Beauty Brighton

Brighton! Brighton is a fun, eclectic city on the south coast that was actually my first taste of the UK. Back in 2002 my sister was an au pair for a few months for a posh family in Brighton and my parents, my best friend, and I came to visit her and spend some time in France as well.

Well I have fond memories of that time when I was 17 and I wanted to bring my family back here and show them the area, I thought Sophie would really like it. So after leaving the Isle of Wight and getting back to the ‘mainland’ we turned east.

First, we stopped in Arundel along the way. Here, there’s a large, fairytale-like castle that is still privately owned and operated by the Duke of Norfolk.

Incidentally, there had just been a big robbery at this castle last week; a heist, if you will. A few artifacts were stolen, including Mary, Queen of Scots’ rosary beads that she carried to her execution, reportedly worth over a million pounds.

The Duke who renovated the castle in the 1800s was a very devout Catholic and we could see that influence all throughout, which is rare and different to see in an English castle.

Arundel Castle was very well-maintained and reminded me of Inveraray Castle, in that it’s still so grand and privately owned, and full of photos of it being used to the present day by the current family. Sometimes it’s mind-boggling to think of families that actually still live like this in present times! (They don’t live in the very castle-y part but in the apartments attached to the castle… Still!)

After the castle we went onward to Brighton. We perfectly timed the day so that we arrived at our BnB at check-in time. We stayed at a little AirBnb right in the lanes. Normally it would be hard to find parking nearby (there’s a parking lot a few blocks away for £30/day) but I have a blue badge (handicapped parking pass) which entitles me to free street parking. I guess this is a small perk to disabled travelling! We were lucky to find a spot right in front of our place (that normally would only be max 1-hour parking without the blue badge) and just kept our car there for the 2 nights! Once we were comfortably situated in The Lanes, we didn’t need to go anywhere else!

This was my favourite memory of Brighton- just walking through The Lanes until we got lost- window shopping, people watching, and seeing all the fun things.

Unfortunately, shops all close at 6pm so we could only do this until dinnertime.

The next day we had tickets to go see the Royal Pavilion.

This ostentatious palace was built by George IV and he spared no expense. He was fascinated with the far East and everything has a decidedly Asian influence, without being specifically Chinese or Japanese or Indian or Vietnamese… He just loved Oriental art and flair. It was exotic and rare and he had to have it.

When Victoria was a young queen, she visited a few times (about 2 before she was married and about 2 or 3 after she was married and had children) and she really didn’t like the palace. She found it too over-the-top and uncomfortable and once she had children it was completely unsuitable as a family home. She and Albert decided to sell it.

However when they sold it, they assumed it would be demolished and they didn’t want the treasures in it lost, so they removed them, mostly to Buckingham House (now, Palace). We were told that many things from the Pavilion were found just sitting in a basement at Buckingham and in the last 15 years, work is being done to restore them to the Pavilion (as the Gracious Queen Elizabeth II is giving them back, we were told).

Above, you can see a beautifully restored reception room, but the fireplace is actually a photograph of the original that was once in that spot. The original now sits in Buckingham. Apparently not all the treasures are coming back from Buckingham, but the gentleman speaking to us sounded grateful for whatever our current Queen was willing to give back to the Pavilion…

Anyway, we were really impressed by the work they’ve done there at the Royal Pavilion. The palace was beautifully restored, with great stories about both the Royals and the working staff

After the Pavilion, we headed down to the waterfront. Brighton is famous for its big pier and the carnival-type fun on it, but that’s not really our scene.

We rented the classic Brighton striped beach chairs (£4/each) and sat in the sun on the pebble beach. Sophie was there too, I promise, but either refused to be in photos or doesn’t consent to me sharing them. If you’ve ever had a 12- or 13-year-old, you know.

We spent the rest of the day just simply perusing the Lanes, window shopping, and vintage clothes shopping. It was a beautiful day for it.

On our last morning, we thought we might do more of the same, a little bit of time in the Lanes before we drive home, but it was an absolute downpour so we just got in the car and left. It was okay, because we were given such beautiful weather all week long on the Isle of Wight and first two days in Brighton that one day of rain is not too bad in England!! Unfortunately, it meant what should have been a 3-hour drive home became a 4.5-hour drive (weather and traffic) but we got home safe and sound after a nice little end-term getaway that was greatly needed.

Isle of Wight

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted, because it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do any real travelling! At Christmas, Covid put half the world into lockdown and we were stuck. However, Sophie and I took that opportunity (her doing remote schooling for a term) to visit my parents in Canada. This was very important to do because my mother was not well.

