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

The walk started on the boulevard where Doverians were enjoying the sun and the sea on the beach that ran parallel to the coast. At the end of the boulevard the cliffs slowly started rising up towards the castle, towering over the town of Dover. After we'd passed the most ugly sight of the harbour where ferries were shuttling back and forth, to and from continental Europe, the views turned a lot more scenic.

Walking on the Cliffs at Dover

We were now walking on top of the White Cliffs of Dover. contrary to what you  might think, that you can't get a good look at them when you're standing on top of them, we did actually catch some stunning glimpses as the path wound its way along the cliff's edge, hugging inlets and bays.

Walking on the Cliffs at Dover

We passed a field ablaze with a sea of bright red poppies fluttering in the wind. We passed the South Foreland lighthouse where the first radio transmission was sent from and an obelisk monument dedicated to World War II casualties. We took a breather on St Margaret's Bay Beach on a bench overlooking the sea.

Walking on the Cliffs at Dover


Walking on the Cliffs at Dover

Just before St Margaret's the cliffs gradually became lower and lower and the coastal path followed the pebble beach. We passed some enviable beach side properties at Wellington Parade and Walmer Castle before reaching the town edge of Deal.

Walking on the Cliffs at Dover

It seemed to be quite a musical day in Deal as we were welcomed by a brass band playing Adele covers and further along the coast, in the town centre, people were dancing to the tunes of a band playing classic rock songs. Having reached the end of our walk, we pulled up a chair, ordered a couple of well deserved glasses of Pimm's and lemonade and watched the residents of Deal enjoy themselves. a quintessentially English way to finish our walk on a quintessentially English landmark.

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

Visit the La Treille cathedral
This is a very interesting church. It's not very old as it was built in the 1900s. Its exterior has an ultra modern appearance and it is certainly worth to look around. The interior has a more traditional feel and and some colourful stained glass windows behind the altar.

Things to Do in Lille



Things to Do in Lille

Browse through the Book market at the Vieille Bourse
The old stock exchange is a sight in itself. It's a stunning 17th century building that consists of 24 houses surrounding a courtyard. There's a second hand book market inside the courtyard where you'll find not just books, but also posters, toy cartoon characters and even Japanese manga.

Things to Do in Lille

Stroll around the Wazemmes Market on Sunday (and Thursday)
Apparently the biggest market in Europe, this market is certainly worth a stroll around. It's located a bit out of the town centre, around the Saint Pierre Church. It's very lively with a band playing music to entertain the shoppers. You'll find everything here, from flowers, fruit and veg to clothes and even a stall with Moroccan tea pots.

Things to Do in Lille



Things to Do in Lille

Walk around the old town
I spent a couple of hours meandering through the cobble stoned streets of the old town which are lined with beautifully restored Flemish style houses. Do remember to look up at the facades now and again and you'll discover quirky and fantastical ornaments looking down on you.


Things to Do in Lille



Things to Do in Lille



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


Domaine de Chavagnac

It looked like a cheery place with checkered red and white table cloths, bright green blankets hanging over the chairs and a jovial atmosphere. But the thing that intrigued me most about this restaurant was the number of toasters scattered around the place. Each and every single table was kitted out with a white, plastic toaster.

Domaine de Chavagnac

This strange manner of decorum was reason enough for me to walk in. So I did. I was shown to my table, sat down and felt right at home in the cosy and warm. I chose a refreshing glass of house rose and from their extensive menu which featured dishes from the south-western region of France, I opted for their farm burger. I know, not very French, but nevertheless the best burger I'd tasted in weeks. I was hoping I could play with the toaster while I waited for my burger to be grilled, but alas, the bread basket only showed up after I was half way through my main.

The burger was delicious nevertheless. It was dressed with a very garlicky, but heavenly tasting sauce (Good thing I was travelling alone), Bacon, tomatoes and lettuce and accompanied by potato wedges.

Dining Out in Lille

As filling as this French burger was, I couldn't leave without having played with the toaster. After all, that's the reason I sat down here for. So I popped in a slice of bread, toasted it and burned it. But judging by the smell that was lingering in the restaurant, I wasn't the only toast burner present. I assume the restaurant is not equipped with sprinklers. Just imagine...

Dining Out in Lille


Check it out here.


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



Cafe Meert in Lille

The shop is an institution in Lille and has attracted many celebrities and blue blooded people over time including General Charles de Gaulle. The atmosphere of Cafe Meert still oozes a 19th century feel with its wrought iron arches and painted wood panels.

Cafe Meert is a bit of a three in one kind of place. When standing right on front of the shop, there is a chocolate shop on the right. There's a wide range of chocolates which are made on the spot by a highly professional chocolate baking team. I sampled two praline filled bonbons and they honestly tasted like heaven with a pistachio nut on top. They also sell their famous gauffres here, which look very much look like our Dutch stroopwafels, but have a rectangular shape and come with lots of different intriguing fillings like speculoos, praline and blackcurrant and violet.

Cafe Meert in Lille



Cafe Meert in Lille


On the left hand side is the pastry shop which sells all kinds of tarts, cakes and pies. Each and every one looks more beautiful and colourful than the next. Again they are all manually crafted by the in-house cake baking team in the cake laboratory in the back.

Cafe Meert in Lille



Cafe Meert in Lille

I however need to sit down and put up my weary feet from walking around and went into the tea room. I opted for an iced hazelnut coffee which came in a cocktail glass and was decorated with the with a chocolate syrup letter M drizzled on the top.

Cafe Meert in Lille

My pastry was called La Religieuse, or the religious woman. There was nothing pious about it. It was a big, sinful profiterole filled with a smooth vanilla cream and a strawberry coulis. It was covered by a raspberry flavoured icing and half-pipe shaped white chocolate. If that wasn't enough, there was a raspberry flavoured macaroon perching on top it. It was almost too pretty to eat, but when I did, it tasted even better than it looked.

They opened a restaurant in 2008 and if the pastry and the chocolates are anything to go by, its menu will be divine.


Take a peek at Cafe Meert here.


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

Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille

The hotel is centrally located right in the heart of Lille. It took me a good 5 minutes to walk to the hotel from the Lille Europe train station. It overlooks the St Maurice Church and is minutes away from the shopping area and the historic centre of town.


Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille


Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille


It's one of those typically French hotels which oozes charm. The reception is small and cosy. There's a comfy, velvet couch and it's stacked with antiques giving it that living room kind of feel. Behind the oak reception desk the room keys are hanging from hooks. No malfunctioning key cards at Le Brueghel, which for some reason is a phenomenon that seems to follow me wherever I go.

Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille

The rooms are spread out across 6 floors and can be reached by what very well may be the smallest lift in the world. It's one of those old fashioned lifts, metal caged lift which had just enough space for me and my suitcase.

Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille

Le Brueghel Hotel in Lille

The rooms are stylishly decorated with romantic touches and artsy posters on the wall, making you feel right at home. But of course the best thing about staying over in France is waking up to coffee, croissants and orange juice. Can't wait till tomorrow morning.

For more information and to book your room, click here: Le Brueghel Hotel

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