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Exploring England

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

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Alixe, the tween and I were off on an all girls adventure during the Bank Holiday. We were loaned a powerful Mini with impressive horsepower to explore England. It was my first trip to Windsor and Eton (Legoland doesn't count!) and I was keen to wander around the two towns especially after the recent Royal Wedding coverage there.

It was an easy 40 minute drive from Clapham Junction to Windsor. We made it in good time and checked into Castle Hotel Windsor which is part of the collection of MGallery by Sofitel luxury boutique hotels. The original building dates back to the mid 1500s and was once called The Mermaid Inn.  Then, in the mid-1700s, a Royal Warrant was bestowed on the dynamic innkeeper Richard Martin,
postmaster of Windsor and hackneyman to His Majesty. So The Mermaid Inn became an official posting inn and entered a new phase in its history, being renamed The Castle Inn. When the royal family decided to make Windsor Castle their principal residence, a Royal's Warrant was given to the then owner as many dignitaries would stay at the hotel. The hotel continued to supply post horses to the royal family well into the 1800s.



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I was informed that Castle Hotel Windsor  is famous for their Afternoon Tea. We were lucky to nab a table in a beautiful corner with a view of the main street in Windsor.



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Windsor's famous wonky house, now a jewellery store. Well, I call it The Wonky House but after a quick google, I found its actually name is "Crooked House of Windsor" and if you want to make it very proper - Market Cross House. Built in 1687, the building had housed butchers, florists, brewers, printers, architects (the irony....) and fruit sellers.



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We decided to have dinner at Marco Pierre White's restaurant located inside Castle Hotel Windsor. The baked camembert with sweet and tarty roasted tomatoes was sublime. I was tempted to order a second plate after Alixe and the tween devoured my dish within minutes.


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The tween was dying to have breakfast in bed so....... I complied and granted her wish.





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We hung around and waited to see the changing of the guards as they marched past the hotel. Lucky for us, the hotel is located directly opposite Windsor Castle.



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We decided to leave the Mini at the hotel and crossed the bridge to Eton which an easy 15 minute stroll away. Eton is a sleepy little town with the famous boarding school at the end of the street and a host of shops lining the main street.



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We were back on the road again. Our next destination is Cheltenham which is only half an hour from some of the prettiest Cotswolds villages - Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford, Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter to name a few.

We checked into one of the most beautiful boutique hotels I've had the privilege to stay - Queens Hotel Cheltenham.  The grand Grade II listed Georgian building was built in 1838 and has hosted a few famous guests, Roger Moore and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.



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The striking 175 year old hand-painted wallpaper in the central atrium was designed by A.W Pugin. You can find the same wallpaper in the Houses of Parliament.



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Each room comes equipped with its own Nespresso machine (Yes!!) which is a necessity for someone like me who's NOT a morning person.



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After a quick breakfast downstairs, we checked out and continued onwards to Bibury. I couldn't resist doing a U turn when I spotted this charming looking traditional inn and pub.




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I only found out last year that an illustration of Arlington Row can be seen on British passports. These picturesque cottages were originally built as a monastic wool store before being converted into weavers' cottages in the 17th century.




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I swear I jinxed the weather in Bourton-on-the-Water. It pours each time I visit the village.


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Alixe suggested that we take a mini break in Burford since we have to drive through the village to get back to London. I'm pleased we did because it's beautiful and definitely less touristy than the other two villages we'd visited earlier in the day.


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It was a short but wonderful trip exploring some of the prettiest towns and villages of England. The road trip was definitely more fun with Alixe and the tween who were the best companions anyone could wish for.

This post is sponsored by Castle Hotel Windsor and Queens Hotel Cheltenham. In partnership with Mini BMW. All views are my own.




5 Days in Dubrovnik

Tuesday, 14 March 2017
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I've become somewhat addicted to Korean variety shows, particularly ones that involve food and travel. It was through one of the programs, Noonas Over Flowers (older sister over flowers) that I fell in love with Dubrovnik and vowed to visit one day. The only problem was flights are scarce from November till late April. A tour guide divulged that it was because of the strong winds that pound the coastal town during the colder months making it difficult for planes to land.







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Airfares tend to soar during the warmer months and tourists would be packed like sardines within the walled city in 35˚C heat. Another local told me that UNESCO will be placing a restriction soon, allowing only 8000 people in the Old Town at any one time in order to protect the oldest buildings.

Many residents were quick to tell me that while their sole income lies in tourism, the summer months mean overcrowding where even the locals struggle to get to work due to the sheer number of people in the Old Town.






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I was lucky to nab fairly cheap flights from London Heathrow to Dubrovnik with British Airways considering it was the school term break. I booked an apartment via AirBnB smack in the Old Town where everywhere was a mere 2 to 3 minute walk for a measly sum of £35 per night. Catching the airport shuttle to the Pile (pronounced pee-lay) Gate was a breeze after figuring where to buy the ticket from the counter (turn right as you come out of the departure hall).