Unfortunately then with Covid and cancer, it’s been a crummy spring for our family. Lockdown was long. Sophie and I came home in February and then I returned to Canada in April again and my mother passed away in May. It’s all been awful.

We really needed to get away as a family.

So, the day my 10-day post-travel quarantine (from Canada) was over, we packed the car and drove south to the Isle of Wight. We’ve been wanting to go here since last spring when the Canadian military had a subsidised family weekend planned for only £60/pp and we were so excited to go, but of course it was cancelled due to Covid and never rescheduled. So we booked an AirBnb this time and took off!

We couldn’t have got more lucky with the beautiful weather for our 3 days on the island. It was 20-25°C and sunny all day, every day.

When we arrived, we only had plans to see Osborne House one day, and The Needles the next, but the ferry had a great magazine on board detailing all the little touristy places on the island. They were all written up great and helped us plan out our days and decide on more locations to visit.

Our first stop was Quarr Abbey, because it was about 5 minutes away from our BnB in Ryde. It is a Benedictine monastery that has been in use almost 900 years (well, on that location, at least). They still are completely self sufficient and raise their own animals and gardens.

Later in the evening, we went down to the Ryde esplanade to have ice cream and walk the beach. It’s a beautiful area.

The next day, we got to go to Osborne House! I’ve been interested in Queen Victoria’s life and times for years and love reading about her, and I’ve wanted to visit this palace for a long time, so I was so excited the day had finally come!

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert custom made this palace for themselves as a holiday house and when her son, Edward, took the throne upon her death he didn’t want it and gave the palace to the public. So this was truly Victoria’s house.

I’ve just finished reading Victoria and Abdul, the book about the friendship the Queen had in her last 12 years with her Indian tutor (or munshi) and her fascination with all-things Indian. During this time, she commissioned this room, her Durbar Room by an Indian architect and entirely furnished with furniture, wood, and art from India. Every single thing was imported and authentic. I loved being able to walk through this room and see it for myself. It was jaw-dropping.

After the Durbar room, we stepped out into the rear gardens, which, aided by the gorgeous weather, made us feel like we were much further south, in the Riviera or something.

Then we took the minibus to Osborne House’s private beach. The bus doesn’t run super regularly, we had to wait up to 15 mins each time, but the walk is over 1.5 km so if you have any accessibility needs, it’s good to know they have the bus available. Most people walk it, though.

We enjoyed walking the beach for a bit and then back on the bus to go see the children’s gardens and Swiss Cottage. Here, it was essentially where Victoria and Albert’s many children were shuttled off to play. A 15-minute walk from the main house, each child had their own garden plot and Albert built them a 2-storey Swiss-inspired playhouse that apparently reminded him of his own childhood in Germany.

There was also a mini war fortress that the little princes had built, and a jungle gym that children could still play on today.

Osborne House did not disappoint. I could absolutely see why Victoria and Albert chose to build and come here for years, and Victoria continued to come even more after his death, in fact dying here herself in 1901.

Later in the evening, we decided to head to Shanklin Chine. We went in the evening because it’s supposed to be lit up with multicoloured flood lights after dusk in the summer.

What is a chine? Essentially, what we in Canada would call a ravine.

We walked through it from the top to the bottom, it was beautiful. We also got to see the PLUTO (Pipe Laid Under The Ocean) that Lord Mountbatten spearheaded after D-Day to get fuel to the troops in Normandy.

Then at the end of the chine we exited at the ocean at Shanklin and saw this beautiful sight then headed home for the night.

The next day we started early and headed across the island to see The Needles, chalk formations at the edge of the island.

Here we decided to go to the private park instead of the National Trust park. Why? Because there is a chairlift down the edge of the cliff to the beach!!! However, we didn’t know that the private park was also a classic English seaside park with boardwalk-type rides and games everywhere. It was chaos. Luckily, we were there early before lines were crazy long.

There’s a video of me going down over the edge in my Instagram stories under Isle of Wight (warning, I curse a lot) if you want to see it.

Down on the beach, we got to sit in the sun, wade in the water, search for rocks, and enjoy the seaside. It was worth the death-defying chairlift ride. There were also great views of The Needles from the beach.

Here, you can see a picture Eric took as we went back up the chairlift and it really shows the steep angle of it!

To reward ourselves for our death-defying stunt (yes, I used death-defying twice because it’s true!), we went to lunch at a beautiful waterside restaurant. Watching people enjoy the water around this place, looked like just about the best beach swimming in all of England (so warm and it went out for so far! Such a protected little inlet!)

