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A Very English Afternoon Tea

People have long since associated England with tea drinking and afternoon tea, a practice started by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, in the early 19th century to help her reach dinner time.

These days you can still experience “Afternoon Tea” at many hotels nationwide, usually between the hours of 3pm -5pm where you have your tea and are presented a selection of small sandwiches, scones and cakes, all served on tiered trays.

With my aunt visiting us from Italy, I thought it a great excuse to treat my mum and aunt to an afternoon tea at our nearby Cliveden House Hotel, in Berkshire.

Cliveden House

The beautiful stately house is set in in over 350 acres of gardens and dates back to the 1600’s. Nowadays, the house is used as a hotel and event venue with the gardens being part of the National Trust, making it an ideal place for afternoon tea.

Cliveden House Main Room

We booked ourselves in for 4.45pm on a Friday and were shown to our table in the main room. As we settled down and each ordered our preferred tea from an extensive list, we were greeted by the very friendly marketing manager who gave us a wonderful tour of the various rooms of the house and explained the extensive history of the house.

Cliveden House Library

As we returned to our table our trays of exquisite looking food started to arrive. Having ordered 2 vegetarians and 1 vegan option I was impressed to see that this did not mean a lack of selection on the cakes offered!

Afternoon Tea Vegetarian Cakes

Afternoon Tea Vegan Cakes

We were also graciously treated to a flute of champagne each and happily spent the next hour feeling thoroughly spoilt. The sandwiches, scones and cakes were lovely and we struggled to finish them, despite not having had lunch! Nevertheless, we left feeling very satisfied with the food and refreshed from an afternoon spent being waited on and generally very well looked after.

The experience is definitely one to class as a treat, but all the same I think if you are visiting the UK and really want to experience something different from the usual tourist attractions then you should consider it.

Afternoon teas can be found at many London hotels, however why not make a day of it and choose one a little further afield where you can also spend a few hours strolling through their gardens?

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Returning from a Year of Travelling

So it’s now almost 2 months to the date since we arrived at Heathrow airport with our backpacks firmly in place following an almost 12 month round-the-world trip. The initial shock of arrival, made worse by the last week of our trip being spent on the beaches of Bali only to land in freezing UK temperatures, has started to wear off.

Our first 2 weeks back in the country were literally spent floating around the house and re-adjusting to the cold, something we have still not managed to accomplish. The following 2-3 weeks we ventured out to see friends, ex-colleagues and generally try to re-integrate back into society on this side of the planet. Having said that, we both agree that some things we will never be able to adjust back to.

The most shocking thing for me when we returned was the realisation of how much “stuff” I still owned. Prior to the trip we had undergone a massive clear out of our belongings, and because we were unsure of our intention upon our return we had boxed everything up ready to go. Opening boxes and discovering just how many items we still had was a revelation, especially as I always prided myself in being fairly minimalistic. With the feeling that my backpack was pretty much all I needed still firmly in my head, I decided to undergo a further clear out and was surprised at how easily I could “part” with items. I was able to easily discard things without the emotional attachments or what if scenarios, and as such the local charity was especially pleased to see us when we started hauling box after box into their shop.

Despite the reduction and now half-empty closets, it still took me almost 3 weeks to wear something from this new collection of mine. It felt strange to have such a choice of clothes, and let’s not forget shoes! Bit by bit I expanded my daily wear to include a couple of the items from the half empty wardrobe. However, despite the occasional use of other clothes there are many which still just sit there looking at me and I still feel slightly guilty about that.

The next big adjustment came with the inevitable food shop. Throughout our travels we had shopped on a daily and sometimes bi-weekly basis, depending on where we were staying and for how long, so thinking about purchasing food for longer than a few days took some getting used to. The mere thought of having a freezer and being able to batch cook with more than just a half broken pan and an actual sharp knife felt totally surreal.

As such the first 3 weeks we simply shopped for a couple of days at a time, slowly getting used to having such commodities and gradually expanding our choice of foods as well as amounts. 2 months on and we are now back to buying on a fortnightly basis, however we have not reverted back to the wasteful ways of the west.

