I do love a good historic house and thought I’d seen all the best ones in London already, but how wrong I was! I went in for the Ruskin exhibition and walked out as a Gothic revival fan. Two Temple Place has it all! Mahogany carvings: check. Grand staircase: check. Stained glass windows and ceiling: check. A giant fireplace: check! Marbled floors: check! I mean look at it!
Just when you think the stained-glass ceiling is as impressive as it gets, you’ll walk into the Great Hall to spot not one but two glass stained windows: one designed for sunset and the other for sunrise. You might also recognise The Great Hall from The BBC’s The Bodyguard where it stood in for House of Commons reading room. The Mahogany carvings and golden details also continue in this space.
So who can we thank for this beautiful place? William Waldorf Astor, an American attorney, politician, businessman, and newspaper publisher (also the same guy who restored Hever Castle) who bought and renovated the place and used it as his office space. I can think of worse places to work from.
The place is only open to the public during Open House and their annual exhibition, which is happening now until 22nd April. So you have little less than a month to make it down to Thames Embankment and see for yourself. And don’t forget to go to the Ladies toilets on the first floor … you’ll be in for a treat.
Travel inspiration can come from all sorts of places, whether it’s a book, film/TV or your latest sponsored social media post. But one place you not think is from computer games. While I don’t tend to play them, I occasionally see watch them from afar and they surprisingly are quite the travel adverts. So in the spirit of my post on Travel Movies I Wish I Was Part Of, here’s my top picks which will get you booking holidays ASAP.
These Indiana Jones-inspired platform shooters feature some of the most desirable travel locations you can think of – the Himalayas, Borneo, Madagascar, the Amazon, Yemen and even London. The way the games tie actual historical facts and figures to the locations is one most impressive feats – and ties directly to the fascination of some travellers who love to explore the history of the place through its historic stories.
With countless games traversing the world, these history-based adventures take you from the Caribbean to Egypt and Ancient Rome, and many many more. The most recent games have also had ‘tourist’ style modes, allowing you explore without having to dodge arrows and swords, so at a much more leisurely pace, getting you read for your real-life adventure.
While this fantasy role playing game is set in an entirely fictional world, the inspirations the creators have taken in their level design more than give nods to real life locations that begged to be visited. The icy fjords and islands of Skellige could easily be Scandinavia, while Novigrad takes inspiration from Amsterdam and Gdansk, and Oxenfurt pays homage to the university city of Oxford.
Again, it may be an adventure series with dragons, magic and all kinds of fantasy malarkey, but the places you visit owe a hefty debt to bits of planet you can actually go and see. Skyrim is a bit of a mixed-bag, with inspirations taken from Norway, Wales, Northern Ireland and Switzerland to name but a few, while Oblivion has obvious nods to Western Europe and New Zealand (in a Peter Jackson, LOTR sense).
Grand Theft Auto
The GTA series is a rather vivid take on the USA, but despite the extreme cartoony violence and general ‘over-the-top’ themes, the remarkably realistic depictions of cities like New York (Liberty City), Los Angeles (San Andreas) and Miami (Vice City) are more than worth coming back to. The fact you can even explore the cities and beyond by air will get your travel imagination going ever more.
Apocalyptic game series might not be the ideal tourist advert, I mean who wants to be gouged to death by radiated zombies, mutants and horrifically large sized insects while sightseeing? But aside from that, these games give a picture-postcard take on most of the main landmarks you’d be hitting up on your travels. Fallout 3 is a reasonably decent take on Washington DC and its surrounds, while Fallout 4’s version of Boston and its surrounds is remarkably well done.
Red Dead Redemption
While you can’t take to your horse, kidnap bounties and engage in mass shootouts like you could back then, the cowboy GTA games do produce some of the loveliest North American landscapes and love letters to the everywhere from New Orleans to the Appalachians and Mexico. Definitely one to get your travel taste buds tingling.
Following its massive success in Paris back in 2017/2018, Christian Dior’s must-see exhibition has finally arrived in London at the The Victoria & Albert Museum , with some additional and never seen before pieces just for London! As soon as booking was possible, the tickets for the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams were sold out almost instantly – but then a glimmer of hope arrived last week when they announced an extension for another 7 weeks with more tickets, but again they were gone before you could even load up the booking website!
All this means there are three two options for you to witness it:
1. Become a member.
2. Queue up and see if you can grab some of the tickets they release daily on first-come, first-served basis.
3. Steal someone’s ticket
If you go with option 2, you’ll be queuing early morning at the museum’s main entrance on Cromwell Road. To give you an idea: I got there at 08:15 on a Saturday and was the 26th in line. I cannot 100% guarantee if 08:15 is the best time to arrive, as there are a few things you have to factor in on a daily basis – the weather wasn’t too great so I can imagine less people were eager to head out, and earlier in the week they had released tickets for the extended dates, meaning it was probably a less crowded day.
Around 09:30 a staff member will appear and hand out ticket numbers to those queuing, then when the doors open at 10:00 you go inside and purchase the actual tickets (£22) for the available timeslots they have at the ticket desk. I saw on Twitter that during a random weekday they gave out 100+ tickets; on the Saturday I went there were 58 tickets and there were well over 100 people waiting many of whom were sadly left empty handed.
With your tickets finally in hand you can head to the Sainsbury Gallery, but make sure you go on time because soon be joining another queue. For your reference I waited for 50 minutes in that one. Once you’ve gone through the final ticket check downstairs the queuing hasn’t quite ended…if it’s busy, you may be waiting a bit more to see the dresses as it can get quite cramped in there…Welcome to the Christian Queueor.
