Weekend in London: Sunday

[This is part two of my weekend in London with Superbreak. If you missed part one, catch up here!]

We’d had a full day on Saturday, and felt pretty exhausted (in that good, satisfied way) when we got into bed at around midnight.

At The Cavendish, we didn’t have to check out until 1pm and they served breakfast until noon. This was our kind of place! Knowing we needed rest, we didn’t set an alarm and said we’d sleep in if we needed to.

In the end – as is usual – our stomachs were our wake up call and we went for breakfast around 9am. We’d had a good night’s sleep by then anyway. The bed was comfy and we’d barely heard a noise outside, even though it was Saturday night and we were just a few minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of the Haymarket.

Now, we place a lot of importance on breakfast. And this could have been one of the best hotel breakfasts we’d ever had. Fresh fruit, then smoked salmon, full English, toast and pastries… well, let’s just say we made the most.

Now fully replenished and wanting to use the rest of our time well we checked out at about 10am, leaving our suitcase with the hotel.

Tower of London

I’ve never been to the Tower of London before. Rather than ‘a tower’ it’s actually more like a little walled village, a fascinating enclave with lots of different buildings making up its whole. The Queen’s Crown Jewels are, of course, its most famous inhabitants but there are actually about 300 people who live and work there as well.

Your entry ticket does include a 60-minute guided tour with a Beefeater but we prefer to freestyle rather than be part of a group.

As well as seeing the jewels (no photography allowed, unfortunately) you should do the wall walk, because the Tower is the perfect place to admire the unique way the London skyline effortlessly juxtaposes old and new. The Tower of London was established by William the Conqueror in 1066, but now it sits closely and happily alongside such modern architecture as The Shard, the ‘gherkin’, the ‘walkie-talkie’ and the ‘cheese grater’.

Also interesting is the Royal Beasts exhibition, which tells the story of the animals that lived at the Tower for 600 years. Exotic animals were often given as gifts and used for entertainment in what became known as the Royal Menagerie. King Henry III’s polar bear would be tied to a long rope so it could go fishing in the Thames! The wire mesh sculptures are by artist Kendra Haste.

Tower of London Tower of London Tower of London The 'walkie talkie', 'cheesegrater' and 'gherkin', London

The Shard from the Tower of London

Tower of London (3) Tower of London Tower of London Tower of London Tower of London

Columbia Road flower market

Sucked in by other bloggers’ pictures of colourful blooms never found in your local florist, I persuaded him that we should go to Columbia Road flower market (Sundays, 8am-3pm). We took the tube to Bethnal Green, then it’s about a 20 minute walk along Bethnal Green Road.

It was a beautiful blue-sky day. This is a grittier, more ‘real’ side of London than the tourist hot spots (though it probably still costs several hundred thousand pounds for a flat). As we got closer, we passed people holding miniature trees and bunches and I began to picture us meandering between the stalls, breathing in the scents, admiring intricate petals, like something from a Richard Curtis film.

Unfortunately, such was the throng when we got there that ‘walking’ between the stalls was more like being confined to a conveyor belt; one that took slow, tiny steps and stopped regularly. There was plenty of atmosphere, but the crowd made enjoying the buzz or actually seeing the flowers – much less photographing and buying them – pretty difficult.

In the end we ducked out half-way along the stretch, and went into a couple of shops. As well as the flower stalls, there was a great-looking pub and a few shops and cafés that under normal circumstances I’d have liked to spend longer wandering between. But we’d had enough, so I grabbed some white and blue hyancinths and a purple succulent, and we beat a retreat.

Columbia Road flower market, London (2) Columbia Road flower market, London (1) Columbia Road flower market, London Columbia Road flower market, London (1) Columbia Road flower market, London Columbia Road flower market, London (1)

Disappointing, but something I wanted to see and now don’t need to go to again! We arrived at about 1pm; maybe the trick is to get there first thing in the morning?

So that brought our weekend to a close. We popped in to see my brother, sister-in-law and niece before heading back up north. We were full of new memories, new experiences, and an eagerness to get back to London soon.

Need to know: one night at the 4* Cavendish Hotel including breakfast, plus entry into the Tower of London, Vintage London Bus  Tour and top price evening tickets to the Jersey Boys costs from £285 per person (based on arrival on the 28th March 2015). Our hotel and Tower of London entry ticket were complimentary for review purposes but all opinions are my own and honest.

Weekend in London: Saturday

Sometimes, I pinch myself about the great opportunities this blog brings.

One such time came when Superbreak invited me to spend a weekend in London trying out some of the tours and experiences they offer.

