Thursday, 26 January 2017

THE BATH SCENE IS A ONE-OFF


I'll be honest with you, of all the places I've been in the country and around Europe, Bath has been the most unimpressive. Save for the converted Georgian hotel we stayed in, it's one of those cities that I'm not keen on visiting again. 


The ubiquitous high street food chains and even an airport staple like Giraffe in the city centre put us off. To me, they are places I would eat in when there are no other options. No, I'm not a snob. I eat Cadbury chocolates, unlike someone I know who turns up her nose at non-luxury brands even though where she's from she only ever had proper nutrition after the end of the Cold War. I'm just partial to supporting independent shops. It didn't help that out of the three restaurants we went to, none served a decent coffee. One would assume that Costa or Caffe Nero would have the same formula for every cappuccino or Americano. But I guess at the end of the day it's down to the barista.


When I used to live in Camberwell in the southeast of London, I frequented a coffee shop called Love Walk Cafe. It was shabby inside, with grubby seats, mismatched cutlery, the occasional leftover morsels of what have you on the tables, and unpolished floor, but it was steeped in character.  There was no Instagram then, and I wasn't active on Facebook, so I have no photos to share. Starbucks grubby isn't the same: it only means that the cleaner or staff assigned to clear up hasn't done so. In terms of character, it's not in their menu. 


I was kind of hoping to chance upon something like that, especially when it's a university town (two unis in fact), but chains awaited me. I guess there are more tourists who crave the familiar in the unfamiliar. 


Perhaps living in the country now as well takes away the novelty of the rural atmosphere I live and breathe everyday. Or maybe I just didn't really fall in love. It was difficult to do so when some locals we encountered had bloated egos the size of some demagogue's we all know. The attitude wasn't welcoming at all.



Mosaic tiles of sea beasts found at a house in Aquae Sulis, (otherwise known as Bath) c. 3rd to 4th century AD



When you're already in Bath, you have to see the Roman baths of course. In fact that's what we came for. I thought we'd get a discount as one of the bath areas was closed for upkeep. But no, the entrance fee was set at £15 per head. I think for £21 you get to visit the Fashion Museum as well.




Smoke emanates from the original thermal baths that still flow with natural hot water




The Mr is of Irish descent, so I pointed this out to him. He gave me that smile that only happens when he has to remind me he's not one of my gay friends who'd be as equally appreciative of a brooch. Fair enough.




Called The Sacred Spring Overflow, here is where surplus water from the spring pours into a Roman drain and flows on to the river




























A £5.5 million redevelopment was initiated in 2011 to further preserve the Roman baths for the next 100 years (there were in fact lots of scaffolding around when we came). That means you have plenty of time to plan your trip to the Roman baths.








We circled around town before heading back to the hotel for our spa day. It was a gorgeous sunny day, albeit freezing. I had to buy a Cossack style hat (click HERE for Instagram) as my felt fedora was getting blown off by the wind. Bath homes and buildings architecturally remind me of an eclectic mix of French, Italian, and German. 















My holiday requirements are easy: decent coffee, good food (for a good price is a bonus), and locals who don't make tourists feel they're an inconvenience. The rest are negotiable. One at least, and I'm happy. None at all, and I won't go back. 


I must commend the hotel staff though at Homewood Park. They've been gregarious. 


To see the hotel, click HERE.


See you again on another journey!










Thursday, 19 January 2017

BIRTHDAY in GEORGIAN BATH



I wanted something low-key for my 40th. The Mr knows parties don't interest me at all, and I'm the first one to leave my own, so why have one just for the sake of having one? 


The original plan was to try the art deco or Turkish baths in Budapest. But then we realised we not only need a new bed frame and mattress for our newly purchased home (which is partly a 40th birthday gift to myself), but we also need wardrobes, bookshelves, console table, outdoor table and chairs, and so on and so forth. Apart from that, I've been looking into setting up a home work station and a reading nook (I can smell some home decor posts). We definitely could use the cash for more pressing requirements. 


I always take days off work on my birthday as it's a perfect excuse to get away from the drama and tantrums I'm paid to deal with on a daily basis. Now living farther away from London, we are closer to parts of England that's just as attractive to tourists as the capital, but not as frenetic.


The Mr. stayed true to the bath theme, and whisked me off to Bath, located in the county of Somerset in the South West of England. Bath, as the name suggests, is known for its Roman-built baths. It's been listed as a World Heritage Site in 1987. The English novelist Jane Austen lived in Bath for a period of five years. All her novels mention Bath, according to a website dedicated to touring readers to all the places she had lived from which she drew inspiration for her fictional settings. I never realised that, so I might as well look out for it when I re-read her books, some of which I own. 
If you're interested in or currently studying her literary classics, check out this page: seekingjaneausten.com


While hotel chains are guaranteed to offer comfort, accessibility, and modern amenities, I'm partial to converted ones with lots of history and quaint features. While I wouldn't have it in my own home, I love staying in places with uneven creaky floorboards, exposed wooden beams, and the country vibe that I will never get from a high-rise. They have to be refurbished of course, but with the old-world charm retained. 


