Winter Weekend in London: Overview and Thursday

In November we found an outstanding deal for the direct flight from RDU to London, so we booked a long weekend trip for February. London is a favorite city to visit (2016201520142013, 2012…) so we knew it wouldn’t be hard to fill our time! For this trip we based ourselves near the Earl’s Court tube stop and focused on culture (museums and theater) and exploring a few new-to-us neighborhoods (Little Venice and Angel/Islington).

Where We Stayed

This was our third stay at the Hotel Indigo and it was fraught with issues. Our room was ready at 8:30am which was a huge bonus. However, we were located in the basement through a series of fire doors and uneven steps; our location also meant that the window was below ground and next to the sidewalk, so we had the curtains drawn the whole time. The air vent in the room rattled on and off consistently for our entire four-night stay (even after complaining to the front deck twice), and the internet was spotty at best (with multiple trips to the front desk for fixes – they said they were getting a new provider soon).  On the upside, the bed was comfortable, and as usual, the location works well for us.

our bedroom @ Hotel Indigo London - Kensington  our personalized message
our room; even the TV’s personalized room message was broken

Thursday

Our flight across the pond was uneventful and after checking in we headed out into the brisk morning to Borough Market for cheese, bread and snacks. But first! The iconic views of London — Big Ben and the London Eye.

Big Ben and Westminsterthe Eye (sponsored by Coca Cola) 

We also wanted to check out the Leake Street graffiti tunnel. There were a few choice murals and paste-ups but mostly basic tagging.

gas mask  El Trumpo

make my day  he's mine at least 

A few stops later on the Jubilee line and we arrived at Borough Market just as things were opening to pick up a second breakfast. We found fresh raspberries, British cheese and a baguette, plus a Venison meat stick for Leandra, which she snacked on for the remainder of the trip.

tasty cheese @ Borough Market cheese @ Borough Market

We stopped in briefly to the Southwark Cathedral to see if we could eat our lunch in the courtyard but no food was allowed. Instead we admired the architecture and the sleepy resident cat curled up on a comfy chair near the altar.

Wooden Effigy of a Knight @ Southwark Cathedral

Another few stops on the Jubilee line took us to Canary Wharf and the Museum of London Docklands. Free, as most museums are in London, this museum explained the interesting history of London along the Thames – development, labor strikes, WWII, etc, with lots of displays and artifacts across the centuries. We enjoyed our visit to this quirky museum, and would definitely recommend it for history buffs.

It was terribly windy in London on Thursday but nowhere more so than the docklands around the museum. Crossing the North Dock footbridge to the museum and waiting for the West India Quay Overground train left us completely wind-blown.

Dragging after the long overnight flight, we headed back to the room for a quick nap, then beers at our old favorite, Cask Pub & Kitchen. We arrived just in time to grab a table and the place filled up quickly as people got off from work. Leandra choose small pours of the Atom Neutron Star, an imperial stout, and the Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out, a smoked oat stout. I was very happy that one of my favorite beers was on tap, Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus, so that was a definite first for me. For my second, I tried the Wyper & True Mimosa, a Berliner Weisse that was a bit too light after my delicious lambic.

dressed up for beers @ Cask Pub & Kitchen  red, blonde and dark beers
Leandra in a dress (!) drinking beer; a red, a blonde and a brunette

Finally, we met Kim and Jules for late dinner at Boisdale of Belgravia, a boisterous restaurant with live jazz and a Scottish menu. Pricey but classy and tasty.

jazz @ Boisdale of Belgravia

After a long day we slept very well that evening!

Malaysia: a day in Hong Kong

On trips to Asia it often makes sense to spend a long layover in Hong Kong on the way back (much like we do for London on return trips from Europe) so we don’t have to catch crazy early flights for positioning.

