Busting to go to WC

I have a bit of (a weird) obsession with ‘public toilets’ especially historic ones (see previous posts) so I was busting to go to WC at Clapham Common.

I do adore a cheese board, and this one was cheese board/meat board heaven in a heavenly setting.

Sat literally on top of Clapham Common station these converted old toilets perfect that chic shabby look whilst feeling sanitary enough to dive in to the yummy cheeses and meats they specialise in. Lots of dark wood, mirrors and mosaic flooring.  The layout is very good and seats more that you would imagine for a small place.  Even comes completed with curtained booths, perfect for a romantic date.

The night we went, was a scorcher, so it was good to hide underground, however for those who want to enjoy the summer evenings they even have a sizable garden’ area to seat plenty more.

As we sat and enjoyed our wine  (our hostess boasted that they carefully selected the best wines, we ordered the house white, which went down a bit too well) we watched as they chopped charcuterie and cheese and served up plate after plate.  Ours consisted of a range of meats (they did tell us what they were, but I only remember one was rabbit) whatever it was it was exceptionally tasty.  And pretty reasonably priced too.

As far as converted toilets go, this has gone on my ‘favourites’ list.   I am busting to go back, I highly recommend you pay a visit to WC too.

WC From @Telegraph.co.uk

More Info:
www.wcclapham.co.uk

Beautiful Holland Park

London is lucky enough to have a whole array of beautiful parks, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regents Park. But one beautiful often missed green space is the delightful Holland Park. Nestled to the west of the city, just a short walk from Holland Park station (surprise surprise) this gorgeous walled park has more of a feel of a landscaped stately home than a public London park.

Holland Park

It has the impressive history to go with it too. The park orginally formed the gardens of the grand Holland House. First built in the late 1500s back then the park stretched over 500 acres, all the way to the Thames (today it is 50 acres not a bad size for a city park). In the 1600s the house was expanded and built up into a grand form, even famed Jacobean architect Indigo Jones had a hand in its design (his beautiful gates can still been seen in the park today). So impressive was this mansion that for a long time the house was nicknamed “Cope Castle” after Sir Walter Cope its first famous resident.

The castle also had a whole host of famous residents and visitors across the centuries. Early on it was said that King William III stayed here when the London smog became too much for him.

IMG_3115

In the 1800s it was the headquarters of the Whig party, and poets writers used to drop by including Dickens and Byron (who famously met his lover lady Caroline Lamb here). And of course there was the writer Joseph Addison who lived and died here in 1700s.

The castle was grand both inside and out with impressive décor. It could have been a museum for all its quirky titbits lying around including (it is said) a pair of candle sticks belonging to Mary Queen of Scots, a locket which held strands of Napoleon’s hair, as well as halls decorated with numerous famous paintings.

Sadly in the 1900s it became quite unloved and un-lived in and then in 1940 was almost completely destroyed in an air-raid. Its remnants have been beautifully kept and as you walk around you can still see some of its grandeur. If you visit today scenes of the original mansion can be seen on prints around the venue.

Holland House

In 1878 historian Edward Walford described the house

“Although scarcely two miles distant from London, with its smoke, its din, and its crowded thoroughfares Holland House still has green meadows, sloping lawns and refreshing trees.”

150 years later this is still the case the remains of the house still make a grand centre piece, alongside landscaped gardens most notably the Japanese garden, complete with roaming peacocks.

Japanese Gardens Holland Park

This park has a different feel to the other London parks, its beautifully peaceful. Rather than a wide open public space, it has lots of nooks and crannies you can hide away from the crowds in.

And if this description of fanciful society living takes your fancy you can experience it for yourself as the eastern wing has been turned into a YHA – you couldn’t find more historic (and budget) accommodation in London if you tried.

I can’t recommend a visit to this park enough, one of the overlooked gems of London.

Afternoon Tea with Mr Selfridge

When my American friend came to visit, I wanted to treat him to something wonderfully English –  Afternoon Tea.

I have to admit my immediate thought was one of the classic hotels, but with short notice, booked out tables … and some pretty bad reviews I was at a loss. Then I remembered seeing the tiered plates of cakes on occasions when wandering through Selfridges and thought, ‘that will do’.

