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Barnsley House Spa Day - Cotswolds

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What a gorgeous place!
Barnsley House is everything you have imagined the Cotswolds to be like - a bijou, old manor house, set against green rolling hills and cosy fireplaces lit inside. 
 
Driving around the Cotswolds country lanes on a January afternoon with my little sis was blissful and just in time, the sun came out! I have been going on and on about how the weather has been so grey and depressing and I was praying for a bit of sunshine on our girlie day out, so we could enjoy the outdoors heated pool at the spa. What do you know? As soon as we navigated around Oxford, there comes the sun, over the gorgeous rolling hills of Burford.
 
The best part of the drive - Bibury. I have a soft spot for this place, because it was one of the first villages I ever visited around the Cotswolds; a weekend in neighbouring Coln St Alwyns, is the reason I fell in love with the area and the very reason I started this blog - I just had to share with the world that there is this feel-good place, a corner of the English countryside, where everything is still simpler, quieter and balanced with nature.
 


The Spa is seemingly hidden away, tucked amongst greenery, a short walk from the main House, but with a wonderful view of the surrounding hills.
It's on the small side, but the facilities are wonderful. In the summer, you can utilise the lovely garden, built around a fire place too. There is a lavender-scented steam room and sauna and the best feature - an outdoors heated pool.
There is nothing, I mean nothing, that should stop you from braving the winter chill momentarily, in order to experience swimming out in nature, in steaming hot waters. It feels like floating in a duvet, with a gorgeous green view. Every muscle in your body relaxes and that includes your brain too.
 
The lounge is a gorgeous sun room, filled with mid-afternoon sun. My sis and I, both went for the Half Day package and I would suggest that you go for the afternoon slot for two reasons. Firstly, the sun - on a winter afternoon, it becomes part of the experience and in the summer you can enjoy the sunset, next to the outdoors fireplace, not to forget swimming in the heated pool at sunset. Secondly, dinner at The Village Pub. You have the option to have lunch in the Spa, or dinner allowance for the pub - go for the latter, their dishes and service are exceptional.    

Our hour-long treatment was just what my achy shoulders needed, in order to finally find some relief. I think I almost drifted to semi-napping state during the facial. By the way, I am not one to introduce cosmetics, as I have sensitive skin and stick to my usual products, but the Elemis Soothing Apricot Toner, is something I order as soon as I got back home. It had a cooling effect, but felt quite nourishing too, great for sensitive skin.



Just as we finished our treatments, the sun was setting.
What a amazing time to be swimming outside, amongst the vibrant indigo sky, catching the last purple and pink hues of the sun in the distance! Well, there one thing that made us move...hunger and the prospect of dinner in The Village Pub, across the street!

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The main House in full moonlight...
 

Jaipur - The Pink Lady





"I lost my voice in Jaipur"...and so the story usually goes, when I talk about my first time in the Pink City.

Khabutar in Pyar - my Hindi version of "pigeons in love"

We arrived in Jaipur early in the morning, having caught the Shatabdi train, from Old Delhi.
Now that's an experience and a half! No, not the train itself, that was great!
But Old Delhi's station? Pheeew! The people! 
People covered up in white sheets on the platform floors, right in the middle of it all, people on wooden boxes, all sleeping. No, not homeless people, normal people, waiting to catch the train! And then, once trains started pulling into the station, the chai-walas run to fill up everybody's cups with hot, fragrant tea. Right there, I also saw the weirdest job in the world: people sweeping the train racks! One hand-held broom in each hand, sweeping! The train tracks!

The train-ride was brilliant: First Class AC is what you want to go for, for a whopping £12, bottled water and breakfast included! Initially, I had second thoughts about having breakfast on the train. But the smells soon travelled down the carriages and scrabbled eggs sounded perfect.  A group of Europeans travelling with Kuoni turned up their noses, when the waiter came to take the breakfast order -  I'm going to leave you guessing for their nationality. Their eyes opened wide though, when they heard us - the "other" Europeans- ordering everything to our hearts' content,  in Hindi, nevertheless.

My favourite part of the journey was passing through the countryside, seeing women working in the fields, in their colourful sarees, dotting the brown earth with splashes of orange, pink, red and yellow. It reminded me an old Hindi movie posters. These women have such resilience.

View from Jaigarh Fort

First things first: if you are heading to the Amber Palace and want to catch an elephant ride, do so before 11 o'clock. Otherwise it's too hot for the gentle beasts to climb up the hill.

We headed to the lesser known Jaigarh Fort, sitting right above Jaipur city, with it's fortifications visible from Jantar Mantar down in the city centre.
Here you'll find the biggest cannon on wheels, in India, because the Fort used to be the main artillery production place for the Rajputs - the local royals. But there is also a walled garden, sitting on top of this dessert hill, bursting with green and flowers. Throughout the royal apartments you'll see puppet theatre performances, a local customary pass-time.
It wasn't swamped with tourists so we took it easy, climbed up and down stairs and fortifications, run around to catch uninterrupted views over the four points in the horizon and took lots and lots of pictures.

 
Jal Mahal (literally, the "Lake Palace") seen from Jaigarh Fort's fortifications

Down in the city centre, we circumvented the monkeys around Jaleb Chowk, a square, surrounded by old royal buildings, making our way to the Hawa Mahal. Don't let your guard down, these little monkeys will be attracted to anything shiny and will come claim it, boldly. If you want to leave the square, the only way is one of the four gates, where, they wait for people to segregate, so that they can snatch away what they please, easier. Smart, little things!

