Kew Gardens at Christmas

For the first time ever Kew Gardens has opened its gates to visitors after dark to take a journey through their illuminated trail. You begin at the Christmas Village, where you can sample festive fare from mulled wine and jacket potatoes to turkey rolls and cookies. Browse the wooden chalets selling their wares (we found the variety fairly limited). If you’re feeling adventurous (we weren’t as it was tipping down with rain) have a go on the traditional fairground rides such as the helter-skelter and the Carousel.

Image ImageThe trail itself was just over a mile long and wound through the gardens with various parts lit up. It was a spectacular sight however it was extremely crowded and slow to get around. There were lots of interactive parts for children which seemed to be keeping them entertained. When we originally booked we were given an allotted time slot to begin the walk however once we got there we were told to just go whenever we like – this was good for us as we got there early however this is probably what caused all of the overcrowding.

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The pinnacle of the walk came at the end when you see the iconic Palm House illuminated in all its glory. Music and commentary starts as lights dim and flash and change colour.Image

ImageWhile we were unlucky with the weather I would recommend this as a family outing however be prepared and wear your wellies!!

http://www.kew.org/index.htm

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The Nutcracker

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate setting to see the traditional Christmas ballet, ‘The Nutcracker’, than sitting under the ornate eaves of the London Coliseum just North of Trafalgar Square, London. When the curtain goes up the impressive domed roof adorned with cherubs and gold leaf friezes transports you into a snow-capped Edwardian England  and then drops you into a world of dancing sugar plum fairies, prancing mice, nutcracker soldiers and magical music.

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The little girl Clara and her noble Nutcracker soldier escape the evil Mouse King and take a hot air balloon ride to the sparkling Land of Snow where an adventure of dancing merriment awaits.

With both the striking Tchaikovsky score and the insanely good choreography from the English National Ballet, this is an absolute must see for all the family. The beautiful sets, glistening costumes and effortless ballerinas bring to life this traditional and well loved ballet. It is running until the 5th January 2014 so there is still time to don your ballet slippers and enjoy some more of the festivities.

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Carol Singing in Kensington

First on my festive agenda was the Christmas Carol Sing-along at the Royal Albert Hall. This uplifting explosion of glitter, twinkly lights and Christmas tunes was enough to drag even the most Scrooged of people up onto their feet while singing at the top of their lungs, ‘Fiiiiive Gooold Riiiings!’

Presented by the eccentric and entertaining Jonathan Cohen and featuring music and singing from the London Concert Choir and the London Concert Orchestra the performance was engaging and mesmerising. Soloist Laura Tebbutt was a fantastic leader and lent her voice to an array of different styles, each as effective as the one before. Her rendition of O Holy Night was my personal favourite.

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The auditorium was filled with people bedecked in Christmas cheer including flashing Santa hats and tinsel. Fairy lights had been strung up around the boxes and two impressive Christmas trees stood either side of the grand organ.

Singing songs old and new we went from Hark the Herald Angels Sing and O Little Town of Bethlehem to Rockin’ Robin and Frosty the Snowman in the blink of a Reindeer’s eye.

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It was fun, fast paced, full of colour and festive. This is an absolute must do event and something that will become a Christmas tradition for me. It may be too late to catch the last performance tomorrow afternoon (Saturday 21st December) so remember to keep an eye out for it next year. I know I certainly will!

(Apologies for the poor quality photo – it’s tough to capture the lights on a phone!)

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear…

This year I intend to squeeze every last festive drop of Christmas out of London Town. From miserably struggling at a snail’s pace down Oxford Street, juggling my shopping bags with a Gingerbread Latte, to enjoying the quiet serenity of an illuminated walk through Kew Gardens I am going to bring to you the best bits of celebrating this magical time of year in our capital city.

I’ll be bringing you tips and recommendations on the best things London has to offer you during this festive period.

So, pop on Bing Crosby’s Christmas album, get the mulled wine a simmerin’, munch a few mince pies and get that tree up because it’s that time of year again…

 IT’S CHRIIIISSSSSTMAAAASSSSS!!!!!!

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Pictures of Portobello

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Portobello Road is a colourful and vibrant street in the heart of the Notting Hill area in West London. Every Saturday Portobello Road Market draws scores of enthusiastic shoppers to its notable street market which is famous for its antiques and vintage clothing.Image

ImageWandering around the lively streets in the summer sun is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Grab a beer and some olives from La Plaza Deli at the North end of the street, they have chairs and tables outside so it is a perfect way to sit and people watch while you rest your aching feet.Image

ImageSample some of the market food as there is so much to choose from! Paella, Tapas, Curry, Noodles, Sandwiches, Salads and more. Try some fresh marshmallow – the Raspberry and Champagne one was delicious!Image‘Portobello Road, Portobello Road, street where the riches of ages are stowed! Anything and everything a chap can unload, is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road. You’ll find what you want in the Portobello Road!’ – Mr. Browne, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Whale Watching in Quebec

Summer 2013 has been an epic adventure. A few short weeks after our New York jolly we embarked on the trip of a life time to Canada. In the two weeks I was there I managed to see a sizeable chunk of the Eastern side of this vast North American country. I want to use my first Canadian blog post to tell you about a personal holiday highlight of mine which was Whale Watching. It is something I have been desperate to do since devouring the entire Blue Planet box-set while procrastinating from my studies at university. And where better to see these amazing creatures than in their natural habitat in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

On my flight out to Toronto I got chatting to a Canadian native who told me about a whale watching Mecca – a little village called Tadoussac. Approximately three hours drive north from Quebec City; Tadoussac sits at the confluence of the St Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers. Steeped in history, this tiny place may be a mere pinprick on a map but it is the oldest inhabited European settlement in Canada, and is a perfect location to spot some whales. So after a hectic few days in Quebec City we decided to follow the river north to see for ourselves.

