23 February 2015

Day Trips from London: London to Blenheim Palace

After moving into my new flat last year and during the period of unpacking, I decided to take a break and visit Blenheim Palace in a spectacular accomplishment in procrastination. My floor was still full of boxes that I kept tripping over, I still had no bed (where would we be without air mattresses?) or wardrobe for that matter - and yes I was going all wrinkly to work in the mornings, but what the heck, it was high time for another edition of Day Trips from London.

I spent 6 hours (no, that is not a typo) travelling to Blenheim Palace and back. Blenheim Place is the current home of the Marlborough family. As it happened, only a few days before my trip, the 11th Duke of Marlborough passed away, but the house was open as per his wishes.

Blenheim Palace is most famous for being the home and birthplace of Winston Churchill. Walking around the Palace and its gardens, its hard to imagine this being a current home for anyone.

First impressions

My first reaction on seeing it from the outside was that it reminded me of Versailles (no doubt, if i'd seen Blenheim first, I'd have thought Versailles looked like Blenheim). It is a grand structure built from Oxford sandstone, its russet colours deepening and lightening as the clouds scuttled across the sky. From the forecourt, I saw the first Ai Weiwei installation in the Great Hall - a massive chandler held up by a support beam overhanging the hall.

Ai Weiwei chandelier in the Great Hall at Blenheim Place

Inside the Palace

When I first walked in, it was hard no not gaze upwards and take in the height of the Great Hall and the painted ceiling. Ai Weiwei's chandelier installation dominated the space and glowed with light.
I wandered through the Churchill Exhibition, through halls with painted portraits of current and previous members of the Marlborough family, through the room Churchill was born, state rooms and a grand dining room. It was really hard to imagine this Palace as a home. Some of the more modern family portraits did help but it still seemed strange to me.

Ai Weiwei's art installations were sometimes glaringly obvious and some not so much. Modern art is not really my thing so I think the impression was lost on me sadly.

See the flag? That is the 'rent' paid to the Queen each year.

The Palace grounds

The grounds are unending. I confess that I only saw a small part of them opting instead to make a beeline for the cafe and indulge in a cup of tea and some yummy scones while looking out at the formal gardens with the fountain tossing and turning in the wind. When I headed back out, the rolling hills, lake and bridge were so picturesque, I couldn't help but stop to capture the scene. Can you see why Churchill was inspired to paint here?

How to get to Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace is just outside of Oxford in the small village of Woodstock. Oxford is about an hour and 30 minutes from London Paddington rail station. From Oxford station you can catch the S3 bus which will drop you just outside Blenheim Palace gates. The bus ride can take about 40 minutes depending on traffic. On weekends the bus comes 10 past and 40 past the hour.

If you don't fancy the long trip, driving there will take you about 1.5 hours and there is parking on the grounds of the palace.

The Long Library - during times of war, this was turned into a recovery room for injured soldiers - just like Downton Abbey.

A little money-saving tip

Buy your ticket to Blenheim Palace on the bus to get 30% off! And if you fancy visiting Blenheim Palace again, convert your ticket into an annual pass for free return visits. I LOVE it when places do that because 1) it encourages a repeat visit and because of that it 2) allows you to take your time and explore bit by bit instead of rushing around trying to fit everything in.

Whats the most extreme thing you have done to procrastinate?

P.S In case your curious, here are a few other day trip to Windsor Castle, Henley-on-Thames and York

Read More

14 February 2015

In love with London

Dear London,
Its been three years since we started this relationship and you ought to know all the things I love about you...

I love your small alley ways and gas lights
I love your theatres with shows for every mood and taste
I love your architecture from St Pauls to small Mews
I love that the sight of Big Ben always makes me pinch myself

I love that I can watch Shakespeare under the stars 
I love all the weird and wonderful things to do, from escape rooms to immersive theatre
I love your free museums and the amazing events put on during the monthly late openings
I love your history and literary ties

I love your quirky tours and quirky cafes
I love that there is always something to see or do
I love your obsession with pop-up anything, bar, restaurant or cereal shop
I love your tube announcers making sour faced commuters smile
I love that I never  have to check tube or train departure times because there will usually be one along in a few minutes

I love how on any given weekend, someone will spot adults in costume without batting an eye
I love the sense of 'anything is possible' you exude
I love the amazing mix of people I've met
I love the plethora of afternoon teas on offer

I love your long summer days
I love your parks, gardens and commons, stretching out on a warm summers day with a good book and just relaxing

I love how close you are to everything else making a trip to Madrid, Venice, Athens, Iceland or lots of other places, an easy hop.

I love that I can go on a day trip to so many interesting places 
I love that you have challenged me and helped me grow
For all this and more, I love you.

Happy Valentines Day London. Here's to many more happy years together.

