Friday, 17 October 2014

Island Hopping: 6 Islands Within an Hour of London

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Last weekend I spent the weekend in Guernsey and I had a fantastic short break. I flew out straight after work on Friday and returned on Monday morning which meant I got to spend the weekend on an island without wasting any annual leave. I'll definitely return to Guernsey and am already planning our next trip but the success of our short mini-break has got me thinking about where else I can visit for just a weekend. Read on to discover six islands that you can visit that are located within an hour from the UK mainland.

Jersey

Located off the coast of Normandy, Jersey is an intriguing fusion of British and French culture. It’s the biggest of the Channel Islands set and boasts a stunning 47 mile coastline. Whether you’re into sandy beaches or rugged cliffs, Jersey has it all! There’s plenty of hotels to choose from and an abundance of charming cafes and restaurants to whittle away the days. If you want to getaway to Jersey for a relaxing break, budget airlines such as Flybe schedule flights departing from all the UK’s major cities from Exeter to Edinburgh.

Skye

For breathtakingly rugged scenery, Scotland’s Isle of Skye is a winning destination. Catch the ferry for a novel experience or simply drive over the Skye Bridge in a matter of minutes. Whichever route you choose to take, it’s well worth the effort. For whiskey lovers, a tour of the famous Talisker distillery is a must. Those wanting to work up a sweat can hike some of Skye’s spectacular mountain paths.

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Isle of Man

Nestled in between Ireland and England, the Isle of Man offers visitors quintessential old world charm. The island is peppered with castles, churches and abbeys which will please even the most well-read of history buffs. For those with a taste for adventure, the isle’s undulating interior offers great scenic hikes while coastal trails lead to magnificent viewpoints. For cheap transport to the Isle of Man, tourists need no longer rely on the ferry, British Airways flies direct from London City Airport.

Anglesey

Despite being just a short trip on the A5 off Wales, Anglesey feels worlds away from mainland Britain. Visitors can explore ancient castles, enjoy beautiful nature walks and even engage in some summertime water sports that give Spain a run for its money!

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Tresco

Off the coast of Cornwall lies a picturesque archipelago which flaunts a wonderful Mediterranean vibe. Tresco is by far the most popular island and boasts a fascinating history dating back to the Bronze Age. Whether you frolic in the crystal clear waters or explore the ancient Tresco Abbey Gardens, Tresco and the Isles of Scilly is just a short plane or ferry ride away!

Isle of Sark

It may be the smallest of the major British Channel Islands but the Isle of Sark is definitely worthy of a mention. The short-haul flight company Aurigny can get you there fast by air. The island has a no cars policy which keeps the air incredibly clean – perfect for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Instead, visitors cycle, walk or take a horse drawn cart around the island’s 40 mile circumference. Thanks to the lack of infrastructure, the Isle of Sark is a great place to spot wildlife and indulge in a little star gazing.

With fantastic islands such as these, why bother travelling further afield to get your dose of fresh sea air?

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Hidden Mews of Knightsbridge and Belgravia

Macarons in Mayfair (3)

And now for something completely different. A short while ago, we discovered that the expat curse was to strike again. For those that are not familiar with this term, I coined it some years ago to describe the fact that most expats ultimately return home and leave other, heartbroken expats in their wake. When Yannick and I learned that the lovely Kat would soon be departing for home, we began to conspire to treat Kat to a very special farewell walk.

Now if you know anything about Yannick’s walks, you’ll know that they are exceptionally well conceived and researched and we were very privileged indeed to join him on his inaugural Macarons and Mews walk.

I’m not going to give away any of the fascinating stories that Yannick regaled us with nor am I going to divulge where we sourced the mouth-watering, delicious macarons that we tasted on the walk. I will tell you that we explored the hidden mews and secret passageways of Knightsbridge and Belgravia and that if you love history, macarons and exploring hidden places then this is the walk for you.

I’ll let my photos tell you the story of our afternoon’s adventures. Enjoy!

