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exploring locally - london love

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By houseofanais · July 8, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

London calling
Local travel is still the key word for me – having been to different parts of London a lot lately. If you are like me – lucky enough to live near one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, then you have endless opportunities to explore new places and events. I can never get tired to London as the city always keeps revealing new sides of itself.

My London is about exploring its many waterways – barges mooring along canals, little riverside strolls, grandeur of river Thames, finding new little fusion eateries and amazing cream teas, sampling foods at Harrods, quirky stores, markets, spotting beautiful historic landmarks and buildings in Belgravia and Knightsbridge.
London waterways

My London is learning about its long history, slowly changing landscape, amazing cream teas and spotting fashion trends on the road. My London is also about all those famous tourist attractions that locals often miss: London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, London Zoo and the London Eye – and the latest one, Europe's tallest building, the Shard, which I am yet to visit (and if you're visiting London for longer, the Shard also has London's latest luxury hotel from one of my favourite hotel groups: The Shangri-La London.

London Eye

It's been nearly 30 years since I visited Madame Tussaud's and I think it's time I show that place to the next generation and we'll see how many not-so-recent figures we can recognize…and  view over London, maybe reaching pretty close to our Kentish home is also well overdue. Add there the world's largest museum, Victoria & Albert (or just V&A) and our family must-visit-in-London -list already covers the first school holiday week with activities!


My old N1 post code in London – Islington – is full of surprises from antique stores and cool weekend stalls of river walks and some pretty amazing food. Oh those memories… London is a place so many of us travellers have visited, but rarely experienced outside the obvious – be it a West End musical, football match in Wembley or a pint near Piccadilly Circus.

Buckingham Palace
These are some of my London favourite places and things to do - and I would love to hear your top tips for London now!

London tips

Filed in: European Adventures
Tagged with: England, travel tips, London

my ig tells a story of a serious beach love

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By houseofanais · June 6, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

Where does your holiday take you? Are you most likely to be found on the beach, hiking the mountains, making short trips and discovering locally, or doing something extreme in a place most people have never dreamt of visiting?

Mallorca, Spain

This week we have half-term holiday from school, but we are not travelling anywhere because our eldest daughter, miss Anaïs, wanted to play gazillion tennis tournaments – which translated ferrying her (and other kids as spectators) around the South East England every day to often very pretty destinations – and then spending several hours watching tennis (and sometimes shivering in the rain).
Palawan, Philippines

One of those trips was to Dorset coastline. I had checked in advance the road to the gorgeous beaches few miles away, a couple of amazing looking National Trust castles and country homes, but sadly, we came back with no photos or time to visit any place. I am determined to go back soon to visit Dorset though as I got some beautiful glimpses of the nature while driving and liked it a lot!

Sussex, England

The past year and a half I've been to the beaches and seashores in England, Scotland, Wales Norway, Iceland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Israel – some warm, others not. I love the sounds of the waves crashing, salty smell, the sand on my toes….

I love water! There is something magical with water and it doesn't have to be a sea: it can be a lake, a river, a pond – even a fountain and I head towards it. Oh, and that explains my favourite drink too – it really is water, sometimes spiced with a slice of lemon or some mint (although Mojito comes a close second, especially when I am on the warm seaside!).

Dead Sea, Israel

So this summer I am determined to discover more water destinations – even if I end up just with several overnighters in the English coast before tennis tournaments, or by a clean, lapping Finnish lake by the kids summer camp site.

Pasekudah. Sri Lanka I am still hoping that I can add one lovely seaside for relaxation and swimming to my summer list too. Until then I am re-living these lovely experiences from the past months….

Sri Lanka
 Do you have specific travel memories from beach, or some other great travel experience ideas ? 

the one that stole my heart - english countryside

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By houseofanais · May 29, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

I have lived in big and medium-sized cities: Beijing, London, San Francisco, Atlanta, Zurich, Nice and Helsinki, but I have always been a bit of a country girl at heart. I love visiting cities for the day, but nothing beats the green forest surrounding your house, sweet deers, and dark starry nights. I love escaping to the country, and of all the places it's the English countryside that my heart belongs to.

Lush English countryside

Grazing sheep, flower meadows, old oast houses and majestic manors, horribly narrow lanes with horses trotting on them (and sadly traffic jams, which can be almost worse than in London at times, to the honest). I am thinking of farmers markets, cream teas in the castles, sunday brunches in a pub and garden tours.

