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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Malaysia – Penang

Dear readers and travellers,

Welcome back to our Malaysian adventure, and our next instalment in which we take you through our time on Penang Island. We only spent a couple of days here, and in truth it wasn’t enough and we really should have stayed for an extra day or two. However this wasn’t the case and we had to try and cram in as much as we could, and we still managed to do quite a lot in the short time that we were there. So here’s what we did for two days on the island, and some tips for other places that we didn’t have time for.

 

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Part of this was written on the ferry from Penang to Langkawi just after spending a few days in Penang. The experience has been a blast although a bit messy for food as many places seem to only be open for lunch. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of food stalls and restaurants serving at night, but it seems that the city is a lot more active up to 6 p.m.

We arrived by bus on 2 January from Kuala Lumpur and I can’t avoid thinking that three nights there were just too many, you might have read our post (if not, you can find it here) and may understand why I say so, but it is not just for that. The city is interesting, but this country has so much to offer outside of the capital that I keep feeling that we should have stolen one of those days for either Cameron Highland or Penang, probably Penang.

Getting there and around

There are many options available for getting to Penang from all over the Malay Peninsula, and also from other islands on the west coast. The most popular form of transport, and the most readily available, is by bus, with very frequent arrivals from all over the peninsula. We took this option also, and our bus from Kuala Lumpur took approximately five hours including a refreshment stop along the way. When taking the bus there are two options for points of arrival, Butterworth or Penang bus terminals. The terminal on Penang is about 8 km from George Town, the main city on the island and most popular place for accommodation, and will require getting another bus to take you into the city.

You may want to do what we did and get off at Butterworth to get the ferry there. It will take less time and it will get you to the jetty where all the buses are. There is a free shuttle bus that takes you from Butterworth bus station to the jetty, which is not far away but just hard to reach. The ferry takes about 15 minutes and payment is not required for your return journey. This was the option we took, and seeing the city grow as the ferry chugged ever closer was a nice introduction to the island.

It is also possible to take a train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth, although it takes just as long as the buses yet at around double the cost. Normally I would say it might be worth the higher cost for a more comfortable journey, but in this case I can’t find any fault with the long-distance buses we used in Malaysia and therefore can’t think of any reason not to use them. As the train terminates at Butterworth as well, a ferry trip across to the island is again necessary.

Penang also had its own international airport, so flying here is another option. Although flights here are cheap, both domestic and from neighbouring countries, I feel it should only be considered when time really is a scarce commodity. It is possible to see so much more of the country when travelling by road, albeit out of a window, and I would much rather spend an extra hour or two to get there and not miss out on the views. The final option is to arrive by ferry, which can be taken from Langkawi Island and Belawan in Indonesia. These ferries arrive at Swettenham Pier, located at the northern end of George Town.

Once you have made it to Penang by whichever means of transport you have chosen, the next task is to get to your accommodation and around the island. If you don’t have your own car, the bus network on the island is an excellent substitute. There are buses heading out to all corners of the island, the vast majority of which originate from one or both of the bus terminals in George Town. These can be found near to the jetties at the eastern side of the city, and underneath the Komtar building at the western side. They are frequent and cheap, just make sure you have plenty of small notes and coins as the drivers are not able to give change. The buses run until 10pm on most routes, although the frequency is much reduced after 8pm. There is also a free bus that takes a route around George Town, which has CAT displayed instead of a route number. Taxis are your only other option, although we found that the buses were able to satisfy our needs very well.

We booked at the M Hotel and that was a pleasant change after the nasty place in KL. The hotel is small but seems quite new. The room is nice and of a decent size. You can choose a Hello Kitty or a Doraemon themed one for a higher price, but we just got a normal one with window. You don’t get bottles of water or breakfast but the bathroom is nice and clean, and has a comfortable shower. All the bedding and the towels are clean and the guys at reception are very friendly. The bus 101 takes you very near to the hotel and you are not too far from Komtar, where most of the buses stop.

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As our accommodation didn’t include breakfast, we went both days to a Chinese pastry shop that serves delicious pastries, Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Delights. You have a few in town and luckily one was near where we were staying. They are famous for their egg tarts as they started their business selling them on a rickshaw in the ‘70s, but many pastries are just wonderful, the Pandan Kaya Puff is definitely my favourite.

George Town

Now that we’ve covered how to get to Penang and how to get around once you’re there, it’s time to move on to what to see on the island. For almost all travellers, George Town will be the first place you will see on Penang. This is the second largest city in Malaysia, dwarfed only by Kuala Lumpur, and a true melting pot of cultures that have shaped and changed the city over time. George Town achieved a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the buildings and history from its colonial past, as it was the first place in Malaysia to be settled by the British. Although Malaysia is now independent, many of the buildings remain and its foundations as a far-flung outpost of the British Empire is not forgotten. This is most evident in the northeastern corner of the city, where many of the old administration buildings are although we didn’t find time to explore this part of the city fully. We did see the Jubilee Clock Tower on our way back to the ferry terminal, which is found on a roundabout. Built in a Moorish style in recognition of the local culture, it was commissioned in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The tower is 60 ft tall, one foot for every year of her reign, and it serves as a wonderful reminder of the city’s colonial past.

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The Jubilee Clock Tower, also called Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, is not the only monument in the area. Next to it is a modern sculpture that looks like an avocado but is actually a betel nut. This sculpture, the Pinang Fountain, symbolises Penang Island as its names comes from pinang, Malay for betel nut.

Further south, it soon becomes apparent that you have entered the Chinese quarter of the city. The best way to explore this area is by a self-guided walking tour of the local street art, which can be found all over Chinatown. Most tourist maps show the locations of the most popular murals, and we also found a map dedicated to these alone. Many of them use props to bring the artwork to life, such as bicycles or swings that have been attached to the wall. Seemingly a more recent addition, there are also a lot of wire sculptures in the same area, which have been placed just in front of the walls to allow for their silhouettes to be projected onto the masonry. As I said, this is a great way to explore the area, so it’s important not to focus too much on the murals alone. The area is full of wonderful oriental temples and Kongsis, which are Chinese clan houses that are often just as ornate as temples and can be easily confused for them. Khoo Kongsi is the largest of these in George Town, and Malaysia, as can be visited for a small entrance few. We didn’t have time as it was on our last morning before leaving that we came across it, but it was certainly impressive from the outside and I imagine the interior is no less stunning.

