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Step Twenty-Nine: ice skating at Tower of London

12 Dec

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Especially when you hit the ice rink.

Somerset House, Natural History Museum, Winter Wonderland, Eyeskate… even Canary Wharf has an ice rink.

I decided on the Tower of London though as I’d never been and loved the idea of skating in a moat against a backdrop of fortress walls, of a monument that was built in the eleventh century. Bet Henry VIII didn’t see that coming.

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I admit I was hoping to see some Beefeaters on skates, and hear a few more Christmas tunes, but the overall experience left me feeling very festive and all warm and fuzzy inside.

Sessions last for an hour and as we went at peak time, the rink did fill up with some pros gliding around and some Bambis/Katies tripping up. The enamouring views made up for any shortcomings though.

Drinks are available to warm up after in the Ice bar and cafe.

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The details:

Location: Tower of London. Tube: Tower Hill.

Opening times: everyday 10am-10pm. For booking slots, click here.

Prices: £13.50 peak times, £11.50 off-peak times.

Here until 5th January 2014.

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Step Twenty-Seven: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

30 Nov

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So I’ve been making my way round London’s Christmas markets. Second stop: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.

Christmas and all things Santa really have exploded in the city’s famous park. The organisers as usual go to town with their decoration, festive music, neon lights and fun fair rides and games. They’ve taken the Christmas theme and stretched it further. This isn’t just your average market serving bratwurst and mulled wine.

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There’s an apres-ski bar booming out cheesy tunes, giant santa and polar bear toys to be won, a packed ice rink with sweeping fairy lights and my personal favourite, a carousel – but not just any carousel, a spinning carousel bar.

There’s also the not so Christmasy but year-round fun on offer, like the bright red helter skelter, stacks of flavoured fudge, fish and chips wrapped in paper and Chinese takeaway, of course.

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The rides are a central attraction so naturally we had to try them. Lily was adamant on the big swing that takes you high up above the park and spins you round and round in a not so enjoyable manner. It doesn’t look scary until you realise just how high you are, and how you’re only strapped in by a mini seat belt and gusts of wind start howling in your face. Not quite so wonderland-esque.

But the rest was.

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The details:

Location: Hyde Park. Tube: Marble Arch.

Opening times: 10am-10pm.

Prices: drinks from £4, food from £4, rides average at £5.

Open until 5th January, except Christmas Day.

Step Twenty-Six: Southbank Centre Christmas market

29 Nov

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Southbank. One of my favourite parts of London. Not just for the views, the beautiful sunsets, the cultural buzz but also the Christmas market.

When I first started my blog, the aim was to do 52 Steps in 52 weeks. It’s been a year since I wrote about the market for the first time, when I was on Step Seven, and although I’m only half way through my Steps and haven’t exactly reached my target, it means I get to revisit the topic again.

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We pretty much did the same fail-proof routine.

Walk up the market, listen to the buskers, ooh and aah at St Paul’s lit up, get into the festive spirit, warm up with some Bailey’s hot chocolate, walk back down the market, touch all the soft Alpaca jumpers and not buy any because I already have five, watch the chimney cakes being made, drink the first mulled wine of the season, pick and try some cheese, take selfie photos in front of the Eye, watch the carousel swing round and finally, the main reason I go to Christmas markets, stuff my face with German food.

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The details:

Location: Queen’s Walk, Southbank. Tube: Waterloo.

Opening times: Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm, Sat-Sun, 10am-10pm.

Prices: drinks from £3, food from £4.

Open until 24th December.

Step Twenty-Five: Maltby Street food tour

12 Nov

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London’s street food scene is mushrooming, and for the real London foodie in the know, Maltby Street market is a must.

While Borough market has a well-established devoted following, and is famous for certain stalls (the raclette), Matlby in Bermondsey isn’t as well known which makes it even more intriguing.

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In terms of appearance, it isn’t the typical food market. Stall after stall line both sides of the narrow street but some back into old warehouse spaces under arches, making them look even more makeshift and quirky. The planks and old scaffolding behind the stalls look a little unstable, but traders have embraced it all and use them as shelves to prop up bottles and hang sign boards from.