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As we boarded the ferry that took us across the Saguenay River, we left the hot summer sun behind us and entered the cool mist shrouded town with suspicious wonder. There is not much to do in the village however the traditional quaint buildings and the impressive Tadoussac Hotel and port area provide atmospheric surroundings. And there are plenty of places to grab some grub. We ate in the same restaurant on both nights of our stay (something I would never usually do!) as the food was absolutely delicious and somewhere to definitely recommend. From the cosy interior, excellent fresh pasta and wide variety of ales: ‘Cafe Boheme’ was somewhere we simply couldn’t go to just the once. Rated as the no.2 best restaurant in Tadoussac on TripAdvisor this buzzing restaurant was constantly busy – so expect a bit of a wait. But it will be worth it – we sampled salmon burgers, venison ravioli, spicy pizzas and fresh crab linguine and no single bite was disappointing (apart from the last one when you realised it was over). For more information or to have a gander at the menu please find the link here: http://www.lecafeboheme.com/fr/.

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Anyway, we must move swiftly on from the food and on to the main reason we found ourselves in this remote riverside settlement – THE WHALES! I started to feel nervous on the approach down to the port as I had dragged my party this far north promising them whales and realised that actually there is NO guarantee that you will see any of these impressive mammals. Whale statues standing outside whale themed souvenir shops and Beluga themed BnB’s seemed to taunt me and I felt certain that our trip would be jinxed. There are different choices of boats to go out on including the slower more traditional river cruise boats. However we decided to head out on a super fast Zodiac boat tour. This way if no whales were to be found at least we would have a fun old time bouncing over the choppy waters on what  was simply a rubber dinghy with an engine.

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Bundled up in our huge waterproof jackets and trousers (handily provided by the tour company) and gripping onto our seats for dear life – we shot out of the bay like a bullet – bouncing heavily over the dark grey waters with teeth shattering power. And as luck would have it, within about one minute of the excursion we spotted a bright white mass gracefully gliding above the water before disappearing into the depths. It was our first sighting – a Beluga Whale! The boat cut its engine out as we all sat and stared in awe at this fascinating creature (well I was actually squealing and scrambling for my camera – but we won’t go into that!).

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Further out of the bay we saw humpback whales a plenty. When their blowholes dramatically spurted out air indicating their location, our captain propelled the boat across the water so we could get a better look. Unfortunately there were no excitable whales leaping from the water but we got to see the humongous 30 tonne humpbacks swimming merrily along, occasionally showing off the impressive white undersides of their tail fins before diving down for an hour before their next breath is needed. We also saw groups of smaller (almost dolphin like) whales logging along the water and lots of extremely cute seals who seemed as curious about us as we were of them. It was incredible to see these animals in the wild and free.

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I would recommend doing the fast boat ride if you don’t mind getting splashed; want a bit of adventure and to see the wildlife close up. I feel like you could miss out on the sights if you are on a slower, bigger boat. Or, if you are feeling really brave – hire a kayak. Whales eat Krill, not people. To see some lucky kayakers come face to face with a humpback whale in California, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mf4HtVp1sh4

For more information on Tadoussac: www.tadoussac.com

For more information about the boat tours: http://www.otisexcursions.com/en/

Up at the O2 – Review

What better way to spend a cold and windy London day than to scale one of the capital’s most iconic landmarks – the O2 arena. This unique experience, reminiscent of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, opened in June last year and provides an exciting and different way to view parts of London’s famous skyline. Originally opened as The Millennium Dome in January 2000, the North Greenwich based exhibition centre has now become one of the most famous music venues in the world.

Arriving at ‘Base Camp’ (just left of the main O2 arena entrance) 15 minutes before your scheduled climb, you are whisked into the ‘Briefing Room’ to fill in some forms and to watch a cheesy but interesting video providing information about the climb and the building (if you can call it that) itself. Did you know that if you turned the O2 arena upside down it would take Niagara Falls 15 minutes to fill it up?

The mountain climbing expedition theme runs consistently throughout the decor, with maps and climbing ropes hanging from the walls. You are then taken to a changing room where you don some fabulously flattering overalls, harnesses and walking boots. The flexible fabric walkway is suspended above the roof of the dome and reaches 52 metres in height and with an ascent and descent of 30 degrees (which is surprisingly steep when you are there!). Your harness is attached to a central barrier which you also use to help pull yourself up – and hold onto for dear life on the way down. The walkway has a bit of a bounce to it, which I failed to resist on several occasions (but who could? it is like the biggest trampoline in the world!).

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The climb itself takes 60 minutes, with an interval of around 15 minutes on the viewing platform at the top. This is where you can feast your eyes on meandering Thames, the Thames Barrier, the Olympic Park, City Airport, Canary Wharf and Greenwich. In the distance you can see the Shard, the Gherkin and even Battersea Power Station on a clear day. It took a while to get our bearings as it is not often that you view London from this angle.

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Our guide was informative and interactive. He let us know where everything was and he was extremely helpful and funny.

Tickets for adults range from £25 – £30 depending on the time of your visit. I think this is money well spent on an experience that was fun and is one of a kind in London. I would definitely recommend this as something exciting to do on a trip to the City. More information can be found on the O2 website here:

http://www.theo2.co.uk/upattheo2

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