Wednesday, March 29, 2017



I bring you a kind of diary of my Scotland trip in today's post.

DAY 1 -Travel to Glasgow-

I signed up for yet another tour group for Scotland. It was a 5-day trip from Glasgow through the Highlands to Edinburgh. The tour was with CIE Tours International, and I would highly recommend booking with them if you are interested in joining a tour group in Britain or Ireland (totally not sponsored.). It was very professionally done, and everything (except a couple meals) was taken care of.

Check out their website: CIE Tours International

I first needed to travel to Glasgow from London to meet with the tour group at 2:30pm. I opted to take the train (Virgin Trains) into Glasgow, as flights at the time I was looking were too pricey, and a bus ride would be too long.

My train departed London Euston at 8:30am and arrived at Glasgow Central at 1:00pm. The hotel was located a quick 10 minutes walk away from the train station, so I headed that direction. But first, a fabric stop. On Google maps, I noticed that the hotel was situated right across the street from a fabric store, Mandors Fabric Store (134 Renfrew Street, G3 6ST).

The hotel for the night was the Double Tree by Hilton at Glasgow Central (36 Cambridge Street, G2 3HN). Before I could properly settle in, we were off on a tour of the city! We made stops at Glasgow East (the more medieval part) and Glasgow West (the more modern part).

The Necropolis, Castle Street, Glasgow G4 0UZ

Glasgow Cathedral, Castle Street, Glasgow, G4 0QZ

Glasgow Cathedral from The Necropolis

Major Archibald Douglas Monteath Mausoleum

Provand's Lordship: Glasgow's oldest house

St. Nicholas' Garden at Provand Lordships
The Provand's Lordship house was perfect for me: the doorways were very short, I could just pass through without having to bend my neck.

The night ended with a welcome drink and dinner at the hotel.

DAY 2 - Highlands: Loch Lomond, Loch Ness-

Day 2 took us up to the Highlands of Scotland. This is where a lot of Scotland's clan history exists. The terrain is still very pristine and undisturbed. If you want to escape the bustle of city, this is where you come. The calmness of the Scottish Highlands will be sure to relax you. We caught very nice weather during the tour in Scotland. It usually isn't as sunny as it was (so the locals keep telling us).

A trip through Glen Coe valley had us reach Loch Ness where we went on a short cruise through the Loch.

Loch Lomond 
Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Three Sisters of Glen Coe (Gearr Aonach, Aonach Dubh, Beinn Fhada)

Commando Memorial, Spean Bridge

Commando Memorial

Caledonian Canal

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

The end of the day brought us to the town of Nairn, where we stayed at the Newton Hotel (Charlie Chaplin stayed here). By far, Newton hotel was my favourite. From the way the building looked from the outside, to how cute the interior was, I would definitely return. So much old charm! 

The very cool Newton Hotel, Inverness Road, Nairn, IV12 4RX 

Before dinner, I took a walk through the town, and stumbled upon, what more, a fabric shop! If you ever stop in Nairn, head over to the Nairn Wool Store. The shop keeper was super helpful (and let me get a few things although I came in 2 minutes before closing!) and she recommended I go down to the beach. She said it was a must see, especially when the tide was low and you could see the rocks. So I did just that! 

Hey, look! A seagull.

DAY 3 -Whisky Tasting & St. Andrews- 

After breakfast at the Newton Hotel, it was off to the Blair Athol Distillery for a tour and tasting! Although I'm not an alcohol connoisseur, I did learn how to properly drink whisky! You must warm it up in your hands to release the flavours, then consume the drink by sipping. Whisky is not for me though.

Trees around the distillery are black because of the whisky!

Blair Athol Distillery 

Water for the distillation comes straight from the river!

After the whisky woke everyone up, we headed for St. Andrews, a.k.a. the "home of golf".  Besides the infamous golf course, there were many other things to see in this quaint town of St. Andrews.

St. Andrews Cathedral

St. Andrews Cathedral

St. Andrews Castle

A building along The Scores in St. Andrews

The infamous golf course of St. Andrews
Fun Fact: the roof of St. Andrews Cathedral completely caved in. You can see the stumps of the pillars that used to keep the roof up. I imagine the building would have been quite large for a Cathedral of that time.

