Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew London March 2017

by Emma Bumpus on April 4, 2017

Spring explodes on the banks of the River Thames with botanical wanderlust as Careertraveller takes a 30-minute journey from Central London to Kew’s famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Greeted by a jungle of green urban space and kaleidoscopic colour we enter a biosphere of pure natural beauty and intelligence derived from a love and curiosity for the arts and science. Up above rests a verdant skyline of oxygenating trees whilst below awaits a curvaceous carpet of Palm House Parterre buttery yellow daffodil beds that escort us to paradise.

Overwhelmed by the initial size and array of plants, glades and gardens we hop on the Kew Explorer land train for a delicious show of outstanding attractions and seasonal highlights. A jolly 45-minute ephemeral commentary brings Kew’s history alive with stories of royalty and conservation dating back to 1759 when Princess Augusta founded the gardens.

A tour around 326 acres of diverse landscape reveals secluded treasure in the form of 38 listed buildings including Kew Palace, temples and glasshouses. From 18th century Orangery, whose classical building once housed ornamental citrus plants to Chinese folly Pagoda, a fashionable gift for the princess we discover 18th century architecture and architect Sir William Chambers.

An Arboretum of almost 14, 000 trees introduces Redwood Grove, an introduction to giant cone-bearing trees where Kew’s tallest tree, a coastal redwood, stands majestically 39.3 metres high. Continuing past oaks and conifers to pine and ancient maidenhair tree Gingko biloba, we uncover the work of Kew’s scientists who study the traditional uses of seeds for medicinal purposes. Amidst bursts of red and pink Rhododendron Dell and Azalea Garden we inhale the romance of ornamental magnolias and Japanese cherry blossom ‘Prunus Shirotea’ trees, whose horizontal branches twinkle with snow white fragrance.

A hop off at The Hive is an opportunity to experience the secret lives of bees by stepping into a 17 metre high installation created by artist Wolfgang Buttress. On the basis that honeybees communicate primarily through vibration, this 170,000-aluminium piece hive-like structure is a fantastically winning experience of multisensory low humming sound, light and vibration. Inviting the visitor to engage by biting a wooden stick connected to a conductor provides a sense of vibrational messages through the bones in the head, which surrounded by wildflower meadow plants, introduces the Pollination Trail.

Hive activities take us on an educated detour to Kew’s own beehives and order beds which situated near the the Jodrell Laboratory underlines the scientific research and projects behind the scenes. A declining bee population is reflected in the Garden’s Pollinator Strategy and explains the Bumblebee Backpacks, whose tiny radio devices help Kew’s scientists track the pollinators preferred flowers. Inspired by the beekeeping and wild flower nectar producing beds, it becomes obvious why The School of Horticulture at Kew is the centre of excellence and worldwide botanical education.

Bee and wild flower identification take us to tropical orchids via the Princess of Wales Conservatory, whose hot and cool climatic zones explain how conservation preserves Kew’s reputation as world leader in study of the species. Opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987 we get lost in this glasshouse of 10 climatic zones covering rainforests, humid mountains and fruits of the desert and embrace orchid mania. Sultry, fragrant, and exotic wild flowers are an explosion of colour through a steamy voyage of mangroves and water lilies to glossy coffee and cacao plants! A mixture of dry tropic architectural cacti brings the spirit of Mexico alive with the succulent blue Agave tequilana, which aged in the plant for up to 12 years produces tequila!

A breeze past the endangered Chinese Paper Bark Maple with an ornamental stature and coppery orange bark justifies a jaunt to Xstrata Treetop Walkway. Climbing this 18 metre high platform defines the word arboretum, which in Latin translates ‘a place with trees, where we are blown away by nature. Sky-high London views are a lens for wildlife, tree species and seasonal landscape blooms that stretch West to the Sackler Crossing whose S-curve bridge provides lakeside eye candy.

A homebound stroll past the romantic King William’s Temple and iconic glass Palm House is another excuse to sample more of Kew’s listed buildings offering inspiration, open space and relaxation to all. Inside this restored Victorian house, built to house worldwide tropical palms and trees, awaits a rainforest of medicinal and bizarre species across the continents from The Americas to Africa and Australasia. Under the hot and steamy stainless steel rafters we uncover science in the form of fruit, wood from the Ebony Tree and a better understanding of the planet’s DNA and ecology.

Summary, Kew is a utopia of knowledge and perfection that deserves more than a day’s visit. As for the Waterlily House, Marianne North Gallery and Temperate House et al, to be continued!

Further information:

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

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Eneko at One Aldwych, London February 2017

by Emma Bumpus on February 20, 2017

Traditional food and flavours at Eneko at One Aldwych take careertraveller on a gastronomic journey to Northeastern Spain’s ‘Basque country’, where full-bodied colour, culture and gastronomy position adventurous ingredients at the centre of the table.

Located in the heart of London, Covent Garden awaits a culinary experience that smacks of style, imagination and tradition inside the fashionably renowned boutique One Aldwych Hotel.

Inside this glamorous former ‘Morning Post’ newspaper HQ, first impressions come in the form of a stunning copper-plated staircase that descends to a stylish ‘theatre-like’ basement of sizzling colour. Piquant red booths and white leather armchairs stylishly offset a plethora of beautifully hand-sculpted tables made in solid wood of Basque Chestnut trees.

Smooth, curvaceous and textured haute couture wood provides a stimulating backdrop for some serious Mediterranean brunch with Spanish roots steeped in green fertile Navarra Pyrenees Mountains and coastal Bay of Biscay Atlantic beaches.

Impressed by the subtle butterfly joint inlay that radiates bespoke craftsmanship fit for an artisanal feast of playful sensations, the show commences with a clever Bloody Mary twist of spice-infused vodka, golden tomato juice and celery foam in the name of aperitif ‘Golden Mary’. Opulently presented in a bountiful cocktail glass brimming with lively seasoning and bursts of Vitamins A and C sets the scene for a show of lively ingredients and fun dynamic of sharing food.

