Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shhh..Secret Cinema

A friend of mine heard through a friend of a friend about the Secret Cinema which is a company who organise pop up cinema experiences all over London. The experiences aren't just a normal day at the movies. First you have to buy tickets not knowing what time it starts, where it will be or what you are seeing. All you know is that you will see a movie. I LOVE surprises so a few friends and I bought tickets and waited for our next clue.

About a month before the night we got a long lengthy email about a 'rouge' who had gone into hiding. A week later we got a map of where to go and instructions for meeting our undercover tour guide. The following week we got instructions on what to wear so we would be recognised - we were told to wear trench coats, fur, trilby hats, netted ladies hats and most of all a white scarf or bring a white handkerchief. Between all of this we asked to add "Henry Rose Fleming" on facebook and change our profile picture to a silhouette. Once we added him we got lots of cryptic updates on what it was about.

Finally it was the day and we all met at Barbican station where we could meet our undercover representative. We were told to look for the balloon and as we walked around the corner we saw a girl in a trilby hat, trench coat and white scarf holding some balloons. Once we went up to her she asked us to show her some white and once we flashed our scarves and hankies we were directed down an alleyway to where a few other people were waiting. From he we were led of down a secret alley ways, around corners, down side streets and past a graveyard by a tall man who only spoke to us in Russian. As we were walking down the alley way we had to watch for the police and hide if we saw them, creep past a funeral procession and overall just act really shifty like spies.

We finally got to the end of our journey (pretty much directly behind where we started) and we received instructions in German from a man dressed as a soldier. We were told that we needed to get our papers, exchange our currency and to do so needed a special handshake. All of this information pretty much went straight over my head and as we were being led through scaffolding and climbing rickety stairs I was starting to wonder what I had got myself in for. After about half an hour we finally got inside the venue where the 'cinema' was going to be.

The venue turned out to be a converted warehouse buidling site combo of a whole load of things. In one side there was a saloon bar where people wearing red ties and red hankies were being led in through a private door (lucky sods). From here we walked upstairs and discovered a police staff room with evidence boxes, photos and finger printing materials strewen around. As we walked across a walkway we looked down to a stage below that had french actors rehearsing a scene in Victorian clothing. On the other side of the walkway we ended up in a hospital wing and then around the corner into a hotel room. I know this all sounds a bit crazy and a bit of a jumble but thats exactly how I felt. What I did think was amazing though was the amount of detail that went into each room and each area. In fact we had a bit of a nosy around the motel room and they even had clothes in the wardrobe to match the theme.

While we were wandering around and making our discoveries we were often approached by men in uniform (not really a bad thing if you ask me), black market 'rouges' trying to sell us perfume and other strange characters such as a lady wrapped in a duvet. They were speaking different languages at different times and all seemed to be doing something shifty. Even the bar staff were fabulous and played the part - serving us themed cocktails, bought by our paper money we had exchanged real money for while telling us about the local trade.

After a couple of hours of checking out the antics, having a few drinks and grabbing a bite to eat we were told the movie was about to start. We wandered into one of the many many rooms that were showing the movie (ours was actually a replica train station) and settled in for the movie to begin. As the credits were beginning to roll we were interrupted by a man about to do a speech. Once again it was all a bit over my head but it was fun to play along and listen to what he had to say. Only after that had been done then the movie began to play and everything all started to make sense.

The movie was 'The Third Man' and was set in Austria when it was run by the Russians and French (explaining all the different languages). It was a murder mystery love story action film featuring all sorts of different characters (yes you guessed it an old lady wrapped in a duvet) set it all different kinds of scenes including hospitals, theaters and hotels. Every time a new thing that had been featured in the venue became apparent in the movie you would hear a bit of a murmur through the crowd.

It was a really cool way to be told a story - by getting you be an actor, participator and part of the scene. By showing you bits and pieces there was an air of mystery created and by seeing the film you go home with it happily solved. It was such a great experience and one I would totally do again.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Beautiful Sight, We're Happy Tonight...

...Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

Last year I posted about my trip to Winter Wonderland and how much fun it was going on the rides and drinking baileys and hot chocolates. This year Winter Wonderland was set up again in Hyde Park and I couldn't wait to get back to some festive fun. So much so I actually went twice.

The first time was for a Christmas dinner with my cousins who also live in London as we wouldn't be seeing each other at Christmas. They hadn't been before so it was fun walking around with them, looking at the markets, buying gingerbread hearts and buying some mulled wine (which I actually could manage to drink this year). Instead of trying some tasty market food from many many vendors we booked a table in a pop-up Bavarian restaurant. There was a great two for one offer on a three course meal so we splurged out and got a delicious meal. Chicken wings, followed by burger (or roast) followed by ice cream or chocolate fondue was the perfect meal to a fun night. While we were eating we listened to an acapella girl group who started out by singing some great Christmas carols. Their music then turned strange with renditions of Radiohead's "Creep" and Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl". From there we had a bit of a wander through the rest of the wonderland before calling it a night! Even though it was only late November it was a great way to get into the Christmas Spirit.

The second time I went this year was with a group of friends who had recently moved over from Australia. They hadn't been before either and as they were all adjusting to their first winter abroad it was nice to do something Christmassy to get us into the spirit. We met up after work and the first stop was at a pop up bar for a some beer and mulled wine. We sat upstairs in a cosy little bar and its hard to believe that it wasn't there all year round with the amount of decorations and detail that went into it.

From there we started to get hungry so we found a stall selling some food. Some of the best part of Winter Wonderland is often all the stores are German or Austrian so their food is delicious. You can get German sausages, Frittes and pork rolls but my favourite is fried potatoes with onion and bacon. Droooool! After we had lined our stomachs we were ready to continue on. This time we made more of an effort to look at the markets and wander through the wonderland. Stopping every now and then for Dan to play a side show and lose his money. I got really excited when I found a fairy floss stall and Lauren and I shared a traditional serve on a stick. It went everywhere! We found the ice rink and watched people skating (and falling over) for awhile before winding our way back to the beginning.

Both nights (just like the one last year) were so much fun. Wandering through somewhere all decorated and themed like Christmas with carols playing and people in the festive mood. The only thing that could top it off was if it snowed!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chelsea Physic Garden

Late November not only brings shorter days and colder weather but the beginning of the festive season - and thus a tirade of Christmas posts from me leading up to the big day! One of my first festive adventures was to the Christmas Fair at the Chelsea Physic Garden

We arrived a bit before 12 after stopped to grab a coffee and a quick wander down Kings Road and paid our £8 to get in. I wasn't really sure what to expect as I hadn't done my research when looking in my guide book but when I got there I was surprised to find the Physic part of the name was actually about Physicians. Ok I know it sounds simple when you put it like that but it took me a little while to realise the reason for the gardens was to grow plants for medicinal purposes.

As we arrived just before a tour we decided to join one and learn a bit about the gardens. Our tour guide was a quite eccentric and enthusiastic older lady with the craziest posh accent I've ever heard. Whether it was real or put on it made the Queen sound like a chav. We wandered through the gardens while she pointed out different types of plants and trees while giving us a brief history of the gardens. She was told to keep the tours down to 15 minutes so people could enjoy the markets but half an hour later she didn't look like stopping so we bailed from the tour and did our own wandering.

The gardens were really pretty and it was such a nice sunny day that I thought that it would be such a nice place to come and get some peace and quiet without the hustle and bustle of other central parks like Hyde Park. The only shame is that it costs money every time you get in otherwise its the perfect place to sit and relax.

After we wandered the gardens we checked out the Christmas Fair Markets and found lots of stalls selling lots of things that we didn't really need or want. It was nice to look around but we don't need cashmere baby suits or intricately sewn lace doilies so after about half an hour we were sick of the jostling of crowds (of old ladies) and headed out of the gardens.

Was a great way to spend a sunny Sunday but not something I would recommend unless you had a great passion for gardening. Still something new to do and a change to bumming at home watching movies!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

She's A Jolly Good Fellow

It wasn't even my birthday but I don't need an excuse to get involved in birthday shenanigans and this weekend just gone we had a big one celebrating my housemate Sam's 25th. The day started really well as one of the bonuses of living in the same house as the birthday girl is you are also treated to the birthday pancakes.

