Burmese Flavours in Hong Kong City

The first course in “The Pansodan’s” tasting menu (counter-clockwise from the cracker): A savoury cracker, Burmese tomato paste on homemade honey toast, vegetable samosa, raw cauliflower and sweet peppers, and Burmese pâté

In this fast-paced, as daily demands in people’s work and personal lives seem never ending, the hyper-present middle class of Hong Kong society value unique and fulfilling experiences. Many of these experiences are centred around food. Over the decades, fine dining has become an increasingly popular way for the busy worker to travel to another country without having to deduct from their annual leave. And as more people seek out one-of-a-kind dining experiences, restaurants must regularly change their menus, carefully curate the ambience, and instill warm and professional manners in their staff to meet rising expectations.

Recently, I was able to take my taste buds on a journey. In recent years, the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar has opened to visitors. A unique location, Myanmar borders the Asian countries of India, China, Laos, Bangladesh and India, and is near Cambodia and Thailand. Surrounded by cultures with varied and complex flavour palettes, Burmese cuisine showcases the signature tastes of these cuisines, harmonizing them in a way wholly unique to Myanmar. Enjoying the dinnertime taster menu, below is an excerpt from my article about the experience, published in the Hong Kong magazine, “Culture”.

The main event: Melt-in-your-mouth tender sirloin steak paired with Burmese laphet and coriander relish

The typical lifespan of a popup restaurant is comparable to that of a mayfly. Culinary experiences can flit in and out of major cities from anywhere between a weekend to a handful of months. A collaboration between the JIA Group and Burmese entrepreneur Ivan Pun, “The Pansodan” pop-up nestled in Sai Ying Pun originally debuted for a three-month period ending on June 23. Popular demand saw this end date prolonged to the end of July, and once again to late October. Praised by online magazines and foodie bloggers alike, “The Pansodan” is an offshoot of a Burmese Brassie in Yangon – another of Ivan Pun’s culinary projects – that bears the same name from the historic road it resides on. While most pop ups come and go at the blink of an eye, “The Pansodan” has already extended its lifespan twice. As Myanmar’s borders open to more visitors, “The Pansodan” provides a unique cultural insight into a country whose flavour palette is influenced by its neighbours – China, India, Bangladesh, Laos, and Thailand.

Like most pop-up restaurants in Sai Ying Pun, “The Pansodan” is a hole-in-the-wall whose entrance lays near the end of an alley. A relaxed three-minute walk from the MTR station, coupled with its delicious food and it is no wonder that when we dined at the restaurant, it was near capacity despite it being a Tuesday night. Upon entering, “The Pansodan’s” ambience immediately sets guests at ease. A low-level warm glow permeates the space from the ceiling lights, affixed with Asian-inspired fishing baskets. The hand-painted wallpapers feature jungle flora and fauna by local artist Laura Cheung of Lala Curio. Rattan panels, cane chairs, and red banquettes point to the traditional brasserie concept that inspired Pun’s design choices. Attentive servers add to the charming atmosphere, happily answering any questions guests may have and promptly refilling water glasses before customers think to ask.

To enjoy the full flavour palette that “The Pansodan” has to offer, we ordered a Tasting Menu – a five-course medley of appetizers, salads, curry, noodles, biryani, steak, and dessert. As we waited for our dining experience to begin, we sipped on the eponymous cocktail. Comprised of Absolut Vodka, lemongrass, lime, pineapple, and basil, the sweetness of the lemongrass and pineapple claimed the initial impression of the drink, tinged with the aromatic flavour of basil and lime’s signature acidity. The first course arrived soon after our drinks were served.

Drinkception: Having “The Pansodan” at “The Pansodan”

Open until the end of September, “The Pansodan” also offers an expansive breakfast taster menu on weekends, which is composed of more than six taster dishes and bottomless champagne. For those looking to broaden their taste palettes, Ivan Pun’s “The Pansodan” is the way to go!

Experiencing the Magic of Studio Ghibli

In its thirty-four years of history, Studio Ghibli has enchanted its viewers with its persevering message of hope through adversity, strength in difficult times, and conviction when all seems lost. Framing complex topics such as environmentalism, personal identity, and the preservation of culture and tradition in worlds of magic, spirits, and anthropomorphic animals, Hayao Miyzaki helps his audience understand the doublespeak of politicians through fantasy, and shows us time and again how important it is to believe in yourself and fight for positive change.

