Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Secret Garden

I'm torn whether to actually write about yesterday's venture or not. A huge part of the beauty and charm of the place lay in our sharing it only with a dog walker, the occasional jogger, photographers and an elderly couple having a romantic picnic complete with wine (they had the right idea).

In a small space, this may still seem a fair few people but in a vast expanse of architectural and horticultural magnificence, it really meant we were quite alone to the point where I wondered whether, had it only been me, I might have felt a little spooked. On a gloomy day such as it was, greyer corners of the structure were definitely reminiscent of a scene or detail from an opulent murder mystery.

I fear that were too many people aware of this 'secret garden's' existence than the magic would be gone. So I may be selfish and refer to it as just that; The Secret Garden. Although in all fairness, said garden is so far off the beaten track that even if more people did know of it, I hardly feel that it's somewhere they would frequent. Fine, yesterday we finally found ourselves at the Hill Garden & Pergola in Hampstead.

There's not really much to say. It really is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. It was just so beyond surreal, incredibly magical and really genuinely peaceful (no peacock cries or sirens this time), almost to the point of being eerie at points. Nevertheless, we both agreed, very romantic!

Another slightly chilly 'summer's' day, we were eventually torn away by want of tea and cake. Having completely lost my bearings, I was totally convinced that we were right by Kenwood House (we were not. It was at least two roads and the majority of a heath away) so we wandered in what I thought was the right direction for the teashop.

As fate would have it, the 'right direction' did lead us to a perfectly pleasant park with an even more pleasant 'Refreshment House' where we sat inside (still bothered by wasps in want of chocolate and sweet apple) to enjoy our tea and cake.

Legs well rested and the sun finally shining, we couldn't just head back home could we? So on we blindly plodded again in the direction (we hoped) of the Heath. I am ashamed to say that in the end, Google Maps came out, but thus we did eventually find the longest way round to Parliament Hill. Once there, I (in true holiday mode style) had a light nap, only interrupted for a short moment by my own fit of laughter at a yuppie pair of teens, one of whom genuinely responded 'yeah, totes' to her friend, at which point I completely lost it. I don't think they knew I was laughing at them...

The rest of the day continued much in the same sleepy vein. My excuse is that I was getting my energy up for the next four days of wedding mania. 'Til Sunday!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Holland Park

I can't help but feel that those who think of Instagram as some sort of evil have either used it or seen it used in the wrong way. While some people may indeed be there for the competition of likes and followers, others like myself use it as a wonderful platform for sharing and discovering. Much of my summer To Do list has come from places I've seen in other people's Instagram pictures because, believe it or not, there are lots of people out there who seek beauty too!

Today I've been a little deeper into Notting Hill than before. A favourite place of mine when the sun is shining, turns out it has plenty to offer even when it's not.

I think Holland Park is the furthest West I've ever been on the Central Line (I know, my life is terribly exciting)! I can initially thank Paddington Bear's Guide to London (a surprisingly fantastic book for adults, not just children) for making me aware of the park's existence. As soon as I saw it had peacocks, I knew I had to go! My interest was then furthered by another recent book purchase, Quiet London by Siobhan Wall (which alongside Instagram has also formed much of my To Do list) as it told me of the Kyoto Garden within the park; a peaceful haven with Koi. Totally sold!

Having only seen photographs in each book showing small parts of the park, I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting but needless to say, it was far beyond my expectation!

Initially met by glorious exotic plants in the 'Sun Trap Garden', I wandered up steps and into woodland before stumbling upon a rather more formal English garden full to the brim with Marigolds and Sunflowers. It was here I encountered my first peacock as I sat on a bench reading my book (huge deal; the New Year's resolution has not been going well). Unfortunately the poor peacock was being terrorised by a small child but until this point I had been absolutely revelling in the peace (all except for the sound of bird calls vs. passing sirens; you're always quickly reminded of where you are in London, even when you do find these surreal spots) of the garden.

A Hippo Banquet - Mary Kingsley (one of Penguin's Little Black Books)

When the gentle breeze started to get a bit cool, I wandered on to see what else there was to discover. In my true fashion, I 'discovered' the café where I popped in for a mint tea. This time it was to take away and it kept my fingers warm until I finally found the Kyoto Garden. 

Despite being more aware of what to expect here, it was still a shock as I stepped up to its entrance. I think it was just on a much bigger scale than I thought it would be! I sat on another bench half way around the central pond to drink my tea, giggle with a mother and daughter enjoying a picnic with a hoard of pigeons and squirrels and even a peacock with a penchant for nuts, and to marvel at the hairdos that yuppie parents had subjected their yuppie children to. 

