December 2015 Archives

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016

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I will admit that 2015 was not the best year for me. It's not been the worst by any means; it's just been "difficult". I have nicknamed it "limbo year" as most of the time this year seems to be "in limbo" and "waiting". First of all, we moved. Yay! The bloke and I were living in my flat in Basingstoke, which was too small from day one, but was all I could afford. Now, we moved into a house and have more room and can do what we want to it without the restrictions that come with living in a flat, such as getting a kitten. Getting to this point took many months, and we did not know when we were likely to move until nearly two weeks before. Yikes! (It was also unplanned; I didn't go into 2015 thinking we were definately going to move.)


Cue Merlin. He's cute, but he can be a handful at times. He's a brown tabby Maine Coon. He has the classic tabby pattern (with black swirls on his sides) instead of the makerel (black stripes down the sides) pattern. I actually learned this year that there is more than one pattern of tabby cat.


The second item was that I had to move on to a new role at the beginning of the year. Besides the initial first three months, the contract became a rolling monthly contract with a lot of overtime on top. The rolling monthly contract made it impossible to plan anything in my life as I was not sure if I would have a contract by the time four weeks were up. I would not rush into a rolling monthly contract again, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can find a long-term contract.

What you read about the new contract is correct. I think I mentioned a week ago that due to company transitions and a screw-up caused by a large offshore IT outsourcing company, that my last work day is today (December 31). I was actually meant to be extended until the end of March 2016, but I only found out on the last day of my previous contract (30 November) that they'd messed it up. The IT offshore company wanted to charge the company I was contracted to a large mark-up on top of my rate. Due to a lot of hard work by the project manager (my boss), the contract was secured for the final three weeks of December (not including the four working days it took to sort the mess).


I do hope that 2016 is not another transition-year. I hope that it is more settled for me and enables new opportunities with the ability to settle and make the home into what I want for it. I hope that I am also able to meet up with friends and family and have a much-needed vacation (or three!) as I've not been able to this year, except for the odd day out in England.

To cut to the chase, here's a month-by-month review of my year this year.

January: January started uncertain for me as I'd been at my previous contract for two years and I was unsure about what was going to happen when it was up for renewal at the end of the month, and I was concerned about claiming expenses. In the end, the company decided to cut contractors, and I was one of those who were cut. They asked me to stay on one more month, and I actually got the next contract lined up immediately.  Before I left, I decided to hit up some restaurants that I'd been wanting to try, such as Chicken Shop/Dirty Burger in Whitechapel and MEATMission.


The 'Year of the Bus' art charity sculptures were also all on display in one place in the Olympic Park that month, and the bloke and I headed over to see them. It was the first time we both went to the Olympic Park together since the day we visited during the Olympic games. In addition to viewing the sculptures, we also took the opportunity to visit the Orbit (Days Out: ArcelorMittal Orbit).



At the end of January, I had arranged a morning tour of the abandoned underground station known as Aldwych Station. Tours of this station are rare and popular, so I made sure that I secured the tickets the previous autumn when the London Transport Museum were arranging several tours over a few weeks. The underground station was not in operation for too long because it was too expensive to maintain and did not get much use. Today, it is primarily used in filming, and you may recognise the interior from television and films.

In the afternoon of the same day, I arranged a treat for afternoon tea. This was to coincide with a visit the Natural History and Science Museums, but they were packed with long queues as earlier in the week, the museums were in the news (it appears that they will be replacing the beloved dinosaur in the entrance of the History Museum with a whale skeleton). We ended up in the Victoria & Albert Museum instead and watched a few old films. I've always found the Crystal Palace fascinating, and there was a good documentary about it. We spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying Ampersand Hotel's Science Afternoon Tea. It came with chocolate dinosaurs (a tribute to the History Museum), a planet, a beaker of liquid, a volcano, and other science and history-related pastries.


February: During the month of February, I made the most of London before I had to leave. I visited the Spitalfields Textile Designs in Denis Severs' House during my lunch break one day. The designs were a beautiful snapshot of history of this part of London as it is known for its silk weaving. The house was also beautiful and boasted Oscar Wilde's mantle. I've been wanting to see inside the beautiful silk weaver houses for a long while. I would love to live in one as they are beautiful and spacious inside. I love the Georgian style of house the best.


I also saw the Spitalfields Great Pancake Race, which takes place in front of the office where I used to work, and I was lucky to see it as that was my last week at the company. The annual pancake race is held on Pancake Day. This year, it attracted a particularly large crowd due to it falling later than usual, warm, and during the week when schools were off. This was the third year in a row that I watched it. I love it. There are prizes for the fastest team and team with the most creative costumes.

The Walkie Talkie Tower (20 Fenchurch Street) and its beautiful sky garden also opened to the public earlier in the year, and I could have booked tickets for the first days that it was open to the public, but I reserved it to the day before Valentine's Day (a Friday) instead as I thought that it would be romantic to visit with the bloke for a drink and quick lunch. We both worked a short distance from the building, so it made sense to visit during lunch. The garden is worth visiting, and the views are amazing.

For Valentine's Day, I surprised the bloke by taking him to play crazy golf at Swingers Golf Club in Shoreditch. (Yes, I snickered at the name 'Swingers' too.) We were the first in the queue and managed to get two rounds of golf in in addition to eating delicious street food. I had Pizza Pilgrims. We also received a free glass of pink champagne as we visited on Valentine's Day. We had so much fun.


Toward the end of the month, I had to say my goodbyes to working in London and the team that I had worked with for the past two years. I found this very difficult as I really liked everyone in the team a lot, and (except for the long commutes), I enjoyed my time at the company. I also managed to explore and became very familiar with that part of London and keep updated on the street art scene. 

However, after saying goodbye to one team at the end of one week, I said hello to another. I started a new role immediately and spent the next couple of weeks with part of the new team in Ashby de la Zouch, which took me into first week of March. Of course, I ended up enjoying this team that I worked in, but the company was going through a transition. From the first day, I was told that my bosses and all of the other staff were being made redundant at some point (no one knew when it would be, but it ended up being at the end of September) and the large IT offshore company would be taking their jobs. That's never a nice feeling, and they were all very good and knowledgable people. (I feel that companies should not do this to their staff, and I disagree that it will cut costs in the long term. I think a lot of us are under the same impression that this is a mistake.)

The majority of the contract was working from home, and I was happy that I could take a break from the draining long commutes. I also took the opportunity with this extra time and energy in order to look for a place in London or closer to London to avoid future long commutes. (At this point, I did not have any idea where to move to, but I discovered Ruislip in the spring and I concentrated my efforts there.)

MarchWhile in Ashby de la Zouch at the beginning of the month, I visited Ashby de la Zouch castle. There was an audio guide that I used to learn about the castle. Climbing the remains of the tower was impressive, and I enjoyed going underground and underneath the castle where there is a tunnel from the kitchen to the courtyard. I actually did enjoy my two weeks in the office in Ashby de la Zouch and exploring (though very briefly) a new area.


I missed working in Basingstoke (where I lived). I moved to the city for a job in 2007, and I enjoyed visiting the shops at lunch with colleagues or alone. After that role was made redundant, I ended up commuting to London for work. I really loved being able to work in Basingstoke again, so I took advantage of the city. On one weekend, the bloke and I spent the day learning how to make a stained glass decoration, and cake and lunch was included. I absolutely loved doing this and I wanted to do it again. The classes take place from time to time at Proteus Creation Space. Basingstoke does have an arts scene (including a theatre and music venue), and I will disagree with anyone who puts the city down as I feel it gets unfair press.


During March, I also visited London to see the 'Shaun the Sheep' (from Wallace & Gromit) art sculpture charity trails. This year, the sculpture trail (made in conjunction with Aardman Animations) takes place in the city of London in the spring. A herd of new Shauns will be in Bristol over the summer.


At the end of the month, the bloke and I visited our first MINI-related event for the past few years as we've both been busy and working in London. In the past, I never managed to make it to the Brooklands MINI Day, even though it is just down the road from me. This is the first big MINI event of the year. We went inside a Concord, walked around the car and plane museums, and walked around the other visitors' MINIs. Some of the cars were parked on the old Brooklands race track, which is the oldest race track.

April: Easter was at the beginning of the month of April this year, and I'd arranged to have a short break in North Yorkshire. We stayed at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, which was made famous by Agatha Christie. This is the hotel she was staying at when she disappeared. I have not completed uploading and posting all of my photographs for the attractions that we visited in Yorkshire, but we went to some beautiful places that I will be posting at some point. There's a lot to see in that area of the country, and I will be posting about these places.

Our first day in Harrogate was rainy, but we enjoyed afternoon tea at Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate, which has been on my list for awhile now. I'm glad that I managed to reserve it for the afternoon on the first day of our visit. The tea room is very popular, and I love looking at the easter displays and giant Easter eggs in the shop window. I remember doing the same about ten Easters ago when a friend and I went to York and Harrogate, so it brings back fond memories.


Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens were one of the attractions that we visited in North Yorkshire. We visited on Easter Sunday afternoon, after a lunch at the pub/restaurant Guy Fawkes Arms. (The pub is named after its most famous resident.) We had a wonderful Easter Sunday meal, and this was my favourite meal of the year. I would love to go back as the food was that excellent, and I do find many restaurants/pubs to be mediocre anymore. The day was gorgeous with beautiful sunshine, and this was one of the best days out that I have had in a long while. We spent a few hours exploring the abbey ruins and walking the grounds. For some reason, I had some memory of this attraction as well, but I've never been here before (at least not in this life). That feeling of déjà vu and the memory of this perfect day will never leave me.


Later in the month, I dragged the bloke along as we went to try the W Fashion / Power Afternoon Tea at W Hotel in Leicester Square. This tea celebrates women in fashion and featured a nice selection of beautifully-designed pastries. Think Lady Gaga and the meat dress, Vivienne Westwood, and Chanel.


May: May was a busy month with work, and I put in a lot of overtime in the evenings, mornings, and weekends. As a result, I did not get out too much. I did enjoy a stroll around St. James' Park in London where I love to see the daffodils, and I also saw green parakeets. I love visiting this park every spring because I love the carpet of daffodils. They are one of my favourite flowers.


The most notable events in May took place toward the end of the month when I visited Sake No Hana to enjoy the Sakura Cherry Blossom. I had the traditional picnic lunch that the Japanese eat when they enjoy the beautiful blooms, and the seasonal alcoholic drink with the special sakura menu (Violet Risshun) was my favourite alcoholic cocktail of the year. The cocktail was served in two parts, symbolising the beginning of spring (tart) and the height of spring (sweet and floral).


At the end of the month, I went on the Guided Tour of Macarons and Mews, led by Yannick Pucci. I saw many beautiful London mews and tasted a few nice macarons. The tour was a nice and small one, and we were all around the same age with similar interests in history and London. I recommend his tours.


June: The month of June started off with a visit to Bubba Gump Shrimp and a trip to see Miss Saigon. The bloke was going to see the play with his work colleagues in the social club, and I had been told by a colleague earlier in the year that it was a brilliant play. I'd been wanting to visit Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant for awhile. Although it did not wow me, the restaurant was worth a visit to see memorabilia from the film Forrest Gump. The play Miss Saigon was a touching one, and I was sat next to a lady who knew members of the production team and was interesting to talk to.


June is also my birthday month, so I took the day off to go to Lymington in the New Forest. The day was partially-sunny but not very warm. We enjoyed the day and went on a treasure hunt around the village and the outskirts of the village. I bought the book for the treasure trail a few years ago. I love the New Forest, and it's been so long since I've been able to visit it. When we arrived back home in Basingstoke, we made a stop off at a tea room and had a birthday cupcake.


At the weekend, I'd booked brunch at Duck & Waffle. I've been wanting to visit Duck & Waffle for ages now and had to cancel previous reservations, including the previous week due to falling ill. Unfortunately, the weather on the weekend that we went was dreary. The weekend before (when I fell ill) was beautiful. Typical. I will need to go back. I absolutely loved the waffles, and this was my favourite brunch/breakfast of the year.


Another birthday treat was to see "War Horse" before it finished in London and dinner at "Vintage Salt", the pop-up restaurant on Selfridge's rooftop for the summer. We previously visited the restaurant when it was branded as the winter pop-up Le Chalet ski lodge, and I enjoyed the food. "Vintage Salt" was equally enjoyable, and the highlight was a dessert that resembled a hamburger. While the mechanism for "War Horse" was excellent, I was not impressed with the story.


Keeping with my promise to attend local events, I went to Basingstoke Festival Parade toward the end of June. It was a blast and combined music, fancy costume, dance, and food/drink. This marked the first event of many celebrating a summer of events in the calendar for Basingstoke. I went to a couple of other events and markets in the city.


The last event for the month was attending 'Star Wars' Secret Cinema Secret Cantina. We visited in the evening, attending the Formula E race at Battersea Park in the morning. The Secret Cantina was a bar/nightclub with 'Star Wars' characters and actors who had events for us to do. We wanted to check out the Cantina before going to the actual big event a few days later, which brings us to July.


July: On the 4th of July, a group of us went to 'Star Wars' Secret Cinema. We had lunch at Bob Bob Ricard (famous for the 'press for champagne' button), and this was my favourite meal in London. I recommend it and would like to visit again. We indulged in champagne and Prosecco. With a 'press for champagne' button, indulgence in champagne is a must.

Secret Cinema's "The Empire Strikes Back" was good fun, and we had a blast pretending we were rebels and living in the "Star Wars" universe. I really wanted to visit it again, but we just never got the opportunity.

The Overton Scarecrow Festival was one of the highlights of the summer for me. Overton is a village near Basingstoke, and they have a scarecrow festival every year or two. I had a good time on one of the warmest days of the summer walking around Overton and viewing the scarecrows. A lot of residents and businesses participated in creating their own scarecrows, and some of these were very creative.

That same weekend also marked Basingstoke's free live music event, Basingstoke Live. I could hear the music on Saturday afternoon after we returned from Overton and the last few acts sounded particularly good. However, I was feeling a little tired and decided to spend the full day there on Sunday instead of visiting on Saturday. Sunday was also a good day, but the music was more 'chilled'. In particular, I wanted to see Mungo Jerry perform on the Sunday as I recognised his music from the 1960s; he had a hit with 'In the Summertime'. I also got his autograph.


Toward the end of the month of July, I made a visit to Salisbury to see the charity art baron sculptures (The Baron's Charter), which celebrate 800 years of the Magna Carta. I love visiting Salisbury.

I worked a lot of overtime in July, so I decided to take a day off toward the end of the month in order to visit one of the open day tours of Lavender Fields near Alton in Hampshire. I've passed the lavender many times and always wanted to stop, so we had a tour at short notice. The weather was pouring with rain, but I still managed to get several beautiful photographs of the lavender and other wildflowers.

The week at the end of the month was particularly busy, and I had to go away for business. Just before I had to do so, I visited Bristol during Bristol Upfest and also used the time to see the 'Shaun the Sheep' charity art sculptures in Bristol. I managed to track them all down and had a wonderful time. The weather was perfect during the two days we spent walking over the city, but the day we walked around Bedminster to look at street art was very wet and rainy.

August: The month of August started with a bang as I'd returned from my business trip and had tickets with friends to go to Battle Proms at Highclere Castle. (For those who do not know, Highclere Castle is just down the road from Basingstoke and is the location where Downton Abbey is filmed.) We brought picnics, listened to music, watched horse displays and people in historic dress, and watched cannons and fireworks explode at dusk. I had a good time despite initial problems and rush due to my unfortunate friends getting stuck in bad traffic on the way. They only just turned up before the concert began, so we had a mad dash of inhaling food and drink so that we could enjoy the music.

The following weekend, we spent two days in Norwich to explore the city and track down Norwich's GoGoDragons art charity sculptures. Everyone in the city of Norwich supported the dragons, and we loved finding them and exploring the city in the process. Norwich is beautiful, and I was happy to visit it to see the charity art dragons. I was also amazed and happy at how popular these dragons were to the community over the summer.

In the middle of the month, we celebrated the bloke's birthday. We both had the day off and visited Old Wardour Castle, which was used in the film "Robin Hood Prince of Thieves". We had a dreary day for it, but the bloke told me that his birthday is always rainy.

We also went to Bournemouth one evening to Bournemouth Candlelight Nights. I went to university there and always remember the lower gardens and the candle light sculptures. After seeing the candles in jars (which kept breaking and exploding due to the heat), we had dinner before heading home back through the New Forest where we found a dark area and stopped off to look at the comets. There's no chance we'd have ever seen them in the town centre flat.


At the end of the month, I had to go away on business for two weeks. However, I was able to enjoy Amsterdam's SAIL event on the weekend in between. This is the largest maritime event in the world, and it is only held once every five years. Visitors can view the ships and climb onto the decks or below decks at certain times and days. We visited a tall ship, a working war ship, and a working submarine. I had a wonderful time viewing the ships and watching the fireworks. The weather was also perfect for it, and the ships covered such a large area and came from all over the world. Some of them were also historical. The oldest one dated from sometime in the 1700s. I would have loved to have gone onto other ships, but the event was a popular one and the queues were quite long.

After returning to the UK from Amsterdam, the last weekend in August was a very busy one. While in Amsterdam, I managed to successfully book tickets to Banksy's Dismaland in Weston-super-Mare. This was a major news story, and the event was very busy as anything relating to Banksy seems to draw crowds. The attraction was memorable, and I saw some good art installations. 

On the Bank Holiday Monday, I had a reservation for the BB Bakery Bus Afternoon Tea tour. This was a Christmas gift, and I had to book over eight months in advance in order to get a seat on the top deck, and I decided to get the forward-facing seat. I did wonder if the day would be rainy as Bank Mondays typically are, but I remembered that last year's August Bank Holiday was pleasant. However, I was not lucky with the weather this time. Despite this, we did have a nice tour around west London. Getting decent photographs was next to impossible with the raindrops on the windows, though.

