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tasting the spring in wakehurst place

By houseofanais · February 18, 2013 · 0 Comments ·

Spring is in the air - the sun is out and little flowers are coming out everywhere. It is starting look prettier and greener by the day! Today we spent the first half of the day buying new wellies, and then testing them in one of the most popular National Trust properties - the Wakehurst Place. There is a mansion here too, but people come here more to enjoy the magnificent gardens and the views of surrounding landscape - as well as exploring the largest seed bank in the world. 

We love exploring country houses, castles and gardens and normally there is plenty to see for everyone - kids get fresh air, exercise and fun riddles and activities to solve while parents get to relax, enjoy the beauty of the nature and a cup of coffee or tea with some lovely home-made pastries. This was our second visit to Wakehurst Place and we still haven't seen everything this place has to offer: lakes, streams, formal gardens, themed Himalayan and other gardens, koi carps, kids activities, family trail - oh you name it!

As it is still winter, the gates close rather early (4.30 pm), so make sure you get there early enough as the tour around the estate is around 4km (2.5 miles). I'd recommend that you join the National Trust too if you like exploring these sort of places - as the low annual membership fee pays itself back after just a few visits and you get a handy map, property handbook, magazines and all those activities for kids - Miss A. is just loving completing her "50 things to do before you are 11/34 years" - workbook. This is the good life: happy family enjoying the countryside together!

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Miss A. reading family trail clues

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Wakehurst Place mansion 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Mansion gardens 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Mansion pond

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Solar clock 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Learning about hummingbirds 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Black pond with large koi karps 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Crocus time

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Art on the grounds - giant fly 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Kids just wanna have fun 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Exploring the compost corner and water gardens 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Spiky art - seedlings? 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Exploring little paths and bridges 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
On trail towards Himalayan Glade

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Himalayan Glade 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Trails are well marked 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
View from Pinetum towards Horsebridge Wood

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Past the Southern Hemisphere Garden and Walled Gardens back to the Mansion 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
Colour is everywhere - whites, yellows, pinks, purples keep coming up in different parts of the gardens

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
A peek into the walled garden 

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
The Mansion is very rustic with pretty details

Wake up to spring at Wakehurst Place
A lovely cafe on the grounds - as the place is also part of the Kew Gardens, the shop is large and has a very impressive selection of goods (lovely wellies too, which you should have in spring time if you wander out to pinetum and other wet parts)


palawan underground river - one of new seven wonders of world

By houseofanais · February 3, 2013 · 0 Comments ·

Hello from the island of Palawan in Philippines. This island has been cited as the most beautiful one in the country, and it certainly has been impressive by far. The island still has the natural feel, meaning that it has not been overrun by tourist - the resorts are next to little villages, and touristy hagglers are still rare.

The key attraction of the island, besides little islands and deserted beaches for snorkeling and diving would most certainly be the Underground River - called to be one of seven new natural wonders of the world. Getting there is not easy, so be prepared to book your tour in advance. You don't need a tour guide, but they do make it easier for you.

Before booking a  tour you need to get a permission from the government to visit the site - you can do that either in the government building in Puerto Princesa, or in the village of Sabang Beach where the boats depart for the Park. You need to show the passport when getting the permission as well as on the day of the tour when you pick up your tickets and pay the local tax at departure point. The permission for four (including two half-priced kids) cost PHP 700 (a bit under 20 USD) for us - and we were really lucky to get walk-in tickets as the tour operators I found online all cited the tours being fully booked for weeks ahead!

You will be assigned your own boat for the tour - the ride there takes about 15-20 minutes in little, traditional narrow wooden boats (very loud engines though) and then the river tour will be another 45 minutes or so. This little national park is located on a beautiful, secluted beach and the park has also plenty of plants and animals - little monkeys included so don't bring any food with you (we saw monkeys stealing a back of crackres from someone's bag).

The river tour flows at leisurely pace and covers a couple of kilometers. The first row passengers get to hold a torch and point it at formations based on the guidenace of the guide. Be prepared for darkness, flying bats and watrt trickling on you throuhgout the journey. This is an interesting experience and something rather unique, so definitely worth the journey!

A little boat ride away by the coast, yet some impressive waves...The river is a little boat ride away along the coast, yet one gets to enjoy some impressive waves...
Past empty beaches... ...and past empty beaches we fly like a wind
Arrived! Hello there!
This is it - the underground river of PalawanReady to explore this natural wonder </p>
Ready to explore These little explorers are all kitted for the tour
Boats off to the river These traditional boats will take visitors up and down the river - the river tour lasts approximately 45 minutes
Exploring... Off into the darkness 
Bats, bats everywhere!I spy...bats everywhere 
Flickering flashlight shows us the way in the dark caveAt places the ceiling is rather low - opening up to 200ft (60m) 
Pretty impressiveYour boat guide will point lots of interestingly-named formations in the cave
Turquoise water The colour of the water was so turquoise 
Chillin' in the empty beach A moment to enjoy after the tour - this is one beautiful (and empty beach)

Soft, sandy beach An island so peaceful still - the number of tourist is limited and one needs to apply a permission to vist the place in advance from the government 

Time to head back... Time to head back to the village. Thank you for the lovely tour Palawan!

first farewell

By houseofanais · February 1, 2013 · 0 Comments ·

It's time to bid farewell for Philippines. Our two weeks are up, and we are leaving for the airport - destination Hong Kong and then Beijing. But it will only be three more days in China, and then we bid farewell for our home of last nine months: it's destination England and we are over the moon to be going back home!

