London Diary – Driving from London to Belgium

Jan 9, 2019

Happy 2019!

Driving to the “continent” from London over Christmas was an interesting experience. You drive to Folkstone, Kent and drive onto the train that takes you through EuroTunnel in an easy 30 minutes, cool! From Calais, France you can direct your car whichever way you want. Our main destination this time was Belgium.

Brussels

Is lovely. The good weather we were lucky to have was a nice break from London that has been grey and wet for weeks. The Christmas tree at the beautiful Grand Place is one of the grandest and quite magical at night. EU headquarter is a cool complex of buildings, almost futuristic. Many places like museum were closed but we had fun walking around the city and checking out the Christmas markets, largest of them is Winter Wonder near Grand Place. If you haven’t heard of the Pissing Boy, you can’t miss him. He is everywhere. You’d also find chocolate, fries, waffles and Gluhwein everywhere. My husband is quite smitten with Belgium beer. Luckily Basilica of Sacred Heart was open on Christmas Day and we went up to its Panorama for a fantastic bird’s eye view of the city.

Brugges

Is a gorgeous historic little town, with many architectural delight. Best view of it is from its Bell-fry at the market square. We made our way up there just as the sun was setting and the tower bell was ringing, perfect! Market square seems the center of the town where there is natural a Christmas market. I had the best fries from the stand right next to the entrance to the Bel-fry. What I like best is to have mayonnaise and ketchup on the side and dip in alteration. Brugges is small and easy to walk. Here is a link to a self-guided walking route: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/belgium/bruges/in-location/self-guided-tours/a/nar/389a6cd3-56eb-4306-a9fb-d6374c307bbe/1342451

 

Dunkirk

Driving made it possible for us to make a stop at Dunkirk. Although brief, it was a meaningful visit, remembering those who sacrificed, remembering how devastating war was and remembering how precious peace is.

Pretty sunset accompanying us on the drive back culminated at Calais, France. A beautiful send off. Au revoir!

P.S. Due to the different rules, you do need an EU driving kit which includes a GB sticker and a fire extinguisher among others and can be purchases online. Reservation for cross EuroTunell by car can be done on this website: https://www.eurotunnel.com/uk/home/

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London Diary – A Taste of Greece

Sep. 2018

We holidayed in Greece late September.

Greece is one of the top travel destinations in the world but it is the only country that receives tourists twice as much as its population. Is there any wonder why?

Known as cradle of Western Civilisation, so much about Greece has left a mark on my brain. Just to name a few,

  • Grandeur and timeless beauty of classic Greek Architecture,
  • Greek Mythology,
  • Invention of theatre,
  • Olympic Games,
  • 6000 years’ history of cultivating olives,
  • Birth place of city state and concept of democracy,
  • Its eternally influential philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the development of modern science and ground breaking new way of understanding the world without resorting to religion and magic.

In other words, without the contribution of the ancient Greek, the world might not have been what it is today. It is an unrivalled, glorious heritage indeed. The intriguing question is, how I’d find the juxtaposition of ancient and modern Greece?

Athens

We loved our hotel in Athens, A for Athens, which is located right at Monastiraki Square with stunning view of the square and Acropolis and super convenient, close to loads restaurants, shops and attractions, Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Market, Hadrian’s library and more.

Greece is the sunniest country in Europe. The gorgeous blue sky that we so admire in photos can be a risk for heatstroke in person. I know, it happened to me on the first time we were on Acropolis. It was a dry and brilliantly sunny day. I was fully prepared with thick layer of sun lotion, sunglasses, hat, and umbrella. I didn’t feel uncomfortably hot either, yet it still hit unexpectedly.

We visited Acropolis a second time, since the first was cut short. It was a breezy day. What feels like a gentle breeze on the ground became uncomfortably gusty on Acropolis. We saw hats blown away multiple times. Afterwards, I realised I was covered in sticky dust.

There is no downtown with a jungle of skyscrapers in Athens. As a matter of fact, there are few tall buildings.

Graffiti is keenly conspicuous throughout the city. We were told by our tour guide, it is the doing of the angry youth. And she followed, “it will pass”. Luckily they haven’t dared to get their hands on the ancient antiquities.

And most memorable are the antiquities, such as entrance gate to Acropolis, Parthenon, Caryatids of Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Temple of Hephaestus which commands a panorama view of Acropolis, Ancient Agora, and Lycabettus, Stoa and statue of Alexander the great at Ancient Angora. When you set eyes on these, you feel transported to an entirely different world and completely mesmerised, albeit temporarily.

Delphi

Ancient Delphi is located on the dramatic steep slope of Mount Parnassus and surrounded by stunning scenery. Even though most of the structures is lost, you can still envision its former glory and beauty. Adding to the picturesque site its intriguing history, Delphi is quite magical.

Most of the day tours from Athens are too much a rush. You have about 1 hour to visit the site before being whisked away to lunch. You might not have time to go through the entire site, let alone time to visit the museum.

An overnight trip would have been more satisfying. But if you can’t do over night, do the day tour anyway.

Meteroa

Beautiful monastery buildings perched atop phenomenal rock formation, Meteora is stunning.

The drive from Delphi to Meteora is 3-4 hours. 2/3 of the way it travels through plains. Yu can spot many solar panels, sometimes a large block, sometimes just a few fitted on top of a house. And every now and then an unfished or abandoned building can be seen.

Santorini

Hm, what to expect from an island that is almost synonym to romantic paradise?

There are many good points about it. The island is a volcanic phenomenon. There are plenty splendid viewpoints, particularly on the caldera side of the island between Fira and Oia, a phenomenal red beach in Akrotiri and black beaches, unique Cycladic cubic houses linked with each other in labyrinth fashion.