Just be aware that outside of the peak season, getting the airport bus from Cable Car stop in the Old Town to the airport (30 mins away) may be tricky. Our bus never arrived despite having paid for the return journey, double checked at the information desk and made numerous calls to the customer service. We ended up having to sprint to catch a cab (thankfully, one pulled in as we dashed to the empty taxi stand) to the airport while nervously biting our nails hoping we made it there on time to catch our flight home. One the plus side, since it was February and rather quiet, checking in was quick and easy - all done in 10 minutes because there's only a few flights a day to Dubrovnik.








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The wonderful thing about visiting Dubrovnik during the off peak season is that the entire Old Town is a little like a ghost town albeit every now and then, there will be a throng of extremely stylish Korean tour group that surge through Stradun (main street) before all is quiet again.

The one thing I really wanted to do in Dubrovnik was walk along the city walls. The interesting thing was I ran around trying to buy the tickets as the office was shut and even inquired at the information desk only to find out that yes, you just buy the darned thing at the entrance of the city walk trail on your left just as you walk through the Pile Gates into Stradun.

It's a pleasant 2 km walk along the city wall that circles around the Old Town with a 360 degree panoramic view. You can catch a glimpse of the islands and the sparkling Adriatic sea beyond.







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The surface of the limestone paving on the pedestrian promenade had become so smooth and slippery from centuries of feet that had pounded these streets.We were in Dubrovnik during the filming of yet another Hollywood big budget movie - Robin Hood. Stradun and the gates were transformed into Nottingham and extras in costume were dashing about. Thick cables snaked around the city walls, huge spotlights hung from above while stressed out painters, carpenters and tradespeople were frantically building the movie set.








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Our host at the Airbnb apartment suggested Kamenice which is literally around the corner from the restaurant. A 2 minute stroll if we took it reeeeeal slow. It's a popular local haunt where we were very quickly treated like a friend after paying a few visits there. The restaurant is just a skip and a hop from the stairs that supplied the backdrop to King's Landing on Game of Thrones. Just so you know, I know zilch about Game of Thrones or the new Star Wars movies...... One of the locals corrected me - Game of Thrones is a series, not movie. Yeah....I know..... *facepalm*







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While out at lunch at Kamenice, I was discreetly eavesdropping the next table of movie people having a serious discussion about the script. Apparently, Jamie Foxx was in town but all the locals appeared rather nonchalant about Hollywood, having seen Games of Thrones and a couple of Star Wars movies being filmed right in front of their doorstep.

By the way, the scampi stew at Kaminece is unbelievably scrumptious. Make sure you order it if you ever made it there. Also, be aware that their pasta dishes, particularly risotto is humongous!






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Another place we went back twice because we loved it so much - Taj Mahal. Despite their Indian namesake, it's a traditional Bosnian restaurant. Maybe it's because it was freezing at night but their veal stew topped with soured cream cheese was so satisfying and hit all the right spots that I came back to England and tried to recreate the dish.






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One of the must see places in the Old Town is Buza bar. I went to the original Buza bar. There are actually two now. It is literally a hole in the wall. Go through the hole, down the steps and voila, a bar perched on the rocks with a view to die for. It was particularly quiet when we went to check out the spectacular violet sunset.







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I've been on a lookout for a durable AND stylish carry-on that won't require me to empty out my savings account. I was given an Away Bigger Carry-On to try out and I'm absolutely thrilled by its performance. I travel quite a bit and I pack light - very light as friends can attest to this. I wanted a suitcase with 4 wheels that can rotate 360 degrees with ease and navigate the bumpy paved streets of Europe easily. It's got to be strong enough to take a pounding but light enough for me to lift it up and not use up my hand luggage weight allowance.






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The Bigger Away Carry-On fits into British Airways and most major airlines' hand-carry luggage measurement. I didn't want to bring along two hand carry luggages for Lil L and I since I had to take the train to the airport. It's unpleasant having to lug suitcases up and down the stairs particularly if you have kids traveling with you. The larger of the two Away carry-on is big enough for me to pack both of our clothes with room to spare (by the way, just so you know, I managed to squeeze in packets of crisps too!).

The people over at Away are obviously seasoned travelers because they've thought of everything. There's a compression pad which you buckle up at both ends that presses down the clothes and gives you more much needed space. It also has a zipped mesh pocket large enough for me to store my MacBook Air and external hard drive. I keep all electrical devices and toiletry clear pouches in my handbag until they've been x-rayed and then I re-pack them into the mesh pocket inside my carry-on. It has saved me a lot of shoulder pains. The other thing about the compression pad (genius idea!) is that your things don't topple down when you open up your suitcase. It keeps everything neat, tidy and exactly as I packed it.




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There's also this nifty washable laundry bag that's rolled up and stored inside a zipped side pocket. I often forget to bring a spare plastic bag for dirty clothes so to have one ready at all times is brilliant!







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May I just say that I adore having a phone/tablet charger on my suitcase? Brilliant idea! It gives approximately 4 full charges on my iPhone 6S plus. It's also removable if security at the airport requires you to. All you have to do is get to your destination and recharge it overnight. You can find out more about Away suitcases here.



Disclosure: I was given a set of 2 Away Suitcases to review but all opinions are my own.

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