Capturing our love for art, adventure and learning
We have had 3 very very different months this summer in terms of weather. June was the hottest June on record and July was 10th wettest on record. We saw storm Antoni and Betty along with a mix of rain as well as sunshine. What we've felt constantly however is a period of healing. A healing of body, mind and soul as we mindfully savour our adventures.
If you haven't been able to follow our journeys, here's a quick list and some links you can visit:
Post: Summer Bumper Post: We surrender
-North Wales (South Stack lighthouse)
-North Wales (Great Orme)
-London Leicester Square
Post: Reduced to tears
-North Wales (Gwynedd - Dolgellau)
-North Wales (Gwynedd - Cregennan Lakes)
July was basically a very restful month because of the constant rain. We took the opportunity to continue school since the kids usually take a break in September when we celebrate their birthdays. We followed the Wimbledon, watched a lot of Bluey, attended Gwyn's first ballet concert and listened to Matt's live radio show weekly. It was apparently also loose teeth season and I've had to pluck two really loose ones in a day....
The wet weather slowed down our schedules and helped us become more mindful and present. We need to realise how special these ordinary days are. The seemingly ordinary days to us are our children's memory of their childhood. We take nothing for granted because the days may seem long but the years fly by really really quickly.
I think the quiet moments also made us appreciate the community around us a lot more. We've learnt to slow down and take our time to see people as people. We're incredibly grateful that people take time to make us feel at home and that we belong to the community. Little things like a light-hearted chat after service, picnics, tea time and lunches in a backyard feel really wholesome!
Being home so much also forced us to observe our surroundings more keenly. We realised that A LOT does happen around us in the village. We've observed which birds came by, where the squirrels sat in the tree and when the foxes came by. I think I've made friends with a Pigeon...
Despite the rain, we did manage a farm shop visit in Market Harborough, a drive on the Gospel Pass (highest road pass in Wales), a stroll on a sandflat and Lavender farm in Norfolk. We've had to dodge some showers and drive in really wet conditions but it was all worthwhile. I've grown to love trips that subtly stimulate your senses and help form amazing memories. You hear the buzzing of the bees, smell the fragrance of the lavender, see the wild horses and feel the wind in your hair.
It is so easy to lose our ability to feel deeply and appreciate a moment. Doom scrolling and switching constantly from video to video have programmed our brains to be constantly demanding the next. We want entertainment that is stimulating and quick. We are never really in the moment nor have the time to appreciate what we are looking at. I cannot recommend being in the countryside more. After capturing the shots we need, we make an effort to put our devices away to stare, smell and feel. We come back refreshed. Every single time!
Healing also came in the form of food. Having to pay more than £10 for a loaf of Gluten-free bread back in Singapore is never far from our minds when we visit the supermarket and farm shops. For so many years, it was exceptionally difficult to listen to our bodies and eat food that doesn't ruin our guts and trigger allergy symptoms. It isn't just the affordability that we are grateful for, it is the labelling and ease of access that makes it much easier.
August has been pretty packed compared to July. We are well aware that that we won't be getting as much daylight. At the end of June, the sun rose at 4.41am and set at 9.32pm. Days were long and we barely used our car's headlights in the height of summer. But by the end of August, we will be losing as much as 3 hours and 40 minutes of daylight. The seasons really teach you to seize the moment. It is either now or next summer.
We wanted to maximise our time and resources and so we tried as much as possible to visit the countryside and attractions that don't require an entrance fee. We've also opted not to stay overnight for all of our trips. Hotels can cost between £60 to £100 a night for a "budget option". With two storms in a month, we gave up toying with the idea of camping.
We wake up early and get on the road early from our home, spend the whole day at a place and leave by early evening to make it back in time for the kids' bedtime. It is a lot of miles but we managed to to visit London, Bristol, Eastbourne, Twycross, Coalville and Mam Tor in the Peak District. We've got to adapt to make these travels possible and it made us many core memories!
To be really honest, we didn't manage to enjoy the British Museum properly. The place was jam packed with tourists and school groups. If you don't like queues and crowds, don't come to London in August. Wait until the 2nd week of September when school holidays are over! It is also generally cooler by then and you won't have to be cooked alive in the older Underground lines.