Hidden mews in Mayfair (1)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (2)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (3)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (4)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (5)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (6)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (7)

Macarons in Mayfair (2)

Macarons in Mayfair (1)

Harrods

Secret mews in Mayfair (5)

Secret mews in Mayfair (1)

Bianka, Yannick and Mandy

Secret mews in Mayfair (2)

Secret mews in Mayfair (3)

Secret mews in Mayfair (4)

I have to admit that I’d never seen anything like any of these places before. The areas we explored were so quiet but there were definite signs of life!

If you’d like to visit Yannick on his delicious and fascinating Macarons and Mews walk, his Art Deco in Bloomsbury walk or his renowned Holland Park walk, you can book at his Eventbrite page.

Have you ever explored the hidden mews and secret passageways of Belgravia and Knightsbridge? Which secret part of London should I explore next?

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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Discovering the Ruins of Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey - Please keep off the abbey walls

There are times when I have to admit that despite my determination to be an eternal tourist, to celebrate all that my hometown has to offer before I explore the rest of the world, I’m still kind of rubbish at it. Why else would I live within 10 to 20 minutes of this absolutely gem for over seven years

Ruined walls of Lesnes Abbey

This is the ruined Lesnes Abbey which sits on the edge of the Abbey Wood in the London Borough of Bexley. The Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr was founded in Lesnes in 1178 and became known locally as Lesnes Abbey.

Window in ruined Lesnes Abbey

It is speculated that the abbey was founded by Richard de Luci as penance for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Whatever truth lies in that story, de Luci spent the last three months of his life in retirement at the abbey and was buried in the Chapter House.

The fate of the abbey was not a happy one. In 1524, Lesnes Abbey became one of the first monasteries to be suppressed in King Henry VIII’s notorious Dissolution of the Monasteries. Like many other monasteries of the time, all of the abbey buildings except for the Abbot’s lodging were destroyed and it is said that stones from the abbey were used in the construction of nearby Hall Place.

Tower blocks in the distance - Lesnes Abbey

Today the ruins lie on the edge of the Abbey Wood, overlooking the council estates in Thamesmead and Abbey Wood. It is an interesting juxtaposition between medieval and modern Britain.

Floorplan of the dissolved Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey experienced financial problems throughout much of its existence and many of the buildings fell into neglect in the fourteenth century.  What strikes me then is how well the ruins have withstood the years. It seems that the stones lie exactly as they fell 490 years ago and you can still see a very clear footprint of the original buildings. When I was researching our visit to the abbey, I looked the site up on Google Maps and that footprint is especially striking in satellite view.  

Toppled pillars at Lesnes Abbey

Would neglect and mounting debt have eventually gotten the better of our abbey? We’ll never know. The more I learn about Henry’s megalomaniacal campaign of religious and cultural destruction, the sadder I become. I think he took a lot from the British people that countries across Europe were able to maintain (unless they were later lost in war).

All that remains of the pillars at Lesnes Abbey

I was extremely impressed with the condition of the grounds at Lesnes Abbey. The grass lawns were perfectly manicured and there were well-tended flower beds around the ruins. Entrance to the site is free of charge and there are several benches and spaces for visitors to sit and picnic.

Peeking through a ruined wall at Lesnes Abbey

The site is well sign-posted and children will be able to see a plan of the site and identify the various rooms and areas.

Ruins of Lesnes Abbey

I think I might just have found my new favourite outdoor space in the whole of London.

A lost passageway at Lesnes Abbey

The chapel at Lesnes Abbey

Burial place of Roesia of Dover

Once you’ve finished exploring the ruins, do take the time to walk through the beautiful Abbey Woods and see the bluebells. There are a choice of well sign-posted walks ranging in difficulty and you can also link up with the Green Chain. 

Lesnes Abbey

The Ruins of Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey is open to the public in daylight hours and is within walking distance of Abbey Wood rail station. 