But I was quite taken aback by how gaunt and earthy most of the island looks. Vegetation just doesn’t appear to be thriving on the island. Even vines that do well are the brown and low crawling types. Nevertheless, the grapes are turned into pretty good wines.

Food, which was consistently good on this holiday, became slightly better, and also more expensive, probably in part because Santorini has to get most of its vegetables and fruits from mainland or bigger islands like Crete.

Santorini’s tourism runs in interesting cycles. Locals in the field, which is most of them, work literally none stop for 7/8 months of the year and stop for the rest of the year. Winter might be quite desolate on the island. We were told however more and more tourists are coming to the island in the winter and some local businesses now stay open during winter by appointment.

Ancient ruin in Akrotiri is an interesting visit. It is an archaeological dig in progress and you might see teams working on site. Objects unearthed from the site are displayed at Archaeological Museum in Fira, which is free on the weekend. You have to visit the museum to fully appreciate Akrotiri.

London Diary – Towns on Thames

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Going on 3rd year in London, it has been perfectly fine without owning a car. Now we have one we’ve been surveying commuting options along Thames. Maybe I’ll find a gorgeous place in a lovely little village that I can afford and it is not too far for my husband to commute to work. Those criteria have to be met for the move to be worthwhile. One can always dream. Over the past weekend, we covered more ground than we otherwise could have.

To the west, Taplow and Marlow. While Taplow has a pretty traditional village center, Marlow has a vibrant high street, both have pretty riverfronts. Maidenhead right across Taplow is very pretty on the river too.

To the west, Erith, Gravesend, Rochester and Chatham. Erith is quickly ruled out. Gravesend has an unsavory name and wasn’t on the list, but we stumbled across it and found it an impressive little town. Another interesting discovery in Gravesend, Pocahontas is buried at its St Gorge’s Church. Heading towards Chatham, we were stopped by Rochester’s imposing riverside castle and its grand cathedral. Chatham might be Rochester’s quieter neighbour, it too has some interesting points, Marina, Historic dock yard, riverside distillery and Chatham Naval Memorial where there is a sweeping view of the hilly towns.

Whatever happens, it certainly has been fun looking.

London Diary – Mayfield Lavendar

Jul 28, 2018

Somehow I had thought lavender field is exclusively French. But I found my first lavender field right here in Banstead, Surrey, England.

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London Diary – Wimbledon is Fun

Jul 7, 2018

London is best in summer and Pimms never tastes better. Yesterday we visited the famous Wimbledon Championship for the first time. It is one of a kind experience, lively atmosphere and great fun even if you are not mad about tennis (or rather Lawn Tennis as it should be properly called). To better experience it, prepare to make it a full day event. In fact, you can be there literally sun up to sun down.

Here are the multiple ways to get into Wimbledon Championship: buy reasonably priced tickets through pubic ballots the year before, or pay loads for debenture, ie the right to buy best seats in Center Court or Court No. 1, or vie for limited number of seats during the tournament for upwards £1000 each, or join the majority of visitors and do the queue on the day. See the official website for details, http://www.wimbledon.com/index.html.

I might try the ballots for next year’s tournament but this time around, the queue is the opted option. The ground opens at 10:30am, the official queue guide recommends visitors to arrive a few hours before, but some start camping the night before. We arrived fashionably late around 12:30pm, not knowing we’d be able to get in or not, but just about an hour and half later, we entered the complex, having paid £25 each for ground admission.

The interesting thing is, although Center Court and Court No. 1 to 3 require tickets, other courts are first come first serve. The most popular watching area seems to be Aorangi Terrace on Henmen Hill. Crowd gathers to watch on large TV screen match live that plays out at Center Court close by, enjoying fabulous view of London’s skyline in the distance, picnic and bubblies.

We joined in the fun, soaking in the joviality and witnessing a few corks popped into the air. Shortly after, the match between Britain’s Kyle Edmund and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic started and we stayed for the entire game. Since the match coincided with soccer world cup game between England and Sweden, there in between the tennis match cheers and updates for the soccer game spread around. We didn’t leave until almost 9pm.

 

 

 

London Diary – Chinese New Year of Dog 2018!

Feb 18, 2018

It is truly inspiring to see London embraces Chinese New Year with gusto, what a fantastic celebration today, certainly living up to its reputation of being the largest outside China. The area between Chinatown, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square was turned into car free zone and was packed with activities. Trafalgar Square was once again the centre stage for the traditional Flying Lions, Dragon dance, and other stunning performances, singing, dancing, acrobats and magic shows that we missed the last time. China Town was as expected the busiest of the year. While having dinner at Joy King Lau, a couple of lions paid a visit, prancing and frolicking. Delicious and auspicious!

 

 

 

London Diary – Winter Wander with Walk London 2018!

Feb 3, 2018

Cold and rainy, far less than an ideal day for Winter Wander. Getting up late and missing the group nearly put a stop to it. But we braved it and completed the mission on our own, walking along Regent Canal from Islington to Hackney Wick. Not the prettiest section of the canal. Still quite interesting to see and surely stretched our legs well. Favorite was Victoria Park and a nice break at The Crown right by the park.

Another wander coming up tomorrow opposite side of town. Hoping for better weather.

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Feb 4, 2018

Weather was much improved today. Winter Wander #2, Grand Union Canal from Boston Manor to Greenford, which was a historically important canal linking London and Birmingham. The best part was the last stop, Osterley House, beautiful house and park. Alas we were too late to do a proper visit. We have to go back someday.

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