A city like no other: Amsterdam

I’m going to start off with a little story, back from when I was at the end of primary school, at around the age of 10.

I had just finished reading the Diary of Anne Frank. I love to read and I was reading a lot of books at that age, but this was the first book that really hit a nerve. It stuck with me, reading her story not just for how terrifying that must have been for her and her family in hiding, but it was incredibly humbling. Ever since finishing her diary, going to the Anne Frank House had been high on my bucket list.

Fifteen years later and there I was, looking in awe at the bookcase that concealed the entrance to the secret annexe.

Aside from wanting to visit the Anne Frank House, I’d also wanted to come to Amsterdam for the beauty of the city. The picturesque canals, the small side streets, the quirkiness. Everyone I knew who had visited would rave about how amazing Amsterdam is and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Once we had dropped our bags off near Centraal Station – Drop&Go is situated right by the station and is only 5 Euros in cost for a small suitcase – we set off to explore. At first, the smell of weed everywhere took a little while to get used to, as well as seeing ladies in red lit windows from 12pm, but as we wandered around the canals, you see how beautiful the city is. Peaceful in parts, there is no shortage of canals and bridges to look at or walk over. The buildings that line the streets are uniquely Amsterdam; tall, narrow with big beautiful windows and sometimes have a bright lick of paint on the outside. It frames the canals perfectly.

The main point of our trip was for a gig on our second night but that didn’t stop us from exploring as much as we could. Free beer was drank at the Heineken Experience, had a picture of the infamous sign outside the Rijksmuseum and a great tour of the Amsterdam ArenA was also completed. I’m no art expert but the museums are a must; in particular the Van Gogh Museum. It is wonderfully laid out, with plenty of his best work on his display and you find out so much more about the man himself. As much as the Rijksmuseum is grand and impressive, the Van Gogh Museum was my favourite and definitely worth a visit.

But the Anne Frank House for me was a moment that I could finally say I’d been there. It is very well preserved and it will tug on your heartstrings, from the height markings on the wall, to the narrow staircase. It’s so humbling and sad, particularly if you know what the fate of the family is.

Amsterdam is a city like no other. Just a 50-minute flight from the UK, it is the perfect place for a short break away and trust me; once you leave, you’ll be aching to go back.

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SNAPSHOT: Olympic Park

I went exploring around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park a couple of weeks ago, the scene of many memorable moments at the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics. Managed to get some shots of the park & Olympic Stadium (now home to West Ham United) with a beautiful winter sunset. 

Snapshot: SORRENTO

I have just been away for ten days in the beautiful town of Sorrento, which lies in the south of Italy. It’ll be a place that will forever stick to my mind, and one of absolute beauty. Here are some photographs I took to share with you all:

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All photos were taken with a Canon 100D and edited in VSCO Cam.

New York, New York

There’s something a bit comforting when you hear taxis blaring their horn at 4am in the morning, when jetlag is keeping you awake. Originally I’d be further annoyed but not when I’m in New York. After all, this is the city that never sleeps.

I’d first made the trip over to the Big Apple on an university trip back in 2012 and it was love at first sight. For the past four years, I longed to return to what had become my favourite city in the entire world, without hesitation. And at long last, here I was again on Boxing Day, marvelling at the bright lights of Times Square. 

December in New York is cold. Armed with thick coats, wooly scarfs and big boots, we were ready to tackle the elements and started with the enormous Central Park. Although there were no leaves on the trees and the sky was a murky grey, it’s a stunning site, a place of peace in a very busy city. You just about hear the sirens and horns but the further you delve into Central Park, the quieter it becomes. 

On the other end of the spectrum, visits to Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building are musts. Both with equally stunning views, I recommend you go up one during the day and the other at night. We went up the Top of the Rock on a clear sunny day, with which you could see miles of the concrete jungle and get a perfect view of Central Park. Up the Empire State however was a simply magical experience and also incredibly lucky. As we reached the 86th observation deck, we were greeted with falling snow. Although it would partly obscure our view, you really can’t beat some snow, which did stop to reveal the stunning night views. 

