September Trip – Fabric Shopping!!

We are back in London after 2 x 8-hour red eye flights. It’s lovely to be back, but sad to leave all the great food in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Ever since I’ve started sewing my own clothes, I rarely buy ready-to-wear (RTW) clothes. The only time I’ll buy clothes are when it’s more time-effective to do so. Like needing new tank tops that I can’t be bothered sewing and are fairly inexpensive at Uniqlo. Even before I started sewing I wasn’t a huge shopper, and that extended to shopping when on holiday. Now, it’s fun to explore the fabric options at places that I go to. We made 4 stops on this trip: Dubai, Taipei, Hualien and Hong Kong. I’ll break down the experience and some of the stuff I bought!

Fabric shopping in Dubai
From reading blogs, I saw that the places to go were Satwa and the Textile Souk in Bur Dubai. People had said that the Textile Souk was mainly for wholesalers and so I thought perhaps Satwa would be better. I asked the concierge at our hotel and he said that the Textile Souk wasn’t just wholesale, so since it was across the river from the Gold Souk, we decided to go there. Getting to the souks were a bit of a challenge. We opted for the metro way and the walk to and from was a bit confusing but also sweltering hot. If you plan to go, bear in mind that the fabric places don’t open until 1pm. We got there early and all the shops that had “textile” in their name were closed. I asked a wholesale shop owner who happened to be open, and he said they would open later. We wandered around the different stalls (they don’t just sell fabric) and it was tiring getting propositioned as we walked by every store. By the time the textile shops did open, I had lost the will to browse. I found a piece of fabric at 1 stall and was able to haggle for 10 dirhams per meter instead of 15 (which I was jazzed about) but after seeing that everywhere was basically wholesale, I called it a day. I was disappointed, but at the same time, knew I’d have the opportunity to shop in Asia.

This is the fabric I bought it Dubai. The colours made me happy 🙂
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Fabric Shopping in Taipei
The place to go is Yongle Fabric Market. It’s a building just chockablock full of fabric.

This is me in front of just 1 stand. 1 of…A LOT
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One of the big questions I had was how willing they would be to bargaining. Some websites said no, some said yes but only 10-15% less. I’m not as comfortable using mandarin so my husband helped test the waters. Turns out, they don’t bargain at Yongle anymore. Maybe if someone bought massive amounts of fabric, but from our experience and the fact that no other customers tried to bargain, we basically concluded that they didn’t. It was fine, since the prices were already amazing when converted to GBP. Bargaining also makes me nervous, and having to do it in mandarin was seriously stressing me out. It was much more enjoyable after that factor was taken away! I found some amazing stuff there: sweatery knits and jerseys for some long-sleeved projects. We’re approaching the colder months in the UK so I need to get cracking on some warmer clothing! I also found a lovely teal plaid that I want to make a pencil skirt out of, a lovely creme cotton that I’ll probably use for a long-sleeved button up shirt and a poly-cotton mix houndstooth fabric. The cost for all 7 fabrics (and I bought between 2-3 yards of each) was around £40. Pretty amazing, even without bargaining! Incredibly happy with my purchases here.

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Fabric Shopping in Hualien
Hualien is a small coastal town on the east coast of Taiwan. We’d chosen to go there because of Taroko Gorge – a beautiful park with lots of hiking trails. We figured it’d be our bit of nature for the trip, since the rest were all cities. Little did we know that a category 4 (and then upgraded to 5) typhoon would hit when we got there, so that basically washed out our chance of hiking since all the trails were closed both days we were there. I hadn’t intended on doing fabric shopping in Hualien because it’s a smaller town and any searches I did for fabric shops there came up empty. Our first night walking around, I saw a fabric store not far from our hotel. They were having a sale on pre-cut fabric. They were 6 chi (30 cms or 1 foot) or 1.8 metre long pieces of cotton fabric. I ended up finding some really pretty fabric and it was only £3.80 per piece. We ended up discovering 4 fabric stores, all on Zhonghua road, or not far off of it. It’s difficult to put in names of the shops because they’re in chinese.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with each of these pieces as some of them are fairly heavy cotton, but I know I’ll probably use a couple for projects that will be gifts. I am really happy with the selection they had, and I think these will make some lovely items!
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I took a photo of the shopping bag for one of the stores if someone wants to translate it into pinyin.
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Fabric Shopping in Hong Kong
Hong Kong…our final stop on the trip, and I was already really happy with what I found in Taiwan. I figured if we had time, we’d go to the fabric market, if not, no biggie. I’m really glad we ended up going because I found some really great stuff. The area is called Sham Shui Po and there is all types of shopping, not just fabric. The fabric stalls and stores that I went to are towards the south side of Ki Lung Street. I’m much more comfortable speaking in Cantonese (despite my nervousness for bargaining) so I thought I’d give it a go. Unlike Ladies Market, Sham Shui Po is not an aggressive bargaining market. You might be able to get 5-15% off, if you can really charm them, but they don’t hike up their prices to overcompensate for tourists. Because…let’s face it…how many tourists (other than fellow sewists) will fabric shop on their holiday.

