Box Hill: Happy Valley Walk in the Surrey Hills

In early January, with a new urge to get fitter, Chris and I went on an excursion to the Surrey Hills. We weren’t quite sure where we were headed but knew that if we kept driving, we would soon find somewhere. Which is exactly what we did.

Deep in the heart of the Surrey Hills is Box Hill – so called because of its box-like shape as it sticks out from the landscape. It was a rather cold day and the ground was sodden from the previous days’ rain. But that wasn’t going to stop us.

View from Solomon’s Memorial
Misty view from Solomon’s Memorial

Upon arrival, we first headed to the information point where we decided to make our way towards a viewpoint, or Solomon’s Memorial, that we’d passed on the drive up. Despite the fog, the view was beautiful as we looked down into the valley with Woking sat in its centre.

We began to walk along the hillside, yet it soon became too muddy for us to continue. Turning on our heels, we headed back to the visitor centre where we picked up a number of maps – the Box Hill Hike, Happy Valley Walk, Hill Top Stroll and the Juniper Top Walk.

Hill Top Walk at Box Hill
Walking along the hilltop at Box Hill

Looking at the maps, we felt that the Box Hill Hike may have been a bit too much for that day, whilst the Juniper Top Walk and Hill Top Stroll wouldn’t get us our steps. Therefore, we decided on the Happy Valley Walk.

Starting at the visitor centre, we took a detour to the Box Hill Fort, which was built in the late 18th century when there were fears that London may fall and take the British Empire with it. One of thirteen forts of its kind, it was built as a last-ditch attempt to save the capital of the empire.

Box Hill Fort
Box Hill Fort

Now, the fort is in a state of disrepair, cordoned off and graffitied to its roof. In truth, it was a fairly sad sight. But, it was also interesting to find out about the fears of London being overturned and the lengths that they went to in order to secure it.

Returning to the Happy Valley route, we passed through the car park and into the dense forest. Here was where it got really muddy. Not wanting to head back again, we slipped and slided our way through the trees.

Through the forest on the Happy Valley Walk around Box Hill
Looking through the trees at the start of the walk

Coming to a clearing, we wandered out to look down from the top of Lodge Hill – a view which arguably rivals the earlier viewpoint. From here, we could see a number of people walking up the side of the opposite hill on what appeared to be a proper path.

view from the Box Hill Hike path
Trying to find a less-muddy path

Keen to not be wading through mud for much longer, Chris started down the valley to see if we could reach the path. However, upon reaching Zig-zag road, we realised that there was a very steep drop and no path on which to walk down.

view from the Box Hill Hike path
Looking over to moody skies

Abandoning that idea, we headed back up the hill and onto Broadwood’s Tower. A really lovely tower, it looked magical surrounded by all of the trees. The tower was built around 1817 as a memorial to the Battle of Waterloo and stands above Juniper Hall, the former Broadwood family home.

Broadwood’s Tower
Broadwood’s Tower

After exploring the tower, we soon came to a series of incredibly steep steps. The mud had not gone away and there were a few moments where things got a little treacherous as we slipped down the valley side. We were concentrating too hard to count the steps.

Juniper Hall, the former Broadwood family home.
Juniper Hall, the former Broadwood family home.

At the bottom, it was almost like we’d entered a Black Mirror episode with the absolute silence and eerie dusk that was creeping in. The valley bottom at least was fairly dry and this part of the walk was easy.

At the bottom of Happy Valley
At the bottom of Happy Valley

But the hardest part was yet to come. A steep incline takes you back up the hill to Juniper Top. Once again in dense woodland, we joined the Juniper Top Walk that took us back to Donkey Green and the car park.

Walking through Happy Valley
Walking through Happy Valley

We had  aquick pit stop at the visitor centre before deciding to also incorporate the Hill Top Stroll into our day. The walk took us back to Solomon’s Memorial where we began down the hill to the right.

Solomon’s Memorial at dusk
Solomon’s Memorial at dusk

Navigating in the fading light, we made our way along to Labilliere’s Grave, the gravestone of an eccentric man who had lived in the below town of Woking and requested specifically to be buried in that exact place face down. Definitely worth the trek in the dark to barely see!

Circling round, we ended up back at the Box Hill Fort before returning to the car park and on to home.

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The Pink City of Toulouse, France

On the third and final day of our trip to Toulouse, it was a day for art. Setting off in the late morning, we first returned to the Christmas market and Place du Capitole in search of one of the city’s treasures.

The Capitole, Christmas Markets in Toulouse
Christmas markets in Toulouse

We had tried to enter the Salles des Illustres the previous day, having been told it was a must-see, but could not work out where to enter from as the front doors of the Capitole were closed. This day, however, they were open.

Painting in the Salles des Illustres, or Hall of the Illustrious
Painting in the Salles des Illustres

After sampling a roast chicken and onion bap in the market – which was more onion than meat, but nonetheless delicious – we headed towards the entrance.

The Salles des Illustres, or Hall of the Illustrious, is truly beautiful and probably my favourite part of our trip to Toulouse. In ornate style, with gold trimmings and incredible paintings, it is certainly something to behold. I particularly enjoyed walking through the Henri Martin Room that boasts impressionist paintings across all of the walls. With large strokes of paint and a wonderful use of colour that transcends both the impressionist and classical styles of painting, I could have stayed in this room for a long time.