From now until November 3rd, FTLife Tower in Kowloon Bay is holding a two-floor exhibition of some of Studio Ghibli’s most famed works. Containing detailed dioramas and life-sized models of well-known characters and sets, “The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation” allows us to step into the immersive worlds that coloured and shaped many childhoods since the mid-eighties. Listed below are five iconic scenes brought to life in the Studio Ghibli exhibit.

A Witch and Her Cat inside Gütiokipänjä Bakery

While Miyazaki made the young witch and her cat recognizable worldwide, Kiki’s origins stem from a Japanese book bearing the same name as the film. Set in a fictional Northern European town, location scouting was mainly completed in Stockholm and Visby (both Swedish areas), explaining the island town’s distinctly modern German aesthetic. Gütiokipänjä Bakery, a name melding together the Japanese words “bakery” (“panya”), and “rock, paper, scissors” (“jankenpon”), was a place that became home to the wandering witch. The sudden decision to help the bakery owner return an item to a customer would launch the entrpreneurial girl’s delivery service.

Understanding the need to pay her dues, the exhibit’s own Gütiokipänjä Bakery shows Kiki and her companion, Jiji, going through a slow shift – something that people of all ages can relate to. No detail is overlooked in this rendition. To the far left, a blue cash register sits beside a vase containing two sunflowers and sprigs of baby’s breath. More flowers and plants rest behind and beside the cashier table. Mouthwatering loaves of bread are on display by the window, in the display counter, and behind the working girl. The sign for her delivery service hangs on the windowfront. The bakery’s door, spring green in colour, shows flour, milk, jams, and baguettes, neatly arranged on a wooden shelving unit.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Another adaptation of a children’s book, both versions are set in Ingary, a fictional monarchy located somewhere in the southern United Kingdom. A hodgepodge combination of metal and small single-storey red-roofed houses, the behemouth mobile home is kept together and powered by the fire demon Calcifer, whose physical form is chained to the fireplace. The world-unto-itself that is the moving castle lumbers along on short, spindly legs. Its façade, a crude imitation of a face, adds to the mystery surrounding the wizard, Howl.

No exhibit that includes this film would be complete without the colossal residence. Every angle of the moving castle’s model speaks of its miscare. Different sections are coloured in subtly *different tones of grey, copper, and mould-like blues and green. Like its animation counterpart, the castle is a blend of sharp angles and curves. It is at once machine and monster. The peculiar home is immediately out-of-place with the pastoral scenery. Behind, snow-topped mountains and a deep blue sky lets viewers know they are seeing countryside springtime. In the foreground, fluffy white sheep are clustered outside of a farmer’s house, a quaint abode with a thatched roof.

A Spirit on the Train

Tried to show “No-Face” the view. Like Queen Victoria, he was not amused!

An original creation by Miyazaki, Spirited Away falls into the coming-of-age genre, one that Studio Ghibli uses time and again. Set in the spirit world, the young protagonist Chihiro must rescue her parents in this world of characters that have become consumed by materialism and avarice. She works Yubaba, the owner of a bathhouse for spirits, a powerful witch who transfigured Chihiro’s gluttonous parents into pigs. It is here that she meets “No-Face”, a spirit that reflects the personalities of those around him, becoming corrupted by the greedy workers at the bathhouse.

It is a thirty-minute wait to pose with “No-Face”, and there isn’t a single visitor that passes the opportunity. The spirit, so volatile and destructive in the bathhouse, is now still and calm as the train he is riding heads closer to the home of Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister. The long bench that “No-Face” sits on is a soft red velvet. To the far left, a comically large package sits. Below it is another package, both being delivered to some unknown location. Outside, the sunset is coloured in pastel pinks and purples. The shifting light of the ocean’s reflection is imitated through clever lighting.

The Fall of Laputa

A visual steampunk fantasy come alive, “Castle in the Sky” is an action-packed thriller that warns of the corruption of government and corporate entities in the pursuit of valuable resources. It is a reminder for humanity to remember its connection to the earth, and not abandon it in godly pursuits of power. Sheeta, an orphaned descendent of the Laputan royals, is in possession of an amulet containing “volucite” cystals. These crystals keep flying cities in the air, and their power leads to Sheeta and her friend Pazu being chased by a government agent and air pirates.

Tinted in a dramatic red light, the scene depicted is Laputa, the legendary castle in the sky, in flames as pirates and soldiers alike have opened fire. Sheeta stands on a collapsing column, in the clutches of a robot that is part of ancient Laputan technology. As the last remnants of the sky city fall, Sheeta and Pazu reach out for each other, the pair happily starting anew back on land.