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Our first night on the island we just went exploring the city centre following the street art map and we found most of the murals and the steel rod street art. The murals were painted by different artists, but some of the most famous are those commissioned to Ernest Zacharevic in 2012. The steel rod street art is a set of iron caricatures describing the life of the city. You can find a comprehensive guide here. Unfortunately, due to the light, our pictures of them are not the best as the shadows are in the way of the image. At some point, we stopped at an Indian street restaurant before keeping exploring. As I said, the streets are a lot quieter at night and most of what you see is other tourists going around with their map, until you go back near the pier where you have more bars and the food stalls stay open a lot later.

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We only spent a few hours exploring George Town and it certainly wasn’t enough, we could have easily filled another day or two just in visiting some of the temples and seeing more of the colonial side of the city. However we also wanted to see what the rest of the island had to offer, so we had to split our time to accommodate this as well. So please learn from our mistake, and give George Town and Penang the time they deserve if you are planning to visit.

Penang Hill

Penang Hill is situated just to the west of George Town and, as the name suggests, it is a large hill overlooking the city. There are hiking tracks that can be taken to the summit, but the much more popular option is to take the funicular railway to the top. If you are taking the bus from the city centre, route number 204 terminates just outside the bottom station of the railway. The ticket for the railway costs RM30 for non-Malaysian residents, and the trains seemed to run approximately every half hour.

The weather when we visited was much less than ideal, with monsoonal rain that seemed like it would never end. Because of this, we didn’t venture outside when we reached the top and the views were somewhat limited. The ride up the hill was still fun however, and I imagine it would be quite scenic in better conditions. The trip back down was less enjoyable, as we caught one of the last ones of the evening and we were crammed in like sardines! At the top is a large building that houses the visitor centre and many businesses such as food outlets and souvenir shops. We had dinner at one of the last few stalls to remain open, and I’m not sure if it was due to the tastiness of the dishes, our sheer hunger, or both, but we had to go back for seconds!

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There seemed to be quite a lot to do at the summit, with the attractions all connected by walking tracks. We didn’t have time, nor the inclination to get absolutely soaked, to explore any of these, our main reason for coming had been to see the views of the sunset over the city. The weather made sure that this would also not be possible, and the city only came into view through the clouds as the lights started to come on after sunset. It was still a nice view however, despite the rain, and it was easy to see that it would be incredible with clear skies. I’d definitely recommend coming up here, just choose the timing of your visit carefully to coincide with good weather, and I can see that it would be easy to spend half a day exploring at the summit.  

Penang National Park

The northwestern corner of the island is home to Malaysia’s first, and smallest, national park, Taman Negara Pulau Pinang (Malaysian for Penang Island National Park). Again it is quite easy to get here using public transport, as bus route 101 terminates just outside the park entrance and can be taken from either the Komtar building or the terminal by the jetties. The national park is mainly an area of dense forest, which leads right up to the ocean and some wonderful beaches. The two most famous of these beaches are Turtle Beach on the western edge of the park, and Monkey Beach at the northwestern tip. Their names give subtle hints to why they are so famous, yes you guessed it there are turtles that can be found at Turtle Beach and Monkey Beach is a popular hangout for the local macaque population!

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These two beaches are understandably the main draws of the park, and there are two options for getting to them. Walking is one, although the tracks are pretty serious and not for the faint-hearted. The track to Monkey Beach was closed when we visited as it had become unsafe, so our choice was limited to one! We started the walk, which quite quickly became a scramble up a steep wooded incline with only broken, and very unstable, steps to aid us. With the high humidity adding even more to the challenge, it wasn’t long before the reward of seeing wildlife and a couple of lakes along the way just wasn’t enough and we turned back. Even though we only completed a small section of the walk, we still saw some beautiful creatures such as a huge butterfly that stopped for a photoshoot and the ever-present macaques.

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So this leads us on to the second option that is open to you, and the one that we now fell back on. That is to take a boat, which will speed you around the headland and drop you at whichever location you desire. Although you won’t get to see the lakes that are hidden within the forest, the views of the coastline are impressive enough not to be disheartened. It is a fun trip as well, as they certainly don’t hold back and you’ll be bouncing off of your seat as the boat launches itself off of the waves. The boats are, like almost everything in this country, cheap, and they will take you and pick you up and whatever location and time that you request. There are plenty of people offering boat trips at the park entrance, and they’ll definitely make themselves known to you do there’s no need for me to tell you where to go!

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The boat ride to Monkey Beach cost us RM80 and, when we booked, the captain asked us at what time we wanted to be picked up to go back, which was quite nice. I would suggest something between three and four hours but no less. The beach has a few huts that serve food and drinks and we stopped at the Lazy Boys for a relaxed drink before hiking a bit more. The water was definitely cleaner in the afternoon when we left, but keep in mind that if you also want to have a swim you will need a bit more time. From the beach you have a 35 minutes hike to the lighthouse. This is also a pretty demanding trail as, of course, it takes you up the hill. The lighthouse is not big but you can visit it and it offers a pretty view of the coast. You have to leave your shoes outside and climb a pretty nice spiral staircase (I am serious, it is not bad at all) but then you have something like ten steps up a wooden ladder and those are pretty demanding if you are acrophobic, although I believe being barefoot made it a lot easier as I felt I had more grip. Once out I was still pretty shaken but I managed to go around the whole balcony to get you this video. The way back was also a bit demanding as the path is quite natural and the steps pretty worn out when they are there, but a rain shower kept us a bit cooler.

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As Mr Wander said, you have a few monkeys going around on the beach but they seem pretty wild and not interested in humans. Other animals you will find for sure are some crabs that are the same colour as the sand and, at the beginning, they just look like dust moving around as they move so fast. We were lucky enough to spot a few eagles flying around as well. If you want to visit, the bus 101 also takes you up to the National Park and back. One thing to remember if you decide to go to Turtle Beach is that it is not allowed to swim in it, or it wasn’t this time of year at least.

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That was all we had time for at the national park, and after our boat ride back it was time to catch the bus back to George Town. Despite being the smallest national park in Malaysia, there seemed to be a lot more to explore than we managed and it would be easy to spend a lot longer here. Just bring plenty of energy!

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So that’s about it for our time on Penang, but there’s certainly a lot more to the island than we saw. We didn’t even manage to see everything that we had planned, mainly Kek Lok Si Temple and the Snake Temple which are both situated just south of George Town. We could, and should, have spent an extra day or two here, but now we have the perfect excuse for a return trip! So for now it’s goodbye once again, but we won’t keep you waiting too long for the final instalment of our Malaysian trip, living leisurely on Langkawi!

