Skating at Somerset House

There’s nothing like starting off the festive season with a bit of Bambi on ice – yes, I’m referring to my iceskating attempts. On my last full day in London, I got the chance to go iceskating on a beautifully lit outdoor iceskating rink – surrounded by the neoclassical façade of the wonderful Somerset House, which has served as a backdrop to two James Bond films, “Tomorrow never dies” and “GoldenEye”, both starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, the super smooth intelligence officer with the famous code number of 007.

After meeting Brendan at Euston, the day started off quite early with a walk around Leicester Square – you remember how I mentioned that I definitely didn’t cave into the temptation of buying peanut M&Ms from M&Ms World?

Image I caved. Oh, how I caved. You can see that in my shame (and euphoria) I couldn’t even look straight at the camera. London tourists, heed my advice – Definitely don’t go into M&Ms world on an empty stomach – as they say, a fool and their (or in this case, her) money are easily parted! 

After a short break for lunch, the next pit stop was Ladurée in Covent Garden to buy some macarons – I’d failed to locate the Ladurée café in the labyrinth of Harrods the day before and I wanted to buy some to share with friends. I hasten to add that by this point, I had hidden the sealed M&Ms in a deep, dark recess of my satchel and had blocked out their purchase from my memory.  Despite appearances, I am not the ultimate sugar junkie.

Ladurée have beautiful display boxes – once empty, macarons devoured, the glamorous boxes are perfect to keep jewellery or mementoes in. I had my eye on a mint green cylindrical case covered in gold baroque swirls – it looked as if it would make a great glasses case.

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After I splashed a casual fifteen pounds on pastries, we carried on our walk from Covent Garden along towards the river and ended up walking around Somerset House. We had already discussed the possibility of going ice skating, however ended up at the Somerset House rink completely by accident – it must have been fate! We booked tickets for a skating session at 16:45 –  that gave us a bit of time to wander around the Embankment and take in the sights around the Tower of London and London Bridge.

Image  Somerset House by day….
… and the Tower of London by sunset…

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 It was a beautiful yet wintry day. Above you can see some photos of The Tower of London buildings, bathed by the rays of the setting sun. We didn’t go into the tower (where the Crown Jewels are on display) as we did not want to be late for our iceskating rendez-vous – however it is well worth a visit, being a world heritage site and an interesting record of London’s history. At the time we visited, an iceskating rink was being constructed for Christmas – London seems to be full of picturesque rinks! The Tower of London rink is open until the 5th January 2014… however there are a few others that are open later into the year. The ice rink at Canary Wharf is open until February – for more information on places, dates and to book tickets you can check out the following article by Time Out London.  http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/ice-skating-in-london

The Tower of London is a major tourist attraction or honey pot – the buildings are allegedly haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn (the second wife of bloodthirsty King Henry VIII). The wire sculptures of lions pay homage to the lions that were once kept at the tower in the Royal Menagerie. Across the river, we could see the HMS Belfast – an impressive floating museum which is operated by the Imperial War Museum (it was also the filming location for a hilarious Christmas Special of the BBC sitcom “Outnumbered” a few years ago).

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I was basking in the beauty of the view. After gazing a while at sparkly replicas of the crown jewels in the Tower of London gift shop, we scurried back to the tube in order to be on time for our skate session. We had to make a quick trip to Accessorize en route to buy some gloves – sounding suspiciously like my mother, I insisted that I had to wear gloves to go ice skating… in case I tripped, got my fingers stuck to the ice and someone subsequently skated over my hands, severing my digits. This was perhaps not the most rational of explanations for needing to buy gloves…

I left my bags behind in the cloakroom (this cost me one fine english pound but was really practical) we exchanged our shoes for skates and hit the ice. It was pretty magical – I felt as if I’d been whisked away and transported into Disney’s Fantasia. Classical music was played – it was a relaxing and chic experience, gliding along a rink lit up in purpley pink hues whilst excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from ‘The Nutcracker’ and Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ were played. Much to my relief, there were no dodgy British Christmas Classics played (Slade and Wizzard, I’m talking about you) – I love the festive season but those kind of songs bring out the Grinch in me!

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You can tell from the photos that I was loving my time on the ice! Towards the end of the session, the music transitioned to 50s pop – we skated off the ice to The Chordette’s ‘Mr Sandman’ and went in search of beverages. There was a cool drinks marquee to the left hand side of the rink, however there was not enough seating inside so we decided to continue on our travels – first to Trafalgar Square (where we clambered over the lions) and then onwards to Planet Hollywood (which is just around the corner from Her Majesty’s Theatre, at 57-60 Haymarket). Brendan and I are both big fans of Hard Rock Café and so Planet Hollywood seemed like a good choice of grazing post. I’d been a few times to the Paris Planet Hollywood (which has since closed down, boohoo) and the Disneyland Paris Planet Hollywood for pizzas and burgers – this time I atoned for my macaron sins and ordered a big salad. We were placed next to Halle Berry’s rather fetching orange bikini from James Bond flick “Die Another Day”. If you want to dine out at a restaurant with a buzzing atmosphere then definitely book a table at Planet Hollywood – apparently you can often get good deals if you buy a set menu and West End ticket package…

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Before we headed back to the train station, we took a quick glimpse into British memorabilia shop “Cool Britannia” which was very quirky and sold everything from cuddly toys and snow snowglobes to life-size One Direction cut outs. I didn’t buy anything, but it was a colourful shop which left a fun and vivid impression on me – just like vibrant, cosmopolitan London really! It truly was a lovely last night in London.

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Fun & Frolics in Theatreland

Musical Theatre has always been a big love of mine. If you’ve been following my blog recently, then you will probably have noticed a few comments here and there about my eagerness to catch a West End show whilst I was sightseeing in London.

 I decided to designate my sixth day in the Capital as “Musical Day” and woke up with the sole aim of hunting down a cheap theatre ticket. No booking online or in advance for me – it was all to be done on the spot. My tactic of turning up for things at the last minute (but always on time, I hasten to add) has been frowned on a lot throughout my life – however, there are some perks to living in organised chaos… (For one thing, I have learnt how to apply eyeliner on a moving bus without gouging an eye out) and you’ll see later how I lucked out with tickets. Going to see a West End Musical or show is one of the typical activities recommended (…by travel guides, newspapers and social media etc.) for tourists wanting an unforgettable experience on their London trip. 

There are over 40 theatres on London’s West End and the area has come to be known over time as “Theatreland”. There is something inherently magical and glamorous about a trip to the theatre – the excitement truly begins when you’re stood on the grey London pavement and suddenly get the first glimpse of  bright theatre lights. As we’re still currently in the festive whirl between the lead up to christmas and New Year, it’s the perfect time to sit back on a plush seat and let yourself become completely immersed in the glitz and emotion of London’s shows. You can even get involved in the theatrics afterwards by voting in the WHAT’S ON STAGE awards online – the voting closes on the 31st January 2014. http://awards.whatsonstage.com/awards/vote

After reading several theatre reviews and checking out the publicity for lots of different shows, I had my heart set on seeing two shows in particular. “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Matilda the musical”. The shows differ wildly in style.  “Phantom” was adapted for the stage in 1984 from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 gothic novel  and is a melodramatic love story set at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s a classic, decadent musical that has been at “Her Majesty’s Theatre” for 27 years.  The extravagant costumes, stage design and mask of the phantom have become iconic and the musical is still being nominated for awards to this day. “Matilda the Musical”, on the other hand is a contemporary musical – it has been at The Cambridge Theatre for just over two years and has wickedly comic lyrics by Tim Minchin. It’s a bubbly and enchanting adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 book “Matilda” – the young actors and actresses manage to channel Dahl’s mischievous wit through the music, lyrics and script with aplomb.

