Posts Tagged ‘café’

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Tube update: Shoreditch High Street, Bank and St. Paul’s

February 16, 2013

This weekend, Hannah is staying with us and it’s great because I haven’t seen her for two months, which is too long! We’ve had an epic day out, which started with a haircut from my stylist Reza, who has moved to Base Cuts on Portobello Road (typically, he moves to Portobello Road just as I move away from it to a new job). This time, I took inspiration from Andrew Rannells, who plays “me in 5 years’ time” on The New Normal. Needless to say, Toby and I are fans.

After my haircut, Hannah and I walked over to Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush, and had a brief shopping trip before meeting Toby at Caffe Nero and getting the tube over to Brick Lane, as Hannah wanted to see what the fuss was all about. After dodging in and out of hordes of hipsters lurking by faux-vintage clothes shops trying hard to look aggressively edgy, we noted some intriguing cafés, a row of cute boutiques along Shoreditch High Street, and eventually the station too:

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We had actually done a lot of walking by this point, so we decided to visit a couple of London’s landmarks that surprisingly, I hadn’t seen up close until today. The Gherkin for one:

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The Bank of England, which is apparently where the station Bank takes its name from:

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and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which looked surprisingly beautiful through the wintry trees, and is situated near a decent shopping centre!

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We finally made our way back home to Kew Bridge (via the Waterloo and City line, which I have never used before and may never use again, but I am glad I got to experience this shuttle train at least once!) to chill in front of the television. The Girl Who Played With Fire is coming up on dvd tonight! Although it was challenging to get myself up at 8am this morning, it was worth it as it’s only just gone 6pm and we’ve accomplished so much with the day! I think at some point I would like to revisit Columbia Road (Toby and I visited the flower market there a couple of years ago on a photowalk), explore Hoxton, and gain a little more insight into the trendy parts of East London and what makes them appealing.

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Kew’s gardens.

January 4, 2013

After a fine New Year’s Eve party and a bracing New Year’s Day walk (and post-walk viewing of The Princess and the Frog), the 2nd of January was the day Toby and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Before Christmas, Toby’s eagle eyes had spotted an offer for the 12 Days of Christmas at Kew, which basically consisted of free tickets to the gardens. And so off we went! Although it was a cloudy and drizzly day, there was plenty to see and we had a fabulous time (I must be growing up / getting old, because visiting a place like this for 3 hours would have been my idea of hell only a couple of years ago). There were various intriguing sculptures:

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Conservatories filled with tropical plants and palm trees, desert environments and tanks with marine life:

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A part dedicated to alpine plants (with some very pretty narcissi) and a Japanese garden area similar to the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:

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Some beautiful temples scattered around (dedicated to a lucky Princess Augusta), an impressive lake, and some intriguing statues:

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As the rain came down more persistently, we walked through more of the park area, along an avenue lined with thimble-shaped bushes, and to a Japanese pagoda.

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This is where the pictures end, but there was more! We came across an overpriced café/restaurant which I am sure served lovely food and drink but at more than I was willing to spend when out for a day in a park. And if we’d gone there for free, I think I would have felt even more aggrieved had we already paid to get in and then had to pay more to sustain ourselves along the way! There was a stinky compost heap, and located near that, the most terrifying part of the day: the Treetop Walkway. So it looks lovely on the website – take my advice and stick to viewing the pictures here. Because once you’ve climbed four floors’ worth of see-through metal mesh stairs, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths (up until this point in my life, I was able to tolerate heights, but I’ve evidently developed a fear of them) and begun to walk round (the walkway is a large oval-shape), you realise that IT MOVES. The fucking walkway SWAYS. I am using caps because that is how much it freaked me out. I held on to the wooden banister and started to walk round more quickly, keeping my eyes looking at the (on that day, murky) canopy of trees to distract myself from: the fact that the walkway seemed to be held up by nothing more than sparse metal trees, the swaying which appeared to be becoming more violent, and the mesh floor through which one could see the ground far below. Toby was a few feet behind me and suddenly called to me that he felt sick and had to go back down; I gauged that despite feeling like the terror had been unremitting for at least 10 minutes, I was less than a third of the way around the walkway and so I decided to practically run with him back to the lift and get down and off the thing sharpish. Even while we waited for the lift, I could feel the structure moving.

