I am spending Christmas and New Year in Miami, so as a change of venue, here are some pictures that I took on a walk around Little Haiti in Miami.
I finish with a frozen iguana that fell from a tree in our garden, it has been there the last three days. Apparently this is normal when the temperature goes below 8C, and it will defrost and walk away when the temperature goes back up!
The V&A calls itself “The world’s leading museum of Art and Design”, a bold claim. In a city that has many of the greatest museums in the world, the Victoria and Albert is among the best of them. It is certainly my favourite. The permanent collection is vast, with almost 3 million objects and the variety of displays is huge, in terms of time -from antiquity to the present day, geography – literally all over the world and, ideas – ancient Japanese art, through early 20th century arts and craft, to current video game design.
London is very lucky in that most of its museums and galleries are free. The V&A charge for some of their exhibitions but the permanent collection is always free. There are lunchtime lectures most Thursdays, which are free, and these are on a wide variety of topics, recent examples range from “The Christmas Story in Late Medieval and Renaissance Paintings” (I admit that sounded a bit dry, but it wasn’t!), to “Beatrix Potter” and “Hallyu” about popular culture in South Korea.
They have free music concerts – the last time I went, there was a pianist, Ivan Moshchuk, playing Schubert, in Gallery 87. There are also tours of different parts of the collection, varying in subject from Female Voices, through African Heritage, Fashion, and Theatre and Performance.
The collection is far too big to do in one day. So, you will probably need to choose the areas that you are most interested in and save the rest for another day. They have a really good theatre area, very hands on with costumes to dress up in, excellent if you bring children. Their gold and silver collection is remarkable, there is a solid gold door from a Kyiv cathedral, that had been given to them by Catherine the Great. I’m not sure how it managed to get to be in the collection of the V&A, but it is remarkable nonetheless.
There is a huge room dedicated to jewelry. The windows of one side of the second floor are covered inside with stained glass. There is a collection of ancient Chinese ceramics and of Philip Treacy hats. They are strong on fashion, from 16th century underwear to Alexander McQueen evening dresses. There is a display on the history of the mobile phone, it is surprising to see things that you have owned in a museum collection. It made me think “Have I still got one of those in a drawer somewhere?” There is a room of 1960s and 1970s futuristic furniture, which is truly amazing.
The cafe is fantastic, both in terms of the food it sells and its decor. The central seating area is the earliest ever museum cafe, decorated in the bright colorful style of a Parisian Cafe, but with English tin glazed majolica tiles. It is still in remarkably good condition. There are two slightly smaller seating rooms, one decorated by Edward John Poynter and one by William Morris off to either side. The food ordering area is late 20th Century with the sharp clean lines and muted colours of the time. Even if you are not intending to eat you should certainly walk through.
As you may have guessed, I really like this museum and if you are only going to visit one museum in London (but don’t only visit one – see The Wallace Collection, The Science Museum and Natural History Museum too, if you can) then this should be the one. I am certainly not going to dispute their claim to be “The world’s leading museum of art and design”. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely go.
Hidden City Adventures provide an option of three treasure hunts taking you around different parts of London, guided by clues sent to your mobile phone. The one we chose to do was Moriarty’s Game, a Sherlock Holmes type mystery that led us around Fitzrovia and Mayfair.
The walks are set in the real world and do involve you interacting with various people along the way -such as going up to a barista in a certain coffee shop and telling them that the white knight sent you (not an actual clue, by the way!). It will involve real detective work and the clues are quite challenging, but this all adds to the sense of achievement when you actually figure them out. You should think of the experience as a day out, rather than a brisk walk, because although we covered a distance of 3km, it took us around three hours with breaks for drinks or snacks as we sat and worked on the various clues.
The games have been set up with great care by people who are interested in London because they bring you through surprising areas and spaces that you would not otherwise see. I have lived in London almost my entire life and there were some places that I didn’t realise existed right in the heart of town. I would say, that it is a social activity – best undertaken with at least two or possibly a small group – as working out the fiendish clues together can be a fun, bonding experience. Also, you should be aware that you will need to add the cost of stopping for coffee or drinks, two or three times during the walk, to your budget for the day.
Having said that, this is a great day out, it involves a small amount of exercise, that you can take at your own pace. It has great puzzles that will stimulate your brain. It is a good social activity, that involves interacting with both unknown people and members of your group, you get a nice sense of achievement when you complete it…. and most of all it is fantastic fun!
Highclere Castle is the home of the Earl of Carnarvon, a Grade I listed building, and Grade I listed garden, in Hampshire between Newbury and Andover. It is a beautiful, historic building in its own right and has added renown because of its use in many films and TV series, probably most famously Downton Abbey. If you know these films or watch the TV series, you will recognize the building as you drive up the long sweeping drive to the car parks.