An attraction that I hadn’t done last time was visiting ol’ Libby – the Statue of Liberty that is. Perhaps the tourist spot in New York, it is a must see when you visit, purely so you can say that you have done. The ferry over gives you some tremendous views of Manhattan, a different perspective on the bustling island, as well as a chance to get away from the busy crowds if you so wish.

An unexpected activity we undertook was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge; I recommend doing this if you are visiting the 9/11 Memorial, with the start of the Bridge not far away. With great views of Manhattan one side and the hipster Brooklyn the other, it’s a must.

If you can, also be sure to catch a sports game, whether this is Basketball, American Football, Soccer… the Americans certainly know how to create an atmosphere and this is no different with New Yorkers. A trip over to the Barclays Center to see the New York Islanders in an Ice Hockey match was a fun experience, as we got drawn into the atmosphere, chanting along the faithful Islanders fans. 

One thing with the tourist attractions; pre-book before you go. Understandably security is tight everywhere so rather than queuing to go through security and then again to purchase your tickets, have them ready to go. The Statue of Liberty is particularly an attraction to have your tickets already purchased, otherwise you’ll be there a long time. 

We left before the infamous ball drop in Times Square which, although it is a bucket-list item for many, was extremely busy and a bit mad around the area beforehand. For the sake of seeing a ball drop from afar, it’s not high up on my own list. 

Again I left the Big Apple yearning to return as soon as I could, having fallen back in love and rest ensured, I shan’t be leaving it four years to go back. If you love big bustling cities with so much to see, then New York is the city for you. 

World Photo Day

In aid of #WorldPhotoDay, here are some of my favourite images that I have captured through a camera lens. Photography has become one of the biggest passions in life and I find it fascinating how powerful an image can be.

These are all my own images, therefore please don’t use without permission.

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Snapshot: DUBROVNIK

Here are some more photos I took during my time in Dubrovnik last summer – a truly wonderful city.

I need to apologise.

I have a full, unreserved apology to make.

I wrote this blog post nearly four years ago, pretty much slating the fact that Star Wars was returning for another three films, when I thought it was best to leave things as they were.

But now I’ve seen The Force Awakens three times and I need to have a big piece of humble pie.

Personally, I really did not like the newer trilogy of films. The scripts were a major let down and The Phantom Menace is probably one of the worst films ever made, despite loving it as a 7 year-old. I far prefer the older films, so at the time, I didn’t think that a whole new Star Wars trilogy was the right thing.

But when I heard that JJ Abrams was to direct Episode 7, I begin to think alright, this may be not a bad idea. A first-class director in charge of the first film of the reboot, surely this will be alright?

By the time the trailers came out – particularly the moment Han Solo and Chewbacca was shown – I had some serious re-thinking to do. It looked pretty good, but the film can still be a mistake… right?

How wrong was I.

I became ridiculously excited with all the rave reviews so when the time came to watch it at last – two days after its release – I was like a kid on Christmas Eve.

I was completely blown away. It was a film I could have easily gone straight back into the cinema screen afterwards and watch all over again. For me, Abrams and co didn’t put a foot wrong. All of the references to the past films and the return of past characters made me squee with delight. I legit had goosebumps hearing the theme tune once again, with the start credits rolling down the screen.

The new aspects that have been brought in – Rey, Finn etc –  were very well done, and TFA marks an excellent return to the Star Wars universe. The only draw back I have is that maybe Kylo Ren could be a little more menacing, and not revealed as quickly into the trilogy. But I’m sure there is room for improvement in Episode 8, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all pans out.

Maybe it was a bit too similar to A New Hope but I think it perhaps had to be, just to get the films started after after ten years away. And it’s not completely the same, isn’t it really?