I never saw or heard a giant crash or collapsing of the structure, and so I presume that everything was fine and that the Treetop Walkway is indeed meant to sway (perhaps it gives one a more vivid experience of what it’s like to be a tree). The view is fantastic, as you can see on the link in the above paragraph. But if you even think you aren’t a fan of heights, take my advice and stick to the website experience: don’t go up there, because it’s terrifying to anyone with nerves of less than steel.

And with that, we decided to say goodbye to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It is a truly fantastic experience and well worth seeing once – I’d happily go back again next year if we can get free tickets again. Although it feels very “cultural” and its visitors were largely comprised of families trying to entertain their children before they go back to school and elderly National Trust devotees, it was wonderful to do and see something different, and to be wowed by the feats and ingenuity of nature. The aquarium-style exhibits were wonderful, and the conservatories are numerous and really immerse one in a tropical environment. And of course, that Treetop Walkway is an unforgettable experience 😉 It’s definitely worth a visit!

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autumn wonderland (Prague, October 2012)

October 22, 2012

This week, Toby and I spent four days in Prague for our post-moving-house holiday – going away in the summer is passé darling, and we got it for a bargain having only booked it the Friday before! In fact, visiting Prague in the autumn felt like the perfect time to experience the city, as it was comparatively quiet to what one would expect (no stag dos) and the parks were full of trees’ leaves changing colour. It was a little bit chilly without being unbearable, and as we ended up doing a lot of walking, it wasn’t too hot to hike around in. It would have been lovely to have seen snow, but when we arrived on Tuesday morning, the city was shrouded in a somewhat forbidding but very atmospheric mist, which lifted as the day wore on (most days the weather followed this pattern, although Wednesday was a gloriously sunny day). Our hotel (Designhotel Elephant) was modern, comfortable, and conveniently located. I’ve posted a photographic summary on my tumblr, but I’ll go into a bit more detail with the snaps below:

Our flight was ridiculously early on Tuesday morning from Gatwick; in the future I would very much prefer to fly to and from Heathrow (getting home from Gatwick on Friday evening was even more horrendous). However, once we were on the plane I put my phone on Flight Mode and took this stunning picture of the sunrise above the clouds out of the plane window. We touched down in Prague at 9am and after dropping our belongings off at the hotel, we went for a walk along the river to get our bearings:

Before long, we found ourselves standing at the famous Charles Bridge (which I was familiar with from Kanye West’s video for “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”). As we walked along, there were many stands with artists offering to draw the typical caricatures, a band playing “Wonderful Tonight” (which was quite romantic), and a creepy man with a stuffed monkey playing what sounded like fairground music.

We left Prague Castle for another day, and wandered back towards Old Town Square just in time for the midday chiming of the Astronomical Clock. On our way, we also saw a cool sculpture by David Černý called Hanging Out:

Although it seemed fairly serendipitous at this point that we happened to arrive just as the clock was going to chime, over the next few days we seemed to show up on the hour at Old Town Square, and navigating our way through the crowds watching the clock became somewhat tedious. We next headed to what became our favourite café in Prague for some lunch: Bakeshop Praha:

2pm came along, and we were officially able to check into the hotel, which we did. We promptly fell asleep, went out for dinner at a nearby pizzeria, and that was the end of our auspicious first day in Prague.

Day 2

Feeling well-rested, we headed downstairs for an underwhelming breakfast (never has so much choice been offered, and yet so few options be actually viable) and then made our way across the river to climb up to Letná gardens. Thus began the theme of hiking up extremely long and steep flights of steps. The view however was fantastic, and we also saw stood by the Metronome of Prague (which has a cable with many shoes attached). Letnà gardens were absolutely beautiful, and with wonderful weather we had a relaxing stoll through the park.

We made our way back to the city centre and wandered through the Jewish Quarter, seeing the Spanish Synagogue and the monument to Franz Kafka. This part of town also has the Prague equivalent of Sloane Street, containing stylish boutiques for Dolce & Gabbana, Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and so on.

