Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Our English Summer: Continuing London

During our last few days of the trip, we stayed over at my Uncle Eng's home and it turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made. He was accomodating beyond words and was such a lovely guide around London.

I was squealing with excitement when we found out that his back garden had bushy snarls of wild blackberries and immediately grabbed a bowl from his kitchen to start berry picking - another item from my wish list completed. Uncle Eng warned us about the stinging nettles close by and as dumb as it sounds, I was happy about seeing them too, it was like something out of an Enid Blyton story.

The biggest mistake we made with Borough Market was visiting it right at peak time and on empty stomachs. It was packed fuller than sardines and we literally ate the first thing that we saw, which was nice, but filled us up so much that we couldn't really walk around and sample other delights.

Most of the delectable items on offer were impossible to cart back home on a long-haul flight: think fresh cheeses, olives, salami, honey, olive oils and balsamic vinegars in glass bottles so I gave them a longing look before we went to our next destination.

Like most of the other musuems in London, entrance to the Tate Modern was free. Bubs did not appreciate modern at all and made loud comments, "Look at this painting, it's so messy!", "What's this? These are scribbles!". To be honest, some of the pieces had us scratching our heads too. Hubs was excited though about being able to view Monet's Water-Lilies in person. 

I'll admit that at this point, we cut short our cultural activities for the day and hurriedly went on to squeeze in some shopping time at Oxford Street before meeting Uncle Eng for dinner. Hubs took Bubs to Hamleys where he was delighted to find staff putting on an impromptu play with Gruffalo hand puppets while I had some me time wandering down the streets, deciding which store to head into.

The Liberty store was so fascinating though I didn't know that their fabric cost that much! I confess to immediately purchasing a few Libery pieces from the Uniqlo collaboration upon our return to Penang.

Before our trip, I warned Hubs repeatedly that we will not eat Chinese food in London so I was hesitant when Uncle Eng brought us to - yes, a Chinese restaurant for dinner. We waited 2 hours outside just for a table at Gold Mine, Bayswater with Uncle Eng assuring us that this is the BEST roast duck in London.

I'm sorry to say that I'd to literally eat my words - I know, there isn't a picture of the fabled ducks because we were eating far too ravenously but trust me, it was tender, succulent and now I get the hype. Hubs chatted with the staff and found out that one of the chefs is from Ipoh :)

The next day, Uncle Eng took us to a few sights before heading to Heathrow. My mouth still dropped open each time we walked past front gardens of most houses. Look at how fat these hydrangeas are! Mum spent an insane amount of time (and fertiliser) trying to get hers to bloom in Penang and hers are not even 1/10 of these.

There were a nice spot set up behind St. Paul's where deck chairs, a ping pong table were arranged for people to watch the Olympics. Bubs had a nice rest munching on his sandwich, in between chasing fat pigeons. Uncle Eng told us that London used to use birds of prey to control the pigeons - I was thinking that they should just hire Bubs to do it ;)

The beautiful facade of St. Paul's Cathedral. We were lucky that we were there on a Sunday so we were allowed in without paying the entry ticket but as there were services going on, photography was prohibited. It was peaceful and serene inside and we walked around quietly for a while, lighting a candle in thanksgiving.

Uncle Eng took us for fish & chips at a pub close by as it was one of the things that Bubs wanted to have in London. Given that I usually despise peas, the green pea mash was really good that I polished off Hub's helping too.

We then went to the Tower of London. I was kicking myself for not slotting in more time for this as we all found it fascinating ("Bubs, they beheaded prisoners there!")

We stopped for a few photos.

"Mummy, why are they called Beefeaters?"

Errrr ... I dunno.

And ended our journey with some photos of the iconic Tower Bridge.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Our English Summer: Legoland Windsor

We got a really good deal for Legoland Windsor by extending our stay at the Hilton St. Anne's Manor and getting a 2 day pass. If you want to skip the hotel combination

The hotel was an absolute stunner, we loved our family room (I think Bubs loved all the kids TV channels they had on) and given that it was the peak of summer, we bought heaps of fresh fruit daily.

