Sunday, 28 July 2013

Walking on the Cliffs at Dover


Coming from a country that's as flat as a pancake, I love walking along the rugged and dramatic coastlines here in the UK. so on a sunny weekend day I took the high speed train to Dover with two of my hiking buddies in tow. We were going to walk the coastal path starting from the cliffs at Dover all the way to Deal, roughly 17km further to the north.

Walking on the Cliffs at Dover


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Discovering Covent Garden with Insider London


Covent Garden is my lunchtime playground, so when I was invited to go on an Insider London tour through this area, I was really curious to see this part of town from a different point of view.

I met Helen, our very animated tour guide in front of M&S. She was going to take us on a 90-minute Quirky London tour starting from M&S on to the Piazza, after which we strolled over to Somerset House and on along the Strand towards Trafalgar Square. She told us many weird stories about Covent Garden's past and present. There are too many to list them all in one blog post, so here are the highlights.

Discovering London with Insider London
Detail at Somerset House

Our first stop was at the Piazza with its iconic covered market. Who knew that the little rooms above the shops where I do my lunchtime shopping every day, were once rented by the hour? In fact Covent Garden apparently used to be the playground for ladies of the night as they waited for gentlemen coming out of the theatres and wanting to continue their evening entertainment.

Discovering London with Insider London

Under the arches of the covered market, we took a little nosy around in Henry Pollock's Toy Museum. Helen explained that Pollock used to sell toy theatres which were then very popular among teenage boys.

Discovering London with Insider London
Sign at Pollock's


Discovering London with Insider London
Sign at Pollock's
Helen told us the story of the infamous Nell Gwynne who started her career as an orange seller on Drury Lane, and went on to become a stage actress and even the king's mistress. This doesn't sound so weird, you might think. However; Nell wasn't selling the oranges to be eaten. They were used to camouflage the bad smell of Victorian London(ers). Mind you, that an orange would have come handy on some parts of the tour.

Discovering London with Insider London

We walked on past a coffee house where back in the day people gathered not only to drink coffee, but also to talk politics or philosophy or even dissect a dolphin. Only men were allowed. No wonder there used to be a female action group that was campaigning to ban coffee.

Helen showed us the driveway at the Savoy, guarded by a leafy copy of Kaspar the cat and the only street in the UK were you drive on the right side of the road. Kaspar the cat is an art deco statue and resident of the Savoy. He has warded off bad luck for 86 years as the hotel staff always set a plate for him at dinner parties of 13.

Discovering London with Insider London




Discovering London with Insider London


We walked past The Theatre Royal where the members of The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks used to meet in the 1700s. The sublime members of this gentleman's club, did indeed gather once a week to eat steak.

On our way to Trafalgar Square, we passed a street lamp that burns on sewage and then stopped at the smallest police station in the world with room for one police person. Before saying her goodbyes, Helen pointed out that the lions that lie at the foot of Nelson's column actually have kitty cat paws instead of ferocious lion's claws. All due to the fact that the sculptor was working off a real dead lion that started rotting before he could finish his work. She added that some people actually had a picnic right at Nelson's feet once.

Discovering London with Insider London
Smallest police station in the world



Discovering London with Insider London


There were many more weird and wonderful stories told on this Insider London tour, but I will leave that for yourselves to discover.

You can find more information here: http://www.insider-london.co.uk/

Monday, 22 July 2013

Things to Do in Lille


I didn't really know what to expect of Lille when I went there last weekend, but I was pleasantly surprised to find many things to do in Lille. All I knew about this town in the north of France was, that it is the first stop on the Eurostar line to Brussels and Paris, but there's a lot more to it than that. This is how I spent my two days here:

Shopping
Lille is a veritable shopping Walhalla and there's something for every wallet size. Rue du Molinel holds the high street brands, but if you want to splurge, head to rue de la Grande Chausseé where you'll find all the famous big label brands. Rue de la Clef is good for independent boutiques and in Rue Masurel you can browse through stylish home design shops.


Things to Do in Lille

Friday, 19 July 2013

Domaine de Chavagnac in Lille

I love eating out in restaurants in France and when I was getting ready for some dining out in Lille last weekend I was really chuffed when I found a quirky eatery called Domaine de Chavagnac in the Rue de Gand.

