Posts Tagged ‘gardens’

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Kew’s gardens.

January 4, 2013

After a fine New Year’s Eve party and a bracing New Year’s Day walk (and post-walk viewing of The Princess and the Frog), the 2nd of January was the day Toby and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Before Christmas, Toby’s eagle eyes had spotted an offer for the 12 Days of Christmas at Kew, which basically consisted of free tickets to the gardens. And so off we went! Although it was a cloudy and drizzly day, there was plenty to see and we had a fabulous time (I must be growing up / getting old, because visiting a place like this for 3 hours would have been my idea of hell only a couple of years ago). There were various intriguing sculptures:

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Conservatories filled with tropical plants and palm trees, desert environments and tanks with marine life:

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A part dedicated to alpine plants (with some very pretty narcissi) and a Japanese garden area similar to the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:

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Some beautiful temples scattered around (dedicated to a lucky Princess Augusta), an impressive lake, and some intriguing statues:

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As the rain came down more persistently, we walked through more of the park area, along an avenue lined with thimble-shaped bushes, and to a Japanese pagoda.

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This is where the pictures end, but there was more! We came across an overpriced café/restaurant which I am sure served lovely food and drink but at more than I was willing to spend when out for a day in a park. And if we’d gone there for free, I think I would have felt even more aggrieved had we already paid to get in and then had to pay more to sustain ourselves along the way! There was a stinky compost heap, and located near that, the most terrifying part of the day: the Treetop Walkway. So it looks lovely on the website – take my advice and stick to viewing the pictures here. Because once you’ve climbed four floors’ worth of see-through metal mesh stairs, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths (up until this point in my life, I was able to tolerate heights, but I’ve evidently developed a fear of them) and begun to walk round (the walkway is a large oval-shape), you realise that IT MOVES. The fucking walkway SWAYS. I am using caps because that is how much it freaked me out. I held on to the wooden banister and started to walk round more quickly, keeping my eyes looking at the (on that day, murky) canopy of trees to distract myself from: the fact that the walkway seemed to be held up by nothing more than sparse metal trees, the swaying which appeared to be becoming more violent, and the mesh floor through which one could see the ground far below. Toby was a few feet behind me and suddenly called to me that he felt sick and had to go back down; I gauged that despite feeling like the terror had been unremitting for at least 10 minutes, I was less than a third of the way around the walkway and so I decided to practically run with him back to the lift and get down and off the thing sharpish. Even while we waited for the lift, I could feel the structure moving.

I never saw or heard a giant crash or collapsing of the structure, and so I presume that everything was fine and that the Treetop Walkway is indeed meant to sway (perhaps it gives one a more vivid experience of what it’s like to be a tree). The view is fantastic, as you can see on the link in the above paragraph. But if you even think you aren’t a fan of heights, take my advice and stick to the website experience: don’t go up there, because it’s terrifying to anyone with nerves of less than steel.

And with that, we decided to say goodbye to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It is a truly fantastic experience and well worth seeing once – I’d happily go back again next year if we can get free tickets again. Although it feels very “cultural” and its visitors were largely comprised of families trying to entertain their children before they go back to school and elderly National Trust devotees, it was wonderful to do and see something different, and to be wowed by the feats and ingenuity of nature. The aquarium-style exhibits were wonderful, and the conservatories are numerous and really immerse one in a tropical environment. And of course, that Treetop Walkway is an unforgettable experience 😉 It’s definitely worth a visit!

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autumn wonderland (Prague, October 2012)

October 22, 2012

This week, Toby and I spent four days in Prague for our post-moving-house holiday – going away in the summer is passé darling, and we got it for a bargain having only booked it the Friday before! In fact, visiting Prague in the autumn felt like the perfect time to experience the city, as it was comparatively quiet to what one would expect (no stag dos) and the parks were full of trees’ leaves changing colour. It was a little bit chilly without being unbearable, and as we ended up doing a lot of walking, it wasn’t too hot to hike around in. It would have been lovely to have seen snow, but when we arrived on Tuesday morning, the city was shrouded in a somewhat forbidding but very atmospheric mist, which lifted as the day wore on (most days the weather followed this pattern, although Wednesday was a gloriously sunny day). Our hotel (Designhotel Elephant) was modern, comfortable, and conveniently located. I’ve posted a photographic summary on my tumblr, but I’ll go into a bit more detail with the snaps below:

Our flight was ridiculously early on Tuesday morning from Gatwick; in the future I would very much prefer to fly to and from Heathrow (getting home from Gatwick on Friday evening was even more horrendous). However, once we were on the plane I put my phone on Flight Mode and took this stunning picture of the sunrise above the clouds out of the plane window. We touched down in Prague at 9am and after dropping our belongings off at the hotel, we went for a walk along the river to get our bearings:

Before long, we found ourselves standing at the famous Charles Bridge (which I was familiar with from Kanye West’s video for “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”). As we walked along, there were many stands with artists offering to draw the typical caricatures, a band playing “Wonderful Tonight” (which was quite romantic), and a creepy man with a stuffed monkey playing what sounded like fairground music.