The official Legoland Windsor site lists opening times as 10am - 7pm but what it doesn't mention - and you'll thank me for this *smug smile* - is that the gates open at 9.30am! Skip getting tickets at the gates (a hotel guest told us that the lines were an absolute nightmare) and just print out your online tickets with the bar code so you can enter the park a whole lot quicker. Rides only start at 10am but at least you get to walk around Mini Land for a bit.

The only issue we had was that public transport to Legoland was that even with the earliest bus, we'd only each after 10am but I was adamant about beating the crowds. Hubs called up a taxi company and it worked out to be a reasonably priced option.

Legoland Windsor is spread out across a vast, hilly terrain so be prepared for lots and lots of walking. You will get wet on some rides and there is a wet play area at Duplo Valley for kids to splash about so pick shoes that are comfy and will dry quickly like Crocs (Bubs) or Melissa (my essentials). If your little ones can't handle that much walking, bring along a stroller or rent one so you can dump all the bags in it.

Sunscreen is a must as you're going to be outdoors the entire day and I made Bubs pop on a hat. Bring along as much water as you can carry because once in the park, it was close to impossible to find a drinking fountain.

Food and drinks are exorbitantly priced so if you're going the whole day, bring along a packed lunch as Legoland Windsor allows outside food and drinks and there are plenty of spots where you can sit and enjoy your meal.

All popular rides require about 30 - 45 mins wait time - I am not exaggerating, guys - and the ride finishes in just a couple of minutes. Thanks to commercialisation, you can buy Q-bot passes to cut queues and to further drain your wallet, they even have different levels of Q-bots for you to skip the lines even quicker.

Cynical, much? :) Last bit of handy hint: bring Daiso raincoats with you because you will definitely get wet on the wet rides (to give Legoland credit, they do warn you in advance), there are raincoat vending machines for £3 each and if you do end up soaking wet, don't worry, pay another £2 to use their giant quick drying machines.

Given how huge Legoland is, there is no way to complete all of the rides within a day so research & pick the rides in advance before going.

We did most of the popular rides before lunch:

  • Atlantis Submarine Voyage - you go in a mini submarine that fits about 8 people and view an underwater aquarium. Not for the claustrophobic, it got a bit stuffy towards the end of the ride. 
  • Coastguard HQ - You get to steer a Lego boat around a creek. Hubs and Bubs had a minor collison when the boat in front of them went round in circles :) 

  • Driving school - Kids aged between 6 - 13 drive around a course while learning basic traffic rules. There's a special wait area for parents inside. 
  • Fire Academy - You need to power the fire engine by pumping this to the edge of the city then extinguishing the "fire". Grumpy me thought this was a bit of a rip off, after lining up for ages, guests are urged to race to be the first to reach (Errr, so Legoland can finish this ride quickly and let the next batch of waiting people in) and if you're too slow/can't move the fire engine, Legoland staff will push the fire engine for you to the fire hydrants. I thought there would be a real fire or at least something if you manage to hit the target accurately but no, after putting out the fire, you're urged to quickly move the fire engine back again to the start.
  • The Dragon - a rollercoaster for not faint hearted kids - or chickens like me! There is a reallllllly long queue for this but you don't notice it because you get to queue around a castle with lots of interesting medieval Lego models. Somehow, Bubs and I got onto the very first carriage - just behind the dragon itself - and I was screaming my head off most of the time. Bubs loved it to bits and kept going "Whoa, awesome!"
  • Vikings' River Splash - I thought this was the best ride of the day. You sit in a little tub and go down a river with lots of bends and splashes. I regretted wearing jeans because at some parts, the water seeps in and goes up to your ankles.
  • 4D movie: Nexo Knights - The Book of Creativity. At this point, all our feet were killing us so we popped into the 4D cinema for cool and dark place to sit. Bubs was enamoured with the short movie as he's really into Nexo Knights now and even I'd to admit, the special effects were a nice touch.
  • Pirates of Skeleton Bay stunt show at Heartlake Harbour - This was a nice live show with lots of participation from the kids so go early to get some space to sit. Be warned though, if you sit at the wet area, when the explosions go off, you will get soaked - saw a toddler bawling his eyes out because he got drenched in icy cold water. 
  • Aero Nomad - A Ferris wheel decked up Lego style where you get a nice view of the park. It was a nice, quiet ride where we managed to take a breather from the frantic pace of the day.
  • Thunder Blazer - A swing ride that goes around at moderate speeds. It was one of the few rides where Bubs was allowed to go on by himself. Hubs and I were wondering where he gets his energy levels from, at this point, we were about to pass out from exertion.
  • Duplo Valley Airport - Throughout the day, we pretty much skipped Duplo Valley so now that the crowds were tapering off, we managed to get on a couple more rides. I was surprised Bubs loved this ride where you get to go on a Duplo helicopter that goes up and down and you get to twirl it around too. 
  • Fairy Tale Brook - Our last ride of the day. The whole family gets to sit on a sedate boat ride that takes you past Lego models built from popular fairy tales. 

