England

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Over the past months, the Tower of London has been transformed into a red sea of hand-made ceramic poppies to commemorate the start of World War One. The first poppy was planted in July – ever since, 16,000 volunteers from across the World have donated their time to help plant the 888,246 flowers – each of which represents a British or colonial life lost during the war.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

The evolving installation by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and set designer Tom Piper has a remarkable theatrical effect. I felt overwhelmed by the number of flowers filling the moat and moved by the flow of poppies pouring over the walls of the tower and out its windows. It really provides a sense of perspective to the vast consequences of World War One (or, any war, really!).

Sure, the installation only commemorates the loss of british allied services’ lives, but the truth is – any life lost to war is one life too many. I can’t even imagine how the installation would look like if we added all +16 million lost lives, regardless where they came from.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Each poppy has been sold to the public for £25 each, with a share of the proceeds going to six service charities in the UK – and they’ve already been sold out!

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

The last poppy will be planted on the 11th of November, Armistice Day. If you’re in London before this day, I strongly encourage you to pay a visit this installation – it truly reflects the magnitude of this event.

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London wears many personalities. It’s quirky, glamorous, grumpy, lazy, competitive and adventurous. And even though I understand when friends tell me that they could never live in this city, a part of me can’t avoid thinking that they simply haven’t discovered their London yet.

Moving to London was my ultimate challenge. Having grown up in Europe’s mildest climate, a mere 10 minute walk from the beach – it has been a constant push for me to adapt to the changing seasons in Madrid, the cold, snow and punctuality in Switzerland, and the anonymity, large distances and sudden never-ending choices of London. I am now close to celebrating 2.5 years in a city that has been nicknamed the old smoke. A city that, to me, is rough, grumpy and chaotic, but equally stimulating, exciting and strangely familiar.

It’s cozy but trendy; vibrant and ambitious. All to be expected by a cosmopolitan capital. But then, it’s also local, green and wild.

I don’t need to go far to land in a park or even a forest – Richmond Park being one of my favourites.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

Richmond Park is a Natural Reserve and English Heritage located south west London. Back in 1634, Charles I created the space to become a deer park to satisfy his hunting. Today it has become the second largest urban walled park in Britain with over 600 deers that call this park home.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

Richmond Park, London (UK)

What I absolurely love about this open space is how far it transports you from all the hustle and nuzzle of the big city. Even though I occasionally spotted other visitors (Richmond is a popular destination for runners), I hardly crossed paths with anyone else. Well, except for these cuties!

Richmond Park, London (UK)

The park stretches over 2.300 acres with a perimeter of over 20 km and has an ancient forest with nearly 1.000 oak trees. I ventured into the woods, fascinated by the warm leaf colours. I could only hear the sound of a light breeze through the trees, rustling the leaves.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

I didn’t stay long in the forest because, well, I had read too many thrillers. To compensate, I left to search for the red deer herds that can be found in the park. It’s great to be able to get up so close to them, although this requires a certain degree of patience and ingenuity – and a lot of memory space on your camera!

Richmond Park, London (UK)

So, while for many London is busy, chaotic and expensive – I like to think of London as open, wild and diverse. That’s my London. It’s what I go back to whenever I feel the city is fighting against me. It’s what kind of makes it feel like home.

Have you been to Richmond Park? Which would be the 3 words that define London to you?

I checked the weather forecast as usual. Just a few days before my long-planned excursion, the odds were in my favor: Saturday would be sunny with zero chance of rain. I should have known better. One and a half years in England have proven that weather forecasts can’t be relied on – specially when it’s more than a few hours ahead.

I was determined, though. No heavy clouds and mist were going to stop me from keeping to my plan: I was finally going to hike the Seven Sisters!

Hiking Seven Sisters, UK

The Seven Sisters chalk cliffs are one of the finest and unspoiled coastlines in Britain. These white cliffs form part of the South Downs in East Sussex, between Seaford and Eastbourne in the south of England.

