Birthday sprinkles

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When I was little, I used to wait for my birthdays with anticipation, but as I grew older, birthdays became less welcome. Having said that, I noticed that my birthdays became not just one day, but an excessive, week long celebration. I think yesterday was my last birthday wine and dine session. Hang on a minute. I am flying home next week, so more birthday drinks with my family and friends back home. Yay!

So my birthday this year involved some cool stuff like visiting The Shard (finally) and sipping cocktails in The Sky Garden. My day started with lovely lunch cruise on the river Thames followed by a lazy walk along the river.

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The weather was just right, not too cloudy, not too bright and the next thing I know, we are at the viewing platform of the tallest building in Europe. It was very random and so exciting when Charlie spontaneously decided to take me to The Shard. The views were spectacular.

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 For those afraid of heights, it might be a challenge walking around the viewing platform on the 69th floor, but since I am immune to vertigo, I was fascinated to see the famous buildings and landmarks at more than 300m up.

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The Sky Garden in the new skyscraper, famously called Walkie Talkie, is a new exciting addition to public spaces in London. The admission is free, but you have to book it well in advance since the tickets for the garden in the sky are in high demand. Lucky for me, a window was available a day before my birthday. Here you can see The Shard in all its glory from The Sky Garden.

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When we got there, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve been told by one person some time ago that the space is not that great. I doubt now that she has actually visited the garden as it’s fabulous! Spacious, with spectacular views through the arched front window, the garden impressed me instantly.

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I am sure the garden will be developed further in the future, but having such a space to pop in for views or a nice cocktail is amazing. The Sky Pod Bar was well stocked with all sorts of cocktails, beer, soft drinks and snacks, and the bartender was very entertaining while making our cocktails.

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The High in the Sky cocktail was elegantly made from mandarin vodka, peach liqueur, fresh passion fruit & lime juice, topped with Champagne.

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And here come my birthday sprinkles. My birthday drink London Tea Party was made from chamomile tea mixed with English Gin & Aperol, fresh lemon juice and sweetened with a chamomile & orange foam. And lets not forget the sprinkles. It’s a party drink!

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 The whole space was sparkling as the sun was slowly going down. With drinks in hand we sat in the garden and enjoyed the atmospheric sunset above the city.

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As soon as the sun went down, the place changed dramatically into a romantic space lit by golden lights.

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And to finish off nicely my lovely Sunday, we popped into our local Beer Dispensary in Brockley for their notoriously tasty burgers (mushroom and halloumi for me).

National Trust: Knole house & the deer parkland

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We finally joined National Trust and are two proud members of this amazing organisation. Charlie and I love visiting National Trust properties and have been to a number of wonderful, historic and beautiful sites. Last weekend we randomly (as we do) chose Knole House. The biggest attraction for me was the deer park and I couldn’t wait to meet them.

It wasn’t a long journey this time as the house is located in Sevenoaks, which is worth a separate blog post. It’s so beautiful, I had no idea! I haven’t taken any pictures, but if you are wondering, it’s a picture perfect commuter town in Kent.

While driving through the narrow road towards the property, I saw a bunch of deer enjoying the sunshine. I didn’t want to miss them so we got some tea and started our visit from the park.

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The deer park in old days wasn’t created for people to look at the deer. It was created for them to shoot the deer for pleasure. Who could shoot such cute creatures? I am glad this is not the case anymore.

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I had so much fun taking pictures of the animals. They were so tame and not afraid of us too much. I am sure they expected some treats from us.

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 This was my closest encounter with a deer. He was such a poser. Just stood there graciously while I was taking pictures and didn’t move until he thought he had enough posing for one day.

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Knole House, one of England’s biggest houses, was originally  built by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, between 1456 and 1486 and then there’s so much history of the owners of the house, as you can imagine.

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There are around 365 rooms in the house, but we only saw 13 of them. Pictures were not allowed in the house, but the facade and the courtyard were equally impressive.

