Hampton Court Palace – The Magic Garden and The Maze 

I wasn’t kidding when I said I intended on seeing the best sights in (and around) London, making the most of my  3 day week. Last Friday was a beautiful day so we decided to head out to Hampton Court. We took the tube to Waterloo and then South West trains to Hampton Court via Surbiton. A quick walk from the Station and you step into grounds that would fit into a Phillipa Gregory novel easily. At first glance Hampton Court Palace is quite majestic. This beautiful Tudor Palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. It was never meant to be a Royal Palace but when he left in 1529, King Henry took it over. In his efforts to impress people with his grandeur and wealth, he spent what would be millions now to expand it, employing Europe’s most gifted craftsmen and gardeners. It might be almost 500 years since it was built but Hampton Court Palace (unlike the outside of Buckingham Palace) is quite simply stunning.


Last year saw the opening of The Magic Garden on the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. I’d read quite about it but we didn’t have a chance to go. Friday was the ideal day. We didn’t go into the Palace…Let’s be honest, it would be lost on our 5/6 year olds so instead bought tickets for The Magic Garden and The Maze. If you don’t intend on going into the Palace and it’s quite a warm day, don’t queue up at the main ticket kiosk. Instead make your way to The Magic Garden and buy your tickets from there instead. 


It lives up to its name…the kids had a blast!


Almost two hours later we made our way to the maze. The kids were super excited by the maze and enjoyed navigating the many corridors. At one point we thought we’d found our way out but alas it was the middle of the maze.


Right outside the exit there’s a patch of grass for the adults to rest their weary legs and hidden in what appears to be a huge bush is one of the best trees to climb.


We finally ended our day walking through the rose garden and picking up some amazing real ice cream (made with clotted cream!!)


If you’re thinking of visiting this summer, The Magic Garden is open until October. Remember to take sun cream, a spare change of clothes (there are fountains and a mini lake, as S describes it, in the sandpit) and lots of snacks (the cafés there are limited).

Don’t forget to take a picture under this beautiful arch on your way out.


It cost us £9.20 each return from Waterloo to Hampton Court on Southwest trains. If you to manage get a direct train it’s approx. 35 minutes (we had to stop at Surbiton both ways). Hampton Court Palace is very family friendly and makes for a great day out. It’s got our stamp of approval.

Summer 2017 Bucket List 

The great British Summer…There’s absolutely no guarantee of hot weather but you can always have a good time. From this week going forward I’ll be working 3 days a week (rather than 5) and I intend on making the most of August, exploring  many of the wonderful sights/attractions the UK has to offer. Here’s my bucket list for Summer 2017:

Mayfield Lavender Fields – If you’re on Instagram you can’t escape these gorgeous lavender fields. They are Insta perfect and something I definitely want to see. A little over an hour from London, in Surrey, it’s pretty easy to get to.

Hampton Court Palace – The Magic Garden looks amazing and super child friendly. 

Parkside Fruit Picking – I feel like S is finally old enough to appreciate and enjoy fruit picking. My cousins have been doing it for years and now he can join them 🙂

Warwick Castle – Which child wouldn’t like to dress up as a knight and feel like part of a castle? S has the costume and Warwick has the castle. And during the summer, kids can watch Horrible Histories live on stage in the truly unique Wicked Warwick Show!

Go Ape (Alexandre Palace) – Go Apes newest venue at Ally Pally now has Tree Tops Junior. S is a bit of a monkey and I think he’d absolutely love walking high up and ziplining through trees.

Snozoneuk – While our summers aren’t always hot, our winters aren’t extreme either which means S hasn’t seen proper snow yet. At Snozone, you can feel like you’re in The Alps while only being an hour up the M1 from London.

Camber Sands – Back in May we visited Brighton Beach and while that was cool, a sandy beach will always beat a pebble beach. Fingers crossed we have one more heat wave before school starts in September and we will be down at Camber Sands in a jiffy.

Emirates Cable Cars – For the gorgeous views of London and the thrill of riding high up suspended in the air.