Impressionist painting by Henri Martin
Impressionist painting by Henri Martin

Built in 1605, the room is one of the oldest in the Capitole and once housed portraits of the Capitouls, the chief magistrates of the commune of Toulouse during the late Middle Ages and early Modern period. In 1900, the artist Henri Martin was appointed to give the room a new lease of life. In the paintings, he chose to depict both the countryside and the city, evoking the passing of the time in each painting.

Moving through, we came to the main hall. Redesigned by Paul Pujols between 1892-1898, where he converted three smaller rooms into the one, the hall is decorated with incredible painted ceilings and walls with statues of famous figures and Roman Gods.

Depiction of France on the ceiling of the Salles des Illustres
Depiction of France on the ceiling of the Salles des Illustres

Embellishment work was conducted at the end of the 19th century by architect Paul Pujol, who designed a new ceiling with a continuous vault for which he also produced the painted décor. The paintings around the walls of the Salle des Illustres were executed by various Toulouse artists, each of them having a defined theme: Toulouse City of the Arts and Culture, the glorious deeds of city life, and the defense of the fatherland. These canvases were hung on the walls between 1894 and 1928.

Painting in the Salles des Illustres
Painting in the Salles des Illustres

Having fully taken in the room, we headed back through to the Paul Gervais room, which is decorated by the artist’s work. The decoration of the former wedding hall carries the theme of love and a happy source of life in its different ages. The work of Paul Gervais deviates somewhat from the usual scenes of wedding halls, depicting civil wedding, family virtues and scenes of gallantry.

Painting by Paul Gervais in the Wedding hall
Painting by Paul Gervais in the Wedding hall

Content with our musings on the inside of the Capitole, we headed towards the Garonne (making sure to use our metro tickets…). We wandered along the banks of the river and stopped at another small market briefly.

We looked across at Pont Neuf, a beautiful 16th-century bridge that, despite its name (new bridge), is actually the oldest bridge in Toulouse. On the opposite bank, we saw the Hotel-Dieu Saint Jacques and Le Dome de La Grave, both once hospitals for the sick and those rejected by society, ie. beggars, prostitutes and the insane.

Pont Neuf
Pont Neuf

Continuing along the bank, we came to the next bridge – Pont Saint Pierre – which we crossed on our way to Les Abattoirs, Toulouse’s modern art museum.

In truth, I definitely prefer the older styles of painting. The modern art museum, for the most part, consisted of confused looks – mainly because there was very little in the way of an English translation. Nevertheless, I found it incredibly interesting and particularly enjoyed exploring the different ideas floating around the art world.

Colombia by Antonio Caro

The first exhibit took us through the conflict in Colombia. The project brings together almost 40 artists all sharing their reflection on the ongoing war in the region. I particularly liked the striking poster-esque art of Antonio Caro with works including Colombia written in Coco-Cola font.

Heroinas De Tierra by Libia Posada
Heroinas De Tierra by Libia Posada

I felt that this piece by Libia Posada is especially impactful in her depiction of a heroine over a map of Colombia. In my opinion, you don’t need to read the text to see the strength and resilience of the screen-printed woman.

Delcy Morelos installation
Delcy Morelos installation

One room was dictated by an installation by Delcy Morelos. The artist has indigenous origins and came from one of the regions most affected by the violence. A zona roja or “red zone” battered by guerrilleros and paramilitaries in the department of Cordoba. He chose to depict his experiences by painting the walls red – literally. The room contained interlinking blocks lashed with red paint.

Libia Posada's maps drawn on legs
Libia Posada’s maps drawn on legs

Continuing through the galleries we came across Libia Posada again with her maps drawn on legs. I really liked these images as it not only depicted the paths that these women have trodden on and the pain and suffering attached, but also shows the diversity and differences of those caught in the conflict.

Natalia Castaneda’s ceramic work was creepy in the depiction of odd body parts washed up amongst the debris. Whilst I was mesmerised by Clemencia Echeverri’s video installation that chopped scenes of a fast running river with bodies disappearing in the current.

Hessie's Survival Art
Hessie’s Survival Art

Downstairs we wandered through Hessie’s Survival Art exhibition. Hessie was one of the rare mixed-race artists active on the French scene in the 1970s. Her singular body of work consisted of a mass of artworks in which she transformed embroidery and collage into a message of feminism. Through repurposing the traditional craft materials of women, she challenged the status quo and aligned herself with the avant-garde movements, such as minimalism and the women’s liberation movements. Whilst I didn’t particularly like Hessie’s artwork, I find her life story and what she stands for fascinating.

Hessie's Survival Art
Hessie’s Survival Art

Also on the bottom floor was an installation by Vivien Roubald. I couldn’t tell you what they were meant to be or the concept behind it. Three glass domes were hung from the ceiling with various mechanisms and lights within them. They were actually rather beautiful.

Vivien Roubald's installation
Vivien Roubald’s installation

Heading to the top floor, we encountered the epitome of avant-garde in some very unusual pieces from artists such as Dado and Karel Appel. In truth, we skipped through this section pretty quickly.

Karel Appel's video installation
Karel Appel’s video installation

At the end, there were some rather lovely prints by Nicolas Daubanes, which I quite liked. We then watched a video installation by Lola Gonzalez. Whilst strange, it was definitely my favourite part of the gallery and has stuck with me since. The video Rapelle-toi de la couleur des fraises (Remember the colour of strawberries) depicts the story of two lovers and their adventures to an unusual house where three men live. You are unsure as to who these people are or why the events unfold, but the journey is mesmerising as it uses the extensiveness of silence to communicate human connection.