September: September was very busy from a work point of view as I put in a lot of overtime in order to finish the project. Socially, it was not as crazy as August was because I expected that we would be moving, so I kept the weekends free. In the middle of the month, we went with friends to Mattingley have a pub lunch and then to Silchester to walk around the ruins. I thoroughly enjoyed our little walk on the pleasant autumn day.


In the middle of the month, I had a week in Ashby de la Zouch in order to say my goodbyes to my colleagues who were being made redundant on 30 September. I really enjoyed working with them and the team that we had for a short time. I would not have minded working with the people in this team for a lot longer.

Toward the end of the month, the bloke booked tickets to see the Battle of Britain at 75 concert at Biggin Hill. We watched Spitfires and listened to music and memories from those who fought in the Battle of Britain. This was an event hosted by BBC Radio 2.


The big news for the month is that we learned in mid-September that the rest of the chain of buyers/sellers was ready for the house purchase to complete. We had been waiting to hear news about it for the past couple of months, so we felt relieved to actually have a date and a date that worked for us as it otherwise it would not have been possible for the bloke to take off work due to his colleague expecting a baby. The day finally did arrive. On the 30th of September, we picked up the keys to our house and moved in the next day (October 1). That brings us to October.

October: In October, I had to say goodbye to my flat in Basingstoke. I spent the first several days of the month cleaning, painting, and finishing the big move. Meanwhile, the bloke and I continued to get familiar with the new house and new area that we had moved to. 

Our first outing of the month had been planned in advance for the middle of October, and this was to see the final race of British Touring Cars at Brands Hatch. We had race hospitality, and the food provided was excellent. Hospitality also included free drinks (alcohol and non-alcohol) throughout the day, and we managed to get to the pits to get Jason Plato's autograph.


Later in the month, we indulged in Matthew Williamson AW15 Afternoon Tea at Balthazar in Covent Garden. As the title of this afternoon tea suggests, it celebrates the autumn and winter range of Matthew Williamson fashion.


At the end of the month, we went to see the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Buffalo Bills at Wembley Stadium, but we really went to see the Ohio State University Marching Band perform. Ohio is the state where I was born, and they have the best marching band who create moving imagery to music. This was the first American football game that I have ever been to. 


November: November was fairly quiet, but we had a big milestone in the form of a ball of fluff. Merlin the Maine Coon came to live with us early in the month. He's gotten larger in the past couple of months from the little ball of fluff who travelled from North Yorkshire with hardly a peep in the back of the car. He's still incredibly cute.


Race of Champions was the first event we went to later in the month, and it was the coldest day of the year. I didn't really enjoy myself as I found it to be a lot of stopping and starting and waiting around. Of course, being very cold did not help. The event was held in the Olympic stadium, which is open to the elements, so it was very cold and a clear sky.


At the end of the month, we celebrated Thanksgiving lunch at Balthazar restaurant in Covent Garden. I love Thanksgiving as it marks the beginning of the Christmas season. On Thanksgiving, it is deemed acceptable to listen to Christmas music and get into the mood. After we ate our Thanksgiving meal, we had a long walk around London in order to see the Christmas lights. We also indulged in winter cocktails and a visit to the theatre to see "Sunny Afternoon", which was my favourite play of the year. One of the types of music that I have always enjoyed is the 1960s, and I really enjoy the music of the Kinks. "Sunny Afternoon" is a documentary musical for the band the Kinks.


The next day, I was still in the mood for the start of the Christmas season, and we spent the long weekend in Bath and Bristol. We explored the Bath Christmas Markets, which I have been to numerous times as I used to live there and always enjoyed going back to visit again. Despite living in Bath city, I never visited the Pump Rooms restaurant. We ended up having lunch here, but it was a bit disappointing.


December: December has not brought me the best news. I already mentioned my contract being messed up by the large IT offshore company. The result ended up with me sitting around and waiting for news that it was sorted. This did get sorted after a week for me to start on December 7 with the old process, but I was told that they could not extend beyond that. This means that I will have to find something in the new year. The job market is understandably quiet with everyone thinking about the holidays. I've said my goodbyes to colleagues, although most of them are away at the moment. I worked with some good people, and the company is going to have to go through more transitioning as they are also leaving the company.


Because of this sudden change in circumstance, I've not done much socially this month. My mind has been elsewhere and not on Christmas. The bloke had tickets to Christmas Carols at Southwark Cathedral to attend with his colleagues, and they had spare tickets due to drop-outs, so I also went along to that after work one evening. Before the concert, we had mulled wine and mince pies at Borough Market with views of the Shard lit up for the holidays.


What I was looking most forward to this month was to see 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens', so we went to the midnight showing at Shepherd's Bush on the release day in mid-December. We also saw it with friends a couple of days later and had a good meal at Big Easy BBQ and cocktails before seeing the film at the IMAX.


On the weekend before Christmas, I tried to get into the Christmas mood by having Winter Afternoon Tea at Chesterfield Mayfair. This did help initially.

Now that December has come to an end, I am just looking for the new year to begin so that I can look for my next role. This new year symbolises more than just an incremented number to me. I did not mean to end this on a downer, and I am not feeling down. I am feeling disappointed with the turn-out of the later part of this year. More importantly, I am feeling impatient for the new year to kick off. For that reason, I will leave with a couple inspiring quotations. 

"This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change." - Taylor Swift

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning." - T.S. Eliot

I hope that all of my readers have a great 2016, and Happy New Year!

Pantone® Colours of the Year for 2016

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For the first time since the printing/colour company Pantone® have announced a 'colour of the year' for each year, 2016 is the first year that marks two colours for the year. Next year, the two colours are PANTONE 15-3919 (Serenity) and PANTONE 13-1520 (Rose Quartz). Both are pastel shades that blend and compliment each other. Serenity is a light pale purple hue, and Rose Quartz is a pastel pink hue.


The two colours balanace against stresses to promote security and well-being, a sense of order and peace. Rose Quartz is a warming colour, and Serenity is a tranquil colour. Expect to see these colours used in the world of fashion, interior design, and other design over the next year.

Some past 'colours of the year' are listed below.

2015: Marsala

2014: Radiant Orchid

2013: Emerald

2012: Tangerine Tango

2011: Honeysuckle

1) Pantone®. [10 December, 2015].

Dinner at Big Easy BBQ in Covent Garden

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On the Friday before Christmas, the bloke and some friends and I had arranged to see 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' at the IMAX at Waterloo. We were booked in to see the midnight showing, so we had some time to spend and decided to have dinner at Big Easy BBQ in Covent Garden. This is a venue that I have been wanting to visit for some time. We ordered a tonne of food and managed to eat most of it. Chicken, pulled pork, steak, brisket, corn bread, baked beans, and chips were on the menu. The glaze used was tasty, and we also had the choice of several dozen (at least) beers/ales in the well-stocked bar.




The restaurant was smaller than I expected it to be, and it was also popular. There's seating on the ground floor as well as in the basement with industrial lighting. Seating was a little cramped for us, but we managed in this American-style BBQ restaurant. I'd visit it again.


After our wander around, we headed into Covent Garden to see the decorations and then headed to cocktail bar Frevd and a hotel for drinks in Seven Dials. At Frevd, we had the Chinese Lantern (Midori, grenadine, peach, lemon, apple) Zombie (rum, orange, pineapple, lemon), and the Frevd special. At the hotel on Monmouth Street, we had cocktails named 'Pumpkin Pie', 'Snow Drop', and a few other winter and autumn-themed drinks. After the drinks, we walked to IMAX to see 'Star Wars'. 


I was underwhelmed during the first viewing of the film on its opening night, but I enjoyed my second viewing at the IMAX.

Buildings in Shoreditch

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The area of east London (namely Shoreditch/Hoxton/Hackney) is changing at a rapid pace as gentrification takes over. When this happens, many independent shops cannot compete and close down. Older buildings are torn down to make way for high-rise flats and hotels. Empty lots where cars could park and where walls could be made beautiful by spray paint are built on. The area is cleaned, removing all walls that once held beautiful artwork.

Hackney Road and Columbia Road

The area can lose its culture and atmosphere and its sense of community. I've seen this slowly start to happen in Shoreditch as more shops are replaced with chain shops, buildings are torn down in favour of hotels and flats, and open land for parking is turned into flats and shops. Independent shops disappear and coffee shops and sandwich shops move in.


Below are a series of photographs that I have taken around Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Hackney in the last few years. Soon, these may be our only memories of this time in London.

The Shard from Shoreditch

Under the rail bridge, Hoxton (top of Shoreditch High Street)

Tiled facade on Shoreditch High Street

Tiled facade on Shoreditch High Street

Housing estate at the top of Brick Lane and close to Columbia Road 

Tiled facade on Shoreditch High Street

The Royal Oak - Columbia Road, sells Truman beer

The Crown - sells Truman beer

John Tann's Reliance Locks and Fire and Burglar-proof safes, iron doors, rooms, warehouse... off Hackney Road

Redchurch Street

Old warehouses on south part of Kingsland Road

Hackney Road buildings - glass and frame shop and ghost sign

Hackney Road buildings - radiator covers, fire surround, stairs and spindles

Hackney Road buildings, looking south

St. Leonard

Salvation Army ghosts sign - near Old Street

Courtyard in warehouses, near Curtain Road

Take as many memories as you can.

