Day out in Gloucester

Dear travellers,

If you are in the area and want to add a day trip, Gloucester should be top of your list. We chose it because it was just half way to meet a friend who was staying in Bristol and we were more than positively surprised.

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The city has a long history dating long back to Roman times, when it was already important. It is a place that can easily be visited on foot as all the points of interest are quite close. The cathedral is probably the main attraction and it was originally an abbey that survived Henry VIII’s repossession of places of worship, thanks to the fact that one of his ancestors is buried there.

 

The entrance to the cathedral is free but you are requested to donate £3 for a photography permit. We suggest you go for it as the building is impressive. It is a good visit also with kids because you have several interactive activities on the upper floor, but let’s go by order. As you walk in, on your left just after the shop you have the entrance to the cloister, but also the toilets and the café. We were not hungry yet but the cakes looked scrumptious, so stop there if you want a bite. The cloister is part of the old building belonging to the abbey and it is beautiful, especially if you are lucky enough to have a beautiful, sunny day as we had. You may recognise the two vaulted corridors around the cloister as they were used for some scenes in a few Harry Potter movies.

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Coming inside the church again, you will find yourself near the organ, a very elegant wooden instrument with gold leaf decorations on the pipes. From here, you can access the choir and the altar before you walk around the apse. On the left still, before accessing the altar, you have the treasury and the access to the balcony. The spiral staircase is absolutely fine, wide and comfortable, with a handrail that you can trust (you know my bad relationship with spiral staircases, so you can really trust this one if I was not afraid); moreover, it is only one way, so you won’t have people coming down while you try to climb up.

Upstairs you will find some costumes that you can try and dress up like a knight, a noblewoman, a bishop, and so on. Guess who tried some stuff on. After this, you will see some of the construction materials and tools explained, and you will then learn a bit of the history of the cathedral and how it survived the dissolution imposed by Henry VIII.

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One of the main features of the cathedral are its stained glass windows and you can admire their beauty all around the building, but you will also learn how they used to repair them with different techniques and sometimes not getting it exactly right. You can also admire some more modern stained glass windows that are incredibly beautiful and will remind you of more modern painters.

Outside of the building, on your left is the town centre, but if you decide to go straight before heading towards the other attractions, you won’t be disappointed. On the right you have more ground belonging to the cathedral and you can see some ruins of the original abbey. Not far from there are the ruins of St Oswald’s Priory, already falling out of use in the XI century and later completely abandoned. It is interesting nonetheless to see the changes in style and use in the wall that is still standing.

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Gloucester was a real surprise for me, as I hadn’t been expecting too much and it actually turned out to be a very nice city to visit. The area that surprised me the most was definitely the historic docks, which have undergone an extensive redevelopment and regeneration project. These words often bring out a great deal of cynicism in me, as I often find that either the redevelopment has left the area with barely any resemblance to its original state, or that it has barely scratched the surface and the area is just as dilapidated as before except it now has a few cafes and restaurants struggling to stay in business. In Gloucester they seem to have found the perfect balance between redevelopment and restoration, and all the original buildings remain although they now look like they could have been built yesterday. The moorings and the entrance lock to the canal both appear to have been completely renewed, yet still keeping in with the original style, and it is pleasing to see a great deal of marine activity going on. As a result of the environment that has been created, the cafes and restaurants that now occupy the ground floor of most of the waterside ex-warehouses seem to be doing a roaring trade, and the whole experience of dining by the docks is very pleasant.

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Some of the old warehouses now house the local council offices, and if this was a council-led project then I have to say it is by far the best one I have ever seen! If you’re in Gloucester for any length of time I highly recommend coming to the docks for a spot of lunch or an afternoon drink, it’s easily close enough to the city centre to walk there and you certainly won’t be disappointed. And if you are interested in this sort of thing, the entrance lock at one end of the docks and the cantilever bridge at the other end are both great opportunities to see the docks still working today. There may not be big steamers unloading their wares anymore, but the surroundings make it very easy to imagine what it would have been like when they were.

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Anyone that grew up in the UK should be familiar with Beatrix Potter’s stories, especially The Tale of Peter Rabbit which has just also been made into an animated movie. This is the children’s story that started a whole series of similar tales featuring the lives of various small creatures. One of the lesser-known stories is The Tailor of Gloucester, and now you know how this fits into this post! Beatrix was inspired to write this story after hearing a legend about a local tailor during a visit she made to Gloucester. I won’t divulge any more details, as the story follows the legend quite closely and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. You’ll just have to read it for yourselves!

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During her visit to Gloucester and after having heard the legend, Beatrix Potter visited the tailor’s shop and it features in the original illustrations for the book. The building is found down a quaint little side-street close to the cathedral, which is decorated with bunting and filled with wonderful little shops selling all kinds of local arts and crafts. It is no longer a tailor’s shop however, but has instead been turned into a Beatrix Potter museum and gift shop which is definitely worth a visit. The back room of the shop has been turned into a scene from the book, with every detail attended to right down to the mice hidden in every nook and cranny! Upstairs is the museum part of the shop, with displays of items relating to Beatrix Potter and The Tailor of Gloucester in particular, as well as information about the story and Beatrix’s life.

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The gift shop is found back downstairs and has all the Beatrix Potter products you would expect, but our favourite section has to be the collection of books available to buy. They had all of the stories in the same style as those I remember from childhood, along with limited edition and foreign language versions. We couldn’t resist buying a limited edition of The Tailor of Gloucester as a souvenir, and it wasn’t at all surprising when we were told how popular that particular release has been! And that brings me on to the last thing I’d like to say about the shop, and that is how interesting and helpful the owner was. He was happy to explain and demonstrate the relationship between the building and the story, and made us feel incredibly welcome. There is no entrance fee and they must make their money from the gift shop alone, yet it is the most relaxed environment you could expect. There is no feeling of an obligation to buy anything, and I wouldn’t have felt guilty leaving empty-handed, they simply let the products sell themselves. Even if you have never read a Beatrix Potter story and know absolutely nothing about her, this place is definitely worth a visit. You are sure to learn a lot while you are there, and if you are already a Beatrix Potter fan then there is no need for me to try and sell it to you any further!

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These are the highlights of our day in Gloucester but the city alone is worth a visit, with plenty of old buildings and parks to enjoy. Especially, if you go during the week, the old library buildings looked like interesting places to visit.

Happy travels and stay tuned,

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

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Wander and Lust’s first anniversary

Dear readers and followers,

We are proud to say that our blog is one year old today and we would like to thank all of you who have been following our adventures in these last 12 months. For our newer readers, here is where it all began with our introductory post.

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If you already follow us, you may have noticed we have been slowly modifying the style of our blog in order to keep it interesting, and we will soon bring you a few surprises that we hope you will like.

You may also have seen that we are experiencing a few changes ourselves, leaving Cambridgeshire as our base and going to explore a new shire in this beautiful country. I feel like this move is taking forever, and it is, probably almost three months now, but we cannot complain, so far it hasn’t been as bad as we expected.

All these changes and the one-year anniversary made us think that what better way of celebrating than taking you down memory lane and sharing with you our favourite posts and trips of the past year?

Egypt

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We’ll start with our trip to Egypt, which for me was a real tale of two halves. We immensely enjoyed seeing both the buildings and artefacts left behind by the ancient Egyptians in their original location, and the wonderful and varied marine life of the Red Sea. However, the way that tourists are treated by the locals left a bitter aftertaste to the whole experience, as we really felt like we were nothing but walking ATMs to them. It’s fair enough for them to want to capitalize on the flow of tourists that flock to this country for the reasons mentioned, but to be so relentless and aggressive with their sales techniques made dealing with them very stressful and tiring. Looking back now, we try to focus on all of the incredible things that we saw during those ten days, from Karnak Temple and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, to swimming and snorkeling with dolphins and turtles. Here you will find our posts about Luxor and the Red Sea, in which you can find out more about our adventures in Egypt.

Malaysia

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This is the most recent of our trips and we wrote a series of four posts (plus a supplementary page about food) about how we spent two weeks travelling in the Malaysian peninsula, from the capital city to the tea plantations and the islands. This country captivated us with almost every aspect of its culture: The people, the hospitality, the food, the nature and the wildlife, and the language just to name some of them. Read our posts about Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, Penang, and Langkawi, and the page about Malaysian food.

Scotland

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This trip was Ms Lust’s birthday treat and it lived up to expectations. The weather was rainy, no surprise in that, the landscape was breathtaking, the food was scrumptious, and to that you must add whisky and swimming with the fairies. There, no need to say more. Read all about five days in the Scottish Islands and Highlands here.

Cornwall

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We had been making plans for this trip for a while, which unfortunately the weather didn’t play along with. We tried our best not to let the wild conditions get in our way, and still managed to see most of the places we had planned to. There was just a lot less time spent on the beach than we would have liked! But with plenty of old mine buildings, stately homes, and small coastal towns to explore, we were able to fill this time in other ways. So if you’re looking for ideas on how to spend wet, windy days in Cornwall, here you’ll find our post about when we spent five days doing exactly that!

Thank you all for following us over the last twelve months and stay tuned for our next travels. Here’s to another year of wonderful adventures and unforgettable experiences,

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

 

Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur

Dear readers,

Prior to booking and planning our winter break in Malaysia, almost everything I knew about this country I had learnt from watching Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery wreak havoc in Kuala Lumpur in the film Entrapment. So I knew that Kuala Lumpur is the capital city, and that there’s two tall, identical towers joined by a bridge, and that was about it. So this trip has been not only an amazing tour around this wonderful country, but also a very educational one. Now I’d like to share with you what I’ve learnt, but in order to keep the posts manageable we’ve decided to split them into individual locations. So let’s start with the one place that I had heard about previously, and our starting point, Kuala Lumpur.

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Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures, with large populations of people originally from China, India, and many other Asian nations. Nowhere is this more evident than in Kuala Lumpur, being the capital city of Malaysia and the heart of the country. Kuala Lumpur also manages to mix both historic and modern features into a wonderful contrast, where beautiful mosques and temples sit perfectly in the shadows of huge, towering skyscrapers. In many other cities one or the other of these would look out of place, but the combination here seems to be just right and it almost feels like the entire city was built at the same time. Even the public transport seems to have been built to service every part of the city almost too well, a far cry from the chaos and disorganisation I had been expecting!

The mix of cultures also provides a fantastic introduction to Malaysian cuisine, which is in fact a combination of many other Asian cuisines into a mix of everything that again just seems to work. It also means that whatever your taste, there will always be something to suit, from noodles and satay from a street vendor through to Starbucks and McDonald’s for the culinary squeamish. Everything here just seems to work well together, even if on paper it looks like it shouldn’t, and it is possibly the perfect place to introduce yourself to Malaysia. So now I’ll take you through the main sights and places that we visited, but first here’s some practical information to help get the best from Kuala Lumpur.

Airport transfer/public transport

Kuala Lumpur will be most travellers’ entry point into Malaysia, as it is the capital city and home to the biggest airport in the country. Nearly all long-haul flights to Malaysia arrive at Kuala Lumpur, as did ours. After arriving the first task is to find transport from the airport to the city centre, over 50 km away, and for this you have a number of options. The quickest option is by train, and more specifically the KLIA Ekspres. This service stops only at the two airport terminals and the central station in the city centre, KL Sentral. The trains run once every 20 minutes, more frequently during peak times, and take around 30 minutes to reach the city centre. It costs RM55 (approximately £10) one way or RM100 (£18) return but it is possible to get these tickets discounted, 10% off if purchased using an automated ticket machine or 15% off by using a contactless credit or debit card at the ticket gates. This is the option we choose for our transfers and I would definitely recommend it, the trains were quiet, comfortable, and clean, and it was incredibly easy to find and use. Just look for the purple signs in the terminal buildings and they’ll take you straight to the ticket machines and kiosk.

There is another train option available, the KLIA Transit service. This is slower than the Ekspres, because it makes a few extra stops along the way. This may make it more suitable if you are staying in the southern suburbs of the city, and it is an excellent option if you are leaving straight away on one of the many regional bus services as it stops at the station that serves them (Bandar Tasik Selatan). To use this service to go to KL Sentral currently costs the same as the Ekspres train, although it is cheaper if you are disembarking at one of the earlier stations, and a trip to KL Sentral will take about 40 minutes. The trains seem to be the same as those used for the Ekspres service, so I imagine they are just as clean and comfortable. They are less frequent however, with only one train every 30 minutes or one every 20 minutes during peak times. They can be found in the same area as the Ekspres trains, on the opposite side of the platform.

Bus services also operate between the airport terminals and the city centre, which are suited for those on a shoestring budget. It costs RM10 (£2) one way and RM18 (£3.50) return and takes approximately one hour to reach KL Sentral, although I would allow for extra time due to potential traffic jams in the city centre. Again follow signs in the airport buildings directing you towards buses. Taxis are also available and possibly suited more for larger groups and families, and have the added bonus of taking you direct to your accommodation. Make sure you agree a price at the start to avoid being scammed, and again these are liable to be held up in the city’s traffic.

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Once you arrive at KL Sentral, getting around Kuala Lumpur and to your accommodation using public transport is a doddle. There is an integrated network of trains, monorail, and buses with maps at all the stations to assist with planning your route. Tickets are cheap as well, with most journeys costing only a few ringgit. Unless you buy a reloadable travel card, you will be issued a round token for each journey. It isn’t possible to get return tokens or passes, so you will need to get one for each and every trip. This also applies for transferring between forms of transport, each requires another token. It doesn’t take long to get used to the system but remember to buy the tokens at the automated machines, the kiosks will provide change if needed but you’ll still need to go back to the machines.

Lastly there is also a free bus service, operating throughout the city centre. It runs in one direction only along four routes, annoying if you need to go in the opposite direction but handy for getting around the city. Each route is denoted by a colour; red, blue, green, and purple. Most tourist maps include a route map for both the free buses and the train and monorail network, which also include the locations of the main sights to aid in journey planning. Just be aware that these buses can get very busy at times, which makes them unsuitable for travelling with luggage or backpacks. They are also very prone to getting stuck in traffic, as they run along some of the busiest roads in the city.

Now that I’ve gotten the practical stuff out of the way, it’s time to talk about what we actually did and saw in Kuala Lumpur. So now you know how to get around the city, read on to find out where you should be heading!

Petronas Towers and KLCC

The Petronas Towers are the iconic symbol of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, and a good place to start your sightseeing. Once the tallest buildings in the world, and still the tallest twin towers in the world at 452 metres, they stand proudly over the city and are visible from all over Kuala Lumpur. I must admit that I wasn’t too impressed with them for their height, I guess having just seen the Burj Khalifa can be blamed for that, but I was impressed by their architectural beauty. They are probably the most striking skyscrapers I have seen, with their star shape being a welcome change from the usual square or pointed buildings in cities all over the world. The area around the towers is also a welcome change from the rest of the city, with the large KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) Park starting just behind them. This includes a lake that sits in the shadows of the towers, and where you can watch water fountain displays similar to those we saw in Dubai (you can read about that here). The park is also an enjoyable place for a stroll and an excellent vantage point for photos of the Petronas Towers. This was where we came to watch the fireworks on New Year’s Eve (to satisfy my Entrapment pilgrimage!), although we didn’t realise that the fireworks would be going off from behind us instead!

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The main attraction here is the Skybridge that joins the two towers together, the world’s highest at 170 metres. It is possible to visit the Skybridge to enjoy the views of the city, although it is highly advisable to book tickets online to avoid the infamously long queues that will greet you at the ticket kiosk if you don’t. One other piece of advice I have to give you is to check the opening hours. The Skybridge is closed on Mondays, something we didn’t realise until it was too late and meant that we wouldn’t be able to fit a visit in. Also included in the tour is a trip up to the 86th floor of one of the 88-storey towers, for what I imagine are even more impressive views of Kuala Lumpur.

