Where to go for your mini moon in November

November in London could be rainy and dreary so Seville was a quick and sunny getaway, perfect as our first “mini moon” trip. It did not require significant planning either as the city was very walkable. We more of less followed this 3-day itinerary from Tripadvisor and adapted it as we like.

Seville central

The highlights of Seville were definitely:

Biking tour with See by Bike – We did both a ‘free’ walking tour and biking tour but we much preferred the biking tour, partly because we couldn’t fully understand our guide’s heavily accented English on the walking tour. We lucked out with a private biking tour as we were the only people joining the English tour. Our friendly guide took us around the city and we saw many of the landmarks. It was a good way to get oriented with the city and later revisit the places that we like to spend more time at. Bike tour was reasonable at €50 for two of us.

Real Alcazar – This must-see attraction lived up to its name. It was a very impressive architecture which reminded us of the ones in Marrakech, e.g. Bahia Palace, Ben Youssef Madrasa. Besides the architecture, our favourite part was the orange trees in the courtyard which made for excellent photo opportunities.

General admission is €11.50 per person but we managed to book ahead for Monday 4pm tickets that allowed us to enter at €1 per person. The latest update from the official website seems to have an even better deal: Monday from 18:00 to 19:00. from April to September, and from 16:00 to 17:00 from October to March: Free. Whatever you go for, our main advice is to book ahead because there were long queues for tickets when we were there.

Barrio Santa Cruz – Located near Real Alcazar, this is the city’s Jewish quarter filled with colourful houses and lively plazas which again, made for excellent photo opportunities.

Parque de Maria Luisa – We came upon this park via the bike tour. While the grass wasn’t maintained like a Royal Park in London, there was the most gorgeous architecture that was picture perfect, i.e. the architecture reflected symmetrically in the water set in front of it. We took a break at the cafe in the park and had some tortilla and jamon. We enjoyed it so much that we went back again the next day! Highly recommended.

Parque de Maria Luisa

Parque de Maria Luisa

Plaza de Espana – The postcard shot of Plaza de Espana was probably one of the things that put Seville on our list of ‘must visit’ cities. We loved the mosaics in the tiled walls and benches. Each alcove has its own unique mosaics and represents a province in Spain. Plaza de Espana is located inside Parque de Maria Luisa so you can head there on the same day.


We tried to take the postcard shot, still a long way off!


One of the many alcoves along the half circle.

Flamenco show – We watched a traditional flamenco show at the Museo del baile flamenco. We are probably not the best people to be able to appreciate it but the intricate costumes and the super fast tempo to which the dancers danced were highly impressive. Best to arrive early if you want front row seats as there was no allocated seating with tickets.

Metropol Parasol – This is a wooden structure that looks like a giant mushroom. Makes for some beautiful photography especially at dusk. Interesting fact: this structure was built at a cost of €100 million. I am guessing it will take them forever to break even as it costed a few euros to ride the elevator to the top.

Metropol Parasol

Delicious food – There’s no shortage of food options when in Seville or Spain in general. Among all the tortilla, fried fish and pulpo we ate, our favourite restaurant of all was ConTenedor, a ‘slow food’ restaurant which uses organic produce sourced from the Andalusia region. We had the most tasty rice dish with the most succulent prawn ever. And that was all I remember from this meal. We were lucky to score a table for lunch when we walked in.

ConTendor Seville

This was probably the best prawn we’ve ever had.

Wet shoes

It was worth trekking all the way in the rain and getting our shoes wet just to eat the rice with prawn dish.

The largest flea market in Europe: Braderie de Lille

I always used to say, “why would I go back to the same place when I could go somewhere I haven’t been before?” I’ve now officially found a city that I would happily return to same time next year. And that is to visit the Braderie de Lille which is 1 hr 30 mins away from London on the Eurostar.

Taking place on the first weekend of every September, the flea market is the largest in Europe. There are over 100km of sidewalks occupied by stallholders, ranging from professional ones selling vintage furniture to your neighbour selling their bric-a-brac. We enjoyed the convivial atmosphere while browsing the goods. Having seen our fair share of antique shops in U.K., we were impressed with the sheer amount and variety of goods on offer. It seemed like the whole city is out on the streets browsing or eating ‘moules frites’ (mussels with fries). We particularly liked that the event was not full of drunken people that you might see in a city-wide event. Just music on the streets and people out and about enjoying themselves!

