Croydon Airport

Among warehouses and superstores, between flyovers and motorways lies an unknown pocket of history, remembered only by those with an undying faith in flight and a lasting love of aviation.



My father is as passionate about planes as I am about horses, perhaps even more so. Anyone who knows me will understand just how strong that passion must be! As a child he would ride his scooter every day to his local airport with his aircraft band receiver to log every landing and take off, build balsa wood planes and draw his own aeroplane prototypes. As an adult he joined the Manila Flying Club and earned his license to fly a Cessna 150, roaming the skies, free as a bird. Now he spends whatever free time time he has reading up on the history of Imperial Airways. I don’t think anyone in my family delighted in the arrival of YouTube as much as my father, who will spend many an hour watching old videos of historic flights.


One of the very friendly volunteers at the museum

One of the very friendly volunteers at the museum

I always feel a little sad that neither my sister nor I had the same love for planes, that we’ve somehow let him down. When I look at a plane, my heart doesn’t quicken in excitement, but I do feel an overwhelming surge of love and affection for my father, whose heart belongs in the sky between two wings. The best we can do is to go with him to the wondrous and fascinating places around the world that are meccas for aviation enthusiasts. A couple of weeks ago my parents were visiting the UK and it just so happened that their visit was over the first weekend of the month, so we made the long trip out to Croydon. I’ll happily say that the Croydon Airport museum is one of the most interesting places I’ve been to in London, however I felt the write up would be best coming from the true enthusiast:

Emblem of Imperial Airways

Emblem of Imperial Airways


Wonderful cartoons depicting problems that came with commercial aviation!

Croydon  Airport by Christopher George

Croydon, to the south of London, was the location of one of the world’s first purpose-built international air terminals, completed in an imposing classical retardaire design in 1928 together with an adjoining hotel. It is hard to imagine now as you approach the entrance just how impressive this building must have seemed to those early air passengers arriving by road from central London only twenty years or so after the Wright brothers first flew!


On old Imperial Airways plane


The KLM check in desk at Croydon Airport

This was the main airport for London until the second world war when flights were moved to Hendon and Bristol to protect the planes from air attack. The airport declined after the war after Heathrow was opened and was closed down finally in 1959 when the last flights were transferred to Gatwick. The terminal is now sadly used as an office building however a small part has been kept as a museum which is a real hidden gem, tucked away in what has become a sea of hangar-like warehouses on the edge of Croydon.



The stunning terminal building was deliberately built to impress and to underline the rapidly developing reliability of air travel. The building is on Purley Way and is open to the public only on the first Sunday of every month from 10 am to 4 pm when it temporarily comes to life once again as an airport for a few hours. It was a absolute delight visiting the airport and thanks to a large and dedicated band of volunteers we were able to walk through the original ticket hall of the airport and climb up to the old control tower – the first airport in the world to have air traffic control. We had just arrived at Gatwick airport and it was so hard to believe what an elite place this was in the 1930s in contrast and that it catered to such a tiny number of people.



An example of old airplane seating – looks a lot more comfortable if a little less safety conscious!

The wonderful black and white photos in the museum of what were described in the newspaper clippings as ‘giant’ airliners’ such as the HP42 Heracles which flew the Africa and India route from Croydon for Imperial Airways could only fly up to 16 passengers and only two or three times a week! Another abiding memory of my visit was realising from all the photos how rickety these early aircraft actually were – built of wood and canvas! How rapidly commercial aviation was developing in the 20s – with the wood and canvas giving way to the first all metal airliners, and the biplanes being replaced in the 1930s by monopolanes.



Up in the tower above the terminal the very friendly volunteers showed us how radio navigation for air travel all over the world started right here in Croydon. Another fascinating fact was that the international distress call ‘mayday’ originated in Croydon airport at the suggestion of senior radio officer Frederick Stanley Mockford in 1923. The busiest air route in the world was Croydon to Le Bourget in Paris and he reckoned that this word would be recognisable as ‘m’aider’!


A cartoon portrayal of the different pilots – this guy was American!


And this French pilot’s surname means ‘rabbit’!

The whole experience of our visit was a unique and extraordinary treat and not to be seen at any other visitor attraction in London. Go to Croydon airport if you are curious about getting an insight into life only 80 years ago and yet so totally remote from our current world of air travel!

In the air traffic control tower you can play around on a flight simulator (my mother nearly crashed the plane).

In the air traffic control tower you can play around on a flight simulator (my mother nearly crashed the plane).


A very happy visitor – my father.


Apollo Banana Leaf

In the Deep South of London, down a main road, and then further down it lies an Aladdin’s Cave of fiery spices, aromatic scents and intense, slow cooked flavour.

Apollo Banana Leaf is without a doubt one of my favourite restaurants in London and I’ll be eternally grateful to my friend Will for taking me. Check out his blog (Will Never Fly) – he has some great restaurant recommendations and his clever posts and witty writing will have you laughing all day!


Although technically it’s a Sri Lankan restaurant, a lot of the food is very similar to South Indian food. Whenever I eat here and savour the familiar notes of mustard seeds, coconut and curry leaves, my mouth feels like it’s come home.

