I caught wind mid last year that this year, you could take three days of annual leave and enjoy 10 days of break over the Easter and ANZAC public holiday period. So, it got me thinking, where can we go for 10 days?
I must first say that, this would have been an expensive trip if we did not have frequent flyer points to utilize so this is little adventure to Europe could only happen because of our bank of frequent flyer points.
Now where should we go…..
Firstly we loved Barcelona and San Sebastian and, we wanted to return. However due to flight routes (using points), we could not, so the next best option was to revisit London then fly to Madrid. We still got to do Spain so we were happy to visit a city we hadn’t ventured to before (well, for me its been over 10 years since my last visit).
The day of our travel finally arrived and to say we were excited was a gross understatement. I must admit, we did take more than three days of annual leave to enjoy our short adventure. We took the day before Good Friday to travel to London. We arrived in London the evening of Thursday before Good Friday to enjoy a nightcap in the gorgeous gardens of the Crown Plaza Hotel in Kensington. We’d stayed there on our previous visit and it was really nice to come back to the hospitality and the location we know. The staff at the Crown Plaza Hotel are always lovely and accommodating, it is a pleasure to stay here.
Just like our last visit, we would get up in the morning and take a long walk around the neighborhood to find a place for a breakfast break before we venture back to our hotel. This time, we skipped the glorious gardens of Kensington Gardens venturing into South Kensington instead. We found a lovely happening brunch joint that was obviously popular with the locals and tourists. Muriel’s Kitchen was warm, friendly and inviting, serving more than the usual bacon and eggs. When well nourished, we ventured back for the day ahead.
On this day, since we had so much energy and being such a lovely day, we’d decided to walk from Kensington to Covent Garden. And what a lovely walk it was. Be mindful though, it is about 6 to 7 kilometers as the crow flies so you should ensure you have very comfortable walking shoes…..which we both did. This was such a nice walk. We saw so much more than you would ever see on any bus tour, taxi or tube ride. If you have the time and stamina, we definitely recommend this. Don’t get me wrong, we were exhausted by the time we returned to our hotel and promptly settled into our lovely garden for a night cap before calling it a night.
Prior to any travelling experience, both of us try to do some research on what the city we are about to venture to has to offer. One aspect we thought would be fun would be to eat or drink at places with a view. There are so many riverside places and places in tall buildings that offer views, we were really spoilt for choice. One place we thought would be another valuable London experience was Duck and Waffle. We like the idea that this is a 24-hour venue but even though they are open 24 hours, bookings were difficult to come by. The menu looked pretty enticing. We thought we could enjoy our eats and drinks with 360 degree floor to ceiling views of London from the 40th floor of one of London’s tallest buildings in Bishopsgate. Our dinner table was right against the window giving us a glorious view of the London evening.
During our visit to London, the mornings were very cold then the days were gloriously sunny and warm but then the evenings would turn quite dramatically cold fairly quickly from around 4pm onwards. The reason I’m telling you this is because this dramatic change in temperate during the course of the day caused their air conditioning to break down to an unbearably hot temperature, even though it was so chilly outside. We really felt for the venue staff as they were all trying to be immensely professional whilst well aware they were, as well as their patrons “cooking with gas”.
To cut a long story short, we endured a really lovely meal, with sensational views of the city, with great hospitality from all their staff who even escorted us to the roof top bar one storey down at Sushisamba so we can finish off our bottle of wine. Our waiter was amazing, ensuring we were well looked after. Seriously, you can’t wish for more than that for high end London hospitality. The whole experience was such a treat, it was definitely worth the visit.
We had done the Hop On Hop Off Bus tour before. Last time, it was a cold, wet day so we did not venture off the bus at all but since London served up such a glorious sunny autumn day, we’d decided we would venture off to Covent Garden again to search for a bite to eat and then hop on again at the Thames for their boat cruise.