We got a glimpse of the mummies that the kids have been learning about in their world history curriculum. It was an eerie but intriguing sight. Although I must admit looking at dead people was a rather peculiar choice for our 11th marriage anniversary...
After a lot of walking (and some ice-cream), we tried looking for an Asian/Malaysian restaurant because I've been having Sambal cravings! (Sambal is a chili paste made by a mixture of chili peppers, shrimp, onions, garlic etc...). We had some satays, fried rice and green curry and they tasted good but still lacked the authentic taste we love. I guess we'll try again the next time we are in London...
-Twycross Zoo, Leicestershire
This was the only significant ticketed attraction we paid for this summer. Paying for the day ticket entitled us to a year pass. This was a good investment because the kids never get sick of going to a zoo and we live in the same county as the zoo! Graffalo land (a walk through experience) was also included. What I liked the most about the zoo is that children get to interact with people instead of screens. They get an activity sheet that guides them to explore the zoo and look for stations where a staff member will ask questions and share interesting facts with them. It makes the Zoo experience less of a passive one.
-Cattows Farm, Coalville
Gwyn decided she wanted to wear her bright pink dress that morning for no apparent reason. It was the dress her late-grandpa bought for her just 3 months before he passed on. It was a surprise because we didn't tell her our plans that day and we didn't know she could finally fit the dress. The blazing hot sun and clear blue skies made it a perfect day to roam the sunflower fields and take photographs that pop!
-Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
I was just unwinding at the end of the day and looking at my socials before I saw an amazing video of hot air balloons glowing in the night sky. The next moment I was all over google maps looking for the best way to get to Bristol. The next day, we left home at 4pm after Matt's radio show and headed straight for Bristol. The weather was very very unpredictable. When we arrived and parked, it started POURING. Fortunately all of us came prepared with waterproofs and boots on. As with any large scale event with rain pouring down on the fields, it was a mud fest. Somehow the clear brolly became a really fascinating toy for the kids and they thoroughly enjoyed huddling under it. We did get a few breaks between downpours to enjoy some fish/nuggets and chips before the night glow.
It was an amazing experience being in a crowd on a huge field singing to famous tunes in the rain. Keep calm and carry on indeed. We've learnt that if you are determined to have fun, not even the rain can stop you. The balloons were slowly inflated and started glowing to the rhythm of the music in the night sky. It was magic.
This boy loved it so much he had tears in his eyes. He told me he wanted to do Glastonbury next year because he loved being at a festival. I knew it was a core memory created there. We can't really put a price tag on these things in life can we?
By the time we got home it was midnight and I spent the next two hours washing muddy boots and wiping down our picnic mat and waterproofs. It was exhausting but it was worth every ounce of energy. I'll do it all over again!
-Seven Sisters, Eastbourne
This was another re-visit of a spot we visited 10 years ago. It was winter and we didn't have enough daylight to properly explore the area. It looked absolutely stunning in the summer sun.
This was one of the final spots we visited before leaving the country. I think we were seriously dreading that our holiday/honeymoon was coming to an end and we had a meeting to attend hours after our flight back. I don't think we could have ever imagined that we would be back here with two kids of our own.
After viewing the seven sisters cliff from this side, we took a short drive to the cliffs itself. The sheer height and drop is both terrifying and fascinating. Thanks to modern engineering, there was a strong and stable stairway that took us down to the pebble beach at the bottom of the cliffs. We laid our picnic mat and enjoyed the light sea breeze and comfortably warm sunshine.
I know many people say that a beach without sand isn't a real beach but I absolutely adore pebble beaches. No cleaning up necessary with pebbles. In fact, they are a source of entertainment if you enjoy stacking pebbles! That was what the kids and I did while Debra did her painting on the beach. It wasn't just about being at a stunning location that made this trip really great. It was also being able to see her do what she loves.
As the sun began to hover around the horizon over the English Channel, we soaked in the views on the white cliffs knowing it will be the last time we are seeing it this summer. We'll meet again.
-Mam Tor, Peak District
I've been eyeing these hills since winter. We just never got down to hiking the 2 hour loop. I think it is just the mental burden of hiking with two children. Debra was not exactly keen but I insisted on doing this trip. I must say it turned out so much better than our last big hiking trip in Wales. The terrain was challenging but bearable and we only had to climb an equivalent of 62 floors (haha) and walk just over 11,000 steps. I think whining reduced by 80% and enjoyment increased by the same amount.
