Souvenir from Devon

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Main: Devon coastline at Teignmouth; bottom left and right: the historical market town, Totnes


Many years ago when I still at University, I was invited to be the witness at two good friends’ wedding ceremony in Exeter. I have since lost touch with the couple ( I don’t even know if they are still together) and I have not been back to Devon since. Yet last week, as I was sitting on the train and passing through Exeter, memories came flooding back… and Exeter looked more beautiful than I remembered. Though the most famous and spectacular coastal scenery can be enjoyed from Exeter to Newton Abbot via the historical port, Teignmouth, a railway extension built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for Great Western Railway in 1843.

At the retreat, there was a book on Devon and its people in my bedroom and I was quite surprised by the facts and sights of this beautiful county. On the last day of the retreat, a friend I made at the retreat offered to show me around in the nearby historical town, Totnes before I headed back to London. I have never heard of Totnes before this retreat, but my new friend from Cornwall ensured me that I would like it and she was right.



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Top left: Totnes clock tower; top middle: Totnes Elizabethan House Museum; top and bottom right: cool objects at the weekly collectables and flea market


Totnes is a historical market town that dates back to AD 907, with a population of less than only 8000. And what makes it special is that this town is full of independent shops with only very few chained ones. Even BBC News and the Telegraph have reported on this, as we are seeing the demise of high streets all over Britain, Totnes is definitely a town with an edge.

Thanks to my new friend who knows the town very well, we hopped from one quirky shop to another, and I ended up picking something interesting from each shop! I rarely go out shopping these days ( except for groceries and essentials), but I was thrilled by the town’s niche shops. Each shop has its own unique character and the diverse range include: hand and custom-made shoes, haberdashery, paper crafts, vintage fashion, organic beauty and bath products, wooden and retro toys, New age/ spiritual books and products, health food etc. There are even weekly food and collectible and flea markets on Fridays and Saturdays, and while we were there ( which happened to be Friday), the town was full of shoppers, which was very encouraging to see! Besides the shops, the town is also full of organic or vegetarian cafes, delis and restaurants. Spoilt for choice, we picked an organic cafes on the high street and had a delicious and healthy lunch.

After days of not spending a penny, I gave myself an excuse to spend and support the local community as well as fellow independent shop owners. I later discovered Transition Town Totnes, a community-led and run charity that supports the local economy. It seems to me that the locals are working really hard to make the town thrive without the need for big corporate businesses. They even managed to stop Costa from opening a shop here ( how cool is that?), so could this be the model for other towns to follow? I sincerely hope so.


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Left: Paper works; Right: Curiouser and curiouser tea shop


Here are some of the cool and quirky shops in Totnes:

Paper works – being a stationery and paper lover, I was excited to see a paper specialist in this small town. The shop not only sells beautiful range of paper, it also sells lovely cards, notebooks, origami and various paper crafts. It is hard to even find a shop like this in London these days, how lucky are the locals to have such a unique shop in their town? I am envious.

Conker shoes – All handmade in Totnes, and you can customise your own pair or get a modified fit service for an extra £35. I love the classic and timeless style, and they provide a repair/resole service. Now I know where to go when I need a new pair of boots next time!

Aromatika – This shop is full of organic and natural skincare products made locally in Devon. I was tempted to go wild here, but finally opted for a box of lavendar & cornflower shea butter bath melts made by the sister company, Devon soap company.

Social fabric, Stone fabrics  – just two of the several haberdashery ( I wonder if young people even know this term nowadays?) shops that are dedicated to those who love to knit and sew!

Revival – this lovely vintage fashion shop reminds me of the amazing and iconic Steinberg & Tolkien on Kings Road that closed in 2007, though this one is about 1/8 of the size! Even vintage fashion shops in London are not as exciting as it used to be, so this tiny gem definitely brings back memories of the good old days when I was a student in London.