Also inside the towers is a shopping mall, where you will find shops for many European and American brands as well as local shops and stalls selling crafts and souvenirs. The mall was surprisingly quiet in comparison to the throngs of tourists that we usually found outside, and it actually turned out to be a good place to find souvenirs and somewhere for a meal. There are also a number of bars and restaurants located in the vicinity of the towers, and the ones we saw in KLCC Park seemed to offer the best views to enjoy while having a drink or a bite to eat. They are aimed purely at tourists however, so prices are much higher than in other parts of the city.

KL Tower and Eco Forest Park

Another building that can be seen from all over the city is the KL Tower, a purpose built communications tower similar to the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. The tower stands at 421 metres (30 metres shorter than the Petronas Towers) with an observation deck at 276 metres, an open-air deck, and a revolving restaurant at 282 metres. We only visited the observation deck as the open-air deck was closed due to the weather conditions, yet the views were still good and partly made up for missing out on the Skybridge tour. The observation deck is a doughnut shaped walkway with gift shops and photo kiosks on one side and large windows looking out over the city on the other, allowing views of the city from every angle. There’s also plenty of fixed binoculars (similar to those once found at the seaside all over the UK) which seemed to be free to use, if you would like a closer view of the surroundings. Once you’ve had your fill of the views, there are plenty of express lifts available to whisk you back down to the main lobby. Here you’ll find even more gift shops and photo kiosks, as well as more attractions such as the F1 simulator which was unfortunately not in operation at the time of our visit.

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Outside of the tower there are yet more tourist shops in case you forgot to buy that Ferrari merchandise you’ve always wanted while you were inside. It was raining consistently when we came out so we didn’t linger about here for too long, and I’m not sure we would have anyway regardless of the weather. We were more interested in the attraction that predates the tower and which makes the tower more unique, which is the Eco Forest Park that the tower was built inside of. This is an area of rainforest within the city centre, which has been created as an escape from the pollution, noise, and commotion of the city.

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It is free to enter and there are many walkways through the park, each clearly signposted and well-maintained. There is also a canopy walkway made of a number of towers and suspension bridges, which enables you to enjoy viewing the rainforest from above. We only walked along a short section of this, but we found that to be enjoyable and the information boards describing the species in each area were very informative. Back on terra firma, we followed the main walkway through the rainforest which winds its way from the top near the KL Tower all the way back to the city streets at the bottom. The path can be walked in either direction, but I’d definitely recommend going from top to bottom as it is quite steep in places and the heat and humidity makes it even more of a challenge. Having already been on a forest trek in the Cameron Highlands (more on this soon!) I can say that the Eco Forest Park is a great example of a rainforest in the city. It is easy to forget where you are while walking through the dense undergrowth, surrounding by tall, towering trees of a huge variety. It was raining whilst still being warm when we visited, which added even more to the authenticity of the environment, so much so that it was almost a surprise to find ourselves straight back into the city once we’d reached the bottom. It’s definitely a great place to spend an hour or two, and a fantastic contrast to the rest of the city. I’d actually say that I enjoyed the Eco Forest Park more than visiting the KL Tower, but it’s still worth doing both if you are in the area.

Batu Caves

The Batu Caves were the first place to be put on our ‘must-see’ list, as it was somewhere that Ms Lust had missed out on during her previous visit to Kuala Lumpur. Batu Caves is the name given to a collection of cave systems that have formed in a limestone hillside, now located within the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. They have become a popular tourist attraction, mainly due to the Hindu temples, statues, and shrines that have been built here. It is within easy reach from the city centre, with a station served by the KTM Komuter train just a short walk from the main entrance, and a one-way ticket will cost just two or three ringgit from the city.

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The main draw is the Temple Cave, where the first temple was built. Type Batu Caves into any search engine and the first item you’re likely to find is the iconic view of the huge statue of Lord Murugan standing in front of the staircase heading up to the Temple Cave. The statue is the largest of Lord Murugan in the world, incredibly impressive to see, and was only unveiled in 2006. This too was where we headed first, to tackle the 272 steps leading up to the cave. This part of the caves is free to enter, I had read about people being scammed into paying for tickets or tours that aren’t required but we didn’t see anything like this happening. To be honest, we didn’t come across any attempts to scam us throughout our entire trip, so I think a few incidences may have been blown out of proportion on the internet. This is where we discovered the other thing that Batu Caves is famous for, their resident Long-tailed Macaque (also known as Crab-eating Macaque) population. Known as ‘The Mafia’ by the locals, these cute-looking monkeys really can’t be trusted. Luckily I had read about them beforehand and, as they say, forewarned is forearmed, so we had already made sure not to have any food with us or to have any valuables secured in our bags. These monkeys can see food a mile off, and once they do you will have to be very lucky or very brave to keep hold of it. We saw countless unsuspecting victims having shopping bags of food stolen by macaques, even water bottles were prized items for them. This has been partly caused, and continually not helped, by tourists feeding the monkeys. We even saw one woman handing a bottle of Sprite to a macaque just so she could get a cute photo for Instagram, although it was quite pleasing to see the monkey toss it away and then screech at the woman when she tried to tell it off! Now they have become used to this way of finding food, and taken to grabbing whatever they can from tourists rather than getting their nourishment from the surrounding forest. Unfortunately this habit is only likely to get worse as people continue to provide their food, either unsuspectingly or otherwise, so no matter how cute these monkeys may have seemed, we had to be wary of them!

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The climb to the top wasn’t too strenuous, just long and seemingly never-ending with the humidity making it seem worse than it should be. My tip is to take short breaks when you need to, the steps are very wide and you won’t be causing an obstruction if you stay to one side, whilst keeping an eye on those cheeky primates! Once at the top, you enter into the Temple Cave. Fully enclosed to begin with, with an extremely high ceiling, this area houses a few shrines and construction of a temple was ongoing when we were there. After walking through here we reached the main attraction, the temple built to worship Lord Murugan. Before leaving the UK, I had formed images in my head of a huge, ornate temple, similar to those that Thailand is famous for, nestled at the bottom of an equally huge cave. I had already learnt in the Cameron Highlands that Hindu temples are not like this at all, yet I still felt a little disappointed when we saw the temple here. Hindu temples, or those that we saw in Malaysia anyway, are small, open, pagoda style buildings, intricately decorated with colourful statues of animals, gods, and characters from Hindu stories. When you look at the detail closely they are incredibly impressive, however when viewed from afar they can be a little underwhelming compared to temples from other religions. The cave itself was similar to what I had been expecting, a large opening in the cave with magnificently high walls leading straight up to an open ceiling. I have to be honest and say that I was more impressed by the cave than the temple, but it is easy to see why this place has become so sacred for Hindus.

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As we made our way back down the steps, we decided to stop and have a look at another attraction, the Dark Caves. This is another cave system located quite close to the Temple Cave. This area has been left more or less how nature intended, probably due to them being so much more enclosed and inaccessible without artificial lighting. They were originally discovered and visited by Chinese traders who had found it as an excellent source for guano, a form of bat droppings that make an extremely good natural fertiliser. Nowadays the caves are protected and can no longer be harvested for guano, and the only activities that take place are organised tours of the caves. There are two options; an Adventure Tour which includes some crawling and squeezing through tight spaces but enables you to visit much more of the caves, or the more popular Education Tour which is a guided walk through the more accessible first sections of the cave system.

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We opted for the Education Tour, which was RM35 each (about £6.50) and tours started every 20 minutes. This was a fantastic insight into the natural cave environment, and our guide gave an incredibly interesting and informative commentary on the many geological features of the caves and the various animals that could be found there. We were lucky enough to see a number of these creatures, most notably some of the types of bat that live here. We also saw a long-legged centipede (above) and a cave snail, although I don’t think Ms Lust was too pleased when we saw the cockroaches that have found a home in the guano pits. I’m sure she was also relieved that we didn’t see a trapdoor spider, the rarest spider in the world, as these can only be found in areas visited on the Adventure Tour. Another feature of the cave that we were able to experience was being in total darkness. Once we had walked far enough into the caves and away from any natural light sources, we were told to turn off our torches. With absolutely no natural light being able to penetrate this far into the caves, we then found out how they got their name. It felt like I had gone blind, as there was absolutely no difference between having my eyes open or closed. I could feel that Ms Lust was standing right next to me and I knew there was a rock face just in front, but I could not see anything except complete darkness. It was a very eerie experience, coupled with the bats chirping in the distance, and certainly not one I would want to have without knowing our guide was with us, especially after having seen what the residents of the caves looked like! The final stop of our tour was another opening in the ceiling which allowed a shaft of light to enter the caves and illuminate the area. This was a great place for some photos of the caves before we turned around and made our way back to the entrance. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and I would highly recommend it to everyone, you don’t need to be super fit or athletic to be able to do it and it is a wonderful experience and insight into the caves’ natural beauty.

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After the Dark Caves tour we made our way down the rest of the steps, and we were a little relieved to find that the macaques were no longer to be found. We were about to head back to the station when we spotted another cave system housing a Hindu shrine, the Ramayana Cave, with the large statue of Hanuman guarding the entrance. We decided to go in and we were not disappointed, the cave is filled with large colourful dioramas that depict the Ramayana story. The story runs along the walls of the cave until you reach a rock staircase at the end. We went up but I’m still not sure what we were supposed to be seeing, so I can’t really suggest making this effort especially after having been up the steps to the Temple Cave. The story continued on the opposite wall as we walked out of the cave, to its climax at the cave exit. There are small boards with short descriptions of each scene, so it is possible to follow the story with a little imagination. This was more similar to what I had been expecting from the Temple Cave, and it made a wonderful end to our day at Batu Caves and definitely worth the RM5 (£1) entrance fee.

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Chinatown and Little India

Chinatown and Little India are situated just west of the modern city centre, in an older part of the city. This area is famed for its markets and temples, but unfortunately I was a little underwhelmed by both. Petaling Street, the main market in Chinatown, was simply a street packed full of market stalls selling nothing but fake clothes and accessories and tacky souvenirs. I had been expecting something much more authentic with local arts and crafts on offer, and I think we both left quite disappointed. The temples were nice, but mostly squeezed in between houses and shops which took a lot of their beauty away. I think it’s hard to make anywhere look nice if the surrounding buildings all look as if they are about to fall down.

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The only redeeming factor for me was the Central Market, a huge covered market housed in what appeared to be an old warehouse building. Whilst there were still plenty of tacky souvenirs on offer, there also seemed to be a lot more arts and crafts available, ranging from clothing and accessories through to antiques and collectibles. It also had a large food court with a great variety of dishes available, and it is where we discovered Hokkaido baked cheese tarts (very tasty!).

Masjid Jamek and Sultan Abdul Samad building

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Masjid Jamek is a large mosque situated at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. We were unfortunate on both occasions that we were in the area, in that we arrived during prayers and we weren’t able to visit the inside of the mosque. Nevertheless it is an impressive building from the outside and a fantastic contrast to the skyscrapers in the background. Fountains have also been placed along the banks of the rivers at this point, which come on at certain times of day and flow into the rivers. The first time we visited was at night, when the mosque is lit up and the lights of the city create a wonderful scene. The second visit was during the day, when the Sultan Abdul Samad building can be seen behind to create a completely different style of scene. From the other direction, the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower can be seen in the background, with all of Kuala Lumpur’s icons seemingly coming together for a photo opportunity!

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The Sultan Abdul Samad building is truly beautiful, built in the 19th century by the British to house the local government. It was built in a Moorish style of architecture which is evident by the copper domes that adorn the top of the building, complementing the yellow tone of the masonry. A clock tower stands as the centrepiece to the building, flanked by towers housing open spiral staircases. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to visit the inside of the building, with the exception of the tourist information office on the ground floor, but it is possible to walk all around the outside and admire the architecture. Just across the road is Merdeka Square, a large field that looks like a cricket ground but is actually home to a 96-metre flagpole, where the Malaysian flag was first raised following independence.

We had a great few days in Kuala Lumpur, especially with New Year’s Eve having been one of them, and I’m definitely glad that we chose to see the city as more than just a base from which to explore the rest of the country. The sight of such an eclectic mix of cultures intertwining so seamlessly is a welcome one, and the benefits of this are abundant (not just the huge range of delicious food!). Also the mix of ancient and colonial buildings with the modern skyscrapers provides another element of contrast to the city, and ensures that it doesn’t become just another concrete jungle. The only aspect I didn’t like was the pollution from the city traffic combined with the unwavering humidity, which left me feeling like I had been smoking heavily when I woke each morning. But there are places where you can escape this, such as the Batu Caves and the Eco Forest Park, and it is worth enduring to be able to see the best from this wonderful place.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour through Kuala Lumpur, and that I’ve whetted your appetite for more. For our next post we’ll be continuing on our tour of Malaysia, and guiding you through the wonders we discovered during our stay in the Cameron Highlands.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

If you have read our previous post, you already knew we were going to talk about Kuala Lumpur today. I guess it is hard to visit Malaysia without staying a few days in KL and, to be honest, you shouldn’t miss it either. On the other hand, Malaysia is so rich and beautiful that I would suggest you don’t spend too much time in the capital either. In a few weeks, we will try and give you a more specific itinerary on how to spend two weeks in Malaysia without making the mistakes we made, but for now let’s go in order.

Due to New Year’s, we went back and forth to KL during our trip, which made us waste a bit of time. We landed on 27 December and spent our first night there, we then went back on 30 December until 2 January to celebrate the new year, and then another night before flying home. If you can, plan three nights there and you will be able to visit enough.

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For me it has been a bittersweet experience as I had a fond memory of my first visit in 2012 and it somehow didn’t manage to live up to it. The first night we stayed in a budget accommodation near Ain Arabia in Bukit Bintang, the Orange Pekoe Guest House, that was extremely basic but very clean and easy to travel to and from. The guys at reception are very friendly and helpful, with great suggestions for visits and moving around. So much so that for the last night before flying back we cancelled the place we had booked and stayed here again. Breakfast is included and you have toast with butter and jam, bananas, cereal, tea and coffee: Also basic but definitely nice.

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For the rest of the nights we had another place booked, Q Hotel, in Chow Kit, but it was a horrible idea. We booked because it was the same place where I stayed before, although it had changed name. Well, it must have happened for a reason, as the quality was horrible, it still had all the furniture from the previous management, which means old, dirty, damaged carpet and curtains, damaged furniture, and old bathroom appliances. In addition to that, the walls were crumbling and the cleaning was non-existent, hardly hoovered, infested, stained bed linen, all the bad things that you can imagine. We skipped breakfast until the last morning even if we had paid for it and it was not worth to pay the extra for, watered-down jam for the toast and very little choice on the rest. We are talking of a hotel that is still marked as a 3-star, and is below standards for the cheapest hostel!

But enough of the bad things, let’s move on to the fun. Transport in KL is pretty good, just a bit chaotic at times. You have a metro service, a monorail, and many buses, including some free ones that take you around all the touristy places. In some cases it might be a bit of a challenge to catch a free bus, but the service is pretty good. You have a map of the trains here and one of the free buses here.

TRANSPORT

The trains, the metro, and the Monorel (you will love how Malaysian language kept English words with a phonetically simplified writing) work with a system of tokens that is extremely easy, although they sometimes roll out of your pocket or your hand, on the platform and down onto the tracks (it happened in front of us but the lady caught it before it fell, although she must have hurt her knees pretty badly!). The tokens are valid for single trips and you can buy them at the machines in every station. Always try to have small notes if you are in a rush, but remember that if you ask at the windows they will have change ready for you although they don’t sell tickets. As I said, it is a pretty simple system, you scan your token when you go in and drop it in the machine to get out of the station.