Christmas Cupcakes and Updates

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Happy holidays to all of my readers, and I hope that you have a fun day with family and friends. The cupcakes immediately below were my creation from three Christmases ago when I last went to America in the beginning of December. I helped my mother bake and decorate these. I wish I could have been at home this year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it's been a busy year, and from the 30th of November, everything has suddenly and unexpectedly taken a different turn, despite my forward planning. So, everything has been up in the air for me. Christmas could not be any further from my mind right now.


I am not going to lie. The last few Christmases have not been the best for me. Last year, I was also concerned about what was going to happen as my contract was up for renewal, and I'd worked so hard over the past couple of years that I was physically and mentally exhausted, but I had some down-time too, and I got ill as soon as my body started to relax. The year before was not special, and I could not relax. The year before that was also uncertainty with working at a company that was wrong for me and thinking about that over the holidays.


So, despite my best efforts, I've really been struggling with Christmas over the past few years. Christmas Day has never been my favourite holiday, but I love Thanksgiving and the run-up to Christmas. I love seeing the lights and the decorations, and I like the older Christmas music and the films. I like the seasonal food and drink as well. I love the Christmas tree and decorating it, wrapping gifts with Christmas music playing, and memories.


In the new year, I will be taking some time off my blog to focus on other areas in my life as things have taken a sudden and unexpected turn at short notice. However, I will return and post more as soon as I start to feel settled again. This is really not how I expected to be spending this Christmas, with moving and already feeling unsettled.


I hope that next year brings better times as I would love to have an easier time and be able to appreciate more without the worry. It would be good to arrange some time to go see my friends and family as well.

Last weekend, I went to The Chesterfield Mayfair to try its Winter Wonderland afternoon tea. The hotel is located in Mayfair and is a short walk to shops and to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Expectations were high as The Chesterfield Mayfair is one of the best places in London to have afternoon tea as it has won awards from The Tea Guild three years in a row. It did not disappoint. 


I was shown to the Conservatory to have afternoon tea, which was the perfect setting and decorated for winter (see photographs below).



To start, each Winter Wonderland afternoon tea came with a shot of mulled wine. The mulled wine complemented the winter theme to get us in the mood for the festive tea.



I ordered champagne with the afternoon tea, and I had the choice between brut, rosé, and Blanc De Blancs. I selected the Blanc De Blancs option, which is a sweeter white champagne.


The tea that I selected is a seasonal option for the Winter Wonderland afternoon tea and is known as the Chesterfield Christmas Blend. The tea was described as black Assam tea blended with ginger, orange peel, cloves, and herbs. The tea was delicious with a subtle 'festive' flavour.


After the tea was brought, the three-tier afternoon tea stand arrived with the sandwiches, scones, and pastries. 


Sandwiches includes roast turkey with cranberry mayonnaise on white bread, honey roast ham with cheese and tomato on onion bread, Scottish smoked salmon with cream cheese on brown bread, free range egg mayonnaise and watercress on basil bread and cucumber and cream cheese on white bread. The hotel do cater for dietary requirements. (I dislike mayonnaise, so my sandwiches came without it.) I particularly loved the onion bread.


The scones with the Winter Wonderland afternoon tea were cranberry scones, and these were served with strawberry jam and clotted cream. The scones were delicious.



Last but not least, it was time to try the pastries. The pastries included mulled wine macaroon, Christmas tree chocolate pot, cranberry and vanilla cheesecake, snowman ginger cupcake, a fruit tart, and slice of chocolate Yule log.


The mulled wine macaroon was particularly delicious and perhaps my favourite pastry with this afternoon tea. The texture and flavour of the macaroon was perfect and I'd suggest that the quality of the macaroon was equal to the best macaroon brands based in London. 

The Christmas tree chocolate pot was delicious and the tree shortbread went well with the chocolate mousse (mixed with chocolate sponge). I loved the creativity of this pastry served in a little plant pot.


The snowman cupcake had a light ginger flavour with cream cheese icing and a white chocolate snowman on top.


The fruit tart had a sweet and tangy taste, topped with cranberries, a raspberry, a strawberry, and a blackberry. This was delicious, and I must admit that fruit tarts with afternoon tea are usually my favourite pastry. This did not disappoint and I loved the tangy and sweet combination.


I am not a fan of cheesecake, but this was a subtle cheesecake with cranberry flavour and a biscuit base. I think cheesecake lovers would appreciate this.


The chocolate Yule log was my least favourite of the pastries. Thankfully, the chocolate was not too rich or over-powering. I think that I simply preferred the other pastries.


At the end of my afternoon tea, I got to pick a golden envelope. This means that I will be back for afternoon tea at some point next year so that I can see what I won. Each visitor who has the Winter Wonderland afternoon tea has the chance to pick a golden envelope which may reveal free champagne, a discount, or a hotel room. However, the envelope must remain sealed until the next visit before the end of September next year.

For those interested in Winter Wonderland afternoon tea at The Chesterfield Mayfair, visit before the 4th of January. Afternoon tea can be enjoyed between 1:00 and 5:30 daily. For more information, visit the website at

Christmas Tree by Damien Hirst

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This year, the Cannaught hotel in Mayfair has presented a Christmas tree designed by Damien Hirst. The tree is decorated with various medical supplies from pills to syringes to scissors to medicine bottles. The items on the tree are moulded into Christmas imagery; the strings of pills become snowmen or are decorated with the word 'Noel'. The star on top of the tree is created with scapels placed together in a star shape. 


According to Hirst, he used medical supplies to decorate the Christmas tree to symbolise the hope that science and medicine can give to the world (1). Additional photographs of the tree and close-ups of the decorations are pictured below.





1) Hirst, Damien. Cannaught Christmas Tree. [December 21, 2015]

London's Christmas Lights & Windows 2015

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It's Christmas season again in London. It feels like we have already just had Christmas because the time has gone quickly. I've had such a busy year with moving house and a working month-to-month on a busy job with a lot of overtime. A few weekends ago, I had a quick wander across London to see some of London's Christmas lights and window displays. I love walking around the city at this time of the year to see the decorations.

Cartier in Mayfair

The journey begins at Oxford Street where the same lights as last year have been used (covered here). These lights are gold and silver orbs ranging in different sizes, and they do look magical. The John Lewis and Debenhams department stores also have the same lights. (I did not take photographs of the John Lewis window display this year as I felt that it was not 'special'.)


Boots on Oxford Street is always decorated, but this year's lights are new and colourful, featuring stars and baubles and wishing shoppers a "Merry Christmas".


St. Christopher's Place is a small area of shopping just north from Oxford Street. This year's lights are large disco balls and gianty red and white baubles with snowflakes. I thought that these were very pretty.


Here's another giant bauble light.


Selfridges rarely disappoints, and this year's window and lights were themed around the moon. Christmas this year is the same day as the full moon, so this has proved popular in advertising. John Lewis' Christmas advertisement this year featured the man on the moon, which also supported AgeUK charity for older people. Selfridge's included a lit-up moon above the entrance, and the light projected onto it was animated.


The highlight of the window displays this year included the 'Star Wars' theme with the costume that Rey (Daisy Ridley) wore and a life-size replica of the droid BB-8. This is near the shop entrance. 


The other windows featured scenes inspired by the planets, the zodiac symbols, and mythology (as mythology does tie in to the planets). I am sure that I picked out Mars and Apollo. The side windows to the store featured facts about space, the moon, and so on. The large corner window on the western side featured a model of our solar system. However, I felt that the windows were slightly underwhelming this year.


Across the street, Marks and Spencer's boasted new lights. These are projected onto the building and animated with different colours, featuring a large bow on the front of the building. 


Meanwhile, Liberty department store featured a little bit of nostalgia. Their window displays are always packed but never themed as much.


Regent Street has new lights this year, and I have covered them here.


Carnaby Street always feature new lights. I covered their party lights here. They are nearly always my favourite area to look at for Christmas lights in London. 


In addition, be sure to check out the giant plug on the wall of one of the buildings as it is always decorated too.


Next up is Choccywoccydoodah, who always do chocolate sculptures for Christmas. Their small shop off Carnaby Street is always packed.


Mayfair's decorations were the same this year with the blue arches on South Molton Street and the feathery lights on New Bond Street. The Stella McCarntney shop also used the same bright lights, but Cartier's was different (see the top of the post).


Many of the shops in Mayfair have outside decorations trimmed with pine.


Fortnum and Mason's Christmas window displays were gorgeous, featuring many of their items. This looked like the perfect items for Christmas.


I loved the gold Christmas pudding and the pudding with the silver and gold almonds pouring out of it.




Their shop from was dressed with the standard Christmas trees.


The Strand also had Christmas lights down it this year.


