When I go to the beach, I react a bit like Rowan Atkinson in Mr Bean's Holiday when he finally found La Mer...
The sea is exciting, with all its big and small waves, sand, pebbles (plenty in Brighton) and shells. Comparatively, lakes may seem a bit boring and cold. But if you think about it, they just have a different personality altogether: still and less noisy.
Like mountains, certain lakes have left a lasting impression in my mind, whether it's the colour, the size, the surroundings, the view of/from them, or simply the biases of my personal experience.
1. big almaty lake, kazakhstan
We hired a white four-wheel drive that arrived promptly 2 hours after we asked for it. The good thing about holidays are that you have an extra layer of patience, compared to a typical day at home or work. It's a 3 hour drive from the city centre, which wasn't too bad. I take most photos on Instagram with a pinch of salt (including my own) as I know how tempting those filters are. I was expecting this to be another potential disappointment, but as we drove closer to the lake, I knew I was going to be wrong.
I haven't seen anything like this before.
A milky-green lake in the middle of mountains south of Almaty, Kazakhstan is a (police-patrolled) precious little gem that was the offspring of a couple of earthquakes and global warming. It's at an altitude of over 2500m, and apparently is a colour-changing lake (by season) that's also a source of water supply for some of the locals... I don't know what else you can expect from a lake?
2. LaKE titicaca & UROS ISLANDS, peru
I can't erase the memory of the local tour guide, who awkwardly sang 'My Heart Will Go On' on repeat to fill the silence on the boat to Uros from Puno. This was followed by another guide who made it her mission for the day to teach us how to pronounce 'Titicaca' i.e. TITI-KHA-KHA.
It was (or felt like) a long boat ride, but we eventually got to the main island. We walked to the top to get a full view of Lago Titicaca which wasn't exactly a breeze, thanks to the altitude.
It was endless. Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is over 3,800m high, shared by Bolivia and Peru. We enjoyed some fresh fish and chatted to some of the indigenous families who live on one of the 40 odd floating islands made with a bit of DIY, some team work, and a lot of reed. I left the island on a reed boat with a lovely handmade bracelet. The grandness of the lake, the exotic people and unique style of living won my heart.
3. iskanderkul, tajikistan
Another one from Central Asia, but it's the best USD 30 I have spent on a visa. Tajikistan was generally a scorching, dry city in my opinion, but the outskirts were the total opposite. Sparse villages with friendly Tajiks accompany the lake, making it a homely, scenic pit-stop for travellers (especially after a long, dusty journey from Dushanbe, in an old saloon car fit for a museum).
Once I got there, I took a round trip of this triangular lake on a local motorboat. I was by myself, next to a man who was asking me why I was by myself, and a couple who were being photographed for what I think (and hope) was a swim suit advert.
The lake itself is just over 2100m high and a bonus for those trekking the Gissar Range or Fann mountains. The best views are in the morning when it perfectly mirrors the image of the mountain range and clouds.
4. loch ness & LOCH LOMOND, scotland
I won't forget Loch Ness, not because of the stories about the 'monster', but the drive through the snake-like A82 roads right next to the waters leading up to Loch Ness from Loch Lomond. If you read the comic Tintin as a child, you may also recognise the name of Captain Haddock's Scottish Whisky.
Based in the Scottish Highlands, both of these lakes are the largest in the country, surrounded by villages with stone cottages, and plenty of friendly Scots. Those who like trekking can explore Ben Lomond to get the best views of the lake.
5. lake lucerne, switzerland
My parents love Switzerland and I've been hearing about it since the first time we visited the country, which was almost 20 years ago. Considering it's a country that's not short of mountains, Lake Lucerne being one of the bigger lakes in Switzerland is quite impressive.
The best views of the lake are probably from Mount Pilatus or somewhere up on a hill like Chateau Gutsch. But if you're on a budget (which is likely as like the Nordics, it's not a cheap country), walking alongside the lake, through the parks where the local Swiss residents go for runs and walks, and then occasionally dipping your feet into the water, or saying hello to the green-faced ducks, is another nice way to enjoy the lake.
6. lake victoria, kenya/uganda/tanzania
I wouldn't say this is the most beautiful lake, but it's the largest in Africa, and is a shared baby of 3 countries, 2 rivers and the Equator, which makes it quite special: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
I have seen it while we lived in Uganda, so my opinions may be skewed towards what I saw. Pollution from nearby cities has taken some of its colour and clarity away, but it is still a grand water body, keeping East Africa hydrated.
7. Llyn tarn, snowdon, wales (NORTH)
I really did not expect to find such jaw-dropping beauty so close to home. We drove five hours from London to the North of Wales, near Snowdonia National Park. The weather was in our favour and we managed to find parking in one of the parking lots that provide bus rides to the base of the six main routes. We went for the hike that was the second easiest (out of shame), and in under three hours we made it close to the top at around 800m, then walked down the rocks to the steely green coloured glacial lakes a.k.a. 'tarns'. With snow on the mountains and a not-so-tricky walking path, we had time to appreciate the beauty.
I have to say, I fell a little bit in love with Wales after this...
8. morskie oko, tatra national park, poland
This trek gets better over time... just keep walking and carry a flask with hot tea and some cake or donuts and you'll be fine. My full review on Zakopane and Krakow is here, but the highlight was certainly the mountains and the lake that is surrounded completely by mountains in Tatra National Park, shared between Poland and Slovakia. The colour of the lake can change from slate-black in colder weather, to aquamarine blue when it's warmer and sunnier. Chameleon lake!
I have to say, I do struggle to find a good cup of coffee when I’m not in London, but that’s probably because I don’t know the right places, or my taste buds have become biased by the city of coffee addicts. I remember (almost) shedding a tear of joy when we found a nice coffee made with condensed milk in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam after what felt like weeks. I think I had half a dozen terrible coffees on that trip, before I had a good one.
Note: in South East Asia stick to tea.
A health adviser from BUPA told me recently that ideally, caffeine should be avoided altogether as it's a stimulant and can tamper with your heart rate, but two to three cups of tea or coffee should be fine. Working life in London typically involves a lot of caffeine (and alcohol). When you're slaving away in your job all week, and wise people tell you not to drink 'too much' tea or coffee, you need to make sure that the few cups you do have are good ones and guilt-free.
According to BBC Health, 400mg* of caffeine is 'safe' per day. So we could have 1-4 cups of coffee as long as we don't have any other energy drinks, chocolates, tea, etc. (Hurray!)
*200mg for pregnant women
And if you care about how 'fatty' your coffees are, a small flat white, latte or cappuccino with full-fat milk is around 100 calories and 5-7g of fat. There's a quiz from The Guardian to test your coffee-calorie knowledge, which covers the high street coffee chains: Starbucks, Pret, Costa, Nero and good old Greggs.
Health aside, I'm sure many of you have your personal favourites for the quick and easy coffee, whether they get your name right or change it completely (I once got my takeaway Frappuccino with "FAN" written on it). But if you don't mind waiting a bit longer for what's usually a (much) smaller portion of coffee for what you usually pay, here are some 'artisan' coffee shops to check out in the city on your lunch break:
1. artigiano, st paul's
These guys need to thank me for at least 50 cappuccinos consumed in 2 years and now this blog. And I can thank them for all the good cappuccinos and loyalty stamps I have enjoyed. Step out of Artigiano and there's the grand beauty of St Paul's Cathedral. What more could you possibly ask for?
The staff are quirky, friendly and sometimes they may even give you an extra stamp for your loyalty and a big Cheshire smile. What's more, they serve beer, wine and cocktails (with happy hour) after 12pm. Genius.