Walking into the restaurant, you’ll feel like you’ve wandered into a tour agency for one of the great American national parks. The walls are plastered with giant images of craggy mountains, verdant pine trees and the expansive blue sky. If you look closely you may even spot a buffalo grazing in the distance! I’m sure the reason is just that the owner couldn’t be bothered to redecorate the place when he moved in, but part of my likes to think he’s a Sri Lankan with a feverish love for nature. Either way it’s not your usual South Asian restaurant!


There are 3 dishes on the long menu that I crave above all others and that’s because in my opinion, I think they’re the best .

Fish cutlets:

These delicious fried snacks are made with flakes of fish mixed with mashed potatoes and a number of different spices. They’re then covered in bread crumbs and fried – pure deliciousness! I make these myself with tuna but only use coriander, chilli, lemon and ginger by way of spices. I’d love to learn what else are added to the cutlets at Apollo Banana Leaf to get the depth of flavour that mine sadly lack.


Mutton rolls:

The mutton roll is another staple of South Indian & Sri Lankan cuisine and one of my favourite snacks. It’s pretty much just a meat version of the fish cutlet – so mutton, potato, ginger, garlic and other spices cooked together and then covered in breadcrumbs and fried. While I love the fresh flavour of the fish cutlet, the rich meaty flavour of the mutton is so deep!


Devilled mutton:

Last but not least, my absolute favourite dish here is the devilled mutton. This darkly spiced, sizzling dish tastes like it’s been marinading forever: every thread of the meat is soaked with flavour and aromas. The first taste to hit you is cardamom. I absolutely love cardamom but usually only get that intense hit with sweet dishes like kulfi or lassi. I really need to experiment more with cardamom in savoury dishes as it’s fragrant notes are a perfect foil to the earthy mutton flavour and the intense spice, lifting it out of mundanity into something really special and unusual.


Apollo Banana Leaf is located very close to Tooting Broadway tube station (on the Northern line). Though it’s pretty far from central London, you will not regret the journey. In fact you’ll probably find yourself haring back regularly for a hit of the devilled mutton which is scarily addictive!

It’s a great place to impress a date who knows about and appreciates authentic Asian food, but definitely not the right location for those who think a Brick Lane Curry is ‘good Indian food’. It would be wasted on them. I’d also add that spiciness levels are South Asian style – bear that in mind when ordering. The restaurant was recently included in a book called ‘Where Chefs Eat’ which highlights chefs favourite restaurants around London, this means that it’s even more popular than before, so make sure to book!

If you go, I hope you have a wonderful time at my favourite South Asian place!

3000 Fates at the Riga Ghetto & Latvian Holocaust Museum

The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum is a simple little wooden house that once sat within the walls of the ghetto. Inside, it’s as if nothing has changed. A shirt, marked with a yellow star hangs poignantly from a hook, dusty toys are discarded carelessly on the floor where far too many people once lived.

Outside the museum is a long wall with the names of every Jewish person who died in Riga in the Holocaust. As you walk alongside the wall, it seems never ending.

The museum is surrounded by old, dilapidated warehouses, mostly abandoned with shattered windows and dusty fragments of glass framing the holes. One of these warehouses currently houses one of the most painfully touching Holocaust memorials I have ever seen – the exhibition is called ‘3000 fates’.

When you open the door of the warehouse, you walk into pitch darkness, shuffling carefully into the oppressive unknown. To see the 3000 fates, you need to flick the switch which lights up row after row of paper lamps hanging from the ceiling. Each lamp is decorated with stories of individual people – what happened to them, their hopes, their dreams, their fears. Despite the all consuming darkness, each soul shone out brightly – sparks of humanity, beautiful colours that should never, ever be forgotten.

The 3000 fates that the exhibition details aren’t the fates of the local Jews of Riga, but the fates of those who were transported here, never to leave.

‘The humane solution to the Jewish question’, ‘a comfortable settlement for deserving Jews’ and ‘the Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews’ – so the Terezin concentration camp was characterised by the Nazi propaganda. In fact, this city fortress of the 18th century about 60km from Prague was used by Nazis as a transit point for the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. It housed all Jews from the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as ‘chosen’ Jews from Germany, Austria, Holland, Denmark and Slovakia. The first transport with prisoners from Prague arrived in Terezin on November 24th 1941. During the ghetto’s existence up to its liberation by the Soviet Army on May 8th 1945, 678 transports arrived there, 66 transports were sent from Terezin to the East.

Between 1941-45, 153,662 prisoners passed through Terezin: 88,149 were sent to the death camps while 33,430 people died from hunger and the intolerable conditions in the ghetto. Against this background, there was an unprecedented upsurge of culture. Today works of Terezin composers are included in the classical repertoire, creations of Terezin artists are shown in museums and many countries and literary works of Terezin children have become a monument of free thought.

The Riga Ghetto

On August 23, 1941, the Nazis announced the creation of the Riga Ghetto in the Moscow suburb. By October 25, the entire Jewish Population of Riga was required to move there. About 30,000 Jews were put into the ‘big ghetto’. On November 28, in another quarter, some 4,500 able bodied men were places into what came to be known as the ‘small ghetto’, the ‘women’s ghetto’ of 500 prisoners was also formed.

