Category: Travel, travels



My last visit was in 2003 but that was on official business so it shouldn’t count. In 1986 and 2000, I was there. First as a student, the next as a tourist. Most things remained the same, but for the price of West End tickets. As a newbie watching musicals for the first time, I was very lucky to be there when Les Miserables first showed some 3 months before my arrival. With student discount, it was a steal watching it and quite frankly, I was beyond awed. I’ve never seen the likes of it till then. I’ve watched it several times since, both in West End and Broadway, and even back in my home country. This Cameron Mackintosh was my new hero. Fast forward 2019. Ticket prices have spiralled. Lowest-priced musicals still hovered from £30 upwards. And I mean really upwards. If you’re aiming to watch only one or 2, sure you can splurge. But not if you’re meaning to watch more. And so, rather than stay longer in London, we moved to stay nearly a week in Amsterdam and then another week in Brussels before heading back to London and onwards to Bath and Cardiff. We made many day trips from our city base using trains, buses and vans. This is our Trip Summary from May 19 to June 12, 2019.

London

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2019/05/21/touchdown-london/

London

Day Trip from London: Stonehenge

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2019/05/23/one-in-a-million-stonehenge/

Amsterdam

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2019/05/25/its-been-awhile-amsterdam/

DayTrips from Amsterdam

Giethorn

Zaanse Schans

Volendam & Marken

Delft & The Hague

Brussels

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2019/06/01/touchdown-brussels/

Day Trips from Brussels

Bruges

Ghent

Antwerp

Back to UK

Bath

The Cotswolds

Day Trip to Cardiff, Wales


The Castle looms at the end of the Main Street. From Bath Spa Station, we bought a “Group Save” return train fare for only £86 for 5 pax. The promo deal works so long as we hop on the train off peak hours. Not bad for an hour’s train ride out of Bath. And Cardiff is so manageable. From the train station, we just walked out and took a left at the first corner and walked along that main road towards the castle. I’d say no more than 10 minutes walking. The Castle is where you can board the hop on, hop off red bus. My tip? Forget that. Just do the Castle and then perhaps the Museum after. Just another ten-minute walk. Then head back to the same Main Street to walk back to catch your return train. You can browse through a couple of churches, some good restaurants and a few shops. But do take your time in the Castle. It’s the highlight of your Cardiff visit.

Cardiff Castle packs 2,000 years of history. Your admission ticket includes an audio guide and takes care of introducing you to Wales’ leading heritage site. The Roman fort was built around 55 AD, but the original motte and bailey castle was built in the very late 11th century by Norman invaders. Norman architecture and Victorian elements have been incorporated and thus transformed the Castle to what it is today. Some of the lavish interiors even have Gothic, Mediterranean and Arabian designs. And how about those falcons (or dragons?) on the vast Castle grounds?

The main hall with its intricately designed ceilings, arches, murals, fireplace and chandeliers may look a tad eccentric with a good mishmash of many elements here and there. Like not a space was spared to display power and wealth. But the study hall cum library remains my favorite. There’s a quiet elegance seeing how those books were lined and neatly stacked in those shelves. God knows how many monarchs and blue-blooded men and women have gently flipped the pages of those old books. And it looked so regal to have picked a book to read, chosen a seat to occupy and while away the time while intermittently looking out the elegant glass windows. Perhaps with a cup of tea, pinkie up for good measure.

The mishmash may be explained by the castle’s long, complicated history. Ownership passed many families and generations, where major renovations have been introduced with each set of owners from Norman invaders to Kings to Earls to Marquesses until 1947 when the Castle was given to the City of Cardiff. Today, it is Cardiff’s topmost attraction and houses the “Firing Line Regimental Museum”. It is also a favorite and default events place for many of the city’s many festivals, celebrations and other musical performances.

Did I say Firing Line? The Cardiff Castle Museum of the Welsh Soldier lies underneath the main entrance and we took the opportunity to claim some chairs here to rest our aching leg muscles after doing the castle rounds. More so if you climb the Keep’s Tower. On display here are the Queen’s collection of Dragoon Guards Museum and the Royal Welsh. Two men, obviously ex-soldiers, offered to make a presentation about the significance of these collections including the artillery used by the guards. Out of curiosity, I tried one as you can see in the photo above. No big fan here.

