London Top Tips

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I know every blogger and their dog seems to freak out come autumn; but there is a legitimate reason for that. Autumn is breathtaking! I can’t get enough of scrolling through my Bloglovin’ feed and snooping on page after page of burnt colours and leaf kicking and pumpkin carving and conkers and knitwear. In fact I am lapping it up even more obsessively than usual because last year I skipped town before Autumn hit and my A/W 2013 was spent in, well, sweltering tropical heat. This means I haven’t had an autumn since 2012 and that particular gruesome autumn was mostly spent in and out of hospital, and barely participating. Safe to say I have been refreshing the met-office weather app every day, waiting for temperatures to justify the wool tights, woolly jumpers and COATS (ahh lovely coats!) that have sat unloved and unworn for two years. I’m basically delirious because I just ordered my winter coat. What a big decision and one that I used the entire Daylight Savings hour to mull over with a cuppa.

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Whilst a fair amount of my autumnal adventures have included misty ramblings around and stomping about the leaf sodden streets; yesterday it was time to give my cold ears and nose a break and plan something of the cosier variety. After accidentally spending 3 weekends in a row away from London (a hen do, a wedding, our wedding planning!) I have been so giddy all week at the prospect of an entire weekend to do whatever I wanted. So yesterday I did my annual trip to brave the city centre for some perusing up Oxford Street, window shopping on South Molton Street and to spend some time shoving my nose up to the Selfridge’s Christmas window displays. I had wondered where would be good to grab some brunch or lunch and none of my usual haunts were taking my fancy. I wanted somewhere that felt a bit more special than just grabbing a bacon butty somewhere. I wanted somewhere that wouldn’t be heaving, with a queue out the door (I love you Breakfast Club, but you need to have about 100 more tables!) but that would still have a buzzy atmosphere.

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So, I have a (probably really silly) confession to make, and that is despite the fact I LOVE hotels – this was one of my first ever blog posts – and am aware that in London we are spoilt by the quality and quantity of them; I’ve never thought to head to a hotel restaurant for a meal, if I’m not staying at that hotel. In fact (and this is definitely silly) I wasn’t even sure you were allowed to go to one, if you weren’t staying. So, at the grand old age of 30, I can now share this valuable nugget of information – you are! In fact, it is encouraged! And it is such a great option for exactly my predicament of wanting somewhere to cosy up and while away a weekend in-between shops and scuttling about the streets.

With this new life lesson, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the delightful Fiona to the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill and their restaurant The Montagu to sample their new slant on traditional brunch; an Italian/New York influenced offering that is more of an experience than a meal. Oh, and did I mention it includes unlimited Bellinis? I am such a big fan of the holy Bellini that when I type it in my phone, Syri autocorrects it to caps lock and with three exclamation points which gives a clue as to how many times I must have written BELLINIS!!!

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We had barely stepped foot into The Montagu before a super friendly member of restaurant staff whisked us off by the elbows and toured us around the various treats that laid ahead of us. It was a little bit like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Delicious smells and heaving piles of gorgeous food covered almost every surface surrounding the dining tables. Oh and a lovely man was serenading us on guitar; playing some really haunting covers of blues, swing and jazz classics.

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The first stop-off was the deli counter. To take the edge off any shopping starvation you might have entered with; this is an open plan station packed with cured meets, carpaccio, a giant cheese board, every bread you could dream up and glass mason jars of aubergine, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and picky-bits… and you are left to go WILD. I really liked this element to the brunch because it gave the meal a relaxed, luxurious feeling where it was totally acceptable to eat a bit of deli stuff, then something else, then go grazing for more. There is also a salad bar, where the friendly fellows will whisk you up anything that takes your fancy. I went for a Cobb, because I like my cheese to green ratio on the less-healthy side!

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As we let our first course settle, we were given the exact amount of space to natter and chatter; but we never felt like we’d been forgotten about, as our attentive waiter was either bringing us square slices of piping hot pizza fresh out of the oven (yknow, just to tide us over through all that exhausting story swapping!) or expertly topping up our glasses.

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The main course (you have to love a brunch that has a main course) is a unique offering where we scampered over to a big marble breakfast-bar attached to a vast open plan kitchen, where you can hover around and choose between fresh pastas, pizzas, risotto, steak and salmon. The great thing about the kitchen being right there, is that you have talk to the chefs about what they recommend, you can choose exactly what ingredients you want and then, if you are nosey like me, you can watch them prepare it and try to pick up hints to turn you into a chef too. I had Conchiglie (pasta sea shells to me) with tomato sauce, basil and meatballs. There is something just other-worldly about proper Italian pasta cooked by someone who knows exactly what they are doing! It was actual melt-in-the-mouth good.

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Now anyone who knows me can imagine that despite troughing my way through all of this, I really had my mind and my eye on the prize. The pudding prize! As we entered the restaurant I had already clocked the staggering dessert tray and thought “well I just want everything on that”. Here is a small sample of the choices that faced me:

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After an excessive amount of umming and ahhing, I opted for a slice of NYC style baked cheesecake and a tiramisu; just to be equal opportunities and trying something traditional from both sides of the ocean. The cheesecake was quite simply the best cheesecake I have ever eaten in my life. The vanilla tang, the crunchy super-buttery base and the cake itself being the perfect gooey texture. I feel like I’ll never want to order a cheesecake anywhere else in my life because there is no way it can be that good. The tiramisu was dreamy too; I loved the way it was served in a class tumbler, it means all the boozy coffee liquid had pooled at the bottom and just gave it the most amazing potent flavour. I polished both off in record speed despite being so full already. The pudding belly is a totally different thing right?

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I couldn’t believe it when I realised we had been brunching for almost three hours. We had completely pushed the official brunch-time-limit and passed through lunch and almost into afternoon tea territory. The fact this could happen without even noticing is a testament to the staff and the brunch. I hadn’t known what to expect from brunch at a 5* hotel; and worried it could feel stuffy. Instead, I felt totally relaxed. I absolutely loved the mixture of food you could choose yourself and create exactly what your heart desired, versus the food that the expert chefs could whip up. It meant that the experience felt really special, and like I was made a real fuss of, but it also felt really welcoming and intimate. Everyone we came into contact with was genuinely friendly, chatty and completely focused on making the occasion as dazzling as possible.

I am already trying to look ahead at my calendar of when I can go again; as I only had the stomach-space to try about a quarter of the delicacies on offer. The Montagu Italian meets New York Champagne Brunch is £39 a head; and that includes the unlimited bellini/champagne top ups and as much munch as you can muster. The Montagu also do something amazingly called “Sex & The City Par-Tea” which says it all really. I desperately want to take Lol; as she knows every word of every episode so could entertain me whilst we ate shoe shaped biscuits, by doing a one-woman performance of seasons 1-6! Thank you so much to Fiona and the staff at The Hyatt Regency Churchill and The Montagu for hosting me and treating me to such a marvellous menu.

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On the way out, I mentioned how the cheesecake had been the best I had ever had in my life, and an incredibly generous chap boxed up THREE slices for me to take home and so Nick could try some, rather than have me just describe how amazing it was.

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Now I am back home and whilst it’s great to have an extra hour of weekending, I feel a bit distressed about why there isn’t someone here to constantly top up my glass with BELLINI!!!

