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!

Cov Cathedral

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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Last day as a tai tai

So I guess the reason I have been writing less frequently is because I have been busying my days with internships part time jobs etc.  Last Friday was actually my last official day as a tai tai (I’d handed in my notice at Time Out and part time job for corporate world job – eeek – more on that in the coming weeks) and so I thought I’d best make the most of my last day of freedom.  So despite weather warnings I thought i’d head to Tai O, a small fishing village on Lantau Island I’d been desperate to visit since our arrival.

It was actually a much longer journey than I anticipated.  Firstly, I had to get a bus into central HK, followed by a picturesque boat ride from the island over to Mui Wo, Lantau which took around an hour.  Maybe picturesque isn’t quite right because of all the shipping vessels you see (and get very scared of when it appears like you are almost about to crash into them), but the views of the skyline on the Island are something else.  Anyway, from Mui Wo I took the bus to Tai O which again was probably about another hour. So you can imagine I was pretty pleased to arrive when what should happen?  But the heavens opened big time and I spent twenty minutes sheltering under a make shift tarpaulin from the storm until it was safe enough to wander with an umbrella.

(you can’t really see the extent of the storm in this pic – dammit)

It doesn’t take very long to explore this little village at all.  An old fishing village, there used to be a much larger community in comparison to those that remain today.  This quaint place used to house 20,000 people and was the most prosperous port of the River Delta.  Salt production was also a major source of industry right up until the 50s.  Despite the depopulation and increase in tourism, it still has a rustic charm and very much feels like the original ‘real deal’.  Dried seafood markets line the roads, villagers sit out in the square – catching up on the daily gossip and local food dominates the streets.

A great way to have an explore is to take a water tour around the coastline at just $25.  The ‘tour’ (really just a boat ride) takes you along the coastline – a great way to see the stilt homes and if you are lucky you can catch a glimpse of Hong Kong’s Chinese White Dolphins.  That day I wasn’t so lucky, but I’m told you can pay a bit more and head further out to sea on special dolphin watching trips.  Might do that next time!

I had a wander around the markets and snuck a peak at the local temple.  Lots of restaurants were shut, and I would imagine that they only open at the weekend when there are more visitors.  I did manage to find a cute little teahouse called Solo, where I treated myself to an iced ginger tea, whilst reading my book.

I think if the weather had been a bit better I could have combined the trip with a bit of seaside action – I noticed a lot of beaches on the way over to Tai O which on a brighter day I’d certainly be stopping at.  I’d love to come back with Joe and generally spend a bit more time in the area, maybe even do an overnight and some hiking up to the monastery.

Finally, I thought i’d leave you with a couple of comical scenes I spotted on my travels…

I’m on a (junk) boat!

So yesterday we went on our first junk boat party, and it couldn’t have been a more beautiful sunny day.  This is definitely my new favourite treat and fun thing to do in Hong Kong.  NOTE TO ANYONE COMING TO VISIT:  You will be doing this with us at some point not just because you’ll have fun but because I can use you as my excuse to indulge.  Admittedly it was rather drunken, but not too crazy that I didn’t have time to also drink in the beautiful landscapes and deep blue sea.

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All in all there were around twenty of us aboard the boat.  We’d each paid around $600 which is just over forty five quid, and considering everything included in the day trip, was a pretty good price – a manned boat for seven hours, a free flow of drinks (not just beer and soft drink people – GIN!!) and a delicious seafood lunch.  Perfect.

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We set off from the pier in Aberdeen (yes Aberdeen – I haven’t absconded to Scotland) at around 10:30am.  This had been quite an effort to get up in time and get there, truth be told.  I was still recovering from this horrific virus I had, as was Joe, and waking up at 8am-ish on Saturday didn’t at the time seem like the most fun way to start the weekend.  But it was worth it.  The boat sailed out of the port past this huge and very famous floating restaurant called Jumbo.  The sheer size of this place floating on the water!  Take the most grotesque house boats in say Chelsea Embankment and times the size by like twenty and maybe add a harsh dose of shabby chic (well maybe not chic – shabby rustic?!) and you have the Jumbo.  I’m told that the food there is really great and that it should be on our “to at list”.  So one day I’ll return – from the front.  We sailed out and past HK Island south side –Repulse Bay and Stanley in the distance. 

We headed straight to Po Toi, a cluster of islands of the same name.  They are also the most southerly point of Hong Kong.  We stopped in the cove just outside the main public pier and the high jinx began…  Anchor down, music playing, sipping ice cold beers and soaking up the sun on the deck, a little taster of what was to be the most perfect day. 

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Lunch was early and we ended up evacuating the boat at around about midday.  We walked on a small trail to the most gorgeous seafood restaurant called Ming Kee.  A collection of old buildings at the back of a very modest beach, huge round tables of delicacies waited for us.  We ate fresh prawns, fried squid, clams, scallops and beautifully steamed white fish.  I couldn’t get enough, in fact when everyone was heading back to the boat I was racing myself to eat as much as I could before the boat sailed off again!  Delicious.  Guys, you know I could eat for England and Greece.

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Once we were back on the boat, actually I haven’t mentioned the name of our boat have I?  It was called Colonsay, which is a bit of a strange name.  Obviously I just think of colons, which doesn’t quite go with the paradise and beauty I was seeing!!  But since having a quick google I’ve found out it is the name of a Scottish Island near Mull, off the west coast.  The name derives from Norse and apparently means Columba’s Island.  So there you go.  Nothing to do with poo.  At all.  And there was no poo to be seen.