On November 30 and December 8 about 25,000 of the Riga Jews were killed in the Rumbula forest. From November 1941 to October 1942, the places of the murdered Jews were occupied with Jews deported from Lithuania, Germany, Austria and the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The Riga ghetto lasted until November 2 1943 when the inhabitants were resettled to the concentration camp Kaiserwald.

Transports from Terezin to Riga

Transport ‘O’ departed from Terezin at 2pm on January 9, 1942 and arrived at Riga on January 12th. From the 1000 prisoners that arrived, the elderly were put into buses and sent to the woods to be shot. The rest settled in the Riga ghetto. At the end of the war only 112 people were alive.

Transnport ‘P’ was dispatched from Terezin on January 15, 1942, arriving at the station Skirotava on the night of January 19. From this transport, a few dozen able-bodied men aged 18-40 were selected for construction of the Salaspils concentration camp. All the others were shot in a nearby forest. From the 1000 deported, only 16 men survived.

Transport ‘Bb’ was sent from Terezin on the 20 August 1942. All 1000 prisoners were executed. The exact circumstances of their deaths are still not known.

The above information is taken from the exhibition. A book (3000 Fates) was published to accompany the exhibition. The authors based the edition on documents and testimonies of witnesses, survivors of the Terezin and the Riga ghettos as well as the concentration camps Salaspils, Kaiserwald, Stutthof, Buchenwald, Dachau and death marches.

The exhibition is in the lesser known Moscow District of Riga, in a museum off the beaten track, and then housed in a seemingly abandoned warehouse. Yet it is somehow a fitting tribute to those people who should not be forgotten just because they weren’t in one of the more notorious camps. I would consider this one of the most important things to see in Riga – the memories of those people will stay with me forever.

The Black Magic of Riga


You could easily walk past Black Magic without even noticing it, the dark, wooden exterior is carved with entwined snakes and staffs and above the door, the rune like words glow in a dark muted amber light. Walking in, you may feel like you’ve just walked into the lair of a bewitching sorceress.


Old ceramic herb jars line the walls, interspersed with rows of dark brown medicine bottles of Riga Black Balsam. This thick, black, syrupy liqueur packs a punch but with it’s ancient recipe of mixed herbs and vodka, it’s often drunk as a tonic for good health.


From the dark shadowy corners, gold touches dazzle and twinkle. A bouquet of golden glittering feathers, shining pots, an old till in antique faded brass, even gold taps and sinks in the bathrooms.

It definitely feels like you’ve tumbled into an ancient faerytale and that the beautiful waitress dressed in a gold medieval robe with a cascade of woven gold hair is really a princess, taken prisoner by the evil sorceress who is in the back room brewing a number of concoctions, and crafting hand made chocolates laced with potions.

However Black Magic is actually a tea house by day and cocktail bar by night. After a long day of sightseeing, sink into one of the red velvet armchairs and try one of their delicious Black Magic hot chocolates. A glass of hot milk is served with a giant piece of chocolate, skewered with a wooden spoon. Lower the spoon into the milk and stir till all the chocolate has melted in and you’ll have one of the best hot chocolates of your life. The magic touch is definitely the Black Balsam infused in the chocolate!


There was something incredibly mesmerising about this little bar – it was neither touristy nor incredibly local – it felt like it existed in a secret world – rather like the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter. I only wish we has stumbled upon it sooner in order to be able to try out the extensive cocktail menu of drinks, spiked with the true Riga Black Magic.


Black Magic can be found on Kalku Iela, number 10  – right in the heart of the old city, on the main road that leads up to the Victory Monument. Check out their Facebook page for more photos and tantalising temptation:


Walking the Peace Lines of Belfast

It’s hard to think about Northern Ireland without thinking of the Troubles. The years of news headlines, car bombs, shootings and images of black balaclavas will haunt the city for many years to come.


The Shankill Mona Lisa – no matter where you stand he’s looking at you, and his gun is pointed right at you!

Not one person I know has travelled to Belfast as a tourist, but the very recent, very troubled history of Northern Ireland should be a reason to visit, not the reverse. There is so much to learn in this city, and so many people desperate to tell their tale. I never mentioned the troubles once when I was out there, yet everyone I talked to somehow brought it up. Despite studying Irish authors of the time, and reading up about the period, there was so much I didn’t know, so much I still don’t.

The fact that Northern Ireland still has segregated education – Catholic schools for Catholics, Protestant schools for Protestants. The fact that there still remain 99 walls, or Peace Lines in Belfast, separating Catholic areas from Protestant and that some of the gates between the areas are closed from 6pm to 6am in Belfast. All the Northern Irish people I met said that the Troubles were a struggle over nationality, not religion – something I’d never considered before.

Some people may say that there’s a big disconnect between the people visiting the city as tourists and the locals walking by their side with painful red scars on their memories. However, I don’t think that’s true. It’s impossible to visit Northern Ireland without feeling some of that pain, and without wanting somehow to help soothe the scars, even when there’s nothing you can do.