I bought these two pieces at a brick and mortar store (not a stall along the street). I love stripes and dots and knew I had to get this black and white polka dot crepe. The second piece is silk and isn’t something I’m normally drawn to, but the pattern really intrigued me. Both are 3 yards long (the silk fabric is quite narrow). The silk cost 85 HKD or ~ £7 total and the crepe was 75 HKD or ~£6 total. Literally a STEAL. I did negotiate a little. I think the silk was supposed to be 95 HKD and the crepe was supposed to be 85 HKD. She called me pretty girl and kept telling me how cheap it was compared to other places and it wouldn’t even be as good quality as hers 🙂 It’s also the first time my cantonese has been complimented (it’s really not that great). But I think it’s because I told her I was visiting from the UK.
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These next two pieces of fabric I also bought from a brick and mortar store in the area. I had gone in at first and thought it was a bit pricey, but the quality was really good and I knew I couldn’t get the equivalent in the UK for as cheap as it was here. They weren’t bargaining friendly, but I didn’t mind. The first is a boucle-like fabric that will be great for something long-sleeved. I bought 2 yards for 90 HKD which is ~ £7.50.
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The second is a black and white paisley print medium weight cotton blend. It’s not slippery but it is drapey, which I really like. This was also 90 HKD for 2 yards.
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Last but not least…the fabric purchase I am happiest with. I bought this wool fabric from a stall on Ki Lung street. The reason I was drawn to it is the pattern but also the colour. When the weather gets cold, it’s so easy to pick and wear clothing that is black or grey. It’s a winter wool so it’s definitely warm, but it’s also a nice colour to offset the more drab pieces in my wardrobe. The original piece he held was 7 yards long (and 160cm wide, so it’s really a lot of fabric). It was 35 HKD per yard if he had to cut into it, or 200 HKD for all 7 yards (a discount from 245 HKD). I considered the full 7 yards but thought “Deb…realistically speaking, what will you do with 7 yards of this fabric?!” I made it clear I didn’t want the full 7 yards but wanted 4 instead (which would total 140 HKD). I said I’d pay 100 HKD. He kept saying how it’s real wool and how beautiful it is. I won’t find another like it. So, I was polite and said thank you for his time, and continued down the street to browse. I then came back up the street and lingered at stalls near him. Then I heard him say “Ok, I’ll give you 4 yards for 120 HKD”. 4 yards of wool for £10 is a no brainer and a 15% discount…not bad 🙂 I was pretty happy with the result, and super happy with this fabric! Chalk up 2 successes for bargaining in Cantonese!
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I’m grateful that I have a husband who is supportive of my fabric purchases and never rushed me once when I was looking in all the stores. I think he knows there are more expensive things I could be into and is probably glad that I’m not! The fabric ended up being extra useful as we bought one of those self balancing boards for his brother at Ladies Market (he’s a great bargainer and negotiated hard for this and a fake designer watch) and my fabric was used for padding the bag and board so that it wouldn’t get damaged on the flight back to London. The picture is really blurry, but the only one I could take during the repacking process.
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I think holiday fabric shopping is the best because it pretty much guarantees that I’ll have at least a few things to remember the places we visited by!