So we headed to Dolly’s situated on the ground floor of this famed department store, it didn’t sound as glamorous as I had wanted, sitting in the middle of a department store, but it turned out to be a great spot, you could watch the shoppers busily pass by or gaze up to the highest point of the building to see the impressive swirly ceiling surrounded by the grand columns. I’m often in Selfridges, and love its grandure and history , so it was nice to actually sit down and savour it, rather than rushing through like I normally do.

Being a Friday afternoon there was a short queue which disappeared quickly. We were seated and served.

afternoon tea

 

They have a range of afternoon tea selections, you can regular afternoon tea, with or without champagne , cream tea, or just coffee and cake.  We went for the Mr Selfridge Afternoon Tea (in the hope that Mr Selfridge himself would be served up on a plate – swoon). The tea and food arrived promptly and we were left to enjoy our feast. And a feast it was. Finger sandwiches, small bread slices with (the most delicious humous I’ve tasted) rolls with crab and lobster. And of course there were the scones and clotted cream (these certainly made up for the lack of Jeremy Piven). And finally two delicious luxiourious pastries, we had a lemon meringue tart, and an apple sponge thing from heaven. I did notice that other tables had different pastries, which I thought was a nice touch (I was eyeing up another girls strawberry eclairs). The portions didn’t seem huge, but we were left with very satisfied tummies.

I have to say the whole experience was utterly delightful, and the customer service we received  more than you could expect in a prestigious hotel (despite the busyness and consistent queue I never once felt hurried to finish our food). And it probably worked out cheaper than many other afternoon tea options.

 

My American friend was highly impressed with his English experience.

mrselfridge

 

If you’re looking for an afternoon tea venue, this one is definite must, although I can’t guarantee an appearance by the man himself.

More info Selfridges 

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Visit London’s most haunted royal home

Just outside London is one of the most beautiful historic palaces; the stunning Hampton Court palace. Built half by the Tudors for Henry 8th (and his numerous wives) and half by Sir Christopher Wren.

hampton court palace

It’s a two faced building and depending which way you arrive you will see two completely different facades. You can’t fail to be impressed with this magnificent palace as you walk up the long driveway to the imposing red brick entrance (with it’s magnificent Tudor chimneys – all 241 of them), whether you’re arriving by train (easy quick journey from Waterloo) or by boat (how the royals used to do it – a leisure few hours along the Thames.

The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens (which are beautifully landscaped and also contain a large (record breaking) vine, as well as the country’s oldest tennis courts and the famous Hampton court maze. From the gardens you can view the stunning baroque architecture and what seems entirely different building from its red brick front.

hampton court gardens

Once inside there is so much to explore, from the court yards, the incredible kitchens, the magnificent Tudor hall, and chapel, all the nooks and crannies of the the stone walk ways. its easy to get lost here, and it seems when you visit you have the run of the entire place.

But beware who you are bumping into it is also the most haunted of the royal palaces. Allegedly the Henry himself has been seen wandering the corridors, perhaps he was looking for wife number 3 Jane Seymour who has been seen around the building. And his first wife who has been spotted in the now named ‘Haunted Gallery’

There have also been reports of an old woman who can be heard at her spinning wheel. More recently was the strange CCTV footage of a ghostly figure in Tudor dress exiting the building then disappearing.

Haunted hampton court

It might be a spooky place but it is the most beautiful palace in London, I completely recommend a day trip to this stunning place.

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Visit Kensington Palace

Stepping back into the 18th Century

I often walk around London and wonder what it was actually like to live in this huge city a few hundred years ago, and in this ever changing modern city it’s surprisingly hard to find intact pieces of life from the past. However in a tucked away in small square off Fleet street surrounded by modern office blocks we find a piece of the past.

Dr Johnson’s House is a beautifully preserved 18th century home of the author of the dictionary, and a fantastic London gem to visit.

