan. I visited Japan in the summer of 2017 and absolutely fell in love with the country, the culture, the food, the people etc. It’s a very special place and an easy and safe destination to travel round solo. Key tourist sites are well sign-posted, the high speed and efficient Shinkansen bullet trains make getting around the country a breeze and you will always find people happy to help you should you need guidance/directions.

Tips:

  • You need to buy your railcard before you go. I bought my pass here http://bit.ly/2LXFvV5 The pass is excellent value for money and gives you unlimited travel provided you follow the instructions. Your Japan Rail Pass entitles you to free seat reservations on valid trains. Reservations can be made in person at train stations. This site offers great advice https://www.seat61.com/Japan.htm
  • When in Japan, buy a Pasmo card (similar to London’s Oyster card) that you can top up to pay for public transport. You can buy these from Metro ticket machines.
  • Download the free Tokyo Metro App to help you navigate your way around this sprawling city.

TOKYO

Give yourself plenty of time to explore this huge city. Suggested things to see/do:

  • View Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks.
  • Visit Tsukiji Market and have a fresh sushi lunch.
  • Go to Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park.
  • Go up the Tokyo Skytree.
  • Visit a cat cafe.
  • Catch the show at the Robot Restaurant.
  • Visit Sensō-ji temple.
  • Stroll along Takeshita Street in Harajuku.
  • Sing Karaoke in a branch of Karaoke Kan.

Day trips from Tokyo: Nara, Kamakura, Nikko and Mount Fuji (train journeys from Tokyo)

Nara Famous for the freely roaming deer and temples.

Kamakura: An understated seaside resort with a large buddha statue.

Nikko: National Park with a famous shrine and mausoleum.

Mount Fuji

I didn’t get to go to Mount Fuji during my trip unfortunately as I had left it to do when I returned to Tokyo after exploring the country and I misjudged how much time I needed to do it. If you can, you should definitely go; you can find a suggested day trip itinerary here https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/mount-fuji It’s at the top of my to-do list when I am next in Japan…

TAKAYAMA

A city with a beautifully preserved old town. You only need a night or two here. Many travellers come here before hiking Japan’s Alps. I really enjoyed my visit here. Such a cute place with small shops, saki bars and restaurants. Stay in a traditional Ryokan if you can and you definitely have to visit an onsen (a hot spring that is a quintessential Japanese experience).

KANAZAWA

A modern city with some fantastic sites to visit. Suggested things to see/do:

  • Kanazawa Castle – impressive historical site.
  • Kenrokuen Garden – lovely landscaped garden.
  • Go for matcha tea in one of the geisha teahouses in the Higashi Chaya district.
  • See contemporary art at the 21st Century Museum.

KYOTO

Absolutely loved my time in Kyoto. It’s less manic than Tokyo, with so many beautiful temples to visit, and no trip to Kyoto is complete without a walk around the geisha district. You can see a geisha performance for an affordable price at Gion Corner. Other suggested things to see/do:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine – famous for its thousands of red torii gates. Kyoto’s most visited shrine.
  • Visit Arashiyama’s bamboo forest. It can get over-crowded so try to visit early in the day.
  • Walk the Philosopher’s Path (known for cherry blossoms in the spring).
  • Dine in a restaurant in Pontocho Alley.

OSAKA

A modern and vibrant city with a thriving culinary scene. A fun day trip is a visit to Universal Studios Osaka – go just to hear Harry Potter speaking Japanese and ensure you stay for the dementors light show in the evening. I also recommend eating your way round Dōtombori or booking a food tour.

HIROSHIMA & MIYAJIMA

Many travellers visit Hiroshima and Miyajima as a day trip from Tokyo but both places are peaceful at night and are good options for an overnight stay if you don’t want to rush. I chose to stay overnight in Hiroshima and I was glad I did this as Miyajima is a train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima, and it may take you longer to get there and back than you expect. I visited Miyajima in the morning which then gave me plenty of time to explore Hiroshima’s Peace Park. The Peace Museum is excellent, and the park itself has several monuments, such as the Children’s Monument, worth seeing.

I spent three wonderful weeks travelling round Japan focusing on the main places I had read about during my trip research but there is so much to see in this magnificent country so I will definitely be going back. For now Japan, Sayōnara. We will meet again one day.