I think I was too ambitious trying to attempt the 886m Pen y Fan back in Spring. To be fair to everyone, we did manage to reach more than 700m before heading back down. This hike was a lot more rewarding because it is quite exposed on both sides which makes it possible to see the other valleys and hills around. Despite being so exposed, the winds were much warmer on the 517m high Mam Tor. All of us were way more sure-footed this time with better hiking boots. No busted ankles or knees this time.
It felt so special and exciting to be on that tiny path along the mountain ridge. There was so much to see on either side. I took a couple wrong turns looking at a tiny topographic map on my phone trying to figure out which of the tiny paths to take. We did manage to eventually find the loop that took us down on the side of the mountain through the vegetation down into the valley. We met some sheep, birds and very prickly plants before dodging landslides and mud. That was a highlight for all of us! The abundance of ferns made the little ones think they were time-travelling. They were looking out for prehistoric creatures and naming dinosaurs I have absolutely no idea existed.
We stopped near the end of our hike at a bench overlooking the valley and enjoyed some snacks and PB&J sandwiches. Debra managed to do a quick paint where the kids ran around time-travelling again.
I think this concludes any major adventure for the summer of 2023.
I won't miss cleaning a million dead bugs off the car, hearing alarming cries for help to capture bugs at home or having difficulty sleeping because of the warm muggy nights. I'll surely miss the holidays, festivals, long days and lush greenery.
10 years ago, Vincent and Debra were on their honeymoon. Vincent was also on a quest to show Debra the home of his heart, mind and soul. He decided that visiting a sleepy Welsh town called Dolgellau was a great idea. He didn't even know how to pronounce the name correctly. It was a rather peculiar plan for a honeymoon considering it was in the middle of a cold dark and windy winter. There was nothing to do and only a really expensive Chinese take-out was open by 4pm. If you consider all these factors and Debra's deep disdain of the wind, Dolgellau is a poor choice.
To make up for that, Vincent took Debra on a drive down a path with many sheep and....field gates that she had to open by exiting the comforts of the car's warm heated seats. I bet she wasn't too impressed. As the windy path got really narrow and steep, Vincent fiddled with the manual gears of his rented Citroen wishing it was an automatic. At this point it could have really just ended with them not finding anything worth looking at and grumbling their way back to the hotel. It could have been one of those wasted trips that they would put behind them...
What they chanced upon at the end of the path was Cregennan Lakes. It was magical. In an instance, both Vincent and Debra fell deeply in love with the land. Apart from the wind and drizzle that cut short that magical moment, work was filling up their emails and it was time to head back to their daily grind on the equator. Ready at the gate for their 13.5 hour flight back, they were surprised that British Airways had upgraded them to business class. The bigger surprise was they were now three instead of two.
The years that follow were hectic. Debra and Vincent pushed themselves far beyond what most people would consider sane. They built a family and a business but a deep subconscious yearning for that place they can feel at home remained. Vincent would always tell Debra, "I miss home". But that didn't make sense. He had a loving home. When Vincent's dad suddenly went home to be with the Lord, nothing made sense anymore. What is home?
They embarked on a grand tour that would help them learn more about themselves, their children and what they were going to do with their lives...
7 months of travel later, they published a book, and this was one of the pages. They continued to dream of the land they would call home.
"It's been 10 years, just give up already..."
"Know when it is time to give up!"
These voices got louder and louder and it became immensely difficult to dream again.
But here is Vincent, Debra, Matthias and Gwyneth in Dolgellau. It took 10 years but here they are.
Eateries, shops and the town felt alive. 4 of them felt alive! Especially with the delicious cheese cakes and full English that filled their tummies.
Just like the previous time, Vincent wrangled a little Citroen up the really steep hills and tiny country roads. And as the lakes came into view, he played the Welsh hymn that has been playing all week at home. As Calon Lân played on the car stereo, there was silence in the car...
I don't ask for a luxurious life,
the world's gold or its fine pearls,
I ask for a happy heart,
an honest heart, a pure heart.
A pure heart full of goodness
Is fairer than the pretty lily,
None but a pure heart can sing,
Sing in the day and sing in the night.
If I wished for worldly wealth,
It would swiftly go to seed;
The riches of a virtuous, pure heart
Will bear eternal profit.
