Thursday, December 31, 2015

Expat Talk: Saying Goodbye Never Gets Easier

Yesterday, I said goodbye to my family at Heathrow. I cried the length of the Piccadilly line on my way back and curled up on the couch to watch videos of a baby polar bear to make myself feel better.

It never gets easier.

After three weeks of adventures, which included dining at Duck & Waffle, sampling escargot in Paris, shopping for chocolate in Bruges, playing Apples to Apples at Christmas dinner, and watching the new Star Wars movie in Walthamstow - I woke up from a nap thinking that my family's visit was all a dream. The house, once busy and full, was now quiet, still. 

Every time, it's the same: my parents go, and I'm left with the gifts they spoiled me with during their visit. This time, it was the congee my mom helped me cook, the eggs my dad made the night before to go with it (which I promptly ate while sobbing into my bowl), a completely new set of tableware from Heal's still in their bags, and practically a new wardrobe from COS, which my mom and I had picked out together.

I look at all these things and cry some more.

Once they leave, I comb the house for something they might have left behind. Anything to remind me of their stay. But my mother had stripped the bed and put the sheets in the wash, so I resorted to picking through their trash for remnants: receipts, ticket stubs, and discarded shopping bags. I only brightened up in the shower when I noticed that she'd left her shower cap behind. I carefully folded it and tucked it away, saving it for future visits.

As someone who has lived abroad for almost 10 years, I can tell you that saying goodbye at the airport never, ever gets easier. You think it would, but it doesn't. I suppose the hardest part about yesterday was the realization that I didn't want to go back with them; rather, I just wanted them to stay with me.

The thought of returning to the small hometown I grew up in after our fantastic time in London, Paris, and Bruges depressed me.

I realized that I belonged here. In the city. In my house. The one with the fire extinguisher mounted on the wall and the kitchen that makes no sense and the upstairs shower that doesn't work.

And that made me sad. Happy, but sad. Happy that I've found that feeling of "home" I've been searching for, but sad that it cemented the fact I'll probably always live far from my family.

Saying goodbye is always the hardest part. The best we can do as expats is to remind ourselves that "next time" is not too far away.

Season's greetings to you, and to your nearest and dearest - and a very happy new year.


Friday, December 18, 2015

The Cool Kid's Wreath: Air-Plant Wreath-Making with Geo-Fleur @ West Elm London

I love the traditional Christmas wreath currently hanging on our front door, but if you're a little cool/a little hipster or if your shelves are stacked with past issues of Kinfolk and you're into normcore dressing, then this air plant wreath-making workshop by Geo-Fleur was made for you.

Made from dogwood and decorated with garlands of eucalyptus, plus red berries and air plants, it's the coolest "alternative" wreath I've seen and, as founder of Geo-Fleur Sophie pointed out, it can be dressed and re-dressed to suit all different occasions - not just Christmas. Another upside? Unlike traditional wreaths which are made from fir and pine, this one lasts. And lasts. You just have to give the air plants a good 'ol spray once a week or so. Perfect for plant-killers like me.

On the evening of the workshop (which also happened to be Sophie's birthday! We celebrated with cake later.) we arrived to West Elm on Tottenham Court Road to find our materials for the evening neatly laid out for us and, rather intimidatingly, a tube of floral adhesive which Sophie warned was, "very, very sticky". In fact, so sticky, she once had a student who glued their fingers to their creation.

That was so going to be me.

With a series of twists and turns, Sophie artfully arranged the dogwood around the metal hoop before weaving through sprigs of berry and eucalyptus and finally, gluing the air plants in place. "And there you are!" she said, smiling brightly. "A lovely wreath you can display year round."

But having been to one of Sophie's workshops before, I knew it wasn't quite so simple. As the consummate professional, Sophie has a knack for making everything look effortless. I, on the other hand, was bound to either injure myself or someone else with the fiddly dogwood.

But this girl ...

... this one (AKA runawaykiwi)  had no problem fashioning the neatest, prettiest wreath in the few minutes it took me to figure out how to not smack myself in the face with the strands of dogwood.

Me, jealous? Nah. Okay, maybe just a little bit.

