Hot Air Balloons 熱気球

Summer of 2018, I had an internship at a small digital marketing agency and it drained the life out of me. I wanted a break from the mind-numbingly repetitive nine-to-five schedule, so I booked a weekend getaway to see the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

I’ve always wanted to go to one of these things. The bright colours? The clear skies? The physics magic?? What’s not to love?!

The obvious answer is capitalism. It was a tiny bit annoying that most of the balloons were advertising a business venture or other – I wanted to get away from marketing, not to immerse myself in it again!

Also, Bristol in early August is cold. Having lived in the UK for as long as I have, I should have known to bring something warmer than my raincoat.

I had a fun and glorious time, regardless! Bristol was full of history, culture, and delicious local-style food.


Notes: Today’s #PhotographFriday was taken using a Canon EOS Kiss X7 camera on the 11th of August, 2018 at Ashton Court Estate in Bristol, England.

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Dover Castle, Kent

I was minding my own business, binge-watching a bunch of crime produral dramas from like, a decade ago, when my OneDrive account reminded me of my time working in Dover, Kent two years ago. Which reminded of my trip to the local castle about two years before that. Which somehow made me homesick all of a sudden.

I miss living in the UK.

Specifically, I miss having easy access to historical sites and not having to worry about language-based miscommunication all the time. While I try not to get too hung up over yearning for “home” because I chose a semi-nomadic lifestyle and I have no regrets…

Home is where your phone automatically connects to the WiFi.

-me, butchering an Internet adage

…however, thinking about a proper cottage pie or a Sunday roast is like getting sucker punched when you’re just trying to binge-watch TV shows in peace.

According to my OneDrive account, I took some lovely pictures of Dover Castle while I was assigned some work in the city back in 2018. Dover College, a further education institution where I tutored some mature students in preparation for the Maths GCSEs, had a perfect view of Dover Castle from the third floor upwards.

black and white picture of Dover castle
the song Misty Mountains from The Hobbit suddenly begins to play

I love a good castle silhouette.

I’m a sucker for a good outline.

I also have a guilty pleasure for black and white pictures, and the picture above hits the trifecta. No wonder homesickness blindsided me like that yellow school bus from Mean Girls.

Aside from working in Dover and having that fantastic view every afternoon, I’ve also visited the Castle proper on a day trip back in 2016. Day trips are very easy to do, considering how tiny a country England was!

LiberaTarts Recalls Another Castle

Dover Castle was built in the 11th century and it, apparently, is one of the largest castles in England. I certainly believe that fact, given how long it took me to reach the castle by foot. As some of you readers might know, I can’t drive nor do I wish to learn how to in the near enough future, which meant that travelling to Dover from home involved an early morning train, a quick brunch at a local restaurant to quell any hunger pains, followed by a sweaty treck up a very steep hill to reach that damned castle.

The hour or so effort it took me to climb to the top was well worth the (metaphoric) blood, sweat, and tears. The fact that The Climb by Miley Cyrus was playing on repeat in my head helped, too. Purely for motivational purposes, of course.

The view from the castle grounds was simple breathtaking. I wish I had the wherewithal to bring my DSLR because the pictures I took using my phone simply did not do the view justice.

Anyway, the activities and self-guided tours inside the castle were very interactive. Perfect for family and school trips, if I’m being honest. There was plenty of medieval and WWII history to be learned, and it’s not wonder that Dover Castle really was a strategic stronghold for England, given its close proximity to the coast and to mainland Europe.

The author holding up a medieval shield.

It looks like a medieval knighthood was not in the cards for me. There goes that daydream.

Visitors to the castle also had access to the roof – a fun experience, for sure, but I didn’t spend too much time there given how I have a fear of heights. I took a few quick snapshots and then hightailed it outta there.

view of the inner castle from the roof of the main keep
from inside the castle walls
LiberaTarts standing in front of Dover Castle
Look at the castle’s intimidating angles. (Sorry, I’m shy!)

