10 May 2016

Updates - Egyptology, the Circus & the Engllish countryside

Lets talk Egyptology, circus acts, wonder.land, a new production of the Tempest, a Roman bathing spot, cute villages, rolling hills and the simple pleasure of a hug.

You'll have to forgive the complete dry up of any blogging over the past four(!) weeks, I've been busy with mum who has been visiting all the way from Sydney. Its been great having her in London. There have been coffees, chatty brunches, English countryside trips, travel adventures and lots of hugs (you're never to old for a good hug!). I'm sure there will be loads more in store but for now, here are some things I've been up to.

A few of weeks ago, after work, I went to the Beyond Beauty exhibition at Two Temple Place. There I was, looking at ancient Egyptian artifacts, learning about how the Egyptians viewed beauty, in a gorgeously restored medieval hall, and to top it off, listening to live jazz music floating through the air. I had a 'this is why I love London' moment that made me grin like an idiot. Sadly the exhibit is now closed but Two Temple Place will be open again to the public during London's Open House weekend in September – put it into your diary, this place is worth seeing even without the Egyptology exhibit.

A few days later a couple of friends and I ran away to the Circus. Circus Restaurant that is. All dressed up, with a booking made months ago, we sat down to dinner while being serenaded by a drag queen dressed in Olivia Newton-John nightie from 'Grease' who took absurd pleasure in stroking a fellow diners bald head. Well, at least that was one of the acts that had us giggling away. From trapeze artists swinging above diners to hula-hoopers(?) the acts made everyones jaw drop. It was a fun night out at one of Londons quirkier restaurants.

Now, for someone who loves the theatre, I've been quite remiss in booking anything. Or so I thought. I almost missed seeing Wonder.land entirely. I was drifting asleep the night before when my brain decided to tell me about it. That shot me awake in no time and had me frantically searching through my emails to confirm. Whew. It was one of the oddest productions I've seen. It is a modern adaptation of Alice in Wonderland mirroring our current relationship with technology. Cleverly done with special effects blurring the line between physical and virtual actors - there is a great scene where the actress playing 'virtual' Alice drops into the top of a structure and is shown as a virtual character disintegrating. However, I left simultaneously not sure if I'd necessarily want to see it again and desperately wanting a teapot full of glitter.

Over the Bank holiday weekend I took mum to Bath and the Cotswolds and had the pleasure of seeing her face light up at the old Baths, the bright yellow flower fields of rapeseed in the countryside and the incredibly cute Cotswold villages. One of our stops was at Lower Slaughter (no I'm not making that up, its a real name and comes from old English for 'wet land' or muddy place). We had tea and sandwiches in a cosy room with stone floors, huge fireplace, low ceilings, wooden beams, lead windows and the smell of fresh scones from a neighbours table that made our mouths water despite our own tea!

This weekend, mum  and I hopped up to Edinburgh and landed an awesome room overlooking the city and the Balmoral Hotels clock tower. Mum was speechless, it was adorable. She had a great time touring around Edinburgh and getting lost in its layers of history, the stories in its stones and its beautiful views. Seeing her wide-eyed and in love with the city was worth missing out on London rare 25 degree weather and donning layers for Edinburgh 12 degrees. By the way, if you are going to visit Edinburgh from London, unless you are strapped for time or the airfares are much cheaper, I recommend going by train. Its only about half an hour's difference in the end and it means you skip the security, immigration, boarding saga.

So that's been my life for the past few weeks, bit manic, filled with warm hugs, good chats, and adventures. Till next time, what do you do when family visits? I'm always on the lookout for new ideas so any suggestions are most welcome!

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12 April 2016

Updates - London Expat Life

Last week...what a week! It was brilliant, full of yummy dinners, catch ups with friends and loads more. While my blog posts are in the pipeline, I thought I'd share tid-bits from my week, I might even make this a regular thing, who knows?

So what did I get up to...?

TLDR: Flatmate dinners, catch ups with friends over delicious authentic Thai food (blog post coming up), new challenges, escape rooms, socials, book hauls, secret projects, breath taking views, train rides, cute villages, and finding out why in the past ladies actually wanted to get a rolling pin from their sweetheart sailors! I promise, it wasn't so they could clobber them over the head with it.

The longer version:
One of the things I quite enjoyed last week was catching up with a couple of my friends over some delicious Thai food. We all met up, chatted away over our hot and sour Tom Yum soup and other dishes. I've found a spot in west London that is as authentic as it gets - this was my third visit and I kind of want to keep it to myself but have decided to let you in on it, coz, you know, I kinda like you all. Stay tuned for the full post.

