Friday, 9 September 2016

There's Summit about Helvellyn | The Lake District | Cumbria

If you are dithering whether to make a visit to Cumbria, the Lake District, then my advice is ‘don’t think about it, do it’. The Lake District is a 583,747 acres of vast and beautiful picturesque patchwork of fields, a land of plunging waterfalls, tarns, thriving greenery, forested valleys and striking caves. It’s not hard not to fall in love with every single nook and cranny of the Lakes. It is the epitome of your postcard panoramic of hilly hilltops, glistening lakes, sheep grazing on rocky fells, fog dancing over the peaks and creating wonderful and awe-inspiring movements across the valleys. It is truly one of the best places to in Britain to embrace the great outdoors, and I for one, who is not normally an ‘outdoorsy’ person has found a new hobby! I absolutely love this type of adventure.

Kev and I don’t venture out much on UK soil as much as we’d like as we always go abroad whenever we take a holiday and needless to say, we are missing out on so many idyllic scenery the UK has to offer. I wanted a 'staycation’ break and the obvious choice for me has always been the Lake District. It has been on top of my ‘staycation’ list for many years and we have finally succumb to it!

During the planning process of the trip, I included a trek on England’s 3rd highest peak, Helvellyn, with an elevation of 950m above sea level, situated north of Ambleside, between the lakes of Thirlmere and Ullswater. Yep… with not much terrain training under our belt, I decided that this is what we were going to undertake on our first ever trekking trip! As you can probably tell, I like diving in the deep end. Our motto was #GoHardOrGoHome!

On the morning of our Helvellyn trek, peering out the window, we were completely shrouded in early morning fog but gradually, the mist slowly dissipates as the sun ascends from behind the Cumbrian hillside as the sun evaporates the moisture in the air. We recorded a time lapse on 29th August, capturing the fog cloud 'dancing' over Helm Crag and the valleys which you can play below.

We made our way to park at the car park at Wythburn Church located at the base (and start) of the trekking route from the west side. This route is considered slightly easier ground to trek and as we were novice trekkers, we chose this option. At times, Helvellyn felt like a 70% gradient climb so stamina and endurance is important. Luckily, the weather was on our side and visibility was clear and the sun shone throughout the whole day. It might have been easier if the sky was slightly overcast as it would have made walking conditions that more bearable, but nonetheless, we were glad we had a perfect summer’s day to experience Helvellyn in all its glory.

We began our ascent at 12:50 at a steady pace and 15 minutes in, the views over the valley are already remarkable. The low gradient and constructed footpaths make the start of our journey easy but it gradually gains height and the terrain becomes stoney and rocky. The path is a series of zig zags ascension with an array of plateaus, but relatively easy to tackle. During the course of the trek, the sun beaming down on us made the climb a little more exhausting but once we reached higher grounds, the temperature declines.

It took us 3.5 hours to reach the summit of Helvellyn and our time of arrival was approximately 16:30 and we were greeted with strong winds and minus degree temperatures and unforgettable panoramic views of Cumbrian landscapes and tarns. It seemed we were on the same level as the clouds. We felt elated that we had accomplished our very first, hefty elevated 950m above sea level trek. My feet were aching (that'll teach me for not wearing in my shoes enough) and I was cursing on the descent but Kev gave me the mental support I needed to get me back down to ground zero! The whole trek to and from was completed in approximately 7 hours, though we did stop regularly for photos and pit stop rests. Had we ploughed through without stopping for photos, we would have knocked off about an hour from our journey. By the time we completed the last few steps back to the car, I felt completely deliriously happy knowing we had made it through to the end and we felt like we conquered the world!

Now, bring on the next challenge!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

#AviewFromWhereIStand | Around the World

I thought it would be fun to reminisce and document #aviewfromwhereistand, a blog post of some our favourite views we have had the pleasure to set eyes on.  I list the location where I stood to take each shot and I bullet point below, where we were at the time the photo was taken.

Kev and I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world, with most of our bucket destinations being ticked off. We always try and make a visit at a high vantage point or place that enables us a panoramic or advantageous angle. There is something being so high up, looking down which makes you reflect and appreciate everything you have in your life. When you see the world from a different view, it just brings perspective. When you are troubled or emotionally involved in something, it can be hard to take a step back as you are too close to the view, but zoom out and see the bigger picture, you change your core belief system and it can bring a positive change to your life.