Dr Johnsons House

Step through the door and you step back to the 1700s. Dr Johnson lived here at 17 Gough Square from 1737 to 1784 during which time he worked on his famous master piece, The Dictionary, and you can wander around the building and visit rooms including his dark panelled waiting room, his long drawing room overlooking the square, the library, and the loft, now a dedicated museum to his Dictionary. The house is full of his personal furniture and paintings and it’s a great insight into his life.

Dr Johnson was a fascinating man. Suffering from debilitating illness including a strange tick, that today we know as touretts, he was awkward in public. But he was also extremely intelligent and extremely poor. He dropped out of university not being able to pay his way, and eventually arrived in London to pursue a writer’s life. But still very poor, he would often have to sleep on the streets, and spent time in gaol for not being able to pay his debts. This is reflected somewhat in his home, note the huge thick chain across the front door, said to be put there to keep the balifs out.

Although famed for his dictionary this wasn’t his lucky break. He was commissioned to write it in 3 years but it took 9, and although becoming the defining reference for English words (there were many versions of the dictionary written at that time) he was only paid a pittance for his 3 year’s commission (not the 9 years’ work).

It was only many years later the King recognised his contribution and rewarded him with a healthy pension, so that he finally could live comfortably.

It wasn’t just the dictionary that Dr Johnson was famous for, he wrote a great deal on life in London and is famous for my favourite London quote

He was often found writing at local pubs and was a regular member of the local St Clements Danes church on Fleet Street. (today the official church of the RAF). If you wander past the church you will find a statue of him out the back.

If you visit this delightful little house (which I highly recommend you do!) be sure to look out for the statue of Hodge in the square, Dr Johnson’s beloved cat, who, it is believed, he fed oysters to and cherished more than most of his friends.

Johnson's hodge

You can visit Dr Johnson’s House this month for Open House Weekend (21st – 22nd September) or at other times £4.50 entry.

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More info at  www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Visit Kensington Palace

We’ve seen a lot of Kensington Palace this week, home to the new Prince George, but did you know you can actually visit Kensington Palace.

For years I knew it as the home of Princess Diana, and I would walk past wondering what it would be like to live there but didn’t actually realise  you go and visit and explore inside.

It makes for a great day out.

What people don’t realise is its quite a large complex and the royals residences are actually at the back and are completely private (and secure) the main house at the front and the gardens are open to the public.

Its been home to many former monarchs (including two King Georges). Most famously it was the home of Queen Victoria.  It was here she grew up, met her future love, Prince Albert,  and became Queen at the young age of 18.

She is one of our most famous and long ruling queens (63 years – Queen Elizabeth is not far behind her with 60 years) and the beautiful exhibition inside the Palace gives us a glimpse into her difficult childhood, her strained relationship with her mother, and her isolation.

You can stand on the stairs at the spot she first laid eyes on the handsome young German prince.  You can also view her wedding dress, which highlights how tiny the young queen was, and view the intimate letters she wrote to Albert.

Victoria-Albert

As well as the Victoria exhibition, there are a number of other royal apartments you can visit, it’s a great up close and personal way to see how the royals lived.  You can also venture through the ornate gardens, overlooking Kensington Gardens. These include the luxurious Orangery, now a famous restaurant.

As well as the viewing the house they also have temporary exhibitions, and currently running is the Fashion Rules exhibition; a beautiful collection of dresses from contemporary royals including a young Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana.

This beautiful palace is definitely worth a visit.

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You can find more info on visiting it at www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/

Sunny Days in London

Summer is well and truly on its way, so grab your picnic and check out my guide to London’s best parks.

Regent’s Park
This beautiful park just a short walk from Oxford Street, was built for the Prince Regent in the early 1800s. Today it is still has a very royal feel to it, surrounded by the regents canals and plush regency mansions, its a beautiful respite from the busy city. Particularly make sure you wander through the Avenue Gardens which are very regal and will make you feel like a king.

regents park avenue

Regent’s Park is also the home to London Zoo. If you plan to visit the Zoo, which is the North of the Park, take the zoo canal ride from Little Venice.