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Dubai Aquarium

I am literally never this fast at updating my blog. There are trips and sewing projects that I have yet to write, let alone publish. There are a couple contributing factors to why I’m a bit faster with my trip blogging. First, I discovered that I can use a link from my flickr site to insert photos into wordpress (old news for many I’m sure, but a revelation for me!) and secondly, we’d been in Hualien the last couple days and had a typhoon come through that basically kept us indoors for almost the entire time we’ve been here. May as well take hold of the opportunity to blog and keep up with photos!

So, as promised in my last post, I’ve dedicated an entire post to the Dubai Aquarium. As I mentioned before, I LOVE aquariums, so I thought it fitting to share them here. The aquarium itself isn’t huge, but we took our time and enjoyed it. It also wasn’t that busy, thankfully, so it made it that much more enjoyable. The highlight for me was the otter feeding. I’ve never seen them this interactive with a trainer before! It was really incredible to watch. They are such smart creatures and it’s neat to see how they’ve been trained.

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At this point, the trainer came out and proceeded to demonstrate things with them. He got them to wave to us, would also use his relationship with them to check their health and then reward them for good behaviour. It was really neat to see a couple of them paint as well.

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Checking their hearts
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They’re painting! The gift shop actually sold artwork that the otters had painted.
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A tank dedicated to all things Finding Nemo 🙂
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The resident salt water crocodile
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In the shark tunnel
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That’s it for now. Hopefully Taiwan and Hong Kong won’t take as long to follow 🙂

September Travels: Dubai

A while back I’d told my husband that I wanted to do a sunshine/beach trip. Most of our travels end up being city breaks and a lot of hiking/exploration. So, I started researching places to go for a week-long trip. At the top of the list was Sardinia. Gorgeous landscape, clear blue water…basically ideal. But as I looked into it more, I realised that we’re the type to get bored and not want to lay by the pool/beach day after day. We’re also massive foodies and I knew that we’d want great food, no matter where we went.

As we discussed Sardinia a bit more, it started feeling like it wasn’t the place for us. Then, out of the blue, I suggested Taiwan. He looked at me and said…”Ok”. Don’t ask me how this came about, because I have no earthly idea. I think I was thinking “food” and we love Chinese / Taiwanese food…so why not go to Taiwan. It then turned into Taiwan + Hong Kong (both countries that our parents grew up in) and instead of 1 week, we made it a 2 week trip. We then booked our flights and the cheapest flights ended up being on Emirates with a layover in Dubai. I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai, but mainly for the sake of curiosity whereas Joe has had no interest. With a layover in Dubai it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend a couple days there (at no extra cost with the flight) to get it out of my system. I think the convincing factor for him was that we’d spend a day at the Atlantis Resort Water Park – Aquaventure. A bit of background…at the ripe age of 28, I introduced Joe to waterparks. He’d never been (despite living in California) and has loved them ever since. Living in the UK means not very hot summers, so we actually haven’t been since we moved to London.

So what started out as a week-long trip to Sardinia, turned into a Dubai / Taiwan / Hong Kong trip. The Dubai leg has been completed so I thought I’d share some photos from our time there. We are currently still in Taiwan having waited out the typhoon that headed this way.

We stayed in the Jumeirah Beach Residence area, which thankfully was quite accessible by metro / tram. I can’t say the same for all of Dubai though because we tried to take the metro to as many places as possible but because of their locations and the lack of walkability of most areas of Dubai, getting around was a bit of a challenge. We’d been told that taking the taxi everywhere is normal, but we liked the flexibility of not having to queue. The times we used the metro was great. They’re spacious, air conditioned (VERY important) and clean.

The view from our hotel was of part of the Palm and the water.

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We also visited the Dubai Mall and grabbed a snack in their massive food court.

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They had a dunkin’ donuts and Texas Chicken which was pretty much Church’s Chicken (same logo and everything!)