Shangi-La Mactan, Cebu Philippines Time for last swim and fish spotting at Shangri-La Mactan's beach in Cebu, Philippines...

linking to skimbaco lifestyle - culture and tropical paradise bali

By houseofanais · January 18, 2013 · 0 Comments ·
Bali adventures </p> <p>Last week was the start of my writing contributions to the cool lifestyle site Skimbaco Lifestyle. I wrote about our family vacation and Bali focusing more on the Westin Nusa Dua resort and what to look for when travelling with smaller kids. This second post covers things to do and places to see in this exotic tropical island from beaches to temples and dance shows - not to forget some shopping of pretty saris, hand-printed summer dresses and cheap everyday jewelry.  

exploring the miao feng shan mountain

By houseofanais · December 28, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

One September morning we decided to escape the grey and polluted city and picked Miao Feng Shan mountain as our destination. It houses the ancient Huiji Temple which consists of eight shrines - the most important one being the Goddess Temple.

There is a white pagoda in front of the temple, A very impressive dragon, and of course a lot of stairs to climb to the top temple. In spring/early summer one can also hike to the rose valley - we did also this but obviouslty there was no roses in bloom, but the surroundings were really pretty. Also, on this side of the mountain we got to enjoy blue sky and sushine! 

Road to Miaofeng Shan
Entrance to the mountain road - we picked a day when they had a biking festival to the mountain also... </p>

 Miaofeng Shan
Temple entrance - a very impressive dragon. The square has little stone tables and stools so enjoyed a little snack here 

White Pagoda
White pagoda in front of the temple 

 Miaofeng Shan
The views are impressive, even if the day is a bit hazy 

 Miaofeng Shan
This blue warrior scared my son a lot!

 Miaofeng Shan
Next stop - the mountain top temple. Lots of stairs!

 Miaofeng Shan
Little covered walkway and flower garden 

 Miaofeng Shan
Up we go!

 Miaofeng Shan
Views from the top temple 

 Miaofeng Shan
The "exercise" part is over and we are ready for a little adventure - a walk into the forest and unknown... 

 Miaofeng Shan
The rose garden, no roses this time of the year but lovely butterflies and creepy crawlers for kids to look at. If you continue down the valley the nature is lust and very pretty  

 Miaofeng Shan
Typical for temple - little wishes tied into a tree 

 Miaofeng Shan
The parking lot offers some souvenirs shopping and incense for the temples 

My review of  Miao Feng Shan Mountain and Temple -北京旅游网 <em><strong>: Good+
Location: Jiangou Village, north of Mentougou District (appr. 55km/34 miles of Beijing)
Entrance fee: 30 rmb, open 7-18 (7-17 winter time), tel. 010-61882936

</strong>" A beautiful and less crowded destination up in 1290m hign mountain top (4230 ft) in Mentougou District (the road is very bendy and ends in the temple). The temple is old and destination for pilgrims (April brings the pilgrimage events and spring has trees in pretty blooms), but not as elaborate and large area as many other temples in the region. The views from the top are breathtaking, and it's wortd adding a little hike beyond the rose garden to the valley on the other side.

Our kids loved exploring the area, and although the hike to the top was steep, it wasn't too long for even the 3-year-olds. Most of the temple area is beautifully restored, but some work was still under way during our visit. The restaurant seemed closed at the time, but there was a little shop selling drinks, snacks and ice creams. Once you travel this far away from the city it is a great opportunity to combine the agenda and visit some other sights on the way home. On our way back we also visited another, larger temple area called Jietai Si and nearby Tanzhe Si nearly is worth a visit, but reserve enough time for the latter as there is a lot to see.(see map link here)" </em>

oh those ice hotels

By houseofanais · December 28, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

I recently saw photos of a Finnish D-list celebrity who got married in an ice castle. Amazing concept and surroundings, although the rest of the wedding was a bit tacky. The original Ice Hotel was created in Sweden over 20 years ago, but nowadays one can find them also at least in Finland, Norway and Canada.

Lots of work and detailed sculpturing is put into these building which will only last a few months every year. Yet it seems that they come back each year with more elaborate ideas. I hope one day I make it to one of these unique hotels for a night or two. Cool it might be temperature-wise, but a stay to remember - especially if one gets lucky with the Northern Lights too! 