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You

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Last edited: 4th August 2019

Someone I had blocked on Instagram recently reached out via email to contact me.  The email began ‘I don’t know why you have deleted/blocked/ignored me….’ and I didn’t read the rest. I had indeed deleted, blocked and ignored this person, making clear – I thought – my desire to be left alone, but apparently not. Not wanting to be pulled into unnecessary drama, I had two choices: ignore them and hope they got the hint, or reply and then block their email, ending the relationship once and for all. I would rather someone told me directly the worst truth rather than lie or ghost me, so I chose to reply. I told them I had deleted the email unread, asked not to be contacted again and ended with a thank you. As cold as that sounds, it seemed kinder than ignoring and it did the job without an unsatisfying exchange of blaming/argumentative emails that would have been a waste of time given my decision to walk away from the relationship. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. What is the correct etiquette these days for ending a relationship? Does it depend on the length of the relationship or the kind of relationship you had? Should you end friendship relationships differently to romantic relationships? Pertinent questions as we will all have to end relationships at some time in our lives for various reasons: infidelity, disloyalty, financial hardship, conflicting values, boredom, you want different things out of life, you don’t enjoy spending time with the other person, they may remind you of a time in your life you would rather forget and you want a clean break, or perhaps you have just grown apart/ outgrown each other.  As we go through life, we are constantly evolving and our relationships change too.  

I’ve only been dumped a couple of times in my romantic life because I am the one who tends to exit first. Not because I have commitment issues but because I go with my gut and I’d rather be alone than in a relationship just for the sake of it. I have had some classic experiences of being let down not so gently.  Adam* was a guy I had known socially through mutual friends. One evening after we bumped into each other and had cocktails, I took him home with me and one thing led to another. I was not expecting this necessarily to lead to anything serious but my word, no sooner had he withdrawn from my vagina than he was dressed and racing for the door. Turning back to see my stunned expression, he looked suitably ashamed, muttered, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ and he was gone, setting a record for the quickest exit after intercourse I’ve encountered from all the people I’ve slept with. Another dumper Max didn’t even tell me it was over between us, he just gave the key that I had given him for my apartment to a friend of mine to pass back to me; actions spoke louder than words. Rex and I dated for four months and things had been going well until I found another girl’s knickers in his room on a night I was supposed to be staying over. He tried to claim they were mine but when I insisted they were not, he failed to apologise, told me I was bottom on his list of priorities and he didn’t want a girlfriend anymore. Needless to say, I went home and didn’t see him again. Hilariously, he moved to Dubai the year after I did and asked to see me several times ‘to make it up to me’, but I refused to see him. The best excuse I’ve ever heard for being cheated on was given to me by Robbie who slept with a friend of mine; he said he was so drunk when they had sex he thought she was me – she and I look nothing alike. Unbelievable. The most bittersweet break up was with Dominic after a couple of years of us being together. He was crying so much when he tried to tell me it was over he couldn’t get his words out. It went like this: he turned up at my place ashen faced. As his tears started I prepared myself for the worst. I asked him if someone had died. He said no. I asked him if he had cheated on me. He said no. I felt sick. I asked him if he was ending this. He said yes. We both cried. It was painful but at least he gave me the respect of ending our relationship face to face. Though texting and emailing can be the easy way out, they’re definitely not OK for long term romantic relationships. If you don’t want to be with someone anymore, have the heart and balls to tell them directly to their face.   