Azalea shower
I have praised the beauty of English landscape gardens surrounding some amazing historic manors, the traditional colourful cottage gardens and the coast line that sometimes is the colour of some Caribbean or Far Eastern beaches (but sadly never that warm though). Whereas London is iconic and a bit hectic, the countryside is picture-perfect and tranquil. So don't miss these iconic scenes if you travel to England.

Traditional Pub
A roast in a local pub or a cream tea after a walk are part of English traditions, and I must confess that I love a good roast (it doesn't have to be pork, there are often several meat choices) with tender parsnips. And don't get me even started with cream and afternoon teas. Clotted cream on warm scones and a pot of tea will make you forget a damp weather (and wet toes if you didn't wear your wellies).
Knole Park in winter
The beauty is there all year round, with colours changing every season. Autumn and winter with lighter greens, browns and greys, mist rising like in Agatha Christie novels or in Sherlock Holmes.

Secret forest paths
What I love about nature walks are the little surprised, a sudden bridge leading to new adventures, unexpected views opening up, blue carpets of Bluebells to be spotted in the spring...

School at West Heath
I love old school buildings with architectural details, surrounded by beautiful grounds to walk on. And the history that goes with it, take this school for example - just minutes from our house. Princess Diana went to this school and because of it Mohamed Al-Fayed contributed to the purchase of the school for a new foundation.
English summer - sheep grazing
English summer is amazing when it's not raining and cold. It's a hundred shades of green, rolling hills - so relaxing for the eyes!
Hiking on Greensand WayAlthough most of the land in the country is private, the old footpaths and right of ways have been preserved, and there is a great network on walking trails such as the beautiful (108 miles/174km) near us, which crosses several counties through Areas of Outstanding Beauty, along the beautiful Weald from Sussex to Surrey to Kent.

Sunset on Weald

Now I would love to hear about the place or area that stole your heart and why? Is it near your home where you can constantly admire it, or somewhere far away where you have been just once?

If you love English countryside, or just want to see more of it, try these older #IGTravelThursday posts from my home country Kent, and a bit around it to.

visiting vibrant andalucian coastal town malaga in spain

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By houseofanais · May 20, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

I have recently been twice to Spain and finally had the change to visit the southern part, Andalucia, and see a couple of those Moorish cities: Sevilla and Cordoba, and absolutely loved them. We also explored Malaga, a coastal town that I always imagined more of touristy beach destination and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is much more than just a typical tourist trap! With over half a million people Malaga is also one of the largest cities is Spain, which I was also surprised to hear, for whatever reason I had always thought that it was rather a small place...

Malaga, Spain

The centre of Malaga has lovely little streets, some lined with palm trees and just designated for pedestrians, starting around the old Moorish fortress and the impressive cathedral. Inviting little cafes and restaurants and scattered around offering local and international cuisine rather than just chips, steaks and cheap cocktails, street artist are filling the air with music and those romantic horse-drawn carriage offer strolls around the town also here. A very relaxing atmosphere altogether!

Malaga fortress, Spain
When visiting Andalucia and Malaga, flamengo is obviously something people come to see here, as are a couple of museums such as the Museum of Glass and Crystal. Since I came here to follow the Moorish trails, I was most interested in seeing the old fortress, Alcazaba, and the Castle of Gibralfaro.

Malaga, Spain

What is amazing about Alcazaba also is that in addition to being nearly thousand years old, it is also a mix of cultures and centuries – including a Roman amphitheater. It s great to see how well these different eras and styles have been preserved here.

GIbralfaro castle, Malaga, Spain
On top of Alcazaba you will find pretty symmetrical garden areas and courtyards with those famous tile patterns and water features. One also cannot forget the amazing views that open over the port and the city from this fortress - the only other places where one gets even better views is by hiking up the neighbouring hill to the castle of Gibralfaro.
Views over Malaga from Gibralfaro Castle

The beauty of the old architecture can be appreciated from the top of the hill (either from Alcazaba or Gibralfaro) where the views stretch to the horizon and mountains there. So impressive!
Malaga Spain

 The fortress and the castle are connected, but visitors need to hike around Alcazaba to reach the path up the hill to Gibralfaro, which is actually massive in size and definitely worth a visit, especially to a castle enthusiast like myself...

Citybikes in Malaga, Spain

I love how so many European cities now participate in the city bike schemes and Malaga also has one. The traffic didn't seem too bad and the centre isn't that large, so bicycle is a great way getting around!
Tapas in Spain of course!