From there the day was really fun as we all managed to fit quite a lot in and the first thing was a surprise high tea at the Hilton. Was a great way to kick of the birthday drinks with champagne, tea, mini sandwiches and of course cakes!

Once we had our fill we headed over to the Natural History Museum where they had set up an ice rink. We met up with a few more of Sam's friends before they embarked on their hour of ice skating. Since my knee was still sore from my accident in Croatia I decided to skip the ice skating. Luckily for me so did Dan so we had a few drinks and were appointed photography duties. After everyone had finished ice skating it was our turn for a bit of fun and Dan, Sam, Lance and I all jumped on the carousel. It was so much fun to be a big kid again for a little while!

From there we headed off for a dinner at a Thai restaurant right by the river in Putney. It was the perfect setting for some good food, cheap drinks (yay for happy hours) and lots of chatting. After all the drinks we were ready to dance to we went down the road to Citizen Smith which is one of my favourite local bars. Not only do they do yummy cocktails but they play really good music so its the perfect place to carve up the dance floor.

There were so many good songs and lots of long island ice tea's (Citizen Smith specialty) it was time to call it a night. Was a great day of fun, food, drinking, celebration and shenanigans with lots of my favourite people. I hope that Sam had as much fun as I did on her birthday.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Aussie Music

While I'm not a massive muso one thing I can say that I love about London is the fact that there is always a gig on and unless your hitting up Rihanna at the 02 Arena most of them are relatively cheap. One of the best things about cheap gigs that recently I've had the chance to catch some great Aussie artists in smaller venues for a bargain.

My friend Katie asked me if I was interested in seeing Washington whom I had never heard of but apparently is taking Australia by storm. As the tickets were only £10 I thought why not? I could use a night out with the girls and I am always keen to hear new music so I went along and really enjoyed the show. The venue was amazing - The Bush Hall looks like a bit of a dodgy old pub from the outside but on the inside it looks gorgeous with chandeliers and antique cornices.

While we were there we saw a poster for Pete Murray who was playing the week later for only £15. As a massive fan of Pete from my younger days I was keen to check out another great Aussie artist. As always there was a support act before the show and I have to say that he nearly stole the show. James Jay Picton came on and started singing and I immediately thought he was a male Adele. Unfortunately his EP doesn't come out until next year but hopefully its not the last of him I see.

As the weeks lead up to Christmas my life seems to be getting a bit more hectic but after a few really good gigs I've already made a New Years Resolution to go to a few more in 2012.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nerdy Square Eyes Dork Face

Pretty much me all last weekend. I had planned the Harry Potter Walking tour on the Saturday followed by a trip to the Science Museum on Sunday. Yes and extremely nerdy weekend but both were something I had been wanting to do for ages.

Unfortunately for me and Danielle the Harry Potter walking tour was a no go due to unforeseen transport circumstances. I mean the tube in London is amazing and if you have ever spoken to me about it I can spiel about how amazing it is for 15 minutes but sometimes it just sucks. Like when there are abrupt delays preventing the train from moving and therefore you miss the beginning of the walking tour and have no idea where to find them. Dannie and I both got stuck in the same tube jam so instead of wandering the sights of Harry Potter we ended up in Central London lost for something to do. Luckily for us it was a nice day so we decided to make the most of it as we could and went for a wander.

We wandered down to Trafalgar Square for a bit of a people watch before jumping on a bus over to St Paul's Cathedral to check out the protesters and then walk across the Millennium Bridge to check out the Thames on a beautiful sunny London day. From there we wandered into the Swan restaurant at the Globe Theater where we had a delicious lunch while over looking the river. After hoeing into Eggs Benedict (Dannie) and Carrot Cake (Me) we needed to walk off our meal so we wandered from the Globe along the Thames down to Waterloo where there were Christmas Markets. It was nice to wander the Markets and start to get a feel of Christmas in London although it was hard to imagine since it was still so bright and sunny.