From the depths of his hometown Bilboa, we discover Three Michelin-starred chef Eneko Atxa whose Basque inspired menu brings a party to the table with regional Euskal Azoka ‘Street Food’ and a carnival cocina to the palate. Vibrantly eye catching and engaging we brunch through Traditional Talo whose fresh corn tortilla base showcases a spectacular spring bouquet of fresh herbs and edible flowers positioned beautifully upon layers of meaty and sunny coloured heritage tomatoes.

Elegantly fruity and bursting with heirloom superior juice we taste summer on a plate and progress to the Basque pizza-style Talo, whose contrasting dash of anchovies and farmhouse Idiazabal cheese brings a mildly salty and smokey influence from the Atlantic coast and mountainous highlands!

Taste buds climax with the arrival of Gallinero ‘Eggs’ and Arraultzak, whose salivating golden fried eggs served on a succulent piquillo pepper and onion coated Flour Crisp define brunch in one morsel. Accompanied by a rustic earthenware pan of creamy mash and chives we traverse deep into Navarre country and delight in the truly seasonal spindly wild asparagus and sweet and spicy “little beak’ chilli peppers.

Next we enter the verdant vineyards of Eneko’s own family winery Gorka Izagirre where we sample a glass of the flagship wine Txakoli, whose youthful sharp fresh tones take us to the hills of the Txorierri Valley. In a land of green hilly regions and oceanic climate we step into charming rural countryside and discover Eneko’s neighbouring Michelin-starred Azurmendi restaurant, which just 20 kilometres from Bilboa is surrounded by vineyards and built into a Biscay hillside!

Full of surprise and imagination we brunch further into wizardry with a taste of the Asador – ‘Grill’ menu and dip into the provincial town of Guernica or Basque name ‘Guernika’. A drooling platter of sliced golden seared Duck breast and Gernika peppers, named after the town bombed during the Spanish Civil War, rests tenderly against a formation of green and mild officially protected Basque pepper. Fried in olive oil and lightly seasoned with sea salt ticks the careertraveller favourite dish of the day for pure melt in the mouth culinary flair and rustic simplicity that stems from a rich culinary heritage.

Last but not least arrives dessert and spoilt for choice we opt for a dolce combination of Basque country elements and gastronomic expertise that inspires, educates and lifts the soul.

Taste and texture take us from the traditional Torrija, an authentic vanilla sponge with light caramel crumble ice cream to zesty Strawberry sorbet, whose flawlessly dainty rose marshmallow is weightlessly delectable. However, it is the Salted Caramel Mousse that rests politely on a bed of homemade cookie crumble with complementary genuine sheep’s milk ice cream that takes centre stage, placing Basque country travel firmly on the careertraveller radar.

Further information:

Eneko at One Aldwych
Brunch can be booked online eneko@onealdwych.com or by calling
020 7300 0300. Walk-ins are also welcome.

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New Year in Ramsgate, Kent January 2017

by Emma Bumpus on January 10, 2017

New Year celebrations kick off in Thanet as Careertraveller and family take to the active Ramsgate coast where handsome beaches and only Royal Harbour in the country present a playground of historical treasures.

Amidst the bustling eateries and harbour side shops adorned with festively welcoming decorations stands our fashionable water front haven The Oak Hotel, which strikingly tall and colourfully continental stands proud above the distinguished sea facing marina.

Maritime delights appear from our Superior Sea View room that smacks of coastal adventure within a spacious suite of a bedroom, whose crisp white sumptuous bed linen and debonair leather arm chairs make us want to relax and set sail! Essential Wi-Fi and Flat Screen TV please the little sailor and tick the boxes for all mod cons, with added bonus of in-room desk and en-suite bathroom, whose pristine power shower brings seafaring joy.

Tea and coffee making conveniences enhance our Harbour window outlook with portside sight of the Maritime Museum, which housed in an elegant 19th century Clock House is Ramsgate’s unique engineering masterpiece and Meridian site from which the town’s own Mean Time is 5 minutes 41 seconds ahead of Greenwich.

Below quayside rest famous floating exhibits Sundowner, the famous Dunkirk Little Ship that served both WW1 and WW2 and USN P22 United States Navy Gun Boat whose conspicuous American Flag reminds us of it’s roots steeped in Cold War history.

Starboard views of yachts and Royal Parade red brick Victorian arches lead the eye up to a rise of Georgian and Regency rooftops that beckon the Town Rounders Regency, Royal and Riviera Town Walk, an energetic trail of architecture, landmarks and cafes.

A harbour side coffee at the Ship Shape Café is a nautical boost, which cruises us past a trendy array of one-off restaurants, open art studio and eclectic Petticoat Lane Emporium, a vintage anchorage of antiques with old-fashioned tearoom.

Unexpected treasure awaits with the gothic inspired Sailors Church and Harbour Mission, a 19th century refuge which built in 1878 pays homage to the sailing smacks who fished outside Ramsgate including ‘smack boys ‘of Ramsgate. As the eye stretches out towards the West Pier lighthouse and challenging waters we reflect upon the lives of those rescued from the shipwrecks of Goodwin Sands and First World War and embrace our sheltered position, just 35 miles away from the French coast.

Our footpath continues with a steep climb up Jacobs Ladder, a historical staircase that transports us back to 1754 when carpenter Jacob Steed built the ladder in stone with wooden steps. Basking in the footsteps of smugglers once believed to have used them for the harbour, we soar new heights and applaud the prominent regency town houses that echo former residents Vincent Van Gogh and John Gibson Lockhart.

Amongst the stream of Blue Plaques and manicured town squares we inhale the cultural contrasts of Ramsgate with it’s 4 Gold Anchor Awarded Royal Harbour Marina and adjoining freight handling seaport.

From the West Cliff promenade we admire Ramsgate’s picturesque dock and turn into St Augustine’s Road where we enter the world of designer and architect Augustus Pugin whose former home The Grange and St Augustine’s Church honour his love of Ramsgate.