You'd have guessed by now that Holiday Inn Express was out of the equation.








Homewood Park Hotel & Spa is tucked away in the village of Limpley Stoke, six miles from Bath. Even our satnav mate's (you know that male voice that goes silent just when you need to hear him giving directions) navigation skills were a little bit rusty on the day. The mainly Georgian former home is set in a sprawling 10-acre garden that includes an outdoor heated pool, hydropool, spa, and croquet lawn. The foundations of the original building date back from the 13th century. The current owner is Longleat, the estate of the 7th Marquess of Bath.


The 21-bedroom and eight-suite four-star hotel could be just any other home to the rich and famous. For me, it's the kind of dream that can only happen through a windfall. 












At least 60 flights were cancelled all over the UK the day before due to inclement weather and impending thundersnow, which made us feel relieved that we decided not to fly to Hungary. We woke up to a fresh scenery of snow-blanketed lawn. It's our first snow for the year, and at least in the last 2 years. In the 11 years that I've been living in the UK, I haven't experienced a white Christmas. It turned out to be a white birthday instead.







Off to the main road







Its grounds were the kind of darkness and lighting that horror films set in picturesque rural areas are made of. Scarily appealing I must say.













I had the pleasure of taking as much photos as I could. Photography has been a hobby I've taken up since starting my blog four years ago. The Mr even gifted me with a DSLR camera two Christmases ago. I don't think I'll ever be excellent in it, but I love interpreting scenery through the lens. I find that I'm drawn to nature, historical buildings, old architecture, abandoned structures, and anything generally untouched and uninhabited by humans. Maybe people will interest me one day. But like nature, I'd prefer if they are in an unadulterated state. 










I used to wonder whether I'd ever get sick of retreating to solitude as much as I can. You can call me boring, but I won't ever give it up.


Will show you around Bath in my next post.




Thursday, 12 January 2017

40 YEARS AFTER


I don't know who came up with the social etiquette of never asking a woman how old she is. I can imagine that it's a woman who had to have a convenient excuse to escape the uncomfortable rounding off to the nearest 10 when asked to reveal her age--not her PR age, nor her party-conversation age, but her real age. It's indeed a more witty comeback to the nosy than to ask them to guess and then come up with a number that leaves a woman holding grudges. 


For all the byword about age being just a number, there are lots of women who can't or won't even say what that number is.



My friend and I, in one of those random conversations we have, touched on the subject of why us women closely guard our age as if it's our PIN. Perhaps it holds part of some women's enigma. Some definitely don't want to give away what their pricey Botox sessions are covering up for them. Past the mystery and intrusion into women's cosmetic procedures, age reveals so much other than the wisps of grey hair that keep cropping up despite religious visits to the colourist, crow's feet and expression lines that no amount of collagen fillers can conceal, and the viability of one's eggs. It narrates our personal history, life events we skipped either by choice or by circumstances, stages we never went through, repeated, struggled at, failed at--all dictated by social guidelines that attempt to box in women into one-size-fits-all labels. Women are not forthcoming about their age because attached with certain numbers are expectations and perceptions based on what other women have done and achieved at the same period in their lives. Yes, it's a beauty contest of some sort, and whether we like it or not, we're all in it.


From age to vital statistics, we feel a bit anxious to share these information especially when the numbers associated with a woman's body are almost always scrutinised by others--and worse, by us.



Earlier this week I went to my local surgery to register. I deliberately 'overlooked' one of the questions in the form. The receptionist noticed it of course, and asked me. I pretended to be distracted. "Can you please tell us what your weight is?", she repeated. I muttered the figure and unit of measurement under my breath. I said I was avoiding that. We both chuckled.




The non-obligatory 40th birthday pose in a Biba swimwear




You see, when I gained weight from a size 6 (US size 2) to a size 12 (US size 8) after being ill,  I stopped stepping on the scale. I only ever really thought about it when I recently filled out a form for life insurance purposes.  And then of course the trip down my local surgery. I thought it's probably how some women feel past a certain age (or certain weight): it will only bother you if you allow it to. 




The last decade has been my weaning years from the comfort, security, familiarity, ignorance, and innocence of my 20s. Very personal experiences in my 30s made me shed my most mournful tears, and equally gave me so much reasons for the heartiest laugh. Those were the trial-and-error years. A few social labels have been discarded along the way. I made up my mind that I can't have all that I think I deserve. I have outgrown conformity, guilty feelings about being reclusive, been experiencing life at my own pace, been keeping the relevant and leaving anything or anyone that weighs me down. I think it's called growing up. 



I turn 40 today. Don't ask me how it feels because I just barely walked into it. Some say life begins at 40. Allow me to spend the first day with a much needed massage (Salonpas doesn't cut it), and I'll take it from there.

























Friday, 30 December 2016

LET'S MAKE PEACE WITH 2016



How do you call the one who's the bearer of bad news?


