Monday, August 29, 2011

Notting Hill Carnival

Another reason I was glad I didn't go away over the long weekend was the Notting Hill Carnival. It is held every year on the august bank holiday and it is a festival where people from carribean descent come together and celebrate their lifestyles. It is also Number 99 in the Top 100! On a side note - I feel like Timeout should give me some money for all the plugging of the book I have been doing!

For those of us who get to attend are lucky enough to be treated to the many flavours of carribean food, carribean music, dance and all round shenanigans. The sad thing about this year was that due to the recent riots on London the festival had been toned down with its running hours shortened. Many people avoided it as they had predicted trouble so in terms of how big and exciting it had been in years past this one was fairly tame (or so I have heard).

Since I am not a huge fan of crowds and can often get claustrophobic me and Toni decided to hit it up early so that if there was trouble we could bail out. We got there around 12 and the Notting Hill tube station was already closed for safety so we walked from High Street Kensington and luckily for us it was a gorgeous day. As we arrived closer to the festival the roads became cordoned off and we were directed through a crowd by police. After about a 20 minute walk we finally made it to the edge of the festival and got our first look.

We wandered through all the little streets that were starting to fill with people listening and dancing to Caribbean music coming out of speakers piled high on top of each other. We also wandered through endless street vendors selling jerk chicken, roti, bbq'd corn and other yummy looking delights. There were propped up bars selling red stripe for £2 and street vendors selling whistels, horns and carribean paraphenalia.

For the most part we only saw tourists and other onlookers which was a bit disappointing until we hit the parade route. We were lucky yo get there just in time to see the beginning and we were treated to lots of costumes, music, dancing, drumming and singing. We even somehow managed to wander past the police barrier and get out onto the street which made for a few sneaky photos without the tops of peoples heads.

We soon got pushed back into the crowd and gave up on standing on our tippy toes (as we r both fairly short) so we went for a wander along to get some food. I grabbed a bbq'ed corn on the cob as we wandered thru and checked out all the options. We found a place in a little side street that sold 'the works' which included - rice, jerk chicken, vegetable curry, salad and a dumpling for £8. For the amount of scrummy food I got I would have to say it was a bargain.

After a good feed we decided to call it a day. As we wandered back through the crowds had started to thicken and there were lots tipsy people dancing and partying in the streets. Since Toni and I had done our fair share of drinking and dancing the night before we steered clear and went home to relax after a pretty busy, fun and tourist filled weekend.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cruising Cambridge

The last weekend in August is a bank holiday in England to give everyone one last chance to grab a day of summer (I’m not actually sure its the reason but thats exactly what everyone does). People flee the city to sunny destinations and try and wangle the last of their annual leave to fit in one more holiday. I on the other hand had to stick around London. Not that this is a bad thing because I had so much to do while I was here but I was momenatrily depressed when I realised that August is the one month this year that I didn’t get to go on holiday. By holiday I mean spend a weekend not in London. Then I realised that I was being whingy for no reason - I am lucky that so far this year I have been away about seven times.

That said I did get a chance to spend at least one day of the long weekend away from the city for a girls trip to Cambridge for Toni’s birthday. Toni and her two friends Dani and Tara and my friend from home who was visitng Barbs and myself, were all up bright and early on the Saturday morning to get a train out to Cambridge. We arrived by about 11am and soon got stuck into checking out the city. We were lucky that since it was the long weekend there were a few things going on in Cambridge one of which was local markets in one of the town squares. We wandered these and checked out the fresh food, knick knacks and clothes before continuing on through the little streets and via some of the oustide of a few colleges.

As we were perusing the markets we got touted by a student giving us a good deal on a punting trip along the river. After googling Cambridge and talking to a few friends we had realised this was a must do and when we got a good deal it was hard to say no! We set a time and continued to wander the town before grabbing some ciders and snacks and making our way down to the river. We were on a boat with about 6 other people but since there was five of us they put is in the main bit so we were facing each other. We were also treated to a very cute punter (if thats what they are called) so the girls facing the back had a good view!

