22 January 2010

Off to Africa!

I'm off to Africa for a few weeks so blogs for a while will depend on the availability of internet cafes and enough spare time in our very busy trip to post anything. I'll do my best but who knows....

It's been a short week since my last blog so just a few things to report on. One was a visit to La Sauterelle restaurant in the Royal Exchange. We took advantage of the Evening Standard special offer and treated ourselves. It's a lovely restaurant in an amazing setting and you can see both the outside and inside on these photos. The Royal Exchange now houses up-market shops and the ground floor bar as well as the restaurant. Fascinating fact time - why is it called La Sauterelle ? This is French for grasshopper which is in the crest of Sir Thomas Gresham who founded the original Royal Exchange and you can see one in the weather vane on top of the building.

I wrote about my art tour last week with Artfeelers and this week their had their official launch party out in Hackney in a pop up shop turned gallery. The artist Piero Arico had been living in the gallery (literally as he's been sleeping in a cupboard) and making a huge painting - if that's the right word - on the walls of the shop. He has incorporated his own designs and ideas and built in comments, stories and contributions from anyone passing by and visiting the shop. 2 photos to give you an idea of the evening - one of the art work and one of us all spilling out onto the street.

The rest of the week has been coffees with friends and colleagues before my holiday and a lovely meal at Cafe Boheme in Soho. I've been going there for years and it never disappoints - good French style food and I treated myself to steak frites bernaise with pear tarte tatin and it was as good as ever. They have a lively bar as well so worth a visit for drinks or food.
One more thing to mention on the theme of pop up shops is the Marmite shop on Regents Street. It's gone now but it was fun tho I know, as the advert says, you either love it or hate it. They had great displays and lovely merchandise, even if it was a bit pricey. There was a small cafe for those who wanted to know what the stuff tastes like or were having withdrawal symptoms. How about these marmite bottles?
Well, I'd better return to the packing and will be in touch soon.
Bye for now,

17 January 2010

Bye bye snow... we think..

It was a strange week of contrasts in London weather wise and hopefully this will be the last weather report for a while as we've all got a bit more obsessed by it than usual! On Tuesday/Wednesday we had loads of snow, more than before, and here's a picture of my garden to give you an idea of how it looked and how dark it was! Sadly my photography course in the London Wetland Centre of all places (!)was cancelled due to the snow but hopefully will be rearranged soon. By the weekend we were submerged by rain and then on Sunday at last, the sun came out. Perhaps more snow to come this week - enough! Today is grey and officially the gloomiest day of the year and we are all supposed to be at our lowest ebb, so I hope you are all feeling ok!

So, what to do to cheer ourselves up? I took an art tour in the east of London with a company called Artfeelers run by the wonderfully enthusiastic and knowledgeable Claire Flannery. A group of 8 of us set off with Claire to see some of the less well known galleries showing contemporary art around Bethnal Green and Claire introduced us to the artists. We went at our own pace and we had the chance to talk about the art as well as have great input from Claire. Here are a few photos to give you a flavour of our walk: a fabulous squirrel on the wall (and a one with Claire!) Then we have a wonderful bookshop and gallery called Kaleid where beautiful artists' books are lovingly displayed along with large pieces as you can see on the wall behind the table. We went to A Foundation which had an interesting range of work, including this fabulous gold helmet, displayed in this wonderful airy white space. Finally onto Caveman Bob, a video piece of a cave where a man lives with a narration of his world in the cave. The whole thing is set in a container and the interior is cave like - amazing.... (Also visited but not photographed was Martin Sexton's gallery)

The whole tour takes a couple of hours and I recommend going along to see new stuff in good company. http://www.artfeelers.com/ for more info.

Regular readers of this blog will know about BookSlam, a monthly night of fun in Notting Hill with book readings, performance poetry and music. This month's was not a vintage for us as the book was heroin chic and the poetry was a bit all over the place but the singer was wonderful and worth watching out for in the future, Josephine Cnyama from Manchester has a great voice and good songs.

Restaurants to let you know about include Langtry's where the history of the place was the key feature. Lily Langtry has an amazing story which saw her rise from an educated vicar's daughter from Jersey to London socialite, to Prince of Wales's mistress and an actress who took America by storm. She lived at 21 Pont Street from 1892-1897 in the Cadogan Hotel which now houses Langtry's restaurant. As if that wasn't enough for one hotel, Oscar Wilde was arrested in room 118 in 1895 meaning that he may have been arrested when she was staying there - what a night!

Back to the current times, we also popped into one of the many Persian restaurants in around Paddington. This one, Sadaf on Westbourne Grove, serves the typical stews and kebabs and has the tough task of taking over from one of my favourite restaurants (a Lebanese called El Fairuz) and sadly is not quite as good.
I'm caught up with plans to visit Africa as I go on Saturday for a 3 week overland trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. Can't wait but loads to do..... So one more blog then I'm off.

Bye for now,

11 January 2010

The big freeze...

