A Tourist in Coventry

So I’ve been back in the ‘Kong two weeks and nothing too exciting to write about has happened yet because of jet lag, work etc.  So I thought, why not do a travel piece on the old stomping ground of Cov?  There’s lots to do there to keep you amused for  few days, and I think you might be pleasantly surprised…!  So here’s some places I swung by during my trip back home.

This post was originally also going to include places to eat and drink but the post was already really long….  Maybe that will be next week’s post, ha.

Things to see & do

Coventry Cathedral, Priory Street:  I have such fond memories of this place, we did an amazing school trip here learning about the history of the city, we watched a famous French tightrope walker walk across the ruins on Millennium New Year and my mum organised a Knitathon here for comic relief trying to break the World Record for the most amount of people knitting together in a room!

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The ‘new’ Cathedral (opened in 1962) sits next to the original which remains in ruins after being bombed during World War II.  Go in and take a look around, you really will be amazed by the art and architecture of this glorious building.   Designed by Sir Basil Spence, the building compliments one of the city’s iconic themes, that of peace and reconciliation. Take some time to drop by the old ruins and climb up one of the city’s famous Three Spires and take in the glorious view.  Admission is free for those wishing to pray, otherwise a standard adult tickets costs £6.

NOTE:  Go via The Rising Cafe for tea and cake afterwards – I cannot rate this place enough, reasonably priced warming food for them UK bad weather days (of which there are lots!).

Herbert Art Museum, Jordan Well:  To be honest, I didn’t really know this place all that well growing up.  It had always been around, I think, but I only really started dropping by in the last few years.  When I was back last, we took a look at the history of Coventry exhibit – highlights included spotting my old school uniform in the 90s area, and dressing up in chainmail!  We were also fortunate to see The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition whilst we were there which was amazing.  The young photographer sections were particularly compelling – it’s on until the start of April so there’s still time to see it!  Admission is free!

Theatre Absolute AKA Shop Front Theatre:  I had no idea what my mum and sister were talking about they described this to me, what I had in my head was people performing in a shop window and people standing outside to watch.  But no, this small theatre company performs in an old shop in coventry Arcade which used to be a fish and chip shop restaurant!

I went to see TRAUM, a story about migration told through the medium of breakdance.  to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was completely enthralled and didn’t expect the performance to stir quite so much emotion in me.  We were also lucky enough to attend a Q&A at the end with the script writer and the two performers, both migrants themselves.  What’s more tickets were only £8.

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Three minute Heroes

Coventry Music Museum, Walsgrave Road:   

Mum took me here on a
surprise visit for our morning out together – I was expecting to go shopping but this was much better!  A very small indie museum, run entirely by volunteers, this is the place to go if you are a music fan.  The museum’s key theme is the multiculturalism within the local music scene – 2-tone, ska, bhangra, rock, electronica and pop it’s all here.  The main focus is the 2-tone and ska music, which isn’t surprising considering the more famous bands to have been born out of the city like The Specials and The Selecter.  Be sure to visit the 2-tone village after, there’s a cafe that does a mean goat curry (so I’m told), a vinyl and memorabilia shop.  Admission is £3.

Fargo Village, Far Gosford Street:  I’ve only dropped by here a couple of times, but when i have it has been marvellous (and a little dent in the wallet because of all the beautiful vintage things i end up buying!).  This is creative space with cafes, studios and pop up shops with food and drink events happening on the weekend.  When I last went, a lot of it was closed, being a rainy Monday and all, but my cooler and trendier little sister says this place has lots of fun events happening.  So visit their website before heading here.

Coombe Abbey:  Head here for the great outdoors – fabulous walks, local nature trails and the reason I was there, for a bit of afternoon tea in the fancy old hotel!

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Nan and Nicole enjoying their treats!

There’s lots of other places to visit I haven’t mentioned like the Coventry Transport Museum, The Belgrade and Criterion Theatres, the Police Museum which also deserve a notable mention.  Maybe these are the places i’ll head to next time I’m back in Blighty.