Once again I am going to have to talk about the food as this is Spain and in Malaga you can have amazing tapas and sangria at prices that are not touristy at all. I'd recommend trying the eggplants fried in honey as it was such a tasty treat!
Olives for snack with sangria

What would I say to the key question of whether to visit Malaga or not? I would definitely say that it's worth to spend at least a day there if the city falls on your travel path. If you are planning a beach holiday nearby I'd also adda trip to Malaga on my list. So thumb up for Malaga it is from me.

visiting israel’s holy cities of jerusalem and bethlehem

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By houseofanais · January 24, 2014 · 0 Comments ·


What is a trip to Israel without visiting the most famous cities in the country – Jerusalem and Bethlehem! I had clearly not done all my homework well as i didn’t realise that Jerusalem is a home for a million people and that Israelis consider this city to be their real capital, rather than Tel Aviv (more on Jerusalem later on, when I have hopefully manage to retrieve my lost photos from the backup server in the cyberspace). Jerusalem is also one of the oldest cities in the world.

The first stop of the tour was the Mount of Olives (and yes, there are still some olive trees there, but the key point of coming here is the view of old Jerusalem) and you can easily see the main churches and the wall surrounding the old town – very impressive indeed!
Old Jerusalem is well protected by tall walls

Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus in turn is rather a small town, but hard to access due to its location inside the West Bank (i.e. the Palestinian Territories). It is also a bit scary having to go through all that security, walk the long zig-zagging corridors and change to a “local” bus, driver and guide as our Jewish driver wasn’t actually allowed to enter there.

Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, still decked in Christmas decor

I took a combined day tour to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and whereas I was happy with what I saw, I would have liked to visit more places and walk more up and down those narrow cobbled streets and alleys and along the old city wall. Therefore, if you are more of an explorer by nature also I’d recommend taking independently a day trip rather than a guided tour.
The place to visit in Bethlehem of course if the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus. This is the oldest continuously operating church and at the same time it’s three churches in one: a very decorative Greek Orthodox one in the middle and Catholic and Armenian on the sides. You need to queue to enter the underground Grotto of the Nativity, where a 14-pointed silver star marks the point where Jesus in believed to have been born.


It sort of feels like time runs slower in Bethlehem, no rush anywhere. As the number of tourists is relatively low, you’ll will get lot of offers from the street vendors – if you are in the mood for a nice souvenir or this is a good place to go for a it. Do negotiate well and you can get a lovely decorative  back bag for around £1 (2 USD or so)!

Tourists groups often get taken to a local shop where they sell beautiful nativities made out of olive wood among other things. Those masterpieces don’t come cheap, though, but they are pretty and the store can ship larger items for you so it’s convenient.
Lunch at a beautifully restored monastery

After Bethlehem we stopped for lunch at an old monastery. The food was pretty good but clearly priced for tourist – plus they only took cash there. Luckily we had some good samaritans who gave me money so I didn’t have t starve. Be beware that it’s not easy to find a cash machine in Old Jerusalem!

Jerusalem itself fulfilled all my hopes, I only wish I had had more time there. We covered all the key sights from theWailing Wall to the narrow cobbled streets of the four quarters of the town (JewishMuslimChristian and Armenian),stations of Via Dolorosa to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can feel the history seeping through the stone walls – Jerusalem is an amazing place to visit, and no wonder it also an Unesco World Heritage site.  Hopefully I get to share more from Jerusalem with you soon!

You can see below more of my Instagram photos from this trip to Israel. Enjoy!

Do you have a great Instagram travel story to share? Read the linky rules below and join us this week.

You can also join as a host and get the linky code to your site here: {The Code Page}. You can also have an email sent to you when the Instagram Travel Thursday linky post is up (subscribe it here), add your Instagram profile link in the Instagram Travel Thursday page and follow other travelers who have left their links there as well.

If you are not a blogger, but have an Instagram account you can tag your lovely travel moments with #IGTravelThursday hashtag. No blog, no Instagram - you can still join in the fun by reading our linked IG travel stories - and by giving us some feedback love! IG Travel Thursday Linky Rules

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random acts of kindness

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By houseofanais · January 19, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

In my recent trip to Israel I came across a little problem:  I had run out of most of my cash during the a day trip to Bethlehem and Jerusalem when touring with a group and we had stopped for lunch in a monastery that only took cash. Pretty much every place outside the street vendors I had encountered took cards, so I was a bit surprised about it.