Upon landing at the airport, I was delighted by all of the CNY decorations and couldn’t pass up standing in a short line for a free sample of dragon beard candy. :)

waiting for dragon beard candy at the airport  dragon beard candy prep

We’ve been to Hong Kong many times (2015, 2015 again, 2013, and 2011) so for this trip we made a point to explore a different neighborhood by staying in the Wan Chai area for the night. While we liked our room at the Hotel Indigo, we found the restaurants and shops to be a bit pricier than other neighborhoods like SoHo/Sheung Wan and

our charming room @ Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island  the view from our room
our bedroom; the view from our room

Once we checked in and got our bearings, we walked around a bit through the Wan Chai market area picking up some socks and gifts in the street market, plus a curry puff and BBQ puff from Kee Wah Bakery. The quickly eaten pineapple cake also caused us to return and buy four more!

Wan Chai, Hong Kong  lanterns!
Chinese lanterns during the day and lit up at night

We checked out the hotel bar happy hour – it had some nice panoramic views of the city but the “buy one get one free” special couldn’t be split between two people, and since we didn’t want two drinks each we skipped it. Instead, we had a pint at Roundhouse – Chicken+Beer where they apparently don’t want you to know how much their beer costs. The prices are not listed on the website or their tap board. So! To be helpful I will tell you that pretty much every beer — even the locally brewed choices — were 88HKD or about $11USD. For a pint of beer.  Considering the prices in Malaysia, Hong Kong was a bit of a shock to our system.

taps @ Roundhouse - Chicken + Beer

After our pricey pint, we walked to Central Plaza for 46th floor panoramic views of the city. It was very hazy so the views were just okay but on a clear day I think it would be worth the stop.

view from 46th Floor Sky Lobby, Central Plaza

For dinner, we got a light meal at 22 Ships, I had the beef tartare (too salty) and Eric had a delicious strawberry and marshmallow dessert with a glass each of a pleasant rose wine. I wanted to see the laser show from a different vantage point so I hiked to the Golden Bauhinia Square around 8pm. The show is definitely better from the Kowloon side – don’t bother with the Hong Kong side!

dessert @ 22 Ships

As usual, we enjoyed our long layover in Hong Kong. Next time we will probably stay on the Kowloon side, likely in the Mong Kok neighborhood.

on our way home...

Marlborough: mussels and Cable Bay

After checking out of the hotel at 10am and packing up the car, we walked into town to do a little shopping at the local souvenir shop.

On our way out of town we stopped at one last winery before beginning our trek back to Nelson, Huia.  The small tasting room was staffed by a woman from Portland, Valerie, who was living overseas and working at the winery to pay for her time in a shared house in Marlborough. We tried most of the range, including wines from their cheaper label, Hunky Dory, over the course of 1.5 hours. In general, the wines were pleasant enough, the ’11 Organic Pinot Noir and ’16 Organic Sauvignon Blanc were the standouts.

One place we HAD to stop was The Mussel Pot in Havelock. The mussels were enormous! One kilo per order was more than enough for me and some of them could have been cut in half. I choose the cream, basil and garlic broth (chef’s fave according to our waiter) which was very nice and even better with a bit of bread dunked in (ordered separately). While the mussels were great, I could have easily split the serving size and this was the only place that charged us a $1 for ‘extra’ ketchup for Eric’s fries. A bit stingy really.

The Mussel Pot Restaurant 

We had some time to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so Eric routed us up north of Nelson to Cable Bay for some scenic views. The drive was lovely and we enjoyed the vistas from the beach spit between the mainland and Pepin Island, joined by a tidal sandbar.

Cable Bay

Cable Bay

Cable Bay

heart rock @ Cable Bay

After filling up the car with gas, we stopped in for a quick half pint at another location of Sprig & Fern. I had the Scottish Ale and Eric ordered the seasonal pilsner which was light and crisp.

