Summer Retreat, wherever you are

(In rainbow order: Snack and drink at Zizzi’s, pedicure at Elysium, Brushes from Waitrose, green smoothie recipe, favorite Yoga place in in London, journal prompts)

I have been reading the book The Way of the Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover for the past few weeks.  In that time I have had a New Moon Ritual, felt a resurgence of energy for yoga and meditation,  been inspired to write in my journal every day, and have picked up some really good recipes, book recs, and tips along the way.  My friend recommended this to me at a perfect time in my life: Summer!  I have so much time on my hands for the summer, it’s a perfect time to do the things I love, just because.

In the book, she recommends a seasonal retreat, and of course, this is summer, so the retreat is designed to be creative, fun, and even social.  Here’s how I spent my summer retreat (if you read the book, you’ll find mine is lazier than hers):

9:30am – Wake up, brew a cup of tea, write three pages of stream-of consciousness journaling

10:00am – 10 minutes of mindfulness followed by Summer Yang Yoga Flow Series (from the book)

11:10am – Dry Brushing followed by coconut oil massage and shower

11:30am – Pedicure

12:00 – Lunch at home

1:00pm – Went on a long walk and then spent the afternoon with friend by the canal

9:00pm – to wind down at night, I watched a movie then did some really light stretching before bed and sprayed myself with rose water

I am always weary of books like this because some people get their hands on them and think they need to follow each individual step and then they will achieve happiness or meaning.  I like this book because she discourages that and just gives tips of ancient wisdom that feel great, cost virtually nothing, and are not harmful to the environment.

Of course you could do this retreat anywhere, but sticking with the London theme, I’ll make some suggestions of places I love that could be potential sites for a summer retreat:

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Go to Malta!

Each day in Malta is met with both familiarity and surprises.  Familiar because the routine looks about the same: beach, sight seeing, beach, dinner, activity, and surprising because each new beach is more beautiful than the last, each new sight is older than anything you’ve ever seen (probably), each new street is hidden with magical secrets, and every restaurant serves fresh caught fish from about 100 feet away.  Malta is our ideal vacation spot so here’s how we spent eight beautiful days on this tiny, lesser-known Mediterranean island.

Beaches (click on any picture to see slideshow)

Going to the beaches in Malta was my favorite thing to do.  I can honestly say, that swimming in Dwejra Bay was one of the best experiences of my life.  We first went to the Azure Window and were disappointed with the amount of tourists and blasting music we came across there.  But we were really hot, so we walked a little ways around a cliff and looked upon the most glorious bay I have ever seen!  The bay was far down below where we were standing, but there was one person swimming across the large body of water and I knew I had to get in there!  By some weird miracle, I had my goggles with me too.  So we hiked down the hundred of stone steps until we rached some of the more friendly rocks at the bottom of bay and I jumped in.  It was very deep water, as I could see the gorge below me!  It was almost scary, but not scary enough to keep me from swimming in that water.

Although Dwejra Bay is hard to get to, “The most difficult to get to beach award winner” is San Blas Bay.  There is actually a paved road to the bottom of the beach, but it was the steepest, narrowest road I have ever seen so we parked at the top of the hill.  As we  walked down, I slipped and fell twice.  Finally, when we reached the bottom, we saw a jeep taking people up the hill for £2 PER PERSON.  His jeep simply said “Up the Hill” on the back (shown above) and we said, “we’ll never pay that guy money to take us up the hill!” However, after a relaxing hour on the beautiful golden beach, we caved in and sat in the back of this man’s jeeps for the most harrowing 3 minutes on Gozo!

The beach we returned to twice was Riviera Beach or “Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.”  This beach has become more popular the last few year, with a Radisson popping near its shores, but it still has the feel of a hidden treasure that many tourists don’t visit, probably due to the hundreds of stairs you must descend in order to reach the sand.  This has one of the largest swimming areas and you can pretty much stand all of the way out to the buoys.  Andrew and I spent two days here, eating Ftira and alternating between sea and lounge chair.  On most of the beaches in Malta, you can lay down your towel, or you an rent an umbrella and lounge chair for a very cheap price of about £3.