That said, I’m not averse to ghosting when necessary. Ghosting, as we all know, is when you suddenly cut someone off and disappear out of their life. For those casually dating multiple partners, ghosting is commonplace and you can’t take it too personally. It’s easy to ghost someone you hardly know and who doesn’t mean anything to you but I would only ghost someone who has been a friend or someone I have cared about in exceptional circumstances. When I chose to finally leave an abusive situation in my life, I had to protect myself so I only maintained contact with a small number of people from my old life who I trusted. I did what I had to do. Over the past year I have been ‘haunted’: emailed by fake email addresses, fake accounts have been set up to contact me via my blog and Instagram, and fake accounts have also monitored my Instagram stories. Consequently, I had to change my phone number, remove my email address from my blog and Instagram, disable comments on my blog and make my Instagram private, in an attempt to be allowed to live my life free from abuse, intimidation and manipulation. Enough was enough. Taking back control felt fantastic. Why people – who do not know me, who did not go through what I did, who do not know everything and therefore don’t know what they are talking about – feel it’s OK to contact me to share their ill-informed judgemental comments or to troll me about my appearance is baffling to me. I spoke out to expose the hypocrisy of a company who failed to investigate a complaint of professional misconduct, despite them knowing that evidence existed to support my complaint, and the hypocrisy of an individual who failed to take responsibility for his behaviour, allowing me to be scapegoated instead. What’s done is done and I don’t have to keep defending myself. Only people who have truth to tell that others want to hide are made to sign NDAs. That speaks for itself. I broke the NDA to ensure that what happened to me, does not happen to someone else, and I wholeheartedly stand by that decision. I refuse to be the punchbag for this situation any longer. If you have nothing nice to say to me, please keep your thoughts to yourself and get on with your life, just as I am getting on with mine. I am in touch with the people I care about and want to be in touch with. Some say that even those who teach us the hardest or most painful lessons in life are actually our soulmates. I don’t believe in ‘The One’, but rather feel that people come into our lives at certain times to teach us things of value, that everything happens for a reason, and good can come from bad experiences. With that in mind, I am sending love to anyone I have loved and wish them all the best.

As kind as the ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ cliche is, everyone knows what it really means. It’s a cop out. A way of telling someone you don’t want to be with them anymore or you don’t want them in your life anymore without telling them the real reasons you feel that way. Next time you feel tempted to use this cliche, you could try being honest. When Dominic dumped me, he told me I had been an amazing girlfriend, that he knew he had been spoiled by me and that I had done nothing wrong, but in his heart he felt something was missing for him. As hard as it was to hear at the time, I respected his honesty and I took the rejection on the chin. I am an honest and direct person so I appreciate it when other people are that way with me. There are, of course, kind ways and brutal ways of telling the truth and I can be brutally honest when I feel it’s time to cut the crap. Always when possible though, choose kindness. When you don’t want to be with someone or have someone in your life anymore, set them free so they can give their heart, mind and energy to people who will/do want them. Life is short, don’t waste yours, or anyone else’s time by not being completely honest. Don’t put more bullshit out into the world than there already is. The only exception to the honesty rule is when you want to tell someone you have feelings for them but you are not in a position to act on those feelings because you are married or otherwise unavailable – by sharing your feelings with someone you shouldn’t, you are putting the other person in an impossible position. What are they supposed to do with that information? Honesty in this case just opens a Pandora’s Box of pain. In those situations, it’s best to keep your feelings to yourself. Even worse is when someone can’t be with you but they don’t want you to be with anyone else either. I’ve experienced that and it was a total headfuck. Don’t accept being treated that way and get rid. I should have sooner. We worked together; this guy messed with my head and career. I got doubly screwed over and didn’t even get laid. I fell in love with a married man but refused to sleep with him. He would not leave me alone when I asked him to and always talked me round, preventing me from moving on. I experienced retaliation in the workplace when he was upset with me. I was so broken by dealing with him and his behaviour, I became incapable of doing my job properly and my life fell apart after I wrote a blog post to get him to stop, as trying to resolve things with him privately never worked. A lesson learned the hard way. Shit happens. With millions of people looking for love, it is inevitable that we will encounter arseholes during the quest to find ‘The One’. Bad experiences/relationships though help you to work out what you are looking for, what your dealbreakers are, and the kind of person you would like to be with. Dating dickheads or friendships with fakers, make you appreciate the real diamonds more when you find them so no relationship, whether good or bad, is ever a waste of time.   

We all deserve to have people in our lives – friends, romantic partners, family – who genuinely love and respect us exactly as we are, who can be emotionally and physically involved with us, loyal and faithful to us, so never ever settle for less. I have made some changes in my life. If you haven’t heard from me recently, then you were one of them. It’s not me, it’s you 😉

Take care, Lisa.    

*All names mentioned have been changed. My Instagram is now public again – I have nothing to hide.

 

Gaslighting Survival Guide

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Last edited: 16th July 2019

*Trigger warning: this post discusses Gaslighting and emotional abuse. 

As someone who has experienced the detrimental impact of being gaslighted, I would like to give some tips to help those who suspect they are being gaslighted by someone in their life, whether that be by a parent, a colleague, friend or romantic partner.