A simple commute from Victoria Station took us to Seaford, where the famous hike begins. Or, at least, the longer version of it. If you’re not an eager hiker or are running short in time, I recommend you take a bus from Seaford to the Seven Sisters Country Park – you’ll save about 1.5 hours hike (then again, you won’t have the chance to walk through an open golf course fearing for your life – which is an absolute thrill).

During this first part of the walk, we had the path for ourselves – with the sea on our right and sheep on our left. After an hour, we arrived at a beautiful little beach. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realized that between us and the beach was a river that led us away from the coast for probably 1.5 km. That wasn’t the major problem, though. It was the path next to the river: filled with deep mud!

As we reached the bridge to cross over, we realized that this was the actual beginning – the Seven Sisters Country Park. We felt relief to see that there were many other leisure walkers and avid hikers on this way towards the coastline!

Seven Sisters, UK

Seven Sisters, UK

Seven Sisters, UK

It was a pleasant walk (despite the wet weather), with surprisingly varied backgrounds: hills, sea-side, sheep, cows, rivers and even an old lighthouse! My tip: if it had been raining before or during your hike – take the bus to the Seven Sisters Country Park (unless, of course, you’re wearing your wellies!)

Practical Information

Route: From Seaford to Eastbourne (along the Seven Sisters)
Elevation gain uphill: 565m
Elevation gain downhill: 522m
Length: 20 km
Duration: 4:30 – 5:15 hrs
Difficulty: Easy
Wikiloc: Seven Sisters

Have you been to the Seven Sisters?

Anyone living in London knows (or will soon learn) the importance of balancing your fast-paced city life with something else to maintain sanity. No wonder many Londoners retire to the country side over weekends – I can’t think of any better way of disconnecting from the city’s buzz, than with a home-made meal accompanied by a full-bodied red wine, a thrilling book and a real fireplace.

That’s how I had imagined the weekends in the english country side – and this couldn’t have gotten any closer to my reality.

My first visit to the english country side was on the snowiest day of the year. My destination? Ramsden – a tiny little village in Oxfordshire. Attracted by their award-winning public house, The Royal Oak, we drove one and a half hours towards the north-west from London.

The land was covered in a sugar white coat of fresh snow – turning the otherwise common surroundings into a fairy tale land. As soon as we got off the highway, roads became narrower, icy, less trafficked and, consequently, more adventurous.

Sheep in Oxfordshire, UK

Sheep in Oxfordshire, UK

Sheep were staring at us as we attempted not to lose traction in one of the road’s many curves.

Ramsden, Oxfordshire, UK

Ramsden, Oxfordshire, UK

We did arrive at Ramsden, eventually. The village is a beautiful Cotswold village tucked away off the beaten track. It might not be large, but it has class and style. Every house is built individually. No two homes are the same, but all of them share something in common – the use of stone in construction.

Ramsden, Oxfordshire, UK

The Royal Oak is a popular meeting place for locals, and an attraction for the occasional strangers like us – the ones that are willing to drive hundreds of km for fantastic food and genuine beers and wine (including rare beers from independent breweries!).

The chef uses local suppliers whenever possible, which also allows them to have fantastic daily specials. The pheasant – my order – was incredibly juicy and tender; and was dressed with an orange-infused gravy that complimented its taste perfectly. Although plates were of reasonable size (and you’re probably ok with one), we didn’t drive all this way to not order one of my favorite deserts – red fruit crumble.

Brunch at the Royal Oak (Ramsden Village, Oxfordshire)

Brunch at the Royal Oak (Ramsden Village, Oxfordshire)

With our tummies full, we took a short walk around Ramsden, visiting their church and war memorial, but soon felt our frozen feet and headed back home into our noisy (but heated) flats. It was a great way to experience a little adventure, inhale fresh air and slow the otherwise hectic pace.

Important Information:

Have you been to the English country side? How do you escape from the city?

Fall In Kew Gardens, London

Last sunday I visited Kew Gardens. I had been wanting to go since I moved to London more than a year ago, but there was always something last-minute stopping me (most of the time, it was sudden rain showers). Kew Gardens, for those of you who may not know, is one of the World’s most famous gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage site to my collection.