We set off from the banks and started our tour and it was amazing to see how many people were along the river. Our guide had lived gave us a good commentary and we learnt lots of facts about punting, cambridge and the colleges along the way. We had a few near misses as tehre were many people punting themselves around which looked hard if you weren’t a pro! We also made a few friends along the way - sharing our grapes and carrot sticks with other people in other boats as well as our bread with the local ducks who swam along side the boat quacking for a snack. In fact I can’t belive how fast those little things can swim if it means a crumb of bread - at one stage a whole flock of them flew to us and landed right next to the boat!

Before long our 45 trip was over and we had to get out of the boat much to our dissapointment. We said goodbye to our guide and decided to head to a park along the river to finish our picnic and enjoy the sun. As we walked for about 30 mins (the very very long way) we got to see more of Cambridge but started to get a bit frustrated about the long walk. In the end we managed to find a good spot along the river where we chatted about our travel plans and other gossip in the sun. About 5 minutes later the clouds came over and we had to run for cover as it started to drizzle with rain. As we were walking back in the direction of town we realised we were only about 15 minutes away from where we were punting!

As the weather had taken a turn for the worse we decided to duck into a little cafe and have a cream tea as Cambridge is pretty small and we had done most of what we had wanted to do. We found a cute little cafe on the way back to the train station and treated ourselves to a cup of tea and cake. We then strolled back through the town to the train station and jumped back on the train into town.

Earlier in the day we had spoken about continuing Toni’s birthday out in town with a few bottles of wine at a BYO resturant. By the end of a busy day those plans turned into a lazy movie night in. Since most of my flatties were out of town the girls all came back to mine where we stocked up on wine, pizza, lollies and popcorn and watched movies in a row. Whilst it wasn’t a massive birthday night for Toni I’m pretty sure she had a fun day! I think it was a good end to a busy day!

If you get the change to visit Cambridge I would totally recommend it. Unluckily for us a few of the colleges weren’t open so we didn’t get to go in and visit so i’m thinking I may head back one day. I would love to go back and see it from a students perspective too!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick,

Thats what I’ve been like lately as I quickly work my way through the Top 100. I gave myself until next April to finish it and that was giving myself a bit of a head start as I had already done about 25 of them but at the rate I should get them done sooner!

Before I continue I thought I would define what I count as being 'done'. There are several things in the book that I have ‘done’ but I dont feel like I have done well enough. For example there is St James’s Park (#1) - well I’ve been there but I haven’t picniced or been there lately so I figure I might as well wait and do it properly. One I know I have definately done is ‘Have a pint’(#44) but since it wasn’t in any of the pubs they recommended it is yet to get a tick too!

After the Proms, Shea ended up sleeping over for a movie night and we decided we would try our best at getting a whole chunk of things done over the weekend since neither of us had many plans or much money. The next morning my housemate suggested a trip to the Borough Markets (#5 - TICK). As my avid readers would know I have done this before, but since it was Shea and our friend Megans first time I was definitely keen to go. I mean you never need to ask me twice to go to a fresh food market with free samples!

The best part about the day was we ended up getting off at Waterloo and strolling along the Thames Path (#26 TICK!). I’m not sure if I can technically tick this one off as the Thames Path is looooooooooong. But we definately saw a fair chunk of it walking from Waterloo to Borough so I might just pop it in for now. I plan on doing some of it by bike (I am in the process of buying one at the moment so expect lots of cycling blogs in the future) and some of it by boat so i’ll keep you posted on this little adventure.

While we were at Borough Markets the skies decided to open and POUR down. I mean it rains in London a lot but even for the rainy climate this weather was bad. After a quick whip around the markets and a delicious halloumi and veggie burger me and Shea decided to head back to hers for more movies. Ok, I have a confession to make - we were watching all three Twilight movies (don’t judge) so our afternoon of seeing London ended up being an afternoon of analysing how weird Edward and Bella’s relationship is.

