26 April 2010

Is that a plane? Yes they are back!

What a strange week! The skies over London were clear for 2 reasons, no planes and no clouds! This made for a odd feeling of calm except for the poor folk trying to get home to their own countries and Brits trying to get back here. Then as suddenly as they went, the planes returned tho' the sun stayed for a few more days and it put everyone in a much better mood and happier times for plane spotters!
The big event this week was the London Marathon when over 36,000 people bravely struggled through 26.2 miles through the packed streets of London. The weather was kind being much cooler than expected. I was at a cheering station working for the charity Water Aid and saw some brilliant sights and some heroic battles with pain. Here are a few snaps to give the atmosphere and show how much people love to dress up even if it makes it more difficult!

I was expecting some clients to arrive from America to go on one of my It's Your London tours. (This is my own company which offers tailor made tours of London). They made it here despite the ash clouds and we had a great couple of sunny mornings, one based around the Tower of London and the other around Westminster. We saw: monuments (Tower), river views (from Thames boat and south bank walk), bridges (Tower and Wobbly), parks (St James), museums (Cabinet War Rooms), churches (Westminster Abbey), shops (Silver Vaults), pubs (Olde Cheshire Cheese and Chandos); and, loads loads more. We walked for miles and hopefully they had a fun packed time here. They were lovely people and I wish them a great time in France too. A couple of photos on the way attached - the flowers are St James's Park.

As I only take guests to places I've checked out I dropped into the Jewel Tower in case they wanted to visit it as part of our tour. This is an amazing place as it is one of the 2 parts of the old Westminster Palace destroyed by fire in 1834 (the other was the Great Hall in the current Parliament building). The Jewel Tower dates from 1365 and now houses an interesting exhibition about the history of Parliament. Here's a photo of the little known wonderful Tower.

Eating out this week has been quieter but we did have a trip to Assaha Village near Paddington. This is new Lebanese restaurant I went to with some neighbours who are also fans of this cuisine. We enjoyed the food and after the initial surprise of finding they didn't serve alcohol, we had lovely juices. As usual, we went for a range of starters and, as usual we over ordered but it gave us a great choice with the hummus, the salads and spicy sausages coming out winners.

Just off out for lunch so look out for more reviews next week.
Bye for now,

18 April 2010

Even locals take tours sometimes...

Even those of us who've lived in London for many years like to try new ways to see our lovely city and I went on 2 very different tours this week.

The first was a Duck Tour (londonducktours.co.uk) which is a part road part river tour in an amazing amphibious vehicle. They were built in 1942 and used in D Day to ferry troops ashore, and then they were named DUKWS. We set off with our jolly guide Emma and toured around Westminster by road and then, just by the M16 building, we set off down a slipway a

nd became a boat for about 20 minutes. It was great fun and you get very close to the water in this vehicle/boat.

Hopefully the photos give you the idea - one before 'take off', one showing the moment of entry and one from a bridge after so you can see how low the ride is!

My second experience was a cycle tour with Nathan from Cycle Tours London (CycleToursLondon.com) who very kindly gave me my own tour which was a great couple of hours along the Thames, around Westminster, Mayfair and Covent Garden. I know these areas well but it was a really different experience whizzing past on a bike. He's a great guide and knows his way around all the roads and the traffic. His usual tour is a full day covering Camden, the Olympic site and Greenwich which must be a very exciting tour for cyclists wanting to see a lot of London and have a good stretch of the wheels too. I look almost like a proper cyclist in the photo but not nearly as much so as Nathan does!

It was my week for treats as Gosia from the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel took time out of her busy day to show me round thisvery new large hotel with lovely rooms and stylish public spaces. It has a brilliant location and has great views from all around the hotel and I took this unusual shot across the rooftops towards the London Eye. One of the key features of the hotel is it's aspect over Westminster Bridge and it was a most clear and sparkling day so here's a great view of the Houses of Parliament.

I got to see 2 films this week, both at the Curzon Soho cinema which is one of my favourites especially as it's a big supporter of independent cinema. I Am Love is a beautifully shot Italian film with the luminous Tilda Swinton and The Ghost is a political thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor. One is slowly built and restrained, the other all action and intrigue and we enjoyed them both.

As for restaurants, we tried out Quilon which is one Michelin star Indian delight where we had a special deal from Toptable which was a mini tasting menu and really affordable. A second restaurant trip was to Bam Bou, a Vietnamese I'd be hoping to get to for some time, and it lived up to expectations with delicate flavours and a good looking room.
Here's hoping the ash clouds move away to make our visitors lives much easier....
Bye for now,

12 April 2010

With a visit to the theatre on the sunniest afternoon of the year so far, an art exhibition at the Tate and a boat ride on the rainiest one, Somerset House in the sun, a Michelin star (well 2 stars actually) lunch, and a film preview, it's been a good week.

