Leeds Castle, Kent Day Trip

Leeds Castle Kent England

Ruby had wanted to visit Leeds Castle for several years and we finally got around to it. The weather has been good across the UK all week, so it made sense to go when we did.

The first thing that struck me on arriving was just how many people had many the trip here for the day – a huge car park was packed, making the area look a little like a busy campsite. Fortunately the overall area that surrounds the castle was big enough to cope with all these adults, kids and cars. It was quite easy to find a quiet area around the complex, with the children’s playareas taking care of most of the visiting families.

Castle and Gatekeep

Castle Up Close

The castle itself was stunning. The main areas had been altered several times over the past 900 years, with the most recent stone facade being put together in 1822. The surrounding areas were beautifully landscaped, meaning there was plenty to do besides just visiting the castle itself and the gatekeep.

Swan at Leeds Castle, Kent

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There were several stunning gardens featuring a variety of foreign plants, such as palms and bamboos. Ruby also found a plant that she remembers from Nan Ao Village in China, where she was born. Besides these gardens was a large lake which also offered free boat trips from tip to toe. Although £24 seemed expensive for a single adult ticket, there was quite a lot to do across the day. Archery and Falconery shows were also on offer.

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Ruby remains a big fan of European castles, fortified houses and stately homes. Anything linked to her interest in antiques as well as building types not seen in China continues to draw her in, even though she has now seen quite a number across the UK.

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My Experiences as a Contractor

Having become a contractor around two years ago, i thought i would summmarise my experiences up to now and outline the pros and cons of being a London web developer contractor, compared to a permanent.

It has been a mixed bag so far, and takes some getting used to in terms of the cash flow inconsistencies which comes from being a contractor. I have had a good mixture of contracts already, ranging from one to two week gigs, through to my time at British Medical Journal, which eventually ran on for 14 months.

Having worked as a permanent web designer and then developer for a total of around 12/13 years, i had met many contractors and also seen permanent colleagues make the switch too. My impressions were that it would bring more money and freedom, and so far that has been the case.

Paystream Contractor Accountants Logo

I have hired Paystream to handle all of my accounts, leaving me to concentrate entirely on my work. This has proven a geat decision, and i would recommend it to any IT contractor starting out on this path. There is always the option to do your books yourself at a later date, if you wish to, but the time it would take me to learn these skills does not make sense for the amount it would save me in accountancy costs.

Ruby off to Gothenburg

Ruby has been keen for another break recently but i am unable to go with her, as it is time to line up another contract asap. Ruby feels most comfortable in Northern European countries when travelling by herself. As such, Gothenburg is her destination for next week.

I’ll be honest, as much as i truly love Scandanavia, as shown in our trip to Norway, i know very little about Gothenburg. The city has appeared in some of my Nordic Noir, and i gathered from that is that it’s a major port city.

Ruby finds Sweden, Denmark and Norway as places that she can confidently visit by herself, knowing that the locals speak English better than some parts of London, and also have a society wih low crime and strong education. I adore the model of the Scandinavian countries too, but tend to prefer to spend my time off in hot locations that differentiate themselves from the UK. With more time, i would love to travel by train around Denmark and Sweden, and hope to do that at some point.

Ruby has no experience of Italy up to now, and has heard bad stories from fellow Chinese on her national social media feeds. Her impressions up to now seem to divide the north and south of Europe but i am hoping to open her mind to Italy in coming years, as it has always been my favourite European country.

Having said that, it is always going to be easier for someone used to British life to visit North European countries as there is a real similarity in culture, history and general day-to-day life.

Weekend in Norfolk

It has been a fairly tiring week but my mood is up again as the weekend draws close. I will pop to see Mum and Dad in Norfolk for the weekend and this break seems to be perfect timing. With only a few days left of my current contract, next week will be interesting and i am looking forward to some fresh, new work coming in.

Mum has had her garden done up recently and i am looking forward to seeing that in all it’s glory. This is an important place for her so i am pleased that her feedback on the work has been really positive. The garden should also now be much safer for her and Dad to bumble about in, where as before there were some precarious spots around the top fish pond.

Dad has recently become quite a keen cook and will be knocking up a roast dinner this weekend, which has always previously been Mum’s territory. He has been using several recipe books of TV chefs, and it seems that he enjoys planning his next feast.

Jamie Oliver's Chorizo Soup

I have not done much cooking myself recently, except for a Chorizo Soup to use up some of the leftover vegetables from our Abel and Cole delivery.

