Saturday, 28 September 2013

Churchilliana and Bletchley Park


Brits sure do like to mention the war, especially so on the telly. That is however, how I learned about the existence of Bletchley Park; through a riveting WWII documentary on TV.

Churchilliana and Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park was a code breaking centre established in 1938 by Winston Churchill in an historic mansion located in Milton Keynes. It played a hugely important role in WWII. This is where encoded messages from ‘ze Chermans’ were intercepted and deciphered.

Churchilliana and Bletchley Park


Churchilliana and Bletchley Park


Nerdy as I am, I was glued to the TV and when they mentioned that the mansion still existed and had been turned into a museum. I promised myself I’d go and visit someday. Well, someday turned out to be last week, when I dragged a friend onto the train to Bletchley.

Churchilliana and Bletchley Park


Churchilliana and Bletchley Park


The centre is expansive with the mansion, barracks and huts surrounding a tranquil lake. The displays and exhibits are scattered throughout the ground. Visitors learn how the messages were intercepted, how they were deciphered, and how they were encoded again. They see how the work spaces were laid out, what a billet looked like and what Bletchley Park employees did for fun.

Churchilliana and Bletchley Park


Churchilliana and Bletchley Park

The absolute highlight of our visit, however, was the vast collection of Churchill memorabilia in one of the huts. Probably the biggest one in the world. It’s the personal collection of Jack Darrah who built the collection over a period of 30 years, keeping it in his house. He had to store it in boxes when he moved from a villa to a flat and was very happy to be able to unpack them in Bletchley Park. The room is stacked front to back, top to bottom with Churchilliana ranging from Churchill playing cards, Churchill piggy banks to Churchill Russian matryoshka dolls. There are cushion covers, posters, plates, book rests, lamps everywhere you look. Draped over furniture, hung on the walls, perching in the display cases, on top of them or underneath them.  

Churchilliana and Bletchley Park


Churchilliana and Bletchley Park

The sad thing is the Bletchley Park is planning on closing down the Churchill collection as it doesn’t fit with the rest of the exhibits. So far Mr Darrah hasn’t been able to find a new home here in the UK for his collection and I personally think that’s a real, real shame. Not to mention a bit of a surprise for a country that loves mentioning the war so much.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Hard Rock Cafe Vault Museum


The Hard Rock Cafe Vault Museum

I'm not a huge fan of the Hard Rock Cafe, simply because I prefer not to globalise my food experience when I travel, but recently I found an article in one of our national newspapers that the Hard Rock in London is the proud owner of a vault museum, filled with rock memorabilia. After reading this, the only thing left for me to do was, of course, go and check it out.

The Hard Rock Cafe Vault Museum

The vault museum is located in the Hard Rock Store, which sits across the street from the actual Hard Rock Cafe. It can only be visited when accompanied by one of the guides, and there are tours twice an hour, every hour. But  just ask and if you're lucky you might just get a private guided tour. As did I.

The Hard Rock Cafe Vault Museum

My guide explained to me that the building that houses the Hard Rock Store used to be a bank and the vault is what's left over from those days. No stacks of gold plates and bundles of money in this vault, this one is of course stacked with rock paraphernalia donated by the artists themselves or bought in auctions and put down here because there's no room to display it in the restaurant.

The Hard Rock Cafe Vault Museum

There's Slash' guitar and the outfit he wore in the Guns 'n Roses November Rain video, you'll see Sting's Fender Precision Bass guitar which he played in the video for After the Rain Has Fallen, and Madonna's iconic JP Gaultier bustier is on display as well as one of her old credit cards.

It's quite a small display and I wasn't down there for very long, but I figured that an old bank vault filled with a bunch of guitars once owned by famous rock-stars is definitely worth a nosy around. Especially if it's free.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

My Three favourite Tea Shops in London

After ten years in the UK, I still haven't developed a love for a cup of PG Tips. However there are places where you can buy tea that's a bit more creative. These are what I think are the three best tea shops in London.