 

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A Relaxing Christmas in Borneo

The best thing about moving to Honky for me is travel.  I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit so many places since our arrival: Taiwan, Seoul, Mumbai and Kerala in India, Siem Reap in Cambodia, Chiang Mai in Thailand (again!), Beijing and finally Australia.  As you can see from the gaps in the blog –  I’ve got quite some way to go in documenting all these trips!

So let me start with the most recent whilst it’s fresh in my mind – Borneo. Christmas is normally spent in throws of icy UK winters, gorging on food left, right and centre; and in the company of my favourite people – the Malatesta clan!  This year we thought we’d change gears and head somewhere hot just the two of us.  And so because in typical Stars and Joe fashion we’d left it too late to book our preferred destination – Bali – we settled for Borneo.  Flights were about one sixth of the price if you wanted to go direct, and so we thought we’d save a bit of cash and take on part of Malaysia.

Borneo is no doubt, beautiful – lush green jungle, sandy beaches and crystal waters.  I have to say though that we probably didn’t make the most of everything that is on offer.  We had very good intentions of traveling to Sipidan, Sepilok and climbing the famous Mt Kinabalu over our two week stay…  Instead we made an executive decision (after a lot of typical uming and ahhing from me) to just stay, in one spot and totally relax (note we also came back to HK a week early).

The umming and ahhing stems from my inability to actually sit back relax and do nothing.  I’m basically incapable of relaxing and sort of feel under pressure to do as much exploring as possible in a new country.  Pressure from who I have no idea.  But I actually managed to do it (it has to be noted there were a few wobbles and I had to be brought around by Joe’s maximum chill ethos) and really enjoyed it!

We stayed Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort about 45 minutes outside the main town of Kota Kinabalu. This was the first time I’d ever stayed in a big beach resort like this and can certainly see the attraction – everything you could want is there!  Restaurants, pools, spas, golf, beach, activities galore and more.

That isn’t to say we were sitting ducks, although the sand flies and mozzies seemed to think so.  We managed to get out on a couple of day trips – a river cruise to spot some of the local wildlife which included monkeys, giant lizards and fireflies and a boat trip to a little island called Sapa to do a bit of snorkeling.

The island trip on arrival seemed to be the biggest error, when we arrived the beach was swarming with tourists, so we made a decision to go on a little adventure and climbed over some rocks at the far side of the beach and found a beautiful nearly deserted beach.  Score!  The sea even had some pretty corals and crazy coloured fish to gawp at through my snorkel.  That’s the first time I have snorkeled and actually seen anything worth while.  I think before I’d always use my snorkel and flippers on Greek beaches and the most you would see are the tiny little grey sand fish that scoot around the seabed.

The most memorable part of this trip has to be eating out Christmas dinner at a restaurant called Little Italy in the centre of KK!  A dinner to remember, it was lovely, but felt so strange to not be eating a roast in the cold surrounded by my family.  And I did miss them.  But I was consoled in the fact that we are returning to the UK at the end of January – and after all Chrsitmas is only a day right?  I can feel the rage from some of you for saying that – sorry!

I would definitely recommend heading out to KK for a relaxing long weekend to anyone this side of the globe.  But perhaps I would suggest being a bit more organised if you actually want to see the island than myself!

Here’s to more adventures around the globe in 2016!  Happy New Year!

 

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A few pictures from our visit to the 101 building.  This place used to be the tallest building in the world until 2010 when the Burj Khalida building in Dubai was opened.   Sadly the it wasn’t a very clear day so we didn’t get the best view, I guess that’s what happens sometimes, you win some you lose some.  

Oh by the way.  The damper baby character is based on the tuned mass damper in the building.  The bit of the building that sways to offset movement in the building when there is particularly bad weather.  It is the biggest in the world and weights 660 tons!  Pretty huge, and you can even take a peak at it.

Easter in Taipei – all about the food!

