The UK has so much more to offer than just London, even though the capital is such a natural draw card for visitors.
We love making the most of our time in England by tagging on as many places to see as possible while we’re visiting friends and family around the country.
This trip, we’re back over in Buckingham to see my sister, then on to Banbury and St Albans to catch up with mates – some of whom we haven’t seen for over a decade.
We hope you enjoy this quick guide to these beautiful places that are so typical of England in their own special way.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
Our first stop when we get to Buckingham – almost before we have chance to say hello to my sister – is dinner. I love her priorities. It’s never been clearer that we’re related!
We’re at a firm favourite for Bucks: Prego. This Italian restaurant, right in the middle of town in one of the old buildings on the high street, is always a win.
The food is excellent (my meatball calzone in the background here is impressive to say the least), the service is friendly and professional, and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun.
Soon, we’re waddling back to my sister’s feeling full and happy to be reunited.
This morning, we’ve come back to the pretty town of Woodstock on the borders of the Cotswolds. It has an undeniable charm that brings people from far and wide.
This cute little interiors shop was once the house of Edmond Hiorne – the town clerk. He lived here in 1607 and was dismissed with ignominy by parliament for his devoted loyalty to King Charles I, who caused the English Civil War.
The war cost Hiorne his job and Charles his head, but Hiorne was reinstated by Charles II once the rebellion had been quashed in 1651 and the monarchy was restored.
Woodstock is full of beautiful buildings and doorways that delight. There’s also plenty of good food to find here too, and we head back to our favourite spot – Hampers of Woodstock – for a spot of brunch.
Our next stop is a short walk away. We’ve come back to the grandeur of Blenheim Palace and its expansive grounds to see a bit more of this historic landmark.
This time, we’re keen to explore more outside the incredible stately home that was modelled on the Palace of Versailles. You can just see it here in the distance across the Queen Pool and Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge, which are all part of the huge man-made lake that surrounds the eastern side of the estate.
We make our way to Blenheim Palace’s Pleasure Gardens – a walled garden at the far side of the grounds. Here you’ll find an impressive hedge maze that’s like something out of a film. The best hedge maze we’ve ever been in.
There are also areas to sit and relax, picnic spots and also a butterfly house, though only my sister and I go in. Christina’s not a fan.
I can see why Christina doesn’t want to come in – she doesn’t like how the butterflies flap and flit so close to your face, and the ceiling’s quite low. It’s warm in here too, to keep a tropical climate.
Although it’s lovely to see these beautiful butterflies up close, I’m glad Christina didn’t try to grin and bear it. She wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
After the Pleasure Gardens, we all walk across to the top end of the lake to see the Bladon Bridge. This area was closed last year while they repaired and renovated the brickwork. They also found a hidden chamber within the bridge no one knew about, which is pretty cool.
The Bladon Bridge is absolutely stunning and well worth the walk.
Back at the Pleasure Gardens, we all hop on the little train that takes us through the parklands to Blenheim Palace. It’s only about £1.50 each and saves our legs from a hike back to the entrance.
My sister’s smiling here, but she’s not impressed with me. I keep rocking the train – though I’m pretty sure she started it!
Our next stop after saying goodbye to my sister is to Banbury. We’re here to see my mate Mark and his lovely family. We haven’t seen these guys in over 11 years, but it feels like only last week that we were together.
After an epic barbecue last night and meeting his three beautiful daughters, we’re all ready for a bite to eat.
We’re having breakfast at the Pinto Lounge – one of Mark and his lovely wife Sally’s favourites – and an institution here in Banbury. It’s been here for years and has maintained its quality and atmosphere, which is no mean task.
The food here is also excellent. Mark and I have both gone for the Lounge Breakfast, which features locally sourced sausages and bacon.
This is the first time in Banbury for me and Christina, so Mark and Sally are showing around. It’s a lovely town with some fascinating history to its buildings.
The Reindeer (as Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn is known) has been an inn since Oliver Cromwell’s time – and probably even earlier. In fact there’s a chance the leader of the English Civil War may have stayed here while holding the old Castle of Banbury under siege in 1644 and 1646.
It’s remarkable to think that this pub has stood here for at least 400 years.
We also have a stroll up to Banbury Cross. I have to be honest, I didn’t think this was a real place. I thought it was just part of a nursery rhyme.
It turns out it is a real place and even has a statue in a nod to the old rhyme, famous throughout the English-speaking world:
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady on a white horse.
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.
There are quite a few different versions to this rhyme and even more interpretations, but the statue and the monument marking ‘Banbury Cross’ are full of interesting details and stories in themselves.
At the site of the statue of the fine lady, there’s a sign explaining elements of it and its history. Click here or on the picture above to see the sign.
It’s lovely to see Mark and Sally again. I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re back in Banbury. Though I hope he gets the white shoe memo next time. Must’ve been quite embarrassing for him!
We also have to give a quick shout-out to our new friend who lives with Mark, Sally, Miss I, Miss S and Miss H – and Bertie the cat of course – is Fred! Quite possibly the cutest, fluffiest little idiot you’ll ever meet.
And who totally has our hearts.
Our next and final stop before we head back home (which is what we call our friends’ Clare and Dave’s house these days!) is at St Albans.