I digress!  We headed to the other side on the island and anchored the boat in another beautiful little cove.  I was surprised that we were only one of two junk boats that had docked there – seeing as we’d spotted plenty more on our travels, especially when at the seafood restaurant.  We spent the rest of the day lounging on the boat, drinking chatting and having a lot of fun. 

Lots of people were diving off the top deck into the sea, which I did kind of want to do but I’m too much of a wuss.  Also since I’ve been here, after my initial weight loss there has been a slight weight gain, which means that the only bikinis I brought with me are a tad too small.  It was bad enough I was wearing a bikini in front of a bunch of new people I hardly knew, I was not about to lose part of it in the sea in front of them!!  Can I just take a moment to say how much I was freaking out about getting my pasty wobbly bits out?  All week I kept thinking that I’d have time to buy a one piece that fit but I just didn’t have the time and in the end braved the whole, I’m wearing a bikini that’s too small and could potentially go see through because it is old in front of new people.

So I opted for the delicate dive off the back of the boat instead (note I still had to ‘readjust’ under the cover of the sea!).  Sea was delish, it was cold but not as devastatingly cold as the other times we’ve have sauntered to the beach.  I decided to swim ashore to the secluded beach we could see from the boat, I was just thinking about how I could’ve done with taking some drink along with me when Natalie and Sarah parked on the shore alongside me in a kayak, with a few beverages to enjoy!  Get in.

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And that my dears, is how most of the day played out.  Apparently there are lots of walks you can take on the island, and that there are a lot of strangely names rock formations along to way, Bhudda Hand Rock being one example.  So maybe next time we’ll go for a bit of a walk instead of just drinking, sunning and partying.  Oh and a bit of swimming – don’t want it to sound like I was totally lazy.

I had such a great time.  Sometimes I struggle with everyday life here in Hong Kong, not because it is hard but it isn’t easy just fitting in and having the same things around that you’ve been used to your whole life.  Having good company is so important, and being able to socialise with a fun bunch of like-minded people raises my mood so much.  It makes the other things I worry about not seem as important somehow and cancels it out.  I guess it comes down to me being quite a sociable person and generally not being very good on my own!  But on Saturday I was really grateful not just for the trip and the opportunity to see some more of Hong Kong but also to just be, and hang out with new friends.  If there can always be an element of this I can definitely continue to be pretty happy here!

Switching concrete for wilderness, Peng Chau.

So the bright Saturday sunshine encouraged us to get out the house and do a bit more exploring.  I’ve been feeling really pants all week as I seem to have got this pretty horrible virus, I guess a bit like the flu.  But I didn’t want to miss out on a great day so I dosed myself up with the usual suspects (ibuprofen and paracetamol doh) and headed out into the sun.

Joe was really keen to check out Peng Chau, a very small island in Hong Kong.  It’s actually really close to Lantau and Discovery Bay where all the expats live, but this place really did not seem to have any of that sort of influence on its’ shores.  For one, there are no cars on the island, everyone gets around by WALKING or bike.  There were no high end shops, restaurants or bars and it really felt in way that you were walking back into a time warp of sorts.

Peng Chau used to house the largest match factory in South East Asia and was generally quite an industrial little island.  Sadly, with the invention of the lighter the match industry went into decline.  The effects of this on the island still appear obvious, by the port area in particular there are a lot of shanty looking looking houses, and the buildings appear old and in disrepair.  But I think that was part of the charm, really hungry as we hadn’t eaten breakfast our first port of call was for some food.  Sadly as we had arrived after the official lunch serving time a lot of the local and traditional places were shutting shop until inner service.  So we settled on a little French style cafe where we feasted on cheese and wine.  I know that this probably sounds quite up market but trust me, the place was as rustic as the rest of the island.  We sat outside and fueled up before setting off on our explore around the island.

We headed off on the walking trail in the direction of Finger’s Hill – the highest point on the island.  As it was such a beautiful day we were spoiled with never-ending blue, the sky and the sea.  We could see so far out that you could even make out Kowloon side in the distance.  The birds were singing, the air was clear.  It was so nice to be out of the concrete jungle that is Hong Kong for a change.  The rugged and unkempt wilderness of Peng Chau was  just what we needed, and took me back to our hikes in Cinque Terre last summer.  At time, I did feel like I was in the jungle, or on the set of a Vietnam war film!

We even happened across a small beach at the bottom of Finger’s Hill which would have been just ripe for a picnic.  I’m still not sure about swimming in the sea though, it has so far always looked so murky in this area.  Maybe I am being a water snob after growing up swimming in gorgeous Greek coastline though.  I’m probably also a tad scared of things like sharks in the water too here!

We decided to watch the sun go down with a beer before heading back to Hong Kong Island.  Magical.  By this point I was seriously flagging and my body needed to go to bed.  I probably shouldn’t have had a tipple but I couldn’t help myself and it was such a nice day!  So we headed back to the flat where I turned back into the lurgi monster again, tucked up on the sofa watching terrible films!  But I didn’t mind so much because we’d had such a good day, unlike the rest of my germ coated weekend (not feeling sorry for myself at all here).

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.