One last tip before leaving: If you book with Easybook like us, you will have to print your boarding passes at the office before you board and that is just behind the corner from the entrance but it is not clear or indicated. Once there, and before entering the terminal, you will receive a pass with your seat number. The trip is not long and it is comfortable enough, but the screens show “Need for speed” in a loop, so you may want to head out and enjoy the view for a while.

Happy travels and stay tuned,

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

A Viennese whirl – Our day trip to Vienna

Dear readers,

As promised, we have one last post for 2017 for you, and we have chosen to write it about our day trip to Vienna. We took this day trip while on holiday in Bratislava at the start of December last year, as a chance to see two different cities and their individual takes on Christmas celebrations. We have already discussed this aspect of the trip in our last post however, so for this one we will be focusing on the sights we discovered in Vienna that can be visited at any time of year.

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Vienna and Bratislava are the two closest capital cities in Europe, and a short one-hour train journey will whisk you from one to the other. The trains run every half hour, from the central stations of both cities, Bratislava Hlavná stanica and Wien Hauptbahnhof. The tickets are reasonably cheap as well, which makes it the perfect excuse for a day trip if you are holidaying in either of these cities. There is also an add-on that can be purchased with your ticket that allows you to travel on all of Vienna’s inner city public transport on the day of your train ticket, which I would highly recommend buying. We were staying in Bratislava so it was Vienna that we would be travelling to, and which we needed to cram into one day. So for that reason we had to stick to the main sights in the city centre, as we wouldn’t have enough time for too much travelling about.

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Our first stop was St Stephen’s Cathedral, the largest church in the city and a true icon of Vienna. The cathedral was almost destroyed at the end of the Second World War and it had to be rebuilt during the years that followed, although such a great job has been done that you wouldn’t notice without being told. The building is very Gothic in style both inside and out, and it is definitely not as ornate and decorated as you would expect a catholic cathedral to be. You are given a few choices if you would like to take a guided tour of the cathedral, with tours covering the bell towers, catacombs, and the main cathedral body available. We chose to take the lift up the North Tower to the Pummerin, the bells of the cathedral. The views of the city from here were incredible, as well as being able to see the bells up close.

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We then went on a bit of a self-guided walking tour of the city, as we made our way to the next stop that we had planned. There’s always something interesting to see in this wonderful city, such as the carillon clock that we discovered, so it really is worth walking between places whenever possible, especially if you go around Christmas time when the whole city seems to be decorated for the occasion. Our destination was Hotel Sacher, in order to indulge ourselves with a traditional Sacher-Torte. This is a chocolate cake with dark chocolate icing and apricot jam, invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. It has now become a Viennese icon and a culinary speciality of the city, and Hotel Sacher has become a tourist mecca for this reason. Luckily there wasn’t much of a queue when we arrived, and we were soon seated inside and served our Sacher-Torte and drinks. It’s not much different to any other chocolate cake, but it was still very tasty and a great experience. The restaurant area of the hotel is beautifully decorated and makes a perfect setting to enjoy tea and a cake. I also managed to converse with the waiter using my limited German, and I even seemed to be mostly understood!

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The rest of our trip was centred around visiting the Christmas markets, which are fortunately all located next to the most famous sights of the city. The first we went to was at Maria-Theresien-Platz, which for 11 months of the year is a landscaped square housing some of the city’s biggest museums, most notably the National History Museum and the National Art Museum. During December however, the whole area is taken over by a large Christmas market, although it is still possible to see the magnificent statue which stands as the centrepiece of the square. This statue is of empress Maria Theresa, surrounded by four horsemen, and it has stood in this spot since it was unveiled in 1888. This whole area is filled with beautiful and important buildings, and on our way along the Ringstrasse to the Rathaus we passed by the Austrian Parliament Building and the Burgtheater, both very impressive and wonderful to look at.

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As I mentioned, our next stop was the Rathaus, the city hall. This is a huge building reminiscent of the city hall that dominates the Grand Place in Brussels, and at the time of our visit it was also home to the largest Christmas market in the city. Parts of the building were open in order to house some of the market stalls, but we weren’t able to explore further than this. All I can really say is that it is a magnificent building, and the perfect backdrop for the Christmas market. Looking like something out of a fairytale, it really does complete the Christmas scene.

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Lastly we went to Belvedere Palace, which was completely unplanned and we just happened to stumble across it as it was near the metro station that we needed. We were certainly glad that we did though, as it was a fantastic place to finish our tour of Vienna. The palace is spread across the back of a large lake, and this creates a wonderful scene especially at night when the palace’s lights are reflected by the water. Likewise it was home to its own Christmas market, although much smaller in scale than the those at the Rathaus and Maria-Theresien-Platz. This really had to be a fleeting visit for us, in order to catch our train, so we only had a quick look around the market, but the palace façade is beautiful enough to have made the detour worthwhile. We’ll certainly take time to visit here more thoroughly when we come back to Vienna at some point, but with only a day to spend here it really did have to be a bit of a whirlwind tour! So for now, there’s nothing left to say other than to wish you all a happy and prosperous 2018!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

You may be planning the last details of your New Year’s celebration around the globe, and so are we. We are going to welcome 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, but we thought we could not skip our post this fortnight, so we decided to give you our recipe for half day in Vienna.

We usually try to do a mix of conventional and unconventional places, but for that we will take you on our next trip to the Austrian capital city. I have always wanted to visit Vienna, and Mr Wander had a great idea including it in our trip to Bratislava as the two cities are extremely close to each other, just over an hour train journey between the two. As we told you already in our previous post, our visit was mainly focused on Christmas markets and we visited a few more bits around them but, considering that Mr Wander already talked a bit about the rest, I will just focus on the two places that were my not-to-miss.

As soon as we arrived, we took the metro to St Stephen’s Cathedral, Stephansdom by its Austrian name. This was one of the two spots that I didn’t want to miss. It is obviously one of the city’s icons, with its façade and its rooftop, but for me it was something else. I often plan my visits around novels that have marked my life or simply that I liked, and Vienna makes no difference. This time you may have a bit of a hard time to find the book I am talking about, as it an Italian historic book that is out of print if I am not mistaken. It is called Grandi peccatori, grandi cattedrali and it talks about some of the main Catholic churches in Europe and how behind these majestic buildings there are stories of big sins and big sums of money paid by powerful people to clean their own souls. In the case of St Stephen’s, the sinner is actually the architect of the bell tower who made a pact with the devil to be able to complete the job in time.

