Magical Montserrat – The Saw Tooth Mountain

If you are ever visiting the vibrant city of Barcelona, or Spain’s gay capital, Sitges, I would recommend making a day trip to the tranquil, rugged Montserrat mountain. This is roughly an hour away and can be accessed via organized coaches, trains or the best option, a car.

Various routes are available to take to and around the peak, accompanied by an impressive view.

Montserrat

Montserrat

The multi-peaked mountain overlooking the valley of Catalonia is not the only reason people visit from far and wide. Montserrat is also the home to the Black Madonna aka the virgin of Montserrat which peacefully sits in the Basilica next to the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat.

Virgin of Montserrat

Expect a queue to see the Madonna statue up close. Even if you do not want to wait, entering the Basilica itself is worth it. This shrine has been visited by millions of Pilgrims throughout the years. Legend has it that a bright light erupting from a cave in the mountain was seen by shepherds in year 880 and that is where they found the Black Virgin Mary nestled in a cave. Although the more likely version of the story was that monks hid the sacred statue in the cave to protect it from the moors and now it continues to be protected in its shrine.

Virgin of Montserrat

Once you reach the Monastery you are also able to get the funicular up to the peak of the Mountain. This is the perfect way to soak in the beautiful landscape, 360 degrees of it.

montserrat

And if you are feeling adventurous, you can walk through the many designated pathways and through the Montserrat nature reserve.

Montserrat

Whether you want to see the geographical miracle or learn more about Catalonia’s culture and history, one thing is for certain, you don’t have to be religious to feel the magic of Montserrat.

The Sleeping Goddess of Heligan

There is more to Cornwall than the scrumptious cornish delights and surfers on the beach. For those that love the nature and greenery, wander of to the lost gardens of Heligan. From Emus to sleeping statues, as well as a beautiful tea house, this side of Cornwall does not disappoint.

Mud maid heliganUpon entrance, you can either turn right and head into the woodland walk or left into the jungle. On the woodland walk you are greeted with the beautiful mud maid, sleeping peacefully in the bed of grass. This along with the Giant’s head are the inspiration behind two heligan-themed childrens books “The Giant” and ” The Mud Maid” by Sandra Horn.

The Giants head

My mother is obsessed with trees and this was her paradise. I understand her love for trees, sometimes I wish they would just start talking to me and carry me across the woods like Pippin from Lord of the Rings.

heligan gardens

heligan garden

An explosion of colours across the pond and the serene Canopy made me feel like I was somewhere in the amazon, the cold amazon.

gardens of heligan

heligan gardens

I also mastered the art of being tinkerbell and looking like I’m sitting on a leaf.

IMG_8393There is a rope bridge to walk across, a jungle to get your shoes dirty in and beautiful birds nesting in homemade houses.

lost gardens of heligan

This beautiful garden deserves a half or even full day, whether you want a romantic nature break with your partner or to bring the kids outdoors or just to simply have a peaceful walk.

Not to mention, you’ll get to meet my lazy friends Queenie and Edmond!

Emus

Around Lady Bower reservoir in 2 hours

It is hard to get bored or tired of cycling with a view like this, even when your bum gets numb. There are many cycling routes to match your energy levels in the Peak district, all with spectacular views. We played it safe and rode around the picturesque Lady Bower reservoir(roughly 15km) instead of the three reservoir cycle trail which includes Derwent and Howden Reservoir. It is possible to cut this long route short by turning right at the Derwent Dam and returning to Fairholmes , the starting point and Carpark. Ladybower reservoir

It was hard not to stop every few minutes to take a picture, but don’t let these fool you. It was a hard, sweaty trek with steep hills that I could only climb by dismounting my bike and walking. If you don’t have your own bicycle like me, you can rent one at the Fairholmes information centre.

Derwent Dam IMG_1613

The Peak district is one of my favourite places in England and while walking is also an option, you see more of the area with the bicycles in a shorter time. Plus, its a great workout! This is definitely a great trip to do in the summer, with great spots by the stream to sit down and have a picnic.

There are so many beautiful places in England to see and many tourist always flock to London and miss out the beautiful spots of north England. Peak district is an absolute must, so why not tie in some fat burning, bum toning exercise too?

IMG_1615

Cornwall’s hidden gems – Cawsand and Kingsand

I had a wonderful bank holiday in Cornwall, even though the weather and traffic wasn’t always on my side. Do NOT ever make the mistake we did, driving to Cornwall on the Saturday of the nightmare that is half term. 3 hours was added on to our journey and every rest stop was infested crowded with mothers running after their screaming children.

Despite this chaos, we found a peaceful getaway. We visited the popular stops on Cornwall’s north coast.

Padstow

Padstow, seafood and cornish ice cream heaven, is a pretty, historical fishing port. Unfortunately we were hit by a full day of fog, keeping the sun captive.