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We then went to the Dubai Aquarium. I LOVE aquariums so this was kind of a no brainer. It’s not huge, but it is interesting. We took our time walking through it and the absolute highlight was getting there in time to see the otters being fed. I am fascinated by otters because they’re really smart (and cute!). At seaworld and the other aquariums I’d been to, I hadn’t ever seen them interact with a trainer as much as we did here. Because of how many pictures I took, it’ll need to be a separate post… 🙂

I think the thing we most looked forward to, was the food. We wondered how their restaurants and buffets compare to places like Vegas. We first went to Asado which is an Argentinian steak house. We ordered their variety meat grill which was huge. Their speciality is slow cooked baby goat. The meat was really good, but we found that some of the steaks were overcooked. The sirloin was perfectly cooked (by our medium-rare standards) but by the time we got to the tenderloin, it was almost at medium-well. We mentioned it to our waiter, and he promptly had another one brought out. Sidenote: the service we experienced in Dubai was AMAZING.

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On the way back to the metro, we walked past Burj Khalifa. It is really pretty at night!

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We also went to Aquaventure, which was really fun. Joe took video of the rides on his gopro here. We’d originally considered staying at the Atlantis hotel, but I’m really glad we didn’t because it would have made getting into different parts of Dubai a lot longer.

The next night we wanted to explore the Madinat Jumeirah area so we asked our hotel for a restaurant recommendation. They suggested and Italian place called Segreto which was a fabulous suggestion. My seafood soup and cannelloni was probably the best I’ve ever had.

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The next day we went to the Bur Dubai area to visit the Textile Souk. I actually didn’t have much luck with fabric here – I ended up only buying 1 piece of fabric. I don’t do well with extreme temperatures and it was really hot. Also, the men from the different souks would call out to us, follow us around trying to get us to come into their store etc. I know this is normal, but with the heat and not having much luck with fabric, it didn’t put me in a very good mood. I don’t know why, but when they bring my ethnicity into it, it really annoys me. Yelling “Ni Hao! Ni Hao!” at me is not going to make me want to talk to you. Or we would get “Konichiwa!” We took a water taxi over to the gold souk and then headed to dinner, which made the whole day much better.

My one fabric purchase.

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On the water taxi

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Dinner was at Yalumba‘s Tuesday night seafood buffet. Note, this is at the La Meridian near the airport, so quite far from where we were staying. We had such a hard time getting there from the airport metro stop, that we ended up taking a 5-minute taxi ride there. Joe found a way to walk back (thankfully) because the taxi driver wasn’t happy he had to get out of the queue to take us less than 1 km. If you’re in Dubai on a Tuesday night, and you love seafood, then you must go to Yalumba. The seafood was SO fresh, and there was a lot of it. They had the cold seafood, as well as hot cooked dishes with fish, crab etc. Joe’s favourite were the small dishes of whole scallops.

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Perfect Travel Companion: The Flapjack

One of my top priorities when I travel is “what should I bring/buy to snack on?” As someone who gets hangry (hungry-angry) it’s important for me, and my travel companions’ happiness, that I am well fed. That why on road trips or long train journeys, I come well prepared with every snack possible. Gummy bears, crisps (chips), cookies etc. Something salty, and something sweet to cater for all tastes. They’re usually store bought snacks but on a trip to Europe with friends last year, I decided to make something home made. We were going to be hiking Cinque Terre and spending a lot of time travelling. I sometimes make my own muesli (toasted granola) and had seen recipes for flapjacks. I decided it’d be a good snack as its simplest is made of oats, sugar and butter. It’s a great base starting point. I used this recipe from bbcgoodfood as my base. These flapjacks have been lifesavers, particularly on our Cinque Terre trip where we had train strikes that made our journey HOURS longer than it was supposed to be, and sustained us on our full day hike.

Base ingredients:

250g Porridge Oats – I use the large porridge oats, not the ones used for instant porridge or even microwaveable porridge. I use jumbo rolled oats.
125g Butter
125g Brown Sugar – I use dark muscovado because it adds really great flavour, and isn’t as refined as normal brown sugar
2-3 tbsps Golden Syrup (depends how gooey you want it) – could substitute agave which has a lower GI
*From here, including the method instructions, is where I deviate

Deb’s additions:
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp (or more) of flaxseed – great for fibre and good fats!
You can add any of these in together, or separately – it’s entirely up to you!
Pumpkin seeds
Nuts (I will use crushed cashews or pistachios, but anything will work)
Dried fruit or berries
Chocolate chips

