October 2014 Archives

Halloween is on its way, but it feels as if we only just celebrated Halloween. This week, I paid a visit to the Corinthia Hotel for Halloween-themed afternoon tea. This was only available for the week leading up to Halloween. I last visited the Corinthia for afternoon tea last Christmas (Festive Afternoon Tea at Corintha). 


The Corintha Hotel was decorated with pumpkins, autumn gourds and squash, and various autumn-coloured flowers and berries. The Lobby Lounge, where the teas are served at the hotel, also had a massive autumn display with pumpkins and autumnal flowers underneath the gorgeous dome light.



We were seated and ordered our champagne and sandwiches. Unfortunately, I was not completely up for the afternoon tea experience as I've had a nasty cold all week and I was feeling particularly ill yeaterday evening when we had the afternoon tea. I actually feel worse today. The cold has affected my tastebuds, which is really frustrating, so I am not able to really comment on the selection of food and my preferences as to which items were my favourites.


I had an old-fashioned tea from 1921 called "Bert Firman" and later switched to the standard English Breakfast. We received two fruit scones and two plain scones with rapsberry and strawberry jam and clotted cream.


We made a start on our Halloween pastry selection, which included eight different items.


The following Halloween treats were provided.

  • Wraith: Cookie crumble cupcake with roasted vanilla ganache.
  • Jeepers Creepers: Chocolate mousse, burnt orange marmalade
  • Frankenstein: chocolate mint macaroon
  • Trick or Treat: Pumpkin custard tart with nutmeg chantilly
  • Hocus Pocus: Lemon cream, digestive crumbles, toasted Italian meringue
  • Devilish Disguise: Pistachio chantilly, white chocolate
  • Mausoleum: Chocolate sable biscuit with raspberry jam
  • The Haunting: Crispy Choux, Cappuccino chocolate


I'm not fond of cappuccino or coffee, so I did not care for that one. The pumpkin tart was nice, and the pistachio treat was also nice. I liked the crispy base. I was unable to taste the mint in the macaroon, and the others I could not really enjoy because of this stinking cold.


I loved the design of the pastries.


Happy Halloween to my readers!

Apple Day at Borough Market

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This Sunday was Apple Day at Borough Market. Those who know in "real life" know that I grew up on a farm that is well-known for its apple orchard, and I spent a lot of time picking and selling apples at the farm market and farmers' markets around the area when I was younger. When I heard about this, I decided to pop up to London to Borough Market to see it. 

Apple Day apples - with juice and pears

Apple Day is celebrated in England in October, and the first Apple Day was held in 1990 in Covent Garden. Apple Day celebrates the apples and those that grow and harvest them. The day is celebrated in various locations in the UK, and a typical day may involve apple-related games, cooking demonstrations, apple varieties, apple juice and (alcoholic) cider.

Apple Day

Apple Day at Borough Market promised a service from Southwark Cathedral choir, Morris dancing, The Lions Part theatre group performance, apple-peeling competition, apple tasting of different varieties, apple demonstration and pressing, and the execution of John Barleycorn (a symbol of the harvest).

Apple variety tea towel

Many old traditions surround the apple. For example, the "apple wassail" was recorded as taking place in southern England. The "apple wassail" was a form of blessing for the trees for a good apple crop in the next year, and it was held on the Twelfth Night (twelve days after Christmas and the end of the Christmas festivities). Men would go out and howl (wassail) amongst the apple trees and tie bread to the trunk and branches of the apple trees and pour cider underneath the tree. In Somerset, they celebrated the "Apple Tree Man", which is the name given to the spirit of the oldest tree in the orchard. (For more information about the "apple wassail", see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Wassail)

Borough Market bell

I arrived before noon on the Sunday. Borough Market is not usually open on Sundays, but it was in order to celebrate Apple Day. However, not all of the vendors were open for business, and it was already busy. I noticed that many tourists were wandering around, and a lot of families were visiting the market. I watched a man ring the bell, signaling the start of the trading.


In addition to apples and the normal fruit and vegetables, Borough Market's fruit and vegetable vendors were selling pumpkins and large squash.


Apples were decorating the stalls of some of the vendors as well, such as a cheese vendor and a chocolate vendor.


Halloween-themed snacks also seemed to be popular. Cinnamon Tree Bakery was selling cinnamon and sugar biscuits and skull-shaped shortbread. Soul cakes (a cake made with spices and dried fruit) were meant to be on sale, but I did not see any. Their tradition goes back to Halloween.

Cider and mulled apple juice

Of course, hot mulled apple cider and ice cold apple cider was for sale. For those who do not enjoy the alcoholic variety, mulled apple juice was also for sale. I had this, and it hit the spot on a chilly day in late October.

Southwark Cathedral service

An area of Borough Market was sectioned off, and Southwark Cathedral had their service for Apple Day at the market. There was singing and gifts for the church and a service, but I could not really hear much of it. The area sectioned off was right underneath the railway bridge with trains crossing on the metal bridge over our heads every couple of minutes.

A bell-ringer rings a bell and the procession follows behind

After the service, I went to explore the market, and I caught the procession of the Corn Queen and Berry Man (who goes by many names, including John Barleycorn or the Green Man) and many others through Borough Market. John Barleycorn represents the personified grain harvest and output of the crops (bread, alcohol, etc). The story and character probably comes from pagan beliefs about the harvest, which were then taken into Christianity to help the conversion of pagans. In the folk song, John Barleycorn is executed (plouged and harvested) so that bread and alcohol can be made from him for people to live, and this has similarities with Christain beliefs. (More about John Barleycorn can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barleycorn)

John Barleycorn

Other figures share the stage with John Barleycorn and the Corn Queen. During the parade, corn dollies were also present and paraded through the market. These represent the spirit of corn, who lived in the fields until the harvest. These corn dollies were idols created to give the spirit a home until the spring. The person who cut the last of the crop would bring it home, drench it in water, and the oldest married woman would turn it into a shape of a woman.  In some places, the idol was dressed in a woman's clothes and called the "Corn Mother" or "Old Woman". The best parts of the grain are turned into a wreath and worn on the head of the prettiest girl, and the corn dolly is the centre of the festivities. (More about corn dollies can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_dolly)

Corn Queen

John Barleycorn and others, including Pomona (goddess of fruit trees)

Music accompanied the procession and after the talk at the stage area; I was unable to hear what was being said as the trains were traveling overhead. 


John Barleycorn was happy to have his photograph taken with many guests as he wandered around the market.

John Barleycorn

After the procession, the morris dancers started to dance in the market. There was a large crowd to watch them. Morris dancing is a traditional style of folk dancing in England. It involves bells and hankerchiefs and ribbons. One of the dancers was dressed as a dog or a dog-like creature. I do not know the significance of this.

Morris dancing

Another glimpse of John Barleycorn walking through the crowds

I decided to stay for the play, "The Musicians of Bremen", which is based on stories in the Canterbury Tales. While I waited for this to begin, I watched one of the actors playing conkers with children and teaching them how to play the game. I do not understand the game myself, but it's basically an English game involving the conker. (In America, we call this nut the buckeye.) The conker is tied on a string, and the objective is to knock the opponent's conker off the string.


I saw a couple of the actors posing for photographs near the Corn Queen, but I am not sure who they represented. The woman is wearing antlers.


The play, "The Musicians of Bremen", was performed by the theatre group, The Lions Part. This included the tortoise and hare and fox and hare with singing animals that begin a journey away from their farmer's land.

The Musicians of Bremen

This was really for children, and one really had to be up at the front of the stage to hear as the trains overhead were noisey. This was fun, but I left in the tortoise and hare, and I think there was half an hour left to go. (I stayed for the first half of an hour, but my feet were tired and there weren't any seats.)

"The Musicians of Bremen"

The most interesting part of the day for me was trying the different varities of apple on display. Many of these are extremely old and early apples. The seeds have been kept by Brogdale Horticulture Trust to conserve the different varities. They have 2300 apple types and 50 acres of orchards in Kent, England. There were several different varieites to try, but I was disappointed that the oldest known apple (originally brought from Rome) was not amongst them as I was led to believe from the Borough Market website, and they did not really have as large as a selection either.