Domaine de Chavagnac


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cafe Meert in Lille

One thing the French know how to do extremely well is pastries and when I was in France over the weekend I couldn't resist indulging in some delicious ones at Cafe Meert in Lille.

Cafe Meert in Lille

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille

Sometimes you just need to get off the island that is Great Britain, so this weekend I hopped on the Eurostar and went across the Channel to check out Lille in France. I'd stumbled upon an article in the Guardian which recommended Hotel Le Brueghel so I checked myself into a room here.

Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Things to Do in Negril Jamaica


Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach

Jamaica has got some pretty good beaches and that was the top most reason for me and my travel buddy to go there. But if you're like me lying on a beach for ten straight days can get a bit boring.

So here are my tips for things to do in Negril Jamaica to alternate your tan days.



Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach


  • Discover the local street cuisine
Jamaica's most internationally exported dish is Jerk. Jerk chicken, jerk pork, you can jerk any kind of meat you like, really. Walking down the streets, you'll find many a jerk salesman, barbecuing it for you while you wait. And the wait is definitely worth it. Another must try stop is one of the road side kitchen you'll see, well, by the side of the road. You can pick and choose what dish you want from large pots that are being heated on rows of stoves. You can chose from dishes such as ox tail, beef or vegetable stews accompanied by rice.

Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach


Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach


  • Visit haunted Rose Hall
Rose Hall is an old plantation house from the 1700s near Montego Bay. It sits on top of a hill boasting magnificent views over the sea. It is said to be haunted by Annie Palmer who lived here after she married John Palmer who she supposedly murdered. She went on a bit of a killing spree and murdered the two men she married after John including a couple of slaves she was sleeping with. That aside, the plantation hall shows an educational insight into Jamaica's past.

Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach


Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach


  • Visit Rocklands Bird Sanctuary
I love this place. No busloads of tourists. Just you and a hummingbird sitting on your finger. Read more in this post I wrote a while ago. Read more here.

Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach


  • Watch the sunset at Rick's Cafe
There are some busloads of tourists at this place, but it's still a good spot for sun-downers and watching the dare-devil divers jump from the boards into the natural pool is hair-raisingly mesmerising.


Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach


  • Walk along the 7-mile beach
We were staying on the 7-mile beach so one afternoon we walked to Bloody Bay. There was loads to see on our way. We spotted about 5 weddings, a beach band and a bunch of naturists when we crossed the Hedonism Resort. But we also passed a collection of laid-back beach bars, lots of secluded  little coves and watched yet another colourful sunset, while enjoying a Red Strip.

Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach



Things to Do in Negril Jamaica besides the beach




Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Temple by the Sea: Pura Tanah Lot


When visiting Bali, you'll notice that the whole island is dotted with temples. Private or public, big or small, new or old, whatever their shape, size or age, they're everywhere. I visited a few during my stay on the island, but my favourite one was
Pura Tanah Lot.

A Temple by the Sea: Tanah Lot


In Balinese Pura Tanah Lot means temple on land in the sea and that's exactly what it is; a temple perched on a rock formation that rises out of the Bali Sea. It's completely surrounded by water, especially at high tide. The waves are crashing against the temple's rocky pedestal and the views of the sea in the background are far-reaching. The coastline is rocky and there are a few more temples dotted on protruding rock formations.  It's this setting that makes Pura Tanah Lot so special.


Photos of Pura Tanah Lot, Canggu

                       This photo of Pura Tanah Lot is courtesy of TripAdvisor

It is said to be built by a 15th-century priest called Nirartha who spent the night on the rock and asked some fishermen who spotted him to build a shrine. I'm not sure how true this is, but a shrine indeed was built.You can't actually go inside the temple as it's only accessible for local worshipers. There's a lovely small and well kept park area that overlooks both PuraTanah Lot and neigbouring Pura Batu Balong, another temple perched on an adjacent cliff jutting out into the sea.

A Temple by the Sea: Tanah Lot

I do wish that Pura Tanah Lot wasn't so commercialised, but like everywhere else in Bali, it is. Before you even get to the ticket office, you have to meander through rows and rows of souvenirs, food and drink stalls, stocked with products at exorbitant prices. But just ignore them and once you're in, it's absolutely worth the visit.