Print by Nicolas Daubanes
Print by Nicolas Daubanes

We rushed through the remainder of the gallery, having taken our fill of modern art. We then headed back to the Palace de Justice, this time actually taking the time to have a look at it and stop for a bite to eat at a local bakery. Then we jumped on a tram to the airport for a good five-hour wait before our flight.

 

European Mini Break: Sforza Castle, Italy

Day two, we decided to explore the Sforza Castle. But not before spending far too long in a lovely bakery nearby our hotel, Mr Moussa. We first sampled the croissants: Chris chose plain whilst I had apricot marmalade. It was all of the tastes of Christmas! We shared a few mini tarts before ordering chunks of focaccia. Definitely a feast of Italy.

Sforza Castle, Milan
Sforza Castle

Positioned at Milan’s centre, the Castle was unlike any other castle I have seen with red brick and white details. The area had been massively restored over recent years to reveal the majesty of former times.

Fountain at Sforza Castle
Fountain outside Sforza Castle

The castle was originally a Visconti fortress but later home to the mighty Sforza dynasty, who ruled Renaissance Milan. Like Milan’s cathedral, the castle has undergone many transformations, including the addition of 12 bastions under Spanish command in 1550 and Napoleon’s draining of the moats and removal of its drawbridges during his reign.

Interior wall of Sforza Castle
Interior wall of Sforza Castle

Upon its transfer from military use to the government, restoration works were carried out by Luca Beltrami in the 19th century. Today, the castle houses many specialised museums, including works by Leonardo Da Vinci, who was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza to decorate the castle’s walls from 1494, and Michelangelo’s final work, the Rondanini Pieta.

Inside Sforza Castle walls
Inside Sforza Castle walls

Wandering around the courtyard, we attempted to enter one of the many museums housed in its walls. Turns out you need tickets from the opposite side to which we’d entered. We hurried through a little embarrassed!

Restoration of the interior walls of Sforza Castle
Restoration of the interior walls of Sforza Castle

Unfortunately, the queues were ridiculous for the museums so we decided not to buy tickets and instead head to the surrounding park, Parco Sempione.

View towards the Arch of Peace in Parco Sempione
View towards the Arch of Peace in Parco Sempione

The largest city park in Milan, it houses the Castle, Arch of Peace and Arena Civica. The Arch of Peace is a beautiful neoclassical structure replicating the Arc de Triumph in Paris. It was built in 1807 by architect Luigi Cagnola under the Napoleonic rule. This new gate marked the place where the new connecting road between Milan and Paris would begin, the Strada del Sempione.

Arch of Peace
Arch of Peace

When the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy fell and Milan was conquered by the Austrian Empire, work on the gate was abandoned. Until, in 1826, it was resumed again for Emperor Francis II, who dedicated the monument to the 1815 Congress of Vienna. After Cagnola’s death in 1833, Francesco Londonio and Francesco Peverelli brought it to completion in 1838.

Arch of Peace
Arch of Peace

Standing 25m high and 24m wide, the Arch of Peace is decorated with a number of bas-reliefs, statues and Corinthian columns. These decorations depict major events in Italian and European history, including the Battle of Leipzig and the Congress of Vienna. There are also subjects from classical mythology, such as Mars, Ceres, Minerva and Apollo imagined in the sculptures. As well as allegories of the major rivers in North Italy, for example the Po, the Adige and the Ticino.

Taking the outer path, we meandered through to the Arch of Peace, where we sat and listened to a woman singing for a while. It was definitely a moment of “wow we’re actually in Italy”.

Inside the Arena Civica
Inside the Arena Civica

Continuing along, we followed the neoclassical walls of the Arena Civica, a multipurpose stadium, where sports and concerts are often held. That morning there had been a sponsored run for breast cancer awareness.

Wall of the Arena Civica
Wall of the Arena Civica

The sun was out and we warmed our faces as we took in the scenery. With lots of lakes and trees in their autumn splendour, the park was really beautiful.

Feeling hungry, we walked to the Duomo stopping at Martini Cafe for a final pizza. Not quite as good as the first, but it certainly filled a hole!

Our holiday at an end, we made our way to the airport watching the sunset on our way.

Duomo di Milano
Goodbye Duomo

European Mini Break: Duomo di Milano, Italy

The first of our mini breaks to Europe, we set off for Milan in the north of Italy. With a budget of £200, I thought I’d done pretty well as we caught a €5 shuttle bus to the centre. Arriving at the central station, we headed straight to the Duomo (Cathedral) as we intended to make the most of our limited time.

Central Station, Milan
Central Station, Milan

As you exit the station, your eyes are met with the incredible marble structure of Milan’s cathedral. We made our way to the ticket office, where a rather confusing system was in place. On your visit, I would recommend using the self-service stations immediately rather than waiting an exceptionally long time for your number to be called. Joining the fairly long queue, we gradually made our way into the Duomo.

Duomo di Milano
Duomo di Milano

The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete, with many architects and engineers undertaking its building in this time. It is the largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world!

Duomo di Milano
A closer view

Construction began under the direction of Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzi in 1386, to celebrate the ascension to power of his cousin Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Three hundred employees led by first chief engineer, Simone da Orsenigo were to embark on the work under the “Fabbrica del Duomo”.

