After having lost faith in humanity at Open House 2016 due to abysmal queuing set ups and swarms of rude crowds, in 2017 I only ventured to one tiny place, but this weekend I felt like giving the event another chance. Where better to go than the political heart of London?
Given the general distate for politics I was hoping everything would be empty – I was wrong, but it was the smoothest Open House experience. Once again I didn’t get picked in the 10 Downing Street ballot – has anyone ever been drafted? Or does my dodgy East European last name mean it’s a no no for me on security grounds?
Everyone has there favourites at Open House and mine was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – it’s included in pretty much every news round-up, and was the main reason for me heading to Westminster. It was well worth the trip and probably my favourite Open House I’ve been to so far! I loved everything from the ceilings to the carpet and even the wallpapers. Also … seeing Palmerston, Chief Mouser to the FCO, himself was a purfect treat. And a shout-out to the organisers as it was super quick and efficient with a one-way system taking you everywhere.
Thanks to the Open House app it was easy to see what other places were nearby. I wouldn’t have known about HM Treasury, next door to the FCO which houses a hidden courtyard. Despite being the place where they spend all the money it was pretty stripped back compared to the grandiose FCO building, though they did have super comfy sofa booths. It also included a mini exhibition on the history of the building, for history/architecture geeks to get their rocks off. But really it WAS all about the round courtyard.
Some places only offered guided tours – despite the app not mentioning it, but with so many things on offer it was easy to simply walk to the next place. Having to go to court isn’t most people’s idea of a fun day out, let alone the Supreme Court, but when it’s housed in an amazing building I’m happy to volunteer as tribute. The UK Supreme Court comes with a dream library (though the books are a bit too dry for my liking) including ladders, a tower room and Harry Potter like stairs. If that wasn’t enough, you could also don various judge robes and wigs for your own legal catwalk experience – take that London Fashion Week!
Portcullis House is the little less loved brother of the Houses of Parliament. Sitting just opposite the famous landmark, it’s where lots of important political stuff happens but in a kinda ugly 90s style building. Despite this it has its charms: the open space and lots of light and a great spot to just catch a breath and process everything. While walking around the hall of political portraits I came up with the next Date Game Show hit: you have two potential love birds matched up with show centred around them walking around the hall and giving their opinion on the portraits – yes I know it’s not exactly Love Island, but let’s get some culture into our reality TV!
Another favourite was the Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament and reachable through a cool secret tunnel underneath from Portucllis House. I would have thought being in such a powerful place might have given me a kick, but it was more the giant mural paintings filled to the brim with bearded medieval dudes that really did it for me. It is also currently hosting a free exhibition on votes for women and the representation of women in the House of Commons and House of Lords, so learn about how kick-ass women fought for their suffrage with tickets via
If you look up boujee in the picture dictionary you will see a photo of Banqueting House with its mysterious cellar like space to its grand hall. It’s so extra the powder rooms come with a sit down and re-apply your make-up corner – sadly I wasn’t invited to the next ball/feast/extravaganza…
P.S this is the current state of Big Ben. Does it look bigger with a hood on?
Have you ever been to an Open House style event? Which was your favourite attraction?
Central London in summer is my own personal little corner in hell. Just like many other major cities, London is starting to burst at the seams with overtourism, and to catch a peaceful moment I’ve started avoiding the major attractions – instead I head South of the river, to the far far East or even to the West!
One of those recent stops for me was re-visiting the Horniman Museum and Gardens – a quirky museum in Forest Hill which houses a lot of stuffed animals, musical instruments from all around the world and African, South American and Siberian anthropology.
We owe the place to Frederick John Horniman, a Victorian tea trader and avid traveller who brought back curious things from around the world to Forest Hill to let people share in on his passion. I assume his partner and friends got tired of hearing how he got Wally the Walrus for the 20th time so he opened up his display to the public. As the collection grew and grew and attracted more visitors I imagine his wife wasn’t too excited with people wandering around her house and so they secured a nearby building that still houses the museum and gardens. To top it off, there’s also a butterfly house, an aquarium and a crazy golf course – sadly it wasn’t the one from Alice in Wonderland, but is still worth a shot.
It doesn’t take more than 1 hour to see everything, which leaves enough time to go up the hill for the amazing view over central London, see the gardens in bloom and grab some food at the Saturday Farmer’s Market for a picnic on the grass. The collections are a bit dry and leave a lot to the imagination, but it’s kind of charming in old fashioned way with Wes Anderson style fonts and pastel colours, and did I mention it’s (mostly) for free?
It’s a bit out of Central London in Zone 3, so it might not be the ideal hotspot for your first visit, but definitely hop on the bus/train if you are visiting London for a second or third time or love stuffed animals, dried insects and a bash on the drums in the music room.
Blondies Kitchen are taking over London with their cookies + milk combo and if you’ve been on social media this week you’ll know they just opened a new location on Kingly Court. Their cookies are perfectly soft, ready to melt in your mouth and there’s tons of flavours to choose from. Try the white chocolate and biscuit butter with a glass of milk or go for a soft serve with cookies crumble and/or Nutella crunch for the perfect dairy/baked tastebud pleaser.