Apple tasting

At the bottom of this post is a list of most of the apples on display for tasting. The oldest apples were much smaller than the apples of today, and some of the apples did not have much taste. Many of the apples had softer flesh and were not as crisp. (I like a crisp apple and generally I dislike soft fruits such as plums and pears.) The performers were cutting and handing out the slices and admited that they did not know much about the apples. This would have been better if they did know about the apples or if a farmer was present to discuss them.

Information sheets were located around the bags of apples, so I photographed as many as I could, and this is how I correlated the list of varities at the bottom of this post. 

Apple pressing

After the apple tasting, I watched apple pressing and took some more photographs of apples. The apple pressing was held at a stall that was selling London apple juice. This is a part of the London Orchard Project, which was set up in 2008 to help city people understand and sustain apples and learn how to make juice. It is a community orchard.

Toffee apple

I bought some apple juice and a candy (toffee) apple. The toffee apple tasted spicy. I said my "goodbyes" to Borough Market!

Borough Market

Have you been to Apple Day? Most of the varities available for the tasting are included below.

Api Noir: A 1700s French apple, similar to the "Api" that was found in the Forest of Api of Brittany in 1628. The fruit is very small (a little larger than a crabapple) and dark red in colour. It was popular for wiring into evergreens to make garlands and for floating onto Wassail cups. 

Hounslow Wonder: This apple variety was grown in Hounslow in 1910 and won an award of merit. It is a crisp apple with acid flavour.

Howgate Wonder. A  large cooking apple. 1915, Isle of Wight (England). Has a sweet taste but loses the taste when cooked. Keeps it shape well when cooked.

John Waterer: This variety was introduced in 1920 from Twyford, Berkshire. It cooks to a lemon-coloured froth. It is very tart in September but loses the acidity and froth as it ages.

Saint Edmund's Pippin (or Russet): Suffolk (England), 1875. Sweet, juicy, with dense texture. When it is very ripe, it tastes like "pear vanilla ice cream". The apple is yellow and brown in colour.

Striped Beefing: Norwich (England), 1794. Coarse-textured and juicy. This is described as a cooking apple.

Barchard's Seedling: Putney, London. 1856. Fruit is sweet and crisp.

Mobb's Royal: Australia, 1865. Described as a mid-late season cooking apple. It is pale green with very white flesh. Resistant to disease and keeps well.

Curltail: Surry, England, 1872. A cooking apple. Tender and sweet flesh. Named after the shape, which is enlarged at the stalk and curls around.

Greasy Pippin: An Irish apple, founded in 1951. Greasy fruit, but it is described as firm, sweet and juicy. It is green in colour.

Biggs' Nonsuch: Twickenham, England. Yellow, tender, and juicy flesh.

Shoreditch White: Somerset, England, 1884. Described as having a tender, yellowish flesh.

Knobby Russet: Sussex, England, 1820. Firm and dry with a strong flavour.

Tom Putt: Somerset, England, late 1700s. Crisp and juicy and is meant to cook well. Widely-used in the west coutnry and midlands for cider.

Golden Spire: A yellow-green apple from Lancashire, England in 1850. It is described as a crisp apple.

Queen Caroline: Leicestershire, England, 1820. Described as having a firm but loose-textured flesh. They have a yellow colour. It is a cooking apple used in October and November. Cooks to a creamy puree. (Named after queening or quoining, which is a term used for angular-shaped apples.)

Lynn's Pippin: Cambridge, England, 1942. It's a cross between Cox's Orange Pippin and Ellison's Orange variety. It is described as sweet, soft, and juicy but disappointing. Whatever that means.

Castle Major: A cooking apple for use in October and November. It has deep yellow skin with a reddish glow on the sunny side.

Bloody Ploughman: Gowrie, Scotland, 1883. Crisp and tender flesh and grows well in cold spots.  Large, red eating apple but is also good for applesauce. Mid-September. When ripe, it can darken to a deep purple colour and stores for three months.

London Pearmain: 1842. Crisp.

Chad's Favoruite: London, 1952. A large apple with an intense flavour.

Downton Pippin: hereford, England, 1861.

Marriage Maker: England, 1883. Creamy flesh.

Sops in Wine: Southwest England, 1832. A beautiful apple on a purple-red tree with red-purple blooms. The apple is red, and the flesh inside is red in colour. Used for eating and cooking. 

Brownlea's Russet: Hemel Hempstead, 1848.

Pitmaston Pineapple: Worcester (England), 1785. A dessert apple with a sugary flavour. 

Morris' Russet: Described as a sweet, medium-sized apple.

Mabutt's Pearmain: Kent, England in 19th century. A tender, juicy and freckled apple with a lot of flavour and is used up until Christmas.

Cellini: London, 1828. This was a popular London apple.

Every Christmas, I buy a small hoard of soaps, bath bombs, and bubble bars from the shop Lush. This year, the company seems to have done a little bit more with their marketing and ideas and have come up with some new scents and products. The Christmas products typically come out in October, and I noticed them in the shop last weekend. Not only did they have Christmas products, but Halloween and autumn products were also in the mix. Read on to find out more.


Some old favourites were back in the Christmas display, such as the "Melting Snowman" bath melt, Santa bath bomb, star bath melt, star bubble bar wand, "Candy Mountain" bubble bar, and "Christmas Eve" bubble bar. In addition, these new products caught my eye.

Holly Go Lightly: I love the Breakfast At Tiffany's reference here as well as the glitter and holly design of the product. The product is actually green when crumbled into a bath, and it has cinnamon, orange, clove and lime fragrance.


So White Bath Bomb: This very white bath bomb smells of delicious apple, and this is not a new product. It's possibly one of my favourite bath bombs.

Cinders Bath Bomb: This spicy cinnamon bath bomb contains popping candy to crackle in the water. I normally buy this one every year as it reminds me of crisp autumn evenings in the UK with November 5th (Guy Fawkes Day) around the corner. 

Penguin Bath Bar: This penguin sounds refreshing as its fragrance is of lemon and orange. 


Dashing Santa Bath Bomb: Mandarin and orange. This smelled lovely, and I almost bought one.

Snow Angel Bath Melt: This bath melt is part bath bomb as well. It is similar in fragrance to the Snow Cake soap, which is my favourite Lush soap scent. It smells slightly of marzipan. (The snowglobe soap was a close second favourite of mine, but unfortunately they did not bring it back this year.)


In addition to the bath bubble bars, melts, and bath bombs, a few new Christmas soaps appeared in Lush this year. My favourite is still the "Snow Cake" soap, so I did not purchase any of the others. 

Baked Alaska soap: This citrus-smelling soap uses bright colours, but the round ball-shaped and slightly blue hue with dim colours shining "through" looks like a snowball. It reminds me of seeing Christmas lights in the snow - either partially-covered or reflected. It's a very pretty product.

Reindeer Rock soap: This berry-scented dark red soap has imagery of reindeer etched on it.

Yog Nog soap: This is a creamy scent, and the soap has Christmas imagery (stars and pine trees) etched on it.


Christmas Hedgehog bath bomb: (The light blue and white items in the above picture) These contain shea butter and cocao butter, and they are a little messy to pick up. Thankfully, though, they don't leave spikes in your hands. I was not really that into it.

Golden Wonder bath bom: (The square gold and white items in the above picture) These are also my favourites and the little gift box contains a colourful surprise when it's placed into the bath.  


After buying four items (I was reserved this time) for the bath, we went to Cafe Rogue and had hot chocolate and more chocolate. I could not wait to try out my new Lush products as they smelled amazing. (My bathroom still smells nice.)

The last item that I will mention is new, and it's the "Sparkly Pumpkin". It does not smell spiced like a pumpkin (no cinnamon), but it is a light floral scent. (It's actually grapefruit and juniperberry.) This is actually a nice fragrance for a slightly-chilly autumn evening. The product was also popular as two others purchased it at about the same time as I did, hence the empty-looking plate by the time I got my photograph. I love pumpkin and this time of year, so this was a no-brainer. I've also used it and really enjoyed it.


You can see the four items that I purchased above. Have you purchased anything from Lush, and what are you looking forward to trying the most?

St. Bartholomew-the-Great Church in London

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The City of London used to be filled with churches, but many of these had perished in the Great Fire and many more that were rebuilt at this time have long gone - damaged and destroyed by falling bombs during World War II or demolished to build up London's businesses. Visitors to London can see blue plaques on the sides of some buildings informing them that a church used to exist on the site and that it was demolished in a particular year. St. Bartholomew-the-Great is one of the oldest (built in 1123) surviving churches in London and it was lucky to have survived the catastrophes that brought down the other churches. 