The next day after a brekky of pancakes my flatties plus Shea (who is an honorary member of Pulborough) decided to make our way into the city to Monument (#23 TICK!). My housemate Sammy G had wanted to climb for awhile and since it was in the book we were happy to tag along. Monument was built to commemorate the great fire of London and is 202 feet tall - the distance between the base and where the bakery that started where the great fire located. It is £3 to get in and climb to the top which is a pretty cheap way to get an amazing view over the city.

We all climbed the 311 stairs on a spiral staircase to the top and got to see a 360 degree view of the city as we puffed and panted after the climb. It was pretty windy up the top and not the most clear day but we still managed to see quite far into the distance. While it is no London Eye for seeing views of massive landmarks it was still great to grab a good view (and much cheaper!). Once we made our way down to the bottom we were greeted with a certificate to say we had climbed the tower. How cute!

With all the exercise it was the conesnsus that we all deserved a beer so we wandered over London Bridge to a little pub in Borough to grab a cider and a quick snack to re-energise. The rest of the crew decided to head on home and rest for the afternoon but while we were on top of Monument me and Shea had seen an old Routemaster bus go by. Since it was in the book and we were in the location we thought we might as well give it a go.

The Routemasters drive two routes one from Tower Hill via St Paul's Cathedral to Trafalgar Square (Number 15) and one from Trafalgar Square #82 - TICK already done tho!)to South Kensington (9). We wandered up to St Paul's (cue quick photo taking - this one is in the book also # 45 - but I’ve already done it TICK) and waited to get on a bus. The thing is we weren’t the only ones who had this idea and they were PACKED. We missed one before getting on the next one and heading up stairs to the top level. It was pretty cute ride along the streets but it was quite short since we had jumped on half way. Luckily for us we had a chance when we got off to snap a few photos!

By the end of the weekend I was pretty tired because we had been up and out and about the whole time but including the Proms I managed to tick 4 off properly! The following Thursday we decided to keep going on our roll of things to do and hit up the National Portrait Gallery (#8 - TICK) to check out the Glamour of The Gods exhibit. It was a showcase of old Hollywood photos of stars - including a nude shot of Marilyn Monroe before she was famous. We also checked out the BP Portrait Award finalists and winners before wandering through some of the rest of the gallery.

We got a good chunk of the book done over the weekend and now I am up to 41 - I think? There are many more of these ideas to be ticked off in the weeks to come so stay tuned!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tour Guide

A few weeks ago my friends Dan and Katie came to stay on their first leg of a big European adventure before coming back and settling in London. Yay! Friends from home who settle in London are my favourite! New partners in crime that know some of my history means lots of reminiscing and comparing cities - plus having some of your oldest friends around negates homesickness!

Unfortunately instead of being able to play tour guide all week I had to go to work. Oh woe is me. Showing people around London is one of my favourite things to do! While I was off at work they were checking out the science museum, visiting Westminster and going on the London Eye. I was really excited by the time it came around to Saturday and I was able to get out and about with them and show them some of my favourite spots in the city. Portobello Road Markets - which handily was also number #67 in the Top 100 book.

The Portobello Road Markets are a collection of a wide range of things - antiques from cutlery to military relics, clothing (both vintage and new designers), fresh food, knick knacks and music stalls. It covers a long strip of road that is also covered in lots of different types of shops which attract a huge variation of people which is one of the reasons I love it so much. Just so so so much to see. Two of the highlights of the market are the Hummingbird Bakery flagship store which is a must stop to pick up one of their delicious cupcakes. The second stop is the Travel Bookshop featured in the movie Notting Hill. An exciting pit-stop for those Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts lovers out there.

We wandered through and looked at lots of knick knacks and picked up a few things including a key ring with lace in it from the 1800's. We had reached the end by lunchtime so of course stopped to grab a bite to eat (even though we were full from our cupcakes). So we wandered back up the road a bit to a cute little pub called the Windsor Castle. It was so cute with low doors and little booths but since it was such a nice day we sat outside in the beer garden.