I loved seeing how everyone chose to place their berries and air plants - some went for the ultra-minimalist look, leaving the top half of the wreath completely bare and focusing their decorations at the bottom, while others were totally maximalist about their "look", incorporating gold decorations and ornaments from West Elm into the dogwood to make it look truly festive.

As always, Sophie walked around, offering sage advice and encouragement, even as I grimaced and tried not to ping her in the face with a flying branch.

At the end of the evening, I walked out of the workshop with a pretty cool wreath (even if my cool credentials aren't quite up to par), which I proudly showed off to John next door at Heal's, where he was waiting. I love that I can display it year-round; it's already has a place on the ladder shelf in the guest bedroom.

Have you ever made a wreath? Did you enjoy the process? I found it to be so therapeutic!

Geo-Fleur runs regular workshops at West Elm London. For more information, book here. My ticket to the workshop was complimentary (thank you, Sophie!) but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Expat Talk: 5 Things I Love About Having My Family "Home For The Holidays"

My parents and my brother have been staying with me since last Friday and every day feels like Christmas. I go to sleep feeling excited; I wake up feeling excited. This morning, when I was heating up my breakfast in the microwave, my mom appeared out of nowhere in her nightgown to admonish me for heating it up in the microwave instead of cooking it on the stove and I shrieked because she scared the you-know-what out of me, but at the same time, I was so glad that she was there to scare the you-know-what out of me. Does that make sense?

John has been the champion son-in-law and took two days off work this week to babysit spend time with my parents, taking them to the Chinese supermarket so they could buy ingredients to cook with and also to the Tower of London.

Even though it's only been a few days, I've loved every minute of having my family in my home, and here are 5 reasons why:

Coming home to Mom's special chicken congee

Congee is a kind of rice porridge that's popular in Cantonese cuisine. It's super comforting and you can have it with all kinds of side dishes and ingredients, from salted pork and century eggs to spicy pickled turnips and omelettes. The other night, my stomach was feeling a little off, so I came home to find my mom stirring congee over the stove, using the roast chicken we'd had the night before. Magic.

Being able to poke Dad in the side when he's falling asleep in front of the TV

It never gets old. And then he pretends he's really super awake before giving in and admitting defeat.

Watching 'Are You Afraid of the Dark' with my brother while we eat Chinese hot pot in our dining room - just like we did when we were kids

It's our family tradition to have hot pot for dinner on Saturdays and, when we were little, my brother and I would watch 'Are You Afraid of the Dark' on Nickelodeon, huddled under a blanket together, before nabbing a meatball or fishball from our bowls during commercials. Whenever I go home, I insist on this tradition, and my brother gamely complies while my parents look on in amusement and add more items to the bubbling pot.

Dad's dad jokes

My dad has a knack for being funny without intending to be ... or sometimes he does intend to be funny and it backfires in the funniest way. The other day, our train passed through Hackney Downs and Dad thought the announcer had said, "Hack Me Down", which he found hilarious. Everytime "Hackney Downs" was repeated, he dissolved into fits of giggles. Then, when I pointed out a blemish on his nose, he said, "I know. I try to fight it but this guy - this guy?" He pointed to the blemish. "HE KEEPS FIGHTING BACK!" Then he made a little punching motion with his hand, mimicking a boxer. Oh, dad.

Meeting my brother for lunch

My brother's been working out of his company's London office this week, which is conveniently located between my office and John's office! We met for lunch today and it gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to live in the same city as my sibling. It was so interesting to meet as "grown-ups" and I asked him more about his job as I realized I didn't know much about what he did on a day-to-day basis.

If you live far away from your family, what do you love the most about being in their company when you're together?

Also, a great tip on how to deal with homesickness.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

One More Sleep ... And A Beautiful Wreath!

I can't quite believe it, but I'll be picking up my parents and my brother from the airport tomorrow! I am so, so excited to be hosting Christmas in our new home. I'm also really excited because the first thing they'll see when they arrive is this gorgeous wreath on our door from The Flower Studio in Marlow.

I've always dreamed of hanging a festive Christmas wreath on our door, but I've never had a front door in London that wasn't communal (i.e. a shared front door in a block of flats) so instead, I  wistfully pined after other peoples' wreaths and vowed that I'd get my own if we became homeowners one day. To me, wreaths make front doors look so inviting and warm; they say, "Come in!" to visitors and, "Happy Holidays!" to passerbys.