A friend had recommended the Big Easy Bar BQ and Crabshack. This place is a large American bbq house specializing in Hickory smoked meats and Nova Scotian lobster. I was hooked with the offering of lobster so we hunted this place down in Covent Garden and we devoured smoked sausage with all the trimmings, chicken wings and of course lobster. This was well worth the experience.
After our bellies were full, we enjoyed the leisurely cruise along the Thames. The 20 or so minutes on the water was such a nice experience. If the weather is nice, this is highly recommended, do take the time to see the sights from this vista.
At the end of the cruise, we stopped off at London Bridge to tour the Tower of London. If you plan to do this tour, do allow yourself a good few hours to meander the grounds and line up at the popular attractions. This was a long day playing tourist, so at the end of this day, again, we retired to our garden for a night cap before a good night’s sleep before our morning flight to Madrid.
About 10 years ago, my brother (who was based in Paris) gave me a quick Spanish experience by treating me to a long weekend in Madrid. We stayed in the middle of old town and enjoyed all the city had to offer over a three day weekend. It was an incredible discovery of food (tapas), local wines (every house wine was delicious), shoes and all that the Spanish dished out at you in sights, entertainment and festivities in general.
This time, we decided to stay a little out of town at the Intercontinental. Whilst we’d discovered how lovely this part of town was, we did agree that staying closer to all the action would have been advantageous. Especially since we were only in town for a short period of time.
As we do, when we wake, we would walk to discover what our neighborhood has to offer (main aim was to source a place for breakfast). With Madrid, with Spanish culture in general, breakfast it not the main event when it comes to food. Most places will serve toasted bread with olive oil and mashed tomato, toasted jamon (ham) and cheese or simply bread with butter and jam with tea or coffee. The difference we found compared with Barcelona was that Barcelona had places that will serve pretty much anything on their all day menu from breakfast to night. There’s not much to complain about though, breakfast offerings were delicious and more than enough to satisfy.
I must also mention that not all people in Madrid speak English, if any at all. It is advantageous if you know at least a few Spanish phrases such as asking if they speak English, thank you, please, a few food items, etc. to get you by. We found it advantageous when we tried to say these few phrases in Spanish and found that we were received quite fondly when we did. We found that the Spaniards are extremely hospitable people when you show them some respect. In actual fact, we enjoyed fantastic hospitality from the Spaniards throughout all our visits to all their cities even though we speak next to no Spanish and they speak next to no English.
I won’t dull you further with our language barrier experiences, however, highly recommended are: pointing to items on the menu, a big smile, saying por favor and grazias before and after everything has seen us enjoy fabulous hospitality, many laughs and a sensational time in all the cities so far.
Now, the Hop On Hop Off Bus. Again, a must do. It was a blustering cold few days in Madrid. We did manage to stop at a few places, most notably the San Miguel Markets. I had been recommended this amazing enclosed market place as a gastronomic must visit. For foodies like us, how can we resist?! This place has an array of every type of food and beverage you can imagine. From meats to vegetables to seafood to wines, beers and all types of tapas. This is a festive place and very crowded so if you have time and patience, it’s definitely worth the experience. We had to have a second go as we were quite overwhelmed on our first visit…. glad we did. Another tick.
With our previous eating experiences in Spain (Barcelona, Girona and San Sebastian), we found that there are tapas places everywhere so this time we did not seek out fancy places to eat, instead, we explored different tapas places to eat wherever our foot travels took us. The last time I was in Madrid, I did experience an awesome paella place….which was recommended by the hotel but since I don’t remember where it was, we were content to be distracted by the tapas offerings all around us. Of course, different places served different variations with differing quality of dishes. We mostly enjoyed all the places we’d eaten at.
We absolutely fell in love with the tomato bread all over again and pretty much had this with every meal. At home, when we eat bread, it would bloat us. For some reason, in Spain, we cannot eat enough of it and it doesn’t bloat us at all, thank goodness! We also fell in love with the potato tortilla. There’s something quite seductive about this velvety egg and potato dish that kept us going back for a serve each morning.
