29 August 2014

24 Hours in Warsaw - And An Inglot Makeup Haul!

War is the darkest of thieves. It leaves behind a path of loss, despair, resentment and destruction.
Being a city that has seen more than its fair share of the aforementioned, one might expect and understand Warsaw to be bitter, grey and resentful. But despite its tremendous losses sustained in the World Wars, this city is a beautiful bubble of hope, light and colour.
By the end of World War 2, 85% of the city had been destroyed in targeted attacks by Nazi Germany. 
I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine your city with only 15% of it left intact.

This picture shows the same location in 1938 and again in 1945.

Post-war, difficult decisions were made as to how to rebuild the city, and the Medieval old town area reconstructed almost entirely on their original plans. The rest of the city was built with a newer, Soviet-influenced design.
Walking around the new Warsaw, one of the latest destinations on our flying network, it seems to be an ambitious city, buzzing with energy, education and prospect. You get the feeling the place is breathing, the people want more and many businesses are investing in what is a bright, emerging market. 
I can't imagine the city as it was post-war. On this day I see open-air galleries, crowds of stylish young professionals, concept cafes, and street artists entertaining on the cobbled walkways.

As I wandered the sights in a somewhat sleep-deprived daze, I did think it would make a beautiful backdrop to some dreamy retro fashion shoot. I’ve posted a few of my favourite places here…

11 August 2014

Humani-tees are Always in Style... Style Ideas with Frontline Fashion

I love the idea of multi-tasking. However, when faced with the reality, I have to concede to being extremely bad at it. I am much faster doing just one thing at a time. 
Imagine the little dance I did then when I discovered this triple-whammy. Not only can I add a simple, stylish tee to my wardrobe, I am also supporting the rebuilding of the still-ruined Haiti island, and in order to facilitate the delivery of said t-shirt, I get to have lunch with a very hardworking, fundraising genius, I mean, friend of mine. 
Melissa Gilchrist Higgins is a lovely, Scottish ex-PR manager living in Dubai, and the brains behind Frontline Fashion. Her aim is to raise non-profit funds to support the orphanage her work to date has helped build, and to continue to show support to the people and namely, children, of Haiti. Another disaster zone which has slipped away from mainstream news, and consequently, our minds. 
It’s a truly wonderful venture and as I really can’t give it enough credit here, check out her amazing website… www.frontlinefashion.com

My personal favourites are the t-shirts... an edgy alternative to a plain tee. 
Clash with prints for a shopping date or...

8 August 2014

St Petersburg, Russia: Where Nice Things Happen To Nice People

I never imagined I would like this city this much.

Like a dreamy illustration from a fairytale storybook, this palace-strewn ex-swampland is up there on my list of most beautiful cities, beating Paris, Madrid and London! It’s a definite on my want-to-go-back–there list.

We flew into Pulkovo Airport in the late afternoon, and I planned my tourist geekery from our hotel on Nevsky Prospekt in what feels like the heart of St Petersburg. Laying out the map, I pinpointed the must-sees; the Church on Spilled Blood, Neva River boat cruise, Peter and Paul’s Fortress, St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Summer Gardens.

I confidently strode out of my hotel lobby, armed with a map, a big-ass camera and a hair donut (yes it gets windy on the river and I’m not about to have dodgy tourist hair in my pics, okay?).

Aiming for the Anichkov Bridge over the Fontanka River, I spent so much time looking for a damn cash exchange that I missed the boat. It is illegal to accept US$ as payment in Russia, and I found their cash-exchanging cash machines exceptionally confusing. My profound learning outcome from said confusion? Next time, buy the Rubles before you go genius.

Lesson learnt, I drowned my sorrows with a sook (Russian for juice), wandered the pastel streets and waited an hour and a half for the next boat. Eurgh. For someone who’s always late, I sure do hate waiting.
Boarding the boat, which I later heard someone describe (fairly accurately) as a barge that had seen better days, I sat at the back and got comfortable. It wasn’t too busy so I had about four plastic seats to myself to stretch out. If you’re seated at the back, it’s a lot easier to hear the commentary from the speakers either side of you.
The barge faking it as a boat cruised steadily out onto the Neva River, past summer palaces, extravagant winter homes, sites of sin and mysterious murders, under bridges and alongside a beautifully smooth sunset which made me entirely glad that I’d missed the previous boat.