I’m glad that Star Wars has come back, that a fandom has been awakened, because it’s a huge part of pop culture as we know it today. The Force Awakens is one of those films which will provide endless conversations with your pals who love Star Wars as much as you do. It’s one of those films which you’ll go around an entire city just to find a toy BB-8, because you think that a droid is adorable. It’ll provide constant questions about where the films will go next, and just who is Rey really?

So I’m sorry Disney, LucasFilm, JJ Abrams, the whole Star Wars universe… I’m sorry for ever doubting you. It was wrong of me and I’ll never do it again.

You know what, a fourth viewing of Episode VII may even be in order.

 

 

Hvala, Dubrovnik.

I started writing this after I landed back at London Gatwick Airport back last summer and I keep meaning to post it up. I do apologise! So here is my review of a fantastic trip to Croatia, a country which I already had a lot of love for before we visited, back in August 2015.


I’d already had the pleasure of visiting Croatia a couple of years ago, after visiting the North coastal town of Porec, but I couldn’t wait to go back. In particular, I was excited to see Dubrovnik for the first time, and I’d only ever heard good things about it. Everyone who’d asked where I was going, would often say “Oh Dubrovnik! I’ve heard really good things about there, it’s meant to be really pretty.” So an instant bonus before I’d even boarded our flight.

The heat hit us instantly as we set one small step onto Croatian soil, the sun blaring down intensely, as we made our way to our hotel. The stunning Valamar Dubrovnik President was utterly perfect for our stay, immediately impressing as the bellboys handed us a glass of tasty fruity Prosecco, and a cool flannel to refresh our travel-worn faces. The reception is a vast area, decked out modern yet simply, with massive glass panes covering half a wall drawing your attention, looking out to a wonderful sea view. The infinity pool is refreshing and the facilities were fantastic – in fact, most of our trip was spent by the pool, making the most of the sunshine. Yes, we definitely were going to love it here.

Our hotel was a twenty minute bus ride from the Old Town, but for the peace around the pool, it was worth it. The hussle and bussle of tourists merging in the centre made it too busy at times, so our location was spot on. The Old Town itself – or Kings Landing to you Game of Thrones fans – is full of culture, history and sheer beauty. Many of the buildings, including some rustic and beautiful churches, bore the scars still of the Homeland War, over twenty years on. I highly recommend taking a walking tour around the city, as well as walking the city walls for rooftop views of Dubrovnik; full of absolutely stunning views of the city from the rooftops, with your eye line full of terracotta tiled roofs over the setting sun. If you wish for an even higher view, the cable car is well worth a visit, with fantastic views of the Old Town and the rest of Dubrovnik, looking out to sea and the islands nearby. I give one piece of advice though, if you wish to visit in the height of summer, to take the tours in the evenings when it’s much cooler. Then you shan’t be faltering and not particularly listening to the tour guide!

I’ve found on my two trips to Croatia that it is a beautiful country, an absolute gem of Europe. For a keen photographer like myself, Dubrovnik is perfect to photograph, and I found myself with my camera constantly in my hand. Even the small town of Cavtat is stunning, a nice peaceful town if you seek a bit of quiet away from the city. There’s plenty to offer with the refreshing and crystal clear Adriatic Sea on the coast, with lots of water sports available – I highly recommend paddle-boarding!

But it’s not just the physical beauty that makes Croatia such a wonderful place; it’s the people too. Many people, from the hotel staff to taxi drivers, are genuinely friendly and will help you out as best they can. After taking the bus back from Cavtat, we almost missed our stop, had it not been for the waitress we’d spoken to in our relatives’ hotel! We’d asked her earlier in the evening about the right bus and luckily, she tapped me on the shoulder and told us that this was the right stop. She’d done that out of her own kindness and however small it may be, it just shows how good natured and friendly the people of Croatia are.

My first time to this wonderful place resulted in beginning to fall in love Croatia and now I absolutely adore it. I wasn’t ready to leave the heat and the beauty; sure enough, it was absolutely miserable with rain the first two days of being home. Sigh…