I was quite torn between the two shows as I had initially only budgeted to attend one, however it was my lucky day… as I managed to see both! By turning up 1 hour 30 mins – 30mins before a show, I ended up having the opportunity to see not one but two West End Musicals on the same day for the price of one premium seat – making a grand saving of £85.50 in total. I turned up at 1:00pm to inquire about Matinee tickets at Phantom’s box office. I was feeling a little bit awkward about turning up by myself and bracing myself to be shown the door, but really needn’t have been apprehensive as the attendant put me at ease by offering me a seat straight away.

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Whilst randomly turning up at a theatre alone definitely doesn’t guarantee you a ticket, it does increase the chances of getting an awesome seat for a fraction of its original price*. The majority of people go to the theatre on a group outing and as such, there are often quite a few pesky gaps in the seating plan (often caused by groups of odd numbers) just waiting to be sold at a discount to ‘lone rangers’. It’s a lottery which seats will be available last minute on the day – my seat was sold to me for £29.00 (including a £1.00 booking fee) – which was a reduction of about £36.oo. The attendant showed me a seating plan before I purchased my ticket and assured me that the view was not restricted by any pillars (My seat was M10, if you’re curious). It’s a good idea to check the plans of a theatre’s seating before you book/buy your seats as you can sometimes find yourself in a seat with a restricted view (although this is often labelled on your ticket if this is the case).

Ticket carefully tucked into my bag, I left the theatre, had time for a bit of popcorn chicken from KFC in Leicester Square (always the novelty for an Islander with little access to fast food) and returned at 2:00pm to Haymarket. I was quietly buzzing with excitement. Programme in hand, I was shown to my seat and patiently awaited for the show to begin. 

*This is a particularly useful tip for students, however theatres can sometimes offer special discounts, so it is always a good idea to inquire.  ‘Matilda the Musical’ releases 16 pairs of Matinee tickets available for £5 every morning at 10am for 15-25s. 

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The first sight that you see upon being seated in the theatre is the scene of an eerie auction, where long forgotten artefacts from the fictional Opéra Populaire are being split up and sold to punters. It is quite a macabre ghostly start to the show, with poignant lines uttered by the character of Raoul (played by Sean Palmer).  When the line “Perhaps we may frighten away the ghost of so many years ago with a little illumination, gentlemen?” is exclaimed by the auctioneer, the magnificent chandelier (previously hidden underneath a cloth) is swung up to the ceiling from the floor of the stage, dazzling the audience, and setting the scene for the bright and decadent heydays of the ‘Opera Populaire’. It is a truly impressive and literal “Flashback” back to the 1880s – the days when the Phantom reigned supreme. The show is full of beautiful (excuse me for using a cliché) show-stopping and spine-tingling moments – the descent into the catacombs of the opera during the title number “The Phantom of the Opera” and the glitzy party that takes place during the number “Masquerade are particularly impressive. It truly is a feast for the eyes and ears – The majority of the cast are operatically trained.

The Phantom was portrayed with pizazz by Gerónimo Rauch. I expected great things from a vocalist called Gerónimo (he has also played the title role of Jean Val Jean in Les Mis on the West End) and was blown away by his voice. The role of Christine Daaé was played by Olivia Brereton, who was an alternate/understudy for Sofia Escobar – not that you’d be able to tell. The understudies and alternates on the West End are brilliant, and deserve just as much accolade as the actors and actresses that play the title roles. In the interval, I was nudged by the Brummie gent sat next to me  – he was equally entranced by Olivia Brereton’s voice and stunning appearance on stage (… which brings me to another point – I want lustrous curls like Christine Daeé – and I’m sure that there were quite a few girls in the audience who were also experiencing major hair envy) The costumes and set, designed by the late Maria Bjornson, are fantastic and will transport you completely into the Phantom’s operatic parisian world.  I really didn’t want the magic to end – I left the theatre after the performance was over in a hazy daze, humming “Think of Me” under my breath and already making mental notes to revisit the Opéra Garnier (upon which the Opéra Populaire is based) in Paris. If you want to see a big sumptuous show whilst in London then “Phantom” definitely ticks all the boxes – I really want to take my mum to see it. I think that she’d be blown away by the performance – and not only because she hails from the same place as the fictional character of the Phantom (Rouen). The show really brings 1880s Paris to life. 

Night had fallen, and inspired by the decadence of “The Phantom of the Opera” I took an improvised visit to Harrods in Knightsbridge to look at self-playing pianos and fancy clothes. I did not find the pianos, but glamour was to be found everywhere throughout the department store. Having not put any make up on that day, I felt a bit bedraggled and out of place – however I mustn’t have looked TOO shabby as I was welcomed through the doors with a smile. The seasonal shop windows were inspired by a voyage on “The Midnight Express” – Ladurée macarons being the order of the day. 

 

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I snapped out of my Phantom/Harrods induced reverie at about 18:15, suddenly deciding to head back to Theatreland to see if I could get a ticket for “Matilda – the musical”. Very last minute – risky business. Walking around without a map, I ended up at the Lyceum Theatre (home to “The Lion King” – which is a brilliant family musical, you can trust me, I’ve seen it twice) where a helpful usher told me I was going in the wrong direction. Hopping into a cab, I found out that The Cambridge Theatre was just around the corner on Earlham Street – resulting in the cheapest cab fare I think I’ve ever had to pay. The London cabbie was very charismatic – riding in a London cab is always a pleasant experience. I ran out of the cab and into the theatre at 19:00, with the cabbie ‘s cry of “Good luck, darlin’!” ringing in my ears.

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I went straight into the Ticket Office, a little out of breath, expecting again to be out of luck – however, imagine my delight when I was offered a ticket in the stalls worth £85.00…. for £28.50 including booking fee! If there hadn’t been glass blocking me from the ticket attendant, I would probably have given her a hug (ok, maybe not, British sensibilities and all, but I felt ridiculously happy – my total savings on tickets came to £92.50! I spent £57.50 instead of £150!). 

I was around five or six when Danny Devito’s American adaptation of ‘Matilda’ starring Mara Wilson was released – the film quickly became an international cult childhood classic. I read the book by Roald Dahl at around the same age (although I was far from reading “War and Peace” like Matilda) – my dad was an english teacher who wholeheartedly encouraged me to read as much as possible (he still does!) and he often used to cut up several bits of different chocolate bars and make me write down Dahl-esque descriptions and reviews (à la ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’) for each chunk tasted. As you can guess, Roald Dahl was a big favourite of mine – he was a really magical author (also a spitfire pilot!) who understood children and wrote captivating (and more often than not, ‘a little bit naughty’) stories for them in his garden shed. ‘Matilda’ is the story of a remarkably clever little girl with telekinetic powers who gets neglected by her ignorant parents – the moral of the story being that adults are not always right – wisdom does not necessarily come with age. 

The Cambridge Theatre was packed with excited children clutching programmes and wearing ‘Matilda’ hoodies – it’s clearly a popular show to take your children to as it serves as an excellent introduction to theatre. It must have been a massive treat for the children that I saw as I have never seen so many impeccably behaved children in my life.The theatre is quite small and quaint-  the first thing that you notice upon entering the auditorium is the excellent attention to detail.The auditorium walls are daubed with chalkboard paint and chalk scribbles, with multicoloured scrabble style tiles suspended all over the stage and ceiling – before the show starts the letters M A T I L D A are perched on swings on the stage. 

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Everyone seated around me whiled away the time waiting for the show to start by gazing up at the letters and seeing which words they could make out. When the show started, it literally began with a bang (of several balloons) as energetic children burst out from under a table laid out for a birthday party and leapt into the song “Miracle” with witty lyrics and sharp choreography. It was at this point that it really hit home to me just how innovative the show was going to be. It wasn’t long before Matilda’s ludicrously flamboyant and ‘loud’ parents were introduced (Kay Murphy and alternate Mike Denman – who were both brilliant) and got the crowd laughing. Towards the end of the first number, Matilda appears, unloved and melancholy, not in the least bit self-indulgent (unlike the birthday party brats). Matilda is portrayed by four different girls – I saw 10 year old Cristina Fray, who was fantastic – instantly capturing the hearts of the audience from her first moment on stage with her statement “Mum says I’m a good case for population control”. Due to laws regarding the hours that children can perform, the team at Matilda must have their work cut out with the different combinations of children performing each night – not that you’d ever be able to tell, the performance was that polished and perfect. It is no wonder that the show has won so many awards. I predict great things for all the children involved – especially the enchanting Miss Fray.