A Very Fluffy Spirit

Another addition to Studio Ghibli’s collection of coming-of-age films, “My Neighbour Totoro” explores the double challenges of the illness of a loved one and moving to a new home. Set in postwar rural Japan, sweeping landscapes are strongly featured. The steady signs of a country regaining its prosperity after loss, audience members experience the simplistic joys of countryside living with the protagonists Satsuki and her younger sister, Mei. Following two adorable, large eared spirits to a large, hollowed camphor tree, here the characters are introduced to Totoro, a gigantic, rotund grey and white creature who speaks by bellowing out roars that make little Mei laugh.

Depicted in the exhibit is the scene where the sisters and Totoro wait at the bus stop for a giant cat that doubles as a magical flying bus. The soft pattering of the rain plays around patient visitors as they wait for their turn to photograph with the pair. Low lighting emphasises the night, and the falling rain is cleverly shown through active bluish-white light streaming behind the characters.

Things to Know Before You Go

Like & Share

Just before entering FTLife Tower, you’ll be asked to like and share the event’s Facebook page. Doing so gives you the choice of receiving either a paper crown or paper fan to commemorate the experience. Both show Totoro’s silhouette, within which famous scenes from Studio Ghbili films are arranged in neat squares and rectangles. Given the Hong Kong humidity, I opted for the fan.

Free Wifi

Many visitors want to capture their experiences and post them live, and “The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation” is happy to help. Free wifi lets people update to Instagram minutes after posing with their favourite characters, letting more people know about the nostalgia-filled exhibit.

Get Ready to Shop

At the end of the visually enthralling exhibition lies a pop-up store filled with Studio Ghibli memorabilia. Everyday items such as towels, kitchenware, stationary, and bags are made utterly adorable with characters such as Jiji and Totoro. Hyper-realistic plush toys, puzzles, and enamel pins are too cute to resist. Of all the people I saw in the store, only a handful left without purchasing a thing. Most bought at least three or four, unable to make a choice between a Totoro-themed face towel and a life-sized plush version of Jiji’s girlfriend, a snow-white cat. After battling between several items, I finally left with an enamel pin of Totoro wielding an umbrella as he roared.

If you love the intricate worlds and unique characters of Studio Ghibli films, this is one exhibit you won’t want to miss!

The Fairytale that is the Lynn Glen Trail

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Sometimes what the soul needs is a daydream escape. Finally able to breathe after an onslaught of deadlines, we took to the road and made our way towards the coast. The roar of city life stripped away with every mile that we placed between us and Glasgow. Pop throwbacks from the 2000s and early 2010s blared in the car as I picked each song, connecting them to the car’s speakers through the magic that is Bluetooth. Singing along to the likes of Selena Gomez and Avicii, we ran through all the songs that had caught our generation by storm all those years ago

As we drove into Dalry, rolling mountains and staggering fields were sprawled as far as the eye could see. Even with three years of living in the UK, the beauty of pastoral life still brought a smile to my face. My friend chuckled as a I cheerily yelled out “Sheep!” or “Horse!” every time I caught sight of the farm animals. Reaching our destination, we parked the car near Lynn Bridge, a quaint stone construction, and headed towards the river.

Having parked at the end of the trail, we decided to start there, too. Spending the afternoon on the Lynn Glen Trail, five stunning sights make the charming walk a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Faerie Doors

Existing in the histories of many cultures worldwide, the physical forms and purposes of faeries differ between countries. To understand how long these magical beings have been part of humanity’s story of the universe, it is important to note that the term is derived from the Latin word “fata”. This refers to “The Fates”, three goddesses of Greek mythology that spun the string of individual destinies, determining the length of people’s lives before they are born. In this context, we can understand that faeries are mystical beings that can comprehend our world in ways we can’t even fathom. One of those ways is their ability to travel between realms.

Through our walk, we were greeted by the sight of faerie doors. No taller than the length of our hands, each door was carefully hand-painted with the whimsical charm of childhood. According to myth, faerie doors are used as a means for humans to communicate with the spirited creatures. While we didn’t have any faerie sightings, we admired the tiny offerings of coins and sparkly knick-knacks that rested beside the homemade doors.

A Picturesque Cascade

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The largest tributary of nearby River Garnock, the side stream rushed on our left side as path twisted and turned with the steep cliff faces. On the right, statuesque trees stood tall and proud. Gnarled roots gave the impression of bowing, and sturdy branches jutted out over the path, their foliage providing a lovely shade. Our pace slowed to a snail’s pace as we admired each new perspective of Garnock’s feeder.