Ok so I don't want to lose you with this 'new challenges' one so bear with me. Tuesday was my first foray into running thanks to the encouragement of my friend K (you're a total start K!) – but don’t worry, I'm not going to turn into a crazy fitness fanatic, I've just always enjoyed running and thought it'd be nice to be able to do a City Dash event without losing my breath in the first 30 seconds. I only managed the first two runs (a minute each with a walking break between them) without dying losing my breath...lol! Baby steps! Baby steps!

You may have noticed I have a thing for Escape Rooms...sort of like my thing with Immersive Theatre...but I promise, the escape room on Friday was all about introducing K's hubby into that world, it had absolutely nothing to do with my addiction enthusiastic interest in wanting to check out how Hint Hunt fared against other games I've played...nothing at all! We escaped by the way :)

After feeling very restless on Saturday that resulted in a charity shop book splurge (4 books!), on Sunday I took a day trip out to cute town with a sketchy past. I learned about Rye's maritime ties and smuggler history, walked the old banks of the river and found out about those rolling pins. It was great to chill out on the train ride down and watch the rolling green countryside go by dotted with sheep, lambs and rabbits! I'm planning a post for this one too.

So yeah, it was a pretty busy week. Its not always like that, even as an expat (four years and counting), knowing there is so much to see and do in London, sometimes its hard to fend off the couch but as the score stands, starting this week, Sam 1, couch nil.

Have a great week!

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07 April 2016

Indoor Skydiving with Airkix

A couple of weeks ago I tagged along on a friends birthday pressie to try out indoor skydiving. Having jumped out of a plane a few years ago, I was interested to see how this compared. Eliminating the fear factor of jumping out of a plane, with a prayer that the parachute would open, would pure free fall be fun?

Source: Airkix Gallery

We signed away or lives, packed every bit of belongings, accessories and tidbits into a locker, watched the mandatory instruction video and then got into our gloriously flattering jumpsuits. Blue baggy jumpsuits, goggles on as tight as you could bear, helmet (soft toy on top optional) and headed for the wind tunnel.

Arriving at the tunnel early, we watched the previous group learning to fly, their instructor helping out with encouragement or physical adjustments where needed. At the end he wrapped things up showing off his skills and what he could do in the tunnel. I wish I'd had my camera. It was amazing! He shot up the tunnel, did flips and spins, dropped to the windows and sailed out as calm and as precise as can be. I would LOVE to be able to do that. Like a ballet in mid air.

The acrobatic display done, it's was our groups turn in the tunnel. I confess, I was a bit nervous so I made sure I was last in line. Logic and emotion don't always see eye to eye - I knew there was nothing to be afraid of but still, my heart was racing and I watched everyone eagerly to convince myself to relax and be calm. My friend went first and with a couple of tips from the instructor, did well.

My turn. I gave myself a pep talk 'Alright Sam, you've jumped out of a plane, everyone else here has done it, nothing to worry about, just relax and go with the flow. Oh and don't forget to keep your head up!' I stepped up to the edge of the tunnel, got ready and leaned forward letting the wind and my instructor catch me...and I floated in.

It. Was. AWESOME!!!

It was a minute of free fall without anything to worry about except keeping your position so you could float high enough. It was great. Floating on a cloud great. It was a true in-the-moment experience.

I did keep bumping into the windows because, as a first timer, they don't show you how to control your flight, they just want to make sure you get the basic position to fly, but other than that, I was told I did pretty well and hardly needed any adjustment from the instructor - yeah, I'm totally bragging about that ;)

I did two flights of a minute each, it doesn't sound like much but it is plenty. The first flight is just to get used to the idea - everyone improves on the second especially as they have a video on two minute delay showing previous flights so you can watch yourself and see how you did. Anyone can do this - if you get vertigo though...you might not be able to handle the mesh floor...

An instructor adjusting a flyer - they aren't always like this, sometimes its just a hand signal.

The guys at Airkix warned us that flying was like an intense workout hidden in a bit of fun, but my friend and I were sceptical. They weren't kidding, we did feel a little sleepy on the train ride home and the next day I was sore, my legs, arms and shoulders felt like I'd done a weights session at the gym!

Our instructor, Ryan, was great, really approachable and patient. It really was so much fun and quite the unique experience. I can see myself going back to learn about controlling my flight a bit more. My friend already bought a repeat visit so, who knows, I might join him and be back there sooner than you'd expect. Am I crazy? Would you try this?

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04 April 2016

Time Run - Escape Room

One should never tamper with time. One never knows the consequences. Cranial shrinkage, for example, can be very unpleasant and it can take one a number of months to recover, in the meantime you look like a walking potato. We all know that in changing the past we can impact time to the point where we erase ourselves. But the temptation is there, to change something, to go back and erase that moment.

In London however, time travel is for fun. There is a time portal which will zap you into the past to observe the sights and sounds (and smells!) of a bygone era. And there is another portal you can step through and help find a very precious artifact buried in time. Indiana Jones eat your heart out.