This ancient town, older than London, has so many things going for it. Not least by a long shot, it’s home to our friends Charlotte, Alex and their beautiful little girl.
We arrive just before beer O’ clock and Charlotte takes us to a very cool micro-brewery and bar – Mad Squirrel. They have an awesome range of sours, IPAs, pale ales, lagers… you name it.
While we love spending time in the countryside here in England, we also love being in the city. This week I headed into London and found myself in a mini school reunion.
My old school friends share my love of travel and are now living across the world. One of my best friends now calls London home and I look forward to catching up with her every time I’m here.
Serendipitously, my now-Toronto-based bestie is in London for work. The last time we were all together was at my wedding so it’s time for a reunion. We’ve decided that school reunions are overrated and that organising your own friend-reunions are much more fun.
Read on below for some tips on what to do in London that I picked up on this trip.
British Summer Essentials
Summer is finally here in the UK! So much so that I had to go and buy a bigger sunhat. I picked this wide-brim hat while I was up on the high street on sale from H&M.
We’ve also both been wearing these new Tom Ford sunnies thanks to Vision Direct. Jim’s are the Andy frames and I love my Anoushkas.
Always in my hand is my fave Olympus OM-D camera (I love that it fits in my handbag) and Jim has switched to his lighter Skagen watch.
Where to find good coffee in London
British coffee has improved immensely but we’re still putting up with some very bad attempts at flat whites and crunchy cappuccinos. But when you’ve got three Australians together in London, we won’t settle and so we found the Espresso Room in Holborn.
Here you can get a real flat white, filter or cold drip coffee. Plus they offer a good range of alternative milks if that’s your thing.
Sir John Soane Museum
After recharging we head to the Sir John Soane Museum in Holborn. Sir John Soane was an architect who lived in London over the start of the 19th Century and his home was set up as an exhibition and education space during his life.
Students from the Royal Academy would come into his home to learn and observe the collection. His obsession for so many different periods of architecture and history makes his home one of the most interesting spaces I’ve ever been in.
Entrance to the museum is free though I would recommend joining a guided tour so you’ll able to see more of the artworks that are only available at certain times of the day. Unfortunately, I can’t share any images as they make you switch off your phone before entering and there’s a strict no camera policy.
Where to eat an amazing British pie
A short stroll from the Sir John Soane museum is the Holborn Dining Room. Its pie room is renowned and the pastries did not disappoint.
This classic brasserie is located inside the Rosewood Hotel and serves up a great Sunday roast too.
I had my eye on the potato, comté and caramelised onion pie but as it was decided to share this one, I went for the steak tartare which was served with a generous salad and delicious crispbreads. The curried mutton pie was also a hit.
We also sampled their cocktail list and I was impressed with their specialist gin and tonic range. I only feel bad that Jim wasn’t there to experience it with me, but it’s a very good excuse for us to go back soon.
Where to eat a great pizza in London
London has no shortage of great restaurants but finding them when you’re near touristy spots is really difficult. Just off Trafalgar Square you’ll find one of the best pizza restaurants in London – 50 Kalo di Ciro Salvo.
We were tipped off to this place by an Italian, so we felt pretty confident going in. But he’d only given us vague directions and we forgot the name. If we’d thought about it, I would have realised that Ciro Salvo is a famous master pizza-maker from Naples.
The pizza list is much longer than I expect for an Italian pizzeria but the range is fantastic. You’ll also find a select list of Italian craft beers too.
Prices are super reasonable for central London and I’d put this as a top bargain eat for this part of the tourist trail in the City.
Tips for traveling by train to London
Flights to Europe can be cheaper than taking a train to London.
From our town, only an hour away, it can cost £50 to take a train to central London. But we’ve found the trick is to purchase tickets online at least a day in advance. You have to specify your train, which isn’t great for spontaneous travellers like us, but it can be a significant saving.
If buying on the day, ask about couples or group discounts too as they’re not clearly advertised. Groups are only 3 or more people and you can save around 25% on your journey.
Since we last visited, it’s now possible to use your credit card to tap on to catch the Underground as well. This is perfect if, like us, you forget to bring your Oyster cards with you.
In London one of my favourite things to do on every trip is just to wander through the parks. It’s amazing the difference green space makes in calming all the people and creating a really good energy in the city.
My friend lives a stone’s throw from Hyde Park and by chance, we found ourselves over near Buckingham Palace just in time to see the horse guards passing.
The weather doesn’t look that sunny in some of these pics but we’re having a great British summer. London is blooming and there are flowers all over the city.
Rotorua, at the bubbling heart of New Zealand’s biggest geothermal region, is home to Polynesian Spa – one of the top 10 spas in the world. Its sumptuous treatments, relaxing hot spring baths and private onsen all look out over the dramatic waters of Lake Rotorua.
In the cool afternoon of late autumn in New Zealand, Lake Rotorua has a mysterious, romantic energy. Curling wisps of steam dance like fairies over the lake’s calm surface and the distant shore is grey in the light of the falling sun.
Hot, mineral rich springs feed into the many pools of the Polynesian Spa – the same waters that fill the magnificent lake. People have been coming here since the 1800s to bathe in the rejuvenating therapeutic waters by the lake.