Instead we plan what we will eat and buy accordingly, then with our “menu” firmly in place on the fridge we simply tick meals off as we go until we have eaten everything in store. Only then do we re-stock for food. Unfortunately, my mother does not see this as beneficial, but rather that I have been permanently scarred by budgeting and my travels, and therefore keeps trying to give me money so that “I can eat what I want, when I want”. I doubt she will ever see the point of our planning.

A key part of travelling is budgeting, and if you learn this, it will serve you well in the future. With my partner waiting for his work visa for New Zealand and me looking for work, something totally surreal in itself after not setting foot in an office for over a year, we have to manage what little funds we have left. So, until we have an income we are still living with a set budget and accounting for all costs, something we never did before in the UK and which has not been that difficult to do.

The transport issue hasn’t hit as hard as I thought it would. Not having had a car for nearly a year has not made us suddenly crave one. In fact, we are happier to walk around and use our natural form of free transport, known as legs. Alternatively, if we must go further afield then neighbouring villages, we take public transport, which is an adventure itself, or if available borrow a car.

One of the hardest things to get used to has to be the weather. If you are from the UK you will know what I mean. If not, then imagine grey skies, and this year in particular a very cold and long winter, and no sun. The hardest part is the lack of daily sunshine. Yes the tan is fading because of it, but that is not my main concern. The fact that day-in and day-out you never see and feel the sun on your skin has a rather depressive feel on the brain. You actually feel your body craving sunlight and slowing down as a direct response to the constant greyness, especially after almost 12 months in the sun.

The overwhelming challenge since we returned has to be resisting being sucked back in. Obviously travelling opens up your eyes to new things and ways of life, but as to how much it will impact you is dependent on you. If you do allow it to alter your perception then your challenge is to keep that perspective alive, even when you are the only one with it and there is nothing around you to reinforce it.

It is not a cliché but reality that travelling opens up your soul to the larger world around you. The hard part is keeping this openness when no-one around you understands it. As such, my advice would be, travel and see what you can. Absorb local cultures and let your views change, but don’t then store it away as just “experience” in life. Keep it alive in the little things you do and don’t lose your new found perspective.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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First Impressions of New Zealand

After 9 months of travelling from Mexico to Argentina it was finally time to leave Latin America, and head across the ocean to new lands. In this case for us it was off to New Zealand.

Our flight from Santiago, Chile, had not been the smoothest, with an already late departure of 11.25pm, we ended up with an unexpected long delay. Just as we were about to take-off we were turned around and told the plane could not leave due to the air con system not working. 3 hours later the technicians finally replaced the faulty parts and we were able to take-off.

Landing in Auckland early the following morning and feeling a little groggy from the flight, we looked out the terminal for a glimpse of our new country to explore. The first thing that struck us was the weather. Having been accustomed to an average temperature of 25C + and clear blue skies on a daily basis, what we saw was a shock to a system. We arrived to grey skies, rain and a top temperature of 15C and it felt a little too like the UK….

Auckland - Air Pacific plane advertising The Hobbit movie

However, as we moved the through the airport we couldn’t help but notice that this was indeed a very different experience to landing, at say, Heathrow. We were greeted by gentle music playing through the speakers, a virtually empty airport, friendly staff greeting us and an overwhelmingly relaxed atmosphere. It was easily the most calming landing experience in my life.

Auckland - welcome to New Zealand

Continuing on our way out we were met by an overly friendly immigration officer welcoming us whole heartedly into the country, rather than questioning us on our intentions. And as we exited customs the first thing we noticed was a large information point called “i-site” with just about every leaflet you could imagine. As if that wasn’t enough, they even had free phones for you to use to call hostels and free SIM cards for your phone. I was amazed.

We spent the first few days exploring the city centre around us and generally getting used to our new environment. However, we couldn’t get over how empty this supposed “large” city was. Now I know Auckland is small by comparison to other cities, but this felt more like a town in terms of number of people. When we mentioned this, we were told to go to Queen Street, the main shopping area, as that was where most people would be. We went, and have been numerous times in the run up to Christmas and it still feels as busy as a small town!

