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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Bristol Balloon Fiesta, from the ground

Bristol Balloon Fiesta had been gracefully suggested to me my Facebook a few months ago. An undecided “Interested” then, became a definite “Going” last week, when I saw that the weather seemed to keep stable and good for this weekend.

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is a four day, yearly event that takes place… yes, you’ve guessed it! – in Bristol. Actually not exactly Bristol, but Ashton Court which is an estate a few miles away. The first such event was back in 1979 and now, this is one the largest of its kind in Europe, with close to 100 balloons ascending (nearly) at the same time. Over the four days of fiesta, it attracts crowds of nearly 100 000 people per day, so expect it to be crowded, especially if the weather is good.

I saw this as the perfect opportunity for a weekend break in Bristol – which I might have normally not really considered as a weekend break destination, to be honest.

So Saturday morning, bright and early, we were in the car, all packed and ready for an exciting weekend getaway!

 

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3 hours driving later, we were in Bristol and we’ve spend most of our day wondering around, visiting the city and enjoying the sun. Bristol is a lot more vibrant and interesting then I thought, but I might tell you more about that in another post.

The Balloon Fiesta is a free event, but you need to have where to park if you’re driving in – and that costs. We’ve booked parking online, on the event’s website and paid 14£ for what they call “advanced parking”. Although they urge you on the website to not follow your navigation and to follow event signs instead, the signs were not the best and we ended up driving around in circles for half an hour. My advice, read the directions on the confirmation email that you get, set your navigation on that and drive along – they are accurate. Oh, and btw, apparently you need to get into the carpark by latest 5PM – we got there at 5:30 PM as we had trouble finding it, as I’ve mentioned. Nobody seemed to be bothered though and we were let in, together with maybe hundreds of other cars.

From the parking lot there’s another 15-20 min walking to the launch site and to where most of the fun is.

There’s also a bus from Bristol that you can alternatively use.

 

FIESTA

In addition to the balloon launch site, which is fenced out for obvious reasons, there are, as you might expect, food stands and trade stands, fairground rides and other entertainment. You can visit their Website for more details.

There’s ample space (further away from the launch site) for picnic or barbeque on the grass, so it makes for a pretty nice day out.

All until you need to use the toilet, for which you needed to queue for a good 20-30 min, at least in the afternoon. So I rethought that beer that I was gonna have, not worth it.

And the crowds, oh my, the crowds! Soooo many people!

Two ascents were planned for every day, at 6AM and 6PM and on Thursday and Saturday they planned a “glow in the dark” event and fireworks, all of course, WEATHER dependant. The Fiesta did not start off very well, with a few ascents postponed due to clouds and wind, but on Saturday afternoon, about an hour and a half later than planned, we had a lovely spectacle of a few dozen balloons rising to the sky! It was kind of magical, I must say!

 

Next year, I’d like to be in one of those baskets that raises from the ground and I’ll tell you the story, from the sky instead! Done my research and for an exclusive flight (2 people + pilot) it’s 270£/person, while for a shared basket (with up to 15 people), 140£/person, with Bristol Balloons.

 

Hot air balloon wanders goes on my bucket list now!