One of the entrance ways to the church miraculously survived fire and bombs. In fact, a zepplin air raid caused damage to St. Batholomew's hospital, which is located right outside this gatehouse. The damage can still be seen on the walls of the hospital. This same air raid damaged the building work that covered up this beautiful Elizabethan timber-framed gatehouse. This small glimpse with more modern buildings around it gives a glimpse into how London would have looked in older times.  


Through the gatehouse is the main entrance to St. Batholomew-the-Great. If you stand with your back to the archway, the hospital is just to your left and the covered wholesale meat market Smithfield's is directly to the right. This contains a plaque to Scottish freedom-supporter William Wallace, who was killed here after he was captured by the English. (This area, along with Tyburn River - near the current location of Marble Arch - was a place of execution.) Directly in front is a green area in the middle of a roundabout, and this is where several Protestants were killed by being burned to death in fires by Catholic Queen Mary. Such a nice place is London!

This is the area of Smithfield Market (read more about the meat market at Smithfield Market), where cattle and other animals were brought to be butchered. As a result, the area was filthy with cow mess, stench, blood and innards which were not properly drained away. Complaints were often lodged against drunken herdsmen and stampeding cattle, which would sometimes damage property.

We saw an information historical board about wife-selling at Smithfield Market, in the days when divorce was not common and too expensive. Yes, men could sell their wives if they were unhappy, but both husband and wife had to agree to this. Some wives also wanted to be sold. More about the practice of wife-selling in old England can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wife_selling_(English_custom)


After stepping underneath the archway, the church is directly in front. Some gravestones are lined up in the patch of green area around the church. The church was 2-3 pounds per adult to enter. The interior was altered a little bit as the area around the church changed, and at one point, the church was abandoned.

South aisle

We paid the entrance fee and entered St. Bartholomew-the-Great. We admired the brickwork and the tiles and the old age of the church. The church is also meant to be one of the most haunted, as this area of London is the most haunted. One of the suspected ghosts is meant to be Rahere, the founder of the church who was also jester to King Henry previously. His tomb is inside, and it was moved during work on the church (and a sandal stolen by a builder), and this is what was meant to have woken him up to haunt the area.


Medieval floor tiles could be seen in one corner in the east ambulatory. Also, in the picture below, note the old brickwork inside the archway. 


St. Bartholomew-the-Great has been used in the following films: Shakespeare in Love, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Right outside the church is the street named Cloth Fair, which was named after Batholomew Fair in the land outside and where part of the Smithfield Market is now built. (Note that the market building is a newer and Victorian construction; the market itself was open fields and land.) Bartholomew Fair was held annually by the monks to raise income for St. Bartholomew's, and it was essentially a cloth fair. It was the largest of its kind in Europe and attracted international merchants. The fair would attract street performers (wild animals, musicians, puppets, acrobats, prize-fighters, wire-walkers, freaks) and crime. The fair was held on St. Bartholomew's Day until 1855, and it was shut because of the public disorder. (More about the fair can be read here: http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/londons-last-bartholomew-fair)

Alex Chinneck's Melting House

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Yesterday, I headed over to Southwark Street in South London to see Alex Chinneck's "A Pound of Flesh for 50p" (also known as "The Melting House") before it is removed at the end of the month. The artwork is part of the Merge Arts Festival this year. A week or so ago, I published another entry featuring the artist's work: Covent Garden Floating Building Art by Alex Chinneck.


The melting house has been in its location not far from London Bridge and near a railway bridge (40 Southwark Street) for almost a month now.


The building appears to melt over the course of the month as the bricks are made from wax and clay and engineered to melt, with some assistance (heat applied).


The importance of the wax used in the construction is historical. On this area of bankside was a candle-making factory.



More information on this artwork and additional artwork by the artist can be seen here: http://mergefestival.co.uk/merge-events-2014/2014/9/19/alex-chinneck-a-pound-of-flesh-for-50p-the-melting-building 

Blackfriar's Road currently hosts an upside-down house, which was a previous commission by the artist for the festival.

UK 2014 Glossybox Review: October

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In July, I subscribed to beauty subscription box Glossybox, and the last three months of reviews are located here: UK 2014 Glossybox Reviews: July, August, September. The Glossybox subscription box contains samples (and sometimes full-size products) of make-up, skincare, and other beauty items.


October's box theme for Glossybox is "Pop Art", and the box came with some full-size products (such as SoSusan mascara and Ciaté nail polish) and sample sizes of other products. Each box contained a full-size NUXE product. I loved the box design this month. Each subscriber got one limited edition box design. (From what I can see, the illustrations are the same, but the "Pop Art" woman's shirt and hair are a different colour.) The cardboard box that this box came in was also decorated in "Pop Art" design.


Below are the items I received in October's Glossybox box. Overall, I am farly happy with the products this month. This box includes a nice range of make-up, skin care, and fragrance.

NUXE Crème Fraîche® beauty mask: This 24-hour moisturising mask is meant to soothe and freshen skin. I love the honeysuckle smell of this product, and it brought back childhood memories of summery June evenings. Honeysuckle is quite possibly my favourite fragrance. The product melted into my skin within the ten minutes.

Être Belle Cosmetics lip peel: This lip exfoliator removes dead skin to create soft lips. This is the time of year that my lips tend to dry out a little bit, so this is a welcome product in my box, but I prefer my Mary Kay (satinlips) brand that I felt is a little more effective in doing the job.

So Susan Flutter Mascara: According to information about the product, two coats of mascara give you dark, curly lashes. The changes are a little more subtle than similar products, and at least the product does not cake on (and then get onto my cheekbones or underneath my eyes when I blink). 

Ciaté London paint pot (in talent scout): The bright colours are inspired by pop art. The colour is thick, but I needed two coats of the polish to cover my nails. I am not too sure about the dark purple colour, but perhaps it will grow on me after a couple more days. I do think this goes best with jeans and a casual top.

Yves Rocher Queleues Notes d'Amour: This perfume came in the cutest little bottle, and it's a decent size for a fragrance. I like the scent and do not currently own a similar scent, which is slightly odd because I do have a small hoard of perfumes. The scent is damascus rose and guaiac wood, and I'm not sure if I could ever pick those scents out on their own.

Rimmel London BB Cream Matte: This facial sun protection cream gives skin a matte finish. I generally am not into this type of product, and the colour is too dark for my skin.

A Weekend in Belfast

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I visited Belfast at the end of May, and surprisingly, the weather was nice for the majority of my time there. Exploring the city was the first part of our nearly two-week long holiday (a road trip vacation) in Ireland. There's quite a lot to do and see here, and I could have spent about one more day here, but this holiday road trip was mainly about spending a little time in each place and seeing as much as possible before heading off to the next place. 

I have separated some of the attractions into various posts as there is so much to see. You have probably already read these, but if not, the list is below:

Belfast along the river from the Titanic Quarter

The first place we headed for after dropping our bags off at the hotel was the Titanic Quarter. Our hotel was on the opposite side of the city centre, so we walked down the main street and over the bridge, catching glimpses of several attractions along the way, including the tiled blue and white fish located on the banks of the river. This tiled sculpture is actually a salmon, and it is named 'Bigfish', and the artist is John Kindness. On closer inspection, the fish is made of tiled images and newspaper clippings that celebrate Belfast's history.

'Bigfish' by John Kindness 

'Bigfish' is located near Custom House Square. In the past, Custom House Square was a busy quayside and filled with moored ships; it was also used as a "Speaker's Corner" and attracted large crowds. Today, the square is a meeting-place where events are held sometimes, and it is an attractive place with jumping fountains, beautiful old pubs, a clock tower, and an attractive-looking Custom House (built in 1857 and the building which the square is named after). In fact, the River Farset lies underneath the road and under the jumping fountains. At the river's end of the square is Belfast's oldest drinking fountain, and it was used by people and horses.

Custom House Square

The clock tower, named the Albert Memorial Clock, is also located in Custom House Square. The clock tower was built in 1865 to commemorate the death of Prince Albert. As you may be able to see in the photograph below, the tower does lean slightly, and it has been corrected so that the lean does not get any worse than it already is!

