28 June 2010

London heatwave!

This was the week that summer hit London with full force with blue skies and temperatures reaching 30 degrees at Sunday's peak. Perhaps not so high for some of you reading this but trust me, that's really hot for London! Sunday was also famous for the debacle of the England football team but let's not dwell on that.....

One highlight of this week for me was a drive through Richmond Park. This is less than 30 minutes from central London even with London's busy traffic and is an amazing place to visit as it's not only a huge and beautiful expanse of open land, but it's so big you can drive through it. What makes it really special is the herds of deer you can easily see as you drive/walk/run/cycle you way around the park. They are so used to people and vehicles that you can get really close to these beautiful creatures and here are a couple of snaps so you can see them for yourselves.

Sunny days are always great down by the river Thames and I made a trip to the Tate Modern which not only has incredible art but also a couple of great balconies for photographers to indulge themselves with river views. I loved taking these of St Pauls and the famous 'wobbly bridge', and one across the maze of buildings in the city of London, old and new sitting next to each other.

Regents Park was the scene of last week's Taste of London Festival where one section of the park was taken over by stalls and people but has returned to its usual calm untroubled state. We went for a walk through the park during the week and loved the riot of colourful flowers and decided that being a gardener in a royal park must be a wonderful a job. Here's an example of their work:

Then it was back to the river where the pubs along the tow path have been packed out with people enjoying the summer weather and feeling like they are on holiday in the heat of the weekend. This one is in Chiswick - one of 3 in a short space of river bank.

The coming week will be all about Wimbledon now the football has lost its sparkle for the English and I hear the weather will hold so watch out for more sunny photos of London at its best!

Bye for now,

21 June 2010

Ham and other foods....

This week saw a visit to an amazing old house in Ham, next to Richmond which is rich in history and decoration, a trip to Camden in the sunshine, a visit to a local festival and a major restaurant festival, and a couple of meals out round a theatre trip.

The very grand Ham House (in Ham!) dates from 1610 and saw great drama during the Civil War and being a royalist household, happily entertained the King and Queen after the restoration. The rooms were expensively decorated to reflect the standing of the guests and is beautifully maintained by the National Trust who are continually renovating the fabric and the fabrics of the house. Bathing and toilets are always a fascination from old times and the Duchess of the house installed a bathroom for herself in 1675, one of the first in the country and even built one for her servants although this was outside in a courtyard! The gardens are wonderful too as you can see and the diary has the most amazing shelving supported by legs elaborately carved as cows' legs - rather strange for a room tucked away outside the main house! We dropped into the Petersham Nurseries on the way home to look at the plants and take afternoon tea at their famous cafe but nothing happens there on a Monday so we found the Petersham hotel with its views over the river and tea and cake instead.

It's festival season in London and I went to 2 which were at opposite ends of the spectrum. One was the local Golbourne Road festival which was a low key but fun affair with stalls, dancing and a stage with local bands. There were stalls from the nearby college, a neighbourhood school, a plant stall, the Police demonstrating finger printing (!) and our own raffle stall which was raising funds for Arts Mentoring (http://www.artsmentoring.wordpress.com/) . The dancing was impressive and well worth a photo.

At the other end of the scale was the huge and showy Taste of London in Regents Park where all the top restaurants take a stand and serve 3 signature dishes - everyone from La Gavroche, through Gaucho, The Grill at the Dorchester to Busaba Eathai - sooo much choice! Other stands were selling or doing tasters of all manner of goods from vodka to cakes, to sausages to spicy dips. It started off really sunny but got a little chilly later so here's a photo of Regents Park early on looking glorious.

I took a trip to Camden market to see how busy is it during the week in anticipation of some It's Your London visitors coming in soon and was delighted to see it was buzzing on a Wednesday. There'll be more about Camden soon but here's a couple of photos of the famous canal and the Vespa bar next to it!

Restaurants included the Mall Tavern where we had a meal ahead of the cinema - the meal was good and it's a nicely done gastropub worth a visit and so was the film - 'Please Give' at the top cinema, the independent Gate in Notting Hill. The theatre trip to 'Holding the Man' was less successful as I'd hoped to see 'Dream of the Dog' on at the same theatre but it was sold out and the second string was not for us. However we retrieved the evening but going back to Terroirs, a wine bar off Trafalgar Square where the Cotes de Rhone saved the day!
It's full on sport at the moment with the World Cup continuing (tho' whether England will continue to be in it is yet to be decided) and Wimbledon starts in just a few hours. So hard to get anything done!
Bye for now,

14 June 2010

Happy Birthday your Majesty!

This week saw the official birthday of the Queen, her real one is in April but she has a second one when all the pomp and circumstance is rolled out. We got our spot opposite Buckingham Palace at 9am, way ahead of the crowds and waited in the sunshine while men on horses, men in carriages and men on foot kept themselves busy and all dressed up in their very shiniest uniforms. Then finally the royals rolled out in their carriages and there she was - very smiley and with Prince Philip who was completely submerged in a huge bearskin! There was more marching than you can imagine and a 41 gun salute from Green Park. The bands played all the usual marching tunes including one loved by the England football fans which made me wonder whether that had been put into the programme in honour of the evening's World Cup match against the USA (I'll gloss over that result!) And for the royal spotters here's a photo of the classic line up on the Buckingham Palace balcony - see how many you know and yes, Harry was missing!