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From the airport (KLIA) you have a few options depending on budget and time:

KLIA Express, the fastest way from both terminals is the most expensive, 55RM one way, 100RM return (valid one month) with 10% off if you buy the tickets at the ticket machines or 15% off for using a contactless card at the gates. It takes about 30 minutes to KL Sentral;

KLIA Transit costs the same and takes about ten minutes longer as it stops in several stations but it may work better if you are not going to the city centre;

Bus is definitely the cheapest option and it takes about one hour depending on the station. Easybook is your website in general to book bus rides in Malaysia. You then have taxis and shuttle buses for a more specific service.

If, like us, you stay near Bukit Bintang, you must know that the buses will always get stuck just before arriving, as they go along the Pavilion Shopping centre and the traffic there is horrible, it is a lot easier to get off and walk from there. If you do, don’t miss out on the Pavilion Crystal Fountain, a beautiful fountain in front of the shopping centre. I have the most bizarre memory of this place: One of the days I was on the bus and a gentleman gestured for me to sit on the empty seat next to him as I was the only woman around and they were priority seats. It was nice enough and I felt a bit bad when I almost fell on him because I am too clumsy. I apologised and I thought that was all as he fell asleep again. Instead, as it was obvious that we were tourists, he woke up a couple of times to point at things and tell us what they were, starting with the shopping centre. People are just amazingly nice in Malaysia and I loved having my personal tour guide for a few stops!

What to visit in KL is a big question. You have the big financial district with the main buildings, but you also have a few escapes. Let’s start with the most obvious stops.

PLACES TO VISIT

Petronas TowersKLCC Suria. The most iconic building in the city, the Petronas Towers were the tallest building in the world for a while. One of the towers hosts a shopping centre while the other is mainly offices. You can visit the tower and the Skybridge but remember that this is closed on Mondays, see more details on the first of the two links in this paragraph. I visited them in my previous trip and we kind of badly planned the days so Mr Wander missed this visit, but I have already explained how I feel about this kind of place: The best thing is actually the building from outside more than the view of the city from it. If you can fit it in your schedule, do it, otherwise don’t sweat it. You have two entrances to the shopping centre, one from the park where the music fountains and the light show is, and one coming from Jalan Ampang where you have a small set of jet fountains as well. If you go for NYE as we did, you have to consider what you want to do and see: If you want to see the fireworks through the gap in between the towers, stay around Jalan Ampang; if you prefer to see the concert and enjoy the fountain show laying on the grass while you wait for count down, stay on KLCC Park and you will find yourself between the towers and the fireworks.

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About our New Year’s Eve celebration, we went out at around 10 p.m. and we got the metro to KLCC. It was packed but we got on the first one, which was pretty easy. On the way back, on the other side, we thought that we would have been trapped in the metro for ages while the walk back was just 45 minutes top, so we chose that option with a stop for dinner. Nasi Kandar Sayeed is open 24 hours and serves a mix of cuisines in different stands all run together as a restaurant. It is extremely messy as everyone does everything, so your chef might be around cleaning tables when you want to order or your waiter somewhere making drinks or preparing food, but it is an interesting experience, especially at 2 a.m. when you barely understand the language. If you prefer to eat and drink during the show, to enjoy it in the park is not the best option, most of the stands are on the other side.

Menara KL Tower. Again, nothing special about the building, but you can visit it. It is slightly better in this case as you see the Petronas Towers from its windows. We went up but the sky deck was closed due to the weather. In this case, though, the surroundings are more interesting as the tower is near the KL Forest Eco Park, the city’s green lung, a nice break from the city’s fumes with the canopy walk (not if you are acrophobic) and the paths around the forest.

Pasar Seni/Central Market. It is worth spending a few hours here both if you are planning to buy some souvenirs or not. You have an open area along the Kasturi Walk that is the entrance, but you also have plenty of stands inside and you can find the usual tacky souvenirs but also some nice handmade objects and a food court on the first floor. The area itself is pretty busy and you can easily reach Chinatown and Little India on one side and Masjid Jamek on the other.

Masjid Jamek. One of the main mosques in Kuala Lumpur, this building is impressive for both its structure and its surroundings. The mosque is on the river and is a beautiful sight even if you just decide to walk around and enjoy the light and water show that is on at night. All illuminated with blue lights, the fountains push water up in the air and out towards the river. During the day, when the fountains are off, the sights are no less impressive and if you cross over the other side of the bridge you can even see the domes together with the distant Petronas and KL Towers.

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Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad. This building was once used as offices for the British colonial administration and it now houses several national offices and the tourist information point. It is just across the river from Masjid Jamek and it is another beautiful sight not to be missed.

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Batu Caves. A short train ride from the city (26 minutes from Sentral), this place must be on your list. The station itself is called Batu Caves, you can go from Sentral via Komuter train, and the line is Perlabuhan Klang-Batu Caves. We boarded in Bank Negara and at the moment only one of the two platforms was working both ways, therefore the traffic is a bit slowed down. Although the trains are fairly often, be careful as if they are delayed their name disappears from the screen when the scheduled time is gone, so don’t trust the screen so much and read the name on the front and side of the train itself. Also remember that the two middle carriages are women only and try to respect them (we have seen too many men not caring and staying in these carriages and we would have liked it to work as well as in Dubai!).

The place is a series of caves and a Hindu place of worship that will take your breath away, metaphorically but also literally, as the main caves are reached after climbing 272 steps. When you head out of the station, you have a few kiosks with food and drinks and then you reach the esplanade where the monkeys are. Right on your left you have Ramayana Cave, which is not free but the entrance costs only RM5. Here, as the name suggests, the cave hosts a reconstruction of the Ramayana, an Indian epic poem in which Rama’s wife is kidnapped by a god and Rama goes to her rescue. The cave has huge statues along the walls telling the whole story and at the far end from the entrance you have a very steep staircase to the top of the cave. There is nothing there but you can admire part of the statues from above. A tip: You can skip this last climb and just admire the statues from the floor of the cave, we climbed after visiting the rest and we were exhausted but it really is not worth anyway.

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If you keep walking ahead outside the station, you find the first temple towering over a few steps. Here is also where you start seeing the first macaques. Many articles tell you to be very careful with them and not to have anything in your hands and to close your backpack as they would steal from you. It is true, but they are more disciplined than most tourists. We saw them stealing a bag of food from a girl’s hand but in general people were teasing them, including a woman handing a monkey her bottle of soda to take a picture and then slapping the animal for dropping it twice as it was not interesting! So, yes, be careful, do not hold your phone in your hands if possible, close your bag, and do not have your water in the outside pockets of your backpack, but the monkeys are not all aiming at you, common sense is enough not to be bothered. Also, remember that they are territorial and they interpret a smile as a threat because you show your teeth.

After the temple you have a little bird park that we skipped and then the main attraction, the Cathedral Cave at the top of the staircase. This is famous for the majestic statue of Lord Murugan. Women are not allowed shorts and you have security officers stopping you if you do, but you can easily buy pashminas at the bottom of the staircase and wear them as sarongs if you forget to wear something long. The Cathedral Cave is the main one and includes several shrines, some of them still in progress, although my favourite part was the wall where all the macaques were climbing and hiding, and from which they were throwing the occasional coconut to crack it open.

A few steps down on your right is what I consider the best part of the visit, the Dark Cave. This is a natural formation that was initially used to collect guano as fertiliser and is now a protected ecosystem. You have two types of tours, the Educational Tour which we did, and the Adventure Tour, also called Crawling Tour, which gets you even closer to the inhabitants of the cave, namely centipedes and spiders. The Educational tour costs RM35 and the groups are of 15 people maximum. They provide a helmet and torch and you will learn a lot about bats (I wouldn’t have minded getting closer to those cute inhabitants) and the rest of animals that strive in this cave thanks to the guano, including the rarest spider in the world which takes its name from the caves (the Liphistius batuensis, a species of trapdoor spider). The cave is formed in limestone and the tour takes you around part of it to also learn about several types of rock formations such as stalactites and stalagmites, rock flow, and rock curtains, and then takes you to a spot where there is no light at all and you can experience complete darkness.

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The whole visit is quite demanding, especially the climb, so have plenty of water, and consider if you are fine visiting the dark cave, animals won’t crawl on you but you will see more insects that you would like to, sometimes from not too much of a distance. I am pretty scared and yet I was glad I visited, I hope you will too.

FOOD ATTRACTIONS

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As I love Asian food in general, I fell in love with Malaysian cuisine and I could talk of it for hours, and I thought I should write a separate page about it. You can find our supplementary about Malaysian food here and learn all about these discoveries and our most loved dishes.

In this post is just a short list of a few places to go and eat. Shopping centres are usually easy if you want to eat different things, but the experience is less authentic. Nonetheless, I will tell you what we tried: You have a pretty varied food court in the Petronas Towers and also some restaurants just outside in the park. The Japanese stand in the lower floor next to the supermarket is not bad. For a more sophisticated place, Duddha is just outside with an open terrace overlooking the lake and extremely friendly staff. We just had a drink to celebrate Mr Wander’s birthday (a bit late) but the food seemed nice.

Sogo is a shopping centre in Chow Kit and has the usually big American chains but outside also what seems to be different stands of local food, although in the end it just seemed all the same restaurant as our food came from the opposite corner. You have plenty of pictures and the guys at the till speak English or at least tried to explain to us the dishes we were ordering, although by that time I had pretty clear in my mind that Bihun Goreng (fried rice noodles) was my new favourite.

Lot 10 is another shopping centre and is near Bukit Bintang. We went there because we saw the ad for Soong Kee’s place while on the KLIA Ekspres but in the end I couldn’t force myself to eat beef, their specialty, and we went to other stalls. Penang Corner deserves a 6/10, good luck if you don’t like spicy but the food was not bad; Thai Corner deserves a 3/10, low quality ingredients.

If you are in Bukit Bintang, you will have plenty of stalls around serving Arab-inspired food and you just have to choose, but you really should not miss is a trip to Jalan Alor, a whole street taken over by restaurants and food stalls offering a mix of Chinese, Thai, and local food. You will find it hard to choose and to resist everyone offering you their menus. Walk to the end if you want some satay and banana fritters or stop anywhere if you prefer noodles and rice. You also have several stalls with ice cream and various sweets. I hope rats don’t scare you because you will see them running overhead in the metal covers of the stalls, I can’t deny that. It is open until 2 a.m. so you can have a bite even if you arrive to KL pretty late. Here everyone seems to speak English, which is not the case in Nasi Kandar Sayeed where we went on NYE.

Two of my food discoveries in KL: Roti canai and murukku, they were so good and I was so hungry that I didn’t take pictures, learn more about them in the food supplementary! Let me now go and make myself a tea while I plan our post about the Cameron Highlands and the tea plantations. Stay tuned,

Ms Lust

Our local area

Dear readers,

For this post we’ve decided to focus on an area that we often overlook, probably because to us it doesn’t feel too much like travelling, which is the area that we currently call home. We’ve been living here for over a year now, so we’ve had a good chance to explore and now we’re happy to bring you our tips for places to visit in Cambridgeshire, our own little slice of England.

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To try and avoid creating two almost identical accounts, I’ve decided to arrange mine by the activity rather than the location, however the places are all still in Cambridgeshire. For a more geographically based post, see Ms Lust’s which follows mine.

Museums

St Neots’ Museum – This small museum is a wonderful way to spend an hour or so, and conveniently located in St Neots’ town centre. The museum is housed in the old police station and town jail, and the first part of your visit will be exploring the original cells and prisoner’s facilities. Some of the cells have been made into dioramas and, combined with the information boards on the walls, it really gives you a good impression of what it would have been like to be imprisoned here. Following this is the main part of the museum, a series of rooms filled with artefacts from the town’s long and varied history. Starting with items from prehistoric times that have been found in local archaeological digs, the age of the exhibitions become more and more recent as you work your way through. The biggest collections are from the Victorian period and the two world wars, with recreated street scenes and rooms from these periods. The museum finishes with the obligatory gift shop, with some nice local craftwork and a second-hand book section which provided me with some new travel literature to enjoy!

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Oliver Cromwell’s House, Ely – This whole area has a strong connection with the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, with Ely having been his hometown. His former home has been restored to how he would have recognised it and turned into a museum of the great man’s life. Each room tells a story of daily life in the 17th century, as well as information and artefacts more personal to Oliver Cromwell and his family. Most of the items seem to be replicas rather than original, but they create a setting that is both educational and interesting. There are also activities in the rooms for kids, both big and small, ranging from brass rubbings to dressing up. All in all it’s definitely an interesting visit, and engaging enough to spend an hour or two here.

Stately Homes

This area seems to be very rich in stately homes and historic buildings, with many of them sharing connections with one another. Catherine of Aragon spent her final years in this area after Henry VIII announced their marriage null and void, and she stayed at both Buckden Towers and Kimbolton Castle. Kimbolton Castle is now used as a school, as is Hinchingbrooke House, yet it is still possible to visit both of these houses on their open days. See our posts on our stately home visits for more information on these and other homes, you can find them here and here.

Churches and Cathedrals

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Ely Cathedral – Ely is one of the smallest cities in Britain, and is probably most famous for its cathedral. Built on the site of the former abbey, this majestic building stands over the city and dominates the skyline. Inside, the cathedral seems even bigger, with a huge vaulted ceiling way up in the heavens. There are stained glass windows seemingly everywhere and the central octagonal window feature is spectacular. The ceilings are also a masterpiece in their own right, with magnificent paintings covering almost all of them. After exploring the full extent of the cathedral, the Lady Chapel is your next destination. The chapel is accessed by a corridor leading from the cathedral, and you enter into a large open room. Much less decorated and lavish than the cathedral, the chapel is more what you expect at an abbey. Aside from the altar which dominates the room, there is no furniture or seating. The walls have been adorned with decorative masonry and some small statues, many of which were damaged during the Reformation. This chapel was obviously designed purely for worship rather than show, and it is a clear contrast from the cathedral next door.

Peterborough Cathedral – I cannot tell you too much about Peterborough Cathedral, despite having visited on two separate occasions, as we have been unable to explore it properly due to ongoing services at the time of our visits. From the outside the cathedral is huge and imposing, standing guard over its wonderful grounds. The cathedral is walled off from the city centre, with huge doors that are closed after hours to deny access. We have only caught a few glimpses of the inside of the cathedral, but I can tell you that it looks very impressive. The nave seems impossibly long, made to look even longer by the vast vaulted ceiling above it. Stained glass windows feature throughout the front façade, and I imagine there are a lot more to be discovered in the body of the cathedral. Unfortunately I can’t say much more than that, and that we’ll definitely be trying again to visit on our next day in Peterborough.

The great outdoors

Cambridgeshire isn’t really renowned for its countryside, with the Fens taking almost all of the publicity that the area does get. There are some wonderful parks and nature reserves all over the county however, and here are some of our favourite ones:

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Grafham Water – This Anglian Water owned reservoir is just a stone’s throw from the bustling A1, yet it is such a peaceful area and great for getting away from the noise and commotion of urban life. Grafham Water is one of the biggest reservoirs in England, so the recreational areas are vast. All kinds of activities are catered for, from lazy afternoon strolls around the lake right through to watersports and rowing. There are also barbecue stands dotted around for using disposable barbecues, make sure to bring one with you to take advantage of them! Barbecuing by the water in summer is a real delight, and I for one am already looking forward to next year’s visits. We haven’t noticed too much in the way of wildlife ourselves, but I’m sure the different environments here are all teeming with wonderful creatures both big and small. Being just around the corner, our visits haven’t been too long, but it would be easy to spend a whole day here enjoying the surroundings.

Hinchingbrooke Country Park – This is a more recent discovery of ours, and one we plan to make much more use of in the future. A large parkland area just outside of Huntingdon, this park really has a bit of everything. The car park and entrance are situated within a small woodland, with a network of walking paths throughout. After this you reach a large open area, with a small cafe, children’s playground, and outdoor gym facilities. From here there are a number of options, depending on what your recreational desires are. The park has a number of small lakes located just alongside the river, and a walk along this section provides an excellent opportunity to spot squirrels and waterfowl. Another route takes you through a wildflower meadow and wide open spaces perfect for a picnic or a stroll. Lastly there are more woodland areas, one of which is reached after passing by another lake. Here you will find a birdwatching hide with views across the lake, with a keen eye and a bit of patience you may even see a kingfisher (like we did!). So no matter what brings you to the countryside, you can be sure that Hinchingbrooke Country Park has it!

