A day out at the beach

Spring is finally here! The dark, cloudy and short days are over now, being replaced by beautiful weather, perfect for going out and enjoying nature. That’s not the reality for London, more often than not, but when you do get a day like that, you cannot miss it.

So armed with a weather forecast of sun with no clouds and 12 degrees Celsius, I started planning for our Saturday. Quick search on Google “best beaches in South East England” and there it was – Camber Sands.

Camber Sands is a lovely beach in East Sussex, between Hastings and Folkestone, east of the estuary of the River Rother. The beach stretches out for a few miles, and at low tide it’s very wide as well – perfect for a day out with the kids, dog, horse, barbeque, friends, kite, wetsuit – take your pick! 



Parking

The journey from London was rather quick, driving down on M20, it took us about an hour and half. When getting there, we parked at Camber Western – you can pay by cash or app (Ringo – location 15620) and it’s 1£ for one hour, 3£ for up to three hours and 5£ for up to five hours. There’s another carpark further west, Camber Central Car park.

The beach

The northern part of the beach has a sand dune system, which shelters the town from the sandy winds. They’re a great place to lay in the sun, in a more protected valley, when the winds sweep the beach. Lots of kids are running around and playing “catch”, hiding behind the high vegetation.


The beach is well known for its winds, so it’s quite a popular place for kite surfers and kite boarders. It made me seriously think about buying a kite, as looked to be so much fun!

For the less adventurous, enjoying a long walk on the beach can be just as satisfying. Especially that the low tide leaves behind a treasure of seashells – I had to stop myself from picking any more, but honestly, look at this!

The beach is also dog & horse friendly – at least outside the summer months, so you can come down and enjoy it with your canine friend.

Food

When you get hungry, there are a couple of options near the beach. Right across the street from Camber Western carpark there’s a restaurant with rooms, named The Gallivant. Four out of five stars on Tripadvisor, but when we showed up for lunch, they told us they were fully booked – and that’s a Saturday in March, so I don’t want to imagine what a summer day would like it. If you want to eat here, book in advance.
A bit further down the road, there’s a pub called The Green Owl. This is where we dinned and we really enjoyed it – the food was good, the atmosphere nice and the staff was friendly. They serve pub food and grill, so I went for some kitchen skewers, while my husband tried the catch of the day (Mackerel).
The place is also dog friendly. And it has lovely daffodils in front. Who can argue with all that? 

 

Between East and West

Everyone knows Greenwich and it’s probably on your list of places to visit in London (or if it’s not, then you should make sure to add it)… But there’s definitely more to Greenwich than prime meridian and it would be a pity to miss out.

Why do I like Greenwich? Well, it’s a cute old English town, small but busy, with a very nice covered market where you can have delicious Thai food and an even better churros with dolce de leche. It feels alive and authentic, it has a beautiful park, a ship – and not just any ship: The Cutty Sark – a great Maritime museum and not to forget, the Royal observatory.

Greenwich is one of the London boroughs, in East London and it’s notable for its maritime history and of course, for giving its name to the Greenwich meridian and Greenwich Mean Time. Greenwich is also the birthplace of many Tudors, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, in the former Palace of Placentia, which is now the old Royal Naval College.

In 1997, the town was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites for the concentration and quality of buildings of historic and architectural interest. They estimate there are close to 19 m tourists visiting Greenwich every year.

 

How to get there

In my view the best way to get to Greenwich is to get the river buss from Central London. For 6.5 pounds, you get a lovely ride on the Thames and a different perspective of London. There’s also cruise vessels that you can take, but they’re slightly more expensive.

Picture from the river buss

 
If the boat is not for you, you can also get there by train or DLR (Dockland Light Railway). The Jubilee line also runs to North Greenwich, for The O2, and is a short bus ride from Greenwich town center.

 

Once you’re there…

Cutty Sark

As you step on dry land again at Greenwich, you arrive right in front of the mighty Cutty Sark. She’s the very last remaining tea clipper and, in her day, was one of the fastest ships on the all-important tea runs from China. During the middle years of the 19th century, clipper ships would compete with each other to see who could get the first crop of fresh tea back to the UK and Cutty Sark was one of them.