The walk up to the house from the car park is also recognizable and there was a constant queue of people having photos taken at the famous front door.
When you book, you need to be aware that there is no photography allowed inside the house, however the interior decoration is both sumptuous and recognizable. You certainly do have the feeling that you are walking around a film set rather than a family home. The views of the gardens from the windows of the house are equally attractive, which is a testament to the talent of Capability Brown, the famous 18th Century landscape gardener, who designed the ground in the 1870s.
The house is full of historic interest too. It was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers in the first world war, a storyline used the TV series, if I remember correctly. Before that, it was here that the discussions were held, that led to Canada becoming an independent country. There is a Canadian Maple tree in the front garden, donated by the Canadian embassy, to commemorate this. The building also holds a notable Egyptology Museum, as the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, funded the dig that exhumed the tomb of Tutankhamun. His interest also led him to purchase many other ancient treasures from that part of the world.
The day I went to Highclere was a more expensive tour than the basic entry day and although this did not appear to give a great deal more (a couple of extra rooms, a personal guide and a talk) in terms of access, it did limit the number of people in the grounds and castle to under 200 through the whole day. On a normal open day, they can get over 1100 people, so I’d imagine that queue for photos at the front door becomes very long.
There is a café and bar, and you can order afternoon tea on the lawns. It is about an hour from London by car and roughly the same by train (a £20 taxi ride from the station). I spent about 4 hours there wandering the house and gardens and the time passed very quickly, so with the travelling times, it was a full day out – and a day well spent.
The official walk is from Woolwich foot tunnel to Falconwood bridge and is 11.7km. The nearest train stations are Woolwich Arsenal station and Falconwood station. This adds a little under a km to the walk and is well worth the extra because Woolwich Arsenal and Woolwich Market are both interesting in their own right. Also, Woolwich Arsenal is a station on the newly opened Elizabeth line.
The Woolwich Market sign is the first thing you will see on leaving the station and although it is possibly not as vibrant as it has been at times in the past, there has been a market in that square for over 400 years! Walk through the market, through Woolwich Arsenal, a mixture of ancient cannons and modern apartments and just before you arrive at the Thames you will come to a lovely piece of open-air art – “Assembly” by Peter Burke. When it was first installed, many people (including me) thought it was by Anthony Gormley, but although there is a similarity in their work (both brilliant), this is definitely more in Burke’s style.
Soon we arrive at the entrance to Woolwich Foot Tunnel which goes under the Thames. This is the official starting point and when we emerge from this in a few weeks’ time, it will signify the completion of the Capital Ring. It was built in 1912 and you are allowed to cycle through as well as walk. If you have a car or lorry there is the Woolwich Free Ferry, I guess this would also be an option if you were claustrophobic and did not wish to walk under the river. There has been a ferry at this point for possibly a thousand years, there is reference to it in the Doomsday book in 1086.
This part of the Thames was a Royal Naval Dockyard in the times of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Many of the most famous ship were built here including the Ark Royal, HMS Vanguard and HMS Beagle, made famous by Darwin’s voyage. The Thames Barrier has been here since 1984, built after the 1953 floods in which hundreds of people drowned.
This is where we leave the river and head south through a series of parks. Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park were both originally sandpits and Maryon Park was the setting for the 1966 film “Blow Up”. Next up is Charlton Park which holds Charlton House, which was the home of the aforementioned Maryon Wilson Family. It looks very imposing, a fine example of a Jacobean house, it was built in 1612.
Then we go through Hornfair Park, where the infamous Charlton Horn Fair used to happen until it was banned in the 19th Century because of continuous “unseemly behavior”. Tut, tut, those naughty Victorians! On to Woolwich Common where the Royal Military Academy was situated until it moved to Sandhurst in 1948. This is where Generals like Gordon, Kitchener and Wingate were trained. Off the Common we cross Shooters Hill, which could be named for the soldiers that used to train here or for the Highwaymen for which it was notorious. Dick Turpin plied his trade here.
Next, we go through a series of woods. Castle Wood which holds the triangular, Severndroog Castle, which is named after a pirate fortress in 18th Century India. This is the highest point of the Capital ring, giving long views over south London. Jack Wood is an oak wood and has a beautiful carpet of leaves, if you manage to visit it in a season when it hasn’t been too wet.
Oxleas Meadows lead into Oxleas wood. Oxleas Meadows has a lovely cafe which does tea, coffee, sandwiches and hot food. This also has lovely long views over the South of London. Oxleas Wood has many ring-necked parakeets. Bright green and noisy, you are likely to see them in many places on the Capital Ring, but they are in abundance here.
Finally, a walk through Eltham Park North to Falconwood footbridge and then left to Falconwood station to catch the train back to London Bridge. A lovely 12.5k walk through leafy south London and I would guess that less than 1k of it was on city streets. If you have a morning or afternoon to spare in London this is a great way to spend it!