You get a nice view of Windsor Castle close to the exits and I wished we had the time to visit there. At this point, all of the rides were shutting down (it was close to 7pm) and we couldn't believe that we'd be walking for about 10 hours! All in all, Bubs had the time of his life at Legoland Windsor. There was a huge smile on his exhausted face :) 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Our English Summer: Lavender Fields and St. Anne's Manor

On day 3, we'd to move out from Sheppards Bush to Wokingham to be closer to my office so we had second thoughts about visiting Mayfield Lavender Farm, even more so when the skies were still a stony grey. It's about 90 minutes away from where we were and took a couple of tube changes plus bus rides but I'm so glad that we made the visit, even in the unceasing drizzle. Entry tickets are £1 per adult and free for Bubs without any time limit. No outside food is allowed as they have a cafe and no picnics are allowed in the lavender fields. 

The moment we stepped into the sea of purple hued blossoms, our hearts lightened tremendously and even grumpy ol' Hubs had a smile of wonderment on his face. Bubs had so much fun prancing and skipping along the rows and rows of lavender. We couldn't really smell that beautiful, perfumey lavender scent under the rain but on the plus side, there were less bumblebees around.

This was how we were clad in most of the time, heavy jackets plus a raincoat on Bubs.

Vainpot me decided that since that Bubs had on a Uniqlo Heat Tech thermal singlet inside, we could walk around without jackets for a few photos.

They have a small gift shop and cafe that we dropped by as we reluctantly left the beautiful oasis. Bubs was upset that the home made lavender ice cream wasn't ready yet at that time but we placated him with yummy lavender shortbread.

The Hilton St. Anne's Manor was our home for the next few days as it was close to both my office and Legoland. Staying at a manor - one item checked off from my bucket list :) Red-bricked and white trimmed, it looked like a gingerbread house with tiny courtyards complete with stone statues. We went down in the unlit courtyard in the middle of the night, giggling and stumbling over the paving and Bubs was terrified out of his wits.

Bubs loved the ginormous lawn behind it as it was filled with kiddy sporting equipment like moveable basketball hoops, goal posts, badminton racquets plus there were always kids playing outside there.

We didn't know that Oyster cards weren't accepted outside of central London and Hubs had to shell out extra for bus tickets. I'd to work so he took Bubs to Reading where they went to a public museum (again, free of charge - I'm amazed at how many free activities England is filled with!) where Bubs participated in some hands on kids activities by colouring a train on an ice cream stick. After seeing the gorgeous brickwork from Hubs's photos, I couldn't help but wish that I'd some free time to tag along with them.

On days where the sun came out and the skies were a heart achingly blue, it was just so picturesque that I wish I could freeze that moment forever.

There was a wedding the day before and they left a little trail of fresh lilies, paper confetti - couldn't resist sneaking a few pics in.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our English Summer: Around Central London

Day 2 of our London trip was jam-packed with loads  of  walking and sightseeing. You definitely need an Oyster card to travel around, children under 11 trvel for free though. We woke up to gloomy skies and weather so frigid that I saw many Londoners clothed in leather jackets and scarves.

"You sure this is summer?" I kept asking Hubs every few minutes as I clutched my long, wool cardigan closer around me. "Where's the heat wave that the media kept talking about?"

We stopped by Notting Hill for a short walk. This was the fresh bloom bedecked Churchill Arms.

Then a bus to the Royal Albert Hall.