We had been considering moving out here as part of our original plans and therefore decided to gather some information to fill in the missing gaps in our research. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, we were surprised at how easy it was and how chatty people were. We decided to pop into a bank just to ask about the process of opening an account and 20 minutes later we were still chatting to the manager about her family in Fiji. Immigration was even easier. No appointment needed, no queueing, just turn up, go to the counter and have all your questions answered!

We started to feel like New Zealand actually genuinely did want tourists and prospective new residents in the country. Not just because of potential money spent here, because things here are definitely not cheap, but more because everyone seems keen to show you what New Zealand is really about. I haven’t quite nailed its essence but I can’t help feeling more relaxed and thinking that maybe this place is, as they say here, “awesome”.

Auckland - panorama of the business district with the famous Sky Tower landmark

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The top 5 of Latin America

Looking back on our time in Central and South America I started to think of the best places we visited for value, beauty, experiences etc. So I thought I should compile a short list of the best countries we visited for some of the essentials:

1 – Value and experiences

For me I think Guatemala is top of the list for this. Not only is the country by far one of the cheapest that we visited, but it also seems to have an endless supply of places to see and things to experience. From the must-ride colourful chicken buses of “Guate,” as the locals call it, to the beautiful old city of Antigua surrounded by towering volcanos, to the endless Mayan temples buried deep within the northern jungles. Plus, let’s not forget the colourful markets where bartering with locals is definitely a fun game for both side, and where you can still walk away with amazing bargains.

2 – Relaxation and beaches

This category is harder as there are definitely 2 contenders for this spot, Belize and Costa Rica. However, for a slow relaxation pace you can’t beat Belize. As they say in Caye Caulker, “Go Slow”. From sandy white beaches stretching out into clear waters, coconut trees dotting the horizon and endless snorkelling along the barrier reef, Belize wins hands down. And if the empty country with less than 400,000 inhabitants still feels too crowded, you can always disappear to a small secluded Caye off the shore of the mainland.

3 – Adventure

Costa Rica should again definitely be considered for this, with cloud forests, sandy beaches and volcanos there is something for everyone. However, next door and working very hard to catch up is the underdog, Nicaragua. Although, the country does not yet have the same infrastructure in place that Costa Rica offers, it more than makes up for it in the variety of tours and experiences you can choose from. Whether you want to trek an active volcano, go rafting in the rivers, take a boat ride on a steaming lake or go boarding down the side of a volcano, Nicaragua offers it, and best of all at probably half the price.

4 – Diversity

Although we did not get to explore this country as extensively as we would have liked to, we could already see that Argentina deserves to win this category. In one country you can experience, salt plains, deserts, multi-coloured mountains, immense waterfalls, bustling cities, vineyards and glaciers. Now I know Chile also offers much of the same, and having travelled from north to south of it back in 2010 I do feel that it is a very close contender, but somehow I feel Argentina just pegs the lead on this category.

5 – Living history

Having now been to Peru twice, I still believe that it offers visitors a unique chance to glimpse history in modern times. With a large range of amazingly well-preserved sites and artefacts it allows you to experience both the Pre-Inca and Inca civilisations almost first-hand. Apart from the well-known sites of Machu Picchu and Cusco, there are numerous sites dotted throughout the country, from the museum of Sipan with the incredibly well-preserved mummies and their clothing to the relaxing Tipon complex. For me it still remains a truly memorable country to visit.

Of course if we had to do it all again we would visit every country, but these for us really stood out the most.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Mendoza and a wine and olive tour

We arrived in Mendoza following an overnight bus journey with FlechaBus from Buenos Aires. The journey was really comfortable as we were lucky enough to get a new bus with seats on the front row at the top. There were numerous bus options to Mendoza but we decided to choose one we knew. A useful website we found was Omnilineas, for a full timetable and prices of buses from Buenos Aires to across Argentina.

Once in Mendoza we headed out to our pre-booked hostel, Chimbas, located a short 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal. We were pleasantly surprised with the hostel and would go as far as saying it was one of the nicest we have stayed in!

Our main reason for visiting Mendoza was for the wine tours, this was one activity I had really been looking forward to. We were also considering renting a car for a day to drive up to the pass between Argentina and Chile and take in the sites, such as the Inca bridge and surrounding Andes. However, we were already over our budget for Argentina and when we looked at the rentals we simply couldn’t afford it.