I go down to London quite regularly for work and to see my brother, and my husband lived there for seven years. We feel we ‘know’ London, yet there are many places that would top tourists’ lists that we’ve never been near.

So we decided to spend the weekend acting like new visitors, packing in some of the most famous sights and taking a couple of days seeing our beautiful capital city through their eyes. And London didn’t let us down.

Vintage London bus tour

Saturday began at sunrise to catch an open-top vintage London bus leaving Victoria at 8am. If you prefer a lie-in you can opt for the 1pm departure, but we wanted to get as much as we could out of our day.

As we boarded, the outside temperature was about 3°C but we went up to the top deck because, after all, that’s what tourists would do. Wearing thermals and hats, we felt OK, if not warm. Until the bus set off and the wind chill kicked in!

Yes, it was cold, but what a view. So often in London – in fact any city – you’re too focused on where you’re going to look up at the historic buildings and impressive architecture that is just all over the place in Britain. Being 12 feet up gives you a totally different perspective and being away from the crowded pavements is a much more civilised way of getting round London’s main tourist attractions.

Vintage London red double decker open top bus Trafalgar Square, London Trafalgar Square, London Tower Bridge, London St Paul's Cathedral, London St Paul's Cathedral, London

Our guide Fraser was funny and informative as the bus passed Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral. We jumped off to get a closer look at Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. (It’s my sometime workplace, but I was surprised by how little I knew about the history of our democracy).

Westminster Abbey, London Westminster Abbey, London Big Ben, London Houses of Parliament, London

We also got off at the Tower of London then hopped into the warmth for a little while as a boat took us along the River Thames to Embankment. Once back on the bus, we sat downstairs. The cold had finally got the better of us!

We next disembarked to catch the Changing of the Guard, and – thanks to Fraser’s insider knowledge and somewhat fearless tour-leading – saw the soldiers up close as we followed their march from St James’s Palace along The Mall to Buckingham Palace. By now the area around the Victoria Memorial in front of the Queen’s residence was teeming with tourists looking on in awe and imagining what might go on behind that grand façade. We felt proud to think we’ve actually been in there.

Changing of the guard, London Changing of the guard, London Changing of the guard, London (1) Buckingham Palace, London

House from Downton Abbey

Back at the bus – via the London residence of the Granthams from Downton Abbey – our three-and-a-half hour tour had come to an end and Fraser hailed a black cab to take us to our fish and chip lunch at Tattershall’s Tavern (a traditional pub in a really good spot for carrying on your sightseeing – on Knightsbridge, just opposite Harrods).

As we sat down at our table our wedding song played and we grinned at each other because we love being away, just the two of us, exploring. We tucked in to our British dish and talked about how new the city had seemed even to two people so familiar with it. Of course, the London skyline is forever changing and being added to, which is one of the things that makes it a good place to come back to.

The Cavendish hotel, St James

By now it was early afternoon, so we went to our hotel, which was a short walk (just past The Ritz, darling) from Green Park tube station (also near Piccadilly Circus tube). It’s also a stone’s throw away from the Royal Academy of Arts and just across the road from Fortnum and Mason. The room was spacious for its position right in the heart of London and from the eighth floor we could see the Duke of York Column and the London Eye.

Cavendish Hotel, Piccadilly, London

The Ritz, London The Ritz, London

Victoria and Albert Museum

I’d asked Twitter for recommendations for a spare hour and have to thank Chrissie for suggesting the V&A. We decided to walk there to stay above ground and see more and it took about 40 minutes.

The stuff that you can see for free in museums in London is amazing and the V&A is bulging with prestigious art and design pieces. It was busy, and huge – I could have spent longer there but I could tell it wasn’t entirely my husband’s cup of tea. The jewellery collection, telling the story of European jewellery from ancient times to present, and the Cast Courts – including a cast of Michaelangeo’s David – were particularly impressive.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London Cast of Michaelangelo's David at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Jersey Boys at Piccadilly Theatre

I love a musical, and this was probably the bit of the weekend I’d been looking forward to the most. Since its opening night on Broadway 10 years ago, Jersey Boys has become one of the most popular shows of our time. Telling the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, it’s probably most suited to the generation above me but I guarantee you’ll tap your toes as the cast – their energy indefatigable and infectious – perform songs we’ve all grown up with.

You’ll laugh, and cry, and sing along – and mostly be blown away by the astounding voice of Sandy Moffatt, who plays Frankie. It made me wonder why we all get in such a froth about X Factor and the like, when we can go and see far superior talent like this on stage in front of our very eyes any day of the week.