Lesnes Abbey
Abbey Road, Belvedere
Nearest postcode: DA17 5DY
Email: visitlesnes@bexley.gov.uk
Telephone: 0208 303 7777

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Must See: Great Britain at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

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After a sold out run at the National Theatre, Richard Bean’s satirical play Great Britain moved to the Theatre Royal Haymarket this week and I got to attend one of the first performances. This anarchic and ridiculously funny play is not-so-loosely based on the phone hacking scandal and stars Lucy Punch as ambitious newspaper editor Paige Britain.

Great Britain follows Lucy’s exploits as she feeds her readers’ seemingly insatiable desire for dirt and gossip on celebrities and the royals. She beds whoever she needs to and will stop at nothing to increase her circulation. With the discovery that voicemails can be hacked, Lucy’s revelations ensure that The Free Press reaches stratospheric sales and yet the public keep coming back for more.

Lucy Punch as Paige Britain

Great Britain is fast-paced with non-stop puns and allusions that had the audience in stitches. The set design is fantastic and I loved how they recreated both The Free Press offices and those of the Met Police. The show makes use of fictitious live news reports as well as viral videos of the events in the story and you can feel the mounting hysteria that were reminiscent of how events actually played out in the phone hacking scandal.

The play is funny – really funny – and we were just about weeping with laughter at times. I love that the script appealed to both Stephen and I as it is rare that we both enjoy a performance. I’m also renowned for having no sense of humour so it is an especially glowing recommendation if I find something this funny.

Great Britain play Richard Bean Met Police

Lucy Punch is superb in her role as Paige Britain. There was a split second when the play opened that I recalled that this role belonged to Doctor Who alumni Billie Piper during the National Theatre run but those thoughts were immediately dispelled. This role was perfect for Lucy and she totally owned the role from the minute she sauntered onto the stage. Special mention must also go to Aaron Neil for his utterly convincing performance as the gormless Met Police Commissioner Sully Kassam and to Robert Glenister for his role as Paige’s editor Wilson Tikkel.

I would absolutely recommend this scathing satire of the press, police and politics in Britain. Great Britain runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a strictly limited season until 10 January 2015.

 

Great Britain
Theatre Royal Haymarket
18 Suffolk St
London, SW1Y 4HT

Book online

 

I received a pair of complimentary tickets to this performance but to be honest, I would have most likely gone to see the play anyway. As is always the case, I promise to share sincere and honest opinions with my readers.

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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Finding Myself in Paris

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It occurred to me the Sunday before I left for Paris that nothing I could possibly say about my time there would be much of a surprise to anyone. Paris is possibly the most photographed, painted, filmed and written about city on earth and I am but one voice in the chorus.

I set myself a task - I was going to find myself in Paris. It’s not that I was especially lost – I like to think I’ve got quite a keen sense of who I am – but I’m not quite the same person I was when I lived in South Africa.

I decided it was time to reconnect with who I am and what I like. To show you Paris through my own eyes, what I see when I look at the world around me. This is a post of things, of experiences and impressions. It won’t include the actual reasons for our visit – meeting up with precious friends and family, tracing our family history, reconnecting with our loved ones – but I thought it was a good place to start.

Paris Metro

Tube, underground, metro or subway. Whatever you name it, I love the underground networks beneath many of the world’s greatest cities. I’m a little sad that I didn’t take more photos of the Paris Metro – I was convinced I had but this turned out to be my only photo.

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

I love discovering grand old houses, palaces and buildings and learning of their history. This is the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the western suburbs of Paris. My mother's family once lived in a house in the grounds of this estate but today all that remains of the house is overgrown grass covering the foundations.

Stairwell in St Germain-en-Laye

I love stairwells and tiles, old buildings and classic fittings. My mother and uncle would once have run up and down this stairwell when they were young children.

House in St Germain-en-Laye

I love architecture. I like to look at the lines and curves of a building and learn more about its style and design. This house is part of the house where my mother and uncle lived as children. It is next door to the building that the photo above was taken in.

Statue in St Germain-en-Laye

I love gardens and statues and learning more about their meanings and the reason they were built. This photo was taken in the gardens of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. After a particularly difficult morning tracing family history, I took a long walk alone in the gardens. I love being alone and often like to be alone when I am feeling emotionally drained.

