Give happiness . . .

'. . . and joy to other people. There is nothing better or greater than that!'
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

If you look closely at this photo featuring a demonstration by one of China's former soccer stars, the expressions range from awe and delight to concern and wonder. The children are from JC Dragon Top Elementary School in Sichuan Province, China. Dragon Top was built by my family in 2003 to honor my grandparents Mr. and Mrs. TC Chao.

The school serves up to 170 rural children annually living with grandparents from farming families with parents working who work in coastal cities. A portion of the proceeds from the London via Surrey book app go to support the school.

During my parents' most recent visit to China, they were fortunate to befriend the retired soccer player. This sparked an impromptu purchase of soccer balls for the children at Dragon Top. My parents were surprised the students had not played with a soccer ball before, let alone, meet a soccer 'star'. Sometimes the best gifts are those unplanned!

Thank you readers and subscribers for spreading happiness and joy!

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Big Shows at Small Prices

Tickets starting at £10/seat for over 50 shows January 1 - February 10

If you missed KidsWeek in August/September, the annual 'Get into London Theatre' promotion for shows in January/February is worth checking out. This is your chance to see . . .

. . . a Pantomime or holiday show before it closes:
  • Nutcracker
  • Potted Panto
. . . a classic:
  • Disney's Aladdin
  • Disney's The Lion King
  • Les MisĂ©rables
  • Matilda The Musical
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The Phantom Of The Opera
. . . something new or different:
  • Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
  • The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
  • Jersey Boys
  • Kinky Boots
  • The Play That Goes Wrong
  • School Of Rock - The Musical
  • Wicked
or pick from 35 other shows. It is hard to beat the prices - especially since there are no booking, postage or transactions fees!

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Fit for a princess (or prince)

Kid-friendly food and tea experiences

When my kids were younger (and even now), I struggled to find food and tea experiences that would be fun and low-key. Here are three we enjoyed:

Little Bay (Croydon) — I still remember my daughter’s eyes lighting up when we walked into their Croydon location. In addition to seating on their ground floor, you can request tables that are up small sets of winding stairs. The multiple alcoves come complete with red velvet curtains and sparkly bits of fabric. All of this, plus the two- and three-course menu was affordable and good too. 2086 499544
32 Selsdon Road, South Croydon CR2 6PB

The Royal Horseguards Hotel (London) — The Royal Horseguards Hotel, former headquarters for the British Secret Service, is a five-star hotel located close to Whitehall. They offer a range of teas in their lounge from classic afternoon teas, a cream tea and a 'Sweet Treat' (cake, scones and tea). Their 'Mini-Tea' for children 12 and under comes complete with Baby Chai latte, Babichino or fruit juice. Interestingly, the kids seem to enjoy the savory portions more than the sweet ones.

The Tea Terrace Restaurant & Tea Room (Multiple) — The Tea Terrace located on the top floor of the House of Fraser in Guildford offers impressive views of Surrey from its rooftop garden. The interior is brightly colored in hues of pink and blue and oversized chairs perfect for photo opps. While they do not take bookings, tea is served beginning at noon and with a set menu and portion sharing is not discouraged. If you like scones, this place is for you. In addition to traditional plain and ones with sultana, they also have apple and cinnamon, cheese and herb and cranberry and white chocolate to name a few.

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Four Unique Gift Ideas

Give the gift of experience

It could be a function of my age or simply that there is little that anyone on my list actually needs. I found two items to customize . . .

Glassblowing (West Horsley)

I have always wanted to try this, but found it too expensive and time-consuming. This introductory glass ornament-making workshop was neither. I took my kids and they each made a custom ornament in colors of their choice. The artist was patient made sure even the smallest was successful in creating a bauble. 1483 375035
Adam Aaronson Glass Studio, Foxbury Barn, Epsom Road, West Horsley KT24 6AR

Perfume Making (Multiple)

Ever wondered how signature fragrance similar to the likes of Victoria Beckham and JLO are created? After an introduction to 18 blends created by their Master Perfumer, we had a chance to sample, test and combine them to create a signature fragrance of our own to take home with us. Following the session, the fragrance formulas and names were officially registered to make it possible to order in the future.

. . . and another two I can go along and enjoy too!

Mind the Gap Tours (Multiple)

Ride a bike to Hampton Court or Windsor Castle. They supply bikes, helmets, return transport and a fun, knowledgeable guide. Plan on a leisurely ride through the Surrey Hills with picturesque stops along the way. They also do historical tours of London’s best pubs — walking of course!