I don’t have any specifics about where to eat what. If you like bites or share size dishes that showcase the Spanish fresh produce and their culinary offerings then this town is for your eating pleasure.
Needless to say, for the few days we were in Madrid, we walked for miles, ate and drank like troopers and thoroughly enjoyed what this country had to offer. As they say, all good things must come to an end and off we flew back to London for the night before flying to Singapore.
One thing we did not eat much was steak. With a craving for a decent steak in mind, we enjoyed our last meal in London at the Steak & Co Steakhouse across the road from our hotel in Kensington. The steaks come to your table seared on a hot sizzling plate so you can continue cooking it to your liking. It was a delicious, novel and entertaining way to eat your steak. We devoured this hungrily, then….you guessed it, our last night cap in our tranquil Kensington garden. Google and Tripadvisor are must haves when you are in a new city. They have certainly provided us with some valuable information on what to do, eat, enjoy and how to find it when you’re travelling.
Tip: if you are leaving from Gatwick Airport, it is advantageous to plan for more than two hours prior to your departure time as you may find yourself at the wrong terminal and need to take a long walk to the correct terminal. And on your return into Gatwick, the customs line is the longest we have ever experienced….yes, ever! Even the long line in Perth is nothing compared to our experience getting out of Gatwick! If you have any plans after arrival and you arrive at Gatwick, best plan for plenty of time to get out.
My husband and I love Singapore….I’ve said it numerous times before. We are there for about 30 hours before we head home, so our plan was to eat as much hawker food as possible whilst we are there. However after a long flight from London being fed really well by Singapore Airlines and arriving in the morning to torrential rainfall, we did not have any stomach space to eat another morsel for at least another good few hours.
We had time to kill before our room was ready so ventured to Orchard Road. At least we know there are places to eat, see and do under cover. Since Singapore’s rainfall this time of year is unusual, it is supposed to rain for an hour or so then stop. Unfortunately for us, the rain was relentless so we shopped a bit, hunted for a hawker dish and returned to our hotel to check in.
Well what a surprise once we’d checked into our room at the Hotel Fort Canning. Each time we go to Singapore, we try to stay at a different place to experience Singapore in a different light. As we like to walk in the mornings, we thought the lush green hillside surroundings of this location would be amazing to explore on foot. With the heavy rain, it made it a tiny bit difficult so no walking was enjoyed on this visit. We did manage to enjoy our massive room, the hospitality of the hotel property and even managed to grab a few dishes at Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown and a short stroll before we retired for the night.
On the day of our flight home since our flight was not until early evening, we managed to do a quick shopping run to Orchard Road (whilst the rains had not started yet) before checking out. And since we still had so much time before our flight, we could get to the airport early to check out the new section where The Jewel was located.
The Jewel was a complete surprise. We knew it was popular. We knew it was located between two terminals. The first surprise was how far it was from our terminal, that’s okay, we had plenty of time. The next surprise was how many people were making their way there. And these people were not travellers. They were just general public enjoying the attraction, and they came in droves. I did not count how many storeys but it seemed to go down as many storeys as it goes up. And each glorious, luscious green storey was filled with people….loads and loads of people jammed around the viewing terraces and viewing platforms. It was really a spectacle to behold. We stayed for enough of a nano second to take some pictures and scooted off from there so others can enjoy to their hearts content. Wow, really, you can really spend a whole day there digesting this spectacle.
Time to go home…..sadly. Our adventure was short but fulfilling and eventful. To have the opportunity to utilize even 10 days to experience what we have in a short period of time is priceless. If we can afford it, we will always try to experience the most valuable experience we can afford. This was invaluable, only possible to us due to frequent flyer points. Therefore, on an endnote, try to accumulate as much points as you can to add as much value to your travel experiences as possible! And on a final final note, visit Spain, it is the best tasting value for money holiday destination you can enjoy in Europe…well, so far it has been for us.