The first baths opened in 1972, though the luxurious pools, grottos and treatments you can find at Polynesian Spa today only came about after 1996.
The experience you have now at the spa makes the most of this incredible natural resource that has its own importance in the community – and in fact always has.
The local Te Arawa Maori, who are the guardians of this sacred lake and its many geothermal pools and spouts, have stories of the area’s creation. Every spring has a name and the waters of the region are called Waiariki – ‘waters of the gods’.
Polynesian Spa, Rotorua
We’ve booked three separate parts to our visit to the Polynesian Spa. First we’ll relax in the five thermally heated pools that look out over the lake. Then we’re having a mud treatment, and finally we have access to our own lake view private pool.
It’s worth getting to the Polynesian Spa as early as you can so you can enjoy the thermal pools for longer before the treatment.
Once we’ve checked in at the Polynesian Spa’s front desk, we go through to the secondary check in where we fill in health check charts and get the low-down on what happens next.
Our consultant shows us around, gives us gowns and those funny paper undies and explains what we need to do, where we need to go and when it all happens.
I really appreciate this. Christina is more at ease in spas, but I like to know what’s expected of me in these places. There’s nothing worse than guessing your way through a place fraught with potential embarrassments!
Once we’ve changed into our swimwear, we tiptoe through the invigoratingly chilly air to the first of the five hot-spring fed pools that range between 36-41°C.
We work our way up to the hottest pool, soaking in the water and feeling the stresses of life fall away. There’s also a slightly acidic pool fed by the so-called Priest Spring that relieves tired muscles and aching joints.
The Priest Spring gets its name comes from Father Mahoney, who apparently cured his debilitating arthritis in 1878 from its therapeutic benefits.
We also dip a toe in the cold plunge pool, but in spite of its famed health benefits, we chicken out. Instead, the special pool-side loungers, which are heated by the same geothermal springs in the pools, have our names on.
Part 2: the treatment
After we’ve soaked in the pools for about 45 minutes, we go back to the changing rooms, have a quick shower, change into the paper undies and put our gowns on. You also need to bring flipflops or slippers with you so you can walk from the changing rooms back to the treatment reception.
They lead us through to one of the spa’s dual therapy rooms where we relax on the massage beds for one of the most remarkable treatments we’ve experienced.
It begins with a full body polish and exfoliation with the scented sugar scrubs we chose before we soaked in the pools. Christina’s gone for the coconut one and I’ve selected the mango. The matching milk baths our treatment ladies apply after that are soothing and moisturising.
Then they put the mud wrap on us.
The thermal mud from Rotorua is full of minerals and antioxidants. Our therapists apply it hot and it heats our skin us and relaxes us still further. While the mud is doing its thing, we’re given neck and scalp massages that send me into a trance and Christina into a deep sleep!
We hop into the wet-room shower to rinse the mud off before climbing back onto our massage tables for one last indulgence: a hydrating body lotion massage – coconut for Christina, mango for me.
It’s an opulent, luxuriant treatment, perfect for travel-weary bodies and those who love the sensation of complete relaxation and nourishment.
Part 3: Lake View Private Pool
As if things couldn’t get any better, having our own 38.5°C private pool overlooking the beautiful Lake Rotorua really takes things to the next level.
Open to the air yet shielded from view of anyone else but the birds on the lake these Japanese onsen style baths really set the Polynesian Spa apart. We relax in the warm, geothermal waters of our pool for the full 30 minutes we’re allowed.
The discreet light in the ceiling comes on to tell us the end of our time there has come. It’s a simple yet elegant signal, better than a noise or someone knocking on the door to our pool. We rinse in the outdoor shower and change, feeling so very relaxed and calm.
Part 4: shopping and refreshments
We glide out of the spa area into the shop and café at the front of the building. You can purchase any of the treatment products they use here at the Polynesian Spa, so we’ve bought a little tube of the Rotorua mud mask to use at home. It’s things like this that make your travel experiences last that bit longer.
We also order a smoothie each from the café, which turns out to be an excellent idea. The blends they have here are delicious and perk us up just enough to get back into a ‘real-world’ mindset. Probably a safe thing to do before you drive!
The best thing about shopping here after your treatment is you get 20% off anything in the retail section.
Other options at the Polynesian Spa
With almost 40 pools and three different types of therapy areas, there are so many other options to consider at the Polynesian Spa. There are even family pools if your kids want to be a bit more active, and the private pools are big enough to have 4-5 people in too.
Packages that combine different aspects of the spa give a range of experiences or you can just use individual sections of the facilities.
Whatever you choose to do here, it’s clear to see why the Polynesian Spa has won so many accolades.
Have you been to the Polynesian Spa? Are you a ‘spa rat’ too? Tell us where you go in the comments below!
We visited the Polynesian Spa as their guests though our opinions are our own.
Drinking scotch in Scotland is like sipping Champagne in Reims, eating sushi in Tokyo or bungee jumping in Vanuatu. There’s something special about experiencing things at their source. Here are 5 of the best whisky in Glasgow bars for a dram.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Isn’t that the supreme proverb of travel? To have the best understanding of a location, go where locals go, eat what locals eat and drink what locals drink.
We certainly had that in mind as we explored the busy streets of Glasgow on the lookout for a worthy spot for a dram.
