London Diary – English Riviera – Torquay

May, 2019

Torquay is a seaside town in Devon and the main attraction of the English Riviera. During its golden age in the late 1800s Torquay attracts the rich and the privileged; the Prince of Wales visited in 1864. Since then, Torquay has gone through many changes.

In the center of town and most popular tourist area is the delightful waterfront promenade, which is spread between the two iconic hotels, The Grand Hotel and The Imperial Hotel.  

It is also known as Agatha Christie Mile. Torquay is Agatha Christie’s childhood home and you’d find many reminders of her connection to Torquay. Among others, annual Agatha Christie Festival is held in Torquay, there is an Agatha Christie Gallery at Torquay Museum, you can stay at Agatha Christie Suite at The Grand Hotel, there is an Agatha Christie bust near the Princess Garden and there are many Agatha Christie plaques marking spots connected to her. Greenway, Agatha Christie’s last home, is located on the bank of Dart River only 30 minutes away.

The Grand Hotel and The Imperial Hotel are two iconic hotels from the Victorian age. Agatha Christie honeymooned at The Grand Hotel. The Imperial Hotel is featured in Agatha Christied’s Hercule Poirot, Peril at the End House. While The Grand Hotel has retained its former Victorian architecture, The Imperial Hotel has mysteriously changed into its current dull form from its formerly attractive Victorian style.

For those who enjoy coastal walks, there are plenty in the area. We took a short one between The Imperial and Meadfoot Beach. A famous landmark on this route is a natural arch known as the London Bridge. At Meadfoot Beach is The Osbourne Hotel where Charles Darwin stayed.

The mile long Kent’s prehistoric Cavern is interesting. Only guided tour are offered. Our guide was infromative and funny, he gave us an interesting experience. In one of the chambers, he turned off all lights and showed the group what darkest darkness is like. Certainly not something that I could have imagined.

Torry Abbey is beautiful with interesting history and you’d find in its garden, Agatha Christie Potent Plants, a poisonous plant garden. Cockington just a few minutes south of town center is a different world. The art studios at Cockington Court are very interesting. I found something at Our Glass to take home with. Visit the interesting old church and don’t miss the Sanctuary Bar at the church door. Next door is the tranquil Cockington Village with thatch roofed cottages. Totnes, a former market town, is not far so we stopped by and were just in time to visit Totnes Castle. Dinner at King Williams IV, a pub, before heading home was just great.

London Diary – Sound Unbound

May 18, 2019

Got to love London’s rich cultural opportunities. And thanks to a friend for organising, we had a feast of music today, Carmina Burana by London Symphony Chorus with conductor Simon Halsey at Barbican Hall, Jewish dance music by Lakeside Clarinet Quartet at Barbican Conservatory and then Viva Espana! with guitarist Andrey Lebedev at The Hospital Church of St Bathelomew the Less. All wonderful music and brilliant performers. All part of music festival, Sound Unbound, and entirely free!

London Diary – Copenhagen in Spring

May 10-14, 2019

My husband and I met up with his parents in Copenhagen where they ended their transatlantic cruise. The first impression was Copenhagen is expensive. A 5 mile, 15 minute taxi ride from airport to hotel cost £40 pound. In London you can ride twice as long for the same price. And Copenhagen is indeed expensive with many things. But we did have a good time nonetheless. There was plenty of sunshine and I ate plenty of Smorrebrod. The marinated herring, which has a mild sweetness to it, is actually quite good. There are many tall Danes and most people speak good English.

Copenhagen’s city scene is pleasant and convenient with both Hop on and Hop off boats and buses available.

Old Harbor is colorful, vibrant, and has lots restaurants. It is a block away from Admiral Hotel where we stayed, and we ate almost all our meals there. Tivoli Garden is probably the prettiest amusement park; every flower was perfect when we were there. It is an easy climb on the access ramp to the top of The Round Tower for a panoramic view of the city. The Round Tower is more interesting in purpose, it was built in 17th century as astronomical observatory. Frederik Church aka Marble Church near Amalienborg Castle is beautiful. Amalienborg castle itself is an impressive set of symmetrical buildings. A small set of rooms open to the public are the modest of palace rooms I’ve seen and half of it was dedicated to theatrical design involving the former Queen Margrethe II.

Rosenborg Castle is stunning, more so inside than out. It was built by Christian IV as his summer residence. After being used as royal residence by a few more kings and queens, it became a royal storage and is now truly an amazing treasure trove. On display also is the pen, a common looking pen, that King Frekerik VII signed Denmark’s first constitution in 1849. A guide pointed it out to us and told an interesting story. Father of Frederik VII, the previous king, left him an advise, “gave people the power, or they will come get it themselves”, referring to the French Revolution.

There is more to learn about Denmark. As the birthplace of Hamlet and Little Mermaid, present Denmark of 5.8 million people has the highest tax rate at 56% and a 120% tax rate on imported cars which means all cars. Yet in the meantime it is ranked by UN the top three happiest countries for the last 7 years. Fascinating!

London Diary –Blue Bells and Hampshire

April 23, 2019

Beautiful weather for Easter long weekend!

We went to Hampshire in search of Blue Bells and found it at Hinton Ampner, an enchanting village. Seas of Blue Bells was surely a phenomenal sight to behold! (Last four photos.)

Exbury garden in New Forest, a remarkable botanical garden with beautiful landscape belonging to a branch of the Rothschild family, is an explosion of vibrant colors with Japanese Maples, Camellias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas and more.

Boileau is a lovely little village in the New Forest where New Forest ponies mingle with the friendly neighbors and visitors alike.T The Vyne is a house filled with intriguing history hidden in its fireplaces, ceiling and wood panels since the Tudor time. Jane Austen visited when her older brother Rev James Austen was the local vicar of Sherborne St John. (First four photos).

London Diary – A Pretty Spring Day in the Neighborhood!

April 18, 2019

Having been away for a month, London’s got a makeover. The wintry scene I left is replaced by verdant new greens and lovely colours.

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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/

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.