From the pub we caught the bus down to Hyde Park. From there we hired Barclays Bikes (yup, its my new hobby and one of the highlights of Bronnie's tour of London) and rode around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. We stopped off at the Serpentine to have a rest of our weary bones on the deck chairs they provide before realise we had only an hour to get back home then back over to the other side of London for dinner. We managed to get over to Old Street for BYO Vietnamese and a few drinks in Shoreditch.

The next day after a bit of a sleep in and faff around the house we decided to get out and do a bit more tour guiding. Although none of us could particularly decide what to do. It was a great sunny day but since we weren't really fussed we just set out to the tube and thought we would wing it. I thought we should to head to somewhere along the river since it was such a nice day so I grabbed a pub recommendation off my cousin and we went to the Founders Arms which is directly across from St Paul's Cathedral. We had a quick pit stop at the Cathedral for a couple of photos before walking across the Millennium Bridge. We grabbed a spot at the pub and tucked into pies and roast with a sneaky cider.

After lunch we decided that we would jump on one of the tour boats and make our way down to Greenwich. We got a circle ticket and jumped on the first boat that came along. We went from the Tate Modern past London Bridge and further on down to Tower Bridge. While we were there we realised we couldn't make it all the way out to Greenwich in time so we stayed on and rode the boat all the way back to Westminster seeing all the sights along the way with a bit of commentary. It was a great way to see some of the big sights of the city however I wished we had made it out to Greenwich. While I've been out there before I haven't been for about 10 years so it is definitely top of my list of things to do!

Sadly the weekend went too quickly and before I knew it was Monday again and Dan and Katies last day with me at Pulborough (for now). The weather was looking pretty good in the morning so we decided to have a BBQ. By the time the afternoon came around the weather had taken a turn for the worse but we solderer on and BBQ'd in the rain. Dan was the perfect cook standing under a umbrella near the BBQ to make sure we got our meat cooked. The rest of us made salads and set up our inside picnic on the floor. Was a great way to spend the last night with them and it was so much fun being a tour guide. I feel like I may have found a new calling...

London Top 100

A little while ago my friend Shea stumbled across a little book by Time Out that features the 'London Top 100'. I was thinking I would have done a fair chunk of them but after having a quick browse through Shea's copy I realised there was so much I didn't know about and so much I haven't done. So I went out and picked myself up a copy and a few days ago I was able to tick a couple of the things off!

Lauren who is new to London and I decided to tick off something on the top of my London wishlist and went to the Natural History Museum (#83). One of the main reasons I wanted to visit was because my housemates Sam and Lance had told me that the exhibit that was currently on was not one to miss. They had an exhibition on Sexual Nature that featured all the interesting ways that difference species reproduce. I can now say that I have learnt a few interesting things about a few different animals - some of which I am sort of wishing I didn't know.

We also checked out the dinosaurs exhibit which was pretty cool but really busy so you couldn't see much without getting jostled by other tourists and lots of kids. I thought museums would be a nice quiet Saturday but I was so wrong. And after a few hours was so over it so me and Lauren wandered through South Kensington and grabbed a bite to eat a local cafe. After that I decided to find the Hummingbird Bakery to give Lauren her first taste of their yummy cupcakes. We grabbed one before walking down to Hyde Park. As we got there we passed a red phone booth so we stopped to get Lauren her token London photo.

As Lauren had never really seen Hyde Park (#53) either but it was getting late in the day we decided to hire Barclays Bike (#28)and ride on through. Even though I had done this before it was still good to put a big tick next to it in the book. The only downside of our little trip around the park was that they were holding a triathlon there at the same time so instead of riding on the bike paths we had to make our way around the park on the grass. Still fun though! We rode all the way through and down to Green Park and we docked our bikes and wandered down to Buckingham Palace (#89)so Lauren could have a quick look around. It was really great to show someone who hadn't seen much of London around while also being able to tick a couple of things off the list!