Photo 1 | NEW YORK, USA | On top of the Empire State Building 443 meters tall, overlooking the thousands of skyscrapers of Manhattan during a delightful and colourful sunset. (Photographed in 2014)

Photo 2 | NEW YORK, USA | I love this shot - we climbed over 200 steps, through a narrow winding staircase to reach the very top of Lady Liberty's crown, and I just poked my camera out of a small window (which was a gap in the crown) to take this shot. Though it is just a shot of Statue of Liberty's arm and her torch, I also find the this shot very dignifying to be so close to something that signifies such an historic, iconic and life changing importance. (Photographed in 2014)

Photo 3 | NEW YORK, USA | Our first night in Manhattan was unforgettable with a trip up the Rockefeller Center aka Top of The Rock, in the evening to see the sparkly and glistening city lights of the concrete jungle beneath us was a great way to start our New York trip! (Photographed in 2014)

Photo 4 | FLORENCE, ITALY | One of our favourite cities within Italy was Florence (followed by Venice and Rome and Verona). It was our 10 year anniversary and we made an impromptu trip to sample the finest gelato, eat the best charcoal flames cooked Florentine steak we have EVER had in our lives (no exaggeration!) and soaked in the beautiful views from Piazzale Michelangelo and the Arno Valleys. Piazzale Michelangelo is in actual fact a parking lot! But many locals and tourist come here simply for the majestic views, like we did! (Photographed in 2012)

Photo 5 | TOKYO, JAPAN | The Tokyo Tower undeniably resembles the Eiffel Tower, but the views are far from Parisian. As the sun went down, it casted a beautiful orange hue in the sky and Mount Fuji’s silhouette was clearly visible from the special observation deck of Tokyo Tower (Photographed in 2015)

Photo 6 | ROPPONGHI HILLS, TOKYO | Standing 52 floors high within the Mori Tower enables us a night time view as far as the eye can see with Tokyo Tower (illuminated in a golden yellow) in the distance. The sky deck is surrounded by floor to ceiling windows which gives you an unobstructed panoramic view of Tokyo. (Photographed in 2014)

Photo 7 | HAKONE, JAPAN | The trains and trams that took us ascending up to this beautiful view point, left us appreciating the vast natural surroundings largely untouched by buildings and structures. A quiet location to gaze at the mountains and foliage. (Photographed in 2015)

Photo 8 | CAMBRIDGE, UK | St Mary the Great Church offers one of the best views of Cambridge. Access to the tower is via 123-step medieval turret staircase. From here, you can see King's College Chapel, one of the most iconic landmarks of Cambridge, the colourful rooftops of the market stalls, Senate House and beyond. (photographed in 2013)

Photo 9 | TAIPEI, TAIWAN | One of our earlier holidays we had taken together, Kev and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Taiwan. We fondly remember all the fresh fruit juices we must have drank as it was so humid. Taipei 101's elevators swiftly takes us from the fifth floor to the 89th-floor observatory in only 37 seconds where we circled the indoor observation deck before heading up a few more floors to the windy outdoor deck. (Photographed in 2009)

Photo 10 | HONG KONG, CHINA | Pearl of the Orient is often what comes to mind whenever we visit Victoria Peak. I can never ever get bored of such a beautiful view. Although missing the musical soundtrack, it's possible to still view The Symphony of Lights from here. (Photographed in 2015)

Photo 11 | KOH SAMUI, THAILAND | The boat journey from Koh Samui took us to Ang Thong Marine Park in a few hours where we did a spot of kayaking around the edges of the island and soaking in the Sun. To reach the viewpoint was a steep traverse, almost like climbing a step-ladder but it was worth it to see the bright e blue/green waters of Thale Nai (Emerald Lake). (Photographed in 2015)

Photo 12 | On a British Airways plane, JAPAN | Okay, so we were not standing on Mount Fuji when I took this shot, we were flying past it! As we had lift-off from Narita Airport, I saw the most incredible sight of Mount Fiji and the surrounding City and I just clicked away! (photographed in 2015)