One of the big attractions of “Matilda” for me was the fact that it was penned by Tim Minchin – I’m a big fan of his ‘beat poem’ ‘Storm’ – and he did not disappoint. The writing almost stole the show – the Trunchball’s hilariously over the top statements were particularly memorable “He should have thought about that before he made a PACT WITH SATAN and stole my cake”. Miss Trunchball was played in drag by the incredible Alex Gaumond. I’m sure if anyone thinks back to their schooldays (especially if you happen to have attended a British public school) then you can think of one or two teachers who derived sadistic pleasure from striking fear into everyone. Alex Gaumond both terrified and delighted the audience with his deathstares, rants and comedic gymnastic routines – and deservedly got one of the biggest rounds of applause at the end of the performance. The beastly Trunchball was perfectly juxtaposed with the delicate doe-eyed Miss Honey (played by Haley Flaherty).

The show ended with showers of confetti (almost as if the scrabble tiles were raining down on the audience, reminding them of the importance of words) and standing ovations for the cast and creative team. It’s a show that truly captures the naughty British comedy of Roald Dahl. I was so thrilled by my day – both by “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Matilda the Musical” – that I walked to the tube from the theatre picking large square shaped confetti off my clothes with an enormous cheshire cat grin on my face. Am I tempted to return to the Cambridge Theatre and bring my ex school teacher Dad, mum and teenage brother? Definitely! It was an unforgettable evening.

Covent Garden Cuisine (with a little bit of cruising around Camden Market)

On the fifth day of my trip, I found myself accompanied through the London streets by some pals from University – three physicists and a mathematician, to be exact. Nick, Tom, Caleb and Daryl (Daryl of Hamleys teddy bear snuggle fame) managed to organise a London meet up day with relatively short notice and it was great to catch up with what they’d all been up to over the summer. We met in the morning at London Victoria –  Nick, who was busy with his fancy jet-set number-crunching job (or so he’d have us believe…), joined us later in the evening. With so many scientists in the entourage, you’d think that the day would have gone ahead with logical precision, however apart from a request from Daryl to visit Chin Chin Labs in Camden, it was a relaxed freestyle day – which was more than ok with me, as you can tell from my previous posts, “magical mystery tours” of random discovery are just the way I like it.

We had a mosey around several different areas of London throughout the day – As the only girl, I found myself outnumbered by the boys, however used this newfound manly troupe as the perfect excuse to finally try out Five Guys burger restaurant. I had finally worked out where the building was and had a hunch that it would be a crowd-pleaser  – from experience, messy burgers tend to be a hit with men. Of course, I have a secret weak spot for a good barbecue bacon cheeseburger (but shush, no-one must know!) and was really intrigued to see if Five Guys lived up to the hype.

I had decided to take my new shoes from Forever 21 for a test drive – they would come to be referred to throughout the day as the “disco shoes” by Caleb and Tom, who both seemed to have an affinity for their apparent 70s look (or more likely, the 70s in general). It took a while for everyone to get used to my new height, as at first glance it seemed as if I had grown about seven inches over the summer. It was a lie. Fashion can be deceiving, folks.


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After traipsing around London Victoria for a while, looking for an “edgy café” for Caleb to get a coffee from, we decided to do a bit of sightseeing, starting with Buckingham Palace. We zipped from Victoria to Green Park on the tube and caught some action at the Palace gates. We were actually lucky enough to see some ornate carriages leaving the palace, which was quite exciting. I think one of the things that I love most about cities, is that even if you visit a landmark several times, you never have the same experience twice as there is always something different to observe or take part in. It was interesting to see the ceremonial dress of different dignitaries – I believe that the blue national costume pictured below is the attire worn by the Mongolian ambassador to the UK.

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After witnessing some artistic Instagram photography attempts at the Canada gates by a certain member of the gang (who is in denial of his passion for Canada and subsequent status as aficionado of all things canadian), we headed to Covent Garden to catch a bit of street magic and busking.  Whilst we were en route to Five Guys – we had decided that we were pretty ravenous by this point – we spotted the official Tintin Shop, which can be found at 34 Floral Street. The street name indicates Covent Garden’s early origins and roots as a flower market (the pun is unintentional this time, I swear). “Les Aventures de Tintin” is a comic book series which was created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé in 1929 and the shop on Floral Street was established in the early eighties. The Tintin comic series has since been adapted into a major feature film and still enjoys popularity today. I remember walking past Le Grand Rex in Paris whilst visiting a friend on my year abroad in 2011 and being awestruck  that the façade of the cinema had been magically transformed into the exterior of the fantastical boat La Licorne.

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Tintin is a classic character known all over the world – on one of my first ever trips to Germany, I stayed in a host family and instantly felt at ease when I spotted a Snowy poster on the wall of the lounge*- Tintin ended up forming the basis of one of my first German conversations.  The comic books have in fact been published in over seventy languages, which just goes to show how international a character Tintin has become over the years. I have good memories of spending the christmas holidays (in particular the night of ‘Reveillon’ – Christmas Eve) as a little girl watching the animated Tintin series (from the early nineties) with my dad, uncle and grandfather – the series was often broadcast on French TV!

Once the boys spotted the Tintin Shop, we all thought that it would be rude to walk right past without taking a glimpse inside… just for the sake of nostalgia of course… 😉

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These tourists walked into my photo with lightning speed – however I do like how these London ladies coincidentally match the colour scheme of the shop! Inside, Daryl and I got sidetracked by the fluffy Snowy toys, whilst Tom and Caleb checked out some of the books – I think that’s what they were up to at any rate, I was too busy being entranced by fluff.

*Snowy’s name in German is Struppi, in case you were wondering – his French name is Milou.

Once we had torn ourselves away from the fluffy Snowys, we were back on track on the hunt for food. Five Guys turned out to be not far from Floral Street and surprisingly there was no queue outside – there wasn’t even much time to enjoy the heaps of free monkey nuts that line the restaurant before we were served with our burgers and fries. Of course, I can’t complain because if we had indulged on the peanuts then we would not have had enough space for the main event! The menu at Five Guys is quite simplistic, however there are several different combinations that you can create from the ingredients on offer. I decided to go for a ‘little’ burger – which was a wise choice, as the portion sizes are massive! I would not have been able to cope with a normal sized burger and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast! Look at the cheesy barbecue bacon deliciousness below, pictured on the bottom right – if I could choose any adjective in the world to describe this burger, I would not go for little! Decadent, perhaps?

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I naively ordered a “regular” diet coke, but soon discovered the novelty of the Five Guys refill ‘coke freestyle’ system – where you can choose from hundreds of different drinks options including combos such as Grape Sprite, Strawberry Fanta, and Raspberry Coke. It was mind-blowing for the first five minutes… until I found myself craving the normalcy of a plain diet coke! When it comes to being served your food, you have to present yourself to the counter to receive your order when the number on your receipt is called. The food is then handed over to you in a plain brown paper bag. The burger is wrapped tightly in foil; as soon as you unwrap it, the squishy bun expands (a bit like a slinky or a sponge) to reveal itself piled high with your chosen fillings.