I am no longer surprised at London's oddities, in fact, it seems the further east you go the weirder London gets. But I digress. This particular time portal is in a Lab a couple of minutes walk from London Fields tube station. Unlike most labs, understated, nondescript, hidden, this one is blatantly obvious. And this time portal is exactly where I found myself a month ago with two fellow time travellers and great puzzlers counting down to our allotted time before ringing the modern buzzing contraption.

We were shown into Luna Fox's lab by one of her assistants who looked like he had just stepped out of the Victorian era. He promptly briefed us on our assignment and advised that we would be assisted by Babbage, Luna's own creation of artificial intelligence, throughout our journey.

Leaving all our own items locked away in a wooden crate, we took our first step into the unknown to retrieve the Lance of Longinus, an object of great power and great danger should it fall into the wrong hands.

The Verdict

The set
Time Run has to be the most detailed escape room I've been to. The set is incredible, everything is immaculate. From the moment we stepped through the door we were immersed in that world. The briefing room full of old furniture, papers, maps, bottles and other contraptions is only the start. The person briefing us never broke his character and at the end, the person debreifing us was the same. Even if we accidentally introduced a modern word 'Google' we were corrected. It was seemless, brilliant and exciting.

The challenge
The great thing about Time Run is that there are many puzzles to be figured out with varying complexity, some requiring a team effort. Its definitely doable with 3 people but I think 4 would have been perfect.

The value
Unfortunately Time Run happens to be the most expensive escape room in London, which makes for an expensive hour or so and if you go as a family it can be a hefty expense. However I can honestly say that it is well worth it. It really is like stepping into a movie set and is brilliantly done. I wish I could tell you more but it's impossible without giving it away.

Final words
I cannot wait till they bring out another escape room. I'll be there with bells on!

Other games I've been to:
The Killer – Enigma Escape, Operation Black Sheep - ClueQuest, Leo's Path - Archimedes Inspiration

Other games coming up:
JM's Office – Hint Hunt, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry - Enigma Quests

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29 March 2016

Day Trips from London: London to Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

Its been a while since I've added to my Day Trips from London series but over this Easter long weekend, a friend and I finally took a trip to Bodiam Castle. I love that living in the UK I can just go and see a castle, built by a Knight, that existed almost 400 years before Australia was 'discovered' by Captain Cook, complete with moat, just like that.

The original bridge actually was from this grassy patch to the island in the middle.

Bodiam is a 14th century castle that was built during the reign of Richard II. Originally belonging to the Dalyngrigge family, it passed through several hands before it was donated to the National Trust in 1925.

Main entrance - wooden portcullis and family shields above

The exterior of the castle is intact (or has been restored) and as I approached it, it was quite the sight. I can understand why the grounds were landscaped in such a way, it would have made quite the imposing and intimidating impression. It does give the impression that it is bigger than it actually is.

Over the bridge, through the main entrance with the original wooden portcullis (quite rare) and up a side staircase to the battlements and I could see the whole interior of the castle. Only ruins remain, surrounding the green lawn of the courtyard. But with the help of a map, fireplaces and the markings of where the upper floors were, it was easy to glean life when it was a fully functioning castle.

The arched door way leads to the Great Hall

Facing the main entrance from the courtyard

The arches from the Great Hall leading to the pantry, buttery and kitchens

All the little details...
Dont forget to look up - Parts of Bodiam had 3 floors.

Looking out from the Retainers Hall to the courtyard

Possibly my favourite thing about the whole castle was the back entrance. Supposedly used for 'informal' access to friends, services and the like. I like to think of it as an early equivalent to the kitchen door used by friends today instead of the main house door. Except I'm sure that most kitchen doors don't have murder holes as a precaution.

Murder holes

Oh, did I mention its a photogenic castle? It was so easy to take good photos of it from every angle, almost no effort required ;)

Tips for visiting Bodiam Castle


How to get to Bodiam Castle

I think that the best way to get to Bodiam Castle from London is to drive. But due to Easter car hire opening hours my friend and I ended up taking a train to Maidstone and hiring a zipcar to drive there which worked well too.

The National Trust site does give various public transport options.

Food & drink

Bodiam Castle has a cafe near the carpark which serves a couple of hot meals, sandwiches, tea, coffee and cake. It has both indoor and outdoor seating. Across the road there is a Shepherd Neame pub Castle Inn which can serve as another option. Otherwise, if youre driving, why not take a picnic and eat there?


There is a steam train station nearby Bodiam Castle, if you are looking for a full day out check out the Kent and East Sussex Railway website.
Why not take advantage of the beautiful countryside and take a walk along the public footpaths? I saw a couple of stiles and marked paths so with a bit of googling found this map.

Not a bad way to spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of London don't you think?