In the afternoon, we went on a riverboat tour, which has become a holiday tradition for us. In the sunny weather, the city looked resplendent and amidst the tourists using their iPads as cameras, we got a few more beautiful snaps of the city. It was also nice to have a sit down! Especially as afterwards, we made our way to Wenceslas Square (the only slight disappointment of the trip, as it was covered in big chain shops – including Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and other British institutions, which was weird) which was more of a strip, and wandered to the former site of the National Museum situated at the top.

After  some well-earned rest back at the hotel, we headed out in the evening for a traditional Czech dinner – I had beef and dumplings (slices of bread dough) in lots of gravy, with cranberries and a dollop of whipped cream! It was a little odd, but quite hearty and rustic and extremely delicious! Toby had pork schnitzel with potatoes, which was also reportedly yummy. I also had a nice black beer to round off the night – and we discovered that apparently, smoking in bars / restaurants is still legal in Czech Republic! When I was younger, I remember thinking that smoking around food wasn’t really very considerate, but now having been removed from the smell of smoke in a bar for so many years, it actually gave the whole establishment a more cosy ambience. Interesting!

Day 3

As if we hadn’t done enough exercise for one holiday, today we made a huge tour of Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, followed by walking around to Petřín Hill and down the steep slopes to Kampa Island for a beer, and then back home for sleep! The weather started off overcast but was deceptively warm, as we crossed the Charles Bridge once again and hiked up to the castle gates, where we happened to be just in time for the changing of the guard. Two troops of Czech soldiers, dressed immaculately in navy suits, marched about in a square-dance formation, eventually exchanged a standard, and then trooped back the way they came, keeping time to a brass band playing from the windows of the castle courtyard. Equally intriguing was an eagle which kept trying to get inside one of the castle windows, and a stray golden retriever that appeared from nowhere to roam around the courtyard (luckily post-changing of the guard). Toby and I nicknamed these the Eagle of Prague and the Dog of Prague, whose job was presumably to catch the Eagle of Prague. We never found out if he succeeded.

 

 

The architecture was breathtaking (as you can hopefully see), so we stopped for lunch at a little cafe overlooking the whole of Prague, before making our way round to Petřín Hill for some views which… overlooked the whole of Prague. Truthfully, I have never visited a place that has beauty literally around every corner; be it natural or man-made, Prague is a feast for the eyes and the soul. We didn’t quite make it up to the observatory (after all of the walking, we didn’t have another 299 steps in us) – but I don’t think we felt we needed to either.

 

 

Eventually we cautiously made our way back down the hill (which was as steep as it looks above), across the river via Kampa Island and some honey cake and a beer, to the Dancing Buildings. And that was about it for Day 3, as we promptly fell asleep upon returning to the hotel!

 

Day 4

The day we said goodbye to Prague – we did some souvenir shopping, lots of café-visiting, and it was nice to actually take our time around the city without heading for any sites in particular. We headed to Prague airport in the evening, and I phoned my parents to tell them how lucky they were that I decided to come back, as I was very tempted to stay in Prague! I had an absolutely wonderful time and could really imagine living there, as things aren’t too expensive (or rather, they are cheaper than London!) and the city is clean, crisp and beautiful – I know that I have used that adjective a lot throughout this piece, but it’s true! I highly recommend that if you haven’t been, that you take a trip there at some point – it’s romantic, cultural, historic, modern – a little bit of everything. You won’t regret it.