Some seriously talented musicians could be found at the square!

No shortage of friteries 😉

The first day (Saturday) is the busiest and probably the best day to be there if you’re hoping to find some hidden gems. As the market is very big, the key is to get a map of the market and identify the zone that you’re interested in and head there straight away.

It was fascinating to see all the goods on offer, even though we didn’t particular appreciate taxidermy.

Finally, we found our own hidden gem – this beautiful stool which is now multi-functional in our new home. After a few eyebrow raises from security as it was X-rayed, we breathed a sign of relief when we brought it safely onboard the Eurostar and finally home!

This stool served as a handy mobile rest stop after miles of exploring all the wares. Well worth it.

The food was nothing to write home about since every restaurant (even a Thai restaurant) was serving mussels and fries. The food was also not particularly vegetarian friendly. However, we did enjoy our fair share of pastries and patisseries!

We thoroughly enjoyed our first Braderie and we will most certainly be coming back. Hopefully the stall selling industrial pieces from dismantled Hungarian factories is still there!

Meteora and Thessaloniki 5 days itinerary

This is a long overdue post but here is a recap of our Greece holiday over the late May bank holiday weekend.
“If we only have 1 euro left in our pocket, we rather go out and spend it with friends than stay at home and feel sorry for ourselves”. This was the motto of one guy we met during our five day stay. And this was seemingly apparent as we walked around the streets of Thessaloniki and Kalambaka. Restaurants and bars were filled to the brim every day and night. Shops were closed for 3 out of 5 days we were there. It makes you wonder, how do the locals make money?
Day 1 – Flying from London to Thessaloniki

We arrived at Thessaloniki late in the evening and crashed at Hotel Atlantis. It was a small and basic room but it was 15 minutes walk from the train station where we would take the train to Kalambaka early the next morning. We were surprised that a number of cafes and restaurants were still open at 11pm. We couldn’t resist and bought a ‘pastry with cheese’. It was disappointing that the pastry was literally 200 grams of feta cheese wrapped in several layers of filo pastry.

Tip: All the websites we looked at say to take bus 78 from Thessaloniki airport to town. Bus 78 didn’t exist! Take bus X1 during daytime and N1 during nighttime.
Day 2 – Travelling from Thessaloniki to Kalambaka
Our impressions of filo pastry were redeemed when we bought a leek filo pastry pie for breakfast from the train station.

The train journey takes about 3 hours but there was no direct train from Thessaloniki to Kalambaka. We had to change at Paleofornos station which felt like a deserted station in the middle of nowhere. The train guard doubles up as a mechanic as we saw him running across the track with some tools to connect the train carts. All signs were in Greek and the departure boards were not working. As we talked to a local later, we learned that train stations were running out of cash, perhaps that’s why they don’t bother turning on the departure boards to save money. Luckily, most locals were very friendly and proactively asked us if we needed help when we looked slightly lost or were simply consulting a map.
Paleofornos train station where we interchanged for a train to Kalambaka.
We arrived at Monastiri Guest House where our room had an amazing view of Meteora. The owner was very friendly and even gave us a ride into town even though it was only 10 minutes’ walk away. We didn’t utilise the outdoor swimming pool but it looked very relaxing.
Lunch was at Meteora Restaurant where we had an excellent spinach, strawberry and sesame seed salad. It was so tasty that we later tried to recreate it at home.
We joined a sunset tour in the afternoon where we checked out St Stephen’s Monastery.
Dinner was at Yamas Taverna where we had typical Greek food such as calamari, stuffed peppers and chicken souvlaki.
Day 3 – Hiking in Meteora (means ‘floating in air’)

This was the one thing we absolutely wanted to do prior to visiting Meteora and it was definitely the highlight of this trip. As the weather forecast predicted rain, we were very lucky that it was actually sunny on the morning of the hike. The hike lasted for around 4.5 hours on gentle terrain. Apparently every rock has its own name based on their shape or physical characteristics. The Great Meteoron Monastery was very impressive especially when we learned that it took 100 years to build and 7 years just to bring the materials up to the mountain. We saw many caves; the story goes that hermits who lived in caves had to rely on locals for help as their muscles atrophied over time.

