31 May 2010

Libraries and a ship in a bottle...

Last week was as busy as ever with a Library themed day out, a sighting of giant ship in a bottle, an evening with the Mayor of London (!), and of course more elephants!

Firstly our Library Day. I designed a day out for some ex colleagues as part of my business offering (It's Your London) as one of them is a former librarian. We started with champagne and then a leisurely lunch at Shanghai Blues, an elegant Chinese restaurant in the former St Giles Library in High Holborn. An excellent meal from their set lunch menu. Cabs were required then to take us to Lambeth Palace where they had opened up their library to celebrate it's 400th anniversary. There were the most amazing books to be seen: an Irish book dated 945 was the oldest; a copy of the Guttenberg Bible the first printed book to reach this country; and, the enormous and fabulous Lambeth Bible dating from 1150. They were all in incredibly good condition, easy to view and accompanied by an informative audio guide. Lambeth Palace itself is a wondeful building dating from 1663 and is the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

After our bit of culture, we walked along the Thames and up Whitehall to take in the sighs like proper tourists do. From there the intrepid explorers set off in search of more theme activities and finished the tour in the Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel where the cocktails did not disappoint! The Lanesborough is super luxurious and it's strange to think it was formerly a hospital until the lease ran out....

A visit to Trafalgar Square to view the latest addition to the Fourth Plinth is a must. This time it's a huge replica of Nelson's ship The Victory with batik sails to represent the many and complex links between Britain and the continent. It's really lovely to look at and a very striking addition to the square.

My evening with the Mayor, Boris Johnson, was actually a public meeting for small
business owners in London to ask questions to Boris and a panel, although Boris was clearly the star turn. He is very entertaining and disarmingly funny, even joking about the problems he's already having with the new government despite them being largely the same party as him! He's battling for money for London's infrastructure and that'll be one to watch. Many questions about Congestion Charging, electric vehicles and money and support for new businesses.

Elephants of course: here are 2 from Trafalgar Square. It should be noted that they do move around so you can never be sure which one will be where!

Bye for now - looking forward to next week,

24 May 2010

Phew what a scorcher!

Summer has burst out in London and the weekend was amazingly hot and the sky was sparkling blue. We've had a long and cold winter so we are all very excited by this change and it's all the more precious because we know it won't last.... These photos are taken on the Thames in the centre of London. One is where a gang of sand sculptors use the low tide to create new art works every fine day. And the other is by the Royal Festival Hall where a temporary fountain tempted people to get completely soaked! So, it was like being by the sea side without being stuck in traffic for hours getting there...

London has gone mad about elephants and elephant tracking is now a major activity with people trying to snap as many of the 250 as possible (see last 2 blog posts if this doesn't make sense!) I've attached a couple of my favourites from this week. If you are looking for them, try near City Hall and Covent Garden where there are small herds!

There was one day trip out of town this week to St Albans, the old Roman settlement of Verulamium with its fine cathedral and old streets. So much wonderful history that we really needed a guide book but just wandered around instead tho' we did know that St Alban was the first British Christian martyr and is buried here so it became a site of great pilgrimage.

Restaurant report this week focuses on the Blue Print Cafe near Tower Bridge where we spent a wonderfully long Sunday lunch with a great view (see photo) and good food. The big treat was to see an old sailing boat go through Tower Bridge - they opened up the middle and in a mere 5 minutes it was up and down and the traffic and pedestrians are crossing over again. It's such an amazing sight, everyone stops to watch.

This week's theatre trip was to the Noel Coward theatre to see Enron which was a brilliant production, making the story of a corporate failure into a gripping visual feast. I gather it bombed in New York but it's a sell out here and deservedly so.
Other restaurants included Marco Pierre White's new place where he's reviving the old Wheeler's group - it was good but I chose badly for my main course which was a shame but it happens. Then there was the Carpenter's Arms, a gastropub in Chiswick with a lovely beer garden which really suited the weather and the crab gratin is highly recommended!
Bye for now,

17 May 2010

One of the big events in London was the Moonwalk, an overnight marathon and half marathon walk for breast cancer research. Thousands of women, a pretty good showing of men too, walked through the night to raise money. The event sponsor is Playtex so walkers tackled the course in their bras albeit with lots of extra decoration to cover modesty. It was a freezing night so I do admire them as I was really cold just working on the event. I was in the baggage tent making sure that the thousands of bags dropped off were able to be retrieved and returned to tired walkers as quickly as possible - the photo shows the challenge! But it worked and the walkers were remarkably cheery as were the volunteers even after our 12 hour shift.

This week's elephant report - they are everywhere! It's a delight as anywhere you go in London one of the beautifully painted full sized baby elephants is there to greet you. Here's a couple from this week's selection.

Culture this week was courtesy of the British Museum's Fra Angelico to Leonardo, Italian Renaissance Drawings. These amazing drawings mark major changes in art as during these times the first European used perspective in his work and the first European landscape drawing was made. The work is incredibly delicate and precise and the exhibition takes you through the influence of Leonardo and his genius. The British Museum itself is always a delight to visit and here's the imposing exterior.