                            The Twining's Shop

A Tea Tour in London

This tea shop of the famous tea brand is located on the Strand. It's a bit hidden, but you'l recognise its entrance by the two Chinese men sitting high up on the facade. There are lots of different teas to choose from. Black, green or white. Fruity or smoky. Loose or in teabags. In tins or in boxes. Additionally if you can't make up your mind, you can buy most of the flavours in individual tea bags.


A Tea Tour in London



A Tea Tour in London


                                       The Tea House

A Tea Tour in London

The Tea House is located in the heart of Covent Garden on Neal Street. The choice of teas is a bit more exotic here and you'll find quite a few Asian tea flavours. Choose from flavours bearing intriguing names like Dragon Well, Snow Buds and Silver Needles. Besides tea, they offer an extensive collection of teapots, teacups and other tea paraphernalia. 


A Tea Tour in London


                                  Whittard of Chelsea

A Tea Tour in London

There are quite a few of these in the UK, but I usually go to the one in Covent Garden. Set on two levels this shop not only sells a wide variety of different tea flavours, but coffee lovers will like to browse this store too. And you can taste the teas and coffees as there are several tea and coffee pots brewing throughout the shop. Enjoy.


A Tea Tour in London



Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A Visit to Dennis Severs House


A Visit to Dennis Severs House

Last night I was invited to attend a silent night tour at the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields. I love visiting historic houses, wondering what it must have been like to live there back in the day. However, the Dennis Severs House is a little bit different. Here, you don't need to wonder, the Dennis Severs House actually takes you there.

Dennis Severs was an American artist who lived on 18 Folgate Street from 1979 till 1999. He refurbished his house in 18th and 19th century styles, creating a unique experience for his visitors who would be stepping into his tangible still-life piece of art.

A visit to Dennis Severs House
Courtesy of Dennis Severs House
Walking through the ten rooms is like walking through 18th century London life of an imaginary family of Huguenot silk weavers. Every single room feels like they're actually living here, but they've just gone into another room. I see a half eaten fruit in the kitchen, spilled tea and a broken tea cup in the parlour, knocked over furniture in the drawing room and I can even hear the soft murmur of their voices overhead. They're there, but I keep missing them.

Every room has its own atmosphere. Down in the cellar, I enter the pleasant kitchen where someone has just been toasting bread and leftovers of a meal are still on the table. The warm mood is enhanced by smells of fragrant spices, the soft candle light and the warmth of a crackling open fire, making me feel as if I'm standing in the heart and soul of the entire house.

A visit to Dennis Severs House
Courtesy of Dennis Severs House

Upstairs the bedrooms have that 'we just got out of bed' feeling. The pillows are still dented, the sheets are rumpled. Someone's been sitting in front of the mirror choosing ribbons, brushing her hair and splashing rose water on her face.

In the attic the mood gets a bit grim and reflects the despair of the time when the silk trade was on a downward spiral. The smell of damp air welcomes me as I walk up the rickety stairs, dodging the washing that's drying in the stairwell. The furniture in the two rooms is not pretty, paint is peeling off the walls, the cold evening air is flowing through holes in the ceiling, cobwebs brush against my face. The sound of explosions is heard in the background. A description tells me that that these are cannon shots fired off by the river Thames to mark the coronation of Queen Victoria. The poor weaver family has rushed out to watch this which must be a little shimmer of happiness in their dismal lives.

A visit to Dennis Severs House
Courtesy of Dennis Severs House

After my spellbinding visit I make my way through reality, back to my flat. I open the door and I'm greeted by the smell of damp laundry hanging out to dry, a half eaten bagel and some spilled coffee on my kitchen counter and a bed that I forgot to make when I left the house that morning. Funny how this doesn't have the same mesmerising effect on me as the still-life drama at the Dennis Severs House. This still-life scene, I just call it a mess.

For more information about visiting the Dennis Severs House, click here.

