Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Daytrip from London

When London actually has some summery sunny days, many Londoners escape the city and flock to Brighton Beach – just a 50-minute train ride away on the south coast in Sussex.

One hot Sunday in July we did exactly that. After dropping off our bags at our hotel, we walked across the street to the beach – a very rocky place indeed – and found a somewhat less rocky place to lay out on our Turkish towels. We opened our bottle of Prosecco from home and took in the scenery around us.
Brighton Beach (the polar opposite of its namesake in Australia) was not what I expected. In fact, after taking in the scene, the noisy boardwalk and cheesy amusement park area, Brighton Beach reminded me a lot like the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, which, by the way, has much better (sandy) beaches. I’m probably going to offend some local Brits here, but I was not a fan of Brighton. It was super crowded, too touristy, and most shocking of all, it was dirty.

After beachgoers had a day and night of partying here, the beach was filthy!
However, on the positive side, my husband and I actually had a day off together, and it was sunny – two rare occurrences. We intended to make the most of it.

Eating Seafood by the Seashore
After bubbles and sunbathing, we ventured along the boardwalk in search of food. I didn’t simply want fish and chips, but some proper seafood. We stumbled upon The Salt Room because it had good reviews online and available outdoor seating. This modern British restaurant absolutely blew us away with its perfectly-cooked seafood! We shared: grilled octopus with white beans, pancetta and seaweed; raw scallops with elderflower and lumpfish roe; raw tuna with kalamansi, chili and sesame; half a dozen Jersey oysters; and halibut with peas, verjus and jersey royal potatoes. Wow!

We probably ordered one dish too many, but everything on the menu looked so good that we couldn’t resist. I highly recommend a visit to The Salt Room! After all that food and wine, I needed a nap.
For dinner, we ate more oysters and delicious seafood dishes at Plateau, a French-inspired wine bar that features natural wines, located near the Lanes.
Walk Along the Boardwalk
Much of the town is centered on the seafront promenade which is lined with bars, cafés, shops and amusement arcades. If you fancy some old-fashioned arcade fun, then head to the historic Marine Palace and Pier, opened in 1899. I quickly peaked inside the funfair, but the hordes of children and tourists led me to make a quick exit.

Cycle next to the White Cliffs
After my husband left Monday morning, I had a free day to explore before I took an evening bus back to London. (Note: Southwestern is notorious for cancelling trains, so be prepared for backup transport options like the National Express buses.) After sunbathing for awhile, I got motivated to rent a bike. Brighton Beach Bikes is located in one of the arches on the west side of the Pier and staffed by a super friendly guy. Soon, I was on my Californian cruiser. A one-hour rental costs £6, or £9 for two hours.

Heading east from Brighton Pier, I pedaled past the marina and along the paved Undercliff Walk, which features the stark white chalk cliffs on one side and the English Channel on the other. It was a peaceful and enjoyable ride. I made it to the historic village of Rottingdean (about 4 miles), but I was too hot and sweaty to explore. Instead, I parked my rental bike on the beach and enjoyed an ice cream cone from Molly’s, a small café in front of the beach.
Shopping and Street Art in The Lanes and North Laine
I’m not much of a shopper, but I did enjoy browsing through the vibrant-colored and funky shops located in The Lanes and the North Laine. The latter is a bit more bohemian/retro chic and offered several pub and café options too. Perhaps, if the sun wasn’t beating down on me, I would have enjoyed shopping at one of the 300 unique shops along here.

While Brits may love the seaside town of Brighton, I think there’s a lot more of the U.K. I want to explore before rushing back here.

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Daytrip from London

A rainy day in London is the perfect time to write about our also wet weekend get-away to Bath back in February. We spent nearly 48 hours in this historic city and found plenty to keep us occupied, although I have heard of tourists seeing this great city in just one day. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend spending a whole weekend in Bath. Read on to find out why.

Canary Gin and Wine Bar
The Canary Gin and Wine Bar is the go-to destination in Bath for gin lovers as its home to the famous Bath Gin Company. Oddly enough when I asked for a vodka cocktail I was told that this was a gin bar. Duh! Well, I had a glass of wine because gin is hubby’s drink of choice not mine. The bar has a cool atmosphere and is definitely good for a drink IF you like gin cocktails.
Stay at a Historic Hotel
Luckily, hubby decided to cash in some credit card points so we stayed two nights at the Francis Hotel – MGallery Collection, a beautiful townhouse in the heart of historic Bath. The hotel occupies seven of the nine original townhouses, built between 1728 and 1736 and designed by English architect John Wood the Elder who is credited with the city’s great architecture. Wood designed the surrounding townhouses to look out onto Queen Square in the middle. He even lived at No. 9 because it had the best views of the square, and this townhouse is now the entrance to the Francis Hotel.
Bath Abbey and Bell Tower Tour
Don’t miss your chance to see historic Bath from above by taking one of the hourly Bath Abbey Bell Tower tours! After climbing up more than 200 steps to the top of the tower, you are rewarded with spectacular views of the city even on a wet, windy day like we had. You’ll also be able to stand on top of the Abbey’s vaulted ceiling and sit behind the clock face.
Three different churches have occupied the site of today’s Abbey since 757 AD. The present-day church was first repaired in 1616, additional structural changes made in the 1830s, but the most significant changes occurred in the late 19th century. From 1864-1874, Sir George Gilbert Scott transformed the inside of the Abbey with Victorian Gothic architectural details and replaced the ancient wooden beam ceiling with the beautiful stone fan vaulting instead.