We dropped off the car and caught the shuttle to the airport, checked our bags without incident and waited about 30 minutes to board our short flight to Auckland. Once again, since it was a small domestic flight we had no security screening, which meant we were able to bring our half-finished bottle of wine up to the North Island in the main cabin. I imagine this is going to change in the future, but it was nice to not have to dump half a bottle of wine or slam the smoothie drink I hadn’t gotten around to enjoying yet!

Marlborough: wine tasting, day 2

The weather today was quite random – sunny and calm one minute, windy and raining the next. A good day for indoor wine tasting!

Lawson’s Dry Hills – Our first stop of the day, we just beat a large group to start our tasting. Julia was friendly and full of knowledge about the wines. Most of these we can get in the USA but we wanted to see if we liked any since we were so close. Most of the whites ate $20-25 which is pretty good for the area, but all the wines tasted watered-down to us. Nothing stood out as exceptional given the competition in the area.

wine lineup @ Lawson's Dry Hills

Hunter’s Wines – Overall a good place for a tasting and lunch. I found the wines just fine, nothing super memorable save for the dessert wine (which we bought a bottle of). We figured they would be good with food, so we stayed for lunch – I had the venison and pinot noir meat pie with fries and a glass of Pinot Noir and Eric had the ham and cheese panini with the Gewurtztraminer. The food took a while to come out but we were in no rush.

Hunter's Wines

Moa Brewing – We stopped in for a tasting but it was a bit crowded and the only things on offer were IPAs and pales. $5 for a tasting flight but nothing looked appealing so we skipped it.

Our next winery stop, Fromm, had a nice mix of whites and reds available for tasting. Rebecca was a good hostess and we really liked the wines here. The Syrah Reserve was particularly good and different from a lot of reds I had tasted in the valley, so I picked up a bottle. Eric liked the La Strada Sauvignon Blanc and the German-style Riesling Spatlese. They are also a biodynamic winery for those that care about that sort of thing.

Bladen – Our last stop of the day, this small tasting room (the smallest in Marlborough!) was very quaint and the vineyard’s Irish Setter, Vinnie, was adorable. We found the Gewurtz, Rose, and Pinot Noir to be very good and the owner himself, a former Wellingtonian, was pouring the wines.

Bladen Winery

Eric spotted a road going into the southern hills on the map, so we drove a bit to see what was down there. Nice views!

Marlborough

Marlborough

We parked the car for a bit and took a walk along the riverfront, downtown was pretty dead on a Sunday evening.

For dinner we drove to Dodson’s Street Beer Garden where we both opted for the pizza and pint special – a personal pizza and 1/2 L of beer each for $23, quite the solid deal in NZ. Given the value, and that it was one of the only places open on Sunday, it was very busy. Picking a beer was a bit odd as you ordered at your table and the waitress gave us a beercap token to get out beers at the bar area on the complete other side of the restaurant. There is also no draught or wine menu so I took photos of the 20+ taps and ten-ish wine choices and brought my phone back to the table so we could choose. Food was fine but I couldn’t finish my beer — too much liquid already that day!

Nelson: wine tasting on Thanksgiving Day

After sleeping in a bit we headed out on foot to pick up snacks at the grocery store and explore Nelson. Eric went into the city center to check out some gardens and I picked up a tea towel with kiwi birds on it before heading back to the room to work for a bit.

downtown Nelson  downtown Nelsondowntown Nelson

We got chased out of our room around 11:30am for housekeeping so we headed out by car to our first winery of the day.

Fossil Ridge – Beautiful setting. We were given one free tasting each at the entry area but four tastings plus olives and walnuts cost $10. The tasting tray fee was not waived with purchase; however, we loved the wines here. The rose and pinot noir had a lovely red pepper (paprika) flavor with lots of spice. We sat out on the back patio with a view of the ponds, gardens, and vineyards.

Fossil Ridge Winery  Fossil Ridge Winery

Our next stop was T.O.A.D. Hall for New Zealand-style fruit ice creams – Eric had the ice cream with raspberries and I had the yogurt with black currants. Mine was tangy and tart – absolutely delicious.

