Twelve Days of Christmas London Style -Day 12

COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET

It might seem odd that my last ‘favourite’ thing in my Twelve Days of London is a flower market, but you have to remember that, when J and I flew out of Calgary, we left behind temperatures of minus 30C with windchill. To be faced with such colour, and a LEMON tree – an actual real lemon tree – it was a true feast for the eye.

lemon trees

The Columbia Road Flower Market operates every Sunday from 8am until 3-ish. And it doesn’t just sell flowers.  You want a Christmas tree?  They’ve got Christmas trees!

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The street also boasts an eclectic collection of independent shops, art galleries, vintage stores and coffee shops, so if flowers aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of others things to see.  (And it’s only a 10 minute walk from The Geffrye Museum, one of my favourite museums in London.)

lumbio2  indeer

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Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 6

HAMPSTEAD HEATH

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Hampstead Heath

If I ever win the lottery (mind you, I’d have to start buying tickets first!) I’m going to buy myself a house in Hampstead and walk my dog on Hampstead Heath every day!

This park of 790 acres (with its own police force) is, according to the guide book, less than 6km from Trafalgar Square and just within Zone 2 on the Northern Line.

I adore London, but, even so, the crowds and traffic can sometimes become rather suffocating. Even in the city parks it’s hard to get away from The Madding Crowd. In contrast, I found few tourists walking the heath; most walkers were locals out with their dogs. (The downside of this is that once you’re actually on the heath, there are no signposts.)

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The view of London from Parliament Hill.

A quick google search revealed that Hampstead Heath has been used as a location on over 50 movies and TV shows – including Notting Hill, The Omen, 101 Dalmatians and Mansfield Park – so it’s possible you’ve seen it on-screen before. Especially the view from Parliament Hill overlooking London. And that was my goal.

 

“Which way to Parliament Hill?” I asked one of the underground personnel when I arrived at Hampstead Tube Station.

“Turn right and go up the hill,” he said.

Which is what I did.

And got totally lost.

Moral of the story? Just because someone works in a location, doesn’t mean they know the area.

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The opposite direction to Parliament Hill!

When I found myself inside the park going downhill through a tangled path of trees, I cottoned on that I was probably heading in the wrong direction. About a hundred yards away I saw a man walking his dogs. I reckoned he was bound to know the area. “I know you,” the voice in my head said as I drew closer. “I definitely know you,” it repeated when he started to speak. And then I gave an Oscar-winning performance of my own, pretending not to recognise the Downton Abbey actor, as he pointed me in the right direction!  Turns out there are two heaths – west and east – and I was on the wrong one.

turn left here

Downshire Hill. Turn left here and follow the road all the way down to the park entrance.

If you want to visit Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath, turn LEFT as you exit the tube station, and head DOWNHILL until you reach Downshire Hill.  Turn LEFT and walk to the end of the road. Hampstead Heath is just across the road and you’ll find a signpost there to Parliament Hill.

I’d also hoped to visit a few of the museums in Hampstead – Kenwood House, Burgh Museum, John Keats’ House and 2 Willow Road – but none were open that day. (Second moral to the story – always check museum opening times in advance.) But after a fabulous walk across the heath, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll back along the main street.

Despite its village feel, Hampstead boasts some of the most expensive houses in London.It was great just doing a bit of window shopping – apparently Judi Dench has been known to shop for clothes at The Hampstead Bazaar just opposite the tube station – and I stopped in for a lovely cup of tea and scone in one of its tea rooms.

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Hampstead

I’m definitely going to revisit Hampstead on my next trip to London – striding out across the parkland after being hemmed in by people and traffic was a real joy – but this time I’ll take my own advice and check out the museum opening hours ahead of time.

Kenwood House: Daily 10am-5pm

John Keats House: Winter hours: Friday-Sunday 1-5pm

Burgh House Museum: Wednesday to Friday and Sunday noon-5pm

2 Willow Road:Check website

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 5

HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR

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The Great Hall. Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

If you’re visiting London in December, and you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you HAVE to make the trip out to Watford to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour to see The Great Hall all decked out for Yule.

Getting there:
London Euston to Watford Junction: Trains leave from Euston Station to Watford Junction, but be aware there are two possible lines to take; Midland and London Overground. You want Midland. Midland takes approximately 20 minutes while London Overground takes 50!

Watford Junction to the Studio: Exit the station and turn left into the bus park. You can’t miss the bus stand – and the bus itself is painted purple and covered with pictures from the movie. It costs 2GBP per person and takes around 10-15 minutes. The bus leaves every 20 minutes.

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Diagon Alley. Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

Timing: You want to give yourself at least 3 hours to see everything on the tour. Some people do it in two hours, but that’s rushing it. And don’t plan anything ‘timed’ (eg theatre) for that evening. Once you’re ‘in’, you can stay as long as you want, so take your time and enjoy.