Padstow Cornwall

IMG_8337

Every street here boasts a selection of the “best” cornish ice cream and cornish tea. However, what makes Padstow so popular is Rick Stein’s famous seafood restaurant. An endless queue stood outside during lunch time, so we settled for cornish pasty.

Newquay did not deserve our time. It resembled Blackpool and nothing about the town appealed to any of my senses.

St.Ives

St.Ives

My favourite seaside town on the north coast, is St. Ives. Apart from nearly being mugged by a gang of seagulls, the town had an enchanting charm. Tip: Plan your meals in advance and if you want to bag a spot on one of the not so many restaurants or pubs by the beach, be sure to make reservations as it gets really busy!

Cawsand

However, my heart was stolen by Cornwall’s less touristic southwest end. Cawsand and Kingsand are small twin fishing villages and both joined through a narrow path, the prettiest street I saw in Cornwall/Devon. Hidden at the end of a side alley way you can see the quaint Cawsand church peaking through.

Devon Cawsand IMG_8287

Kingsand was historically part of Devon before the borders changed. Kingsand beach is somewhat prettier than Cawsand’s, with a pretty pub on the coast, ideal for a cold white wine in the summer. These villages were not as covered with tourists like the north coast and that is what added to its beauty.

Kingsand

The cornish air had me constantly craving traditional cornish Pasties, something I have never been too keen on. However, in true cornish fashion, I had a pasty for lunch three days in a row. Absolutely no regrets. 

Food lovers paradise – The top dishes in Singapore

When Singapore gained its independence, it started off as a cosmopolitan city with the indigenous malays and then the migration of Chinese and indians. With the harmonious integration of different races came the integration of their cuisine and flavours. Here are some of my favourite Singaporean/Malaysian dishes.

Carrot Cake Chai Tau Kway

Fried Carrot Cake

This is an all time local favourite – fried carrot cake. Don’t think about the carrot cake desert you are used to, this version is boiled rice flour with shredded carrots ( and a few more ingredients). There are two version, the white one, which is less sweet and the black one, which is rounded off with sweet soy sauce. This is then also fried with egg and is great as either a main dish or side dish.

Rojak

Rojak

This salad dish, which is also common in Indonesia, gives you a great burst of flavours. “Rojak” literally means “a mix” in malay and that explains the dish. A mixture of crunchy fruit and vegetable as well as you char kway (fried dough fritters) which is not complete without the dark brown sauce. The rojak sauce determines the taste of the dish and it is a mixture of prawn and chilli paste, sugar and lime, but not every shop gets the right consistency of sweet and savoury. There is also an Indian version of rojak which can be distinguished by the fiery red sauce.

Hainanese Chicken rice

Chicken Rice

This is a simple dish with impact which originates from a small island called Hainan. Many hainanese migrated over to Singapore and brought this dish along with them. It consists of steamed or roast chicken accompanied by rice, but not just any rice. The rice is cooked in the left over broth of when the chicken is cooked. Make sure you try the unique chilli sauce that comes with this dish!

SataySatay

For something lighter, try Satay – grilled, skewered meat. The best part about this dish is the peanut sauce that comes with the meat. If you love peanuts or peanut butter, this is for you! I love the sauce so much that I use to eat it with just rice, and in many places they serves rice cakes with the Satay and sauce. For some good Satay, head over to Adams road.

Nasi Padang

Nasi Padang

This dish is a malay dish which boasts a large range of meat and vegetable dishes that come with rice. You get too choose as many dishes as you want but the price goes up per side. My favourite are the vegetable curry, stir fried fermented soya and long beans, bergedel (friend potato cakes) and beef rendang (slow cooked beef in a curry sauce). However, there is so much to try so experiment!

Popiah

popiahpopiah

The closest thing you could compare this too is a combination of a wrap and fresh spring role. This is probably the healthiest dish on this list (hey, you only live once) and is definitely always on the top of my list when I return to Singapore. Popiah originates from the Fujian province and you will be able to find different variations in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan. This popular street food dish is made of various vegetables, such as peeled turnip, bean sprout and carrots along with the important sauce (like in most asian dishes) wrapped in delicate popiah paper.

I will write separately about my favourite breakfast dishes and deserts. What are your favourite dishes in Singapore/Malaysia?

For more information on Singaporean meals in London, check out my Post on Roti King – by far the best Singaporean/Malaysian cafe I have come across.

A real life Disney Fairytale – Schloss (Castle) Neuschwanstein

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Who said Fairy tales aren’t real? Just one look at the Schloss (Castle) Neuschwanstein and I felt like Cinderella preparing to meet my Prince. Germany is a castle lovers paradise, with rich history and beautiful castles across the country.

There is a reason why Walt Disney was inspired by the King’s most majestic palace in Hohenschwangau,Bavaria. It stands at the top of the hill, isolated like King Ludwig II.