Last but not least, Covent Garden retained its giant silver reindeer that was used in previous years. It also retained the Lego sculpture; this year's was Santa's Express train. You can read my post about it here.


The mistletoe lights in Covent Garden market are new this year, and you can read my post about them here.


I have included some posts from previous years with Christmas lights and window displays:

2012 Christmas lights and window displays

2012 Marmite Oxford Street lights

2013 Christmas lights and Eros snowglobe

2013 Christmas lights

2014 London's Christmas lights 

This year, Regent Street in London has new Christmas lights, and they are stunning ones this year when compared to the rather dull set used in the past three or four years. The new Christmas lights are inspired by watchmaking and photographs, which bring back Regent Street's heritage. Cinematography was first shown on Regent Street in 1896 while Regent Street was known for its watches.


The Christmas lights are designed by ACT Lighting Design, and they are known as "Timeless Elegance". The lights depict unassembled giant gears and cogs hanging between the buildings on the street. Proected animated imagery are cast onto them to give the effect of movement.


View more photographs of the Christmas lights below.





In advance, I will just add that this post does NOT contain any spoilers. In my previous posts (Secret Cinema Star Wars, Secret Cinema Cantina, and Star Wars Street Art), I have discussed that I am a big fan of the original films and that I was looking forward to seeing the new film when it is released. Well, midnight on Thursday (Wednesday night) was the earliest that audiences in the UK could see it, so I went to see it. Before the film, we turned up at Little FEAST in Shepherd's Bush Market for street food.


Little Feast in Shepherd's Bush Market has set up a winter street food market and bar with heated seating. The atmosphere is described as a Scandanavian forest with pine trees, lights, and wooden tables and seating. It is open daily from Wednesdays to Sundays until the 23rd of December. I headed for the bar and received two of the winter warmer cocktails, which included mulled apple juice and spices and a shot of rum.


I had a few options to try, but my choice option (Redneck Smokehouse) was closed when I visited. I opted for Poptata, street food in the shape of chips with various toppings. I had the cheddar grated on top and rosemary. The chips were delicious. For the main, I had a turkey burger from 'Cheeky Burger', which was not really to my liking. This was finished off with waffles from 'Butter & Scotch'. I had the Canadian waffle, which was served with syrup (but it tasted like carmel instead of Canadian maple syrup) and whipped cream. 


After I finished up, I headed over to the Wetherspoons bar next to the cinema. Little Feast closes at 11:00, and I had about an hour before the film, which I knew thirty minutes of the time would be spent queueing for popcorn and drinks. We bought a box of popcorn and a drink and two novelty 'Star Wars' straws, featuring the new droid character BB-8.

I will not spoil the film, but I left the cinema feeling underwhelmed by the experience of the film for a variety of reasons. Yes, there were some good points to the film, and I think that they are building up to better stories going forward with a range of new characters. I cannot say anything other than that, and I did visit with an open mind after learning my disappointment after seeing "The Phantom Menance" nearly fifteen years ago. Overall, the film has just been released and is still generating interest and hype, and the majority of reviews from others have been positive. Let's see what people think in a few years and after the hype has died down.

Christmas Carols at Southwark Cathedral

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On Tuesday, I was invited along to a Christmas carols concert at Southwark Cathedral. This was sponsored by 'Feed the Minds' charity who support education for disadvantaged people so that they can better their lives and the lives of others. The service included a stop off at Bread Ahead Bakery in Borough Market, next door to the cathedral, for mulled wine and mince pies.


On our walk across London Bridge, I noticed that the Shard was lit up for the holiday season. It would transform from solid white to solid green to solid red and then to white, red, and green at once.


The first stop off was Bread Ahead bakery, a favourite of Borough Market. We had mulled wine and mince pies while we waited for the carols.




The service was packed, so we had to get one of the seats on the transcept for a side-on view, which meant that I could not take any photographs during the service as there was not anything that interesting to photograph, and the carollers formed a semi-circle and had their backs to the transcepts. 


The carollers sang some songs on their own, and we were also encouraged to sing other songs. The songs included a mix of Christmas hymns from other countries as well as religious and traditional favourites such as "We Three Kings", "O Come All Ye Faithfull", "The Holly and the Ivy", and "Hard the Herald Angels Sing" before we finished with the favourite and catchy tune of "Jingle Bells".


At the end, we were each presented with a beautiful ornament hand-made by South Indian women that had been supported by the 'Feed the Minds' charity. The ornaments were made with palm leaves and came in different shapes and sizes and colours. They reminded me of bows.


I have never been to a Christmas carol service in London before, but it is a fun way to celebrate the Christmas season and see the cathedral decorated for Christmas. Many charity carol events and carol-singing in general can be enjoyed at several cathedrals across London over the Christmas season.

Etsy Artists: Judy Kaufmann & Laura Frisk

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Today's Etsy shop finds of inspiration are from Judy Kaufmann and Laura Frisk. First up is Judy Kaufmann, who was born in Chili but is now based on Spain. She creates designs with stylised figures and buildings and tends to use bright colour. Some of her work is below. 



You can find out more about her and see more work at or buy something in her Etsy shop

Next up is Laura Frisk, who creates pillows in the shape of animals and plants using bright colours.


More information and work can be seen here:

Where to See Christmas Lights in London

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This post focuses on a walk around west London in order to see Christmas lights, windows, and decorations. Many of the displays and decorations change each year, so it's always worth a walk around to see the new decorations. The walk that I normally follow is described in this post, and the walk can be completed in an afternoon. The best time is to plan to be around Oxford or Regent Street at 3:30-4:00 as London starts to get dark at about 3:30.


Factor in a little extra time for doing a little bit of Christmas shopping or grabbing a hot chocolate and mince pie. This walk assumes that you start at Covent Garden and finishes around Green Park. I've captured a map from Google and plotted the route using red lines.


I started just before 2:00 in the afternoon at Covent Garden, although you could start at Waterloo train station and go to the Christmas shops along the Thames before walking across Hungerford foot bridge to Covent Garden. Each year, South Bank on the southern bank of the Thames (above Waterloo Station) hosts a small Christmas market and food market. There are also amusement rides and entertainment in the evenings.


Back to Covent Garden. I recommend seeing Covent Garden when it's still light as many of the decorations are outside. The interior of the hall does contain decorations as well, but it's dark enough to still see any lights. Covent Garden is easy to access from a number of tube stations; we walked from Holborn (Central and Piccadilly lines), but I've typically used Charing Cross station (Northern line) before we moved. There's also Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line).


Covent Garden (stop 1) has many decorations to see. Look out for the large Christmas tree, the decorations inside the covered market hall, the annual Lego sculpture, a giant reindeer decoration, and real reindeer. The real reindeer are only available to see at certain times.


An optional diversion is to walk north of the market into the area known as Seven Dials (stop 2). To get there, start at Covent Garden north and go from James Street to Neal Street. There are a lot of smaller shops along here, including a nice shop selling teas and shops selling make-up and skincare products. At the top of the street is London's largest science fiction/fantasy/board game shop, Forbidden Planet. Then head back down Monmouth Street to the roundabout where the seven streets meet, giving the area its name. The area always has its own Christmas lights. 


When you have returned to the top of Covent Garden, turn right to King's Street. At the end, turn right up Garrick Street. You'll notice a shop selling sweets from America and other countries across the road and a small alleyway with the pub "Lamb and Flag" at the end and virtually across from it. Follow this road to the end, then wait to cross on Cranbourn Street. (You'll see a statue here dedicated to Agatha Christie). In front of you is Leicester Square underground station. 


Continue walking past the station and into Leicester Square (stop 3) where the cinemas are located. You will also see the square itself, and a Christmas market with a few games is normally set up inside along with a ferris wheel. Some decorations are normally hung from the trees here.


From Leicester Square, make your way through the square to the far side and down the small alley known as St. Martin's Road, which leads to Trafalgar Square (stop 4). Trafalgar Square is the location of London's largest Christmas tree. Each year since 1947 as a recognition of support during the second World War, Norway present England with a Norwegian Spruce Christmas tree. Trafalgar Square is home to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. The church in the square, known as St. Martin-in-the-Fields, is charming and does have Christmas carol singing on select evenings. After seeing the Christmas tree, head back to Leicester Square.


From Leicester Square, walk to Piccadilly Circus (stop 5). The directions are to turn left and walk past the Swiss glockenspiel (clock), which chimes and plays at certain times in the day. Keep walking past the large fountain featuring raising horses, which is known as the Four Bronze Horses of Helios. On the opposite side of the road is the large building Trocadero which was a fabulous multi-floor gaming building in its glory days but was shut a couple of years ago and is now virtually empty. There are lights along this small stretch of road as well, and they are giant snowflakes (at the time of writing this).


Straight ahead is Piccadilly Circus and the statue in the middle, known as Eros (cupid). You will also see the radiant glow from the advertising board next to it. Typically, the statue of Eros features decorations. In a previous year, it was a snow globe. Last year, it was a pile of gifts. This year, I did not notice any decorations, but they may not be up yet.