Toyday – how joyful it is to see traditional and nostalgic toys that remind you of your childhood? The wooden toy displayed in the shop window of Toyday caught my eye, and I was hooked… I didn’t even realise that shops like this still exist! And near the river, there is another toy shop, The Wishing Tree, which sells educational and interactive toys and games for children.

There are too many one of a kind shops in this small town and I didn’t even have the time to visit all of them, so the list above is only a handful of them. If you plan to visit Devon, a visit to Totnes is a must, though it could potentially be fatal for shopaholics!


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Main: a free souvenir from the woods; Second row left and right: award-winning Sharpham cheese, Hillside biscuits and Pear, Apple & Herb Chutney; Third row left: Granola from Common loaf bakery; Third row right: Lavendar & cornflower shea butter bath melts by Devon soap company; Bottom left: Islamic design; Bottom middle: Meiji period or earlier ( 1868-1912) antique Japanese book on Buddhism; Bottom right: Natural cleaning solutions poster by Liz Cook Charts.


A very special Christmas retreat

Recently a few people have asked me this question: “Why do you continue to go to these meditation retreats?” My answer is simple: I need to get away from the city, work, stress and reconnect with nature and myself. Retreats help me to detox my body and mind, when you are cut off from the outside world and external distractions, you naturally become more in tune with what is going on internally.

I nor my family have ever been bothered about Christmas and New Year, but since the business started 2 years ago, the month of December has turned into the busiest and most stressful time for me. Hence this year I decided to go on my first Christmas meditation retreat ( though I have previously been on New Year ones) to get away from the excess consumption during this period, and the location is Devon at the Sharpham estate run by the Sharpham Trust.


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Like many other retreaters, I originally wanted to go to the Barn retreat, which is also within the estate; but due to the limited numbers, it was already fully booked when I looked in September. And so I turned to the Sharpham house, a new location that is used for the first time to host Christmas and New Year retreats.

This retreat was special largely due to the stunning house and spectacular location overlooking river Dart. Designed in 1770 by the famous architect, Sir Robert Taylor ( who designed the Bank of England), the Palladian-style house is not only rich in history, it is also full of wonderful art works including 2 sculptures by Barbara Hepworth in the entrance hall and sculptures by Jacob Lane.


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Top left: the front door; top middle: the back door; top right: a ‘secret’ safe in the bathroom wall’; second row left: entrance hall with a compass on the floor; second row right: Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture in the entrance hall; third and last row: the magnificent staircase; Fourth row left: The Octagonal room; fourth row right: The music room; Fifth row left: my bedroom (!); fifth row right: books about the trust/ house.


I was slightly gobsmacked when the taxi drove into the estate as I had no idea of the how much land ( 550 acres) the estate occupies! And this includes a farm used for educational outdoors project and a diary farm and vineyard that produce a range of award-winning cheeses and wine!

Upon arrival, I was asked to pick a folder on the table and in it contained the name of my bedroom… so by some fortunate luck, I was assigned to one of the best rooms in the house. Walking up one of the most beautiful staircase that I have ever come across, I was rather astonished when I saw my very high four poster bed ( which reminded me of the Princess and the pea story) and the river view from the bedroom window. It felt so surreal to be doing a retreat in this grand/ Downton Abbey-style setting, but then again, why not? To be honest, I can’t think of a better location to spend Christmas than this place!


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Top middle: a brronze sculpture in the garden; Top right: the bathing house; Main: A view of the house and Jacob Lane’s Seven stones/ Temple to pan sculptures; Third row middle and right: the Quarry; Fourth row right: the boat house


I have been to more intensive mediation retreats before, but being completely exhausted mentally and physically before I even arrived, a more relaxing and flexible meditation retreat was what I needed. Apart from three short meditation and a sharing sessions each day, we were also offered optional qi gong, yoga and walks. The timetable was flexible with plenty of free time, and so I took the opportunity to go for walks, read or just take naps ( which turned out to be what my body needed)! With the stunning view from my room, I was able to watch the storm ( we were lucky to be safe inside this villa during the storm), the rain, dawn and sunrise. Living in the city, it is hard to see the sun rising from the horizon, so I will always cherish the moments sitting by the window and observing the beauty of nature.