A Well-Ribboned Tree

Further along, we passed a moss-covered tree dressed in colourful ribbons. A handmade sign sat on one of the branches, declaring it to be the “Wishing Tree”. Ribbons are a common item for humans to gift faeries. Their heavy presence in on the trail suggested a long history of odd phenomena in the area explained away with the winged firms. Without ribbons of our own, we passed the tree hoping that the dreams attached to it would come true.

Lynn Falls

As we drew closer to the waterfall, the river began to stagger, preparing itself for the inevitable drop. Glances through tangled tree branches amazed us. What was revealed near the end of the path was more than we had hoped for. As if set into a small staircase, the river poured over levels of stone, past a toppled tree coated green. The water by the edge of the fall was surprisingly calm. Wanting to enjoy the full view, we waded through the water. The sight was worth the caution. Looking back at the river, skinny trees framed either side. Rushing water made for a stunning contrast in tones. The fallen tree called out to me, and I answered. Walking its length with careful steps and airplane arms, my mind was brought back to younger, carefree years.

A Charming Waterfall

Past Lynn Falls, a subsection of the river flows into what is adorably known as Lynn Spout, which ends in an impressively sharp 90-degree drop. Looking back, water falls off of staggered rock formations. The precision of their design gives the distinct impression that they were crafted and not naturally formed. We wandered around the area, climbing along the bridge-like form of a fallen tree. Walking through the rushing water, visitors would be wise to either tread carefully on bare feet or wear water shoes with reliable grips.

Things to Know Before You Go

Wear Form-Fitting Clothes

While much can be seen on the main path, we found that most of the stunning views could only be captured by climbing over rocks, carefully treading on fallen leaves, and weaving through numerous branches. That day, I was wearing a long coat that snagged on everything. Physical mementos of the excursion stayed with me in the form of leaves, spiderwebs, and bits of twig. To avoid turning your clothes into makeshift birds nests, wear form-fitting attire.

Make Sure You’ve Got Grippy Shoes

Underestimating the depth of a pool of water, my friend almost sprained his ankle, if not for the incredible luck of course-correcting and stumbling himself upright when he realised his mistake. Granted, he was wearing slip-on boots with smooth soles. It wasn’t the best choice for a day out, and he’s since stuck to trainers whenever we meet up.

When nighttime drew, we reluctantly left the trail behind. Singing along to old Selena Gomez songs, our expressions were bright with the fun we had on the faerie’s trail.

The Long-Ago Charms of Valletta

Starting off our island vacation with the slow, easy pace of a turtle with time, we began our first full Maltese day at noon. Leaving our accommodations, the weather was wonderful. The sun was high in the sky, warm rays of light causing us to shed off our coats. A strong wind kept things interesting. In response, our steps were steadier, filled with the determined purpose of people with places to go and things to see. We joined many others in waiting for the ferry to Valletta. Arriving every fifteen minutes, we had just enough time to spread our arms wide and engage in photosynthesis. Even in the middle of December, many people were exploring the beautiful island. I couldn’t blame them. While temperatures remained comparable to Europe, the sun and the stunning sights made it feel like summer. The ferry ride was all we could have hoped for. Short and stunning, at the low cost of 2.80€ for a return ticket, we certainly got our money’s worth simply by wandering around.

Valleta is a district to be enjoyed at all angles. From street view to sky, there is always something to captivate you. The rolling nature of Valletta’s steep streets gave us a proper workout. We were both glad to have worn shoes fit for the task. Our walk around the district comprised of many short breaks. Stopping to admire and capture the beauty of its architecture, the day was spent discussing our favourite parts of each building and imagining the charmed lives of the people who had the good fortune to call this island home.

Alongside exquisite residential architecture, Valletta is a place proudly preserving its cultural past. Of these gems, our favourite was St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Located in the city centre, the Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral was constructed in the late 16th century between 1572 and 1577. Unique to St. John’s are its inlaid marble tombstones. Covering most of the flooring, these tombstones celebrate the lives of Knights of the Order, as well as illustrious aristocratic families of Europe. Immaculately preserved, these marble slabs are cordoned off, lest the details get worn away over time.

Most impressive were the portraits detailing the ceiling. Framed in gold and with shocking detail and expressive colours noticeable even at ground level, the ceilings were a tribute to the artistic talents of the 16th century, a solemn nod to the painters and carpenters that made such awe inspiring works bring even more life and admiration into these houses of worship.