I thought I was going to have to skip the lunch, when a lovely American lady, Diana, stepped in and offered me the money, which was 100 shekels (30USD/18 GBP). I was so taken by this act of kindness. I said I would get money from the nearest cash machine, but we didn’t find a single one in the old town of Jerusalem (although I imagine that there are a few somewhere) and she just asked me to pass that act of kindness on to the next person in need.

I’ll certainly do that, but Diana, I am also sending you the money back along with this lovely fairy card with a thank you note from me …and my kids, who were happy that someone gave their mommy food when she was hungry.

So thank you once again Diana – you are such a kind person!

Now I would love to hear your story – whether you have received unexpected help or been able to help someone that you didn’t know – what is your latest story of random act of kindness.

Filed in: Inspiration
Tagged with: random acts, kindness, thanks

the year of decluttering and organizing at home

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By houseofanais · January 13, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

One would think that after having moved more than 30 times in my life I would have very little stuff and clutter. That probably was the case before the kids era, but somehow with five in the house things just keep accumulating - and I keep trying to find ways to de-clutter and organize them: there is nothing worse that knowing that you need something and that you have it, but you just can't find it when you urgently need it!

I've been looking into organizing and interior trends for this year, and lots of them really are about decluttering, organizing and making the space flow and work for your needs. They are about accommodating family needs (such as trading the dining room for a play area or media room) and making life easier to manage.

At the same time these are timeless trends, and been ongoing for a few years ago, and many of the things I've been trying to achieve in my house this past year. This is what I find to be the best and most useful advice on getting a house to become a functional home:

1. Getting pretty yet functional storage furniture
Pretty functional storage

A big trend for 2014 is to add some pretty, yet functional storage furniture in the house. I've categorically added storage to every room in our house. I like console tables, and I love this contemporary, bold-coloured console table, which at the same time prevents that typical little clutter build-up: there is space for hair brushes and accessories, sunglasses, keys, maps... you name it. All those little essentials you like you grab on the way out but don't want to look at all the time.

For small spaces great multi-functional storage ideas include storage benches and poufs, under the bed storage and over the door hanging storage.

2. Thinking storage in terms of vertical layers
Custom storage

Layers can be a life-saver especially if you are lacking space. Our youngest daughter wanted a bunk-bed but I was a bit worried about the height, so we agreed on a mid-sleeper which has plenty of storage and a cave-like space for playing underneath it. Needless to say that Miss C. absolutely loves playing in that hidden area.

Additionally her room was the smallest bedroom in the house and had to closet for clothes, so I designed a multi-functional storage-bench until for her, with some additional shelf space above the seating area for her toys. This was a custom-made job. I was going to resort to Ikea first, but I couldn't find anything suitable and sturdy enough so I turned into a local carpenter. This is obviously not as cheap as Ikea, but nor was it hideously expensive - and we got exactly what we wanted. Using a carpenter is definitely something one should considered - you'll get unique, perfectly fitting pieces made of good-quality materials.

Get a large family chalk board calendar in the kitchen. We use a different colourful chalk pen for each child so hobbies etc can be marked easily. I add pretty much everything to the calendar from doctor's appointments to recycling dates - and I use the memo area for shopping lists and to-do items. This is a wall decal from Etsy, and therefore it's rather easy to put on, and take off too.

3. Be creative with odd spaces & create space for hobbies
Custom hobby space

Do you have any odd-shaped areas in the house? If you live in an old house or just about in any English house are you are likely to have odd nooks, corners and low-hanging areas. Think how you could utilise them. We had a hallway, that was wider than a normal one, but not quite wide enough to make it a reading area with a sofa or something, so we decided to create an art/computer area.

This was simply created with custom worktop from Ikea and standard kitchen drawer units, which have already been filled with art and crafts supplies. On a rainy day you are likely to find 3-4 members of the family hanging around here.

4. Hiding those cables and wall-mounting your media
wall mounted media and tidy cables

Cited as one of the hot-ticket items for this year is tiding the cables away and we have happily joined in with the trend: wall-mounting the TV will avoid some dust piles on the console table/tv stand, but also frees up space. And if you have little kids they are less likely to tip over the telly, or whack it with a bat like happened in our house last year. We still got some cables, but at least they are all now hiding behind the red storage units: out of sight, out of might works well here...

And let's touch another home design trend here also: open spaces and combined kitchen and living room area: finally someone has realised that no-ones uses the stuffy dining room (we use it as a play room) and that most people like to (or have to) hang out a lot in the kitchen, and the experience is finally becoming more social by combining it with a dining area, a living room - or in our case both. Just make sure that you have a good extractor fan if you opt out for the open living plan option...