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On the Saturday morning that we went, we had to walk single file at times – it get’s that busy. Some people were already enjoying a tipple from bartenders serving drinks from a dresser, while the other option for diners was to take their food to an eating area in an antiques shop, and sit among old bath tubs and sinks. Trendy, but without the East Landan trendos.

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Food options on offer – smoked salmon, pastrami bagels (ultimate Jewish soul food), hummus and beef stew, fillet steak sandwiches and more, and moving onto the sweet stuff – cookies, waffles, French tarts and the like.

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Apart from the food stalls, some well-established businesses have set up shop permanently in the old warehouses, like Bea’s of Bloomsbury and St John’s Butchers, hinting that Bermondsey is well up and coming in London’s foodie revolution. The eateries were already packed by the time we got there, so I’ll definitely be going back for the half-restaurant, half-warehouse dining experience.

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And after the nibbling and eating, we walked around the antique shops which have the most bizarre finds on offer, including a headstone for Simon Cowell that was taken from the London Dungeon.

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Maltby Street is intriguing, and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were directed. It’s within walking distance of Borough market, which is where our tour, led by funnywoman and guide Emma Parker of Coutours, started.

We were led round the stalls and given tastings, starting off with our morning bread and moving on to explore the raclette, oysters and more.

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The tour isn’t just a case of dine and dash though. At each stop, Emma imparts her wisdom and shares the “secret history” of London’s street food. Who knew fish and chips were a hybrid creation from Ireland and Portugal, and that oysters were the first, and very cheap, example of street food?

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Tours are available to guests staying at Presidential Apartments, luxury suites in Kensington, with pick-up at the apartments, then heading to Borough and then Maltby.

Tour prices: £28pp for minimum two people, or £75 for a family of two adults and up to three children.

Tour times: 10am-1pm.

Call Emma on 07934781 056 to book your place.

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Side step: jam-jar cocktails at Alice House, West Hampstead

17 Sep

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When I grow up, I’m going to live in Hampstead. That’s one of my many ambitions, and while I can dream and hope that one day, some day, I’ll own a house in this endearing pocket of London, for now I’ll just have to be content with visiting.

I usually go up to Hampstead Village – for coffee on a cold day, for banana and nutella crepes at La Crêperie, for the lively, outdoor beer gardens on those unusual balmy summer evenings (no longer), and on my latest visit, to explore Hampstead Heath and get a breath of fresh air.

West Hampstead, however, I’d never been to. Until last week to visit a friend who had just moved to the area.

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We went for drinks, and while there were quite a few options just walking from the tube, The Alice House was recommended and the outdoor decking area drew us in. It wasn’t a particularly warm evening, but the heaters did the trick and I’d recommend going before winter really draws on.

We ordered jam-jar cocktails which had spoonfuls of jam in and were very sweet, but that perfectly suited my tastebuds. I had the gin cocktail with Victoria plum jam and a splash of lemonade, followed by the tequila concoction with blackcurrant jam topped with ginger beer. They were very, very good and very easy to drink.

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The place itself is a restaurant-cum-bar, and a mix of modern and tradition. The interior has cool exposed brickwork and little light bulbs hanging from the ceiling that reminded me of fireflies, but also old wooden flooring and comfy leather chairs. The clientele was slightly older and quite sophisticated, in keeping with the area, but it still felt pretty relaxed and just what we wanted for a quiet night.

The details:

Location: 283 West End Lane, West Hampstead tube.

Opening times: Mon-Thurs, 9am-11:30pm. Fri-Sat, 9:30am-1pm. Sun, 9:30am-11pm.

Prices: cocktails from £6.75.

For the drinks menu, click here.

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Step Twenty-One: outdoor swimming at Brockwell Lido

23 Aug

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After seeing the hot dogs or legs parody on Tumblr, I have to admit I’m guilty of taking a fair few of these shots myself. But I never thought I’d get the chance to play the game in not-so-sunny London…until I went down to the Brockwell Lido.