We did take the hop-on, hop-off bus. Rode it right in front of the Castle and ensured an hour’s “joy ride” with audio guides. If we had time, we could have gotten off to take advantage of free museum admissions. Outside of that, nothing much drew interest. By the time the red bus passed near the Cardiff Central Station, we were ready to have our very late lunch at the Prince of Wales restaurant which we passed earlier. Then back to the station to board our train out of this Welsh capital. Not bad for a day trip from Bath which cost us only £17 for the train, £13.50 for the Castle and £15 for the hop on/off red bus. You may skip the red bus when you visit and just linger at The Castle, then walk to the Cardiff National Museum near the City Hall and Cardiff University. How about that? Just £ 30 for a day trip in this Welsh capital!

The Cotswolds


Always in my mind. Always in my list. Been to Stratford-upon-Avon on its north side, and south of it, Bath, but never stepped into the real Cotswolds territory. Until now. Time well spent in the English Countryside. In some places, time stood still. The honey-coloured stone cottages, the centuries-old market halls, “wool churches” and biscuit-hued houses with dry stone wall fences. So lovely!

Castle Combe

Malmesbury

Corsham

Bourton-on-the-Water

Arlington Row in Bibury

Stow-on-the-Wold

Tetbury and Cirencester

And finally, Chippenham, where the wedding was held. The reason why we’re here. The Lost Orangery in Euridge Manor was the perfect venue for such a fairytale wedding.

Chippenham


We came here for this wedding. So did the rest of the family and friends. Like six continents represented. Yes, only Antarctica wasn’t represented. It was a gathering of treasured friends over many years. For 2 lovely souls who swiped right and found each other. Destiny happened and we were all called in as witnesses to this ceremony that held so much meaning for everyone.

The weather forecast was WET and COLD. But the warmth from families and friends reuniting for this joyous occasion likely reversed that warning. The sun shone and there was not a drop of rain. It still grew terribly cold towards evening but by that time, everyone has warmed to the epic speeches, enjoyed the cocktails and sumptuous dinner, and later swayed to the beat as the dancing (and more drinking) began. Two nights in a row in this pre-wedding and wedding venue. Even the dog was invited!

This wedding has set the bar for truly meaningful, intimate and elegant weddings. Not just because of an excellent wedding venue and reception. More because of the chemistry among the wedding guests (you’d never guess some were meeting for the first time!), the hilarious yet warm exchange of banter between the fathers of the bride and groom, the sweet message from the bride’s mom, the groom’s speech which spoke volumes of love and friendship, and the epic speech of the best man who has known the groom since they were children and who shared many funny anecdotes that drew the most laughs and cheers from everyone.

The Euridge Manor, Chippenham looks out to a vast green field where you’d spot cattle and sheep grazing. Too bad we failed to watch the sunset at 10pm at this time of the year. Too busy watching the newlyweds’ nice moves on the dance floor! Must have been truly breathtaking, especially when viewed from the backyard of the nearby cottage where the bride and her family stayed on the eve of the wedding events. It may have grown quite uncomfortable as the temps dipped, but this is one wedding affair for the books. We do not wish to forget it. To the bride and groom, all our best wishes for a happy life together!


The “capital” of the Cotswold is Cirencester, but a Prince lives and runs a business store in Tetbury. Cirencester is the biggest town in the Cotswolds area and its skyline is dominated by the Saint John the Baptist Parish Church, one of the finest “wool” churches in England. Wandering around, you get a feel of a “big city” yet marvel at the stone buildings which used to be the 16th century manors of wool merchants now turned into hotels, boutiques, pubs, bistros, bed & breakfast inns.

The St. John Baptist Church in Cirencester is Gothic in architectural style with pillars bearing the crest of the wool merchants who financed its construction. Its glass stained windows and fan vaulting invite you inside the parish church that feels more like a Cathedral in grandeur and style. Behind is the Abbey Grounds where once stood an Augustinian monastery. A bit further down and through a Norman archway is your Cotswolds “countryside” beyond the city. Not too far from here is the more popular and more photographed Bibury, just 8 miles and 12 minute drive away. And don’t forget the very first college of agriculture in the English-speaking world. Founded in 1845, the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester has no less than HRH Prince Charles as University President.

In 2008, Prince Charles opened Highgrove Store in Tetbury, named after Highgrove House where the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall has a family residence. Prince Charles’ environmentalist philosophy echoes in the running of his private residence and gardens. Just as well, he sells his organic products in Highgrove Store here in Tetbury and the sales proceeds donated to the Prince’s Charitable Fund. It’s a lovely boutique where one finds anything from teas, jams to ceramic products and toys.