Paradise Beach was a little more rowdy, but easier to get to as the stairs are fewer and more gradual.  There are also some good waves at this beach.

Basically, we rented a car, put on our swimsuits and spent days driving around both islands (Gozo and Malta).  If we saw a beach we liked, we pulled in for a dip.  If we saw a church we wanted to see, then we threw on some clothes and a scarf and went inside.  Luxury travel!

Cities and Culture (click on any picture to see slideshow)

Some impressions of the sights from my journal entries in order left to right, top to bottom:

Mosta Dome.  “In WWII a church full of people had a literal bomb dropped on them.  The bomb crashed through the dome of this cathedral, hit the floor and rolled down the aisle.  No one was hurt.”

Wandering the streets.  “Andrew and I walked around Valetta and saw the most amazing views of the harbors and fortresses.  Sand, Stone, Windswept, Ornate Side Streets.”

Vittoriosa.  “Every morning in Valetta starts with chimes 10 minutes to 8am followed by loud church bells at 8am followed by fireworks and car alarms at 9am.  These sounds are coming from Vittoriosa, a town across the harbor that is having its Saint Celebration and for some reason they need to have fireworks every morning.”

Hagar Qim Temples.  “5,000 year old temples on a sea cliff.  At the solstices and equinoxes, the sun rays come through carefully places holes to create a perfect beam of light.  No one knows for sure why these structures are here.  Some say temples, others say gathering spots.  The specialness of these temples cannot be described.”

Harbor Traveling.  To get to any other city such as Salima, St. Julian, or Vittoriosa, you should take the harbor boats.  It’s fast and provides great views of the cities.

Marsaxlokks.  This little village is lined with very simple looking restaurants that serve fresh fish from that morning or day.  It’s everyone for themselves here, as you have to pick out the fish you want and sit at a table with other people, but it’s totally worth it and fun too!

Modern Dance Show.  We heard about the ballet dancer from “Fame” having a special two night show in Malta so we bought tickets.  The show was mediocre, but the setting was amazing!  it was a full moon and it rose over the stage as the dancers did their thing.  Outdoor theaters are the best!

Wine Festival.  Unexpectedly, we stumbled upon the Malta Wine Festival which showcased wines from all over the island.  We ate a hearty dinner of Rabbit and Gnocchi and then watched a really bad rock concert!  What a blast!

Mdina.  It’s like no place I have ever seen!  This is a walled city with really tall buildings so you can only ever see a tiny strip of sky.  We ate lunch overlooking the city all the way out to the beach (and this is in the center of the island!)

Madonna.  There are numerous Madonnas on Malta, but why not pull over and take a picture of everyone you see?

Food

Before we went to Malta, we were fortunate enough to have our friend, Joy, tell us all about her lovely dining experiences.  Here are the links to the best restaurants we found (with Joy’s help) in Malta.  Notice how hardly any have real websites!!! I love this place!

Ta’Rikardu

Il-Bukkett

The Harbour Club

Malata

Fontanella

Nenu The Artisan Baker

Malta is so tourist friendly without being over-touristy.  If you just want to go lay on the beach, that’s fine, and this is a perfect place to do that, however, if you want real culture, don’t stay in a resort or in any of the towns in the Northwest corner of Malta.  The reason Malta was so perfect is because I’m a beach person and Andrew is a sight seeing guy, so we could do both! Try to find a traditional Maltese decorated apartment:

Meatless meandering…

The days of vegetarian slop (aka cous cous with some type of stew over it) are over!  Vegetarian restaurants all over the world are serving really creative, fresh dishes that are well presented and leave you full.  Our top choices that we’ve visited are not just our top choices for vegetarian food, but our top choices period (full stop). We didn’t decide one day to be vegetarian.  In fact, I still don’t call myself a vegetarian.  When I was younger I declared myself veggie and I would sneak meat when no one was looking.  Now, I simply don’t feel like eating it.