The Flower Studio makes a selection of beautiful fresh wreaths (designed for outdoor and indoor hanging) from their shop in Marlow. I have very particular tastes when it comes to Christmas (John accuses me of being far too regimented in my taste - except, he used a less-polite word to refer to it!) and I don't like anything that's overly fussy or gold or ... multi-colored.

I was thrilled when I opened the red box from The Flower Studio to reveal a stunning and tasteful fresh wreath. Not too run-of-the-mill, not too "done". Just elegant and beautifully made. All wreaths from The Flower Studio have a "fresh oasis" base, which helps the foliage retain water and makes the wreaths last longer.

I love the pretty, rustic look of this Highland Festive Foliage Wreath, which is chock full of berries, thistles and herbs. It makes me think of crisp winter walks in the countryside on Christmas Day and mugs of mulled wine by a roaring fire.

I've had the wreath up for a few days now and it always makes me smile when I'm leaving the house for work or coming back at night. Aside from the wreath I was sent above, I'm also a fan of this delicate Snowball Winter Wreath, which would look lovely as a centerpiece for the Christmas table and this sweet Christmas Foliage Kissing Ball, which I'd love to hang from one of our doorways! How romantic and cute is that?!

I'm so happy that we have such a stunning wreath this year and I'm looking forward to opening the door to my family tomorrow!

Are you a fan of Christmas wreaths? Do you usually buy one around this time of year? Let me know!

My beautiful wreath was a generous gift from The Flower Studio - thank you! All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Best Breakfast Sandwich You'll Ever Have: Lima Floral, Covent Garden

For me, breakfast usually consists of a half-hearted slice of toast smothered in butter and jam. I inevitably leave behind a corner of a piece on my plate before grabbing my keys and rushing out the door. Or, sometimes it means a hastily purchased croissant and hot chocolate from Pret before dropping crumbs all over my keyboard at work. So glamorous.

But there's a much better way to "do" breakfast in London, I've discovered: LIMA Floral on Garrick Street in Covent Garden (sister restaurant to the Michelin-starred LIMA in Fitzrovia) is the answer to my poor attempts to start the day. The Peruvian restaurant's weekend brunch offerings were so popular, they decided to launch a weekday breakfast menu as well, expanding on the regular brunch menu with a variety of fresh ingredients translated into modern Peruvian cuisine. If you're looking for something a little bit "different" to start your day, then this is it.

The choices vary from healthy (Andean cereal porridge: quinoa, almond milk, kiwicha and kaniwa, chancaca syrup) to downright dirty (Peruvian breakfast club sandwich: toasted yellow chilli bread, organic chicken, six-hours suckling pig). Accompanied by a cup of coffee, sitting in LIMA Floral's windows enjoying these breakfast choices is a great way to daydream and watch the world go by before being thrown into the jarring reality of ... work.

At Zomato's most recent #ZomatoMeetUp, we were treated to a spread of LIMA Floral's delicious breakfast offerings. From freshly baked Peruvian bread and brioche to fresh fruit and yogurt, the selection was a little overwhelming (in a good way) for that time of the morning!

Being the greedy pig that I am, I - of course - chose the Peruvian Breakfast Club Sandwich for my "main course". No regrets. The yellow chilli bread offered the slightest bit of heat to offset the rich flavors of the chicken and suckling pig. Seriously finger-licking good. It reminded me of the slightly OTT breakfasts we have in the US (think: huevos rancheros, pancakes piled high) which are just a little ... absent here in the UK, even in London. 

Despite the novelty of enjoying a gourmet club sandwich for breakfast, sampling LIMA Floral's new breakfast menu got me thinking: why not treat yourself to an indulgent breakfast once in a while? Once a fortnight (that's every two weeks for you fellow Americans!)? Once a month? Once in a blue moon? I think I'll be treating myself more often! Especially if club sandwiches are on the menu ...

I was generously hosted by LIMA Floral and Zomato - thank you! All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Travel Link-Up: Holidays Are Coming!