I decided to try the cajun fries as well as getting a burger (naughty, naughty). Now, I have a confession to make – I am the kind of girl who likes to slather tabasco and jalopeños over everything. When I was living in halls of residence I even had a little spice selection that I would take to meals to douse my plate with – one of my friends ended up calling me Tabasco girl – not my finest moment.  Although my taste buds must be slightly numb from all these years of chilli pepper abuse I actually found that the cajun fries tasted very spicy, so be warned! Again, a ‘little’ sized fries was a crazily generous serving – the cup you can see above was only half the portion, most of the fries were to be found at the bottom of the glorious brown paper bag. So many fries, so little space in my stomach – one portion ended up feeding three of us! We stayed in Five Guys for a while, tucked into an old fashioned 1950s style booth in the downstairs underbelly of the restaurant. The walls are plastered by endorsements from newspapers, bloggers and food critics – not really my taste of decor but the food was satisfying and great value for money. I guess the posters provide you with a bit of light reading if you find yourself on a solitary lunch break!

After leaving Five Guys, we had a look around Leicester Square and ended up venturing into M&Ms World. It was pointed out that it was a great marketing strategy to have such a large pick and mix of chocolates available next to one of London’s top cinema venues – the M&Ms building is vast – just about every kind of kitsch M&Ms memorabilia that you can imagine is spread out over four enormous floors. As you cross the doorway under a maquette of a London double-decker bus (given an M&Ms twist, of course) you are hit straight away with the cloying smell of chocolate. I think it’s probably a marmite experience, in that you either love the shop or hate it… maybe you even love to hate it, as evidenced by point number 3 on the buzzfeed link below …

http://www.buzzfeed.com/robinedds/things-youre-only-scared-of-if-you-live-in-london

I have to admit that I enjoyed looking around the shop –  I definitely didn’t cave into temptation a few days later and return  to buy a handful or three of peanut M&Ms….

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It was definitely turning into a “foodie” day by this point in our reunion – our next stop was Camden Market to visit the place where dessert meets science – the mysterious Chin Chin Labs. Place your order at the small counter, and you can watch as ‘test-tube ice cream’ is created before your very eyes using liquid nitrogen, being frozen into a delicious triangular slab just for you. This was definitely up the boys street – I, however, have not been near a pipette or beaker for years and tend to be scared that scientific equipment will break if I touch it, so it was a slightly surreal experience. There was a choice of four flavours – Tom and I went for Pondicherry Vanilla whilst Caleb went for a slightly more adventurous “limited edition seasonal” flavour, Szechuan Peppered Pineapple (which was actually the nicest in my opinion and turned out to be dairy free). Daryl chose a dark chocolate flavour which was around 80% cocoa and tasted extremely bittersweet. You can choose one sauce or topping from the pyrex beakers displayed on the lab shelves – I was a little bit greedy and went for grilled white chocolate bits AND salted caramel sauce. Caramel pretzels looked like an intriguing topping, but will have to wait for another visit. The tasting was an unusual experience – I find it hard to describe its exact consistency but it definitely felt a lot smoother than ‘normal’ ice cream.

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We walked off all our ice cream on the Camden cobbles – it was an interesting experience to navigate around over the said cobbles wearing the “disco shoes”, but I managed it, just about. Thanks for the patience, guys… the sun was setting over the Lock and the view was breathtakingly beautiful, so we stopped for a while to soak up the scenery. Camden is a very quirky open air market and residential area, which serves as a haven for all sorts of alternative fashion shops, one off street stalls, tattoo parlours, piercing studios and bars. It’s a good place to look for cds, a vintage look dress or if you’re feeling particularly daring, a steampunk-esque corset!

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It was here Daryl left us, as he had to be up early the next day to drive up to Durham to visit the Lumière light festival. And so, the remaining trio retreated to The Lockside Lounge to wait for Nick, who had text us to confirm that he was finally deigning to join us.

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 The Lockside Lounge is a cool haunt – and definitely has a boathouse vibe with its nautical beams. As you may have guessed from previous posts, I love buildings with character and this bar was no exception. I ordered a glass of Burlesque rosé and was informed by the bartender that the label of the wine was chosen because the lounge often pays host to burlesque evenings. Camden nightlife seemed to be pretty vibrant, and I reckon that The Lockside Lounge would be a great place to spend an evening as it had an awesome atmosphere. It also endorses up and coming indie, funk, blues and jazz performers.

The peace was shattered when Nick arrived – he was enthused after a day at work and obviously hadn’t had to go through the tiresome trials of tasting various foodstuffs all day…  We stayed in the bar for a little longer, being updated on his recent exploits in Lithuania and Latvia, before we found ourselves being frogmarched out of the bar and taken to Fire and Stone, a pizzeria on Maiden Lane near Covent Garden. I can’t personally vouch for the pizzas as I was still feeling pretty full from Five Guys and Chin Chin Labs so picked at a salad, but the boys seemed satisfied with their meal choices. Nick claims that it was “better than Nando’s” – high praise indeed.

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I took the opportunity to take a few snaps of the guys looking relatively refined, taking on the role of slightly overenthusiastic paparazzi photographer/a grandmother. Nick helped me accessorise my Mai Tai with aplomb.

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We ended the night sat in a Canadian sports bar called The Maple Leaf just a few paces away from Fire and Stone. We stepped off the street and found ourselves in a forest green canadian log cabin themed interior. Canadian flags and maple leaves were draped all over the bar and I felt as if we’d somehow managed to warp into The Hoser Hut from the popular TV series How I met your Mother. Caleb was in his element. It wasn’t long before he discovered the tempting array of Canadian beers on offer behind the bar…

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I guess you can say that we all had quite a diverse day of café, bar and restaurant hopping! After returning to Victoria via Covent Garden tube station (with its surreal lifts that transport you from the street into the bowels of the underground) it was time for me to head back to Croydon, reunite with Ellie and to begin planning another day indulging in pleasures of a different nature – the theatre! Thanks go to Caleb, Daryl, Nick and Tom for an unusual culinary themed day of sightseeing in the capital.

P.S. Forget the riddle “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”. We had an incident on the tube where Caleb tried to persuade us all that lemon strepsils are as effective at cleansing the palate as chewing gum, much to the amusement of our fellow tube passengers. “Why is chewing gum like a lemon flavoured strepsil?” – the new riddle of our time.

Getting on down in Chinatown

After spending around five hours in a fun bilingual bubble in a London business school, I was back on the tube again, ready for another magical mystery tour (i.e. I randomly got off somewhere that sounded exciting) Throughout the morning and afternoon, I had met some really fun people – including an awesome girl who bonded with me over French camp sites, Dinard airport (read my very first ever blogpost for an insight into the Dinard airport experience!) and… disney princess impressions. Everyone I met had a lot of tips and tricks on what to see and do in London – including where to buy tickets for shows. In fact, the subject of shows and musicals was a great ice breaker and sparked up some lively debate on the best shows to see in London. After saying goodbye and exchanging numbers with my newfound friends,  my first idea was to go and see the ‘half price’ musical ticket booths around Piccadilly Circus to see if I could score any last minute matinee deals – however, at over sixty pounds for an average restricted seat, I wasn’t sold….

Yet. Better deals were to be had later in the week!

Lunch was found at Mcdonalds in Leicester Square – I was originally looking around for ‘Five Guys’, an American burger chain that opened in the UK earlier this year. ‘Five Guys’ is a chain which I’d heard a lot of hype about online (and on “The Londoner” blog), but I eventually caved into my hunger (and the offer of free wifi) and went to McDonalds instead. Casual NB. for the future – Leicester Square actually offers free street wifi to passers by anyway. So if you ever find yourself in London with an unreliable 3g connection and don’t feel like sitting on a coffee shop, head for a stroll into Leicester Square for free wifi! Oh, the excitement…

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As with any city, the London skyline has an interesting fusion of architectural styles! Glass edifices and older buildings from the 1800-1900s nestle together side by side in Leicester Square. After a couple of minutes spent gazing at rooftops, I made my way to Gerrard Street in Soho. Gerrard Street is home to Chinatown, which is only about a minute away from Leicester Square by foot but definitely feels a world away in terms of look and ambience.