Side angle of the Duomo di Milano
Side angle of the Duomo di Milano

The Duomo was originally intended to be made of red brick in Lombard Gothic style; however, the appointment of French chief engineer, Nicolas de Bonaventure drastically changed plans. Under influences from new trends in European architecture, it was decided that the brick structure should be panelled in marble in a style not typically Italian, but French.

Paintings inside the Duomo di Milano
Paintings inside the Duomo di Milano

Gian Galeazzo Visconti gave exclusive use of the unique pink marble from the Candoglia quarry, from which workers would transport the mountains of marble to the centre of Milan via the waterways. At the death of Gian Galeazzo in 1402, the cathedral was almost half completed. Yet, construction drew to a halt due to lack of money, not picking up again until 1480.

Over the following centuries, many architects and sculptors would be commissioned to produce beautiful marble pieces for the cathedral, yet the exterior would largely remain untouched until the 17th century.

One of the many marble sculptures in the Duomo
One of the many marble sculptures in the Duomo

At the beginning of the 17th century, Federico Borromeo and Pellegrini had devised a new, Renaissance appearance for the cathedral. Its façade largely incomplete, Pellegrini was able to design a “Roman” style one, with columns, obelisks and a large tympanum. However, in 1649 the new chief architect Carlo Buzzi reverted the façade to the original gothic style.One of the many marble sculptures in the Duomo

Finally, on May 20th, 1805 Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the façade of the Duomo to be completed by Carlo Pellicani. After a promise to reimburse the expenses, the Duomo’s exterior was complete just seven years later. Napoleon would later be crowned King of Italy at the Duomo, and a statue was placed at the top of one of the spires in thanks.

Duomo di Milano Organ
One of the organs

I was amazed at the 45m height of the ceiling, with delicately engraved pillars and beautiful stained glass windows. Even the floor was audacious.

Floor of the Duomo di Milano
Floor of the Duomo di Milano

We wandered around the space, taking in the information on past popes and archbishops. The statues were incredible, including the below, which is Duomo’s most famous statue: The Saint Bartholomew Flayed (1562), by Marco d’Agrate. You can see how the saint shows his flayed skin thrown over his shoulders, revealing the muscle structure underneath.

St Bartholomew statue in Duomo
St Bartholomew statue

Soon we came around to the back of the cathedral, where we found a life-size cast of the gold Madonnina, which sits atop the cathedral spire.

The Madonina replica in Milan's Duomo
The Madonina replica

In 1762, Francesco Croce, architect to the Veneranda Fabbrica received the commission to build the main spire of the Duomo. He suggested that the Great Spire should be decorated with a statue of the Virgin Mary carried up to heaven by angels.

Main stained glass window in the Duomo
Stained glass window

The making of the statue was entrusted to the sculptor Giuseppe Perego, who proposed several models in 1769, before the current design was decided upon. In June 1769, the work for the model was begun by sculptor and model maker Giuseppe Antignati, while the blacksmith Varino made the supporting framework.

Main stained glass window in the Duomo
Stained glass window up close

The Madonina was raised onto the main spire of Milan’s Duomo in late December 1774 and remains the symbol of the city and patroness of the Milanese people. She is composed of embossed and gilded copper plates, supported on a framework which is now in stainless steel. This framework was originally iron, but had become dangerously corroded. Restoration work in 1967 replaced this with a new stainless steel structure and involved the dismantling of the copper plates and mordent re-gilding.

The main altar in the Duomo, Milan
The main altar

After fully exploring the Duomo, we headed to the attached museum. However, I was a little disappointed in the lack of information. Each sculpture had a name attached but it was almost assumed that you would understand the significance. There was also a significant lack of history.

Gold head of God
Gold head of God

Nevertheless, we were able to see sculptures that sit on and within the Cathedrals walls up close. And for €3 all in, it was definitely value for money.

Miniatures of the statues decorating the facade of the Duomo, Milan
Miniatures of the statues decorating the facade of the Duomo, Milan

The Duomo sits next to Milan’s famous shopping centre, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. With an impressive glass dome and three floors, it is a real show of beauty. With a huge choice of places to eat, we eventually decided upon La Locanda Del Gatto Rosso. Genuinely, the best spaghetti carbonara I have ever tasted and most amazing pizza – but surely that’s what you’d expect in Italy.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

After enjoying our lovely meal, we crossed the road to Venchi chocolate shop. Delighting in their gelato cones, it was then time to head to the Hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn North. Whilst being fairly far out, it was a beautiful hotel and we were spoilt by the views of the city.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II ceiling
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II ceiling

It was then time to get ready for an evening in Navigli. We entered an area filled with shops and restaurants either side of the canal. All the lights reflecting in the water, we sat down to enjoy a few drinks at Luca E Andrea. As it was Italy, you couldn’t go far wrong with the wine!

Navigli
Navigli

Taking in the atmosphere, we met a lovely American couple. We spent the rest of the night picking their brains about New York and the Italy tour they’d undertaken- garnering ideas for future adventures.

We moved on together to an “Irish” pub, which was weirdly a club… We swiftly moved on and headed for bed.

Mystery Tour of Southeast England

August Bank Holiday, I finally had Chris all to myself for an entire day. And he had planned a mystery tour of Southeast England for us.

With only a slight idea of where we were going, we headed out in search of breakfast. We had hoped to find somewhere along the way, but one hour later (with a very hungry Hazel) we took a diversion into Royal Tunbridge Wells. Suddenly remembering a place he’d been before – which had a café – Chris took us on a wild goose chase. No name and only a slight inkling that it actually had a café, I wasn’t very hopeful. But he came through.