Ice Hotel Sweden Guest room in the Ice Hotel Sweden 

Chapel at Ice Hotel Sweden
The Chapel at Ice Hotel Sweden 

Ice Hotel Sweden
Lounging at Ice Hote Sweden 

Guest room Ice Hotel Sweden
Ice windows in the bedroom of Ice Hotel Sweden 

Kemi Lumilinna
Kemi Lumilinna in Finland - an ice hotel and restaurant 

Suite at Lumilinna
Suite at Kemi Lumilinna in Finland 

kemi Lumilinna
Bar - Kemi Lumilinna Finland 

Batman at Lumilinna
In 2011 Batman was the theme in Kemi Lumilinna in Finland <span style="font-size: xx-small;">{via}

Hotel de Glace
More urban and accessible is the  Ice Hotel in Quebec, Canada - Hotel de Glace

Hotel de Glace Canada
Bar at the Hotel de Glace in Canada 

Sorrisniva Norway
Deep in the wilderness is the Sorrisniva Ice Hotel in Norway

<p>Sorrisniva Ice Hotel in Norway
Getting cozy in the Sorrisniva Ice Hotel in Norway 

Romantic in Norway
Oh so romantic in Norway Ice Hotel </span>

feeling christmas in tropics

By houseofanais · December 19, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Greetings from Bali Indonesia. In preparation of our first ever tropical Christmas, I've been taking some cute Christmas-sy pictures with lights in our resort, the lovely Westin Nusa Dua. Admittedly some of the lights are not Christmas lights, but cute lighting and fire pits in the evening look always nice and so romantic, especially while playing some mellow music on the background and enjoying a tropical cocktail ...  

So buddha bar
Yes, this place is lovely in real life too - not only in the pictures! Mood lighting and cozy seating for a drink at dusk 

Balinese pool gazebos
Yes, these lovely pool gazebos really have Christmas light and decor hanging in the ceiling </p>

Chillin' by the pool
Romantic by the pool 

Dusk time
So romantic at dusk 

Christmas in tropics

The very Christmas-sy lobby </p>

the very bling-y tree
The very bring-y pine-shaped metal tree 

Gzinger bread house in the tropics

Gingerbread house in the tropics </p>

thinking of åland pt. 2

By houseofanais · December 3, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Finally, here's the second part of the memoirs from our visit to the autonomous islands of Åland of Finland (see part 1 here) - the historic bits: the Kastelholm castle, Jan Karlsgården outdoor village museum and the ruins of Bomarsund fortress. All definitely worth visiting - and do take a picnic to go as every one of these places have great spots (and even tables) for enjoying good food and great views!

Kastelholm castle
Kastelholm castle dates back to middle age 

Kastelholm castle
The castle has been partially restored. Apparently for cost reasons many castles had only wooden structures inside, so they were easily burned down  

Kastelholm castle
Top floor of the castle 

Kastelholm castle
Castle courtyard. People dressed in old costume tell stories of days gone by 

Kastelholm castle
Lined walkway from the castle to the hill-top museums 

open air museum
A visit to the open-air village-like setting of  Jan Karlsgården museum is a must and the location is very scenic, and conveniently right next to the Kastelholm castle 

open-air museum
Reminder of the midsummer - still looking nice despite the flowers being dry and wilted 

open-air museum
Rustic countryside views 

open-air museum
Good old-fashioned see-saw in well appreciated 

open-air museum
Who says that horses need to be alive to be fun to play with... wooden ones are lots of fun too!

open-air museum
Passing on the childhood skill of walking on stilts to Miss A. 

Bomarsund ruins
Exploring Bomarsund ruins. If this fortress were in place I recall it would be one of the largest in Europe

Walk along the Bomarsund ruins, and you'll find a little sandy beach toy our left... 

The Russian fortress of Bomarsund was strategically placed at the tip of an island (now of course there is a bridge)

The sights of capital Marienhamn 

Boat craftsmanship
Ship-building craftsmanship is well-maintained in these islands 

Adorable finds from a little artisan's shop

thinking of åland pt. 1

By houseofanais · November 25, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

The year is coming to an end and there are still so many great memories to share. This time we are stepping back in time to July when we visited the autonomous islands of Åland. We stayed in the capital, Marienhamn, on our way back to Finland from Sweden. Åland is a great place for relaxation, biking from one island to another, bird watching, and a little bit of history too.

These islands are the perfect pit-stop for you if you like nature, sea, birds, biking, and a bit of isolation too (as there are less than thirty thousand inhabitants altogether in all these island). The only right way to get there is of course by a boat, so you get to see numerous islands and birds on your way. We loved the islands, and were lucky to have a good weather too. The added bonus on top of the cleanliness is that it feels very safe there - and one can let kids explore more freely than one normally would... 

So here is out top list of things to do and see in Åland:
1. island hopping by a bicycle 
2. visit medieval castle of Kastelholm
3. enjoy the slow country life of old days in the Jan Karlsgården village buildings 
4. visit the museum ship Pommern 
5. explore the fortress ruins of Bomarsund and visit the little sandy beach next to the ruins 
6. stop and explore the little handicraft shops and local cafes that you come across 
7. sit down with a picnic and enjoy the blue sea and clean nature
8. walk around the leafy streets of the capital Marienhamn and admire how large cruise ship manage to turn around in the little port

...and if you are looking for a great meal (not local food though) try the Texas Longhorn in Marienhamn. Nice interior and oh-so-good food!

Enjoy the beautiful scenery of beaches, biking around, exploring little shops and cafes in Åland!

Intersting artisan shop in a little country lane 


Stop for delicious treats in countryside cafes 


Cute and rustic country cafe 


When you come to the end of the island, you can either rest and enjoy the views or (in many cases) take a ferry to the next island 

Crossing from one island to another 

island life
Pretty much every house by the shore has its own dock and a boat or two 

Biking in aland
Not always so easy to control the kid buggy with a one-gear old-fashioned bicycle!