Well, I was extremely excited about seeing this place and the locks that cost the guy’s soul. The cathedral is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic due to the four major projects between the XII and the XV century, but there has been a church in the same place since the first centuries of the Christian era. The tour takes you to the roof where you can enjoy the sight of the city from the heights, see the famous bell known as Pummerin in the north tower, and have a close sight of the tiled roof that is one of the emblems of the city. The current version of the coloured tiles feature two eagles, symbol of the Habsburg family, one with the Austrian flag and the other with the Viennese flag. It is extremelly cold and windy if you go at the end of November, but it is worth it.

The main entrance, known as the Giant’s Door, or Riesentor, features a fossil bone found during one of the enlargements. This part belongs to the original Roman church and it is basically all that is left of it together with the two Roman towers.

The second place I wanted to visit was the Hotel Sacher. I know Vienna is much more than that, but with only a day there and almost all the time dedicated to Christmas markets you have to make choices. I have said more than once that places with a big fame are usually not up to expectations, but let me tell you that the Hotel Sacher still keeps its original elegance and quality. You may have to wait for a bit as it is quite popular and there usually is a queue, but it didn’t take us too long to have a table, probably because we arrived between lunch and afternoon tea and quite a few tables left at once. The hotel is famous and high range, so you may feel a little intimidated wearing travel clothes, but you will soon see many others like you. The prices are not at all prohibitive as you may expect, which was a nice surprise. The menu gives you quite a choice, especially considering that almost everyone goes there for the Sacher-Torte, and you also have a good selection of drinks, many of them chocolate based. I was really positively surprised by the whole experience, the place lived up to expectations and everything was delicious. Definitely make it a stop in your list if you are planning to visit the city.

Hoping to go back soon with more time on our hands, I will now leave you here as it is almost New Year’s Eve and Kuala Lumpur awaits us.

Stay tuned,

Ms Lust

One day… “In Bruges”

Dear readers,

For our last post we took you to our favourite spots in Brussels, from our trip there last year. For our visit there this year, as we had seen quite a lot of Brussels already, we decided to take a day to see another part of Belgium that we had heard so many good things about. So it is our pleasure now to share with you the sights of Bruges, and our recommendations for spending a day there.

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If you’re coming to Bruges by public transport, you are most likely to arrive at the main train and bus station just to the southwest of the city. Bruges isn’t a particularly big city and from here it is possible to walk to the city centre and back, while passing by all of the most popular sights along the way. So that’s exactly what we did and, using this map from Visit Bruges as a guide, the city was a breeze to get around and explore. There are other options for discovering the sights of the city, one which we would recommend and one that we definitely wouldn’t, but we’ll come to those shortly.

After crossing the busy road that runs past the train station, look out for signs directing you to Minnewater. A short walk down a couple of residential streets brings you to Minnewater, or the Lake of Love, a beautiful small lake perched on the outskirts of the city. The lake is crossed by Lovers’ Bridge, an equally beautiful bridge with its own mediaeval gunpowder tower, where legend says ‘If you walk over the bridge and kiss your loved one, it will become eternal love’. This seemed to be the most popular place for photos and selfies and, although it wasn’t too busy at the time of our visit, I imagine it can become quite crowded during the peak season. On the other side of the bridge you will find Minnewaterpark, a small park leading towards the city centre. The lake is most certainly the highlight of the park, but it is still a lovely place to continue your stroll towards the centre of town, just take the path which runs alongside the lake. There are a few spots with some fantastic views of the lake and the bridge, so keep an eye out for these on your way through.

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The path through the park brings you out into a small square, where we came across the first option for a tour around the city. If you don’t like horses, which Ms Lust certainly doesn’t, then this is definitely not a good place to be. It seemed like this was the main place from which to take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city, and there were horses and carriages constantly barrelling their way around the square at a fair speed. It didn’t take too long for us to decide to take a less popular route into the city centre, away from the path of the horses, and we ducked down Arsenaalstraat to find a more tranquil part of town. For those that are less bothered by horses or being run over, the more popular route is to pass through the square and continue north to a small bridge over the canal, and then follow this road into the tourist centre of Bruges. As the carriages were ultimately heading to see the same sights as we were, it was inevitable that we would find ourselves sharing the roads with them again.

We came out onto Katelijnestraat which is where some of the sights of Bruges come into view, as well as an abundant array of shops all aimed at tourists. I have to admit that Bruges was certainly not as ‘touristy’ as I had been expecting, and by touristy I mean crowded, tacky, and expensive. Bruges is none of these things, although I have heard that it can become quite crowded in the summer months, and although there are a lot of shops aimed at selling to tourists, they are all of good quality and reasonable prices. There is very little advertising as well to detract from the beauty of the city, simply normal shop signs as you expect in any town. This was a very welcome sight for me, as all too often popular places can become ruined by their own greed, yet in Bruges this is by no means the case. We noticed a small waffle shop and, as I was yet to get a fresh Liège waffle and we needed a distraction from the carriages trundling by, we couldn’t help but to give them a try, especially at only €2 each! They were absolutely delicious and it was from finding somewhere to stand out of the way to eat them that we noticed a place where our second option for a tour of the city could be taken.

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This option is the one that we did take, and one that I would recommend to everyone that visits Bruges, a boat cruise of the city. Bruges has many canals and waterways throughout the city, and this means that it is possible to see all of the main sights from the water. It also gives you the opportunity to see some of the less-explored areas and hidden gems that may not be accessible other than by boat. There are a few cruise operators, with their mooring points at various locations throughout the city centre, but not too many for the canals to become crowded with boats. The operator we used is called Stael NV and they depart from Katelijnestraat, just before reaching the bridge in front of the Church of Our Lady. The tour was €8 each and lasted approximately 30 minutes, with our guide giving an interesting and informative commentary on our way around the city’s waterways. We passed within view of a number of the most popular sights, including the Belfort, the Church of Our Lady, and the cathedral, as well as seeing some of the lesser known areas such as Jan Van Eyck Square. Along the way we also passed under a number of bridges, with our guide pointing out the oldest unrestored bridge in Bruges and reminding us to duck for the lowest bridge during the cruise! It really was a wonderful way to see the city and I would highly recommend it, although I imagine it may lose some of its charm in busier periods.

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After our cruise, we set about getting a bit closer to the sights we had just seen. The closest to us were two great churches of Bruges, the Church of Our Lady and Saint Salvator’s Cathedral. Both churches date from the 14th century, and have huge Gothic towers which dominate the skyline. The first that we came to was the Church of Our Lady, famous for its statue of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. Unfortunately most of the interior of the church was closed to the public at the time of our visit due to restoration work being carried out, with just a small area, big enough for services to continue, still open and free to look around. A short walk from here is Saint Salvator’s Cathedral, which is very similar in style and appearance. We weren’t having much luck on the day of our visit and this church was closed completely, but judging from online reviews it is worth a visit if you can.