After a day of admiring the beauty that Valletta had to offer, we stepped back in time for dinner. A space enshrined in the beauty and simplicity of the 1940s, Jubilee’s Café was exactly what we needed. Reasonably priced, most of the dishes came at under 10€ each. I ordered the lampuki – a fish native to Malta’s waters , more commonly referred to as mahi-mahi – pie and an infusion of ginger, lemon, and green tea. After a long day of walking and photographing, this hearty meal hit the spot. So hungry after our wandering, we finished our meals in half an hour, heartily thanking the staff for the energising meal.

If cities that belong in fantasy novels are your cup of tea, Valletta is definitely a place to see.

The Romance of Classic Stationary: Oxford’s Creative Gem

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Taking its visitors into a world that blends the beauty of English and Italian design; Scriptum Fine Stationary has proudly showcased the best of independent European craft in the world of stationary since 2003. Moving to Turl Street, their current location, which I happily lost myself for an hour, Scriptum’s dedication to classic craftsmanship is something to be revered.

Selling personal stationary largely sourced from small businesses in England and Italy, the romance of its timeless objects emanates throughout the cosy space. On the first floor, feathered ink pens, dyed marbles, leather bound journals, and ornate magnifying glasses bring to mind polished oak desks and wide windows overlooking the countryside.

The aesthetic joys continue on the second floor. Hanging models of hot air balloons hover overhead. Venetian masks, in a myriad of colours and sizes, are neatly arranged on a wooden shelf in the side. Decorated papers intended for personal letters are bordered with neat swirls and blooming flowers. Most exciting, a series of vibrant folios stand on display.

Their spines decorated with swirling text and enchanting illustrations, it’s difficult to ignore their siren call. So I didn’t. Choosing Volume One of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales from Around the World, I left looking forward to the fantasy realm Scriptum had made available to me.

Baguio: A Cloud and a Cafe

True to its name, Mt. Cloud Bookshop is a bit of a trek. Made up of rolling hills and winding streets, the walk to Mt. Cloud is a brisk one requiring equal parts energy and enthusiasm. Fortunately we had a hearty breakfast that morning, and are all bibliophiles obsessed with expanding our collections. The sun poked in and out of clouds all day. This, however, did nothing to disguise its presence from us. A steady heat radiated through the city, pressing onto us as we made our pilgrimage to Mt. Cloud. When we reached our destination, it was well worth the effort. The entrance was located past a staircase heading underground. Lush flora grew tall and proud across from the open door.

And inside it was beautiful. Books lined the walls in neat shelves, a flurry of colours ranging in size and length. At the end of bookshop, the entire wall was dedicated to children’s books. Gorgeous stationary stood to the side of the front door. Art books and zines rested at the foot of the stairs. Up the staircase, Filipino graphic novels and poetry was set across the banister. Biographies, anthologies, and international literature are neatly arranged on the second floor. Mt. Cloud graphic tees hang on the balcony, proud flags to this indie store. Pouring over the many choices, I was drawn to the anthology collections and poetry. Tackling universal issues of love, pain, and a sense of belonging, I eventually chose not one, but five books. My wallet cried but my soul sung.

Leaving Mt. Cloud before I succumbed to the siren calls of even more novels, we headed off in search of a light lunch. Little Leigh Cafe was perfect. Located at the entrance to Honeymoon, Little Leigh is a doll’s dream. The dining area, on the top floor, is set in soothing pastel tones. The tables dominating the main area are low to the ground in perfect imitation of a dollhouse. Immediately, I thought this would be the perfect place for a children’s tea party.

The fun doesn’t end there. More than a pop of colour, a canary yellow ladder leads up to an attic space. Carpeted flooring feels like clouds. The low, slanted ceiling is answered with a low table and cozy dark brown cushions, giving the space a casual feel. A small window floods natural light into the space. During the evenings, two lamps are set here to create ambiance.

Ordering an ube milkshake and a chosilog (Chorizo and tapsilog, a meal incorporating garlic fried rice and a fried egg with various meat), the savoury tones of the chosilog balanced well with the light and sweet milkshake.

Leaving the cafe in happy spirits, we walked through the rain and onto our friend’s house. Our food babies were properly formed by this point, and we all dreamed of a lazy siesta.

Dublin: A Ha’penny for Your Thoughts

Photo credit: Rachel Lee

Starting off our day with Tuesday To-Do’s, my friend and I headed out of our Airbnb. Located within a ten-minute walk of the downtown centre, we were amazed at how navigable the city was. With its main points of interest within walking distance, we were pleased with our decision to visit Southern Ireland’s capital. River Liffey, dividing the north and south sections of the city, was a dark road of choppy waters raging on with the wind. Located beside Ha’Penny Bridge, Winding Stair called to us. With a bookstore on the ground floor and a restaurant on the floor above, the upmarket restaurant and the rustic bookstore offer a perfect balance of class and casual.

