08 February 2016

Get close to space exploration

There is something about space, all those stars, all the unknown, that fascinates me. I am a traveller, an explorer at heart, a curious nosey-parker and while I cant travel to space myself, I did have the pleasure in being Mandy's plus 1 to a special treat; a private showing of the Cosmonauts exhibition by the Science Museum.

*Apologies in advance for the quality of the photos - I didn't know we were to have the privilege of taking photos inside the exhibit so had to rely on my phone camera.

Model of Sputnik I

I'm not a scientist or someone that loves to know the intricacies of getting humans into space. I do know that there are a heck of a lot of smart people who slaved away at the math, science and engineering of something believed to be impossible to make it possible.

Orlan DMA-18 extravehicular activity spacesuit and manned manoeuvring unit 21KS
And I also know that there were many brave people who took the risk of going into space with the possibility of it all going horribly wrong. To me, knowing these two things make space travel extremely impressive and utterly incredible.

LK-3 Lunar lander model

I loved walking through the exhibition, learning about the beginnings of our attempt to get into space, the secrecy, the hard work, the people behind it all, the tests, the failures and the successes.

Lunokhod 1 lunar roving vehicle model

It was brilliant to see the models of early space crafts and actual capsules (tiny!!!) that landed back to earth, bringing Cosmonauts home.

Can you believe 3 people fit in here? This is the Vokshod 1 descent module.

The successful launch of Sputnik 1 on 4th Oct 1957 started mankind's exploration in space and it wasn't long before the first man, Yuri Gagarin (27 years old), went into space on the 12th April 1961, barely 4 years later. Only a couple of years after that, on 16th June 1963, Valentina Tereshkova (26 years old) became the first woman in space.

Valentina Tereshkova's Vostok 6 descent module

It was also interesting to see all the 'daily life' displays showing everything from soup paste to waste disposal and the variety of space suits. You have to put up with a lot as an astronaut!

Mir space station dining table with pastes, dehydrated and tinned food - yum...?

No caption required here...I think you can guess or if not its in the bottom left corner.

Never complain about your shower, it cant compare to this.

Some of the different suits on display

This exhibition, 'Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age', has been carefully curated with many of the items on display never seen in public before. It is due to close in 5 weeks so if you are in any way interested in space, you need to it check out now. There are several 'lates' and other talks and events going on in the meantime too. Tickets to the exhibition are £14.

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25 January 2016

Dinner on the tube - A quirky London dining experience

Finally over my jet lag and the epic delay, what better way is there to get stuck back into London life than dinner on the tube? I'm not talking about stinking up the carriage with fast food during peak hour, a big no-no in commuter London, I'm talking about the people at Basement Galley of course. Tickets to this underground supper club, held in an decommissioned 1967 Victoria line tube carriage, sell out fast so I made sure to quickly nab a couple back in November last year.

Entrance to the restaurant

I was in for a fun night. Sitting in a tube carriage with a long table covered in white linen, and set for an evening dinner is odd to say least, especially as I travel on the tube every day. The map of the Victoria line, and other typical tube insignia are all around us (thankfully all adverts have been removed!), the only thing missing, as one fellow diner said, is a copy of the Metro discarded on the window ledge. I almost expected to hear the occasional announcement advising that we are being held at a red signal, or as my friend E- said, one asking us to 'mind the gap between the plate and your mouth' ;)

E- sitting at our table for the night

While there were tables for 2, it was nice to sit with others at our long table. We got to chatting with two couples and exchanging opinions on the food for the evening. I do think that if I went on my own, while perfectly fine, I might have felt a little awkward so if you go, drag a friend along and if you want to go on your own, don't be shy, strike up a conversation with your neighbours.

A table set by the doors - you'll never see this on the tube!

Throughout the dinner, the staff were very attentive, friendly and always checking that we had everything we wanted. Tip: If you book a dinner here, take some change with you to tip the staff later, as everything was paid for beforehand, we didn't take anything with us and it was a shame.