It looks like something out of Harry Potter, tucked away in the attic of an old church with potion-like herb collections with hand-written descriptions of their medicinal uses and apothecary bottles that will make your bathroom cabinets look so 2018. It also houses the only surviving 19th century operating theatre where performances are held, plus there’s a collection of torture-style instruments. So happy things have moved on since then.
Grand tudor palaces, gardens in bloom and a maze you need to get lost in… you can read all about my day of exploring Hampton Court Palace and its grounds here. And if that doesn’t get you on the train to the south west London then I have failed as a blogger.
I might not get Harry Potter tickets until 2024, but in the mean time I should watch another play here and there to stay cultured. Last year I saw a Shakespeare comedy at the Globe and this year I was ready for a tragedy. This version of the Scottish king gone mad tale is set in a dystopian world (I’m thinking Brexit aftermath) and includes a lot of beards (‘MacBeard’ would have been a much better title) … so if you like watching beards and drama while sipping on some fine red then this might be for you.
It was only a matter of time til the Dutch cuisine made its way over to the UK…but we’ll have to wait for the traditional ‘hutspot’ dish or the herring with raw onions for the moment! Until that joyous day there is the chips hole in the wall just off Leicester Square that sells what we Dutch call Flemish fries: thick-cut and double fried makes them crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside. And you know they are Dutch when they offer satay sauce. I’d like to see them a bit more crispy next time though and I need to ask what the name is all about as well.
Medieval ruins and bluebell forests? 30 Minutes from Central London? Sign me up!
This year I promised myself I’d really delve into London’s unseen secrets, and that’s how I found myself crossing Abbey Road… but not the one you’d think! It was less 70s album cover and more abbey ruins, woods with bluebells and more dogs than you can shake a stick at.
No, you haven’t been transported to the set of yet another grim medieval fantasy show, this is actually within easy reach of London and you can explore to your heart’s content. What I loved was imagining the monks going about their daily lives. While most of the walls have long ago fallen, the abbey layout remains intact so it’s like starting a Sims game – wondering how you’d decorate and which room went where. Otherwise, the main activities I saw were playing hide and seek, family picnics and dog walking; there’s also a cute cafe selling lovely slices of banana bread.
Here’s the TL:DR take on the history – the abbey was originally built around 1180 and everything was fine and dandy until Henry VIII couldn’t keep it in his pants so all the monks and monasteries had to go.
I can’t believe the place hasn’t been transformed in apartments. At the moment it’s 30 minutes from London Bridge, but once Crossrail opens you’ll make it to Abbey Woods in 12 minutes from central London. That’s basically prime location.
If/when the apartments come I hope the mulberry tree survives – planted by King James I (well, his entourage), it looks so old it makes Pocahontas’s Grandmother Willow look like Baby Groot.
Once you’re all abbey-ed out you should explore the Lesnes Abbey Woods – ancient woodland carpeted with bluebells and other natural wonders – you’ll forget you’re in a huge city until you accidentally walk into someones backgarden.
Do you have any historic city secrets you can share?
Imagine it’s pitch black, loud air sirens are booming and you’re rushing down a endless metal staircase… Having grown up in a war zone bunker – in my case a cellar – this was as normal as your weekly visit your grandparents.
It took me over two years to get tickets for one of London Underground’s Hidden Tours. Tickets go on sale only a few times a year and sell out quicker than a spare tube seat gets taken in the rush hour. I was glad to head down after such a long wait, but it did strike a chord with me and my past back home…
When I booked the tickets I didn’t read into it too much so I thought we’d be seeing a closed off platform at a station, but it turned out this was a massive underground complex specifically built for the Blitz – bombing attacks of the UK by Germany from 1940-1941, there was a LOT to see and you could have easily got lost with the guides.
The tour guides show you around the little underground village that includes a medical station, a canteen that dished out top notch sandwiches and tea, and a recreational area (apparently getting frisky was probably the only sports activity ;). The shelters housed up 10,000 people so you can imagine it wasn’t just a place to stroll in. If your house was destroyed or if you were visiting London you could get a ticket. To get in you needed a pass with a bed number and each bed was allocated to a specific person, plus it was BYOB (Bring Your Own Bedding).
The first time was scary and no one knew what happened, but overtime it got … almost boring. I hated them during the day because it meant we had to stop our hide and seek or tag game, I was scared of them when I was at school or on my way to school as I was away from my mom and brother, but when they came at night it meant I didn’t have to sleep and could play with my friends and cousins
Once you walk down the stairs you step into the tunnels that are full and full of the actual beds that people slept on, some are made up and one had a Ludo game on it, something I had actually played during while killing time in what seemed like another life.
Then, it’s a long walk back up to daylight, I was thinking of my mom, my aunt and other people in town. While they were worried in what state the house or the animals would be I was proably more frustrated about the Ludo game I had lost.
After WW2, the underground tunnels became a kind of youth hostel, then it housed labour migrants from the Caribbean and the military before it was turned into archives – all that top-secret info and what not!
What the future holds for the tunnels is unclear (they want to expand), but similar sites are currently being used for mass hydroponics – growing all sorts of vegetables that turn up in the supermarket! To think your shiny orange carrot may have never seen the natural light of day until you take out outside in your shopping basket!
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