Dunorlan Park Lake
Dunorlan Park Lake

Dunorlan Park was beautiful. The bacon and sausage sandwich very much appreciated. Finishing our breakfast in the gorgeous 27C heat, we naturally headed straight for the ice cream. Then it was time to explore.

Dunorlan Park
Dunorlan Park

Idyllic in the summer sun, we wandered through the gardens spotting the ornamental fountain and impressive trees. Once part of the 78-acre gardens of the grand mansion built by Yorkshire millionaire, Henry Reed, the park is Grade II listed. The gardens contained within were designed by renowned Victorian gardener, Richard Marnock in the 1860s.

Ornamental Fountain
Ornamental Fountain

Another stunning feature is the 6-acre boating lake. Lots of people were out kayaking and playing in the pedalos. Definitely a place to revisit when we have more time.

Dunorlan Park Lake
Dunorlan Park Lake

Having had a nice break from driving, we continued on our journey to the main surprise. I tried to figure out where Chris was taking me. I knew it was close to Hastings, so I had some ideas, but it wasn’t until I saw the brown sign “Bodiam Castle” pop up a few times that I guessed.

Bodiam Castle is your classic castle. It’s the kind of castle that every young child imagines. A picture perfect monument with its symmetrical towers and large circular moat.

Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle

Upon arriving, we found multiple groups of people dressed in period clothing. There was an archery section where we watched some young children do worryingly well! As well as a number of tents and workshops set out like a battle camp. We never found out quite why there were these displays of 14th century England, but it definitely made the day more fun.

Battle camp
Battle camp

Crossing the bridge into the castle, we watched the gorgeous Koi Carp – with one rather spectacular orange one catching our attention. We explored the castle top to bottom, from picturesque views of the surrounding countryside to the servant’s quarters.

Koi Carp
Koi Carp

Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, with the permission of Richard II. Its primary role was to defend the area against French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War.

Looking through a window at Bodiam Castle
Looking through a window at Bodiam Castle

However, the structure and details of the castle with its quadrangular shape and position in an artificial watery landscape suggest that it was designed to impress. Attractive as much as it is defensive.

 

 

Well worth a visit, the castle remains in good condition and certainly has lots of history attached.

There was one last stop on our mystery tour. The beach.

Hastings Beach
Hastings Beach

Our final destination was Hastings, a seaside town on the southeast coast of England – and landing place of William the Conqueror. It is most known for the 1066 Battle of Hastings, fought on a nearby field where Battle Abbey now stands.

Hastings Beach with Pier
Hastings Beach with Pier

Arriving around 5pm, we headed straight for the seafront. Met by a shingle beach, it’s not quite your ideal picnic spot, but it was lovely to be beside the sea again. We wandered through the amusements area, eyeing up the Crazy Golf and Go-Karts as we went.

Fishing net shops
Fishing net shops

Continuing along the shore, Chris showed me the old net huts. Originating from the 16th-17th century, these huts were traditionally used to store fishing gear made from natural materials which would rot if left in the open. They have vastly changed over the years, but were recently awarded Grade II* listing and are almost as they were in 1865.

Anchor
Anchor

We also found a huge anchor which had once held centre stage on the pier. It was here that we realised the East Hill Cliff Railway was still running.

East Hill Cliff Railway
East Hill Cliff Railway

Having been convinced it had fallen into disrepair, we had to go up. The funicular railway was opened in 1903 by Hastings Borough Council and originally operated on a water balance principle. The line was modernised between 1973 and 1976 with an electric system and new cars added.

View from the East Hill Cliff Railway
View from the East Hill Cliff Railway

Despite knowing it must be safe, at points you certainly felt like you could fall off! The view, however, was a fantastic distraction. There was a hazy mist hanging over the scene making Hastings appear dream-like as we looked down upon it. At the top, you can explore Hastings Country Park which is the perfect place to relax in the sunshine – there are also steps if you don’t fancy the (almost) vertical railway.

View from the Hastings Country Park

Unfortunately, it was nearly time for the last car down – and we didn’t fancy the steps – so we couldn’t spend too long at the top. Just enough time to take in the view.

Our stomachs rumbling, we headed for the nearest Fish and Chips shop – and it was divine. After incredibly efficient service and enough chips to feed an army, we were definitely satisfied. Thank you very much, Fish Hut. Much better than Wales…

It was getting late, but the lack of people on the Crazy Golf tempted us to stay longer. We couldn’t resist a game, our competitive edges coming out. Far too much fun was had, especially when I managed to hit a hole in one! With only one point in it, I think we were both winners.

The light fading on a perfect day, it was time to head home. But not before a stop at the arcades – and no, Chris did not get me the Iron Man toy…

Sunset on a perfect day
Sunset on a perfect day

Inspired by Italy – Painshill Park

A couple of weeks after my return from France, we visited Painshill Park. A grade I listed 18th-century landscape garden envisioned by the Honourable Charles Hamilton, 9th and 14th child of the 6th Earl of Abercorn. The gardens boast 158 acres of woodland, shrubberies and a vast lake, as well as a large Vineyard.

Inspired by his exploration of Italy and his Grand Tours of Europe, the gardens were one of the first designed in the naturalistic style brought about by the Landscape Movement. There are hints of this influence everywhere, from the Renaissance-style Crystal Grotto to the Chinese Bridge.