Albert Memorial Clock

A small footbridge over the river leads to the Titanic Quarter, the site of Belfast's historic dockyard. The footbridge has many locks of love chained upon it. One of them read a lady's secret in that she planned to propose to her boyfriend in June and he had no idea! I wonder how the proposal went.

Locks of Love

From the Titanic Quarter and in many places in Belfast, visitors can always spot the two giant yellow cranes. They are a prominent fixture of the city. They are located in the Harland and Wolff shipyard, and they are named 'Samson and Goliath'. Unfortunately, I was not happy with my photographs of the cranes to include them, but I did get several photographs on the river banks. This was a pleasant walk along the river, and there are several tourist information boards dotted around to read up on Belfast's history.

Titanic Belfast

The Titanic Quarter has been regenerated recently, and there are some new flats and a large entertainment complex known as Odyssey. More plans with offices and housing seem to be in the pipeline, and in my opinion, the area could use restaurants to cater for the tourist trade. A tourist can easily spend a whole day in this area of Belfast, and after our time there, we opted to locate a restaurant in the complex for supper, but the few restaurants that are located there were shut. 

The Custom House (left) and Belfast

After no luck with restaurants in the Titanic Quarter, we walked back across the footbridge and opted for the closest restaurant that looked reasonable with the help of our mobile phones. The restaurant, McHughs Bar & Restrauant, was a great find. It is located in the Custom Hopuse Suare that we visited earlier and is one of the oldest buildings in Belfast. The food was great (pity about the pint glasses being dirty with the previous drinker's lipstick though!). 

Chicken and steak on a hot stone

The next morning, we explored the city. Belfast City Hall was one of our first stops. It is a beautiful building. This building started to be built in 1889 on the site of a smaller city hall building. The population of Belfast had quickly increased in the late 1800s, so the new and much grander City Hall took its place.

Belfast City Hall exterior 

Belfast City Hall exterior 

Belfast City Hall exterior 

Unfortunately for us, there was an event or something taking place in the City Hall, so we were turned away. However, the interior pictures we saw online later looked amazing. It is a pity to have missed seeing it for real. However, we continued to look around the gardens around the City Hall.

Queen Victoria statue in front of City Hall Belfast

A memorial to the Titanic, designed in 1920 by Thomas Brock, is located in the grounds of the City Hall. Near the Titanic Memorial Statue is the Titanic Memorial Plaque, which bears the names of all of those who perished in the tragedy. According to an information board at the memorial, the lives lost included 124 first class passengers, 166 second class passengers, 530 third class passengers, and 692 crew (not including the captain). We read the names of those who did not make it, and this was sad to see whole families had been obliterated. One of these families had several children.

Titanic memorial by City Hall, Belfast

After this quick stop, we walked to George's Market and the Botanic Gardens and explored them before continuing to the Ulster Museum. The museum has several exhibitions covering history, science, and art. Human history throughout the ages in Ireland was one area, and we saw tools and artefacts that early humans used as well as information on burials and the chambered tombs. This led into Christianity and medieval times. Included were hoards of gols that were discovered. There was also a room dedicated to the Spanish Armada ship treasures that was sunk off the coast of Ireland. In the entrance area is a celtic cross, and other areas were dedicated to natural history and science. We saw meteorites and fossils and gemstones.

Ulster Museum - gold hoards, celtic cross, pottery, museum exterior

Queen's University Belfast is located in near Ulster Museum, and the area is filled with trendy-looking restaurants and cafes. We walked back to the city centre via Sandy Row to have a look at some of the murals, and we passed the university before heading onto Sandy Row.

Queen's University Belfast

After visiting the murals on Sandy Row, we continued walking up the street and came across one of Belfast's most famous pubs, The Crown Bar. The Crown Bar is unique because it maintains its 19th century "gin palace" interior. 

The Crown Bar

Stained glass, intricate wood carvings, decorated ceilings, and individual private drinking booths make up the interior of this pub. Unfortunately, the pub was extremely busy on a mid-afternoon weekday (too many other tourists), and we were unable to find a seat to enjoy the atmosphere of this pub. However, I did manage to capture a few photographs inside it.

The Crown Bar pub

After the pub, we wandered around Belfast and walked to the Cathedral Quarter. Many of the streets around the Cathedral Quarter have nautical names, relating to the history of Belfast. In the older days, the river ran down the current location of the High Street, and boats would moor upon the banks of the river. The river was moved underground but some of the street names along the way retain nautical past. The Cathedral Quarter is one of the trendy areas in Belfast and is filled with pubs and clubs, and there is a lot of street art around the area. The Duke of York pub, down a narrow street off of Hill Street, gets a lot of business.




We walked back toward the centre of Belfast after a walk around the Cathedral Quarter. Belfast was once filled with narrow streets, known as "entries", off its major streets (such as the High Street). These were used for trading and connecting major streets. The taverns inside these entries were frequented by sailors who had moored their ships upon the High Street when it was once part of the river. (We had dinner one evening at McCracken's pub in Joy's Entry.)


History was made in the "entries" as well. Joy's Entry was the site of the first English-speaking newspaper. Wilson's Court was the location of "Northern Star" political newspaper, which was destroyed by the British to stop their publications.

Joy's Entry

After dinner, we made our way back to our hotel. By this time, the shops were closed. Belfast main shopping centre at Corn Market seems to be the place to go for the youth of Belfast to hang out.

Corn Market

Have you visited Belfast? What did you think? I felt that we needed about one more day in the city to see the remaining sights that we did not get to see (and to prevent being rushed). We arrived in Belfast at about mid-day due to a delayed flight and had one full day after that. I think Belfast can be rushed in approximately two days, but three days would have been better.

Belfast Street Art

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I discovered quite a bit of street art in Belfast, and I am not including the murals that I have already covered in my post Belfast Political Murals. Although street art can be and is often political, it is in a different category to the murals that I've captured in Belfast. Some of the work I recognised from artists who had painted in London, including Malarky and Conor Harrington. 

Yarn-bombing seems to be quite popular in Belfast, and I saw various trees and statues that had been yarn-bombed and knitted over. The trees below were discovered near Queen's University.


I also saw statues that had been yarn-bombed. These two women sculptures, depicted to celebrate the working woman, had bracelets, ear-rings stockings, and other items knitted around them.


I also discovered some street art by Lucas and Malarky (Street Art: Malarky, Mr. Penfold, Billy and Lucas) in Belfast. Anyone who has been to east London and Brick Lane will have seen some of their work on shutters.


I also discovered several pieces in the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast, but I am not sure who the artists are.


The Cathedral Quarter in Belfast hs a lot of street art and murals. I was happy to see a large wall painted by Conor Harrington (Street Art: Conor Harrington), whose work I have seen in London. It features three figures, one watching on while two others sword-fight.

Conor Harrington

Additional art in the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast includes a sculpture known as "The Calling" that features two sculptures of figures high upon posts calling to one another.

The Calling

This weekend, the Truman Brewery hosts The Other Art Fair and the Monkier Art Fair. I received a ticket through my workplace, so I went along to view the artwork during my lunch hour. The exhibition (art fair) was quite busy when I visited it on the Friday. For those readers looking for something to do this weekend, have a browse of this exhibition. There is a price for tickets to enter, but you can see some great pieces of work and buy a piece if you like it enough.


The Other Art Fair showcases work by emerging artists, which has been picked by famous artists. The work is on display and on sale at the fair. I saw illuminated pieces by Rocco Wonderland, sculptures made from books by Alexander Korzer-Robinson, photographs, sculptures, pottery and clay, and artwork made of wire.

(For more information about The Other Art Fair, visit the official website at http://www.theotherartfair.com.)


A craft beer bar had been set up in the gallery, so visitors could sip a beer and admire the artwork.


Another section of the Truman Brewery warehouse, next to The Other Art Fair, hosts the Monkier Art Fair. This fair celebrates urban artists and is in its fifth year. I actually preferred some of the artwork in this section and did recognise several of the artists' work because some of them do create artwork on the street. Benjamin Murphy, David Shillinglaw, and Shephard Fairey were among some I recognised. There were some other pieces I loved, such as the painted stormtrooper helmets (known as Art Wars) by Ben Moore, a series of images made with Lego figures, and various other pieces that I did not photograph.