Tell me, what do you love about London?

P.S Happy Valentines Day to all my lovely readers!

Read More

09 February 2015

The cafe in a toilet - no, I'm not taking the piss.

What would you say if I told you that I recently found myself sipping coffee with several urinals in my line of sight? What if it wasn't just coffee, what if I ate there too? Am I grossing you out?

The Attendant is a cafe located in one of Londons disused Victorian toilets, a short walk from the bustling Oxford Street. The toilet was built around the 1890s and became disused in the 1960's. My curiosity was piqued ever since I heard about it, not on the Loo tour, but via word-of-mouth. It had novelty, clever use of space and a reputation for a really good cup of coffee. The things I do for a good cup of coffee...*sigh*.
The cafe kept a lot of its features, the tiles, the urinals, a cistern and hand drier. But all are, naturally, disused, purely ornamental and CLEAN! (Seriously, they'd have to be, can you imagine the food safety inspection before they were allowed to open??) The urinals are now used for individual seating with two small spaces set aside for a couple of tables and the main service area.

I dragged a friend of mine there recently to try it out. The coffee was like having a taste of home, it was that good. Smooth, perfectly balanced and strong. The Vegemite on toast just made my day, and, unfortunately, gave my friend food envy as they didn't have any gluten free bread.

Having arrived fairly early on a Saturday morning, we easily got a table. We sipped our coffee chatted and watched other people come in and be tickled with the novelty of the space. We didnt feel rushed at all.

Unfortunately the space is so small they don't really have a kitchen so the gluten free options for my friend were limited to the sweet offerings.

I had a good time at the Attendant. It had good coffee, quirky surroundings and a chilled atmosphere. It even had a special wall dedicated to 'graffiti' complete with toilet puns. So yep, my friend and I added our names to the wall, as if you wouldn't!

And in case you are wondering, yes, the toilet cafe had a toilet...

Would you visit and add your name to the wall?

Read More

02 February 2015

The Unexpected Benefits of Blogging #linkup

I started this blog way back in 2005. Wow! Huh! I didn't realise its been almost 10 years till I wrote that! Okee...scary! Haha. Um yeah, so I started this blog when dinosaurs still roamed the earth...It was pre-facebook and I was embarking on an adventure in the Middle East, working as a flight attendant and travelling the world. I wanted a way to share my photos and adventures with my family and friends and this blog was born.

I have kept it through 2 years of cabin crew life in the sandpit, then returning home to Sydney, where it almost died due to lack of travel, and then accompanied me on my move to London where it really has really grown.

I really do love blogging, and it has given me so much more than I expected when I started out all those years ago.


So here is my list of the unexpected benefits of blogging, in no particular order:

1. An online home

Through lots of changes in physical addresses, this blog has been consistent and there is something calming about having your own virtual space that has 'always been there'.

2. A way to meet new people

I have met some wonderful people through blogging, virtually and in person. It has helped a lot with my moving to the UK and creating a new network of friends. Its nice to have others who are as interested in exploring London and don't mind when you ask them to hold off eating their food in a restaurant for a minute so you can take a photo.

3. A nudge to get out there!

I find that having a blog gives me that little nudge, a little friendly poke to get out there and do something, do anything. Try a new cafe, book some theatre tickets, go on a day trip.

4. Improving my writing

I know at least one person who will laugh at this point. I'm notoriously bad with my grammar - mostly because when I write, I'm more interested in getting my thoughts and ideas on paper than worrying about sentence structure and punctuation. However, as I've grown with this blog, I've tried a few small changes here and there to, hopefully, make my writing easier to read and more enjoyable.

5. Learning about social media

Its weird and perhaps the most unexpected benefit of blogging - you end up learning a lot about social media and technology. As part of maintaining this blog, I've read about self-hosting, migrating to my own domain name, some coding (though I tend to ask the lovely Stephanie to do all the grunt work), blog designs, different blogging platforms, Twitter, Facebook, blog readers, SEO (I still don't get it) and so much more.

I'm sure there are more benefits that i haven't listed here, but these are the few that come to mind at the moment. If you are interested in seeing what other bloggers have to say about this, pop over to Emma, Kelly, Rebecca or Sara's blogs and see check out post by the other bloggers linkup - or add your own if your keen!

What have been your unexpected benefits of blogging??

Read More

26 January 2015

Bloggers Afternoon Tea at Browns Hotel

"Stands will be replenished, so please indulge, its Sunday!"

The lovely girls Kelly, Emma and Rebecca organised a bloggers event at Brown's Hotel yesterday to bring us together for a chat over a Sunday afternoon tea. I have to say, its one of the most unexpected benefits of blogging - all the wonderful people you meet. I had the chance to chat a bit more with bloggers I met at the last bloggers afternoon tea I went to, and get to know a few new faces behind the blogs.