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I especially enjoyed the orangery, or the rainbow room, as I call it. The sun coming through the stained glass created a really happy atmosphere in the long and bright room with large windows.

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When I just walked in, I thought the trees were painted in all these different colours, but when I started wondering why they are painted, I realised it’s a reflection. Doh!

Carnival at The Roof Gardens

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It was the longest day this year so far. After spending a full day at work, later in the evening I found myself at a masquerade party. On my way home, I missed my train just by a second and after a refreshing stroll along Southbank, I was finally home by midnight.

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The event took place at the glamorous Roof Gardens on Kensington High Street. The crowd was mainly Lithuanian and Russian, and a few English speaking people.

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The Carnival coincided with London Fashion Week and everyone was encouraged to wear a mask or a costume. However, not everyone did, including me. In my defence, I ordered my mask online and it didn’t arrive on time. In fact, it still hasn’t arrived!

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My main objective at the party was to play with my new lens and figure out the best ways of shooting in low light. And oh my word, did I find it challenging!? Yes, I did! The bar kept changing lights, which was fun, but not for my camera settings. I was totally out of my comfort zone, but nonetheless, I enjoyed the learning curve.

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I am still shy when taking photos of people. I get especially nervous when people pose for me, no pressure then!

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The event kick started with a smooth cocktail and a performance by Laura Laurita, an independent Lithuanian/Russian Electro Pop, Dance, Soul, and RnB singer.

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The entertainment continued with a fashion show by an independent Lithuanian designer Daiva Mikuckiene. Daiva is a recognised creator of vintage, needlework, and baroque couture.

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I was standing quite far away from the stage, with other people’s phones and cameras in my face. The stage was poorly lit, but one has to do their best with what they have. I am looking forward to getting to know my new lens better.

Barry Island, South Wales

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The only reason we found ourselves on Barry Island was because of the famous BBC comic love tale between an Essex boy and a Welsh girl. Since Charlie introduced me to the British classic ‘Gavin and Stacey‘, it has been one of my favourite programmes and I watched it endless times, especially the Christmas special. The action takes place between Essex, the home of Gavin’s and Barry Island (which actually isn’t an island at all) – Stacey’s home. It all starts with a business call and evolves into a long-distance relationship. In the end, they get married and live happily ever after. Such a great British comedy and a pleasure to watch.

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Here is the main cast – Matthew Horne and Joanna Page (Gavin and Stacey in the middle), James Corden starring as Smithy (on the left), and Ruth Jones – starring as ‘Nesssa’ Jenkins (on the right). James and Ruth are the co-writers of the programme. Ruth is actually Welsh, hence the action taking place in Wales.

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  It was fun to find Stacey’s workplace, Marco’s Coffee & Ice Cream Bar, open.
Charlie got some tea there and it was cheap as chips.

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The white arcade – another famous setting in the programme.

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It was a gloomy day, but we still had a stroll on the beach, which was actually better than I imagined it to be.

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It was such a random trip, but we thought, since we are in South Wales, why not! I imagine that most of non Brits might not be familiar with the programme, but if you have a chance, give it a go. It’s brilliant!

Llanthony Priory, Wales

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On a fresh but sunny Sunday morning I wrapped up well and took off on foot to Llanthony Priory, just round the corner from our cottage. It was quite chilly and only after a few snaps along way my hands were frozen already. But never mind the cold, the secluded, once glaciated Vale of Ewyas was way too pretty for keeping my hands in my pockets.

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The Black Mountains area is magical. I was moving very slowly, admiring every little detail, every colour adorning the steep mountains, and  the blue sky, providing a wonderful backdrop to the already picture – perfect landscape.

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I was trotting to investigate a partly ruined, Grade 1 listed building and a former Augustinian priory – Llanthony Priory.

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I can see why it inspired so many artists. The location of the priory speaks for itself.