Our Christmas tree went up this weekend. And by "went up", I mean poor John carried the 6-footer himself from the local garden centre while I croak-instructed him over the phone in my sickbed to, "Get something taller than me." All romantic notions of us carrying it together in netting while snow fell gently through the night, pausing under a street-lamp for a kiss while sleigh bells chimed softly in the background were dashed by this awful hacking cough I developed last week, which meant I was too exhausted to manage even the 5-minute walk to pick it out!

Last week, I splurged on this gorgeous Christmas tree skirt from John Lewis (I'd link to it but I think it's sold out!), which is trimmed with bells and red velvet. I kind of love it - and I'm excited that it'll be a part of our Christmas box for years to come.

We had a party on Saturday for our family and friends: a celebration of my birthday (which was last week), our new(ish) house and, of course, Christmas. John was on mulled wine duty while I made canapes and heated up the mince pies. It felt so festive and fun!

Usually at this time of year, I'm travelling back to the US to spend Christmas with my family in Washington State. I have a familiar routine of getting to Heathrow Terminal 5 early, picking up last-minute gifts in the Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Jo Malone concessions before carefully tucking my purchases in the overhead compartment on the plane, falling asleep, and waking up to the announcement that we've landed at SeaTac International Airport.

This year? It's my family's turn to get on the plane and come to London. They'll be landing at Heathrow Terminal 5 and I'll be greeting them in Arrivals. I can't quite believe it's happening! We're going to Paris and Bruges before arriving back in London to celebrate Christmas at our house. I've just asked my mom to bring our stockings so I can have a bit of "home" in our new home.

What about you? How do you celebrate (or not celebrate) Christmas? I'd love to hear!

This month's travel link-up is all about celebrating the festive season and is hosted by RebeccaEmma, Kelly, and Ayla. Head over to their blogs to read more posts about our current favorite subject: Christmas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#GetIntoSingapore: Where to Find the Best Souvenirs in Singapore

As you might know from previous posts on this blog, I love finding souvenirs to take home on my travels. I was especially excited about shopping in Singapore after a friend told me she had to buy an extra suitcase there just to take home everything she'd bought! It's true: from designer duty-free shopping to unique bargains, Singapore is a shopaholic's dream and shopping is one of the best ways to #GetIntoSingapore. With that in mind, here's a rundown of some of my favorite places to shop for souvenirs in Singapore:

Haji Lane, Little India: For Unique Boutiques

I fell in love with Haji Lane when our guide took us there on our first day and I made a mental note to return later that week. This delightful street in Little India is lined with brightly colored shops and amazing street art. For a second, I was reminded of Berlin or Copenhagen. The design-savvy boutiques have a clean and minimalist look and sell homeware and clothing from indie designers. I was tempted by delicate jewellery, geometric candle holders and ceramic vases, but in the end, opted for a colorful bracelet from Kolombiana. 

Orchard Road: For Department Stores and Designer Brands

Orchard Road is Singapore’s answer to Oxford Street - but bigger, better, and much cleaner. Recognizable high street names from the US and UK sit alongside luxury fashion houses on the 2.2-kilometer boulevard. But perhaps most impressive are the shopping mall complexes within Orchard and the stunning, high-end department stores like Robinsons and Takashimaya. For no particular reason, I really enjoyed browsing in Mandarin Gallery, where we enjoyed a delicious spot of exquisite sushi before doing some window shopping.
Raffles City and Bugis Junction: For Late Night Shopping

Stores are open until late in Singapore, which I loved. John had to take a work call after dinner one evening and I noticed a few people still shopping in Raffles City shopping mall on our way back to our hotel. I glanced down at my watch: it was 9:00 p.m. "I'll meet you back at the room," I mouthed to him as I motioned over to the mall. It was like being back in the US again (although stores there aren't open quite so late) and it was so nice to be able to browse stores when they were much less crowded.

Tekka Market, Little India: For Cheap and Colorful Thrills
Later on, we made a return visit back to Little India and ended up purchasing a colourful Moroccan lamp, which now proudly glimmers in our entry way. We also stopped by Tekka Market to take in the brightly colored saris and fantastic food market downstairs. I found a pretty pair of gold-plated Indian earrings which I've received compliments on every time I've worn them in London, plus a vibrant Indonesian dress that’s fun to wear in the summer. Between admiring the stalls and ordering biriyani, I sat down to have my hand decorated with henna, which lasted until our final day in Singapore – a great reminder of our trip.