Ruby will remain in London to work this weekend having taken time off for our recent trip to Tenerife. Hopefully we might be able to do another trip soon, so long as i can find a good cheap deal somewhere warm. I tend to search on HolidayPirates.com for deals, they always seem to have something interesting available.

Teida Mountain, National Park & Masca Tenerife Day Trip

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This day trip from Sandos San Blas was a tiring journey through winding roads, with Ruby asleep for much of her time on the stuffy coach.

Teida mountain was the highlight of the day and produced breathtaking views, as expected. The environment in this area resembled something like Mars, or perhaps a North American national park with rock formations caused by previous volcanic explosions.

Rock formations in Tenerife

The other mountainous areas on this trip were in the north of Tenerife, where the weather is more changeable and rain brings greener vegetation. The guide compared the region to Machu Picchu, though I haven’t been there yet so can’t compare the two.

Mountains around Tenerife

It was great to finally get up close to the mountain having seen it from various angles during the holiday. From La Gomera it was most beautiful and we also had a great view of it from our hotel. It’s size ensures that it can be seen from almost any part of the island.

Masca was a small village in the depths of mountainous Tenerife and an incredible location, with exotic vegetation, much wildlife and winding roads making this a key destination in the trip. It is only recently that this place could be visited by anything else other than Donkey.

La Gomera Day-Trip from Tenerife

We took a 50 minute ferry from Tenerife to La Gomera for our second excursion and I was a little apprehensive having been sick two days earlier when on our search for dolphins and whales. The ferry was much larger and therefore i was not hanging over the side this time! A comfortable trip indeed, also very popular with long queues and also passport checks, which surprised me.

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We were first pickup for this trip, so it was an early start at 7.35 going through to 7 at night when we arrived back at the hotel. There were not so many on our own tour because this excursion is available around 5 days a week, whereas some of the sold out ones occurred just once or twice a week.

La Gomera was much less developed than the likes of Lanzarote and Tenerife with few hotels and attractions, sticking to more traditional industries such as agriculture. This was part of the island’s charm.

The strangest aspect of the island had to be the old language which is still being taught in schools right across the island. Whistles form the words of a sentence and it is the sort of thing i might expect to find in the amazon rainforest rather than a European island.

Talking of rainforests, the island of La Gomera has a slightly different climate to nearby Tenerife and as such there are some African plants growing here that you will not find on any of the other islands.

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Sandos San Blas Tenerife Holiday

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Sandos San Blas Tenerife

Our first trip to Tenerife, having grown very fond of the Canary Islands over the past two years. Having completed several contracts in a row, and with nothing lined up immediately after my time at Cambridge Audio, it made sense to fit this 10 day trip now before picking up some more work in March.

The Sandos San Blas hotel is beautiful and I am relieved with the choice after going through so many hotel profiles before deciding upon this one.

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Around the hotel there are things to do, and a walkway along the coast but we didn’t feel we were seeing the best of Tenerife whilst wandering either side of the hotel. There were marinas, local seafood restaurants and all else you might hope for, but very few people and a slightly tatty environment which maybe needs more tourism to force an improvement.

It was after several days of popping in and around the hotel that we realised we would need to pick up some excursions in order to see the best of this island, which we were visiting for the first time.

We have a preference for all inclusive at the moment because it can save a lot of money so long as the hotel food is of a good enough standard. We tend to then eat out towards the end of the trip as the hotel food starts to become monotonous.

Thankfully, the food in this hotel has been great, and also varied. It has also been better than some of the local restaurants that we have been to for lunches during the holiday. Veal is not something I have enjoyed before, but several dishes here have changed my mind towards Veal and I will certainly try it again in future.

The guests in this hotel seem to come predominantly from Spain, UK, France and Germany, approximately in that order. All Inclusive buffets, therefore could be meat and potato heavy but thankfully the stylish salads and fish dishes are more greater in number here.

Ruby has been stocking up on all the seafood, as usual, and has enjoyed octopus kebabs, various grilled fish and a selection of melon.

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One downer for the Sandos San Blas must be the wifi, unfortunately. Our room was a good distance from reception, and this is where I suspect the main wifi hub is. As such, even with pretty new iPads and phones we were struggling to get a consistent signal from our room.

For this holiday, the idea was to get away from it all, including technology, and so it hasn’t actually bothered me that much about the flakey wifi in our room – if there were any important emails I could always sit closer to the reception for a better signal.

Talking of small issues with the hotel, we have found the staff to be fantastically friendly and helpful but during dinner there often is not enough of them. I felt to see them working so fast to make up for the lack of staff providing table service, with some customers even resorting to self-service out of frustration.