In the end we managed to get out and about and see some of the Harry Potter monuments (although without the commentary and repeating a few things we have seen before) so it wasn't all bad. Hopefully we get to do the walking tour sometime soon - next time we will leave even more time to get there!

On Sunday we had much more luck with the tubes and we managed to arrive at the Science Museum on time and in tact. We were joined by Lauren and heading into the Museum to check it out. Many people had raved to me about the museum so I was really looking forward to it and it didn't disappoint. They had so many cool exhibits that even not so nerdy unscientific people like myself can understand. One of my favorites was the 'Who Am I' exhibit which focuses on the Human body and how our bodies and minds work. It was so interesting to learn about how your brain recognizes faces and phobias and gender and all the facts and figures.

One of the reason we decided to go the the Science Museum this weekend was that they had an exhibition on the genius of every day things. It was a temporary exhibit that displayed how things like pegs, post it notes, rubber bands were all invented, marketed and used across the world. It was really interesting how someone had taken a really simple idea and created something amazing that everyone uses!

We wandered most of the museum and checked out the building the modern world with cars, planes, tractors and medical equipment. We saw a massive displays of clocks from all over the world of all shapes and sizes. I also hit the gift shop and played with lots of the toys in there! Similar to that of other Museum visits after a couple of hours I had lost interest and was sick of all the kids running around. We decided the best course of action was to head to the nearby Hummingbird Bakery and treat ourselves to a cupcake and hot chocolate.

It was a perfect end to my nerdy weekend. The Science Museum has definitely been one of my favorite museums because it was so interactive and lots of different things to read and look at. It was also number #46 in the top 100 - Slowly getting closer!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tea & Theatre

Recently I was a very lucky girl and somehow managed to get two great freebies through work. The first was a High Tea (my 4th for this year!) at Rubens Hotel across from Buckingham Palace the second was a ticket to see the Rambert Dance Company at Sadlers Wells. The best part of the freebies? They happened to fall on the same day.

We were shown around the Rubens Hotel which has some beautiful rooms - none of two are the same. We then headed into their main restaurant for high teaI had a fun afternoon sipping champagne and tea and feasting on scones, pastries and mini sandwiches before heading over to Angel where Sadlers Wells is located.

The Top 100 book recommends Sadlers Wells (Number 79) as one of the best places in London to see dance performances and I would have to say the recommendation is correct. The seats I were given were really great but I can imagine that pretty much anywhere in the venue is a good place to see. The venue has a few bars in the theatre itself as well as being handily located at Angel meaning there are lots of good places for dinner or drinks before hand. If I hadn't been so full from High Tea I would have made the most of them!

Rambert Dance Company performed three different dances all of which were really great. They were all contemporary dances with the first set in the rain forest and performed by old three dancers. The second called 'Seven For A Secret' involved a lot more dancers acting and dancing like children. The third was a dance number based around a street car named desire which was really interesting. It was great to get out and see a show that wasn't a musical or a ballet also good to tick something off my Top 100 without even trying! It also won't be my visit to Sadlers Wells because I am off to see the Nutcracker in January. I wonder if I get extra points for ticking of something twice :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Highgate Cemetery

I know hanging out in a cemetery on a weekend sounds a bit morbid but last Sunday that is exactly what we did. As recommended by my Top 100 book and a few friends who had already been Lauren and I took the opportunity of a sunny autumn day in November and headed up to Highgate Cemetery (#87).

Highgate Cemetery was one of the 'big seven' cemeteries that were opened in the 1800 because if overcrowding in burials in church yards. It was opened in 1839 and is home to 168,000 graves. For £7 entry (which helps with the upkeep of the cemetery) we got entrance into the West Cemetery and an hour long personalised tour. I say personalised because apart from asking the group if there is anything in particular see the guides just take you where they feel like going on that particular day. You could go to the cemetery several times and never see the same graves twice. Our tour guide was really knowledgeable and passionate and gave us a brief history of the era and the cemetery before we set off to our first grave.

