Friday, 26 August 2016

Day trip: Swanage and Corfe Castle


Day tripping in the UK

I planned our return from SE Asia well - giving myself three weeks school summer holidays before I go back to teaching at the end of August. This has largely been spent catching up with friends and family, particularly those who also work in education and are on summer holidays too. So when Kat returned from Copenhagen we got a couple of dates in the diary, the first being a day trip somewhere along the south coast. 

To me, a summer day trip should tick the following boxes; no more than a couple of hours' drive, pretty things to ogle at, somewhere nice to eat, and somewhere you can sit and soak up the sun, relax and read your book. 

When it came to selecting a destination, it took nothing more than opening Google Maps on my phone, panning down to the south coast (we both currently reside in Hampshire) and scrolling along until something took our fancy. Corfe Castle immediately caught my eye, and a trip to Swanage and the castle was planned. 

Getting there
Swanage is located on the Dorset coast, south-west of Bournemouth. It's a seaside town (with a sandy beach!), just south of the A35. We arrived on the chain ferry from Bournemouth Sandbanks - a great way of reaching the area if you're coming from the East as you save on mileage by cutting out a long stretch of A road. The chain ferry leaves from the very tip of the Sandbanks peninsula, taking around five minutes and costing £4.10 each way for a car or just £1 if you're on foot. Note; cash only! More info can be found on timetables, tolls and discounts here


Studland Bay
After leaving the ferry, we drove the ten minute drive to Studland Bay. We were greeted with the most beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures - it is just gorgeous here! We walked down to the seafront anticipating a light lunch at Middle Beach Cafe but unfortunately they don't take card payments. Who knew! So we hopped back in the car and drove down to The Bankes Arms where we ordered our go-to pub lunches (brie and ham ploughmans for me and scampi for Kat, if you were wondering) and sat out in the sunshine, taking in the sea view. Blissful. 

If you fancy treating yourself, make sure you visit The Pig on the Beach. I celebrated by 28th birthday at The Pig at Brockenhurst (New Forest) last year, and had a really delicious meal. This one looks just as beautiful, in a picturesque setting. They also have rooms; you're looking at £150 a night, midweek during the summer. 

Parking around Studland Bay
As Studland Beach is a National Trust area (there is a nature reserve and visitor centre, and the beach and dunes are managed by the NT) the parking is NT-owned. If you're planning on spending a lot of time in the area, you can get a day ticket costing £9 which allows parking in all NT carparks. Of course, if you have a NT membership parking is free. You can pay on card in most of the machines, as well as coins.


Swanage town
After topping up our vitamin d levels, we got back in the car and drove ten minutes or so in to Swanage. We stopped to check out the Bird's Nest cafe; an old converted train buffet car serving cream teas and the like, nestled at the end of Swanage's Steam Railway station. Walking down the highstreet you see the usual second hand book shops (my favourite), gift shops and tea rooms. 

Of course, no day trip is complete without coffee and cake and we chose Love Cake Etc to indulge our sweet tooth. Apple cake with thick clotted cream and flat whites were the order of the day, and needless to say it totally hit the spot. Love Cake Etc itself is beautiful; not too twee, but a perfectly designed vintage tearooms serving lunches and cakes in the day (cream teas and afternoon teas ahoy!) as well as boozy dinners in the evening. A huge lemon curd swiss roll was presented on to the cake table as we were leaving and my stomach literally lurched at the sight. 


Corfe Castle
Just five miles up the road we visited the historic Corfe Castle. Dating back to the eleventh century and built by William the Conqueror, Corfe Castle is an iconic piece of British history. Owned by the National Trust, the ruins are set up high and can be seen from a distance as you drive in to the village. It costs around £9 to enter the Castle ground during the summer (peak) months, a little less in off-peak months. 

We enjoyed wandering round the village in the sunshine, stopping for goblets of wine at The Greyhound Inn (seriously, they were huge) and childishly fooling around on the outdoor gym equipment in the children's play park. I blame the goblets of wine. 


We parked for free in the 1 hour bays on West Street in the village itself. There is also a National Trust car park for the Castle just outside the village, and other pay and display car parks around the village. 

With weary heads and sunkissed legs we hopped back in the car and made our way back home. Our day in Studland/Swanage/Corfe was just what the doctor ordered to help combat my post-travelling blues, and the perfect day trip for those craving some sea air and a bit of old British village life. Blissful.

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Thailand: Chiang Mai - eats


To me Chiang Mai has it all; old Thai charm, culture and history as well as a modern scene with great cafes, bars and restaurants. I posted a while back about what to do in Chiang Mai, deciding to do a separate post on our favourite eating spots.

As a disclaimer, this is by no means an 'ultimate guide' to Chiang Mai's restaurant scene.

In total we spent just over two weeks in Thailand's northern capital, and tasted a lot of what it had to offer - but by no means all! That said, there are so many delicious places I just have to share with you, I'm having to split this post in to two parts; lunch eats and dinner eats. By lunch eats I mean places we'd stop in for brunch, lunch, or a quick bite to eat/drink to catch a break from temple hopping and exploring the city. Many of these are also open for dinner, but not all. And when it came to lunch we almost always craved western food. Brunch is definitely becoming a thing in CM and as a result its not hard to find places serving eggs benny or sandwiches and the like. Dinner was when we went Thai, which I'll save for another time.