If you think that the Hawa Mahal is pretty on the outside, wait until you go inside.
Pay attention: Do not miss that, for the world!
In the late afternoon leave the chaotic main road behind you and enter the quite courtyard of Hawa Mahal, from the little alleyway on the back. The contrasting peace and quiet will hit you straight away. Climb up the stairs and visit the rooms were the harem ladies used to peek out at the world without being seen. Why late afternoon? Because you'll feel you are in a ruby, or a sapphire, or an emerald... all of the windows are stained and the sun shines through them straight on the marble floors, so you have splashes of coloured light dancing all around you - no words can describe how majestic that it.

Inside the Hawa Mahal: Gorgeous, dancing colours in the afternoon light
Jantar Mantar - medieval astronomical instruments, in Rajput's Sawai Jai Singh's back garden! 
Jantar Mantar

We stayed just on the outskirts of Jaipur, in Chokhi Dhani cultural village.
This is a resort set out as a traditional Rajasthani village, where we got 3 rooms set around a private courtyard, a "Nohara".
This is a good place to stay if you come with children, because in the evenings, the resort opens up its cultural village with elephant and camel rides, traditional Rajasthani dance performances and my absolute favourite: dinner by the stars, cross-legged out in the dessert! 
   
Our Nohara's courtyard in Chokhi Dhani

Morning prayers to Ganesh ji in Chokhi Dhani

Oh if you are wondering why I lost my voice in Jaipur, here it goes: Walking down the street, I was swamped by people selling me everything they owned, didn't own and would have ever owned. So in my starter's Hindi, all I kept saying was "Bas! Nahi chahiye" (Enough! I don't want it!), and in the time it took them to realise that the gori lady was speaking in Hindi, I was rushing to get away from them, the dust and the noise; in the process - I lost my voice.  

New Year’s thoughts, Salt Lakes and Sunshine


I bet you thought that I am now going to tell you all about my new year's resolutions and how this is a new start, a new chapter and ultimately a new life!
 
It's January and it hasn't been sunny since mid-November. I was working over Christmas and what's worse, I was sick over Christmas too. So if I hear one more time about "what's my New Year's resolution", I'll lose it! I don't have time to make a resolution. I went from work pre-Christmas, to a family trip were we all got sick, back home to prepare Christmas meal for 10, back to work! I missed the Nutcracker performance, which I was looking forward to since September, because on my first day back to work my head was still buzzing from this ridiculous flu. I don't feel excited, I feel tired and stressed at the prospect of looking excited. It's grey out there and like the other 10 million Londoners, I have to commute to work, every single, grey, cold, rainy, 7:30-start day. How does it make sense to push yourself to start something new, in the middle of grey January, with post-Christmas fatigue and deflated sense of fun?

So instead of fake excitement and fake new starts, how about we slow the heck down, take a step back and let ourselves switch off this January?  I pride myself in being a "glass half-full" kind of girl, but even I need my annual allowance of just being. This is not being grumpy, I just feel that there has to be some balance out there to all of the articles and adverts that urge us to always be doing something different, something more than others, go places, tick lists that wouldn't really matter otherwise. 
How about not being grumpy about being on a diet, because you don't really have to be on one just because it's January? Or getting itchy about "dry January"?
How about a bit of moderation instead, good food (that is not to say junk food) and swapping bottomless prosecco brunches in London hotspots, for cosy, long pub lunches with our friends?
How about some quiet time instead of unleashing yourself onto new and challenging sports?
 
I was watching Bad Mums 2 the other day, which evolves around mums creating the perfect, movie-worthy Christmas for their families, in order to receive a couple of "hug coupons", as they put it. Nothing wrong with movie-worthy Christmas at home, but that's only if you feel like it. Enough with the pressure, if you feel like putting a tree up do it, if you feel like decorating a little wreath instead, go for it, if you feel like doing nothing at all, perfect! As long as it is what YOU want, not what Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or your mother seem to want you to do!   

Here's a list of easily accessible country pubs - and some country-like London spots - in case you feel like a cosy Sunday roast, or even better...a cheeky, Wednesday lunch!
Sir Charles Nappier Inn - Chinnor, Chiltern Hills
The Chequers  - Chrurchill, Cotswolds
The Engineer - Primrose Hill, London
The Greyhound - Rotherfield Peppard, Oxfordshire
The Ethicurian - Mendip Hills, Bristol
Petersham Nurseries - Richmond
The Sun Inn - Dedham Vale, Essex
The Wild Rabbit - Kingham, Cotswolds
 

I'm going to leave you with a few pictures from our trip to Mesologgi Salt Lagoons in Western Greece, from last year's Christmas. These were taken two days after a loud, extravagantly foodie Christmas, when we all felt the need for some downtime, time to let our senses absorb some natural sounds, instead of TV, loud headphones and nightclubs.

I still feel at peace every time I think about that place.

The earth meets the sky, the colours between the lagoon waters, the stacks of salt, the dirt paths and the sun are beautiful and earthy: creams, pinks and light blues. The sweet afternoon sunshine made me smile and then, I got hyped at the similarities of human nature, when I saw the fishermen’s boats. They have this rod sticking out, holding the nets hovering over the water. They looked exactly like the ones I had seen in Goa, on the beach. This thought made me happy. I love finding things that bring us together, the more unlikely combinations, the better! Things that underlines the human spirit - finding similarities between the fishermen on the coast of the Indian Ocean and the lagoon fishermen in this little corner of Western Greece is certainly something that makes me feel positive for the year to come!


PS: By the way, the other day a comedian on "Very British Problems" tried to explain what seems to others, as a fascination of Brits talking about the weather - when people talk about the weather in the UK, what they are really saying is..."it's grey out there and it's getting to me". Makes perfect sense.

...it's started snowing, as I'm finishing this post. Grey is shortly to be replaced with white!
 
© Life Love London

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