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At retreats, you are put into a confined space with a group of strangers from all walks of life for a short period of time, so you will meet people you are likely to bond with and people who you don’t get along or have difficulties with. In situations like this (which we often encounter in real life as well), we have nowhere to run but to confront our feelings and deal with the situation. This is also part of the challenge of a retreat, but I think it is a small test for us to try and cope with the situation in a positive manner, which subsequently will help us to deal with similar situations in real life.


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After almost a week of no contact with the outside world, no calendars nor clocks to check the time and dates, I completely lost track of time and date when I left. It actually felt good to be slightly disorientated because I am so used to checking my schedules and planning my timetable most of the time. Suddenly, all the so-called ‘important matters’ didn’t seem so important anymore, and I didn’t feel like I needed to get things done asap. Instead, I felt calm, content, healthy ( thanks to all the delicious organic food and no alcohol) and best of all, I slowed down and I started to change my old habits.


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The retreat was a wonderful way to end the year for me, and now I am feeling positive about the coming year. If you can’t afford the time or money to do a retreat, then a walk in the countryside or even in a park may help you to wind down, but most importantly, we need to ‘unplug’ from technology now and again to stop ourselves being constantly distracted from the external world. The older I get, the more I believe that “Mother nature has all the answers”, and all we have to do is to protect and observe it.

I wish everyone will have a stress-free and healthy year ahead. Happy New Year to you all!


Cheese night walk

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Top left: Borough market; Top middle: All Hallows by the Tower; Top right: The oldest street art ‘The Two Mice Eating Cheese’ on Philpot Lane; Main: St Paul’s Cathedral


City Lit, the centre for adult education recently launched a new Dark London walks series, which sounded very interesting. I signed up for one of the six walks: Cheese Dreams, partly because of my love for cheese but I was also curious to know more about the connection between cheese and London.

Our guide of the evening was the animated Henry Ellot from Curiocity, who also brought a variety of soft and hard cheeses for us to taste along the route! The walk started at the historical George Inn on Borough high street, and eventually ended in the City of London.


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Top left: Cheshire Cheese pub; top right: Bank station; Main: The Royal Exchange building


I never imagined that there would be a strong connection between cheese and the history of London, but what we learned on this walk was quite fascinating! Here are two of the cheese stories that are related to London:

Samuel Pepys became well known for his diary that recorded the Great Fire of London in 1666. He was worried that the fire would destroy his house and possessions on Seething Lane, so he buried his valuable belongings in a hole underground including wine and parmesan cheese ( though no one found out whether he managed to retrieve his cheese after the fire)! There is a bust of Pepys in the Seething Lane garden ( currently closed for renovation), and he is buried in the nearby St Olave Hart Street.

London’s tiniest public statue or earliest street art, ‘The Two Mice Eating Cheese’ can be found on Philpot Lane in the City. It is rumoured that when this building was being constructed around 1862, an argument broke out when a construction worker accused another of eating his lunch. During the row one of the men fell to his death. It was later found that mice were the culprits and so this art work was added to the facade. Honestly, if Henry didn’t point this out to us, it would be hard to spot it or make out what it is! Again, it proves that London is a city full of amazing stories and surprises!


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Main, middle left, middle: Leadenhall market; Middle right: Milk Street; Bottom left: Cheesemongers at Leadenhall market; Bottom right: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese


Usually during the day, London is bustling and crowded, so it is not easy to appreciate the city’s beautiful architecture. At night, however, we were able to walk around the streets freely and appreciate what this historical city has to offer. The walk ended at the traditional and atmospheric, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street. And after all the cheeses we have had, we could not leave without having some wine and enjoy the company of other cheese lovers. It was a perfect end to a fun and informative ‘cheesy’ walk!