Quirky Fact
Regents Park contains a secret garden, The Garden of St John’s Lodge just off the Inner Circle

Primrose Hill
Officially part of Regent’s Park, its so special I just had to add it on separately. This small hill at the very North of Regent’s Park offers the best views in London, and is a beautiful spot for a picnic or bit of sun worshiping. Head down the Hill to Regents Park Road (towards Camden) and enjoy some of Primrose Hill’s cool cafe’s and boutique stores.

Quirky Fact
Primrose Hill is home to numerous notable and famous residents, including Sienna Miller, Rachel Weisz, and Jeremy Clarkson.

Greenwich
Another of my all time favourites, and a great location for London views. You can easily make a day of a visit to Greenwich with it’s quaint market, beautiful Naval College grounds, and the famous Royal Observatory, all overlooking the Thames, and the crazy city CBD. If you don’t have the energy to climb the hill (which I wouldn’t recommend missing out on) it’s just as pleasant to chill out in the grounds of the Naval College overlooking the river.

Quirky Fact
The naval college was once the site of one of London’s most prestigious royal palaces and birth place of Henry VIII.

Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens
A classic must see, stretching all the way from Kensington to Marble Arch, it’s easy to forget your in the city in this beautiful extensive park, surrounded by some of London’s best landmarks including Kensington Palace the Royal Albert Hall, as well as the famous Princess Diana Memorial. The best way to see the extent of it is to jump on a Boris Bike and cycle the park.

Quirky Fact
The famous Marble Arch at the Oxford Street End of the Park was once Arch entrance to Buckingham Palace, but was deemed unsuitable for the royal residence and moved to park instead.

Hampstead Heath
The beautiful Hampstead Heath, is a great relaxing spot, on the side of the quaint Hampstead village, and another great spot for a London view, as the park is London’s highest point. It makes a great escape from the city. It also contains some great walks and there are out door pools as well as historic London houses, such as Ivenforth House, and Kenwood.

hampstead heath

Quirky Fact
For a spooky pint, head to the Spainards Inn, one of London’s most haunted pubs. Which is reputedly haunted by famous Highwayman Dick Turpin, among others.

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Drinks with a view

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Drinks with a view

With a shortage of space on the ground in our ever expanding city, many restaurants and bars are taking to the skies. And with it come some great views.

Here is our quick guide to top drinks with a view in London

Tate modern Restaurant

This iconic London building has a great top floor restaurant and coffee shop directly opposite beautiful st Paul’s Cathedral. Check out their website for deals when you combine a visit to their current exhibition and a meal. If you want a great view without the expense of dinner, you can also visit their café, which also enjoys the same fab views.
Nearest Station: St Paul’s

Maddison Restaurant & Bar St Pauls

Another great Paul’s viewing spot is the brand new Maddison Restaurant and bar, located at the brand new OneExchange. Situated on the top of this new shopping haven, with its comfy sofa seats and slopping windows, it’s the perfect spot to take in a sunset over the city.
Nearest Station: St Pauls

Sushi Samba

This Fabulous restaurant is located on the 38/39th floor of Heron Tower, London’s third tallest building. Aside from impressive glassy décor, and astounding views (it overlooks the Gherkin and Tower Bridge) and two outdoor terraces it also offers a fun mixture of Sushi and South American cuisine and makes for a great fun night out.
Nearest Station: Liverpool St

Paramount Bar

One of my favourites is situated in the heart of the west over 3 floors (30-33) of Centre Point Tower, the main bar and restaurant on levels 30 & 33m you can take your cocktail up to the viewing platform on level 33 to take in the 360° panoramic views of the city.
Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road

Tattasall Castle

Not so high up and no so expensive, but still with great views, is the Tattashall Castle. This old passenger ferry now lives out its retirement on the banks of the Thames, opposite the London Eye complete with bars both inside and on the deck. It makes a great little spot for a pint or two in the summer. You can see all the way up the Thames from Parliament to up to St Paul’s.
Nearest Station: Embankment

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Anti Valentine’s Day London

Anti Valentine’s Day London – 10 Top things to do 

Oh no it’s February you know that that means… if you’re single you face the misery of a lonely February 14th, if you’re not single you face the trauma of an expensive -’must impress her’ February 14th. Who invented this thing anyway?