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This time last year I sat down in an excruciatingly hot & sticky cyber cafe in a tiny Venezuelan coastal town and wrote the first blog entry of my travels over on Twentysomething Burnouts.  In the strange way that time meddles with the mind; it feels like just yesterday and a million years ago at the same time. The next six months are going to be jam-packed with this sort of anniversary; this time last year I was in trekking up Machu Picchu Mountain, this time last year I was sleeping in a hammock, this time last year I was on the Amazon river spotting pink river dolphins, this time last year I shared a bed with the worlds deadliest scorpion… and every single one makes me take stock of where my life was then… and where my life is now. I’m learning that this has its (obvious) pros and cons! Whilst I love thinking back to the once-in-a-lifetime trip and the incredible memories; I also feel like a hostage to the past at the same time, and don’t really wish to live in a fog of reflection and comparison until next March. I have so many important life-things to focus on in the present (dream job! wedding! new flat! London stuff!) but I can feel the clawing clutch of nostalgia and wistful “I wish I was back there” gloom settling on me almost every morning as I pack my backpack and set off for the daily work grind (despite the fact I adore my current daily grinding and it’s in here:

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which kind of helps)

Something to help banish those blues has been making the most of living in one of the best places on earth! Forget my trip of a lifetime, some people aspire to visit London just once and I get it on our doorstep every day. I have to have a word with myself occasionally and remind myself how lucky I am (even if my lungs aren’t; living in London = now asthmatic)

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I turned 30 in May, and for my birthday I’ve been spoilt rotten over the summer by family as I cashed in IOU’ed London based experience gifts (the best kind) and kept milking the celebrations as hard as possible! Firstly my sibling Meg took me for my first ever tasting menu. This is where you are treated to a 6-course meal and each course has a wine selected to match the food selection. My inability at Geography did hamper the start of the night. I had diligently googled The Don, and as I know it was south, which is basically all the same to this northern lass, I headed off to the address provided. It was only when I had caught two buses and walked about 20 minutes in brand new Lotta From Stockholm clogs (breaking in shoes that contain brand new leather AND hard-wood is not the one) that I rocked up to a restaurant that looked… well… a little sketchier than what I was expecting. And sure enough there are TWO The Don’s in London and I was at entirely the wrong one. Already late and now in a bit of a sweaty state; I did something I never ever do. I hailed a black cab and it zoomed me over Tower Bridge giving me a “wow I’m a real life Londoner” moment; and in mere moments I had a glass of chilled bubbles in my hand and could rest up my sore feet.

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Meg and I opted for the tasting menu at The Don; which was perfect in every way. The Don provided us with flawless food, impeccable service (polite and knowledgeable, but never stuffy or judgey) and a buzzy atmosphere where no one sat close enough to eavesdrop as our conversation got more scandalous as we drank more dessert wine! The absolute BEST bit of the night however was the cheese tray. More cultured readers may have experienced this delight before; but to me it was completely new. Basically at the end of your meal, a very smart cheese-expert wheels over a huge tray that is mounded up with about 50 cheeses. They are laid out from hard > soft, strong > mild. Oh and BLUE. Luckily these siblings share a passion for anything strong, sticky and stinky and loaded up our plates with everything that ticked that box. The waiter was happy to stand for about 20 minutes as we made our selection; patiently explaining where every cheese was from, how it was made and what was unique about it. We even tried one that had a line of charcoal running through it. Although every course was a taste sensation in its own right, I think I could probably have just eaten 6 courses of the holy cheese mountain.

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My next spoiling session was courtesy of my big sister Jess. As children we shared a bedroom and a unshakable love for My Little Pony’s. We tried to progress our toy pony love to real life horses, but sadly Bradford isn’t exactly big on wildlife. We managed to get to a couple of riding lessons in one summer holiday; but rather than scampering around with enchanted pastel coloured ponys, we were both a bit shocked when we were expected to clamber onto these stinky, snorty, huuuuge creatures. I have one really strong memory of forgetting to take a riding hat one time, and therefore being late because I had to go back and borrow someones, and by the time I arrived to the lesson there were no horses left. (On grown-up-person reflection, that seems like pretty bad planning) As a result they brought out the “naughty horse” who usually wasn’t trusted to have a rider. His name was Duke, he had a mohawk, he was about three times taller than me and it took him about 4 minutes between me saddling up to him chucking me off onto one of the jumps. Thanks Duke! Despite this sad story; both Jess and I have maintained a curious interest in horse riding and ever since we both moved to London have had “Horse Ride Around Hyde Park” firmly on our must do list.

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Because she’s a super smart cookie, Jess actually got organised and sorted this out for my 30th. We had to wait until the horses were back from summer holiday (!) so a recent autumnal Saturday we met in Hyde Park and headed off to find the Ross Nye Stables. The stables are tucked away down Bathurst Mews; an idyllic little collection of terraces where you suddenly feel like you are a million miles away from the sirens and hubub of central London. Now that I’ve ticked off a key must-do list item, I might just replace it with “Lurk around cute Mews more often”.

We were met by a friendly lady who pointed us in the direction of (super chic) riding boots and (less chic) hats. Jess was introduced to her gorgeous, placid horse and easily hopped on. I was introduced to my horse, the naughty one, and nearly fell right off the other side as I tried to graciously get on. We hadn’t been sure what to expect from our jaunt out, but had thought that as we had stated we were absolute beginners, that we’d get on a horse and then have someone just drag us about on a rope – a bit like riding a Donkey at Blackpool.

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What actually happened was that we both had a teacher who accompanied us on a horse next to us. Jess had a really chatty teacher about her own age. My teacher was 13 years old. (Are you spotting a theme?) My slight witheringness at her age quickly went out the window when the first thing we had to do with our horses was ride them out onto the MAIN ROAD to get to the park. Panic! Luckily my very capable teacher shouted instructions and occasionally reached over and gave my grumpy horse a nudge in the right direction. After successfully negotiating the road without any motorbikes, sudden car honking or anything else that might frighten the horses into doing something scary, we were in the park. I actually needn’t have worried about the road-scares, as it actually turned out my horse had one single phobia and that was… plastic bags! Totally rational! Luckily the litter collectors had been pretty over-zealous in the park that day, otherwise my joy-ride would have been over pretty quickly.

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I have a whole new respect for horse riders and pony people. I had always looked at anyone on a horse and thought; i could do that, just sit on the thing and it does all the work. WRONG. Actually even staying on a horse is pretty tricky! You have to hold the reins right, position your legs properly oh and tell the horse what to do using special secret signals. At first we had a pleasant stroll around; taking in the flame tinted autumn leaves, enjoying the cooling air and waving at the tourists taking photos. Then it was down to the hard work. In Hyde Park there are amazing horse-lanes that have existed since horse was the main form of transport in London. It was on these lanes that we learnt to trot, and canter. Jess was a natural, trotting away and looking elegant. I didn’t realise at first that you need to lift up and down out of the saddle in time with the horses movements. My first attempt at trotting just worked out to be me lifting up and down at exactly the opposite time to the horse and as a result I sat on a hot water bottle for about two days afterwards because of the damage I’d done to my poor glutes!

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I was full of enthusiasm though, if not talent, and soon we were hammering along and I was really enjoying the unusual feeling of moving that fast and that freely around the park. The lesson lasted an hour, and was so thorough. My teacher talked me through everything really patiently and answered all my inane questions such as how are police horses trained and how you can tell if the horse if miffed? I had imagined that Jess I would just be strolling slowly around the park swapping gossip and having a good natter, but we actually didn’t get to talk once. Luckily we’d had a good lunch and chat time first.