As such we decided to spend the couple of days we had left in the country absorbing the last of the sun and going on a wine tour. We spent a day walking around the city and to be honest weren’t overly impressed. It was a nice enough place with plenty of places to eat, cafes and shops, but with nothing of particular interest to us.

Mendoza - busy cafes on pedestrianised Paetonal Sarmiento

On our second day in Mendoza we booked a half day wine and olive tour for 100 pesos each. The reason we booked a tour instead of doing it ourself was due to the fact the wineries/vine yards are spread out across a large area and getting from one to the other on public transport is not so easy.

The tour mini-van picked us up at around 3pm and we headed over to the region of Maipu, located about 30 minutes drive from Mendoza. The tour consisted of 2 wineries and an olive products producer.

The first stop was Baudron, a medium-sized winery which both exported and sold their wines around Argentina. The tour itself was fairly interesting, if not a bit rushed, and we got to see the process on making and bottling wine on a large-scale. After the tour we got to sample 3 of their wines, 2 reds and 1 white.

Maipu, Baudron winery - old huge wine barrels

Maipu, Baudron winery - industrial machinery

The next stop was at the second winery, Cavas de Don Arturo, a small-scale family business with the vineyards in the same grounds. Despite this one seeming more promising and hoping for a more in-depth tour, our Canadian guide seemed more interested in just getting the tour over with than anything else, and when asked a question she kept saying she was new and didn’t really know. At this point I wished I had opted for the Spanish guide instead, as they not only seemed to take longer going through the same tour but I also over heard her giving a more detailed account of the vineyards. After the tour, we again got to sample their wines and this time were lucky enough to trial 4 of them with free snacks too. The owners who didn’t speak English were present for the tasting and seemed very welcoming so it’s a shame the tour was not the same.

Maipu, Cavas de Don Arturo - winery storage cell

The last stop of the tour was Pasrai, an olive oil producer who also produced olive oil skin care products and dried fruits. This was definitely the most informative of the 3 tours and it was really interesting to learn about the process of making olive oil. The tour also included a sampling of their oils on bread, their olive paste ranges and some of their raisins. It could have almost been a mini banquet if they had added a free drink!

Maipu, Pasrai - olive oil processing plant machines

Overall, the tours were ok. It was a shame that they felt so commercialised and at times rushed, as it could have been a very interesting and fun afternoon. The only person who was informative and energetic throughout the day was our transport guide, Dolores, who gave us loads of useful information about the industry, the growing of the grapes and the places we would be seeing.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Can I please just send my parcel?

During our travels we had sent parcels back home without too many problems and surprisingly they had all arrived. So, instead of shipping our last parcel from Bolivia, we thought let’s ship out from Buenos Aires, Argentina, as surely it would be easier and faster from there.

To save money we always re-used carton boxes to send our items and so we saved up 3 cereal packs, turned one inside out and made a nice little brown box. Armed with our still open parcel we headed to the post office.

At the counter the gentleman asked me what was inside, and I showed him the wrapped up souvenirs saying they were stone sculptures and some bits and pieces. Somehow my explanation and his questions didn’t match up, and he tells me I need to go and get my items certified before I can send them. Let me mention at this point that Argentinian does not always sound very Spanish, so am thinking something is strange here.

Luckily, a lady who was beside us comes up and asks me what is in the box, to which I show her and explain again. She then tells me the guy thought I was shipping medicinal items and hence why I needed the certificate, which apparently involves going to another office and queuing for a few hours to get. Surprisingly she goes to the counter and explains the whole misunderstanding to the guy for us, so we are called back for round 2.

I am asked where it needs to go and if I want a box. I say no thanks I already have the brown carton box and there is nothing fragile inside, to which he replies I will need to wrap it with brown paper. I look at him and tell him that the box is already brown carton, is that not the same? The answer is no, I need the brown paper.

