Friday, November 30, 2012

Road Trip Logistics: Grand Royale London Hyde Park Hotel

grand royale london hyde park

grand royale london hyde park

grand royale london hyde park

grand royale london hyde park


grand royale london hyde park
via instagram @jessinmalta
During our weekend in London we stayed at the Grand Royale London Hyde Park. We were in London during the last weekend of the Paralympics, so our hotel pickings were slim, but we lucked out booking here.

I'm not a traveller who falls into either category of stays in apartments all the time and loves them or stays in hotels all the time and loves them. I appreciate the authentic experiences (and sometimes, cost savings) that come with renting apartments while travelling. But sometimes hotels are just nice. The convenient, friendly, modern, 24 hour check in, easy kind of nice. And this one was no exception.

The Grand Royale London Hyde Park (what a mouthful!) is in a great location, right across from Hyde Park and between the Queensway and Bayswater tube stops. The neighbourhood is actually very cool, with tons of restaurants, pubs and shops. 

Our room was small, but functional. We were on the top floor of the hotel with a great view of London's rooftops. Our hotel room also had a kettle, teas, instant coffee, hot chocolates, cookies, fresh fruit, and extra linens. Breakfast was available at the hotel in a gorgeous dining room, but we opted out (my guilty pleasure for London breakfasts is Pret a Manger). The hotel staff were great, and ran to find us a sewing kit when Mike ripped the hem out of his pants 20 minutes before we were supposed to leave to attend a wedding. And - the most important part - the hotel's WiFi was free and fast.

The Grand Royale London Hyde Park quite masterfully combines turn of the century historical charm (that dark wood lounge is stunning) with modern amenities. Hotels that offer the best of both worlds are my favourite, and I would definitely stay here again.

- Jess

OUR TWO WEEK EUROPEAN ROAD TRIP
BY THE NUMBERS
date: september 7-10
hotel: grand royale london hyde park, €115/night
parked at: street parking near highgate, london (free)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thames River Tour, London

tower bridge paralympics logo london

While in London we took advantage of the gloriously sunny, warm weather and boarded a Thames River Tour. When in London we normally rely on the tube to get around. But how could we retreat to the dark underground when it was so lovely outside?

Would you believe we sweat during the whole tour? We, who live on a perpetually hot and sunny island, found London hot! In September!

thames river cruise kayaking london

thames river cruise waterloo bridge bus london
 thames river cruise london sights

thames river cruise london skyline

thames river cruise london

thames river cruise millennium bridge london



thames river cruise london globe theatre


mayor's office paralympics logo london

tower of london thames river cruise

thames river cruise

Rain or shine, I love this city.

- Jess

p.s. You get 33% off most Thames River Tours when you show your tube Travelcard (the river tour system is linked to the public transport system).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Paralympic Marathon in London

london paralympic marathon 2012

To be in London for the Paralympics this past September was nothing short of incredible. The positive vibe that pervaded the city was contagious, and Londoners really stepped up to make the 2012 Paralympics the best Paralympics ever.

While planning our road trip I religiously checked the London 2012 tickets web site to snap up any Paralympics tickets that became available. To no luck. But we were able to join the crowds to cheer on the Paralympics Marathon at Westminster on a rare hot Saturday morning. We watched several events that were happening concurrently: the mens' and womens' wheelchair marathons, and the mens' running marathon.

It. was. amazing. The pure athleticism of it all was enough to give you goosebumps. But one moment really sticks with me.

During the mens' running marathon, blind Argentinian runner Jose Luis Santero came jogging towards us with his running guide by his side. Just in front of where we were standing he hit the wall. But his guide urged him on, massaging his legs with cool sponges and patting his back and pushing him forward. And as he started to take a few strides forward the crowd went wild.

Goosebumps for everyone!

london paralympic marathon 2012, jose luis santero

london paralympic marathon 2012, jose luis santero

london paralympic marathon 2012

london paralympic marathon 2012, spanish paralympians

london paralympic marathon 2012 spectators

london paralympic marathon 2012

london paralympics 2012 autographs

Wandering through the city's streets during the last weekend of the games we spotted a lot of Paralympians. Which was just as exciting as spotting any other celebrity, and we weren't the only ones who thought so. Groups of tourists and locals stopped the athletes everywhere for photographs and autographs, and to congratulate them on a job well done. Let's be honest, on every other day of the year disabled people are mostly ignored in big cities, so to see such a public outpouring of support and excitement was pretty amazing. (Let's hope it has lasted beyond the games.)

Later next week I'll be writing about watching the Paralympics Closing Ceremony in Trafalgar Square. But today I want to leave you with a quote from the closing ceremony to illustrate why I love the Paralympics just as much (if not, more) than the Olympics:
Before I close I want to link Stephen Hawking's words about changing perceptions across multiple dimensions from the ethereal opening ceremony, to the words of a five year old called George Glen. 
A few days ago George was reading a book "Treasure" with his mum, Emma. The first page showed a man with an eye patch, a hook for a hand, a parrot on his shoulder and a wooden leg. Emma asked George who the man was, expecting him to say "a pirate". But he said "Well he only has one leg, he must be an athlete."
- International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven

- Jess 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why I love my neighbourhood on ExpatEdna.com


I'm thrilled to be published on Expat Edna today as part of Edna's I Love My Neighbourhood series.