By the end of the day trip, I was worn out from the hike up that large hill and the subsequent trek back down to the town centre. The day was not a waste, though, as I had plenty of fun and enjoyed the blindingly bright summer sunshine.

Man, I miss summer.


Tell me: What’s your favourite season? Have you ever been to Dover Castle? Would you want to visit, if you could? Let’s talk in the comments below!

Where the Pandas Are: Travelling to China for Work

This might come as a surprise to some people, but I’m an ESL teacher. It says so right there in my ‘Meet the Author’ widget on the sidebar, but I wouldn’t want to presume anything – not when it comes to the transient nature of The Internet (yes, capital letters and all).

I first caught the teaching bug when I did some Actual Classroom Work at a high school in rural Spain. Turns out I’m a natural and I’m really good at the teaching that I do, so once school ended and summer started up again, I thought to myself ‘why not’ and applied to teach in China.

The entire process leading up to my boarding a flight at Heathrow was an adventure and a half (and I’ll definitely type up a post about it soon enough), but today I’ll focus on my journey from Kent to Chengdu. It was certainly different from my previous intercontinental experiences travelling back and forth between the UK and the Philippines. But where to begin?

Let’s start with the disaster of leaving my hometown in Kent and see where that leads us.

LiberaTarts Goes to China

Leaving Kent

To quote John Denver whose song ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ somehow became the background music of my childhood years, all my bags were packed and I was ready to go. And it would have felt like Mother Nature was sending me off in good spirit, what with a rainbow showing up and all that, if not for the fact that the reason I was able to see the rainbow in the first place was because I forgot my wallet back home and didn’t realise until I was already at the train station.

a rainbow in a small town in Kent

So anyway, my plans to leave for China didn’t go off to an auspicious start. I ran back and forth between the train station and home, sweating up a storm despite my intentions of being chill and relaxed AF as I buckle myself in for a 10 hour flight east. I was wearing joggers and an oversized hoodie and everything! If I learned anything from the multiple long-haul flights in the past, it’s to forgo skinny jeans and embrace the athleisure style.

Arriving in London

Despite the rushing back and forth, I was able to make it to London with plenty of time to spare. I checked two of my large suitcases into a Left Luggage facility and spent one last dinner (in a long, long while) with my brother, who was kind and gracious and filial enough to accompany me to the airport.

We went to Nando’s, as it’s our usual haunt, and afterwards we reluctantly dragged our feet towards the underground. We picked up my two suitcases from the lockers, and somehow managed to navigate through London-in-rush-hour with two frankly overweight suitcases and a small carry-on. The lifts were also out of service at the St Pancras / King’s Cross station, usually known for having step-free access, so we had to ask a very helpful station attendant to help transfer my suitcases from the train station level down to the underground level. (It was a nightmare, but lowkey fun.)

taken from the ‘Travel for London’ website

This can all have been avoided, of course, if I checked the TfL website beforehand for any issues. Silly me!

At Heathrow Airport

Once we were through the underground barriers and free to roam Heathrow, my brother and I didn’t have to walk far before we found the Air China check-in counter. I used the self-service machines to print out my boarding pass (because I’m anti-social like that), but had to talk to an Actual Human as I dropped off my luggage. They were overweight, which wasn’t a surprise. For the life of me, I can never pack light and I’m slightly proud to say that one large suitcase was filled with British snacks.

I’ve lived the expat life before, people! I know myself enough that a few months into a new country, I’d be missing my favourite snacks like a, well, a missing limb. When I was in Japan for my year abroad, I somehow convinced my family to send me three giant 200g blocks of Galaxy chocolate and a handful of Walkers Thai Sweet Chilli crisps.

I live to this day with no regrets. Regarding snacks, at least. I paid a hefty amount for my overweight luggage, but that’s a problem for past and future me to consider. Present-me is having a blast in a hotel room that her new work has paid for.