The psychological term Gaslighting originates from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane. It has come to describe psychologically/emotionally abusive behaviour that has the intent to cause the victim to question their memory, their perception, and doubt their sanity. Why would someone want to gaslight someone else? To gain power and control. It tends to happen slowly, over a period of time, and can be absolutely devastating to the victim. It certainly was for me. I felt like a shadow of who I was by the time I found the strength to leave the relationship with my ex. During the relationship I became anxious, needy, snappy, paranoid, couldn’t sleep, and cried all the time. I felt as though I couldn’t think straight which impacted my ability to do my job, made worse by the fact that my ex and I worked together and he was in a position of authority over me. He would only support me professionally if our personal relationship was in a good place and even once admitted that to me. He was a compulsive liar but he insisted he never lies. He could be so convincing he would make me doubt myself. He drove me to a breakdown. Relationships with co-workers and friends were negatively impacted. The blog post I wrote to get him to stop led to me losing my job. This is why gaslighting and emotional abuse need to be taken seriously, with abusers held accountable.  You can read more about what Gaslighting is here http://bit.ly/2LgMHv7 

What should you do if you suspect you are being gaslighted?      

  • Do your research. Read about gaslighting techniques or talk with a trained professional so you are informed about the behaviours to watch out for. Once I knew what to look out for, I was able to keep a record of the things that happened whilst still in the relationship. The record helped to prove that my relationship with my ex was not healthy and was also valuable during counselling sessions.
  • Don’t be naive. Always remember that you are dealing with a very clever individual who is adept at manipulation. Simply talking to them and explaining your concerns is going to be ineffective. They will persuade you that you are wrong, convince you that they’ve done nothing wrong, and possibly say phrases like ‘You know I care about you, how could you think I would do anything to hurt you?’ Or ‘I’m disappointed you think that I am capable of that.’ They know how to turn things on you, to make you feel guilty and question yourself. Many times my ex did things that were unacceptable but after calling him out on his behaviour, I would often end up feeling bad and apologise to keep the peace.
  • Keep a record and collect evidence. An online diary that only you have access to could be safer than a written diary that could be found and read by the abuser. I created a Google Docs online diary and wrote down everything that happened in the relationship that I identified as being a gaslighting technique, or anything that was unacceptable to me – blatant lying, manipulative phrases, when his actions didn’t match his words, things done to deliberately confuse or wound etc. For evidence, I collected emails, regularly saved transcripts of WhatsApp conversations and took screenshots. You are always in a position of strength when you have truth AND evidence on your side – even if no one wants to listen/believe you. Knowing you have proof in black and white will make you feel more certain about what happened and make it easier to explain it to others if necessary.         
  • Share what is happening. If you have other people in your life that you trust, try to tell them about things that happen. For example, I did share some incidents with trusted friends and showed them messages. However, no one knew the full extent of the emotional abuse as I kept so much to myself. When I did eventually speak up, it was hard for people to believe me as they didn’t know everything that had happened and they didn’t get that it wasn’t just one event; gaslighting is a collection of manipulative actions and behaviours over a period of time.
  • Trust the evidence, particularly when dealing with gaslighting within a romantic relationship. When you love someone, it is natural to want to believe them and trust them so when they start to gaslight you, you make excuses for them. This allows them to continue to get away with abusing you. If your gut instinct is telling you something is off and you don’t like how someone is making you feel, pay attention to that and trust the evidence. If you speak up about their abuse, they will discredit you and make you appear crazy – but the evidence will speak for itself, making them look foolish. At the very least, you will know that you are right when others try to tell you you are wrong.      
  • Leave the situation. I stayed far too long in a relationship that I knew was harmful to me because I loved him. Put distance between you and your abuser. With distance from both them and the manipulation, over time you will gain clarity and the strength to fight back/ move on. You have a right to be happy. You have a right to good mental health and healthy relationships. You have a right to remove anyone from your life who harms your wellbeing and negatively impacts your life. Life is too short for such bullsh*t.