Arriving shortly before the lunch rush, we were able to enjoy the ambience undisturbed. Choosing a seat by the wide windows, they offered a view of the river and the streets below. Our waiter, a tall young man with a charming Irish brogue, provided us with menus and gave us a moment to mull over our options. Both obsessed with food, it was near impossible to choose. With tantalising starters, savoury mains, and mouthwatering desserts, we were at a loss. Opting for the 2-course special each, we both went for a main course and dessert. She ordered herself the blonde ray wing and a vegan bar with sorbet. The dessert was not included in the menu, but was gathered from their affiliate restaurant, The Woollen Mills. I enjoyed the free-range chicken and Guinness cake.

The chicken was nothing short of perfection. Buttery smooth and supported by a medley of vegetables and black pudding slivers, the chicken was hands down the best I’ve had so far. The wonderful main course was followed by a moist slice of Guinness cake. At once moist and firm, the top of the cake slice was coated with icing. This sugary topping helped to balance the flavour profile of the dessert, able to satisfy both savoury and sweet tastes.

After the meal, we headed downstairs into the bookstore. A cosy setup of popular, independent, and secondhand books, natural light filtered in through the wide windows. A table proudly displayed works on feminism. From here, I chose a book titled, Forgotten Women; The Scientists. Crediting women’s achievements in the STEM field, I was eager to begin reading. The bookstore also contained a plethora of books relating to Irish folklore and legends, regaling the ancient traditions that have both pervaded and faded. At the back of the store stood the secondhand collection – an impressive setup of packed shelves and neatly categorised genres. If I had more money and luggage space, it would have been impossible to make me leave.

Edinburgh: Satisfying Art and Appetite

Through thick and thin, good times and bad, friends and family will stand by your side. Eager to show my support, I headed up to Edinburgh to participate in my friend’s end-of-year art workshop. Reaching the fair capital, I arrived at her apartment to find the spirited woman feverishly working on the speech to steer her installation. With her older brother visiting as well, the two of us managed to convince the talented artist to take a food break.

Heading to Soderberg, light shone into the spacious café through its glass walls. The Norwegian cafe, fitted with light-coloured furniture and hardworking twenty-somethings, was a haven of understated elegance. Across from the cash register sat a neat array of patisseries. A beautiful range of bright colours and soft scents, I politely ushered the customer standing behind me to go ahead. Finally deciding on a berry twist, I rounded the meal off with a salmon toast and an Americano. The three of us sat behind a wide set of square-shaped bookshelves *set with works ranging from art to literature. So delicious were our meals that the three of us were barely able to maintain conversation. The subtle flavour of the salmon was enhanced with lemon juice. On the bread, rocket and soft cheese gave the entire dish a salty tang that made me wish I’d ordered more. What little conversation we had was a quick game of catch up, unassuming questions made brilliant with kindness and genuine curiosity. Conscious of the time, we rushed through the last of our food and drink.

Her show, held in the Hunter Building of the University of Edinburgh, satirised the modern middle-class obsession with yoga and self care. Referring to herself as ‘Prophet Profit’, she encouraged us to attain our true selves, as per the will of ‘The Great Avocado’. Stained glasswork of Prozac pills and avocados hung around the room. The delicate pieces clashed with the gym equipment set around the studio. Throughout her workshop the Prophet encouraged her audience to subscribe to a discounted membership to continue achieving enlightenment. Feeding us vitamin D tablets and guacamole with tortilla chips, the entire experience was surreal. Ending with the mantra, repeated throughout the show, ‘Ready and Ripe’, the audience gave her a hearty round of applause before purchasing the merchandise she displayed – glasswork Prozac pills and one-of-a-kind single line sketches.

The next day, my friend and I made the most of a bright day and our own sunny dispositions. After an invigorating breakfast of muesli, apple slices and peanut butter, we changed into hiking gear and headed off to Arthur’s Seat. Well, she changed into yoga gear and trainers and I changed into a dress and tights. In my defence, I also wore my trusty Doc Martens. The main peak in Holyrood Park, the hill stands at 822 feet. Its romantic name has undetermined origins. Two popular theories are that either the hill derives its name from King Arthur legends, or it is a transformation of the Scottish Gaelic Àrd-na-Said, or ‘Height of Arrows’. With the lovely weather and summer-blue skies, families, friends, and photographers flocked to Arthur’s Seat. A drone flew overhead, capturing the beautiful landscape. Conserving our strength for the uphill climb, we didn’t say much during our walk. The most popular topic of conversation was agreeing that we both needed to work out more. Finally reaching the summit, we sat side by side on a low boulder and practically inhaled our water before taking photographs. The walk downhill required more attention, our feet sliding against shifting pebbles and tricky dust. Leaving largely unscathed (save for one scraped knee), we were on the hunt for sustenance.