Raffles Shopping Arcade: For Luxe Gifts (For Myself!)

En route to the Raffles' Long Bar for a famous Singapore Sling, I got a little distracted and ended up picking out a gorgeous, metallic gold sweater by A.P.C. Shopping in the Raffles Arcade is a bit like personal shopping: each shop resembled a room within a grand house and gold chandeliers dangled above white and marble staircases. It's definitely the most luxurious shopping experience I'd ever had!

Foundry: For Design-led Homeware and Furniture
Since we’ve been decorating our new home in London, we were easily tempted by the minimalist furniture and homeware in Foundry. Conveniently located across the street from our hotel, Naumi, I fell head over heels for the Scandinavian and Japanese design. The shop itself is beautiful, with clean white walls, large windows, and beautifully displayed furniture.
Are you a shopper when you travel abroad? Have you ever had to buy an extra bag or suitcase to take home all of your souvenirs? I haven't (yet!).

This post was written on behalf of Thomas Cook and the Singapore Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Find out how you can Get Into Singapore by booking a trip with Thomas Cook here.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving: Finding Gratitude in Grief

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. This year has been a tough one for me. I have experienced more loss and grief in the past 12 months than I could ever imagine. And I have known friends who have experienced the same.

At the time, when these things were happening, I asked all the same questions featured in those thin pamphlets about grief: why was this happening to me? Why can't I have a break? Why are the people I love being taken away from me? I began to think that my good fortune brought bad luck. So whenever anything "good" happened to me, I'd be terrified. I thought that I was being punished.

So I tried to bargain. "I'll do X if it means that X doesn't die," I pleaded with the universe. "I'll give up X if you keep X safe," I muttered under my breath on my walk home from the tube, talking to the sky. People must have thought I was insane. I kept this bargaining up for a while until it was clear that, well, that's just not how life works.

I had to relinquish control.

Then I came to the stage of acceptance. I accepted that I had no control over these tragic events. That they weren't a result of something that I did or did not do. Were they senseless? Unjust? Unfair? Of course. But it wasn't my fault.

After I accepted this, I tried to find gratitude in these experiences. It was hard. When I was hurting and suffering the most, my friends and my husband told me, "You'll get through this, you're strong." But I hated hearing that, because I didn't feel strong. I didn't feel like I could get through it. "I can't," I wept. Then I gritted my teeth and I did. Not out of anger, but out of determination.

I was also grateful for these friends, both old and new, who told me I could do it. Who sat at my front door with bagfuls of groceries waiting for me to get home from work so they could stay with me after a funeral when John was travelling. Who brought me a plant with a note that said, "Fresh start." Who texted me to say, "I'm thinking of you today! It's okay to be sad!" Who did not leave me alone.

I was grateful for you: you, who gave me permission to think aloud on this blog, alongside my jarring posts about trips abroad and pretty bracelets and indulgent supper clubs. You, who shared with me your own stories of loss and grief - some of which were so moving, I cried silently while reading them.

So, today, I am thankful for this year. I will not think of this year as the "terrible year". I will think of this year as the year I realized my own strength.

And I will be grateful for it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#GetIntoSingapore: Where to Stay in Singapore

