Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Visiting the Winnie the Pooh Forest in East Sussex

Ashdown Forest is the inspiration for the ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ in the Winnie the Pooh books and we got to visit the forest a couple of weeks ago when we were visiting Stuart’s family in East Sussex. It’s a protected area of natural beauty and popular with walkers, cyclists and Winnie the Pooh fans like myself - wanting to see some of the locations described in A. A. Milne’s classic books. We visited on a Saturday morning during the Easter holidays, parking at Gill’s Lap which is the starting point for most of the ‘Winnie the Pooh walks’ at Ashdown Forest. From Gill’s Lap you can reach lots of the Winnie the Pooh sites on foot including the A. A. Milne & E. H. Shepard memorial, Eyeore’s Sad and Gloomy Place and Roo’s Sandy Pit. You can find the map for the Winnie the Pooh walks at Ashdown Forest here, or alternatively you can stop at the Forest Centre for a paper copy on the day of your visit.

Footpath to Pooh Bridge, Ashdown Forest

A sign in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex

On the map there are 2 trails that you can follow: the short Pooh walk and the long Pooh walk. We only had a couple of hours to explore the forest, so we decided to do the short walk, but we still got to see lots of Pooh sites regardless. The memorial was at such a beautiful location, overlooking the colourful landscape that helped inspire the stories and Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place was lots of fun to walk through as the grass is so overgrown.

Kat Last at the A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard Memorial in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex

Road sign in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex

After finishing the short Pooh walk, we headed back to the car and drove onto Hartfield: the village where you can find the famous Pooh Bridge and the Pooh Corner shop. We didn’t get the chance to play Poohsticks this time, but we had a great time at Pooh Corner, browsing all of the wonderful Winnie the Pooh items. Inside Pooh Corner you can find Piglet’s Tearoom and next time we visit Ashdown Forest, we’re going to definitely stop there for afternoon tea. Lots of the Pooh items in the shop were actually relatively affordable. I picked up quite a few collectible postcards and these were only 50-60p each. I can’t wait to display them in one of my scrapbooks, along with the photos I took at Ashdown Forest. Pooh Corner was such a gorgeous shop and the perfect place for any Winnie the Pooh fan to visit.

Pooh Corner gift shop in Hartfield, Ashdown Forest

Pooh Corner gift shop sign, Hartfield

Winnie the Pooh merchandise at the Pooh Corner gift shop in Hartfield, East Sussex

By midday it was time for us to leave Hartfield and head back on the road to Stuart’s grandparents house. As we left the Forest, I couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful a morning we’d had.

Winnie the Pooh characters in the Pooh Corner shop window, Hartfield

Have you ever been to Ashdown Forest?
Are you a fan of Winnie the Pooh?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Authentic Belgian goods that you should purchase in Bruges

If you like to shop when you travel, Bruges is the ideal place to visit. You could spend hours browsing the city’s chocolate shops, gift shops and beer shops, as there are so many of them scattered throughout the city centre. Bruges is a relatively small city and it’s not full of world-renowned tourist attractions like Paris or Rome. It’s entirely pedestrianised and although there are museums to visit and extravagant buildings to go inside, Bruges is definitely more of a laid-back, wander-as-you-please city break destination. With it being so close to Canterbury, I see a weekend in Bruges more as a shopping and foodie weekend, rather than a busy, sightseeing weekend. When you’re in Bruges, especially if you’ve driven over there, I highly recommend picking up some food, beer and souvenirs. Belgium is known for it’s cuisine and lovely local goods, so in today’s post I’m going to be sharing some ideas of authentic Belgian items to pick up in Bruges.

Belgian flag in Bruges city centre

1. Belgian chocolate from a local store.

Belgian chocolate in the Chocolate and Happiness store, Bruges

There are so many chocolatiers in Bruges and often you can purchase individual chocolates pick ‘n’ mix style or you can buy beautifully wrapped bags of chocolate that you can only purchase in Bruges. Bruges is a chocoholic’s heaven and you can find all sorts of flavours there, which aren’t available elsewhere in the world. When you’re in Bruges, I highly recommend putting some money aside for fancy chocolate. It’ll be both delicious and nostalgic - as it’ll remind you of all of the amazing chocolate stores you visited on your trip to Bruges.