Photo 13 | PARIS, FRANCE | For our 13th anniversary, we spent a few days admiring the Eiffel Tower, drinking coffee and eating deliciously home made patisserie in cute cafes, cherishing the beautiful views of the French Capital. Our trip to Paris was surprisingly awesome - not that we did not expect it to, but in some ways, it far exceeding our expectations which is always welcomed. (Photographed in 2014)

Photo 14 | PARIS, FRANCE | Close to the famous Moulin Rouge we walked up the incline path with rows of shops leading to the Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre (Sacre-Coeur). Photographed in 2014)

Photo 15 | ROME, ITALY | Though the Spanish Steps does not provide a particularly high point to see the City, it is a great place to just soak in the atmosphere and views of the City. With 138 steps, they connect with the upper piazza Trinita dei Monti with its twin tower dominating the skyline. (Photographed in 2010)

Photo 16 | LONDON, UK | Situated 155m up of the Walkie Talkie Building, the Sky Garden is by far one of the best places see spot some of the Capital's most iconic attractions as well as provide spectacular views across London. (Photographed in 2015)

Friday, 29 April 2016

Private onsen experience at the Gora Hanaouchi and Mount Fuji up close | Hakone | JAPAN | November 2015

Hakone is well known for hot springs, onsens, beautiful mountain landscape and of course, the
magnificent Mount Fujisan scenery.
In 2014, during our last trip, we had our hearts set on seeing Mount Fuji in person. We didn't and we were very disappointed especially as we had traveled over 3 hours from Tokyo in hope to see MF. The weather was crap (well, overcast but warm) and certainly not perfect weather conditions to see MF clearly.

So during our 2015 trip, we decided to stay over in Hakone not only to see MF, but also to experience our own private open air onsen set in the mountains - something we always said we would try at least once. I found us a wonderful gem, Gora Hanaougi, set within the mountains. Hanaougi is a luxury ryokan-style hotel in Gora. It offers peaceful and relaxing rooms with views of natural landscape. As you enter the ryokan, you are hit with an impressive lobby with chandeliers made out of wood and the corridor is decorated in Tatami mats. Staying here has been one of the our most elegant Japanese experiences.

Hakone is located along Tokaido, where Edo (modern-day Tokyo) is connected to Kyoto, and was developed as “shukubamachi”, a town offering food and accommodation to travellers. Not to mention the spectacular view of nearby Mt. Fuji, there are numerous tourist spots in this area, such as Owakudani volcanic valley and the beautiful Ashinoko lake.

As we checked in,  we were warmly greeted with a cup of hot green tea and Japanese sweets. We had a dedicated host for our entire stay who attended to our every need.

Our terrace room faced the Gairin mountain and forest. We were able to relax in comfort in our own private open-air hot spring bath overlooking the magnificent mountains and beautiful sky. The room is a perfect blend of traditional and modern without loosing it Japanese appeal. We stayed during the peak of Autumn so a hot soak in a hot onsen was blisssss and staying during this time of year when the leaves turned colours was wondrous. Every room has a low table made of Jindai-Keyaki wood which is old zelkova buried in volcanic ash for many years, crafted from precious wood using a traditional technique called 'Chigiri', joining wood without using any nails.

Our dinner and breakfast was served by our host and it was decadently presented on beautiful crockery. We had the finest A5 beef kaiseki meal which included fresh vegetables from the local farm, fish from inshore waters and fine beef from Hida. There were 12 courses yet we left feeling completely satisfied without feeling like you're in a food coma. The beauty of Japan's food and ingredients is that it does not leave a stodgy feeling after a heavy meal. Breakfast fast was quite extravagant with array of small dishes to sample and I must say, it certainly made a worthy Instagram photo!

Oh, and we managed to see Mt Fuji, which was the main purpose of our stay in Hakone! Any first time Japan traveler would say the time - you have an urge to see the beauty of Mount Fuji. We had been very fortunate to have the right combination of luck, planning and perfect weather to see MF in all its glory. I think my heart skipped a beat when I set eyes on it for the very first time. Standing still for a few minutes admiring something you longed to see, there is something quite serene and you feel an undisputed amazing feeling that fills up your entire body. MF is quite a beauty in pictures, but in person, it is simply awe-inspiring-ly breathtaking.

We took a cruise on Lake Ashi and returned back to the hotel to kick back and relax and to enjoy our private onsen