Ronnie Scott’s has been at the heart of the London Jazz scene for over 60 years. It opened in 1959 and has hosted many of the world’s most famous musicians in that time and continues to do so now. During the week they host shows in the late afternoon and evening, staying open until 3am. However, on Sundays they have and afternoon session between noon and 4pm, they serve brunch, and they have a live band playing between 1pm and 3pm.
This session is usually relaxed swing, and they serve a lunch menu – what better way to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon. If you wish to eat there is an extra charge, but the food is good quality, and the service was fast and unobtrusive on the day we were there. Once you have bought your seat ticket there is no pressure to buy either food or alcohol, the waiters refill your glasses with still water through the show.
On the Sunday I went, the music was of the highest quality, a set of Wayne Shorter songs, from his time with the Miles Davis band. Every seat in the intimate venue has a good view of the stage and the sound quality is what you would expect from one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. The décor is dark, and the lights are low, the whole place is geared to showing off the band on stage to their best effect.
The sunshine is a shock when you leave at 4pm but it is a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
The Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare Company, now Magnificent Bastard Productions, have been bringing various Shakespeare plays to theatres around the UK for a number of years. It is an improv styled show where one of the cast has drunk one third of a bottle of spirits and a number of beers before taking to the stage. The comedy comes from the sober actors attempts to keep their drunken compatriot onstage and on track.
It is great fun to watch and it also looks like it is great fun to take part. Drunken Hamlet takes pleasure in his leeway to make things difficult for the rest of the cast, trying to push them off course and attempting to make them laugh. There is audience participation, in that a couple of audience members are chosen to call for the drunk actor to have another drink if they feel that he is sobering up. Also, Polonius is played by an audience member, this is a brave choice, given that his is the first death scene and the only people on stage are the audience member, the drunk actor and Gertrude, his mother.
It is a good introduction to Hamlet, because it zips through the simplified storyline in around an hour and a half. Drunken Hamlet forgets his lines surprisingly seldom – he makes a great fist of the “to be or not to be” soliloquy despite being made to drink while reciting it- and those parts where he does get lost he has the professionalism to give the audience a synopsis of the scene in modern language.
Hamlet, of all Shakespeare’s plays, is the one that is most often taken too seriously and it is often forgotten that these plays were written as mass entertainment, and that the performances as well as the audiences were raucous and bawdy. This version emphasises that element of the Bard and works very well on that level. I really enjoyed Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare’s Hamlet and I look forward to seeing others in their repertoire in future.
Kensington Palace has been a place of residence of the British Royal family since 1689. It was bought as a completed building by William and Mary when they ascended to the throne. Those parts not being lived in are open to the public. Currently they contain four exhibitions, one ticket allows entry to all four. Entrance to the Palace gardens, including the attractive sunken gardens is free and these are certainly worth the time it takes to walk round them on days when the weather is clement. The first two exhibitions are about Queen Victoria and Princess Diana’s dresses. They are both interesting in different ways, I have a blog post about them here: Kensington Palace, London W8. Part 1. Victoria Revealed & Diana, her fashion story.
The next two exhibitions are The Queens’ State Apartments, which has the rooms decorated as they were in the 1690s, during the reign of William and Mary, and The King’s State Apartments, which has the rooms restored in the way they were in the early 1700s, during the reign of Georges I and II.
These are arranged in reverse chronological order, entry is through the sumptuous King’s Grand Staircase. Decorated in the time of George II, this is broad and spacious, we are overlooked by painted figures as we ascend. The staircase is certainly grand, immediately we can tell that we are in an era when conspicuous wealth was expected of the monarchy. The mural was painted by William Kent in 1724 and contains depictions of many actual members of the royal court at the time. Kent even included himself in the painting, he is the man wearing a brown turban and holding an artist’s palette, and the lady looking over his shoulder was reportedly his mistress.
The rooms in the King’s State Apartments have many wonderful Georgian features. The fireplaces and ceilings are spectacular. One ceiling is decorated with shields representing the members of the Order of the Garter, with its insignia making the centrepiece. The King’s Gallery has a mantelpiece with a map of the British Isles and Western Europe. This is linked to a weather vane on the roof, so that King George could see how the wind was affecting his fleet. It is still working today. The drawing room has some interesting examples of gaming tables from the era and the best perspective of the gardens, down to the lake.
The Queen’s State Apartments are 17th Century and this exhibition is more intimate, showing their bedrooms, their dining room and gives a little more of an insight into how they went about their, still opulent, daily lives. The furniture and delft is remarkable and the tapestries and bed coverings are extravagant. It is interesting to see the shortness of the four poster bed, it was thought at that time to be beneficial to health to sleep in a sitting position.