On our way home, we took the long way so we could go by The Garlic Farm. This farm shop sells their goods in shops all over the island but we really wanted to go to their actual shop. We first encountered them at the Bath Christmas Market in 2019 and have had their products before, too. The shop was huge and it’s too bad they couldn’t have samples out, I would’ve been like a kid in a candy shop!

We also tried the black garlic ice cream, but it really just tasted like chocolate to me- I would have honestly preferred garlic ice cream!

After that, we headed home and packed up. We left the isle early the next morning to head towards Brighton! Stay tuned here in the next couple days for my post about that!!!

Travelling as a family during the Covid-19 pandemic

This past week (the last week of October) was Sophie’s half-term break; this is usually a great time to travel. This time last year, we went to Paris. This year, due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, we were limited to staying within the UK. Not just the UK, but only had only parts of England and Scotland available to visit; as Wales, Northern Ireland, and even parts of England were under lockdown.

We ended up choosing south-eastern England. Kent, specifically, but also the site of the Battle of Hastings, which is technically in Sussex. I have some photos of the trip to share, but not a tonne. It was a short trip, and very rainy (England at the end of October- what can you do). I’ve decided instead of making this a purely ‘Kent’ blog post, I’ll share some tips on how to safely travel during the pandemic. (I’ll also share some photos along the way – but you can always check out my Instagram stories with the best pictures saved).

We’re all weary of staying home and you may be looking for a safe way to get out and see something beyond your own four walls. Now in England we have no choice but to stay home; but if you’re not under a legally-imposed lockdown, here are my tips that have so-far proved successful.

We chose our destination only about a week before we left. We needed to be flexible and base our decision on the most up-to-date coronavirus data and government guidelines. We had a few locations we’d like to go to in mind, and of all the places we’d like to visit, Kent area consistently was keeping low infection numbers (compared to the rest of the country).

From the BBC updated 31 October 2020
(these numbers are ‘per 100 000 people’, not total cases)



When you want to visit any tourist attraction now, you *must* book ahead. For both free or paid attractions, you need to visit their websites and book a time slot in which you can visit. Some places take these time slots somewhat loosely (and let you in 15 minutes early or late) and some are very strict and insist you get in exactly at your allotted time. Either way, the timed entries help to control the flow of people through the location and means that we don’t feel we’re among any crowds. It really aids social distancing and we haven’t had any issues through our Scotland trip or here in Kent with these processes.

Our stack of pre-booked tickets for various attractions



As soon as we knew we where we were going and when, we booked the must-see attractions. Especially during a school break, you need to make sure to pre-book well in advance. Every single attraction we visited had a sign out front saying ‘Sold out today’. We looked into getting next-day tickets for one or two castles that were nearby and they were all sold-out.

Sophie in the rain at Battle Abbey – an English Heritage site.



So here’s my biggest tip when trying to travel safely during the pandemic: Try to be as self-sufficient as possible. That is what makes us feel safe, at least. Use your own car to get where you’re going, bring your own food, and stay in a self-catering apartment.

We invested in a very nice AirBnB and although they followed all Covid-19 cleaning protocols and social distancing/no host check-in, the first thing I did when we got in, before touching anything, was to wipe down everything with Dettol (Lysol) wipes. Everything that we touch. Eric unloads the car to the front door while Sophie and I go around and wipe every single light switch, door knob, water tap, remote control, table surface, button, etc. Any touch surface gets disinfected, and we make this house into “our bubble”, so that we can feel safe and confident here for the next three days.

Another way of being self-sufficient took a lot of planning, but we brought all of our meals and food with us. Going to restaurants 3x a day is just exposing yourself to risk 3x a day, all over the Kent countryside (even if it is the lowest virus numbers in the country). Instead, I planned out and brought enough food for breakfasts and lunches to pack (sandwiches), and I pre-made and froze casseroles for dinners (along with some easy things like frozen pizzas). I do all the food shopping at home and bring it with us because I don’t want to be searching around a new and unfamiliar grocery store in hopes of getting everything I want. Now isn’t the time to be going store to store to pick everything up; in fact, it’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid!

A big frozen tray of enchiladas ready to head into the oven. An added bonus of frozen meals like these are they act like a giant block of ice in the cooler.
A big packed lunch we ate in the car because it was raining.
This is how we travel. Two of our suitcases/bags are in the backseat too, because we only have 1 kid back there. Our trunk looked like this (but even tighter) our whole 10 days in Scotland – and the cooler stayed cool the whole time too!