Built by Pugin himself we step into the flint church and admire the Altar of The Sacred Heart and North Cloister, which displays a long polychromed terracotta panel depicting the Stations of the Cross, designed and added by Flemish sculptor Alois De Beule in 1893. The striking Neo- Gothic Altar designed by Pugin’s son is a show of dedicated craftsmanship and example of Ramsgate’s listed buildings, approximately 900.

As blazing sunset shades of gold and yellow reverberate the words of artist J.M.W Turner “The skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe,” we retreat to Harbour Parade where New Year’s Eve festivities take shape with sight of The Oak Hotel. An illuminated exterior and established friendliness beckon a tipple from the sociable Lounge Bar tavern that stirs a crowd.

Caught in a welcoming plethora of guests, tourists and locals it is easy to understand how this contemporary port of 34 en-suite rooms, just yards from Ramsgate’s sandy award winning beach, attracts a bustling trade and brings the outside in.

Next-door in their Restaurant 66 is a convivial stylish diner with attractive spotlights and leather-banqueting chairs fit for a celebratory feast twinkles with stellar hospitality. Overlooking the harbour we dine amidst the revellers and share a glass of bubbly as the midnight fireworks sprinkle good health and fortune over Ramsgate’s glitzy marina.

New Year’s Day brings a selective hearty breakfast of porridge with banana and honey in the hotel’s Café Bar before embarking on the legendary local Ramsgate Blitz Walk, a step back to WW2 when the seaside resort was heavily bombed. We uncover former bombsites, 20th century architectural remnants and nostalgic stories of the people who survived and set sail for reinforcements at Ramsgate’s traditional fish ‘n’ chip shop Peter’s Fish Factory.

Ramsgate Main Sands ‘Blue Flag’ Beach is enough to unleash the Careertraveller wanderlust with a vigorous 5-mile return Ramsgate to Broadstairs walk. Accompanied by sea spray, sandy beaches and chalky cliffs, peppered with a garden of Rock Sea lavender and Rock Samphire, New Year activates a heart-pumping itinerary of delicious coastal gems.

Italianate Greenhouse and pretty coloured Dumpton Gap beach huts escort us to award winning beach Viking Bay in Broadstairs, whose enchanting horseshoe shaped seashore shimmers with nostalgic family holidays including the likes of Charles Dickens!

Amongst the ramblers and dog walkers to cyclists and joggers, we grab a taste of this quintessential seaside town and vow to return for more of Thanet’s stunning coastline!

Further information:

The Oak Hotel
Thanet Tourism
Active Ramsgate
Ramsgate Maritime Museum
Ramsgate Blitz Walks
St Augustine’s Church

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Staying Cool at The Rotunda, Birmingham December 2016

by Emma Bumpus on December 14, 2016

Careertraveller and family take Christmas to new heights with an urban city stay in Birmingham’s Staying Cool sleek serviced apartments, the type that bring an added glamour and luxury to travel.

Perfectly situated in the heart of the city stands the iconic Rotunda, an 81 metre high Grade II Listed cylindrical tower that smacks of history, culture and entertainment. Situated just minutes away from central New and Moor Street railway stations is the green light for 24 hours in one of the UK’s most diverse and multicultural cities.

Reception is a trendy LED chandelier of overhead neon LED tubes with smart concierge service that transport us flawlessly to 20th floor heaven aka Roadster Penthouse. Luxury family travel takes on new meaning as we walk into a fashionable boutique pad that oozes high-rise Manhattan radiance.

A swanky Poggenpohl designed and installed kitchen with solid and Corian countertop and stainless steel accessories bounce high quality light off floor to ceiling glass doors that display Birmingham’s stunning city skyline.

Out on the wraparound balcony awaits a panoramic metropolis of shimmering architecture and regenerative open space bursting with attractions and festive Christmas spirit. Inside is a haven of modish mod cons from ipod docking station and Francis Francis illy espresso machine to classic monopoly and giant jenga, which brilliantly offsets the contemporary naughtone portion sofa and 60s inspired wall art.

Calming grey hand made upholstery accessorised by candy coloured buttons and select vintage wool cushions created by Heather Linnet at Eclectic Chair radiate psychedelic shades of orange, pink and red, reflective of this wonderfully rejuvenated building built in 1965.

Encapsulated in a rotund harbour of exemplary design, detail and love we uncover traces of Staying Cool’s eco tourism philosophy and are educated by their recent silver award in green excellence by Green Tourism. Dazzled by this subtle and visionary exclusive penthouse we marvel in a heady mix of sustainability and natural cutting-edge recyclable materials that transcends into citrus orange and bergamot hand-blended aromatherapy products. Marvellous!

Ready for action we hit land with the city’s famous annual Frankfurt Christmas Market, which just outside reception is a plethora of wooden chalet style huts brimming with würstel, gluewien and strudel. Aromatic hints of cinnamon and gingerbread are an edible trail of festive gifts and shops that take us through the famous Bullring Shopping Centre. Positioned beneath the landmark Rotunda, whose presence never leaves our sight, reside over 160 shops, cafes and restaurants that twinkle with 21st century department stores and retailers.

Amidst the tinsel and snowy alfresco Winter Social showcase of Black Country award winning street food and local favourite ‘Peaky Blinder’ ale, we enjoy getting lost amongst the city’s mixture of old and new buildings that convey Birmingham’s rich cultural heritage across the centuries. From the Selfridges space age exterior covered in 15,000 space age spun aluminium disks to St Martins Church, an 19th century gothic Victorian masterpiece, we continue our historical journey to the city’s creative quarter Digbeth and discover Alfred Bird’s legendary Custard Factory.

Once home to Bird and Sons Ltd we enter the land of egg free instant custard powder, which invented by the chemist Mr Bird himself, stands the former factory premises reinvented with innovative independent shops, artist space and intimate Mockingbird Cinema.