Singapore is filled with some of the world's most beautiful luxury hotels. From the largest infinity pool in the world at Marina Bay Sands, to the hotel that originated the Singapore Sling (Raffles), to the five-star Fullerton Bay Hotel, deciding where to stay can be a challenge, especially since there are some smaller, stunning boutique hotels as well. Visiting two contrasting hotels for an extended stay is a great way to “#GetIntoSingapore”. John and I got the best of both worlds when we chose the newly constructed Westin Singapore for the first part of our trip, followed by a stay at Naumi boutique hotel, part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group.
I chose the Westin for its incredibly grand aesthetic: from the sweepingly high-ceilinged lobby to the stunning rooftop pool and spacious rooms, I wanted that experience of being in a high-rise, slick hotel - something I wouldn't normally choose in other destinations, but felt like experiencing in a lively city like Singapore. More importantly, I chose it for its proximity to Lau Pa Sat food market and Gardens by the Bay - two destinations that were at the top of my "must-visit" list in Singapore! Location isn’t too critical in Singapore, as it’s very manageable in size and easily navigated by public transportation or air-conditioned taxi.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the Westin’s floor-to-ceiling windows, which overlooked the bay. Our room was large enough to accommodate a lounge area and work station, which was convenient as John actually needed to work! We had a spectacular view of the bay, especially at night. 
Fresh off the plane and eager to scope out the hotel's rooftop infinity pool, we headed upstairs almost as soon as we'd checked into our room and marvelled at the amazing view of the city. It might sound cliched, but I felt so … alive when I jumped into that pool and surveyed the bright lights with John. As I floated gently in the water, I thought to myself, 'How amazing is this?!"
By then, we'd built up some hunger, so we headed over to Lau Pa Sat (a mere 5-minute walk away) for some amazing street food in a sparkling clean, indoor hawker center. As my stomach was still a little delicate from the flight, I chose one of my childhood comfort foods: fishcake soup noodles. The clear broth was as nourishing as the kind I remembered from my childhood, and the man who served the noodles to me had a smile as kind as my grandpa's. I excitedly ordered two rounds of sugarcane juice (great for hot climates; it's super hydrating and delicious to boot!) and then we devoured some char siu bao at the dim sum stall ... just because. 
At this point, we knew we were risking overdoing it a bit, but before we left, we stopped for some satay at one of the enticing stalls set up outside the market. On the evening we visited, the entire street was closed for the satay stalls and people were up late laughing, chatting, drinking, and enjoying generous stacks of chicken, mutton, and prawn skewers accompanied by dishes of satay sauce. With each stall claiming its own "secret" satay recipe, competition was on fire ... literally, as I caught some of the satay masters at work!
Full and barely able to keep our eyes open, we headed back to the hotel, where I posted this photo of me feeling exhausted, happy, and exhilarated to be in Singapore.
When we moved to Naumi a few days later, I was a little sad to leave the Westin and that beautiful pool ... but my momentary sadness was forgotten when we stepped into Naumi's uber chic lobby and were shown to our swanky room, equipped with Apple products and chargers so we didn’t have to worry about pulling ours out. 

While our "Habitat" room wasn't huge, the space was intelligently used. The mini bar was cleverly concealed in a sliding cabinet (with hanging wine glasses and all), which pulled out to reveal an array of complimentary treats. The lit-up island in the middle of the room tripled up as a sink, vanity table, and fridge. Under the bed we found an iron and ironing board as well as a yoga mat – a great idea for anyone who wanted to get a morning sun salutation in on the rooftop before breakfast. I was also a huge fan of the rainfall shower head and luxurious Malin + Goetz toiletries - one of my favorite NYC-based beauty brands.

Location-wise, Naumi is optimally located in the Central Business District, placing it in close proximity to the beautiful Chijmes (a former girls' school now reimagined into a complex of high-end restaurants, cafes and bars), Bugis Junction shopping centre, and of course, the iconic Raffles hotel itself. We also decided to walk to Little India, though even a 10 or 15 minute-walk in the Singapore heat is enough to make someone sluggish and dehydrated. Singapore is the only place I've visted where residents stand in the shade of neighboring trees, a few feet away from the pedestrian crossing, when waiting to cross the street because it's simply too hot in the sun!
Since we were spoilt for choice by the terrific food options in Singapore, we didn't dine in either of the hotels' restaurants. However, we still helped ourselves to the breakfast buffet and waffles made-to-order at Naumi one morning. Their homemade kaya on toast (a type of coconut jam that's popular in Singapore and Hong Kong which I love) did it for me; so simple, yet so delicious. 
I really enjoyed staying in two different hotels that had such different vibes; it was lovely to experience Singapore this way and something I'd highly recommend doing if you ever visit!
Do you tend to stay in one place when you travel and use it as your "home base"? Or do you like to move around? Let me know in the comments below!

This post was written on behalf of Thomas Cook and the Singapore Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Find out how you can Get Into Singapore by booking a trip with Thomas Cook here.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Travel Talk: A Weekend Escape to the Kentish Countryside

Happy Monday. How was your weekend? We had a relaxing one: we visited friends in Tunbridge Wells and took an impromptu trip to the Kentish countryside for a short stay at a B&B.