When my tea was finished, I continued around the pond, stopping for a while at the bridge over the water, transfixed by the fish. Somehow I then found my way out of the park the way I had come in and continued my wanderings on to St Luke's Mews somewhere off Portobello Road.

The prettiest row of houses I have ever seen in London, I simply stood agog, trying my hardest not to feel deep envy towards the people (or even the cat who came to make friends) living inside.

As I walked back to Notting Hill Gate and the tube, Portobello Road looked almost unrecognisable without the rows of antique stalls. Of course, I stopped off at Gelato Mio where I treated myself to an illy coffee and some writing time.

Another beautiful day and so much inner peace and stillness. Now writing this up in the garden. This is what happiness feels like.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Bought a Boston Fern

Finally it has stopped raining (at least for now) so I have found motivation to explore and so to write!

This summer, rather than trying to summarise a huge number of events into a couple of long, rambly posts, I have decided to provide snippets here and there when anything of interest crops up. With no plans to go away, I am spending my 6 weeks here in London (with, I'm sure, a smattering of Norfolk in between) armed with a hearty 'To Do' list which realistically is far more likely to take me an entire year from now to cover than the month and a bit I have. But I can try...

Five days into my holiday, I'm not entirely sure whether or not I've really started to make the most of it, or in fact even realised it's happening. Like a rusty, cobweb-covered lawnmower from the Victorian period hidden at the back of my Grandfather's shed, my being in 'holiday mode' always takes a while to start up.

So far a few rainy days have been well spent cleaning and organising both at home and at work and I've even managed to catch up with a couple of friends! Already, I've managed a London escape for a day of outlet shopping and boat watching in Portsmouth but until today, my list has remained untouched.

What began today as one of the days I was spending at work has actually turned out rather well indeed!

Craving mint tea on my home I stumbled upon a café/bar/restaurant (hard to tell in the daytime) called Hackney Bureau (on Mare Street), serving fresh mint tea and playing jazz. Although I was only planning on  a takeaway tea, I was lured in by the atmosphere; the perfect place for creativity! When I arrived there was lone gentleman who looked to have a similar agenda to me and a young couple partaking in brunch or lunch (I suppose it all depends when one wakes up). Shortly after they were gone and I was alone and feeling incredibly intent. Holiday mode must have officially revved into gear! 

It was then my intention once tea and writing were done to walk along Regent's Canal to Haggerston where I could then hop on a bus home for a bite to eat before drinks, games and gossip with good friends this evening. Having had really rainy days of late, I have decided that every dry one (sunshine or no sunshine) must be relished! 

Popcorn graffiti along the canal

Before I'd reached the café/bar/restaurant, I paid a visit to Grace & Thorn on Hackney Road, a sweet florist offering a plethora of house plants. Having followed them on Instagram for some time, I had neglected to realise that the shop was actually one I had passed and peeked into on many occasions but today upon making the connection, I went in!

Lots of cash has been splashed on all things garden related lately, so I thought I'd better be good and just look. However, when I happened upon £10 on the pavement on my journey there, I took it as a sign and returned home with a beautiful Boston Fern in a pretty pot for the bathroom.

Meet Mr Fern!

So today, one list item has been checked off and one added for a food stop. Today is a good day; happy summer!

Friday, 10 July 2015

It's beginning to feel a lot like summer

This weekend marked the first time I've ever had an overnight stay in Cambridge! As a teen I made regular visits for shopping and am still often drawn for Christmas shopping as the centre always looks so twinkly and pretty during the festive season! With so many green spaces and the river, I do also love Cambridge in the summertime as I hark back to days spent picnicking and punting.
Having usually had to make a dash for the last train (or at least one later than the hoards of commuters), I've seen very little of Cambridge in the evenings beyond gigs at Cambridge Junction. I must confess I was therefore a little worried we'd get bored with two full days and an evening to fill, but I'm glad to say I was wrong.

On Friday evening we managed to jump on an earlier train than planned. Usually running late or arriving literally at the last second, I think we'd both decided to be a little more organised and found ourselves being a lot more organised. We don't do things by halves... There just in time for said earlier train, we did unfortunately miss out on a seat. However, when the train split at Royston (seriously, since when was this a thing?), we managed to find somewhere to sit down and tuck into leftovers from Wednesday night's feast at the Big Easy Lobstershack in Covent Garden. Lobster Mac 'n' Cheese and brisket that even when cold melted in the mouth; yum!

The length of the Cambridge journey always takes me by surprise and before we knew it, we'd arrived! We then had the shortest walk to our hotel where we dropped our bags before venturing out to locate a supermarket for nibbles and drinks to tide us over for our stay.

Our venture was quick but took us back over the train tracks which is a bit novel for me who usually treads the same route to, between and back from the shops to the station and home. It's always interesting to see a slightly different part of a place that seems so familiar!

