Chelsea Physic Garden

I highly recommend a trip to the 350 year old apothecary garden located in the heart of Chelsea on the Thames.  Click on images to see slideshow and a summary of our quick trip!

Click here for their website and history.

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:

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):

Left My Heart in Edinburgh

20150502_071720Andrew and I decided it would be fun to take the Caledonian Sleeper train to Edinburgh.  Basically, you get on the train at bedtime in Euston, London and arrive in Edinburgh at 7:30am.  This was a bad idea for the following reasons:

1.  The average journey time from London to Edinburgh is four hours.  Why force it to take 8 hours?  We’re still trying to figure that out.

2.  “It is like trying to fall asleep on the Titanic…as it is sinking.”

3.  A giant, loud Scottish man enters your berth at 6:30am to bring you instant coffee and says “YOU’RE WELCOME” louder than any human has ever said those words.

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The plus side is that you arrive really early in Edinburgh on an empty stomach before any food places are open, so you have time to climb King Arthur’s Seat, a lovely 45 minute climb to a very high peak in the middle of town in Hollyrood Park.  We didn’t quite make it to the top, but this is our own version of King Arthur’s Seat.

I would recommend doing this on a full stomach with plenty of water and proper shoes.  The views are gorgeous to the Firth of Forth and to the Edinburgh Castle.  We felt at home instantly!

9:30am – We make it to Leo’s Beanery on Howe Street in Stockbridge.  What a great place!  Smoked Salmon on a bagel or a veggie breakfast, complete with 20150502_130639vegetarian haggis, great coffee and friendly wait staff.  This is a local spot, off the beaten tourist path.  Highly recommended!

Seeing old friends is the best part about travelling, so we were happy to be introduced to Cuckoo’s Bakery by my Scottish friend, Sarah.  They have won the Scottish Bakery of the year award. A perfect place to catch up.

Despite our efforts to avoid tourist areas at all costs, it is worth it to explore a town with those who know it well.  Following our cupcake, we were able to climb a mound called Calton Hill, which is home to some interesting things, none of which I remember, because Sarah and I were reminiscing the whole time.

20150503_141044A surprising treat was going to two of the Scottish National Galleries.  Over the past few years here, we have learned quite a bit about British Art.  We even challenged ourselves to name 20 British artists, and we could do it!  We started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which was home to some great pieces by Hockney, Freud, Bacon, Nicholsons, and currently a Lichtenstein exhibit.  The Scottish National Gallery houses lots of the Dutch painters, French impressionists, Italian Renaissance works, and much more.  It is much cosier and manageable than the National Gallery in London, and we never had to battle crowds to see a particular painting.

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Shout out to our B&B: The Dene Guest House!  What an ideal place to stay:  Free breakfast, clean rooms, great temperature and staff.  We would stay there again!  A major plus was that it was around the corner from the Royal Botanical Gardens.  It was a drizzly day and we weren’t sure what to do, but we went out with our umbrellas and paid the 5 pounds to get into the greenhouses.  This is a nice, warm place to go on a cold day.  Also, the surrounding grounds are lovely as well.  They’ve got sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, and plants from all over the world.  A major plus: it’s not under any type of flight path like Kew Gardens in London.

Our friephoto (1)nd Andrew told us about a great walkway near our guest house called the Leith Water Walk.  We decided to walk along it one day and it was pleasant and not at all scary like some of these canal walks in cities can be.  We took it into the heart of Stockbridge, a neighborhood that we loved.  We ended up there many times to eat and drink.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the bar scene in Edinburgh.  Eight years ago when I went to see my friends here, we were hitting the pubs and even nightclubs. Now, in our thirties, it is nice to be able to go sit at a civilised place and be able to hear each other talk.  This under ground gin bar, simply named “Edinburgh Gin Distillery” is an unmarked establishment that has sort of the speakeasy vibe, but not in the annoying way.  edinburgh-gin-distilleryAll of the drinks were fancy, but simple, and the music was quiet and mostly Paul Simon.  Yes!

Overall:  Edinburgh is a great place to visit and reminds us a lot of PDX.  It was sad to leave there, but there’s a lot more of Scotland to explore.

Rainbow of Colour: Tate Britain

The Tate Britain is by far my favorite museum in London.  Most people think I am talking about the Tate Modern when I say this, so I have to be very clear:  There is another museum in London called the Tate Britain!

While the Tate Modern receives outstanding attention from locals and tourists alike, the Tate Britain seems to be the underrated of the Tates.  One might think that nothing goes on here or that it’s boring to look at old paintings, however each time I go the Tate Britain (and it has been about 10 times in the last year) I discover and learn something new.  Not to mention, they rotate their BP Spotlight as seen above quite frequently.  I have never seen the same thing there twice.

ChronologyCarnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

The first thing that is special about this Tate is that the art goes in chronological order.  As you walk from room to room, you know you’re stepping forward in time.  This is helpful for what I call “Museum Zombies” (people who go to art galleries because they think they should and they mindlessly wonder through the rooms without knowing what they’re looking at.  I am a museum zombie in most other museums, but the chronology really helps.

Pure British

The Second thing that is special about this Tate is that it is exclusively British art, or art by people who were living in Britain.  One can spot the significance of the paintings in that period of time and how it relates today.

