Monday, 20 October 2014

High tea at Fortnum & Mason

When I think of afternoon tea, two things immediately spring to mind. One, as a South African expat having read far too many Jane Austen novels, there is nothing more quintessentially British than an afternoon tea. The second: indulgence - pure and utter indulgence. 

Last month, thanks to Sunny in London and Zomato, I won a giveaway for an afternoon tea experience. And this wasn't any old afternoon tea; we were going to Fortnum & Mason.

Starting out as a humble joint venture in 1707 between royal footman William Fortnum and his landlord Hugh Mason, where the aim was to sell grocery items, Fortnum & Mason soon became an unstoppable force in the UK and beyond. A supplier of food items during times of war as well as the inclusion of Fortnum & Mason goods in the first Everest expeditions, the business' connection with tea materialised due to its strong relationship with the British East India Company in the 1700s.

Fast forward more than 300 years later to 2012, and this will be the exact time when the Queen visited Fortnum & Mason to officially open the resident tea salon named in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.   

The view from our seats: the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.

With this sort of reputation preceding it, we arrived at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, located on the fourth floor of the Fortnum & Mason headquarters at 181 Piccadilly, feeling excited for what awaited us.

My companion for the day was my boyfriend, Chris, who hadn't experienced a proper afternoon tea before. 

Ready for afternoon tea! 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Cycling Cape Town with AWOL Tours

I've just returned from an incredible three-week stay in Cape Town, South Africa. While I was there, I was on full-time duty as my sister's maid of honour for her wedding. Nonetheless, when the opportunity to take a tour with one of South Africa's most exciting travel companies came my way, I just knew that I had to take some time out.

With the day confirmed, I was all set for my City Cycle Tour with AWOL Tours.

After meeting the team at AWOL's HQ at the Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, I was supplied with a helmet, as well as my glorious green steed for the day.

Truth be told, I wasn't overly worried about the fact that I hadn't been on a bicycle for years. It's the thing you never forget, as the saying goes. I am sad to report that I was an exception to this, as my brain took a good long while to compute what I was attempting to do.

A few shaky circles later and, thankfully, no face-planting on the V&A's cobblestone walkways, we were on our way.

Despite Cape Town's at-times rather terrifying traffic situation, our guide for the day, Mark, constantly checked on all of us and made sure that we were safe at the trickier crossings.

The Waterfront itself was our first stop, where Mark explained the history of the area, its significance in modern tourism, as well as the origin of its name. Since Queen Victoria was married to Albert, it would seem that this would be the logical name. But, since it was Alfred, their son, who actually visited Cape Town, it's his name that was chosen in the end.


The V&A Waterfront, with the iconic Table Mountain in the background.


Mark recounts the history of the Waterfront.

It was this mix of history as well as the quirkier facts about the city that made the tour so interesting. I grew up in Cape Town and lived there up until two years ago - yet there were so many things that I hadn't heard before I went on the tour.

Over the next three hours, we covered a lot of ground. 

We paused at historical spots, including the Castle of Good Hope, City Hall (the site of Nelson Mandela's 1990 speech following his release from prison), the Houses of Parliament and, the city's main thoroughfare for food and nightlife, Long Street.


In front of the Castle of Good Hope.


The setting for Cape Town's City Hall.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Exploring Cantabria: A glimpse of Santillana del Mar

My encounter with the Spanish town of Santillana del Mar can only be described as a fleeting one, but that does not mean it did not leave a strong impression.

On the contrary, the very first fact that I heard about Santillana del Mar immediately affirmed that I would like the place very much.

"Santillana del Mar is a town that is founded on three lies," our guide announced.

I was already intrigued. 

The lies come from the very name of the town:

1. 'Santo' implies that the town has something to do with the life of a saint. It doesn't.

2. 'Ilana' means 'flat'. Santillana del Mar is located within a very obviously hilly landscape.

3. 'Mar', of course, means 'the sea'. The town, although located in northern Spain, is not a seaside destination.


Always one with a soft spot for the quirky, I had, after that introduction, already decided that my experience of Santillana del Mar would be an overwhelmingly positive one.

Located about 30 km from Santander and near the world-renowned Altamira Cave, Santillana del Mar is often referred to as a living museum. As our walking tour progressed, I could definitely see why.

The town is easily explored on foot, as the oldest part of Santillana del Mar is compact. Filled with cobblestoned streets and alleyways of irregular widths, these thoroughfares are lined with some of the most exquisite - and most well preserved - medieval buildings I've ever seen.

Decisions, decisions! Picking the right tapas bar is never as easy as it should be.

I adored this building purely based on the fact that none of the windows had the same size.

Just some of the medieval houses in central Santillana del Mar.

Monday, 15 September 2014

In the past seven days...

A last reminder of this blog's beginnings as a personal one, I keep posting 'In the past seven days' to cover events/adventures that aren't featured elsewhere on this blog.

In exactly one week's time, I'll be enjoying my first evening in Cape Town. I've had this trip on my mind for a year; it has always been a distant thing, a future thing, and now it is finally here. 

Apart from planning for upcoming trips, these are some of the happenings of recent times.

#Rhinoswithoutborders

This week, I came across a great campaign that I'm proud to say that I've donated to.

With World Rhino Day just around the corner (22 September), andbeyond has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money towards alleviating the rhino-poaching crisis in Africa.

You can find out more about the campaign (and about the colourful origami-rhinos) by checking out the donation page


A weekend in Poland

I am terrible at surprises, and I was convinced that I would not be able to pull off my latest attempt.

As a belated birthday gift, I took my boyfriend, Chris, to the beautiful tricity area of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia in Poland. The surprise involved a 2AM wake up (sorry) but it was worth it - and the weekend just served as another reminder of why I consider this to be one of my favourite places in the whole world.

Birthday surprise coordinator extraordinaire - over and out!




Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Climbing Mount Snowdon

When I decided to visit Wales for a long weekend, it only seemed logical to pair this up with a hike up Mount Snowdon. 

Having grown up in Cape Town, I started hiking regularly when I was a teenager. My dad was my main companion for these excursions, and my love for the activity has only grown over the years. 

Since emigrating to London two years ago, I have nurtured this crazy urge to climb all of the UK's most famous peaks, and Snowdon was one of the top summits on that list.

Standing at 1,085 metres, Mount Snowdon is the highest peak in the British Isles outside of Scotland, and there are a number of ways to get to the top. Each of these routes vary in length and difficulty.

After some deliberation, I decided to pursue the Pyg Track on the way up and, for a variation of scenery, the Miners' Path on the return trip. 

When that weekend finally rolled around, my Snowdon hike officially unfolded once I caught the Sherpa bus service from Llanberis. The bus service is regular during the summer months, and there is also a rail service (via steam train, nonetheless) from Caernarfon to Rhydd Ddu.

The start of the Pyg Track is the Pen y Pass car park. I was lucky, because I met a group of experienced climbers from Manchester as soon as I arrived in the car park. They invited me to join them for the first part of the climb.

Pyg Track, Mount Snowdon climb

Pyg Track, Mount Snowdon climb

I know it may be predictable to state this, but the scenery was breathtaking from the very beginning of the trail. And this only increased as I proceeded further along the path.

Each trail leading to the summit of Snowdon has some sort of history attached to it, yet the Pyg Track's story is the haziest. No one is entirely sure where the name came from. Some say that it was named after the Pen y Gwryd (PYG) hostel that climbers used, while others hold that the path was named after the black tar (pyg) that used to be carried from nearby copper works.

I didn't spend too much time pondering on this, as I was kept busy negotiating stone steps while trying to take in the amazing landscape around me.



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