Thursday, September 28, 2017

UK road trip- suggested itinerary Day 1 to 3

We decided to drive from London to Scotland as this provided more photo opportunity and flexibility for rest stops for baby Bing. This was the scenic route we took which is also family friendly.

We touched down around noon time. And drove straight from Gatwick airport to Sheffield (3 hours). The next morning, drove to Sheffield town area (free parking on Sunday! Yay)

Day 1

Sheffield peace garden. Located in the middle of the town. Water fountain against the background of the wall of the partially demolished st Paul's church.

Durham castle and cathedral-UNESCO

Used to be a monastery, system abolished and converted into a working university. We visited free of charge on heritage day. Lots of green fields for children to run around. Quite a petite castle but enjoyable visit nevertheless.

Alnwick castle

We didn't manage to visit the interior but just took a photo because it was raining on and off with baby Bing soundly sleeping in the car. It's the main castle in which Hogwarts was filmed in the Harry Potter series.

Royal border bridge @ Berwick upon tweed

We then put up the night at Edinburgh just out of the town area.

Day 2

Helix park and the Kelpies

Baby Bing had so much fun running around and meeting friendly dogs. The place is huge and is next to a canal. The scenery is breathtaking.

Falkirk wheel

This is a rotating boat lift, connecting  the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.

Stirling castle

This is one of the most important castles in Scotland both historically and architecturally.

Wallace monument

This tower was built on the summit of Abbey Craig, overlooking Stirling in commeration of Sir William Wallace.

Loch lubnaig

This is a freshwater loch about 5km long and 44.5m deep. Water so crystal clear that one can see the bottom.

Glenfinnan viaduct

This is a railway viaduct made famous because of the Harry Potter movie series. Yes this is where the Hogwarts express whistled by.

It's off the beaten tracks and looks so melancholic in the drizzle by the river. It must have been a place for quiet reflection.

It's in the middle of nowhere and that's what makes it attractive. The barracks looks like a lone knight guarding the land. Not guarded by anyone and there's no admission fees but surrounded by nicely maintained lawn.

There are quite a few walks available for different viewpoints depending on how much time you have. We took the shortest journey for roughly half an hour round trip to see the waterfall. The walk is enjoyable with the river rushing by beside us. We are surrounded by the Douglas firs, among the tallest tree in the UK.

Dunkeld cathedral

Last minute decision to drop by. Managed to snap a few photos before the church church yard was closed off. Huge compound with lush greeneries next to the river.

More exciting places next blogpost :)

Monday, September 25, 2017

UK road trip- foodie adventure part 2

We just love food so much so this is part 2!

MacDonald's breakfast

That's the earliest breakfast we can find outside. All the other cafe opens earliest at 8.30am.

Mcmuffin with bacon and egg
Pancakes and sausage
Breakfast wrap filled with awesome bacon, hashbrown, egg, cheddar in generous amount of BBQ sauce- can't find this in Malaysia but this combination tasted heavenly

Very highly rated on TripAdvisor but we didn't find it too amazing. Shop was very full and we had to take away. 

The pork was juicy and soft but perhaps too heavy on the salt. We were tempted to try putting haggis in but glad that we decided otherwise. Not feeling very adventurous. The photo on bottom right corner shows the typical Edinburgh breakfast. 

Our impromptu trip to Glasgow brought us to this cafe for lunch in search of the best coffee in town.

Really enjoyed the coffee. I bet hubby felt the same.

The eggs in a pan were equally palatable. Topped with proscuitto, cooked cherry tomatoes and slightly wilted rocket leaves. A new idea for egg dishes.

The smoked salmon toast was equally pleasing. I really enjoyed how it's broken into flakes because that really enhanced the flavour.

Harry Ramsden Manchester

Chanced upon this franchise on the way to old Trafford stadium.

Fish and chips
Fried scampi with chips

I must say they really lived up to their reputation. Some said selling fried food doesn't require much skills but I beg to differ. The British eat this with tartare sauce and malt vinegar (which surprisingly goes well with the fries)

This is one of the most authentic Italian cuisine we have had in a while. Too hungry that we forgot to snap photos because it's after a long 8 hours drive! But I do recommend their pizza with fresh ricotta cheese, linguine with truffle oil, gnocchi and King prawn spaghetti. Loved their bread. Yummy!

On the odd days when we were running close to baby Bing's bed time, we would grab something from TescoExpress, Aldi or Sainsbury . 

There is an interesting selection of microwavable hot meal options including pasta, BBQ pork ribs, spicy chicken wings and pizza. Tasted fair. And at 1/4 of the price tag if you dine out. Fresh fruits and vegetables such as cherries, grapes, tangerines, avocados, peaches and nectarines were in season and amazingly great snacks.

The food culture in the UK is indeed very different from the Asian culture. Nevertheless, we love the diversity and look forward to the next food trip.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

UK road trip- foodie adventure part 1

We didn't specifically plan for places to eat beforehand simply because we wanted more flexibility. Since Ryan subscribed to the local prepaid simcard, we have 1Gb mobile data at disposal. With the availability of internet, we just Google the restaurants nearby with the best reviews.

The following places are child friendly. We were often handed a piece of kids menu that can be colored with crayons provided and to keep kids busy. The black rose tavern also provided soap bubble bottles.

The croft, Fort William

This is a very homey bar that serves comfort food.

Hunter's chicken- the classic version consists of bacon wrapped around chicken breast, baked, drizzled with cheese and BBQ sauce or tomato based gravy. The one here is served unraveled.