We stayed at the beautifully restored Woodpecker Barn in Lamberhurst, a former barn owned by retired professional violinist Martin and his Icelandic wife, Halla. It had the most incredible garden and two pretty suites upstairs for guests to stay in, each with its own living room and bathroom.

In the morning, we'd have these delicious breakfasts, accompanied by fresh pear and apple juice from the pear and apple trees in Martin's garden, plus herbs also freshly plucked from the garden.

I loved the fig jam that Martin and Halla made from the figs found just outside their house. Everything tasted so fresh and delicious and every so often, Halla would pop her head around the door to ask if we'd like another round of toast (the answer was always a resounding, "yes, please!").

On Saturday morning, we decided to take a walk through the neighboring fields to the closest pub (despite Martin warning us that it might be a bit "squelchy squelchy" and neither of us had brought wellies).

Sure enough, about half an hour into the walk, while I tried to navigate sinkholes of sticky mud, I made an error and my foot sank ankle-deep into a puddle of mud! I panicked and shrieked, stepping into other mud-holes in the process while John laughed at me some distance ahead. The advantage of sinking your feet ankle-deep into mud, I discovered, is that you don't quite care where you step next, so I just trekked on - mud and all.

I joked about getting trench foot, but after an hour or so, we found our destination: a friendly pub with a roaring fire.

I squeezed next to John near the fire and devoured a bowl of French onion soup and a thick-cut BLT sandwich while locals trickled in and sought shelter from the blustery cold (it had snowed a few hours before!). It felt so cozy and wintery!

Back at Woodpecker Barn, we took our muddy, wet shoes off outside the door while Halla rushed to put them by the Aga to dry. After a hot shower, we were ready to see our friends Joe and Jodi (plus their sweet babies!) and spent a wonderful afternoon and evening catching up.

It was so nice to take a short break; sometimes, I forget how important it is to have a change of scenery.

Have you taken a weekend break recently or are you planning one anytime soon? I'd love to know!


Friday, November 20, 2015

Have a Chillaxing Weekend

Hey there! Happy Friday. I am *so* tired. I need to save up my energy though, because this right now? This feels like the calm before the storm.

I have one more rehearsal with the Royal Orchestral Society before our performance of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius next weekend and my part is not even close to being ready! It doesn't help that I'm sitting second desk, first violins (on the outside) which means that there's added pressure since I'm very visible to the audience! Tickets are still available here, and I'd love to see you there!

The weekend after that, I'm throwing a Christmas/birthday party at my house and then the weekend after that, my family arrives from the U.S.

Then the weekend after that? We're off to Paris and Bruges.

Then it's Christmas.

And breathe.

So this weekend, we're visiting friends in Tunbridge Wells but we also spontaneously booked a stay at a teeny tiny B&B in the middle of nowhere. I plan to sleep in late, go for country walks, and eat a delicious homemade breakfast before reading for hours in the farmhouse that the B&B's located in.

Wherever you are, I hope you get to take some time out this weekend to relax before your "storm" hits.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

#GetIntoSingapore: 10 Things You Have To Try In Singapore

I am so excited to finally be able to share our adventures in Singapore with you! We had an incredible time getting to know Singapore as part of Thomas Cook’s and the Singapore Tourism Board’s #GetIntoSingapore campaign. It was so surreal! One minute, we were in cloudy, grey London ... the next, we were lounging by an infinity pool as Singapore's bright lights twinkled below us. With that said, here are 10 of my favorite moments in Singapore - 10 experiences that you just can't miss while you're there. 

Take a dip in a rooftop pool

Singapore is home to a bevy of spectacular rooftop pools with stunning views of the city - the most famous being the infinity pool at the top of Marina Bay Sands resorts, which is the largest in the world. While we didn't get up to the top of Marina Bay Sands during our visit, we were lucky enough to enjoy the beautiful infinity pools at The Westin Singapore and luxury boutique hotel, Naumi - which both had beautiful city views of the bay and beyond.