Another overdue post, and one that is going to be pretty long…  So maybe I’d suggest grabbing a cuppa before sitting down to it.  I’ve got four days in Taipei to write up for Pete’s sake!  So because there is generally so much to talk about I though I’d put up some posts in different chapters I guess?  So this one is all about the eats.  I thought I’d start with the grub seeing as it is one of biggest loves, and because I’m sitting here feeling a tad peckish.  It might spur me to leave the sofa in search of dinner…

So we did the whole air bnb thing and managed to bag ourselves a cute little studio for a very small amount of money.  We stayed in the Da’an District, and right where we were was really close to the university.  Which meant there was an array of cool coffee shops, places to eat and shop. 

The food on offer here was amazing, and so cheap if you are going for street eats.  I’m going to give you a run down of some of the places we went to because they were out of this world!

One of the best places we ate at was this little shop called Lantern Soy Sauce Braised Food at the end of Shida Night Market.  You basically pick up a plastic basket and choose lots of different veg, meat and fish that you want with you noodles and they cook there and then right in front of you.  They basically boiled it in a really tasty stock and then when its done they whack it in a bag and you just eat out of it right there and then with your chop sticks – delicious! 

It would be rude not to mention Din Tai Fung, basically the most infamous restaurant in Taipei.  There are branches in HK that we haven’t visited, but I plan on returning there after the culinary delights that were on offer!  The queues outside were crazy, everyone gets given a ticket and told the time they have to return.  Reason for the popularity –  this place has a Michelin Star and creates the most delicate and beautiful dumplings I have ever eaten.  There is a special way of eating the soup dumplings.  You take them out the bamboo steamer they arrive in and drop them onto your spoon.  Prior to this you will have put together almost like a dressing sauce into the spoon – two parts vinegar and one part soy with some shredded bits of ginger.  Now then there is debate what to do next, the shop recommends that you poke a hole into the soup dumpling to let the liquid surrounding the meat out, slurp the soup up in the spoon and then eat the dumpling.  However I have heard via the Fresh Off the boat vice series that “only hooligans poke a hole” and that you should just let the dumpling cool down in the mixture and then eat it.  Either way, it’s like eating little parcels of heaven!

Third on the list has to be the lovely meal we had at James Kitchen.  Despite the very western sounding name, we ate lots of beautiful local dishes.  It wasn’t dim sum but the way we ordered things on the menu it ended up a bit like tapas!  The best dish by far though was the bamboo shoots, which I have never eaten in this form before.  I think prior to this tasting the only bamboo shoots I’d eaten was the yellow rectangles in Chinese takeaway!

Breakfast each morning was supplied by the local bao hatch on the way to the MRT (MTR/tube whatever you want).  some of you might not know what a bao is.  Basically it is a Chinese steamed bun made with yeast and normally inside there is a filling of some sort, most typical is that of pork and herbs.  They are pretty big and filling, but somehow it doesn’t sit heavy in your tummy like normal takeaways!  So think like the local, lighter version of a Cornish Pasty!  I ate a spring onion bao which was just the dough wrapped up without a filling, instead the spring onion was kind of dotted into the dough, like a speciality bread roll!  Joe was loving the red bean paste bun which is actually sweet and not at all like a kidney bean, honest.  Maybe that would be like the pain au chocolate…

Finally, the best place to taste the tastiest local foods are any of the array of night markets in the city.  We ended up heading to the Raohe location as we’d read this had the best food stalls on offer!  I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t go to Shilin to buy penis waffles (yes really), but as Joe rightly pointed out we should head to the places that are about quality over gimmicks!!  My eyes were seriously bigger than my belly when we got here – I wanted to eat everything.  There was so much more on offer than we could physically eat so in the end we opted for freshly fried squid, Taiwanese style fried chicken and this gorgeous vegetarian huge dumpling.  It doesn’t sound like a lot I guess but it was really filling!  I was glad we arrived when we did though because the place soon got rammed, which meant that the only way to get around was in a conga like queue that shuffled through the little lanes.  No dancing though. 

One thing that was rather unpleasant was the smell of stinky tofu.  Have you ever smelt smelly tofu?  Oh my god it is the most horrible smell, well to me.  I can’t even describe it but it smells almost like vegetable death.  I honestly had to hold my breath when we were going past it because it did make me gag!!  To be fair, I didn’t try it so it could be really delicious.  Maybe if we return I’ll be brave enough to give it a go.