The Tate Modern is showing an exhibition of the work of Van Doesburg and the International Avant Garde. I'd not heard of him but really enjoyed the wonderfully laid out exhibition. He started an influential magazine, De Stijl that became a movement and you can see Mondrian and the like in his work which is called 'geometric abstraction'. We had lunch in the members' room which has a wonderful view over the Thames but it was a rainy day so no good for photos. The Tate building itself is wonderful and worth a photo from a previous day. We took the boat to the Tate Britain which is a great ride and had a quick browse around the older Tate brother. What a treat to be able to visit 2 great museums in one day.

One of the big tickets in town for the theatre is Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance and we opted for a matinee for this 3 hours blockbuster and yes it was warm and sunny that day! It's a powerful play about Johnny Byron (Rylance) who lives outside of mainstream society and the play takes swipes at both lives with wit, bravado and some menace. Worth the ticket and the 3 hours!

Somerset House was showing 100 years of world photography in aid of homeless charity Crisis. There were wonderful shots from famous photographers, including one from Malick Sidibe whose solo exhibition I'd seen the week before (strange coincidence) and some from people helped by the charity. The famous shots were of a previously homeless man and Prince William, taken by each other and the first shot of a royal taken by an 'ordinary person'. The fountains were on full pelt in the fabulous courtyard and made for great fun for all ages.

Michelin stars this week were courtesy of The Ledbury, Notting Hill and very nice it was too. these lunch deals are affordable and the place was packed, including a large table of French people who were not on the 2/3 course lunch but the 5 or 6 by the look of it!
The film preview was a new film called Boogie Woogie, which is the name of a Mondrian painting in an odd coincidence having seen some of his work at the Tate early in the week! It's all about the London art world and was enjoyable but a little bit too 'in' that world. Great cast from Gillian Anderson, through Akan Cummings, to Charlotte Rampling, Joanna Lumley, Christopher Lee and Stellan Skarsgard.

Just one more thing - there are dinosaurs in Oxford Street! Don't believe me? This photo was taken from the bus just by Selfridges....

Bye for now,

5 April 2010

A whole lot of lunching going on...

It's been a week of lunches and a tea, a theatre trip, the Van Gogh big show, a photo exhibition and a singer. So here goes....
After a bit of lull recently, it was a good week for lunches. It started on Monday with a trip to Raymond Blanc's new brasserie in the City. This was week one so we got a 50% discount which

really helped the wallet. It's a good looking place (see these interior and exterior shots) and the food was good but not as special as I hoped from Raymond. The following day saw a trip to Hereford Road, Notting Hill where the menu is very gamey and shellfishy and we loved the potted shrimp and venison pie.

Hibiscus in the West End has 2 Michelin stars and thanks to another special offer *(3 courses and a glass of champagne for £29.50- what a winner) we could relax and enjoy the extra special cuisine. And finally, we took a lovely pot of afternoon tea at the home of fine teas, Fortnum and Mason, in their new Parlour cafe. The stairway is amazing with the butler in this photo and just being there makes you feel posh.

There was culture to be had at the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy which features many of his beautiful painting alongside letters between Vincent and his brother Theo. They chart his early days as a self taught painter and how he honed his craft to the wonderful later work and the support his brother gave him all through. He did most of his great work in about 6 years which is a mind boggling achievement.

At the Lichfield Studios in Notting Hill a marvellous exhibition of photographs by Malick Sidibe. He took photos in his studio of people who popped in to have shots taken in Bamako at the time that Mali was gaining Independence. He also went to night clubs to capture the exuberance of the time. 2 photos on this one - one of the Lichfield Studios and one of a wonderful photo of a woman from the brochure

This week's theatre trip was to see 'Polar Bears' at the Donmar theatre. Great acting and a plot full of questions but few answers which was confirmed when we bumped into Celia Imrie at the bus stop on the way home. She was one of the stars - yes, she agreed it wasn't very glamorous going home on the 390 to Notting Hill! She asked us whether we thought the lead man had committed the murder - I thought so and Celia said she wasn't sure. Lovely lady to stop and chat with us.

One final bit of fun in London to report on was the chance to see Rebecca Poole singing at The Commander restaurant in Notting Hill. She does a great smokey jazz show and is certainly one to watch out for in the future.

Can't wait for next week. Bye for now,