Boarding My Flight

The plane I was due to take arrived late at the airport, which meant it was late in boarding my fellow flight passengers on; it wasn’t late for long, but it was enough for me to grumble about things needing to be on time. A funny thing that happened, though: an airline employee announced that my flight was delayed, and just as as she uttered “The flight XXXXX is…” a bunch of overeager passengers jumped to their feet and began queueing. It was like watching meerkats pop out from the ground.

has anyone seen this movie? the songs are Actual Bops

The other airline staff checking passports at the waiting area exchanged looks and were like “that was funny”, but only in a more professional manner than my retelling makes them out to be.

Flying from England to China

Now this. This was s o m e t h i n g.

10 hours of recycled air, no WiFi, and oversalted food to compensate with the high altitude.

I won’t say it was fun because I actually have a semblance of sanity left, but the seat next to me wasn’t taken and I was free to stretch out my legs as I catnapped in the air.

I made the executive decision not to sleep during the flight, because I wanted to conquer jet lag as quickly as possible given how I’ll be set to work within a week and my relationship with a regular sleeping pattern is something teenagers laugh at. Anyway, I was grateful to have thought ahead and have downloaded Series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’ on my phone using BBC iPlayer – I’ve never seen it before even though it’s 2019 it was released in 2015.

I’ve also downloaded some library ebooks on my phone (can’t figure out to sending loaned books to my Kindle), and I had plenty of non-fiction reads to tide me over on said Kindle, so it wasn’t like I was bored to tears as I flew from Europe to Asia. Still, I would loved some access to the Internet. Maybe if I flew business or first class in the future…

…one can only hope.

Landing in China

My heart was racing and, for once, it wasn’t due to the pre- or post-flight jitters. There’s something about a plane revving up or preparing to land that scares me. Anyway, I was super nervous to land in China. It’s not because I’ve never been before – I’m a traveller at heart and I like experiencing new cultures – but because I know I’ll be spending at least a year in this place and I do not speak a word of Mandarin. At least with Japan, during my year abroad, I spent the previous two years studying Japanese as part of my university degree.

Working in China was a relatively spur of of the moment decision. Aside from 你好 (ni hao, hello) and 谢谢 (xie xie, thank you), I know next to nothing. Everyone, even those who have no intention of living semi-permanently in any Chinese speaking countries, know how to say hello and thank you. It’s just basic courtesy. My fears that I will somehow insult somebody or break the rules somehow is entirely founded in something real.

I gotta learn how to speak Mandarin. I will learn even if it kills me.

Anyway, I land in China and was greeted by a large placard bearing my full name, which was held by representatives from my new company. It was both mortifying (because it was bright pink) and endearing (no one has even made an airport placard for me before!). I see myself keeping that placard for the time being. I’m a huge packrat, afterall…

Settling In

Less than 24 hours later, I wake up in my hotel room and visited the Head Office to sign my contract. I leave with a welcome bag filled with well-meaning gifts and two work uniforms. But I suppose that’s a story for another time. Keep an eye out for the second part of the ‘Where the Pandas Are’ series! The plan is to document my time here in China, from the ups and downs, the enjoyable and the downright absurd.

Feel free to join me in this adventure. Let’s have some fun!

Rochester Castle, Kent

I love a good castle. I’ve been told that I must have been a vampire in a previous life with how obsessed I am with them. I’m also interest in all things Gothic – literature, architecture, the fashion aesthetic… you name it, I have at the very least a passing interest in it. There’s something amazing about the romanticism of it all.

I envy you your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot of contamination must be an exquisite treasure-an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment: is it not?

Mr Rochester, from Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’

For a book I’ve only read once as a teenager in high school, I seem to quote – or at the very least allude toJane Eyre a lot. Every time I say “Readers, I…” in a post or a tweet, my mind automatically recalls Jane confessing “Reader, I married him” because, quite frankly, how much BDE is that?! This governess turned lover turned wife married the guy and not the other way around.