I know that a lot of the enjoyment of travelling is eating out, enjoying the local food, not having to cook – and I do greatly miss that. But it’s just something that I have to give up in order to be able to travel at all and still feel safe and secure. We can’t have it all, right now.

We’re also careful about the activities we plan. We decided on booking Battle Abbey because it was all outside, that was easy. We also decided on Dover Castle and Canterbury Cathedral because they’re huge old stone buildings with very high ceilings and lots of room for air flow and social distancing. Combine the great space with the timed entries, and we always had a tonne of room to enjoy ourselves and still explore some history. Our last booking was a private river boat tour in Canterbury. These are usually 10+ people per boat, but with Covid restrictions, they were limiting all tours to one household per boat, but still charging the same amount. We thought this was a great deal for essentially a private boat tour! However, it rained so much in the week that the river was too high for the boats. Our tour was cancelled twice and we eventually decided to take their option of a walking tour. Due to my MS, I’m not at all that good on walking tours. I made it more than 2/3 of that way though, then I insisted they leave me in the town square in front of the cathedral while they finished the last 20 minutes. We still saw a lot and learned a lot about this adorable town, and felt very safe doing it outside with a tour guide who was wearing a face mask the whole time.

Canterbury
The white cliffs of Dover- this morning may have (luckily) been the best few hours of weather we had all week and I think was one of my highlights. Definitely a good social distancing activity.

Above, you see us ticking an English bucket list item off—– eating a sandwich in Sandwich. We’ve been wanting to do this since we moved to England! But now it’s a pandemic!!! We went to this adorable little village and there really were places to get some mouth-watering sandwiches, we’d really love to buy it there and support them and felt like cads that we didn’t. But we had to stick to our guns and avoid all places, and we just ate the turkey sandwich we packed that morning.

We clean our cloth masks daily. I brought my handy salad spinner with us. One full kettle of boiling water and some dish soap or hand soap and they’re clean in 30 mins (I usually let it sit for 20 minutes, then do a few rinse cycles). Then they dry overnight. We each go through a few masks a day when travelling.



Lastly, I’ll come to what I considered the biggest risk factor of the whole trip. It’s unavoidable: rest stops. I worried about them before we left but I knew there wasn’t too much we could do about avoiding it.
When we have to stop, I aim to wear masks, use a whole tonne of hand sanitiser everywhere, avoid people everywhere I can, and be quick. Get in, pee, and get out. We don’t hang about and we don’t order food or wait in line. And when I say use a tonne of sanitiser, I mean it- use it when we walk in the building, use it when we exit the bathroom (even though we also just washed our hands, sanitise too!), use it when we exit the building, and then use it again when we get into the car and take off our masks.
Most (2/3) of the service centres were pretty good but one was just so busy and no one was following the rules, it made us all anxious and stressed. When I left it, I said ‘That right there gives me no faith in people and this is why we’ll need a national lockdown….’ and the very next day the PM announced one.

So now this is all a bit moot. We (in England) are on national lockdown for the next month and there won’t be any travelling whatsoever. But maybe you’ll be trying to go somewhere at Christmastime, or maybe you just aren’t in England! Sure, none of us can do any big, elaborate, fancy international travel right now (don’t. even. get. me. started…) but if you’re in a safe location and you’re really feeling cabin fever, it can’t hurt too much to get out and go a couple hours down the road, explore something ‘nearby’ that you just have never been to, and maybe always meant to go to.
Book a nice holiday cottage/AirBnB, buy some food at your local home grocery store where you feel safe and make sure you’ve got enough with you, fuel up the car, and hit the road for a few days. Even if you hit horrendous weather like we did for 4 straight days, you’ll end up feeling refreshed just having got out of the house and around new scenery.

(Also, I’m going to point out that I know we won’t get Covid just from going to restaurants or to grocery stores in another city, etc. All I’m trying to say is that our travelling inherently means we’re going out and seeing more people and doing way more things than we usually do. Way more. Just by travelling, we are adopting some risk that we wouldn’t have if we just stayed home. So we try to mitigate that risk with the above measures. If this isn’t for you, or you protect your family another way, that’s cool. Don’t come @ me. All I’m trying to do is give a few tips to someone who is feeling a little lost and not sure where to start.)

Keep safe, everyone.
Xx

Dover Castle

An autumn visit to the Cotswolds

We don’t have too many more beautiful autumn days before the rainy season descends upon us, and we also don’t know if there will be any sort of local/national lockdown ahead of us in the coming months either, so we decided to take advantage of a lovely, crisp, fall day.