Photos of Pura Tanah Lot, Canggu

                        This photo of Pura Tanah Lot is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The temple is best visited in the early mornings with the sunrise creating stunning photo-ops and with fewer tourists. Or if you're not much of an early bird, like me, sunsets are good here too.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Spiritual Healing Bali Style: Visiting Tirta Empul


A Visit to Tirta Empul

Bali’s trademark is its Hindu culture and all the customs, temples and shrines that go with it. When I was staying in Seminyak, my parents and I hired a car and went on a little temple exploration tour and ended up at the spiritual complex of Pura Tirta Empul in Tampaksiring. It’s located in the middle of the island and is mostly known for its spring that holds holy and purifying water.

A Visit to Tirta Empul

After having paid the entrance fee and putting on our obligatory sarongs we walked onto the grounds. The temple complex, which is still used today, houses a few different shrines, ponds and of course the holy spring. The ponds, which are the first things you come across when entering the complex, are full of curious koi fish and colourful water lilies. As we walked on, a ceremony was being held at one of the shrines and we stood and took it all in for a while. Regardless of the fact that we had no clue what was going on, we were fascinated. There was some chanting and humming and a lot of going back and forth to the main spring.

A Visit to Tirta Empul

The Tirta Empul complex’ most important feature is this spring where locals (and tourists) purify themselves with the water coming from the numerous spouts at the far end. Based on a legend, the water is believed to have healing powers and cures people of sickness and ill health and purifies them of their sins. It was mesmerising to sit on the edge of the pool, with our feet dangling in the water, watching people wade in and pray in front of the spouts, with heaps of those typically Balinese offer baskets overhead. Before moving onto the next spout, they would splash their face and upper body with the holy water coming out of the spout and then the whole ritual was repeated again. Some other tourists went in and emulated what locals were doing, but we felt our presence alone was intrusive enough.

A Visit to Tirta Empul

Our visit to Tirta Empul was a very spiritual and pure experience, even though we only stuck to watching everybody else getting rid of their sins and illnesses.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Monkey Forest in Ubud


With the high street named after it, The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is Ubud’s #1 point of interest. It’s home to around 600 long-tailed macaques, a temple, a sacred pool and 80 different species of trees. I went in for a visit just after I’d arrived in Ubud and checked into my hotel. It sits on the southern edge of Ubud, with the entrance tucked away in the corner of JL Monkey Forest. As I approached that the park I was greeted by some of the more curious monkeys that had left the forest for a little wander around town.

Monkey Forest in Ubud

The park is well kept and there are rangers throughout the forest who are happy to answer any questions you have. The monkeys are quite friendly to visitors especially to the ones who have bananas, wear hats or sunglasses. After my encounter with a macaque in Malaysia hanging off my backpack, refusing to let go, I decided to keep my distance a little bit.

The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud

                          This photo of Monkey Forest is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I sat down on a bench and let the monkeys and visitors entertain me for a while, which was as funny as a barrel of er... monkeys. I watched a group of young macaques play in a fountain. They were jumping off the side of it into the water, climbing back out and onto the edge again, ready to make another splash. Not unlike what I used to do with my little brother when we were kids. I watched a mum macaque feeding her extremely cute baby and looking for flees in its fur at the same time. I watched a screaming Dutch woman frantically jumping up and down, trying to get a monkey off her shoulder, while her husband was taking photos. I carried on down towards the sacred pool, where a ranger was doing his best to retrieve an Australian woman’s sunglasses one little bugger was playing with high up in a tree.

The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud

                             This photo of Monkey Forest is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After about an hour I was ready to leave the park and headed towards the exit. However, there was a massive male, sitting in the middle of the footpath, grunting and blocking my way. As I wasn’t keen to enter into an argument with the massive macaques male, I took a little detour and found my way out. It’s probably best I did. A friend of mine visited the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud a few months later and while playing with one of the monkeys, she got bitten. She went home with a set of teeth marks in her hand and a hefty hospital bill for a couple of rabies
shots. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud
                            This photo of Monkey Forest is courtesy of TripAdvisor