Scotland’s biggest city didn’t disappoint. Here are 5 of our favourite whisky bars in Glasgow if you’re in the mood for great scotch.
5 top whisky bars in Glasgow
Ben Nevis Bar
Cosy, simply decorated and full of personality, this bar should be your first port of call on your Glasgow scotch hop.
If the whisky options at the Ben Nevis seem like too big a mountain to climb (sorry), the extremely helpful and friendly bar staff here will guide you through.
The Ben Nevis is an incredibly welcoming, inclusive bar, perfect whether you’re a first-timer looking for dabble in a dram or a seasoned expert after something rare and unusual.
Tell the bartender what you like or – more importantly – what you don’t, and they’ll pick the ideal nip. Perfect example, Springbank Distillery’s lauded Longrow Red, which is aged in Cabernet Franc barrels, matched my tastes perfectly.
This bar’s so good, we made sure we saved space for a repeat visit before we went home.
Down a side street of the popular Ashton Lane, the Wee Pub offers discerning whisky drinkers a respite from the raucous nightlife of Glasgow’s West End.
Friendly, fun staff can guide you thoroughly through their excellent stock of scotch with confidence, matching your tastes with a dram.
From now on I will always be on the lookout for more from Bunnahabhain Distillery. It’s an Islay whisky I’d never heard of, never tried and have no idea how to pronounce – but it’s superb.
Christina’s Aberlour was just as spot on for her tastes.
Part of the popular Ubiquitous Chip, which runs a bigger pub (the Big Pub), a corner bar, a restaurant and a brasserie all out of the same spot on the cobbled Ashton Lane, the Wee Pub is not only the oldest pub on the street but also the smallest in Scotland!
Within the hallowed walls of what once was the Kelvinside Parish Church, Oran Mor offers a more upbeat version of a whisky bar.
The bar has a more modern, almost club-like feel to it than a whisky haunt, but with almost 300 whiskies to choose from behind the bar (or should that be ‘the alter’), you can’t pass the Oran Mor on a hunt for a good dram.
At last, the British summer has arrived. And it looks like it’s making up for lost time. A gift from the Sahara has sent Europe into a big mad heatwave.
Hot days have coincided with our friends Clare and Dave heading to Greece for a week. So meanwhile we’re looking after their two gorgeous dogs and enjoying a bit of local life in our old stomping ground.
Hope you enjoy this Weekly Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
We’re pretty gutted we couldn’t go with Clare and Dave to Greece this time, but it has meant we’re getting the chance to look after these two pups. We’ve pretended we’re doing Clare and Dave a favour, but really it’s us who are cashing in.
Ruby the Irish terrier manages to find the best ways to relax on the sofa.
There are times when Ruby and Flo can be a bit disconcerting. Sitting watching TV one afternoon, I look up to find them both staring at me. Flo’s deep undercover in the garden while Ruby’s up close and obvious.
They’ve been watching me for about half an hour now and I’m wondering what’s going on. I feel like an injured animal and the wolves are circling… well, sitting.
Meanwhile, on the island of Skopelos deep in the Aegean, Clare and Dave show us what we’re missing out on. Next year we’ll plan things a bit better and the four of us will be reclining for the sunset, a bottle of Mythos in hand.
Tonight, we’re having dinner with my mum and dad. They eat a plant-based diet these days (they can’t help but be on trend these two!) and have cooked up a curry.
I’ve brought along my veggie speciality – my chana masala – to add to the feast, but they’ve got everything else covered. It’s amazing spread considering they live in an – albeit massive – motorhome.
This afternoon, Christina and I have taken time off dog-sitting to explore Colchester – Britain’s oldest recorded town. We used to live here years ago and I spent most of my childhood here.
The focal point of the town from a visitor’s perspective is the beautiful Colchester Castle. It’s been here since 1076, when the Norman king William the Conquerer (William I by then) ordered its construction.
It was built on top of the ruins of a Roman temple to Claudius. It’s been a keep, a gaol and even a wedding present, but has been a museum of antiquities since 1860.
All around the castle, the grounds are full of flowers – especially this time of year. The Colchester Castle Park is always well tended. The rose beds at the front of the park are stunning.
The park is also home to lots of festivals and events – in fact the annual Colchester Food and Drink Festival is on soon. Watch this space to see what happens.
After we’ve taken some time to literally smell the roses, we’ve gone across town to a pub we used to go in from time to time when we lived here.
The Hole in the Wall is a pub that’s been built into the ancient Roman walls that once surrounded the old town of Colchester. It’s a fun place, full of characters and well worth a visit.
There is a courtyard here, but it overlooks a busy road – you’re better off inside absorbing some of the banter you’re sure to encounter!
Next to the Hole in the Wall is the Balkerne Gate – the largest surviving Roman gateway in Britain. It started off as a triumphant arch here in 50AD to mark the foundation of the town.
But the Romans had to fortify it and built the arch into a wall surrounding Colchester for protection against Queen Boudica, who still managed to sack the town in 60AD.
The wall remained a main defence of the town until the Siege of Colchester – part of the English Civil War – in 1648. After that, the wall and its arches were pulled down or built on.
The Hole in the Wall stands where the arches of the western gate would once have been.