Evening and morning, my wish
Rising to heaven on the wing of song
For God, for the sake of my Saviour,
To give me a pure heart.
As Vincent parked the car in the exact spot he parked 10 years ago, nobody moved. The stillness and silence in the car was in fact a guise to the fact that Debra and Vincent were both reduced to tears looking out of the window. The stillness did not reflect the immeasurable deluge of emotions. Both of them were suddenly and unexpectedly hit with the feeling of homecoming at that moment. Without saying a word to each other, they both felt the same incredible emotions. It took a really long time, but it finally felt right and complete.
Having explored the place for themselves, the kids surprised their parents by asking them to take them there every day.
"It takes a long time to drive here you know..."
"You can look for a house and we can stay here!"
They have all found their happy place. May this be their happily ever after...
An extraordinary afternoon later, they travelled down to the estuary that Vincent chanced upon while exploring the area via Google street view. The place looked strangely familiar.
They drank in remembrance of their beloved dad and grandad.
This is our story of homecoming.
Our first British Summer is finally here. We've been out and about making the best of the dry weather and long days. Britain is GORGEOUS in summer! We hope you'll enjoy the 60 plus photos that'll come up in this bumper post. More than that I'd like to share a little of why we are surrendering. We are putting up the white flag.
Finally after 6 months, we have touched the sea again. We surrendered to the lure of the sea and being able to dress in shorts/t-shirt again. I think more than that is the fact we are back at a place we visited 10 years ago and were disappointed because it was closed. This is a recurring theme that I'll talk about in detail later.
Brighton beach is my kind of beach. Instead of the regular sand, there are pebbles instead. No messy cleanups. Just strolling down the beach and enjoying the sea breeze brought smiles to all our faces. The pier is also an amazing place if you enjoy bumper cars and old school roller-coasters. The British seaside charm is a very unique experience that you can only fully experience in summer. It comes alive in summer and hibernates in winter.
A short drive away down the Marine Parade was a series of white cliffs. The famed cliffs that inspired the song "The White Cliffs of Dover". Although this isn't dover, it still evoked a moment of deep reflection. This was one of the last things we saw before Debra and I left the UK on our honeymoon 10 years ago. It was so stunning we were speechless.
With the dry weather going strong, we planned another trip a few days after returning from the South Coast. With our snack bag and lunch packs done up, we booked tickets to a museum in London and punched in the address on google maps. 1 hour into the drive, we hit the first of several traffic jams on the motorway. A quick time check made us realise that we can't take the kids to the play area and museum anymore. "Plan B then!" I thought to myself. We parked the car and realised that the cable-car station we planned to go to wasn't where we thought it was. It was a 20 minute walk away and we decided against picking a fight with the blazing hot sun. We surrendered. We quickly consulted google maps again and decided to take the river bus down the thames towards the most central areas of London. We were ALL thrilled with the speed and power of the boat as well as the awesome views. It was a special perspective to see the city from the Thames itself.
You may be thinking...the UK can't be hotter than the tropics? Thing is, a lot of British homes and public transport aren't built to deal with the heat. At 27 celcius it can feel like you are suffocating. Fans and air-conditioners DO NOT come standard in houses, buses and Underground trains. It can be a pretty miserable experience if you are in a packed train on the London Underground without air-conditioning. House windows usually come with very small openings. It is mostly a small narrow opening at the top. So we've been flying the white flag lately hoping for the colder days to come back. Life can be SO ironic isn't it?
On this trip, we have also surrendered our money at the Leicester Square Lego store. The selection at the store is massive. If you love Lego, you'll be amazed at the Aston Martin, London bus and Harry Potter themed life sized displays. We decided to get the kids very early birthday presents. Debra got a custom Lego figure that is seriously her alter-ego. Maybe when the kids are grown up, I'll be hanging out with a wife with neon pink hair at the beach. (Scroll down for example...)
After a long day of amazing sights and shopping, we needed a good dinner. I knew Din Tai Fung would satisfy all of us. It has been 6 long months since we last had a Chinese restaurant meal. We surrendered to the "wok hey", chili oil and baos. I think that the experience is a bittersweet one because my late-father loved Din Tai Fung. It was his last birthday meal and last restaurant meal. The meal stirred up memories and we all also wished my mom was in the UK enjoying it with us. It tasted extra good after a long day of braving the jams, crowds and the heat. We did however have to surrender £75 (SGD 126.93, USD 94.60).