In the afternoon, we took a bus back to Thessaloniki which lasted approximately 2.5 hours. Dinner was at Frutti di Mare where we had the most delicious shrimp wrapped and fried in potatoes. Portions were generous and they gave us some very strong liquor after our meal free of charge.

Thessaloniki accommodation: Grey Studios. Great place with a simple Scandi decor. The owners seem to be interior designers.


Day 4 – Walking around Thessaloniki city

Woke up at 11am! We had breakfast at Estrella, a cafe with dishes like 64 degrees eggs and vibes that make you think you could be in Shoreditch, London.

There was not many ‘must see’ sights in Thessaloniki so we simply walked around town, ate ice cream, and walked along the seafront where we watched the sunset. For dinner, we tried Crete food for the first time at a restaurant called Charoupi. The taste was similar to Mediterranean style. Portions were large and we had the dessert on the house again. In general, we find that desserts are always complementary and service charge is not included in the bill.

It was quite relaxing to walk along the promenade in Thessaloniki and watch the sunset.
We walked up to Ano Poli, Thessaloniki’s old town. Great views!

Day 5 – Thessaloniki

This day happened to be Whit Monday, a public holiday so nearly all shops were closed. Our favourite discovery of the day was a tahini cannoli from Ergon, a cafe/deli/shop. We loved it so much that we brought some back for the office. It was only a few months later that we discovered, to our delight, that there is actually an Ergon in London!

Shortly after we took this photo, somebody dropped the remaining half of this baklava on the ground before the other had a chance to try it!

Day trip from London to Whitstable

For the first May Bank holiday weekend, we had a staycation instead and went to Whitstable, a small seaside town about 1.5 hours train from London Victoria. Our first impression was that this is a very ‘white’ town with few international tourists. As you walk down the main street, there are loads of bars, charity shops and some independent shops. As it was around the time of the Royal wedding, there were all sorts of Harry and Meghan bunting and memorabilia.

This pub had some live music, making for a lively atmosphere.

It was a sunny day so we spent it walking by the seaside, where many families and kids played on the rock ‘beach’ while seagulls flew about.

We walked back and forth and back and forth until we decided The Forge was the seafood shack worthy of our stomach space and money. Naturally there was a queue – we queued for about 15 minutes and ordered half a dozen oysters and then sat at their outdoor tables to enjoy them.

Then we had coffee at Blueprint Coffee, a cute artisan cafe that sources their coffee beans from Ozone Roastery in London. It came with London prices but we loved it nonetheless, especially the banana bread which had a nice caramelised crunch to it.

Dinner was at Birdies restaurant, a French bistro with red checkered table cloths where we had a delicious lobster bisque and some tasty seafood. Definitely make a reservation as we saw guests being turned away.

All in all, Whitstable is a nice day out from London once you’ve exhausted the other towns like Oxford, Cambridge and Bath. We will be back though, as we spotted some pretty and one-of-a-kind furniture by independent artists.

A ride back in time to Sri Lanka’s colonial past

Sri Lanka is a destination we’ve wanted to go to for the longest time. So much that my Lonely Planet guide is now 3 years old.

We spent 6 full days in Sri Lanka not including travel time and let me say first that I wish we were there for longer. 10 days would’ve allowed us to travel at a more relaxed pace and perhaps see another town.

However, if you are pressed for time, you may find our itinerary useful.

Day 1 – Colombo to Kandy

Upon landing in Colombo international airport at 11:40pm, we booked a taxi which took us straight to Kandy. This was a 3 hour journey (US$50) – we were surprised at the amount of cars and trucks on the road at this time of the night. We took this route anyway as it allowed us to start early in Kandy the following day.

Day 2 – Kandy

We are not massively interested in religious and cultural sites so we skipped the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and other similar sites. However, you will spot massive Buddha temples on street corners and roadsides. In Kandy, what struck us most is the chaotic and polluted roads as our tuk-tuk veered down mountain sides and into the heart of the traffic in the city’s centre. We found the pollution here to be worse than Colombo partly because the roads are not wide enough so your tuk-tuk sits in traffic a lot.