Next stop is the Playhouse. This place is an institution and has been since Weatherspoons opened it in the ’90s. It was once a theatre in 1929 and then a cinema and a bingo hall.
These days it offers punters probably the best deals around from behind the bar, and above it the nod to its previous life with the upper tier of seating populated by a strange collection of celebrity waxworks and cutouts ranging from Shrek to the Queen.
We’re happy to see the Playhouse thriving again. The last time we were here, the vibe had an unhealthy pallor only matched by its lacklustre patrons’.
Our next stop on our little bar hop is at a relatively new place. The Three Wise Monkeys takes up a big corner block towards the end of Colchester’s high street, right back at the castle.
Its four flours (there’s a secret basement gin bar here open Friday and Saturday nights) offer a great range of drinks, including some local brews too.
We’re excited to see there’s even a few beers from Colchester Brewery on tap. The Number One – a classic English bitter – is excellent and very drinkable.
If you check out their website, you’ll find the brewery has an impressive range of regular, seasonal and monthly beers going.
There’s only one more place on our list before we head for the hills. There’s a burger joint in town we’ve been thinking about ever since our trip to Miami.
Five Guys, which began life in Miami, has since gone international. We’ve been to the one in Glasgow and we’re excited about seeing the open sign on the one in Colchester.
Burgers here aren’t particularly cheap, but they’re bloody good. The burgers are cooked to order on a proper grill rather than nuked like so many fast food chains do.
When you go to order, you choose the burger you want (there aren’t many options, but bacon cheeseburger seems the right decision) then you select your toppings. You can have as many as you want for free up to about 15.
You then order your drink and sides. We ask if a large fries is enough for two to share but we’re warned against it. A large is enough for four, so we order a regular and beers.
It’s then we notice the milkshakes. ‘Add bacon’ the menu tells us. Surely not.
But it’s true. You can bacon – actual bacon – crumbled into your milkshake. And I tell you what: it’s actually amazing.
It’s not long now before Clare and Dave get home from their holiday. It’s time to clear the house of any evidence and tidy the garden. It’s supposed to be blisteringly hot this weekend, and rather than watch Dave shove the mower around, I thought I’d give it a go.
Living in an apartment most of my adult life has protected me from the trials of trying to start a petrol mower. I now know how – thank you Google!
Not a bad result for a first time, don’t you think?
As far from the Old World as you can get, the Henley Hotel in Cambridge, New Zealand mixes the charm and luxury of an English country manor with the spritely nuance of the world’s youngest nation. It’s also but a hobbit’s throw from Bag End and the Hobbiton movie set.
At the end of its grand, tree-lined private drive proudly stands the Henley Hotel. Surrounded by 29 acres of green lawns and gardens, it’s the very picture of grandeur.
Inside, sweeping balustrades, crackling fireplaces and regal portraits complete this boutique hotel’s old-money feel.
However, far from a stuffy, courtly atmosphere, the Henley has a fun, unique sense of humour that goes so well with the luxury that’s so immediately evident.
It’s a recipe that makes staying here relaxing, comfortable and interesting.
Check out our walkthrough video of the Henley Hotel, NZ:
Henley Hotel walkthrough in Waikato, New Zealand - YouTube
We were impressed from the moment we drove through the gates at the entrance to the property. The long curving driveway and tall trees hides the impact of the hotel until you drive right up to it.
Fountains and Victorian-style streetlamps welcome you while twin lions stand guard at the front door.
Also hidden amongst the property are orchards, rotundas, picnic spots – even a lake. You can explore the grounds on foot or on the hotel’s bicycles.
Inside the Henley
It talks a moment to process it all the moment the grand, black doors to the hotel swing open.
The vast, double-height entrance hall with its beautiful staircase are so impressive, and the monochrome colour scheme is so striking.
Instead of rich reds and dark colours, the bright white walls with the black and grey accents turn the lobby from old-school grandeur to tasteful modern elegance.
But it’s the quirky furniture and decorations that give this hotel a true sense of humour and modernity. The full-size horse lamp in the lobby and curated paintings on the walls, Union Jack cushions and chairs nodding to the Old Country, and the Palm Springs style pool all mix perfectly somehow.
What’s that? Pool? Of course there’s a pool
Encased in its own conservatory at the back of the hotel, the heated pool is beautiful in the daylight, and moody and seductive with the night sky overhead. Steam from the bubbling jacuzzi in the far corner makes this room even more enticing.
Stylish recliners offer you a spot to relax after your swim and the full day spa next door temps you with a pampering session.
Rooms at the Henley
Being a boutique hotel, there are only 14 rooms here at the Henley – certainly lucky for you to be staying here!
There are three room types – amusingly named Good, Better and Best – where the clever styling and detailed touches are really at their height. From a cute teddy on each bed and fresh flowers to comfortable sofas to relax on, rooms at the Henley are much more than where you rest your head.
Little touches like fun ornaments, face cloths for makeup and sleeping masks put the Henley Hotel above most other places to stay in New Zealand.
Other things about the Henley
The Henley Hotel is one of those places that the more you explore, the more you fall for. The breakfast, which is included with your stay, is served in the broad dining room, decorated with Union Jack chairs, chandeliers and almost as much attention to detail as the bedrooms.