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A delicious and odorous combination of spices, meats and sweet treats permeates Gerrard Street. Enthusiastic personnel wait outside their respective businesses in an attempt to entice the passer by to take a seat and indulge in a heady mix of herbal teas, peking duck, sumptuous cakes and… cuttlefish. I was intrigued by the window displays food along the street, displays which often had one or two ‘casual cuttlefish’, tentacles and all hidden amongst a throng of Peking Duck. I wasn’t hungry, thanks to McDonalds – shame on me for not holding out on my hunger and embracing an opportunity to try something different.  My parents visited Chinatown for a meal earlier this year and told me before my visit that the food there is incredible – £20.00 per head will guarantee you an impressive, tasty and unique meal in the heart of London. Next time I go to London, a visit to Chinatown is definitely on the cards… however I might give the cuttlefish a miss. Not a fan of those tentacles! See if you can spot the cuttlefish in my picture below… The character of Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama springs to mind.

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 Taiyaki (top left image) is a little waffle or pancake batter cake which is shaped like a fish – the literal translation of the japanese word  ‘Taiyaki’ means baked sea bream. However, the design is misleading (… is it too cheeky to refer to it as being a red herring?) for the cakes are not fishy in the slightest, being filled with cream and intended to be a sweet pastry accompaniment to coffee! From what I recall, it was around £1.50 for four or five cakes, so definitely a bargain. I was really impressed by the ornate icing which was piped on to the Chinatown cakes and cupcakes – it’s wishful thinking to hope that all the berries cancel out all the calories from the icing, right? Bottom right, you can see ‘Doraemon’ cupcakes.  Doraemon is a blue futuristic robotic cat from a Japanese manga which dates back to 1969. In the bakery windows, Doraemon was a figure that cropped up often as a cupcake topper, only rivalled in number by his popular pal Hello Kitty.

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I did not succumb to iced temptation, but headed back to Covent Garden to gaze some more at the indoor market shops and beautiful christmas lights – I especially enjoyed the 15ft topiary reindeer placed outside the market. Giant baubles adorned the inside of the Piazza, glittering and glinting magically like disco balls in the evening lamplight. I felt a little bit like one of the Borrowers.

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After Covent Garden, I met up with Ollie and his girlfriend Lucy to check out a Blues Bar behind Hamleys toyshop called “Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues” – it’s an intimate venue with cool blues and overpriced nachos – we listened to the live music and had a drink. We decided to refrain from buying nachos*, instead we found some food  round the corner at a takeout noodle bar called (rather questionably) “Wok to Walk”. We had a few jokes over the name – do you really want savoury noodles on your morning commute? There is also a noodle bar in Durham, our old univerisity town called “Woksup” – it seems to be a running theme or trend for noodle bars to have puns in their name. The noodles from “Wok to Walk” were great though, and I had a lot of leftovers thanks to the portion sizes being so generous. After saying our goodbyes, I was even stopped by a woman boarding my train back to Croydon who found the pun on the noodle box amusing… I guess the marketing ploy worked! On the journey back to Croydon, my thoughts were full of daydreams of Chinatown – I’m already looking forward to a return visit sometime in the future!

*(this could have been a massive mistake! Perhaps the hefty price tag of £8.95 was justifiable. Perhaps we missed out on the best nachos that London could ever offer. I guess  it will remain a mystery for now. The mystery of the ‘potentially’ overpriced nachos.)

Hustle and Bustle on the Baker-loo Line

After a day of glorious autumnal sunshine came a day of drizzle. My umbrella was whipped out of my satchel and had to report for duty as I traipsed the wet and foggy streets of London – however, the day didn’t remain too dark for very long as I soon found myself surrounded by THE FIRST FESTIVE LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS. More on that later.

I spent the morning working out my interview route, which involved a stop at Finchley Road station. It’s a small but quirky stop that has a friendly cobbler and a mini fruit market stationed just outside. Once I’d successfully completed my ‘test commute’ I hopped back on to the tube and headed off to Baker Street in Marylebone.

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This street is most famous for being the residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous fictional character, Detective Sherlock Holmes, who according to the books, lived at 221B Baker Street. 221B Baker Street used to be a fictional address as the Baker Street addresses only used to go up to number 100, however the address now belongs to ‘The Sherlock Holmes Museum’. Sherlock Holmes is an iconic character from British literature and I loved seeing the influence that his creation has had upon the street itself – from kitsch cameos of his face adorning the tiled walls in the underground, to Sherlock themed memorabilia shops on the street itself.

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Several actors have portrayed the character of Sherlock Holmes over the years – from Basil Rathbone, who inspired the 1986 Disney classic “Basil the great Mouse Detective” ( a childhood favourite of mine, although the film had some terrifying characters. The peg legged bat and the fat cat haunted several of my nightmares) to the most recent Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, a British actor who has sparked the internet meme “Otters that look like Benedict Cumberbatch” and has achieved an impressive cult following… getting both otters and Sherlock Holmes trending worldwide.

Image(The picture is taken from The Huffington Post and is originally credited as Red Scharlach/Daily Otter) 

There is a new series of ‘Sherlock’ starting on January 1st 2014 with a mini episode previewing on Christmas Day, so if you’re in the London area, why not mosey on down to Baker Street and get yourself warmed up for some festive ‘Sherlock’ viewing!

Baker Street is also a short walk away from the world famous waxwork museum, Madame Tussauds, which is situated on Marylebone Road. I didn’t go into the museum as I think it’s probably an activity best enjoyed with friends or family… It’s recommended to take a camera with you to make the most of numerous photo opportunities with the famous waxworks. Remember – I was ‘the lone ranger’ at this point – I didn’t fancy being ‘that tourist’ taking selfies in the corner with a waxen Kate Middleton. The entry price is steep at around £30 a ticket, however the long queues and positive reviews speak for themselves. You can often save a few pounds by buying a ticket for Madame Tussauds in combination with tickets for other attractions (i.e. otherwise known as a *drumroll*… combination ticket). Definitely an attraction that I will try in future.

Onwards and upwards from Baker Street, my next destination was Oxford Circus. And here is where the bright lights come in! Oxford Street was full of  festive cheer and christmas light garlands – I popped into the Disney Store (those famous words, I can’t ever walk past without going in for a gander) where all the new merchandise for Disney’s new christmas release “Frozen” was on display. The Disney Store on Oxford Street is the largest in Europe – and of course was decked out accordingly for the Christmas season.

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The main aim of going to Oxford Street was to track down an elusive pair of Forever21 ‘Off Roading wedge booties’ (that name doesn’t sound convoluted in the slightest). It took me a while to find Forever21 (because I had been going along the street in the wrong direction, standard) but I got there eventually and made a beeline straight for the shoe section, WHERE ONE SOLE PAIR OF THOSE BURGUNDY WEDGES WERE ON THE SHELF. It was a ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail ‘moment, I was a bedraggled knight (without coconut shells) and those wedges were the Grail. All I had to do was pounce on them before anyone else could – shoes in hand, I was told by a shop assistant that they were indeed the very last pair on Oxford Street. It was clearly fate. Prancing around the shop floor like a show pony*, I knew that we were meant to be… they were even the right size…

*Or a duck. My 15 year old brother likes to say that I walk like a duck in heels. He’s started playing a ringtone of ducks quacking if I even dare wear them in his presence. Teenagers are so sensitive these days. He’s also a great fan of showing me the video clip below.

Slight digression there. I do apologise. Back to the Oxford Street story. Clutching my Forever21 bag contentedly in hand, I spent a good 45 minutes being entranced by the glitzy window displays of both Selfridges and Marks and Spencer. Fairytales and children’s classics are obviously a big trend this Winter when it comes to department store christmas displays. Selfridges have placed giant versions of iconic gifts being skied and clambered on by miniature snow people and the odd miniature reindeer in their displays. The objects vary from luxury items (such as Charlotte Olympia glittery cat ballet flats) to classic childhood toys (a vat of oversized bright pink play-dough, anyone?),  giving the Selfridges windows a ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ vibe.