As we arrived at our first stop I was completely distracted from what our guide was telling us as I took in the beautiful greenery with golds and yellows of autum leaves, gothic grave stones, beautiful inscriptions and just the sun shining through the trees. It was amazing how calming the place was and so quiet and peaceful. Our tour guide gave us some information on the symbolism of the graves from the size and structure to what each sculpture and sign represented. From there the tour moved slowly around the curving paths of the cemetery, stopping at a grave every now and then, where our guide would give us a bit of information about the person who was buried there or the symbolism of the carvings on the graves. He showed us the tombs of the Egyptian Avenue with a thousand year old tree growing in the middle and then took us up to an open mausoleum which was incredibly creepy.

We visited several of the most popular graves with many stories behind them such as the grave of the menagerie owner with a sculpture of Leo the Lion on top. We also visited the sleeping angel - the only grave with an angel that was not standing on a grave but laying down. One story that was truly amazing was that of the bare knuckle boxer - a amateur boxer that was so infamous that thousands of people lined the streets to see the funeral parade. With the average age of the people buried at highgate was 36 due to many children not living to become adults there were many graves with people of a small age. There was also a grave with someone who lived to be over 100 which would have been unheard of in the Victorian era!

After about an hour the tour winds down and you can pop over to the East Cemetery for a smaller entry fee of £3. This cemetery is much more modern with graves as new as early this year. There are still several old victorian graves as well as a few modern ones thrown in. One of the most famous and popular graves in the East Cemetery is that of Karl Marx and his GIANT head. You will see in photos why I mention this!

By the end of a wander there Lauren and I were ready to rest our legs and warm up away from the chilly air. We wandered through a park back up to the Highgate High Street where we popped into a little cafe for a cup of tea and snack. As we chatted we noticed the high street was pretty busy and had some good fun people watching the hustle and bustle after being surrounded by silence. We had a wander along the high street and rummaged through several charity shops, before stopping in the High Tea of Highgate and wishing we had tea there. There were also lots of pretty looking pubs and nice shops around the area and I feel that a return trip to nearby Hampstead Heath may be on the cards so I can come back to visit!

If your interested in more about my day at Highgate and other Top 100 adventures visit here

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remember.... Remember

The 5th of november... thats how the saying goes. And know I finally know what this saying means! Its for guy fawkes night - a day celebrating a failed attempt by an to blow up the houses of parliament. Every year for about a week before the 5th fireworks start arriving in supermarkets and specialist stalls and it is not uncommon for random bangs to be set off in the street. This is all just a build up for the big event on the 5th.

All over London bonfires and fireworks displays are organised and people come out in hordes to watch them. I was no different and as I missed last years fireworks because of the weather and (and it is #39 in the Top 100 book) I was eager to see a display this year. There were so many chose from ranging from the 4th - 6th from one end of London to the other. We chose to see the Battersea Park Fireworks which were arranged/prepared/created/choreographed? (what is the term for a display of fireworks?) by the very talented people from Disneyland. If anyone is lucky enough to have seen some fireworks at Disneyland they understand what I mean when I say - Wow!. Because of this amazing display however you had to pay £10 to see the privelege so I have an admission to make - we cheated.

For those not local to London let me explain - Battersea Park is located right on the Thames river and quite conveniently next to a bridge leading over to the Chelsea Embankment. So we decided we would just stand over on the embankment and watch the fireworks from there. We got there about half an hour early and got a good possie directly across from the park and where we waited and chatted until they started. While our possie was good to see the big ones we did miss the beginning which I heard from friends featured some fireworks on the lake. In the end they got up bright and into the sky and we ohhhh and ahhhh at the sparkly things with pretty colours.

It doesn’t matter how old you are you are never too old for some good fireworks and this display was probably the best I have ever seen. There were types I’d never seen before - and they were all so pretty. The display lasted for about half an hour and after that we were ready for dinner and drink and somewhere to warm up so we wandered back to the tube and ended up at a pub not too far from home. Gave us a chance to warm up and grab some dinner and a few drinks.