Neuschwanstein

King Ludwig II of Bavaria, AKA the Mad King or Fairytale King, remains today a mystery. He built his 3 castles to escape reality and they are now all that remain of his imaginary, ideal world. Forced to be King at 18, when his father died, Ludwig II was subject to many pressures. However, it was his own obsession with building his fairytale that was his true defeat.

King Ludwig II was found dead along with his psychiatrist in Lake Starnberg, a few days after he was declared Mad by that same psychiatrist. Until today, it is still unclear what happened that day…However, Neuschwanstein was not completed when he died and it is said that there was still a fourth castle planned that was never realized.

Marienbrücke

There are various ways to get up the castle, by foot, by a shuttle bus or a romantic horse carriage. Either way, I recommend spending some time after you have visited the caste to walk around and inhale the breathtaking scenery. You can enjoy the Instagram-worthy views of the Marienbrücke ( Marien bridge) over the Pöllat Gorge.

A day trip here will surely leave you curious about the unsolved fairytale of Kind Ludwig II.

Loco over Smoothie’s

I recently became a proud owner of the Breville smoothie maker and there is no turning back! Its only been a week of having smoothies for breakfast and I feel like all that delicious junk I had on holiday has been smoothied away. I can’t wait to see the results once I start having green smoothies too! I’ll share my recipes here.

Blend Active Smoothie

What I’ve had the past week, and have yet to get sick of, is a banana berry smoothie. I also add in super foods to give me that extra nutrition and boost.

Recipe:

  • One fully riped banana (it tastes even better when you let it slightly overripe)
  • A handful of frozen berries ( you can easily find this in Sainsbury’s or freeze them yourself)
  • 2 table spoons of Linwood’s flax, sunflower, pumpkin seeds & goji berries mixture(bought at Sainsbury’s)
  • 1 Table spoon Whey protein powder
  • Fill the bottle with ¾ almond milk or soy milk

Then blend and enjoy!

On a dragon’s tail through Halong Bay.

Even though this 21 year old UNESCO heritage site is a popular tourist attraction, it still retains its charm and mystery. You just cannot visit Vietnam without a trip to this magical bay. Legend has it that many years ago, when foreign invaders threatened to reach the coast of Vietnam, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. The dragons spat pearls and jade which, upon touching water turned into rocks to block the way and destroy the foreign ships. The dragons decided to settle and now rest peacefully and enjoy the serenity and beauty of Halong Bay. Today, there are over 2000 rocks scattered across the bay.

Halong bay

You can easily find a tour operator to Halong when roaming the narrow, busy streets of Hanoi. However, we planned our trip before with Thien Thien agency and we were on the Gardenbay Cruise ship, which I can definitely recommend.

Gardenbay Halong Cruise

Many operators will offer day trips as well as trips up to 2-3 days. My cousin made the mistake of booking the day trip and it was thanks to him that we decided for the 2D1N option. Firstly, the drive to Halong from Hanoi is roughly a 4 hour drive, with a midway stop at a large Vietnamese Craft shop accompanied by an overpriced Cafe and restrooms. I would avoid shopping here, as everything is overly priced! Shopping at Hanoi is much more of a treat, read my previous article for shopping tips in Hanoi.

Once you get to Halong, it takes about 2 hours on the cruise to get to the bay, so imagine the time left if you had to return on the same day.

Kayaking Halong bay IMG_7467

The usual trip involves kayaking or the dryer, less physically demanding choice, sitting in a sampan (bamboo boat). We were taken through an old fishing village, which has now been vacant for the last 6 months. The fishermen have been sent to live in Halong city in order to preserve the environment at the bay. We had the opportunity to visit the primary school at the fishing village and learnt the pledge recited by children in schools across the country.

Halong fishing village school

  1. Love your country, love your people
  2. Study well, work well
  3. Work together and follow the rules
  4. Keep the environment clean
  5. Be honest, brave and confident

It is a belief, like in many asian countries, that children should learn manners first before they learn how to write and read. Something that unfortunately went missing in the west.

Hang Sung sot caves

Most Cruise ships then also take you to the Hang Sung Sot Cave, discovered by the french, which means “suprising cave”. In my opinion, it has lost the enchantment I imagine it once had due to the streams of tourists with flashing lights. In the cave, you will walk across a rock, naturally formed in a shape of a turtle. In Vietnam, the turtle is thought to be a sign of luck and you are suppose to gently rub the turtle’s head with your right hand to make a wish. And make sure that wish is kept a secret!

The best times to go to Halong bay are during autumn, September to November. This is if you want to experience heavenly clear blue skies. However, I must admit, the fog and mist we experienced brought about an eery calm that left me mystified. I was left to question what magic lay behind the clouds. And when you leave the bay and look back  through the mist, there you see the shadows of a resting dragon.