As the sun skimmed across the back of Peter and Paul’s Fortress, its flickering fingers pointed out golden domes and spires that speckle the city. Architectural proof of one man’s dream to build a new capital inspired by Europe’s finest. Baroque, Greek, gothic, Roman - you name it, every style is woven into a web of absolutely breathtaking buildings around every turn.

As I listened to the stories of St Petersburg’s conception, it actually echoed the very city I live in today. Dubai. That’s not to say they resemble one another, or even that they have many similarities. Rather, there are some parallels in the ambition that founded the grand expansion of what used to be not very much. The titled Peter The Great wanted to create something like Venice; he envisioned man-made canals and rivers throughout the city. He sought to impress those who entered the city by boat with majestic palaces, tall spires and fabulous structures engineered by Russia and Europe’s best architects and artists. The elements were against him as the weather in St P is either cold or wet, or both, 300 – 330 days of the year; and much of the land was marshy swamp. And yet, he achieved his goal. Over 300 years later, the rest of the world is still blown away by the beauty of this incredible place.
It makes me wonder, as Dubai continues to rise from its sandy foundations, what will the world think in 300 years from now? Will they be awed by the cloud piercing Burj Khalifa? The man-made palm-shaped islands? The detailed interiors of hotels glittering on every corner of tree-lined boulevards? Will this beauty endure for three more centuries? Built on a plan of wild dreams and ambition, Dubai’s rulers have seen the potential in their land like Peter The Great saw in his… just some food for thought!

Back to Russia, and my hair donut and I were getting along fabulously as the wind picked up and the sun slowly began to sink behind the old Stock Exchange building.

The tour aboard el barge took about an hour. I got back to my hotel at 11pm and it was still light outside (I forgot how much I love long summer nights). By this point I was walking dead having only slept 3 hours the night before (downside of wanting a social life and cool job) – bedtime for me.

The next morning, the plan is to hit the big fat touristy red bus. Running along Nevsky Prospekt, a blur of coloured brickwork whizzed past and I only just made it (thanks to the long queue giving me a 3 minute late window). It cost 600rubles for a day pass on the bus, but given that the bus pulls up only once an hour, you'll have to be on the ball, get off and spend an hour at the stops you like, and then hop back on again. Note to self: be early next time and you’ll get a window seat from the start of the tour.

I stayed on the bus for close to two hours, and thanks to the audio guide, which can be heard in 11 different languages, I didn’t feel a minute of it. Sitting on top of the bus, I had this perfect balance of morning sunshine and summery breeze to accompany some class sightseeing.

I’m not going to recount the entire tour, but I will share my favourite moments:
  • The dry humour from the man narrating the audio guide. Like.
  • The view from the top of a double-decker; it’s nice to see a city without having to dodge ice cream-wielding children and tons of tourists.
  • An interesting recommendation to check out the many metro stations. I wouldn’t have thought to look, but many are decorated with stained glass, marble and intricate designwork. Thanks Mr Audio Guide.

  • A cracking view of the Church on Spilled Blood. Wish I’d sat on the right side of the bus for an amazing photo opp. A great way to get a shot from high up, with no unsuspecting bodies poised to photobomb your snaps.
  • Learning that proper bridges to cross the wide Neva River were only commissioned after the death of Peter the Great, as he had insisted on citizens using boats to get from one side to the other – it was prettier that way!

  • Hearing stories of scandal, from the days when aristocrats made outrageously expensive demands, and held super-posh parties. The audio guide gives you all sorts of gossip pertaining to the Russian rich folks. Something like an 18th century Russian version of today’s Hello magazine.
  • The gorgeous gold-plated copper dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, so carefully constructed that it has never required any work since the mid-1800s. I would have liked to look around inside, but I was Pushkin-ed for time. Sorry.

Hopping off the bus, I wandered up to the Church on Spilled Blood. As I admired the trippy turrets from the edge of the canal, a French man stopped me to ask if I might take him a photo. I obliged, and then asked him to return the favour using my slightly broken Nikon.

Upon noticing the state of my mightily cracked lens (see the lines in my photo above^^^), he offered me a spare lens of his own, saying he never used it anyway. And although I refused the offer/tried to pay him for it, he insisted that nice things happen to nice people. Then he handed me the lens, and off he went.
Needless to say, this was a very sweet cherry on my little cake and as I made my way through the gardens adjacent to the CoSB, I said a prayer of gratitude for all the beauty in St Petersburg, for the sunshine and blue sky, and for the random act of kindness that had made my day.
I can’t wait to go back.