Intimate tube dining for two

Each course throughout the night was delicious, but the first and last courses were my favourite. The combination of flavours in the first course was perfect, the croutons crunchy, the sumac adding a surprising tang and the sweetness of the apple gel complementing the other savoury elements.

Whipped goat's curd, confit pumpkin, apple gel, sumac and rye bread

The second course was the favourite dish of our fellow diners. Turns out I'm not a huge fan of grapefruit but I did enjoy the hunks of salmon with the hazelnuts, quite a surprising and yummy combination.

Caramelised grapefruit, roasted hazelnuts, camomile syrup, cured salmon and dill

Our main was a very generous griddled duck breast served on curried parsnip drizzled with smoked porter reduction accompanied with roasted beets and topped with fortified berries. The duck was tender the reduction so delicious we all wanted more of it. We all thought that the curried parsnips was little too strong but that didn't stop any of us polishing off every last bite of this warming dish.

Are you drooling yet?

To finish up our courses, we were treated to a very unusual ice cream, citrus and rosemary, which I had misgivings about but was utterly delicious, I could have it on its own anytime! The ice cream was served on top of a crystallised almond crumb (nice crunchy texture), chocolate and pickled pear tart. The pickled pear was diced finely and had a hint of ginger which worked well. Overall, a very tasty and interesting desert dish.

The last stop - it disappeared off everyone's plates in seconds.

After dinner Chef Alex Cooper, having laboured away for our dining pleasure, came on board to chat with us and see if we enjoyed it all. It was nice of him to come out and he got resounding positive feedback from all of us. You don't always get to meet the person making your dinner at a restaurant, I think it was a nice touch. I guess that is the beauty of a small supper club and such a talented chef. You can also tell a dining success when the tables are left like this - not a morsel left, the plates almost licked clean! Blame the ice cream for this one.

The aftermath of a delicious dining experience

I hardly wanted to leave at the end of the dinner. It was such a surreal experience. I don't think I've ever spoken to another person on tube (its really not a done thing in London, if you ever try to strike up a conversation with someone, you will get some weird looks) and here we were, seated next to strangers and daring to talk to them!

The proper way to climb out of your seat on exiting after dinner...

There is one thing I don't get, and this question is perhaps for the folks at Basement Galley, or those (ladies only) who have dined here before...what on earth...'incinerator'???

London does have some unique venues to dine in, but if you don't fancy grabbing a coffee in a converted Victorian toilet or trying to guess whats on your plate while dining in the dark, then this one is for you. Give it a try, let me know what you think.

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17 January 2016

The 10 phases of flight delays

My arrival time into Heathrow Airport yesterday was meant to be 6.55am. I landed at roughly 3.30pm. Enduring a 9 hour delay in Dubai, after a 14 hour flight from Sydney is not fun. Things happen, strange things, float-y out of body experience things, things cross your mind that, in your sleep deprived state, make perfect sense but you really just should not do. And coz I'm trying to fight jetlag at the moment and not sleep before 10pm, I'm going to tell you about them in the hopes they may help you maintain sanity should you ever experience a flight delay.

Taking it in your stride
You're a seasoned traveller, its fine, whats a short delay? You can live with that. Better they check out any issues on ground than when you're in the air. It'll be fine.

Breaking the unwritten rule of travel and speak to your neighbour
Its not fine. The engineers don't actually know whats wrong and might need to replace a part. It might take a while. You glance at the person sitting next to you, he doesn't look crazy and his smile is as incredulous as yours, maybe chatting will help pass the time? You strike up a conversation and find that it does really help.
*Or you could crack open that book you've been dying to read - I hope you packed one!

Despair and Resignation
Nope, that's not the part that had the issue, they need to replace another and it will take even longer. You groan internally as you realise you have already been travelling 20 hours and this is just going to be one of those flights.

Pleading and Relief
"Please, please, please let us off this plane for a while". You bargain with the travel Gods. "I'll do anything, I'll even go through the security checks again". Released from the confines of the cabin back into the departure lounge you could skip if you had the energy. Don't feel bad, skipping would look weird right now and you'd probably float to the ceiling if you left the ground.