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After braving the main road again, and then scampering back into the mews, my legs turned to jelly trying to get off the horse. I hadn’t realised how every muscle in my body had been tense and active in the riding and I basically melted into a pool of ouch and relief that we had survived. It was such an amazing experience and so much better than I’d expected. It was really special to have that one on one teaching and to get to basically be riding independently from the off. We felt so proud of what we’d achieved and I definitely feel like getting straight back on the horse (ho ho) but maybe somewhere a little less public next time.

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Gosh, after claiming that this time around my London life would be different; inspired by my zen travel times, where yoga and plenty of time to contemplate was a regular feature in my life… crikey have I been busy! I think it’s slightly impossible to press the pause button when living in the big smoke. Especially in the summer! I zoom off to work and when I escape into the sunshine at the end of the day, I can’t wait to take a walk by the river, or go meet friends that I’ve been missing and just really enjoy being completely plonked back into the thick of it. There’s always somewhere new to go, something nice to eat and some bubbles to be drunk. It’s so hard to say no! Those shaky reverse-culture-shock stuttery days have long passed and I’m nose-diving super speed into London living, part 2. That’s not to say it’s all been this way; on the odd night that I do come straight home, I have dissolved into a drooly sleeping mess by 8.30pm (still oh so light outside! childhood me would be outraged that this has become a desirable thing!) because I am still suffering massively from new-girl brain drain.

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When I am at home, I am so happy. It’s lovely to finally have a bit of London that is just ours! As much as we have loved previous house mates, after staying in a different hostel every night for 7 months, it was time to have some privacy. Our flat has really exceeded expectations. Sure it’s fun-size, but it still has everything we need, and plenty of sneak space for hiding junk you don’t want out on display. It’s the third floor flat in a converted terrace, so it feels a little like we are living in a treehouse. Our views are pretty much 90% sky, which is lovely, and every time a big truck or lorry passes a rattle passes through. At first I felt like I was about to topple out, but now I’ve got used to them I quite like the daily mini earthquakes! It’s strange to think this time last year I was working in Cannes, with the unknown of travelling and this mammoth life change all ahead of me.

Anyway! What has been keeping me such a busy Bee? Well one thing I have to share, is that a couple of weeks ago one of my loveliest friends Oli celebrated his birthday by inviting a gang of us to the Barbican. We took part in tour that was based around the Barbicans’ Brutalist Architecture. I confess, before rocking up, I had to do a quick Google of “what the heck is brutalist architecture” (read: am I going to have pain inflicted on me during the tour) and the quick answer is no. Brutalism was a fragmented movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, perhaps as a post-war reaction to some of the frivolity in the architecture of the 30s/40s. Brutalism isn’t as bleak as it sounds; it just reflects the lack of bells and whistles in the look of these buildings. They are very functional, often with a dominance of concrete and rather than hiding them; the architects express in the external elevations the functions, people-flows and general bits that are usually kept hidden. Some famous examples are Park Hill in Sheffield, Western City Gate in Belgrade and the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington.

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We totally lucked out with the weather for our tour. It was warm enough to lig about in the cold for two hours (you definitely get your moneys worth on this excursion) and the sky treated us to pinky, golden, magic hour hues for the whole time. It was as if the Barbican was really putting on a show of just how beautiful it can be. Our tour guide was a super enthusiastic Irish academic, who wore an amazing batman cape-like coat and stomped around in big clompy heels, whilst blowing our minds with facts, figures and LOTS of secrets. The first thing she was keen to inform us, is that there is a misconception that the Barbican was created as a council housing estate (something I certainly thought was true). The architects who created the Barbican did work previously on a council estate just up the road, but the Barbican certainly wasn’t built as one. In fact, it was built to attract city-types and yuppies! As during the time it was built, there was a huge housing crisis and a demand for more professional housing close to the centre of London. That isn’t to say it didn’t serve the community though; there was a YMCA, a library, a girls school and a church within the estate.

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In my head, I wondered how much more there would be to learn, as I naively thought that in my 7 years a Londoner “I’ve been to the Barbican loads of times”. I’ve actually only really visited the Arts Centre, and briefly scuttled to and from the tube station. What I hadn’t realised what how vast the Barbican estate is. Our wise-owl tour guide told us to start thinking of it less as a building, and more as a town. It houses over 4000 people; which is actually half of the City of London’s population. We started off taking a good look at the bit EVERYONE knows about… the famous towers. They are so dizzyingly magnificent up-close; no matter how you feel about the marmite aesthetic. At the time of being built, they were the tallest building in Europe. Something I found remarkable, is that despite having slightly different heights (2 towers are 43 floors, 1 is 44 floors) they are identical in every other way. When you view them from the ground, this fact seems impossible! They all look totally different angles, directions and shapes. Our guide informed us that the architects did this on purpose, and it’s one of the most amazing feats of the architecture.

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Something that was instantly noticeable on the tour was the quiet. Sitting smack in the centre of London, surrounded by chaotic rush hour hustle and bustle, at most parts of the Barbican all there was to hear was peace and tranquillity. This is another feat of design; with the architects focussing on sound-proofing the Barbican by building it raised high above the streets and noise. This also gives more opportunity for light and views to trickle in to every bit of the estate. We trailed around the nooks and crannies of the residential areas, and peered enviously at the secret gardens and secluded jungle-like patches that are nestled between the buildings. These are private so we couldn’t go in (I need to make friends with a Barbican resident stat) but our guide assured us that they are so sprawling that once inside, you feel like you could be in the middle of Hampstead heath!

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This is an original map from when the Barbican was first built, and it lists the Museum of London as “building in progress”! I think the map is an example of one of the key perks of paying for a guided tour, as this is something you could so easily march past without paying the slightest bit of attention to. I have previously thought the rather dingy subway style tunnels around the Barbican were quite intimidating, but our tour guide laughed that off, claiming there has never been a street-crime on the Barbican estate so it’s safer than basically anywhere else in London. I need to remember to head there next time I’m drunkenly staggering about after a night out. (What am I saying, I am 30 now, and definitely don’t partake in those shenanigans anymore!) Something I found quite sad as we walked around this incredible chunk of London history; is over half of the flats look un-lived in. Curtains closed, blank window faces, ghost town exterior (I think we saw 2 residents, max). Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t empty and up for grabs – sadly – they are just second homes. They are city crash pads or a novelty piece of real estate. I guess that’s actually in-line with the market they were initially aimed at, but I found it quite sad that they don’t get sold to the tenants who’d love every second of the experience but aren’t necessarily the wealthiest.

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I’m sure the question on your lips is… Is the Barbican Brutalist (!) and the answer is well, no, not exactly. See that photo above? After using concrete on the whole estate, which is dead easy, the nuts architects then decided they wanted to add the texture that you can see in this close-up. So, they created that texture using a hand held machine. Yup, on every millimetre (even the high bits!) of this sprawling monster of a creation. Pretty fiddly really, and not quite in line with the anti-ornate simplicity of Brutalism. And now you know! At the end of the tour, raring for more and not wanting to leave, we were snuck into a very secret plant room. This was the most exciting bit, as we headed deeper into the Barbican underbelly. Down in the dank dingy darkness, we could see a patch of wall where the architects sampled different looks for the finish of the building. Fun fact: they gave serious thought to covering the whole lot in white marble! You can still see the sample of it there today.