Method

-Weigh out oats and put into mixing bowl
-Melt butter – once melted, add in the brown sugar and mix it around so that any lumps are dissolved or made smaller
-Mix the butter/sugar mixture, spices such as nutmug, cinnamon, vanilla essence and flaxseed into the oats
-Add in the golden syrup and mix

**Here is where you can split the oats mixture and make part of it plain, and another part with nuts, seeds, chocolate etc.
**The original recipe says to use a baking tin but I’ve had good results with filling muffin tins 1/3 to 1/2 way up and you don’t have to worry about cutting them! Nice for if you’re creating more than 1 kind of flapjack.

-Mix in the “extras” and fill either your baking tin or muffin tins
-Bake at 180 Celsius or ~ 350 Farenheit for 20 minutes
-Note: It may require less time if using muffin tins – more like 15 minutes
-Remove from oven when they are golden
If you use dark brown muscovado, the flapjacks will look more brown than golden

I made these flapjacks for our most recent trip to Croatia. I used the baking tray method this time.
I made these flapjacks for our most recent trip to Croatia. I used the baking tray method this time.
Side shot of the flapjacks. I used pistachios and chocolate chips in this version...loads of them :)
Side shot of the flapjacks. I used pistachios and chocolate chips in this version…loads of them 🙂

Bruges

I’d wanted to visit Bruges ever since seeing it on a list of European cities that were a must-see. It is often compared to Venice and Amsterdam because of its canals, but the main attraction is the city itself because it is all medieval architecture. A weekend there is definitely enough. We stayed from Friday night to Sunday and didn’t feel like we missed out on anything. Unlike other cities, there isn’t much in the way of museums and art galleries (even though I’m sure you could find some). What we enjoyed doing the most was walking and exploring the city. The weather was amazing, so it made the walking much more enjoyable.

During our walks we found tucked away parks, pretty canal and lake views, and a weekend market (Joe’s favourite!). They had all sorts of clothes and food. The neat thing about the food is that they had massive vans with multiple grilling rotisseries. It was pretty much a meat-lovers galore. Joe got 3 ribs for about 1.50 euros, just to try out. We also took a canal tour, which wasn’t at all exciting, but gave us another view of the city. One thing that was interesting was that buildings in Bruges like to put the date they were built in wrought iron on the outer facades. I caught a few dates, the oldest that I saw being 1579. Hard to believe that was 435 years ago (photos below).

First night in Bruges we went to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. Really great vibe and thousands of beer to choose from...literally thousands
First night in Bruges we went to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. Really great vibe and thousands of beer to choose from…literally thousands

 

A taste of Bruges' medieval architecture
A taste of Bruges’ medieval architecture

 

Pretty canal
Pretty canal

 

Minnewater Lake or "The Lake of Love"
Minnewater Lake or “The Lake of Love”

 

Gorgeous and quiet park in the middle of the city. It's connected to a monastery called The Begijnhof
Gorgeous and quiet park in the middle of the city. It’s connected to a monastery called The Begijnhof

 

One of the prettier shots of the canals
One of the prettier shots of the canals

 

Called the Basilica of the Holy Blood. You have to pay 2 euros to see a vial that supposedly holds a cloth with Jesus's blood on it. Every day at 2pm they bring it out for the "veneration of the blood". On Sundays they have special service where they sing hymns and bring out the blood to "venerate it". I had major issues with this. I didn't think it was worth it for 2 euros, nor did I think veneration of blood was ok.
Called the Basilica of the Holy Blood. You have to pay 2 euros to see a vial that supposedly holds a cloth with Jesus’s blood on it. Every day at 2pm they bring it out for the “veneration of the blood”. On Sundays they have special service where they sing hymns and bring out the blood to “venerate it”. I had major issues with this. I didn’t think it was worth it for 2 euros, nor did I think veneration of blood was ok.

 

Oldest building that I saw. Others had 1614 and 1604, but this was definitely the oldest.
Oldest building that I saw. Others had 1614 and 1604, but this was definitely the oldest.

 

And no blog post of mine would be complete, without a panorma of some sort. This spot on the canals is oft photographed and appears in tour books and postcards. I had to get a photo of my own!!