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Marks and Spencer, meanwhile,  has been attracting a lot of attention with their Christmas advert starring the gorgeous Rosie Huntingdon Whitely.  If you haven’t seen the advert yet, then you can watch it outside Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street, as it is being played on a loop on a giant screen in one of their windows. Throughout the course of the advert, Rosie transforms from Alice (in Wonderland) to Dorothy, looking fantastic from head to toe, clad in her Marks and Spencer glad rags, naturally. The windows of Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street are clearly inspired by ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and feature a decadent Mad Hatter’s tea party, complete with Alice (aka. Rosie), the  Mad Hatter (ie. the dashing David Gandy) and the other usual suspects…

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 I snapped out of my trance/alice in wonderland reverie when I realised that I had to go and buy my Eurostar ticket for my trip to Paris before the price increased threefold. Arriving at St Pancras International, I was immediately awestruck with the beauty and grandeur of the station… so awestruck that I walked straight past the Eurostar ticket desk and went to the check in instead. Whoops… The queue for the Eurostar ticket desk was quite fraught with tension and melodrama, with several passengers being teary-eyed about missing journeys or having to pay large price differences on their tickets. It didn’t put me at ease …. After half an hour in the queue I was imagining being stranded in London and actually having to live out of my suitcase or on top of the St Pancras street piano. But, I managed to get a relatively cheap ticket for the Saturday, thanks to a lovely member of Eurostar Staff who had the patience of a saint and helped me at the ticket desk. After making my purchase, I decided to buy Ellie some roses and headed back to East Croydon, Eurostar ticket tucked safely away in my satchel, tired but with a big smile on my face.

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The Bright Skies of London

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On Sunday 10th November I headed tentatively into central London, expecting large crowds for the Remembrance day ceremonies and parades.  Apart from having acquired a handy app of the London Underground tube network on my phone – something I wholly recommend to any London tourist – I had not really prepared a plan for my first day of sightseeing, I thought it would be fun to see if I could just walk around the city and ‘connect the dots’ on foot between famous landmarks. At East Croydon Station, I hopped on to the first train that I saw on the platform. It was headed to London Bridge – however I got off at Elephant and Castle, a station which is named after an old coaching inn and is situated near the Imperial War Museum. My stop off was a spontaeneous decision based purely on the novelty of the name – you can definitely tell I’m not a Londoner! – but I must of looked quite confident in my decision as it wasn’t long before I was being asked for directions by American tourists… I loved the red elephant placed on a pedestal outside the station, a statue which dates back to the 1960s.

From Elephant and Castle, I was off on the tube to Charing Cross, the stop for Trafalgar Square,  home to The National Gallery (a monument in its own right, most recently filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode). Trafalgar square also plays host to the four iconic bronze Trafalgar Lions, placed around Nelson’s Column. I had previously visited the nearby Canada House on a school trip way back in 2007, and it was an awesome feeling to relive the excitement of the busy area again. Trafalgar square has four plinths, one in each corner of the square – the fourth plinth is dedicated to temporary contemporary artworks (that rolls off the tongue!) and this colourful cockerel was installed on the plinth in July 2013, making it a relatively new addition to the Square! It’s a cheeky statue which fully embraces British humour (although I think it looks a bit Gallic in nature and it was in fact created by a German Professor of Sculpture!).

Instead of heading into The National Gallery, which has over 2,300 paintings on display and (… perhaps most importantly for a girl on a budget) offers free admission, I got sidetracked spotting the flags of various Embassies that flank the streets around the square. I soon found myself outside Her Majesty’s Theatre, which has hosted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera” since 1986. The original novel, written by frenchman Gaston Leroux, is one of my favourite books. Being a hopeless romantic with a passion for gothic novels, the story of a tortured artist who sulks for his lost love in Parisian catacombs was always going to be right up my street. When I accidentally came across the theatre, I  definitely felt a frisson of excitement and promised myself that I would return later in the week to watch it. The theatre box office is open from Monday – Saturday from 10am-6pm and I definitely recommend buying your ticket in person if you are a lone ranger, rather than purchasing online or from a half price ticket booth – some amazing deals can be had at the last minute and the attendants at the box office desk are extremely kind and helpful.


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I sauntered onwards from Haymarket to the Mall. Again, not knowing the streets of London very well, I ended up in this area completely by chance – I didn’t even realise that I was near Buckingham Palace! Due to the Remembrance Day parades, I was met with a Mall closed to traffic and full of pedestrians quietly enjoying the Sunday sunshine. The autumn leaves of St James’s Park looked glorious against the bright blue skies and the calm serenity of the area was fitting for such a poignant day. London is famous for its beautiful parks and St James’s Park is no exception. It is an iconic location, having served as the backdrop for many films, including the James Bond film ‘Die Another Day’ and the live action version of Disney’s ‘101 Dalmatians’ – I was half expecting to see dalmatians frolicking under the trees! London is renowned for being an expensive city, however if you are willing to put on your walking shoes, there are many sights and locations that can be enjoyed for free.

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It was great to be able to approach the Palace on foot via the Mall. As it was November, the Queen’s guards were wearing their grey Autumn/Winter coats over their famous red tunics – the overcoats are thicker and longer in length than the tunics, providing more warmth and protection against the oncoming British cold. I thought that the Guardsmen were looking rather stylish…
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I had made plans on Saturday night to meet up with Daryl, a friend from University, for an afternoon of ‘adventure’. Just before he came to meet me outside the Palace, I chanced upon a Canadian Remembrance ceremony by the Canada gates in Green Park, just to the side of Buckingham Palace. I mentioned earlier in this post that I’d participated in a 2007 school trip to the Canadian Embassy in London.  This excursion was later followed up by a trip to France and Canada, thanks to a project run by the Imperial War Museum called ‘Their Past Your Future’ – the aim of which was to analyse the way in which Canadian soldiers, who fought in World Wars 1 and 2, have been commemorated from the past to the present day. The Canadian Remembrance ceremony at Green Park in 2013 brought back emotive memories of the war stories from that 2007 trip and I feel grateful that I was allowed to observe the ceremony and have a quiet moment of contemplation on the sidelines.

Daryl found me at the gates of Buckingham Palace and we were off to meet another friend from University at Trafalgar Square… however, we got a little bit lost on the tube but eventually, via Piccadilly Circus, ended up at our intended destination. From Charing Cross, we hot footed it to Covent Garden Market, which is one of my favourite areas in London. It features stunning architecture in the form of the Piazza,  which is surrounded by the lively buzz and hubbub of ‘Theatre land’, buskers, acrobats and musicians, making for a animated and magical atmosphere which changes from day to day.

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Daryl took a moment out from our frantic tube hopping to pose by the Piccadilly Circus underground signage…

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Now, I knew that the Moomins had their own theme park in their native Finland, but I was intrigued (and thrilled) to see that there was a miniature Moomin land within my reach in Covent Garden! The shop is accessed by a set of stairs, flanked by artistic Moomin silhouettes and postboxes for ‘Moomin Valley’ with beautiful attention to detail. I didn’t buy anything… but was definitely impressed with the concept! Definitely head to Covent Garden and have a look at the quaint market shops if you are looking for unusual christmas gifts or stocking fillers.

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After a brief dash into the Disney Store, we hit the road once more, this time I was told by my London savvy companions that we were headed to a magical place on Regent Street…

Hamleys Toy Shop! I was told en route that it is a childhood rite of passage for British children to go to Hamleys – the world’s oldest toyshop which has thousands of toys spread out over an impressive seven floors. Not being a frequent visitor to London as a child, I obviously missed out on that experience, but don’t weep for me too much… 😉 As you can tell by my enthusiasm for Moomins and the Disney store, it wasn’t too late in life for this big kid to visit the flagshop London toy shop.