After St. Andrews, we tour continued into Edinburgh, which we would be for the next 2 nights. This evening we had traditional Scottish entertainment and dinner at the Surgeon's Hall.



Traditional Scottish music and Highland dancing
We retired back to the Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club (Kirknewton, Edinburgh, EH27 8EB) for the night.

DAY 4 -Edinburgh-

Our full day in Edinburgh started with breakfast at the hotel. We then traveled to the city and had a drive passed many of the points of interest. Our first actual stop was at the Edinburgh Castle, where we had a quick tour, then the rest of the day was left to us! A tour member and I took a scenic walk through the Old Town and New Town before heading back to the hotel in the evening for some golf (just the driving range though). I had dinner at the hotel, as there wasn't much to eat around there.

Bath House located outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Scottish Parliament Building

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Edinburgh Castle

Views from Edinburgh Castle

Views from Edinburgh Castle

St. Margaret's Chapel at Edinburgh Castle

St. Columbia's Free Church of Scotland
Scott Monument

Statue of King George IV in his mini kilt

Bedlam Theatre

The Elephant House Cafe, a.k.a. the "birth place of Harry Potter"

A Piper outside the Surgeon's Hall

DAY 5 -Departure-

The last day started with breakfast at the Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club, then I caught a ride to Edinburgh International Airport back to London Gatwick.

I enjoyed Scotland more than I thought I would. It has a lot of "old world" charm, that intrigues me more than that of England's history (maybe it's all the clan rivalry!). I love that the cities within Scotland aren't as congested as those in London and if you need a breather, it's a quick pop into the Highlands. The uniquely Scottish traditions makes everyone have a good time; from The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond to Haggis to Highland dancing. In some ways, Scotland reminds me of the Pacific Northwest with the varying terrain: rolling hills, mountains (with skiing facilities) and beaches. I have so much more of Scotland to explore!


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Your Epsom Guide


Today's post is a guide for Epsom. Epsom is located within the district borough of Epsom and Ewell (another small town, located to the North East of Epsom), which is in the county of Surrey.

Epsom High Street (west)

Epsom High Street (east)

A quick train ride of 36 minutes gets you into London (either Victoria station or Waterloo station) from the Epsom train station.

Epsom train station, Station Approach 
Along the Station Approach, you will find:
  • Tescos

    A convenience stop for pre-made sandwiches, snacks, drinks, groceries like milk and eggs
  • Train Station Entrance

    With trains southbound to Guildford, or northbound to London Victoria and London Waterloo
  • Costa

    A popular coffee shop
  • Co-Op Food

    A small grocery store

When you get to the accommodation, you will need to outfit your room, kitchen and bathroom. To get these items, head to the Epsom High Street where you'll find Poundland and Wilko.

Poundland , 46 High Street, KT19 8AJ

Poundland is good for:
  • cutlery
  • baking sheet
  • refill paper
  • colander
  • can opener
  • pasta spoons
  • shampoo
  • body wash
  • Kleenex
  • paper towel
  • cleaning supplies 
  • snacks
  • aluminum foil
  • cling wrap
  • hand soap  
  • garbage bags

Whatever you don't find at Poundland, you can purchase at Wilko:

Wilko, 78-80 High Street, KT19 8BA

Wilko is good for:
  • pots
  • pans
  • dish ware
  • knives
  • duvet 
  • pillows
  • bed linens 
  • cutlery 
  • garment bags (don't buy the Poundland ones)
  • laundry detergent 
  • garbage bags 
  • shampoo
  • body wash
  • face wash
  • makeup
  • toilet paper
  • hand soap (a bit cheaper than Poundland)
  • containers for left over food
  • reusable water bottle
  • chopping board
  • drawer separators  
  • clothes hangers
  • snacks

Now that you have everything set up, you need to do some grocery shopping. I recommend Waitrose, located in the Ashley Centre. This is where I do my grocery shopping. It is close by, and it says open to 8pm (except on Sundays when it closes at 4pm).

The Ashley Centre, 54 Ashley Ave, KT18 5DB
Unlike the convenience stores, you can buy everything you need to make a meal from scratch: fresh fruit and veg here, bread, flour, herbs, etc. Keep in mind, everything sold at English grocery stores are not sold in bulk sizes, so you will be buying in small quantities (for example, small loaves of bread and half a dozen eggs).