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I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Versions of this tour run on a pretty regular basis all year round; you can book your tickets here.

And now for something completely different! Saturday 7th June had been a date engrained on my brain for a pretty long time. Whilst I was travelling, someone I missed horrifically was my gal pal and bridesmaid extraordinare Kate aka Kasia Basia. Epic emails were exchanged, attempted Skype calls melted into frustrating pixels and darth vadar voices, and we generally pined a lot for each other. When Craig came over to meet us in Guatemala he bought me a letter from Kate, and inside was a IOU note saying she had bought us tickets for Arcade Fire in June. At the time, sat in a sticky sweaty Guatemalan hostel and off the back of 5 months of living in the wild, my brain could barely process the information. Gigs? Was that something I did? I was so disconnected from my “old life” and found the whole thing almost impossible to imagine. All I remember thinking was “I’ll have to travel up to Brighton for that” (when in reality I had a 20 min tube journey home). Anyway home we came and the date rolled around, and it had extra special meaning given that it was so loaded with travel memories and was a really special celebration of being back together. So special, I had to wear my new Twin Peaks nerd dream tee-shirt.

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The gig had a whole other layer of nostalgia, as it was at Earls Court which is due for demolition in the probably not too distant future. Gigs there tend to be a bit pricey, so realistically Arcade Fire is the last time I’ll step foot in there. Emotions were riding high! The support was stellar; Lorde and a DJ set by 2 Many DJs, who were joined on stage by an amazing human mirror ball man.

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I last saw Arcade Fire on the Neon Bible tour in 2007, the gig was at Alexandra Palace, it was pouring with rain and I trecked all the way there from Streatham. I knew they were fantastic, and liked them enough, but in the past 7 years they really have taken on a pretty iconic position in my favourite-music charts. Every album so perfectly encapsulates the time of my life it was released. I was so happy to be there with Kate who I know feels exactly the same. I had been apprehensive about the gig for two reasons. The first was that it was in such a mega dega venue, and we’d be sharing the gig with over thousands upon thousands of other people. I quite like to be near the front and in the heart of the action at gigs, but I knew that wouldn’t be an option here (as we were too busy tucking into pizza and chugging wine and nattering to bother queuing for early entry). I also thought I might get a bit irritated by annoying crowd etiquette ignorers and hooligans. Secondly; (shhh) I don’t exactly love the new album. In fact, I pretty much don’t like. So there was that…

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Luckily, my fears were unfounded. From the first beat of the first track, Kate and I were completely in our own world of Arcade Fire joy. We carved out a decent sized dance floor, marked it with our empty pint glasses (top gig tip) and then bounced about madly, arms slung around each other and crooning along every lyric. It’s such an exhilarating experience when you see a band you truly love. The memories attached to each song seemed so much stronger and more powerful live, than when I listen to them on my commute or during a bedroom private disco (everyone has those, right?). Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) reminds me of Lol so much. I was lucky enough to have a best friend who worked at Virgin Megastore (RIP) and therefore we got into every weird, eclectic and obscure band that came along thanks to her work discount and impeccable taste. Before Arcade Fire had really got out, I can remember really clearly going to an indie night at Stylus (Leeds Uni student union) and the DJ playing it early on in the night. Lol and I raced onto the dance floor, which is sunken below the bar and therefore everyone was looking down on us as we danced completely alone and like absolute idiots! Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) reminds me of my uni boyfriend, who lived on the other side of Hyde Park to me and was on my course, so our pretty short relationship was a constant haze of walking to campus or walking to and from each others houses. I don’t know why but I have such a strong memory of walking through the park one time, wading in inches of thick snow, and stupidly wearing converse with no socks (my teen brain had somehow decided socks were not sexy? I guess?) and I was listening to this song. So my feet basically half froze off, and even now I still get chill-blanes every winter and it’s all because of that one fateful day. This is the weird way my brain works, and every time I hear Tunnels I think about him and Hyde Park and snow and frosty feet.

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When they played Ready To Start Kate and I held clammy hands, and spun around, and generally existed in a shiny twinkly perfect world of me-and-her for those 3 minutes. The good part was that even when they played the new songs that I’m not so keen on, there was incredible stage production and dancers and light shows and it made it all fit seamlessly in with the older stuff. It was hot in there, so hot that you could basically see the steam rising off the writhing dancey bodies around us. When they ended on Crown of Love (of course) the room exploded into a burst of glitter ticker tape. Which was as magical as you’d expect! Look at beautiful Kate’s happy-face-happy-place.

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All in all, it was one of the best gigs of my life. Thanks so much to my Kate date, for making it the best London night since I moved back. It really reminded me just how on top of the world and super human a good gig can make you feel. I definitely need to stop being scared off by the cost and eat beans on toast in order to go to a few more shows this year. That’s just a taste of the new news for now, I still need to write a double whammy about Craig and I’s 30th celebrations which involve life size emojis, wobble chops (!) and Nick dressing as the goblin king from Labyrinth. Yup…

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Apologies that this is basically turning into a blog where I talk about food and a tiny bit of life stuff! I’m sure you’re wondering how I haven’t eaten myself into oblivion but it’s all being balanced out by walking 5 miles into work every day which my health-logic then entitles me to eat anything and everything. (I also keep focussing on the fact that soon I’ll be climbing mountains and sweating litres in Caribbean heat) (& Not the fact that I also have to brave a bikini…)

Like most children of the 80s/90s raised on a diet of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles; I love pizza. I love it so much. I’m not really a fan of Pizza Hut and after a brief novelty-value-flirtation with Domino’s I now can’t stand it, the freaky donughty base is not the one. I like my pizza thin-crust and as authentic as possible, my favourite London pizza joint up until now has been Stingray in Tufnell Park where you can get a pizza & a beer/wine for £5.95! And the pizza is GOOD and the waitresses always play amazing songs like Tatu and Melanie C from their ipods. Stingray still has a hunk of my heart but there is a new kid on the block rivalling for my affections. I first heard about Home Slice a few weeks ago. I follow lots of wise food blogging owls on twitter and start hearing rumblings that it was well worth a look. It is located in the very picturesque Neal’s Yard, an area of central London that I really don’t go enough and so it’s nice to have a delicious excuse to visit more often. Like many of the start-up restaurants, such as Meat Liquor and Wish Bone, Home Slice started humbly – as a homebuilt mobile pizza over in London Fields. It’s lovely to support these passionate chefs and entrepreneurs as they grow and blossom. Using traditional wood fires, pizza is all they serve! But that’s not to say the menu is dull, the toppings are all mouth wateringly tempting ranging from ox-tail to bone marrow to salami to traditional Caprese. The pizza is served either by the slice (£4) or a full pizza (£20). After basing our decision to go to Home Slice purely on the novelty for being able to order by the slice NY style, we then succumbed to being piglets and ordered a whole pizza.

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That is 20 inches of pure cheesy tomato delight. Home Slice is one of those laid back places where asking if we could go half-n-half on toppings was absolutely no problem. Our waitress was so enchanting and even praised us on our topping selection – mushroom, ricotta & pumpkin seeds / chorizo, corn & coriander. Upon the arrival of the 20 inch beast, we both proclaimed “oh wow, we’ll be taking home a big doggy bag”. Then we took a bite, and all concepts of doggy bags vanished as we silently troughed through the whole lot only breaking to make ridiculous movie mmmmm noises and wide eyed YUM faces at each other. It is by far the finest pizza I have ever had in my life, including the many slices I shovelled away on my trips to New York.