Cool down with a delicious mango ice kachang 

After a day of sightseeing, we were hot and exhausted. Our guide for the day, Lynette, introduced us to a Singaporean favorite at Maxwell Food Centre: mango ice kachang, a shaved ice treat flavored with sweet, multi-colored syrup and topped with fresh chunks of mango. If you make it to the bottom of this icy dessert, you're rewarded with sweet red beans and grass jelly (two popular ingredients in East Asian desserts). So delicious, but one that needs to be eaten quickly before it turns into a rainbow soup, given the hot and humid weather!

Have a Singapore Sling in Raffles' Long Bar
Raffles Hotel is one of the most beautiful examples of colonial architecture I've ever seen. Aside from the hotel, the Raffles complex also houses several luxury shops, where guests and visitors can get their retail fix. But more importantly, it is home to the Long Bar, where the famous Singapore Sling was created. It’s also the only place in Singapore where littering is allowed: you’re encouraged to throw  your peanut shells on the floor, a tradition that dates back to 1915 and one that I didn't feel entirely comfortable doing until I'd consumed about half of my Singapore Sling! 

Pretend you're in Jurassic Park at Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay
We woke up early one morning and raced to Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay so we could beat the crowds. The early start was worth it, since it meant we had the place to ourselves for about an hour or so! Set to mimic mountain-top conditions, Cloud Forest is a truly wondrous display. We took the lift to the top floor (aptly named, "Lost World") and worked our way down the winding walkways as we were confronted by a majestic waterfall (the largest indoor waterfall in the world), dripping stalagmites, and stunning living walls which were filled with vibrant flowers and lush vegetation. 

Watch the Supertree Grove "Garden Rhapsody" Show at Gardens by the Bay
The Supertree Grove - a futuristic, man-made collection of "trees" that stand up to 16 storeys high – is featured in nearly every photo of Singapore. It's even more impressive at night, when the trees transform into a light show, complete with music. Fun fact: there's a restaurant at the top of one of the trees, plus a 28-metre long walkway that connects two of the Supertrees - not your average treehouse!

Get up close and personal with lions and giraffes at Night Safari
Some of the best things in Singapore happen at night: Night Safari is something everyone told me I had to do when I got there. Sure enough, John and I headed over after dinner one evening (the optimal time is after 9:30, when it's less crowded!) and hopped on a tram that encircled the zoo, taking us right up to stunning flamingos, scary hyenas, sweet elephants, and my personal favorite - the Malayan tapir. The animals are very dimly lit so that they can sleep (though most of them are nocturnal), but we still had terrific views as they snoozed, grazed, and wandered about.

Luge downhill at Sentosa Island before relaxing on the beach
Sentosa is home to Singapore's most beautiful beaches, luxury resorts, and theme parks. Never ones to opt for the "usual" experience, we left our beach towels at the hotel and bought passes for the downhill luge instead (sounds much scarier than it actually was), racing down two windy, paved paths and pretending that we were in MarioKart. From the bottom, a "Sky Ride" took us back up to the top (this was much scarier than I thought!) ... where we did it all over again.

See the beautiful orchids at Singapore's Botanic Gardens
Not to be confused with Gardens by the Bay, Singapore's Botanic Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts 74 hectacres of botanical and horticultural treasures. The National Orchid Garden has the largest display of tropical orchids in the world and it's here that you'll find SIngapore's national flower, the beautiful Vanda Miss Joaquim, as well as the "Celebrity Orchid Garden", which features the hybrid orchids created for visiting celebrities and dignitaries, such as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Catch the sunset at Singapore's highest rooftop bar, 1-Altitude
As you know, I love catching a bird's eye view of whatever city I'm in, including my own! Singapore was no exception. John and I found the highest rooftop bar in Singapore, 1-Altitude and got there just in time for sunset, which was magical. The bar has a super laid-back and friendly vibe, plus the staff were more than happy to help us with a sunset selfie! Over delicious cocktails, we watched as the sun went down and the city's lights flickered on, displaying a magnificent, twinkling cityscape. Definitely one of the most thrilling views I've ever taken in.
Have you ever been to Singapore? What did you do there? I'd love to know! Next week, I’ll be sharing with you my favorite shopping destinations in Singapore.

This post was written on behalf of Thomas Cook and the Singapore Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Find out how you can Get Into Singapore by booking a trip with Thomas Cook here.
© angloyankophile

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