If you’re travelling by public transit, I would suggest you book a tour for around 11.30am to give yourself plenty of time to get the train, make connections and exchange your online booking voucher for tickets when you get there. If you’re early, the cafe serves great snacks and meals, and of course the shop is amazing! Everything Potter you can dream of is there!

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Gryffindor Common Room. Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

The Tour:
First of all, what the tour is not. It’s NOT a theme park. (Two girls sitting beside me in the cafe were surprised there weren’t any rides!) This is a studio tour of the MAKING of the films where you get to see the genuine sets, costumes and props up close. The first soundstage walks you through the sets; the Great Hall, the Gryffindor common room, The Weasley’s kitchen etc., and also shows you how they create snow and fire in movies.

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The Potters’ House. Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

Outside, you see the exterior of 4 Privet Drive, the Knight bus, the Potters’ house, and the bridge at Hogwarts. It’s also where you can sit and have a Butterbeer – or just regular coffee and snacks if you’d prefer. I had to try the Butterbeer – which I enjoyed! Especially with fake snow falling around me.

Then it’s back inside to see Diagon Alley and all the models, prosthetics, wigs, animatronics etc they created for the films. There’s even a full size Hippogriff, so make sure you bow politely to him as you pass by.

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Masks. Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

I loved the tour and could have spent all day there. My only regret – that I booked the 1pm tour and had to be back in town for a theatre show at 7.30pm, so I was constantly watching the clock.

Is this suitable for very young children? Probably not. But a child (of any age!!) who is into Harry Potter and has seen the films will love it!

For the Studio Tour official website, please click here.

Twelve Days of Chirstmas London Style – Day 4

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The Geffreye Museum, Shoreditch

Tucked away, a 20 minute bus ride from the city centre in Shoreditch, is one of my favourite London museums – The Geffreye Museum. Built by Sir Robert Geffreye in 1714 as an almshouse, it was turned into a museum, focusing on the home and domestic life of the ‘middling sort’, in 1914. It’s a glorious oasis of calm and tranquility in the heart of a busy neighbourhood. Locals who live and work in the area often come here to enjoy a picnic in the grounds of this beautiful building.

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The Geffreye Museum, Shoreditch

Spread out the length of the main block are middle-class living rooms, ranging from Elizabethan to Victorian times. The exhibition continues downstairs with more rooms featuring our evolving lifestyle throughout the 20th century. Although I’d visited the Geffreye before, I wanted to go back to see the rooms decorated for Xmas – and it was a treat.

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Room of ‘the middling sorts’ depicting the 1600s. Geffreye Museum

First off was the Elizabethan room in a home ‘over the shop’. Panelled in rich golden oak with green curtains at the windows, this was the room where the household gathered to eat, socialise and entertain, a fire burning in the grate. With the walls and mantlepiece decorated with greenery for Christmas, the table is laid for a feast.  But look carefully. Disguised as hard-boiled eggs and strips of bacon are sugar treats!

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The Geffreye Museum, Shoreditch

Over the next few centuries a change started to take place in the middle class; home and workplace became separated. Further division occurred within the home itself; instead of one great room for all social activities, these were separated into dining rooms and parlours. Also, there was a growing distinction (and separation) between the family and their servants. Interesting to note, too, how little Xmas decoration there was during this period. A hangover from the Puritan era perhaps?

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Victorian room decorated for Christmas. Geffreye Museum.

Contrast that with the full explosion of the Victorian room! Although Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, is credited with introducing the Xmas tree to Britain, apparently Xmas trees had been seen in homes earlier in the century. What surprised me about the tree was the decoration at the top. It’s neither star nor fairy but a union flag! (The tree at the Dennis Severs House – which I blogged about a few days ago- was also topped by a flag.)

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1950s Christmas. Geffreye Museum

Downstairs, we enter the 20th century. This room depicts the 1950s. This was the era when my parents bought their first home, so there are some elements here (the paper chains hanging from the ceiling, a miniature artificial tree) which I recognise from my own childhood Christmases.

Behind the museum you’ll find a collection of gardens matching the time periods of the rooms inside. Our gardens have also evolved over the centuries just as much as our interiors. Unfortunately, the gardens are not open to the public during the winter months.

And the purpose of the great room appears to have come full circle. Once again, in the 21st century, common modern home design is to create one large open-plan space on the main floor where the family eats, socializes and children do their homework together. The more things change, the more they stay the same?