East London Design Show 2013

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Top left & right: Christ Church and Spitalfields market; Bottom left & right: Another Christmas market and street art outside of the Old Truman Brewery.


This year was our third consecutive year to be showing at the East London Design Show, and the venue had changed from Shoreditch town hall to the hipper, bigger and much cooler ( temperature wise) Old Truman Brewery. It was freezing when we were setting up and on the first day of trading, and so on the following day, all of us were geared up with snow boots, cashmere and thermo underwear!


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Top left: entrance on Hanbury Street; top right: a more spacious venue than the Shoreditch town hall; Main and bottom: to coincide with our new ‘PLAY’ theme, our stand this year focused more on the colourful and fun aspects of the products


Although it was physically exhausting to do the 4-day show, it was also lovely to see return customers, make new designer friends and catch up with designer friends from the previous shows. I was also touched by friends who came to support throughout the four days, especially friends whom I have not seen for a long time!

Overall, the show was a success for us, the new season’s merchandise sold particularly well, and sales were higher than the last 2 years. However, we will be focusing more on trade distribution next year, and so have decided to take a break from the show next year. We may still pop up occasionally in town at other venues/ shows, so do keep an eye out for our next pop up.


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Top left: Poppy Porter and her jewellery; Top right: Layla Chelache and her knitwear; Middle left: Melissa McArthur and her jewellery; middle and bottom right: Sarah Hamilton and her prints; Middle right: Keunhye Lee and her jewellery; Bottom left: Edit Juhasz ceramics


Over the four days at the show, I took snapshots of my new and ‘old’ show friends and would like to share their links here:

Poppy Porter: Poppy had a stand next to mine and so we ended up chatting a lot over the 4 days. Surprisingly, it was Formula 1 racing cars that inspired her to start her jewellery collection, and she uses a special photo-inlay technique in her creation, so all her pieces are one of a kind. I especially like her new Japanese collection inspired by British Museum’s current Shunga exhibition ( an exhibition not to be missed).

Chelache knitwear: I met Layla last year at the show and bought a lovely hand-knitted scarf from her. I have very sensitive skin and so I am very picky when it comes to knitwear, but Layla‘s knitwear certainly passed my skin test!

Melissa McArthur: Interestingly, our stand was next to two jewellers, and Melissa was one of them. Her jewellery style is delicate and versatile, and it appeared to attract many female shoppers at the show. Apparently, her jewellery is selling very well in Japan, and so she gets to travel there for work, lucky her!

Sarah Hamilton prints: Another show friend from last year, Sarah is a very warm and experienced designer who has been in business for 12 years. Her prints are nature-inspired and has a retro feel to them. This year, she has added a new mug collection, lovely!

K.N.O.T.: Young Korean designer, Keunghye Lee contacted me last year asking if I was interested in stocking her table mats. Although the deal didn’t happen, I met her for a coffee and chatted about design and business. I was glad to see her selling her new jewellery collection at the show this year, I especially like her chunky hand-knitted necklaces.

Edit Juhasz ceramics: Edit is camera-shy and so she is not featured next to her wonderful handmade ceramics. Edit’s ceramics are earthy, simple and practical, so they are great for everyday use.


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Top left: Paul Wayne Gregory and his chocolates; top right: the eco-friendly Wrinkle cork products; Second row: Wolfram Lohr and his leather accessories; third row: Angela Fung and her origami-inspired jewellery; Bottom row: YiYing Wang, her assistants and her Noodoll collection


Paul Wayne Gregory: Discovering Paul‘s chocolate stand was ‘fatal’ for my waistline, but I could not resist the temptation! My favourites after the tasting were passionfruit ( sold out after the second day) and salted caramel. I bought a few packets and got some freebies from Paul too, but most importantly, I found out where to go once the supply is finished!

