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Christmas Lights Trail through Kew Gardens, London

If you find yourself in London this Christmas season, do yourself a favour and visit Kew gardens.
At night.
"It's cold", you say.
"It will calm your mind and put you in a good mood", I say!

We visited Kew on a Friday evening, after work. Not the best of times to feel cheery and festive, I admit.
But, bear with me.
Even the hundreds of visitors at the gates didn't spoil this wonderful walk, through the magnificently set up Christmas trail.

Grab a cup of hot mulled wine - or cider with rum, if you just have to be different - and get on the trail. There is plenty of food to pick from, if you have kiddies along too.

First up, meet the "singing bushes". Yes, yes, we made all the relevant jokes too.
But trust me, when I say, that even the boys - grown men, really, but we call them boys, because they make us mother them, constantly; no, "nag" is not the word you were looking for - started humming to the Christmassy tunes, along with the bushes.

Then came the Palm House, in all of its' glory. 
It's an amazing sight even during the day, but imagine this glass mega-structure, all lit up in reds and purples, in pitch black background.

A bit further down you'll spot a sea of flames. Panic not, it's the Fire Field!
Simply majestic.
Everybody on the trail seemed to pause there and yet, everyone seemed mesmerised by the power of fire, so it was actually peaceful and mystical.

Make sure you stop at the playground, to have a cheese toastie.
It's only bread and cheese, but it's so good!
You know, when you sink your teeth in for the first bite and you can hear the crisp? That!
And then you taste the buttery cheese? ....off course, you know, you are probably running to the kitchen to make one right now.
We didn't want to spoil our appetite though, hence we shared one toastie each, with the boys...or stole them from the boys, as they would put it.

By the way, if you really want to get worked up over cheese toasties, watch the movie "Chef", with Jon Favreau!
We've been perfecting ours ever since we watched this movie, and if that's not a job to do over Christmas, I don't know when it's for!  

But on with the trail: finally came the baubles.
It's so funny that even as grown ups we all get so excited at the prospect of lit up baubles.
Well, when you can walk through them, it's just so much fun!

I'll tell you what I wasn't impressed with: the Botanist pub on Kew Green.
We had booked a table there, two weeks in advance, because we knew that it's a busy period.
And we turned up, ready to have a satisfying pub dinner only to be told that the kitchen couldn't handle the capacity, so no more food for the night!
"But we've booked"! "Two weeks in advance"! Isn't that the point? That the kitchen gets ready?
Can't believe we gave up cheese toasties for this...
Anyway, no point crying over spilt milk.
On we went, to luckily find space at the Glasshouse, an upmarket petite restaurant, right next to Kew Station.
Great, great place.
I particularly love the warm cured salmon. It's a technique used more and more in restaurants around London, cured salmon, very smooth, with a very elegant taste.
No wonder, I realised afterwards that it's a Michelin star restaurant.
And we turned up in muddy boots and jeans, yet with impeccable cheer and fun attitude! They let us in!

Main at the Glasshouse: white pork with black garlic purée

The trails ends right back at the Palm House, but this time on the other side of the lake, with a spectacular view and a cheerful carols-lights-waterjets show.

Whatever you do, make sure you stop to hear the music...on or off the trail!
Merry Christmas!

Sunday in Stockholm

Our Sunday started in the opulent dining room of Berns Asiatika.
This grand and overly-Christmassy dinning room is open to Berns Hotel guests  (check availability) and although breakfast was not included with our reservation, we were more than happy to splurge out in order to experience this wonderful space.
Truth be told, it only came to £15per head, who would have thought?


Sunday Brunch soon becomes a special experience, once you enter this gorgeous room.
Think Viennese Opera, rather than casual brunch spot!
It seems to be very popular with locals too, lots of hugs, smiles and "Heeej", were taking place all around us, over smooth lattes.
We had salmon and herring, off course, they are the local staples;
we found smocked salmon here much smoother than back home, almost sushi-like texture and quality. I couldn't get enough of it!
Then came the scrambled eggs and lots of lovely types of ham & cheese, they are fond of provolone here, this retro almost forgotten smoky flavour.
And then to top it all off small, puffy, Dutch pancakes with maple syrup. Heaven.

When we finally managed to drag ourselves away from Bern's brunch, we jumped in a taxi and got to the Nordiska Museet, the Nordic life museum.
The building itself is gorgeous to look at, right on the waterside too. On summer days you can walk there from the city centre, but not on a freezing December day.

Left: One's bedroom is not necessarily for sleeping!  Right: Nordiska Museet's impressive exterior

The building was first put up for public celebrations, it's so lovely inside, spread over three floors. Remember to bring your own headphones along and grab the little infra-red  transmitter at reception that will be your tailor-made guide throughout the museum; just point it to the items you are interested in and a short description follows.

Dinner guests were known to induce vomiting between courses, just to make space for more food! 
This massive golden cake, in the middle, was an extravagance back in the 1700s, not because it was covered in leaves of gold, but because sugar and marzipan were luxury ingredients back in the day and had to be imported.
Old & new: spot the "parking" spots for pushchairs in the museum? 
We learnt about food and customs and clothes and furniture and how one's bedroom wasn't for sleeping but for entertaining important guests - not in a naughty way, silly - just because it was the most opulent room in the house!

My favourite part in the museum was seeing all the Christmas workshops set up in the great hall for kids. Families with young kids had set up camp there for a Sunday spent decorating oranges with cloves, making Christmas cards and icing cookies. Lovely, lovely way to spend a Sunday.

Believe it or not, these are the locker rooms and toilets at the Nordiska Museet!