Inspiration carries us west canal side towards Brindley Place, a fabulous fusion of cafes, restaurants and attractions fit for all. Award winning Ikon Gallery to ICC Symphony Hall are a footpath of cultural eye candy to Centenary Square where festive Ferris wheel and ice skating rink illuminate the majestic careertraveller favourite Library of Birmingham. Imposingly palatial stands this modern centre of excellence with 10 floors of art gallery space, 7th floor garden, outdoor amphitheatre and legendary Shakespeare Memorial Room. Spectacular!

As day becomes night we grab a cab to Birmingham Botanical Gardens to capture the Magical Lantern Festival, which celebrates the city’s art and culture with original handcrafted Chinese lanterns from China. Set in 15 acres of stunning gardens stand giant illuminations that enchant and enthuse in a playground of carnival wonder full of East meets West animals, symbols and traditional Christmas cheer. Beautifully entertaining and playful pandas, interspersed with colossal birdcages and the likes of Santa, epitomise the city’s Brummie Bull, known lovingly as the ‘people’s mascot’.

Birmingham rocks and as we retire to our desirable Rotunda Roadster Penthouse we take an alfresco 360° inner-city vista nightcap before retiring upon deluxe pocket sprung mattresses in our king size beds fit for quality sleep.

Morning brings an enlightening tonic at the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum, which just a 15-minute walk from the Rotunda introduces us to some of Birmingham’s pretty green space at Eastside City Park. Set in a public square detailed with canal feature and jet fountains awaits a fun morning of interactive discovery from health and technology to wildlife and astronomy.

Inside a Forensic Van we solve a crime scene, discover the stars in the Planetarium and find history in The Spitfire Gallery from 4 floors of jam-packed inventions, experiments and research. Blown away by this outstanding award-winning museum, which warrants a full day out, we place Birmingham firmly on the careertraveller return roadmap and thank Staying Cool for providing a unique insight to the most happening city.

Educated and replenished we adopt Staying Cool’s green philosophy and travel home from Birmingham Coach Station with National Express, whose spacious leather chairs and smooth journeying make Birmingham an accessible and wonderful tourist destination.

Further information:

Staying Cool
Visit Birmingham
Magical Lantern Festival
Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum
National Express

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Snowdonia, North Wales October 2016

by Emma Bumpus on November 7, 2016

Jagged mountains and plunging waterfalls amidst green fertile valleys present one BIG adventure for Careertraveller and family.

Dramatically wild and rugged landscape sets the scene for 823 square miles of Snowdonia National Park culture and geography triggers alpine wanderlust amongst the rocky peaks of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales’ and England.

Our journey begins with a stop at the YHA Snowdon Llanberis where outdoors sheep and cattle graze peacefully below the highest peak in England and Wales, all 3560 ft. Indoors is a warm and friendly welcome ticket to a fresh and contemporary bunkroom whose surprisingly firm mattress and energising crisp lime green bed linen reflects sublime mountainous window views.

A wander round the hostel’s dry room, lounge, dining room and self catering kitchen is a 21st century introduction to the charity, who for 85 years has inspired and helped thousands of young people experience travel.

Reception is a hub of activity and information covering attractions, eateries, weather conditions and trails, the type that effortlessly beckons king Snowdon exploration. Equipped with details of 8 tracks, and legendary Snowdon Mountain Railway, which celebrates it’s 125th anniversary, we kick start the children’s appetite with a hearty YHA full English breakfast that beams with anticipation.

We opt for the shortest Pyg Track that starts with a brief scenic drive on the local Sherpa bus to mountain Pen-Y-Pass, a whopping 359 metres high above sea level! Within a primal panoramic playground of craggy boulders and mystical upland mist we join a community of Snowdon revellers from families and hikers to pet dogs and enter the third largest national park in the UK. Our ascent is a journey fuelled by friendly conversation, majestic geography and child friendly energy bars, the sugary kind that sweetly usher us to the top of the world!

Llyn Glaslyn, Welsh for blue lake is a unique pit stop that commands epic east flank views of Snowdon. It is here we accept Mother Nature’s changeable weather and ‘scrambley’ descend to the lake’s shore via the Miners’ Track with menacing views of Crib Croch’s knife-edge ridge.

Hankering summit views evaporate with sight of Llyn Llydaw, Snowdon’s largest lake with a legend of being the lake where Sir Bedivere (Bedwyer) threw King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. Sight of a causeway and abandoned mine are curiosities for the kids who take kindly to the wide waterside walk. Smallest Llyn Tayrn signals home is near with a wide and even road that ends with a mirage like hop on Sherpa bus, summoning warm comforts of the YHA Snowdon Llanberis.

Dinner is an economically tasty 3-course menu of home cooked soup, fish n chips or vegetable curry with generous portion of chocolate cake that makes travelling complete. Evening entertainment in the lounge is a an oasis of board games and books with comfy leather sofas adorned with woolly throws, designed to relax and take in full bodied views of Snowdonia’s green pastures.

A Welsh mountain slumber brings further pleasure with a ride on the Llanberis Lake Railway, which just a 15-minute walk from the hostel is an exciting trail of quaint village shops, eateries and attractions. Narrow gauge- tracks and shiny short carriages unite when a rosy red steam engine blows it’s whistle under an authentic cloud of 19th century locomotive vapour.

Charmed by lakeside views of the Snowden Mountain Railway and Electric Mountain we discover the heart of slate country as we step into the former land of Dinorwic Quarry and Elidir Mountain where slate was first dug. A mountain tunnel reveals the original slate train route from the quarry and takes us past the National Slate Museum which once housed the main workshops for the whole quarry. Contrasting hues of blue and green dazzle us with mountain range views above lake or Llyn Padarn and woodland Padarn Country Park, whose wildlife recognises fifty species of birds.

Perched high above the shore stands Dolbadarn Castle, which built in the 13th century adds a medieval dimension to Snowdon’s village, completing our 5-mile journey from the track bed of the beautifully maintained Padarn Railway.