Typical to islands is the colour scheme of green and blue everywhere 

island beaches

Cooling feet after a day of biking. There are some really soft sand beaches scattered around 

aland beaches
Quality beaches and depending on the weather the water can be relatively warm too 

leafy walkways
Beautiful leafy walkway in capital Marienhamn 

Museum ship Pommern

Historic museum ship Pommern 

Old boats in the harbour
Marienhamn harbour area has both large cargo ships and old and new wooden boats of various sizes (as well as a nice museum area to visit)

london bridge is falling down...

By houseofanais · November 13, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

...that's what my little ones were singing and that made me dig these pictures of London Bridge in my photo library. All the years I lived in London I never managed to visit the bridge - so that is on my must do-list when next time in London!

There is just something special about this bridge and when talking about London I always think about London Bridge first rather than Big Ben or other other famous site. I heart London Bridge!

London Bridge

London Bridge

London Bridge

London Bridge

London Bridge

the artsy kind of beijing

By houseofanais · October 26, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Finally we've visited Beijing's famous 798 art district, but on the other hand we managed to pick the first cold and a bit rainy ray of the autumn. This area used to be an industrial one, until it was transformed into a hip artistic district filled with art galleries, little shops, cafes and wine bars - quite rare I think as Chinese has a tendency jsut to tera everything down every 10 years and rebuilt it all again.

This was a mother-daughter day out with some friends of hours, and we still had a good time despite feeling chilly (or half-frozen until one starts to get used to the cooler climate and dress better for the weather...) - then again it was a good excuse for a glass of wine, hot chocolate and cakes. Now, I just have to mention that there must a special sixth sense calling me towards all things Finnish, as we stumbled upon a Finnish-Chinese art collaboration - and it was on its last weekend too. No matter where I am, I normally managed to spot my natives - and since there are only 5.4 million Finns there shouldn't be that many out and about! 

welcome to 798

The area is like a labyrinth with courtyards and lots of little roads 

Art cafes in 798 district

Lots of modern art cafes to visit in the 798 art district - and lovely art too 

interesting stores

Specialty stores - this was all about skulls. Funky decor though with crosses and bejeweled skulls

the authentic industrial feel

There is plenty of the "authentic industrial feel" left in the area 

Looks very Finnish

Oh look, those birches and cookie cutters on the wall look very Finnish... 

Finland meets China in glass art

Finland meets China in glass art. My friends said it was such a white space. "Just like Finnish homes" was my reply. Yes, decorating up north is normally done using white everywhere...

funky hot chocolate deserves a silly fave

Finally warm! Miss A making silly faces to the most unsual-looking, layered hot chocolate 

touring the ming tombs

By houseofanais · October 17, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

It just doesn't stop to amaze me how much history and beauty there is in China - and countless Unesco World Heritage sites such as these Ming Dynasty tombs dating back to third emperor Yongle from 1402. Overall the tomb area, nested by the Tianshou Mountain in Beijing's Changping district covers an amazing area of 40sq km (nearly 9900 acres), and currently it is possible to visit three of the tombs plus the sacred entrance way.

As always, the best time to go is during the week when one gets to visit the sights without queuing and huge crowns - and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the area and the surrounding mountains. 

MIng tomb tour

Of the 13 Ming tombs currently three are open for visitors plus the sacred passageway with its stone statues - and it all costs about $20 (15 Euros). The tickets are also a nice memento, and in most places they are actually prepaid post cards - such a clever idea!
Map of Ming tomb area
The area is extensive and designed based on the feng shui principles. The open tombs are towards the right side of map - Chang Ling, Ding Ling and Qian Ling
Sacred way and stone stone statues
Sacred entrance with carved stone statues of animals and warriors
Stone statue
A stone statue
Tomb area
All tombs follow pretty much the same design. Dingling is the only one they have excavated by far
silk burning stove
A beautiful silk-burning stove
money sacrifice
People throw a lot of money, similar things can be seen in temples with coins, but more notes within the tomb area
Ming tombs
Entrance to a tomb building 
tomb from the outside
Tomb from the outside... 
...and Ding Ling tomb from the inside - also here the floors area covered in money in places
Inside Ding LIng
Inside Ding Ling tomb
Tomb area
All buildings are very delicate and ornate 
Entrance to the next courtyard
An entrace to the next courtyard scattered with old trees. Greenery adds to the fell of tranquility in the area  
Views from one tomb to another
One can see the next tomb looming by the mountains...