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sans l’internet. (+ Chiswick Park & Turnham Green)

October 14, 2012

I am sitting in Caffè Nero on a sunny but chilly Sunday afternoon writing this. Toby has gone home to our wonderful new flat in Chiswick, where we’ve been living for a week now, while I continue catching up on all the errands that need doing online (of which this – blogging – is the last). We’re not going to receive our home broadband until the end of October, and I don’t want to exhaust my phone’s 3G data limit unnecessarily, and so I find myself taking my laptop to cafes along the Chiswick High Road in order to use their internet connection.  This is how Toby and I have managed to research an exciting city break to Prague next week (which Toby booked the following day – I can’t wait to experience a new city and country, and I am sure to share some photos on here with y’all!), but just as we’ve been getting used to living in a new flat with a new layout, new light switches (when I’m wandering around in the dark, my hands automatically slap the wrong locations and I have to consciously remind myself where the switch is located) and a new commute to work,  so I’ve also been learning where the best wi-fi spots are. I actually wrote an entire blog on Monday afternoon in a Starbucks a bit further up the road, along with a picture of Chiswick Park tube station – but the wi-fi there was so erratic that the entire blog post seems to have disappeared. So:

 

And for good measure:

 

Chiswick Park was around the corner from a large Sainsburys where I spent an inordinate amount of money last weekend getting essentials for our flat. And then on Thursday evening, Toby and I got off at Turnham Green and walked to Starbucks in the pouring rain to use their useless internet. Caffè Nero’s service is far superior! This morning, we had Nana round for brunch as the first guest to our new abode, and among the many things we discussed was how we can’t live without the internet, but it’s nice (if inconvenient!) to not have it at our fingertips all the time. I remember the days of an old dialup modem that made the pingy-pongy noise as it connected – and nobody could call the house while we were online, because there was only one line… It seems like a bygone age, but it was only 12 or 13 years ago! Nowadays we can do more or less everything online, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the internet – but at the same time, I sit and watch television and films with Toby, we read books (I have started Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – it’s very good and reminds me of my time at Oxford a great deal, and makes me realise that the university was a wonderful place but far too monolithic an institution for my taste) and magazines, I go out and about and socialise – my mum came up to visit London yesterday and I took her to Harrods, Sloane Street and King’s Road; it was wonderful. Without the internet I wouldn’t be able to blog and share my music, thoughts, reviews and so much more with you, and I would never be foolish enough to renounce it (nor would I even be tempted to), but while being without it is inconvenient for the multiple logistics of establishing ourselves in a new flat and area of the city, it’s refreshing in that it makes me actually connect – and remember how to connect – with the more natural and simple pleasures of life around me that we can risk taking for granted.

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we’re going to Sevilla!

July 25, 2011

So after many tweets promising this blog, I am finally writing to say that tomorrow morning (at ridiculous o’clock) Toby and I are flying out to Seville for a week’s holiday! I am excited – it is our first holiday away as a couple but I am sure that it will all go well, and any obstacles that we come up against, we will overcome as a team (and hopefully both be cranky at the same time and therefore understand each other’s moods!).  I am looking forward to it!

Hopefully we’ll see lots of orange trees…

… some flamenco (and possibly visit the Flamenco Art Museum, as recommended by Karina!)…

… various arts museums to enrich our cultural understanding (below: the Traditional Arts and Customs Museum)…

…and lots of cafés to enjoy some tapas and coffee!

I am hoping that we will come back culturally enriched and spiritually refreshed, and I’ll be rejuvenated and be able to take on my current job / new job (I had an interview at Southbank International School on Friday, and I am hoping it went positively – I think so!) with renewed gusto. I am also hoping that we take some excellent photos (including possibly some photos I could include on my next album!) which I will share with you all on here 🙂 So much love from me, and I will see you all on the other side when I’m back in London! Have a wonderful week xx

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london calling.

August 6, 2010

So I’m in London again spending the weekend with Toby, and already it’s turning out to be a sociable weekend. Toby left me in bed this morning to go to work (which felt half sad, half decadent) and since then I’ve been out to meet up with my friend Sarah for the first time in ages. She texted me impromptu, said she was free, was I free, and we took it from there!  Caught up on lots of gossip and exchanged stories about our lives, a lot has changed! After that I went to Oxford Circus, where I wandered around the shops, picked up Janelle Monáe’s Metropolis I: The Chase Suite and Vivian Green’s Beautiful albums, went to Selfridges for the first time and had to resist spending £30 on a Thierry Mugler book, and decided not to go anywhere for lunch there because all the cafés were ridiculously crowded.