Paddleboard (Sunbury-on-Thames)

If you are looking for a new challenge while enjoying the river landscape, this is worth a try. Fortunately, the board was remarkably stable and I quickly found a sense of calm and focus - different from that of being in a studio. The session included an introduction to paddleboarding, paddleboard yoga and core yoga moves. Be prepared to work your core and experience a bit of an adrenaline rush from being just a little scared too.

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A taste of Thanksgiving

Sunday roast is a bit like Thanksgiving

Sunday roast is a traditional British meal served at pubs and restaurants. It typically comes with roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding*, stuffing, vegetables and gravy. Some of my favorite restaurants offer this year-round.

  • Bel & The Dragon (Godalming)
  • Hawksmoor (London)
  • Pennyhill Park (Bagshot)
  • Simpson's-in-the-Strand (London)
  • The Plough Inn (Cobham)
  • The Wheatsheaf (Esher)
It is hard to beat Sunday lunch in a cozy pub or restaurant where someone else does the cooking and cleaning up!

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Pantomime Time

Classic fairytales with a British twist

Pantomime (or 'panto' for short) is popular during the holiday season in Britain. The shows take place in December and January and if you’re wondering, they have nothing to do with mimes. Pantos are fun musical comedy stage shows based on a classic fairytale featuring dancing, cross-dressed actors, audience participation and well-known stars. David Hasselhoff, Priscilla Presley and Henry Winkler are some of the US celebrities who have taken the stage. Some of this year's shows include:

If you are having a hard time deciding what to see, Potted Panto (Garrick Theatre) may be the show for you. In its fourth season, the show features seven pantos in 80 minutes and the two actors are Olivier award nominees. 3303 334811
2 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0HH

Go with a sense of humor and leave knowing these classic stories will never be quite the same again!

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Sky High Dining

Some of the best meals in London boast the best views

Christopher's Grill (London) — Conveniently located across from the Lyceum Theatre, this stylish art deco restaurant offers a reasonably priced pre- and post-theatre menu served before 6:15 pm or after 10 pm. Though not particularly high up, several tables of 2-4 have an interesting view towards Waterloo Bridge. They serve modern American cuisine and are particularly well-known for their martini bar. Given my sweet tooth I could not resist their Nutella Martini, which is just as decadent as it sounds. 2072 404222
18 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7DD

City Social (London) — This Michelin-starred restaurant with a sleek, dimly lit interior is located 24 floors up in Tower 42. Tables of 2-4 enjoy the best city night time views. To be able to try as many dishes as possible, we ended up ordering and sharing. The food was delicious and the service attentive. Not to mention a creative assortment of cocktails and extensive wine list that are hard to resist. 2078 777703
25 Old Broad Street, London EC2N 1HQ

Duck & Waffle (London) — Located on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, Duck & Waffle is considered the highest restaurant in the country. The wait staff was chatty and enthused about the food – a combination we found to be rare here. Each dish we had was flavourful*, made with interesting ingredients and meant to be shared. As an avid hiker, I have made it a point to avoid stinging nettles* – not realizing they could be eaten without harm. Not to be missed is the restaurant’s namesake duck and waffle. 2036 407310
Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AY

Galvin at Windows (London) — As part of the award-winning Galvin group of restaurants, I was surprised to learn Galvin at Windows is located on the 28th-floor of a Hilton hotel. This Michelin-starred French restaurant offers reasonably priced two- and three-course lunch specials. They have even created a special two-course kids menu for £10. 2072 084021
22 Park Lane, London W1K 1BE

Hutong (London) — One of the best ways to enjoy views in The Shard is to book* a table at Hutong located on the 33rd floor. The interior features traditional wooden Chinese chairs and red lanterns looking out floor-to-ceiling windows. We enjoyed a delicious and filling 10-course meal of dim sum and other Northern Chinese dishes. 2030 111257
The Shard Level 33, 31 St. Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY

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Best views of Surrey . . .