London is usually not too cold in winter and the last few year's we've been spoilt with mild albeit often grey months. Then came the end of 2009 and the start of 2010 and we've had snow, freezing weather and ice, ice, ice! Central London, where I live, is always warmer so it's not been too bad but further out there have been several inches of snow and very slippy pavements. Given that us Brits love to talk about the weather in normal times, this has taken over all conversation! So, as a picture tells a thousands words, here are a few photos of Notting Hill in the snow:

I've not stayed indoors too much and have 2 interesting art visits to report on. The Ed Ruscha exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank was a great exploration of the use of language and graphics. The show reviews his 50 years of painting and with a few short paragraphs of background to guide us through we really enjoyed the wit and visual inspiration. One of my favourite was the word faith written large in a typeface invented and used by the Vatican for catholic texts, simple but evocative.

Our second visit was to an installation in the Tate Modern to see Miraslaw Balka's big black box. It's a huge metal and girder structure which fills one end of the massive turbine hall. As you walk in it's a bit like walking into the lowered ramp of a space ship and as you enter further all the light disappears, you grab the hand of the person with you, sticking the other hand out in front of you and proceed very slowly into the deep, deep black. Eventually you reach a soft velvety wall and you've made it to the end. Turning round you see that there is in fact plenty of light behind you and you can easily see where you are! It's a brilliant way of experiencing a journey into darkness and the unknown. Sadly it's references are to 20th century Polish history of the Holocaust and Ghettos not spaceships.
Bars and restaurants still needed visiting and my new favourite bar is downstairs at Hix in Soho. Hix is a owned and run by the chef Mark Hix who has the very successful Hix Oyster and Chop House in the City and his original venue in Dorset. It was the bar we were after however and it was great fun, admittedly probably not as busy as on a non snow evening (there I go again about the weather!). It was cool, comfy and a good range of people and although you have to buy some food due to something about a licence, the home made parsnip crisps were a revelation!
One other evening out was to a local pub. I'm always being asked about good pubs and they are hard to find so I am very happy to recommend The Churchill Arms in Kensington. It's big but cosy, full but not crammed, has loads of decorations but looks fun not silly, has good cheap Thai food and was the first British pub to offer Thai food to its, no doubt, surprised punters!. It's also very famous for it's massive hanging baskets so watch out for a photo of that coming soon.
Bye for now.

4 January 2010

Happy 2010 - here's to the new decade

So, that was 2009 but before we let it go, have a look at my list of my 2009 favourites if you scroll down you can see what they were. It was a fun year but it went in a flash and I guess 2010 will speed by too so let's see just how much we can cram in. You can see how I do by following my blog and hopefully the blog will give you an insight into life in London and what a good time you could be having if you were to visit us here.

As for the closing days of 2009, I spent these in Iceland which was even colder than London but not by much! We had a great time and saw some wonderful sights including the huge Gullfoss waterfall which was almost frozen over and so was I after staying on the viewing platform rather too long taking photos. We bathed in the Blue Lagoon which is a very large outdoor heated thermal pool and was a wonderful experience if a little weird as it was about -5 degrees outside making the dash back inside a major challenge. Although I did hire a robe to save my body freezing as I hurried back to warmth, they were not hiring out flip flops and my feet were so cold that I'm warning everyone to take some! But worth it....

We saw super heated water and steam shoot up into the sky at the original geysir (at Geysir of course!) which gave it's name to all big spouts across the world. Then we stood in their rift valley where the American and European tectonic plates meet and are pulling apart with nature's scary force - a treat to see for all geographers.

We ate lots of fish, tasted the lobster which was really langoustine, the hearty soups and had very few vegetables but fruit at breakfast helped balance this a little! Our hotel was trendy and warm but in a sign of their troubled times we only had 3 TV channels as the provider had gone bust. Icelanders seem resigned to the fact that they lived above their means and the crash must be lived through.

The days were short as the sun only rose at 10.50 giving the days an odd pattern but some wonderful light made up for this especially in the views across the harbour to the nearby mountains, a view which was amazing from their modern cathedral which looks like the space shuttle.

Here are a few photos to enjoy in the warmth of your own home...

So, now I'm back in London gearing up for 2010. But first a quick look back at 2009 with my list of some favourites:

Favourite event: Notting Hill carnival and 4th Plinth event in Leicester Square
Favourite restaurant: Wolseley in Picadilly
Favourite show: Matthew Bourne's ballet of Dorian Gray at Sadlers Wells
Favourite bar: The Oak, Notting Hill
Favourite theatre: Inherit the Wind starring Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic
Favourite thing to do in London: take a Thames Clipper up the Thames on a clear day seeing Tower of London, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre, Houses Parliament, London Eye - can' t beat that!
Favourite event: being on Centre Court Wimbledon for the first ever match under the roof
Favourite exhibition: Maharjas at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Favourite film; Slumdog Millionaire

Here's to a wonderful 2010 for all of you!
Bye for now,