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Happy Jubilee!

5 Jun

What a wonderful weekend of Jubilee festivities. I went home to Somerset for some much-needed TLC and what fun I’ve had! From quality time spent with mum and dad to watching the flotilla on the tele, and taking part in the village street party – it was the perfect getaway and celebration of the Queen’s 60 years on the throne.

A weekend in Rye

7 May

What better way to celebrate the bank holiday weekend and extra day of freedom than with a trip out of London towards the south coast. And, what better place to spend it than Rye, a cobbled streeted, picture perfect town in East Sussex, that brims with history, cream teas, and cavernous antique shops. B and I booked into the delightful Four Seasons B&B (£70; 01797 224 305), just a 10-minute (if that) walk from the centre. Rita and her husband were the perfect hosts and, in the bright and large, yet cosy bedroom, all comforts had been thought of from biscuits on arrival to dressing gowns on the back of the door. And then the breakfast – yum!

We arrived on Saturday and, after dropping off our bags, headed straight out to explore – fuelling ourselves up en route with buttery crumpets from The Cobbles Tea Room (cobblestearoom.co.uk), which is literally set in a former front living room and therefore tiny. If only it had been afternoon, we would had sampled their impressive looking array of cakes.

The day then sped past as we went from one antique shop to another, picking up everything from butter knives to wooden-handled screwdrivers and vintage tea dresses – all at bargain prices. An afternoon pick-me-up was a scone with clotted cream and jam in front of the fire at Fletcher’s (fletchershouse.co.uk) before a dinner of sausage and mash at The Globe (theglobe-inn.com). Both, as does everywhere in Rye, boasted wonderfully friendly staff.

The next day (Sunday), B and I walked the three miles to Camber Sands, a stunning stretch of white beaches and dunes. Fortunately the beaches were breathtaking because Camber itself leaves a lot to be desired. After blowing away the cobwebs and clearing out our lungs, we headed back for more cake – a mini-break counts as a holiday after all! – and one last perusal of the shops before catching the train home.

For anyone who hasn’t been to Rye, GO. I can’t believe I haven’t been soooner and, one’s thing for sure, I’ll definitely be going back.

visitrye.co.uk

A trip to Rye is like stepping back in time…

Beats a trip to B&Q!

Picture this on a sunny day – heaven

 

How have I never been to Greenwich?

29 Apr

Yesterday I had my first ever trip to Greenwich – and I can’t believe I’ve not been there before now. It’s beautiful! A real memorial to Britain’s maritime history with clean-lined architecture and gardens you can’t help but admire. It may have been tipping down with rain but that wasn’t going to make me change my plans. I had a day of excitement ticking off two London attractions I’d been eager to see for a long time: the Cutty Sark and the Thames Barrier.

First, the Cutty Sark, the world’s last remaining tea clipper. It’s spent the last five years undergoing major restoration following a fire but the end result is definitely worth the hard work and the wait. I was so impressed by the quality of the exhibitions – just enough facts to be informative without overwhelming, and accessible to all ages. Did you know that a ‘cutty sark’ is a Scottish word for a ‘short undergarment’ and the word ‘clipper’ comes from the phrase ‘to go at a clip’ or ‘to go quickly’? The ship has been lifted three metres from the water and rests, elevated, on the banks of the Thames. Walking through the lower decks where thousands of cases of tea were stored during transit, the upper decks where the crew would have slept, and on the open air upper decks, you can’t help but get a real sense for what it would have been like to have travelled on board – and to feel proud at what is a real wonder of British craftsmanship. I’m also pleased to say that, despite having only just reopened this week, there was no overcrowding – timed entry slots make all the difference. rmg.org.uk

Isn't she a beauty!

The hull was covered in brass to stop pesky barnacles and you can walk underneath it - I hope those supports are sturdy!

I left on a real high and then walked up river to the Thames Barrier, wishing I’d blanked out more time in my day to look around the National Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College – an excuse to come back! By the time I reached the Barrier, the weather was exhilarating! I was relieved to head in and look around the exhibition showing how and why the barrier had been built in the late 70s/early 80s. I think the exhibition had been created at the same time because it did seem somewhat dated, but informative nonetheless. I was particularly fascinated to find out where the River Thames got its name – see picture below. environment-agency.gov.uk

Columbia Road flower market, Hackney City Farm – and more!