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Feeling a little disappointed at this point, we made the last leg of our walk to arrive at the first of Bruges’s main squares, the Grote Markt. This square is home to the most iconic image of Bruges for me, mainly because most of my previous knowledge of the city had come from the film In Bruges, the Belfry or Belfort. This huge tower dominates the square and can be seen from all over the city. It contains a carillon of 47 bells which can also be heard throughout the city, playing wonderful tunes. It is possible to climb the tower for views of the city, however we decided that the 366-step spiral staircase was a bit much to tackle on that day. The tower is impressive to see without having to climb it, and really is the highlight of the square, which was otherwise filled with carnival rides and horse-drawn carriages waiting to ferry people back to Minnewaterpark.

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We then moved on to the nearby Burg Square, the second of the city centre’s main squares. Burg Square is home to the city hall, or Stadhuis, an incredibly ornate 14th century building which would not look out of place in Brussels’ Grand Place. We didn’t go inside, had we have known at the time that it was possible to visit the building’s interior we would probably have done so. That is the only problem with the lack of advertising in Bruges, while it helps to retain the beauty of the city it also means that some things can be missed. Likewise, it was only after consulting the map that we realised we were standing almost next to another famous church in the city, the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

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This is not like the churches I mentioned earlier in the post, but simply a small chapel housed in an ornate, yet understated, building tucked into a corner of Burg Square. It is quite easy to miss, and we would have done so too if we hadn’t checked the map at the opportune time. This church is famous for the ancient relic that it holds, a vial of blood reputed to be that of Jesus Christ. It is free to enter the chapel, which is incredibly beautiful and ornate on the inside, and there are venerations most afternoons during which the relic is open to viewing and worship. The chapel itself is worth the visit alone, I have never seen a room so lavishly decorated while still remaining sombre and not overwhelming. One point to mention is this, there are signs everywhere telling you to be silent in the chapel, and they will tell you off if you don’t follow this simple rule!

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Following this, the cold was starting to take its toll, and the train back to Brussels was looking increasingly tempting. So we checked the map for any obvious sights that we may have missed, and planned a route back to the train station to include these as well. The first of them was somewhere we had seen during the boat cruise, that I was also keen to see from land. Jan Van Eyck Square is situated to the northeast of the city centre, and features two rows of traditional Flemish-style buildings lining a branch of the canal. At the head of the square is a statue to Jan Van Eyck, a 15th century painter and resident of Bruges. Overlooking the square is the Poortersloge, a beautiful building that has the appearance of a church, but was in fact a trading house for the merchants bringing their goods into the city via the canal.

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We then began our walk towards the train station, via Geldmundstraat and Noordzandstraat, a retail area with the usual city shops and seemingly aimed more at the city’s residents rather than tourists. I grabbed the opportunity for another waffle, and we continued walking in this direction until we came to Smedenstraat and the reason we had taken this route, Smedenpoort. This is one of four remaining city gates, which has been restored to a very good condition. Still used as a entrance and exit point for the city, it made a perfect end to our sightseeing for the day. From here we took a path alongside the river which led us almost all of the remaining way back to the train station.

We had a fantastic day in Bruges and it is definitely possible to see the main sights in just one day. However it would have been nice to have had a bit more time to spend at some of the attractions, so maybe a weekend would be more suitable. It really is a beautiful city, wonderfully preserved as a mediaeval masterpiece, and definitely worth seeing.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

It happened again, I longed to visit a place for so long and I ended up being disappointed by it. I have been to Brussels four times now and we decided that we had to go to Bruges as well this time. As we were going to stay in Belgium from Saturday to Tuesday, the initial plan was to spend a night in Bruges and two in Brussels but then we found a good offer for three nights in Brussels and we decided to go to Bruges for the day. That was lucky! Now, I am not agreeing with Ray, honestly, the city is pretty and there is stuff to do, but the ratio of horse-drawn carriages to humans is not to my liking, so much so that for a good five minutes I thought I would have to walk back to the station and get on the first train back, but let’s see what the city has to offer that is not a carriage ride. For a handy website about the city, Visit Bruges is your best choice, and all the places that have not their own websites are still listed there with all the visiting information you may need.

The city is easy to reach from Brussels for the day as there are two trains every hour and the journey takes just over an hour. When you arrive at the train station, you can take a bus to the city centre or simply walk through the park up to the river and then follow that to the city centre. You can take the path along the park up to the Minnewater, the Lake of Love. This place offers you the first glimpse of the beautiful landscapes that you can feature in your pictures. You can cross the lake through Lovers’ Bridge at your own risk. Don’t get me wrong, the bridge is totally safe, but if you kiss your lover on the bridge, the legend says it will be forever! From the other side of the bridge, you have a nice view of the Powder Tower, the Poertoren, a tower that was part of the original fortified wall and was initially used to store gunpowder.

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On the side of the lake you have a restaurant but you can take the path on the side and walk to town. You find yourself next to Beguinage of Bruges, or Prinselijk Begijnhof Ten Wijngaerde, a place that is now a Benedictine convent but that was founded in the XIII century as a beguinage. I would love to tell you more about it but that was where all the carriages were parked and I didn’t hang around for long.

We followed our steps back a bit to walk along Arsenaalstraat and then Katelijnestraat. The road is very touristy, with plenty of souvenir shops, chocolate shops, and similar. With a past as a waffle specialist, I noticed a tray of waffle dough on the window of a place called Chip and Ice and I stopped to show Mr Wander my expertise. Tempted by it, we had a gaufre liégeoise (read more on waffles in our previous post here) and Mr Wander loved it so much that we had another one later in the afternoon at Oyya. I had no idea he had never had a freshly made one before but I am glad he saw the difference and liked them as well, it may not be the easiest thing to eat on the go (also because I had it with whipped cream), but the plastic knork they gave us with the first one made it easier.

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Happy and fed, we decided to do a boat tour. Although it sounds too touristy, it is a great way to see most of the city and its canals if you are only staying for a day. You have many companies and five different starting points, but the one we used is Stael NV. The tours last half an hour and show you the city from a completely different angle and allow you to take good shots if you are fast enough. These tours are not available in winter so make the most of it from March to mid-November. The price is generally €8 and it is worth it, or so I think as we had a chilly but sunny day and it allowed me to stay away from horses for a while. From the boat you can admire all the city’s landmarks and the typical architectural style, and you can make a mental note of the places that you then want to see on your walk.