It was Open Garden Squares Weekend in London when hundreds of gardens are open to the public many of which are private and inaccessible to non residents. A single tickets gives you entry to them all so I rushed around to pack in several of the more unusual including the roof top garden on the Ismaili mosque in South Kensington, where no photos were allowed but you could get access to their modern styled prayer room - even to women. The guide managed to explain the background to the Ismailis in a few minutes so we all left with a better understanding. One of the stars of the weekend was the Kensington Roof Gardens which is a private club and restaurant owned by Richard Branson where the gardens on a sunny day make you feel like you are on a Spanish holiday. They famously have flamingos living there to add to the exotic feel and they are beautifully pink. Other gardens I visited were so big they felt more like parks but there were also tiny treasures just big enough for the houses that surrounded them but all spoke of a life of substantial money and luxury....

Another London treat was the live screening in Trafalgar Square from the Royal Opera House of 3 ballets. This was a wonderful treat as the tickets for the indoor version are terribly expensive and to see it for free with great sound and picture quality was huge fun if a little chilly as it was a particularly poor evening. The programme was 2 modern ballets, Chroma and Tryst followed by a more traditional Symphony in C and to my surprise it was Chroma that mesmerised me with its raw passion and driving score. The dancers wore just singlets and knickers and no ballet shoes so it felt very different to what you would expect from the Opera House and Wayne McGregor's choreography was completely engaging at all times. These 2 photos show you how the screen works with a close up on Chroma and a shot of the inside of the Royal Opera House to see how the other half enjoyed the show.

A new local pizza restaurant to mention this week - Otto. Started by a couple of young guys who love cornmeal pizza bases and huge toppings. They've just opened and started with such a bang that they ran out of food on their first night! Luckily they had restocked by mid week and served a very tasty pepperoni pizza but it does fill you up so certainly go for a half each. They've taken over an old cafe which never seemed to work and have kept the casual cafe feel while making it more welcoming so I wish them well.
It's all world cup for the next month with Wimbledon squeezed in as well as Royal Ascot horse racing so fingers crossed for good weather!
Bye for now,

7 June 2010

Party time - the big launch...

It's been a busy week at It's Your London not because of tourism but a big charity launch event I was organising. We held a fabulous party at the 20th Century Theatre, known as 'Notting Hill's best kept secret', which used to be an active theatre with non other than Laurence Olivier making an appearance here in 1925! It was built around 1860 and Charles Dickens read his work from the magnificent stage so there were lots of good vibes around. We launched Arts Mentoring (http://www.artsmentoring.wordpress.com/), which is set up to send artists and performers to world with disadvantaged children around the world. The party was a blast with brilliant performances from Nina Conti and Monk, Tiger Lilly, Rebecca Poole, the Parlour Room and Ian Gray and thanks to all these fine folk for their support. Photos at: http://bit.ly/aQwhjZ . Phew - back to tourism....

The Royal College of Arts was holding its graduate exhibition, called 'Show', so we went to see what these talent BA and MA students were up to. Some good glass work, some interesting photos but overall not overwhelming - or was it just me?

We've had some beautiful weather so after 'Show' we wandered around Hyde Park by the Albert Memorial, which along with the Royal Albert Hall was built by Queen Victoria for her dearly loved and much missed consort Prince Albert. The memorial was given a face lift last year and you can see it here sparkling in the sun and fronted by 2 wonderful elephants.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (see the theme here!) is a wonderful place to visit for its permanent collections and special exhibitions. It is described as the world's largest museum of art and design but it feels much more with amazing new galleries of medieval artifacts and the massive Cast Courts with plaster versions of huge Roman columns. Perhaps these do come under the art and design heading. I love their precious Ardabil carpet, completed in 1540 in Iran, which can only have lights on it for 10 minutes each hour and is one of the finest in the world. The ceramics are breath-taking and there are many contemporary items too, in fact it's just wonderful and it's free! To add to the fun on a good day, there's a courtyard cafe and when we went it was packed with lunchers and paddling children.

A restaurant well worth a mention this week is El Pirata de Tapas on Westbourne Grove and I made yet another return trip as it is one of my local favourites, serving great tasting small plates at reasonable prices and is always packed. Another place worth telling you about is Coffee Plant on Portobello as people are often wandering up and down looking for a decent coffee. Try these guys- it's not posh looking but the coffee's good and they are nice people so that can't be bad.
The football World Cup starts this Friday with England's first game on Saturday versus the USA so it'll be very tense and exciting. There'll be more about how the World Cup hits London in next week's blog.
Oh yes before I go, of course we need a few more elephants from the Elephant Parade....

Bye for now.