Guangzhou

So this is part of the back dated posts from when the boys came to visit.  It was quite a week, I managed to visit two new countries out of Hong Kong – each on a day trip.  This is actually what moving here was all about for me, visiting new places and having new experiences – not just to be Joe’s lap lady, ew, that sounds a bit wrong but lap dog is just as bad…  Okay, housewife!

This was our first visit to China proper, for everyone on the group visa that day.  The day didn’t start too well when we almost left the house without the visa.  I’m holding my hands up, that was totally me.  I am a pretty organised person, especially in work but out of work day to day plans and decision making seem to put me into panic overdrive, like what I should make for dinner (evidence to suggest I wasn’t born to be a housewife?). 

Anyway, we took the train there – which only takes a couple of hours.  It’s so strange after taking a train going through full airport immigration and passport checks.  I nearly landed myself into further trouble once we got there, because I wasn’t behind the yellow line at check in – slight oversight on my part thinking that if we were all traveling on a group visa they’d want to see us all together.  I sure got ticked off for that but I made it in nonetheless.

The weather was pretty terrible once again so we decided to firstly stop off at The Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King.  The museum was quite big and as we were a bit pushed for time we whizzed past the supporting exhibits and headed the main event – the tomb itself.  It was quite a strange once actually, I’ve never ventured into an old tomb like that before, it dates around 500BC, and I was very surprised that visitors were allowed to walk in, normally with ancient structures it is cornered off, like the Parthenon.  The ceilings were really low and there were a lot of people around which made me feel pretty claustrophobic.  The Second Nanyue King, Zhao Mo, was buried with a number of human and animal sacrifices, and alongside his concubines.  Some of which the remains, well burnt-out and unidentifiable ashes, were visible in glass cabinets. – a tad undignified I must say.  I can’t even begin to imagine knowing that the remains of my ashes, mixed in with that of sheep, would be on display at a museum 2000 years down the line…   I must say though that Zhao Mo’s jade burial suit, made up of almost 3,000 patches of jade, was pretty impressive.  Well sir, upon my death I would just love to be bound with jade.  As if I could afford that!  But seriously it was thought to preserve the body hence the popularity.  All in all, a good museum to visit, especially for less than a quid – bargain. 

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On our way to our next destination we managed to catch the end of a gig in a local shopping mall.  It is a band I haven’t heard of but they are meant to be pretty massive on the K-pop scene – Lovely Pretty Girl.  And the crowd were loving it too, so we stopped for a brief bop before heading onwards.

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Next up we decided to check out Shamien Island, an area conceded to England and France in the nineteenth century by Qing.  To be honest, I didn’t even really know where we were going; I just followed the boys’ lead because they said they wanted to visit.  So I really wasn’t expecting to walk into an area that was a typical of a colonial settlement, grand classical buildings on tree lined boulevards – a total contrast to anything you expect of Chinese culture.  The area was full of very nice sculptures too, but again they felt very British – I’ve included a classical comedy pic below…

We also discovered possibly the nicest, most classy Starbucks I have ever seen in my life.  If they were all like that perhaps I wouldn’t be so sniffy about having my coffee there.  It was a real spectacle to see, and it felt quite odd because it all seemed so quiet and peaceful in comparison to the crazy Chinese streets that sat on the other side of the river.  Apparently the island was used as a base for the colonialists to import their opium to sell onto the locals.  That is, until we got out mitts onto Hong Kong… Nice one Britain, invaders and exploiters of the world.

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We did visit the most amazing vegetarian restaurant on the edge of the island, called Shangshizhai.  Every dish was veggie and organic, despite having meat dishes on the menu (it was all substitute for the prawns, beef etc).  I’d say that most f the dishes were Thai in style, and seriously tasty. I’d go back there just for that and my Starbucks…

But seriously I would like to return and have a bit more of a Chinese experience – yet again I felt that I’d taken the ‘diet’ Asia route.  Hoping to plan a weekend to Beijing soon.  I’d say the thing we did that was most synonymous with Chinese culture was stop for some street food and a bao!

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*Some photo credits to Mister Carl Jones – his are so much better than mine you’ll just know.