2 Apr

It’s been a while since I’ve had a weekend in London to explore so, with the weather on our side, B and I ventured to the East side of London to tick off two places that have been on my must-see list for a while – the Columbia Road flower market and Hackney City Farm.

The flower market starts at 8am (ish) on Sunday mornings but B and I were far more leisurely in our approach, getting there at about 11.30 by which time it was more than in full swing. The narrow road was crammed with flower sellers, tourists and those wanting to buy, and there was a real buzz in the air. But, best of all was the smell – lavender, rosemary, jasmine; it was a treat for all the senses. I was particularly pleased to see sweet peas and peonies – the two flowers that will always remind me of M and my wedding day. columbiaroad.info

Next up came the Hackney City Farm. I couldn’t wait to get there to see what baby animals were about – piglets, lambs… When B and I arrived, I headed straight to the shop to pick up some freshly-laid eggs for dinner that night before they sold out. We also popped into the cafe for some sustenance and were bowled over by the choice – full English breakfast, rabbit ragu, pie with goats cheese mash, and a mouth-watering selection of cakes. We were lucky to get a table but, even though it was busy, we didn’t have to wait long for our food – two English breakfasts – and very tasty indeed.  Then, off to see the animals – not as many as I’d been expecting, but cute nonetheless. hackneycityfarm.co.uk

Finally, because the farm hadn’t taken nearly as long to go around as we’d thought, B and I found ourselves with time on our hands to pop down the road to the Geffrye Museum while we were in the area. It’s a striking building set in beautiful grounds. We were lucky that it was the first day that the herb gardens were open, and they’re well worth a look in, with interesting fact cards stating the different ways in which herbs can be used in the home and for medicinal purposes. Inside, the museum takes you through how the home has developed from 1600 to present day with a series of interesting room installations and memorabilia. geffrye-museum.org.uk

By the time I headed home, I was worn out but on a high from the fun we’d had. Next week, I’ll be up in Edinburgh for Easter and M’s last weekend before he sets off to sea. We’ve already got some exciting trips planned though – notably Alnwick Gardens, another place that’s been on my to-do-list for ages. Can’t wait!

Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton at the V&A

19 Feb

I’m so excited about The Queen’s Jubilee this year – much more so than I was for the Royal Wedding. So, when I heard that an exhibition of Cecil Beaton’s photographs of The Queen was opening at the V&A, I put it straight in my diary and made a date to go. It opened earlier on this month and I headed along yesterday, getting there first thing to avoid any crowds.

Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was a fashion and portrait photographer, who worked for the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue. He was also principal photographer of the Royal Family for three decades, and one of few to get such a personal insight into their lives. His pictures capture Elizabeth II’s momentous journey from princess to monarch and key moments are all portrayed here – her 18th birthday, the Coronation in 1953, the births of her and Prince Philip’s four children, her final sitting in 1968 (see below).

The exhibition only took an hour to go around so is perfect if you’re in a rush. But, even though the collection is select, the photographs provide a powerful and informative insight into the woman behind the title.

Runs to 22 April, vam.ac.uk

V&A, London

Did you know?

24 Jan

I was in a taxi today and had the most brilliant cabby, who kept dropping interesting and somewhat random facts about London into conversation. Here’s one of my favourites…

Where is Nelson’s Fleet in London?

Take a walk down The Mall and look at the lamp posts lining the road. Each one is topped with a ship to collectively depict Admiral Nelson’s fleet from the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. The Victory and Britannia are two of those vessels represented. Next, head towards Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square and you notice how his head tilts towards The Mall, as if surveying his fleet. It’s for this reason that The Mall is also affectionately known as ‘Nelson’s Fleet’.

London Prepares for The Olympics

15 Jan

Thursday night saw B, A and I head to The O2 to watch Team GB and their international competition battle it out on the floor, the vault, the rings, the uneven bars, and, my favourite, the pommel horse. Yes, it was the London Prepares event for the gymnastics, an opportunity for the timing and scoring equipment to be tested and for the athletes to experience performing in front of a crowd in that arena. B had managed to get us great seats and for just over £10 each we had a clear view of every piece of apparatus. For three hours we were wowed with the athletes’ sheer strength (could you hold yourself parallel on hoops in mid-air?!) and we were lucky enough to see the likes of Team GB’s Louis Smith and Daniel Purves picking up gold medals on the winner’s plinth. A great taste of what’s yet to come. Can’t wait for the summer now and the real thing!

