The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, London WC1.

 

Franz Hals, the Laughing Cavalier
The Laughing Cavalier

 

The Wallace Collection is a must see museum/gallery if you come to London. The items on show were bequeathed to the nation in the late 19th Century and have been on display here since 1900.

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Van Dyck, The Shepherd Paris

The number and quality of the Old Masters from the 15th to the 19th century is amazing. It has some of the finest examples of 18th century French furniture in existence. There is also a rich assemblage of porcelain, sculpture and royal amour in the collection. One of the more unusual pieces is a particularly ornate cannon.

 

Cannon

Many of the pieces were bought during the sales of art following the French revolution, which is why the collection is so strong in 18th Century French art. Such good examples of the Louis XV cabinets and marquetry cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.

Vases

A condition of the bequest was that none of the pieces ever left the collection, even to go out on loan. So if you ever wish to see, say, “The Laughing Cavalier” or Canaletto’s “View of the Grand Canal” you have to come here.

 

Canaletto, the Grand Canal
Canaletto, The Grand Canal

 

It is astounding to discover that it is free to visit this collection, although they do ask for a donation. It is also surprisingly quiet, compared to the other, bigger museums and galleries in London. This is presumably because it is not in the main exhibition area of town, although you could argue that, situated between Oxford Street, Baker Street and close to Selfridges, it is even more central than those in South Kensington.

 

Rembrandt, Susanna van Collen and Anna
Rembrandt, Susanna Van Collen and her daughter Anna

 

Notable among the Old Masters in the collection are 5 Rembrandt, 4 J. W. Turner, 8 Canaletto, 2 Titian, 12 Reynold, 5 Cuyp, 2 Gainsborough….. the list goes on, it is an amazingly rich and full list. There is even a wonderful portrait of Queen Victoria from 1837, when she was newly ascended to the throne.

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The Wallace Collection should not be missed when visiting London. Bring your friends when you visit, and you will surprise them with both the quantity and the quality of the art here. Given how quiet it tends to be, even in the summer, I am going to count this as a hidden gem, and I recommend it heartily.

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Motel One Manchester-Piccadilly, Manchester

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Motel One is about as handy as you can get if you arrive in Manchester by train. It is directly across the road from Piccadilly train station. The rooms are quite small, but they are cleverly laid out and well appointed. The windows are big, so even on a grey day the room feels bright. The bathrooms are new and modern and the shower is excellent. The bed is big and comfortable, all rooms have free wi-fi that is efficient, the code only works for 3 items though – so if you are as gadget fuelled as we are, you may have to sweet talk the reception staff into giving you more codes.  Motel One is German hotel brand and the TV comes with many European channels as standard.

The breakfast is good, but continental only, it is not included in the price and not particularly great value in a part of town that is full of great brunch venues. Head to Hilton Street which is less than a ten minute walk away and has a number of interesting cafes, including  The Pen and Pencil, 57 Hilton St, Manchester which we really liked.

Also, you need to be aware that, despite its name, Motel One, does not have a car park, so you are at the mercy of private car parks if you have driven to Manchester and parking in town is not cheap. Having said that, central Manchester is a great city to walk around and public transport is pretty good, so a car would not be essential for your time here.

The bar on the ground floor is decorated in a modern European style; flash furniture and muted colours, pleasant enough to sit and have a drink in while waiting for friends. The music is at a nice level for conversation and they have pleasant bar staff.

Overall, Motel One Piccadilly is a very good budget hotel, right in the heart of town and I will happily stay here again next time I come to Manchester.

The Albert Square Chophouse, Manchester.

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This restaurant is very centrally located – in a beautiful solid brick building, on the corner of Albert Square. The entrance is up a few steps to a nice bar space with a mixture of sofas and chairs. The restaurant is downstairs, it looks impressive as you descend, an industrial sized room filled with fully set dining tables, booths and banquettes. The windows are set high and the kitchen is open and visible from the dining room. The walls of both floors are lined with photos of Manchester luminaries, some recognisable others less so.