Well the good news is ‘Anti Valentine’s Day’ is now an official catch phrase, one that will lead you to some great ideas for expelling those Valentine’s blues. And I have brought you exactly that.  So here are a selection of the best Anti Valentine’s things to do in London this year!   I have a little something for you,  whether you want to shun the whole day, or if you are hopefully going into the day dreaming of a future love; This post is for you! 

And now for something completely different..

If you want to get a million miles away from Valentine’s Day you can’t get much further than outer space. Head up to the beautiful Greenwich Observatory for a ‘Night with the Stars’. Check out some amazing constellations in the Planetarian then take up the opportunity to have a gaze through their famous 18 tonne Victorian telescope. Booking essential.

If you’d rather to drink under the stars, than watch them, but it seems a little too cold  for that then head over to my favourite rooftop bar, The Queen of Hoxton. This winter they have taken their roof top drinking experience one step further by installing a wigwam on the rooftop. Perfect for classy quirky after work drinks.*

Prefer a bit of horror to romcom how about a night in an underground bunker dodging zombies. For the ultimate scary anti Valentine’s check out Zombie Battle London (ok you’ll have to wait until March for this one, but you can spend the 14th Feb watching zombie movies in training). Guaranteed No couples!

Looking for Love 

If this V day isn’t what you expected, but you’re hoping next year will the pefect one, then how about these cools ideas to help you find true love:

St Valentine’s Ritual Magik Night in Covent Garden Let Jon -the ritual-master-magick-practitioner-Kaneko-James, captivate and inspire you with a full St Valentine’s evening of practical ritual love magick and spells for the romantic year ahead.

Guys increase your chance of finding Miss Right and impressing her in 2014, sign up for a ‘Men in the Kitchen master class’, learn to cook a three course feast with a Victoria the award winning chef. Now boys look away for one second (…psst girls! Victoria has classes for you too…).

If you’re ready to jump in and find love right now, maybe try it the old fashioned way. 

Remember the old days when the boys sat on one side of the room and girls on the other and he shyly looks over then glances away until eventually he boy runs over and whisks her on to the dance floor; you can now relive that at  the Vintage Dance Club Valentine’s Tea Dance. They also have a pre-dance workshop too for a bit of waltz & Tango tuition.*

Perhaps you have your eye on that someone special and want to wow them with the the most impressive dinner date ever! Check out the secretive Gingerline for an imaginative date. Described as a ‘clandestine dining experience’ you find out the location 60 mins before dinner, then you are led to the location where a themed feast awaits. It’s not just food its crazy entertainment. You can find out more and book on the website.*

Mending broken hearts

If you’re trying to recover from Heart-Break (a serious medical condition) Valentine’s day can be tough, but I prescribe a trip to the the University of London for their Mending Broken Hearts seminar.  Guest speaker Roger Corder, author of The Red Wine Diet and Professor of Experimental Therapeutics at Queen Mary’s medical school, will discuss the benefits of wine and chocolate for the heart, a perfect antidote for Valentine’s Day (you can’t go wrong with Red Wine and Chocolate).

The Greatest Love story ever told

If you’re a romantic at heart and plan to celebrate the day date or no date, how about discovering what is  (in my opinion) the greatest love story ever. Head to Kensington Palace and experience the love story of HRH Queen Victoria and her beloved Albert. They are running a special Valentine’s day tour, but even if you miss the tour be sure to check out the beautiful Victoria Revealed exhibition.

And finally head over to Prince Charles Cinema for the ultimate power- chick-flick-classic–bitter-sweet romance, the beautiful Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Showing on Valentines day, booking recommended.

So there you have it, my run down of the best Anti Valentine’s things to do in London!

*Disclaimer I can’t guarentee there won’t be lovey dovey couples there, sorry.

If you’re want more info on any of my top 10 here are the links…

Gingerline dining experience  http://www.gingerline.co.uk/

Prince Charles Cinema http://www.princecharlescinema.com/

London’s Saddest Building

Buildings are like people, there can be so many, so different, so unique.  They can be beautiful to look at, or plain, or plain ugly (no offence).  And like people they can often be more beautiful, more purposeful than the outside can portray.  They (both people and buildings) can hold so much depth, so much history, so many memories, and sometimes so much sadness.