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Ginger/Lemon tea. The Geffreye Museum

During your visit, make sure to stop and have a meal or snack in the museum’s cafeteria. Backing on to the gardens below, it’s a lovely, bright, open space. The food is great quality – I dare you NOT to have a dessert – and very reasonably priced. I chose to have a cup of ginger and lemon tea (along with a delicious chocolate brownie!) and was delighted to be presented with a small teapot holding slices of fresh ginger and lemon, a tiny dish of honey on the side as sweetener. That’s something I’ll be trying at home.

Entry to The Geffreye Museum is free and it’s open most days except Monday. For further details on the museum and how to get there, please click here.

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 3

streetWhat I love about London is you will be walking down a regular looking street and, unless you know it’s there, can be missing an absolute treasure. When doing some research for our trip this month, J and I came across a reference to Charterhouse. I was vaguely aware of it – Wasn’t it a school? – but knew absolutely no details, let alone its history. After checking out their site, we saw they offered tours so we signed up.

courtyardWhat we discovered was a mediaeval jewel in the heart of the busy city. Spread over six acres(!) Charterhouse is a former Carthusian monastery founded by monks from Chartreuse in France in 1371. (‘Charterhouse’ is the anglicanisation of ‘Chartreuse’.)

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s, many of the monks were hung at Tyburn for refusing to take an oath recognising Henry as head of the church in England, and the monastery became a possession of the crown. It was granted to Lord North, who sold it to The Duke of Norfolk, who later sold it to Thomas Sutton in 1611.

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The chapel at Charterhouse where services (which can be attended by members of the public) are held.

Sutton was an extremely wealthy ‘commoner’, having made much of his money in munitions.  He turned Charterhouse into a charitable foundation to educate boys and offer residential care for single elderly men.

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The cloister at Charterhouse where several rules of football were invented

Former pupils of the school – which relocated to Surrey in 1872 when it outgrew the space – include Lord Baden-Powell (founder of the Scout movement), William Makepeace Thackery (writer) and John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church).

If you’re a soccer fan, you might be interested to learn that two of the rules of the game (the offside rule and throw in) came into being on this site where the boys played the game in the cloisters.

Charterhouse continues to offer accommodation for single elderly men. Known as ‘Brothers’, they must be between 60-80 years of age and men of limited financial means. (Teachers, artists, clergymen, etc.) They live independently in their own flats in the grounds but meet together daily for meals. Although Charterhouse is an Anglican community, there is no obligation to attend services – or even be a member of The Church of England.

burned door

Note the burned door on the right hand side of the archway.

Charterhouse was damaged by bombing during World War Two. You can still see the evidence of the remnants of a burned door which protected the chapel.

Today, Charterhouse is open for tours on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday and alternate Saturday afternoons. They last for approximately an hour and a half and cost 10GBP per person. Tours are led by Brothers and must be booked in advance.  Please click here for the online application form. Members of the public can also attend services in their chapel. Please click here for information.

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One of the many courtyards in Charterhouse. Brothers live in flats in these buildings.

Charterhouse can also be hired as wedding venue and is used quite often by film and television companies for location shooting for productions such as Downton Abbey and Great Expectations.

If you’re a history geek and/or looking for something just a little bit different during your visit to London, both J and myself highly recommend Charterhouse. With history stretching back over 700 years, it really is a jewel.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 1

I just got back from London last night after a great trip.  I love London at any time of the year, but there’s a special magic about the Christmas season; the city – literally – lights up.

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Grimm Tales, Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf

My travelling companion J and I both agreed that the highlight of our holiday was a visit to the Grimm Tales theatre production at the Bargehouse in Oxo Tower Wharf on the Southbank. This is an amazing space and was a fabulous evening’s entertainment.  Of all the places we saw and things we did on our trip, this is the one that lingers.

Grimm Tales is playing until February 15th, 2015 and if you haven’t seen it, I can highly recommend it.

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Grimm Tales, Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf

I was unable to take photos during the performance, but afterwards you are encouraged to explore the four floors of the old warehouse where the production takes place. The audience is split up into groups and each one sees five out of six of Grimm’s tales.  (Thousandfurs, The Three Little Men in the Woods, The Frog King, Faithful Johannes, Hansel and Gretel and The Goose Girl at the Spring).

Sitting mere feet away from the performers, you are drawn into their world; for the twenty minutes or so of each individual story, you are right there with the characters. Adapted by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass), this is no Disneyfied retelling of these old stories. When  one tale ends, the lights go up and you are shepherded up a magical flight of stairs in the four-story building into yet another enchanted setting.

Dolls in baskets

Hansel and Gretel, Grimm Tales, Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf

This is not a production for very young children – there is a darkness that might frighten some –  but for the right child of the right age (or any adult) it’s sheer magic.

Reviews for Grimm Tales:

http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/grimm-tales-3

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/11265380/Grimm-Tales-for-Young-and-Old-The-Bargehouse-London-review-dreamlike.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/peter-yeung/grimm-tales_b_6302860.html