A row of afternoon tea trays and post of jam and cream

We were given our own room at Browns Hotel, the simple, yet elegant Roosevelt room complete with sparkling chandelier and staff who were very attentive. I felt utterly spoilt having my tea poured for me!

Desert plate - Rhubarb, Batenburg, chocolate tart, carrot cake and lemon macron

Out came the tea, sandwiches and sweets with scones brought warm shortly afterwards. The were mmms and yumms and 'have you tried?' and 'thats good!' and the tinkling of silverware on china cups. Some girls had special dietary requirements that Browns easily accommodated for and tempted the rest of us, non-special-diet people, with!

Warm plain and raisin scones

Hours later and I'm still totally and utterly stuffed. I lost count of the cups of tea, sandwiches and sweet treats I had. But with all this delectable yumminess before you, could you resist?

Read More

22 January 2015

Paper and Cup - Cafe review

If you happen to be poking around Shoreditch and fancy a quiet hideaway then Paper and Cup is the perfect answer. I came across it after visiting Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium on the weekend. Already full of tea and scones from Lady Dinah's, I still couldn’t resist the call of coffee.

It’s a cute little place just off Shoreditch High Street. Its fronted by large windows, bright blue and white signage and a couple of tables and chairs out front (best for the warmer months I think!). Inside is a small but cosy space filled with the smell of Union coffee. There is a  large coffee bar with all sorts of tempting treats, a bookshelf lining the wall on the left with a couple of tables in front of it, bar seating at the windows, and, tucked away towards the back is a small room suited for a larger group. Naturally I made straight for the coffee then perched on a bar stool at the large windows for a bit of a read.

Being off the high street, the cafe is quiet and overlooks church grounds which is a nice change from the usual bricks and mortar. The vibe is chilled, the staff don’t rush you and there are water bottles and glasses on the tables which I think is a really nice touch. Even better, if you forget to bring a book, you can buy one for a pound from their bookshelf! Why other coffee shops don’t do that, I'll never know!

Actually, the best bit, as I found out later, is that Paper and Cup is a not-for-profit café created by the Spitalfields Crypt Trust, which means all proceeds go to a good cause. The café helps...

"Provide a supportive training ground for those in the later stages of recovery and rehabilitation… trainees learn how to become baristas, serve customers, work in a team and manage a small cafe.

So you can have your coffee and a treat and feel good that your money is going to help people get back on their feet. Brilliant!

The only drawback as far as I could see is that if there are more than two of you, you might not easily find a spot to sit. But that wasn’t really an issue for me.

So, if you do find yourself in the area, definitely stop by and check it out.

Have you stumbled across a cool not-for-profit store?

Read More

19 January 2015

Kitties and cake

Late Friday night at work I found myself looking at an empty Saturday - not that I mind that. But somehow, from a forgotten to do list subconscious, I found my fingers tapping away and finding an empty afternoon tea spot for one at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium.

Petra asleep, Artemis looking disdainfully at a guest keen to brush her and Carbonelle, also asleep

Petra now has my heart. So do all the other cats at  Lady Dinah's cat cafe. I whiled away an hour and a half with watching self propelling furballs (aka cats) sleep and play while drinking tea and eating scones.

Petra eyeing a bit of string off camera

Petra asleep in  the window

I have been wanting to visit Lady Dinah's cat cafe from when she was still trying to find a suitable location and getting all the necessary permits. I wasn't the only one, when the cafe was finally opened, it was booked out for MONTHS! It still gets booked out, but its not so bad if you are on your own or with a friend or two.

1)Wookie's tail (he's also in the very first photo at the top) 2) Didn't get this little ones name 3) Biscuit

Before being shown my table, I was asked to wash my hands and informed of the house rules. They are not as strict as the cat cafe in Tokyo, but essentially, the welfare of the cats was of the utmost importance. As it should be really.

1) Romeo and Donnie 2) Biscuit and Romeo 3) Donnie, Mue (also known as 'Mamma' coz shes the mum to 7 of these cats)

My seat was downstairs but I was free to wander round, make friends and play with the cats that were awake and take lots of photos. The cats were snoozing in their perches or wandering around making sure everything was in order. The youngest kittens were very affectionate and would pick someone to sit next to and befriend to the utter delight of the chosen person.

Downstairs at Lady Dinah's

This little kitten surprised this guest with a cuddle.

The staff were lovely, friendly and happy to talk about the cats and tell you about their personalities, their preferred pats and how they liked to play.

Romeo fast asleep in his hammock.

I really cant think of anything more relaxing that chilling out in a cafe filled with warm, sometimes playful, sometimes snoozing, fuzzy things.

Would you visit a cat cafe?

Read More