Was good to finally see some fireworks for Guy Fawkes and it wasn’t the last of them my any means. The random firework bursts continued all through Sunday and even Monday evening to brighten up my evenings. This is just another English-y thing that I’ve come to love and put in my calendar as something to look forward to next year.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halfway There

Last weekend I crossed off my 50th thing to do in the London Top 100! I can’t believe how quickly I got through them all! Although admittedly I did have a head start on some of them as being in London a year already I was bound to do some of them. Still! I would say that the majority have been done in the last couple of months which is a pretty good effort even if I do say so!

So what was the big 5-0? The British Museum - which maybe should have been done before the 50 mark but lets just say better late then never. I met Shea (who else but my P.I.C for such an occasion) and we visited the Tea and Tattle tea shop located opposite the museum. Its tucked away underneath a book shop/art gallery and is a great place to have a cuppa and some scones either after or before your mission to the museum. After we were fed and watered we popped across the road and into the main doors of the British Museum.

Its funny that its called the British Museum really beceause there is nothing particularly british about it. It should really be called the museum of things we stole form other places when we invaded. Did you know they have the largest amount of Egyptian artifacts in the world outside Egypt? There are probably figures missing all through the pyramids that are just happily sitting in the Museum. Saying that though it was amazing to see and we wandered through the galleries for awhile. It was good for Shea as she was off to Egypt in a couple of weeks so it was all pretty interesting. It was also quite cool to see the Rosetta Stone which was a tablet that helped translate Egyptian hieroglyphs.

From there we worked our way slowly around the the rest of the museum gazing at the artifacts and checking out what else was available. We found a really awesome exhibition (the name escapes me at the moment) that was about life and death. It was how different cultures celebrate life and death which was really interesting. They also had a display of the medication that an average person takes in their every day life. It had tablets in a mesh runner that went on for meters and was still rolled up at each end. It really make you think about how much we rely on medication to get better and how much you are putting into your body.

After a couple of hours my attention span was waning (as it generally does in museums) and it was time to get a bit of fresh air so we wandered out of the museum and got completely lost as we went out a different exit but happily found we were near Russel square. We walked through and it was nice to see all the trees dropping their leaves with all the browns and oranges and seeing all the squirrels scurrying around collecting for the winter. Was a great way to end a perfect day by wandering through the falling autumn leaves.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bat Out Of Halloween

It's that time of the year again! The clocks are turning back, they afternoons are getting shorter, the air is getting colder and all of London is getting creepier - Halloween! Last year my Halloween was full of crazy costume parties dressed as crocodiles and witches so this year it was fun to do something a little different.

My Halloweekend started with work drinks on the Friday night which were Halloween themed. It was my teams turn to host the drinks so we went all out with decorations, themed food, costume competitions and of course our own costumes - corpse brides. We started getting ready at about 3.30pm because it took us at least 45 minutes to do our make up. It was worth it in the end though because I think we all looked pretty scary!

Thankfully, all the hard work wasn't just for work drinks and I went out after (yes I looked like that on the tube) to a club night in Kings Cross called Bat Out Of Halloween. It was a power ballads club night. Oh yeah. Passion fists, singing with your eyes closed, belting it out at the top of your lungs and playing air guitar - not just something you do at 4am in a lame nightclub - this was a whole club night dedicated to it. And it was so much fun!

I thought I knew a lot of power ballads (I mean I've spent my fair share of time in cheesy nightclubs) but man I was no match for this DJ. There were a few choice ones and good old classics -

The Voice - John Farnham,
Don't Stop Believing - Journey,
Where ever you will go - The Calling,
Its all coming back to me - Celine Dion

and my favourite

I will always love you - Whitney Houston

The rest of the night was spent drinking and dancing (as most of my weekend nights are spent really) and by the end of the night we all had horse throats and sore legs. Due to Kings Cross being North East and we living South West the night bus journey home was a bit of a mission and we ended up making our way through our door at about 4am. It then took me about half an hour to get my make up off so I wasn't ending up with 'skin rot' and black paint all over my pillow. The crappy thing about London is sometimes the journey home being so long but at the end of the day I'd rather have an awesome night out with a long journey home then just an average one nearby. And Power ballads was WELL worth it. I will definitely be brushing up on my lyric knowledge and air guitar skills before I head back!