Next up was Neudorf Vineyards and we decided to take Moutere Hwy instead of the main road for a change of scenery. By far the most professional website of the wineries around Nelson, we were worried it might be expensive and pretentious, but were happily proven wrong with a tasting experience that was relaxed and awesome. We purchased two bottles, the rose and chardonnay, and opened the rose to drink out on their lawn with a bit of cheese and crackers. We didn’t finish the bottle, so thanks to a screw cap, we were able to close it up and head out. While sitting outside we enjoyed the antics of a bird trying to lift a large feather, presumably for a nest, and making it to the trees on the second try.

Neudorf Vineyards

Te Mania / Richmond Plains – One winery with two different vineyards, apparently this has something to do with the organic designate. Tasting fee is $2/pour but all was waived when we purchased two bottles. The whites were better than the reds and we both preferred the Richmond Plains label. Our pourer was very friendly, now I just need to know more about the British Ferrari guy who left with a few cases of wine!

We had some time before our dinner reservation to try a pub on our list, Bel-Aire Tavern, on our way back to the hotel. Though they had 30+ taps, most were IPAs, pales and lagers. The Lighthouse Stout was nice and Eric had the Altitude Goldpanner’s lager.

Our Thanksgiving meal was at Ford’s downtown. My arancini app (with prosciutto wrapped asparagus and roasted red pepper aioli) was big enough for a main course and my venison with tabbouleh salad and goat cheese was solid. Eric opted for the Angus beef sirloin with duck fat roasted new potatoes and roasted tomatoes filled with chorizo. Both the wines we got were from a Nelson ‘winery’ owned by a liquor company. No matter though because the rose and pinot noir were both good choices for our meals. Overall I had better luck with my meal here.

asparagus app @ Ford's Restaurant and Bar taps @ The Free House Pub

Last stop of the day was the Free House Pub. Of the fifteen beers on tap, I found a decent Gingerbread Stout and Eric had the 666 Tripel.

Wellington: flights & arrival

After a fairly long 12.5 hour flight from LA in AA’s Main Cabin Extra seats we landed in Auckland. I got pulled out of the automatic immigration line (again) because of the angle of my face (apparently). Being short can be a disadvantage for this sort of thing. Thankfully, it was smooth sailing on the way out!

view from the wingWe did the 15 minute outdoor walk over to the domestic terminal to stretch our legs and had no trouble with the automatic check-in and bag drop process. We breezed through security and plopped down at a cafe for a flat white (me) and to finish the stash of cookies we brought with us (both of us). :)

Boarded the plane to Wellington and enjoyed a silly safety video with the guy from Flight of the Concords and Anna Faris. We spent the 55 minutes noshing on BBQ rice crackers and admiring the view out the window.

Our bags came out fairly quick and although we had to call twice to get the Apex car hire shuttle to come we had no problems after that. Just as we had on our last trip, we were assigned another white Tiida.

The drive into Wellington was a bit squirrely with lots of turns. Honking in the Vic tunnel was amusing – we participated wholeheartedly on the way back the airport (much to Eric’s embarrassment).

Checked into the hotel and handed the car keys over to the concierge as we planned on exploring on foot for the rest of the day. Our first stop was the MaltHouse for a beer and quick snack. I got the Garage Project Arno Noir (strong stout) and Eric got the Bentspoke Puss in Boots (sour ale) and we split a basket of fries. All in for $30 NZD. It was a pleasant day and people watching was fun. Afterwards we checked out a few places for dinner – Dragonfly was closed due to the earthquake and another brewery was closed Sun/Mon. Oh well.

Wellington waterfront  Wellington waterfront

Headed to the harbor, walking along the Wellington Waterfront, including the City to Sea Bridge area – lots of people were eating gelato and sitting on the steps enjoying the sunshine.