My review of Ming Tombs near BeiJing/ 頁庫存檔 : Good-Excellent
Address: Ming Shisan Ling Area, Changling Town, Changping DistrictBeijing 102213 (about 30miles/50km outside city centre)

"This place is an important part of the Chinese history - it is amazing how well things have been preserved as many artifacts were found intact in the one tomb that has been excavated by far. The area is beautiful, pretty clean and tranquil and suits well also for the kids. There are few places to buy refreshments and some street vendors, but visitors are not being hassled like in some other places. Take a good 4-6 hours to enjoy all the sights, breath the clean(er) air and explore the past." </p> <p>Here's a great link that I found useful for getting some background into on the Ming Tombs: www.mingtombs.eu

guyaju and cave living

By houseofanais · October 14, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Today I took Miss A. for a little adventure - or so we had hoped at least. I had fun anyway, but she was left wanting more of the rock-climbing type experience, which seemed now to be forbidden in the place we went to (or maybe we are just the only silly ones who actually obey every sign posted...). Anyway, we headed for a site called Guyaju - or Ancient Cliff House, located in a Beijing region called Yanqing; north of the city by the mountains (about 1.5-2 hour drive depending of the traffic). 

It's a beautiful and vey scenic spot, and cleary real estate developers have realised it too as right next to a large Montana-style development called and it was advertissing another one called Mendocino (like the one in California). This site is only ranked 3 stars in the Chinese system, and that probably explains the lack of any kind of signs leading to the location - and the entrance area is so small that it is easy to miss...

Anyway, it seems that the protection of the site is more strict now and we didn't get to do climbing to the higher caves like we had expected - but that doesn't recode the unique value of this site. There isn't much else to see here though, so 1.5 -2 hours should be more than enough to walk around the loop, stop for a snack and explore those coves open for public.

 Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwelling ChinaOne of the bigger cliff walls - a pretty impressive sight (although the stone is pretty soft it still takes a lot of effort - and had to be done without the modern tools and lights in hand...)
  Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwelling China
Some of the dwelling had even multiple rooms for different usage (bedroom, kitchen etc)</p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
Quite a few dwellings!</p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
Admiring  a larger, multi-room dwelling...</p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
The head of the Xi tribe used to have a separate location for his "mansion"</p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
I wouldn't have liked to try climbing these stone stairs in winter (or living in one of these open caves either without mod-cons)</p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
Miss A. doing some exploring of her own </p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
Caves seems to be places for worship in general and here we found a Buddha statue inside one of the larger caves by the walking parh also </p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
I'm always happy to admire beautifully designed - and otherwise interesting objects. This site had some tools and these carriages on display </p>
Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings China
I've noticed that entrances seem important for Chinese - one can literally spot magnificent entrances leading just to a field </p>
My review of the Guyaju Ancient Cliff Dwellings - 古崖居 : Good 
Dongmenying Village, Zhangshanying Town, Yanqing County - 延庆县张山营镇东门营村. Tel. 010-6911 0333. Opening hours: 7-19. Entrance fee 40 RMB (2012)

"This place is certainly something different from the ornate temples and other typical sites in China. It is not large in size, which makes it very suitable for families with children. Kids have fun exploring the caves and running around in the fresh mountain air. A beautiful location and even on a weekend prime tourist time it is rather empty site. 

Note though that there is no restaurant or typical vendors other than a few locals selling their fruit and nuts at the parking lot.We were disappointed that there was no climbing allowed like we had anticipated, but the beginning of the loop path gives some exploring opportunities. A fun two hours!"

conquering the original great wall

By houseofanais · October 9, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Our first trip to the Great Wall of China was memorable despite the not-so-great weather as I had wanted to see the place as long as I can remember. Now this second hike certainly was more fun and authentic, as this section of the wall was deserted and pretty much in original condition (although an iron railing that runs at some parts of the steeper sections has been added) in comparison to the two touristic sections we could observe from a distance. 

The distance we covered might not have been so great, but the weather was gorgeous, it was peaceful and we only saw two other people on our way there. This was more of an adventure (although a bit scary at times while sliding down and climbing up with small kids). We sat down to admire the views, observed the plants and the little animals we saw, and of course had a snack in the end to celebrate our little adventures. A great success of a hike!

The original Great Wall of China

Up and down the trek goes, through and around the bushes and trees
the real Great Wall of China
Climb up the hill completed - let the adventure begin!
The original Great Wall of China
We found a gecko!
The original Great Wall of China
The ruins of a watchtower 
The original Great Wall of China
Tower still has some rooms and hallways left intact 
The original Great Wall of China
This was once a beautiful tower 
The original Great Wall of China
Rare flat section of the wall as normally the wall goes more or less up and down the hill and not so much on flat top 
The original Great Wall of China
The path in the middle of the wall 
The original Great Wall of China
Destination well known. On the background the end of the touristic section
The original Great Wall of China
Some parts were pretty steep and steps up to 2ft (60cm) tall 
The original Great Wall of China
The vegetation is quite thick 
The original Great Wall of China
Hello there, hard to tell we are still on the wall!
The original Great Wall of China
The end of the touristic section below us 
The original Great Wall of China
The end of the road for us as the wall has collapsed and blocked for visitors here...
The original Great Wall of China
The part we were not able to access due to poor condition</p>

My review of the Great Wall hike by the Commune of the Great Wall (near Badaling, Beijing): Excellent 

"Great Wall is such a unique destination and as it consists of so many sections built over the centuries, different sections have a lot of offer. This "private" section of the wall accessed from the Commune by the Great Wall is not very long, but it is a fun and rewarding one and suits also for smaller kids (as long as you look after them for the wall has crumbled in many places and one can slip or fall down). 