The Shankill Road


Mural commemorating William ‘Bucky’ McCullough

We took one of the famous Black Taxi Cab political tours of the murals – organised with Paddy Cambell. The tours go around 12pm most days, but it’s best to call up (though not at 9am on a Sunday as you’ll be sure to wake everyone up!) Though the tour was an hour and a half, I felt like I barely scratched the surface of Belfast, and we only really saw the main murals. I would have loved to have spent a day or two wandering around the city, just taking in everything I stumbled across. Next time!

During the Troubles, the Shankill was one of the main centres of loyalist paramilitarism. The Ulster Volunteer Force was founded in the Shankill, and the Shankill Butchers were based in the area too. This gang was notorious for kidnapping and murdering random Catholic civilians – they would torture them then cut their throats with a butcher’s knife, hence the name. They weren’t very careful either, and killed a number of protestants by mistake. Despite receiving the longest combined prison sentences in UK legal history, all of the gang members were released from jail a number of years ago.


The Shankill area is made up of rows of identical cream and brick houses, lined up dutifully on the estates. The area feels pretty bleak, which isn’t helped by the dilapidated surroundings, litter strewn across patches of grass and ever present wire mesh fences which seem to be everywhere. Despite proclaiming that their taxi company is neutral, our taxi driver wouldn’t enter the estate, instead staying close to the car and allowing us to wander around.

One of the most famous loyalist murals is located here (pictured at top), near the Cupar Way wall – the Mona Lisa of Shankill Road. This eerie mural depicts a UFF fighter in a black balaclava, aiming a rifle straight at you. No matter where you stand, to his left, to his right, straight ahead of him, it seems like his eye is fixed on you, and the nozzle of the gun is aiming right for you.

The second most prominent mural (pictured above) is the dedication to Bucky McCullough, a Lieutenant-Colonel (and gunman) with the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) who was betrayed by one of his own. His close friend, James Craig was using money meant for the UDA for his own personal benefit. McCullough started telling people about his activity, demanding an internal enquiry, so Craig decided to have him killed. He passed on information to the republican INLA that he was a leading figure in sectarian killings, and Bucky was murdered in his own home on Denmark Street.


A rough map of the Shankill area

Separating the Shankill and Falls Road areas is one of the most famous walls in Belfast – the Cupar Way Peace Line. The 8m high wall is made of brick and stone, topped with reinforced metal and then finally wire meshing. It has stood for 45 years, 17 years longer than the Berlin Wall. Officially there are around 53 Peace Walls in Northern Ireland, with the majority in Belfast, however a recent study counts the actual number in Belfast at 99 as some of the walls are just wire meshing between houses.

The Peace Walls have been around for almost 3 generations in Belfast, and many live within them, not next to them, as if the boundaries of their worlds end where the walls start. Some people who live on one side of the wall have never met or spoken to people living just 100 yards from them. For all the talk by politicians about the walls coming down, most surveys have shown that the people living near the walls want them to stay. They don’t feel safe without them, and it’s easy to understand why – the young people have only ever lived in their safe shadow. There’s a statistic that almost 90% of the violence that happened during the Troubles happened in the areas near the walls – the walls and gates protect the nearby residents.

Imagine if a giant wall separated one part of Oxford Street from the other half; or if Regent’s Park was split into two, with the gate between allowing free passage only from 9am till 3pm. It’s near impossible. But that exists in Belfast – the gate in the wall separating one half of Alexandra Park from the other half only opened in 2011!

The Clonard Memorial Garden


Across the wall from the Shankill is Bombay Street. You immediately know that you’ve passed into the Catholic area – the tidy lawns are dotted with statues of mother Mary and crucifixes. As we drove past the Church on Sunday morning, elegantly dressed people spilled out, the sound of music echoing faintly from within. Gone were the murals at the end of each row of houses, instead they honour their dead with memorial gardens.


The Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden is a small corner to the side of the Bombay Street, demarcated by shining black railings and a gate featuring a red phoenix. This is the largest and most elaborate of the Republican gardens in Belfast, commemorating the 25 fallen volunteer IRA fighters and 58 civilians from the area who lost their lives in the conflict. Another plaque pays tribute to the friends of Clonard and ‘the people who have resisted and still resist the occupation of our country.‘ The Irish tricolour flag flies at the back of the garden, a stark symbol of longing for freedom against the corrugated steel wall. Another plaque hopes that the dead people of Clonard ‘be in the midst of Gaelic warriors.’

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The desire to be part of Ireland is reflected in the Gaelic language, Celtic crossed and symbols from mythology. Bombay Street witnessed some of the worst of the riots during the Troubles in 1969 when a loyalist mob set fire to all the houses on the street and a shoot out ensued. Despite priests at the Clonard Monastery calling for help, it was only 3 hours later that the British Army finally arrived, but it wasn’t for another few hours that they finally moved to the roads under attack. They called for the loyalists to surrender, but they responded with bullets and petrol bombs. After a bloody fight, they were finally stopped with tear gas. The Phoenix on the gates represents Bombay Street quite literally rising from it’s own ashes.