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Paxton Pits – This is a nature reserve just outside of Little Paxton, that has been created in areas excavated by quarrying. This has resulted in a number of lakes, which have become a haven for migrating birds. There are two options for walks, as well as the connecting Ouse Valley Way, which take you around either the smaller lakes at the southern end of the reserve, or the larger Heron Lakes at the northern end. Both walks have birdwatching hides available for use, where you can relax for a while and see if you can spot any of the current residents. As well as the birdlife, an area has been created especially for otters and there is reported to be a colony now living at the reserve. Also, if you visit around dusk, keep your eyes peeled for foxes and badgers, which also live in the reserve. This is a great place for birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys a nice stroll through the countryside. Just one word of warning, parts of the reserve border the ongoing quarry works and also share some access routes, so be careful and watch out for any quarry vehicles.

Riverside Park, St Neots – The main park in St Neots runs alongside the River Great Ouse and it is a great place for relaxing and recreation. The area north of the town centre is mainly large open fields so perfect for ball games and other sports, and it is also where most of the park’s events are held, such as the annual Dragon Boat Festival. On the other side of town, the park becomes more wooded and more suited to walks along the river and finding more secluded spots for a picnic. The main walking track passes alongside the river, through a camping and caravan park, and brings you to the river lock at Eaton Socon. Here there is the River Mill Tavern, which we would definitely recommend for a spot of lunch or a well-earned drink! The paths continue to follow the river as part of the Ouse Valley Way, and you can walk as far as your heart desires. Following the path in the other direction from the town centre would lead you to Paxton Pits, and onwards towards Huntingdon and St Ives.

Another area that is great to get out and about in is the stretch of river between Huntingdon and St Ives. Encompassing the villages of Hemingford Grey and Hemingford Abbots also, there is a wonderful circular walking route that will take you to all the best spots. Starting in the town of St Ives, the walk takes you across the river and through a wildflower meadow. From here the river is always a welcome companion as you make you way to Hemingford Grey, where you are met by a quaint parish church. A short walk through the graveyard brings you back to the riverbank and the path continues past some houses with possibly the best view from their front gardens in the area. Don’t forget to look back as the river bends round to the right, as there is a fantastic view of the river passing by the church. As you reach Hemingford Abbots you will walk through the village centre and past a typical village pub. We didn’t stop, but it looked like a great place for a drink or food stop. After the village the walk brings you back across the river at Houghton Mill, which again is worth a stop if you arrive during its opening hours. Turn right here down Love Lane and the path winds through a wooded area until bringing you back to St Ives, where a short walk through the town will bring you back to your starting point. This walk can be started and finished at any point along the route of course, and the five mile circuit took us a couple of hours to complete. Great for a relaxing walk on a lazy weekend, it would be easy to make a few stops and make a whole morning or afternoon of it.

This brings me to the end of my post, and you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Cambridge at all in a post about Cambridgeshire. Well, we thought Cambridge deserved a post of its own so we’ve added that to our list of upcoming topics. Stay tuned!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

As you may know, although we try to be out and about as much as we can, we are based in Cambridgeshire and we’ve just realised that we haven’t really taken you around in our area, so we have decided to dedicate some time to this before we go exploring Europe a bit more in the following weeks. This post is about some activities and visits you can do in the area, but we will soon take you on a different tour with our favourite places to eat in our neighbourhood.

Cambridge itself is fairly well-known and we won’t include it in this post, it will have one of its own.  Just to give you a brief introduction, Cambridgeshire is now formed by different districts that were once separate because in the 1970s Huntingdon and Peterborough joined Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely to form the current country. Follow me around a few towns in this area that we call home.

St Neots and neighbouring villages

St Neots is one of the main towns in Huntingdonshire and, although it doesn’t look as big, it has a population of around 40,000 people because it includes several neighbouring villages such as Eaton Ford, Eaton Socon, Buckden, and Little Paxton. The town is well connected with London by train and some people commute daily to the capital.

After being in the area for over one year, we finally managed to visit St Neots Museum and we definitely recommend it. Located in the old police station and law court, this museum offers you a good variety of exhibitions. The visit starts with the prison and you can see the cells and learn a bit about the old punishments and local convicts. After this initial section, the museum opens to the collections, starting with some prehistoric findings such as mammoth bones to include also some findings of the period of the Benedictine priory in the village and an exhibition about life in the Victorian era. The main feature of the museum is probably the Kimbolton Coin Hoard with coins dating from the Iron Age and found in the neighbouring village of Kimbolton.

The ticket costs £3 and there are some additional activities that you can find on the website. There is also a small bookshelf with secondhand books that are very interesting and in mint condition, so you have plenty of ways to support this local museum!

Something I really like about St Neots is the Priory Centre, as they always offer nice theatre shows, mainly thanks to the Riverside Theatre company, their actors are extremely talented!

St Neots is crossed by the Great Ouse River , which also gives the name to a famous walk that takes you around for 150 miles, the Ouse Valley Way. In St Neots, the river is surrounded by a big park, The Riverside Park, that sort of splits the town in two. The size of the river offers many activities, and rowing is definitely popular, with a rowing school as well. In August, the town hosts the Dragon Boat Race, if you are interested in a day of family fun while cheering your favourite team. One of my favourite walks takes you from St Neots starting the the Riverside Park and finishes in Eaton Socon passing through the lock just next to the River Mill.

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As I said earlier, many neighbouring villages are part of St Neots, and Buckden is one of them. The village offers a few interesting things, starting from the Buckden Towers, a building that has seen many famous visitors and residents during the centuries and is now part of the Claret Centre and belongs to the Claretian Missionaries. There is an open day in September and then private visits can be organised according to its website. For more details about this, you can read our previous post on stately homes here, where you can also read about Kimbolton Castle.

Just outside Buckden, thanks to the River Ouse, you have Buckden Marina, a small marina with a leisure centre just on the side. You can enjoy a river cruise or exercise a bit. The gym is not extremely big, but the swimming pool is definitely the most accessible one in the area for swimming.

If you are interested in parks, though, one of the most interesting in the area is Paxton Pits, near Little Paxton. The different walks are of medium difficulty and are extremely enjoyable, and you can also enjoy a drink in the café before or after you start. The visitor centre offers a nice insight of some of the specimens that live in the reserve and also shows some ancient findings and fossils. If Paxton Pits is the best place for an immersion in the nature and wildlife, another famous park is Grafham Waters, a big reservoir and park. If you are planning a barbecue, this is definitely your place.

Huntingdon

We have already talked to you about Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon in our second post about stately homes (check it here), but the town has a few more spots that may be interesting. The town centre could be a lot nicer if it didn’t give the impression that the shopping area is slowly swallowing the old buildings, but the surroundings are definitely worth a visit. If you like parks, something more on the line of Paxton Pits is Hinchingbrooke Country Park. This is a nice park both for families and people who want to train outdoors, and for people who like more exploring. The parking is quite small and may discourage you, but it seems to be easier to park there after 6 p.m., when it is actually free. You have a café and an area with an outside gym and it is very popular among runners. The paths are quite easy and offer a nice break. Among the elusive wildlife, you may be lucky enough to spot a kingfisher.

Peterborough

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One of the most famous towns in Cambridgeshire, apart from Cambridge, of course, is definitely Peterborough. Since we have sort of traced Catherine of Aragon’s steps from when she was sent away by Henry VIII, first to Buckden, then to Kimbolton Castle, we cannot forget to talk about Peterborough Cathedral, her final resting place. This gothic building is of extreme beauty and it seems actually something separate from the city despite it being in the centre. The cathedral is surrounded by walls and after the evening service the gate is closed down as to separate this building from the mundane life. We have never managed to visit it properly as we always popped in during services or choir sessions, but we are planning to go soon, probably for one of their tours by candlelight, check their website to know more.

Ely

If we talk about cathedrals, we must talk about Ely, the Cathedral City. Once called the Isle of Ely due to the fens surrounding it and making it an island, Ely is now not an island anymore as the fens were drained in the 1970s. The cathedral is majestic, built initially by the Benedictine monks even before the town. The cathedral has gone through some major refurbishment in the past decades as most of it was becoming unsafe, and you can now appreciate the beautiful ceiling and the gothic structure in all its beauty. Several activities and concerts are organised regularly and I would recommend you check out what is on.

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Ely is also famous for being the hometown of Oliver Cromwell and, just a few minutes walk from the cathedral you can visit his house. It is extremely interesting, both for all the historic information about Cromwell, and on a more general cultural level as it shows many details about the life in the XVII century. It is definitely worth a visit!

St Ives

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While we have visited the Cornish St Ives quite well, we didn’t really dedicate too much time to the one in our area. We went there to do one of the walks suggested by the National Trust, a route that is part of the Ouse Valley Way and starts and finishes in Houghton Mill. We actually started and finished in St Ives but we suggest you follow the original itinerary as it seemed quite hard to find a pub that would serve food in the afternoon when we arrived back in St Ives. The walk is easy and takes about 2 hours to be completed and takes you through some very nice bits of land. Just keep in mind that you will be crossing meadows and there are farm animals, in case that is an obstacle for you, it definitely was quite challenging for me, but walking through Love Lane kind of paid off!

I hope you enjoyed walking with us around our local area, stay tuned for more in the following weeks!

Ms Lust

Stately homes and castles – part 2

Dear travellers,

Although the main season of Stately Homes sees many of them closing for the winter season, many stay open all year, especially those who are part of the National Trust circuit. We have done our best to fit as many as we could in the summer months and we are planning to visit more of those that stay open over the winter.

You may have read our previous post dedicated to the beginning of our tour. If not, or if you would like to refresh it, here is the link. Today, we are going to take you on another tour, I hope you are ready!

Hinchingbrooke House

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Similar to Kimbolton Castle (featured in part one) this stately home is now owned by and used as a school. Hinchingbrooke House is open more often though, and visits are possible on most weekends throughout the school summer holidays. Also like Kimbolton Castle, its current primary use means that most of the rooms have been redecorated and re-furnished, yet the house’s history has still been well maintained. The library is still kept in its original state, including the stained glass windows (although one has been damaged by an errant cricket ball, which is the reason ball games have now been banned!), and it is probably the most elegant exam room I have ever seen! The drawing room has also been maintained in its original state, which is where you will be served your complimentary tea or coffee and cake at the end of your tour.

As for the rooms that have been converted into classrooms, some original features have been retained and preserved. A fireplace with graffiti from dates throughout the house’s history stood proudly in one classroom, while in another an original window that had been discovered during renovations is framed as would be any wonderful work of art. The building has had many previous uses, and started out as a nunnery. There has also been many modifications and additions made to the building at various points during its history, and it is very interesting to be able to see where one style finishes and another starts.

This was one of the most enjoyable tours I have had of a stately home, entirely thanks to the volunteers that provide them. £5 a head for a guided tour from an enthusiastic former student with a real passion for the house and its history, with tea and cake at the end, really was a bargain and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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This is a small stately home that we have seen so many times on our way to our regular food shopping and never really paid attention to. When we finally looked it up, we realised that it is now a school but that it opens to visits on Sundays during the summer school holidays.

The building is a mix of Tudor style and earlier architecture that belonged to a nunnery dating back to the XIII century. The entrance leads immediately to a former banquet hall with a fireplace showing the crest of the family. The Montagues were in the navy and the crest represents this activity with the motto Post tot naufragia, portum (after so many shipwrecks, a haven).

The house belonged to the Cromwell family before passing to the Montagues but it was with the Montagues that it started being the centre of British naval history, as the Earl was not only an admiral himself, but he was also patron to James Cook. Hinchingbrooke House is said to have hosted the first recorded barbecue in history when one of the guests was a Polynesian man, Omai, who roasted mutton on heated stones in the grounds as it was traditional in his land.

Another food related story is the one about the creation of the sandwich. The Montagues were the Earls of Sandwich and the Fourth Earl, John, used to have salt beef between two slices of bread when he was on admiralty duties and this food then took the name of sandwich from him.

Apart from the legends, also including some ghost stories, the building itself is in incredible shape and I was surprised to see that the furniture and paintings are very well kept despite the fact that the house is in constant use for the school. There is a clear distinction between the part that belongs to the nunnery, with narrow spaces, and the Tudor part, more open and with straight walls.

The library is beautiful, with bookshelves all around the room and big, bright, tall windows decorated with stained glass. The grounds are not extremely big but very nice, and you can enjoy a tea and cake there, as you have them included in your ticket at the end of the tour.

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Highclere Castle

This house is probably the most famous as, for those of you that haven’t watched the series, Highclere Castle is the stately home featured in Downton Abbey. Naturally this makes it a very popular place to visit, and therefore tickets must be prebooked well in advance. We managed to secure tickets for the bank holiday in August, and endured the months of waiting for the day of our visit to arrive.

Save for the first episode (which Ms Lust made me watch so I would recognise the main parts of the house) I have never watched Downton Abbey, so the link between the two was a little lost on me. I was clearly in the minority however, and it seems that Highclere Castle has tried possibly a bit too hard to try and appeal to its popular fan base. Almost every room contained large prints of previous filming taking place in it, along with many other photos and artefacts from the series dotted around the house. This spoiled it a bit for me, as I wasn’t interested in Downton Abbey and would have much preferred to have seen Highclere Castle as it was originally intended.

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The house itself is very impressive from the outside, and one of the largest stately homes that we have visited. The rooms inside are still very beautiful and adorned with many extravagant paintings and ornaments, once you can see beyond the more recent paraphernalia. I was particularly impressed with the Ancient Egyptian exhibition in the basement. One of the previous owners of Highclere Castle was Lord Carnarvon, who is remembered most famously for backing Howard Carter’s excavations in The Valley of the Kings, namely those that led to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Naturally this features heavily throughout the house, and is the reason for the exhibition. The first room contains actual artefacts recovered from digs in The Valley of the Kings, including jewelry items and an almost complete sarcophagus. The following rooms use replicas to recreate scenes from inside Tutankhamun’s tomb, with a burial chamber and a room built to allow visitors to see what Howard Carter’s first glimpse of the treasures buried inside would have been like. I found the whole exhibition really interesting and actually enjoyed that more than the tour of the house, it almost even made up for not having visited the tomb when we were in Luxor earlier in the year (click here for our post about that trip).

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Tickets are allocated for morning or afternoon entry to the house, and as we were driving down just for the day we opted for an afternoon ticket. Arriving a little early, this gave us time both before and after the tour of the house to explore the grounds. Compared to a lot of the stately homes we have visited, the grounds at Highclere Castle were a bit plain and disappointing. There is a small temple which offered great views of the house, yet unfortunately this seemed to be a popular place for picnics and it was full of people for most of the day. The gardens were well kept, if not a bit disorganised and poorly planned, but for the most part the grounds seemed to be nothing more than open fields. All in all I’m glad we went, not for anything to do with Downton Abbey but for the Ancient Egyptian exhibition and the house’s connection to one of the greatest discoveries in modern history. But in saying that, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to return.

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This castle is probably more famous as Downton Abbey as it has been used as Lord Grantham’s mansion in the TV series. Despite this, the castle has its own history that has little to envy of the fictional story. The property belongs to the Carnarvon family and part of the basement is dedicated to the Egyptian expedition that discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Remember our post about Luxor? That same one! Anyway, let’s go back to the castle for now. The visits are not usually scheduled on weekends but you have access on Bank Holidays. Due to the fame of the place, I recommend you book before you go. You can choose the morning or the afternoon visit and decide to include or not the Egyptian exhibition.

