28 May 2012

Blooming London - Chelsea Flower Show 2012

Chelsea Flower Show is a famous part of the British summer and after several weeks of poor weather the sun came out and we were off to Chelsea!  This year I opted to go on the last day, having been before on the opening day, and braved the crowds in exchange for the chance to buy some plants when everything is dismantled at the end of the day. 

The show gardens are really popular and are amazing as they are assembled on the spot just for the show week but look like they have been growing there for years.  Here is a selection of these wonderful creations starting with my favourite garden which won the people's vote.

There is a huge marquee with some spectacular displays of brilliant flowers but also exhibitors with just ferns and shrubs, showing that colour is not everything. 

There are always a few fun displays so I've included some here - a mini on the Birmingham stand, F1 supercar in grass and of course, a Jubilee display.  The pyramid, however, was the most eye catching of them all, towering 24 metres up into the sky.  The Chelsea Pensioner were stacked up high on this on the first day but they told me they definitely weren't going to do that again!

And finally - the Chelsea Pensioners who live in the Hospital on the site of the flower show. These charming gents in their bright red coats were in good form at the end of the show and keen to have their photos taken so I couldn't resist!  The last photo is the enormous hanging basket I struggled home with as it was an incredible bargain at £10 and a wonderful souvenir of Chelsea 2012.  The beautiful gardens and stands are dismantled in super quick time and the bargains are unbelievable (some plants are even free!) resulting in most visitors having ridiculously difficult journeys home!

Bye for  now

15 May 2012

Olympics.... only 73 days to go!

The start of Olympic Games is only 73 days but many of us are focusing on the Diamond Jubilee at the moment. The build up the Jubilee is very exciting, especially as we look ahead to the River Pageant. This is going to be the biggest event on the River Thames for 350 years (since Charles 11 if you like to know) with over 1000 boats forming a procession that will be 7 miles in length taking 90 minutes to pass by. There will even be a boat as a belfry with newly cast bells on ringing all the way and being 'answered' by bells in church towers along the route. The Royal Family will be on a boat and your blog writer will be in the Tower of London on the day so expect lots of photos and excitement in future blogs!

Olympic clock 73 days to go!
As well as the build up to the Jubilee, the Olympic preparations are all around us. I heard that the wonderful viewing platform and cafe by the Olympic Park was closing as the area will be an access route to the Park, so I headed down there to bring you the last photos of the venues.  Stratford is the main gateway tube station for the Olympics and you can see their signage is up and ready! 

Stratford station
There are 2 key places to view the Olympic Park in Stratford, the first being an indoor viewing area in John Lewis which gives you the chance to see the stadium and the wonderfully curved aquatic centre, on the left of this photo.

View from John Lewis
Across the other side of the park is the Greenway with its View Tube Cafe where you can see the stadium and Orbit right in front of you and they serve a great cup of coffee too!

View Tube Cafe
The stadium looks wonderful and will be the centre piece of the games and the park, seating 80,000 spectators for the much anticipated opening ceremony which has Danny Boyle (director of Slumdog Millionaire) as its Artistic Director . The red Orbit tower is impressive, looking like a crazy helter skelter and was designed by Anish Kapoor.

Stadium and Orbit

Olympic Stadium

The Orbit tower has a viewing platform that will open during the games and will be accessible by a lift or by the 455 spiral staircase if you are feeling very energetic!  At  376 feet/114 metres it is Britain's tallest sculpture. It is made from 60% recycled steel to reflect one of the key themes of the London Olympics. It is a controversial structure but I love it, it is crazy and wild looking but has energy and distinctiveness.

Orbit viewing platform

The great views from the View Tube cafe will be closed from 18th May but will reopen later in the year so I will keep an eye open for this news. Soon, however, you'll be able to see the park from the inside as, after all, it is only 73 days to go!

Bye for now,

8 May 2012

What to do when it rains in London!

Yes it does rain in London and, despite the drought warnings we have been bombarded with lately, it has been raining for the last couple of weeks.  Gardeners and the people who run the water supply have been happy but the rest of us are looking forward to the sun shining again.  Luckily there are loads of things to do in London when the rain comes down and here I've listed just a few as a full list would go on for pages!

In bad weather (and good days too!) I usually head for a museum or art gallery - they are free, warm and dry and house some of the greatest treasures in the world. You can see the amazing Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles or gaze at the paintings by everyone from Rembrandt through Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet, to Jake and Dinos Chapman by dropping into the British Museum, The National Gallery and the Tate Modern.  If you are strong enough to face the queues, you can marvel at the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.
British Museum
National Gallery
Tate Modern

Natural History Museum

Travel by the underground and you'll be sheltered from the weather and you can get around London easily and quickly. For those of you who love shopping, either head for a large department store such as Selfridges or Harrods and you'll be there for hours, or disappear in one of the huge Westfield shopping centres in Shepherds Bush and Stratford and you can easily lose a whole day.
Westfield Shepherds Bush

On a wet evening, you can't beat a good play or film. London's 'theatreland' will delight you with the stars (at the moment we have Danny Devito and Cate Blanchett on the stage and recently had Keira Knightley and Kevin Spacey), with great musicals like Billy Elliot and Phantom and newer ones like Sweeney Todd. The National Theatre will give you meatier fare, the off West End theatres like the Donmar Warehouse give you a smaller more intimate experience and don't forget to check out the ballet and opera too!

National Theatre

Last but by no means least are the thousands of pubs and restaurants which provide shelter from the rain and some of the top cuisines in the world and certainly the most variety.You have everything from Heston Blumenthal's amazing Michelin starred Dinner,  Gordon Ramsay's own top restaurant and Koffman and Ducasse through to cheap and cheerful pub food with lots of fish and chips on their menus. You can find just about any cuisine in the world and London's food scene is immensely rich and varied so look beyond the chain restaurants and find something special and memorable. 

Hopefully these ideas will keep you dry when you visit London and you could be surprised by beautiful sunshine instead, in which case you'll be able to find open air versions of almost everything on this list!

Bye for now.
Sue Hillman
Twitter: @itsyourlondon