One of my favourite displays was David Shillinglaw's, which I took photographs of and posted below. He had a large section of wall in a prime area near the craft beer bar.


For more information about the Monkier Art Fair, visit the official website at http://monikerartfair.com/artworks/.


As I left the Truman Brewery warehouse and the exhibition, I saw this painted MINI car parked right outside the door.

After Books About Town Art Sculpture Trail, I've waited all summer for charity art sculpture trails, and then two come along at once! This autumn, the "Year of the Bus" is celebrated by Traffic For London (TFL), and the streets around Westminster, the Olympic Park, and the City will host approximately fifty painted bus sculptures dubbed BusArt. At roughly the same time and to celebrate the new Paddington Bear film, fifty Paddington Bear sculptures will be waiting to be discovered throughout London at various locations.

This morning, the BusArt sculptures (Year of the Bus Sculpture Trail) launched in Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately, the sculptures were only available to view from 8:30-10:00 this morning. I was hoping that they would be available to view at about 7:00-8:00, before I have to get over to work in Brick Lane, and I was planning to get in to London really early to see them. I found out the actual times late last night and realised that it was not possible for me to see them due to the timing. I will just have to wait for them to be placed on their trails. The sculpture trail officially starts on Monday, and it runs until early December. I know that I will be doing a lot of walking over the next few weeks.

Here's a sneak peek of a couple of the buses in Trafalgar Square, courtesy of Transport For London's Twitter feed. [EDIT - added later in the day.]


During most of the same weeks, the buses will be joined by the Paddington Bear Trail. This trail covers a larger area and is ideal for those who are not afraid to cycle in London. All of the bear and bus sculptures are painted by local artists to raise money for charity, and in the case of the Paddington Bears, some are designed and painted by celebrities. Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Emma Watson, Michael Sheen, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Beckham, Guy Ritchie, Ant & Dec, Jonathan Ross, and mayor Boris Johnson are among the celebrity list. The Paddington Trail begins on November the fourth and ends at the end of December.

I know that I am going to get into shape over the next two months while I track down all of the sculptures.

Find out more:
Paddington Bear: http://www.visitlondon.com/paddington/
Year of the Bus: http://www.wildinart.co.uk/bus-art

UK 2014 Birchbox Reviews: October

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My October Birchbox arrived last week without any delays or problems. This month's theme is "Work It!", and Birchbox is partnered with Coppafeel (a charity that helps raise breast cancer awareness) as October is breast cancer awareness month. Keeping in line with the theme, the box and lifestyle accessories are pink. The card inside contains useful tips and a checklist to help with everyday life as we continue on our daily grind each day. A pink lipstick pen (the lifestyle extra) is provided for us to tick off these everyday tips.

For those who do not know, Birchbox is a beauty subscription box that is delivered to your door each month. The box contains a random sampling of beauty and make-up products.

All items this month came inside a handy pink make-up bag. The makeup bag will come in extrememly useful to me as my current one of this size contains camera cards, batteries, and other accessories. I have been wanting a second one of the same size for a long while.


October Birchbox - UK

Balance Me Cleanse and Smooth Face Balm: This natural cleanser and exfoiliation cream contains oatmeal powder and natural ingredients and is suitable for different skin types. The product smells nice, and it massages into skin well. It left my skin feeling a bit cleaner but it did seem to dry it out slightly.

KMS California HAIR PLAY Dry Wax: This dry wax for hair allows hair to be styled to give it extra volume and texture. It can be applied on dry hair or sprayed on damp hair and gives a matte finish. This did add volume to my hair, but my hair is long, so it just made it look messy. I have watched a YouTube video of a girl with short hair trying it out, and it looks really good on her. I got the same results, but it doesn't suit my hair style at the moment, so it will go into my beauty hoard until a time comes when I can use it.

Shaveworks(TM) 'The Cool Fix(TM)': This cooling gel helps relieve ingrown hairs or rashes after hair removal. I did try it after shaving, and I'm not really sure about this product as I did not notice any results. 

Pixi by Petra (Shea Butter Lip Balm in 'Honey Nectar' colour): This lip balm contains shea butter and has a hint of colour. Honey Nectar is a light brown colour. The product softened my lips, and I like the colour and smell.

Meaningful Beauty(TM) anti-aging wrinkle smoothing capsule: The product targets fine lines for smoother skin and is endorsed by model Cindy Crawford. The sample pot contains seven individual capsules for one-time use. I actually do not have any wrinkles yet, so I tried this out underneath my eyes where I do have some fine lines (out of tiredness) and used the remainder of the product on my face. My skin felt a bit firmer after using the product, and the lines underneath my eyes did disappear. I will keep the remainder of the capsules when I do need to use them. This is another one to add to my hoard for products to use later in life. I actually am skeptical of anti-aging products that promise to get rid of wrinkles and believe that the best way to keep skin looking younger is to use sun protection creams and drink plenty of water.

Pink Lipstick Pen: This item is the lifestyle extra. The pen is a black one, and it's shaped like a tube of lipstick. It is cute. However, it exploded in my handbag so boo!

Overall, I did enjoy the products in this box, and I may buy a couple of these products in the future if I continue to get on with them.

This autumn, Bristol's streets are host to an award-winning art installation, "Shadowing". The installation is the work of Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier and is available until the end of October from dusk until dawn every night. The installation is set up at selected street lamps around Bristol, and your shadow's movements are recorded and played to the next visitor. The art installation encourages people to interact in a time and space. 


This installation will go world-wide after its time in Bristol. It has won the Playable City award. If you're in Bristol between now and the end of October, check it out.

For more information about "Shadowing" and to see the locations across Bristol, view the official website at http://www.shadowing.cc/

For a video to show what it looks like, visit http://simplelampoon.com/shadowing-playable-city-project/.

Phlegm's Mural on Hanbury Street

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Artist Phlegm (Street Art: Phlegm), from Sheffield, finished painting a new mural on Hanbury Street at the weekend. I had the pleasure to see the artist at work on his new mural on Friday. His style is instantly recognisable with black and white figures that appear to come from a dream. A year and a half ago, he was busy creating murals in London, and only one or two of these survivce. 


The work that appears on this wall is normally a striking piece, so I was glad to see Phlegm's work appear here. It replaces an equally nice piece featuring astronauts by Fintan Magee, which remained on the wall for several weeks over the summer.


The mural is located at the junction of Brick Land and Hanbury Street.

At the end of June, I decided to sign up for Degustabox for six months as I liked the look of what was in the June box from what I saw online. The boxes are shipped toward the end of the month, so my first box was the July one. Degustabox is a monthly food subscription box, and subscribers can try new food-related products. I will see what the next three months bring in order to determine if I want to continue my subscription. The reviews for my first three months of my subscription are included below.


September Degustabox

I have surveyed each product with a rating from one (hated it) to five (awesome). I've pictured the contents of my box below. This box contained several snack items, and we saw some new brands while some brands that we had tried out for several weeks in a row (such as Dr. Oteker's) were not included. This was probably my favouite box so far because I discovered a couple of new products that I actually would purchase, and I don't include the popcorn or tortilla chips in the previous boxes as I have always bought those products in any brand.


Burts Lentil Waves - in flavours Lightly Salted, Sour Cream & Chive, Thai Sweet Chilli (3/5): The cooked lentil crisp snack comes in three flavours described above. I only tried the salted as I do not like other flavours of crisps/chips. I expected them to taste slightly like a poppadom, but they were in between that and a potato chip. I cannot fault the product, but I probably would not buy them as I do not consume a lot of crisps. The other two flavours were given to a friend, and they said that they were okay, so I rated them average as they did not completely excite me.

Jordans Simply Granola (5/5): I love granola as a healthy breakfast with blueberries. Granola is a food that allows the energy to be slowly released (instead of a quick fix chocolate bar which picks you up and leaves you wanting more in ten minutes, once it's worn off). I have my granola dry with blueberries or other berries as I don't like yogurt or milk. I enjoyed this and I would buy it. I have also wanted to buy granola on its own in the past to add to my cereal, and I've never been able to find it, so this is a welcome addition and a product that I will seek out.

Bahlsen PiCK UP! in flavours Milk Chocolate and Black and White (5/5): These individually-wrapped biscuits include a slab of chocolate in the middle. The Milk Chocolate edition is vanilla biscuits with a milk chocolate slab sandwiched in the middle. The Black and White is the opposite, with a white chocolate slab in the middle of cocoa biscuits. I really enjoyed these and would purchase them.