Enjoy the small continental buffet and then choose from the a la carte options. My eggs benedict with potato rosti and bacon is superb, while Christina’s avocado on toast would have any Bondi hipster weeping with happiness.
It’s almost worrying how easily we’ve settled back in here in the UK. We were here less a year ago, which makes it easier, but I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it.
England in the late spring and early summer is a lovely place to be.
We’ve spent this week catching up on things, taking it easy and trying to plan our next moves around Britain and Europe. To be honest, we haven’t moved too far since last week, which has been the absolute best. So sit back, relax and prepare yourself for a Weekly Edition of greenery, good grub and two pooches who’ll steal your heart.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
There are so many beautiful walks around Suffolk in England’s southeast. Just north of the little market town of Sudbury is Brundon Mill, a 19th Century watermill that used to grind corn.
It’s now a punctuation on the walk along the banks of the Stour.
The paths through the countryside meander and take their own courses. It’s lovely to let the lanes take you where they want, especially when you’re catching up with your mum and dad.
I’m not even that worried about my mum using alpine Nordic hiking sticks on a stroll around one of Britain’s flattest regions!
Over the years, the trees have grown over the lanes around this part of the countryside. Isn’t that one of the prettiest (and most English) shots you can find?
Christina and her family always comment on roads and paths where the trees on either side have created a tunnel. I can see why now.
We’ve worked up an appetite today, so back at our friends Clare and Dave’s, we’re presented with this marvel: Dave’s carbonara.
I’ll wheedle the recipe out of him eventually and let you know how to make this – it’s amazing. And only an entree! For main course, I’ve made chicken cacciatore, which isn’t as photogenic, but also a winner.
I’ll have to do the recipe for that one too.
Clare, Dave, Christina and I have all been out on another walk today out to the woodlands of Wrabness in Essex – though it looks like Flo the springer spaniel isn’t quite ready to give up the ball yet… not that she ever is!
While she’s trying to convince us to throw the ball just one more time, Clare and Dave knock up a feast of cheese baguette, ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches, and the tastiest crisps we’ve ever had.
These Fairfields Farm crisps are about as local as you can get – made from spuds grown round the corner in the Colne Valley in Essex.
We’ll be keeping our eye out for more of these, that’s for sure.
I wish we could take credit for this beautiful photo, but that just wouldn’t be right. My dad took this one on a very early morning fishing jaunt along the Suffolk Stour.
He’s on Instagram at @fisheken52 and puts up some beautiful shots from his angling escapades.
This afternoon, Christina and I are trying our best to shoot a new hair tutorial for Hair Romance. Thankfully, Flo and her ball are here to help!
The tutorial for these ‘space buns’ should be up later in the week – keep an eye out for more cameos from Flo in the video tutorial too!
These two hairy loonies – Ruby the Irish Terrier and Flo the Springer Spaniel – are Clare and Dave’s fur babies, and they’re the best. We love seeing Clare and Dave – they’re the kind of friends you only make a couple of times in your life if you’re lucky.
Secretly though, we come for the friendship, but we stay for the dogs!
Hiding deep under the rolling hills of the North Island’s Waikato region are caverns, cave systems filled with the light of a million glowworms and the roar of subterranean rivers. Thankfully there’s a way for us all to see this mysterious side to New Zealand.
Christina frowns at me. I can tell I still haven’t convinced her that this is a good idea, but I persevere.
“I prefer being up high – you know that,” she explains. “I’m a rooftop bar girl, not a caver. How can you see this panning out well?”
But I’m not being put off.
This is our first time in the Waikato Region – a large section of New Zealand’s North Island – and it’s also our first time to go blackwater rafting. It’s one of those crazy sports that NZ loves to do.
Zorbing, bungee jumping, jetboating – the Kiwis are mad for it all. So tunnelling your way into a prehistoric cave system with nothing but a hard hat and a truck tyre innertube then floating your way out of the darkness is absolutely their kind of disco.
But before we plunge into the icy waters of a river that’s never seen the light of day, there are a couple of precursors that build us up to it.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Legendary Blackwater Rafting
Visiting these caves for the first time, and this being one of the few times Christina and I have ventured underground like this, we combined three different experiences.
The Waitomo Glowworm Cave, the Ruakuri Cave and a Legendary Blackwater Rafting adventure gave us a more complete perspective of the area and also got us used to being so far underground.
Waitomo Glowworm Cave boat ride – 45 minutes
From the top of the Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre, our guide leads us down into the side of the limestone hill. Down, down, down we march, past huge ivory-coloured stalactites and stalagmites.
Through deep caverns and narrow passages until we come to a low ceiling. Turning off the lights our guide shows us the entrance to the river that flows beneath our feet. There in the rock above, are hundreds of glowworms gleaming like green-blue jewels in the darkness.
From there, we board a flat-bottomed boat which our guide manoeuvres along the dark river as we look up at the incredible light show of millions of glowworms above our heads.
It’s a wonderful introduction to the Waitamo cave system, learning about how the caves were shaped and to get us used to the feeling of being underground.
Ruakuri Cave adventure walk – 2 hours
It’s only a short drive up the road to the next part of our caving adventure: the Ruakuri Cave.