Jersey Boys, Piccadilly Theatre, London Haymarket, London Lace up shoes in London

// I wore pale blue coat from Forever 21 / grey scarf from Monki at Asos / New Balance trainers then lace-up metallic heel flats from New Look / Uniqlo heattech thermals throughout which were amazing! //

Thankfully – for my feet were now feeling the effects of our earlier enthusiastic sightseeing – our hotel was just a five minute walk from Piccadilly Theatre, which makes it an ideal home from home if you plan to see a West End show. After a cocktail or two in the bar we fell into our comfy bed. It was a welcome rest, but we were so looking forward to day 2.

Later this week I’ll tell you all about our Sunday, which included the Tower of London and Columbia Road flower market.

Need to know: one night at the 4* Cavendish Hotel including breakfast, plus entry into the Tower of London, Vintage London Bus Tour and top price evening tickets to the Jersey Boys costs from £285 per person (based on arrival on the 28th March 2015). My hotel and bus tour were complimentary for review purposes but all opinions are my own and honest.

Valentine’s Day table

We don’t usually make very much fuss about Valentine’s Day. I find it’s much better to say ‘I love you’ all year round, not just when you’re obliged, don’t you?

That said, a few days ago my ever-generous husband booked for us to spend a night at one of our favourite hotels. We’re going in a few weeks’ time when my work has stopped being hectic.

On V-Day I wanted to do a small something to say thanks, but he was working and I was looking forward to being at home after a brilliant but tiring weekend in London (see some snaps on Instagram and read more next week on here).

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and – not being the regular cook in our house – I decided to show my love with a specially-decorated table and a nice meal.

Unfortunately, I am not a good cook. I have a few dishes that I cook well and I can follow a recipe, but I’m impatient and fairly uninterested and I don’t have a lot of calibre (or even sometimes common sense) in the kitchen.

That said, I think I can make a table look pretty. I was happy to be asked to take part in Furniture Choice‘s Month of Love project, which is all about romance at home. They kindly sent me some vouchers from Not on the High Street to help me set the scene and the mood.

I bought a tray (from this seller but now seem to be out of stock, not pictured because it didn’t arrive in time), a set of cookie cutters, a red heart, some washi tape and a print. This phrase is from the poem ‘I love you’ which was read at our wedding.

Valentine's Day dinner table setting decoration Read More →

Juicing basics with Currys

A couple of weeks ago, the day after a few too many cocktails in Leeds, I went to a blog event about wellbeing, juicing and yoga.

I’d spent much of the afternoon and evening before working through the impressive drinks menu at Manahatta with my old work family. As I woke the next day I couldn’t help but wish the event was set to be about full English breakfasts or fish and chips.

Still, probably some real nourishment was what my body needed, despite what it was telling me.

I don’t own a juicer but am open to the idea so was keen to learn about how to use them, understand more about the nutrition of juicing and come away with some good recipes.

Curry's Introjuicing juicing and yoga event at Lambert's Yard Leeds (2) Curry's Introjuicing juicing and yoga event at Lambert's Yard Leeds (2) Read More →

Living room detail

When it comes to home design that makes you happy, it’s all about the detail.

This is especially so for us, because as we renovate we’re trying to keep the walls and floors relatively neutral because we plan on selling up and moving on in two or three years.

So I wanted to show you some of the smaller features that make up the living room we love.

In case you missed it, the initial reveal and pictures of before, during and after the renovation are here.

Living room renovation: before and after Read More →

Living room reveal!

It’s a pretty momentous occasion, because I’m about to show you the outcome of our renovation of the last major room in the house. The last. Major. Room.

Having renovated the whole house in the last 18 months or so, it truly feels like a milestone. As you know when I’ve talked to you about the kitchen renovation, it’s all been quite a journey.

Because of changing the layout – knocking down and putting up a wall – we’ve done all the downstairs in one go, starting in about April last year and finishing around midnight on Christmas Eve. I kid you not!

Anyway, like proud parents, we think the living room looks beautiful. This year so far, each day I’ve come home I’ve looked forward to being here and really enjoyed and admired this room. I’ve felt proud and very lucky. This is how a home should make you feel, right? Secure, content, at peace and blessed. I hope this feeling lasts.

Living room renovation: before and after Read More →

Spring summer 2015 fashion

Few of us have the funds to clear out our wardrobes every season and fill them up again following new fashion trends.

And let’s face it, we don’t really want to. When the fashion weeks come round, I follow the runway looks with interest (and sometimes astonishment) to see the styles I might like to try a few months later.

But few of us will want to copy a look head to toe. Your boss isn’t going to approve of you turning up to work showing bare breasts under a mesh top.