So as the weather was overcast but pleasant, I decided to walk through Hyde Park to Knightsbridge, where I am now writing upstairs in a very crowded, cramped Starbucks while I drink a strawberries & cream frappuccino. After this, I intend to walk to the Saatchi Gallery (I’m doing a lot of walking in an effort to keep fit and also do some sightseeing along the way!) and have a cultural afternoon wandering around there before going to meet Toby at Gloucester Road once he finishes work.  I bank on a relaxed evening tonight eating something yummy and hopefully watching Breakfast At Tiffany’s, which I purchased last week on a whim and fell in love with (unnecessary racist caricature Mr. Yunioshi aside). Tomorrow Toby, Claire (his housemate), Nana and I intend to go shopping round Westfield before we have Toby’s housewarming neon-themed party in the evening. Then it’s back home Sunday afternoon!

This is basically an itinerary, but I wanted to jot it all down to show how exciting London is.  I’ve been here for 3 long weekends now, and although at first in the face of ‘real London’ (I’d only ever been to Leicester Square and Oxford Street in the past), I felt lost and swamped, I’ve grown to love its sprawling commerce coupled with quiet, sedate residential areas that make Bristol look like a grimy speck in comparison to LDN’s magnitude. Sure, I haven’t explored all of London and I haven’t yet been around any of the rougher areas, but I like what I’ve seen so far.  In addition, it’s refreshing to enjoy a speedy, reliable public transport system (the Underground) which makes Bristol’s bus system look pathetic, and I love bumping into my friends and being able to socialise at a moment’s notice, which to be fair I can do in Bristol.

Two other things I’ve learned:

  • Walking around London with a full bag carrying my laptop is agony after a while!
  • My love affair for Starbucks does not apply to London. The Starbuckses here are crowded and cramped, and I was refused my free filter coffee refill here.  On this count, Bristol comes out firmly on top, because the service is nice and friendly, and the cafés are relaxing, tranquil places to go rather than a fight over seating space. Nevertheless, I’ve manoeuvred myself into a nice corner and am happily typing away on my laptop, so it’s not all bad!

Could I see myself living in London in the future? It depends what happens; I’m not thinking about that right now as I’m about to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday 16th, and I intend to stay there for at least a couple of years; in a year’s time, I’m hoping to do the masters in Careers Guidance at UWE and hopefully gain an MA in Education.  I also appreciate that while London is exciting because it’s a big step up from Bristol in terms of its urban landscape, fast pace of life and shopping potential, I enjoy the fact that Bristol (although it’s a fairly-sized city) now feels intimate and familiar, and I have plenty of friends there as well as my family, whom I wouldn’t want to be far from (although they drive me mad on the regular). It depends how Toby and I progress as a couple too; where he sees his future is going to have a large impact on where I see mine.  I try not to talk about it too much because I don’t want to get too heavy and risk freaking him out, but I feel like now that I’ve overcome all of my initial neuroses about our relationship, I can see myself being with him for a long time. So I’m prepared to compromise to be where he wants to be, and I’m sure he’ll do the same for me.  Watch this space. But my priorities for now are car, move out into my own flat, tone stomach and allow my relationship to continue to grow. 🙂

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community.

July 5, 2010

When I am on my driving lessons, my driving instructor (who lives around the corner from me and has done for the whole of my lifetime and probably many years prior to that) often points out people who he knows, chats about the various people who have lived and continue to live in certain houses and streets, and talks about life in Kingswood in general.  Most of the time, I can only nod my assent because I have no idea whom or what he is talking about; I only know the names and faces of the people who live within 3 doors of our house and across the road from it.  On the odd occasion that I am walking around the local area, I could quite happily walk past people who live on my street without recognising them.  This street is not and has never been a community to me; my town is just a place I live, and although it’s adequate (I like the fact that unlike other, more wealthy areas of the city, it doesn’t have a ‘grey’ atmosphere and I can see the sky – I’m not a total urbanite then!), I don’t feel any sense of community with the other people who live there; in fact, I feel like more of an alien (and with my dress sense, I look like one too).  I must add that I will stick up for where I come from, despite its chavvy, slightly dangerous reputation; I did get slightly offended by a comment made by one of the people on my careers guidance course at UWE; being a graduate of Spanish and French, I was asked “But in Kingswood, you don’t get an opportunity to practise your languages, do you?” This comment was accompanied by a smirk; I took slight offence because although it’s true that where I live is not a cultural hub and I don’t meet many people who are multi-lingual there, Kingswood is not formative of who I am.  Moreover, it’s not a bad place, and given that the area of Bristol that this person comes from is more renowned for crime and poverty than mine, it’s somewhat hypocritical and condescending.