What we enjoyed most in Kandy is the cooking class we took at Thotupola Residence. There were only three students including us, and we learned to make a variety of curry dishes including chicken, green beans, beetroot and lentil. The ingredients were extremely fresh and gloriously colourful and we had to grate our own coconut to make our coconut milk and sambal – the lunch afterwards remains the best meal we had throughout our entire time in Sri Lanka. Don’t forget the freshly fried poppadum, of course.

On the recommendation of our tuk-tuk driver, we had an Ayurvedic full body massage at the Ayvehrda Wadagedara. It was very relaxing minus the oil they poured into our hair which left our hair oily for a day plus more. We paid around Rs 9500 for both of us. Not sure if we were paying a foreign price as the prices weren’t listed.

Day 3 – Kandy to Ella

All the guide books will tell you to take the observation class for the train journey so you can observe the scenery. In our case, we were lucky to even get second class tickets because apparently they sell out a month in advance! We could see many frustrated backpackers who had unreserved seats and ended up standing for hours. For the record, it took us 6.5 hours on the train from Kandy to Ella. We sat on the left side of the train and were convinced that it was the more scenic side. We were lucky to have a group of guys playing local music in our carriages which made the passing hours more enjoyable.

The train journey took up a large part of the day and it was nearly 3pm by the time we got into Ella. Ella is a pretty small town so you can walk nearly everywhere except it’s quite hilly and the roads may not have lights in the dark. Tuk-tuks are relatively cheap (Rs 200-350 to go from our hotel to town).

In Ella, we stayed at an amazing accommodation, the Arana Sri Lanka Eco Lodge and Yoga Centre. The owners, a German and Sri Lankan couple, have built the hotel taking into the natural environment. Everything in our room was made of wood. We had breakfast and dinner here one evening and the food was very tasty. We loved the breakfast which included a variety of coconut roti, pancakes and fruits. The chef was very friendly and never minded us when we asked for the recipe to some of his dishes.

Day 4 – Ella

Considering how chilled Ella was, it’s a miracle that we woke up for a sunrise hike at 5:30am. Our grogginess was quickly awakened when our guide Abi (who had ankles of steel hiking in flip flops) led us up many flights of steep stairs. We were travelling at quite a fast pace and after about an hour, we reached Ella Rock. The sun was up from the horizon already; we would advise starting at 4:30am to capture the best photos. After the sunrise, we hiked another hour or so to Ella Rock where we saw some magnificent views of rolling mountains against the bright blue sky as far as the eye can see. Our thighs were absolutely killed by the end of the hike but this hike was one of the highlights of our trip. For your information, our guide charged Rs 2000 total for the hike.

The rest of the day was spent lounging in town, eating vegetable khottu, drinking copious amount of fresh coconut water, and shopping for a new dress because Sharon didn’t bring enough summer clothes. We especially liked checking out the tea shops which had an abundant variety of tea leaves (e.g. coconut, cinnamon). They smelled so sweet!

Day 5 – Udawalawae National Park

We chose to go to the Udawalawae National Park because Lonely Planet said that watching elephants here “rivals some of the best safaris in East Africa”. Our research suggested that it was best to go on a safari in the morning 6-9am or late afternoon 3-6pm. So we woke up in the wee hours of early morning for a 5am departure to Udawalawae National Park. The car ride was about 2.5 hours. Our hotel kindly helped us arranged a taxi driver who drove us to the national park, waited till we finish the safari, then drove us to Galle (Rs 14000).

Our original plan was to get to the park, find a safari driver which we were told would be dotted at the entrance of the park. However, it seems that our taxi driver had some private arrangements with a safari company so we were (slightly) pressured into a private tour which costed Rs 6000. Sharon hated being pressured/cheated; Jason was convinced that it was worth the money because our jeep looked better. A safari park guide later jumped onto our jeep and introduced himself as a ‘volunteer’ who worked solely on tips. We later realised that many jeeps did not have a guide with them. Our guide expected a tip of Rs 1000 though we gave significantly less. Apparently the minimum wage in Sri Lanka is Rs 10000 per month.