Wrinkle cork products: Sometimes it’s hard to find presents for those who have everything, but mobile phone/ tablet covers made from 100% natural and sustainable cork may work for gadget lovers. I love the fact that each sleeve/ cover has different patterns and colours, and their prices are reasonable too, so they are great as Christmas gifts.

Wolfram Lohr: I met Wolfram for the first time at the show 2 years ago and since then, we would ‘bump’ into each other at various shows. And every year, we would swap products at the end of the show! He is an eccentric and fun guy, but best of all, he is passionate about his work and produces high quality and durable products.

Angela Fung: Angela and I share one common passion which is origami. While I sell many origami products, she makes jewellery inspired by origami and forms. I think her square folding bracelets and rings are very cool.

Noodoll: Before my first show, I was a bit hesitant as I had just launched the business and was completely clueless about doing these shows. I decided to cold-call ( not something that I would normally do) a few designers to ask them about their show experiences. Taiwanese/ London-based designer, YiYing ( the founder and designer) was kind and patient with me, and she encouraged me to go ahead and sign up for the show. Now two years on, YiYang was weeks away from her due date and so she was not spending much time at the show this year. It is great to see an Asian designer doing so well outside of Asia, and with all her fun stuff, I am sure her child will never run out of toys or get bored!


Pop-up at Alternatives

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Top left: the Eros snow globe at Piccadilly Circus; top right: the Christmas tree outside of St Jame’s church; bottom left and right: interior of the church


One aspect I love about running a business is that you never know what will happen tomorrow. Although this applies to life in general, but with business, any opportunity or unexpected event could come along, so I believe having an open mindset is essential. A few weeks ago, I received an unexpected phone call from the spirituality and personal development organisation, Alternatives asking if I was interested in doing a pop-up at one of their regular Monday evening events at St Jame’s Church in Piccadilly. It was a new trial for them as they have only sold books at their previous events, and so it took several phone calls and emails before we could finalise on it. I was told that there would be a screening of a documentary on the Dalai Lama that evening, and so it was going to be a packed out event.

Intriguingly, this was the second time that I have been approached by a spiritual/religion organisation since I started meditation a few years ago. Back in 2009, I was hired to design a booklet for the Buddhism festival that took place at the V & A and Barbican in London. Coincidence? Perhaps not. I was informed by the organisers that they particularly like our eco-friendly range of products and felt that their members and subscribers would appreciate them too. Very encouraging words indeed.


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The evening’s documentary was the Road to Peace with a Q & A session with the director, Leon Stuparich. The documentary follows the Dalai Lama and goes behind the scene on his trip to the U.K. in 2008. It captures the playful and down-to-earth side of His Holiness that we rarely get to see, so it was fascinating and eye-opening at the same time.


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However, most people who attended the event were there to ‘see’ the Dalai Lama and not to shop, so realistically speaking, it was not probably not the most ideal night or spot to be selling. Many people were curious in regards to my ‘odd’ presence, but I could not say that it was a fruitful evening ( in economic terms). The experience was completely new for me, not only did I have to set up everything in less than 45 mins, I had to pack up in even less time… this could be a good training if I were ever to become an illegal street vendor!

Part of the fun of running a business is that it is unpredictable and risky, and I have come to realise that every ‘mistake’ ( or setback) brings me more insight and helps me to make better decisions in the future.

Leaving the church, I consoled and told myself that at least I had an opportunity to sell inside a historical church and watched a spiritually enhanced documentary, so all is not lost… luckily, there was still the East London design show to be followed in a few days’ time…


Gaetano Pesce & Pop Art design

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ScreenTalk with Gaetano Pesce  and Peter Lang at Barbican


Lately, I have been extremely busy and so I haven’t been doing much apart from working or attending business-related events. Finally, I was able to take some time off because a while ago I had booked to see “Italy – The New Domestic Landscape“, MoMA 1972, organised by The Architecture Foundation and Barbican. The film is one of many selected to complement the Pop Art Design exhibition that is showing at the Barbican Art Gallery now.