Of course this is a limited list…London and the surrounding counties have to much to offer. I’d love to hear what adventures you’re having this summer…

Holiday in Dubai (places to eat)

Our recent trip to Dubai was spontaneity at it’s best. My brother and dad were going to be there, S had half term coming up and pre Ramadan we got a great deal, so we booked on a Sunday afternoon and flew out on the Friday morning.

S and I visited Dubai in December 2014 and although we were there for 2 weeks, I was ill for a lot of it and it wasn’t the best time, weather wise. This trip on the other hand was fantastic. We fit quite a lot in, the heat was bearable and we’re home now with lots of memories, new experiences and fab tans 😉

On this post I’m going to focus on all the best places to eat/drink/stay in Dubai. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton DIFC which is as central as it gets. Getting a cab was never an issue (there’s a metro station close by too), Dubai mall was a 5 minute drive away and the service was second to none. The staff were attentive, polite and went out of their way to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Breakfast was included in our package and they had everything you could think of. A selection of breads and pastries, yoghurts, smoothies and museli pots. Dim sum, sushi, cold cuts, cheese and mezze. A selection of fresh fruit, an Indian counter (that changed daily), a live cooking station that made eggs (however you like them), waffles and pancakes. There was a good variety of both vegetarian and non vegetarian options.

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As soon as I told my friend A I was coming to Dubai, she got booking different restaurants and when I finally got there, she said the only place we *had* to go to was Catch. Catch opened last year and is located in the Fairmont Hotel, 5 minutes drive from where we were staying. Paying homage to the original Catch in New York, the decor is quite eccelectic with exposed brick wall covered in graffiti and soft leather interiors. We had the Crispy Shrimp, the Lobster mash, the Hell Fire roll, Wagyu on the rock and the Truffle Mushroom Spaghetti.

If there’s one thing that I should warn you about, it’s the portion sizes in Dubai. Everything is huge!!

The Hell fire roll was so good I forgot to take a picture before devouring it, The Truffle Mushroom Spaghetti was really yummy (especially the hint of truffle) but quite heavy. Wagyu on the rock with an accompanying teriyaki dip just melted in your mouth. I think we over ordered slightly and I wasn’t able to enjoy the Lobster mash as it was far too heavy for my liking. The Crispy Shrimp was good (although it had a touch too much mayo) and the size of the portion (given that it’s a starter) was overwhelming.

On the Sunday we spent the day at the Mall of Emirates and had lunch with my cousin at The Cheesecake Factory. I actually wanted to take S to ski Dubai (an excuse to go myself!!) but as I expected, he chose to spend time with my niece L rather than go snowboarding and so that’s what we did (she really is the cutest!). We were lucky to get a booth overlooking Ski Dubai where I got to watch everything I was missing out on 😉 I ordered the Chicken Strips and Chips for S and my mum and I ordered the lunch sets (the menu said they were smaller portions). I can tell you, the menu was wrong. I had the Santa Fe salad and she had a sandwich and a bowl of soup which came with a green salad. My cousin got to us late but looking at the portions (which we all ended up sharing), she ordered the garlic stuffed mushrooms. My salad was great: very fresh with a zingy dressing and a nice crunch offered by the pieces of fried noodles in it.

On Sunday evening, my brother, mum and I went to the Sunken Garden at the Ritz for a drink before walking over to La Petit Masion at DIFC for dinner. The Sunken Garden is an outdoor venue but in typical Dubai fashion, it’s temperate controlled. So although I knew it was a balmy 25 degrees, it felt like it was 18 degrees. Dubai…never ceases to amaze! I’ve never been to La Petit Maison in London so was quite excited to be checking out the Dubai version. We had the warm prawns in olive oil (divine!), the fresh lobster and crab salad (fresh and delicious!), the burrata (melts in your mouth deliciousness!), the lentil salad (perfectly cooked and very well seasoned) and The Arrabiatta (can’t say I thought much about this dish!).

On the Monday my friend A suggested we take S to The Rainforest Cafe. She’d taken him to the one in London for his birthday last year and although the restaurant in London is quite dated, he enjoyed the experience. Being a whole year older, he enjoyed it even more this time. And like everything in Dubai, it was amazing. Being a much newer version of the restaurant, it was brighter and the “thunder storms” and “animal acts” were a lot more real. But the piece de resistance was the fact that the whole front of the restaurant looked on to the massive Aquarium in the centre of Dubai mall. So not only did we feel like we were in an actual rainforest with monkeys shaking trees and a snake slithering down on us at the entrance, but we got to eat watching sharks and stingrays swim by. It’s an experience no child will forget.