Artisan Cafe
About a fifteen minute walk from the old town, Artisan is towards the end of Saturday Walking Street. Nordic cafe style at it's best, it screams 'take photos of me and upload to Instagram immediately'. You know the type! Gorgeous interior, great coffee and delicious brunch options. We loved the eggs benedict and pancakes. (Facebook page)


Overstand
Just within the Old Town, south of Tha Phae Gate, Overstand was a hit and just a five minute walk from our hotel. I definitely didn't feel cool enough to be here! These guys are so good they've won the 'best breakfast in Chiang Mai' accolade two years running, and for good reason. I had the sourdough with tomatoes, pesto and feta topped with an egg, and Rich had an incredible pulled pork sandwich which was *dreamy*. Super friendly folks, cool art littered about and some old school hip hop for good measure. (Website)


Good Morning Chiang Mai
We stumbled upon this on our first morning in CM and it immediately gave us a taste of the city's cool cafe scene. Not only does it serve up delicious food at a good price, they also offer accommodation and a relaxing spot to chill within the Old Town. You really get your money's worth here with good portions at fair prices. It was the first decent iced coffee we'd had in weeks so we were happy to unwind here, whilst mapping out our day of exploring. (Website)


The Hideout
This place was awesome. Delicious! We trekked all the way across the Old Town on a Monday to have lunch here, only to find it open Tues - Sunday. I can confirm that hunger and 42 degree heat are not compatible! After this it became our mission to visit when it was open, and indeed we did on our second stay in CM. The breakfasts here are incredible, my favourite being the french toast made with challah bread - warning it is huge. I'm literally drooling at the thought! The sandwiches are also great (try the greek chicken salad sarnie), and they can make you some to takeaway for lunch if you're off adventuring for the day. Definitely worth travelling up to the far north east corner of the Old Town, where The Hideout sits just outside. (Facebook page)


Rustic and Blue
Nestled in the super trendy student area of Nimmanhaemin, Rustic and Blue is open from dawn to dusk boasting 'artisan' food in a gorgeous setting. I went for the chorizo tomato salad and Rich the tacos; R&B serve good quality, nutritious food. There's a real emphasis on homegrown ingredients, and more vegetables than I saw in most of my time in Thailand! Avocados were out of season when we were visiting (April) and this was the only place we were able to order them. Happy faces all round! (Facebook page).


The Larder Cafe
Another Nimmanhaemin favourite, this is tucked away off the main road and served me the best eggs I had in Thailand; I know, a big claim. Not just any old eggs either, Parmesan scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, fresh tomatoes and crusty bread. Yes, it really was as delicious as it sounds! Rich went for some sausage and toast number and we left happy travellers with our cravings for western breakfasts sated. (Facebook page). 


See You Soon Cafe
Located right next to Wat Chedi Luang in the heart of the old town, See You Soon became our go-to when we were hot, exhausted and/or seeking caffeine! It was also where we went to seek shelter from Songkran madness (a giant waterfight celebrating the new year) for which I am forever grateful. This place does it all; great coffee, ice cream, wine, Thai food and western food. You can see why we came back! It also has a nice little gift shop attached where I browsed for things I couldn't afford and definitely wouldn't fit in my backpack... No change there. They also have rooms. (Website)


Fresh & Wraps
Last but not least, this one we found right at the end of our time in Chiang Mai and turned out to be the perfect lunch spot near Tha Phae Gate. We went for quesadillas and juices; both were tasty and slightly different from the other CM offerings. The menu has a load of brunch options including pancakes and eggs, as well as salads and sandwiches (no sweet bread here, hurrah!) etc. As ever, the moden bistro style design attracts tourists, expats and the younger Thai crowd and is great for those days when you can't stomach any more phad thai. I felt healthier just being here! (Facebook page).

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Monday, 15 August 2016

Returning home


At the risk of sounding clich├ęd; doesn't time fly!

Since leaving the UK in February we have visited eight countries, stayed in over seventy ho(s)tels, checked in to nineteen flights and travelled on countless buses up, down and around South East Asia.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end. I write this from my parents' kitchen, where I am taking up residence (not solely in the kitchen) until we find somewhere to live again. We're back home, and although thinking back to days spent lazing on Gili T or mud-bathing elephants in Chiang Mai most definitely make me feel more than a little blue, it is good to be home. I really thought I'd have the worst blues, but I feel six months was the perfect time frame for us. We were able to totally submerge ourselves in that lifestyle, forget about the stresses of home and take some time to refocus. And yes it was completely blissful! We had lots of 'is this real?' moments, and I can remember back to the beginning of our trip and being terrified of it moving too quickly and being over too soon. Even at the half way point I was no-where near ready to consider calling it a day, it wasn't until around 5 months when we started to accept impending doom the reality of going home.  But being home is lovely; I've seen so many friends and family in the last week or so which has been the perfect antidote to those pesky home-time blues. Throw in a couple of hen do's and it's like I've never been away!

For those wondering...
Favourite country? Vietnam. Loved it.
Favourite thing to eat out there? Bahn Mi or Tom Kha Gai.
The most unforgettable experience? Mud-bathing elephants or motorbiking North Vietnam.
Best beach? Any in El Nido, Palawan (Philippines).
Best hotel? Reverie Siam in Pai, Thailand. Blissful.
Craziest moment? Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Recommendations for others? Street food tours and cookery classes!
Best pool day? Jungle Fish, Ubud, Bali.

And what did I miss the most? Sausages (unexpected), good coffee, girl talk, singing in my car (listening to music with headphones on in public transport kills me), fresh milk, feeling cold. And of course my friends and family... although FaceTime makes being away heaps easier!

Now we've got that bit out of the way - I can't tell you how many times I've answered those questions - I'm looking forward to sharing more of our adventure with you. I started documenting the different places we visited whilst I was out there, but quickly grew tired of the snails-pace wifi. I'm hoping the process will me cathartic for me, rather than opening a can of oh-my-god-why-did-i-leave-paradise worms. That, and I've got over five thousand photos to sift through... I'm trying to convince myself this will be a logical and effective way of condensing them into something more manageable!

As always, drop me an email/comment/tweet if you have any travel-related questions, I'll do my best to help.
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