If you keep walking along the same road, you reach St Salvator’s Cathedral, Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, a beautiful building that, unfortunately was closed on a Sunday afternoon and we could not visit. I have to admit that, despite Michelangelo’s sculptures and Van Eyck’s paintings, we hadn’t planned any indoor visits but it would have been nice to pop in the cathedral to see the nave.

Walking back to Steenstraat, you arrive at the Market Square, Markt, the one where all the action of the movie happens. As in Brussels, this square is quite impressive, with a quadrangular shape and many famous buildings surrounding it. In the square you can also join one of the free tours of the city. Here is probably the most famous building in Bruges, the Belfort, which is the belfry of Bruges. 366 steps and a carillon are the main features of the visit together with a stunning view of the city from above. This time we skipped it but next time we may find our strength (and the right shoes) to do it. The belfry is slightly leaning towards one side, as you learn in your visit and as you see in my picture that I desperately tried to straighten before realising that it was straight already!

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In a corner of the square you find the Historium, a building in typical Flemish medieval style that is part of the impressive architecture that makes Market Square. The Historium is a virtual reality experience that allows you to explore the Golden Age of the city, but the building also hosts the information centre and a bar called Duvelorium with a panoramic terrace from which to admire the square.

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A short walk from the square you can find the City Hall, or Stadhuis, a beautiful building that is also one of the oldest city halls in the Low Countries. In this square we found a gazebo with a debate in favour of the EU and we joined in for a little while, ending up with European flags popping out of my handbag for the rest of the day (and hanging on our bookshelf at the moment). Next to the City Hall is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed. The church hosts the relic of the blood of Christ which is taken on a procession in May by a brotherhood of knights in a ceremony that is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Knowing all these very medieval aspects, I was not expecting what I found. From the outside, the church looks more like an aristocratic house as you would expect in Italy. The basilica is actually the lower floor, while the relic is in the upper chapel, a Gothic addition of the XV century that you reach after climbing a short but wide spiral staircase. The Holy Blood is on display on a raised platform, constantly supervised, but at specific times you are invited to walk up and admire it. There is a strict no-photography policy and you are asked to keep quiet (a lady who whispered something was told off while we were there), but I suggest you visit even just to admire the beautiful paintings all around that made me think more of the Byzantine style with more vibrant colours. The stained glass window that you see also on the web page is possibly the most incredible feature and gives the paintings even more nuances and power.

As I have mentioned at the beginning, the city walls and gates are not there anymore, not in their entirety at least, but four gates and the defence tower still remain, along with the ramparts that once were the city walls and you can include them, all or some, in your walking tour. We went to the Smedenpoort as it was easy for us, after a walk along the canals, to make our way back to the train station heading that way. Each gate is different and peculiar, although Smedenpoort and Ezelpoort are quite similar as they were built in the same period. Smedenpoort was modified several times, with the addition of an upper floor at some stage; partially destroyed by an explosion during WWII, it was heavily restored immediately after the war to how it is now.

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To close on a more positive note compared to the opening one, as we only planned this day trip as a stroll around, we have missed some of the main cultural spots that Bruges has to offer, with a long list of museums. You can choose some of the more traditional ones such as the Groeningemuseum and its collection that includes Jan Van Eyck’s masterpieces, or the Gruuthusemuseum, the house of a rich family transformed into a museum with its furniture and tapestries; this building includes a tower that was definitely my favourite sight with the ivy covering it in beautiful autumnal colours. You also have more peculiar museums dedicated to typical Belgian food: Frietmusem, a museum about chips, Choco Story, all about chocolate, and The Beer Museum, all about beer making and beers as you could guess. If you are more interested in history, apart from the Historium, you also have the Torture Museum “Oude Steen”.

To conclude, there is one more church that is definitely worth the visit, the Church of our Lady, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, a majestic building with its tower, known to be the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. The church is famous for hosting the “Madonna and Child” by Michelangelo, one of the few masterpieces by the artist known to have left Italy before his death. The building is undergoing a huge restoration and one of the side naves is accessible for worship, but you can visit the museum for €6 (reduced during the renovation).

As you can see, there is enough to fill a nice weekend if you want and if you have more patience with horses than I have, but I guess we will still be back, for now it is a goodbye. Stay tuned,

Ms Lust

Brussels

Dear readers,

As you join us for this post, we are away from our home in Cambridgeshire and enjoying the Belgian capital, Brussels. This is fast-becoming an annual tradition for us, as Ms Lust comes here to attend an EU translation conference and I tag along for the frites! So while we’re tucking into a few too many waffles than is good for us, read on to find out about our highlights from our first trip together to Brussels last year.

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Before I get into Brussels itself, I wanted to add a short section about getting there in the first place. We travelled by Eurostar and, as I had always preferred to cross the channel by ferry, this was my first time using the service. I have to say that in one journey it completely changed my view on Eurostar, although I haven’t entirely abandoned the faithful ferries that chug relentlessly back and forth across the English Channel. If you are travelling to Brussels, Paris, Lille, or any other of the multitude of cities served by connecting trains, then Eurostar is hard to beat. It is quicker than the ferries and subsequent road travel, and much more comfortable and effortless than air travel (unless you’re lucky enough to have your own private jet of course!). Before you know it, after leaving the hustle and bustle of St Pancras station in London, you’ll be sipping on French wine in Paris or digging into a portion of frites in Brussels. I think I would still use the ferries for trips to northern France or if we were taking our car, but other than that I’ll be taking the train from now on.

Now onto the real purpose of this post, Brussels. I have to be honest and say that Belgium had never been very far up the wish list of countries to visit, and Brussels most certainly wouldn’t have been my natural first choice. Yet due to the conference that Ms Lust was attending being held by the EU, Brussels was where we were heading and it was up to me to make the most of it. Well I was definitely surprised and the city greatly exceeded my low expectations, which is why this year I am looking forward to our return visit a lot more than I was 12 months previously. I learnt a great deal about the city and the country during those few days, and it is my pleasure now to bring you my favourite places to visit in Brussels.

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I came upon this self-guided city walk online prior to our trip, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. With the first day and a half to myself while the conference was running, I had to find a way to discover the city and the main sights which Ms Lust had already seen in previous visits. This walking route seemed like the perfect way to do it, while discovering some of the more hidden sights as well.