Feeling a little frustrated we go and buy the roll of brown paper from the nearby shop. We return to the post office, wrap the brown box in brown paper, tape the box shut and write the address at the front and back. Now, so far in every country I have sent a parcel from I have used the same address for both, as after all I do not have an address abroad, and it has not been a problem.

So with the box wrapped and addressed we head back to the counter. I hand over the box and the guy starts shaking his head and saying no, no, no to me. Am thinking now what the hell is wrong? He looks at me and says I can’t use brown tape to close the brown parcel, only clear tape or string. I stand there open mouthed thinking you are kidding right? But no he is not.

I take a deep breath and explain I only have brown tape with me, so he says I’ll need a post office box to put into. At which point I think fine, I don’t care just put into whatever you want and ship it out! He gives me back the box and tells me I need to fill in the addresses and then come back to him. On a hunch, as everything has been going so smoothly, I ask him if its ok that I use the same address for both.

He looks at me incredulously and starts to shake his head again saying no, you have to have an Argentinian sender’s address or you can’t send. I reply that I’m a traveller, how can I have an address here? But he just tells me that if I don’t have an address I can’t send.

All of a sudden I feel the bubble of rage mounting inside. So much for choosing a nice modern city from which to send I think. Fearing I may just explode I grab my parcel, rip off the brown paper and say fine, forget it, I’ll carry it with me to New Zealand instead, and decide enough is enough for one day!

I should have just sent it from Bolivia after all…..

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Our 10 Money Saving Travel Tips

We are now in our final phase of our Latin American travels with only a few more weeks left here in Argentina, before we move onto New Zealand. So I started to think about the different little things we have done during the last 8 months to try and save money along the way. In doing so I have come up with 10 tips that I hope may help you on your future travels.

  1. Cooking. You’d be surprised how much you can save yourself by cooking your own food, especially by batch cooking. Whenever you can go shopping at the local markets where you can batch cook few days’ worth of food for a couple of pounds! Plus, if you are vegetarian, gluten/dairy free or vegan you will find some countries do not cater very well for this, so cooking is a good way to ensure you know what are eating.
  2. Tupperware. A follow-up to cooking that may seem like a small thing, but if you can prepare and take food with you on long journeys or days out you will not only save money, but also eat healthily.
  3. Invest in a SteriPen. This has to be the biggest saver in terms of the environment and money. You will need to initially invest about £60 to buy one but you will never again have to buy water. I cannot even begin to imagine how many litres of water we would have had to buy if we didn’t have this little device. Instead we simply pour water from any tap into a flask, place the SteriPen inside and 90 seconds later the water is fully sterilised – perfect!
  4. Do your own washing. Again this is somewhere where the pennies add up. I know it’s far easier and more convenient to use a laundry service, but once you have spent £1 on detergent, you can wash your clothes for free for over 2 months at a time.
  5. Take the local bus. In every country there are tourist buses and local buses, however in some countries in Latin America there really isn’t much difference between the 2 except for price. Not only can you save yourself up to half the fare, but you also get to travel with local people and learn about the country you are visiting.
  6. Walk. It might sound obvious but your best form of transport is your legs. Unless it feels unsafe to do so, walking to and from places and around cities can save you a fortune and also help keep you fit!
  7. Menu of the day. On the occasions we do eat out, we never opt for tourist places; instead we head out to the local joints where food is generally tastier and cheaper. Plus, most have a menu of the day which consists of up to 4 courses and drink for what can sometimes be just a £1-2 per person. This also applies to local vegetarian places where sometimes you get more food than you can eat!
  8. Negotiate everything. Generally if you stay longer than 3 days in a place you can bargain a discount ahead of your stay. You should also always bargain at any market whether its food or souvenirs, and definitely bargain for any tours you think about taking. And sometimes if they seem like they won’t budge on the price the best course of action if to walk away, chances are they will come after you with a better price, and if not you will probably find it cheaper next door anyway!
  9. Take freebies. Whenever you happen to be at a nice enough hostel which gives you free soaps or even shampoos, make sure you take them with you when you leave. It might sound petty but we have yet to buy soap in 8 months!
  10. Learn some of the language. It might sound strange but if you can hold even a very basic conversation you will be treated less like a tourist and will probably find people more willing to give you a fair price.
 
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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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