Meal voucher in hand, you are simultaneously not really hungry, would love some Maccas (McDonalds) and cleverly strategise to eat something so when you get back on the plane, you don't have to wait for the meal service and can just go straight to sleep. It doesn't matter what you do, your body will do what it wants and you will just go with it, but by all means strategise, it will pass the time and give you some semblance of control over the situation.

Weird thoughts
- In your sleep deprived state the floor will start to look alluring. "Come lie down, you can lie flat, not at a weird upright angle" it will call to you. Do not listen to its sirens call. Resist. Resist. Resist...but it looks so comfy...
- You get jealous of anyone who isn't travelling alone. They have someone to lean on/cuddle up to, a soft shoulder to rest ones head. You look at your neighbour and wonder if you could cuddle up with a stranger - don't be creepy. Just, no.
- You have never loved or missed your bed so much. You think of its softness, the pillows, the cosy quilt and the horizontal-ness of it. Its underrated & should have more recognition. There should be a 'International Bed Day' in its honour.

Fuzzy brain syndrome
As if the weird thoughts weren't bad enough fuzzy brain can set in at any time. You cant really think straight, coherency goes out the window, you cant remember what you were talking about a few seconds ago. If you are chatting with someone, this can be both hilarious and embarrassing. Focus on the funnier side.

Never, ever say, or be in the vicinity of, someone who says 'nothing else can go wrong'
These people should be shot. I mean, whats wrong with them? Haven't they heard of Murphy's Law? Why are they tempting the travel Gods? I blame my neighbour* for the additional delay back on board the plane because two passengers went MIA and their luggage had to be offloaded.

Disbelief, hilarity and pillow hugging
Taxiing to the runway you have to turn back to offload another passenger, this is one who has developed a heart problem. Better they get attention now than later when we're in the air. But you cant believe it, a combination of disbelief and hilarity combine to make the whole thing dreamlike.You regress to a childlike state and hug your pillow while rocking in your seat trying to maintain sanity. I blame my neighbour* for this too.

Landing at your destination at last
You survived! You made it! You'll celebrate in two days when you have the energy! No flight will ever seem long to you again. You bid your neighbour a farewell at the airport and pass out the second your head touches the pillow when you arrive home.

* I was actually quite lucky, my neighbour was really nice and honestly, having his good company during the delay made all the difference.

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08 January 2016

Recap of 2015 in photos

Ive been looking back at 2015, all the things I was lucky enough to see, do, experience. And when I see all these photos, it is really easy to see what a wonderful year it has been. Then again, its highly unlikely that a year, which starts out with furry purrers, to turn out badly right? ;)

*Warning: This is going to be a long post!! Grab a coffee or popcorn!

January started with my first visit to Lady Dinah's Cat cafe where I fell in love with the teddy bear of a cat called Petra followed by a massive bloggers afternoon tea at the Browns Hotel.

February was a quieter month with a quick escape to Cambridge, one of my favourite day trips from London.

March took me to Spain to see Valencia's Las Fallas festival. I was stunned and amazed by the often towering paper mache sculptures and the level of detail and care put into them. It was wonderful to see all the festivities accompanying the sculptures such as the Falleras parading down the streets, the music, street food stalls, street lights, daytime fireworks, Flower Offering, all culminating in the Crema - the burning of the sculptures.

In April I discovered a time portal in London, checked out the awesome stage adaptation of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime', made another trip to the cat cafe and sampled delightful macrons while discovering London's beautiful Mews.

May was a bit of a busy month. It threw me down Alice in Wonderlands rabbit hole where I became part of the Red Queens guard with the lovely Emma. I also managed to squeeze in a trip to Amman, Jordan and a jaunt to Margate and the mysterious shell cottage. Such a busy month demanded coffee and both a brunch at Beany Green and the London Coffee festival were happy to provide the requisite caffeine. I also voted in a UK election for the first time!

June was time for more theatre; A night at Shakespeare's Globe to see a Comedy of Errors, and the immersive kind, thanks to Punchdrunk's collaboration with The Maritime Museum.