What I Didn’t Like
Because it was crowded you never really got the chance to get immersed in the moment. You had to stop and wait for people, read and then move on as the next person was either panting at your neck, holding their phone in front of you or subtly nudging.
They didn’t make use of the amazing space of the actual V&A and instead crammed the exhibition in downstairs in the Sainsbury Gallery. It felt dusty and old fashioned at times, without much innovation. I can only compare it to this Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition I saw in Rotterdam which was imaginative and well presented with mannequins that had faces projected and who randomly started singing, this just felt a bit meh simple and reliant on the exhibits rather the space as a whole.
It’s relatively short and the exit came as a surprise. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just me so I waited at the exit point for about 10 minutes and there were a lot ‘oh is this it?’ and then people leaving and some even heading back in.
What I Liked
Obviously seeing all the garments up close, it was also a bonus that most weren’t hidden behind glass boxes, so you see the details and craftsmanship that go into couture pieces. Getting a sneak peek of Dior’s sketches and fabric swatches.
I also liked that it wasn’t all chronological and instead broken down in themes that featured garments from all the different designers and how they added something to the fashion house but all kept the famous hourglass silhouettes at the forefront. Seeing the same shapes and styles come back time after time reminded you that every trend comes back, so make sure you keep that leopard skirt you bought for the next round!
The ball room, oh the ballroom! The big finale. I mean look at that last photo.
So was it worth the queuing? All in all yes … as it’s not often you get the chance to see such wondrous clothing up close and personal, so stick with in and enjoy.
Didn’t make it to the Good Grief, Charlie Brown! exhibition at Somerset House? Today I thought I’d give you the lowdown on what you could have seen.
Whether it’s Snoopy, Charlie Brown or Peppermint Patty, we’ve all identified with the Peanuts characters at some time or another.
For me, it was learning it’s ok to have a no-nonsense attitude a la Patty and that it’s perfectly acceptable to cry whenever you feel like bawling your eyes out, just like Lucy.
So with this in mind, when I heard my favourite riverside arts hub was putting together a selection of the best of Schulz and Peanuts, I knew I had to be there as soon as I could find my comfort blanket.
The first space included background info on creator Charles M. Schulz, focusing on his background sketches, interviews and props that inspired some of the comics – like his old ice-skates, planners and his surprisingly simple drawing tools and equipment.
Next up was a time line with what influenced his stories and how he influenced us. There was a set of letters that led him to introduce Franklin the first African American character, popularising the concept of a security blanket and LOTS of merchandise.
I loved learning more about the characters, stories and moments that have inspired children and adults for generations. I think I was always too focused on Snoopy and Woodstock because it didn’t occur to me that the comics covered themes like feminism, war and mental health. Which might be the reason why they don’t seem outdated at all.
In addition to all the info and comic displays there were interactive elements, such as a cinema room filled with bean bags to be lounged on while enjoying the cartoons, light boxes with stencils where you got to trace and create your own comic and vast selections of compilation comic books that you could read.
Overall, Somerset House managed to pull off another great exhibition, giving fans and newcomers alike a chance to step into the wonderful world of creator Schulz and his Peanuts squad. Sadly the exhibition isn’t traversing the world, but if you’re ever in Santa Rosa in California, the Schulz museum is probably the best place for a slice of Peanuts.
Between a trip to Basque Country and a weekend in Hever I still managed to see and do enough things in London this February! Though I feel I’ve let myself down but being the only one who hasn’t had the first beer in a pub garden?!
Their mocha is Just. The. Best. It’s also a co-work space so if you ever need a place to work from in Brixton, make sure it’s Caya.
GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN! @ SOMERSET HOUSE Holborn
What I always love about the bigger exhibitions at Somerset House is that they are set out for both people who are long time fans as well as people who are new to the topic and they certainly pulled it off here again. I loved stepping into the world of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and co and seeing objects that inspired the comics, the pens and pencils Schulz used and just reading the many comics on display.
ROKA Holborn – various locations
When it comes to Japanese I usually opt for katsu curry or okonomiyaki over sushi. So when I have to go out of my comfort zone ROKA was a good pick. The place offers Japanese tapas style and is a great option if you’re looking to try a variety of flavours over one meal: GO! But instead of going for a la carte try one of their cheaper fixed menus.
MELBA @ SABOY Strand
I don’t know much about eclairs and I don’t want to make any wild claims, but The Savoy’s Melba patisserie has by far the best ones in London. I can’t wait for an excuse to go and try some of their other pastries. Or try their ice-cream éclairs once we’re into the warmer months.
It was almost an urban myth: an IKEA in London with a focus on sustainability and with a rooftop terrace is finally here! And since it feels like a day out I feel it needs to be on this list. My very first visit didn’t cost me my relationship and the chair we assembled hasn’t collapsed. That’s always a win. Sadly the rooftop terrace wasn’t open on the day I went, so that might be put to a second test.
SOUTH LONDON GALLERY Camberwell//Peckham
If you are in the neighbourhood and you want to see some potentially up and coming artists then you might want to walk in. I found my oasis in the garden of the main building and their new contemporary art space in a former Fire Station (sadly without a pole).
MARIA SABINA Southbank
This Mexican at Southbank Food Market is serving a simple taco trio (chicken, beef and/or cactus) with the best hot salsa I’ve come across London.
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