The ship is now housed in a dry dock and if you want to wander around on the ship’s main deck, learn more about its history and stand at the prow like Leo and Kate, there’s an admission ticket of 12 pounds.

 

Before heading further, you can stop for a coffee and some cake, to catch your breath and/or post a photo on Instagram at coffee shop in the Waterstones Library. As you walk into the library, you need to go upstairs, as that’s where the coffee shop is located. Amongst thousands of books and overlooking the narrow Greenwich streets.

Good to go? Ok. Next stop – the Maritime Museum

 

Maritime Museum

A few minutes walking from Waterstones Library, at the bottom of the hill where the Royal observatory is located, there’s a big, beautiful building – that’s the Maritime Museum. It’s the world’s largest maritime museum.

The entry is free and it makes for a nice visit for all ages – In the main hall you have a huge floor map, which is great to explore, you can simulate driving a vessel through the storm on a ship deck and there’s plenty of other stuff as well – exposition on Nelson, The East India Company, Slave trade and the list goes on.

Ah, and did I mention the ship in the bottle?

 

Royal Observatory

As you come out of the museum, you’re in the Greenwich Park and at the top of the hill in front of you is the Royal Observatory. As you walk up the hill, stop and look back – a great view of London will reveal itself, with the glass buildings of Canary wharf and the O2 Arena dominating the frame.

It’s always busy around the Observatory. Not crazy, step on each other busy, but still pretty crowded, so don’t expect to have the place all to yourself. You’ll get to “see” the prime meridian, but don’t expect much – it’s just a line on the wall. If you are here by night, that’s a different story, as the prime meridian is marked by a cool green laser beam that fades into the distance.

On the Observatory building, you’ll see the red ball (the time ball) which was used to signal the time to the navigators aboard ships offshore. The ball was dropped at a predetermined time and so they knew what time it was.

The Royal Observatory was founded in 1675 and the world’s Prime Meridian, passing through here, was adopted in 1884 and it’s since been used as the standard for mapping and timekeeping.

 

Not exactly the World Trade Centre, but it seems that the Observatory might have underwent the first international terrorist incident in Britain, when a bomb was detonated by a French anarchist, near the observatory building in 1894. – thanks Wikipedia! J

 

All this walking and visiting should have made you hungry and Greenwich has just the place! You can always stop at one of the pubs and restaurants on the high-street, but if you want something different, then try to food market. The Thai is what I usually get and I love it, but there’s plenty of choice. As for desert, don’t miss the churros with dolce de leche… makes my mouth water!

And if you’re lucky, you might get some live music as well…


And that’s a day in Greenwich for you!

Weekly Photo Challenge – RARE water creature

What an amazing opportunity to see whales, dolphins, flying fish and turtles in their natural environment! And all in a 3 hour boat trip.

Last year we traveled to the Azores and took a whale watching trip to see and learn about the marine life. There are no guarantees, of course, that you’ll spot any creatures, but the guys work in teams, with “watchers” on the ground, looking for the whales’ “puff” when they come to the surface to breath.

Even whales are pretty hard to spot, and they are big, they puff and they leave footprints as well. So what were the chances to find this little guy in the middle of the Atlantic, few miles from the shore? It’s a Portuguese men o’ war – a fascinating creature that I didn’t even know existed. Although it looks like a jellyfish it’s actually a colonial organism. It also stings pretty bad, so if they are brought ashore by wind and currents, mind your step!

Browse through my other travel stories here

WPC Rare

Madrid Weekend Break

When I got to Madrid it was cold and raining. It was the end of February, but spring was not showing its face just yet. Not exactly the sunny Madrid that I had beautifully pictured in my head, but it was my first time in Spain so I wasn’t going to allow a few specks of rain, fade my enthusiasm.

As there were still a couple of hours until my friends would join me, after I checked in, I started wandering through the city by my own, only using a map to set a general direction. I wanted to get a feel for the city.