Roast beef with gravy and seasoned vegetables. Best food to eat in cold weather the beef slices were braised until it literally melted in the mouth.

Potato and leek soup was very rich and a tad too salty but baby Bing loved it nevertheless.

Papii Edinburgh

This puny cafe is famous for its eggs Benedict but we missed the timing. So instead we tried

Baked chicken pasta, salad dressed with balsamic vinegar- I find that the British tends to eat their pasta softer which I don't mind. The balsamic vinegar went so well with the cheese and pasta though.

Panini with bacon and melted cheddar- freshly pressed and so cripsy that one really had to savor it while hot.

Cappuccino-one of the best in the whole UK trip. Aromatic coffee slightly on the bitter side with the goodness of fresh milk.

Pub food again :)

Fish and chips- fish fried to perfection using local haddock and ask much fries that we couldn't finish.

Sirloin steak with battered fried mushroom, onion rings and chips- kind of disappointed with the steak because it's too bland and dry with no sauce. But the mushroom and onion rings were superb.

Other must try

Sausage with gravy- really miss the sausages (brought back old memories of orientation week in uni days)

Pakoda chicken- basically just boneless fried chicken. You can't go wrong with this dish.

Fried Mars bar- it didn't look appetizing but the combination of fried batter with melted chocolate and caramel was the best dessert I had in the UK.

Stay tuned for more awesome UK food!

Monday, September 18, 2017

UK roadtrip-how to arrange accommodation and car rental

After 6 years, I'm finally back to the UK! This time round with husband and baby Bing as well. We have really been looking forward to the trip because I'm attending my convocation at Edinburgh. Because of husband's study block schedule, Bing and I took off a week later on our own. Read this blogpost about how I survived the long haul flight with him.

We have decided to do a road trip because it will be more flexible and we get to stop for breaks and breastfeeding times. We rented a car at GBP 170 for 9 days. We will recommend booking online because it's cheaper, comes with unlimited mileage (not when you book on the spot) and insurance. He actually searched through local agents and managed to secure a much better deal via auto Europe website.

Driving along the countryside is enjoyable. We rented a manual car because it's at least 50% cheaper than automatic transmissions. Kind of odd because we never had such problem back in OZ and NZ. As Malaysian tourists, we are allowed to drive using or Malaysian licence, no need for translation. Remember to register your co-driver's name so that the insurance will also cover him or her.

This is our companion for the past 10 days-Vauxhall Merina. Fairly spacious. Will recommend for max 4 adults. Boot space kind of limited because it's hatchback. Petrol wise we spent about GBP60 for a 500 miles trip. Do Google search for cheap petrol stations-they are rated. Go for the ones 4* and above-the difference can be up to 50p per litre for 95% unleaded petrol.

Parking wise, not much of an issue for rural and even the city except Edinburgh and London. It can get up to GBP3.80 per hour in Edinburgh. London has congestion charges to encourage people to commute in the CBD. In the stark contrast with getting a day ticket (which includes bus and tram rides) which cost GBP4 per pax.

Accommodation all booked through AirBnb. There's no need to worry about getting conned or checking into an unsatisfactory place anymore all thanks to this app. Just key in the dates and places we want to stay overnight at, a few Bnb will be shortlisted. We also need to indicate the presence of the infant as some Bnb do not accept this.

We choose mainly around the range of GBP35 to 60 per night. Please pay special attention to the reviews to guide whether it suits your preference. It's possible to get an idea where the Bnb roughly is before booking in order to facilitate planning but the actual location will only be revealed much nearer to date via personal messaging due to safety concerns.

 Day 1

Reached Sheffield at night so we just checked in to our AirBnb immediately.
Love our first night at this Bnb hosted by Derek. It's really homey-actually better than my own home! The whole house is for us to use and we shared with another Brazilian tourist. Our host does not stay on site so keys are left in a password protected box. My photos doesn't really do the place justice. It's the best yet cheapest Bnb we had.

Day 2

Drove from Sheffield to Edinburgh. Stayed slightly outskirt of the town. Spent our night at which is hosted by a middle-aged Indian lady. The house was subdivided into the host or guest areas. So we didn't have much contact with the host. We had an ensuite room. However there was no proper kitchen area. There's a cabinet which contains the microwave, toaster and kettle. No fridge though.

Day 3

Headed to Scotland Highlands! Lots of farm lands, very hilly yet close to the beach. Put up a night at Arisaig-a cottage owned by Pete. First encounter with the owner staying at home. He's retired and decided to run a Bnb recently. He said everything is about cleaning and drying nowadays! Awesome living area with a fireplace and 2 dogs which baby Bing loves. Kitchen available for use. Our room is in an attic with a huge window overlooking the neighbor's farm and the ocean beyond. Pete even recommended beautiful places that are less touristy.

Day 4
Back to Edinburgh area. Decided to stay somewhere about 30 minutes bus ride away from the city because the price is at least GBP60 which is almost double. This apartment is near the Heriot Watt university and is owned by a group of Malaysian students. I'm surprised at how clean and well they maintain the place! Otherwise, living in a pretty minimalist style.

Day 5 to 7

Moved slightly closer to the city to another apartment. No lifts and we gotta climb 3 floors. Good to exercise those leg muscles. Cosy apartment hosted by Gemma, we were free to use the living area and kitchen. Well decorated with lots of fluffy soft toys. She doesn't spend much time in the common area though.

DIY trips are fun if you enjoy flexibility and better deals. It allows us to make last minute changes to our interest itinerary if needed. Staying at Bnb is a good option if you want to experience local culture and practices.

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