Tours, tours, tours

Brighton Pierrots 1915 by Walter Richard Sickert 1860-1942 By far the most special part of this Tate are the free tours that happen at least three times daily.  They’re always there on a rainy day when you don’t know what else to do in London or when you’re feeling lonely and you want to be among people, or when you feel like you’ve watched too many episodes of ___________ and you need to get out and experience something live!  I’ve been on approximately eight tours and although I have been taken to the same paintings multiple times, I have never had the same tour guide or been given the same information.  I’ve had one tour guide who was keen on talking about sexual scandal and I’ve had another who was “dry as dust”.  But whoever you get, you’re sure to fall in love with the Tate and begin to understand how to approach a museum and make sense of your surroundings.

Here’s a small sample from the rainbow of the Tate Britain:

Packing lightly for ten days in the Spring

It’s really all you need!  You can may way more than 10 outfits with the above pieces or your variation on colors and style.  It’s always satisfying to unpack at the end of a trip and know that you wore every item of clothing that you brought.  If you’ve ever been backpacking, or read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, you’ll know that every little extra thing in your suitcase adds up and there’s no point in carrying around extra.  Pack lightly, because after all:  “He he would travel happily, must travel light.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Tours to Bretagne in 8 days.

The most special thing about France is the uniqueness of each region and the dramatic differences from one area to the next.  We decided to travel to two different regions on an eight day adventure.

If you arrive in paris via the Eurostar, the easiest thing to do is rent a car from Gare du Nord and hit the highway immediately.  Driving to Tours takes approximately 2.5 hours and costs about 25 Euros for the tolls.  Tours is a mid-size town that offers great food and therefore a great place to base yourself if you’re going chateaux hopping and wine tasting.  There were two restaurants we tried in Tours that we think you’ll like too!

La Souris Gourmande.  Tartine? Fondue?  With hundreds of cheeses on the menu, this was a very welcoming place!  The thing most likely to make us quarrel on vacation is by far where to eat dinner.  We have these horribly long discussions about where we should eat and neither of us ever says what we want.  So it’s not that we’re fighting about where to eat, it’s that we can’t even decide at all.  In order to avoid this in Tours, we set out on a scouting mission to find a place to eat dinner, as our guidebook offered slim pickings.  As we ducked down an alley feeling as if we would never make a decision, the owner of a restaurant we were passing by began to chat us up about his passion for cheese.  I would like to say it was an easy decision and we returned without hesitation that evening, but the bottom line is that we discussed it for another two hours.  But we didn’t regret it!  This was one of the best meals I have had in France and it was off of the main tourist drag of Tours so it felt very cosy and authentic!

Zinc.  Classic french Bistrot at an affordable price, nestled down a side street off the main square.

Chateaux hopping in the Loire

Chateaux hopping in the Loire

From Tours, you can access many different Chateaux in less than an hour.  In my life I have been to Chenonceaux, Chambord, Blois, and Amboise.  To be very honest, the only one I can ever remember is Chenonceaux, and it is the only one I have returned to.  Built over the river, it is impossible to visit and not imagine what life would have been like on this exquisite piece of property.  And on a spring day, it is actually very peaceful, as tourists slow down a bit and saunter the manicured grounds and well preserved interior.  I can still remember posing for a picture out front with my high school French class and thinking about how I never thought I would get to see a real castle!

It wouldn’t be a trip to the Loire withoIMG_2955ut a bit of wine.  On our way out of Tours we stopped in a very small little town called Chinon.  This was a wine we had been drinking for most of the trip and we were immediately in love with it.  We decided we had to go visit a Cave there and buy from the source.  So early on a Sunday morning, when you’d never expect anything to be open, we pulled in to the cellars Caves Plouzeau and low and behold they were closed.  Even though they said they’d be open.  But we persevered, walked around the town, and when we came back, a woman was pulling up her truck to open the Caves!  I highly recommend visiting this very deep, dark, cave and picking out a ton of wine.

IMG_2984After staying two nights in Tours we hit the road for Angers, where we spotted out first rainbow of the trip on the side of a bus!  Ahh France and its outdated design esthetics.  After listening to Andrew downplay the city, I had low expectations.  I don’t know if it was the weather, or what, but I thought Angers was very impressive with a massive castle looming over the town the the clean open outdoor spaces for recreation.  We had a nice lunch in the town center before leaving the Loire Valley and entering Bretagne.

The town of St Malo is a real gem on the Northern coast.  Andrew has been talking about it for years.  Stay there for one night and enjoy Gallettes (buckwheat crepes, a speciality of the region), a walk around the entire city on the fortress walls, stunning views of the blue sea, and at low tide climbing out on the rocks and on the little islands that have many secrets to be discovered.

The Lake District – Keswick

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It is often very difficult to drag oneself out of the house on a cold February morning, but waking up in Keswick to a hearty full English breakfast is inspiration to get out and climb a hill.  On half term in February, if you’re not a skier but you want to appreciate the winter, head to the Lake District!

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A typical day in Keswick in the Lake District is as follows:

Wake up early, because you went to bed early.

Eat a wonderful meal prepared by the B&B proprietor, preferably at the Bagers’ Wood B&B.

IMG_2690Bundle yourself up in warm, waterproof gear.

Walk for a few hours until lunchtime until you reach a pub.

Eat lunch.

Walk for a few more hours until twilight.

IMG_2644Shower and re-bundle yourself up and go find a cozy pub for a pint and a game of cards.

Eat dinner at any of the pubs or chippies.

Watch winter olympics and go to sleep!

IMG_2755Repeat each day and you will surely fall in love with the Lake District!