The outdoor swimming pool has been nicknamed “Brixton’s Beach” and on a hot day, locals are sure to flock to it. The pool is a whopping 50 metres long and let’s just say the measly number of lengths I managed didn’t reach double figures.

There are lanes for serious swimmers and a more casual area that young kids and teenagers were diving into. The vibe is very chilled out and anything goes – I spotted a few bras instead of bikini tops on display and people jumping in in t-shirts.

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One of the main reasons I was drawn to discover the lido was the TANNAGE opportunity.

There’s ample space around the pool to plonk yourself down and sunbathe (bring your own towel), and a special decking area if you arrive early enough to bag a space. Some lockers are provided but most people just leave their stuff on the side.

As it was summer, the pool wasn’t heated so was a bit of a shock at first, but I quickly warmed up and had a very refreshing, albeit brief, paddle.

It may not be as idyllic as lying on a white-sand beach, or as relaxing as a deserted island, given all the children running around, but it has a lively and friendly vibe. And if like me, you aren’t keen on sunbathing in a bikini in a park, and need a little dip now and then, the lido is the next best thing.

The poolside cafe stays open after the pool shuts and although I didn’t have anything, it apparently serves good food. I’ll definitely be going back for dinner when the surroundings are lit up and look beaut, according to Google pics, or on Tuesdays when the cafe does “Prosecco Tuesdays” (a glass for £3).

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The details:

Location: inside Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road. Hearne Hill train station or a short bus ride away from Brixton tube.

Opening times: Mon-Fri, 6:30am-8pm, Sat-Sun, 8am-6pm. Bank holidays – 8am-6pm.

Price: £5.75 for adults to swim; £3.05 for entry before 10am on a weekday.

For cafe menus click here. (People do bring food in but I’m not sure if this is allowed).

For main website and to check out their gym and spa facilities, click here.

If you just want a laugh, click here.

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Side step: visit the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition

5 Aug

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Summer’s here, school’s out and day-dreaming about travelling has started. But for those of us who aren’t jetting off to exotic lands, the annual Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition is the next best thing to a long-haul trip.

It’s never as satisfying being an armchair traveller, but the hypnotic photographs on display  at this outdoor exhibition have the power to temporarily transport you out of London.

Amateur and professional photographers have journeyed around the world to capture that perfect shot, and the winning images are now on display for the public to be inspired and enlightened by.

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The categories photographers could enter ranged from wildlife and the natural world, to vanishing and emerging cultures, to the wider-known rituals and celebrations.

Some personal favourites that caught my eye were the images of Masai boys climbing to the top of a boulder, fishermen “stilt fishing” in Sri Lanka, which causes the death of some of these men, and the more light-hearted shots of the Burning Man festivities.

Head down to the newly-opened exhibition and see for yourself the awe-striking talent of these photographers.

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The details:

Location: 1 Kensington Gore, Royal Geographical Society, South Kensington tube.

Opening times: Mon-Thurs, 10am-5pm,  Fri-Sat, 10am-7pm, Sun 10am-5-pm.

Special evening views on 13th-15th August.

Closed bank holidays.

Free admission.

Here until 18th August.

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Step Nineteen: all-day drinking at rooftop bar, Frank’s Cafe

18 Jul

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The legendary Frank’s Cafe is back for summer, and it isn’t just any old rooftop bar.

Six levels up a disused multi-storey car park you’ll find Peckham’s famous watering hole which offers some of the best panoramic views of London.

The surrounding area may not be pretty to look at, but the city’s skyline with iconic landmarks like the Shard, the Eye, the Gherkin and more, looking romantically dusky at sunset, make the trek to Peckham worthwhile.

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Given the nature of the space, there’s room for hundreds of people to stand, sit and drink comfortably without getting all hot and bothered.

The bar area does get busy though – you’ll probably have to wait around half an hour for drinks as we did, and the beer did temporarily run out at one point, but be patient.

Wooden tables and benches line the bar where you can have snacks like olives, hummus, barbecued plantain, or for the more adventurous, ox heart kebabs.