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The castle from the outside is a lot less majestic and impressive that you may expect from the TV series but the grounds are extremely pleasant. Photography is not permitted inside, which makes it a wonderful experience, as otherwise it would all be crammed with people trying to take pictures with the characters’ life-size reproductions. The visit follows a one-way path and is extremely enjoyable, both for Downton Abbey’s fans and not, as the rooms are lively and it can be seen that the current Lord and Lady Carnarvon still use the house to entertain despite usually living in a nearby cottage. Check out her blog about real life in Downton Abbey.

Lanhydrock

During our trip to Cornwall (our post can be found here) we stopped in at a National Trust property on the way back, Lanhydrock Estate. Situated just south of Bodmin Moor, this stately home boasts huge expanses of outside space as well as the home itself. From the carpark, a short walk down a tree-lined avenue brings you to the gatehouse, now used as a ticket booth and information point. Passing through this imposing and impressive structure brings you to a wonderful view of the house entrance and the pathway and grounds leading to it.

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Once inside, as with many National Trust properties, the rooms have been furnished using items from the same period as the house, if not having been left with the house as well. In this case, the decor is mainly from the Victorian period, and each room shows obvious signs of this. I’ve always found the Victorian style of artwork and decorating to be slightly disturbing, with harsh features and a sort of dark quality about it. Here was no different, with most of the rooms containing stuffed animals as hunting trophies and eerie cardboard cutouts of the long-departed residents. Nevertheless the rooms were still impressive, I particularly enjoyed the library and long gallery, and every area of the house is open to visitors, right down to the servants quarters and the kitchen.

Back outside we had a quick look around the sculptured gardens surrounding the house, which are wonderfully understated. They are by no means grand or extravagant, yet they are very well taken care of and a nice place for a short stroll. At the back of the gardens is St Hydroc’s Church, a small parish church that serves the estate and the local community. The church is situated very close to, and is the focus of the views from many rooms in the house. There is nothing particularly grand or spectacular about the church, it is much like any other small parish church in England, but there are some connections between the church and Lanhydrock’s residents that are nice to discover. We didn’t have time to explore the grounds outside of the gatehouse, all I will say is that they seemed very extensive and well-maintained. That was the end of our visit here, as we had to continue our journey home, and I would definitely be keen to return, if we are in the area again, in order to explore further.

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You have already seen some images in our previous post about Cornwall but we still have to tell you almost everything about this visit. The house was destroyed in a fire at the end of the XIX century and it was rebuilt as a family home. Some of the rooms really show this aspect, especially the kids’ rooms with all their toys.

The access to the house is granted by a gatehouse that looks more like the ones you expect with a drawbridge, but the garden inside and the house are very different. The Drawing Room is very peculiar, looking immense from one side thanks to the big window at the end, on the opposite wall; if you just stand in front of the window, though, the optical illusion disappears and the room just becomes a big room divided in two by some folding screens and too full of pieces of furniture and decorations to feel homely and comfortable.

The library definitely is my favourite space, as usual. The room is big, with books covering all the walls and an empty central space that, together with the wooden walls and the majestic plaster ceiling, makes it feel peaceful and embracing. Some of the most important books are kept in glass displays covered by thick fabrics embroidered with literary quotes. They are beautiful to see, and one of the main features of the library is a book that belonged to Henry VIII and helped him obtain the annulment of his marriage.

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Probably the most disturbing aspect of the house is that it is filled floor to ceiling with examples of taxidermy, a very common practice in the past centuries. The rooms are decorated with carpets made out of tigers, head trophies, and full dioramas with stuffed animals and gives you a strange feeling of oppression in some rooms.

The servants’ quarters and the kitchens are probably among the most interesting I have visited to date, with plenty of rooms dedicated to different functions and real objects and food to clearly explain the use of each space. The fridges and freezers were a big advance at the time and you can admire how they would keep their food fresh, you can see cakes, jellies, cheese and butter on the table ready to be taken upstairs, the oven and the utensils to prepare the bread, the sugar and the spices in their storage place, and plenty more.

The estate includes the grounds and a chapel just on the the side. The grounds are famous for their colours and decorations, with the perfectly shaped trees and the carefully kept flowerbeds.

Wimpole Estate

Wimpole Hall is one of our local National Trust sites, and one that had been on the wish list since we first joined. When we heard that there was to be a local produce fair held in the grounds, it seemed like the perfect excuse to finally tick it off the list! And we were certainly glad that we did as it turned out to be a delightful place to visit. The house is not as big or as extravagant as some that we have visited, but it has been incredibly well preserved both by the National Trust and the previous owner. A lot of the furnishings are not original as the contents were once sold off separately to the house, yet a lot of them have been recovered and, where that hasn’t been possible, replacements from the same period have been used.

The tour of the house gives a full impression of what life would have been like here in its heyday, with all areas of the house open to the public. The tour begins in the reception rooms, with the Yellow Drawing Room being the main attraction. This huge room was a late addition to the house, but instead of an extension being butted onto the building, walls and ceilings were ripped out to create a space for this wonderful room. In total seven rooms were destroyed to make enough space available, and Queen Victoria was suitably impressed when she was received here on her visit to the estate.

As you work your way around the house, you will come to the largest library owned by the National Trust. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter the library fully, but you can step inside the doorway and view the vast collection of books. The reading room just at the entrance to the library is accessible, where some of the collection can be seen a lot closer. My other favourite rooms were the gallery and the chapel, the latter of which you can catch a glimpse of at the entrance to the house. The gallery is not as long as those we had seen before, but that made it no less impressive and the grand piano is always a welcome sight in my eyes. The chapel is ornate, but not oppressively so, with fantastic artwork covering the walls and ceiling.

I have to say that I found all the rooms at Wimpole very charming, and a nice change from the usual style found in stately homes. They aren’t filled to bursting point with ornaments, paintings, and statues in order to show off the wealth and taste of the owners. They are all decorated, still with very fine and expensive things, in a much more restrained style, with the decorations used to enhance the features of the room rather than as focal points themselves. This for me is more impressive, as it shows a more sensible and less egotistical approach, and I found it much more enjoyable. It may just be because a lot of the contents of the house have yet to be recovered or replaced, but in my opinion it is all the better for it.

After finishing the tour of the bedrooms and reception rooms, it is also possible to explore the lower levels and the real working rooms of the house. The kitchen, larder, and preparation rooms are all open for viewing, along with the produce and artefacts that would have been used. Also the servants quarters have been preserved and are free to walk around, giving a real insight into how life would have been for them. Wimpole Hall really felt like we were in a grand home that was still in use, but the family were on holiday and had taken their staff with them. A lot of stately homes feel more like museums, with the collections that the house contains being the main draw. Here was completely different, and it was obvious that the National Trust had wanted to showcase the way of life rather than the treasures they had obtained, and they have done a wonderful job of just that.

Near the end of the tour, just before entering the servants areas, was a real surprise, a bath house that had been built into the house rather than as a separate building. At the end of a small, plain corridor was this huge room made completely from marble, yet painted in parts to look convincingly like wood, and the huge bathing pool seemed to come out of nowhere. Using state of the art technology to heat the water and even to run a heated shower, this really must have been the talk of the town! I thoroughly enjoyed walking around Wimpole Hall and I can’t wait to go back nearer Christmas when the house is turned into a Victorian Christmas setting. We also didn’t explore the grounds too much due to the weather, so I’m sure we’ll be back there very soon.

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Another building managed by the National Trust, this home seems to be the favourite of the neighbourhood as it was full of families that seem to know the estate pretty well. I have to admit, the estate seems a place that offers something for every age, more than some others.

The last owner of the estate before the National Trust was Elsie Bambridge, Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, and probably this literary background is part of the magic I found in this house. The library is a dream for any booklover, with the only downside that you cannot walk around it but only admire it from the door. Apparently, the library was bought by the Bambridges with the estate from the previous owners, while most of the furniture and decorations were added in style at the end of the XIX century by the Bambridges.

The bedrooms are quite modern compared to other stately homes, with an adjacent bathroom for both main rooms. Yes, the lord and the lady of the house preferred to have separate bathrooms, we can but support their choice! Despite having a fully functional bathroom, though, the lady of the house seemed to prefer to bathe in front of the fireplace in her bedroom. I can’t understand this, but I guess old habits are hard to die.

The estate is vast and in front of the house is a 2.5 m long parkland that looks like an immense driveway. It is not something that was not completed, it was created like that to offer a long, undisturbed view from the house.

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We went the week of one of the produce fairs and I would suggest you do that if you can, as you can find local produce of extremely good quality and the price is ridiculously cheap. The estate also includes a farm and the folly in the distance. Having grown up in the countryside, the farm is not interesting at all for me, but the folly seemed nice to explore, although the rain prevented us from doing so.

Hatfield House

Hatfield House was our most recent visit and, with it being just around the corner from my workplace, one that we had overlooked for quite some time. This is the house that Queen Elizabeth I had stayed at during her sister’s reign (Queen Mary I) and it was where she was informed of the death of her sister and her own ascension to the throne. This was obviously a reason to visit in itself, but we’ll get back to that later. The estate consists of many buildings, with the visitor centre, ticket office, gift shop, and restaurants being housed in what appeared to be the old stables. These are all gated off from the main part of the estate, and it isn’t until you proceed through the gates that the house comes into view.

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Rather than the stone façades that most stately homes exhibit, Hatfield House is built from red brick and more reminiscent of Hampton Court Palace (understandable as they both were built at a similar time). A long driveway leads up to a large fountain in front of the house, which at the time had been replaced by a modern sculpture that I hope is not a permanent feature (it would be wonderful in a more suitable setting). The house itself is very grand and this continues to the interior as well, which is evident from the very first room. The walls are filled with portraits and other fine artworks, mostly of royalty and nobles from the Tudor and Stuart periods, and grand, old staircases ferry visitors between the different areas of the house. There are a few dining rooms along the way, each presented as if an extravagant meal will be forthcoming, and the usual bedrooms and drawing rooms which are all filled with wonderful artworks, statues, and furniture. This house also has a fantastic and extensive library, brimming to the rafters with ancient books on all manner of subjects. Whenever we go into a room like this, I always wish I could cosy up in one of the fine armchairs for a few hours with a book from the shelves, unfortunately I think this may be frowned upon!

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On this visit we had more time to explore the grounds after touring the house, and we were also fortunate to have fairly decent weather. The gardens surrounding the house make for a nice stroll, with fountains and statues dotted amongst the flower beds. A part of the gardens was not accessible due to a wedding at the time of our visit, yet we could still see into the garden if not actually enter it. After this came the main reason for our trip, the spot where Queen Elizabeth I is reported to have been told that she was now queen. This is a short walk from the house, along the tree-lined driveway, where the gardens give way to more open parkland. The original tree is no longer there, but the spot is still marked by a tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

There are a number of walking paths around the grounds, and we chose to continue our walk and see what else we could discover. We first came across a castle folly, built on the bank of the river. It isn’t possible to go inside the folly, however there are no doors, just gates, and it is still possible to see what it is like inside (fairly spartan to be honest, it didn’t look like it gets much use anymore). Then we walked down to the river bank and walked along for a short while, which was a really pleasant place for a walk despite the motorway noise in the background. By this point the path swings back round to begin heading back towards the house and, starting to feel a little tired, we took its advice and decided to return also. A small French market being held in the grounds provided us with some well earned treats to enjoy, and with that we went back to the car contented and having thoroughly enjoyed our day at Hatfield House.

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This beautiful mansion just closed for the season and is probably one of my favourites. It is part of the Treasure Houses circuit and you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget that you have a 2×1 voucher for your next visit to another house of the circuit and that the entry to the house is free for the whole season after the first time. It is famous for having been the place where Queen Elizabeth I was residing when Mary died and she was proclaimed Queen of England.

Parking is a slow process but there is plenty of space. A little train takes you around the farm and crosses the parking area. Before arriving to the house, you have to cross the food court. The entrance to the church is also under an arch before this area. When we visited, part of the grounds were occupied by the French produce market and I have to admit that you find products of very high quality, it is worth a stop. The garden this year also hosted an exhibition of big top hats that were decorated by local groups.

In front of the main entrance there is a contemporary water sculpture by Angela Conner. The house is majestic outside and inside, with wooden stairs and decorations. The Marble Hall welcomes you with its marbles, of course, and a beautiful wooden balcony. In this room you can already guess the incredible amount of art that will await you in the rest of the house. At the end of the room is the famous Rainbow portrait in which Queen Elizabeth I holds a rainbow in her hands. The tapestries are slightly damaged by the passing of time but the paintings and furniture pieces are incredible. Another famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I is on display in King James Drawing Room along with many other precious paintings and a life-size sculpture of King James I. This portrait is called the Ermine portrait, as it features a little ermine on the queen’s sleeve.

The Winter Dining Room is another impressive room with four tapestries representing the four seasons. As for the library, you already know my love for them and this picture can explain to you a little how much I loved this one.

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On the ground floor you can admire several examples of weapons and armours along the armoury and then enjoy the sight of a full working kitchen on the lower level.

The grounds are quite vast, as it is to imagine, with the oak tree under which it is said Elizabeth received the announcement. It is not the original tree, but one that Queen Elizabeth II planted in 1985 to commemorate the event, but it is the same spot. Further along you can see the folly (with the highest amount of ladybirds ever seen by human eyes… well, by me!) and apparently the vineyard. We could not find it but we still enjoyed a good stroll through the woods.

* Bonus feature – Twilight at Burghley House*

Burghley House featured in our first Stately Homes post, as it was one of the first homes that we visited. On hearing about their Twilight Tour evenings, held over a long weekend in October, we couldn’t resist a return visit. This turned out to be a spectacular way to see the house and the organisers did a superb job. As usual, we entered through the kitchen and the change in atmosphere was immediately apparent. The low level lighting and quieter, more relaxed ambience was the perfect start to the tour, as we enjoyed our welcome drinks before moving on to the main body of the house.

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The bedrooms and reception rooms were even more impressive, as the light dimmed further and seemed to enhance the beauty of all the exquisite furniture and artwork. A even nicer touch were the musicians that were playing in some of the rooms, really making it feel like we were a guest there for a night of fine dining and entertainment. It was definitely worth the return visit, not only for the change in ambience and mood, but also for a second chance to see the little details that we may have missed on our first visit.

They saved the very best until last, and the final room definitely left us with some very happy memories. This was a large hall, possibly a banqueting hall, that had been completely cleared to make a huge open room. The large fireplace at the far end of the room had been lit, and it was the perfect environment in which to enjoy another drink while listening to the harpist playing beautiful music. It was a wonderful experience and one which I am incredibly grateful that we decided to try. The evenings have finished now for this year, but if you live in the area I would highly recommend going for an evening during next year’s event.

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You probably have read everything about Burghley House on our previous post about stately homes but, if you want to catch up, you can find it here.

The house offers a twilight event for a few nights and you can enjoy the house in dim light and with live music and readings in different rooms. The tour starts with a glass of prosecco to enjoy in the kitchen before heading to the upper level. The staff are available in the rooms to help you exactly as during the day but you have no audio guides. The connection is not the best but you may still be able to access the website and check out some of the paintings as they are all listed in there.

Among the live activities, I have particularly enjoyed the Baroque Choir in the Pagoda Room and the harp music by Soraya Vermeulen. Check her out, she is amazing and really lovely to talk to, you should keep this in mind if you want to hire someone for your event!

The Twilight events are over for this season but you still have some events for Christmas in the grounds. The house itself will close to the public on 29 October, so you still have a few weeks to visit if you want. We may go back, but we still have a few more houses to visit. Stay tuned!