Anyway, this post isn’t about Jane Eyre (though I might re-read it in the future, now that I’m reminded of how I’ve only read it once). This post is about this little historic town in the northern parts of Kent, England.

LiberaTarts Visits Rochester, Not Mr Rochester (Part 1)

I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again – I have an English Heritage membership, and so it’s a personal hobby of mine to visit as many places as my budget and time allow. I’ve been to Battle Abbey in Sussex, Stonehenge in Wiltshire and a lot more places in Kent as that is where I live.

Last August, in the height of summer and during record-breaking temperature highs for England, my brother and I chose to visit Rochester on a rainy, overcast day. We had fun, don’t get me wrong, but the rain literally put a damper on our trip… I did return to Rochester two months later to meet up with a friend, and just like last time, it rained as well!

Anyway, here are three things I knew about Rochester before arriving:

  1. University of Kent students based in the Medway campus graduate in Rochester Cathedral, which is quite unfair really when you consider that students based in Canterbury get to graduate in Canterbury Cathedral. Both have Gothic style architecture, but Canterbury Cathedral has a more striking silhouette.
  2. Rochester Castle hosted open-air cinemas on the regular, though unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of experiencing it (yet!).
  3. It’s part of the Medway Towns where a few towns located relatively close to each other form a large urban area that isn’t quite a city.

How to Get to Rochester

It’s very easy to get to Rochester using public transportation; it has brilliant rail links from London (if you flew into any of the London airports) or Dover (if you took the ferry from France). It also has a fairly comprehensive local bus system, so you can simply hop on an Arriva bus if you’re staying in the Kent area.

There’s also the ‘driving a car’ option, but I try not to give that too much thought as I can’t drive and I have no plans to learn in the future.

Rochester Castle

The only thing left behind of this really, really old castle is its fortified tower called a keep, which was built in the early 12th century. It has survived three sieges and, as is typical with castles and modernity, it became useless and ultimately became a tourist attraction for history nerds like me.

looking down

Rochester Castle is not access friendly as it has a lot of stairs and no lift facilities, and the corridors are also very narrow; there were awkward “after you”s and “excuse me”s uttered as you wander around.

Entrance to the keep is usually 10 a.m until 4 p.m. though it varies depending on the season. Tickets also cost £6.40 for an adult and £4 for students – yay concessions pricing.

All in all, Rochester Castle was a fun little place to visit. If anything else, you can get a wonderful view of the Cathedral from level two onwards!

view of Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Cathedral in Kent

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of the Rochester series! This little day trip included a visit to Temple Manor, Rochester Guildhall Museum, and the largest second-hand bookshop in England.

Battle Abbey, East Sussex

If I retained anything from my English History lessons back in secondary school, it was that Henry VIII had six wives (not all at the same time, of course) and that the Normans successfully invaded England in 1066. Also involved were some really impressive weavers who created the Bayeux Tapestry, the Anglo-Saxon King at the time called Harold Godwinson (more like God-lose-son, ha!), and this really lucky person who managed to shoot him square in the eye.

Man, do I love history.

I could hardly make sense of the whos and whys, but I have to admire the sheer wonder of history’s narrative capabilities. Game of Thrones, eat your heart out!

Dear readers, I must confess to a secret passion for history.

me at some point in the past

Anyway, to the point of this post: I’m starting a retrospective on the various English Heritage sites I’ve visited, and perhaps even sites I want to visit in the future. And where better to start than the lovely battle site of what must have been a very gruesome invasion.

I mean, what kind of battle wouldn’t be at the very least a little bloody? And on that note… Happy Halloween, everybody! Just in case I forget to post anything on the 31st.