Belgian chocolatier Chocolat de Julie, Bruges

2. Craft beer.

Belgian beer-themed motorbike outside The Beer Wall, Bruges

Now I don’t drink beer and I don’t ever really plan to, but Belgium is known for its high quality craft beer. Whilst we were in Bruges, my boyfriend Stuart really enjoyed wandering around the local stores, picking out new beers to try. Something I learnt from Stuart and worth sharing with you is that there are Carrefour Express’ scattered throughout Bruges city centre. Carrefour sells lots of the craft beer at incredibly cheap prices, so don’t be fooled into buying the authentic beer at souvenir stores or beer shops, you can get much more for your money in the Carrefour mini supermarkets.

3. Waffle kits.

In most chocolate stores or bakeries, you can purchase Belgian waffle kits to take home with you. Going for waffles is an absolute must-do in Bruges and the waffles in Belgium are nothing like anywhere else in the world. Go to a waffle shop whilst you’re in Bruges and if you really enjoy them, why not buy a waffle kit to take back to the UK? Then you can bring the essence of Belgium to your own kitchen at home.

Streets of Bruges, Belgium

4. Lace.

There are lace shops everywhere in Bruges, as it’s the lace capital of the world, so if you fancy taking something home that is ‘truly Bruges’, you can find lace fabric or lace-related decorations for your home on almost every street in Bruges.

Architecture in Bruges city centre, Belgium

5. Teddy bears.

The Bear Necessities: a teddy bear shop in Bruges city centre, Belgium

Bruges has lots of teddy bear and toy shops. The ‘Bear Necessities’ store is absolutely adorable and full to the brim with classic teddy bears. The bears are different to what you find in toy stores in the UK, they’re somewhat vintage and probably aimed more towards adults, but they’d definitely make a perfect gift for somebody who likes plush toys.

Bruges Market Square at sunset, Belgium

Bruges has lots of lovely items to purchase, so it’s definitely worth saving a few pennies before you go. It’s my favourite European city to visit for shopping and at some point I’d love to go back just before Christmas, so that I can purchase presents for my family and friends there.

Have you ever been to Bruges? Did you purchase anything whilst you were away?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Winnie the Pooh Exhibition in London - Victoria and Albert Museum

I’m a big fan of staycations and doing touristy things at home in the UK. Whether it’s at home in Canterbury or further afield in say London or Cambridge, I always keep an eye out for new events and exhibitions that are starting. Last weekend we went to London for the day, to see the Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. Winnie the Pooh has been one of my favourite stories ever since I was little, so I was really excited to go and learn about the history of the books and films.

Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition books at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

We had booked tickets for the 10:30 session, so we left for London early in the morning and arrived at the Victoria and Albert Museum for opening. If you’ve never been to the Victoria and Albert Museum, it’s an emporium of art and textiles from all over the world. The V & A often hosts seasonal, themed exhibitions and Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic was one of these exhibitions.

Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When you walked inside the exhibition, it was like taking a step inside A.A. Milne’s classic story books. There were illustrations of Christopher Robin, Pooh and friends all over the walls of the exhibition space, alongside popular quotes from the books. At the start of the exhibition you got to see Winnie the Pooh memorabilia from over the years, ranging from old editions of the books to the recent 2016 Winnie the Pooh x Cath Kidston collection. It was really interesting to see the different eras of Winnie the Pooh, particularly the Disney era and the impact this has had on how the world sees Winnie the Pooh today.

Winnie the Pooh memorabilia at the Victoria and Albert Museum

As you progressed through the exhibition, it focused more on A.A. Milne’s original stories and E.H. Shepherd’s iconic illustrations. You got to read about the inspiration for the books and how Milne and Shepherd worked together to create the famous book series that we know and love. This section definitely made you think of Winnie the Pooh before Disney.

Quotes and artwork at the Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition, London

Accompanying the illustrations, there were installations of popular Winnie the Pooh scenes such as the bridge where they play Pooh Sticks. This was great for children that were visiting the exhibition with their parents, as they could reenact scenes from the books.