It was lunchtime by the time we arrived, so our first stop was the café next to the entrance. We enjoyed fresh sandwiches and a delicious lemon drizzle cake before exploring the walled garden. Teaming with vegetables and a lovely potting shed, it was very quaint, fully allowing us to immerse ourselves in the past.

Walled Garden Potting Shed
Walled Garden Potting Shed

There are a number of routes around the park, but we chose the historical route. Naturally, this path led us to most of the main features of Painshill Park – other than a slight detour to the ruined abbey. Almost immediately, we found ourselves looking down upon the Vineyard. Hamilton planted the two and a half acres with Pinot Noir cultivar, as well as Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc hybrids, to produce Hamilton’s Painshill Sparkling Wine. Stretching down the steep hill to the River Mole, the vineyard looked magical in the summer sun. You could easily imagine yourself in the Italian countryside.

Vineyard
Vineyard

Our first time around, we completely missed the Amphitheatre as we wandered through woodland to the Gothic Temple. The temple stands atop the hill presenting us with beautiful views down towards the Serpent Lake and its bridges. Later in the day, we saw a couple having their wedding photos taken there and I can completely understand why!

Gothic Temple
Gothic Temple
Gothic Temple
View from Gothic Temple

Making our way slightly off the trail, we came across the Ruined Abbey. The abbey looked surprisingly new for a ruin and later research revealed that it is, in fact, a mock representation. Nevertheless, the accompaniment of a couple of swans made for some idyllic pictures through the abbey’s arched windows. Not wishing to disturb a group having a picnic too much, we continued along our route.

Ruined Abbey
Ruined Abbey
Ruined Abbey
View through Ruined Abbey doorway

Walking through the woodland and carefully planted gardens, we came out into the open to find the Chinese Bridge. A couple of people were feeding the birds from the bridge meaning the area was teeming with ducks, geese and swans. Making our way through and over to one of the islands, we were faced with the Crystal Grotto. Unfortunately, due to lack of staff, the Grotto was closed on this particular day. All the more reason to come back again!

Crystal Grotto
Crystal Grotto

Undeterred, we got as close as we could in order to see the unbelievable structure. Completely man-made, the crystals were intricately placed to form the cavern by celebrated grotto maker Joseph Lane in 1760. However, during a period when the park fell into disrepair, the grotto roof collapsed meaning a full restoration was required.

Crystal Grotto
Crystal Grotto

In 2013, Heritage Lottery funding enabled Cliveden Conservation to restore the folly, which historically has been recognised as the finest stalactite Grotto in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of crystals – calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite – including originals recovered from archaeological works, were skilfully embedded with lime mortar onto a framework of inverted wooden cones, to recreate the incredible stalactite effect of Joseph Lane’s original folly.

I have never seen anything so unusually beautiful. Stunning in its strangeness, the grotto almost looks like skulls eroded together with shimmering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

 

Serpentine Lake
Serpentine Lake

Wishing we could have gone inside, we continued along the historical route passing along the edge of the lake and back into woodland. It wasn’t long before we came across the Waterwheel. Still operative today, the Waterwheel was built by Bramah & Sons in the 1830s to replace the original and is one of the largest working wheels in the UK. It was restored in 1987 and continues to pump water from the river Mole into the Serpentine Lake.

Waterwheel
Waterwheel

Conscious of time, we decided not to visit the Hermitage but instead carry on towards the Gothic Tower through the Alpine Valley. Positioned upon a high-point in the park, the tower’s red brick stands out against the landscape. The tower is accessible to the public and there is a quaint café on the first floor where we stopped for a drink. We then trekked up the many steps, stopping on the various floors to find out more about the history of the park. Upon reaching the top, we were treated to picturesque views of the Surrey countryside – even despite the power lines!

 

 

Clambering back down the spiral staircase, we started the loop back towards the entrance passing through the Elysian Plain, which surrounds the Temple of Bacchus. Presumably inspired by Greek mythology, which can interpret the Elysian Plain as a place where heroes were sent when granted immortality, the area is full of colour. Hamilton’s Temple of Bacchus was originally home to a collection of antiques collected during his Grand Tours to Europe. It featured a seven-foot marble centrepiece statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, as well as 12 marble busts of Caesars. However, these pieces were sold in 1797 and the current foundations of the temple are currently undergoing restoration.

Unable to enter the temple, we continued on to the Turkish Tent: another feature of the park that has been recreated. There were no standing remains of the original 18th-century tent, so it was from drawings that the conservationists were able to reconstruct what might have been. With its beautiful blue edges and a fantastic view of the park, we spent a long time taking in the scene.

Turkish Tent
Turkish Tent
View from Turkish Tent
View from Turkish Tent

Making our way back to the café, we realised we had some time before the site closed. So we headed back to find the Amphitheatre where Hamilton would have entertained his guests. A cast of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines is the main feature which we admired whilst enjoying the late afternoon sun.

Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines
Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines

Paris 3 – Celebrating at the Palace of Versailles

This is Part 3, read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

Earlier in the holiday, we had booked tickets to the Palace of Versailles. So we awoke early on my sister’s birthday to pack and give presents before the journey. The palace is roughly 20 miles from the centre of Paris so it took us over an hour to make our way there – especially with one of the underground stations being closed. By the time we arrived, there was already a pretty long queue meandering up and down the square outside the palace gates. This was when we really regretted not a having had breakfast…

Crowd waiting to enter the Palace of Versailles
Crowd waiting to enter the Palace of Versailles

Despite having pre-bought tickets, we had to queue for an hour and a half at least before finally entering the palace. Where we promptly found ourselves in another queue. It is very popular.