The ride back to our car on the Elizabeth Line was a lot quieter and air-conditioned. We were greeted by a mesmerising sunset.
I think this is the biggest and most significant part of our surrender. Earlier, I spoke about the recurring theme of surrendering. At some point, one will realise how brutal life can be. There are moments that will completely wreck havoc in our lives. Just like a traffic jam or sudden closure, it can upset our plans. 10 years ago when Debra and I felt the disappointment of not being able to see Brighton Pier and South Stack Light house, I don't think we realised 10 very hard years were before us.
Whether you call it God's plans, fate or just life, it takes a certain level of surrender to keep going. We need to realise that quite often, not everything can be planned or controlled. We dreamt and we planned in search of a homeland we would find wholesome for a family but the search was long and fruitless. The pandemic and my dad's passing rocked us real hard. The only way we could stay sane was when we surrendered and took one day at a time.
Being back in North Wales at the South Stack Lighthouse was a very special moment.
We would never imagine that we will be here 10 years later with two children. It is extra special because after our trip here 10 years ago, we found out we were pregnant with Matthias. The beauty of Wales made such a huge impact that 3 years after that, I decided name my daughter Gwyneth which is the anglicised spelling of Gwynedd. Gwynedd is the Welsh county where Snowdonia is. That's also where our love affair with mountains began. How our lives are panning out now is beyond our wildest imagination. I believe in surrendering now. This surrender can bring a lot of peace. Putting away the pride and having faith that one day, things will work for our good keeps us going.
The sea bashes the rocks and the winds assault the cliffs but seabird colonies continue to thrive. The rain lashes out but the flowers still bloom. The resilience in nature and its staggering beauty of remind us that out of the immense pressures something good will emerge! If you're facing a difficult time, don't give up.
We ended our time in Wales around Great Orme in Llandudno. Gwyn enjoyed the views so much that she asked Debra and I if we could buy a house there so she can enjoy the views every day. Perhaps darling...perhaps.
We'll see you guys round the corner for the next adventure!
It has been WARM, DRY and SUNNY! These 3 words are enough to help anyone living across the British isles break out a little smile. After a dark cold winter, we had a gloomy wet spring and now summer is finally upon us. Daytime temperatures are around 16 to 22 celcius which means we've packed away all our winter gear. It is now nice enough to head out in shorts and t-shirt. Best of all, it is still possible to enjoy the outdoors without soaking our clothes in sweat.
We've clocked several hundred miles and travelled across the Yorkshire Dales, Lake District and Brecon Beacons. We've found ourselves exclaiming in immense joy and awe as we drive along tiny country roads. It is a feeling we haven't felt since we left Sapa, Vietnam and Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Click here to read about all our other travels!
Now let's get to the fun parts!
SOUTH WALES (The Big Pit Coal Mine)
We drove over 2 hours before we got to South Wales. I was telling the kids that we had entered another country in the same country. We had crossed borders without our passports! It is a very unique union we've got here in Britain. The drive into the hilly parts strained our car's little 1 litre engine and there were many sections where we had to get down to gear 2 before we could make progress.
We had never gone down a mine shaft before and we definitely knew nothing about mining. The Big pit is an amazing destination that's both educational, reflective and enjoyable. We got our free underground tickets before we headed to a waiting area.
Our guides greeted us and brought us to a room to get kitted out with a special mining headlamp. The battery was strapped to our bodies and we had to wear a hard hat too. I was pleasantly surprised that they had equipment that fit children. They do weigh quite a few KGs but it was manageable even for Matt and Gwyn. We had to surrender ALL battery operated items because they can cause a spark and set off certain gases that the remaining coal may give off. All watches, car keys, mobile phones and cameras had to be put away on the surface before we took the "cage" down the shaft.
We got down 90m underground and was led through various tunnels, shown the equipment used and told about the dangers miners faced. It was both a fascinating experience and a really reflective one. At one point, the guide instructed us to all turn off our lamps and try to see our palms in front of us to illustrate the darkness miners experienced in Victorian times. Women, children and men who couldn't afford candles (yes they had to buy their own to work the mines) worked in absolute darkness. Horses that were used to pull carts stayed underground for the rest of their lives once they entered the mine. The immense hardship and dangers they faced in that darkness is absolutely shocking.