We live about an hour’s drive away from the Cotswold villages. We decided to choose two to amble through: Burton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold. (By the way, I just learned that ‘wold’ is the old English term for ‘hill’, and that’s where ‘Cotswolds’ got their name, as they’re a little hilly).

You can’t really take a bad picture in these perfect little villages. So the whole point of this blog post is to share my pictures. Enjoy!

Burton-on-the-Water
Eric and Sophie on a footbridge

On warm summer days, people just walk right into this very shallow river (like a few inches deep) and cool off and play. But it was about 10°C in the sun today so the only things in the water were ducks (though still a lot of people lining up for ice cream!).

It’s a very touristy place. We browsed a few shops (I enjoyed the antique shops), and it was pretty crowded with staycation tourists like ourselves, but the village was very clean, pleasant, and welcoming.

Then we went on to Stow-on-the-Wold, about 15 minutes away, but a much bigger town. This town was also way busier, but that could also be because it was later in the day by then. However, we had little trouble finding parking right in the town square, close to everything.

Stow-on-the-Wold is where St. Edward’s Church is, a medieval church with much history.

However, the most famous thing about St. Edward’s Church, and one of the most photographed things in the Cotswolds, is the North Door of the church, with ancient yew trees flanking it, growing right into the church!

Then we went to lunch. We picked a small tea room to support local and they were the best covid-safe place I’ve been to since this all started! In case you’re ever in the Cotswolds, we highly recommend  The Old Bakery Tea Room. Not only did they ask us to sign-in/or check-in with the NHS Covid app, when we said we had already, he asked us to open our phones and show proof. Some people may dislike this sort of fastidiousness, but I fully appreciate it. I didn’t view a single hygiene infraction while I was there, by anyone. (Also, the food was fresh and delicious!!)

After lunch, we walked about a bit to see the area. I can’t walk too far, but it’s not a long distance to walk around this cute little place!

And that was our wee 3-hour venture into the Cotswolds. I see how you could totally take a week or so (ok, maybe just a nice long weekend) and explore each of these small villages. I also could see that during non-Covid times, they would be absolutely overrun with tourists!! However, we had a lovely day today- hope you enjoyed some of our photos!

Terry Fox Run 2020 and the Uffington White Horse

About 9 months ago, I had the great idea to organise a Terry Fox Run with the Canadian military families posted in the UK. I was willing to take on that responsibility and had even started talking about it with some people at the Military Family Services in London. Wouldn’t that be a fun, great team event? And a way to get a bunch of Canadian families together and raise even more money for Terry Fox?

Alas, like all good things in 2020, it wasn’t meant to be. In fact, all organised Terry Fox runs across Canada were cancelled this year but that doesn’t mean that fundraising and the idea of going for a run/walk was cancelled! They conceived the idea of the virtual run ‘One Day. Your Way.’ …. Which is sort of what we did last year!!!!

So again this year, we were on our own to do the Terry Fox Run. There was no way we could top last year’s run at Stonehenge. Not within an easy hour’s drive anyway. So we decided to not even try. Nothing in 2020 tops 2019, that’s a given.

We settled on the Uffington White Horse.  This is a 3000-year-old prehistoric chalk hill figure. It has been maintained consistently since it was made (unlike some other chalk hill figures which are still being found in the UK).

I’m sure you can get really amazing pictures from the sky. I saw about 6 or 7 low-flying bi-planes go over while I was there. But you can only get so much of an idea of it from the ground…

We took a few photos, Sophie scarfed down a granola bar to keep her BG levels up, then she and Eric left me here in the sun and headed out on their walk around the horse.

(See, you’ll be disappointed to know it’s the white horse in the hill right above Eric’s head. Perhaps if we came during late afternoon, the sun would be illuminating the chalk more and it would stand out; but as it was, it really didn’t make it to photos too well.)

However, the main purpose of the day wasn’t photos, it was the Terry Fox Run!!!

Eric took some shots as they did the walk. I sat on a bench near the start and cheered. Which, seeing as I was in a farmer’s field, not at an organised fun-run, and no one knew what I was doing, made me look pretty odd. The English don’t look too kindly on odd.

And when she was done:

We raised over $900 CDN for the Terry Fox Foundation this year, her 8th year participating!!! Thank you everyone!!

(And if you still want to donate to this amazing charity where over 85% of your money goes to actual cancer research, click here to donate to Sophie’s 2020 Terry Fox Run)

Afterwards, we went to a lovely pub for a now-traditional post-run Sunday lunch:

Cheers!

(Now taking suggestions on where to go for 2021’s run…?)