Falls Road


Further along into the Falls Road area lies the ‘Solidarity Wall’ – a wall featuring murals protesting issues around the world where the nationalists feel solidarity with the people. However the murals that interested me were the ones crying out against some of the horrors of the Troubles. The Falls Road was the scene of the Falls Road Curfew (also known as the Rape of the Lower Falls) from 3-5 July 1970. The British army had moved into the area a while ago to help diffuse fighting between the loyalists and the nationalists and at first they were greeted warmly by the local residents. The Falls Road Curfew however marked the end of the ‘honeymoon’ between the Catholic locals and the British Army. It was considered a terrible strategic move on behalf of the army, and boosted support for the IRA. Following an Orange Order parade in North Belfast, there was heavy rioting in Belfast with both sides blaming the other side for starting the violence. A prolonged gun battle ensued with 7 people dying. In the meantime the IRA organised for a number of weapons to be brought the the Falls Road area to be distributed.


The British army, acting on a tip from an informer, decided to go in and seize weapons from an IRA HQ. After they confiscated 19 weapons, the local youths and IRA volunteered launched a counter attack (throwing stones) to prevent the soldiers from seizing any more weapons, instructing for them to be moved out of the area quickly. The attack quickly escalated and soon hundreds of bullets were flying through the air. The soldiers catapulted canister after canister of tear gas across, which permeated all the houses, the streets and the air. The women and children started evacuating the area. Four hours after the violence started, the soldiers announced via loud speakers that a curfew was being imposed – anyone found on the streets would be instantly arrested. 3000 soldiers moved into the curfew zone and sealed it off with barbed wire. The IRA pulled out quickly at that point, scared of the violence ending badly, and losing their remaining weapons. The British soldiers then started their door to door weapons search of 1000 houses, any journalists on the scene were arrested, perhaps to prevent them from reporting on what they saw:

The soldiers behaved with a new harshness … axeing down doors, ripping up floorboards, disembowelling chairs, sofas, beds, and smashing the garish plaster statues of the Madonna … which adorned the tiny front parlours“.

After 36 hours, the curfew ended by the arrival of 3000 women and children from the nearby Andersontown nationalist area marching to the Falls Road with supplies of food. At first the soldiers tried to hold them back, but eventually gave up. During the door to door searches, the soldiers confiscated 100 firearms (52 pistols, 35 rifles, 6 machine guns and 14 shotguns), 100 home made grenades, 250 pounds of explosives and 21,000 rounds of ammunition. They were also said to have driven 2 Unionist leaders through the broken and cowed streets – an act that greatly angered the locals.


The painting above is a detail from a larger mural, commemorating five local volunteers (Daniel McAreavey, Joseph McKinney, Jimmy Quigley, John Donaghy, Patrick Maguire – Jimmy, JD and Paddy shown above) from the Lower Falls area who died during the Troubles (in 1972). Three died together in an explosion and two were shot, they all died while taking part in some form of resistance. Our Black Taxi driver however told us the story of how these were local youth leaders who were patrolling the streets, ensuring everyone was inside in time for curfew, and were shot down by British snipers stationed on the roof of the Divis Tower. The British army did take the top two floors of the tower block, and a 9 year old child was shot within the tower (the first child to be killed during the Troubles, however it is important to take what your driver says with a pinch of salt. Though Paddy Campbell’s claims to be a neutral taxi company, loyalties run very deep within this divided community.


This last mural that was painted to show the horrors of the Troubles depicts a scene at the Milltown Cemetary attack. During the funeral of 3 IRA members in 1988, an Ulster Defence Association volunteer (Stone) attacked the mourners with hand grenades and pistols, killing three and wounding 60. At the funeral of one of Stone’s victims 2 days later, a couple of British soldiers out of uniform drove into the ceremony by mistake. The mourners feared a repeat attack by loyalists, dragged them from the car and they were beaten and eventually shot.

Our black cab mural tour around Belfast felt like the boat ride in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – when they whizz through a spiralling tunnel of horror and pain, unable to see anything deeper than just a flash of an image here and there. All I can say is I need to go back to Northern Ireland for a longer time to learn more and more. For those with only a weekend though, the Black Cab tours are a must – not only will you get to talk intimately to your local driver but you’ll get to see that proverbial tip of the iceberg which is better than seeing nothing at all!

Blowing Dandelion

It’s been a long time since I plucked a dying dandelion and blew the seeds of white fluff up into the air to be spirited away by the wind. It was way back when I always had flowers in my hair and when I wasn’t too afraid to dream. Long ago, when I had not a care in the world.

However there’s a beautiful woman with wavy golden hair and a smile full of child-like joy who makes chocolates that transport me right back to that time. She calls her little chocolate company ‘Blowing Dandelion‘.


I have tried all the ‘famous’ chocolates – by Paul A Young, Godiva, Roccoco, Hotel Chocolat, Maison du Chocolat, Charbonnel et Walker and Pierre Marcolini, but none of them compare to the taste of these chocolates.

Every week Michaela makes the batches of heavenly treats and then painstakingly paints them with swirls of beautiful glittering colours. You can taste the love and dedication that goes into making these chocolates, and it tastes so good.


