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…

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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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Scintillating Summer Nights

Happy August to one and all! Oh how I love the summer… and this year’s summer festivities in particular are shaping up to be rather glorious. Admittedly in the last couple of days there have been a few rainy moments – including the one day where I faced an unexpected cycle ride in a thunderstorm, but on the whole I have had the chance to bask in sunshine reading good books and I even appear to have a tan! It only seems like yesterday that I was bidding farewell to my student days living on the Bodensee, enjoying the last summer parties with my Konstanz friends before returning to Durham to knuckle down and get my degree… what a whirlwind of a year it has been. This year I’ve had the pleasure of graduating, I just received some good news regarding a job, and will be hitting up the South of France later this week! I am ridiculously excited. I haven’t written a decent blog entry in a while because I’ve been concentrating on soaking up the sunshine (wearing my sun screen of course) but I am breaking my silence to share a few of my July/August favourite things!

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Let’s start with beauty products, SHALL WE. I bought a new perfume to celebrate the summer (perhaps a lame excuse to splash some cash, but I think every girl needs a signature summer scent… or three). I chose Elixir des Merveilles by Hermés to be the scent that embodies my summer 2013. The fragrance actually came out in 2006, so it is not technically a new perfume, but it’s fresh to me! I fell in love with the warm orange aromas and the beautiful glittery bottle – it looks like Hermés managed to bottle a sunset – excuse the poetics, but just look at the sunshine glow in the picture above! 😉 I also decided to buy a light coverage Chanel foundation to accompany Mr. Elixir on my summer travels and received some great travel size skincare samples with my purchase. I have a ‘sophisticated summer lipstick’ in the form of Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet 33, La Distinguée – however my brother presented me today with a funny little present in the form of ice-cream flavoured lipbalm, which will probably be a lot more convenient down on the beach! I have included a photo below – growing up the Twister ice lolly was my summer corner shop standard!


So many flavours! I think 'Feast' is my favourite!

So many flavours! 

Entertainment wise, I have quite a bit of summer reading to get through in preparation for my new projects. However I’m also looking forward to reading “Tender is the Night” by Scott F. Fitzgerald (which coincidentally takes place on the French Riviera) and “The Little Book of Chanel” which was a chic and unexpected present from my friend Flo. The most recent film I watched was “Le Camping”, a hilarious French comedy that takes place on a campsite – I definitely recommend watching this film for an insight into French campsite culture!  If you are more of a discerning film critic (i.e. inflatable lobsters and campsite banter are not your scene) and you’re feeling in the mood for a sophisticated summer film classic then I would recommend Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” for stunning panoramas of Monaco and scenes showcasing timeless elegance from Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly

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I’ll leave you with a clip of my favourite fashion campaign from this summer – Dior Addict. I have not tried the product, but I love the fun, flirty video campaign that in my opinion captures the essence of a French seaside summer perfectly – it’s just a shame that I can’t find my heart shaped sunglasses – they would pay a perfect homage to Daphne Groeneveld!