A Valentine’s Plan

Tower Bridge

A short while ago, we were in the West End when Stephen turned to me and said that we really should spend a night or two in the centre of London one day.  I’ve never really thought about it because we live so close and usually go home after spending a day or evening in London. But Stephen is right and I’ve started thinking about my perfect overnight stay in London. It was then that I came up with a Valentine’s Plan.

Book Ahead: The Hotel

I can’t seem to get enough of the Thames at the moment so while I love the idea of posh hotels in Mayfair and Kensington, I’d definitely be looking for hotels that offer a fabulous view of the Thames or landmarks such as Tower Bridge or the London Eye. It is a long time since I’ve booked a hotel in London (the last time being our honeymoon!) but there really are hotels to suit every budget. Nevertheless, this is a romantic getaway, so I would love to book at the Park Plaza Riverbank or the Marriott London County Hall. Hey, a girl can dream - their views are incredible!

On Arrival: Take a Walk

Another reason for booking a hotel along the banks of the Thames is the fabulous walking opportunities this affords.  On arrival, you can take a long, romantic stroll up along the Southbank towards London Bridge and the Shard, over Tower Bridge and back down the Thames Path past the Tower to Blackfriars Bridge. Cross over at Blackfriars and wander past Oxo Tower and Gabriel’s Wharf and on to the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre.

Eating Out: The World’s Your Oyster

I tried to do a quick count of how many restaurants you’d pass during this riverside walk but I kept losing count! The Bankside and Southbank area is full of restaurants catering to every culinary preference. Fluid London gives a list of the Top 10 Restaurants with Romantic Views across London. 

During the Day: Art and Culture

Dash Magazine ExhibitionI just know that spring is around the corner because the London art and culture scene is heating up and there are some fantastic exhibitions on over Valentine’s Day.  There is an exhibition on the life and work of my favourite designer Valentino over at Somerset House. Valentino: Master of Couture runs until 3 March 2013 and tickets are £12.50/£9 concessions.

There are always good exhibitions on at the gallery@oxo located at Oxo Tower Wharf and the DASH Magazine Hosts CH Talents exhibition looked especially interesting (see image above). There is also a display of Heather Leitch’s Iconic Scenes of the World running from 6-10 February.  All exhibitions at the gallery@oxo are free.

If all of this culture seems a little high-brow for you, perhaps you can appeal to your inner child and visit the Imagine Children’s Festival running from 11-24 February 2013.  This literature festival will feature Anthony Horowitz (my favourite author of all time) speaking about his new novel Oblivion on 19 February.  I can’t think of anything more romantic!

In the Evening: Catch a Show

You can’t have a romantic interlude in London without catching a West End show. We’ve gone ahead and booked Valentine’s tickets for Billy Elliott at Victoria Palace Theatre and I cannot wait. You can also catch War Horse at New London Theatre, which I highly recommend, or The Bodyguard at Adelphi Theatre for some classic romance.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to plan all of this in two weeks and it is a pity that Valentine’s Day falls on a Thursday this year! But all of this planning definitely makes me excited for a long London summer of festivals, exhibitions, arts, culture and live events. 

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day? Why don’t you plan a similar post and tell me all about what there is to do in your city?

Snapshots: From London Bridge to Charing Cross

I find myself faced with a unique challenge during my morning walks from London Bridge to Charing Cross.  London is so beautiful at this time of year and all I want to do is explore, drink in the views and take photographs.  Alas, I must be disciplined and make sure that I get to work at a reasonable time. Here are a couple of my favourite iPhone photos from the past couple of weeks.

Men's Evil Manners

Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  I was just about to zoom in on St Paul’s Cathedral when I realised that this photo wouldn’t be complete without the dramatic sky and Shakespeare quote.

“Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtue we write in water”
― William Shakespeare, Henry VIII

City of London Boundary Dragons

One of these days I'll find a way to explore the Inner Temple Gardens. In the meantime, I make sure to visit the City of London boundary dragons every so often.London Bridge

London Bridge is so pretty at dawn. One day I will take a photo that does this historic bridge justice.

Tower Bridge

The Thames is tidal and the water is especially choppy at dawn.  I really loved the dramatic sky and water on this particular morning.

The Shard and Fishmongers Hall

If you cross over London Bridge and take the stairs down to Upper Tames Road, you can see this stunning view of the Shard and Fishmonger's Hall.

Cannon Street

I always appreciate the juxtaposition of old and new in London.  Here you can see one of the original Cannon Street towers and the facade of the newly constructed Watermark Place.

Old Father Thames

I've always wanted to take a photo of Old Father Thames but I'm usually really late by the time I reach this point on my walks.  This morning was no different but I just couldn’t resist.