These delicious chocolates come in a never ending array of colours and flavours – Michaela is a chocolate artist and as such loves to experiment. My favourite flavours are rhubarb (sounds like a strange mix to have with chocolate but it really works somehow), rose (a perfect fragrant delight that will take you to the souks of Arabia where dried rose buds flow like dusky pink rivers) and finally mango. Mangoes are my favourite fruit and Michaela gets fresh mangos to make the puree, to which she doesnt add any sugar, letting the natural sweetness of the mango shine.

Other flavours include: violet, vanilla, rum, dark rum, amaretto, sloe gin, champagne, pink champagne, raspberry, orange crème, praline, crispy praline, hazelnut, pistachio, marzipan, midnight mint, salted caramel, spiced apple, coconut, lime and chilli and passion fruit.

There are also a selection of little chocolate buttons in lime (see photo below), orange, strawberry and caramel, which make wonderfully colourful gifts – I recommend the lime and caramel!


Recently Michaela has started to make different types of raw organic chocolates, in chunky squares. These are even more delicious than you could ever imagine.

A more unusual flavour is the star anise and cayenne pepper and it works surprisingly well. The exotic aroma of the star anise is perfectly balanced by the short sharp heat of the pepper and both flavours lie within the intense and brooding world of the dark chocolate.



I think my favourite of these chocolates though is the milk chocolate truffle. No fancy flavours, no frills, it lets the quality of the chocolate speak for itself. Michaela uses chocolate from Madagasca, Satongo and Arriba and I have honestly never tasted any chocolate so beautiful in my life. First it makes my tongue tingle with sheer joy, and soon my whole body is beaming with happiness.

Chocolate may not be the healthiest treat but one of these every now and then will put a smile on your face that can last quite some time.


So thanks Michaela for making the most delicious chocolates in the world! I’ve shared so many beautiful memories over the many, many boxes I’ve bought and I have delighted in the flavours like a little child.

If you too want to feel the taste of whimsical chocolates, you can find Blowing Dandelion at Greenwich Market on Saturday and Sundays and at Herne Hill Market (near Dulwich) on Sundays.

You can also order chocolates online or follow Blowing Dandelion on Twitter!


The Old Bushmills Distillery

On the northernmost coast of County Antrim lies the small, grey stone village of Bushmills, named for the river Bush that snakes through and the old 17th century watermill.

As you walk down the road to the distillery the first thing that will hit you is the strong scent of whisky permeating the heavy air. I stood still for a while with my eyes closed, inhaling deeply. The rich peaty whisky blended with the smell of the wet earth and the icy, stinging wind was my personal blend of Northern Ireland and a moment I’ll always associate with my visit.


Sir Thomas Phillipps was granted a license to distill in this area in 1608 by King James I making the site the oldest licensed distillery in the world. Bushmills was officially set up in 1784 and has had a long and fascinating history. The company owned it’s own ship, SS Bushmills to transport the whisky all around the world. In fact the US was a key consumer market and the prohibition hit the company hard. Luckily they did well in the end as the director predicted the end of prohibition and stockpiled whisky to send over. There’s no denying that this is a huge tourist destination, with 120,000 visitors a year dropped off by a flock of pristine white coaches that make the daily migration up the Causeway Coastal Road.


Love this stained window of one of the old copper pot stills used at Bushmills

The distillery itself is made up of a curious assortment of different buildings, some painted a stark white with dark slate roofs, others built with deep red bricks. The name of the distillery is etched in white across the tiles of the main building, which is framed by the instantly recognisable twin pagoda style towers. If you ever go to Northern Ireland you’ll recognise this building from the pound notes, as the Bank of Ireland printed an image of the distillery on the back of the £5, £10 and £20 notes to mark the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Bushmills.

Inside the ancient walls, you can go on a tour of the distillery, try some of the produce at the tasting bar, inevitably spend too much time at the gift shop and also eat some delicious Irish stew!

Make sure to look out for the wall of cartoons, newspaper clippings and old adverts on the wall to the right of the tasting bar. One of my favourites was an old advert for Bushmills:

‘Why drink whisky from across the sea?’

‘All they know about making whisky is what they learned from us. Every other whisky is, if you like, an imitation of the real stuff, discovered here in Ulster centuries ago.’

I was quite glad I didn’t have any Scottish friends with me at that point (having had a long discussion the day before with my French travelling companion after he came out and stated that he didn’t understand why restaurants bothered selling any wine other than French wine!)

One of the most sought after bottles is the 12 year old single malt limited edition whisky which is matured in Spanish ‘oloroso’ sherry casks and only sold at the distillery in Antrim. You can even personalise and create your own label to make this deep amber coloured drink the perfect gift. Unfortunately we were only travelling with hand luggage but I made sure to a buy enough mini bottles of the Irish Honey Whisky to survive the rest of winter with hot whiskies!