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09 March 2016

The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

Imagine you were sick, gall stones, and you had to have an operation where a thin metal rod was stuck into your *ahem* and a small incision to be made behind your *ahem* to get them out. Now imagine that I told you the operation would be without anaesthetic. And because of that there will be men holding you down. And there will probably be about 150 medical students watching. But it'll be over really fast ,45 seconds in fact. That's not so bad is it? Did I mention the blindfold?

Try not to think about the red stain on the pulled out part of the operating table...

Hidden in an old church attic, lost for almost hundred years is a small old operating theatre. It used to belong to the female ward of the St Thomas hospital before the hospital moved and its grounds sold to the railway companies.

Entrance to the Old Operating Theatre - no the patients did not come up this way.

The theatre has been on my list of things to see in London for a while and a couple of weekends ago I finally managed to visit. I was even more fortunate to be squeezed in to the lecture which was booked out (there were a couple of no shows). The lady giving the talk was brilliant, she made a few grown men cringe and kids squirm.

One of the knives used for amputation
She talked about a couple of operations back when the operating theatre was in use, one an amputation another a gallstone removal - both operations would have been held at midday, to make full use of the natural light from the skylight. She also spoke about how medicine was viewed, how operations were about taking things away from the body because it was all about doing things fast, before anaesthetic began to be used and it could slow down. She spoke about how the theatre was found, like a little time capsule, years later. It was fascinating.
Ready to saw off that leg?
Even the operating table itself had so many unique features - firstly this was pre-recognition of germs...hence wood. It had grooves for the blood to trickle down and was quite low so the men holding patients down would be gravity assisted. Can you guess what the elevated head piece was for?

After the talk I had a look around the small herb garret which had been used for drying herbs used in medicines of the time before a patients recovery room. There were displays of doctors instruments, old medical equipment, pathology, herbs, early medication, an apothecary shop and more. I even came across a small pamphlet talking about a lady named Miranda who, determined to be a doctor, made herself over as a man, named James Barry, became a successful doctor and was buried as a man. Can you imagine that kind of dedication?

Whether your interested in medical history, are a medical student (like some I overheard), like secret and forgotten pieces of the past, or just want to see grown men cringe ;) The old operating theatre is unique and the oldest in Europe.

Anaesthetic masks

A visit costs £6.50 for adults and the Saturday 2pm lecture books out weeks in advance so book early! While you are in the area, you can always pop in to Borough Markets for a bite or a coffee :)

If you cant visit in person, do have a look at their virtual tour, the images from the garret do far better justice to the space than my photos!

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27 February 2016

Dawn breakfast at Duck and Waffle

Lets start with yes, I'm crazy, and no, I'm not a morning person...This is the truth about what really happens when you go to a dawn breakfast at Duck and Waffle, London's highest restaurant sitting on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower.

9.43pm (eve of) Get into bed & set alarm for 4am. Your phone almost dies in shock. Curse your cockamamie ideas.
9.51pm Snug and warm in bed, realise you haven't packed your camera, don't get up, switch your watch to your other wrist so it's a reminder in the morning.
4.00am (day of) Alarm goes off. Swear. Hit snooze....Hit snooze a few times actually.
4.15am Roll out of bed. Swear again because the hearings not on. Turn heating on, get back into bed.
4.30am Sh*t, you're probably going to run late. Roll unwillingly out of bed. Grumble. Get ready in a frenzy and bolt out the door.
4.50am Text friend and ask how many times she has cursed you this morning.
4.52am Friend texts back. 'Maybe just twice since I got up'. Could be worse.
5.10am Realise too late that you forgot your camera* and swear on the bus. Get odd looks from the only two other people on bus.
5.17am OMG you can actually get a seat on the tube! Damn, forgot to bring a book.
5.20am Moan on Twitter that you forgot your camera. Twitter cares. Twitter loves you.
5.30am Scare Warn Duck and Waffle on Twitter about your caffeine-less state and tell them to ready the flat whites!
5.50am Geez it's quiet. And why are there other people around? They can't all be going to Duck and Waffle. Are they crazy?
5.53am Crap, still at Bank. You're going to be late. Swear, quietly.
6.02am Its still dark outside. You're definitely late. Stop and take a photo anyway.
6.04am Made it! Say hello to equally crazy friend. Order a coffee STAT. Hide the crazy till it arrives.
6.09am Wow. Its really something up here....

6.30am Oh crap, I cant eat all that.




7.15am Order a second coffee. You need a second coffee. The first one is just to keep you awake, the second is so you can function.
7.30am Defeated by a waffle :(

8.00am Grumble about having to go in to work. Have epiphany that work pays for Duck and Waffle and other crazy ideas. Take grumbling back and replace with grudging acceptance.
8.30am Arrive at work, gloat to workmates. Bump up grudging acceptance to "it's not so bad really". Don't worry, it doesn't last.

*A big thank you to R @wildgastronomy for lending me her phone to take some pics and lending me her pics!

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