The symbol for this cave is two red dogs leaping. That’s because the Ruakuri Cave was discovered by early M?ori settlers when they chased two wild dogs into a hole in the hill. This led them down to the grottos we were about to explore.
It’s a place of spiritual importance for the local M?ori, traditionally representing the entrance to the underworld, where the dead reside.
Until recently, this cave system was only accessible to the most daring and experienced of cavers.
From the registration office, we hike up to the entrance of the cave in the side of the limestone hill. Through an impressive space-age entrance, we find out how we’re to descend into the Ruakuri Cave.
The spiral walkway, like an enormous screw, threads our pathway 50 metres to the bottom. From there, our guide leads us past some of the most beautiful caves yet – filled with towering limestone monoliths, translucent curtain-like formations, and delicate tendrils of stalactites and stalagmites.
There are plenty of glowworms to see here as well, but not as many as in the Waitamo Cave. At one point though our path crosses a river, where plenty of glowworms have built their homes.
Interesting fact: these glowworms are in fact the larvae of fungus gnats – giant mosquito-shaped flies that have no mouth or digestive tract.
The glowworms’ ‘glow’ is the bioluminescence they generate to attract small insects that they feed on until they’re ready to pupate. Glowworms tend to gather above water systems in the caves, where insects are more likely to come.
In light of the glowworms, we see shapes moving in the dark river below us. It’s a preview of what we’ll be doing after lunch: a group are floating by with their Legendary Blackwater Rafting guides.
Our stomachs give a little jolt at the thought… or perhaps it’s just the thought of lunch.
The walk back to the surface isn’t as arduous as we thought it would be. In fact, we realise as we neared the exit that this walk is perfect for accessibility. The metal grid pathways throughout the Ruakuri Cave are wide enough to take a wheelchair and there are no steps. It’s an engineering feat.
Lunch at Waitomo
Back at the visitors’ centre at the Waitomo Caves, we order lunch and take in the views out over the valley. Food here is a little expensive, but the fish and chips we have are enormous and delicious.
There are alternatives to the Waitomo Caves café. A short bushwalk through the woods and over a hill (or a two-minute drive) will take you to the village of Waitomo.
Here there are a few café and bar options, but our guide at Ruakuri recommended the HuHu Café on the edge of town. It looks lovely inside and the food is supposed to be great, though perhaps a little pricy too.
HuHu also has accommodation options if you want to stay in the area. We stayed about an hour up the road in the beautiful Henley Hotel in Cambridge.
Legendary Blackwater Rafting’s Black Labyrinth expedition – 3 hours
Today’s Weekly Edition covers our last couple of days in Sydney and our dramatic trip north to London. We have everything from fine-dining restaurants and beautiful flowers to medical emergencies and the warmest welcome to share with you this week.
So make sure your seat backs are in the upright position and your tray tables are stowed. We’re ready for take-off!
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
This evening, Christina and I are having dinner at one of Sydney’s – if not Australia’s – best restaurants.
We’ve been lucky enough to dine at est. a couple of times in the past, but this time, Christina and I have brought our excellent mate Anton along for a belated joint birthday dinner.
Apart from the incredible sourdough that’s brought out at the start for us to share, our entrees get the evening going exactly how we expected it.
My marron – one of my all-time favourite types of seafood – is exquisite. It’s served with slices of carrot that are so thin they’re almost transparent, a verjus and sesame oil.
The dish is decorated with two types of seaweed – golden perslane and laver.
Christina’s entree of hand-picked crab with trout roe, hazelnut and kale, and Anton’s dish of aged squab, liver parfait and quandong are also excellent.
Mains start to arrive and Christina’s wild barramundi makes Anton and me wonder if we’ve chosen well or not.
And then I’m presented with my 9++ wagyu and I know I’ve won. This beef melts on contact with your tongue and fills your mouth with the most incredible flavours. I think I’ve found the dish to ask for if I’m ever on death row!
The desserts on the menu look enticing, but we all decide to go for the cheese option instead; three different delicious Australian cheeses.
There’s a final surprise to come too. Christina has arranged for a birthday cake to come out before we leave. Anton and I have almost the same birthday – just one day different – so this cake is for both of us.
Good job we’re all quite full, isn’t it?
I tell you what though, it might not be a big cake, but it’s still amazingly tasty and very rich.
To celebrate World Gin Day – and inspired by last night’s cocktail at est., I’ve made a negroni with a new gin to cross our path.
I made this negroni with Underground Distilling Co‘s Shiraz and pepperberry gin, which gives the cocktail an extra herbaceous hit. Cheers!
Today, we’re off to lunch with some family friends who are very dear to our hearts.
We’re with Christina’s mum Jeanette and sister Mary, and Mary’s brought us to Hills the Flower Market in Terrey Hills. It’s somewhere between a garden centre, florists and cafe.
The prices here are almost as good as the range, and the displays make for Instagram heaven.
It’s amazing to see peonies in Australia in June. Very hard to tear Christina away without filling up the car!
Our friends Jackie and Alfredo have set up a very pretty lunch table for us in their apartment. And it’s not a lunch without a bit of bubbly.
Jackie’s baked a pair of delicious quiches for lunch. She’s even made the pastry, which is perfect.