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

West Country wanderings

Dear readers,

Our most recent trip was one that we had been looking forward to for quite some time, and we had been planning it in one way or another ever since we arrived back from New Zealand. Partly because the West Country is by far my favourite area in England, and partly because Ms Lust was keen to explore more of that area after having visited Devon previously. So, in order to take Ms Lust to an area that she hadn’t seen yet, we settled on Cornwall and in particular the far southwest tip, an area that I had yet to venture into either. We found our accommodation on AirBnB (click here for a signing up discount) and immediately started planning surfing lessons, cream teas, beach visits, and all the other wonderful things that Cornwall is famous for.

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We had planned our trip for just after the school summer holidays, in the hope of avoiding the busiest periods while still catching some sunny, summer weather. For the most part we achieved the first of those goals, and there wasn’t really anywhere we went that was overwhelmingly busy. On the second point we were less fortunate, and the wind and rain that met us on the M6 (under an hour into our six hour journey) was destined to be the main feature of our holiday. Undeterred by the inclement weather (since when has a bit of rain ever managed to dampen an Englishman’s spirits?!) we drove on and before we knew it we had arrived in Painswick, a small village in the Cotswolds that I had earmarked for our lunch stop. We were running a little behind schedule and didn’t stop for too long, just enough for a drive around the village and a short walk around the village church and its famous yew trees. There are 99 yew trees throughout the church graveyard, each sponsored by a local inhabitant or business, and it is reported that any efforts to grow the 100th tree have all been unsuccessful. The village itself is a typical Cotswold village, with romantic stone houses and narrow lanes, yet close enough to the M5 to allow for a quick stop without too much hassle, definitely worth a visit if you are going past. Suitably refreshed, we got back on the road and began the next leg of our journey through the wind and rain, to our first destination in Cornwall, Newquay.

One of our absolute ‘must-do’s’ while we were in Cornwall was to visit one of the Fat Willy’s Surf Shack stores, to buy a replacement car sticker for my sister and for Ms Lust to see where her acquired hoodie had come from! As it is the original, we decided we would go to the store in Newquay and also have a quick tour of the town and beaches. With our shopping finished (Fat Willy’s t-shirts and Cornish pasties, diving straight into local culture!) and my pilgrimage to the Walkabout bar completed, we took the short walk down to Towan Beach to complete Ms Lust’s first Cornish experience. With it still not being particularly beach weather, we only stopped long enough for a quick paddle and a walk around the caves before deciding to head back to the car. I have to say that I was a little disappointed by Newquay, and it seems to have lost a lot of the charm that it had when I last visited. Maybe it was because of the miserable weather, or that I have remembered it in a better light that it actually was, but the town seems to be suffering from a distinct decline. Add to that the ever-present stag and hen parties that are attracted to Newquay’s ‘party-town’ reputation, and it no longer seems like such a great place to visit, for me anyway. In saying that, I’m sure I will return again next time we visit Cornwall, if only to visit my favourite surf shack!

On arriving back at the car we discovered that the surfing lesson we had booked for the following morning had been cancelled due to the weather, so it felt like an appropriate time to complete the last section of our journey to our accommodation so we could start planning what we would do instead. We stayed in Mount Hawke for the first three nights, a small sleepy village just a few miles from St Agnes. There really wasn’t anything to keep us in the village for anything other than eating, as we had found a nice restaurant just around the corner from our accommodation. The village was a good base location for exploring the area though, as it was not too far from the coast yet also within easy reach of the main road through Cornwall, the A30.

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We decided to start off by exploring the immediate area, and found a National Trust tin-mining site just 15 minutes away. With further research I also found out that the cafe there was famous for its ice creams dipped in clotted cream, and with that I was convinced! Although I had been to Cornwall four times previously, I had never been to the area known as the Tin Coast which is named for the old tin mine buildings that are found there. So with two excellent reasons to visit, we couldn’t say no and, after breakfast, we made the short journey to Chapel Porth beach. Again, it wasn’t really beach weather, so we began with a short walk up to the mining buildings of Wheal Coates, perched on the cliffs, in order to earn our ice creams. The walk was easy enough, although it became very windy when we reached the top of the cliffs, and we were soon rewarded with the well-preserved engine house to explore. Unlike some of the National Trust engine houses in the region, this one is not in a working condition, yet the building is fully intact albeit minus a roof. Further up the cliff were some more buildings that were obviously also part of the mining complex, however these were not in such good condition and the wind became too strong for us to linger too long. We retraced our steps back down the cliffs and to the cafe, where we eagerly ordered our reward, their famous ‘Hedgehog’ ice creams. This is a vanilla ice cream cone, with a dollop of clotted cream, and then rolled in roasted hazelnuts. I’m sure its calorie content requires a more strenuous walk to burn off, but we felt we deserved it anyway! With the weather improving, we decided to go onto the beach to enjoy our ice creams and for a bit more cave exploring. Almost every beach in this region has at least a few caves, which is what made it a haven for smugglers. We didn’t find any contraband, but that didn’t stop us checking every cave we came across, just in case!

Despite having just eaten a month’s worth of calories in one go, it was now lunch time, so we decided to go to St Ives to find more Cornish pasties. I’d never been to St Ives before, and I found absolutely nothing that would make me want to return. The town is built on the side of a steep hill, surrounding a typical Cornish harbour and its complement of fishing vessels. Seemingly the destination of every tour coach in the county, the place was overrun and incredibly crowded, and what was more worrying was that this seemed to be the norm. Undeterred, we set about battling our way through the crowds to find some pasties, which we then took down to the harbour to eat while enjoying the view. This was probably the biggest mistake we made during the entire trip, as anyone that has been to Cornwall will know, and we were barely halfway through our pasties when Ms Lust was attacked by one of the local seagulls. These are not your normal seagulls, they are huge and the abundance of unwary tourists with food has made them very intimidating and most definitely not shy! After fighting them off and finding a safer place to finish our lunch, we returned to the town to see what all the fuss is about. St Ives is a beautiful little town, yet there isn’t really anything that sets it apart from any of the other harbour towns in the area, they are all beautiful. Maybe it’s because of the poem, or because of the Tate gallery that has opened here, but for whatever reason St Ives has found fame and this is its biggest problem. As I said before, it is overcrowded with tourists, and as a result it has become very commercial in order to capitalise on its popularity, which has in turn destroyed much of its charm. Unless you are on a coach holiday and have no choice, I would definitely avoid St Ives in favour of some of the less famous towns such as Port Isaac or Boscastle. However our trip wasn’t all bad, and we managed to find a great place for a cream tea, much to my surprise! Due to the popularity of St Ives, I was expecting the cafes and tearooms to be geared towards quantity rather than quality. However we spotted that 57 Fore St was surprisingly quiet as we walked past, and decided to trust our instincts and give it a try and we were not disappointed. The place is a little quirky, and it almost feels like you’re walking through someone’s home, but the view of the harbour from upstairs is fantastic and the cream teas were delicious. If you do go to St Ives, definitely check this place out!

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It was then time to leave St Ives and we set off towards another popular tourist destination, Land’s End. The original plan had been to park at Sennen Cove and walk along the coast to Land’s End, but time and the weather forced us to alter this and to drive straight there. This was another place I had wanted to go to purely because of its reputation, and again I was left a bit disappointed. Land’s End is privately owned and a mini village full of shops and attractions, all designed to deprive tourists of their holiday money, has been built separating the car park from the main attraction. So you are forced to walk through this avenue of tackiness (fortunately everywhere had closed by the time we arrived) to reach the famous signpost and the views out to sea. It is nice to be able to say that I have now been, yet it isn’t a place I would never think to come back to. The views are very dramatic and rugged, especially if the weather is as terrible as it was when we were there, yet it isn’t any different from so many other places along the Cornwall coastline. So we took our photos of the signpost, and quickly retreated back to the car to find refuge from the wind. As darkness approached we began our trip back to our accommodation, and started looking forward to the following day. I felt like our Cornish holiday hadn’t gotten off to the best of starts, however that just meant there would be plenty of opportunity to improve!

The weather had disrupted plans for our surfing lesson again, so we changed plans and moved forward our visit to St Michael’s Mount. This is another National Trust property, and the counterpart to Mont-Saint-Michel in France. It comprises of a small island just off of the beach at Marazion, and accessible at low tide via a man-made causeway, on the top of which a castle has been built. Subsequently more buildings were added around the harbour on the island, and a small community was formed. There are still people living on the island today, both in the castle and the surrounding houses, most of which are employed in the running of the property and the island. Visits can be made either by foot at low tide or by boat, however the boat is subject to weather conditions.

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When we arrived at the car park on the mainland, we were informed that the boat would not be in operation due to the weather and that we would need to wait until 1pm for the causeway to open. Marazion is also home to a wonderful, long, sandy beach, so we decided to spend the extra time that we had strolling along it in search of a shipwreck that had been uncovered in the area. The shipwreck never showed itself to us, yet it was still an enjoyable, although at some points quite bracing, walk up and down the beach. Arriving back at the causeway in time for the opening rush to have subsided a little, we joined the train of people making their way over to the island. The causeway has been recently relaid and is quite easy to walk on, however we were warned that some of the paths on the island were quite steep and, as they are all cobbled, treacherous in some places. This is mostly likely why the castle was shut on the day of our visit as well, as the wind and the threat of rain made the walk up to the top of the island too risky. We wouldn’t be able to tour the castle after all so, determined not to have come here for nothing, we went straight to the cafe for a cream tea (do you see a pattern emerging here?!). Just as good as the one we had had the previous day in St Ives, but with the added bonus of an extra scone, again we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cream teas in such a busy tourist hot-spot. By the time we had finished, the weather had improved, although we were still not allowed to venture up to the castle, and it made for a pleasant walk around the harbour and the island village. It is a wonderful little place to visit, although I am sure it takes on a different light during the storms that frequent this area and there is a small exhibition that gives a glimpse into that side of island life. We stayed on the island almost until the causeway had to be closed for the incoming tide, and by the time we arrived back at the car it was starting to become late. It also seemed like we would finally be able to have our surfing lesson on the following morning, which meant an early start, so we called it a day and went in search of dinner.

After an early breakfast we set off for Gwithian beach for our surfing lesson, albeit still a little dubious of the weather conditions. It was certainly less windy than it had been the previous two days, however it still felt like a storm was never too far away. Nevertheless we changed into our wetsuits and carried our surfboards down to the beach, where we stayed for a little while for some tuition and instructions before getting into the water. This was something like my tenth surfing lesson, which have spanned over seven years in both Australia and previous trips to Cornwall, and I was yet to manage to stand and control the board. The closest I had gotten before were a few lucky moments on my feet, before the board quickly tipped me back into the waves a second or two later. So as the lesson seemed to be coming to a close, and I hadn’t managed to do any better, I resigned myself once again to the fact that I will possibly never get the hang of surfing. Ms Lust had already gone back to the beach at this point, and I have her partly to thank for what happened next. With only a few chances left to grab a wave, and the instructors wise words echoing around in my head, I looked up to see where Ms Lust was and that was all it took. I was up! Not only up but controlled and balanced as well, and able to ride the wave all the way into the shore. I could hardly believe it, all I had needed all this time was to have a beautiful woman waiting at the beach for me to grab my attention. I’d been told countless times by every instructor to keep my head up and never followed their advice, and now I saw where I had been going wrong all this time. I managed to catch one more wave before the lesson ended and, proving it hadn’t been a fluke, repeated my new found surfing skills and rode the wave once more to the shore. Ms Lust hadn’t enjoyed her first surfing experience all that much, but for me it was the best lesson I had had and why I highly recommend Gwithian Surfing Academy if you are looking for lessons in this area. I will probably never take up surfing seriously, I may never even have another lesson, but I am so glad to have finally mastered the very basics at least so I know it wouldn’t be completely pointless to go again.

The surfing had tired us both out quite a lot, so we dialled back our plans a bit and decided to find somewhere for lunch before heading to our new accommodation for the last night. We found a great fish and chip shop in Hayle and drove to the beach there to eat them, although we had learnt our lesson and stayed in the car! The accommodation was a bit of a drive away and we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, where we were met with a beautiful cabin to stay in and even some gin and tonics to welcome us! Another AirBnB find, and definitely one of the best we have stayed at, you can find it here. We got some well-earned rest in before going for dinner, and then on to our theatre plans for the evening. I had come across Minack Theatre in an article online, and as soon as I saw it I knew we had to book tickets for whatever show would be on while we would be there. That show turned out to be Cyrano de Bergerac, a play I had studied a little at school and one that I knew we would enjoy. So I booked the tickets well in advance and as a result, most of our holiday had been planned around this visit.

Minack Theatre is an open-air amphitheatre that has been built on the cliff top near Porthcurno. Resulting from the vision and hard work of Rowena Cade, she built the theatre with her gardener, Billy Rawlings, by carving it from the cliffs at the end of her estate. The first performance, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, took place on 16 August 1932 and there have been performances here ever since. The backdrop of the roaring sea crashing into the cliffs below adds to the drama of the performances, it really is a wonderful place to watch a play. There seems to be a new play every week, with two performances a day on weekdays, so you are sure to find something that interests you. The tickets are not expensive either, which is what surprised me the most as it is such a famous attraction, and I think I would be there every week if I were to live in the area!

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After a good night’s rest we found ourselves facing the prospect of the long drive home, as our holiday was drawing to an end. That in no way means that we had finished exploring however! The route had been carefully planned to include a few more stops along the way, and after breakfast we set off in the direction of home. As is so often the case on an English holiday, the weather seemed to be returning to a more summery disposition just as we were leaving. We didn’t feel too upset about this though, as there was still some rain about as we arrived at Lanhydrock Estate and we had had an excellent time over the last few days despite the weather. Lanhydrock Estate is a stately home owned by the National Trust (you’d never guess that we’re now members!), just to the south of Bodmin Moor. As such, and also because this post is long enough already, we’re going to save our views on our visit here for our next stately homes post, which will be out fairly soon.

After Lanhydrock Estate we went for a short drive to the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery and Cafe, for what would be the most disappointing moment of the entire trip. Prior to leaving, I had a spent some time researching the best places in Cornwall for Cornish pasties and cream teas. One of the places that came up in almost every list for cream teas was the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery Cafe, and with a name like that who can resist? So there we were waiting for our cream teas, and when they arrived I couldn’t help but to feel devastated. The scones resembled rock cakes more than scones, the teapot didn’t look like it have ever been washed, and worst of all was the cream. It was clotted cream, so at least they got that right, but it was the amount that was the issue. Sitting in a miniature plant pot was a scoop of cream barely big enough for one scone, and certainly not enough for the two scones we had been given. Naturally we asked for more and to be fair it was given without any issue or question (I imagine they get asked this a lot), so we carried on in hope that looks can be deceiving. They weren’t and the scones tasted as bad as they looked, the tea was ok but nothing special (you had to pay extra for anything other than English Breakfast!), and we realised that this place gets by on its name alone.

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Our final stop was another short drive away, the small harbour town of Polperro. Situated at the bottom of a steep hill, you are greeted by a huge car park and a deep sense of dread that you’ve been tricked into driving to another St Ives. Maybe it was because we arrived just as everything was closing, or maybe the town is a bit too far off the beaten track to attract too many coach tours, but it seemed relatively quiet and peaceful. A tourist tram made from an old milk float will take you to the harbour for a nominal fee, along with tales of the torrid journey that awaits you if you decide to walk back (we did it and it really wasn’t bad at all!). The harbour is small and pleasant, with a small beach and some caves to explore. The houses and shops are all still very traditional and it seems like tourism hasn’t affected these too much so far. All in all it was a nice place to have a final pasty and a stroll before leaving Cornwall, but I didn’t find anything to make me linger for too long. Well worth a visit if you are in the area, probably not worth the hassle if you’re not. So with our tour of Polperro complete, so too did our Cornish adventure come to a close. We walked back to the car and began the long drive home, already promising to return again soon.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

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Dear readers,

You may have seen a few of our pictures from our road trip to Cornwall, but here we are to tell you more about it, follow me around the south west coast for a tour of pasties and cream teas!