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Most of my friends will know that my tipple of choice is Prosecco. Mainly, due to cost, I reign myself in and only drink it on special occasions and celebrations. Occasionally I cave in and order it on an average night out and get met with “celebrating something..!?” and then feel all bashful. But Home Slice clearly felt my pain and therefore they have Prosecco ON TAP. Have you every heard of such a thing? I would be such a happy (merry) person if I could have Prosecco on tap in my house. Anyway the draft-ness of it means it’s a steal at £4 a glass…another very good reason to go, chow down and chug up!

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After all those inches of dough we decided we better walk home. When you have a boyfriend who’s handily your bestfriend and braintwin, you have lots of adventures even on a walk you’ve done a thousand times before. First we walked through “Sci-Fi City” (the new business development by Warren Street) and then found a door that led to nowhere. We scampered about and found a lot of things to laugh at and about, even as our legs grew weary and the sun dipped. It’s nights like this that make me extra-excited for our international adventure, as I think if we can still find a way to find a tedious walk home so sparkly then imagine what it will be like when we are roaming through rainforests and trekking through misty mountains. I’m sure we’ll have the odd “I miss London!” moment and it’ll be nights (and meals) like this that I’ll be remembering.

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When I first started hearing mutterings of a “Pop-up Roller Disco” I instantly knew that at some point this summer, I’d be dragging an unsuspecting friend down to Kings Cross to re-enact Starlight Express and zoom around pretending to be a roller-waitress (my dream job as a child!). Luckily Craig was a willing participant although he didn’t crack out the short-shorts he was rocking at The Color Run, which was disappointing! We started off our Friday evening lurking around the water fountains outside Central St Martins at Kings Cross, watching a perfect sunset appear and fade above our heads as we nattered away for a few hours (considering we had some pretty big news to discuss – THANK YOU for everyones incredible responses and support and enthusiasm, it’s been very humbling and really re-enforced that I am doing the right thing)

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Anyone who’s lived or visited London regularly won’t have failed to notice that King’s Cross is going under some pretty hefty renovations. Kings Cross has always been my station (all London dwellers have this, it’s just the major rail station that takes you back to your hometown and you inevitably spend hours of your life lurking in!) as it is the mouth to the north. KX has never been, I felt, the greatest welcome to London for those arriving. The journey in takes you past some grimy high rises and the slightly battered side of Caledonian Road, and previously as you burst excitedly into LONDON! from the train you would be welcomed initially by two McDonalds, a Premier Inn, an O’Neils and a world of chicken shops. There was also a whole section behind Kings Cross and on the canal that I wouldn’t have dared stray into after daylight hours. But not anymore! It’s a slow slog but now the whole area is a pleasure to visit these days and a perfect warm-welcome to the big smoke. If you haven’t headed down, add it to your to-do in London list in bold letters. There’s a wildlife reserve, a lovely bar called The Filling Station which I have yet to visit but I hear crab burgers and frozen margaritas are their speciality so it won’t be long!, the amazing water feature and a seating area onto the canal covered in fake grass… perfect for sunset reclining on.

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Skate King’s Cross is the latest “innovation” section of the redevelopment. It’s just running for eight weeks, until the 6th September and I’ll avoid making a terrible pun here about getting your skates on if you want to go. I love the concept of a summer roller rink, it’s the perfect antidote to the winter-ice-skating-withdrawal I suffer every year. Tickets are £14 for a two hour slot any time of day from 10am (which includes hire of some pretty snazzy looking pro-rollerskates, non of the cheesy smelling My Little Pony efforts from my childhood here). I think it’s better value though to go on a Friday or Saturday night though, for the disco. Tickets for this are £19 but they are 8pm-late meaning unlimited skate time and you get the added lighting and music and party atmosphere thrown in. Upon arrival we headed straight to the wheels area to get kitted out. The cloakroom is free, which is as rare as a mysterious underwater unicorn in London, and very much appreciated. (Sorry, I had to get that phrase in here somewhere, as three people have found my blog with that search-term this week. What? And… Why?!)

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It turns out, we are both dreadful at roller skating! We barely got from the benches to the rink without breaking something, and as we debuted onto the rink we managed to do a phenomenal falling over/clutching each other/wailing movement that sent anyone in the vicinity racing away! I could definitely roller skate as a kid so it must be a confidence thing. Even putting the breaks down seems so unnatural as you have to practically fall over to get your foot that close to the floor. But despite completely lacking in ANY talent, the enthusiasm was there as we dragged ourself around using the bars around the edge and resembled Bambi walking for the first time; all jelly legs and panicked faces. This in itself at least gave us chance to people-watch everyone else on the rink, and there were some incredibly talented skaters doing all sorts of moves (backwards, trains of people, JUMPS!) that made it really entertaining just being a sidebar saddo. After a few circuits our bravery (and humiliation) kicked in and we graduated to letting go of the edge and doing a few laps without any help. Success!

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The skating was a lot of fun. There was the perfect amount of people on the rink, enough to feel like a party but not so many that it was intimidating for newbies and novices. The DJ played some great music, although towards the later part of the evening it turned a bit mwam mwam funkyhouse which was disappointing as really when you’re wearing neon rollerskates and zipping around under flashing lights, you may as well just go all out and have some serious cheese to shimmy to. After an hour of skating (and surviving with all limbs intact) we sloped off back to our non-wheeled footwear and headed to the bar for some of the much hyped drinks.

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At the bar there is diner food from Disco Bistro N1C and a pretty good drink selection. We didn’t opt for any food, so I can’t really give it a fair review, although the piles of frozen chips on the floor didn’t exactly make the thought of eating that appealing! In a London packed with burger-competition I didn’t think the burgers looked like anything too special (especially if they are cooked from frozen too…) but at £10-£15 a pop, I’d hope they were that price for a reason. They were serving something called pig skin popcorn for £2 which we didn’t sample but is one for a peckish carnivore. The drinks were amazing though. Craig had a hard shake (vanilla ice-cream, spiced rum, banana & rum socked raisins!) and I had a Lemon Pimms Mojito as it mixes two of my favourite drinks into one… so why not. Both were massive portions, but at £10 a beaker I would need it super-size in order to not weep as I handed over my £20 for two drinks. Ouch.

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It was probably as much fun to watch the skating as it was participating. We spotted a few people on dates, and even got some front row action for a couples awkward first kiss (on wheels, so brave!). Again there were some amazing moves to marvel at, and the rink is staffed by a crew of VERY hot (and very lovely) “marshalls” who are mostly ladies and all in a uniform hotpants and footballs sock. They all take turns doing their thing on the rink too which is easy on the eye! I’d definitely recommend getting yourself down to Skate whilst it’s there. You may have your dreams of being an extra in Starlight Express dashed forever, but at least you can drown your sorrow in boozy milkshake. Everyone we met who worked there was so friendly and passionate and having so much fun and the whole experience made me annoyed that I don’t do more with my Friday nights usually (home from work as quickly as possible and a mug of wine in bed has been the previous two’s pattern before this excursion). Head down even if you can’t skate, or don’t think you can, as trying is part of the experience and you’re less likely to lose a finger if you fall over, than you are at the Ice Rinks!