Out of these "dark satanic mills", homes were warmed, trains had steam and ships sailed across oceans. The dirty coal as we call it today advanced civilisation. I applaud the Welsh government for preserving the coal mine and funding the museum. It is completely free to visit and I think that helps us put things into perspective. Yes, we need to care for our environment and use cleaner fuels but we also need to remember the sacrifices of those who came before us too.
We also got to ask many questions along the way and Gwyn asked the guide if she could try the tool that miners used to shovel coal into the cart. She got what she asked for! Her response was most hilarious "OH IT IS SO HEAVY! I don't think I can work here". I asked the guide how people did their "business" underground...he said "ANYWHERE!" and "sometimes they put a pile on the conveyor belts carrying coal up to the surface as a joke". Oh gosh....
We headed off to the mining simulator after we got back up to the surface. It was a light and sound show where machines from different eras come to life as miners shared their stories. A quick lunch later we headed off to scale the highest peak in South Wales.
Pen y Fan
Measuring 886m above sea level, we thought it wouldn't be that tough to scale because our starting point was somewhere around 500m above sea level. The sun was out and the place looked absolutely gorgeous.
10 minutes into the hike the burn in our quads and calves became pretty real. The incline was pretty punishing for amateur hikers like us. The sun felt pretty hot but the wind was intense and cold. It wasn't the most pleasant of climbs but we pressed on. Along the way we met the real champions: the sheep. They scale the peaks in search of the best tasting grass and hang around with their friends on perilously steep sides of the mountain. Unaffected by the wind, they graze leisurely while we huffed and puffed our way up.
At around 780m just shy of the summit, the wind became very intense and the clouds blocked off the sunshine. Our muscles were crying out for a break. The children were increasingly whiny and it became clear we've reach our limit for the climb. We popped a few sandwiches into our tummies in that crazy wind and headed back down. The view was absolutely liberating.
My ankles were sore and unstable for a few days after this climb and I realised that my boots didn't provide sufficient support. Wear proper hiking books with ankle support if you intend to climb here! The downhill is especially punishing on the joints because it very uneven and rocky on portions of the trail.
We decided the next trip was to be a little more leisurely before we attempt anything like the Scafell pike (Highest point in England)...
Once we had recovered and stopped aching, we found our way to the Lake District via the Yorkshire Dales. The Ribblehead Viaduct is one of those scenic places that you can't miss in this area! Built between 1870 and 1874, this iconic viaduct cost more than 100 men their lives to build. It is still being used today!
Windermere Lake, Brockhole on Windermere (Lake District)
Travelling with two kids also meant that we can't do much passive sight seeing for too long. They kids like to do things. These lively little ones prefer to be out there doing something that appeals to all their sense. We got to this amazing lake front destination and took a short stroll before we sat down to have a nice picnic by the waters. They also got to burn off some energy at the playground after a sugary snack and long car ride.
I mean just look at it. It is AMAZING! You don't have to pay an entrance fee to enjoy it and the kids aren't fussing about sweating buckets. If the day ended here, it would have been pretty satisfying already. Then we saw a sign "Boats, Kayaks and Paddle-boards for rent". I looked at Debra in the eye and we both agreed without a single spoken word that WE HAD TO GO ON THE LAKE IN A BOAT! I headed straight to the rental booth and asked if I needed a boat license to drive and they said I didn't need one. It was GAME ON.
We paid £40 for an hour and they fitted us with life jackets of the right size before briefing us about the health and safety rules.
The kids were a little terrified in the beginning because it was their first time on an open top boat driven by their father haha! The kids were absolutely thrilled as we cruised along the lake. We kept checking with them if they were enjoying the activity and they said they were! They even suggested I buy a boat so we can do this again...ermm....
We didn't plan to do a boat ride because we didn't know we had this option but it turned out to be one of the best change of plans ever. We manage to catch a glimpse of the Wray Castle and the beautiful hills surrounding the picturesque lake.
What are your plans this summer?
Let us know in the comments what would be fun for the kids. We are always open to new ideas! We are happy to connect via chat and social media channels too!
Sharing our love of art, travel and learning with you.