Mountains to coast take us north to Caernarfon where UNESCO world heritage site Caernarfon Castle brings waterfront beauty to Snowdonia. Shaped like a figure eight stands this romantic fortress built in the 13th century with impressive Eagle Tower overlooking the Menai Strait towards the Isle of Anglesey.

Three grand storeys and lofty turrets crowned with battlement stone eagles reflect Snowdonia’s hidden history, kept alive with innovative art installations such as Poppies: Weeping Window by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper. This handsome display of handmade blood red ceramic poppies exploding from the parapets of the castle marks the commemoration of the WW1 centenary and tributes Snowdonia’s rich culture with pride.

Homeward bound is a an ultimate stop in Blaenau Ffestiniog, an up and coming industrial mining town boasting legendary Zip World, a former working Victorian slate mine brimming with adventure and imagination.

Outside is a playground of airborne zip wires fit for trapeze amidst the slate and mountains whilst deep down inside awaits Bounce Below, a whopping 400 square metre space of giant trampolines and modern slides. Built for pleasure seekers, neon lights heighten the ambience and highlight the rock-strewn caves and tunnels as we bounce, roll and jump our way up and down the Llechwedd Slate Caverns.

Between the nets we watch swashbuckling adventurers zip line their way across the craters and embrace this subterranean ingenious playground that offers fun for all the family. A glance at the 500 foot underground Deep Mine Tour is a historical insight to the miners who worked in semi darkness over 100 years ago and tributes this attraction for preserving the heritage of the Welsh mining industry.

North Wales is one big adventure!

Further information:

YHA
Visit Wales
Lanberis Lake Railway
Caernarfon Castle
Zip World, Blaenau Ffestiniog

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Camping in Tuscany, August 2016

by Emma Bumpus on August 29, 2016

Summer brings a lush palette of sizzling sunflowers, Chianti burdened vineyards and fruitful leafy green mass of stunning landscape fit for the intrepid likes of Careertraveller and family.

Abandoning the car, we take a 90 minute hour train journey from Florence to Chiusi, which bursting with elegant sky scraper cypress trees and lashings of pure Mediterranean olive groves plunges us into the heart of Tuscany.

A sweet and gentle bus ride is a fleeting ascent to the hilltop village of Sarteano, a medieval hamlet of traditional stone houses peppered with winding alleyways that smack of history, good food and culture.

Destination Parco Delle Piscine is a gateway to nature where 3 thermo mineral water swimming pools reside in an evergreen park of entertainment brimming with sport and unlimited alfresco space.

Home is a tree-lined thoroughfare boasting pristine mobile homes with decorative praiseworthy verandas that stretch neatly across the patio, beaming with essential sun loungers, BBQ and outdoor dining area. Enveloped in a botanical haven of glossy laurel and eucalyptus we begin a unique camping experience that starts with an Italian stove cafetiere and 5-minute walk to the local bakery, where we develop a Tuscan palate!

A wander round the site is a harmonious display of fresh country living fit for swimmers, hikers, runners and leisurites. Uplifting shades of green are a wondrous display of flora and fauna amidst the fragrant lavender, sage and rosemary that thrive around the bar, a sociable hub of pizza, cornetti and all things pleasurable beneath the Tuscan sun! A babble of English, Dutch, German, Italian and American fills the air with intoxicating conversation from worldwide travellers and families in search of fun and adventure.

Soaring scented pine trees sway gracefully above the tennis, basketball and volleyball courts offering a generous shade for the energetic. As the midday sun peaks we take a seat below the grape clad pergola that overlooks the far-reaching lawn, an afternoon pleasure dome for children.

From football tournaments and water slides to picnics and sunbathing Parco Delle Piscine is a camping oasis full of inspiration, health and fun. Whilst the little ones explore the rubber tiled adventure playground the adults watch and workout from the nearby Vitagym, whose cardio machinery musters a healthy appetite and excuse to sample lunch at the camp’s Piscine Restaurant.

Panzanella salad brings regional cuisine and pure happiness to the table with chunks of bread and fresh tomatoes which endorses a glass of reserve Chianti on the balcony overlooking the shimmering turquoise Large Pool. Designed by Japanese architect and landscape designer Haruki Miyagima we absorb the waterfall and adjacent hydromassage spa amidst the rolling Tuscan hills that reflect his meditative philosophy “Green unites what man divides”.

Plot to plate brings a thirst for culture as we embark on the camp’s evening Sarteano and Surroundings guided tour, a picturesque trail that takes us through the town’s ancient streets and up to the 14th century castle along the Etruscan roads. From a mountainous free flowing spring water path that feeds into the campsite pools we pass rural farmhouses and antique churches offering panoramic views of the Val di Chiana and UNESCO Val D’Orcia plains, a stunning canvas of Renaissance Siena!

Back in town our amicable guide Eugenio rewards us with a customary Tuscan wine and food tasting session pit stop that celebrates the likes of Pecorino, Prosciutto and local Terre Di Siena red and white wine. Enthused and revitalised we swing by the local macellaio or ‘butcher’ for a flavourful Florentine-style steak famously known as Bistecca alla Fiorentina and prepare a rustic campsite BBQ beneath the Tuscan skies.

Mornings bring sunrise swims and unhurried bike rides that shower us with golden wheat fields and perfumed woodlands bursting with seasonal colour and provincial pride. Ready for a day of sightseeing we hop on a bus to nearby Montepulciano, which presents a breath-taking 40-minute long alpine backdrop famous for the filming of the vampire saga Twilight sequel ‘New Moon’.

A hilly ascent past pretty boutiques teeming with elegant merchandise reveals the Church of Saint Augustine, whose 15th century marble facade designed by Italian artist and sculptor Michelozzo exposes a beautiful wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and child.

Lunch at the refined Caffè Poliziano is an excuse to sample the restaurant’s Tuscan cuisine from the summer terrace laced with vibrantly coloured petunias and geraniums. A mixture of Vino Nobile reserve, Tuscan Platter and dazzling hazy blue mountain views are a sky-high cinematic experience that leaves our heads in the clouds!