Once you have seen all that you want to see in Piccadilly Circus, the next stop is to locate Piccadilly Street (stop 6), which is one of the streets from the Piccadilly Circus roundabout. Regent Street is the busy street with the golden-coloured rows of buildings that curve around to the right. Piccadilly Street is the street immediately to the left. Cross the road to head down this street.


Piccadilly Street has several nice shops and cafes along it. The first stop is St. James Piccadilly Church (stop 7) where many market stalls are set up. Feel free to have a quick browse here for Christmas gifts. You will then pass the BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television) building, Princes Arcade (a small covered street for botique shops), and an excellent book store known as Hatchards. Next to the bookstore is Fortnum & Mason (stop 8) department store. Look at the window displays, which are always amazing during Christmas. Also, feel free to step inside to the food hall and other areas for gifts. The Parlour on the first floor is excellent if you wish to take refreshments, ice cream, or afternoon tea. (You can read my review of their afternoon tea here.)


If you are lucky to arrive at the right time, you may see the giant clock display on the fascade of Fortnum & Mason. The chimes play and the figures move on the hour. After leaving the department store, cross the road to the other side. In front of you is the Royal Academy of Arts. Next to it is Burlington Arcade (stop 9), and it is worth a view as it is decorated for the holidays. Feel free to buy macaroons at Laudree, which is at the entrance of Burlington Arcade. When you're done, turn around and head back the way you came but do not cross the road.

Once you have returned to Piccadilly Circus, turn to the left without crossing the road. Regent Street (stop 10) is in front of you. This is a busy street with large buildings that curve to the right. Excellent photographs can be taken down the street from near where the underground entrance is located. This street always has pleasant lights, and there are new lights this year.


Walk down Regent Street to stop in some of the shops. In my view, the right-hand side of the road is probably the best bet, but both sides of the road offer good views and shops. Hamley's Toy store, Molton Brown, Ferrari, and a large range of clothing stores are available. Hamley's Toy Store (stop 10) is located on the right-hand side of the road and is always popular at this time of year with visitors and its window displays. 


Keep your eye open for a small road on the right, just past Hamley's, known as Foubert's Place. Turn onto this road and walk down a couple of blocks to Carnaby Street (stop 11). This is a street not to miss. The Christmas lights will be instantly noticeable, and I love Carnaby Street's Christmas lights. They are different every year; this year's are giant pink party disco balls. Carnaby Street is worth a look around with some nice shops and restaurants in Kingly Court, which is a right turn onto Carnaby Street.

If you have been to Kingly Court, turn left and walk up Carnaby Street. Another gem is Choccywoccydoodah (stop 12). To get there, turn right on Foubert's Place (opposite the direction of Regent Street) and about two blocks and on the corner is Choccywoccydoodah. The chocolate shop is normally popular, but the gift shop at the front has many amazing chocolate sculptures and cakes. This may be a good idea for gifts. They also have a small cafe upstairs, but there's always been a queue when I've walked past.


Once you have visited Choccywoccydoodah, walk back the way you came to Carnaby Street. Turn right, which is actually Great Marlborough Street. Here you will find the back of Liberty department store (stop 13) and its chocolate shop. It's worth a visit to the department store, but the store is a little difficult to navigate. Before entering the store, turn your back to it and take some photographs of the Carnaby Christmas lights. This is my favouirte angle to view the lights.


Make sure you view the front of Liberty department store in order to see the window displays and the decorations on the front of the timber-framed building. They normally have Christmas trees and lights. The best view is to cross the road onto Argyll Street.


When you've finished at Liberty, head up Argyll Street until you come to Oxford Street (stop 14). You can turn to the right and walk up Oxford Street to look in shops if you wish, but the tour continues with turning left toward the underground station. This is probably London's busiest area, so head past Oxford Circus underground and cross the road. You should be at the section of Regent Street and Oxford Street now, and this area on the south side of Oxford Street and right-hand side of Regent Street (looking south) is good for photographs.

Oxford Street does have different lights some years, but the past couple of years have seen fold and pale blue orb lights. Continue to walk down the street and also check out the lights on Debenham's, John Lewis, Boots, House of Fraser, and other shops. Oxford Street has so much to offer in terms of shopping. The windows are worth checking out too.


Before going too far up Oxford Street, make sure you do not miss St. Christopher's Place (stop 15). This little alley is hard to see if you do not know it is there. It's located next to The Body Shop, and look out for the angel with wings holding an orb high up (pictured below). This fellow is always in place, and the alley is so small that only one person can enter or leave at a time. Don't worry, though, as the street does open up once you enter from Oxford Street. Glance down the street and you will see Christmas decorations and a small parade of shops.


After you have looked around, head back to Oxford Street and turn right. Soon, you will come to Selfridges department store (stop 16). Have a look at the window displays along the front of the building. The largest and most-featured display is the last window on the corner of the building. Marks & Spencer's across the road and next to Selfridges also has nice Christmas lights. Make sure that you cross the road to get some photographs as the Christmas lights and decorations are above eye level upon Selfridge's. Make sure that you have a look inside and stop in the food hall if you wish.


Once you've looked in Selfridge's, cross the road to be on the opposite side on Oxford Street and walk up to Bond Street station. Walk just past the station to find South Molton Street (stop 17), which is covered with Christmas lights and contains a pedestrianised shopping street. Continue walking down this street to the end where you come to Brook Street. Turn left and then turn right onto New Bond Street (stop 18)


You are now heading into Mayfair (stop 19), and the shops and window displays with high fashion brands are beautiful along here. The street is also covered in Christmas lights. Stella McCartney's shop normally had a lot of lights, and feel free to walk around around this area. For Berkeley Square, turn left onto Bruton Place.  

Continue walking south on New Bond Street where it eventually joins Piccadilly Street. You will be near the Ritz and Green Park station if you cross the road and turn right. 

This covers my Christmas lights and decorations tour of west London, but I have not covered everything. Winter Wonderland, Harrods and Knightsbridge also have nice lights and displays.


If you do not mind the walk, continue past Green Park station until you come to Hyde Park Corner Station, right after Green Park on the left hand side. Cross over the road to the entrance to the station and you will soon see lights and the Christmas market for Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. This is always busy, especially at the weekends, and you can spend almost a day here on its own. There's a Christmas Market, food and drink stalls, rides, ice skating, and many other attractions. Last year, I went to the Ice Sculptures and Ice Bar.


To see Harrods (for the windows), continue walking past Hyde Park station, but make sure you cross the road as the road forks here and you'll need to turn off at Brompton Road after Knightsbridge station. 

Harrods and Winter Wonderland are both on the Piccadilly line if you prefer to get the tube from Green Park station.

Let me know what you thought of the London Christmas lights this year.

After visiting Bath Christmas Markets, I had most of a day to spend in Bristol to do some shopping and watch  the latest and last film from The Hunger Games books. I stayed in a hotel in central Bristol, but I still didn't get to wander around all of the city as there just was not enough time to fit in everything.


We arrived in the evening and headed out for a night showing of the film at Cabot Circus. I took some photographs of the Christmas lights and a small Christmas market in Bristol on our way to the cinema.



They were also selling the chocolate tools and other chocolates that I saw when I went to Nuremberg Christmas Markets last year, which I covered here.


The next morning, we headed straight to St. Nicholas Market off of Corn Street. This covered market has a little bit of everything, and this was not my first visit to the markets. 


There's a little bit of everything, and one of the highlights is the food markets toward the back. These can get quite popular with locals. A photograph of some of the food stalls is below, and the food smelled so good. We would have had something if we had not had a buffet breakfast at the hotel.



I bought a Himalayan salt lamp at St. Nicks. I've actually been wanting to buy one of these salt lamps for a long time as I love the glow produced from them, and they are also meant to improve air quality. If they do live up to the hype, then that's a bonus, but I love the calming pinkish-orange glow.


We walked around the shops at the Galleries mall, which is a shopping centre that I've known in Bristol for so many years now. This is the cheaper part of Bristol, but there's still quite a few shops to visit here that are worth visiting. On the other side of the Galleries is Broadmead, where the Christmas market is located, and Cabot Circus. This whole area of Bristol has been re-generated in the past few years.


After visiting some of the shops, the rain started to pour. Before leaving Bristol, we decided to get some food. I wanted to visit Zero Degrees microbrewery and restaurant. It's hard to believe, but my last visit was in late 2004 or early 2005, so that was ten years ago. I last visited with colleagues when I worked in Bristol, and since then, they have expanded and opened a branch in Reading before opening others in Cardiff and Blackheath. Pizzas were always on the menu, and the pizza 'flavours' were a little unique in those days.


We walked up Christmas Steps in order to get to ZeroDegrees.


First, we ordered garlic doughballs to start. These were delicious and we had garlic butter and oil to dip them in.


We also ordered cocktails. I cannot remember what we had now as it's taken me a couple of weeks to write this post (and so much has happened since then), but they tasted nice. Of course, this place started as a Microbrewery and was probably a trend-setter in this genre of restaurant. I don't drink beer or ale, but for those who do, I recommend ordering this. They also offer flavoured beers.