LiberaTarts Goes to Battle… Abbey

I went to East Sussex with my younger brother. We took a very early train from Kent* and arrived at Battle Station only to realise that the Abbey was still half a mile away, so we took our phones out and opened the Pokemon GO app – this day trip happened during that one peaceful summer in 2016, back when everyone spent every waking moment trying to catch ’em all.

*A personal rule of mine is to always arrive at your destination before 10 am, otherwise I feel like you won’t have enough time to explore the area to your heart’s content. You can always leave early, but you can’t really overstay your welcome when it comes to day trips.

battle town centre in east sussex
it threatened to rain all day

We arrive in the town centre and honestly, you cannot miss the entrance to the Abbey. It costs about £12 for an adult ticket (or £11 for a student, which I was at a time), but I’m a history nerd and I had an English Heritage membership that gave me free, unlimited access to English Heritage sites across the country. What a time to be alive… I had free entry and Pokemon GO.

I would love to visit again, but alas it can’t be anytime soon because I’m scheduled to leave for China within the week! With any luck, I might be able to return during an anniversary of the Battle (on the 14th of October, 1066).

I’ll never forget the Battle of Hastings because of this jingle.

Over to you guys: Do you think an English Heritage membership is worth it? Let me know, drop me a line, send a carrier pigeon.

New Year, Not-So-New… Anything

I’m not saying I forgot about this blog as it’s been a constant niggle at the back of my mind whenever anything remotely interesting happened in my life. It’s just that I’m a perennial procrastinator and this could hardly be news to anyone at this point.

The last six months have been a rollercoaster ride, from family madness to random job interviews and my own personal issues manifesting somehow only during the wintertime, but let’s not think about that right now! Let’s talk about fun, enjoyable things. Like food, and travel, and useless but cool-looking gadgets.

So without further ado, let’s get started on my first blog post this year… also known as:

LiberaTarts Gets Her Groove Back

December was a fun month, full of family-fun and Christmas cheer. It was a vast improvement to 2017’s Christmas, which I admittedly spent alone because my university term dates – when coupled with the extortionate flight prices in December – decided to fight with my bank account balance.

Christmas 2018 was spent with my immediate family, and honestly? I can’t remember the last time it was just the three of us, so the few weeks leading up to the 25th were one of the nicest weeks I’ve ever experienced. The gifts I got my mother and my brother were both thoughtful and practical, and I had a blast preparing for noche buena – the food planning, grocery shopping, the works!

The most iconic highlight of the month, however (aside from the Christmas spirit, family, yadda yadda yadda), was watching this Academy Award winning movie:

gif of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse spotify video
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

The movie’s hilarious Christmas playlist were in all the background noche buena pictures; it was the not-so-silent fourth member of our little family, and it brings me joy just thinking about the memories.

January brought misery during the first half, when my mother admitted to feeling homesick and – since she had the time, means, and opportunity to do so – I encouraged her to go home to the Philippines and visit the good ol’ grandparents. Who are her parents, but there are only so many parental figures I can introduce in this narrative without confusing myself.

Not all hope was lost, though! After months of whiling away my time, taking a break from ‘Adulting’, I managed to land a Skype interview with a company that didn’t make my soul shrivel up and die at the prospect of working for them.

Aaaand this leads very nicely to the lovely month of February, where I ended up pretty much hauling my life to a different country to teach English for a bunch of high school kids. I’ve never really given it much thought when people say the situation snowballed, but my goodness that’s what happened to me: I did the Skype interview, got told I was pretty much a shoo-in as long as I ace the (very easy, super simple) grammar exam, and then two weeks later I was packing my bags and buying a very expensive plane ticket to Spain!

(Note to everybody: buying plane tickets two weeks before you fly? DO NOT DO UNLESS THERE IS NO OTHER CHOICE. This will bankrupt not just your wallet, but also your soul.)

bullet journal travel entry
bullet journal entry: travelling to Spain

On the plus side, I managed to create something cheerful for my bullet journal. One of these days, I will create a post about bullet journaling for the non-artistic person and it will be full of hints and tips on how to cheat that bujo inspo hashtag.