Back in Sarteano events hot up for the evening’s eminent La Gisotra del Saracen or ‘Saracen Games’, an equestrian game where cavaliers on horseback compete for a ring hanging from the shield of a wooden statue. Crowds fill the streets ready for the afternoon’s ceremonial parade of medieval clad drummers, kings, queens and knights and swamp the air with traditional summer excitement. Five players with five colours representing teams storm the high street at great speed with lances and joust with proud ancient gusto.

Parco Delle Piscine takes authentic camping to the next level with family friendly cookery classes that feed the soul with pici all’aglione or pasta with spicy garlic tomato sauce, alongside ravioli with butter and sage. Maria our hostess is the real deal with her open-air gastronomic class demonstrations, which set beneath a canopy of love amidst the Tuscan hills starts with a wooden board full of eggs, flour, oil and water and ends with a pot of fresh pasta and good old-fashioned Italian sauce.

A final play in the Kid’s Pool and saunter round the park is a reminder of why holidaymakers and nature lovers return yearly to this sustainable tourism paradise, which gives new meaning to camping.

Further information:

Parco Delle Piscine
Sarteano & surrounding area excursions
Terre Di Siena

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Backyard Cinema, London August 2016

by Emma Bumpus on August 5, 2016

Careertraveller and family take to church in London’s ‘Marylebone’ where gospel choir, leisure infused deck chairs and Baz Luhrman’s extravagant movie ‘Romeo and Juliet’ make way for an electrifying balmy summer’s evening of unique entertainment.

In the heart of the capital we enter this awesome 19th century Grade 1 listed building whose 21st century Georgian renovation, £3.7 million to be precise, is a tribute to English architect Sir Robert Smirke. Giant concrete pillars with stone portico and tower are a dramatically romantic setting for a modern twist of William Shakespeare’s tragic drama born of the Renaissance.

Inside is a cultural feast of heavenly white lilies, ceremonial candles and daring neon lights that set the scene for the Film Director’s legendary urban remake of Romeo and Juliet. In the words of Shakespeare himself:

‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene….
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’

stands a giant slick movie screen placed artistically amidst an altar of elegant floating drapes, which full of lights and fabric flowers displays a funeral pyre of romantic drama revealing BAFTA award winning screenplay and chart topping soundtracks.

Before taking our pews we screen the bar downstairs in the basement for some good old-fashioned goodies that come in the form of traditional hand-popped Propercorn popcorn and pick and mix sweeties bursting inside vintage suitcases! Armed with a bottle of Fentimans botanically brewed Curiosity Cola in a playground of fluorescent candy coloured lighting and booming fashionable soulful tunes we embrace this quirky setting and prepare for intrepid action and drama.

Centre stage we sit beneath a harmonious church stained glass window that provides show-stopping contrast to the opening movie track ‘Crush’ by Garbage, whose famous obsessive love rock lyrics deliver a theatrical explosive prologue. Immediately thrown into the turbulent inner-city world of the Capulets and Montagues we begin a sensory experience of emotions that are intensified by Luhrman’s fast paced intense action scenes, fuelled with atmospheric sounds of the nineties and gangster gunfire.

Just when things couldn’t get any better enter Some Voices choir, whom dressed in characteristic blood red gowns take church to the movies in true celebratory style. Melodiously contemporary and crystal clear voices deliver a heady mix of raw emotion and grace to poignant scenes from the film that take cinema to another level. Elegance and soul mixed with an edgy mix of rock and tender tunes are a rhapsodic rollercoaster brimming with artistic talent and budding young entrepreneurism, literally born from watching movies in the back garden, hence Backyard Cinema.

Scenes from the Capulet Ball unravel this tragic love story of passion, misery and violence with lavish props and costumes that exacerbate family feuding. The flamboyantly cinematic Mercutio brings theatre to the aisles with glitzy costume razzamatazz and show stopping dancing that blasts rhythms to the tune of Kim Mazelle’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’. Superb! From disco to pop, Verona comes to town with Des’ree’s honey sweet ‘Kissing You’ vocals, which sensationalised by the choir raises the roof with evocative love story tones that speak from the heart.

Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene is climax topper with Some Voices choir whose hauntingly crisp chorale version of ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince slams the distinguished lyrics of love and pain, exposing Luhrman’s clever use of Christian symbolism as Romeo and Juliet play in a pool of love.

As the plot thickens and the candles burn we enjoy a compelling night at the movies, which swamped in Leonardo Di Caprio superstardom, beckons more. Mood enhancing, spiritually uplifting and hugely entertaining, Backyard Cinema are a refreshingly artistic alternative to an ordinary night at the flicks, brilliant!

Further information:

Backyard Cinema
Some Voices

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The Roof Gardens, London July 2016

by Emma Bumpus on July 21, 2016

Summer takes careertraveller to new heights at London’s eminent sky-high Roof Gardens that sparkle luxuriously with tranquillity, innovation and history.

Within this former swinging 60s Biba fashion store an elevator transports us to 7th floor heaven where we begin a stylishly cultural journey of exceptional hospitality and wanderlust inspiration in the Babylon Restaurant. First impressions boom with glistening fine dining tableware in a chic and contemporary glass walled interior brimming with ‘greenhouse’ light effects that cleverly bring the outside in.

Entry requires a fashionable meander past the bar in a trendy boudoir of a lounge boasting sleek leather pouffes, velvet clad sofa and ornamental alliums on a leaf engraved carpet that beckons alfresco dining. To the rescue is Oliver, Head Bar Tender who expertly makes alchemy in the form of signature cocktail ‘Red Edition’, a botanical melange of lemon verbena, borage and lemongrass which blended with legendary Sipsmith London Dry Gin, strawberry liquer and delicate lychee and lavender foam delivers an invigorating floral taste sensation.