This is our itinerary, a bit planned and a bit modified by improvising and by the forces of nature, and I’ll take you through it in case you want to follow it in your trip. As the posts are usually very long, here is the short itinerary and here is the longer version if you are up to read more about the places.

We have a great tendency of always leaving later than planned, and this time was no exception. We were on the road at about 9 a.m. on Saturday, our day one.

Day 1

This first bit was quite plain, with a long drive through counties until our first stop, which was also our lunch break. Mr Wander had planned to stop in Painswick, which ended up being a nice decision. We initially stopped at the Rococo Gardens but we immediately decided not to visit them as it would have added two hours to our already delayed schedule; if you have time or are on a more relaxed schedule, you may add it to your itinerary.

Include a stop at St Mary’s Church. Again, if you are not on a tight schedule as we were, save some time for it as it is worth the visit. The churchyard is said to only be able to host 99 yew trees because the devil would always destroy the hundredth, although the count of the trees is always different depending on the source. In 2000, every town in the Diocese of Gloucester received a yew tree to plant for the millennium and the church was confronted with the dilemma of planting it and defying the legend. It seems that the tree is still there and healthy, as you can read here in the 100 reasons to love the Cotswolds.

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After Painswick, choose your next stop accordingly to your interest, whether it be the beach, food, or shopping. We drove straight to Newquay because we wanted to pop into Fat Willy’s before it shut. You have two shops in Newquay, but the one in Fore Street also has women’s t-shirts and we went there.

If you are hungry and it still opening time, Jamie’s Pasties in Central Square is your place. It is hard to miss, with a yellow front and canopy. Apparently, the shop has been renovated recently and is now also selling memorabilia such as t-shirts with their logo. The choice is quite good and even going at closing time we still had five or six flavours to choose from. I totally recommend the chicken and chorizo one it if you like spicy food because it hits you quite hard towards the half of the pasty. Have it by the beach for a nice sight of the house with the bridge and of the surfers.

Our AirBnB place booked in Mount Hawke, we went back on the road. The place was not bad but could have benefited from a bit of hoovering. Mount Hawke is a small town with very little to do but we were just a few metres away from the Old School Bar and Kitchen and we decided to try their menu for dinner. The place is very nice and so is the food and the music, and the pub is dog-friendly, in case you are interested, and their breakfast choice is also pretty good although only available Saturday and Sunday.

Day 2

We were supposed to go surfing but the weather was not so favourable and the lesson was cancelled, so we decided to head to Chapel Porth and have a walk around the beach and the tin mines. The beach is a National Trust location and has a little kiosk from which you can get some food and drinks. It is not the best for breakfast, the website is not very clear on that. You have a few tables outside but the options for breakfast are just some baguettes.

The walk from the beach to the Wheal Coates engine house is a short, easy walk on the cliff but the wind can make it quite difficult reaching the second half. The engine house is not in use anymore but it is just nice to have a walk around and see the scenery.

Not to miss at Chapel Porth is its famous ice-creams called hedgehogs, basically a waffle cone with vanilla ice-cream, clotted cream, and roasted hazelnuts. Another version is the foxy, which has flapjack crumbs instead of hazelnuts. Definitely thumbs up! There are more walks on the cliffs and along the beach, and we decided to explore that a bit, with the coves that make it quite impressive and give for very nice framed pictures (this is me, courtesy of Mr Wander).

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Full from the hedgehog and willing to explore more, we headed to St Ives. The town is much about tourism and it seems to be a favourite stop of bus tours, which makes it busy and chaotic. The fact that there is car park for thousands of cars at the top of the hill should give you an idea. There is a bus service to and from the car park but if you are not tired you can do what we did and walk to town and just get the bus on the way back as the road is quite steep.

If you think that a pasty by the harbour is a good idea, think twice and read the full version of the post to find out why. As it was late and all the pasty shops were closing, we got ours half price in Warrens Bakery which, quoting their website, is “one of the UK’s top three craft bakeries and the World’s oldest pasty maker”. Chicken and asparagus is a debatable choice and probably not the best combination but the quality was good. 

If instead of a pasty you fancy a cream tea (or you can have both as we did), you can walk to the end of the harbour and then back up Fore Street to stop at 57 Fore Street. It is a very nice bar with the tasty and incredibly sweet décor of a summer house. When we arrived, they were not serving food anymore but they serve cream teas all day. We sat upstairs and got our order. Definitely thumbs up, the scone was only one but soft and fresh, buttery and delicious, with our individual pot of clotted cream and jam for an average price.

If you are not tired of travelling, you can do what we did and drive to Land’s End, bearing in mind that the shopping and amusement area is going to be closed by the time you will arrive, which is all positive in my opinion. We arrived when the rain and the wind were increasing and it was honestly quite hard to even hold the phone still at all for pictures. Do not miss the model village just outside the entrance.

Despite a lunch of pasty and the cream tea, we still wanted to go for some dinner and we decided to check out the Miners Arms pub in Mithian. The pub is quite renowned in the area and serves local food. Mr Wander was not impressed with the Sunday roast but my salad with brie was nice, just too generous in brie if anything, which is not bad at all. The pub itself has a varied history and the building still shows the original structure, with low ceiling and wooden beams. Unfortunately, we were too full for giving the desserts a go but the list was definitely interesting.

Day 3

Something to say is that if you want some breakfast during the week, especially Monday, you should plan ahead and have some food at the accommodation. We tried with no luck to find somewhere open for breakfast in Portreath, in two cases despite the fact that the information online on Google and on the place’s website clearly stated “open”. After a few failures and a full coffee shop, we decided to go for something fresh from a bakery and I had a bacon and cheese pasty at Portreath Bakery. When Mr Wander told me the history behind the Cornish pasty (check it here), it made sense, but when I had the pasty for breakfast I understood the power of this whole meal in a pastry case.

After this stop, we were ready to head to St Michael’s Mount. Something to keep in mind if you plan to visit Cornwall, apparently, is the wind, as our plans were shaken or cancelled a few times because of it. In the case of the Mount, if the day is too windy, not only the boat doesn’t operate, but the castle is not open to visitors either.

The rock is the British version of the French Mont-Saint-Michel and was built by the same monks that were living in the French monastery, or at least the chapel and the church that preceded the castle. The castle belongs now to the St Aubyn’s family who still lives there. The rock is part of the National Trust’s network but you have to park in Marazion and you will have to pay £3.50 even if you are a member. If you decide (or the weather decides for you) to walk, you have to wait for the tide to uncover the path. We tried to find this shipwreck that I read about, but we couldn’t, we don’t know whether because it was still covered by water as the tide was not out completely, or whether because sometimes the storms cover it again in sand. Let us know if you manage to find it on your visit.

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The walk to the Mount is pretty short but you better wear comfortable shoes, especially because the small streets to reach the castle are also of cobblestones. If you visit on a day in which the castle is closed, you have the café and the harbour to visit, which is not much, but the Island Café is nice and the food not bad at all. We had a cream tea, as you could guess, and we loved it. Two scones, with a delicate butter scent, soft and fresh, really delicious, accompanied by a pot of jam and a pot of clotted cream each. All washed with an individual pot of tea that was just perfect. Trust me, it is worth but it is a good idea to have it as a meal.

There is also the Island gift shop that sells many nice items and especially cruelty-free hand-made soaps and candle by Sapooni. We couldn’t resist a soap bar called “Wanderlust”! We left at about 5 p.m. as the tide was going up again and everyone had to leave the rock by 5:30.

You have a few choices around for dinner, and we decided to give The Unicorn a go, mainly because of the name and the fact that the sign was at the junction we turned every single time and we became curious. The place is a hostel and pub and must be pretty busy during high season; it was actually pretty busy even now that we went, at least for dinner. The menu is pretty simple but not bad, I had the vegetarian burger and I really loved it, it didn’t destroy after a bite like they usually do, and the chips were not bad at all; what you don’t want to eat, though, is the slaw. The pub also has a pool table, in case you like playing, and it is dog-friendly.

Day 4

Tuesday was the day of our surfing lesson. We booked with GAS Surf School and I believe we can recommend them (Mr Wander is the expert here as for me it was the first time). The guys kept us up to date moving our booking (originally for Sunday, day 2) due to the weather. We started at 10:30 and the lesson includes wetsuits and boards also a little after the lesson. You may know me or may have understood by now that I am happy as soon as I am in water, but you will find my opinion about surfing in the extended post.

Our instructor was definitely nice and helped me a lot. I stress on myself because I was the only one at her first intent, the rest had tried a few times before and were pretty good already. Well, he helped me with the right waves and telling me when to stand and so on, so I definitely recommend you book with them if you want to try as well. If you want, they obviously also rent the gear.

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If you are hungry, fish and chips to go at Sanders is a good idea, maybe a bit greasy, but that is exactly what you expect it to be! We had our last night booked near Praa Sands and I have to say that Lynne’s place is the best I have been in all my AirBnB accommodation, and it is so by far. The annex is just delicious and elegant, with all details taken care of and an incredible level of cleanliness. If to that you add that the host is just lovely, definitely it is a not to miss if you are unsure where to stay, just bring some coins because she has a little bookshelf and you can buy the books for charity.

We went for dinner at Sandbar in Praa Sands to have a quick bite before the theatre that we had booked and we liked it so much that we went back for breakfast the day after. Sandbar is a bar and restaurant by the beach and offers traditional pub food. The big windows open to the beach and there is an open terrace that must be lovely in summer but that night was pouring. Their soup and calamari were really good and their focaccia definitely deserves the best score, both for the soup and as garlic bread. The place is also dog-friendly, at least up to the arch that divides the dining area.

If you are in the area, definitely do your best to fit Minack Theatre into your schedule. The theatre itself is worth the effort, as it is carved into the cliff, as you can see here and it was created by the lady who lived in Minack House, Rowena Cade, for the performing of The Tempest, which would have suited the weather very much. Dating from the ‘30s, this theatre is majestic and scary at the same time, as the stage seems to be just directly over the sea and the seats are very steep. The acoustic is somehow complicated, especially in a very windy day like we had on Tuesday, and we were lucky enough to be sitting in the front rows on the left side, as we were close and a bit sheltered from the wind anyway but, mainly, we were sitting on stone and not on grass. We had our rain jackets and our blankets, but you can also get a rain kit from the theatre for a small fee. We watched Cyrano de Bergerac, as you have seen from the picture, and it was very nice, although a bit unsettling for me sometimes as I am used to both the original French and the Italian translation and I somehow missed the lines and rhymes that Rostand is famous for.

Day 5

As day 5 was the day we were coming back, we were not supposed to leave too late in order to do some visiting and manage to be home at a decent time. It didn’t happen. Our first stop was Lanhydrock, a country house managed by the National Trust. Just a glimpse of the chapel here, but we will tell you more in our post about stately homes.

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As per our plan, we left after a quick visit to the chapel and we went to The Duchy of Cornwall Nursery for afternoon tea. Do you remember when I said that I am not a big fan of fancy and trendy places because the quality and service are never up to expectations? Well, this is exactly the case. Two dry, rock-hard scones, a plain one and a raisin one, and jam and cream that was barely enough for only one scone. The tea was nice, but even the milk jug was not happy to be there, as you can see here! The service was ok but nothing to be happy about, even before we asked for a double dose of cream. Definitely not worth the little detour!

The last stop was Polperro, a nice fishing village with a heritage tram service that takes you from the car park to the actual town as cars are not really allowed in the narrow streets near the harbour. The journey is £2 return but, if you get the last tram and have to walk back, don’t be scared by the driver making it sound terrible, it is not a long walk and definitely it is not steep either, you will enjoy it. The tram journey gives you a discount on pasties at the shop next to the stop, but it seemed all sold out when we arrived, so we kept walking a bit further and got one at the Polperro Bakery. As it was late already, the terrace was not out, but the bakery has a door also to the rear square and it is nice to sit there if you have a chance. As we didn’t want to walk down to the harbour with a pasty, we just sat in the square benches until we finished. I got a vegetarian one and I enjoyed it, although I find it a bit more doughy than the ones I got the previous days. If you manage to arrive early, visit the museum and stop for cream tea in one of the nice tea rooms you find on your way, we would love to ear your feedback as we arrived after closing time. With low tide and at the end of the day, the harbour was very quiet but still nice to walk around, and the beach was covered in seaweed but also nice, especially because the sky started clearing again and gave us a perfect postcard for the end of the holidays with no need for a filter.

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We left with this sight and we got back home at about 11 p.m. but once again feeling so tired and so rich. Although these words did not bring Ulysses to a happy journey, allow me to quote Dante:

“fatti non foste a viver come bruti,

ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.*

Keep travelling, keep exploring, and keep pushing your boundaries,

Ms Lust

*“Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,/ But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.’” (Inferno – Dante, translation by H. W. Longfellow)

Our side of London

Dear travellers,

One year ago, we were just coming back from New Zealand and for me it was finally the chance to show my London to Mr Wander. There were a few places that I loved and a few from where I used to chat to him while relaxing on a stroll. Little by little, we managed to tick the list and we want to share our favourite spots with you. London is so big and full of offers for things to do to suit everyone, and you can find countless lists. If you are visiting for the first time, you may still want to do the usual things and I am not going to tell you not to, although in all my years here I still haven’t been to some of the not to miss places and I don’t feel like I am missing anything.

Museums

The main museums in London are free and you can spend hours in them. The temporary exhibitions are separate and you have to buy the tickets. The Natural History Museum is my favourite because of all the animals and natural things to learn. The building itself is nice and, when at full capacity, the main entrance is mind-blowing, with the giant skeleton of the diplodocus welcoming visitors before they meet Darwin on the main staircase. Dippy, as it is called, went on tour for a while and the building is undergoing some refurbishment, so at the moment the visit may be slightly disappointing. Also, there were talkings of replacing Dippy with the skeleton of the blue whale that is currently in one of the rooms. The plan is to sensibilise visitors on the species that are in current danger of extinction. Maybe, this will be what will greet you when the refurbishment is over. The section with stuffed animals is interesting although slightly disturbing. Due to the change of laws since taxidermy started, most of the specimens on display are fairly old and faded because of the long years on display under strong lights. One of the most recent is the panda near the cafeteria, a famous guest of the London Zoo, Chi Chi, that was stuffed when she passed away in 1972. 

If you happen to be in London on the last Friday of the month, do not miss their Lates. After regular closing time, part of the museum opens again at 6 p.m. and you can enjoy a drink while walking around the rooms in a dim light and have a slightly quieter experience. Another chance to see the museum under a different light is Behind the scenes tour. This visit will take you through the Darwin Centre and you can see some of the specimens not on display, such as the giant squid and specimens collected by Darwin. You need to book for this visit but it is definitely worth to do it.

The NHM is in South Kensington together with two other major museums, the Science Museum and the V&A. I am not a science geek, therefore I have never enjoyed the Science Museum too much, but I would still dedicate it a bit of time if I were you, most of the people I know love it and totally recommend it. The V&A is a difference story. I have not visited for the first three years, I was not curious at at all, and when I finally did, I regretted my previous decision. The museum is incredible, with splendid artwork from Asia that will totally seduce you. I had the chance to be invited to a talk after closing hours and those ceramics and silverware in dim light are incredibly beautiful, and so is the building itself.

I am not a big fan of the British Museum and I know that it is a debatable opinion, but I can’t think otherwise. The building is beautiful from outside, but once inside it feels completely different, too open, modern, and too similar to a warehouse. The collections are impressive, that is not the problem, but something is not right, those high ceilings give an idea of openness and space that is not actually reflected on ground level, the museum is too crowded, constantly, and feels oppressive. The Rosetta Stone is not to miss but easily missed. The symbol of translators, it is always surrounded by so many arms with phones trying to focus from every angle that it is almost impossible to see the stone. The same is said for the Egyptian section, it is hard to walk through and it feels as we were about to knock some precious artefact on the floor. They are basically all behind glass but the feeling is there nonetheless. If you have seen the Egyptian Museum in Turin you won’t miss too much.