Google returned with a Jonah, a hoodoo, or a jinx. I thought somewhere out there lurks a more sinister word when a seemingly global political meltdown and passing of pop culture icons one after another set the stage for the world to tip over--at least the world of social media (I must say that the demise of some of these superstars takes me further away from my childhood which is slowly becoming a minute detail of my adult life). 2016 is relentless in hogging the headlines for the wrong reasons, many are hoping for 2016 to make a French exit. The rest are probably convincing themselves that the year never even happened at all.



While events around us have been and still are deafening, I was quietly sitting through, with bated breath, the culmination of a project. The year that almost everyone I know would like to see the back of is the year of a personal achievement. Somewhere in 2016's mishmash of a narrative gone haywire, I've rewritten a chapter in my own storyline.



I entered 2016 nervously hopeful; I'm leaving it realistically 'pessoptimistic', and ever more sanguine.



Amidst all the goings-on of 2016, I have seen the best and worst in people I deal with. Some of these people are friends. I have decided that I definitely will no longer tolerate selfishness and self-serving individuals who cannot accept differences in opinions, and most of all, defeat. I have witnessed the vileness and vanity of some who couldn't, didn't, and don't get their way. I think what I can credit 2016 for is that the unfavourable circumstances it ushered in placed people's and friends' true character in the spotlight. For that, I'm giving 2016 a show-of-gratitude send-off. 



My thoughts are currently and have been as disorganised as my packaging and archive boxes waiting to be unpacked. I need some time to rearrange them. Maybe I should start with my shoes and take it from there.



Before I go, let me just share with you some images I managed to take while at Al Ain Zoo last month. I visited my family (not the monkeys, cheeky) again in the UAE for some R&R. We also drove up Jebel Hafeet (literally means 'empty mountain'). At its highest point at 4,098 ft, it's almost 1,400 ft higher than the Burj Khalifa which is currently the tallest building in the world. This trip has been my last holiday for the year. Being with my family was all I needed to recharge. 





























While I was starting to write after a two-month absence, the news of George Michael's passing came on. There were others before him of similar stature, but his music was the one I listened to while growing up in a small town in the Philippines. I was brought back to around age 9 when I would go to my neighbour's to play and dance to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go".  I thought the tune influenced my penchant for rhymes when writing.



We're not far from Oxfordshire, so we jumped in the car on Boxing Day to visit the star's modernised 16th-century cottage where he passed away on Christmas Day. A fellow Instagrammer asked if there was security. She didn't want to travel only to be turned away. You won't, I said. I hope she made it.














Goodnight, George.




Wee, there you go. It's time.


Sayonara 2016. 



I look forward to your successor. 




Wednesday, 12 October 2016

MY BIG FAT GREEK HOLIDAY (Part III): DELOS ISLAND


My recollection of Greek and Roman mythology is just about the same as remembering events in my life when I was about five. I think I was 15 when I had a high school subject dedicated to learning about Grecian and Roman Gods. More than two decades later, I only hear about the Gods in connection with astrology.


Unlike any other holidays I've had in Europe, this one in Mykonos was not intended for any booked walking or boat tour. I wanted to go by how I felt. For the most part, I did not want to do anything scheduled. I didn't even want to think. Nor talk. My daily life involves all of these I didn't want any of it while away. 


But when you're constantly on the go whether physically or mentally, it becomes unbearable at some point to just sleep or lie on a sun lounger the whole day. Curiosity doesn't and couldn't rest. 


I love history--what came with it, and what's left of it. While I don't live in the past, I believe I have inhabited some periods of it, hence the appetite for people, places, and events I've read about since childhood. Someone once described me as an old soul. I like that. It inversely corroborates my biological age. 


As Athens was just a stopover, Delos Island was the nearby archaeological site to visit. We were the last passengers to get on the 35-minute boat ride from Mykonos. It was unplanned; we were just checking the timings when we arrived at the port just in time for a boat to depart. We were not prepared at all for the striking heat concentrated on bare land.




Spot the intruder



Part of an agora












Delos was a major religious centre and port during the 1st Millennium B.C., and is regarded as the mythological birthplace of twins Apollo and Artemis. The French School of Athens has been excavating since 1872 and they have come into major archaeological finds comparable to those in Delphi and Olympia. The artefacts can be found in the Archaeological Museum of Delos in the site itself. Delos is in UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1990. 







Terrace of the Lions of  Delos


















































Aboard the boat for Mykonos, with Delos in the background



For more information on how to get to Delos, click HERE. Information is also available at the new port. Prepare for lots of walking under the sun (the only covered area is a small cafe and the museum which are both far from the entrance), water, sunblock, and patience to go thru all the artefacts in situ. There are guided tours if you wish. The area is massive, being once a cosmopolitan Mediterranean port. I suggest that you read about the island beforehand to find out which spots on the site to take a closer look at, and promise me that you'll take better photos.













A chapel atop a rocky hill seen on the way back to Mykonos








I needed a respite from a work life that's increasingly stressful and tedious. Getting away from the desk always works wonders, until you're back. The story repeats itself. But hey, that's life. 


Click PART I and PART II if you missed both.





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