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And I clearly wasn’t the only one to enjoy the experience! I wonder if anyone will wake up this Christmas with this £2000 + Bear from Steiff under their tree?! (Perhaps due to size issues it might have to be placed alongside the family tree!) I loved the displays and the peppy enthusiasm of the Hamleys staff who were to be found on each floor performing demonstrations of all the gadgets they had on offer to wide eyed children… and their equally wide eyed parents. It must be impossible to go into Hamleys with children and leave empty-handed, but luckily there is a choice from thousands of toys that cater for every budget. I can vividly recall reading about the exciting London toyshop experience in Jacqueline Wilson’s books when I was about nine… Now 14 years later I have finally experienced the Hamleys magic – and seen Prince William, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge incarnated in Lego.

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After the excitement of Hamleys, it was time to head to Ellie’s parents in Bromley via London Victoria for an amazing Sunday roast – I really was spoilt by Ellie (who had spent the entirety of her Sunday slaving over lesson plans) and her family! After dinner, we returned to the Ritz of East Croydon, I gratefully removed my heels and already started thinking about what activities to take on next…

Capital hopping with ‘La Valise de Louise’ – London Calling

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As you can tell by the title of this post… I’ve been a bit busy. But fear not! It’s all been worth the while. Read on to voyage with me and learn of my latest ventures… it all began once upon a November…..

November is a strange month, sandwiched between the autumnal novelty of Halloween (which arguably dominates October) and the unavoidable festive buzz of December. November  stomps in and announces the beginning of Winter with fireworks and the ritual burning of things. In some ways, it is like an eager child begging for acceptance –  encouraging us to embrace the warmth of bonfires on cold nights, and to let the decadence and glitz of the Christmas season slowly creep up upon us. It all starts with those fireworks.

November was a rather spontaneous month for me, bathed in the glow of the premature Christmas lights of London and Paris – forget about Christmas tiptoeing into my 2013, I have already spent the past few weeks being duped into believing that Christmas Eve has come early. I’ve been raptly listening to jazzy festive tunes being pumped out of sleek city sound systems and gazing up in awe at big bling-bling baubles.

Rapture? Awe? Being captivated by baubles? I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog (the majority written when I was a student, held captive by the shackles of studying) about my yearning for travel and more importantly, my desire to live life to the full as much as possible. This has been the first Winter in the past decade where I have not had to pull off the dreaded ‘nuit blanche’, those indeterminably long nights where students become essay writing machines in order to meet harrowing end of term deadlines. For me, this has often meant necking back dubious cocktails of diet coke, black coffee and Proplus tablets, silently willing the dawn chorus to pipe down and setting up over 21 alarms on my phone just in case I didn’t wake up from that ten minute power nap. Thoughts of Christmas were always on the back burner until those gloomy essays were done and dusted. However, this year there have been no academic papers to submit. I can completely focus on glittery Christmas sparkles!

So a few weeks ago, when I was asked to go to an interview in London, I decided to turn a day trip into a fully blown holiday and embrace my newly found festive freedom. I packed my suitcase (although I would later find myself cramming most of my belongings into my bright purple satchel as I surfed from sofa to sofa, hopping from tube to metro) bought a last minute ticket, got on a plane and was on my way – on the run! Ready for a big glittery adventure… first stop… London!

I arrived on Saturday 9th November, leaving a deserted Guernsey airport on a cute little local plane with puffins painted on it – I was one of five passengers. Forty five minutes, a copy of ‘The Guernsey Press’ and a free diet coke later, I was warped into a different pace of life, surrounded by jets and queues for passport control. After being ‘stranded’ for a couple of months in Guernsey, it always takes a couple of minutes to adjust to the comparative hustle and bustle of … *in melodramatic tone*   the Mainland.  After walking for miles, I located my case and got on the train to East Croydon – home of Dub-step, ‘the Croydon facelift” and Kate Moss – where Ellie, a friend from Durham University was waiting for me. I had forewarned her of my intentions to visit London and she had very kindly offered me a place to stay. THANKS ELLIE.

Ellie welcomed me into her very fancy student house (which was the Ritz in comparison to the house we shared together during our second year at Durham) where we had the quickest of catch ups before heading out to … Clapham. I was getting to know quite a few boroughs of London in a short space of time.  We sat down in a restaurant and ordered food at 10pm after a little traipse around the area ( i.e we got a bit lost on Clapham High Street), ate with Ellie’s fellow teacher pals and then all of a sudden our plates were whisked away and the place turned into a dance bar. The staff pushed the tables to the wall, and a torrent of people appeared from nowhere and started jiving away in faux fur coats to 1direction. It was slightly surreal. I found myself being handed cocktails, accepted my fate (…having to listen to 1direction) and the night was off on a roll.  We ended up leaving the bar in the early hours of the morning to get the train – we were entertained whilst we waited at the station by the characters of East Croydon who were asking us incessantly for ‘cuddles’ (no cuddles were had) and fighting over pasties – obviously a rare delicacy at three o clock in the morning. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this pasty frenzy – you’ll just have to take my word for it.

When we got back to East Croydon, I crashed into bed… my head full of plans to see musicals, sightsee, be reacquainted with KFC popcorn chicken (no KFC on Guernsey *woohoo*) and perhaps most specifically to head to Forever 21 on Oxford Street and track down a ridiculously high pair of burgundy wedges that I’d fallen in love with on the internet. Did I find those wedges? Did I get to see a musical (or… two?) You’ll have to wait for my next instalment to find out! 😉 Although in the meantime here is a picture of an excited tourist in front of Buckingham Palace… yep, it’s me.

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Pimp my Pumpkin!

This week I gave myself a Halloween mission to locate some pumpkins and slice them up. Sounds simple enough. However, whilst I like arts and crafts in that I like doodling and throwing glitter around, this task was a dubious one at the beginning. I do not really trust myself not to leave destruction or carnage in my wake at the best of times (ie. when selecting an outfit to wear for the day) Factor in wielding a knife and having to stab into a large orange fleshy object, the potential for a messy situation is increased significantly . Regardless of my passion for Tim Burton, when you put a knife into my hands and direct me to some vegetables, the aftermath is less Edward Scissorhands, more Chainsaw Massacre. I can cut a straight line, and on a good day, a paper snowflake but this was a whole different ballgame. I was already having premonitions of having to have my fingers reattached in Accident and Emergency before I even bought the pumpkins. (Me, melodramatic? What gave you that impression?)

Anyway, off I ambled to the supermarket to purchase some pumpkins. I went to the Alliance, which in spite of its futuristic scifi sounding name, is in actual fact, a horrifically ugly and outdated corrugated iron warehouse style building. However, I always think of it fondly and with affection as it is a sort of Aladdin’s cave and contains every kind of product that you could ever need (often in industrial sizes – think along the lines of vats of mayonnaise, marmalade and strawberry bonbons). At the Alliance, I purchased two medium sized pumpkin beasts and then decided to chance the hedge veg stalls of St Sampsons to see if there was anything smaller lurking on the shelves. I was feeling enthused by this point and decided that I wanted a panoply of pumpkins. In Guernsey, you can often find wooden boxes on the hedges filled with locally grown produce. You drive up, select your wares and then place money in an ‘honesty box’. Small town living. Forget Mcdonalds, in Guernsey, if you want fast food then you’ll have to settle for a punnet of blackberries fresh off the hedge.

A 15 minute walk down my road revealed a little nook (in someone’s driveway, casual, I had to lean precariously over a flowerbed in order to access it) selling small pumpkins for £1.00 each (bargain). I placed two one pound notes in the box and bought two small ‘uns which I then placed on the palm of each of my hands. Walking past the pub, a stone’s throw away from the hedge veg boutique, a Guernsey grower with a van full of Guernsey toms (that’s tomatoes for you sophisticated townies) stopped me by leaning out the window, guffawing and telling me I was mishandling my pumpkins.

Is there a correct way to handle a pumpkin? You tell me.


A little illustration of the scenario. I should also probably point out that I was wearing wedged shoe boots, perhaps not the most appropriate footwear to go a pumpkin foraging. However, not as outlandish as the shoes that Courtney Stodden  would wear to a pumpkin patch photo shoot.