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The walk is a circular route around the city centre, which can be started and finished at any point along it. Brussels is famous for its comic strip industry, amongst other things, and there are many comic-inspired murals that can be found on buildings all over the city. This walk leads you to the best examples of these, with murals depicting Tintin and the Manneken-Pis statue among them. The murals really are fantastic and well-conceived, with many of them using features of the buildings as props for the created scenes. The instructions for finding the murals are good, however some are easier to spot than others, just don’t forget to look behind you every now and then!

Not only a great walk for comic strip lovers, the circular route around the city also provides an excellent chance to see and familiarise yourself with the main sights. The route includes the Grand Place, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, the Manneken-Pis statue, the Place Sainte Catherine, and many more less famous yet no less impressive attractions. The walk is not too long, but with a few stops along the way for photos, sightseeing, and lunch, it can soon take up most of a day.

Manneken-Pis

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The statue of a little boy relieving himself has become world famous and a Brussels icon, as you soon find out when you see images of him everywhere you look in the city! He is found on the corner of Rue du Chêne and Rue de l’Etuve, and as you would expect the area can get quite crowded so you may have to fight your way through the crowds to get a decent look. The statue is everything you would expect a statue of a boy having a wee to be and not really anything more, so you won’t need to factor in too much time spent here. However if you are lucky enough to go on a special occasion, you may get to see him dressed in one of his many costumes. The costumes are themed to be relevant with the day in question, and true Manneken-Pis fans can find the full collection on display at the GardeRobe museum nearby. If you have trouble finding it, it’s in the building with the huge Manneken-Pis mural painted on one of its side walls. Just one note, be careful of traffic as you take your photos of the statue, as the crowds often overflow from the pavement into the road.

Grand Place

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The Grand Place is the huge market square situated in the centre of Brussels, and the perfect place to get yourself acquainted with the city. The square is surrounded on all sides by the most wonderful buildings, with so many gothic façades and their gold decorations lighting up the whole area. This is a pedestrian only area, so it really keeps its traditional feel and it’s easy to imagine how it would have been throughout the many centuries that it has been Brussels’ centrepiece. It is usually a hive of activity with people coming and going, and there is always something going on. If you want to relax and little and watch the world go by, then the numerous cafes and restaurants that encircle the square make a great place for a quick meal or coffee. The prices may be a little bit higher than in less touristy parts of the city, but the quality still seemed good and the view more than made up for it. A few of the buildings can be visited as well, such as the town hall, and on some days the square is still used for its designed purpose of holding a market. Just one word of warning, during the busier periods there are groups of women begging and pestering tourists for money, usually by thrusting young children in your face to try and make you feel guilty. They’re harmless and are not too pushy, it can just be a bit annoying and uncomfortable for some people.  

Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

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This is a wonderful shopping arcade in the middle of the city, just to one side of the Grand Place. It is a superb example of a nineteenth century arcade, with tall glass ceilings and beautiful architecture. All of the shopfronts are the same design, with only the most modest branding, making it an incredibly pleasurable environment compared to the glaringly bright and noisy shopping centres that we are forced to endure nowadays. The shopping available mostly consists of art, fashion, and chocolate, which is exactly what I had been expecting as soon as I walked into the arcade. There are a few cafes at either end of the arcade as well, and in my opinion this location is second only to the Grand Place for enjoying a coffee or lunch. Even if you’re not interested in shopping, it really is worth taking the time for just a stroll through this magnificent building and marvelling at how life used to be.

Parc de Bruxelles

There are a number of parks in and around Brussels, and this is the largest of those in the city centre. The park is a perfect rectangle with large fountains at either end, and a network of paths criss-cross its entirety. The park itself is fairly plain, mainly made up of open grass areas and wooded paths. There’s none of the ornate landscaping that can be found in some city parks, this one has been built for function rather than form. It is still a great place for a picnic or a stroll, and to escape the noise and commotion of the city. And with the Royal Palace at one end and the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula at the other, there’s plenty of beautiful architecture around to provide that ‘wow factor’.

Parc du Cinquantenaire

As the main purpose of our visit was the EU conference that Ms Lust was attending, we spent a lot of time in and around the EU quarter. I have to be honest here and say that I didn’t find the area very interesting at all, and the buildings are what you would expect from any governmental institution. Most of them are not accessible either, the only notable exception to this is the European Parliament building, however you need to time it right to catch a session as they are mostly held in Luxembourg. I’d just like to point out now, what with Brexit being the hot topic at the moment, that I’m not against the EU in any way, I just don’t find that government buildings make for interesting viewing.

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So the discovery of a large park holding a number of museums in the area was a sight for sore eyes, and a much needed break from the surrounding environment. The park is about the same size as the Parc de Bruxelles, but it has had to provide the architecture itself. The centrepiece of the park is a huge colonnade with a grand arch in the middle of it, which now serves as the entrance to the main museums in the park. These are the Museum of Cinquantenaire and Autoworld, which are housed in two almost identical buildings facing each other. I didn’t have time to visit either of them, but they are at the top of the list for our visit this year. Behind the museums is a large fountain, much bigger than those found in the Parc de Bruxelles, and the seats dotted all the way around the perimeter of it serve as ideal places to stop and relax.

Museum of Musical Instruments

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Brussels is home to many museums, with an eclectic array of subject matters ranging from antiquities to beer, and fine art to modern-day comics. We only had to time to visit one unfortunately, and after reading leaflets and reviews we decided on visiting the Museum of Musical Instruments. Housed in the quirky ‘Old England’ building, which looks like it was lifted straight from a Jules Verne novel, this museum has a vast and wonderful collection of instruments from all over the world. The collection spans across many centuries of musical history as well, including some of the more unusual modern instruments. The museum is spread across a number of floors, with each floor dedicated to a particular group of instruments (woodwind, percussion, etc.). The museum isn’t too big, but the exhibits are very interesting and well-presented that we must have spent at least a couple of hours making our way around. On reaching the top of the building you will find a rooftop restaurant, famed for its wonderful views of the city. As is too often the case in places like this, they seem to think they can get by on this reputation alone, as the staff were so rude that we decided not to hang around to find out how bad the service must be. It seems to be just a buffet restaurant, so I wouldn’t hold high hopes for the quality of the good either. Thankfully you can still walk out onto the rooftop to enjoy the view even without staying to eat, and I would thoroughly recommend this option instead. Don’t let this put you off however, we still had a great time in the museum itself and would recommend it to everyone.