The Gold Gate
The Gold Gate

Finally, we were seated in the Palace restaurant, Angelina where Heather enjoyed a luxurious 21st birthday lunch. My favourite part, naturally, was this beautifully crafted patisserie that was pure decadence.

Patisserie at Restaurant Angelina
Patisserie at Restaurant Angelina

We then explored the palace at lightning speed. I would have liked to spend longer reading in all of the rooms but the mass of people was far too much to contend with! Still, it meant we had chance to see every public room in the complex and still get an hour to enjoy the vast gardens, which would quite easily take a day by themselves.

Everything is extravagant and intricately beautiful in its majesty. From the painted ceilings to the garden’s gold fountains, the gorgeous bedrooms to the incredible hall of mirrors, I cannot even put it into words.

La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
View into Chapelle Royale
View into Chapelle Royale
Salon d'Hercule ceiling
Salon d’Hercule ceiling
Salon de Vénus ceiling
Salon de Vénus ceiling
Salon de Mercure
Salon de Mercure
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors

We then went to sit in the gardens in the scorching sunshine. As I said earlier, you could spend a whole day in the gardens so we didn’t even scratch the surface. Nevertheless, what we did see was beautiful. At this time of year, the palace has it’s Musical Fountain displays, which I would have really liked to have seen. For another time.

South Parterre
South Parterre
Orangery Parterre
Orangery Parterre
Latona's Fountain & Parterre looking down towards the Great Lawn, Apollo's Fountain and the Grand Canal
Latona’s Fountain & Parterre looking down towards the Great Lawn, Apollo’s Fountain and the Grand Canal

Definitely somewhere I would like to visit again, I highly recommend the Palace of Versailles. But suggest you leave plenty of time to explore and potentially stay closer than we did!

Not wanting to carry our bags all the way around the palace, we had left them at the hostel (not realising they do actually have a baggage hold there). This meant we needed to return to the hostel from Versailles before jumping back on the metro to Gare du Nord.

It was terribly stressful in our fatigued states but we made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, there were huge delays on the Eurostar and we ended up standing for an hour in queues waiting for the train to be ready. It has seriously made me question using the Eurostar again, despite its convenience and cost.

Nevertheless, despite the not so happy ending to our holiday, we left feeling like we’d had the best long weekend of our lives. Paris, we will be back!

This is Part 3, read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

 

Paris 2 – Sightseeing along the Seine

This is Part 2, to read Part 1 click here.

On our second day, we decided to visit Notre Dame. Unfortunately, my sister really was not very well so we decided not to wait in the queues to go inside but continue on to find a river cruise along the Seine.

 

Making it to the western tip of Ile de la Cité, we jumped on one of Vedettes du Pont Neuf cruise ships. For €14, it was definitely value for money as we were taken on an hour cruise along the Seine. Our guide, dressed as a French maid, pointed out various landmarks and attractions providing the history alongside.

Padlocks at Pont Neuf
Padlocks at Pont Neuf

We were introduced to The Louvre with its more than 35,000 works on display at any one time and the Musée d’Orsay, where an impressionist exhibition was taking place.

The Louvre
The Louvre
Musée d'Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

We passed the Palais Bourbon with its classical colonnade added by Napoleon, which sits across from the Place de la Concorde where Louis XVI was executed.

Palais Bourbon with Eiffel Tower in the background
Palais Bourbon with Eiffel Tower in the background

As well as the classic Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais and many, many bridges.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
Pont Alexandre III with Eiffel Tower in the background
Pont Alexandre III with Eiffel Tower in the background
Nymphs of the River Seine on the Pont Alexandre III
Nymphs of the River Seine on the Pont Alexandre III

Of course, there were also some incredible views of Notre Dame as we passed back around the island.

 

Despite minor sun stroke, we were very pleased with our short tour of the main Parisian attractions – they have all been added to the bucket list!

Our energy wavering, we headed for some lunch, coming across the quaint restaurant Frou Frou. Unfortunately, our French is pretty much none existent, so ordering was a little confused but the food was incredible. It may even have been my favourite meal of the holiday. Traditionally French with duck perfectly seasoned and a dip that I could die for. Needless to say, I was very impressed.

My sister was struggling with being unwell so we headed back to the hostel for a nap before venturing out again that evening. We headed out to see what was nearby to our hostel and found a delicious Tex-Mex restaurant called Indiana café. Now, I’m no expert on the whole cultural appropriation concept, but using Native American Indian masks as decoration didn’t sit right with me. Yet, morals aside, the food was tasty and we left feeling very content.

Indiana Cafe
Indiana Cafe

Deciding a little wander was needed to walk off our Burgers, we explored the area a little more. However, we soon were confronted with a homeless shelter and a lot of men in terrible conditions asking us for money.  It was quite horrible to see but an unfortunate reality of many cities. At least there was a shelter for them.

Wishing to get back to our room now, we hurried through the streets and crashed for the evening.

This is Part 2, to read Part 1 click here.