Take your time - we spent three hours on this section- smell the flowers, observe the little critters, enjoy your snack and the quiet surroundings & beautiful views. The sunset is also beautiful, but do remember to take a torch with you as it will get dark quickly and walking down the slippery hill in the dark won't be easy. This was our first "wild" wall trek and we will definitely work to find other spots as inspiring as this one!"


adventures in a mountain resort

By houseofanais · October 6, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

This weekend has been the most adventurous by far here in China - we spent it in fresh (clean!) air at the Commune by the Great Wall (see another post about the cool hotel itself here) with multiple hikes up and down the mountains - and most fun of all was the trekking by the real Great Wall of China - instead of those horribly crowded, restored tourist attractions (which by the way we were able to observe from our private section of the wall since the resort was located between two of the official sites...).

One of the first things this family did was to head off for a little swim - and we enjoyed a little snack or two by the poolside also. It seemed that the weather was pretty cool for the Chinese people (25c/76F by the day, dropping to 13c/56F at night), but we thought it was the perfect for hiking, with fresh crispness of autumn at nightfall... 

Weekend adventure

The pool area wasn't exactly crowded, but it gorgeous it was for sure - located by the mountain side and with the colourful foliage starting to show in the surroudinding trees... 
gorgeous pool area
I loved the pool are with the fashionable lounge chairs, built is seating areas with cushions - jus tlike out of those nice decor magazine 
Chardonnay and some satay
The snacks start arriving - the satay skewers were irresistible!
To go or not to go...
Someone had a bit of a "to go or not to go" - moment
cool decor...
I liked the way slate has been used in the surfaces of  this outdoor shower area 

royal drottningholm palace

By houseofanais · September 27, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

The summer had so much to offer, and here is one of the places we went to on our visit to Sweden's capital Stockholm: the royal palace in Drottningholm- which is also one of Unesco's World Heritage Sites. As  Swedes are very open, the visitors can actually visit part of the palace despite it still being used as a private residence by the royals. The location of the building dating back to 1600s is really picturesque by the water, and the palace is surrounded by magnificent grounds with plenty of water elements scattered around - plus a gorgeous Chinese Pavilion at the other end of the grounds. 

The best way to enjoy the beauty of Stockholm on the way to the palace is by taking one of the frequently travelling boats there - that gives you about an hour each way to enjoy pretty houses and the nature along the way. Upon arrival to Drottningholm we first toured the actual palace, and then had a lovely lunch (a bit pricey perhaps) in the restaurant on the grounds. Then we were off to enjoy walking around the pretty gardens and visiting the Chinese Pavilion for a few hours. 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Drottningholm Palace is located by the water, which gives it even more appeal 

Drottningholm palace

So pretty and French in style

Royal Drottningholm palace

Ready to explore the castle and the expansive grounds 

Royal Drottningholm palace

Not everything is open for public, but one can wander around the buildings and admire the surroundings 

Royal Drottningholm palace

A guard doing his rounds, so funny when he peeks down in such a stiff manner!

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Enter the royal gardens...

Royal Drottningholm Palace

The views are even prettied on the back side where there are several fountains and landscaped gardens 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Enter the next garden...

Royal Drottningholm Palace

This actually is a building, not a tent!

Royal Drottningholm Palace

The beautiful Chinese Pavilion, which has Chinese decor on display inside

Royal Drottningholm Palace

The Chinese Pavilion has two little side pavilions, one of which is dressed as a dining room for a little royal meal 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Pretty royal planters 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Garden exhibits 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

A walk by a lake 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

The restaurant on-site serves delicious Swedish food 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Waiting for the boat to arrive 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Enjoying to the max!

Royal Drottningholm Palace

The water is clear despite all the boats - this beach we spotted on our way back to the city 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

The city outline is a mix of old industrial buildings (turned into homes), cute little cottages and modern houses 

Royal Drottningholm Palace

Spotted - pretty historic mansion 


visiting historic pensicola in spain

By houseofanais · September 2, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

One of my favourite places to visit in the Costa del Azahar region in Spain is the little historic town of Peniscola (yep, I know how English-speaking people are going to pronounce this name,a bit unusual, isn't it...). This year we took about oldest, Miss A. for a visit with us. And did we have a good time!

We targeted late afternoon-early evening so that the weather would be a bit cooler, and more importantly, we would see the fabulous sunset too (having seen few times the famous sunsets in Hawaii I'd rate this a bit better). This city has now spread outside the original historic boundaries of the fortress and castle on the hill, built more than 700 years ago by the knights - but the historic part is definitely the best part of the town. it is full of  charm with super narrow, little stone-covered - and quite steep streets, scattered with tons of little tasty (and still very well-priced) restaurants and shops. Fun, fun and fun. 

Once the sun starts setting down the beach is the place to be to enjoy the views, as well as some sand sculptures that artists have been working on all day long. Shops stay open late at night and there is that holiday buzz going on with music, clubs and street after street filled with outdoor restaurants offering tapas, seafood, and of course sangria. A lot of history and so much fun is all we can say - until the next visit...

Peniscola touring

I'ma sucker for romantic scenes with palm trees and sea

Peniscola touring

Old fortress is all around the old cisty 

Peniscola touring

Old guard towers... 