Perhaps the saddest building in London (in my opinion) is that which stands prominently in the heart of London’s west end.  The Trocadero.

Just opposite the much adored Eros, she just looks like any other building there from the outside.  Inside however it’s clear she’s suffered from too much plastic surgery 20 years ago and like many ancient Hollywood icons, you can clearly tell it.   Enter in and pass through by Starbucks and the over-touristy sweet shops, into the giant cavernous hole that is the centre, the heart of Trocadero.  But it’s a broken and damaged heart.  There you will see a confusing mish-mash of stores, arcades and attempts at theme park entertainment.    

Trocadero 1

But, high up through the dark brooding lighting (another attempt at theme park/TV studio maybe) you can see the evidence of a glamorous theatre that once was.

..and glamorous it was.  The place to be in a bygone era, beginning life as a home to general low key entertainment, circus and music acts, it had big West End ambitions.  Perhaps the luckless fate of this building could be seen even then; its name changed so many times over the years how could anyone ever remember who or where it was.  From ‘The Palace of Varieties’ to ‘The Theatre of Arts’ to the ‘Royal Trocadero Music Hall’ to name a few,  constantly trying to make big it in the West End theatre scene.

The first London Riots

However, it never quite made it. It housed many waifs and strays over the years, including sacked big name theatre managers, in its attempt to make something of itself.  In 1835 it was closed down after the local council was informed that the famous Sarah Booth of the Covent Garden Theatre, had been performing there outside of her Covent Garden contract (Treason!)

After this disgrace the theatre became home again to circus acts and boxing matches.  In the following years it kept its low reputation housing all manor of common shows and exhibitions (including wax works – the proprietors were no Mrs Tussaudes however) and…prostitutes. As ‘The Argyll Rooms’ another of its many names, it was dramatically described by one witness in 1878 as “the most destructive place in London to female virtue”.   Another Londoner commented that “I could not talk long with a burglar without finding the “Gyll” mentioned as his favourite resort”.

That same year it was the scene of the original London riots.   A notice was served that it was to be closed down one Friday night in November.   The police expected trouble and deployed 150 officers to carry out the task, which surprisingly passed peacefully. However, the following night 5000 unhappy people gathered outside, a riot ensued and there were ‘Many cases of assault and disorderly conduct recorded’ – I guess nothing is new in London.

Success at Last

Eventually it gave up its lifelong ambition for West End stardom, and by 1900 was a popular restaurant.  It enjoyed much success, with an elaborate range of dining rooms and in-house entertainment including a wall that would completely disappear.  You can still see remnants of this era if you venture up the escalators within the cinema (don’t forget to purchase a ticket first) they’re the strange, brown 3Dish paintings on the walls which look so out of place, but give glimpses into its former life.

Trocadero 2

But then, like every step in this sad building’s life, people lost interest and the Trocadero returned to its former ways of cheap-get-by entertainment. The 50s saw the tea rooms replaced by a bowling alley and casino.   Before eventually … closing.

Stuck in the 80s

The 80s saw another attempt at revival for the Trocadero, again back to its former glory of trashy entertainment.   Featuring an supersonic arcade (with a giant Sonic the Hedgehog model) complete with shops, cinema, its futuristic architecture sponsored by Pepsi, it was the cool place to go in the 80s/90s.  It even hosted TV studios and had a pop at reality TV (go on, own up who else watched The Salon?).  But sadly as that’s where Trocadero stayed, back in the 80s/90s, while the rest of the world moved on outside. Today it stands a sad forlorn memorial to another era, (still) trying so hard to fit in. 

Summed perfectly up by one disappointed tourist recently as “Holy terrifying… its like I slipped and fell into David Bowie’s bulging early 1990s nightmarish wonderland of mind-horror.

Maybe it’s time to finally lay the Trocadero to rest …

…or maybe it’s time for another revival!  Plans are afoot to turn The Trocadero into a new high-tech ‘pod-hotel’.   Oh dear, please someone put the poor thing out of its misery.