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If you want a comfortable seat, arrive early, but if you’re happy to sit on the ground as most people do, there’s a lot of space to choose from.

The decoration is minimal – a random car parked in the middle and a colourful sunglasses display in another area, but you’re really going for the 360 degree view of London.

Frank’s Cafe is open all day (day drinking, yes please), and I’d suggest arriving before 6pm to avoid the queue to get in, especially on these roasty weekends.

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The details:

Location: 95a Rye Lane, Peckham Rye overground.

Opening times: Wed-Sun, 11am-11pm.

Prices: average £4 a beer/cider/glass of wine. Food from £3.

Just opened and here to stay until the end of summer.

For the menu, click here.

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Step Eighteen: pose like Spiderman at the Dalston House exhibition

17 Jul

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The latest exhibition at Dalston House is probably the most genius installation I’ve come across in a while.

Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich has created the illusion that normal people have developed superhuman powers, to scale walls like Spiderman or fly past buildings like Superman.

He has recreated a facade of a Victorian house and laid it down on the ground, then positioned mirrors overhead to reflect the wall.

The result: visitors are invited to jump on the installation and lie on the facade, giving the impression they are hanging from window frames, chilling on ledges or dangling from the roof.

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Leandro challenges our everyday perception and encourages us to get involved, by striking funny poses or pulling terrified faces.

Only a few people, around ten maximum, are allowed on the installation at a time, meaning you’ll have lots of space to spread yourselves out. Each group has about five minutes, which isn’t very long so you’ll have to pose quickly.

We queued for 40 minutes in the baking sun (bring water!), but it’s not too bad – you get to see which poses work and which don’t, and take inspiration from previous groups. Follow @dalstonhouse for live updates on the queue length.

This was my first trip into “edgy” Dalston and definitely worth the trek, just to feel like Spiderman for those treasured minutes, and watch an unexpected performance by a band of drummers slickly chilling on the facade.

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The details:

Location: 1-7 Ashwin Street, Dalston Junction overground or Dalston Kingsland overground.

Opening times: Mon-Wed 11am-6pm, Thurs-Fri 11am-8pm, Sat-Sun 10am-8pm.

Free admission.

Open now until 4th August so arrange a date soon.

For more details, click here.

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Side step: last chance to eat a crêpe in Hampstead?

14 Jul

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The little crêpe stand that’s been stationed on Hampstead high street for the past 33 years is a much-loved landmark and true Hampstead institution.

It’s one of the many reasons I’ll travel that far up the Northern line, but possibly not for long with news that La Crêperie de Hampstead may be shutting for business.

The little stand dishes out amazing sweet crêpes and savoury gallettes that take me back to my year abroad in Paris – the kind of freshly-made pancakes that ooze Belgian chocolate layer after layer, served just like in the City of Light. There’s always a queue, rain or shine, and the van stays open till late, perfect for midnight snacking.

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But the charming atmosphere has been tarnished recently, with news that La Crêperie de Hampstead is being “evicted” by the pub next door.

Signs have been plastered on the van asking locals to sign a petition to save the crêperie, and warn that “this may be your last crêpe”. The business has got a lot of attention from the media and their online petition has well-exceeded their target with 1,441 signatures.

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The pub has responded to the uproar, and in an open letter to the press and public explained that they have been providing the crêperie with storage and refrigeration facilities in their garden, free of charge, for several years.

The pub now needs the space back, and offered the crêperie an alternative section in their kitchen, for a fee, which they rejected.

The crêpe war continues but at the time of visiting, the signs stated that they could be closing in just fourteen days, so sometime in July. Given their backing and popularity, and the fact that La Crêperie de Hampstead has sold more than three million crêpes since opening, I doubt we will see the van driving away.

But just in case, get yourself to Hampstead and savour the crêpes while you can.

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The details:

Location: 77a Hampstead High Street, Hampstead tube

Opening times: daily 10am-11pm

Prices: average £4 a crêpe

To see the petition online, click here.