I was invited by Dennis Severs House to visit as a guest.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Capture the Colour

I have been tagged by Kirsten Sejersen from traveltogruta in the Capture the Colour competition run by Travel Supermarket. All you have to do to enter is pick your five favourite photos that represent the colours red, blue, yellow, green and white, and voila! So here are mine:

                                                                   Red


I love autumn and I love it even more when the leaves start to change colour like this branch that was hanging over a wall down my street. It sure made the ugly concrete wall look a lot prettier.


                                                                   Blue



KLM airlines give each and every passenger in their first and business class cabins a little Delfts Blue house filled with Dutch gin. Some frequent KLM travellers are avid collectors of these little houses and I found this KLM gin house village in a stall on an antiques market in Amsterdam.

                                                                 Green



I like walking around my parents garden in Spain and just snapping away at all the weird and wonderful plants and flowers I find. This was taken just after a rain shower as you can still see the drops sitting on the succulent's leaves.


                                                                Yellow



I went to Sorrento earlier this year and found that this was the city of lemons. Not only is the town set amidst orange and lemon groves, but there are many shops selling lemon soaps, lemon candles and lemon liqueur.

                                                                 White


This photo was taken in Riga a few years ago. We were sightseeing and completely surprised by a massive snow shower. However, walking through the snow covered park was a wonderful experience as it felt like there was this white veil of silence that had been laid out over the city. This bridge is the one where lovers padlock their wish for happiness to the bridge, which is a sight in itself, but with the snow covering the padlocks, it looked all the more romantic.

These are my choices for Capture the colour, a competition run by Travelsupermarket. I tag the following bloggers:
Jacintha at http://www.urbanpixxels.com/
Freya at http://www.holidaynomad.com/
Selena at http://www.selenatheplaces.com/
Gina at http://www.ginasweetserenity.com/
Linzi at http://office-breaks.com/

Have fun ladies!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Church of Bartholomew the Great


Four Weddings and That Church

I love wandering around aimlessly, while letting fate decide what you'll run into. Last week I happened to find myself in the Smithfield Market area, where I stumbled upon the magnificent Priory Church of  Bartholomew the Great. It's what you could call a celebrity church. A church that featured in movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Other Boleyn Girl, Shakespeare in Love, and many more.

Four Weddings and That Church

This church lies tugged away behind a Tudor, timbered gatehouse facade. When you walk through the gatehouse you end up on a walkway flanked by the nave turned graveyard on the left and the former cloister garden on the right. St Barts, as it's lovingly called, was built in 1123 as part of a monastery of Augustinian Canons, but the tower dates back to the 17th century and the porch to the 13th. This makes it the oldest church in London, which is still in use.

Four Weddings and That Church

The rugged, Roman interior is no less stunning. Even though the church is quite dark, there are shafts of light falling through the high windows above the arches and triforium arcades, highlighting the magnificent stonework. I walked around and learned that the Lady Chapel was turned into a printing house where Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US of A used to work. I admired the font in which the painter William Hogarth was baptised and took some photos of the oriel window Prior Bolton installed in order to spy on his monks. Of course I couldn't help myself trying to find the spot where Hugh Grant got punched out by his jilted bride.

Four Weddings and That Church


Four Weddings and That Church

After my little self-guided tour, I went to the airy, and tranquil Cloister Cafe for a frothy cappuccino and a generous slice of cake. Looking out through the stained glass windows, into the former cloister garden, I whiled away a good two hours here. It's just such a dreamy setting that it's no wonder this church has played many parts in several movies. If only churches could get Oscars.

Four Weddings and That Church


Four Weddings and That Church



Sunday, 8 September 2013

Smith of Smithfields in Spitalfields

The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields

The very popular Smiths of Smithfield or SOS has expanded into Spitalfields and a friend and I were invited for the opening last week. The Spitalfields restaurant is located on Commercial Street with outdoor seating looking out onto Spitalfield Market. The restaurant which offers 'the best of British food' is set across four floors. There is a Private Loft that can be hired for private diners, meetings and parties. The 1st Floor Dining Room is open for all day dining, but also serves breakfast on the weekends.