The evolution of meals for us was a slow process:

1.  food poisoning which may have been from Malta or from the Kebab shop down the road.  We don’t know and we don’t care.  The bottom line is that chicken processing and distribution is unsafe and nasty.  After spending four days hugging the toilet and laying on the floor to try and get rid of our body aches, we haven’t touched chicken since.  (Except twice on accident)

2.  Cooking meat at home was becoming yucky.  You need multiple cutting boards and you really need a dishwasher and there’s meat juice and salmonella and e coli and all that.  So then we stopped buying meat to cook, including fish.

3.  The Health at Every size approach mindful eating.  I stopped feeling like I wanted meat and started getting excited about the flavour of veggies.  If you think about it, meat doesn’t taste like anything except for what it’s cooked in, while vegetables have exciting flavors all their own.

4.  The grocers down the street.  I hate spending money at the giant chain at the end of our block, but I love going into the independent grocer (just a little bit further) to get vegetables that don’t come wrapped in plastic.  We usually walk out of there with two bags full of veggies and only £30 lighter for the week.

5.  The second bout of food poisoning.  Yes, twice in one month.  How is it possible?  Well it has become clear to me that this country isn’t able to manage the preparation and distribution of food in a safe manner and therefore, I’m avoiding it.

Acorn Vegetarian Restaurant 

Starter at

Starter at “Acorn” in Bath, England

This is a an amazing place, right in the heart of Bath.  Ever since we visited Bath in November, we have wanted to go back just for this restaurant.  It is quiet, cozy, and super flavourful.  The nice thing about this place is that the dishes are so visually beautiful and complicated, you really feel like you can’t make it at home.  Also, we’ve bought their cookbook and it’s true: you can’t replicate these recipes at home.

Rebar Modern Food

Scrumpy at Rebar Modern Food in Victoria, B.C.

Scrumpy at Rebar Modern Food in Victoria, B.C.

We first discovered this restaurant in 2011 when we went on an epic journey to Vancouver Island (stay tuned for our upcoming post).  I think we originally discovered this in our Frommer’s guidebook and thought we might try it for something healthier than the road trip food we had been eating.  What a revelation!  Avocado, seeds, beautiful summer squashes, and asparagus adorned the large house salad.  A full menu of delicious, vegetarian and pescatarian dishes was something we hadn’t seen in a while.  This is when we realized that the days of the Moosewood Cookbooks (blah!) were gone, and eating vegetables for what they are, not what they can mimic or replace is awesome!  Andrew returns to this restaurant every year while on tour.

Earthy (for you and your meat eating friends!)

“Earthy” in Edinburgh, Scotland

Our friends took us to this cafe for afternoon coffee and cake, but it’s on our return-to list.  As we sat enjoying our Bakewell Tart, we saw beautiful vegetarian and meat based foods pass us left and right.  Their grocery attached to the restaurant is a great place to buy foods for a picnic or a snack.

Tell us where your favorite vegetarian restaurants are!

Loop de Loop

londonloopmapThe London Loop:  The London Outer Orbital Path— more usually the “London LOOP” — is a 240-kilometre (150 mi) signed walk along trails, through parks, dumps woods and itinerant camps meadows around the edge of Outer London, England.

Distance covered:  40 miles exactly

Distance remaining: 110 miles

Featured section:  #5, Hamsey Green to Coulsdon South

Highlights:  Beautiful views, horses, rolling grassy hills, crazy pub with WWII memorabilia, dump, camp

We have decided to walk the entire London Loop for no reason except to do it.  All sections of the loop are accessible by rail or bus.  Our New Year’s Resolution was to finish the whole thing by the end of the year.  We have completed six sections so far and found some common themes.  Here’s our journey of section 5 in pictures (make sure to click on one to see the full size images):