These gardens are home of thousands of different species from all over the globe. They never really lose their charm – no matter the season. With it’s 16 GBP entry fee, it’s definitely not a bargain – but it was definitely worth it to capture the most out of autumn in London.

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Where is your favorite spot to capture autumn shots?

London City, UK

During the Middle Age, Southbank developed as London’s outlaw neighborhood – a place where taverns, theaters, bear-baiting, cock-fighting and prostitution entertained the crowds. The borough was conveniently located outside the City’s walls, on the other side of the river. For decades, locals from the north side rarely crossed the river to the south, nor did the tourists visiting the City.

However, in the past few years, a series of projects have focused on improving this area – turning it into an must-see artistic hub with numerous museums and art galleries, as well as a real foodie heaven with the boom of old Borough Market.

Southbank is one of my favorite areas of London. Its tiny streets and alleys boast with history and diversity. Local pubs are authentic – small, dark and crowded. Its architecture is a perfect blend of the 18th Century industrial era and modern developments. But what really makes Southbank so special is its views over the City’s skyline during dusk or dawn.

Can you imagine having this view from your balcony?

Horses, bets and wine. These are the three words that describe best my last weekend in London. It was time for the the Royal Ascot Horse Race, which this year celebrated its 300 years. Being the UK my soon-to-be new home country, there was no way I was going to miss this english social event.

There are three areas for racegoers – the Royal Enclosure, Grandstand and Silver Ring admissions.

The difference is simple: while the first two could be compared to first and business class on an international flight, with its welcome drink, comfortable seats and surprisingly good food; Silver Ring is the economy class of any airline, that is, the group of high school friends that travel over the weekend to Amsterdam to get stoned, the kid that doesn’t stop kicking the back of your seat and the fat snoring man who takes over part of your already very reduced space.

Obviously, this difference is also reflected on the price. While Grandstand admissions cost 62 pounds, we got our 10 Silver Ring tickets for 21.5 pounds each. The Silver Ring entrance is a significant walk away from the main entrance, which is fine as long as you feel comfortable in your shoes and british weather doesn’t turn against you. Although long, the path is easy to find – you only need to follow the crowd that carries their own bottles and sandwiches – yes, you’re allowed to bring a bottle of wine or 4 beer cans per person, as long as you pack some food, too!

Another big difference between the Grandstand and Silver Ring is the dress code – there is no dress code for Ascot’s economy class. The only no-go was bear chests, which clearly took away most of the fun. Despite the lack of a dress code, people did make an effort to dress up – high heels and short skirts were all over the wet grass, and many of the girls wore hats and fascinators.

The weather on saturday morning was terrible, I really considered simply slipping into my rain boots and leaving my fascinator for a different occasion, but then, isn’t the fun on going to Royal Ascot on dressing up and wearing a fancy hat? I’m glad we chose hat/fascinator and heels, after half an hour the rain stopped and it was a beautiful day.

Don’t we look almost british?

After a bottle of wine, we wanted to place a bet – but which horse? how do you bet anyways? I should have read more about betting than about the events’ hat parade. I bet 10 pounds on three horses – one based on the recommendation of the woman standing before us in the betting queue and two others based on their numbers (yeah, I know, that’s not very professional). I watched my three horses run and stay behind – in less than 20 minutes I had already lost my bet! Despite our failure to turn rich in one afternoon, we had a great time and enjoyed a very good position to watch the race.

When the last race finishes, the party is far from being over. Ascot has bars and terraces packed with young racegoers that refuse going home at 6pm. It’s a great chance to mingle with other classes!

Despite some casual rain drops and the wind eventually picking up my summer dress, I had an amazing time and want to repeat the experience again next year. Silver Ring admission is a fun experience if yo don’t mind standing with another 2,000 people on the grass and being further away from the finishing line. I might just try out the Grandstand next time – to be able to compare properly which ambience I prefer!