We took up several activities in the hotel, of which there are many available. The highlight was our first attempt at kayaking, which unfortunately involved the boat turning over within seconds of us setting sail. After that super soaking, though, we actually did quite well and got a good rhythm up, though I’m not sure Ruby would have been strong enough by herself to make much impact on the direction of the Kayak.

Other activities available at the Sandos San Blas in Tenerife include Beach Volleyball, Tennis, Table Tennis, Pool, Bar Football, Basketball and, of course, Swimming.

There is also nightly entertainment in the discotheque, two floors below the reception. Ruby ended up onstage for a clown’s performance, smashing symbols together as part of an impromptu band. She was actually quite happy up there in front of everybody and was one of the more musically talented of the audience members brought up.

Ruby on stage at Sandos San Blas, tenerife

We have found the out bound excursions to be very popular and normally fully booked when trying to find places the night before. We managed to get several in the end, though, including a full day in a nearby island of La Gomera as well as a trip to a nearby nature reserve and a full day trip of the scenic splendour of various parts of the island.

Prices for these trips seem very reasonable, with La Gomera the most expensive at €64 each, but this included an hour each-way ferry journey from Tenerife to the island, as well as lunch and many other highlights packed into a busy 12-hour tour.

Abel & Cole Food Delivery

Abel and Cole

I recently signed up to Abel & Cole after bumping into one of their door-to-door salesmen in Greenwich, and have had three deliveries so far, in as many weeks.

Initial experiences have been good, with fruit, vegetables and meat arriving each Monday, carefully packed and on time. There are foods available that we cannot source easily, such as Pheasant, Venison and various game. Most supermarkets near to us are small, with limited choice, making Abel & Cole very suitable for us.

This week’s delivery included some Rabbit which we are having tonight, though i’ve no idea which Chinese dish Ruby is planning to create this time.

UPDATE (March 2015): One month later and we are still using Abel and Cole for most of our vegetables. We have switched to a large veg-only box in an attempt to force us to have a larger proportion of vegetable in our diet. The plan seems to be working so far.

The Yacht Pub, Greenwich

The Yacht has been my Greenwich local for a good while now. The staff are the best bit, whilst it has great views of the Thames as well as Sky Sports and BT Sport on tv.

Greenwich is undeniably brilliant when it comes to pubs, with my other favourites including The Union, The Trafalgar Inn and also The Cutty Sark. The Union stocks plenty of beers from the local brewery (Greenwich Meantime Brewery) and there is always someone willing to explain the latest arrivals.

Greenwich Meantime Brewery also now has it’s own bar for those who have just been on one of their tours, or simply want to pop in to try some of their latest labels.

The Yacht itself is becoming more and more popular at weekends, to the point where i may even need to start booking a table in order to make sure i get a good view of the tv.

The food is great, too! Current specials include a fab Game Pie. There is also a huge Fish ‘n’ Chips which is big enough for both Ruby and i to share.

Travel Plans for 2015

2014 was awesome for holidays, with trips to Ibiza, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Canary Islands, China and Malta fitted in to a brilliant year. 2015 is more about putting away some savings, though, so i will have to be a little more selective with travel plans.

Ruby had been hoping to go on a cruise for many, many years and it was exciting to finally make that wish happen with our trip around the Norwegian Fjords, which was breathtaking. We also enjoyed the cruise type of holiday enough to try another at the end of the year, covering the Canary Islands, Madeira and finishing in Lisbon.

With my contract at Cambridge Audio coming to an end soon, it is time to think about perhaps fitting in a quick trip before my next work comes in.

Russia is somewhere i have thought about recently because of the appaling state of the Ruble, making any trips over there much cheaper than they would normally be. St Petersburg is a city which has appealed to me because of the excellent art galleries there, and that could be one good choice over the coming months. Moscow is then the other obvious alternative. Russia would be a cultural trip, for architecture and art, though the food does not really seem that attractive from the little that i know of it.

The Canary Islands have become a favourite of ours over the last couple of years and we could plump for one of the islands that we have yet to visit. This includes Tenerife, Fuerteventura and we also could return to La Palma which seemed to deserve another visit. Sun at this time of the year is always an attraction for me, which is why i have never been ski-ing yet!

I spent last winter obsessively collecting holiday brochures from the likes of Cunard, P&O and Princess Cruises in order to build some excitement around whereever our next trip will be. During the UK’s long, dark winter nights, it is great to have something to look forward to.