Cute Coffeeshops
Just because you’re not in the big city anymore doesn’t mean you can’t find a decent cup of coffee in Bath. We popped into Cascara for two flat-whites, but the nearby Society Café would have been a good option too.
The Roman Baths
Visiting the 2,000-year-old Roman Baths in Bath is definitely the city’s most popular attraction. On Saturday morning, the queues to get inside wrapped around the building, but then we learned a trick. We stopped by the Visitor’s Information building and learned we could buy a triple-play Museum Saver ticket to the baths, the Victorian Art Gallery and the Fashion Museum for £21.50, saving us £7, and allowing us to skip the line. Bloody brilliant!

On the next day, we arrived about an hour after the museum opened because we wanted to avoid the crowds, especially in my photos. I love some good ruins and the Roman Baths did not disappoint. The Romans founded the city of Aquae Sulis around the natural hot springs and built the great bathing and socializing complex in 70 AD.
Today, nearly 1.2 million liters of steaming spring water, reaching 46 °C (115°F) still fill the bathing site every single day. (The steam makes for fantastic photos!) The Romans believed that this was the mystical work of the Gods, but we now know that geothermal energy increases the water temperature miles below the surface. Then, under pressure, the heated water rises to the surface through cracks in the limestone and fills the Great Bath. Inside the baths, you’ll even find remains of the ancient heated rooms and the plunge pools. Allow yourself at least 2 hours to see everything in the Roman Baths and to take photos.
Crossing Pulteney Bridge
Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, the Pulteney Bridge is one of a handful of historic bridges in the world with shops built into it. We also found a good cup of coffee here at the aptly-named Bridge Coffee House. The bridge, completed in 1774, provided a much-needed non-waterway connection to the newly-built Georgian town of Bathwick on the other side of River Avon. The bridge, one of Bath’s well-known images, also is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Explore Georgian Architecture
Since Bath is known for its Georgian architecture, it’s fun simply to wander through the city and find these notable buildings. Besides the townhouses on Queen Square, don’t miss The Circus and the Royal Crescent.

The Circus, named for the Latin word “circus,” which means a ring, oval or circle, was built between 1754-1768. Originally called the King's Circus, the three buildings were designed by John Wood the Elder, but he died less than three months after the first stone was laid and his son helped finish the plan. Interestingly, the same dimensions of Stonehenge, 318 feet in diameter is seen in The Circus because Wood was convinced that Bath had been the main center of Druid activity in the U.K.
Just a few blocks away, you’ll find The Royal Crescent, a row of 30 impressive terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent overlooking a large grass field. Designed by the Wood’s son, John Jr. and built between 1767-1774, this 150-meter long, Grade I-listed building is noted to be one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture in the U.K. At No. 16, you’ll find the luxurious 5-star Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa, which also has a wonderful Afternoon Tea menu, but you must book weeks in advance. Sadly, we missed out, but we did peak into the beautiful spring gardens out back.
Sip on Afternoon Tea
I think there are at least 10 places where you can have afternoon tea in Bath. You can read about our high tea experience at the Bath Priory here.
Dress Up at the Fashion Museum
Who knew that a Fashion Museum could be so fun and that even my partner would like it? Apparently, the Fashion Museum in Bath is one of the world’s top 10 museums of fashionable dress. There are more than 160 dressed figures wearing clothes from the past 400 years – from historic Georgian ballgowns to simple cotton dresses to cutting-edge fashions by some of today’s leading designers.
The museum also is housed in part of the Assembly Rooms, another Georgian building designed by John Wood Jr. in 1769, where locals used to gather to dance, drink tea, play cards and listen to music. Entry to the stately Assembly Rooms is included in the Fashion Museum ticket.

Would you like to visit Bath? 
Or if you’ve been, do you have any tips for Bath?

I'm obsessed with photographing doors whenever we travel. Here's a small sample from Bath, UK.
My Traveling Joys

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