Stopped at the Albert Memorial across the road to rest our legs a little.

Then onward to the Musuem of Natural History where we initially thought that we wanted to spend only an hour but ended up staying for quite a while. Entry to the musuem is free and there was at least a 30 minute wait outside that stretched all the way out to the road due to security/bag checks. We took the time to admire the ornate Victorian architecture with gargoyles all over the facade.

They allow food inside with a designated indoor picnic area so we packed some sandwiches for lunch.

For some reason, the inside of the musuem reminded me of Hogwarts :)

The dinosaurs were the most popular exhibit and Bubs went out of his mind here. It took a lot of persuading to get him to move on to other areas.

Everywhere you looked, there was bound to be something exciting to discover. At that point, I was envious over how Londoners get to access the musuem anytime they want!

Don't miss out the amazing escalator ride up to the Earth Hall that makes you feel as though you're travelling right into the center of the earth. Ooh-ing and aah-ing from little ones are guaranteed. One of the coolest exhibitions there is the earthquake simulator inside a mock Japanese supermarket' Cynical Hubs, on the other hand, shrugged and said it was minor compared to the one he experienced back in 2011.

After we left the musuem, that was when we went on one of the most intense walks we ever did together, plus the skies turned a dark shade of grey and fat drops of rain started spilling out.

We took the tube to Big Ben where Hubs went into a photo-shooting frenzy. I'm pretty sure that we have a photo of Westminster Abbey somewhere - Bubs and I were too cold and wet to care. We were half contemplating abandoning the rest of the schedule and head back to the hotel when the rain started pouring down.

I grabbed Hubs and Bub's arms and started looking for the closest shelter - which happened to be a tiny, very cramped Tesco Express - to weigh our options. After grabbing a few tubs of yoghurts and sandwiches, the rain tapered off into a steady, fine drizzle. We joined a few other families on the small, grassy patch in front of St. Margaret's for our afternoon snack.

We continued our loooong walk again.

Bubs, at one point, pleaded for us to carry him - weighing 21kg, it wasn't an easy task.

While researching for our trip, I read online that if you're travelling with kids, skip the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and go instead to the Horse Guards, Whitehall. Although we missed the changing of the Queen's Life Guards, we found it more interesting as the crowds were far smaller and there are no barricades separating you from the horse guards. Bubs was very impressed with their striking red uniforms and their long, shiny swords. If you cut through the building, you can enter St. James Park directly.

We then cut across St. James Park for yet, another long, chilly walk in the rain. Hubs ignored my mutters of "how can this be summer?"

The only indication I had that it was summer were the glorious flower beds in all colours of the rainbow.

We'd read that there were pelicans in the park and kept a watchful eye out for them.

"Look, pelican!" I shouted, waving excitedly  at a huge bird.

"It's a duck ..." Hubs closed his eyes with disbelief at my (lack of) general knowledge.

Bubs, on the other hand, had a new found interest in scaring our feathered friends away each time they flew over the fence and directly in front of us. He'd sneak up to the pigeon and then yell and hop close to it. #definitelydoesntgetthatfromme

After what seemed like forever, we finally reached Buckingham Palace, woots! At this point, the rain started pouring again and the crowds gradually increased. Wearied, Bubs and I waited at one of the side gates for Hubs to take photos.

We'd really high hopes for dinner at Jamie's Italian, Westfield Sheppards Bush. We reached around 6pm and it wasn't packed so thankfully, no reservations were required. It was quiet, laid back and had a nice, retro feel

Given the amount of power walking we did, we replenished lost calories easily with: the Italian steak and fries that came with a very generous helping of fresh rocket, baby organic beef burgers and baked spuds from the kid's menu, the "shake me" jar contained fresh salad which was good in theory - but the raw veg were a little too chunky to be palatable to Bubs, spicy sausage penne and the truffle tagliatelle.

The steak was pleasant, done nicely though not very remarkable. The baby beef burgers were cute but for some reason, tasted more like beef meatballs; we ended up dipping them in the lemon yoghurt for extra flavour. The spicy sausage pasta was zesty and the highlight was the truffle pasta with its gorgeous, smoky scent, though when it was served to our table, the pasta was slightly congealed.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...