The pizza 'flavours' have gotten more traditional and less wacky, and there's more on the menu than I remembered from ten years ago. I ordered the "American Hot", which seems to be a standard of my favourite pizza, which was always the toppings I orded in America (minus onions): pepperoni and jalepeno. I love onion with this too, and do bear in mind that the hot peppers are chilis and not jalepenos.


The bloke is not a fan of pizza, so he ordered sausage and mash.


I loved the lights on the ceiling, which reminded me of marbles. We also had an amazing view from our seat which looked down Christmas Steps.


I had a nice time in Bristol but wished that I had gotten to do a little more wandering around some of the areas that I did not get to. Cribbs Causeway would have also been nice to get to. ZeroDegrees is okay for a venue, but the food was not as good as other restaurants.

The day after Thanksgiving, I headed out early to drive to Bath to go to the Christmas market and to have lunch at The Pump Rooms. Each year for a couple of weeks from the end of November, the Christmas Market comes to Bath. I lived in Bath for over two years and I remembered that I enjoyed walking through the market on my way back to my flat. This was ten years ago now, and in those days, it was not quite as busy as it is today. There are a few more stalls compared to previous years, and I used to make a visit each year after I moved away from Bath. However, I had not been for the past two years and the last time I visited the market was in 2011. 


The market was busy, of course, but this was not the busiest I've seen it. Saturdays are too busy, and I remember how difficult it was to navigate the markets close to ten years ago on the weekends. For those planning to go, remember to visit during the week and note that the market is quieter in the morning.


I used to park in Royal Victoria Park, which used to be free and behind where my flat was. Now, they charge for parking there, so I use the parking next to the park and the mini golf. This year was the first year that I have also noticed an ice rink come to Bath. (It's located in Royal Victoria Park opposite the Royal Crescent in case you're curious.)


We started at the lower part of the markets and walked our way up, trying free samples of cheeses, chutneys, jams, brownies, and alcohol. I bought some marshmallow Vodka, cheese, brownies, fudge, and macaroons. I always end up buying cheeses from the company (pictured below), and they make a good mature cheddar.


A nice fudge shop is located just outside the cathedral, and Bath is also famous for its 'Bath buns'. (Despite living in Bath for over two years, I've actually never tried one!) 


Sally Lunn's is a cafe that serves the traditional bun, and it's very much a touristy attraction, but I've never been there. I keep telling myself to visit next time I go to Bath, but I have not got around to it yet.



This year, they were also selling mulled wine or hot apple drink at the market. Had I not eaten before, I would have bought some of it.





For the first time, we also noticed the chocolate tools and other chocolate items for sale at a Christmas Market in the UK. The first time that I saw these was in Germany last year when we went to Nuremburg Christms Market, which I covered here. These are very much a novelty item. In Nuremburg, I bought a chocolate wrench, but it ended up breaking in my luggage on the way back to England.


We also bought a wreath, but it was a Christmas wreath we bought and not one of the pretty ones pictured below, but these were so tempting to buy as well.


Every so often, a group of carol-singers would sing outside Bath Abbey.








We had lunch in The Pump Rooms. I'd reserved a table for us as this venue was another venue I had never visited despite living in Bath for over two years. The Pump Rooms were mentioned in Jane Austen's books as she was a frequent visitor to them when she visited Bath. Also, they are next to the Roman Baths attraction, which I have visited a couple of times. The waters are meant to contain healing properties and made this spa town famous with Victorians and also with people seeking treatment in its hospitals that used the water.


To start, I ordered one of the Christmas cocktails, a Christmas martini. It was meant to come with a mini mince pie, but it did not.


We had the set Christmas menu, which we could have as a two or a three-course option. To start, I had the leek and potato soup which came with a cheddar and thyme muffin and croutons. 


The bloke had game pâté which was served with grilled sourdough and chutney.


I had free range turkey, served with cranberry sauce and a Bath sausage while the bloke had the braised brisket of beef with mushrooms and bacon.


Our mains were served with carrots, cabbage, and roast potato. I admit that after having turkey the day before for Thanksgiving, I was a little 'turkied' out! It's not my favourite meat as it can be a little bit dry and not have that much of a taste.


The bloke skipped dessert, but I tried the chocolate bread and butter pudding.


The meal was finished off with tea of coffee, and we should have had a mini mince pie again, but these were not provided for some reason. I cannot complain about the food at The Pump Rooms because it was good, but the service was non-existent. Staff were friendly, but we were just 'left' and didn't get to order other items, plus some of the items were forgotten. Staff should be more attentive to detail and attentive to guests. I do understand that The Pump Rooms are popular, and when we visited, there was a queue of people waiting to get a table as some of the guests are "walk-in". A lot of people were having afternoon tea when we visited at lunch (we had a 13:00 booking), but others were also having lunch.


After our meal, we continued to look around the shops and I noted what had changed between my last visit in 2011. I noticed that a lot of the shops that I loved that were toward the top of the town had moved down at the bottom, closer to the train station, which used to be the 'cheap' end until it was re-developed. And the cafe in Milsom Place where I would sometimes have a nice breakfast was closed and being built on while a couple of new chain restaurants were now located next door and around the corner.




After we were done browsing around, we went to Bristol to stay the night. Bath Christmas Market is my favourite market in England because the stalls are unique and sell many items that cannot be bought elsewhere. Some items are made locally, and there are over 170 stalls to look at. The market really does have something for everyone and it's unique items unlike some Christmas markets where they tend to all sell the same type of item. The Christmas market is only running until Sunday the 13th of December, so be quick. Otherwise, you can always plan ahead and visit next year.

Carnaby Street's Christmas Lights 2015

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Carnaby Street's Christmas lights have always been my favourite Christmas lights in London because they are creative and they change to a new theme each year. In the past, they have been robins, Santa, and Rolling Stones (rock and roll). This year's theme is "Christmas Party" and transforms Carnaby Street into a giant dance floor complete with massive pink disco balls and stars. Early each November, Carnaby Street hosts its own shopping party with discounts at the businesses in the area, and this coincides with its Christmas lights switch-on. These lights should not be missed.







Head over to Carnaby Street to see the Christmas lights before they are taken down in early January.

Chin Chin Labs Nitrogen Ice Cream in Camden

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I've been wanting to try ice cream at Chin Chin Labs in Camden for awhile now, but I don't often visit this area of London. Earlier in the day as I was wandering around the market stalls, I noticed that they were busy and all of the seats inside the small cafe were taken, but I managed to nab a seat later. I also had the place to myself; the bloke was with me, but he opted out of ice cream. To be fair, the weather was extremely cold and we'd been walking around the market earlier.


Chin Chin Labs' ice cream is unique in that it is made using nitrogen. When the product is cooled using the nitrogen, steam can be seen. I was not able to get a photograph of this process, but the mixers and nitrogen vats can be seen in the image below. This unique method of using nitrogen for the ice cream has helped to market the concept, so it is no wonder that they are so busy. Also, the miniature branded chocolate that came with the ice cream sandwich is perfect for spreading the brand on social media websites like Instagram.


I opted for the brownie sandwich as I noticed it was the best-selling item on the menu. I was also tempted by the S'mores sandwich. The flavour of ice cream can also be selected when ordering a sandwich, but I just opted for the standard vanilla. I will state that the brownie sandwich was delicious. 

Toppings can also be purchased for the ice cream as well as syrup, but I did not splash out this time. Some toppings can even be purchased to take away.

I would return to Chin Chin Labs to try other flavours of ice cream and opt for additional toppings. I believe that the selection of flavours changes from time to time, so best have a look at their website. 

The bloke and I recently had an evening out to see the play "Sunny Afternoon", which was about the 1960s band the Kinks. Before the play, we enjoyed hot winter cocktails at the Hyatt Regency Churchillian above Oxford Street. The Churchill Bar at the hotel is transformed into Narnia from 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' with Narnia and winter-themed cocktails for the coming weeks. The cocktails were developed in conjunction with chocolatier Green & Blacks.


I reserved a table and was placed in the bar, but I was expecting to be placed outside on the terrace with the furry throws and hot water bottles (see the below photograph that I managed to snap from outside the building).


However, we were placed in the hotel near the warm fire, which was not exactly the atmosphere that I was looking for to have the warm winter cocktails. Nonetheless, we were seated and we flipped through the drinks menu to choose from the list of Narnia-themed cocktails. The menu also featured various quoatations from Churchill and little drawings of cats and dogs. We were provided with olives and breadsticks.


Some of the alcoholic drinks in the selection on offer contained small snacks, such as Turkish delight. Churchill would call these small snacks that accompanied alcohol "num nums".


Drinks on the winter cocktail menu were called Aslan's Roar, Always Winter/Never Christmas, Beaver's Brew, the Toffee Tree, Edmund's Temptation, and the White Witch. Each cocktail is made with a different flavour of Green & Black's chocolate from lemon to dark to toffee to white.