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I haven’t been sure what to post in here lately, because although life has been true to my busy-bee name, I have mostly been busy lying like a starfish on any patch of grass I can find in London, soaking up the sun and nattering to colleagues and friends. My freckles have moved in for summer and I love the fact I haven’t even thought about wearing a jacket for weeks on end. A lot of people seem to be complaining about the heat at night but I LOVE it! I sleep deeply and dozily and wake up looking like a mole who’s just seen daylight for the first time. I hope the heat is here to stay a little longer.

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On Wednesday I visited Opium in Chinatown for the third time in three weeks, which I think makes it an official obsession and therefore something I need to share with the world. Opium is a Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour; what better combination is there than that? It’s the sort of place you hear about via word of mouth, whispered tip-offs and drunken loose lips, and that’s because there is no sign – speakeasy style! I know the “secret” thing is getting a bit overdone, but I have to say I still get a little rush of excitement when you walk up to an anonymous door and have no idea what you will find lurking behind. The door in question here is the “Jade Door”, 15-16 Gerrard Street (the main Chinatown strip) which is nestled between bustling restaurants and Chinese supermarkets. On arrival, a poe-faced security man will phone up to the “hosts” and you will then be sent up a dark, winding staircase to your table. Out of the gloom you are welcomed into an oasis of calm and tranquility, it’s almost impossible to believe you’re still in the heart of chaotic Chinatown.

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The main thing that’s captured my heart about Opium is the atmosphere. The decor is stylish and simple, with huge comfy seats and low set mahogany lattice tables. It’s always the exact right side of busy; buzzy but you aren’t sat on any strangers laps or squidged into shared tables. The staff couldn’t be more attentive, and the music is a treat in itself (where else can you hear a folk version of No Diggity?) The setting feels exclusive and you are made to feel like your custom is really valued, something I’ve found desperately lacking in a lot of of my London nightlife experiences lately.

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And of course the best part, is that the prices are totally reasonable. Cocktails are all around a tenner (I can’t believe I’m saying this so flippantly as I’m sure my friends back up north are recoiling in horror, but that’s pretty standard for London cocktail clubs) and they are worth every penny. The Crafted Fancy Drinks are all exclusively created by the Opium mixologists and a menu for the more adventurous drinker like me, there basically isn’t a spirit or flavour I DONT like! Which makes choosing a really tough experience, and explains why I keep going back. Not only are the drinks delicious, but they are also smashing it with the presentation. Syrups come in “Chinese Medicine” bottles, the Opium No 3 cocktail arrived in a dramatic smoking cauldron with griddled nectarine slices on the side and shorts are served in traditional tea cups. My favourite tipple is the Lady of Yue which comes with the description “while strengthening the spirit, one should remain outwardly calm”; a quote that is about to become very relevant to my life. It’s a tasty combination of remy martini, aporel, homemade almond syrup and fresh strawberries. If weird and wacky doesn’t do it for you, there’s an extensive list of old fashioned classics too including things I’ve never heard of such as cobbler, pisco sour and a bronx.

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Of course you need something to soak up those spirits, so the dim sum is a very necessary side addition. It’s a short, simple menu featuring favourite such as siu mai and char siu buns but also some extremly addictive items such as sesame-poppy prawn-lobster toast and salt and pepper aubergine which is by far the highlight of the menu. Order it even if you don’t think you like aubergines, because you will now!

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And there you have it. My latest London secret find, which I can’t recommend enough. Something else that I keep noticing lately is a new breed of trees… the painty variety. I’m pleased to see some of the grey-er corners of North London getting a colourful smattering of nature, and I wonder if it’s the same person planting the seeds or if it’s just coincidence?

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Now that I have lived in London seven years I’ve finally found “my spot”. Everyone needs that hideaway nook that they can go to think, read, write, ponder (or phone their mum, like me!) but in London it can be hard to find a place that isn’t already bustling with people or claimed by others. Over the last two years I’ve returned to this spot over and over again, in every season. I don’t know why the tree is dead, and perhaps it’s a bit morbid that it’s the place I’m attracted to, but I love it’s spindly branches and the way it dominates it’s surroundings. It’s set in wild long meadow grass which I like to sprawl out in and breathe in the fact that no one passing would even know I’m lurking there. Well, until I start wriggling around to scare off the insect & creature invasion. I’m already excited to get a little bit of me-time there tomorrow, and finish the last chapter of my book appropriately called The Memory of Trees by F G Cottam.

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This weekend London finally got the hint that winter is no longer welcome, and I packed away my thermals and thick socks and dug out my sandals and strappy sundresses, from the depths of my wardrobe. Nick & I had some very special parental visitors this weekend and faced the typical London-problem of WHAT TO DO. Not because there isn’t any choice, but because the choice is staggeringly overwhelming. We decided it would be nice to do a London-first with them, and consulted our groaning list of places in London we’ve been meaning to visit (but then just go to the doggy swimming pool on Hampstead Heath like we do every weekend). Top of that list was Highgate Cemetery.  I’ve been desperate to visit for years and have no idea how it’s alluded me, especially as I now live in North London and a 10 minute bus ride away. Nick and I have both recently read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, in which Highgate Cemetery is basically a character in it’s own right. I can’t say I loved the book (speaking of which, does anyone know why Raven Girl isn’t on the kindle/seems so hard to get hold of?) but I did fall in love with the descriptions of this luscious, secret land within London.

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It might seem like an odd choice, to spend a glorious sunny day in a graveyard, but banish these thoughts from your mind! The cemetery comes to life in summer, as it hides beneath lush canopies of trees and greenery, the colours providing a perfect juxtaposition to the grey-grey-graves. You feel so protected from the rest of London, and there is definitely an enchanting feeling of stepping into somewhere entirely different as the hustle & bustle of Highgate village suddenly vanishes. I am keen to go back and compare with a visit in winter, I imagine with gnarled tree branches tapping at you as you walk around and a nice dose of swirly mist, it’s a completely different atmosphere again.

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It also may feel slightly morbid to go to a cemetery at all… However I think it’s actually really beautiful that it is still being visited and enjoyed in the modern day. Everyone I observed visiting was respectful and curious and peaceful as they pottered around, reading about those who have passed over and considering their own mortality. It’s never going to be a bad thing to set aside obsessive thoughts about emails, holidays, work stress etc for a moment and just be grateful to be the person looking at the grave, not inside it.

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A quick potted history for those who may think Highgate-what? The original cemetery was created in 1839, in order to cope with the number of deaths in London and provide an alternative to undignified mass-burials that had previously been the only option. Highgate was one of seven large, modern cemeteries, known as the Magnificent Seven which were dotted around central London, in places that apparently in those days would have been the equivalent of travelling way out into the countryside!  The design was inspired by en-vogue garden cemeteries such as the Père Lachaise in Paris, and created by architect Stephen Geary. Over time, the cemetery attracted it’s fair share of iconic and famous graves; including Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross), Patrick Caulfield, Lucian Freud, Michael Faraday and Charles Cruft (founder of Crufts). I didn’t realise, but people could still be buried there today (at a price tag!) and we had an awkward moment when we stumbled across Jeremy Beadles grave and Nick’s dad asked in a baffled voice “Jeremy Beadle died?!”. What a way to find out.