The vibe? Fast paced, entertaining, young, alive. It was already 11 30 PM on a Thursday evening when we went for dinner. In February. But the streets were buzzing with people.

“Doesn’t anybody work tomorrow?” I thought to myself as we walked in a half full restaurant

The morning brought an early rise, to get out there and explore Madrid:

The FOOD

There were a few things that I HAD to try when visiting Spain for the first time, which I made sure to check off my list. Started off easy, with a paella and sangria, on our first evening in Madrid. Make that 2 sangria actually. But who’s counting..?

What else did we try? Tortilla Española – traditional dish which is like an omelette with potatoes and onions -, tapascroquetas, empanadas and different types of cheese -, jamon iberico, patatas bravas and thought just to top that up with some churros for desert.

My first encounter with churros was at the Greenwich food market, where they make churros with dulce de leche, which is a sort of caramel. If you haven’t tried it, you must!

However the churreria we landed in Madrid, must have been… well, let’s just say that maybe it wasn’t one of the best, as I cannot believe that the English make better churros than the Spanish!!

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Empanadas

MARKETS

Mercado de San Miguel is a very elegant looking market. Huge glass walls and an iron framework, but the magic is all inside – there are food stands with everything from olives, yogurt, nuts, oysters to fruits and sweets, drinks, jamon, cheese, you name it!

It’s crowded and noisy and finding a chair would be a privilege, but grabbing some tapas, a cerveza and enjoying the food and the atmosphere with some friends is something that I would definitely not miss, if I ever get a chance to go back to Madrid.

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FLAMENCO show

I’ve heard that flamenco is not to everyone’s liking, but I absolutely loved the show. It felt authentic, mesmerizing and for one hour, I was completely immersed in the music, the dancer’s steps and expression and the entire performance overall. The show we have attended, with Essential Flamenco was held in an old cellar, which made the show more intimate and acoustics were excellent as well. This was definitely the highlight of my visit to Madrid, so try it!

I’ve booked the tickets in online and for the 25 euro, you also get a sangria before the show.

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HISTORIC sites and landmarks

Although Madrid has a lot of history, it doesn’t feel like an old city. There are plenty of landmarks around the city centre that you can easily visit in a half a day walk – Palacio de Cibeles, which is a magnificent building at the end of the Gran Via, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Oriente, Puerta del Sol, and a bit further away, Prado museum, Palacio de cristal and Retiro park. With a comfortable pair of shoes and a bottle of water (and an umbrella in our case) you can just walk around, with no need to use the public transport system.

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Royal Palace

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Plaza Mayor


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Retiro Park


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Palacio de Cristal


GRAN VIA

When you’re joined by two slightly shopaholic friends, one does not just go past Gran Via. All the shops you can think of are conveniently lined on the via, with plenty of cafes and restaurant where you can stop to grab something to eat or just to have a coffee and rest your feet (and get access to WIFI, not that we’re desperate or anything). If you just prefer window shopping or you’re the kind of guy/girl who looks up more than looking where you’re going when visiting a new city, Gran Via will make for a nice walk for you as well, with its impressive building architecture.

 

WANDERING

When I travel I always give myself time to wander. I find it fascinating to just walk, watch the people, listen to random words and bits of conversation, feel, immerse, discover.

As you cannot say you know a person just by looking at their profile picture on Facebook, the same I think I cannot discover a place by just visiting the “main attraction”.

In Madrid, I wandered into a protest where people heavily affected by the economic crisis and the austerity measures imposed by their government took to the streets for a better life. The protesters passed through a public square. In that square, a group of traditional dancers and singers were performing, inviting the passers by to join them.

The sounds of the angry crowd and the music and cheering blended together for a few minutes in that public square in Madrid. It gave me a lasting memory and a feeling for the city that I have so briefly got a chance to explore.

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Keeping busy

 

You know when you get a minute, you get a break, and instead of just relaxing and taking a moment for yourself you pick up your phone? Have you ever found yourself doing that?

Or do you know when you’re dreaming about that beautiful, remote beach, where you would just lie in the sun and do nothing? And when you get there you find that you cannot just do nothing, you need to do SOMETHING!