I've been a fan of this series forever (isn't it a great idea?) and through it I have learned about so many neighbourhoods across the world I would never have heard of otherwise like Taipei's Da'an district, Seoul's Cheonho-dong, and Shanghai's French Concession.

I've also been following Edna's blog for awhile (she's my age, lives in Paris, is engaged, is a successful international sports media reporter, and is planning an expat wedding with her partner Mike!) and was completely enthralled with her Twitter feed during the London 2012 Olympics.

So Edna, now you know, I'm a publicly-confessed fan and I think you're pretty cool. Thanks for having me, and forcing me to sit down and really think about why I love my neighbourhood. It was a great exercise, and one I'd highly recommend to everyone - expat or not.

Have you ever thought about it?

- Jess

San Anton Gardens, Malta

san anton gardens peacocks malta

I've been to a few gardens and parks: Versailles; Paris' Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens; London's Royal Parks; Valencia's Jardins del Real; Marrakech's Cyber Parc; Rome's Villa Borghese Gardens; Florence's Boboli Gardens; Barcelona's Parc Guell; Dublin's Pheonix Park (are you still with me?)

Visiting parks and gardens is often my favourite part of travelling. What is lovelier than enjoying a good book or board game or chat over a picnic or a hot drink in the middle of a park? Mike and I got engaged in a park of sorts, and dreamed up another crazy idea in our hometown's public gardens.

I have a thing for parks. And my favourite park in the whole world is right here in Malta.

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens malta

San Anton Gardens is located in the village of Attard, Malta. Just a stone's throw from the University of Malta's student residence, where we stayed during Mike's 2008 exchange to UM. While Mike was at school, I would often come to this garden with the complete works of Jane Austen and read on a bench for hours. Or, we would both visit with peach ice tea and a backgammon board.

Now that we live in a different village trips to San Anton are fewer, but just as special.

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens peacock malta

This park is actually the President of Malta's back yard. Its history stretches back to the seventeenth century, and over the years it has housed the National Assembly of France, the Govenor General of Malta, and the Queen of England.

The Palace's gardens were opened to the public in the late nineteenth century, and today are divided into a private and public section. The private section is mostly comprised of citrus groves and manicured lawns, and is the domain of the President and his staff. It's open to the public for special events, like the Citrus Festival in January.

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens peacock malta

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens malta

The public side of the park has a small aviary, a resident population of friendly stray cats, and geese, ducks and peacocks that wander around at their leisure.

San Anton Gardens are planted with the most diverse trees and flowers I've seen on the island, most bearing dedication plaques from this or that head of state or public figure (like the Dalai Lama!) Its gurgling ponds are filled with koi and turtles, and lizards dart across the stone pathways during the hot summer months.

san anton gardens cat peacocksmalta

san anton gardens fountain malta

san anton gardens malta

san anton gardens peacock cat malta


san anton gardens geese malta

San Anton is a bit of a journey from Malta's main tourist areas so a lot of visitors don't make it here. Perhaps that is what makes the gardens so nice - during the week they are practically deserted, and they only fill up with Maltese families on weekends. But if you're a traveller who is drawn to parks and gardens, make an effort to see this one. Because there's something quite magical about settling down with a good book on a park bench, surrounded by palm trees, only to be disturbed by a peacock or flock of goslings.

- Jess


p.s. If you get hungry while you're there, wander over to Melita Gardens restaurant for a meal or afternoon tea (it's lovely) or grab a snack from the confectionary stand outside the garden's gates.

san anton gardens peacocks malta

san anton gardens malta

our favourite
PARKS & GARDENS IN MALTA
Hastings Gardens, Valletta
Chadwick Lakes, Rabat
Lower Barrakka Gardens, Valletta
The Strand and seaside promenade
(Ta x'biex - St. Julian's)
Argotti Botanical Gardens, Floriana
Howard Gardens, Mdina (just outside the city gate)
Kennedy Grove (named after JFK!), St. Paul's Bay

Monday, November 26, 2012

An American Thanksgiving in Malta




Since October I've been studying in a dual postgraduate degree program at the University of Malta in partnership with San Diego State University. And this past weekend my American classmates invited our entire class over for American Thanksgiving dinner.

My classmates and I are from all across the world - Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. And regardless of nationality, we all agreed American Thanksgiving is a pretty cool holiday. Food, drink, and warm fuzzies are universally accepted good things. 

During dinner everyone at the table said what they were thankful for. And it was unanimous: we're all pretty thankful to have met each other. Because (and I say this having just finished an accounting class - ugh) the best part about studying abroad isn't the piece(s) of paper you get at the end. It's the new connections you make.

Thank you, friends.
- Jess