Along the main road – Church Street – and right in the center of town is the popular 17th century Market House. Its bright mustard hue stands out and is a favorite spot among photography buffs. An important part of Tetbury’s history, this stone building used to house a wool and yarn market in medieval times. It is still used as a market hall for various crafts fairs and other functions. Because of its alleged “royal connections” and much “wool history”, Tetbury has claimed fame and in fact, an architectural gem with many listed merchant houses and weavers’ cottages. If you’re in the area, drop by the Prince’s creatively inspired Highgrove Gardens and buy something from the Highgrove Store. Walk the streets and marvel at the many historic stone buildings. Who knows? You may even bump into Tony, Tetbury’s resident town crier, dressed in full regalia!


We were famished by the time we got to Stow-on-the-Wold. This time, a proper afternoon tea with scones in Lucy’s. The Old Bakery is full but no worries, this old market town has an abundance of tea rooms and also antique shops. Between the two, you know where I headed to. Hard to resist freshly-baked scones with lashings of good ol’ clotted cream and strawberry jam. But I needed more than that and so I settled for the Cotswold ham served with matured cheddar and homemade brown bread warmed and toasted under the grill. You bet I waddled out of Lucy’s Tearoom after that meal.

Lucy’s Tea Room

Scones from Lucy’s Tearoom

Lucy’s Tearoom is one of many in Stow-on-the-Wold. It comes with a good reputation and the cafe itself has a charming courtyard garden you’d pass on the way to the loo 😜 Obviously, Stow-on-the-Wold is a choice spot for lunch or afternoon tea. Most cafes were full even at a very late lunch hour, and the car park confirms this is a pit stop for many visitors to Cotswolds. It is the highest among the Cotswolds towns at 800 feet where 7 major roads converge. A hub, if I may call it that, just like in the past when it hosted big sheep trading fairs at the height of the wool industry of Cotswolds.

Cotswold Ham, anyone?

Just like the other villages in the 5 counties covered by The Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold has the same biscuit-colored cottages and green fields. Art enthusiasts would love visiting the 3 art galleries to be found here. Or you can choose to shop in any of the antique shops or like us, check out some of the ancient inns and tearooms. It is said that J. R. R. Tolkien was inspired by Stow-on-the-Wold when he wrote Lord of the Rings. Specifically, the Doors of Durin were inspired by the north door of St. Edward’s Parish Church. Many photos were taken here. So I’d grab one just to show you. Why? Because we failed to see this. Darn. Too busy and too hungry for lunch. By the time we were done with lunch, it was time to move.

Sourced from the Net

Sourced from the Net

Indeed, this market town is a jumble of art, history, culture and gastronomy. From what I gather, there’s a wide range of dining options from fine restaurants to artsy cafes to ale pubs. And as I mentioned earlier, at least 3 art galleries. Choice is yours to make. Unless you’re staying the night here, better plan on which to check out or which NOT to miss! Listen and take our advice. Learn from us 🙄


This is one of my favorites among the market towns and villages we visited in the Cotswolds. Many promotion materials such as brochures feature these cottages. Easily, one of Cotswolds’ most photographed sites. In fact, UK passports carry that image on its inside covers. There isn’t much to do though so visitors tend to congregate around the narrow street past the footbridge for a good photo op with the row of old stone cottages in the background. Poor residents! I can imagine how young families putting babies to sleep cope with all the noise of tourists. And we saw many coaches offloading tourists!

Arlington Row, Bibury

The Footbridge

The row of cottages have been there since the 14th century. Built initially as monastic wool stores and barns, they were converted to weavers’ cottages in the 17th century. The weavers then supplied cloth for fulling to the nearby Arlington Mill, now a museum. Fulling is a process in woollen cloth making where the cloth is cleansed of all oils and impurities to make it thicker. Within the same area is Saint Mary’s Church. The dry stone walls are everywhere and it must be a chore trying to maintain them — what with almost every tourist touching and feeling them. Remember, these walls have no cement 😱

A young family’s cottage?

The Road To Bibury

At the time we visited, we found a group of Japanese tourists in the Arlington Row. No chance I can snap a photo without the crowd going up and down the row of weavers’ cottages, UNLESS you climb a steep incline for a solo shot 😜 The place is particularly popular with the Japanese because of its association with Emperor Hirohito. The story goes that the Emperor stayed in this village while still a Prince on a European holiday. He has been a big fan of Bibury since then. Why am I not surprised? The village looks like it was peeled off some historical novel. I am no Prince or Princess, but I’m a big fan too. Kudos to the National Trust for preserving this heritage site.