I went to see the exhibition right before the screening, and although I am not a huge fan of Pop Art, I enjoyed the exhibition and learned more about the movement and its effects on even designs today. I probably would not have visited the exhibition if it was called ‘Pop Art’ but with the word ‘design’ at the end, it made a difference and I was intrigued.

The show features big names from the Pop Art scene like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Peter Blake; and from the design scene: Charles and Ray EamesEttore Sottsass and Gaetano Pesce. The interesting aspect about the exhibition is that the work chosen really reflect the era and culture of that period. The idea of using one design but produced in different bright colours was popular at the time, yet nothing much has changed decades later ( thanks to Apple for reviving this trend). Aside from the playful and extravagant designer pieces, I was particularly happy to see Tupperware and photos of the ‘cool’ Tupperware party!


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Left: Gaetano Pesce’s Up armchair (1969); Right: Moloch lamp (1970)


“Italy – The New Domestic Landscape” is a collection of short films made specifically for the exhibition under the same title which was held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1972. The exhibition was divided into two areas, one under ‘objects’ and the other under ‘environments’. Hence, the films developed by the Italian designers and architects were closely linked to the two topics. Some of them were very experimental/ avant garde and some with hidden political messages or black humour. The legendery Italian architect/ designer/ film and music-maker, Gaetano Pesce ( who is eccentric and humourous) was involved in this project, and so it was exciting to hear him talk about the project and his furniture design which is also on display at the Pop art design exhibition. Surprisingly, four decades on, the films are still compelling and original, it just shows the importance of Italian design culture and how deeply rooted it is in Italy. And even with new or emerging competitions from other countries, I still believe that Italian design will continue to stay as one of the forerunners in the world of design.

Christmas shopping week in London

Christmas shopping


It’s the busiest time of the year for all retail or e-tailers, so it’s no exception for us! It will be a busy week ahead because we will be popping up at two events across town. The first is on 2nd Dec (Monday evening) at Alternatives inside St. James Church in Piccadilly. This is our first event with the organisation and it is very exciting because it is a new venture/ experience for both parties. Spirituality plays an important part of my life, so to be working with an organisation that runs spiritual and self development events means a lot to me personally.

The second event is the East London Design Show from 5th until 8th December at the Old Truman Brewery. This is our third year at the show, and unlike the past, the show will be held at a bigger venue with more vendours and a new food hall. Although it is physically tiring to do a show for 4 days, it is also fun to ‘hang out’ and get to know other independent designers and crafts makers working in the industry today.


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Top left: Christmas tree papercraft kit; top right: eco gift pack set; bottom left: eco Balance desk planner; bottom right: From left recycled tags


We will be selling our new PLAY range at the design show, as well as some newly stocked products that are perfect for Christmas and gift wrapping. The show is one of the best one-stop venue for Christmas shopping, aside from shopping, there will be free crafts workshops available too, so be sure not to miss it!


Goodbye autumn…



Autumn is my favourite season of the year, so I am feeling slightly melancholic to see the beautiful red and yellow leaves withering away and looking slightly bare. Yet this is the cycle of nature, and even though I haven’t been able to go hiking out of London, I am glad that nature can still be found within the city.


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In summer, London is full of tourists, so it is not very pleasant esp. around the centre, and even in parks, it would be hard to find a nice spot on a sunny day. In late autumn, however, the city is less busy and it is especially pleasant to walk in parks because you see only dog-walkers and joggers. Sometimes if I am feeling stressed with work, even a short walk in the park can help me to clear my mind.

As busy Londoners, we are always rushing, doing something or checking our smartphones, and we don’t even have time to observe what is around us anymore. Actually we don’t need to trek outside of London to enjoy nature, we can enjoy beautiful sunset in the middle of the city if we just slow down our pace and look up into the sky. Although these magical moments usually happen very quickly and unexpectedly, it is really worth the short while to appreciate the wonders of nature.


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Kensington gardens in late autumn