Earlier in the morning, some flowers that i had ordered for my mum online arrived from bunches.co.uk (in less than 24 hours, impressive)  The bouquet had an autumnal theme, and incorporated some mini pumpkins. As I mentioned in my previous Halloween blog post, I just love novelty things. I couldn’t resist ordering a bouquet with miniature pumpkins in it. You can see from the picture above that Chino, the house rabbit, was rather intrigued by this floral arrangement, most probably because he wanted to eat the roses. Alas, it was not to be for Chino, who later disdainfully turned up his nose (…or twitched it) when offered a piece of pumpkin. (Rabbits can eat pumpkin in moderation however Chino does not like it, will not eat it, and tends to only be enthusiastic about bananas). With the arrival of the pumpkin flowers and the pumpkins themselves, the house was suddenly bedecked with orange, and I was feeling inspired. After having a bit of an Instagram/Pinterest lurk, I decided that I would pimp my pumpkin (leaving one for my brother to work his artistic magic on) by turning it into… a princess carriage! A carriage missing its Cinderella, but a princess carriage none the less. It is perhaps not the most conventionally ‘spooky’ of ideas but one that would allow me to keep the knife action to a minimum and also give me an opportunity to glitz it up.

The pumpkin family. I attacked the biggest, deciding to save the pumpkin goop from the middle for cupcakes. Very experimental. I also put the seeds aside to roast later.


With the first part of the pumpkin all carved out, I turned my attention to the experimental baking. I roughly followed a Martha Stewart pumpkin cupcake recipe online, although I cut down the amount of sugar (for fear of an overdose) and stewed the pumpkin goop for about forty minutes until it was purée. I then mixed the purée with the other ingredients, fearing a Bridget Jonesesque cooking disaster, and spooned the mixture into muffin cases and one big foil case. The cakes baked for twenty minutes and I later frosted them with cream cheese frosting and pecans. THEY WOULD TURN OUT TO BE DELICIOUS. Pumpkins, you are a revelation.


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Putting cupcakes in treat bags with ribbons and handmade labels is a sweet halloween activity and make for a good little gift… 😀

Back to the Pumpkin pimping. Using a household paint brush , I coated the outside of the pumpkin with orange glitter glue. Hello fire hazard. I then used some old strass/diamanté/beads that I had lying around in my room to decorate around the ‘windows’ and ‘door’. The little orange curtains are made from organza, which originally came from a flower bouquet. (I buy all the flower bouquets) The purple ribbons and bows cost about £1.50 from a local craft shop. All the material and bows were pinned on. This carriage concept is a great activity to carry out with little girls (or boys who want to turn their halloween pumpkin into a death wagon) however it’s imperative to make sure that children are supervised around flames and pins. Because nobody wants a paint splattered screaming child with a pin through their eye and a flaming hand. It’s also best to let an adult do the carving. You get the picture.

IT’S SO GLITTERY.

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And here is the finished result. I added an old glittery tiara from Claire’s Accessories on top (originally from a cheerleading gypsy wedding social) and used two smaller pumpkins for the wheels – they’re not overly sophisticated, I may alter them. The large pumpkin is actually supported underneath by a bowl which has been covered in the glittery orange organza.

I really enjoyed the carving (surprisingly therapeutic) and decorating… and there is one large pumpkin left. Watch this space! If you have any Halloween decor ideas or recipes, then please feel free to comment below! 😀 Coming up…. my verdict on roasted pumpkin seeds and some costume ideas!

St Peter Port

Monday afternoon, I found myself in town with a few hours to kill. The sun was shining and although there was quite a strong breeze (i.e. strands of my hair were dancing in the wind like the tentacles of a hyperactive octopus) I decided to soak up some much needed vitamin C.  I bought some vegetable sushi and headed over to Havelet to look out over the Channel.  It was high tide and the waves were hitting the shore quite aggressively, however I was feeling happy about the sunshine and so instead of catching the bus home, decided to kick off my shoes and go a paddlin’.  The temperature was surprisingly mild for October and I almost wished that I’d brought swimming stuff with me. I say almost. Being a weekday, most people were indoors, leaving me alone with… the gulls.

THE GULLS.

Guernsey gulls, by the way, are quite savage feisty creatures. They have no fear. They will rip a sandwich from your hands in a flash ; many a St Peter Port office worker has been left alone on a harbour bench to mourn the loss of their M and S Prawn Mayo on malted brown. After about a minute of poking the water tentatively with my foot, I decided to walk around to the Bathing Pools. The pools in question are two historic Lidos that look out towards Castle Cornet and the islands of Herm and Sark. Originally they were intended to be used separately by the Victorian sexes i.e.. one pool for ‘gentlemen’, one for ‘ladies’, however they are now open to all members of the general public all year round and also feature as an arena for….. underwater cycling. Apparently, footage of this sport taking place was featured on Blue Peter, back when I was at school in Guernsey. I don’t remember being very aware or concerned about the cycling at the time, just being a bit miffed that I didn’t get to miss school to go and admire Gethin Jones, who was presenting the segment.

ANYWAY. At the bathing pools, I soon found myself encircled once more by a circle of the sea vultures, who were very intrigued by the sudden appearance of another creature with food. They looked at me with their beady eyes and razor sharp beaks approaching closer every time I turned my back. Eventually they realised that all I had to offer was a bit of chargrilled pepper wrapped in seaweed and they lost interest. I can’t really blame them. Chargrilled pepper is a little bit of a letdown if you’ve set yourself up for an M and S sandwich. I almost got hit by a wave (the pictures above look deceptively tranquil) and I headed back home with a smile on my face and sea-salt in my hair.

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The Onset of October

October! The cobwebs are beginning to settle on the summer memories, nights are getting longer and gruesome Halloween trinkets ( gruesome in price AND  quality) have already been set up for sale in the supermarket aisles. Halloween is a time of year that I embrace wholeheartedly because I am, at times, a massive child who loves a big ole novelty themed bag of sweets and a cheap black lipstick smeared all over my face. You can’t beat cosy evenings in whilst the wind howls outside, and of course freaking yourself out with a good horror film and a few ghost stories is always a good way to keep you on your toes. If anyone has any good horror film recommendations I would love to hear from you in the comment section below. Bonus points if it’s something retro with horrifically dated (and therefore comedic) special effects. I will always remember being given a copy of a very strange DVD called “Witchcraft Hotel” at the age of 13 – the tagline was… “We hope you enjoy your slay”. It has a terribly gory plot and left my young naive being mentally scarred – If I recall, I was simultaneously amused and horrified by the casting of David Hasselhoff as the male lead.

If you find yourself having to entertain children (or of course, your inner child) around Halloween then I would recommend sitting down and watching one of the following cult classics ; “Hocus Pocus!”, “The Nightmare before Christmas”, “The Corpse Bride” and “Beetlejuice”. I’ve already spoken about my love of Tim Burton elsewhere on this blog – his films are definitely a ‘must’ around the Halloween holiday. There’s also two great shorts from the 80s/90s by Tim Burton which are worth a watch – an animated poem called “Vincent” which is narrated by the late Vincent Price and the 1984 live action “Frankenweenie” (not to be confused with the more recent disney adaptation, also directed by Tim Burton).

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An old photo from the vaults! The morning after…. a Halloween night. An inflatable skeleton floating down the River Weir in Durham.

The highlight of the Halloween season for me, is without a doubt, getting creative (ie. over the top) with costumes! I especially love messing around with face paint and perhaps take the macabre make up looks  a little bit too seriously… It’s time to start thinking ahead of October 31st and get cracking with the costume ideas, my friends!

But don’t be a ‘mean girl’ and go for a simple animal costume (unless it’s an ironic pop culture reference, of course). And try to avoid looking as if you’ve covered yourself in superglue and rolled around a Halloween bargain bucket of flimsy plastic fluorescent things at Poundland, it can only end badly! 😛

Whatever, you decide, keep me updated!

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