The Edinburgh Coffee Lounge did not disappoint. Located on St. Patrick Street, the café had a tantalising list of cold drinks and plenty of delicious-looking foods on display. The presence of the owner’s adorable dog only heightened the experience. Ordering a chicken, avocado and tomato sandwich with an iced frappuccino, we basked in the sun and took our time with our savoury meals. When finished, we headed to the last place on the agenda – Lighthouse Bookshop. An open space with neatly organised and clearly labeled sections, Lighthouse Bookshop caters to a wide variety of readers. Sections include feminism, business and technology, plays, cooking, and personal growth. Purchasing The Surface Breaks: A Reimagining of the Little Mermaid, I guiltily admit to the sin of judging the book by its cover. But what a captivating cover it is!

Saying our goodbyes, we promised to message each other that night and headed our separate ways. Watching the Scottish landscape melt away, I missed the city immediately.

Newcastle: When You Seek City Calm

Staying overnight at a friend’s house on Monday, our Tuesday began with homemade omelettes and green teas. Energised, we hopped onto the Metro in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and headed into the city centre. Using a blend of Google maps and backtracking, we wandered through the city streets. Admiring the low buildings and preserved details, my friend slowly walked beside me, an amused smile on his face as I stopped every few minutes to photograph another captivating façade. As such, it took us an unnaturally long time to arrive at The Castle. Neither of us minded. It was a beautiful day for a slow walk. The sun set everything aglow, covering us in its warmth.

The very landmark that gave Newcastle its name, in circa 1080 AD Normans had constructed a wooden fortress in this space. Robert Curthose’s castle, being a status symbol and a statement of authority, was a Norman seat of power. From there, they controlled the surrounding lands and people. Less than a century later, between 1172 and 1177, King Henry II commissioned the construction of the stone fortification on the site of Curthose’s castle. We wandered through the small landmark, admiring the preservationist work done to the site. Passing a film crew working on a Newcastle tourism advert, we continued on our way.

Walking on cobblestone and pavement, we headed off towards the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas. An eleventh century edifice, the Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Newcastle. Upon entering the Cathedral, marble monuments greeted us on the left side. These tall statues celebrate three influential Newcastle men of the 1700s to 1800s. From left to right, these men are James Archbold, Robert Hopper Williamson, and Si Matthew White Ridley. Dying in 1840, James Archbold’s sister commissioned his monument to commemorate his civic duties as sheriff of Newcastle. Robert Hopper Williamson, his image on the left, was portrayed in his working clothes. A judge of forty years, he maintained records of Newcastle’s civil and criminal trials. Sir Matthew White Ridley, depicted as Roman senator on the right side, followed in his father’s footsteps and became Mayor of and MP for Newcastle.

The organ, a wood and chrome construction standing from the floor to ceiling, was inscribed with the Latin phrase, ‘Omnis spiritus laudet dominum alleluia’. This translates into ‘Every breath, praise the lord, alleluia’. Atop the organ sits three golden angels. Two calmly lounge and gesture to the angel above them, who holds a trumpet up to the sky.

After wandering up and down the cathedral, we headed off deeper into the city centre. Passing by the orange and blue Travelling Man, we both immediately did a double take and walked back to admire the window display. Bright balloons and unique cover art beckoned to us. We would’ve been fools to ignore it. Holding a wide selection of graphic novels, the store is a treasure trove. Mangas line entire shelves, both revolving and wooden. Marvel and DC is a staple must. Board games and DnD texts rest at the back. At the far left side, independent graphic novels are organised by category and author name. Opposite this, a small collection of indie zines created by local artists sits proudly. After purchasing a copy of ‘Beauty’ by Jeremy Haun, we popped into Mark Toney.

A café, restaurant, and ice cream parlour all in one, Toney’s was established in 1892. The interior, wooden furniture and soft lighting, gives its customers a warm, nostalgic feeling. The waitresses are kind and patient. This was a godsend, as I took forever to choose an ice cream flavour. Settling on cherry sorbet, the treat was unbelievably light and flavourful. We spent the rest of our day in here, marvelling at how it slowly filled up with people who were clearly regulars, exchanging witty repartee with the staff. Saying our thanks to the waitresses, we left, discussing how enjoyable it would be to be greeted like a friend at your favourite hangout spot.