. . . you can drive up to

Boxhill (Tadworth) — Box Hill is considered the UK's first park featuring panoramic views of Dorking, Gatwick Airport towards South Downs and as far as Sussex. A few minutes walk from the National Trust's Visitors’ Centre is Salomons Memorial Viewpoint. The viewing platform was erected in honor Leopold Salomons, a prominent businessman who purchased Box Hill to protect the area from development. It will seem familiar having been prominently featured as part of the 2012 Olympic cycling race course.
The Old Fort, Box Hill Road, Tadworth, Surrey KT20 7LB

Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial (Englefield Green) — The memorial features over 20,000 names of those who lost their lives during World War II, but do not have a known grave anywhere in the world. There is a parking lot closeby and a few spots directly in front of the building for those that are mobility impaired. On a clear day, London Eye, Wembley Stadium and Windsor Castle can be seen. In addition, Runnymede Meadow where the Magna Carta was sealed and a memorial to John F. Kennedy are both within walking distance. 1784 433329
Coopers Hill Lane, Englefield Green TW20 0LG

Newland's Corner (Guildford) — In addition to being a picturesque spot to view the Surrey Hills and the location where Agatha Christie’s car was found when she disappeared in 1926, the concession stand attached to the visitors area serves a delicious bacon (English style) and egg sandwich on a soft bun. You can then a short circular walk that makes a loop back to the Centre.
Newlands Corner, Shere Road, Guildford GU4 8SE

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Faraway flavors - closeby

Some of the best ethnic food is not faraway or fancy

Jin Go Gae (New Malden) — This local, family-run restaurant serves up authentic Korean BBQ grilled at your table. Order the two-portion marinated meats which include beef, chicken, duck, pork or squid. Your meal comes with traditional Korean small starters known as 'banchan', including kim-chi (spicy preserved cabbage), seasoned beansprouts and pickled raddish. No reservations are taken for lunch so prepare to queue. 2089 492506
272 Burlington Road, New Malden KT3 4NL

Meat the Greek (Guildford) — Located just off Guildford High Street, this small cafe serves delicious gyros, kebabs and souvlaki. Once you add an order of homemade tzatziki sauce served with pita bread and fries with feta sauce – you have a meal. One reason why everything tastes so good is that they import all their ingredients from Greece. Opa! 1483 458644
15 Chapel Street, Guildford GU1 3UL

Mohsen (London) — Accompanied by friends who have been 'regulars' for over 20 years, we finally made a visit to Mohsen. The perfectly prepared mixed grill of lamb chops, minced lamb and saffron chicken certainly did not disappoint. Some dishes were reminiscent of those found at Indian and Turkish restaurants, including hummus and rose water infused desserts. We finished off our meal sipping their delicious specialty tea blended with saffron, cardamon and flower petals.
+44 2076 029888
152 Warwick Road, Kensington, London W14 8PS

Princi (London) — This location in London is the only one outside of Milan. Think Italian bakery and pizzeria of the Ottelenghi variety – glass cases full of focaccia sandwiches, pastas, and pastries. The cafeteria style service works well for a quick bite before or after the theatre*. 2074 788888
135 Wardour Street, London W1F 0UT

Tayyabs (London) — hough loud and somewhat hectic, this place is among the best (and well-priced) Indian grills. It is also BYOB without a corkage fee (a liquor store is conveniently located nearby). My husband would eat there everyday if he could! 2072 479543
83-89 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1JU

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Costumes Galore

While Halloween is growing in popularity,
fancy dress parties are popular year-round in the UK.

If you are in need of inspiration, plan a visit to Angels Costumes, the world’s largest collection of costumes and accessories. They have over 8 miles of hanging racks and 1 million items. Angels provides garments, accessories and services to a wide range of productions, movies, and events including West End shows, Madame Tussauds, The Globe Theatre and blockbuster movies. Oscar® award-winning costume credits include:

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel & Shakespeare in Love (2015)
  • The Great Gatsby (2014)
  • Alice in Wonderland (2011)
  • Gladiator (2000)
  • Titanic (1997)
  • The Last Emperor (1988)
  • Ghandi (1982)
To get a feel of how Angels works, book a two-hour 'Behind the Seams' tour of their Garrick Road location where you will see departments such as alterations, jewellery*, tailoring and uniforms. There is also a book by the same name available for purchase that chronicles Angels' 175-year history as a family business spanning seven generations.

Not surprisingly that the world's largest costume company also boasts the largest fancy dress* selection. Over 10,000 costumes are available for purchase and hire* in store and on-line. If you can't find it here — you might not be able to find it anywhere!

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Oktoberfest Year-Round

Celebrate Oktoberfest without boarding a plane

The tradition of Oktoberfest in Munich started when citizens were invited to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. The festivities took place on the fields named Theresienwiese ("Theresa's fields") in her honor and have continue annually since.