 

Bruges Canal Panorama
Bruges Canal Panorama

Easter in Geneva

We went to Geneva a few weeks ago for the long Easter weekend. The city itself is quite small, but the lake is gorgeous. It’s actually just what we needed because we didn’t want anything too intense since we really needed a break from the hectic-ness of work and city life. The airport is a free 8 minute train ride from Geneva’s train station. When you get to your hotel, if they don’t give it to you already, ask for the free travel card so that you can use the trams and buses for free.

We got to walk around the Old Town, visit the cathedral that John Calvin used to preach at and we also saw the United Nations. On Sunday we rented a car and drove to Montreux which has a famous Jazz festival. Nearby is Chateau Chillon which is located on the eastern end of Lake Geneva. It’s remarkably well preserved and really neat! It sits on a rock that juts out on the lake. The weather was really cooperative and we really enjoyed our time there and in Montreux.

If we had more time we would have tried a glacier walk or gone up to Chamonix or Mont Blanc, but unfortunately we couldn’t. That’s the great thing about Geneva though, there are a lot of day trip or short trip opportunities from there!

 

Jet d'Eau - Lake Geneva
The famous Jet d’Eau – Lake Geneva

 

The flower clock of Geneva. It really does tell the time accurately
The flower clock of Geneva. It really does tell the time accurately

 

Inside St. Pierre Cathedral
Inside St. Pierre Cathedral

 

John Calvin's chair
John Calvin’s chair

 

These organ tubes look a bit like transformers
These organ tubes look a bit like transformers

 

Panoramic view from the top of the cathedral steps!
Panoramic view from the top of the cathedral steps!

 

The broken chair in front of the United Nations.  It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.
The broken chair in front of the United Nations. It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.

 

The front of the UN
The front of the UN
Art on the ceiling of one of the rooms in the United Nations by Miquel Barceló. It weighs about 35 tonnes.
Art on the ceiling of one of the rooms in the United Nations by Miquel Barceló. It weighs about 35 tonnes.
Chateau Chillon on a gorgeous day
Chateau Chillon on a gorgeous day

 

Lord Byron carved his name when he visited the Chateau. It was the inspiration for the poem Prisoner of Chillon
Lord Byron carved his name when he visited the Chateau. It was the inspiration for the poem Prisoner of Chillon

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One of my favourite photos from the weekend. It feels serene and like such a great place to relax!
One of my favourite photos from the weekend. It feels serene and like such a great place to relax!

 

National Aquarium

Last week, we were in Virginia to visit my father-in-law. Where we were staying was about an hour from Washington D.C. so we thought we’d be able to see the sights and enjoy being tourists. With the shut down, it didn’t look that likely. Thankfully, it was lifted towards the end of our week but we still planned to do stuff in the area that wasn’t funded by the Federal Government.

I LOVE AQUARIUMS. I love animals, I love zoos, but for some reason I really love sea creatures. A visit to the east coast just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. With my new camera in hand, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to test it out. I’m really pleased with how the photos turned out!

It's hard to tell from this photo, but this 3 flippered sea turtle is 520 pounds heavy. She was rescued from very cold waters and had to amputate her left flipper
It’s hard to tell from this photo, but this 3 flippered sea turtle is 520 pounds heavy. She was rescued from very cold waters and had to amputate her left flipper
We were fortunate enough to catch a feeding time. This is the sea turtle next to a diver. It gives a bit of perspective on her size
We were fortunate enough to catch a feeding time. This is the sea turtle next to a diver. It gives a bit of perspective on her size
Lion fish
Lion fish
This saw fish was lurking near the bottom of the tank.
This sawfish was lurking near the bottom of the tank.
Googly eyes
Googly eyes
The jellyfish were mesmerising. They can be deadly, yet so interesting
The jellyfish were mesmerising. They can be deadly, yet so interesting
These 3 were kind of tangled
These 3 were kind of tangled
This was one of my favourites. It was this pale translucent blue with sparkles. So unique!
This was one of my favourites. It was this pale translucent blue with sparkles. So unique!

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More to come on the rest of our visit!! Stay tuned :O)