Outside on the terrace awaits a green urban jungle of ‘knockout’ London skyline amidst the capital’s rooftops and cloud high trees that make this a stunning inner-city retreat. Sumptuous shades of sleek green cushions, throws and trendy bar stools are designed for all seasons with cinematic views of architectural gems; Royal Albert Hall, Houses of Parliament and Shard. A flavour of what’s to come!

From the verdant decks of this high-density artificial grass hideaway is lunch, a fine affair of the palate that arrives in garden infused shapes and colours brimming with intelligence, contemplation and finesse. Sensory melt in the mouth warm rosemary, and fennel infused bread spheres initiate an intimate dining event in preparation of extraordinary food with extraordinary hospitality.

Salvatore, our waiter, is a sommelier of the senses who appreciates gastronomy and fine dining practice which transcends expectation with crumbled Feta and Grapefruit Salad bursting with intense coloured desire. Served upon a super slick slate is a delicate sweet and salty allotment brimming with healthy seasonal produce on a bed of smooth avocado purée loaded with antioxidants. Racy red pomegranate seeds arrive sprinkled across a plot of fresh crumbled feta cheese, which decorated with palate cleansing mint leaves and succulent jewel like pieces of red grapefruit present a show of wholesome culinary art at it’s best.

Enchanted, excited and educated, our performance continues with the sound of gabbling pink flamingos that reside below in the English Woodland Garden, an evergreen oasis of serenity and exclusivity. A peek over the balcony is our cue to pop down to floor 6 but not before dessert Lemon Posset, the complete show stopper that explains why Babylon has been awarded a three star Food Made Good rating from The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) for its commitment to sustainability.

Ingredients are a creative mix of the Mediterranean with juniper meringues and poppy seed ice cream bringing plot to plate with velvety miniature seashells of cream bursting with zesty lemon quintessential English summer and origins steeped in Shakespeare’s Middle Ages. Luminously playful gin and tonic jellies bring contrast and pleasure to the experience, which enhanced by a breeze down to the Spanish Garden unify the concept of food, colour and plants wrapped up in history and heritage.

Exotic swinging palms, red-hot geraniums and a plantation of hot hued coloured flowers are a continental journey that takes us on holiday. Packed with fragrant bay topiaries, silver leaf olive trees and soaring cypress trees that give a subtropical feel, we take a walk around this beautiful designed garden whose dazzling wild flowers are a menu of ‘oranges and lemons’.

Encircling the garden is a Moorish replica of the famous Alhambra in Granada, whose soft pinkish beige fortress walls skilfully mimic the castle’s towers with well-situated Spanish Veranda. From this VIP Area we dip into the world of outdoor glamour where bespoke waitress service and colonial seating bring the original 1930s landscaped gardens into the 21st century.

A divert to the Tudor Garden reveals a historical leafy green backdrop fit for nothing less than spectacular events within 1.5 acres of gardens, justifiably acknowledged as a place of ‘Specific Historical Interest’ and given a Grade II listing by English Heritage.

Verdict, it is the careertraveller favourite Spanish Hideaway that smacks of unique travel with traces of Northern Africa and Southern Spain’s Andalusia. Inside, Arabesque interiors tell a story as we step into the world of Sir Richard Branson, whose award winning retreats put the L in Virgin Limited Edition. Inimitable!

Further information:

The Roof Gardens
Babylon Restaurant
Virgin Limited Edition

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Dover, Kent May 2016

by Emma Bumpus on June 9, 2016

May bank holiday weekend salutes summer when careertraveller and family take to the White Cliffs Country of Dover, Deal and Sandwich to sample Kent’s renowned Garden of England.

Blue skies, shimmering coastline and layers of history are unveiled as we ascend Dover Castle, a 12th century fortress whose medieval stature evokes power, strength and drama across the centuries.

Original Napoleonic Secret Wartime Tunnels carved out of cliff-top chalk are a poignant exposure of Operation Dynamo and Britain’s rescue of allied troops from Dunkirk in 1940. Special visual and sound effects take us on an expressive journey of military defence and courage through a labyrinth of passageways that reveal an Underground Hospital. A real tribute to serving the troops during the Second World War.

Amidst the WWII weekend event of German firepower display, bebop jazz singers and RAF Spitfire aerobatics we are transported back to the 1940s where wartime rations, explosive battle and vintage lipstick and curls entertain and educate the whole family. Amongst Caen Normandy stone and Kentish ragstone walls we retrace Henry II’s world from his elaborate Kings Chamber to imposing Great Tower, whose generous East and West views encapsulate panoramic views of pure English coast and countryside. Spectacular!

Coastal wanderlust takes us on a trail of Walmer Beach Kite flying to the picturesque seaside town of Deal whose ‘Tudor Rose’ Deal Castle, unspoilt beaches and 1000ft long pier radiate summer, maritime adventure and English heritage. Pretty seafront cafes overlook pristine shingle beaches peppered with traditional fishing boats are nautical eye candy and an excuse to explore an array of quaint teashops!

Back on the road we discover rural villages with chocolate box cottages bursting with kaleidoscopic country gardens and verdant crops blooming with fresh local produce, not forgetting home to orchards and hop gardens! As we drive into Worth, a quaint hamlet with it’s charming village pond and Norman church we find paradise in the form of the Blue Pigeons Hotel, whose slate grey coloured exterior radiates a boutique contemporary feel that does not disappoint.

Inside is a stylishly renovated vicarage dating back to the 19th century, which with beams, slate fireplace and original wooden floors is tastefully offset by antique chic shabby furnishings that convey light and space up to our heavenly Room 1. Airy and sumptuous we enter a suite of calm luxury with four-poster bed whose crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets lovingly contrast soothing pale green cushions designed to relax amidst the countryside breeze that gently sways the high ceilinged snow-white cotton drapes. Elegantly modern with luxurious fabrics, separate seating area and twist of mod cons including 50-inch flat screen TV, we indulge this harmonious bridal suite come family room, whose subtle treats come in the form of nautical tissues and distinctive Duck Island bathroom pleasures.