Crabbie's Alcoholic Fruits : Black Cherry flavour (3/5): My box came with the Black Cherry flavour; the flavours also include Zesty Lemon and Raspberry and Rhubarb. I actually got the flavour that appealed the least to my tastes out of the three; Lemon would have been my first choice as I love lemon. I was not keen of the taste of this, so I gave it to my partner who thought that it was okay but  not wowed by it.  

Little Miracles (5/5): These organic drinks have less than 90 calories each and contain no added colours or flavours. They have a subtle flavour, and I enjoyed both flavours of them.

Carnation Cook with it! (1/5):  Our box came with two cartons; I was unsure about what to do with these. I visited the Carnation website and found some recipes and eventually made the chicken pie. It tasted too "milky" for me, and I'm not a fan of milk as I dislike the taste of it. Perhaps it was just a bad recipe. The second carton was used for the "chicken potato bake" spice sachet that I received in a previous box. Anyway, I am not excited about this product at all and it's the product in the box that appeals the least to me.

Elizabeth Shaw - dark chocolate mint thins (5/5): These dark chocolate mints are nice. I love dark chocolate and mint, so this is a win-win for me. I would purchase these.

Righteous salad dressings (3/5): I received three of these in different flavours (Lemon & Mustard Seed, Raspberry and Sweet Basil; English Blue Cheese & Cider). I gave them away because I dislike dressings; I eat my salads plain. Apparently, these were nice. I am told that the raspberry one was the best, and the other two were average.


August Degustabox

I have surveyed each product with a rating from one (hated it) to five (awesome). I've pictured the contents of my August box below. I did not have any issues with leaking or broken products this time (as I did in the previous box), and one of the products in the box is a voucher to collect a chilled item. This box contained more items than last month's, but many of the items this month are not as expensive.


Pasquier croissants and pains au lait (2/5): These are pre-packaged croissants and sweet buns that are inexpensive and made to last for a couple of weeks. The bread does not use preservatives, but their recipe is made to make the bread last longer. I am picky about bread items, I didn't care for them much at all. I didn't like the taste, and they tasted "cheap" to me. I gave away most of these to colleagues, and I made bread pudding out of the pains au lait from a recipe provided in the box. The bread and butter pudding did turn out nice with this bread, but I would not purchase these items. I am sure that others would not mind this product, but if I were to buy a croissant or bread, I would spend a little more on fresh items, even though they do not last long. (Actually, when I do buy bread, I always buy the fresh bread and never buy the loaves in the general bread section because I am picky.)

Mexican Dave's Tortilla Chips (5/5): I love tortilla chips, so I was happy to see these in my box. These are tasty, and I would buy them again.

Lindt Milk Hearts (4/5): This gift box tin of chocolate hearts came with ten milk chocolate hearts wrapped in pink foil. This would make a nice gift, but I am a little concerned about buying tins as most of them probably end up in landfills. I have never cared much for Lindt chocolate, but I found these to be alright.

Dr. Oetker Edible Cupcake Cases (2/5): This is another baking product, similar to the Dr. Oteker edible cake toppings that I got last month. This is an interesting idea, and I could not wait to try it. Unfortunately, I found a flaw. The bottoms of the edible cupcake cases (with cupcake in them) got stuck to the plate, and the result was a cupcake without a bottom. Otherwise, an edible case was a good idea.

Flavour Shots (Mexican Fajitas and Spanish Smoked Paprika Chicken) (5/5): These 'shots' contain all the spices needed to create your meal. I simply had to chop and prepare the meat and vegetables and then cook. These was easy, and the spices were easily taken out of the pot with a teaspoon. They also had a nice flavour. I would consider buying the fajita one.

Cawston Press (Apple and Pear) juice: (5/5) This small lunch-sized juice drink boasts that it is pressed fruit and water and contains no added sugar. The juice has a subtle taste and reminds me of apple juice that I enjoy. Thankfully, I tasted the apple more than the pear as I am not too keen on pear. This is a good product and a good alternative to high-sugar drinks for children.

MOMA! Yogurt (1/5): The box came with a voucher for a free box of MOMA! Yogurt, which I had to locate from a shop as this is a refridgerated item. I don't eat yogut or porridge, and these are a mix. I had to give these away to friends, and out of the large group of twelve people, only two liked them. I saw the responses of others as they tried it, and everyone else hated the taste of the product. Based on the two who did like them, one said it was average and the other rated it just above average. However, the score I have given the product is based on the average of the twelve of us.

Berrywhite Organic Drink (Lemon, Ginger and Acai Berry with white tea and Yerba Mate) (3/5): I was not sure if I would enjoy this drink because of the ingredients, but I found it to be okay. The company also donates a percent of its profits to charity.

Caribbean Twist (Strawberry Daiquari) (3/5): This sparkling alcoholic cocktail is made from lime, strawberry, and sweeteners. The taste is slightly overpowering. The strawberry could be smelled as soon as I opened the product and before I would take a sip. I would prefer it if the taste was not so overpowering.


July Degustabox

This is my first box! I have surveyed each product with a rating from one (I hated it) to five (awesome). I've pictured the contents of my box below. I had a slight issue, however, with the cider. The bottle cap did not seem to be too straight on one of them as it had leaked a little bit in the box. My first impressions were not so great because I preferred what I saw in the June box.


Green & Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate and Lemon: (4/5) I am already familiar with this brand and have tried this flavour before; I think I've tried most of their flavours. I don't have much to say about it other than I do like Green & Blacks. It's not my favourite flavour, but I enjoy dark chocolate and the brand is known for being ethically-sourced.

Zeo (in flavours Zest, Burst and Crunch) soft drinks: (2/5) This lightly-carbonated soft drink brand claims to use natural sweeteners and sugars. Zest is a lime flavour. Burst is peach and grapefruit. Crush is a citrus flavour. Unfortunately, I did not care for these.

Dr. Oetker (Eton Mess and Violet Crystals): (4/5) These are baking embellishments for cakes. I do not do a lot of baking and currently have a small stash of cute cake and cupcake decorations around. Don't get me wrong; I love the idea of baking. I just don't have the time for it, and my commute is too long and requires too many changes (including a crushing underground trip and walking) to take any baking creations to work. As I got the edible cupcake cases in my August box, I decided to do a bit of baking for a group of friends. I used both toppings. The Eton Mess toppings are real strawberry and meringue pieces, and they taste nice. The violet crystals actually do not have a taste strong enough to notice with the flavour of the vanilla cupcake I put them on, but they do look pretty.

Maggi cooking seasoning packets (So Juicy oriental soy and ginger chicken, Piri Piri Chicken, Beef & Ale caserole, Chicken & Leek potato bake): (3/5) I used the recipe on the back for the Piri Piri, and I wish I had just kept it more simple. The sachets do include a nice blend of spice. So Juicy was a subtle blend, and the chicken was tender. The chicken & leek potato bake had a nice flavour. I was told that the beef and ale was alright as well. These were alright, but they did not wow me and there's still a lot of preparation time involved, and I didn't think some of the instructions were the clearest.

Hornsby's Blueberry Cider: (4/5) I don't drink cider, but I did have a sip when my partner had it. Even with the blueberry taste, it is still beer/ale/cider and not something that I would ever drink. However, I do think this is unique and the blueberry does smell nice. I think it is a good product, and my partner liked it. He said it was "easy going", so the product gets a thumbs up from him. However, I do think they need to tighten their bottle caps so the bottles stay fresh and don't create a mess.

Portlebay Popcorn (in flavours sweet & salted, crispy bacon & maple syrup, chilli & lime): (5/5) I love popcorn, so I was excited to see these. I am not a fan of flavoured crisps or potato chips unless it's BBQ, but the crispy & bacon and chilli & lime flavours tasted fine. My favourite was the standard plain sweet & salt. This popcorn does have a lot more flavour than some of the other brands, and this may mean that they are not quite as healthy, but they do taste nice.

Do you subscribe to Degustabox? If so, what do you think and what has been an awesome product that you discovered from them?

Artist Alex Chinneck has constructed a building that resembles a part of the London Covent Garden market that seems to flat in mid-air. The installation took 500 hours to paint, and over 100 people were involved in its construction. The piece, titled "Take My Lighting But Don't Steal My Thunder", is on show until October 24.