Installations and artwork at the Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition, London

'The House at Pooh Corner' artwork at the Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition, London

The exhibition was incredibly busy, so after we’d navigated the crowds and seen all of the artwork, we reached the gift shop, which was full of lots of Winnie the Pooh goodies. They were selling classic plush toys of all of the characters, as well as new editions of the books and postcards of the classic sketches from the books. I ended up getting a Classic Winnie the Pooh toy, a couple of notebooks and some postcards, which were all very reasonably priced for the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition gift shop at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition sign outside the Victoria and Albert Museum

My souvenirs from the Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

If there’s anything that this visit has shown me, it’s that I really ought to visit Ashdown Forest: the woods that inspired the books. I’d highly recommend taking a trip to London to see the exhibition before it closes on 8th April. It’s perfect for any Winnie the Pooh or Disney fan!

Me (Kat Last) at the entrance of the Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Saturday, 24 March 2018

Pros and cons of city break travel in Winter

In the first 3 months of 2018, we have visited 6 countries: Slovakia, Austria, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Latvia. It’s the first time that we’ve booked a lot of trips at the start of the year and haven’t decided to travel as much in late Spring/Summer. In theory I would have liked to spread out our city breaks across the year, but with our budget, it’s not always feasible to travel in the warmer months. Hence why this year, we’ve travelled a lot already. In today’s post I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of Winter travel. Not as many people choose to go away at this time of year, but Winter travel has it’s perks as often destinations are a lot quieter and cheaper early in the year.

Riga skyline in Winter, Latvia

The Pros

- The price

Flight and hotel prices vary so much from week to week, but 9 times out of 10, you will find it cheaper to travel in January to March. Less people are going away then, so hotels often slash their prices to ensure that rooms get filled. We find that bagging a Winter deal requires a bit of advance planning and flight price tracking. We look for when flights are at their lowest price and then decide on a date to travel. Prices always dictate when we go away, we don’t decide on a date and then look for a deal for that weekend.

Meals out are also less expensive in the Winter season too. A classic example is when I went to Rome with Stuart last year. It wasn’t my first visit to the Italian capital and in the lead up to our trip, I warned Stuart that Rome had been very expensive when I visited in April when I was a teenager. When we actually got to Rome, restaurants were much cheaper than when I visited previously with my family. Restaurants were quiet, so it seemed like owners just wanted their restaurants filled, whatever the price!

Quiet Bruges city centre in Winter

- The peace and quiet

European cities are so much quieter in Winter than they are in the Summer. Bratislava had no queues whatsoever, Riga was pretty empty and Stuart said that Bruges was significantly quieter in February, than when he has visited in the Summer before. It’s quite nice being able to hop from tourist attraction to tourist attraction and not have any delays.

- Airports aren’t so busy

Airports are a bit like marmite, you either love them or hate them. In the Summer, they’re heaving with families going away for their annual Summer holiday, whilst in Winter, it tends to be more business travellers. Personally I prefer to travel when airports are quieter, as I have a phobia of crowds. Hence why for me, travelling in Winter is a lot less stressful!

Quiet Bratislava Old Town in Winter

The Cons

- The lack of atmosphere

There’s no denying the fact that destinations come alive in the warmer months of the year. More people are out in the streets, there are markets, more festivals on and there is generally a much better atmosphere. Travelling in Winter means that you end up missing the ambiance of a place a bit, but then you have to weigh up whether or not it’s possible to experience a destination in your ideal way, when it’s not necessarily as bustling as it usually would be in the Summer.

- No outdoor eating

When we visited Lisbon in June, we loved being able to eat outdoors in the sunshine. This is something that you can’t do in Winter as restaurants don’t tend to open up their veranda areas and it can make dining out less of an experience. If you’re a foodie, late Spring and Summer is definitely a better time for you to travel.

Snow in Riga, Latvia in Winter

- The weather

You don’t get sunny, warm days when you travel in Winter, unless you visit Spain or somewhere Mediterranean. On all of our trips so far this year it’s been very cold and this is to be expected because we went away during the coldest months of the year. If you want a bit of sunshine, plan your annual city breaks from April to September.

Hopefully this post will help you decide if organising a city break for the Winter months is for you. It’s definitely a lot cheaper than travelling later in the year!

Thanks for reading my blog today.