Recovery after gaslighting can be slow but you will get there in time, with help. These days I am in a good place mentally and emotionally, unless something triggers me – for example, a phrase that someone says, or a manipulative relationship in a TV show, can take me back to a dark place, but I try to surround myself with positive people and count my blessings. I have a new life now, I’m living in a different country, I’m doing a different job, and I am happy I got away. I hope that my writing encourages someone else to find the courage to positively change their life, as I have.  

Take care,

Lisa.   

Tripping to Brighton

  • Visited May 2019.

An easy day trip from London is a visit to the seaside resort of Brighton, located on the South Coast of England. I’ve wanted to come to Brighton ever since I read Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock as a teenager and as much as I love London, sometimes it’s lovely to escape the city to be by the sea. Brighton is regarded as the LGBTQ capital of the UK and the vibe of tolerance and diversity makes it an exciting and fun place to visit. Before going I consulted two of my favourite websites for suggestions of things to do – Atlas Obscura http://bit.ly/2Mi6oEf and Culture Trip http://bit.ly/2W77Adr. Atlas Obscura is a great source for all the weird and wonderful things there are to see and do in places around the world and Culture Trip (which also has an App you can download articles to read offline – invaluable when I was in Cuba with little Internet access) is brilliant as various articles suggest essential sights, restaurants etc. Armed with a rough list of key sites, I set off for my day trip.

I booked my train ticket through the Trainline App the day before going. Using the App I was able to select the cheapest journeys and I paid £19 for a return ticket (including booking fee). A ticket bought on the day at the station would have cost me £27. It was cheaper to travel from London Blackfriars station with Thameslink than to travel from London Victoria. London Blackfriars is easily reached using the Underground. The journey time from Blackfriars to Brighton was only 1 hour 13 minutes. There are regular trains running to and from Brighton. When you exit the station, take the road straight ahead to walk down to the sea front.

Suggested Activities

The Seafront

  • Visit Brighton Palace Pier – free to walk along.
  • Enjoy fish and chips by the sea – but watch out for seagulls who like to steal your food!
  • Buy a stick of Brighton Rock at The World Famous Brighton Rock Shop on the street parallel to the sea front (55 Kings Road).
  • Grab a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants and watch the waves and the sun go down – I had a glass of wine at Tempest Inn. The interior is designed to look like caves. The outside seating area is perfect for people watching.
  • Go up the British Airways i360, a 162-metre observation tower. An adult ticket is £16.50 if you buy it on the day at the venue.
  • Visit the newly opened Upside Down House – next to the i360 tower – in which all of the rooms are inverted. Tickets cost £4
  • Walk along the sea front to the colourful Hove Beach Huts, a short walk from the i360.
  • Visit the Sea Life Centre – the World’s oldest operating aquarium. An Adult ticket bought on the day costs £20. Tickets are currently 40% cheaper when bought online.
  • About a mile west of the Palace Pier lies Brighton Marina and the start of the Undercliff Walk if you fancy some scenic exercise.

Away from the Sea

  • A must-do is a visit to the absolutely stunning Royal Pavilion. Built as a holiday home for King George VI, the opulence of the Chinese-themed interior is breathtaking. When I visited there was an exhibition of Stephen Jones’ Hats. Tickets cost £15 when bought at the venue. Tickets are cheaper online. Take your smartphone with you and you can access two free audio tours, using the Pavilion’s free wifi.
  • Also in the same grounds as the Royal Pavilion, you can visit the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. Tickets cost £6.
  • Visit The Lanes – an area of narrow lanes, with small shops, pubs and restaurants.
  • Go on a Ghost Walk – meet outside the Druid’s Head Pub. An adult ticket is £8.
  • Mooch around the shoppers paradise of North Laine, a bohemian area full of vegan cafes, vintage clothing stores, bars and restaurants. This area boasts the largest selection of independent retailers on the South Coast. Highlights include This is Not A Butchers gift shop and the quirky Snoopers Paradise, Brighton’s biggest antiques and vintage emporium.
  • Pop into St Bartholomew’s Church, which has one of the tallest interiors in England. Some say that it was built to the measurements of Noah’s Ark.
  • Near to St Bartholomew’s Church is Bardsley’s Fish and Chip restaurant, lauded as one of the best in Brighton. Loved my chips and mushy peas takeaway from here so I can recommend.
  • Also nearby is the Brighton Open Market. Redeveloped in 2014, it is now home to 50 local producers and creators. Opposite The Gnarly Trunk gift shop you will find the Brighton Fairy Folly, created by artist David Mayhew as a home for ‘fairies, hobbits, mermaids and witches’.
  • Street Art fans will enjoy finding hidden gems all around Brighton.