Peniscola touring

Lovely little, narrow streets with pretty patterns made out of small stones

Peniscola touring

Battery ready

Peniscola touring

Enter the castle 

Peniscola touring

Pretty little details 

Peniscola touring

Not for the faint-hearted. the protective walls are pretty low or non-existent

Peniscola touring

Private gardens of the castle - now also an eagle sanctuary 

Peniscola touring

Views of the city on one side... 

Peniscola touring

...and then the other side together with the bell tower

Peniscola touring

This was a national holiday and there were music performances 

Peniscola touring


Peniscola touring

Parking is not easy here, not to talk about people who live in the old city - some streets aren't even wide enough for the cars 

Peniscola touring

Market stalls and more market stalls!

Peniscola touring

And of course flowers... 

Peniscola touring

...and then palm trees. The beach had several sand artwork creations to look at

Peniscola touring

Freeling a bit parisian with these lights and pink clouds


just cruising with viking line

By houseofanais · August 20, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

The best way to travel between Finland and Sweden, as well as Finland and Estonia is with a ferry/cruise ship. This is because the nature is amazing and there are literally thousands of islands and birds on the way to look at and admire.

So that is exactly what we did also when we went from Helsinki to Stockholm. There are two major cruise lines: Viking Line and Silja Line and we chose Viking (it's a bit cheaper and also had more availability as I was booking rater late). To get the most out of the trip I recommend an overnight journey, so you get to start fresh in the morning in Stockholm and get to enjoy the sunset and sunrise and enjoy the boat's entertainment.  

These boats are really cheap (if you don't want a cabin at best a ticket can be less than 10 Euros ($10) but even a more luxurious cabin on upper deck and with a window (best when you got kids) will set you back around 250 EUR (around $300). Some of the cabins are under the water line and therefore have no windows, are noisy and very small (bunk beds that fold away) whereas on upper deck you'll have nice views, fridge with some free soft drinks and bubbly and a TV (most of the channels are local though).

The boats used to be known for their excellent buffets meals, but I would just recommend a buffet breakfast (and buying tickets in advance as they are cheaper that way) and having a dinner at one of the restaurants. That is what we did - kids had a kiddie buffet with desserts and we did a fab starter and dessert buffet and a separate main course. So delicious!  

These boats really are made for travelling families, as all the old conference spaces have been transformed into kids play areas, thus having a total of 7-10 play zones in every boat. Since we were there during the Olympic games they had lots of competitions for the kids where everyone wins lots of prices. Be prepared for hours of play time!

My verdict? Definitely worth going. Viking Line is fine, although some of the boats are a bit worn out (but I hear that they are in the process of renewing their fleet). These are not luxury cruisers, but definitely a notch up from the quick ferries travelling to Estonia. This is a fun and enjoyable trip and not too long in terms of duration, so recommended for all! 

just cruising

Great cabin at the front of the boat. Ready to take off from the center of Helsinki 

cabin time

The cabin was spacious enough for a family 

The harbour has great views and one gets to witness the amazing skills of boat captains when they turn around their large cruise ships 


So yummy starter buffet with Mediterranean and Nordic fish delicatessen...

dessert of course

...not to talk about the gourmet dessert buffet!

sounds cool..

If you are not booking an upper-level cabin do bring your own toiletries, otherwise you'll get these cute and fun products with calming messages

kid heaven

One of the play areas. This was on a boat called Gabriella, we also took Mariella and Isabella since we went from Stockholm to Aland (islands between Finland and Sweden) and from there back to Finland, but this time to the old city of Turku 

red and white master of the seas

At times there are several boats following each other en route, almost like highway congestion!

moving on to...åland

By houseofanais · August 6, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Moving on to Åland  - that curious autonomous group of islands between Finland and Sweden, known for its beautiful landscapes made for biking and history of large shipping fleets.

I got zillions of pictures on my laptop and so little time right now, but in short I can reveal an adventure with bicycles, old viking castles, beaches, jellyfish, sunshine and sea - and good food too - in short a place both kids and parents loved!

hello aland

All those cross flags of Nordic countries - the flag of Åland is the most colourful one

Kastelholm castle

Fun Kastelholm castle and over 600 years of history 

isolated history

Little wooden buildings 


Island hopping on bicycles and lots of deep blue sea everywhere 

stockholm calling...

By houseofanais · August 1, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

The Finland time is up and it's time to wind the clock back one hour and say hello Sweden and their Stockholm. We have been moving around so fast that I haven't been able to keep up with the blog all the time, but I promise there are plenty of posts coming up.

Apprently the Swedish weather hasn't been that great this summer, so we are happy it didn't rain, but the wind blowing from the sea was a bit chilly. Anyway, this city is a haven of pretty old buildings, cool stores, vintage decor and delicious cafes. Feels great to be here and this seems ilke a very child-friendly place! So fresh from the rocking cruise ship we toured the old city (Gamla Stan) and more...

stockholm time

stockholm calling...

By houseofanais · August 1, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

The Finland time is up and it's time to wind the clock back one hour and say hello Sweden and their Stockholm. We have been moving around so fast that I haven't been able to keep up with the blog all the time, but I promise there are plenty of posts coming up.