Newcastle, providing spaces to catch your breath and fall into a sense of familiarity, was a lovely Tuesday away.

Leicester: Quaint Walks and Unique Shops

When you can reach your friend that lives a thousand miles away with the click of a video icon, in-person interaction becomes less and less of a priority. And in so, much more treasured. Starting these Tuesday Travels, I slowly began to see old friends all over the UK. Before meeting up, we had chatted about eventually meeting up, but never sorted out the details. But now, traveling all over once a week, it’d be a crime not to see them. This week, the trip to Leicester reunited me with a dear university friend.

Staying over at her place in Hinckley, just outside of Leicester, we began our Tuesday with a stroll. Hollycroft Park, decorated in the fashion of 1930s recreational spaces, was immaculately maintained. Exotic flowers, bats, and local wildlife reside in the sprawling space. A quaint amphitheater lay at the heart of the public space, a perfect location for summer performances. The sun played hide and seek with us as we wandered around, and a cool breeze kept our walking brisk.

Loving the rare English sun, we were in the mood for iced drinks and some more relaxed strolling. And so, we headed off into Leicester. Walking down New Walk, I was amazed by the wide widths of the paths and the simple yet elegant nature of the buildings on either side. Tall trees swayed in the wind, the branches rustling against each other for soothing background noise. Sunlight filtered through the leaves, students and teachers alike chatting happily as they went on their way. Though we were mere meters from the main road, all we heard were the sounds of nature and fellow walkers. Turning into the A6, we sought shelter in a cosy café.

6 Degrees Coffee House was quiet with the determination of hardworking students. Comfortable seating, wide tables, fast Wi-Fi, and many charger portals made it obvious why so many students flocked here. Not to mention the menu. Fitted with food and drink of the sweet and savoury variety, my friend and I agonised over the menu for a good five minutes – much to the barista’s amusement. After much deliberation and back and forth, we finally placed our orders. On the agreement that we would share, my friend purchased a brie and bacon sandwich and a caramel frappe. I had the falafel and hummus sandwich and a blueberry smoothie. We shared our meals the way close friends do, offering each other the first bite and sip of our own purchases. The bacon and brie, brilliantly smooth from the cheese, also had a salty bite from the bacon. On the other hand, the falafel sandwich was surprisingly moist, in decent proportion with the hummus. With the sun giving us summer vibes in spring, we quickly finished our drinks to quench our thirst. The smoothie was the freshest I’ve ever tasted, and the caramel frappe was a subtly sweet drink so good that I ordered one to take away.

Plenty energised by our two walks, we headed into the city centre with a mind to help the local economy. Heading away from the big brands lining High Street, we fell into the Royal Arcade. Here lay a number of unique shops, and one Irregular Choice. A lover of all things unique, our eyes poured over the quirky designs and the attention to detail each one contained. Much mental anguish occurred before I decided on a gorgeous pair of pink heels called “Good Karma”. A good sign, surely. After leaving the store, we headed further into the Royal Arcade. Both proud bibliophiles, an hour vanished in Maynard & Bradley. Stacked floor to ceiling with a plethora of secondhand and antique books, the store also boasted an impressive collection of prints, graphic novels, and autographed photos of celebrated people. We marvelled over classic fairytale series we’d read as children, and the surprising volume of fantasy and sci-fi books they had in store. Leaving with a fantasy novel about the Norse Gods and a vintage print of a tiger, we turned into Silver Street in search of vintage love. We weren’t disappointed.

Vintage Space, chock full of the best of the nineties fashion, was a retro dream. The neon lights, throwback décor, and bright colour palette decorating the wall immediately lifted our already happy spirits. After trying on a few pieces and singing along to some old tunes, we continued on. Though nothing fit us there at the time, we both loved the atmosphere and promised to visit together again. Finishing at Very Bazaar, the bohemian aesthetic and sweet aroma of flowery incense had an immediate calming effect. Selling carved wooden boxes, intricately designed room screens, gemstones, jewellery, and so much more, if we had the time, we could’ve easily lost a day in the store. As it was, we spent fifteen minutes frantically rushing about and eagerly calling to each other, showing a new exciting find each time. We had to rush to make it to the train station on time. Laughing and barely able to catch our breath, we parted with a warm embrace, our friendship stronger than ever.