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The cemetery is split in two. The East and the West cemetery. The East cemetery is where Karl Marx is buried, and visitors are free to roam freely. There is a £4 entrance fee, which gives you full access to the 15+ acres of incredible heritage and history. We spent about an hour and a half exploring and probably didn’t even come close to properly seeing half of it! So set yourself an entire day aside if you plan to visit, and maybe wait until slightly less melt-into-a-puddle heat as that is definitely what defeated us in the end. Graves extend for miles in the distance and are in row after jaunty angled row, as far as the eye can see. Snaking paths vanish behind huge stone angels, cherubs, arches and vaults. The graves vary from the most decrepit; where the engraving is barely readable and there clearly hasn’t been a fresh flower laid in decades, right up to the most modern with decadent gold leaf lettering and heaps of fresh posies. It’s also fascinating to see what people choose to have engraved in memory of their loved ones, and even recreated out of stone in some cases; there are a fair few cat and dog creations… as well as a few real life cats lolling around and making a bed for themselves amongst the stone slabs!

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In the East Highgate Cemetery, you are visiting the nature as much as the graves and architecture. In the 60s and 70s the Cemetery was desperately running short of money, and during this period it descended into rack and ruin. Nature took a devastating grip on the cemetery and you can still find many graves with vast tree roots cracking them in half or entirely covered in moss and slime. These were some of my favourites as they look like there is certainly about to be a bony hand jutting out at any moment! Luckily in 1975 “Friends of Highgate Cemetery” was formed and they work tirelessly to fundraise and restore parts of the cemetery to their former glory. Which takes me nicely on to the West Cemetery…

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The West Cemetery isn’t publicly accessible unless with a Highgate Cemetery Guide. Tours run every hour, but due to size limitations, they do sell out quickly. This isn’t clear on their website, so we casually rocked up at 2pm expecting to get straight in on a tour, but instead had to buy tickets for the 4pm tour and hang about until then. My advise is definitely head straight to the chapel outside the West Cemetery and buy your tour tickets before you do ANYTHING else. Also, for goodness sake, DO THE TOUR! It’s £12, which I remember previously thinking was a little steep… but it is more than value for money. Firstly, you then get free access to the East Cemetery (saving you £4, making the tour more like £8) but also every single penny of it goes towards vital restoration projects. The cemetery is such a vital part of London’s past, and due to the decades of neglect followed by it being a target for some abhorrent vandalism, there is a desperate need to raise money and restore graves, vaults and mausoleums to their former glory and intended use.

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The tour is absolutely brilliant. Firstly, you get to step into a part of London that barely anyone else has seen! And it certainly has that rare untouched crackle in the air. All the really special parts of the cemetery exist on this side, such as the Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon which have unique engraved tombs, family vaults and winding paths built into hillsides. In the Egyptian avenue, even the keyholes to each crypt are upside down, to represent a life extinguished. Our tour guide was the perfect mix of passionate, bright, personable and a wicked story teller. Over the course of an hour we learnt so much about Victorian symbols of death, the trends in under ground/over ground/cremation/burial types and walked the length and breadth of the West Cemetery. Our guide also took us to visit some of the more fascinating residents, such as Alexander Litvineko, Michael Faraday and George Wombwell. I really recommend you click the link and read about ole Wombwell, as he was such a fascinating character! A sort of early Alan Sugar who made money from displaying his menagerie of exotic creatures in pubs and bars around the London docklands. His menagerie grew and became a touring exhibition, and this man must have been the worlds best spin doctor because despite one of his lions escaping and eating two people AND a kangaroo escaping so some poor woman woke up with a it in bed with her (!) he was still regarded as some sort of hero.

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I won’t spoil it by telling you anymore of the tales, as you really should go and hear them first hand. Every tour is slightly different so you can keep going again and again, and you know what? I certainly will. I haven’t felt so inspired and creatively affected by somewhere in a very, very long time. I’ve already started making notes for a ghost story set in the cemetery in the 70s, and can’t stop thinking about it! I’m also very keen to get involved in the cemetery on a voluntary basis. They are always looking for volunteers to do gardening, cleaning, archiving or to become a “friend of Highgate Cemetery”.

Certainly the weirdest thing I saw on my day out and about was this. On one grave there was a dead pigeon, perfectly laid out in the centre as if it had been placed there as a sacrifice. Enough to send a cold shiver down your spine on a blisteringly hot day…

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/ If you liked this, you might like my Milner Fields post. A real life Yorkshire ghost house!

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After my discovery that Chelsea isn’t in fact just for people named Binky or owners of miniature dogs, I’ve been branching out and exploring more of this London gem. A few weeks ago my friend Phil aka Chime Hours told me about Big Easy and more importantly, it’s all-you-can-eat FAJITA WEDNESDAY! Big Easy is a short stroll from Sloane Square station and describes itself as deluxe crabshack dining which already had me sold. The decor & atmosphere is worth a visit in itself, let alone the fact the food is sensational. Feeling as if you’ve just left Chelsea stiffness and entered the deep south, Big Easy is adorned with crabs, fishing nets, amazing artwork and kitsch quotes.

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I usually have Spanish evening class on a Wednesday so this was an extra special treat because I skived my lesson (then had to make up for it with the Que Horror! of double spanish the next week) as the lure of all you can eat sizzling meat was too high. You pay a really reasonable £14.95 and this includes as many fajitas as you can scoff PLUS an icy beer or a frozen margarita. Guess what I opted for…

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I just want to take a moment to pay tribute to my beautiful Sugarhill Boutique Love Birds blouse. I was in the market for a birthday-present to myself when I saw lovely Rosie’s post with her wearing it and I was a style thief and instantly ordered myself one! Luckily we live hundreds of miles apart so I felt safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t trot in at any moment wearing it too, phew. Since buying this blouse I’ve been obsessed with Sugarhill Boutique. I’m a sucker for prints and they have such a beautiful selection, I’ll be writing more about them next week as I am wearing this little number to the York Races tomorrow so I’ll be reporting back on the day and the dress! SO, back to the fajitas…

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The fajita goodness comes out on a huge sizzling platter. You can choose chicken, steak, shrimp or vegetable. Or you can be a greedy guts and choose all four, which is what we did. It sizzles away on a hot plate, whilst you are also bought baskets of hot fajita wraps and plates of salsa/lime/cheese/guac/sour cream. After feasting your way through the lot, you can ask for as MANY refills of everything as you can possibly muster. All of the food is delicious but as a surf & turf freak I stuck mostly to shrimpy steak combos. I intentionally arrived with a huge appetite but as usual was quite lame once under the pressure of you can eat as MUCH as you like! I managed 4 fajitas, but my three dates for the night fared better. Phil & Craig both managed 5 fajitas but Nick was crowned fajita champion by chomping 6 (and his were all stuffed so full they basically exploded). I don’t think Nick felt like the winner as he groaned his way up the Northern line home and had to be rolled into bed though.

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A nice added bonus was that Big Easy also have nightly music. We were sat next to the stage and a group of guys & guitars serenaded us with sweet covers and tropical tunes as we ate. It did mean conversation was a little SHOUTY and getting waiter/waitresses attention for refills and new drinks could be a challenge, but the pros outweigh the cons and I really enjoyed the buzzy, hectic, friendly feasting atmosphere. The Big Easy has a huge standard menu of BBQ, shrimp, steaks and seafood. They also do various other offers similar to this during the week including all-you-can-eat Shrimp on Tuesdays and an annual rib-eating contest on 4th July. I basically am already dreaming of when I can next go back there and want to take all my friends there to experience the fiesta vibe. Who’s in?