Arlington Row, Bibury

Arlington Row, Bibury

Getting here is fairly easy. But parking is a major concern. Think of those humongous vans and coaches ferrying selfie stick-wielding tourists. And if you’re driving, pray you don’t get stuck behind a tractor transporting some fresh manure to nearby farms. Yes, Victoria, ain’t easy to overtake around the bends and on the wrong side of the road at that! But hey, this quaint village with a cluster of honey-coloured stone cottages is so postcard-pretty that you won’t feel sorry visiting it. The stream that runs through it attracts many wildlife and while busy with tourists, the swans and ducks seem oblivious to hooo-mans. They go about their business and certainly act like it’s their territory and we are intruders. Well, we are. 🙄

Arlington Row, Bibury

Arlington Row, Bibury

After this visit, I now feel like watching “Stardust” and “Bridget Jones Diary” again. Both movies used Bibury as location setting. And maybe next visit, I’d stay in the biggest stone building in the area. The ivy-clad Swan Hotel only has 4 stars but I’d give it a 5 star for its location alone — right along the banks of the River Coln in Bibury. Price-wise, it’s a steal. Last I checked, it is even cheaper than the overrated London hotels we stayed in. Yes, the best lesson I picked up from this trip is to stay in London only if I have to, like if I’m watching a West End play or musical. Otherwise, off to the countryside like this market town. 🌿🍃🌱🍂💐🌺🥀


Considered a “big village” among the tiny market towns in the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water lies in a valley populated by no more than 4,000. You’d find crowds here though, as busloads of tourists visit this charming village that’s also fondly called “Venice of Cotswolds”. The 5 low bridges, all constructed with local stones, spanning over the River Windrush is a charmer. All have very descriptive names: the Mill Bridge (built 1654), the High Bridge (1756), Payne’s Bridge (1776), New Bridge (1911) and the Coronation Bridge to replace a wooden footbridge built in 1750. The river cutting through town used to be wider until it was rechanneled to power the 3 mills.

Unlike the more bucolic Castle Combe and Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water is more modern and vibrant with its antique and souvenir shops, tearooms and restaurants lining the riverbank. The whole place is actually “prettied-up” for the tourists and it’s no brainer to think the tourism industry is making good money here. If you like shopping, you’d get busy here. And most restaurants offer good views of the river flowing through the entire town, complete with swans, ducks, even pigeons. There is a Museum of Vintage Cars as well as a “model village” showing a miniature Bourton-on-the-Water complete with bridges and stone houses. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit any. Just as well as I don’t fancy a car museum nor a village scale model. But I found a bench by the riverbank. And the time to sit still even for just a moment. It was a pleasant day. Not sunny, but at least it didn’t rain. Not too cold too.

The name Bourton-on-the-Water derives from a Saxon phrase meaning village or settlement by the fort or camp. Except that that settlement has been fully commercialised. Funny but every time I see shops selling gemstones like one would find in cruise liners, it hits a panic button. Instant alert that it is a tourist trap. Definitely not your idea of “countryside” but the stone houses, some ivy covered, still hits a spot. And yes, the low bridges over the River Windrush add charm. Like Venice? No gondolas for sure as they can’t pass under those low footbridges. But still a charmer. No wonder it’s one of the more popular towns in the Cotswolds area.


Not too many have been to the Cotswolds. And when visiting Cotswolds, Corsham isn’t exactly top of mind. But we’re happy to have decided to stay here since it’s very near to the 3 wedding events we were attending one weekend. Euridge Manor in Wiltshire and Castle Combe aren’t too far away, just 15-20 minutes drive. And Lacock is just some 10-15 minutes drive away. Besides, Corsham has its own charm too, without being soooo isolated. The latter is important since we didn’t want to drive and therefore considered the hotel’s proximity to shops, number of dining outlets, attractions and facility in hailing cabs. Alright, staying above a pub is a plus too.

But really, how often do you walk the town’s streets along with peacocks and peahens? They’re officially Corsham residents and have grown used to people. We stayed in one of those pubs in the area. Yeah, like getting your room and a beer too. And I bet these peacocks watch out for those who’ve had one too many beers. Methuen Arms can be noisy at night especially on weekends. But their restaurant serves very good food and has a good wine selection. Breakfasts here were just heavenly. One breakfast, I had a squirrel staring me down from a window. Must be jealous of the toasted bagel and smoked trout with mashed avocado I had for brekkie.

Full English Brekkie? Bagel with Salmon or Trout? Toasties?