The artwork is made from foam and is actually held-up by a counterweight designed like a market kiosk, which is located on one of the sides of the installation. The artwork had attracted a lot of attention when I visited it on Saturday morning.

At the beginning of the month, the bloke and I made our way to the Charing Cross Hotel (London) to attend the Saturday matinee of "Faulty Towers the Dining Experience". The dining experience is a tribute to this 1970's comedy series, Fawlty Towers, created by John Cleese, and it is created by Australian company Interactive Theatre International. The experience is available to attend at various locations world-wide. The term for this form of entertainment is 'immersive theatre' as guests are involved in the story. (This is similar to the Secret Cinema concept, where users are immersed into the film.)

Basil and Sybil Faulty in one of many arguments in front of their guests

For those of my readers who are not familiar with the popular television series Fawlty Towers, each episode features Basil Faulty and his wife Sybil as they run a guest house -- poorly. Whatever can go wrong at the guest house does go wrong. They are not afraid to argue in front of the guests and insult the guests that stay with them. Added into the mix is their employee Manuel, a Spanish man with a poor grasp on English, who misunderstands instructions given to him.

When we arrived, we were asked to go to the bar. We placed our drinks order here, and I ordered a bottle of wine to have with our meal and enjoyed a glass of this while we waited. The bar's and dining room's windows looked out into Charing Cross train station.

The bar

After a short time, the actors (Basil, Sybil, and Manuel) came in and greeted us. This is where the comedy started. Manuel misunderstood instructions to provide guests with nuts. This resulted in him taking glasses off the faces of some guests and many other issues. We were then given our seat numbers. I was insulted because of my German-sounding surname. (One of the most famous Fawlty Towers sketches is about Germans who come to stay at the hotel.)

Basil gets frustrated about Manuel's inability to serve nuts

We took our seats and watched the entertainment. One moment consisted of Basil and Manuel trying to open a bottle of wine with much difficulty.

Opening the wine

Basil glares at Manuel for his lack of understanding of instructions. 

Manuel and Basil

The soups came out eventually, and a couple of guests had found something extra in their bowls. I won't spoil it, but it's in the series. On top of this, Sybil shouted out to all of the guests that "the chef only has to open another tin". 

Manuel collects soup bowls

After the soup, we were eventually brought our main meals, which consisted of chicken and mash potato and carrots and green beans. The meal was okay, but this experience is all about the theatre and not the food. While we ate, the actors came over to make sure that we were all alright. I did try to land Manuel into trouble, but that failed, and I complimented Sybil on her pink outfit. The actors stayed in character throughout and did a good job. When I said my chicken was "okay" unconvincingly, Basil stayed in character to say that it was "simply marvellous", or whatever terms he used and refused to go away until I agreed.


More jokes and sketches from the show followed, including some new sketches with Manuel standing on our table.

Fawly Towers

We were eventually given our dessert, which we had to wait for as they were apparently "frozen solid" because the chef forgot to defrost them (not really, this was part of the show). The dessert was quite tasty. 


Of course, the experience could not end without the German jokes. See the picture of Basil Faulty below to see what I mean! This drew the experience to a close.

Basil Faulty "Don't mention the war!"

I had not laughed so hard in awhile. Faulty Towers the Dining Experience was one of the most memorable experiences that I have had in London. If you have been, drop a message below and let me know what you thought.

Summer 2014 Street Art by My Dog Sighs

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Street artist My Dog Sighs visited London earlier this summer to paint on some walls. Unfortunately, one of these did not last very long at all, but a large mural consisting of several eyes managed to remain for awhile on Blackall Street in east London. The artist originally visited London at the end of last year, and several paste-ups were created in collaboration with Midge (originally covered here: http://jenikya.com/blog/2014/01/street-art-midge-and-my-dog-sighs.html).


In addition to the wall, these paste-ups also appeared, but there was not as many of these as the last time.


The building that the painting was painted on is in the process of being demolished. The wall opposite, where the paste-ups were located, has had a clean. It is sad that this popular space for street art will soon be no more.

Dinner at Hutong Restaurant in the Shard

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After our somewhat disappointing (except for the nice views) afternoon tea experience at AquaShard in May, we wanted to give one of the restaurants in the Shard a try. I settled on Chinese restaurant Hutong, situated on the 33rd floor of the Shard, in the same location but up one floor from AquaShard in the Shangri-la complex, and made a reservation. The restaurant's dishes are based on Northern Chinese cuisine.


Of course, a visit to the Shard means admiring the views, and I have posted a couple in this post, but if you really want to see what the top floor is like at the Shard, then see my post 310m Above London: The View from the Shard. There are seventy-two floors, so this means that Hutong is only half-the-way up!


We were the first to arrive for dinner, and we were seated next to the western-facing window with views toward the Houses of Parliament and Borough Market. We noted the cooked ducks hanging at the back of the restaurant.


I was tooo busy admiring the views to be decisive in what I wanted. I'd actually had a long night the previous night, which did not help matters. (I'd gone out with my friend Natalie from Bristol at the Queen of Hoxton and ended up drinking a little too much and missed the train back to Basingstoke.)

On to the food. My partner wanted to order the "thinly-cut pork belly and cucumber slices in chilli and garlic sauce" to start. The chilli and garlic sauce  tasted delicious.  


I wanted the barbeque duck starter. After we ate as much as we could of the first starter (which was really for my partner), we were brought our roasted Peking duck. The chef carved it in front of us and put the slices down onto a leaf-topped wooden tray. The menu named this dish in "two stages", and the first stage consisted of the duck being slices for traditional pancakes.


After he was finished carving, he took the remainder of the duck away, and the plum sauce, pancakes, and cucumber and spring onions were brought to our table so that we could assemble our duck pancakes. I must say that I am not a fan of the duck fat and skins, so I stuck to eating the meaty bits, and the plum sauce was particularly good.


A little bit later, once we had devoured the duck pancakes, the rest of our duck was brought back. The duck meat was diced and mixed with onions and pepper with spices. This tasted delicious and ended up becoming my favourite dish of the evening. Such a pity that I was starting to feel full and wanted to save room for my main meal.


We watched as the sun begin to set over London from the large windows in front of us. 


I ordered one of the cocktails, and it came in a brass cup. The cocktail was a little too strong/bitter, so I did not particularly enjoy it. This was my least favourite item that I had that night.


My main meal was the fried chicken on dried chilli. I also ordered soft noodles as  side dish. My partner has the "braised sliced beef in aged vinegar and ginger sauce", and this was served on a bed of rice. The chicken was particularly spicey, but it was nice.


The restaurant was particularly busy by the time we finished our meal. We were going to order a dessert, but our server disappeared for too long (I had to wave them down) and did not check back with us after giving us the dessert menu that I asked for, so I simply had to track her down again and ask for the bill. While we made our way out of the restaurant, we enjoyed quick views of London lit up.


Overall, our experience at Hutong was alright, but I left feeling slightly disappointed. The restaurant is expensive, but it's the views that guests pay for. The food was filling, and I feel that Chinese meals are best experienced with more than two people as there's always too much food. I was disappointed in the cocktail and in the service toward the end of our meal as the staff ignored us.

New Summer 2014 Street Art by Ben Eine

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Ben Eine was in London this summer and left behind some nice murals (Street Art: Ben Eine). The artist moved from London about a year ago, so not much has been added to London's streets since he left, although traces of his work can be seen on shutters and opposite Shoreditch High Street station. One of my favourite pieces is the new one below, which also appears almost opposite Shoreditch High Street and is called "Old London".


The word "Create" was painted near Old Street and City Road on boards near the busy street.


The Olympic Park piece was painted early in the summer and is titled "The Review", based on the Victoria and Albert Museum's review of the Olympics. The piece was hard to photograph because it is so large! I only captured a very little bit of it from a distance. "History", "Connections", and "Storytelling" were a few of the words painted across the large boards in the middle of the Olympic Park. 


For more information about the piece, you can read about it at the following website (Inspiring City), and they also have a lot of photographs with some of the words: http://inspiringcity.com/2014/06/30/street-artist-ben-eine-creates-the-review-a-massive-mural-in-the-heart-of-londons-olympic-park/ 

Paul "Don" Smith, also known as "the Banker" (previously written and published articles and photographs here) with his popular use of the banker-tap stencil image, was busy painting the walls in east London over the summer. I snapped all of the pieces that I discovered but have been quite busy that I am only just getting around to posting them here. 