Apprently the Swedish weather hasn't been that great this summer, so we are happy it didn't rain, but the wind blowing from the sea was a bit chilly. Anyway, this city is a haven of pretty old buildings, cool stores, vintage decor and delicious cafes. Feels great to be here and this seems ilke a very child-friendly place! So fresh from the rocking cruise ship we toured the old city (Gamla Stan) and more...

Stockholm time

greetings from the world design capital

By houseofanais · August 1, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

A grey summer day did not stop us from touring the World Design Capital 2012, Helsinki. But it would definitely have been easier if it were warmer and sunnier (we so wanted to tour the island and visit Suomenlinna Castle ruins, but you don't want to be stuck out there if heavy rain and thunderstorms strike...).

Cute little design shops emerging everywhere, some touristy ones too (Finland has never been too big for touristy thingies but it's good to give the choice of reindeer skins and little mementos). Cafes inside and outside serving great coffee(yes this is the coffee drinking capital of the world also) and fresh buns (do try korvapuusti, a sort of cinnamon roll - especially at Cafe Esplanadi they are just enormous). 

The city centre is relatively small, so one can easily walk around and there is a lot to see to. Here's the mini-tour we did. 

Majestic Orthodox cathedral

The majestic Orthodox Cathedral 

University building

Some students get to study in fab-looking buildings 

Detailed and pretty

The old part of the city is the prettiest, houses with high ceilings and pretty details

Peeking through the trees 

Peeking through the trees...

Grand white cathedral

... is the grand white Lutheran cathedral on the square

Ice breakers resting over the summer

Kids like: famous ice breakers (see Youtube videos...) taking a summer break 


The Parliament, a bit of bore but he extension next door is of nice modern design 

old sailing boats

Impressive display of old wooden vessels next to cruise-ship port 


No wonder lot of movies used Helsinki when they filmed scenes of Russia, this sort of looks like it with Russian architecture and all 

cute dock

There are several options for travelling along the waterways, and cute little docks here and there 

Island destinations

One of the islands to discover

Cafe Ursula

Cafe Ursula by the sea, one of our favourites, but note that it's a bit on the pricey side 


Buns and cakes at Cafe Ursula 

Funky geese

We watched this flock of 50+ geese cross the road a few times - every time using the crosswalk. Pretty funny!

bungee jumping

Every summer one can bungee jump from this high crane next to Kaivopuisto area - kids loved looking at them jumpers (and non-jumpers who got the jitters and had to be brought down...)

Flowers and sea

Flowers and sea everywhere... 

cute boats

All sort of cute vessels in the sea 

Island restaurants

There are several restaurants in little islands in front of the city centre 

Traditional red wood houses

The city centre has also traditional little wooden houses - red of course 

Ready to board...

Some of the cruise ship terminals are right in the city center - here's Viking Line, which we took to Sweden 

so romantic?

By houseofanais · July 31, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Isn't this romantic? I love these leafy, old cobblestone streets lined by detailed, pretty wooden buildings...

This one is from the city of Hämeenlinna in Finland (name literally means the Castle of Häme, a region not far from the capital, Helsinki) and this street leads to the old castle. Oh pretty summertime!

romantic streets

back to the basics...

By houseofanais · July 29, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

A little cottage by the sea or a lake, that's what Finnish summer is made of. It can be a lovely, albeit a bit primal experience depending if the cottage running water and electricity or not (but be assured, getting wireless Internet and mobile phone coverage is pretty much guaranteed...).

This year hot weather (officially defined as being over the 77F/25c limit) has barely been seen. We were somehwat lucky - there was the biggest thunderstorm and torrential rain I've experienced in the country, but the weather before the storm was pretty amazing - and just perfect for a glass of bubbly (but where were the chocolate-dipped strawberries??).

The mom's heaven was the brunch at a lakeside bakery, afternoon bubbly, BBQ and new interior magazines while cooling the feet in the lake. The kids heaven was hours of water play, picking blueberries, making bark boats and fishing.  

summer refreshments

Key ingredients include something on the dry side...

bark boats departing

Sending off bark and moss boats 


A little fishing session 

midnight reflection

Midnight dreaming 

the fancy and fashionable tower

By houseofanais · July 28, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

The Tele tower is Tallinn (Estonia) is a pretty impressive one. Being moderately in height and average in look from the outside, I was pleasantly surprised to see the funky and modern interior - decorate with some design classics such as the Aarnio ball chair.

The entrance was fee was under ten Euros, but the queuing time owuld have been over an hour - luckily we had the Tallinn card (so wroth the money) and were able to pass the queue and enter for free. Great views, lots of fun and informative interactive things to do and good food to enjoy. Definitely recommended as a destination and thumbs up from the kids perspective too! Also worth mentioning is the cafe on top, delicious and very well priced for everything... 

Tallinn Tele tower

One cannot miss this high landmark 

Tallinn Tele tower

Love the decor details!

Tallinn Tele tower

Interactive fun...

Tallinn Tele tower

Windows for looking down - pretty scary on my opinion


Tallinn Tele tower Tallinn Tele tower

Funky lights... 

Tallinn Tele tower

...and lots of Ball chair everhywhere... 

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