Today, Oktoberfest (simply known as 'Wies'n'' by locals) takes place in late September and lasts until the first Sunday in October. In case you missed it, here are two ways to get your Oktoberfest fix:

  • Stein's (Kingston) — At this authentic German eatery, our group settled on the metre* long sharing platter. It came with four different types of sausages, meatloaf, sauerkraut and potatoes (mashed and pan-fried). There were eight of us and this order could easily feed 12 (especially with the unusually large beer steins). If you are going with a party 10+, request the long table on the left hand side of the patio. 2085 462411
    56 High Street, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1HN
Another place on my list to try is Octoberfest Pub in London. Every Thursday from mid-January until Christmas they feature unlimited sausages and a pint of German beer for £15. Now, that is a true Wies'n welcome!

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Something about Sunbury

Antiques as far as the eye can see

The Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton Park is the largest and oldest antiques market in the country. Considered one of the premier antique markets, it takes place the second and last Tuesday of the month. The items featured by the 700+ indoor and outdoor stallholders, include new and vintage:

  • furniture
  • garden items
  • household decor
  • jewelry
  • paintings
  • and just about everything else in between
For hardcore collectors and traders, the doors open at 6:30 am — and even at that hour you can count on there being a queue. Although the market officially closes at 2 pm, it is not uncommon for stallholders to be packing up as early as 11 am (depending on how sales for the day are going or the weather).

Stallholders are from all over Europe and buyers are both local and from overseas. While shopping is overwhelming with the number of things to see, the stallholders are friendly and always wiling to share the back story on what they are selling.

Even if you go home empty handed, you can't beat the price of free admission and parking — and how easy it is to get your steps in for the day! 1932 230946
Kempton Park Racecourse, Staines Road East, Sunbury-on-Thames TW16 5AQ

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Refurbished Pubs

Refurbished pubs worth a try

As fond as I am of traditional pubs like King Henry IV (Mickelham) and The Withies Inn (Compton), I am happy to patronize ones that have had a facelift in the last year or two, including:

  • The Bear (Esher)
  • The Cock Inn (Headley)
  • The Cricketers (Cobham)
  • Plough Inn (Cobham)
  • The Victoria (Oxshott)
  • The Wheatsheaf (Esher)
If you haven't been (or been in a while), these pubs are worth visiting. Hopefully The Bear in Oxshott can be added to this list when it re-opens.

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A View to Thrill

Slide down the world's tallest and fastest slide

Unveiled at the 2012 Olympics, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is the UK's tallest structure and as of this summer is now home to the world's longest tunnel slide. The ride takes a full 40 seconds (longer than the elevator ride to the top of the structure). On your way up, the walls of the elevator feature some interesting facts about the Orbit, including:

  • It is taller than the Staute of Liberty
  • If you stretched the orbit like a rope it would be more than 560 meters (one-third of a mile)
  • 19,000 litres (5,000 gallons) of red paint was used
  • When it is clear out you can see as far as 20 miles
Your ticket is a timed-entry and despite all the details on their website of what you should wear, they actually supply all the gear to cover and protect you. You'll slide through both clear portions and also in complete darkness (which was more disconcerting for me). When combined with the quick twists and turns, the slide does not disappoint.

After your ride (or if you are not a thrill seeker), it is worth a trip to their observation level for views of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and London. In addition to signage detailing the Olympic Park sports facilities, there is also information on the regeneration of the area.

Now that the slide experience is done, next on my list is to abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit! 3338 008099
3 Thornton Street, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London E20 2AD

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Best Surrey Farm Shops

Surrey boasts some of the best quality locally sourced food

While Garsons Farm Shop (Esher) is likely the most well-known, there are four more farm shops in the area:

  • Five Butchers Hall & Country Grocer (Forest Green)
  • Priory Farm Shop (South Nutfield)
  • Tanhouse Farm Shop (Newdigate)
  • Secretts Farm (Milford)
Beyond the shop itself, each includes a place to get a bite to eat as well. With so many shops to choose from, the distance between farm to fork hasn’t been shorter!