Other notable places to do your grocery shopping is Sainsbury's. Located a 15 minute walk outside of the High Street, groceries here are cheaper than Waitrose (but sometimes not as good). However, it is open to 11pm on most days (which is a relief).

There is also the market that you can get fresh fruit and veg as well as fresh eggs.

Located beside the clock tower
You can access the market from the High Street as well as from the Ashley Centre. Its open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 9:00am to 4:00pm. On the first Sunday of the month, you can shop the farmers market, located in the same area from 9:30am to 1:30pm.

Other places to buy food (but not necessarily groceries) are Marks and Spencer's (M&S), located inside the Ashley Centre and Tescos, by the train station.

Ashley Centre, 20 Ashley Centre, KT18 5DA

Alternatively, you can order your groceries from places like ASDA (Walmart equivalent) and get it delivered as many of my flatmates do.

Also located in the mall is Boots, a drugstore where you can find cold and flu medication, makeup, skin care, hair care and hair appliances (don't bother bringing them from home).

57 High Street KT18 5DB
Okay, now for some restaurants! For a quick bite to eat, I suggest Cafe 1 and the fish and chips place by Wilko. 

122 High Street, KT19 8BJ
They have a very good selection of food, for a decent price. All day breakfast is served here. Family run.

86 High Street, KT19 8BA
Small cod fish and chips

There is also the local Weatherspoons at the Assembly Rooms pub. Where you can get a cheap meal for £5.

147-153 High Street, KT18 8EH
There is also the Cafe Rouge (96-98 High Street, KT19 8BJ) and Prezzo (5-7 High Street, KT19 8DA) for something a little more fancy. 

If I'm in a rush, or I want something to take with me on the train, I like to stop by Greggs (right beside Poundland) for a sandwhich, pastry or hot drink. 

48 High Street, KT19 8AJ

As for shopping, everything is located inside the Ashley Centre exept for the charity shops (thrift stores). Some notable stores:

WHSmith, 36 The Ashley Centre, KT18 5DB
Here you can purchase stationary items, sketchbooks and art paper, books, magazines and electronic accessories (purchase the portfolio at the school art store, its half the price!).

Other stores good for current fashion pieces are Next and New Look. There is also a specialty makeup store called Kiko Milano that just opened up recently in the mall. Although it's not big, everything you need is located in and around the High Street. 

Ashley Centre website here.

As for phone carriers, I chose to go with Giffgaff. There are many companies to choose from (O2, Three, etc.), so check out their rates and see what will suit you best. Plans are MUCH cheaper in England (even with exchange) than they are in Canada. For example, I decided to go with the £15 goody bag that Giffgaff had available. It gives me 3GB of data, unlimited texting (to UK numbers) and free texting with other Giffgaff members, and 1,000 minutes of call time. It is also pretty cheap to top-up your account for use in Europe. 

The bank you should use is the HSBC, located on the High Street (54 High Street, KT19 8DS). They were the only bank that would let me open a temporary account. Also, they work with many of the exchange student at UCA, so they know exactly what you need.

As long as we are talking about money, let me suggest to you: Transferwise. This is the program my dad used to wire me money. Instead of going through your bank where you may pay other fees and the like associated with sending money to an account abroad. My dad likes that you use whatever the current exchange rate is rather than the inflated rate is the bank uses. Furthermore, the fee for doing the transaction is less than 1%! This equates to major savings (especially when the amount transferred is $1,000). 

If there is one thing to note, everything closes at 6pm. So make sure you plan accordingly if you need to pick up anything. Class usually runs to 5pm, which leaves you an hour. Banks do not open on Sundays, and close very early on Saturdays. 

The last thing I want to mention is the Ebbisham Centre (which I think recently got changed to Epsom Square). Here you will find the local public library as well and GPs (doctors) and other businesses. 

You access it from a pathway off the High Street beside Poundland and Maplin. 

Ebbisham Centre 6-7 Derby Square, KT19 8AG

Well, I believe that's everything. Epsom is a quaint town that to me is a stereotypical English town. Small, but diverse, it's a nice place to spend the school term.