From there we wandered through a few street art areas to take photos and made our way to Garage Project.

street art

street art (near Leeds Street)

We accidentally ended up at the the growler fill place first – 1 L and 2L soda bottles being filled with beer. Clever. We tried two but couldn’t get a glass there so the woman directed us to the quaint tasting room a three minute walk further up the street. There was one open table (yeah!) and a lovely greeting from a Dalmatian. I asked for a couple different tastes and the bar staff was very friendly and helpful. We settled on a Cherry Bomb (nitro porter, served a bit too warm for my taste) and Day of the Dead (black lager w/ smoked chilis and chocolate).

We weren’t super hungry yet so we chilled at the hotel for a bit then went to Basque for tapas. We really enjoyed the jamon and cheese croquettes with spicy paprika aioli and a grilled chicken dish. Eric even tolerated the amount of cilantro! To drink we had an Apple Crumble cider (Eric) and I got the only dark beer on the list, a sweet stout. By 9:30pm we were beat.

Eric’s 40th: Reykjavík

We spent our first and last evenings in Iceland’s capital and main city, Reykjavík.

Tuesday

Our apartment was two blocks from the famous Hallgrimskirkja, a church design inspired by the Icelandic basalt columns seen several times on our trip.

Hallgrimskirkja  Hallgrimskirkja

After getting into our apartment we realized that the nearby grocery store was just about to close (at 6p). However, there was a smaller convenience market, 10-11, a few blocks away, so we headed there to purchase breakfast and snack items for the next day.

On our walk down we scouted potential restaurants, but none of them really struck us – reviews were so-so, and prices were definitely high. Leandra had read about Micro Bar, but when we arrived at the address there was a restaurant in its place (with a faded awning above the door that said Microbar!). Clearly something had changed, and as we found a little later, they had indeed moved locations in the fall.

We were ready to eat by this point, so we decided that takeout from Núðluskálin was probably the best option. While Leandra was ordering a noodles for us, I explored the side streets and noticed a Mikkeller bar (we returned to it on Sunday).

After a nice dinner in our apartment we did some more research and found the new address for Micro Bar, so we decided to go out a second time. On the way we found a few street art murals too.

street art  street art

Reykjavik @ 11pm

We’re glad we found Micro Bar as they had a great selection and cozy basement atmosphere. I immediately spotted a sour ale on the board and although Leandra’s first choice was out, she enjoyed her tequila barrel aged Imperial Stout (that took her nearly an hour to drink)!

Micro Bar

Wednesday (morning)

The next morning we simply went downstairs to Brod, a bakery in the next building, for some delicious breakfast danishes and after a second purchase of more pastries, we checked out the Sólfarið (Sun Voyager) on our way out of town.

Sólfarið (Sun Voyager)

Sunday

We arrived back in Reykjavík in the late afternoon around 3pm. Thankfully we found a close spot for our car right outside our room, and street parking is free on Sundays. Bonus! Our first stop was Brod – on Wednesday they told us that cinnamon buns were released after noon, so we made sure to try those. We were not disappointed!

We made a reservation for dinner at Roadhouse, then walked down a few streets that we hadn’t explored earlier.

downtown Reykjavík

Eventually we made our way back to Micro Bar for happy hour.

Since we hadn’t done so on Tuesday, we also stopped in Mikkeller & Friends to try their offerings. Housed on the upper floor with exposed beams, this was also a quite cozy beer hangout.

Mikkeller and Friends bar

Leandra hadn’t used any of the cash she took out from the airport ATM, as credit cards are accepted everywhere in Iceland, so we used it on beer. And with the price of beer in Iceland, that $40 didn’t last long.

Roadhouse had good reviews on Google for their burgers and their fries were especially well reviewed, so we were interested to try it out. The fries (double-fried it turns out) were quite crispy and good, but the burgers were just OK – a bit dry and not all that memorable for a near $20 burger even with a bunch of toppings.

With a long day of travel facing us, we retired to re-pack our luggage for our flight home the next day.