On the Tuesday my mum, S and I spent the day at Dubai mall and had lunch at Markette. It’s a casual cafe style restaurant in the middle of the mall, opposite the Aquarium (my favourite part of the mall). Having learnt our lesson about the portion sizes, I ordered a starter of grilled chicken skewers with salad and humous, my mum ordered a chicken burger from the children’s menu and S had the fish and chips. I was hoping to save some space for frozen yoghurt but even with just a starter portion, I was well and truly stuffed.

On Tuesday night we were invited out by some family friends to Tresind. My dear readers, if there is one place you go to when you visit Dubai, let this be it. Molecular Gastronomy! It’s not just a meal, it’s an experience. They call themselves “Modern Indian” but it’s really “Scientifically Brilliant Indian”. We started with some pani puri bites that had been transformed into jelly. It was literally an explosion of taste in your mouth. We then went on to have the chaat trolley, the lamb shank, some mock meat, a really tasty dry chicken dish, the mushroom steak and the deconstructed black forest cake (which was worth every bite!). It is progressive dining at it’s best!

On Thursday we spent the day at Atlantis on the Palm and we left on Friday. Look out for my post on things to do with kids in Dubai, next week! Here’s a teaser…

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Have you been to Dubai? Do you have any amazing restaurant recommendations?

 

 

 

Chinese Culture & Expat Living

I’ve had many a conversation with people about the pros and cons of growing up in different cities, among different cultures. I was born in Liberia and went on to live in the UK, Nigeria, India, Ireland, Hong Kong and Taipei. I loved it and wouldn’t change it for anything. My experiences have exposed me to so many different cultures, people and ways of living.

One thing I have learnt is how important it is to be sensitive to the local way of life when you’re living there. What’s considered rude in one culture may be completely acceptable in another. Things we take for granted in the West are a complete novelty in the East. Having spent 5 1/2 years living between Hong Kong and Taipei, here’s a quick list of the do’s and don’ts in the Chinese culture.

  1. Gift giving – Handkerchiefs, clocks and white flowers all symbolise death or a parting…do not give these as gifts. In fact giving someone a clock as a gift is like wishing death upon them. No shoes as presents. I once bought a friend a pair of shoes she’d asked for and didn’t want to take the money from her. She insisted so it wouldn’t feel like a gift.
  2. Eating – When dining out in Asia, they prefer family style eating. Lots of dishes are ordered and everyone on the table shares them. If you’re hosting a dinner, you’re expected to insist your guests (especially the elderly) get served first. Chopsticks should never point towards anyone on the table.
  3. Shoes in the home  – Outdoor shoes are not worn in the home. In Taipei, it’s not uncommon to see shoe cupboards outside people’s front doors so the shoes don’t even cross the threshold.
  4. During Chinese New Year, the custom is to give “laisee” (red envelopes with money) to family, friends and members of staff. When giving Laisee, it should be an even number, a new/crisp note and nothing to do with the number 4 (which is considered unlucky). Number 8 is considered very lucky as it signifies infinity.
  5. Visiting friends/family – Never go empty handed to someone’s home. This is sort of a rule in my Indian culture as well. Of course it depends on your relationship with the person but you’d never go empty handed to someone’s home, especially if it’s your first time.
  6. Business – When handing over business cards, the chinese will *always* hand it over using two hands, often with a slight bow of their heads.
  7. Paying a bill – This is common in my culture as well. Arguing over who pays the bill. You see it a lot between friends at restaurants. However, between families, in the Chinese culture, the youth always pay. Where I come from, the elders usually pay.
  8. Weight – The Chinese (although I think it’s an all over Asian thing) have no qualms about telling you how much weight you’ve put on or how much weight you’ve lost. Every time I flew to Taipei, the cleaner there would make a comment about my weight. In one ear and out the other is the only way to handle this.

Have you come across any other cultural differences I’ve missed out? I’d love to hear your experiences while travelling/living abroad.