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Get Your Game On

Five outings that will keep you guessing

Denbies Wine Estate (Dorking) — England's largest vineyard located just outside in the Surrey Hills offers 'public' events and themed evenings. Participating in a murder mystery dinner has been on my bucket list for some time and Denbies cleverly orchestrated Murder at Lovelace Manor was a perfect introduction. After witnessing the ‘murder’, we were divided into teams and given a suitcase of clues. The suspects presented their stories before each course and we were free to interview them through the course of the evening. Each team came to a consensus on the murderer and the winning team was selected and presented with a bottle of bubbly. +44 1306 876616
London Road, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6AA

Geocaching (Multiple) — Number 49 out of 50 on National Trust's 'Things to do before your 11-3/4' is Geocaching. Before smartphones, you had to rely on a physical somewhat clunky GPS, but now all you need is to download an app and you are ready to go. Basically, you follow coordinates and clues to find a hidden box known as 'caches'. Inside you'll find a log book and potentially trinkets left by others before you. Apparently, Geocaching is even popular among celebrities with Anthony Bourdain, Melissa Joan Hart and Hugh Jackman all playing along.

Hint Hunt (London) — Take an hour of your life and try out this fun escape game. You and two to four of your friends get locked in a room with the task of solving a puzzle by finding codes, clues and hidden items as a 60-second timer winds down. This experience is completely original and worth booking. They also have Cape Town and Paris locations in case you happen to be in these cities. 2036 893188
72-76 Eversholt Street, London NW11BY

Liar Liar (London) — Whether you are a local or tourist, this tour is entertaining and fun. You are divided into teams and at each stop the guide tells three stories - two true and one false. The goal is to pick out the false one to earn a point. Our stops included where Harry Potter scene was filmed, where Lord Mayor of London lives and where Roman Gladiators fought. The guides also lead a host of other entertaining and historical tours in London. 7956 601697

Moriarty’s Game (Multiple) — This unguided tour is a mix between Hint Hunt and Liar Liar. You are sent clues via text prepared by Professor James Moriarty of Sherlock Holmes. Once sending the correct answer you are sent the next clue. At first it feels strange to be discreet in public places and in other locations announce 'we're here for the game'. Ten minutes are added to your time for incorrect answers and requesting hints. Since the competition is based on time, you can stop the clock for food and drink breaks even when competing against other teams. If once is not enough, they offer seven other similar clued-ridden tours in London. 2071 128951

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Pub Crawl

Best pubs in Twickenham within walking distance of each other

Having lived where driving was a requirement, it is refreshing to be here where walking is the norm. As part of a friend's leaving celebration, we were invited to join them on a pub crawl in Twickenham. We started at 6:30 pm and had 30-minute stops at the following:

  • The Crown
  • White Swan
  • Barmy Arms
  • Eel Pie
  • The Fox
For a bit of fun, as a group we rated each pub for decor / setting, service and of course drinks. We took a break for an Italian dinner at 9 pm at Masaniello. Our night ended singing along to a live band playing 'Born in the USA'. Doesn't get more English than that!

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Best Summer Days Out

It is not always easy finding something that everyone will enjoy. 
 These three outings pass the test:

Fossil Hunting (Charmouth)

Charmouth is part of a 185-million year old 95-mile stretch called the Jurassic Coast, Britain's first natural World Heritage Site. We started with an introductory talk by a paleontologist at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. He and his team then headed out with us to assist us in finding and identifying fossils, as well as cracking open the rocks that contained them. While our outing was only scheduled for two hours, we were allowed to carry-on* until the tide came in. You are free to take home any fossils you find as long as you can carry them away. +44 1297 560772
Lower Sea Lane, Charmouth, Dorset DT6 6LL

Garsons (Esher)

Garsons used to supply produce to London’s Borough Market. Today, it is home to UK’s largest ‘Pick Your Own Farm’ and sells a broad range of fruits and produce. They also have an award-winning Farm Shop and Garden Centre with an enormous gift and retail area, a play area and cafĂ©. If you live in the area, sign-up for the Garsons Kitchen Garden Card and receive 10% off Pick Your Own produce (Monday to Friday). Our favorite crop is their plums that arrive in August — you can see the juice oozing from the tops of the plums when they are ripe. +44 1372 460181
Winterdown Road, West End, Esher KT10 8LS

West Wittering Beach (West Wittering)

Despite a coast boasting nearly a thousand beaches, finding ones with amenities (and not too commercial), good sand and not too far away can be challenging. This Blue Flag beach is our favorite so far with its blue waters and white sand. To avoid sand in your food and a bit of a break from the wind, the grass parking area doubles as a picnic and play area. This is the first time I saw tailgating at the beach and people with lidded cups of hot tea. +44 1243 514143
West Wittering, Chichester, West Sussex PO20 8AJ

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