The 17th century schoolroom and almshouses, Town Hall, Post Office, Elephant Bums, Corsham Court, Flemish Cottages, are all walking distance from the hotel. And they stand right next to more pubs, tiny offices, craft shops, convenience stores, coffee joints and restaurants. We even spotted an Indian and a Chinese restaurant which seem to be popular among the locals. (You guessed right, one of us ordered some noodles and another dish to takeaway — for midnight snacks!)

Only a parking lot and a backyard separates Methuen Arms from the Corsham Court and Saint Bart’s Church. There are paved and cobblestoned paths, but it was an easy, short walk across Corsham Park. Saint Bart is short for St Bartholomew, a church which dates back to Saxon times. A marker on its wall honours the Corsham men who perished during the First World War. The graveyard is right next to the Church, looking real pretty for an old cemetery. On the other hand, Corsham Court used to house a Saxon royal manor and belongs to the Methuen family since 1745. It was perfect as location setting for the movie “Remains of the Day” starring two of my favourites: Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

Corsham Court

They do look like Elephant Bums, right?

The Saint Bart and the adjacent cemetery may look too pretty. In my book, I like the experience of seeing peacocks roam High Street where one finds 17th century Flemish cottages then built for the Flemish weavers who revived the wooden industry in this town. The days we spent in this area, we were extremely busy for the wedding events. But it only took a few hours of leisurely walking to reach these tourist spots. We found Corsham very orderly and clean — despite the pub noise! And amidst that pub noise, I overheard 2 authors discussing a book they are writing together. Either that or one is an editor. With that lovely erudite-ish British accent, i was drawn to their exchange, eavesdropping and finding delight in it. My bad!

Saint Bart’s

The Graveyard beside St. Bart’s

Next time I visit the Cotswolds, I’d likely go back to this former coaching inn with Georgian-style architecture – Methuen Arms – but time the visit in spring. Either to stay or enjoy a good meal and a beer. Or both. Still won’t drive, but biking can be an option. Also learned there’s a hiking trail in the Cotswolds. Now, that even makes it more interesting. Why not?

Trivia: Camilla And Andrew Parker-Bowles lived here in Corsham until they divorced in 1995. Their house was then sold to former Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason who still lives in the Corsham estate with his wife.

Also, the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip, married to Queen Elizabeth) spent time in Corsham teaching cadets in the HMS Royal Arthur at the time he was engaged to marry the then future Queen.


It is the oldest borough in England. I didn’t know that. And I’m sure addicted to anything old. 🙄 So I promptly bought a brochure at the Abbey to brush up on Malmesbury. If it’s old, it’s bound to be so rich in history and I’m a sucker for good old tales. Apart from being old, it is also pretty. We meandered in a winding footpath leading up to the Old Bell Hotel — reputed to be the oldest hotel in England, built to accommodate scholars then studying at the Abbey. The hotel is right beside the Abbey of Malmesbury, both structures standing on foundations dating back to the 12th century. The Abbey holds the tomb of King Athelstan, reputedly the first “King of All England”. There is an Athelstan Museum inside the Town Hall telling the history of the town built on the site of a 4,500 year old hill fort. Outside and surrounding the Abbey are tombstones including that of 33 year old Hannah Twynnoy who was killed by a tiger that escaped from a traveling circus. And there’s the story of a “flying monk” who crafted wings and jumped out of a window to land in broken legs. But he survived the crash 🙄 Such impressive architecture, fascinating history and interesting stories and tales!

Malmesbury

Malmesbury

Malmesbury

The old lady manning the desk inside the Abbey was so charming with her soft voice explaining some features of the Abbey in a most unhurried style. She explained how the centuries- old Abbey is now missing its tower. She further explained she doesn’t know why it’s missing. She was so cute in all her honesty, and actually sounded sorrowful she doesn’t have all the answers. You can tell they’re all volunteers. Even the one serving coffee and pastries INSIDE (yes, inside) the Abbey, complete with tables just behind the pews. If you have the time, take your coffee cuppa outside to linger in the Abbey House Gardens where King Athelstan was actually buried with “2 saints thrown down the well”. The garden can be very soothing to your nerves — a tranquil haven.

Malmesbury

Malmesbury

We found our way strolling the cobblestone paths past the 15th century Market Cross which used to be an 11th century graveyard. The path leads to the main square and Town Hall where a kindly lady handed me a Malmesbury map. I wanted to tell her I really don’t need a map just walking around the square and the Abbey grounds. But she was all smiles and so friendly. On the way back to our van, we passed the same Old Bell Hotel and the grassy path along a brook with mini-falls that hosts a few swans and ducks. Lovely!

Malmesbury

Malmesbury