So that about covers what we managed to visit last year, but stay tuned because as you read this we’re already exploring more parts of the city. Now that we’ve seen the usual tourist sights, we’re planning to get off of the beaten track a bit to bring you some of the lesser known places to visit in this wonderful city.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

If you are planning a city break for a long weekend, Brussels should be one of your top choices. I know, I am biased because I have good friends there and because I always go for nice events, but there’s more to it than that.

From London, Brussels is incredibly easy to reach while avoiding the hassle of flying, and you also have extremely cheap options. I am a big fan of Eurostar as it leaves from St Pancras, a station that is easy to reach on the day and surrounded by cheap accommodation if you want to spend the night there before travelling. The tickets are very cheap outbound early in the morning and inbound late in the evening, which is perfect even to do just a day trip. Their punctuality is impeccable and, if not, their compensation is also fast and easy, and you have one year to use your discount. If you are not in a rush but really want to save money, you can go by bus. The trip takes about 7 h but you can find a return ticket for about £20-30.

As I have visited several times for a couple of days, and I am back right now as we publish the post, I will try and offer you a little itinerary that is a mix of my first three visits.

Brussels is one of the capitals of Europe as it hosts several of the EU institutions, and I would suggest you visit the European quarter, maybe take a couple of hours to do that if this is not the main focus of your trip. The Parliament can be visited and it is quite interesting as it gives you a good insight on the European history. Near the Parliament you can also see some of the segments of the Berlin Wall that are now scattered around Europe.

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The area is a bit dependant on the institutions for the rest, and you may have a bit of trouble to find a place open for breakfast, especially on weekends, but Exki is a good option, as this chain offers nice quality food on the go or to stay, and the staff seem nice, which is not a given in general in bars and restaurants in Brussels. Le Pain Quotidien is another quite famous chain that is also known around Europe and it is also a good option for breakfast, brunch or lunch in the city. Accomodation prices also depend on the work of the EU institutions and it is cheaper to book a room for the weekend than it is for weekdays, especially Mondays.

A place I really like in the area is Piola Libri, a bookshop and bar where you can have a nice Italian aperitivo while listening to music (there is a piano and sometimes live music) or a literary chat. Definitely a good place to enjoy a Spritz!

Brussels, and Belgium in general, are famous for some specialities that you should not miss. If we talk waffles, gaufres in French, you have two main recipes, the one from Liège (they are thicker and crispy as they are made with dough with a thin coating of caramelised sugar, their shape is irregular and they definitely are my favourite) or the one from Brussels (softer and spongy as they are made with batter, they usually have a perfect rectangular shape) . You can try both at Aux gaufres de Bruxelles and you won’t regret it. This place is quite famous and is not far from the city centre. You can either sit down and enjoy your treat there or get a take-away one from the side window.

Other famous dishes are chips and mussels with chips or, in French, frites and moules et frites. You may hear of many places to buy frites, but some don’t live up to their fame. You know I like British food, but sometimes I miss good, crispy chips and Brussels is your place if you can forget that what makes them so yummy and crispy is that they are cooked in pork fat! Maison Antoine is one of the best friteries, if not the best, and you find it surrounded by a few pubs that allow you to sit at their tables with your frites and just order drinks. Actually Maison Antoine’s website tells you which places accept frites, but in general it says in big letters on the canopies. Another famous place is Fritland but don’t be fooled by the reputation it has, it is now going down in several online rankings for a reason. Frit Flagey is also a famous friterie and it is in our list for this time!

The Grand Place is the touristic centre and definitely one of your main stops. The rectangular square is surrounded by beautiful buildings that have bars and restaurants on their ground level. Stopping for a coffee or a bite to enjoy in this beautiful place is tempting and you may do it if you are ready for a display of rude customer service. We had breakfast and lunch there on our last day and the food was not too bad but the service was up to Fawlty Towers’ standards!

One of the iconic sights of Brussels is Manneken-Pis, the bronze statue of a little boy urinating in the fountain. You will find it on a side street on the left of the Town Hall in the Grand Place, in the junction of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat. This statue is often dressed with different outfits depending on dates and special events. The Order of Friends of Manneken-Pis also takes a reproduction on a procession around the Grand Place and up to the fountain during the day and you may be lucky enough to see this procession or unlucky enough to be close to the boy and be reached by his blessing. We were having our moules et frites so we could enjoy the show from a safe spot. If you want to follow sort of a path on the same subject, you should also visit Jeanneke-Pis, the female counterpart, in Impasse de la Fidélité / Getrouwheidsgang. She is a lot more recent, just from last century, while Manneken-Pis dates back to the XVII century. Last but not least, Het Zinneke is the statue of a urinating dog wrongly called Zinneke Pis dating back to the end of last century.

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If you are in the area, near to Het Zinneke, go for lunch or dinner to Fin de siècle. You cannot book but it is worth to wait if there is a queue. The décor has some reminiscence of Art Nouveau and the place is extremely busy. If you are not used to Belgian beers, put yourself in the barman’s hands and he will suggest something for your taste. The food menu is on the board behind the bar and you have a good choice, although the rabbit seems to be one of the most famous dishes. Despite it being extremely busy, the service is quite fast and the food is very good, you won’t be disappointed.

I know Mr Wander already took you around for a tour of Tintin’s graffitis, so I won’t repeat it as I have only done part due to my working commitments. If you are up for a walk away from the usual touristy places, get lost in the little streets in Ixelles until you reach Rue Keyenveld 48. The place is not open for visits but a plaque outside informs you that it is Audrey Hepburn’s birthplace and a big fan of the baroness as I am, I could not miss this spot after three visits!

Together with Mr Wander we visited the Musical Instruments Museum and we enjoyed the visit quite a lot. The building is beautiful from outside and it is quite big, with several floors that host musical instruments from around the world, modern and ancient. The beauty of the objects will leave you speechless. After that, you can try your luck for a drink or a bite at the rooftop restaurant but the staff didn’t seem too happy about us being there. We were one among three couples who left after a rude waiter refused to let us sit, we heard him saying to one of the couple that they were closed although they clearly were not! The views were nice but it didn’t seem worth the effort.

Bruxelles has a few lovely big parks if you enjoy a long walk, mainly Parc de Bruxelles and Parc du Cinquantenaire, and many smaller ones, you can find a pretty exhaustive list of green areas here. Something I have always missed is the Royal Palace as it only opens during the summer, see times here.

As I said, I am always there for trips that are a mix of pleasure and business and I always make the most of the little time I have to visit, so I guess we will discover more this time as well, and we will get to the wrong platform on the metro, another tradition that I seem to respect religiously every time I am in Brussels. So, what can I say? Stay tuned for more!

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

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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