July saw my dressing up in blue for my friends wedding in  Dole, France. It was brilliant to be part of such a special occasion and I fell in love with rural France. Back in London, I found my way to a cute little park with a memorial for everyday heroes and joined a tour of hidden treats in Piccadilly.

August was like May, but hopped up on caffeine. There was an abundance of good food, from finger licking slow cooked ribs to the zing of a Peruvian brunch, even Sushi Samba saw a repeat visit. I dodged Enigma Escapes Killer thanks to some quick thinking from my team and did a taster session at the Heartbreak Hotel. Bloggers were out in force too, with two trips to amazing sites, Eltham Place and the original home of Downton Abbey - Highclere Castle.

Crab Churros - Pachamama
Sushi Samba

Eltham Palace

Highclere Castle

The same day as Highclere Castle saw me make a mad dash back to London and the airport to fly to Dublin. I spent that long weekend checking out Ireland's Cliffs of Moher, Galway, driving along the Wild Atlantic way, traipsing back to the UKs Northern Ireland for a Black Cab tour of a troubled Belfast, walking in a giants footsteps at the Giant's Causeway and crossing a rope bridge to the site of the Iron Islands from Game of Thrones. Ireland's natural beauty is breathtaking, I'd love to hire a car and drive around at my own pace one day. And Dublin, what a fun city, live music, friendly people, and of course the bookworm paradise of Trinity College library, I'm still mega bummed that it was so touristy that they shuffled you around the ground floor and you couldn't reach the books or the upper level :( boooo!

Cliffs of Moher

Dublin - Temple Bar

Dublin - Trinity Collage Library

Diner en blanc launched for the first time in London in September. Thanks to the lovely Emma, I joined 1200 other guests in a sea of white for the most elegant picnic I've ever been to! Absolutely stunning. Later on I tried another cool cafe with decent coffee in Shoreditch and discovered London's second kitty cafe! September brings with it London Open House weekend and I was lucky enough to get a freebie ticket to see INSIDE the St Pancras Apartments - the clock tower one to be exact! I also managed to finally book myself in to the backstage tour run by the Theatre Royal and then walk across to see 'Heartbeat' by Charles P├ętillon consisting of 100,000 white balloons floating above Covent Garden. The totally sweet Mandy invited me to join her at a private viewing of the Science Museums 'Cosmonauts' which was brilliant, really fascinating and I have been so remiss in not blogging about it yet, especially as we were given the privilege of taking photos inside! Lastly, for a change of pace, I did a bit of bird and otter spotting at London's Wetland Centre - it was so odd to see such a place in the middle of London!

Diner en Blanc in London

October involved brunching and exploring Exmouth Market, trying 101 Thai kitchen (the most authentic Thai restaurant I have come across so far in London) and my first work trip to Wroclaw, Poland where I got to see a real Lamplighter! Some very organised bloggers arranged a charming country outing filled with Autumn colours, fallen leaves, noisy ducks, a silk mill and idyllic countrysides vistas. I also finally got to see Austentatious, a brilliant improv theatre company, one that had me laughing weeks later.

I chose to escape to Seville in November for a few days to celebrate my birthday. It was great to walk around in warm 25 degree weather with crystal clear blue skies, dine al fresco and buy delicious biscuits from cloistered nuns. A lovely new brunch spot (Restaurant 34) was on the menu along with a repeat visit to 101 Thai Kitchen for a birthday dinner. Oh and Stomp, a West End percussion production high on buzzing energy - it really is amazing what you can do with the smallest items to make music.

December brought a whirlwind trip to Beirut, a beautiful lunch at Clos Maggiore, work xmas parties and all the festive decorations and atmosphere in London. It also was my first Chambers of Flavour experience, another one I have been remiss in blogging about. And lets not forget my trip home for the holidays :)

Quite the year! Part of me hopes 2016 will be bigger and better. Part of me wants to nap the whole way through to recuperate from 2015! Either way, it'll be another year in London and I'm sure, no matter what, I'll love it.

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