*Something I’ve read on other blogs as a suggestion is a Brighton Sewers Tour but note that this is now permanently closed.

Getting Around Brighton

The key sites of Brighton are easily accessed on foot but there is also a Hop On Hop Off bus tours operating around the resort. Tickets cost £14 and can be bought here http://bit.ly/2YUGZ4M

Selection of pictures from my day trip:

I Believe In Nashville: A Travel Guide

  • Visited March – April 2019

‘I Believe In Nashville’ is the title of a mural by Adrien Saporiti that appears in various places around Nashville and frequently appears in tourists’ photos on Instagram. Meant as an expression of support, it’s unabashed celebration of the city captures how I felt after spending two months living and working there and was therefore the perfect title for my second, and final blog, on Nashville. For my first post, ‘Welcome to Nashville, y’all’ https://wp.me/p9u5hw-1C3 I covered the main sights of Downtown Nashville, which is where the majority of travellers visiting the city spend their time. As much fun as it can be to bar-hop down Broadway’s Honky Tonks, there is much more to Nashville than that and the locals tend to avoid going to Broadway as it’s full of drunk tourists. To really love and appreciate Nashville, you have to venture away from Downtown and check out the treasures of other neighbourhoods. This blog post is intended to give you an insight into other areas worth exploring and suggest highlights to inspire you. Enjoy! 🙂

MIDTOWN

Music Row is located in this area so this is where you can see some of the major recording studios as well as visit the famous Historic RCA Studio B, where the likes of Elvis have recorded – note that to visit Studio B, you have to buy an official tour through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Vanderbilt University is also in this area so you can find some cool bars and eateries offering food and drink deals to attract students. Highlights:

  • Patterson House – swanky bar. You will have to wait to get in as every customer is allocated a seat. It’s definitely worth the wait. Cosy and dimly-lit inside, your bartender will suggest drinks for you. Not cheap but good for a treat.
  • Whisky Jam at Winners Bar – this is a free concert on Mondays and Thursdays where people go to watch real talent. Go early as the venue gets packed out.
  • Parthenon – a full-scale replica of the original in Athens. An adult ticket is £6. Worth a visit as it is impressive.
  • Hattie B’s Hot Chicken – there are daily queues down the block for this eatery.
  • Buffalo Exchange – a hip store that buys, sells and trades vintage and used clothing for men and women. Great if you are looking for something unique and quirky.

*If you need to buy groceries in this area head to Piggly Wiggly.         

GULCH

A gentrified area of Nashville where you will find upscale boutiques, bars and restaurants. Highlights:

  • The Station Inn – a concert venue that hosts bluegrass acts.
  • Pemrose – I enjoyed a meal here with friends when it had just opened. A lovely seafood restaurant. I can recommend the mussels and fries appetiser.

*If you need to buy groceries in this area head to Turnip Truck.

HILLSBORO VILLAGE

Trendy area of Nashville with character. Highlights:

  • Belcourt Theatre – a nonprofit cinema that shows classic and arthouse films.
  • Biscuit Love – keen to try southern biscuits? Biscuit Love is the place for you. The original opened in the Gulch but the Hillsboro Village venue tends to be quieter. Open for breakfast until 3pm daily.
  • The Grilled Cheeserie – as I love a grilled cheese sandwich I couldn’t wait to eat here and it did not disappoint!

12SOUTH

Upscale neighbourhood with boutiques and hip eateries. Home to one of the most photographed ‘I Believe In Nashville’ murals (located opposite Draper James). Highlights:

  • Draper James – Reese Witherspoon’s clothing store.
  • The Flipside – relaxed place offering 22 versions of sautéed chicken.
  • Bartaco – popular taco spot.

GERMANTOWN

Upscale historical neighbourhood with many restored Victorian buildings. Worth a wander around. Highlights:

  • Monells – highly rated Southern dining. Come here hungry and ready to eat!
  • The Cupcake Collection – they lured me in with the promise of a free cupcake – I was given a small sample sweet potato cupcake to try – and I left with a delicious red velvet cupcake.