Over to you guys: I know it’s March already but how did you spend your winter holidays? Tell me in the comments below! And if you’re a Spiderverse fan, by any chance, please say hi and I would love to hear your thoughts about the soundtrack.

See you next time!

BELFAST Travel Guide

Travelling to Belfast

Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and has a population of approximately 340,200 people. The city is well-known for building the famously tragic boat Ship of Dreams, the Titanic. Belfast is not to be confused with Dublin, which is the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. See the map below for further clarification.

map of ireland, differentiating northern ireland and the republic of ireland

The easiest way to get to Northern Ireland – or Belfast, more specifically – is by flying. Personally, I flew from London Stansted to Belfast International Airport, although there are two other airports within Northern Ireland: George Best Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport.

You can also take the train if you’re travelling from England, Wales, or Scotland. The trip, however, will be split partway to include the ferry trip to Ireland. There are also direct coaches to Dublin serviced by the National Express if you wish to have a cheaper alternative to planes and trains.

Where to stay in Belfast

As a solo traveller, I cannot recommend hotels unless you are travelling with two other people.

Belfast has a lot of hostels on offer, all within walking distance to the main city centre. Prices can range between £10-£15 per night at a hostel; I stayed at Lagan Backpackers for 2 nights and didn’t pay more than £26 total, and the place had a TV with a Netflix subscription, newly refurbished bathrooms, and they even offered a free breakfast to those who opt-in!

If you’re willing to spend a little more for privacy, then I would suggest Airbnb as an alternative.

Getting around Belfast

  • walking – the farthest I walked from one tourist destination to another was 20 minutes
  • by bike – Belfast bikes cost £1 per half hour
  • by bus – Belfast has THREE different bus services and I highly suggest using the Translink journey planner to navigate
  • by train – the main train stations in Belfast are Great Victoria Street Station and Belfast Central Station
  • by taxi / uber / car rental

Things to do in Belfast

I highly recommend just typing in “things to do” on Google Maps and see if any of the options offered are compatible with your interests. Getting into the habit of making bookmarks and lists on Google Maps is helpful in planning daily itineraries and, sometimes, choosing a hostel or Airbnb that is most convenient for you, the traveller.

Here is a list of places I visited within the Belfast city:

  • Ulster Museum
  • Belfast Botanic Gardens
  • The Palm House
  • The Tropical Ravine
  • Belfast Peace Wall
  • The Big Fish, Salmon of Knowledge
  • Belfast City Hall
  • Belfast Castle
  • Cavehill (I climbed to the very top!)

I also went on day trips, where I visited:

  • Strangford, where I spent the morning at Winterfell Castle and had lunch at The Cuan (where Sean Bean and all the other Game of Thrones actors stayed during their shoots!)
  • Bushmills, where I ate my lunch on the Giant’s Causeway steps and spent the afternoon walking the trail around the Shepherd’s Steps
reading a book, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, on the giant's causeway
from September’s reading challenge

What to expect from Belfast

Expect the unexpected.

an ancient proverb, probably

Belfast – and Northern Ireland, in general – is a super friendly place. The bus drivers are really easy to speak with and they are more than happy to help a lost little tourist. I honestly believe the locals are psychic because they always know where you want to go and will just gently nudge you towards the right direction. Everyone I spoke with, from the waitresses to the random man I befriended as I walked the Cavehill nature trail, was softspoken and kindhearted. Belfast is brilliant!

Lastly, expect to receive some Northern Ireland banknotes. They are different to the ones in circulation around England, but they are still Sterling notes and can be exchanged for Bank of England notes at any bank in the UK.

And in conclusion…

I spent an approximate total of £270, including travel, accommodation, and food. Belfast is an amazing place with a lot of history and great architecture. The food is good, the people even good-er, and the only downside was the confusing bus network. 10/10 will recommend for other solo travellers to visit!