Thursday, 17 October 2013

London Calling, a Magical Feast of History and Culture

Craig Writes;
12/10/13 Christina says London is her favorite big city and, sigh, I think I may have to agree with her. 
Admittedly, we had a great view to start with.

It has it all, the history, the culture, the food, the beer, the diversity and dare I say, at least for us mono linguistic cretins, no language barriers. Our apartment is ideally located in the swanky and idealistic area of Notting Hill. Kudos to Christina yet again.  We have only been here a few hours but already had a walk around the neighbourhood and been pleasantly surprised. Dinner tonight was in one of Jamie Olivers new ventures. This one was called Recipease.

Hurry up and click so I can eat this damn thing

Amazing concept with two levels of cooking schools, each surrounded by patrons eating, drinking and spending money on his many and varied tasty products, pre prepared meals, books etc etc. You can sit and enjoy a three hour slow baked pork sandwich, complete with crackling, and watch a class of students in the middle of the restaurant leaning how to make same said sandwich. Brilliant.

13/10/13. Well about time we had an accurate weather report. It said a 90 percent chance of rain and it was spot on. Fortunately we still had a couple of our Tanzanian umbrellas from Rome that had by some miracle not imploded so off we headed. Getting around in London is oh so easy. The trains and buses are dead on time and if you miss one the next one's just around the corner. We had to choose an indoor activity today that wasn't a museum, gallery, church, cathedral or fabric shop so off we toddled to the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. It's an enormous place, first opened in 1872 and has a vast exhibition of toys, games, dress up gear, puppets, a sand pit, a giant Robbie the Robot and heaps more. 

The Victoria and Albert Toy Museum, a good stop for the kiddies

There was even a section of all the hand made toys kids used to make themselves out of pegs, egg cartons, used stamps and old bits of cloth and sticks. It was interesting to see how things have changed even just since my time in the sand pit.

One of the things we were looking forward to in London was a good old curry fix. Brick Lane is in Bethnal Green in East London and had been recommended as the place to go. A street of market stalls, restaurants and bustling activity. We wound our way down trying not to be tempted by the delicious smells wafting off the outdoor grills and bbq's. We'd been on our feet all morning but were determined to wait until we came across a half decent looking restaurant. We found a beauty. City Spice. We got the last table for four and settled down for a spread of Kormas, Butter Chicken, Naans, amazing chutneys and sauces and crispy fragile papadams. Very nice.

Then it was time to head back home for a bit of R and R. First time on a double decker for the boys and we got to sit up the top and right at the front. Great views.
Gotta love a double decker

Tonight I took myself off to the Coronet cinemas, literally right over the road from our Notting Hill apartment. It's a gorgeous old cinema that started it's life as a live theatre venue back in 1898 and became a full time cinema in 1923. I watched the latest Woody Allen effort, Blue Jasmine with Cate Blanchett. It's a dark broody piece, witty but with fewer lighter moments than one would expect from Allen. Blanchett is superb as a wealthy socialite who has lost it all and slowly slides into a world of delusion and mental decay. There you go, that's my first and only movie review.

14/10/13 Everyones very excited today. We're off to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour for the Making of Harry Potter. The experience starts before you even get there when the fully decorated double decker Warner Brothers Harry Potter bus comes to pick you up.

"I'm so excited", he says in a nerdy high pitch squeaky voice.

It's so very well organised once you arrive. You join the long queue and are then let through in batches of 118 every ten minutes to avoid over crowding and to ensure that your first experience when you make your entrance into the magical world of the making of HP is not lost in the crowd. Those whjo have beeen will know what I mean.
Just a note, all the props, sets, costumes and wigs are all 100% genuine. If you see it here then you've seen it in the movie.

Harrys room under the stairs

The doors to The Great Hall

The Great Hall, minus magical ceiling of course

Snapes wig from H.P and The Half Baked Mince

The entire casts original wands, although they have now been turned off.

"THE" Triwizard Cup

Charlie gets his hand on The Philosophers Stone, almost.

The Great Hall, Diagon Alley, The Gryffindor Common Room, Snapes Potions classroom, Dumbledores Office etc etc ,are all original sets. 

A muggle invasion of Diagon Alley

He says if I get him a wand he'll create world peace, after the endless chocolate fountain

Remember the flying Anglia from The Chamber of Secrets.  THIS IS IT.

The animatronics section was simply stunning.  I had no idea that in certain parts of the films Hagrids head is an animatronic head. And the Hippogriff, OMG, you would swear they are all real. The CGI section where they show how a game of Quidditch was filmed is remarkable. 

How they made the brooms fly, fascinating

Recognise any of these faces?

Hagrids brothers head

This thing was moving, it looked like it would just stand up and fly away

And off course there was Butter Beer.  