EAST NASHVILLE

East Nashville is the equivalent of New York’s East Village. Cool and quirky with lots of character. Its laid-back arty vibe makes this a popular place to live in Nashville. Highlights:

  • The 5 Spot – Sunday Night Soul is a bi-monthly event and Motown Monday is every Monday. The Sunday Night Soul event I attended was brilliant – amazing singing talent was showcased. £10 entry fee. Highly recommended.
  • 5 Points Pizza – lauded as the best pizza in Tennessee. I certainly enjoyed my pepperoni pizza and can recommend the garlic knots.
  • 5 Points Tacos – popular food truck with tasty tacos.
  • Ghot Wingz – no frills chicken wing eatery
  • Lipstick Lounge – Gay-friendly bar that welcomes everyone. Fun venue.
  • 4Way Market – massive craft beer selection on offer.
  • Attaboy – speakeasy no-menu cocktail bar. I didn’t make it here but I’m told by friends that it is great.
  • Shoppes on Fatherland – lovely collection of stores perfect for an afternoon mooch around.
  • Local Honey hair salon (download the 20% off voucher from their website before you go) – if you need to get your hair done in Nashville, I had an excellent experience here. Mackenzie, my stylist, was warm, friendly and she did a good job of my highlights.

Other Suggestions

  • Grand ‘Ole Opry – a must-do for country music fans
  • Opry Mills – huge outlet mall
  • The Hermitage – this historical mansion was the home of President Andrew Jackson
  • Belle Meade Plantation
  • Nashville Zoo

Useful websites worth checking out when planning a trip to Nashville:

Nashville Guru http://nashvilleguru.com/

Nashville Scene https://www.nashvillescene.com/

Blog about Nashville’s Street Art https://www.camelsandchocolate.com/nashville-murals/ Fantastic street art can be found all over the city and this blog gives a useful overview of key areas and standout pieces that should not be missed.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

 

Good Hotel London

  • Visited May 2019
  • Use the code STAYGOOD when booking direct on www.goodhotellondon.com to get 10% off your stay.
  • For every direct booking, £5 per night is donated to underprivileged kids through NGO Niños de Guatemala. 

Good Hotel London is a non-profit floating boat hotel currently located on the Royal Victoria Dock, next to the Emirates Air Line cable car, and within easy reach of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Royal Victoria station and London City Airport. Perfect for guests attending events at the O2 area and ExCel Exhibition Centre.

Originally moored in Amsterdam in 2015, and then towed to London in 2016, Good Hotel London will be moored here at its current location until December 2021. Good Hotel Antigua, located in a former private mansion, opened in 2015. Good Hotel founder Marten Dresen was travelling through Guatemala when he met a little girl with no shoes. This chance meeting sparked the concept; he founded NGO Niños de Guatemala and then created the innovative business model of Good Hotel. The mission of the Good Hotel is clear: to do good whilst offering a premium hotel experience. All profits are re-invested. The Good Training programme offers long-term unemployed hospitality training followed by on-the-job training in the hotels. Good Hotel also collaborates with local businesses and local charities.

Arriving at the hotel after an epic 48-hour journey from Nashville, USA, I was pleased to be greeted by warm and friendly staff, a quick check in process (you are asked to complete your details prior to arrival online) and a personalised welcome note in my room with two chocolate treats. The room itself was lovely: a compact double room with a waterfront view. The room had a desk, tea and coffee-making facilities and a nice range of toiletries in the bathroom. An intercom in the room allows guests to press a button for assistance, whether that be a request for extra quilts, a hairdryer, etc. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, allowing this travel-weary guest to have a great night’s sleep to combat jet lag. I woke up feeling beautifully rested and worry-free – a cute touch was the placement of two small hand-made Guatemalan worry dolls on my bed when I arrived. Tradition says you place them under your pillow to take all of your worries away and I couldn’t resist following this sweet tradition.   

The Living Room, the bar and restaurant on the premises, makes it easy for travellers to relax and enjoy themselves here. The open-plan design and long tables are intended to encourage guests to be social and interact with each other. I throughly enjoyed an evening meal of salmon and rose wine before giving in to the jet lag and grabbing some zzz in my room. The hotel also offers a rooftop bar but typical cold and rainy English weather prevented me from taking advantage during my stay.