I had The Toffee Tree cocktail, which featured the toffee that character Polly Plummer left behind that grew into a tree. The drink came with a silver apple and small piece of fudge, which was delicious. The cocktail's glass rim was covered with green salt, and the treats and cocktail were served up on a wooden board that had an outline of the shape of a tree. Toffee chocolate, Somerset Cider Brandy, rice milk, and Antica Formula were used for the cocktail.


The bloke ordered The White Witch cocktail, and it was made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, milk, double cream, brown sugar, chili, ginger, and white chocolate. This was topped with foam and chocolate swirl.


After we finished our cocktails, we walked down through Mayfair (and caught a good glimpse of Christmas lights) to get to Harold Pinter theatre not far from Trafalgar Square. The Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon" was good fun. I won't spoil it, but the play is a musical and based on the life of the band the Kinks, featuring primarily on Ray Davies. The songs from the band were used to demonstrate key events in the band's history.


We had a table seat at the front and off to the left side of the stage, and we used an app to order a snack box for the intermission. We thought that the play was quite good, but the seats were not the most comfortable. A couple of songs were played in full at the end. I love a lot of songs by the Kinks as they have always been one of the bands I most admire from the 1960s, but I would say that "Waterloo Sunset" is probably my favourite of theirs. The play received an Olivier Award for 'best new musical' earlier this year. It is currently booking until April 2016.

Christmas Mistletoe in Covent Garden

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This year, Covent Garden market in London have new Christmas lights. They have replaced the red orbs/ornaments (giant 'baubles' to my UK readers or 'bulbs' to my USA readers) that have been in use for the past few years and put up beautiful white orbs that look like mistletoe and mistletoe berries. I prefer these lights to their last ones, and the lights are already popular with visitors and social media. Giant silver orbs complete the Christmas theme.


In addition to the main halls of the covered markets covered in mistletoe, the exterior of the market hall has been covered with more Christmas decorations this year in the form of mistletoe. More photographs of the lights and decorations are below.





The interior walkways of the covered market retain the imitation pine branches and white- blue twinkling lights. This remains the same as it has been over the past few years.


Window-shopping at Covent Garden during the holidays reveals beautiful decorations, winter clothes, and other gifts in the windows.


Covent Garden also has its very own Christmas tree, wrapped in a large red bow. The gift tag on the Christmas tree is different this year.


The metallic reindeer has also returned to Covent Garden this year. Of course, there's also the Lego sculpture that makes an appearance every Christmas. This year is Santa's Express steam train and you can read more about it here.


Real reindeer also make their way to Covent Garden each year to entertain smaller guests, and they can usually be seen on the weekends. Viewing Covent Garden in the daylight is preferable to waiting until late in order to see what it has to offer, and it does not need to be dark in order to see the decorations on display inside the covered market hall. In addition, there's plenty of shops and restaurants or cafes in this area to make the most of your visit.

A couple of weekends ago, I noticed a wall on Bacon Street was being prepared for a new mural. Eager to discover what it was, I headed back last weekend and saw the finished piece by street artist JimmyC, an artist that I originally covered here. The artist painted a mural off Brick Lane at the beginning of the year featuring a local family on the side of their shop, Joe's Kid.


The new mural features the face of another resident of Shoreditch on Bacon Street. It's painted next to the Charlie Burns mural by Ben Slow, another resident. This mural shows Mick. 


The mural shows buildings coming out of Mick's hat, and according to JimmyC, this shows that the area of Shoreditch is changing forever due to ongoing gentification around Bacon and Sclater Street. The artist also anticipated that the buildings would be boarded up for removal in a couple of weeks, so do see these wonderful murals before they are lost forever. The street has hosted several new murals in the past few weeks, so a visit will be worthwhile.

More Mushrooms by Nagel

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Since my original post about street artist Christiaan Nagel (here), who adds mushrooms to the streets, I have discovered a few more of his mushrooms. He has also recently visited London to collaborate on a mural with Pang (covered here) off of Brick Lane. I'm happy to see more mushrooms appearing in London as quite a few of them have since broken apart and are missing. 


The collaboration with artist Pang is titled 'The Death of Ego'. It is a mixed-media artwork made for PITCHed and Matched, a group who have published mugshots of artists with their work to give street art a higher representation instead of viewing it as criminal damage. The artwork showcases both styles and media of artwork. Pang uses black and white illustrations for her other-worldly figures while Nagel uses the foam and fiberglass to create the mushrooms and colour-in some of the detail in the work. 




Pang even incorporated the masks that Gregos (covered here) pasted on the wall awhile ago into the work.


For more photographs of mushrooms across London, see below.

















Hopefully we will see more mushrooms appear on London's buildings.

Bacon Street, off of Brick Lane, has been recently painted with the work of several artists this summer. It's been a little while since the street was painted with anything new, so it was a nice surprise for me to walk past the street and discover several new murals. Saki & B is one of the artists who have contributed to a lot of recent work on this street. However, Amara Por Dios and Dscreet have also contributed.

Amara Por Dios

The last part of the street where the shutters are for a shop selling used items (furniture, antiques, and so on), Saki & B and Zina collaborated on a mural and Amara Por Dios and Flesh contributed on another. 

Saki & Zina; Flesh and Amara Por Dios



Dscreet normally paint on the wall where their current work is located. This is a tribute to The Doors' song "Break on Through". The artist has used lyrics in some of his past murals.


Saki & B. (covered here) painted a two-panel mural with her female figures. The figures are normally part animal, and these have fish tails. Her work is normally witty and features female figures, often with alien or animal appendages and often partially nude.


Saki & B

On a wall close is a woman figure in a butcher's outfit with a knife, and this is Saki & B.'s third mural on the wall. This woman appears to be sneaking up on ROA's pig mural, which has been on the wall for many years (covered here). 

ROA and Saki & B.

These new additions to the Bacon Street walls are worth a visit before they disappear, and my favourite is the butcher above.

Paradise Row has been getting a lot of street art attention recently, and several really excellent pieces have been sprayed and pasted up here in the past few weeks. I recently covered the new mural by Stinkfish and Mazatl, but I've taken a walk down the street from Bethnal Green tube station to capture more photographs. This post features work by Boe & Irony, JimmyC, Cheese London, Cardboard Skeleton, Trust Icon, Airbourne Mark, and more.


The first piece, a giant portrait of a pigeon, was painted by Boe & Irony. Sadly, this impressive mural was replaced fairly recently. This pigeon mural is probably an ode to London as pigeons are so common in the city.


When I visited the pigeon, someone was getting a photoshoot with a red velvet couch in front of it. 


The above piece is another example from one of the artists who contributed to the pigeon mural. The cat was painted by Irony and features the portrait of a giant tabby cat looking down on the street. Perhaps the cat is ready to pounce on the pigeon.


Further down the street (toward Bethnal Green), JimmyC (covered here) painted a mural on the wall. The mural features an eye and spheres using the point style of painting that JimmyC does so well.


The piece was added to by Cheese London, who is a graffiti artist whose work I have seen in Dalston, Hackney Road, Broadway Market, and Shoreditch. The artist typically paints yellow lettering with the name or sometimes just a block of yellow cheese.




Along the road, I also discovered a piece by Cardboard Skeleton and also saw an additional large mural by Pang, but this was covered and I was unable to get a good photograph.


Another excellent mural in Paradise Row is a piece by an artist known simply as Adam. The man in the bath is holding a newspaper from Network Rail informing them to move as gentrification takes hold of another area of east London.


23rdKey are another artist whose work I discovered on the street. The hands forming the shadow of a deer with antlers is a stunning piece visually.


I loved this portrait of a lady, but I could not find reference to the artist. I am certain that I've seen the style of portrait before, but I cannot remember.


Next to this mural is a stunning mural by Amara por Dios (covered here). Several other murals are located on the street, and I've snapped a few photographs to include them below.

Amara Por Dios

Dscreet (covered here)




Sweet Toof



Airbourne Mark

One of the most amusing walls on the street is a recent addition by Trust Icon, whose work always has an element of humour. This piece features a showering woman washing with a sponge, and the sponge is none other than Spongebob Squarepants. 

Trust Icon

To visit these murals, the nearest station is Bethnal Green underground station. Head directly north down Paradise Row and follow the rail arches to Hackney Road. 

Lego Santa Express in Covent Garden

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Each year for the past few years, Lego have created sculptures made out of its famous plastic bricks for the holidays and have placed the sculptures at Covent Garden. Last year's Lego sculpture featured Santa and his reindeer in a sleigh. Visitors could sit inside the sleigh and have their photographs taken and were encouraged to use social media to upload them.


This year's Lego sculpture is similar and also encourages visitors to get their photographs to upload to social media. The sculpture features a train pulling a Christmas tree and other various gifts. Visitors can sit in the front of the train and upload their photographs using #LEGOSantaExpress. This year's sculpture took three months and 500,000 plastic bricks to build.




Previous years of Christmas-themed sculptures built using Lego in Covent Garden included a large snowglobe filled with London monuments made from Lego that visitors could walk through and a large Lego advent calendar which was opened daily to reveal a new surprise.  

The Lego Santa Express is on display in Covent Garden until 29 December, so check it out while you can.


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