Some of you may know the Tom Waits’ song – ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’ – that incorporates lyrics from the famous Aussie folk song. The Bushmills Distillery is mentioned in the song…

Now the dogs are barking and the taxi cab’s parking
A lot they can do for me.
I begged you to stab me, you tore my shirt open
And I’m down on my knees tonight
Old Bushmills I staggered, you buried the dagger in
Your silhouette window light
To go Waltzing Mathilda, Waltzing Mathilda
You’ll go Waltzing Mathilda with me.

That blue feeling of despair is sometimes attributed to Northern Ireland, but to me the untamed landscape, relentless weather, harsh accents and peaty liquor are  comforting and somehow wistfully romantic.


The Old Bushmills Distillery, while very firmly planted on the tourist trail, is still a place steeped in history that is renowned around the world. I was very happy that we chose to stop by, if only for the scent of the whisky in the misty air.

Oisín & the Nine Glens of Antrim

Long ago, the great warrior men known as the Fianna roamed the wilds of Ireland. They had no lands so sometimes they stayed in the homes of noblemen and kept the peace for them, but mostly they lived by their spears and arrows, hunting for their food and trading furs and pelts. The last leader of the Fianna, Fionn mac Cumhaill has a story of his own as he was the ‘giant’ who built the famed Giant’s Causeway across to Scotland! However this story is about his son, the renowned poet Oisín. There are many versions of this tale, but this was the one told to me by a local man as we travelled through the nine glens.


One day Fionn and Oisín were walking along a path in their native country, Antrim when they came upon a very bizarre creature. The creature had the body of the most beautiful lady he had ever seen with the head of a pig! She told them her story, of how a druid had cursed her for refusing to marry him and banished her to the land of humans, far from her native home and the only way to break the spell was to find a man who would agree to marry her. Now Oisín was a kind man and the code of the Fianna was one of honour and generosity, so he agreed to marry her. At the wedding, once they had said their vows, the pig’s head vanished and the woman beneath was even more beautiful than Oisín could ever have imagined. She revealed herself to be Niamh, the princess of of Tír na nÓg, the otherworldly realm of everlasting youth and beauty, home to the Tuath Dé and where they were destined to travel now they were married.

Fionn begged for his son to stay, not to go, for he knew that once he had travelled across the sea on Niamh’s magical horse, he could never come back.

And then I mounted and she bound me
With her triumphing arms around me,
And whispering to herself enwound me;
He shook himself and neighed three times:
Caoilte, Conan, and Finn came near,
And wept, and raised their lamenting hands,
And bid me stay, with many a tear;
But we rode out from the human lands.


For many, many years they lived happily in Tír na nÓg, and Oisín lost track of just how many years for there was no time in the otherworld. After a while though, he longed for his family, the Fianna, ached for the rough wild coast of Antrim and the soft comfort of the Nine Glens. He begged his wife to let him return and at first she refused but as she slowly watched the sorrow and pain dull his light and overwhelm him, she eventually relented. She took him to her magical horse Embarr, who could run across the wide expanse of sea, his hooves never quite touching the water, and warned him that he could never get off the horse, never let his feet touch the ground, for if he did he would instantly grow old and die and would never return to her. With many promises, he set off.


We passed by woods, and lawns of clover,
And found the horse and bridled him,
For we knew well the old was over.
I heard one say, ‘His eyes grow dim
With all the ancient sorrow of men’;
And wrapped in dreams rode out again
With hoofs of the pale findrinny
Over the glimmering purple sea.

(Wanderings of Oisín, William Blake)


When Oisín reached Antrim, he searched high and low for any sign of his warrior family, yet they were no where to be seen. Finally, he stopped and asked some people wandering by where the Fianna warriors were. Some shrugged and some laughed – the Fianna were just myth and legend to them, the subjects of stories and tales, for 300 years had passed since Oisín left the glens and none of the Fianna remained. The strong warriors of old had turned into small, weak men – nothing remained of Fionn’s legacy.

Saddened Oisín made to start riding back across the great sea to Niamh however he came across an old lady on his path. The lady was hunched over, bowed down with age and the weight of her wares. Thin films of white glazed her blue eyes and the wrinkles dug deep into her skin. Oisín was a Fianna and without even stopping to think, he dismounted to offer the old lady his assistance. As soon as his foot touched the ground, he turned into ashes and blew away in the wind. The last of the Fianna had fallen.


The Causeway Coastal Road takes you through the famous Nine Glens of Antrim that Oisín loved so much and is rated as one of the top 5 scenic coastal roads in the world. The coast is wild and rugged, the black rocks break the white foam horses. The hills are covered in frozen snow and as you drive around every turn you’ll gasp at your next view.

As you drive along you’ll pass through a number of villages including  Ballycastle, Cushendun, Cushendall, Waterfoot, Carnlough and Glenarm. Oisín is said to have ended his days in Cushendall, but each of the villages has a uniquely interesting story.


If you’re visiting Northern Ireland, make sure to take a trip along the Causeway Coastal Road. If you can’t find a magical white horse called Embarr, a car will do too I guess!

Roti King

I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that I crave food from Roti King at least once a day. I think I may have subconsciously surrounded myself with people who love the food at this little Malaysian restaurant as much as me, in order to have an endless supply of people to take the weekly pilgrimage to Roti King with me!

