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A picture is worth a thousand words or a lazy excuse to not write. Whilst I have been meaning to put up a short post on London for a while, time has been hard to find. As a starter for 10, here are a couple of South bank post cards from my phone during a spring walk from London bridge pier to London eye pier . The walk turned out longer than I thought and it was cold, contrary to what the blue sky might suggest. But these vistas of the riverside skyline made for a worthwhile capture.  And come summer as is now, a highly recommended walk to enjoy London, from a South bank perspective.

Walking further along, the Shard towers above the horizon

Walking further along, the Shard towers above the horizon

London_03

St Pauls from the South Bank, taken on a long Thameside walk on a sunny Spring holiday

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There is something special about Cambridge that sets it apart in England. A haloed University,  venerable college campuses, cobbled market streets, cycle friendly, Mill street, cultural scene, proximity to London and of course the River. Few places in England that I have been to (a fair bit) match the charm that Cambridge is able to create. I lived there for over 2 years and whilst eventually it was my big city genes that lured me away to London, a part of me decidedly took to Cambridge.

Some of the settings that made for memorable moments,

  • Parker’s piece on a sunny day
  • Bridge street restaurants on a Sunday evening – Teriyaki being my favourite and I heard is Stephen Hawking’s too (the possibility is very good in itself)
  • A night charity walk through the fens alongside the river and the colleges
  • Canadian canoe trip up to Grantchester
  • A chance sighting of Stephen Hawking in the market square.
  • Classical architectural, immaculate gardens and a river for good measure
  • Rich home made Ice creams up at a small Italian shop (name I should remember soon)  on Bridge street.
  • Do nothing a laze around riverside.
  • Mill road shops, pots and pans, eclectic coffee and antique bric a brac.
  • Cambridge United Vs Oxford United 1-1.
  • Drives out to the countryside, villages and towns in Cambridgeshire and neighbouring Norfolk. All very doable in a day and very pleasant.

And what made it special for the family, birth of my younger one at the Rosie maternity in Addenbrooke’s, a first rate hospital and amongst the leading medical research centres in the country.

Perhaps all joins up as a write, why a part of me keeps looking for excuses to go back there. Cutting the cake on my last birthday was the last one, I should think of the next one now.

I normally keep a seperation of concerns between my travel blog and my ‘general’ blog, but starting the other day out of a writer’s block on the latter I ended up more or less on talking about one of the things I love about travel – Trains. Here is more..

“We went to Bristol for a couple of days break over the Christmas holidays.” I said to my colleague. “Bristol! Why would you go there?”. Right so that was also how I thought before I planned the visit, but the argument seemed sensible to me when I did and it actually played out better than that.

1.Bristol is 10 miles from Bath, going where would be understandable as a touristy place. 2.Good, premium hotels can be had for a relatively better price than Bath.
3.The wife idea of fun is good shopping more than anything else. Bristol seemed to tick the box.
4.Kids idea of fun was a nice hotel with pool and variety of food. Ticks the box.
5.A bit of theatre thrown in wouldn’t be bad, and if it’s Peter Pan starring The Hoff that was running locally, perhaps all the better.
6.My idea of fun is keeping the family happy and getting nice pictures to cherish.
7.Turned out Bristol also has the landmark Clifton suspension bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For me all things clever architecturally I have a weak spot to linger and muse over. So a final bonus tick from me too. Not to mention the new part of the town centre Cabot circus, was a clever multi dimensional, neo fusion set piece by itself. Worth a look if passing through the area.
8.Culinary delights, not bad for choice. ‘4500 miles from Delhi’ and ‘Zaza bazaar’ would be my 2 recommendations.

What more did we need in a 2 day break?
Perhaps nearly as enjoyable a short break could be in the midst of winter, within the island, with the assortment of family interests to cater to whilst keeping everyone safe from the cold. Funny that it should be possible in Bristol. But it was!

I can write a fair bit about this place, having become a favourite getaway over the last few years. Simply put Lake District is right there at the top of places to see and relax in England and even in Europe. A mountainous region in the Cumbria county that has some of the largest lakes in the country and the highest mountain range in England. On a comparative scale with other ranges like Alps or Himalayas, they are much lower altitude, but that’s also what makes the region very family friendly. While it is a national park area, there is a vibrant network of towns and villages built alongside the lakes and dotting the routes in the region. All together the mix of landscape, lakes and well preserved english towns makes for some compelling visuals no matter where you are in the lake district.

We visited twice, and although there is no dearth of advice and on ways to spend time, my recommendations for a first time visitor would be,

1) Plan for at least 4-5 days. There is lots to do, if you are an out and about person, like walks, hills, scenery. And for a little more adventure like hiking,sailing, there is an long list of options.

2) Stay in a cottage rather than a hotel if you can. Best way to feel character of the place. Being national park, the hotels are not the large modern, resort kinds and for the majority of them you might find constrained for space.  Yes, there is a bit of carrying the cooking chore with you, but I think that’s enjoyable as well in a home away from home sort of a way.

Home away from home

3) Hike a hill at least a couple. There are loads of options, at different levels, suitable for a family with young kids or all the way to avid hiker. The stunning views you will get at the end of it will be ample reward for the exercise.

Almost there..

4) Lake activities, go sailing. Even if you haven’t done it before, its the perfect place to try your hand at, weather being good.

5) For the first visit for a family, I found Keswick to be a great place to stay at, and yes, better than Windermere. Derwent water, alongside which Keswick is a large rectangular-ish lake circled by several high hills, that makes for several great vistas, like one below, I took from the mini motor boat we rented from a family run private marine harbour on the North west bank of the lake.

Derwent water with Skiddaw in background

6) Keswick is also great starting point for walks, with plenty of easy hills around to trudge around and find a perspective to life :). Whinlatter forest, yes a real forest, is also quite close.

Whinlatter forest, ready to hike

7) Make sure you drive alongside the A591 route between Keswick and Windermere. Some stunning sights along the route and it also passes by the smaller towns of Grasmere and Ambleside, worth stopping by for their pleasant shopping streets.  And of course all have a lake to call their own as well.

Weather wise, it rains a lot, so always and always move equipped. Rain get can get a little rough when it happens, but after a rough spell, as it calms down also reveals the place in a perspective you will enjoy.

Bassenthwaite lake just after a spell of rain

Hunstanton is a small town, or even rather a a big village on the northern shoreline of England’s east coast. We visited in June 2008, and with a picture perfect blue sky, warm weather and some great fish’n chips had a great time.  Smaller than its cousins on the east coast like Great Yarmouth and Felixstowe, Hunstanton still has pretty much most of what it takes to get the kids happy and rolling, a pleasure beach, nice play areas, rides and games and a relatively ‘un-cloned’  high street for the wife to be interested as well.

Green, Blue and Blue

Hunstanton by Postcard

Its a very good day trip, out and for a longer sojourn of 2-3 days, is a just as good a base as any other coastal town. The nearby resort of Wells-next-the-sea ranks as among the best sandy beaches in England, and is a fun place the way the water tide works there. Further along the coast, Sheringham and around the corner even Great Yarmouth are within driving distance.  It is easy to get here from the main towns of East England i.e. Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich. Car journey apart, take the train from any of these places to King’s Lynn and a connecting bus service right in heart of King’s Lynn town centre will take you to Hunstanton. When we visited again, a year later, four wheels and Sat-nav this time, realised  hands free train and bus are much better, never mind the kid logistics or anything else. So if you are anywhere close to the place, watch for the sunshine and keep the travel kit ready to go Hunstantoning!

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