The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields

The ground floor is where you'll find the ‘SMITHS’ CafĂ©  where you can enjoy breakfast and lunch during the day and in the evening some good music and drinks. The ‘SMITHS’ Basement Bar is a live venue, showcasing the best of British talent on the rise with great DJs, acoustic sessions, ‘gin & jazz’ nights and film nights. If you're strapped for time, you can also get takeaway portions of the classic dishes along with fresh juice and smoothies at the ‘SMITHS’ market stalls.

The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields


The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields

We were greeted in the ground floor cafe bar with a very much needed glass of refreshing prosecco which mysteriously seemed to stay filled to the top. As we sat down at one of the tables in the ground floor cafe bar, trays of canapes carried by friendly waiters and waitresses suddenly appeared. We sampled crunchy salt beef croquettes, a creamy salmon mouse on toast, succulent pork belly. There were spoons filled with a fiery broccoli and squid, a crispy Thai beef and bean sprout salad wrapped in lettuce and a medley of mushrooms on toast. Needless to say that these all went down very well.

The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields


The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields

Then we were ushered to the first floor dining room for a butchery workshop where one of the chefs showed us how he handles and cuts premium pieces of beef before they end up on your plate. This display certainly wasn't for veggies or the faint and heart, but the cuts of beef sure tasted great when they came off the grill afterwards.

The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields


The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields

The final piece of entertainment of the night was located in the basement bar where the bar was littered with fruity gin martinis and the mood was set with sultry jazz. We sat back and enjoyed the music while sipping on our Martinez and Jazz Time martinis and nibbling on a moist mini brownie. If this evening was anything to go by of the standard of food and service, then I will certainly be back for more.

The Cow is Coming to Spitalfields


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Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Walk Through Dordrecht


A City Walk in Dordrecht

When in Holland I just love being a tourist in my own country, so last weekend I hopped on the train from Breda to check out the nearby city of Dordrecht. This city is probably not on many Holland itineraries, but if you happen to be nearby, it's worth checking out.

A City Walk in Dordrecht


Dordrecht is the oldest city of Holland with a lot of historic sights to see. So with a little booklet that I bought at the tourism office near the station under my arm, I set out to discover Dordt, as we Dutch like to call it. The walk is called Rondje Dordt, and takes you through the historic centre of town. I won't bore you with all the details, but here are my highlights.

A City Walk in Dordrecht


A City Walk in Dordrecht

There are several hofjes or courtyards on this walk and I love walking around them. These hofjes were built by rich families predominantly in the 17th and 18th century as homes for the poor or retired. Charity was hot back in those days as it was a good way to show society that a family had enough money to help the poor. These hofjes are accessible through a gate which leads onto a grassy field with the residences built around it. Lenghenhof is a good example as it has a large central garden and visitors can also take a look in the regentenkamer, which was the office of the regents or the people who ran the complex and houses an incredible impressive painted ceiling. The Van Slingelandthofje built in 1519 is the oldest in Dordrecht which is also featured on this walk.

A City Walk in Dordrecht


A City Walk in Dordrecht

Dordrecht is hidden between a couple of very important Dutch rivers and the best viewpoint is where three of them come together. Groothoofd is a quay lined with outdoor cafes and restaurants and the best spot in summer to have a cup of coffee and watch the boats go by. You enter the quay through an impressive gate that dates back to medieval times with an impressive depiction of the Virgin Mary.

A City Walk in Dordrecht

A bit further along you find the Wolwevershaven, a harbour that is lined by impressive former warehouses which would make Amsterdam jealous. They are a reminder of the medieval glory days of Dordrecht when it was an important trade centre of wine, wood and wheat.

A City Walk in Dordrecht

Maybe those glory days are long gone, but Dordrecht is still a glorious little town. Check it out.