 

Paris 1 – Wandering the streets on Bastille Day

After a day breather from Wales, it was immediately on to celebrate my sister turning 21 in Paris. We took the 7.01am Eurostar from St Pancreas, arriving a Gare du Nord at 10.26am local time.  Unable to sleep on the train as it was so cold (like seriously, take at least 10 blankets. I had goose pimples!) we headed straight to our hostel, the FIAP Jean Monnet.

Navigating the metro system in Paris certainly was an experience – they have opening windows underground! With the help of google maps we managed to locate our hostel and the route we needed to take. Check in time wasn’t technically until 2pm but we were allowed immediately into our tiny room.

Everything was clean and tidy but the lack of air conditioning in the 27˚C+ heat was a little uncomfortable. Evenings were definitely noisy, especially on the Saturday night and the area was slightly more on the dodgy side in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris. The breakfast was a disappointment – we did not attempt it again. Nevertheless, for £67 a night, we couldn’t complain.

After a quick nap to recharge the batteries, we wandered through the streets of Paris to the Eiffel Tower. A nice three mile walk, it was perfect for fully taking in the atmosphere of Paris and exploring some areas we might not otherwise have done.

Graffiti artwork on our walk to the Eiffel Tower
Graffiti artwork on our walk to the Eiffel Tower

It was Bastille Day, France’s national day, and we spotted the dregs of the Bastille Day Parade travelling through the city. There was a fantastic feeling of patriotism, especially as we neared the Eiffel Tower where the evening celebrations would take place.

Before setting off, we stopped for a bite to eat at this Café/Restaurant called Fourteen and got our first taste of Paris. We sat outside in the earlier afternoon sun as our waitress ran across to the bakery across the road to retrieve our fresh baguettes. You really can’t get better than that!

On our journey we passed many beautiful buildings, including the Church of Saint-François-Xavier and the Hotel les Invalides.

Church of Saint-François-Xavier
Church of Saint-François-Xavier

The Hotel les Invalides is a collection of buildings all relating to France’s military history. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

Hotel les Invalides
Hotel les Invalides

As we had approached from the southern side, we were unable to enter into the complex, which is only accessible (to our knowledge) from the northern side. Something for next time!

Finally, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower. We could not get too close as everything was fenced off for the concert and fireworks taking place that evening. Nevertheless, we found a spot to sit and wait as the crowds teamed in and the orchestra practised for a night of opera.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower

Our stomachs starting to rumble, we decided to get some tea. Wandering down the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet we found Le Bouquet de Grenelle. Looking perfectly tacky, the food here was nothing to scream about but the serving staff made our night. They were attentive the entire evening and a little bit of flirt goes a long way! I don’t think we stopped laughing.

A few glasses of wine down and the clock only just hitting 8pm, we decided to forgo the fireworks and head back to the hostel. We were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Girl’s Trip – exploring Anglesey Part 2

This is Part 2, read Part 1 here.

Day 3 presented us with grey skies and drizzle. Thankfully, we were all feeling the need for a rest day. The worst of the rain was waited out “playing” snooker in the games room, reading and doing jigsaws. Because, yes, we are all old ladies.

View of Beaumaris Pier
Beaumaris Pier

Yet, a chilled morning gave us chance to book our cruise to Puffin Island in order to spot, you guessed it, some puffins! Our plans for the next day sorted, we headed into the pretty seaside town of Beaumaris where we had a lovely meal at the George and Dragon.

View from Beaumaris Pier
View from Beaumaris Pier

Wandering the streets, we window shopped and admired the multi-coloured houses along the seafront. Eventually making it to the pier where I remember crabbing with my Dad and sister many many years ago, we were mesmerised by the hundreds of jellyfish floating past. We must have spent an hour spotting the Lion’s Maine jellyfish as they floated past.

Colourful houses of Beaumaris
Colourful houses of Beaumaris

Luckily, we arrived back at the car just before it started to rain. Upon our return to Henllys, we continued to enjoy the games room and taught a couple of our friends how to play chess on the giant outdoor board. We made full use of the swimming pool, sauna and steam room again that evening.

Looking out from back of the boat
Looking out from back of the boat

The next day was once again a little miserable but we had booked onto the Puffin Island boat trip at 11am, something we’d been saying we needed to do since day 1. I would highly recommend the Seacoast Safaris. Their skipper was informative and intent on giving us the chance to see some Puffins – even circling out to sea in chase of these tiny birds.

Puffin Island
Puffin Island

We learnt some of the history of Anglesey and the Menai Strait, but the main focus was the many seabirds living on Puffin Island. From Cormorant to Kittiwake, the island was teaming and we almost ticked off our check list. Upon reaching the island, the boat slowed so we could squint to see the seabirds – scanning for any puffins. In doing so, we caught a glimpse of a seal resting below the rocks.

Puffin in the sea
Can you spot him?

You could sense the passion of the skipper as he meandered out to sea spotting puffins flying above and bobbing on the surface. We must have seen about twenty or more! Definitely impressed. Returning to the shore, we were all a little frozen so warmed up back at the apartment before playing some more chess and board games. A lovely last full day.

Trwyn Du Lighthouse
Trwyn Du Lighthouse

Our actual last day was spent playing more chess and board games before the long journey home. The sun had decided to join us again making for a beautiful departing view and even an ice cream once we were in Chester! All in all, a wonderful holiday spent with my best friends in a beautiful place.

View from HPB Henllys
View from HPB Henllys
HPB Henllys
HPB Henllys
View from HPB Henllys
View from HPB Henllys

This is Part 2, read Part 1 here.