Have you ever been to a horse race? Which is the top social event of the year in your country?

I published my first post in April 2010. Back then, although I had already been living in Switzerland for 7 months, it was the first time I really felt lonely. It was probably when I moved from the honeymoon to frustration in the 4 phases of culture shock. Hoping to escape from this feeling of not belonging in Switzerland, I traveled as often as time (and money) would allow.

One year later, I’m now in the stage of Understanding the country, its culture and traditions. I’m learning french and enjoy my quality time at the lake or in the mountains.

For this occasion, I’ve gathered together my favorite 12 photos of 12 places I’ve visited in the last 12 months. I hope you enjoy the ride!

Sydney, Australia

Mid-May las year, I flew over to the other side of the World. My first stop was Sydney. Although I only stayed for 5 days, the city immediately hit my heart.

Having free champagne and sushi when visiting a small art auction, walking along the coast side watching business people changing their work suits for wetsuits and running off to the beach (and secretly hoping that could someday be me) and feeding kangaroos at Featherdale Wildlife Park are only some of my favorite memories of that short period of time. In less than a week, the city won my heart and obtained the second position in my Top 5 City Ranking (right after Buenos Aires).

New Zealand – North Island

Tongariro, New Zealand

Right after Sydney, we flew over to Auckland. 2 intensive weeks of road tripping from the north to the south were just ahead us! I was fascinated by the country’s geothermal activity, discovered I had the physical health of a couch potato and spent most of my extra cash in Wellington’s thrift shops.

New Zealand – South Island

Glacier Hiking, Franz Joseph, New Zealand

On an early morning, we took the ferry from Wellington to Picton and then slowly drove down to Queenstown. We stopped in Franz Joseph hoping to do a helicopter ride over the glacier, but our adventurous spirit pulled us towards the 3 and a half hours glacier hike. I never thought I’d enjoy ice this much and would do it all over again!

Annecy, France

Annecy, France

Annecy is a little Venice in France, not far away from the swiss border. Besides for being quite crowded during summer time, it’s a beautiful place to walk, eat crêpes and drink french cider.

Lavaux Region, Switzerland

Lavaux Wine Region, Switzerland

I was just celebrating my one year in Switzerland when I discovered the beautiful region of Lavaux and haven’t stopped dreaming of it ever since. Good wine, some cheese, the Alps and the lake – could there be any better combination to spend a warm summer night?

La Habana, Cuba

La Habana, Cuba

In October, my job took me to the timeless city of La Habana. During those two weeks, when I wasn’t working, I walked along its colorful streets, danced to the rhythm of casino (the real cuban salsa) and ate far too many fried banana chips. I love my job.

London, UK

London, UK

London is my safe haven – Whenever I feel lonely or just need a change, I know that this city won’t fail. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to London in the last year, but I do know that, the more I walk through its streets admiring its Victorian mansions, the more I fall in love with it.

Lanzarote, Canary Islands (Spain)

La Geria Wine Region, Lanzarote, Spain

I spent Christmas on a neighbor island – Lanzarote, particularly known for its volcanic scenery and good wine.

Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Paris and me. A Love-Hate Story. On a sunny friday afternoon, as I was on my way to the train station and return to Switzerland for the weekend, I finally decided to put my resentment aside and give the city of love a second chance. And then I fell in love again.

New York, USA

New York, USA

January 2010, I won the best prize I could ever receive at my company’s Christmas party: 2 tickets to New York! I invited one of my best friends and we had a great time – despite the big freeze.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh was one of those impulsive ticket purchases on a really low price (for swiss standards, that is) – and I’m so glad I did! It did rain all the time, but this didn’t stop me of walking its small and enchanted alleys. This is where I discovered that rainy days make out for great pictures!

Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)

Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)

Home Sweet Home. I just returned from a relaxing week in what still is one of my favorite places worldwide – How couldn’t it? Its black sand beaches and breathtaking mountain scenery, its fresh fish and good wine, my family and two cats. My one week vacation was just too short…