Following a quiet night in at the hotel, we were up bright and early to make the most of the day of sunshine!

Now our hotel was fine, providing the basic comforts, but it was certainly no more than basic. Thus, breakfast was more than entertaining... in true tea-snob style I requested an Earl Grey (after all, a 'selection' of teas and coffees with breakfast had been promised) but was told they had none. 1☆ rating from me. Next, the gentleman next to us asked for Marmite with his toast but instead was presented with syrup as that was the only alternative to jam they had. 1☆ rating from him. A moment later another lady wondered whether they have gluten free bread but of course they do not. 1☆ rating from her. Then last but not least, a couple order Full English without various bits and bobs (per their request). When it comes out, to the lady's horror it is lacking in mushrooms, which she did not request to be omitted from her plate. Upon asking where they are she is told that they... have none. -1☆ rating from her.

Tummies tickled, we were off! Decided it was a good idea to go punting first thing to a) avoid the heat of the day and b) to make the most of our empty hands before they were potentially filled with shopping bags.

My rule, if the touter's wearing a 'proper' punting hat, they have my custom. So we booked a ride with a totally authentic looking punter that was leaving in a matter of minutes; perfect timing!

It is my personal opinion that boat tours give the best perspective! It's so relaxing to bob along water in the sunshine whilst zoning in and out to someone telling you amusing anecdotes. If that said someone telling you anecdotes happens to be topless, tanned & tattooed then it's probably a blessing if you're facing away to allow full focus. Anyway, swiftly moving on, punting was, as always, lots of fun! I could quite happily spend an eternity on a boat.

Half 11 and it was obviously time for our first pub stop. We sat on the riverfront with tequila and ginger beer, observing the art of punting; dog passengers, falls into the river and even the 'professionals' losing their sticks (?) to the reeds below. Tummies rumbled and we knew it was time for lunch.

When in Cambridge, have a picnic! Still home to a large M&S foodhall, we went in and gathered tasty treats to eat on Jesus Green. Like everyone else, we searched for a tree providing mottled shade. Finally finding one (they were in high demand), we settled down to enjoy our food and a rest; heat is hard work!

I think we could have stayed there, drifting in and out of consciousness forever, but we knew we fancied a bit of shopping and we weren't in London where everywhere would be open until 10pm, so we tore ourselves away from our comfy spot!

In Cambridge, it's hard to simply shop. Beautiful buildings forming the centre make for huge distraction, so I may have stopped for a million photos as we ambled along. The other distraction came in the form of a more than comprehensive list of pubs to visit as we had a whole weekend, so of course we had to pop in and out of those as we found them.

Despite distraction, I do love the easy-to-choose nature of smaller shops. London (and Oxford Street in particular) almost offers too much and you never know where to begin! However, it has to be said, that a Cambridge shop is a successful shop! So we returned to the hotel laden with bags and very ready for another nap!

Incredibly fortunately, a friend of mine was staying in Cambridge over the same weekend and as she had gone to university in the city (jealous? Me?), she knew all the best pubs for good food, beers, board games and atmosphere! So on Saturday evening, we ventured to one close by our hotel. Just like the Fat Cat (Norwich reference), it provided a real good old man feel, excellent pork scratchings and a lovely outdoor area for sitting in the summer.

The following morning, check-out was at 11 o'clock, so we decided to have a lie-in to balance out our early start the previous morning! Disappointed by breakfast the day before, we hoped to find somewhere alternative on our way into the city for a final wander and shop.

Feeling a little under-dressed in my flip-flops and sleeveless top for the rain that had decided to make an appearance, I was pleased when we soon found a popular little French café serving a whole host of tasty breakfast treats! Stomachs more than satisfied by Eggs Benedict and a Bratwurst Baguette washed down with proper tea, we were ready for the day!

Laden with just a few more bags than we'd arrived with, we headed back to the station at a relaxed pace to get whatever train we co-ordinated with. Unfortunately, the train going through to Kings Cross was weaving all round the houses, but it turned out that was of no consequence as I spent pretty much the entire journey asleep!

I know I've been living in London for almost two years now, but I still don't often get a proper sense of it as home. However, this time when returning from Cambridge I was really looking forward to being home! It was a brief stop though, just time for a cup of tea and to say hello to the cats before we then headed straight back out to Barbican for a very wonderful concert featuring one of my own little ones; SO proud (and super jealous as his performance was conducted by none other than Sir Simon Rattle)!

A hugely summery weekend! Only one full week left before we break up for the holiday (I'm not counting the three extra days plonked on the end) and I can already tell that despite having next to no plans, it's going to be a good one!