Given the safari company’s name was Crocodile Safari, we were slightly concerned that we would end up seeing crocodiles rather than elephants. Our worries were unfounded as we started to see elephants within 10 mins into the drive. Our guide pointed out the difference between male and female elephants (male is usually alone whereas females hang out in groups). The jeep gets within 10 metres of the elephants so you get to see them at a fairly short distance. We saw five elephants together at most. These elephants did not have tusks; our guide told us this was due to a degenerative disease – probably for the better as the park doesn’t experience any issues with poaching.

We also saw other animals including water buffalo, crocodile, Sri Lankan national bird, green bee hunter and peacocks.

Do not underestimate how tiring a safari can be – Sharon struggled to stay awake in the heat!

Safari costs (total for 2 people):
Crocodile Safari: Rs 6000
Entrance fee for park: Rs 7000
Tip for guide: Rs 1000

Day 6 – Galle

Galle was a 3.5 hours drive from Udawalawae National Park. We stayed at the Green Casa which was outside of Galle Fort and approximately a 10 mins tuk-tuk ride away. Although slightly out of town, the accommodation was spacious with its high ceilings and delicious local breakfast. The hotel’s owner has his own cinnamon plantation and this was evident in the cinnamon scent used throughout the accommodation.

We spent the rest of the day walking around town which included some colonial architecture that must’ve been glorious once upon a time, unfortunately now they are mostly dilapidated buildings. Some have been converted into cafes, restaurants and independent shops. We had lunch at the Peddlar’s Inn and dinner at Lucky Fort where you can try 10 different curries for a mere Rs 1500 for two people.

Day 7 – Colombo

The train ride from Galle to Colombo takes 2 hours and it was the hottest and most cramped journey imaginable. We had the lucky spots standing by the train doors until a lady shouted at us while shoving her pram on board. Slowly we were edged to a space between two connecting carriages and we balanced precariously while the train chugged along. Impressively, vendors continue to walk up and down the train selling snacks such as wade and fresh pineapple.

Once we got to Colombo, we got cheated by the tuk-tuk drivers standing outside the station who took us to our hotel about 5km away for Rs 700. Do not commit such mistake – apparently all tuk-tuks in Colombo are metered and all you need to do is walk further away from the station and flag down a tuk-tuk by the main road.

Colombo is much more urban compared to the rest of Sri Lanka and you get the sense it’s very much a city undergoing rapid development. There were the tell tale signs of McDonald’s and lots of construction going on along the main highway facing the harbour that announces the imminent arrival of hotels like Hyatt.

Our favourite part about Colombo was hanging out at Galle Face Green watching the beautiful sunset which was many shades of crimson, orange and red. The Galle Face Green is a green space stretching along the ocean for about 0.5km and many locals hang out here around sunset and Valentine’s day. There are also many stalls selling street food. We were tempted to try but skipped it given that our stomachs were feeling unsettled at the end of the week. Having diarrhoea at a place where you have to pay for dodgy bathrooms with no toilet paper is not a situation you want to be in! Despite our best attempt to avoid such situation, it happened anyway. On Valentine’s Day. Fact.

The other thing we enjoyed about Colombo was checking out some shops which we wouldn’t find back home. Sharon’s favourite was a shop called SALT which sold dresses handmade using the batik technique. There was also a Fairtrade social enterprise called Selyn which sold products made using the traditional handloom.

Being the capital, Colombo had a lot more choice in the restaurant scene. We tried Monsoon where the modern decor could pass for a hip restaurant in London. If you like curry, The Fat Crab was a great place for spicy crab curry and tiger prawns. We also tried vegetable rotti from local bakeries which was tasty, filling and a total bargain (Rs 40). After many days going without coffee, we finally attended to our coffee craving and tried Hansa Cafe on Lonely Planet’s recommendation. However, it was disappointing as the cappuccino was too milky.

Overall, we had a fantastic time in Sri Lanka. Our main recommendations would be to spend longer in Hill Country, always carry Kleenex and plan your transport routes in advance.