The London Olympics

New Year Steam Up and steak frites

3 Jan

Happy New Year everyone! And what better way to mark the occasion than with a day out with M and some lovely food with friends.

After a very quiet New Year’s Eve of cinema (The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – I highly recommend it) followed by homemade dinner and scrabble (I won!), M and I were refreshed when we got up to celebrate New Year’s Day. My bro JP had been to the bi-annual switch on of all the steam engines at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum so, being a pair of a steam and engine fans, M and I headed there to see what was going on. We arrived just in time to see the 1846 Grand Junction 90 Inch Engine being switched on and it was amazing! It’s incredible to think such huge pieces of metal are moving by steam power alone – especially after over 150 years. When I work out how to upload video links I’ll add one in!

We also saw a model railway in action, took a ride on an outside minature railway (in the rain!), and M won some shortbread for the journey home on the tombola. The museum is open all year round so it’s well worth a visit but as with all machinery nothing beats seeing it in action. Check out the website for their next Steam Up dates: kbsm.org

Then on Bank Holiday M and I met up with B and C for our monthly ‘sushi club’. Now a bit of background: sushi club started off as an opportunity for us to trial some of th best sushi eateries in London but has developed into an excuse to test any unusual or unique dining experience. This month: Le Relais de Venise, a restuarant that specialises in and only serves steak frites – there isn’t even a menu to look at! And it didn’t disappoint. The steak was cooked to perfection, the frites the best I’ve even tasted, and don’t even get be started on the sauce – although we’re still trying to work out what the ingredients are as they’re a well-kept secret. I can highly recommend this restaurant but two words of warning: a) get there early and expect to queue – it’s popular, b) perhaps not the best place if you’re looking for a leisurely lunch. We were there for a good couple of hours and they were obviously keen for us to move on. Don’t be put off though and if you do go, and work out what’s in the sauce – let me know! relaisdevenise.com

Relais de Venise

Kew Gardens

20 Nov

This weekend I had M and the in-laws come visit. The weather was amazing – lovely crisp, sunny, autumnal days. We headed straight to Kew Gardens (kew.org) for a stroll and were surprised by some of the wildlife we saw (pics below). We also stopped by the endangered plant painting exhibition – incredibly detailed. Oh, and for the obligatory tea break? The Original Maids of Honour, outside the gardens and a five-minute walk from the Victoria Gate entrance. It’s one of those old-fashioned tea rooms that serve a proper sized slice of homemade cake and tea in dainty china tea cups. Love it! See theoriginalmaidsofhonour.co.uk.

The temperate House with Glasshouse Walkway

The view from the treetop Skywalk

A friendly robin inside one of the glass houses

Kew's free-range chickens!

Buckingham Palace Open Day

18 Sep

KT is one of my longest school friends and yesterday she came to visit. She lives in Cheltenham but often comes to London to be a tourist. It’s thanks to her that I’ve done some of the key landmarks – the aquarium, the dungeons, Winter Wonderland! And yesterday we added another to our list – Buckingham Palace.

I’d not realised when booking the tickets that THE dress of the year was going to be on show, so when we got there and discovered thast Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was part of the tour it was an added bonus. There was also an exhibition of Faberge, which was to die for.

We started off looking around the State Rooms, all gilded and decorated floor to ceiling with impressive paintings, hangings, and artefacts. We saw The Quadrant – did you know the Palace used to be a horse shoe and the front section was a later addition to provide extra accommodation?  and the Throne Room then we were channelled (it was busy) through the Faberge exhibit with all its glittering diamonds and coloured jewels and into The Ballroom to admire Kate’s dress, veil and tiara. We even got to see the original wedding cake complete with first cut! An unexpected bonus.

We often rate our tourist trips on the quality of the gift shop. KT was disappointed to find the pencils and key rings (which she collects) were for Windsor Palace but, that’s  minor let down on what was a great experience and definitely one worth doing when the rooms reopen next summer. Next year’s temporary exhibit, in my mind, will be even better – over 200 years worth of The Queens diamonds. Sure to be stunning!

theroyalcollection.org.uk