The menu is traditional British. The corned beef hash cake is a great starter, meaty and comforting. I had a rib eye steak and it was flavourful and tender, one of the best steaks that I have had. The steak and kidney pie was reportedly great too, done in the old fashioned way with suet in the pastry.

The wine list looked good, the house rose was excellent. They have a full bar, so the selection of beers is good too. The service was friendly and helpful. It is not a cheap restaurant, but everything they do is high quality, so definitely a meal to sit and savour. This is a venue for a night out, to enjoy the evening and chat after.

We ate early, 6pm, so we managed to get in without booking, but it was quite full by the time we left, so I would imagine it would need to be booked if you wanted to eat at a more popular time.

We thoroughly enjoyed it and will be back next time we are in Manchester.

Streatham Common, London, SW16

 

Tree, Streatham Common

Streatham Common is an attractive green space in South London. The grass on the Northern and Western section is maintained and dotted with trees. It looks very pretty sloping upwards towards the rookery from the A23. On summer weekends it is quite busy with people, flying kites, having picnics or just chilling out. This area of the park often has events running when the weather is warm. An interesting one booked for September is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed by the world first cycling theatre company!

Path, Streatham Common

 

The eastern side is left in a more natural state. It has been designated a local nature reserve and it has many oak trees and some beautiful old cedars. Where the western part meets the east there is beautiful formal garden called The Rookery. A mineral spring was discovered here in the 1650s and was visited by royalty to take the waters. Streatham was a very fashionable out of town location in the 19th century and the Rookery Gardens are kept as they would have been in those days. There is a rockery with a pond, lovely herbaceous borders, and it has an ornamental stream running through it.

Camellia, Streatham Common

The Rookery Café is outside the wall of The Rookery just on the border between the maintained and more natural parts of the common. It is a well run café, serving hot and cold food. There are seats outside with big views to the west and south.

Trough, Streatham Common

 

The Common is surprisingly large – over two kilometres along the perimeter from its northwestern corner to the northeastern one. As you head farther east, the park becomes part of the borough of Croydon and is known as Norwood Grove, although historically, it has always been part of the Great Streatham Common. There is a nice 19th century house here, inside the park, Norwood Grove House, although it is known locally as the White House. This also has nicely laid out gardens and pretty, if urban, views out over Croydon.

Dog Walker on Streatham Common

Streatham Common is a well used park, surrounded on all sides by houses. There are joggers, dog walkers, parents with buggies, yet it is big enough to avoid feeling crowded.   It is on the Capital Ring, which is a 120 kilometre walk around London, broken up into 15 smaller sections. This is a surprisingly green and traffic light walk for such a large metropolis. The park itself is a varied and interesting area with lots of different types of scenery, I would say that it is certainly worth a visit if you are in South London on a sunny day.

Streatham Common

 

Clapham Junction Station, London SW11.

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Whether you are travelling from Brighton to Basingstoke, Mortlake to Milton Keynes, or from Hove to Harrow, Clapham Junction Station is your friend. With around 2000 trains a day going through, it is the busiest station in Europe. It is also the busiest in the UK as an interchange with close to half a million people changing trains here per day during the week.

It is not particularly pretty, nor is it as architecturally interesting as some of the other main stations in London, but it is efficient. There are 17 platforms and there is an underpass or overhead concourse to travel between them. Personally, I like the tunnel, old and busy with shops and food vendors, as the means of movement, but it does get crowded at peak times and there are no escalators or lifts, so stairs are the only way down. The raised pathway has lifts and it is more modern. It is also brighter and it feels less claustrophobic at peak times.

Surprisingly, Clapham Junction is not connected to the tube, but it is served by many buses and has parking for a couple of hundred bicycles. Should you require step free access, make sure that you are dropped off at the Brighton Yard entrance, rather than the shopping centre side in Grant road.

Time Out Online has Clapham Junction Station listed under “things to do”. I’m not sure that I would go quite that far, however, if you spend any time travelling around in London, you are likely to change trains here. When you do, it is worth taking a moment to think about the number of trains and people going through, and then marvel at the level of competence required to run, what is effectively, one of the biggest train sets in the world.