The National Gallery is probably the most accessible because it is in Trafalgar Square. It is absolutely worth the visit. It covers some of the main artistic currents and it is a pleasure to walk in, both for the building and for the art exposed. Some paintings are the most famous and are always surrounded by many people with smart phones again, but most of my favourites are not among the most wanted, so I am lucky. One of my favourite paintings of all time is Leonardo’s Virgin of the rocks and for that there is no chance, cornered as it is in a small room, it is luckily big enough to overlook smartphones and reaching arms. The same can be said for Van Gogh’s section. I have often claimed Raphael as my ancestor, a bit joking but not with a bit of hope that the common surname and region of origin may mean something. Well, uncle’s paintings are often surrounded by enough quiet for me to always enjoy at least Pope Julius II’s portrait. As I love Caravaggio’s work and it is too dark and gloomy, I usually don’t have to fight too much so pop in to enjoy his masterpieces and say hi to Saint Jerome in the same room. You know, he is the patron saint of translators, I feel a visit is the least I can do when I am there. 

On the actual square, there are a few permanent things to see and a few that change, like the sculpture on the fourth plinth. For a long while, I remember a ship in a bottle, then a blue rooster. Currently, it shows a sculpture called Really Good by David Shrigley.

Walks

Embankment is my favourite spot, for a long time I went back there in the evenings to walk along the Thames and relax. It was a sort of therapy to reconcile with the city because, no matter how hard the day had been, the immense beauty of the landscape could soothe me and would remind me of why I loved the city. Start at Westminster station or Charing Cross and walk along the river on the north side, seeing the London Eye on the other shore. Reach the boundary dragons and then walk back a little to then walk up to Strand and pop in to the Twinings shop in 216 Strand, a narrow shop that has been there since the XVIII century and offers a wide selection of teas and coffees, tasting and recipe ideas, and some classes to be booked in advance. You can buy single bags of many varieties and find some exclusive ones that are not available in shops. You won’t regret it!

As I said, I love walking along the river, and the other shore is equally good, just more crowded. If you prefer, instead of starting at Westminster Bridge, walk a bit along Embankment before and cross on the following bridge to avoid the crowds around the aquarium and the London Eye. You should arrive just in front of some of the restaurants and, if you keep walking, you arrive at Waterloo station. There are so many things to see and beautiful spots to capture in your photographs along this side. You can walk up to Tower Bridge and get a few good shots of all the landmarks around there: HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge itself, and the Tower of London. At the moment, you also have some open bars near the bridge and if the weather is good you can enjoy a drink there. You will always also find a soft ice cream van and the little kiosks that sell caramelised peanuts, my favourite treat during the long London walks. 

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I have to admit I walk a lot, so maybe you don’t have to follow all my suggestions if you get tired very easily. If you are an explorer, instead, remember that it is said that you can walk around all London just hopping from one park to the other. Well, I have done a fair bit of that starting in Hyde Park, from Marble Arch or Wellington Arch, and ending up either in Hammersmith on one direction or in Vauxhall on the other. If you want more ideas, check out this article with some great walks. I have done most of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk and I love it.

Walking or not, there are two things I would tell you to visit in Earl’s Court if you are a fan:

Doctor Who’s Tardis is just outside the station, behind a kiosk. It is not open to visit (you would get lost), but you can take a picture before the Doctor leaves again;

– Freddie Mercury’s house in Logan Place. You cannot visit it, you can just see the wall with the love messages and the flowers. I cannot explain why, you just need to have grown up with Queen and will understand. I have been there several times and met nice people and bitter neighbours, but I love going back. As last time with Mr Wander we didn’t take a picture, here is a shot from 2015.

Tower of London and Ceremony of the Keys

The visit to the Tower of London is definitely worth it despite the high price of the ticket, but it takes a long time. If you decide to go, give it priority because it will take up most of the day. I am not a fan of jewels at all, and all those displayed there, all at once, are quite disturbing, but there are so many more sections of the tower that have so much story behind them, that it makes up for it. An alternative visit you can do is the Ceremony of the Keys. You can do both, as they are pretty different from one another, but you really need to plan the second one a lot better and in advance. The first time I went, it was not that known and the waiting list was three months, but last time I checked it was over a year!

It is something that stayed as it has been for hundreds of years, which means that photography is not allowed but that you can enjoy it fully. The Tower used to be a castle, then a prison, and is now a museum with incredibly valuable items to be preserved. Every night, the tower is locked by the guards and a small group of people is allowed to watch from a small distance and escorted by one of the Yeoman Warders. The protocol hasn’t changed apart from the monarch’s name and it is humbling to witness it. Before and after, the guide will explain a bit about the history of the tower and of the main (free or forced) visitors. That part is the same that you also have for the day tour, but the rest is nothing similar to it or any other tours. 

Check availability and save your confirmation because you will lose it if you have to wait one year before you use it! The ticket is free and there is just a small booking fee to pay online.

Food and drink

Don’t worry, this section won’t be an all Italian list, not only I am not a big fan of Italian cuisine over the rest, but I am able to cook fairly decently myself, therefore I prefer to have Italian food at home or in Italy and to enjoy other flavours when in the big city. If you follow my Instagram, you will know that I am a big fan of British pubs and their food, therefore I will give you my top three places in London.

It is no surprise that my favourite pub is along the Thames and near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the views are among the most beautiful you can have (and London is not short of them), the food has always been good, and they even accept bookings for groups. I never had problems when I tried to celebrate something there. Oh, wait, I haven’t given you the name yet! I am talking of the Founders Arms. On the side of the Tate Modern and a short walk from St Paul’s through the Millennium Bridge, the pub has an interesting menu that has changed a few times since the first time I went, and a good choice of beers; you won’t find my favourite, but their stout is not bad either. If you book, the table will be inside, but if you find available tables outside just go for them, few things beat relaxing with a pint looking at the beautiful skyline. Even I willingly sat outside for dinner in winter, that says it all!

If you are in the centre and fancy a bit of Irish atmosphere, my second favourite pub is your place: Waxy O’Connor’s. Just next to Piccadilly Circus, this pub is a huge wooden maze with several levels, countless steps, and furniture that recalls a gothic cathedral (including a confessional!). I booked there a few times as well, and it takes a while to find your table when you arrive, both because no one has any idea and whomever is sitting there usually takes the signs away hoping to be able to keep the table. The pub usually gets pretty busy and you will struggle to enjoy your drinks if you don’t have a table. The prices are what you can expect in central London and the food is average, I just love the actual ambiance and decor of the place, especially the huge tree climbing several levels along the staircase.

If you are going for a more elegant night, the Madison is the place for you. It is the sort of place where you won’t be allowed in if you are wearing trainers, so plan your outfit accordingly if you are thinking of going there. The prices are not scary as you can imagine for a rooftop bar overlooking St Paul’s. You have the main bar and restaurant with sofas in front of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, the terrace with the incredible views, and another bar with no seats inside mainly to serve the terrace.

Now a few tips before leaving you:

– Register your Oyster card (or your contactless card if you pay with that instead) on the TfL website or you are likely to be charged extra. I have used my Oyster all the years I have been living in London, but now I only go once every 6-7 weeks and I use my contactless card. Before registering, Mr Wander and I got charged different amounts a few times, but the refunds were immediate when we finally remembered to register.

– Walk or use the bus when you can. At peak times, some stations are so crowded that it takes ages to even reach the train, let alone getting on it. Also, some stations are so huge that you may end up walking for almost ten minutes inside the station itself, so you may as well do it outside.

– It may seem obvious but few people seem to keep these two things in mind: use bags that you can close and remember to fasten them against rain and pickpockets, and stand on the right and walk on the left in escalators.

Looking forward to our next trip to London to discover more places, stay tuned!

Ms Lust

***

Dear readers,

When we were originally planning our return to the UK, it seemed like the obvious choice that we would return where Ms Lust had been living previously, London. As it turned out, this wasn’t to be the case, and we ended up living in Cambridgeshire instead, but we still travel down to London regularly to see friends. I’d never been a fan of London, it has always seemed too crowded for me, but I have to say that I have enjoyed it a lot more having Ms Lust to show me around her favourite spots. So, here are some of our favourite places that we have visited in the past year in London, in no particular order.

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National Gallery

This was the most recent of our visits, and was only decided upon in the spur of the moment, on the tube on the way there to be precise! We were travelling to London for some chores and to meet friends, but we had a few hours spare in between to fill. As we were going to be near Trafalgar Square anyway, the National Gallery seemed like a good choice. I’m not much of an art aficionado and I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it that much, however I was very mistaken and the two hours we spent there just flew by. I’m glad I had Ms Lust with me to act as my guide as the place is like a maze, I would definitely have been lost in there for days if I had been on my own!

I’m not going to try and describe the works that are there, as I would only end up embarrassing myself and it’s probably better if you look it up or, even better, go and see it for yourselves. Anyhow, I’m sure Ms Lust will provide a brief commentary on the main masterpieces. To begin with, it seemed to be just portrait paintings, mainly of a religious vein, which were not too dissimilar to those that we had seen in the Vatican City and not really my taste in art. I’m more of a landscape art fan and happily these types of paintings began to feature more and more as we worked our way through the museum. The museum is set up so that if you follow the suggested route, you will be working your way through history and the associated periods and styles of artwork. We missed the first section and possibly a chunk in the middle, but we still managed to see at least two-thirds of the museum in the couple of hours that we spent there. I was also quite glad that it wasn’t too busy, despite it being a rainy Saturday during the school summer holidays, and there was only a few crowds of people near the most popular artworks, such as the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci. Elsewhere there was plenty of visitors, but it was quiet enough that you could still make your way around the museum in comfort. If you’re looking for something to do for a couple of hours, whether on a rainy day or just to fill some time, I’d definitely recommend giving the National Gallery a go. Who knows, you may even surprise yourself like I did!

Natural History Museum lates

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The Natural History Museum has always been on my wish list of places to visit in London, and when I found out about their late night openings I was even more determined to go. Occurring on the last Friday of every month, the museum stays open beyond its usual closing time and the doors aren’t shut until 10pm. I’m still yet to have visited the museum during the daytime so I cannot make any comparisons between the two, all I can say is that it was a lot more relaxed and quieter than I would expect it to be during the day. Drinks and snacks are available for the evening session, which adds to the relaxed atmosphere as people stroll around the exhibits whilst enjoying a glass of red.

Our visit was just a little too late to be able to see Dippy the Diplodocus before he embarked on his nationwide tour, and his temporary replacement, Hope the Blue Whale, had not yet been given her new home. Nevertheless there was still plenty to see and do and we ended up spending a good couple of hours exploring the museum, and we now have a perfect excuse for a follow-up visit! It isn’t quite Night At The Museum, but it’s close, and it’s a fantastic way to meet with friends for a drink or two and hopefully learning a few things along the way.

Ceremony of the Keys

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Until only recently, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where in the city you would find the Tower of London, so I certainly had never visited before. Almost as soon as we had decided that we would be leaving New Zealand and returning to the UK, Ms Lust jumped on the internet and started looking into booking tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys. This ceremony is an ancient tradition that has taken place here since the 14th century, in which the keys of the Tower of London are brought out for the gates to be locked for the night. Nowadays it is possible for members of the public to witness the ceremony taking place, and a limited number of tickets are made available each day. The tickets are free (with just a small booking charge applicable) however it is necessary to book well in advance, especially if you are planning to include it as part of a holiday to London. We booked in July 2016 and the earliest tickets we could get were for February 2017, the website currently advises that the ceremony is fully booked for almost a year!

The ceremony is not particularly long, the entire event takes just over 30 minutes and includes some storytelling about the tradition, and it takes place entirely outside, so it is necessary to wrap up warm and to be prepared for rain (this is the UK after all!). I won’t go into describing the ceremony itself too much, photography is not permitted in order to preserve its heritage and uniqueness so I think describing it in detail would be just as damaging, all I will say is that it is a wonderful experience and a taste of true ‘Britishness’. Reputedly one of the oldest surviving ceremonies of its kind, having been enacted every night for over 700 years, you won’t find many more chances to witness history like this.

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As we had booked tickets for a weekday and had to come to London after work, we only had time to arrive in time for the ceremony itself. Due to the nature of the ceremony, all the guests are subsequently escorted out of the Tower of London via a side gate at the end so I still need to come back one day to visit properly!

Hyde Park

We’ve been here together a number of times now, for a variety of reasons, but the most important reason for mentioning Hyde Park comes before any of those. It was a photo that Ms Lust took in Hyde Park, while enjoying a day off work, that really ignited our existing friendship and led us to where we are now. I was still living in New Zealand at this point and it was from this photo that we started chatting a lot more and I eventually convinced her to come and join me. The rest of this story has already been told, you can find it here if you need to fill in the gaps!

Ever since my first trip to London with my family when I was young, Hyde Park has always been my favourite of London’s parks. I’m not sure if it’s the size that impressed me, the variety of landscapes, or both, but whatever it was has stayed with me and, if anything, is stronger now than it has ever been. The park is vast and provides an excellent area for walking, running, cycling etc., while the kiosks beside The Serpentine are great places to grab a quick lunch to enjoy by the water. There really is something for everyone here, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for an hour or two.

Battersea

Battersea always conjures up two images in my head, the power station that became a national icon after the campaign to save it from demolition, and Battersea Dog’s Home which found fame as one of reality TV’s early stars. Despite this, I had never been to Battersea or even seen the power station from across the river, so when Ms Lust asked me to choose where we should go in London one day, Battersea sprung to mind. After a bit more research we discovered that Battersea Park is also well-renowned, so we added that to the list as well.

After getting off of the tube at Vauxhall, and taking a few clandestine photos of James Bond’s London office, we opted to walk along the river to Battersea. This turned out to be a mistake, as the power station is currently being redeveloped and a lot of the walkway has been closed due to the associated construction work. Forced to walk through back-streets and housing estates instead, I have to say that I was very disappointed with the power station. Swathed in scaffolding and construction site fences, while the famous chimneys battle with cranes for air superiority, it’s certainly no longer the symbol of industry that it once was. Destined to become expensive apartments and a swanky new shopping complex, a small part of me wishes Fred Dibnah had had his way all those years ago. In my mind this wonderful building should have been turned into a museum, preserving its dignity and honouring its past, not degraded into becoming a showpiece for the privileged few.

We continued on to Battersea Park, however after our long walk to get that far we weren’t in the mood for exploring too much more. So we sat for a little while by the lake and had a bite to eat before catching a bus back across the river. The park was pleasant and seemed to be a popular place to visit, but Battersea had already been ruined for me and I won’t be hurrying back there any time soon.

Waxy O’Connors

We’ve been to a number of pubs in London but this is the one that has really stuck in my mind. An Irish bar located in Soho, this place is truly unique. The inside is a maze of bars, rooms, and staircases, all appearing as if they had been carved out inside a tree. I would not have been at all surprised to have seen a few Hobbits or Goblins enjoying a drink, it really did give the impression that it is straight out of a movie. I’m again thankful for having had Ms Lust as my official guide, it is possible I could have been lost here for days as well! We only stopped for a quick afternoon drink, however I would love to come back here for St Patrick’s Day, the atmosphere must be incredible.

Tardis

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For all the Doctor Who fans out there, London is home to a must-see. Amongst all of London’s quirky police paraphernalia, such as Britain’s smallest police station on Trafalgar Square, remains one of the last few surviving police call-boxes. That’s right, if you want to see a real-life Tardis all you have to do is pop over to Earl’s Court, and take a short walk out of the tube station. I was expecting it to be more popular than it seemed, anticipating a small queue of fans waiting for a photoshoot, but we were the only ones there that seemed to be even vaguely interested in it. Definitely worth a quick stop or a detour if you are in the area.

That’s all for now, but with more trips to come there’ll be additions to the list in the near future.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander