Saturday, 20 April 2013

London in Springtime

Spring has finally arrived, or at least the Spring weather has. Cherry & Magnolia blossom is on the trees and the sun is revealing itself amidst blue skies. Fortunate for me, as I've been travelling to and from London.

Firstly, there was a quick day trip to see the Big Stamp & Scrapbooking Show at the wonderful Alexandra Palace (the Ally Pally). Though I had a small list of items to look out for, I primarily went to meet up with a couple of blogland friends, Neil & Mark. I've poached the above photo from Neil's website, taken by his lovely wife, Susan (tweaked a little with photoshop). I only came away with a handful of goodies but meeting friends was better than the shopping. I spent a mini fortune the day after though. I'm afraid I'm more of an internet shopper these days.

I was back only a few days, when I again boarded the train to visit the Capital.  This time for a mini break with Nick. I booked it months ago and though we were staying with family, we were very much in tourist mode. However, we thought our trip may be hampered by the fact that an ex-prime minister was having a funeral on the day we arrived. Fortunately, protests were kept to a minimum and we weren't affected.

The moment we landed in Euston, we hopped onto the underground and headed over to the  Horniman Museum. Why? Because the itinerary I planned involved seeing places and doing stuff I've never seen or done before. And this was a museum that I'd previously not heard of.

They have a rather elegant and small aquarium which is a pleasant distraction but the main draw is a rather gruesome display of stuffed creatures. Not sure I feel quite at ease with looking back at dead animals. Upstairs, where this photo was taken, the displays were much more interesting and educational, as they demonstrated how nature is classified by botanists.

Better still was a room devoted to music. Believe me, I cannot describe the wow you feel as you enter through the doors and are confronted with two long corridors of cabinets filled with thousands of musical instruments. I'm no geeky fan of music and my only two failed attempts have been the recorder and guitar. I'm not meant to be a musician. But the wonderful array of every kind invented, in every country, was fascinating to take in. If you are stuck for something to do in London, it's free and I highly recommend it, for this room alone.

That was day one.

Day two, was the main attraction. I was born in London and have visited frequently with my parents when young, who have family and friends there. I've seen most of the main landmarks. But I had never been to one of the most famous. My namesake, St Paul's Cathedral.

As I mentioned earlier, I wondered whether we would actually see it this time, as the day before, Mrs Thatcher's funeral had been held there. I had anticipated protestors to still be hanging around but no. As it turned out, there was nothing. Better still, the weather had warmed up and the sun even poked through the clouds. We went early and good job too. When we left, the building was heaving. Thankfully, it wasn't quite so busy as we turned up, tickets in hand.

Again, I can't even begin to describe how breathtaking the inside is. I've seen footage on TV and photos but they don't give you the sheer scale of it. And you definitely don't sense the opulence and grandeur especially with the amount of golden decoration. Everything about the design of St Paul's is over the top and built to impress. And of course, I had to climb up to the whispering gallery and try it out. Honestly, the hairs on my neck stood on end when Nick whispered into the wall and I heard it, sat halfway round the gallery.

Now I knew about the whispering gallery but I had no idea you could climb up about 400 steps, right to the top of the Cathedral, to what is known as the golden gallery. I was like a kid, giddy with excitement at being up so high, with a clear 360 degree view of the whole of London. It's not suitable for anyone who doesn't have a head for heights, that's for sure. And you need to be fit. You'll definitely feel it in your thighs. Oh and the camera takes a bashing too. You can't help it. Like us, you'll come away with hundreds of snapshots of the view. Luckily, I won't bore you with them all here lol.

Could the experience of St Paul's be topped? No, Not really but our next stop was the next best thing. The London Dungeon Experience, is an absolute MUST SEE! And I'd advise that, like us, you book your tickets well in advance, online. For starters, only the pre-paid visitors have there heads chopped off at the start. Yes it's a way to part tourists with their money but heck, we were on holiday.

There's one drawback. The queuing! Even if you pre-pay, expect to join three separate, long queues. It really does promote the idea that the british love to queue. But that aside, it's worth it. We weren't allowed to take photos and rightly so. The best way to experience the whole thing is not to know what to expect. The fear from worrying what is going to be thrown at you next can only work once. And boy do they do it effectively. My nerves were in pieces by the end of it. And the grand finale? Oh how i'd love to show you the photo but really, I don't want to give it away. You just have to go.