Anyway, I went to Peterborough to spend the weekend with Toby last weekend, and I had a wonderful time, but I noticed that for him, life and his sense of community is different: he knows all of the people who live in his close and a lot of those who live in his village.  He went to school up the road from his house; he can point out many people in the photographs included in the local Parish News (I am unaware of Kingswood having a Parish News leaflet, or any kind of worthwhile community publication). It is interesting that I cannot do this.  I always went to school on the other side of the city, because my parents paid for my education and decided to send me to those schools (and based on my subsequent track record and academic success, I can’t quibble with their decision – it was pretty wise and with hindsight I would now have done the exact same thing).  When I went through a brief phase of playing with the family of girls who were my age and lived across the road from me, they had a group of kids who lived in the neighbouring streets as their friends: I knew none of these people because they all went to the same school down the road from our house; I went to a private school across the city.  We had different school holidays, different teachers, different friendship groups, different subjects.  In retrospect, that was most definitely for the best but at the time it felt like I had to work extra hard to fit in with them.  Despite living across the street, it was like I was visiting another world, their world, every time we would play together, and after a couple of years the visit wouldn’t be worth it, and we would just say hi without animosity as we occasionally passed each other on the street.

However, whereas Toby can name all of his neighbours and various people who live in his village (and I also understand that part of this is the difference between city / country-ish mentalities), I enjoy my popularity when I wander round the Bristol city centre – Mike commented once on a shopping excursion that it seemed as if I knew at least one person in every single shop (and there are a lot of shops).  This is an exaggeration of course, but not a massive one; I like shopping and I used to work in retail in that area, therefore my face is recognised in the area and I can recognise acquaintances who work there too. An amusing story is the Guess Boutique – whenever I go in the staff are extra-happy to see me because they still remember the time Toby & I went in and I fell in love with a bag that I could not afford; Toby & I left and I spent the whole of that Friday night babbling about the bag. Saturday lunchtime we returned to the store and I bought not only that bag that I had originally claimed was “too expensive” but also a hoodie to boot (it was on sale, there was only one and it was in my size, it was black and gold which are my colours – it was obviously fate so who am I to stand against destiny?). I don’t know if the staff there work on commission but I think that that day, they were very happy!  So I make friends in shops.  My friends who live in Bristol may have gone to school or university with me, but we came from all different parts of Bristol (and their experiences of commuting to find a community may be quite similar to mine) so urban centres, shopping districts, cafés and cinemas are our meeting points.

My point is, I have my own community of people whom I call my friends; friends are the family you can choose, as they say.  However, my friends are all dotted about the city (and beyond that, the country); the way we keep in touch is via telephone, email and internet most of the time; and when we want to meet in person, it’s got to be an arranged thing rather than a spontaneous wander down the road.  Although it can feel slightly isolating living where you have no real connection to anyone else in the immediate vicinity, it’s made irrelevant by the fact that I can speak to and arrange to see a lot of my friends within very little time; and that my friends are so, so good to me.  I think that having my own space is something that I value too; at the end of the day, I can retreat to my home and have a little time for me, safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to bump into or be harassed by anyone who knows me.  I can be anonymous, think independently, live as I choose without any fear of anyone whom I care about judging me. I know that in Kingswood, I dress differently, I wear different clothes, I speak and think differently to the majority.  I would never change that; I like being my own person and I won’t ever change to conform (a hard lesson that built my character during my school years). But it’s made easier when I’m surrounded by people with whom I have absolutely no desire to fit in. My community, the people whom I love and value, are my friends; my community is not local but instead city-wide, national, and one day I hope it will be global.