Miles Davis and Zoxanne Shante feature.


Royall Mayall 


William S. Burrough


Stallone and Cara


The famous banker tap stencil appears across east London.


"Mother Earth"


Ronnie Biggs and Royall Mayall



Jim Morrison from the Doors.


"Let Sway"

Paul Don Smith




UK 2014 Birchbox Reviews: September

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This was not a winning month for Birchbox because Yodel (the delivery company Birchbox sometimes uses) let them down and it came to the point where I was extremely frustrated. Yodel claimed to have delivered my order, but it was nowhere to be found and went "missing", and after several angry email exchanges back and forth, I finally received my box on the last day of September. In fact, two Birchbox boxes came on the same day! (I loathe Yodel and have had issues with them previously, and it's gotten to the point where I will not buy from shops that use them; Birchbox will now be delivering to me through another delivery company, so let's hope for the best in October and no more Yodel. Also, one only has to look at reviews online to see how frustrated others are with this non-delivery service.) Now, moving on...


Birchbox UK's September theme is "Happy Days", and they have teamed up with Photobox to remind us of happy memories. The lifestyle item this month is the photo clip. I received a pink one in each box (green would have been more awesome). 


My box's contents changed after the Yodel fiasco, and there was a mess-up in the product choices and one of the products was missing, so another box was sent out to rectify the issue. As a result, I got an extra item and duplicates of three of the other items. 

Jane Iredale (Just Kissed Lip Plumper in 'Rio'): I am a fan of Jane Iredale after receiving a sample size of lip and cheek stain in my first Birchboxox (June). This one complements my complexion and is a nice shade of brown. That doesn't make it sound nice, but it is. I like this product, and it tingles a bit when I wear it. I would consider buying this as I did buy the lip stain a month ago as I enjoyed it so much.

Beneift (It's Potent! Eye Cream): I already own a bottle of this. I do like Benefit's products, so it's also a win for me. I am not a regular user of eye creams, though. I believe that every subscriber got this product this month. 

Agave healing oil treatment: This hair product claims to boost colour and shine. Actually, this product smells delicious and it did leave my hair feeling softer and perhaps shinier. It did not make my hair look or feel greasy at all, as some products do. I would consider buying this.

Pramae Mild Dermabrasion Face & Body Scrub: This body scrub consists of olive granules to smooth skin and can be used on the face. The product was quite thin, and I did not notice a smell. I tried it on my face and body, and it is a subtle scrub. I don't think it is the product for me, however. I  found the product to be a little too thin.

Skin & Co Sicilian Light Serum: This was the missing product.

Beautyblender + Beautyblender solid: This was the product that originally was meant to arrive in my first box that was never delivered. When a new box was sent out, it did not contain this product and I had to complain. This is a product that I have wanted to try, and anyone who had not received the product and new subscribers were promised that they would receive this item. Did it live up to the hype? Well, I have only had a couple of days to try it, and it does help with my foundation application. The foundation is smoothly-added to my skin instead of looking or feeling caked-on, and it gives it a finished look. The product also came with a bar of soap to clean the Beautyblender as the foundation does stay on it, but I've not given that a try yet.

ModelCo Power lash mascara: Before the Birchbox boxes were packed and sent out, all subscribers were asked to pick a ModelCo product: mascara or one of two shades of lipstick/gloss. I choose the mascara, and this seems to be a popular choice. The product seems to be good, but I was not happy with the application brush as too much product clings to the brush and it's easy to make mistakes as it is quite clumpy. When I put the brush back inside the container, the unused product stuck to the edge and outside the hole. This did annoy me because of the wastage. 

Urban Fruit pineapple: There was a choice of three flavours (mango, strawberry, pineapple), and I got two samples of pineapple. That would not have been my choice of flavour, but I did try it. However, I thought it smelled bad and that made me feel a little queasy. I eventually found a home for the second pack.

Belfast's Political Murals

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On our walk back from the Ulster Museum to the centre of Belfast, we took a quick diversion to Sandy Row to check out some of the murals. I did want to go on an advertised murals tour, but the black cab company were a bit abrupt/rude when I tried to arrange something on the phone. It was not the same, but we ended up having our own tour of the murals. However, it would have been great to know the background of some of these and to hear some of Belfast's history.

I do know that Belfast had some problems in the past; political groups who wanted to split from (or stay with) the United Kingdom, violence as a result of the political views, and religious differences. I am probably not doing this justice and it probably goes a lot deeper than that. However, the images below are ones I gathered in Sandy Row. Apparently a lot of the working class areas of Belfast have a lot of these murals. Not all of them are 'controversial'. Some of them are simply dedications to famous people, such as George Best (a footballer), the Titanic, or flowers.


Other murals were dedicated to sports, such as the one below dedicated to Irish Football Association.


At the corner of Sandy Row and a major road is the below mural.


There were also murals located in the Cathedral Quarter. I saw a lot of street art around too, but I will be including this in another post. (Though the murals are also street art.) 


The Duke of York pub had two whole walls and a ceiling covered in mural as well as some of the walls in their pub garden/parking area behind the pub. I am not sure who the people are in the murals, but I think they are based on real/famous people. Also note that this bar was extremely busy as was the alleyway outside it. Had it not been so busy, I think I would have convinced the others with me to pop in for a quick drink. The pub seems to have a lot of fame around it. Apparently the band Snow Patrol ('Chasing Cars') first gigged here.


On the way to the airport in east Belfast, we happened to discover more murals. Again, they were for a number of causes. 



The two giant cranes, Samson and Goliath, can be seen in the background. There were also a couple of murals dedicated to the Titanic's fate.


There is also a "peace wall" somewhere in Belfast, but we did not discover where that was or drive past it. It would have been good to see it, though. Maybe if I ever go back to Belfast again I can find out where it is and also understand a little more about these walls.

Restaurant Review: DF Mexico

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A new Mexican restaurant opened up in the Truman Brewery complex near Brick Lane toward the end of the summer. The restaurant comes from the same people who launched popular Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca, which now manage several of the restaurants in this chain across London. DF Mexico is a one-off restaurant, and the restaurant is a trial. The menu is a fusion of American and Mexican cuisine. They do serve margaritas, healthy juice/flavoured-water alternatives, nachos, tortillas, burgers, burriots, tacos.


Now for my review. The frozen margaritas were alright, but I have had better. I did enjoy the healthy drink alternatives and wish more restaurants would do this. I ordered nachos to start, and they were fairly good. For the main meal, I ordered a chicken burger. I was not happy that they only use brown chicken meat and chicken skins for their chicken dishes. My chicken burger was filled with very little chicken and contained a lot of greasy/slimey chicken skin. I did not feel that it was worth the cost.

Another issue that I discovered and witnessed was that the staff were not friendly, and in one visit, they ignored me. At one point, I heard them arguing with another customer. Another issue I had when I visited with colleagues was the payment system at the time of visit. My colleagues were also not overly-impressed with the restaurant or their food either.

I did return with the intention to order a takeaway once, but they informed me that they only use brown chicken meat (and chicken skins) for their chicken dishes. I remembered how unenjoyable my chicken burger was during my initial visit, so I shall not be returning for their main dishes. I may give the nachos and drinks another try if I can be bothered, but this would be a last resort or if I am feeling particularly lazy as the restaurant is literally around the corner from where I work.

DF Mexico
Hanbury Street

Australian street artist JimmyC recently painted a few walls in east London. More of his work can be seen at Street Art: JimmyC and New Street Art by JimmyC. The artwork appeared toward the end of the summer and was painted in prominent locations in east London. 

The first is a portrait of a woman, which was painted on a wall in New Inn Yard, off Great Eastern Street.



The most recent mural was painted just off of Hackney Road and features a bearded man with towering buildings above his head.

JimmyC with Mr. Cenz

A car park just off of Brick Lane features another piece, and the artist does sometimes return to this location to paint on the walls. Throughout the spring and summer, there has been a theme going on with portraits. Some of the other artists features include Borondo and Edwin.



I enjoy seeing the artist's work as his painting style is so unique and made up of small splatches or dots of paint.


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