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After strolling through the ruins I decided to follow the footpath and climb to the top of the mountain behind the priory.

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It was relatively easy to start with, but the higher I climbed, the muddier it got. I was slipping about, but kept looking back over my shoulder to admire the views.

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Once I reached the snowy top, I was rewarded with sunning views of the valley. I just stood there, on my own, catching my breath and feeling so grateful for the opportunity to be here.

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I wanted to go across the mountains, but when I tried to climb higher, the road got too sloppy and after slipping a few times, I decided to turn around.

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A note to myself to get a pair of proper hiking boots as I can see myself doing more hiking in this country.

Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

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On our second day in wonderful Wales, we set off on a trip through breathtaking and captivating Brecon Beacons National Park. It was a frosty morning and it snowed the night before, but the chill only added to the experience.

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It was so enjoyable to drive through the national park and glare at the snowy tops in the valley, sparkling in the sunshine. I wanted to stop and get out of the car every few minutes, climb every top and look down into the lowland, but with the sun setting at 5pm, we wanted to get back to our warm and cosy cottage before dusk.

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We did stop a couple of times to admire the views along the way.

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We also stopped at Mountain Centre – National Park Visitor Centre, which offers panoramic views.

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The aim of the trip was to visit the highest peak in South Wales and the southern UK. At 886 metres above sea level, Pen y Fan or Corn Du was a perfect spot for a day out (and some exercise).

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By time we got to the top, I didn’t need my gloves and scarf anymore, I was so hot from climbing up. The view was stunning. The mountain looked like a big snow dune.

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On the way back it started snowing heavier and heavier. Suddenly everything was hidden in white cloud. By time we reached our car, we were completely covered in snow.

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However, a few minutes later, the sun came out and the sky cleared again. The weather in the mountains is very local and changes rather often. One minute it’s sunny and bright and the next, cloudy and stormy.

Broadley Farm, Llanthony, Wales

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While my memories are still fresh about the long weekend and I can still hear the sound of crackling fire in the wood burner, I am rushing to share my amazing experience in South Wales.

Last week was our one year wedding anniversary (I know! Where did the time go!) and so we decided to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the big city. We drove for what it seemed like a very long time, till we reached our destination – Broadley Farm in Llanthony, in the Vale of Ewias (Dyffryn Ewias in Welsh). 

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Located just on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, Llanthony sits right in the middle of the secluded valley with glacial origins within the Black Mountains of Wales. Hence no internet, or any sort of signal. It was perfect. Who needs a screen anyway, when you can stare at the snowy mountain tops.

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When we finally arrived to the farm, we were greeted by lovely Clare, who showed us to our retreat – Oak Cottage. What a magical place! The landscape of the valley is simply stunning. By the way, Clare is a painter and a variety of art courses are run from the studio on the farm. We had a sneak peek into the studio and it’s wonderful!

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An open space cottage, with spectacular views through the windows, wood burner, and under floor heating promised us a peaceful, restful, and comfortable weekend.

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It was lightly snowing outside while we wined and dined by the fire in our cosy cottage. The fully equipped kitchen meant that we could cook food ourselves and not worry about going out for a meal. There wasn’t much around anyway within a short distance, so we happily stayed in. Our cosy mornings started with coffee, tea, pancakes, and the sound of crackling wood.

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My mornings, before the pancakes, started with an arm-chair pushed closer to the window, so I could see the sunrise while enjoying my early morning coffee. I am always tempted to sleep in, it’s my holiday after all, but I never do. I just can’t help it, these early mornings with a cup of coffee and my own company, are the best.

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When I am visiting amazing places like this, I make sure I get up before sunrise, no matter how early it might be. I didn’t have to get up particularly early this time, as the sunrise is not till just before 8am. As soon as it was time, I grabbed my camera and coffee, stepped outside into the cold and enjoyed the soulful sunrise for a couple of minutes. The best start of a new day!

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I am missing the place already!