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Our smug not-as-full-as-Nick faces! I realised that when you live in London you NEVER take photographs on the tube, so thought I’d go rogue and actually the lighting and colours are quite fetching. In-real-life friends will recognise this shearling collar, as I am wearing it every day at the moment. This nightmare May weather means I want to wear my leather jacket or parka but never know when I’ll get an attack of the chills and need something toasty. I down-right refuse to wear a scarf in Spring so this is the next best thing, it also adds a nice furry lapel to any jacket you are getting a bit bored with. In fact I love it so much, I just ordered myself another one from ASOS in cream. I guess it’s just my big collar addiction hitting a new level of over-size!

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I feel like I need to pinch myself, I just had the best magical birthday weekend and am definitely going to be crashing back down to earth with a double whammy of post-birthday and post-bank holiday blues any moment. I turned 2-9! To be honest, 27 was my worst of all years ever. 28 had sparkly shiny highlights (mostly Nick & travel related) but more than a fair sprinkling of health, family & life woes. 29 feels psychologically like I’m leaving my crummy late twenties behind and am now in a special stand-alone-year-countdown to thirty which should be packed with ensuring I do everything I ever wanted to by this milestone. I am slowly tick tick ticking off achievements and aims and feeling really positive about my impending new decade, no mid-mid-life crisis here thank you. Maybe it helps that a) I don’t read age fear-mongering women’s magazines and b) tons of my friends are 30+ or 40+ even, and are seemingly no different to 20+ers so it’s definitely only a number.

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My birthday celebrating actually started on Thursday (despite my birthday being on Saturday) as my eldest sister took me to The Wolsey for breakfast. This is something I’ve been desperate to do since moving to London but am glad I saved it for something super special. If you want to go and sample the famous Wolsey breakfast delights, be sure to BOOK in advance as it’s popular for a reason! The experience itself is decadent, in the grand dining room with sweeping staircases and swooping chandeliers. The menu is so extensive that it was near-impossible to decide what to eat. In the end I opted for a pot of (decaf) tea which came with a very nifty high-tech strainer, then we shared a basket of delicious mini pastries and then I had the eggs Alvington (their fanceh name for the one with smoked salmon) and it was definitely the best hollandaise of my LIFE. For someone who could eat hollandaise with every meal, this is quite a feat. The best thing about breakfast was the price actually! For such a special dining out, the prices aren’t much more than what you’d spend on an early morning splurge in Pret. It’s my sister’s birthday next month, so I have promised her an equally swish breakfast outing in return. Do you have any recommendations? Been anywhere wonderful? So far the Riding House Cafe menu is my plan A.

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It was a day for feeding my face, as I was later treated to a selection of tarts by my lovely work colleagues and a very impressively in-tune happy birthday serenade. Can I also take a moment to point out this raglan tee of dreams. I have always loved this style of top but hadn’t owned one until now; this is one I picked up in Madewell when hiding from the New York blizzard. The material is such soft jersey loveliness. I wish I’d hunted higher and lower for a few more as it’s now my go-to outfit with jeans, which almost feels as comfy as wearing PJs to work.

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On Friday I had a rare, glorious day off work and the sunshine put his hat on, especially for me! It was so excessively exciting to scamper about with bare legs, open toes and a tee-shirt dress, NO COAT! NO CARDIE! Saying that, I did spend most of the morning inside as I went for my first ever facial! Have you ever had one? I’m a total newbie but had some Spa vouchers as a bday treat and thought I’d opt for something brand new. I went to the Aveda spa in covent garden as I was drawn to their use of only naturally-derived products. Upon arrival I was led out of the chaos of their cafe and hair salon, and down into the underground tranquil Spa retreat. I have to admit I was a little bit nervous, but the first thing my facial therapist did was plunge my feet into soapy warm water and give them a massage whilst we chatted about my skin and what I was hoping for from the treatment. I then got into a huge bed, that was heated inside and I lay tucked in snug as a bug in a rug whilst my face and head was massaged, oiled, cleansed and endlessly exfoliated. It was so relaxing I nearly fell asleep a few times, until the steaming started. It was lovely at first but THEN my therapist started removing blackheads. OW! I was absolutely mortified, I didn’t know this was going to happen and wriggled around as she went to town on my face with a tweezer and some other unidentified equipment. Imagine that being your job?! I certainly was not expecting it. However it’s true what they say, no pain/no gain. My skin after has been baby smooth and dewy, although I had a few red blotches from the blackhead gate so I wouldn’t get this done the day before a party – like I did. Get it 3-4 days before to have time to recover the skin violation.

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Next was some gentler pampering, and my annual birthday manicure at Wah Nails. They currently have a pop-up at the amazing Box Park in Shoreditch, so I met up with my tres jolie pregnant cousin (she is due in 3 weeks and still dresses like she’s on a Parisian catwalk, I swear most women have embraced velour by this point!) and we spent an hour getting nail happy. If you haven’t ever had the Wah experience, DO IT! It’s a bit pricier than a standard french polish or plain polish, but the nails last at least a week …sometimes more. This year I opted for intergalactic, as I’m so obsessed with stars and constellations.

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My fro-yo obsession that has grown since my first experience in LA knows no bounds. My absolute favourite local joint is Snog, so on a dusky Friday night after stuffing our faces with cocktails and mini burgers in the Lucky Chip Slider Bar @ The Player, Nick & I stopped by for some Soho Snogging. I’m not quite sure how “guilt free” it is when you cover it in brownies and choc chips…

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My birthday present to myself was a blush pink Kanken, making the most of the current I Love My Kanken 15% discount. Hands up; my name is Bee and I am a Kanken addict. I would literally buy one in EVERY colour if I had the funds. Nick and I even had our first ever argument (!) over the fictitious scenario that if I win one in the million competitions I have resorted to entering, I wouldn’t give it to him (he doesn’t even have one) I’d just keep it ALL for myself. Perhaps by the grand old age of 29 I should be treating myself to “proper” handbags, but they just don’t make me as deliriously-happy as these backpack of dreams.

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On Saturday, my family and friends arrived from all corners of London and the UK for a party. However, this needs a post all of it’s own as it was a Wes Anderson themed party and the costumes were just so exquisite. If you follow me on instagram you will have got a sneak peek over the weekend. Sunday was a hungover slope of a day, with a giant diner breakfast and a walk with my brother around Camden market taking their toll and me ending up snoring away in bed by 9pm. Yesterday was a glorious sunny day; but we decided to hole up in Cineworld and rinse our unlimited cards by seeing Iron Man Three & The Place Beyond The Pines. IM3 was brilliant; I can’t believe a threequel can turn the super hero genre on it’s head so much! Messing with convention, twisting and turning, but not losing any of the action packed pase or cheesy one-liners. The Place Beyond the Pines was haunting and beautiful. I’ve read so many mixed reviews but I just found it captivating from start to finish. I’m a huge fan of the finer details, a geek for rewatching films repeatedly until I’ve spotted every hidden glance or mutter or meaning. The Place Beyond the Pines was packed with little nods to those who pay attention, and I really appreciated that. I’d give it 4*’s and place it up there in my films of 2013. If you’ve seen it, I really enjoyed Tea & Oatmeal’s review (and her blog in general).

More on my Wes-tastic Saturday soon…

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