I first came across Sugendran – the Roti King from Ipoh – at Malaysia Night in Trafalgar Square. The length of the queue to his stall was directly proportionate to the tastiness of his food, and it sure was long!

We found out where he was usually based, which was conveniently near my office and before long his little stall within a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown became a regular haunt for an after-work roti (the best kind). In those days I almost exclusively ordered the roti with fish curry. The sweet, tangy tamarind sauce, the white, boneless fish flaking silkily into pieces and the intense flavours of mustard seeds and curry leaves made it hard to stop thinking about! However there were a lot of other delicious rotis on offer: roti with dal, roti with chicken curry, tissue roti and kaya roti (coconut-egg jam).

One day we turned up to the stall to discover the restaurant all boarded up and closed off. My heart skipped a beat. Luckily I thought to go right up to the door to see if there were any signs, and there were! While the Chinese restaurant had closed down, the Roti stall had moved to a new place near Euston Station. And sure enough, on opening night a month later, there we were, sick and shaking from roti withdrawal symptoms, desperate to be let in!

Since then, Sugendran’s restaurant has gone from strength to strength, with the menu expanding to include more Malaysian favourites such as Char Kway Teow, Laksa, Mee Goreng (my personal favourite), Rendang and a number of other delicious dishes!

They also serve the best Teh Tarik I’ve had out of Malaysia – this delicious creamy tea is sweetened with condensed milk, and I could honestly drink it all day long. There’s nothing better than a steaming mug of teh terik in winter, and in summer they serve it iced!

Some may turn their nose up at the small basement restaurant with an outside toilet, but they would be missing out on some of the best food in London. The small bustling locale is an authentic slice of Malaysia in London, with mouth wateringly tasty food, incredibly friendly staff (look out for the South Thai waiter – he’s got a great sense of humour!) and great atmosphere.

Since he moved, Roti King seems to have been featured on every food blog and visited by every restaurant journalist – and all have given the most glowing reviews. While I’m very happy for Sugendran’s success, this does mean that you can sometimes expect a queue up the stairs and out of the restaurant, so do try to book!

40 Doric Way, Euston, NW1 1LH, London
Facebook: Roti King London

St George’s Market, Belfast

It’s no wonder that St George’s market in Belfast has been voted one of the top markets in the UK. It’s deep red Victorian bricks and wrought iron latticework are home to an array of unusual stalls showcasing some truly unique talent. As I wandered through the ancient red arches, I soon lost myself in the hustle and bustle of the market.


The market is a great place to stop off at for breakfast or lunch, especially on a hungover Sunday! Whether you’re looking for an Ulster fry or a Belfast bap, there are quite a few greasy options on offer! It’s not just cooked food on offer here though, for among the artists stalls lies a fresh fishmonger! I was rather taken aback, but I have to say I quite like the really unusual mix of stalls at St. George’s!


This accordion bag was on display among a number of other bizarrely shaped handbags. No matter your taste, there was a handbag for you, from elephants, peacocks and camels to book shaped bags. House of Cards handbag anyone?


The next stall that called out to me was selling a range of smoke fired porcelain horses. Everyone who knows me knows that I love horses, but it wasn’t their ‘horseness’ that called out to me this time. I loved the form of the statues, they looked so elegant, like ballet dancers, and I loved the dappled colours on the soft curves. Sadly they were a little out of my price range!


I couldn’t help but stop at this next stall – I love funny cards and here was a whole rack of beautifully hand drawn cards by Sarah Majury with silly lines.


I especially loved the painting of the Crown Liquor Saloon pub – possibly the prettiest and most atmospheric pub in the world!


While I was busy buying card after card I suddenly heard the bagpipes being played in the market, and then immediately remembered it was Burns Night!

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet was incredibly popular in Northern Ireland, home of a number of Ulster Scots. In the 19th century most families in Belfast would only have two books – the Bible and The Collected Works of Robert Burns! The language and works of Burns resonated strongly with the locals of Northern Ireland and infact they didn’t struggle with his words as many of the Scots words were also used in Ulster.

So in honour of Burns Night, here’s a line from one of my favourites of his poems, A Bottle and a Friend:

Here’s a bottle and an honest friend!
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
What his share may be o’ care, man?


After admiring the bagpipe player for a while, it was time for us to head out of the market, however we got very distracted by the most delicious looking cheese stall with loads of cheese to taste! The guy who runs the stall is incredibly friendly, and it turns out he used to have a stall in Borough Market in London! After a trying a number of different cheeses, I settled with a very a very local farmhouse cheese washed with mushrooms to coat the rind – subtle but truly delicious.


St George’s market is a very fun little place to while away an hour during your stay in Belfast. I wouldn’t make it the focus of your day, but a lot of sights don’t open till a little later on Sundays for example, so it makes a perfect Sunday morning plan. As I mentioned before, it’s a great place for that Sunday hangover food as well as a good place to buy some really pretty gifts to take home to friends and family. I strongly recommend you don’t leave those for the airport as it’s the smallest airport I’ve ever been to and all their souvenirs are generically Irish!