Also on the culture front, I went to the Royal Court Theatre to see Posh, a play about a group of wealthy students from Oxford University who belong to the Riot Club and through an evening of mad drunkenness plan to take back their 'rightful place' in this country. There are rumours of it being based on the Bullingdon Club which our new PM belonged to but who knows! Oh yes, the election outcome, this was of course the big event last week. We now have a new government and a new approach to governing with a coalition for the first time in 70 years so there has been enormous focus on politics this week.

Not much restaurant news this week (not sure what happened there!) but as a change I went to Ragdale Hall for a friend's birthday. Ragdale Hall is an upmarket health spa in Leicestershire, 2 hours drive from London. We were steamed, sauna-ed, massages and cleansed and returned feeling much better - oh yes there was a good lunch too!
Bye for now.

7 May 2010

The big story this week was that we have elephants all around town! We have a major new art installation all across London in the form of 250 life sized baby elephants decorated in the most beautiful range of colours and designs. The aims is to raise awareness of the danger that the Indian elephant is in and the elephants will be auctioned at the end of their visit to London -I'd love one but they are just a bit big for my home! They will be around for a couple of months so I'll feature a couple each week for you to enjoy.

We took a trip to nearby Leighton House Museum in Holland Park area which was designed in 1860 as the home of the artist Frederic Leighton. It's just reopened after a £1.6 million refurbishment and we can see the amazing decorations Leighton chose for his home especially the Arab Room with fabulous 16th century glazed tiles from Syria and neighbouring countries which he'd bought on his travels. The studio is a wonderful huge space with floor to ceiling windows to bring the light in. The outside looks relatively plain but inside it's an absolute delight.

Thursday night was the first in May so there was the aptly named 'First Thursday' to go to where the galleries in the east of London stay open late and a crowd of arty types - like me of course! - wander in and out of each gallery and enjoy the chance to see new work. I particularly liked Caroline Hall's 'From a Railway Carriage' with vibrant colours in horizontal lines as if rushing past the window. This happy band were entertaining the crowd and I have no idea what their costumes were for! Thursday of course was an important day as it was the UK election and we are still waiting to see what is going to happen......

The Pizza on the Park is a long standing London jazz venue which sadly is going to close next month as the building has been sold for redevelopment. So it was great to go and support its final flings and see Gerard Kenny perform. I was not familiar with his work but found he wrote the huge anthem 'New York New York' and Barry Manilow's big hit 'I made it through the rain' both of which he sang. He's a great performer and we think his fan club had made a special trip to see him do his last of 18 Pizza on the Park shows.

The SummerHouse in Little Venice is where we went for our Sunday brunch and it has a wonderful location alongside the canal there. We had a window seat so were almost in the water and combined eating with a little bird watching as there were cormorants, Canadian geese and coots along with several ducks. Not bad for the centre of town and a reasonably busy canals with many narrow boats going past for added entertainment tho' not as many as in last week's cavalcade.

Bye for now,

3 May 2010

Four seasons in one day time of year

It's May and we've had sun, warmth, rain and chills already but the blossom is out and if you can dodge the rain and keep a scarf to hand it's looking beautiful. Here's a photo of Westbourne Grove at its finest and I'll spare you the shots of the rain! The May gathering of narrow boats at Little Venice was a victim of the weather but was still very jolly and the photo attached is - I have to admit - from last year's event but it looked just the same this year apart from the sun when we popped in for a look this morning! It's a wonderful sight right in the middle of London.

My visitors over the weekend wanted something a bit different in terms of exhibitions so we set off to Somerset House for their River Sounding installation and the Pick Me Up Graphics Fair. Bill Fontana's River Sounding is a really unusual and fun experience. It's a sound installation and as you walk around the subterranean storage areas and alleys under Somerset House sounds of the River Thames follow you giving an atmospheric feel whether there is a picture projected onto the old brickwork or just a passageway to walk through. These areas are normally closed to the public so it was fun to explore them. A few photos may help - a couple of the projected images and a view of the passageway so just image watery noises to accompany them!

Somerset House's Pick Me Up Graphics Fair was a show of new work and also a chance to watch prints coming off the press. The work was extremely varied and ranged from accessible to fun to strange and eye bending! I've attached a snap of the printing and one of my favourite prints (thanks to Natsko Seki)

There was a good stand up comedy show at the Amused Moose with the compere Mark Dolan being our favourite. The venue was unusual as the comedy section was a set of chairs on the dance floor of a nightclub which was all mirrors and lights but the acts were funny and we left before the nightclub really got going.....

Dining report this week includes Franco Manca, a new pizza place in Chiswick which was a fun, lively room with a good buzz and tasty pizzas. We also had a return to Aphrodite, my favourite local Greek restaurant. The big treat was a visit to Cafe Anglais for a special occasion lunch which lasted several hours. The chef here is Rowley Leigh who has a good name in the London restaurant world which we reckoned is well earned.
Bye for now,