Halong Bay in April

Halong bay descending dragon

Strolling through Hanoi`s Old quarter – Shoppers galore

There is so much to see in Vietnam, unfortunately time was not on my side on this trip. With only two days in Hanoi and two in Halong bay, I had to make the most of the north of Vietnam, although, I will definitely return to explore Sapa, further north.

Hanoi is the bustling capital of Vietnam and retains its cultural heritage while Ho Chi Minh city has surrendered itself to civilization.

hanoi old quarter

hanoi old quarter

The first thing you have to learn in this city where rush hour never ends, is how to cross the streets and stay alive. Avoid just attempting to cross or waiting for the green man as he is mostly disregarded on the streets of the old quarter. By raising your hand up in a stop sign on both the right and left side you are signaling your intention to cross. While most cars stop, the motorbikes (majority) will just continue their way around you.

The one thing you will never learn is how to drive in Vietnam. With many vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road and overtaking without a care of the oncoming traffic, I was surprised I didn`t see any accidents. Yet there was no sign of road rage apart from the constant beeping to signal their presence, as if to kindly say ” move out of my way or you`ll get hit” while im in the passenger seat having a mini heart attack. So leave the driving to the more experienced.

With a population of roughly 9 million in Hanoi, 6 million own a motorbike mainly because they can`t afford the simple luxury of a car. Depending on the make of the car, it can cost up to 300% in import taxes.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Ngoc Son Temple

Whether you join a walking tour, or decide to explore on your own, most streets take you back to Hoan Kiem Lake. This lake is thought to be the heart of Hanoi by the vietnamese and traditionally, many couples take pictures here before the wedding.

You cannot visit Hanoi without buying a few of the Vietnamese craft. Whether its the traditional silk Vietnamese outfits, or the endless range of home deco, there is no doubt you will find something that compliments your taste and at a very affordable price!

Here are some of the items I bought:

IMG_7986

vietnamese buddha

vietnamese painting

vietnamese statue

I fell in love with the lacquer ware ever since my dad brought a lacquer painting back as a gift.

The main shopping street in Hanoi is Hang Gai however, most things here are marked up at a slightly higher price than what you would get on the side streets. I would advice looking at hang hom street . SonSon is the name of the shop where I spent most of my evening bargaining and the prices were nearly 20% cheaper than what we were offered in other shops. One rule when shopping, always bargain. Shopkeepers are usually willing to go up to 6% cheaper than the offered price, so try your luck and have fun!

Let me know how your trip goes or if you find other amazing stores! I will leave you with something my vietnamese friend, Rocky, said to me:

” Vietnam is poor, but Vietnam is happy”

A taste of Singapore in London – Roti King

Growing up in Singapore, I took the joys of greeting my taste buds with a blend of spices and herbs for granted. If there is one thing I truly miss, its the wide variety of food at every corner.

London is the city of street food but it still has nothing on a local hawker centre in Singapore, and it definitely does not compete in price. However, thanks to my dear friend Sarah, I discovered the closest thing to home in this big capital. She discovered this gem before it moved to Euston and became more talked about, check her review out here.

Today, Roti King is located near Euston station, hidden along a side road, and its exterior does not do it any justice. But when you step into the small gateway, the first thing you are greeted with is the chef making Roti freshly before your eyes and the authentic smells of South East Asia.

I have heard from many that the Chinese dishes here are not the best the city has to offer. However, I can definitely recommended the following dishes, they are the best Singaporean/Malaysian dishes I have had in Europe.

1. Roti or Roti Prata –  4-5 GBP

Roti Prata London

There is a reason this place is called Roti King. This perfectly light and fluffy flatbread of S.E.A is served with Chicken or Fish Curry or for those seeking the veggie option, you can have this with Dahl (lentil curry)

2. Mee Goreng 5.5 GBP

Mee Goreng London

A fried(Goreng means fried in malay) noodle dish which incorporates the many tastes of Chinese, Malay and Indian food.  It is usually slightly spicy but paired with sweet bean sauce, it is a match made in heaven. It is usually served with chicken, prawns and squid or tofu.

3. Laksa 5-6GBP

Laksa in London

Now this is definitely one of my favourites here. For those of you who love coconut based soups such as a Thai green curry, you will love this dish. Although this is a soup not a curry. This hearty meal can be enjoyed throughout the year but I had this during Winter and I walked out feeling warm and ready to bear the crisp air.

4. Char Kway Teow 6GBP

Unfortunately I got too distracted by the aromas of the dish that I had no time for a picture. I had to dive straight in. Char Kway Teow,fried flat rice noodles, is a signature dish across Malaysia and Singapore and I must say for a moment I forgot I was just off the busy streets of Euston. And although each bite was filled with a high content of saturated fat, it was all worth it.