5. Hiding appliances with roll top cabinets in kitchen (and elsewhere)
Roll top cabinet

My kitchen is way big, but the designer didn't do such a great job with the layout, so I am trying to improve a bit. The central island aside I actually had very little countertop space, and once I had set my toaster, coffee grinder, tea kettle and few other items on it there was no space for cooking, drying dishes or any other task left.

My solution? remove the cute glass-fronted cabinet and replace it with a roll top one, where all the appliances I use often are housed. I also added two double-sockets here, so I don't need to move the appliances elsewhere when I want to use them. This is proven to be one hit solution of the season also. And the same principle applies for a little home-office that you want to hide most of the time too.

Metallic roll top cabinet also gives a more modern and contemporary look for the room if you looking to change it. To start with my kitchen had a bit more of a countryside feel with its hand-painted cream cabinets, so adding a coat of bold paint and changing the glass cabinet to modern roll top one changed the mood of the room a lot.

6. Filling those odd spaces with concealed storage
Concealed storage

The space under the stairs - not too many uses for such a shallow space - but for storage it's perfect: hidden, yet so accessible. I have one shelf unit for shoes, hats and other accessories, a larger open area for sports equipments and more shelves on the other side of the stairs next to the main entrance door. Works well with kids especially!

7. Adding open shoe storage by the entrance
Crate for shoes

I have now shoe storage built under the stairs but I still like to use this old French wooden crate for quick shoe storage by the door. Mainly its for larger shoes such as winter boots and wellies - but also all wet and very dirty shoes go here before I clean or dry them elsewhere. As I find this crate so cute to look at I don't mind having it out there in the open.

8. Creating a home calendar that everyone notices and keeping it up to date
Chalk board calendar

Get a large family chalk board calendar in the kitchen. We use a different colourful chalk pen for each child so hobbies etc can be marked easily. I add pretty much everything to the calendar from doctor's appointments to recycling dates - and I use the memo area for shopping lists and to-do items. This is a wall decal from Etsy, and therefore it's rather easy to put on, and take off too.

9. Displaying the latest kids art gallery style (as the fridge just isn't big enough for it all)

Art frame

I love these art frames - they have an open slot on the side so it's quick to change the items on display. We have an art corner in the entrance hall where we change weekly the art on display as the kids keep creating a lot. After a week the old ones gets stored away or hung in kids own rooms.

10. Adding little memo boards for the kids rooms for those must-keep items

Pin boards

My kids drive me crazy sometimes with their little notes, invites, thank you cards, ticket stubs and what nots they want to keep. I have tried offering a box to store them and few other options, but somehow they were still always laying on tables or getting lost. So everyone has gotten their own little pin boards where to place their treasures. And once it's full, it's probably time to get some stuff go in order to make space for new ones.

I love this idea for a couple of reasons: it teaches them to decide what to keep and what to bin instead of just hoarding everything. it also helps to shift the blame away from for chucking their treasures away when they were lying all over the place: I've promised not to touch anything on their boards. Learning responsibility and order, what a lovely combination!

While we are taking about responsibility the children are also asked to make sure that they bring book bags to school. I've added a little peg next to the front door where we always hang the bag - an hopefully remember to grab them to school. Doesn't always happen: last week we arrived at school with the twins holding a toy and no book bag. An apology to teacher and the lessons was learned - at least for a while....

storage cubes for playroom
Remember this playroom storage solution on the right side of the room? I created it some three years ago in Calfiornia when the playroom was just a corner in the kitchen and we didn't have much space. The system works really well (named baskets for cars, train tracks, doll stuff, puzzles, you name it) still so why break it!

Now I'd love to hear about your top tips for de-cluttering and keeping the household running. What is the next project you are going to tackle? Mine is the garage: I have just ordered some extra-sturdy and wide shelving units, and I plan to revisit and label all my clear plastic storage crates so that the rest of the family can also find things and don't have to rely on my memory only...

MY TOP TIP for organizing: Get enough crates and boxes in different sizes so that you can sort and categorize your things. Mark all the boxes clearly, maybe even number them and write the key contents down - this will save you time when you need look for a particular item, and possibly money too: it's easy to forget what you own with items that are not needed often (but still seasonally needed) or just go and buy a new one when one gets frustrated and gives up the search of that particular thing...

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