Jackie and Alfredo have been part of Christina’s family’s friend group for decades – they’re almost part of the family really. It’s always good to catch up with them. Even more so when we’re about to head off for a couple of months.
We’re packed and ready for a bit of warmth from the European summer as we head down to the ferry wharf bound for Sydney Airport.
There’s not much difference price or time wise between catching a ferry then train to the airport and just hopping in a taxi, but starting a trip off with a ride on the harbour is a much nicer option than facing afternoon traffic.
See you in August, Sydney!
We check in and hurtle through airport security so we can get to the business class lounge asap. The trip’s really started now we’ve got a drop of bubbles in our hands.
It’s a working supper at The House lounge, getting last minute bits and pieces organised before we board.
And we’re off. Let’s hope we’re feeling this fresh by the time we get to London… I’ve got a feeling we might not!
Especially when something like this happens.
On our way to our connecting flight at Abu Dhabi, a fellow passenger has fallen sick (it turns out it was a heart attack), and our flight has been redirected to Mumbai.
The slums at the edge of the sprawling metropolis – you can see their blue roofs- make for a bleak outlook from our plane window.
The idea of working from home appeals to many of us. Freedom, comfort, the lack of commuting – it all sounds ideal. But what do you have to do to make your home office a workable space?
There’s nothing like the feeling of working from a home office that you’ve carefully created. Feeling happy to be at work is a unique feeling not many of us have the luxury or pleasure to experience.
Mind you, just because you can roll out of bed and straight into the office doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically – or permanently – feel happy about it.
We’ve been working from a home office since 2009 and thought sharing some of our wisdom from experience with you would help.
Where you work makes all the difference
Probably the most important element to working from a home office is how you set up the place you’ll be spending the most of your time.
Having a number of different places you can work is a good idea so that you don’t get bored of your work environment. And yes, working from the sofa and from bed still counts – just not all the time!
To sit or not to sit, that is the question
Standing desks have become really popular in recent years and studies show the benefits of standing rather than sitting at your desk.
Burning more calories (around 50p/h), improving posture, reducing back pain and – according to a 2016 study – even helping with productivity, fitting a standing desk into your home office is a must.
Our Varidesk Pro Plus 36 is ideal for a home office. It just sits on your desk or table and turns it into a professional work space.
This desk’s tiered design makes it comfortable to sit at, but the spring-assisted system makes it fast and easy to lift into a standing desk position. And it has multiple height options too, so you can adapt it for your own ergonomics.
Having plenty of natural light and trying to limit the amount of clutter around your desk is important too. You’ve chosen to work from home, so you might as well make your office the best spot in the house.
Time flies when you have none
Probably the biggest obstacle working from home is the millions of distractions close at hand.
It’s so tempting to run the odd non-work-related errand or do the laundry… or sit and watch TV for a few hours when you should be knuckling down. The busier you are and the tighter your timeline, the more you’ll be tempted to bunk off.
You’ll also find some people don’t think you’re really working at all and presume they can just pop round or expect you to be able to come and meet them.
Be strong. It’s ok to say no.
I know the idea of working from home is to be able to have flexibility. But it’s also important for you and everyone around you that it’s clear when you’re working and when you’re not.
You’ll also find that you’re more productive at certain times of the day. Find your sweet spot and make sure you’re working then. That’s when the flexibility of your working hours goes in your favour.
Is there a company uniform?
Working from home means there’s no one around to judge you on your sartorial choices. It’s very tempting to work in your PJs from one day to the next. The problem with that is when you need to go outside the house, human clothes can feel really weird.
Apart from that, I certainly feel more ‘professional’ if I’ve at least donned clothes I’d be happy wearing in the front garden. I don’t mean you need to wear a full suit every day, but getting dressed does put you in more of a work mindset.
All work and no play…
Another very real problem with working from home is the isolation. There’s nothing really stopping you from staying in and not seeing anyone for days on end. This isn’t healthy. Plus, if you’re working for yourself, you find the job taking over more and more of your life.
It’s so important to make sure you get out and enjoy social life.
Even if you’re taking your laptop to a local café for a few hours, getting out and interacting with people is essential to stop you losing your grip on reality.
Time flexibility… but within reason
The word ‘routine’ is one of the reasons people want to work from home. The idea of getting out of the rat race and marching to the squeak of your own wheel is very enticing.
The funny thing is even when you’re working from your home office and are completely independent, having a routine really helps.
I don’t want to venture too far into productivity (you should check out Smaggle.com for that), but having a timetable to stick to or at least knowing what jobs you need to do each day makes life easier. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting time working out what to do next all the time.
Bounce those ideas off something
One of the things I miss from office life – apart from the stationery cupboard – is the camaraderie and being able to sound out ideas with your peers. Working from home and working for yourself, every idea you have and every task in front of you is yours alone.
Find like-minded people – and there will be some there – to take to or even email occasionally makes working remotely so much more pleasant.
Peer mentorship – call it what you want – is a way of both you and the other person helping each other along in what many people don’t realise is a challenging working environment.
I’m lucky to be working with my wife Christina (yes, a challenge for both of us in a different way), but it means we’re able to support each other through decisions.
We hope these tips for starting your home office are helpful. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments below.