Walkie Talkie from Cannon Street

I have to admit, I'll a little fickle. After loyally following the construction of the Shard for over two years, I have found a new object of admiration.  The Walkie-Talkie Building (officially 20 Fenchurch Street) is going to be massive and while it won’t be as tall as the Shard, it is going to dwarf the Gherkin when completed.

Royal Courts of Justice

I was just a little bit lost when I stumbled upon the Royal Courts of Justice one morning and ever so slightly late for work too. I’d had a wonderful time exploring the alleys of the City but this complex was just magical.  One day I promise to set out just a little bit earlier so that I can fully explore this fairy tale neighbourhood.

A Light Dusting of Snow on st Paul's Cathedral

Shortly before the snow really came to London, we had one morning where it pretended to come. I specifically headed straight for St Paul’s Cathedral on this particular morning to capture the slightest dusting of snow on the dome.

Tower Bridge at Dawn

And the day before the snow really came to London, the skies were blue but it was bitterly cold.  It was also absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t resist turning towards Tower Bridge before I headed back to Charing Cross.  I took this photo at day break.

The best part about my early morning walks? I get to see daylight. Winter in London can be brutal but I realise that even at its darkest, the sun rises at 8am and I am absolutely cashing in on that hour of light. Sometimes I see a bit of blue sky and very occasionally a ray of sunshine, although I have to admit, it sometimes takes me a while to recognise what the pale golden glow actually is.

Must See: War Horse at the New London Theatre

War Horse at the New London Theatre

In my mind, I’ve always considered a divide between theatre and film. I’d never truly been moved by a show, never truly experienced the full range of emotions from elation to devastation and I was okay with that because that was the arena of film. That changed when I saw War Horse

In a word, War Horse is spectacular. Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse has been brought to London’s New London Theatre by A Really Useful Group Theatre in association with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company

I enjoyed every minute of the play and it really is the best West End show I have ever seen.  Let me tell you a little bit more about the story, the actors, the set design and artwork and most of all, the puppets.

War Horse

War Horse is a delightful story but I obviously don’t want to give too much away.  It is the story of how a young hunter is captured as a foal and sold at auction to the Narracotts, a farming family.  Young Albert Narracott falls in love with the foal, names him Joey and works him until he earns his trust.  All too soon, the First World War breaks out and the army calls for horses for the cavalry.  Despite being separated, the bond between Albert and Joey ultimately proves to overcome the distance between them and the horrors of the war. This is a story about the futility of war and drawing lines, and the transcendence of love and hope.

The Cast

We were quite lucky on the evening we went to see War Horse because John Trindle was playing Albert Narracott (he usually plays Albert’s cousin, Billy).  John did a really good job and he was absolutely endearing as the wide-eyed and optimistic Albert.  I adored Rachel Sanders in her role as Rose Narracott, Albert’s mother. She was hilarious and made a great pair with Steve Nicolson who played Albert’s father, Ted.

My favourite actor was Richard Cant who played the conflicted German soldier Friedrich Müller. He gave a truly impeccable performance and managed somehow to win the sympathy of the audience despite being one of the enemy. 

British Troops line up for battle in War Horse

The Set and the Artwork

The War Horse set is quite simple but designer Rae Smith made use of exquisite artwork to convey the torn and devastated landscapes of war time France.  Fragments of film, torn sketches from a notebook and other images were projected onto a screen and certainly made a dark and convincing backdrop for the play.  When considered alongside the puppets, which I shall discuss next, it is no surprise that I found myself so emerged in the play.

The Puppets

I was impressed when I saw photos of the puppets before the show and after reading up about the Handspring Puppet Company, I knew we were in for a real treat. What I didn’t expect was to be so taken by these realistic and expressive puppets that I was moved to tears in the heart wrenching scenes towards the end of the play. I was so engrossed that I forgot for a moment that these were puppets, not real horses. 

Hmmm.  I don’t think I’ve quite conveyed the depth of my emotions there.  Let’s just say there was a scene involving barbed wire that had me beating my chest and taking deep gulps of air, hoping against hope for an impossible outcome. It was agonising and in that moment, it did not feel like it was a mere puppet up there on the stage.

The puppets are life size and not only are we treated to both foals and full grown horses in the play, but there are also a fabulous goose, birds and crows. While the smaller animals require just one puppeteer, the horses require at least three people working behind the scenes but there were times when I barely noticed the puppeteers. These are not static puppets, that is for sure, and no detail is ignored.  Ears flick in annoyance, the horse shifts weight from one back leg to the other while standing still, and they use their full momentum to rear up in anger.

Joey and Topthorn Square off

War Horse is absolutely impressive in every way and I simply can’t fault it.  I feel like I’ve been disappointed so many times in London theatres (I see a lot more than I review!) but this is one play that I would be happy to see again and again.

War Horse
New London Theatre
Drury Lane London