What I will tell you is that right at the beginning, a hunched woman comes out, draws the small crowd towards her and begins with the tale of King Henry Eighth's wife, Ann Boleyn. It's all interactive and you will be picked on. She turned to me and asked in her old crones, voice, whilst pointing a boney finger, "What's your name sir?', "Paul" I replied. "Well, Paul. Have you ever slept with a queen"? Now you couldn't ask a better question could you haha?. "Several", I retorted. She corpsed, pulled herself together and everyone laughed. And as well as scream, we all laughed at each and every room you enter. It is the most fun you can have, whilst being scared witless.

After two wonderful events, we slowed things down and went to the Burlington Arcade (Bertie Wooster come to mind anyone?) to buy my Macarons from Laduree. Now if you've been reading my blog for a while, you already know of my love of these delicacies so I won't wax lyrical again here. However, we did stop for a cup of tea this time and opted for their special blend, which was a mixture of berries and cinnamon. And Oh, was it heavenly! The best cuppa I've had in ages. The flavour was just extraordinary and delightful.

And opposite was Fortnum & Masons. I'd never been in, so that was a must. We came away with Smokey Earl Grey tea (Tim, if your reading this, I took your advice) and Glace fruits, including a Glace Chilli. Should be interesting.

That was day two.

Our third and final day began with a visit to the Hayward Gallery for the must-see art show of the year (or so we'd heard) and I agree, it is.

The show's been extended to May, so if you are in the area, do go and see it. You'll come away in wonder. For me, as someone who loves art and design, it was an incredible show. Very emotive and overpowering at times on the senses. And I'm not being pretentious. It really does play with you.

There are no photos allowed so I've gleaned the above from the web. The top photo is an installation which is similar to the effect you have of those Christmas lights which have the illusion of dripping icicles, but on a huge scale. The next photo is a room with a light shining through a cage. Again, it's an optical illusion. as the shapes on the wall move around you'll feel the room sways and makes you giddy. The last photo again has to be seen. You enter a completely blacked out room where there is continuous strobe lighting. Against the wall are all these miniature water features and fountains. But what you see in the strobes is exactly what you see in a snapshot. One fleeting second of motionless, crystal-like water.

And there are many more rooms and experiences, all just as powerful, in this wonderful exhibition.

Lunch for the next stop and if you're vegetarian, look away now.

Can't visit London without a trip to Borough Market. We went for the pork and stilton pies and came away with so much more, including Gaperon cheese (again I've mentioned my love for this before on my blog) which is hard enough to find in France let al. And given that it was lunch time, I treated myself to a Camel burger. Well, I'd had kangaroo before and I wanted something new. Delicious but you wouldn't know it from a cow, to be honest.

And finally.

Just opposite Euston Station, where we would be catching our train home, there's a museum of all things bizarre. And again, I'd never heard of it or been to it before. It's the Wellcome Collection.

We didn't see it all. Our feet were aching and time was running out. But we took in one floor devoted to the weird and wonderful. It's certainly worth a return visit in the future.

And then it was time to come home. If you've read all the way through this long post, thank you and well done. I really should have an editor.

I now feel fully refreshed from my short trip and raring to get stuck in and be creative.

Hope you are all enjoying your weekend. And if you're near London, I hope I've tempted you with some ideas of places to visit :)


JoZart said...

Oooh, I really enjoyed the tour! You do find some of the most interesting and unusual places to see which is so refreshing. TYTYTY!
Jo x

Anne Jagger said...

Fab post Paul. I love London too, and glad you went to Fortnum and Masons and the Burlington Arcade.
I've only been to the York Dungeon but I know what you mean about your nerves by the time you get to the end!
James was telling one of his friends about how I was picked on there by a Judge and put in the dock accused of dancing naked in the woods to attract men. The friend thought for a second then said" Nah, that wouldn't work!" Lol!
Brilliant photos, really enjoyed them, looks like you had a fab time

mark gould said...

I like the finish you used in Neil's photo. Was a great day and really good to car h up with you. Your other visit looks Like you crammed loads if stuff in. The light show looks good and the last museum might have to be visited.

Neet said...

Thank you for such a wonderful trip to London. Something I intend to do before too long and I now have a list of places to visit - but my poor feet won't do it all in one day.
I loved the "old crone" story. Paul, you are the best.
Neet xx