Love from Russian dolly x

P.s. Most of the photos above are taken with my Samsung S3 except the last one with my cracked lens... and below, taken with my new lens, my favourite shot of the day!

30 July 2014

Travel Inspiration: Ayesha & The Koala Experience

What seems like a lifetime ago, I used to work in an office. Riveting, I know. Working 9 to 5, I would take my six weeks holiday every year and travel here and there – Greece for a week, Amsterdam for the weekend – a couple of times I freaked my friends out as I hopped over to Bahrain and Beirut.
But when my older sister Ayesha decided to set off on a yearlong wanderlust tour of the Far East, Australia and New Zealand – it made me think how amazing it would be to jet off to the other side of the world, breathe new air and tread new earth. I itched to shake off the dust that seemed to be ever-gathering on my shoulders as I twirled endlessly on my swivel-chair, churning out magazine feature ideas like a machine. I was running nowhere on a treadmill of a career that seemed to only build stamina to ensure I could stand it a bit longer (in other words, too many beauty freebies held me in my job).
I distinctly remember hearing my sister’s story where in Brisbane, Australia, she “cried from cuteness” as she held a furry little koala bear, and felt his squidgy soft arms on her shoulders.
Instant travel inspiration!

When I made my dream come true, and stepped off the plane in Brisbane, I had an action plan in mind with a mere two-point checklist:
1. Hold that koala like he’s never been held before.
2. Get acquainted with a couple of kangaroos.

And so I proceeded to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, in the grassy, beautifully rural suburbs of Brisbane. I caught a bus early in the morning, and sat buzzing with energy inspired by anticipation. I am going to hold an. actual. koala. bear.

On arrival, I beelined it straight to the enclosure which allows weirdos like me to get up close with the bears. Feeling like the female equivalent of David Attenborough, wishing I had my own animal TV show and imagining how ridiculous I might sound on TV, I waited in line to hold my koala.
And then the moment when the squishy little guy was plopped into my arms and my hands disappeared against his furry little bum...
Without the slightest exaggeration, this is something I recommend everyone do at least once in your life. It is a must. Yes, okay, it’s a must that lasts 10 minutes and happens to be located at the other end of the world, but for those able – DO IT. DO IT NOW!

Having completed mission one and successfully stalked one poor bear out of his eucalyptus tree, I then marched into a field full of kangaroos, armed with edibles, and ready to make the acquaintance of an unsuspecting (or rather, totally suspecting, will-take-pictures-for-food type) kangaroo.

I can only thank my amazing sister for inspiring the idea above.

Here’s the evidence that I made it to Oz!

Evidence I’m definitely not stuck in an office any more!

Evidence that free beauty products do not inspire more than real experiences.

And evidence that I love my career change.  It was the best thing I ever did.

Love from Aussie Dolly x

6 January 2014

10 Bright Ideas For A Winter Weekend in Lyon

Airport codes are silly and confusing. Especially when you plan your working duties (i.e. sightseeing) around the wrong one. 
I was enthusiastically planning my trip to LYS.
Lisbon. Portugal? No?
Lyon. France?
So there I was in Lyon, with a loose travel guide to the city thanks to a whatsapp conversation with my sister and a timeout article screenshot on my mobile. I had less than 24 hours to explore so I got to it.
Following my surprise trip to Lyon, here are my tips to enjoying your stay in southside France… in winter. Enjoy!

3 January 2014

Happy New Year: 4 Resolutions For 2014

Okay, so I can't claim to have taken a blogging sabbatical. I have instead been busy earning a promotion over the last six months. Free time has been taken up primarily with writing reports, sleeping and eating. And occasionally I squeeze in my so-called social life. A little while ago, I was offered the permanent position of senior flight stewardess for the world's no.1 airline.  Hard work having paid off, I can now return to my first love - travelling the world, and consequently, writing about it.
With 2014 underway, the usual resolution rigmarole has hit me. Being a girl who loves a gimmick, I do like making resolutions. It goes in with my other indulgences, such as stationery, writing lists and packing. Don't judge.

So here are my resolutions.

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