I’ve heard that theory that we’re all technology and internet dependant now and that’s why we’re constantly on our phones, on social networks, reading the news, sharing, absorbing information…

But I don’t think that’s what it is, I don’t think we’re telephone dependant, I think there’s something else.

With the rhythm of life that we’re used to having, with the number of tasks and very limited time resources (and energy) our brains are in this sort of constant overdrive. There’s always something you need to be doing, there’s always a problem to solve or something you should think about, there’s always something outstanding. We should see stress as a good thing because it pushes you to do more and quicker – heard that in a TED talk and it made physiologic sense. Adrenaline kicks in as you start your day and that seems like the norm today.

And then you get a moment to Stop. And you can’t. And you pick up your phone.

With us having programmed our brain to constantly do something, to cope with the rhythm of life we have today, I think we’ve lost the ability to pause. So instead of pausing, we go on Facebook, read the news, read a book or watch an episode, to keep our minds busy.

I keep saying you and we, but I mean me.

Is it you as well? And how do you STOP?

 

 

 

 

Hours behind the wheel

I spend a lot of time behind the wheel, but I can’t blame it all on my job. I’m not the kind of person to stay put at the weekend and I’m sure the travel blog would have gave it away already. All in all, I gather between 1500 – 2500 miles (4000 km) per month and that means a LOT of hours in the car. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel that you’re wasting valuable time by “just” driving, so I thought to share some tips as to what I do, to feel that I use that time.

PLAN

Planning is essential. Especially if you live or need to get to notoriously bad traffic areas. I live in London and believe me that M25, London’s ring road, was not nicknamed Europe’s largest parking lot for nothing.

I’ve once managed to spend 5 hours doing 1.5 miles, trying to get on M25. I’m sure some of you might have had it even worse, but I do not want to go through that ever again. So I plan.

For me, it basically means leaving the house at around 6AM, to beat traffic. Most of my journeys are no longer than 2-3 hours maximum, so that works well for me. Coming back home is always the tricky bit as it’s quite hard to avoid the afternoon traffic, but trying to finish my working day at 3:30 – 4 PM usually does it.

 

Get CONFORTABLE

If you are going to be stuck in a car for a few hours, might as well get comfortable. My standard car fitting in the morning includes: coffee, water and snacks. I go for either a banana, some cereal bars, pretzels or bread sticks, but it’s up to you what you prefer. Make sure you place it in a very easily reachable place and open the bag/peal the banana in advance, so that it doesn’t distract you from driving.

Having this around allows me to enjoy my mornings in the car a lot more. It makes all the difference!

 

Engage with PEOPLE

If you drive alone, as I normally do, you might want to use the time to connect with people. The days are so packed that you might not get the time to give your mom a call or to talk to a friend that you haven’t seen in ages, but sitting in the car gives you that nice opportunity. Make sure to use the hands free function, of course, and unless you have Siri or Google to help you out with the calls, best to stop somewhere to manoeuvre your phone. Otherwise, you might end up in trouble…

 

LEARN something new

Podcasts have been a revelation to me. I realise I sound like a technology retard, but I mean it. I knew about the existence of podcasts, but I was never hooked, until I started driving a lot. It’s impossible to not find something you’re interested in, as the range out there is amazing.

What do I listen to? I really, really enjoy the BBC World Service – The documentary. They approach very different topics, from the Syrian war and impact on the population, to graffiti art in Brazil. Criminal, Ted talks, The Economist Radio, Stuff you should know, Unexplained, My dad wrote a porno are just a few others I’ve listened to and quite enjoyed.

Learning a foreign language while sat in traffic is also entertaining and useful. There are podcast and apps out there for that sole purpose. El menu, por favor! – ready for my trip to Spain now!!
But don’t do ANY of the above if you find them distracting. Although eating or drinking while driving are not illegal in the UK as such, any activity that would result in you being distracted behind the wheel and failing to operate the vehicle correctly, might get you accused of careless driving, which is an offence.

Safety comes first, so keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. As the TFL radio campaign goes, “One risk is one too many!”

 

Safe wanders!

don