We left Prague Castle for another day, and wandered back towards Old Town Square just in time for the midday chiming of the Astronomical Clock. On our way, we also saw a cool sculpture by David Černý called Hanging Out:

Although it seemed fairly serendipitous at this point that we happened to arrive just as the clock was going to chime, over the next few days we seemed to show up on the hour at Old Town Square, and navigating our way through the crowds watching the clock became somewhat tedious. We next headed to what became our favourite café in Prague for some lunch: Bakeshop Praha:

2pm came along, and we were officially able to check into the hotel, which we did. We promptly fell asleep, went out for dinner at a nearby pizzeria, and that was the end of our auspicious first day in Prague.

Day 2

Feeling well-rested, we headed downstairs for an underwhelming breakfast (never has so much choice been offered, and yet so few options be actually viable) and then made our way across the river to climb up to Letná gardens. Thus began the theme of hiking up extremely long and steep flights of steps. The view however was fantastic, and we also saw stood by the Metronome of Prague (which has a cable with many shoes attached). Letnà gardens were absolutely beautiful, and with wonderful weather we had a relaxing stoll through the park.

We made our way back to the city centre and wandered through the Jewish Quarter, seeing the Spanish Synagogue and the monument to Franz Kafka. This part of town also has the Prague equivalent of Sloane Street, containing stylish boutiques for Dolce & Gabbana, Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and so on.

In the afternoon, we went on a riverboat tour, which has become a holiday tradition for us. In the sunny weather, the city looked resplendent and amidst the tourists using their iPads as cameras, we got a few more beautiful snaps of the city. It was also nice to have a sit down! Especially as afterwards, we made our way to Wenceslas Square (the only slight disappointment of the trip, as it was covered in big chain shops – including Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and other British institutions, which was weird) which was more of a strip, and wandered to the former site of the National Museum situated at the top.

After  some well-earned rest back at the hotel, we headed out in the evening for a traditional Czech dinner – I had beef and dumplings (slices of bread dough) in lots of gravy, with cranberries and a dollop of whipped cream! It was a little odd, but quite hearty and rustic and extremely delicious! Toby had pork schnitzel with potatoes, which was also reportedly yummy. I also had a nice black beer to round off the night – and we discovered that apparently, smoking in bars / restaurants is still legal in Czech Republic! When I was younger, I remember thinking that smoking around food wasn’t really very considerate, but now having been removed from the smell of smoke in a bar for so many years, it actually gave the whole establishment a more cosy ambience. Interesting!

Day 3

As if we hadn’t done enough exercise for one holiday, today we made a huge tour of Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, followed by walking around to Petřín Hill and down the steep slopes to Kampa Island for a beer, and then back home for sleep! The weather started off overcast but was deceptively warm, as we crossed the Charles Bridge once again and hiked up to the castle gates, where we happened to be just in time for the changing of the guard. Two troops of Czech soldiers, dressed immaculately in navy suits, marched about in a square-dance formation, eventually exchanged a standard, and then trooped back the way they came, keeping time to a brass band playing from the windows of the castle courtyard. Equally intriguing was an eagle which kept trying to get inside one of the castle windows, and a stray golden retriever that appeared from nowhere to roam around the courtyard (luckily post-changing of the guard). Toby and I nicknamed these the Eagle of Prague and the Dog of Prague, whose job was presumably to catch the Eagle of Prague. We never found out if he succeeded.

 

 

The architecture was breathtaking (as you can hopefully see), so we stopped for lunch at a little cafe overlooking the whole of Prague, before making our way round to Petřín Hill for some views which… overlooked the whole of Prague. Truthfully, I have never visited a place that has beauty literally around every corner; be it natural or man-made, Prague is a feast for the eyes and the soul. We didn’t quite make it up to the observatory (after all of the walking, we didn’t have another 299 steps in us) – but I don’t think we felt we needed to either.

 

 

Eventually we cautiously made our way back down the hill (which was as steep as it looks above), across the river via Kampa Island and some honey cake and a beer, to the Dancing Buildings. And that was about it for Day 3, as we promptly fell asleep upon returning to the hotel!

 

Day 4

The day we said goodbye to Prague – we did some souvenir shopping, lots of café-visiting, and it was nice to actually take our time around the city without heading for any sites in particular. We headed to Prague airport in the evening, and I phoned my parents to tell them how lucky they were that I decided to come back, as I was very tempted to stay in Prague! I had an absolutely wonderful time and could really imagine living there, as things aren’t too expensive (or rather, they are cheaper than London!) and the city is clean, crisp and beautiful – I know that I have used that adjective a lot throughout this piece, but it’s true! I highly recommend that if you haven’t been, that you take a trip there at some point – it’s romantic, cultural, historic, modern – a little bit of everything. You won’t regret it.