By gum this was very tasty stuff

There are only two places in the world where you can get it and we've been lucky enough to try it at both. Here and Orlando, Florida.
I would not call myself a Potterphile by any stretch although I've read most of the books and seen all the films, but I still found it totally exhilarating and so much fun. Callum I think got the most out of it closely followed by Charlie. If ever you're in London, even if your not a big fan you simply must do this.
We finished off with dinner in Jamie Olivers Recipease. A great day.

15/10/13 We hired a car today to drive down to Stonehenge and then out to visit Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. WOW, to both of them.  Christina and I have been to Stonehenge before about 15 years ago but it is still just as impressive the second time around. A mystical mound of earth supporting enormous blocks of Blue Stone hauled from hundreds of kilometres away, most weighing around five tonne but some up to 40 tonne. 

Stonehenge, an oldie but a goodie

It is an enigma

There have been three incarnations of Stonehenge, the one standing today is the latest and thought to be around 3500 years old.
There are any number of theories behind it's origins and the reasons for it's construction. The aliens built it, the Druids used it as a place for worship and sacrifice, it was used to observe the stars, to keep track of the seasons. One legend says that Merlin used magic to transported it here from Ireland under the orders of Uther Pendragon, King Arthurs father while another conspiracy theory says it is roped off because the original Stonehenge was stolen and the one there today is fibreglass.  And so it goes on. The only ones who truly know why are long gone and buried.

From Stonehenge we took a drive over to Blenheim Palace, a magnificent building in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. The land and title were given to John Churchill for winning a strategic and important battle in Bavaria know as the battle of Blenheim. The victory kept the French out of Vienna and made Queen Anne very happy.  She gave him lands, the title of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, and a government grant of 240,00 pounds which he used in 1705 to start build this amazing place.  It was finished in 1722.

Not to shabby at all

You can just imagine little Winston dribbling a ball around the cobblestones

These days it is best known as the ancestral home and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. There is plenty more intrigue surrounding the building of the Palace and the subsequent Dukes who lived here. Intrigue and skulduggery involving political assassinations, an angry Queen, exiled Dukes, fortunes squandered and arranged marriages, but too much to go into here.
All said and done though, it's a startling example of how the other half live.

Winston first showed the world his little bald head on this very bed

The  Long Library. I'm guessing this was not bought from IKEA, 

Today, while the current 11th Duke and Duchess still reside in the palace, a large section is now available for the curious public. There is a miniature railway that takes you on a short ride to The Pleasure Park. A lovely landscaped area with the second largest hedged maze in the world, adventure playgrounds for the kids and a cafe.

This was the prettiest maze we'd ever got lost in

This turned into a marathon game of checkers. Fantastic fun
What lurks within..

We would have liked to have explored a bit more but we got there a little late and things were now starting to close down, so it was a casual walk back through the park, the dying rays of the sun lighting up the tops of the surrounding trees and the chill of the early evening starting to close in.
It was a 90 minute drive back to London so we opted for an early dinner in Woodstock at the Woodstock Arms and then a casual drive back to town.

Not the Woodstock Arms, I know, but the prettiest pub we'd ever seen

16/10/13 We took in a West End theatre production today. Very high end it was. Horrible Histories, the stage show. With all of us, particularly the boys in the family, being fans of the tv show we were expecting big things. It was....ok. It was a bravo performance by the the two actors, a guy and a girl who played a range of different characters by employing some amazingly quick costume changes.
From there we took a short walk to ChinaTown looking for The Crispy Duck restaurant that  we all went to when we were last in London. We couldn't find it so we found another restaurant that sold Crispy Duck.  Same thing really.

A cold and grizzly day in Chinatown

That night Christina and I went back to the West End to catch a peek at The LadyKillers.  A great little comedy that was a successful film with Peter Sellers and Alex Guinness.  It was a lot of fun.

17/10/13 Our last day in London today. We left our bags with the Concierge and head out for a look at the famous Rooftop Gardens. An amazing array of different styles of gardens on the sixth floor of 99 Kensington High street.  They've been there since 1938 and are complete with ponds, flamingos and ducks.

I was expecting  a paddle pool with some pot plants

Not duck ponds with flamingos

or bridges and elegant spacious gardens

What's a visit to Knightsbridge without going to Harrods. What an amazing place. They recently spent 20 million pounds on a central escalator with an Egyptian theme.
You can have as much fun here watching the eclectic mix of "richees" wandering around and flashing their Platinum credit cards. But don't go near the food hall when you're hungry. I have to go to the fridge now just thinking about it.
At 3.30pm it was back to collect our bags and head to Heathrow for an 11 hour flight to CapeTown.

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