View of Paris from St Germain-en-Laye

I love views, especially ones filled with greenery and nature. This is the view from Saint-Germain-en-Laye looking towards Paris in the distance. If you look closely, you can see the Seine winding through the middle of the photo and also some interesting turrets in the right corner of the photo.

Street scene in the 10th Arr

I love city scenes and seeing how different cities in the world look. This photo was taken in the 10th Arrondissement, shortly before the shopkeeper closed for Friday prayers.

Joan of Arc Paris

I have always loved Joan of Arc and consider her a hero. This statue is located just off the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

Tarte Citroen Angelina

I've learned to love sweet foods during my time in London. I was never really a sweet tooth before but that has all changed now! This is a Tarte au Citron from Angelina which is located on Rue de Rivoli.

Lamp post Tuilleries

I love lampposts and am quite certain that this can be traced back to my love of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This photo was taken in The Tuileries Garden where the lovely Yannick took me on a sanity-saving walk.

Tuileries

I love sculptured gardens and extravagant walkways. This was taken in The Tuileries Garden looking towards the Louvre.

Arcade Paris

I love old Victorian arcades. I think this is only something I discovered after moving to England seven years ago but since then I have discovered arcades in London, Norwich, Paris and Milan.

Eglise Saint Laurent Paris

I love churches in all their details and symbolism. This is the Église Saint-Laurent in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

People in Paris

I love people-watching and looking at how people interact and relate to each other. This was taken from my seat in the Renouveau Bistro in the 10th arrondissement.

Art nouveau Metro sign Paris

I love Art Nouveau and was thrilled to see all the Art Nouveau touches in Paris, such as this Metro sign. This was taken emerging from the École Militaire Metro station near the Eiffel Tower.

Handwriting in Paris

I love handwriting as well as stationery and books. This is the Mur de la Paix or Wall for Peace monument in the Champ de Mars gardens.

Eiffel Tower

I love seeing the things that other people have seen with my own eyes. I try not to think about whether or not they met my expectations but instead I like to really look at them and to see the details that I hadn't noticed before.

Eiffel Tower detail

I love metal work and filigree and the details that go into massive metal structures. I first realised this love in New York when I visited the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty.

The River Seine

I love rivers and especially rivers that flow through cities. Water is in fact one of my greatest loves of all. I love rain and oceans, waterfalls and rivers, swimming pools and canals.

French flags

I love flags. I always loved the Union Flag and the new South African flag but I think it was again in New York that I discovered my love for flags in general. New Yorkers were so proud of their flag whereas we in the UK only really discovered that pride in 2011 / 2012 in the run up to the Royal wedding, Diamond Jubilee and Olympics.

Cafe culture

I love cafe culture and sitting in cafes across the world. I also love eating alone and am also known to go to the cinema alone. I know that many people don’t like that at all but I find that these are my best times to think and reconnect with myself.

Cafe noisette

I love coffee. This wasn't always the case. For many years, coffee gave me headaches and so my love of coffee is a very recent thing. I generally like my coffee and tea the same, strong, sweet and milky but I've also discovered a passion for the French café noisette - espresso with a dash of hot milk. I’ve finally learned to sip it slowly with a glass of water too, instead of downing it in one gulp.

Arc de triomphe

I love France. This is a brand new love and one that surprised me. I never had any desire to visit France at all and often wished that other countries were just across the Channel. But visited Boulogne and Lille in 2012 and Normandy this year and I have certainly fallen in love. This is one of the reasons I try not to hold expectations about destinations.

Emm in Paris 

And finally, I am beginning to love myself, even my tummy which, it seems, will not be tamed. This is me after a mammoth walk through Paris right at the end of our four day stay. I was much more relaxed and at peace with myself than I had been four days earlier but that was soon scuppered by our bus to the station being delayed behind protestors and the two of us almost missing our Eurostar home!

Have you ever lost or found yourself? What do you do when you need to reconnect or are you naturally Zen about the whole thing?

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