Dinner in the Brasserie is a must with authentic red brick walls, pendant lighting and informally elegant tables, which delicately ornamented with purple irises, the symbol of love, and gypsophila make this a fine-looking venue for celebrations, weddings and all things special. A menu of fine local produce arrives in the form of pan-fried salmon fillet, which on a fertile mass of crushed potatoes, peas and salsa verde sets the careertraveller sail to Dover’s legendary White Cliffs, the symbol of Kent’s channel port with busiest shipping lane in the world!

Strolling the dramatic National Trust cliff top walk is a prairie – like trail of panoramic wildlife that presents itself in the grassland form of Exmoor ponies and butterflies to sky high peregrine falcons and seabird kittiwakes who breed amidst the chalky rare limestone cliffs. Rolling green hilltops sprayed with sunshine yellow flowers from wild cabbage and buttercup looking horseshoe vetch is a paradise of flora that wildly contrasts Dover’s dramatic past of invasion from the Romans to return of the British troops from Dunkirk.

Looking down from the cliffs awaits a treasure chest of English heritage that spans from the bronze age and Saxons to WWI and WWII to present at Dover Museum, which founded in 1836 is one of Kent’s oldest museums.

In the heart of Dover town stands this clever little haven of archaeological and historical facts and relics that include the 19th century avant-garde and exotic Cabinets of Wonder African Lion Head to giant Polar Bear. Brought back by intrepid explorer Dr Reginald Koettlitz in the 1894-7 Jackson-Harmsworth Artic expedition we discover the Victorian period of the exotic, educational and curious to internationally acclaimed Bronze Age Boat, the world’s oldest known seagoing boat! Inside the Bronze Age Boat Gallery lays a prehistoric boat, which allegedly over 3000 years old was found by construction workers nearby in 1992.

Feeling hungry and inspired we venture down to the De Bradelei Wharf for some maritime shopping and discover Cullins Yard, a quirky shipyard turned restaurant for some good old fashioned fish ‘n’ chips, the type that comes with mushy peas and a good locally brewed ale next door! Whilst inside is a tardis of nautical artefacts, outside is a handsome marina of alfresco leisure boasting nearby harbour and impressive promenade between clean shingle beaches and WWII memorials

As the evening sunset captures the Disney cruise ship departing for European shores we return home, but not without a breeze through Sandwich whose stunning Secret Gardens and encompassing medieval buildings mark Dover an intoxicating neighbourhood of sensational coast and country gems.

A farewell drink on the never-ending lawn at the Blue Pigeons Hotel is an evergreen finale to one of many future trips to Kent.

Further information:
Dover Tourist Board (official)
The Blue Pigeons
English Heritage Dover Castle
National Trust White Cliffs of Dover

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Wrest Park, Bedfordshire April 2016

by Emma Bumpus on May 4, 2016

St George’s Day takes careertraveller and family to Bedfordshire where knights, gladiators and medieval storytelling bring history alive in verdant parkland teeming with architectural eye candy!

Greeted by jesters, minstrels and glittering armour fit for dragon slaying we are engulfed in the park’s celebrated St George’s Festival, a plethora of Saxons, Normans and chain mailed soldiers preparing for combat. Meandering round the tents of the travelling War of The Roses Federation, a medieval group of re-enactors is an authentic insight to the middle ages which in 92 stunning acres of 18th century gardens echoes 2016 Year of The English Garden.

Beneath the sky-scraping trees that sway towards the banks of the romantic French style Orangery, once home to orange trees bought from King Louis Philippe of France, we inhale tree-lined paths and sweeping lawns sprinkled with picturesque statues, all 40! Prudently situated in wide-open spaces offering far-reaching vistas of the Bowling Green House we are swamped in history and a melee of Georgian falconry, 1066 battle drama and medieval jousting in an arena of pure English heritage.

As we pass Lady Jemima’s horse riding through the park we are spellbound by this event that entertains the whole family amidst the gunpowder, troubadours and medieval clad members who fascinate us with their woodturning, weaving and fire range cooking.

Every corner of this leafy green paradise presents living history through the ages, which built for pleasure, style and beauty presents a treasure trove of art and architecture dating back to 1042-66 and the de Grey family. Outside the Grade-I-listed Wrest House we step into the world of Thomas Earl de Grey, whose love of French and Italian architecture lives on with stunning French Parterre and Italian Gardens. Curvaceous, symmetrical and vividly ornamental flower displays bring joy to the kids who enjoy darting along the zigzag paths outside this imposing chateau like mansion, that once served as a military hospital and convalescent home during the First World War.

Inside is a sumptuous labyrinth of decorative rooms detailing ornate furnishings and family portraits that encircle an elegant entrance hall with beautifully positioned doors leading the eye vertically down to the spectacular canal named Long Water. Perfectly aligned amongst an orderly mass of woodland stands the 17th century Pavilion, which built by architect Thomas Archer introduces baroque architecture with rotunda views at the top of this former hunting house.

As we climb the three-floored spiral staircase beneath an illusory painted ceiling enhanced by Louis Hauduroy in trompe l’oeil, we capture 6 bay window views of the garden that continues our trail of monuments and abundant landscape. Whilst the kids revel is finding a woodland Dog’s Cemetery whose headstones date back to 1830, the adults discover the ‘Capability’Brown Column that commemorates the landscape gardener’s transformation of the gardens in 1758-60.

Ready for some gladiator action we retreat to the main arena but not without noting the elegantly arched Chinese Bridge and Temple, that add yet another dimension to the parkland that exhibits loving traces of 21st century conservation and revitalisation.

Amidst the sword fighting cheers of the crowds who anticipate the battle of St George versus The Dragon finale, Wrest Park remains a cultural oasis, a fertile wonderland and a magnificent backdrop for all things special and best of all, a great day out for the family.

Further information:

Wrest Park
Events at Wrest Park

English Heritage

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