The exhibitions also contain lovely examples of the fashions at the time, there are some wonderful farthingale supported embroidered skirts, which look spectacular but must have been completely impractical to wear.
Between all four of the shows here, it would be difficult to do it justice in less than a couple of hours, there is almost too much to see in one visit. Perhaps it would be worth viewing the Palace on one day and the Gardens, Park and Orangery, which are free to enter, on another. This way you could spread the visit over a couple of days and only have to pay the, not inconsiderable, entry fee once. Kensington Palace and Gardens is one of the most historic visitor attractions in London, the exhibitions are well stocked and informative, although it is not cheap to visit, it should be among the sights that you consider when in London. It is free to enter with an Art Pass, if you have one of these you should not miss it, Kensington Palace is a highlight of their offer.
Porches Velho is a restaurant that could be called a hidden gem. Porches is an attractive village about three kilometres inland from the Southern Algarvian coast, between Carvoeiro and Armacao De Pera. It is quiet and calm, with narrow cobbled streets and is relatively untouristed, even in the height of summer. The area is famous for its pottery and the local workshops are certainly worth a visit. However, the largest of these are on the nearby N125 and not so many people go into the village itself.
The village has a pretty church. Its bells rang (8pm on a Wednesday, if you would like to try to recreate the effect) as we walked up the hill to the restaurant and a sliver of moon shone over its steeple, making us feel a little like we had stepped into a spaghetti western, so the romantic scene was set even before we entered the restaurant. The room itself has high vaulted ceilings, it is a 200 year old converted wine cellar. It has thick whitewashed walls decorated sparsely with antique agricultural equipment, tiles and old fashioned lamps. It oozes Portuguese tradition from every beam.
Porches Velho is a “Restaurante Tipico Potugues” which means that it serves classic Portuguese food. The tables are dressed in white linen with white napkins and soon after you are shown to your table the waiter brings the couvert dishes, fish paste, olives, pickled carrots and pickled beetroot, also a basket of sliced local bread with oil and butter. The wines are all Portuguese and there is a full list to choose from.
The starters consist of fish, soup or vegetarian dishes. We had a Portuguese Gazpacho and the vegetable soup. Both were excellent, the vegetable was thick and hot and the Gazpacho was spicy and juicy. The main course menu has many traditional dishes. Rabbit Cataplana, Alentejo Lamb and chicken casserole are among the interesting choices.
We went for the Old Portuguese Style Steak and the Medallions of Black Pork Tenderloin. The Pork was perfectly cooked, and served with a sauce of wild mushrooms on the side. The sauce was delicious and thick with different types of mushroom. The Steak is served in a deep dish, covered in serrano ham, surrounded by sliced potatoes, in a thick brown gravy and topped with a fried egg. This is a traditional way to serve steak in the Algarve and many restaurants offer this dish. This particular version though, was beautifully tender, the steak was very good quality and one of the nicest that I have had.
For the dessert offering, the waiters come to your table carrying the choices available. This is a clever idea, as one is much more likely to be tempted by seeing the dishes than by reading about it on the menu. The ice-cream is homemade and I can certainly vouch for the chocolate one being rich and flavourful.
The service was very good, we felt that they were genuinely interested in our opinions of the food and went out of their way to ensure that we had a good evening. Porches Velho is a wonderful Portuguese Restaurant with lovely traditional Portuguese hospitality. It is a hidden gem of the Algarve, a little of the beaten track but all the better for it and certainly worth the trip to visit it. Highly Recommended.
London has a number of small and quirky museums. This one dedicated to life and works of George Frederic Handel and Jimi Hendrix is certainly an unexpected combination. Handel lived at 25 Brook Street for 36 years in the 18th Century and Hendrix lived at number 23 for short time in the 1960s.
Bach’s house is decorated in the slightly austere Georgian style that was fashionable when he lived there. It does contain some beautiful musical instruments, including a wonderful harpsichord and a chamber organ. The bedroom has a four poster bed and there are some good paintings and a bust of Handel too. There are recitals held in the music room at least once a week and the staff are knowledgeable and helpful.
The Hendrix flat is laid out somewhat differently. The bedroom/living room is decorated as it would have been when Hendrix and his girlfriend lived here, this is borne out by the many photos of the room published during this time. The rest of the apartment is done in a more traditional museum style, with guitars and jackets in glass cases and commemorative posters on the walls. The bedroom is interesting, the fact that it is so classically psychedelic Carnaby Street 1960s in style probably reflects the huge effect that he had on the fashion of the time.
Unlike many museums in London, this one is not free unless you have a National Art Pass. It is small but it does contain a number of curious items. It is striking to compare what the height of fashion was in the centre of London two hundred years apart – and there is something apt in the fact that it doesn’t open until 11am on any day. Half an hour or forty minutes will adequately see you round this exhibition, but if you are a fan of either rock or baroque, I think there will be something here to please you.