So each season, it’s an exercise in which trends I like, want to follow and that would suit me. It’s an exercise in judging whether a trend is a flash-in-the-pan fad, or would give a decent pounds-per-wear return. And it’s an exercise in seeing what I already have that I can bring from the back of the cupboard, or perhaps upcycle and update.

I’m looking forward to the warmer, brighter, fresher seasons already, so here are some of the top trends coming our way for spring and summer 2015.

Denim

Not just jeans, but tailored pieces. Denim in the year 2015 will be more structured and sophisticated. And double denim is positively encouraged!

Blue is the colour of this spring and summer, and as it’s my favourite colour this pleases me no end. A pale-denim hue will be the most on trend.

Will I try or buy? I wear denim all the time so yes I’ll try, but probably not buy. I already have a denim shirt, dress and jacket and endless pairs of jeans. I might swap out my faithful skinny jeans for an older pair that have a slightly flared bottom.

Denim by Chloe spring summer 2015. Photo by InDigital Read More →

Planning an Italian road trip

Remember I said 2015 would be the year I would do more travelling and road tripping?

Let me tell you about the first adventure we’re planning. It’s a good one.

Travel. Planning a road trip in Italy. (800x536)

// ‘Explore’ pouch for travel documents is by Alphabet Bags at Let It Reign / I love summer and my Ray Ban Wayfarers / this ‘Great Escapes’ book has some brilliant inspiration for adventures – 50p from a recent car boot sale! //

My husband and I love travelling and although we’ve both seen quite a lot of the world, there are so many more places we’d like to go.

For the last couple of years for various reasons we haven’t really left the country so this year we both agreed the need to engage in some sun-chasing in foreign climes. Where, though?

While we love an odd day basking with a good book, we get easily bored on holiday and like to explore. We also love having a sense of freedom.

I toyed with a couple of destinations, but in the end – like the good wife I am – let my husband choose: and it was Italy. (He’s lucky it was a good choice otherwise I’d have got my own way as usual).

Apart from our ‘mini-moon’ in Venice, it’s not somewhere he’s been before. I spent a fantastic two weeks there with Alex shortly after graduating, jumping on and off trains and seeing some of Italy’s most iconic cities: Rome, Milan, Florence.

To feed the sense of freedom, he wants to do a road trip, something like what we did in France in 2012 (see: Paris; Dordogne).

It’s an appealing idea and in our experience the reality is just as good. You throw your tent into the boot, you cross into the continent from Dover and then Europe is your oyster. You have a few destinations in mind, but if you like somewhere you stay longer and if you don’t, you move on.

We’re thinking of heading south through Germany where we’ll call in on a friend, then pass through Switzerland or Austria before arriving in Italy. We’ll explore the area around the Italian lakes and Tuscany and Umbria, taking in Verona, Florence and possibly Rome if we have time, then come back via the French Riviera.

We haven’t got further in planning than this vague route but some brief research got me well and truly infected with the travel bug.

This is why I adore camping (especially since Cool Camping came along). Just look at these incredible sites that are likely to feature in our plans.

Camping Seiser Alm. Dolomites in Italy near Austria

↑ This breathtaking view is from Camping Seiser Alm, in the heart of the Dolomites in Italy, just over the Austrian border. Read More →

DIY painted coasters

I know I’m not the first to do a DIY like this and I’m sure I won’t be the last.

I love coming up with original projects, but when time isn’t on your side it’s good to keep the creativity ticking over by seeing something crafty you like, and trying it out for yourself.DIY painted cork coasters

Pinterest is almost awash with varieties of this type of project. You just take a set of simple cork coasters and paint on your own design using tape or a stencil. It really is as easy as that.

It takes a matter of minutes and – not to mention their practical use – I love the injection of colour and pattern these coasters give my room. Read More →

My Etsy art favourites

Now our house is beginning to look something like we always knew it could, we’re thinking of ways to make it our home.

A big part of this is thinking about what to put on the walls. In truth a significant part of me is reluctant to tap anything into our perfect surfaces, but I’m starting to tire of blank expanses of grey, white and taupe.

I think we’ll get a couple of picture ledges in the living room, because I reckon it’ll be less painful to make holes in a wall in a straight line, in one place, than it would be to drill them in more haphazardly. Plus, I love the look of art leaning against a wall.

Etsy is a great place to find really unique and affordable art, prints and printables.

Here are a few of my favourites. And guess what? The most expensive is just £24.

Be so good they can't ignore you print by The Motivated Type (570x570) (570x570) Read More →

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