Madame Tussauds, Marylebone Road, London

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I had forgotten how much fun Madame Tussauds could be. You have to let yourself go, embrace the kitsch, accept the corny, give in to your inner child and play! You are going to realise that enjoyment is a conscious choice as soon as you sit down in the black cab fairground ride that takes you through a potted history of London. If you disapprove of touristy romanticised attractions you should avoid coming here; where even the rats are sanitised. But, if you are new to London, looking forward to what you are going to see over the coming week, then I can see its allure.

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I like how hands on everything is, you can take a selfie with Kim Kardashian, put your head on George Clooney’s shoulder or even look up Marilyn Monroe’s billowing skirt, if that is what takes your fancy. It’s good to go in a group, it’s always fun to discuss how short Tom Cruise is,  how tired the Queen looks, or to try to get your Mum to pinch John Wayne’s bum.

the queen

The crew that work here are friendly and helpful, happy for you to get up close and personal with the figures and to take a photo, if you ask. They are chatty and will share an anecdote, one guy told me that they sometimes have to remove left knickers from Brad Pitt’s mannequin.

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Madame Tussauds is not cheap to visit, but it is possible to get deals, either with your train ticket or as a combination with other London visitor attractions. It is definitely worth looking for these online, you would be very unlucky not to find a coupon somewhere. It is also prone to get very busy, queueing to get in and get around is always a mood dampener, so if you are here in the height of the season try to go early in the day or late in the afternoon. They sometimes have evening openings, look out for these as they are often quieter.

Shrek

There are waxworks from every walk of life here; film and pop stars, historical and political people, sports and science specialists. So if you want to kiss Kylie, hug Hawkins, shimmy with Shrek or berate Boris; this is the opportunity, all you have to do is lose your inhibitions…..and make sure you take a photo!

Hyde Park Corner, London W1.

Hyde Park Corner

Hyde Park Corner has a lot going on, for what is, ultimately, the central reservation of the busiest traffic roundabout in London.

Peace in a Quadriga

There is Wellington Arch in the centre, which used to house the second smallest police station in Britain until 1992, it is now a museum and open to the public.  It is called the Wellington Arch because the top of it used to be crowned by a 40 ton Statue of the Duke of Wellington – the largest statue of a man on a horse that has ever been made. It was moved to Aldershot in 1912 and the arch now has a statue of a winged charioteer driving four horses on it top. This is the largest bronze statue in Europe.

Australian War memorial

The grassed over island also has the Australian war memorial in the South Western corner and the New Zealand war memorial on the North Eastern corner. These are 21st century memorials built in 2003 and 2006 respectively and commemorating antipodean deaths in the two world wars. They are both moving pieces of public art.

New Zealand War memorial

It also contains the Machine Gun Corps Memorial and the Royal Artillery Memorial, two more pieces commemorating casualties of the World Wars. These are both interesting in their own ways. I’m not sure why the Machine Gun Corps is commemorated by a statue of a young man with one hand on his hip and the other on a large sword, but it is beautiful, nonetheless. The Royal Artillery Memorial has more of a Great War atmosphere, it resembles soldiers guarding a tomb, with a cannon on its top.

Machine gun corps

There is also a statue of Lord Byron and a large bronze of The 1st Duke of Wellington sitting on a horse. The equestrian duke statue is a smaller copy of the one that used to be atop the Wellington Arch. The best way to reach the central reservation avoiding the traffic is by one of many underground passageways. These are bright and well kept and have tiled depictions of the history of the area. I can’t believe that I am recommending  visiting the underground pathways to a traffic island, but these are quite interesting in themselves and definitely deserve a view if you have an interest in the history of the area.

Hyde Park

Not only is the junction itself full of interest but, there are many places very close by. There is Apsley House, the home of the Dukes of Wellington, and Hyde Park itself to the north. The wall across the road on the southern edge is Buckingham Palace garden. Green Park is on the east, and the Old St Georges hospital, now the Lanesborough Hotel, reputedly the most expensive in London, is to the west. Plus, of course underneath all this is Hyde Park Corner tube station.

Apsley House

In short, if you are to visit any traffic island in central London, then this should be the one!