If you want a quick break and a spot of lunch, do pop into the Opera House.
From the back door.
The Bakfickan or "Hip Pocket" is a very intimate bar, serving food and drinks all day in a very easygoing setting. No reservations needed and guaranteed meatballs, what else do you need on a Sunday in Stockholm?

The gorgeous Opera House

On the left is the Palace and on the right the Parliament and under the bridge, you'll find the Medieval Museum; Yes "under"!

Another little museum, which is free, but is actually built around part of the original medieval City walls, is the Medieval Museum.
You'll find it under the bridge connecting the Opera House to Gamla Stan.
Yes, "under", that's right!

Don't forget to stop for "fika", that is to have a break for a coffee and pastries!

We stopped at a café just before Biblioteksgatan because it was bitterly cold and we needed a sip of little something in our hot chocolate. A shot of Amareto here, a shot of Kalhua there...mission accomplished!

As for pastries, we were spoilt for choice really; sfogliatine with chocolate, sfogliatine with white chocolate, Danish filled with a light green pistachio cream... what do you know, we ordered them all! 

On for a spot of window-shopping down Bibliotekgatan and off we drove back to the airport to catch a flight back home!
We made it this time! (if you are wondering, read this)

A word  of advice on taxis in Stockholm.
On the back passenger-side windows you'll spot a sticker with their maximum allowed fare per kilometre. Watch out to get the cheaper ones because when we caught a taxi to the Nordiska museum we only paid about 150 kroner, £10 or so, whereas on the way back we paid almost double for the exact same route, because we caught one of the more expensive taxis.

Also the bus from the airport will bring you right in the city centre for 99 Kroner, that is less than £10! We caught on the way to town and on the way to the airport we booked a cab which is roughly £50, or 525 kroner.   

Thanks for the nice experience Stockholm, you battered us with rain and hail but we'll be back to experience your gorgeous water-side parks in the summer!

Christmassy Stockholm

Gamla Stan

Our trip to Stockholm got off to a rocky start, partially due to our confidence in the fact that we could beat Friday traffic and get to Heathrow in time for our flight, straight after work.
We got to the airport 35 minutes before take off so, we missed our flight!

Word of advise: if you book Business Purple Parking in Heathrow, call them to ask for directions because the navigation might take you to the centre of Hounslow, which is on the opposite direction of where you want to be!

On the upside, we got to stay at T5 Sofitel (check availability), which I absolutely recommend if you have a layover in Heathrow.
A tunnel connects the terminal to the hotel reception, which is very handy on cold days or when you've just had enough of arguing with airline staff and want to crash in a bed and forget all about it!
It doesn't feel like an airport hotel;
there is this lavender smell in the air, as if you are in a spa and from 3am onwards, there is coffee and nibbles right next to reception, which you can grab on your way to the terminal if you can't afford the time for proper breakfast.


I'm going to start backwards and tell you what to do on a Saturday night, in Stockholm.

Berns Hotel, where we stayed, is part of a larger hospitality group, so the upside is that you get access to some of Stockholm's exclusive nightclubs with the "Bern's wristband".
Apparently, getting in to nightclubs is rather tough in Stockholm and this passe-partout will come in handy, if you are up for a night out in town.
By the way, Stockholm party nights go on until the early hours!
There! Now that the important information is out of the way, we can get on with the rest.

Bern Hotel & Berns Asiatika, which turns to a nightclub on Saturday evenings.

Berns (check availability) is a boutique hotel with an explorer's vibe;
the view from our balcony reminded me of the bow of a ship and at night when the glass roof of the restaurant was all lit up, all I could see was "the Nautilus sailing through Stockholm's very grey and threatening sky". Loved Jules Verne books as a child!
The room doors open outwards, towards the corridor, which I found quite confusing but the rooms had wonderful art deco and retro touches. A slight touch of Asia too.

The staff were the best part of staying at Berns. I think we must have spent half an hour at a time, chatting to them, every time we were on our way out.
They are happy to advise you on clubbing, sightseeing and dinning out, but also on the use of languages and on trying Elk, amongst other things! They all come from diverse backgrounds, very helpful and very friendly;

Overall, interesting, interesting place. Great location and comfy beds!


When we finally got all wrapped up with layers and layers of clothes, hats, scarves and the rest of it, we headed to Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan, the medieval heart of Stockholm is a maze of tall townhouses, countless restaurants, cafes and two tall imposing churches. The Nobel Museum and the Palace are all here too and just before Christmas, a Christmas Market keeps the main square - Stortorget - busy, too. 
You can easily spend a day here and that's exactly what we did! Make sure you get yourself some Glogg from the market stalls, to keep warm. 

Don't worry about booking for lunch or dinner in the old town, there is plenty of choice for impromptu dinning. Two traditional gastropubs to consider are the Flying Elk and Den Gyldene Freden. Bear in mind that meals in Stockholm are notoriously expensive, although I found them almost the same to London prices, to be honest. You can easily spend £50 per head in a pub, for example.

We opted for the Samborombon, a very romantic little restaurant that serves traditional dishes and a lot of game dishes, too.
We started with baked provolone cheese, it was so tempting, couldn't not have it - it's such a retro dish for me, my parents used to have it at home in the late 80's and 90's, but you don't really get it in UK so much.

Next up Elk burger in Sourdough Bread, so good!
We sat there, debating for a while whether we should really be eating Rudolph's cousin, but we thought that it's taken us 34 years to get to this place, so we must do our best to try the food of the land. Elk is so different to any other kind of game  I've tried before, much juicier and very flavoursome.

The area around Berns hotel will keep you busy.
The Opera House is two minutes away, St Jacob's Church will provide a good shelter from the cold for a quick stop and Biblioteksgastan, the main shopping road, is just across the road.

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