The check out process was as simple as check in and you can leave your luggage for free if you wish to explore the London sights after checking out. You could perhaps take a ride on the Emirates Air Line – you can get a discounted ticket with the hotel.

Overall, I had a fantastic stay at Good Hotel London. I love the concept behind the business model and heartily recommend other travellers to support the good work they are doing in London and Guatemala. Stay good, do good.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

Chattanooga, USA

  • Visited April 2019

Keen to explore more of Tennessee after my positive experience of Nashville, I ended up in Chattanooga on a whim. Only a couple of hours drive from Nashville (plus a one hour time difference) and $13 dollars for a single journey on Mega Bus, Chattanooga is definitely worth visiting for those travellers who enjoy outdoor activities and the Arts. Chattanooga is known as The Scenic City as it is located at the base of Lookout Mountain; spectacular views and great opportunities for climbing and hiking can be found in the surrounding area. It is also nicknamed Gig City as the city boasts citywide 10 -gigabit-speed internet, and has become a prime location for Start Ups and entrepreneurs. Back in the day, the city had the first factory bottling Coca Cola and was notorious for its industrial pollution. That is no longer the case today. Residents are proud of the city’s transformation and it has been voted one of the best places to live in the US. It’s not hard to see why. It’s family friendly, green spaces abound, has some fab eateries and drinking spots, and it has a thriving arts and culture scene. As much as I loved my time in Nashville, for me, its smaller Tennessee cousin Chattanooga, was more my kind of place and I would happily live there.

The city is quite compact and walkable but helpfully, a free electric shuttle runs every 5 minutes from the Chattanooga Choo Choo (in Southside where I was based) up to the North Shore, to a station near to the popular Aquarium, which makes it easy to get from one end of the city to the other. You can also rent bikes from bike stations dotted throughout the city.

Suggested Activities

  • Explore Lookout Mountain. Trek through Rock City, visit Ruby Falls (an underground waterfall) or ride the Incline Railway (the world’s steepest, operating since 1895). Another attraction is Point Park, a 10-acre National Park.
  • Visit the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a hotel in the old Terminal Station. Get an instagrammable pic with the illuminated Chattanooga sign. Train enthusiasts can book to stay in one of the old train carriages.
  • Art lovers should check out the Hunter Museum of American Art and their sculpture park. Loved this place!
  • Nearby, you can also explore the Bluff View Arts District, where you will find the River Gallery and sculpture park, and the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.
  • Explore the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park. Download the app OtoCast before you go to listen to each of the artists explaining their sculptures.
  • Check out the public art in Southside or go on a street art hunt around the city – there are some amazing large scale murals to be found, such as ‘Traveling Musician’ by The Artist Seven on Passenger Street.
  • Hang out with pooches and have a beer at Barks and Beers.
  • Visit the Songbirds Guitar Museum – one of the world’s largest private collections of guitars.
  • Visit the African American Museum and Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
  • Go to the Aquarium.
  • Have a look around the vendors at Merchants on Main.
  • Eat a Moon Pie and read about the history of this iconic local treat at the Moon Pie General Store.

Food/Drink Recommendations

  • Next to the Chattanooga Choo Choo there are a couple of different bars and eateries, such as the Terminal Brewhouse. The Frothy Monkey is the perfect place to grab a coffee and people watch. 
  • Main Street Meats – a meat-eaters heaven! Whatever you choose to eat, wash it down with a Homegrown – a mix of Chattanooga whiskey reserve, Mexican coke and peanuts!
  • Flying Squirrel – cool place, offering reduced price drinks and tasty eats during happy hour. Guests staying at The Crash Pad get 20% discount on food.
  • The Pickle Barrel – great place to grab a snack and craft beer on the rooftop terrace. They even offer a fried Moon Pie dessert on the menu.
  • London Calling – classy speakeasy with great cocktails
  • Champy’s – iconic fried chicken venue. Delicious!
  • Taconooga – cheap and tasty tacos.
  • St John’s Restaurant – a good choice for a treat meal
  • Zarzour’s Cafe – this 100-year old food venue offers Southern-style home-cooked classics.
  • Chattanooga Whiskey – one for whiskey connoisseurs
  • Clumpies Ice Cream Co – popular ice cream parlour with an array of flavours.

Selection of pictures from my stay: