Tag Archives: travel

“Always there have been six ravens at the Tower. If the ravens fly away, the kingdom will fall” -John Owen Theobald,

I read a smart book by Julia Stuart that has been published as “Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo” in the UK and as “The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise” everywhere else. I don’t like to sum up plots, because mine are only honest personal opinions and not reviews, I can only anticipate that it describes the life of the little close community living within the gates of the Tower of London: the Beefeaters (particular Mr. Jones and his wife Hebe), the mean Raven master, the Rev. Septimus Drew who writes erotica under a pen name and has a secret passion for the barmaid of the Tower’s Rack & Ruin pub. The novel is also set in the “Underground Lost Property Office” where Hebe works and That is a continuous parade of odd, unusual objects and weird people. All the characters are well rounded and sometimes absurd, but here it lays the best feature of the novel that is a hallmark of British humour: despite of the tragic event in the background (the death of the Beefeater’s son), the novel is enjoyable and interesting. Here and there you can read facts about the Tower or about its prisoners.

The part describing the animals are really enjoyable, but my favourite parts were the ones at the Underground lost property office, not only because Stuart makes the history behind each lost object interesting and endearing, but mainly because I figured in my head the amount of the bizarre things that people may forget on the Tube trains. How cool is imagining the history behind them and how hard must be rejoining them to their owner, I think it’s job more interesting that it looks.

And at last, a thing that I really loved about this book is the hate that the people working in the Tower, have towards dumb tourists. I used to shake my head while reading, approving every single nasty comments and laughing.

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You know how much I hate tourist traps, so I can’t write any useful guide for Tower Hill, I only hopped off at the homonym tube station and had a quick look around the Tower of London before heading to Shoreditch that is a place where I’m more at my ease.

It’s worth a visit, anyway. I like to take unusual pictures, so I tried to capture the contrast between the ancient Tower and the shiny Shard. And, to be frank, the Tower Bridge is always a good model.

TRACK OF THE DAY: You’ve got time- Regina Spektor

 

 

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”- David Bowie

collage-2017-06-08If you go to London, Brixton is a must see place. It’s the last station of the Victoria Line and it’s a pleasure for the eyes as soon as you go out of the Tube, for, just opposite the street, in Tunstall Road, there’s a mural painting of David Bowie made by the Australian artist James Cochran. It’s a personal version of Aladdin Sane’s album cover and I first saw it last year in January, when the place was full of flowers and grieving messages. On January this year it was the same, save for a glass put to protect the artwork.

Bowie was born in Stansfield road in Brixton and there are several places to see if you’re a fan of him or just a music lover, like the Arts Lab, the hair salon where the Ziggy Stardust hair style was created or the park where he performed in 1969. When I was in London there were two different walking tours that offer people an all-encompassing journey from birth to death of one of London’s biggest icons, with passionate guides able to enrich the visit with stories and anecdotes. There’s a 2 hour tour and a 4 hour one that includes a trip to Beckenham, browse the web and look for the most suitable for you.

Brixton of course, it’s not only Bowie, its market is the Europe’s biggest Afro-Caribbean food market. You can get there with just a two minute walk from Brixton tube station: Brixton Village and Market Row (just across the road) are basically a collection of narrow streets called ‘Avenues’ where you can find everything, tasting a large variety of street food and have a good meal for £10. As I’m gluten intolerant, I looked for something for me and it was a pleasure to see there was a wide choice. Beside of the always trustable Honest Burger, I personally tried Sansla creperie and I wasn’t disappointed. Remember to order a galette and not a crepe if you need to avoid gluten. The Banoffee tasted heavenly and the vanilla shake was delicious. Since I want to go back there to visit the windmill, I will surely hit Sansla for a different option. Here’s the link: http://www.senzalacreperie.co.uk/

In addition to all the open market stalls, the area is full of shops (included my beloved Poundland) and many interesting things to see (as I stated before, I need to go back to visit all the art galleries and the music shops) like the O2 Academy (or Brixton Academy), that was once a cinema and now it’s an important  centre for live music. The Academy was built in 1929 and still have its wonderful art decò style.

So, if you’re in London, don’t miss this incredible borough.

TRACK OF THE DAY: Guns of Brixton – The Clash

 

 

 

 

“I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill”- William Blake

One of the London spots I love the most because it’s the set of some romantic memories of mine, is Primrose Hill, the highest point of the eponymous district. You can get there after a 10 minute walk from Chalk Farm tube station, there’s a well kept green area whose summit is almost 63 metres above sea level and where the trees are kept low so as not to obscure the view. It formerly belonged to Eton College, but became Crown property about the middle of last century and it’s a stunning sightseeing spot above all on clear sky days.

The summit features an inscription on York featuring the quote from William Blake I used for this post. The poet believed that Zoroastrian rites were performed on Primrose Hill and affirmed that this place was sacred to the sun without without giving any explanation as to why that particular site was appropriate.

Another literary reference is an oak known as “Shakespeare’s Tree” that stands on the slope of the hill, it was first planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

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If you feel hungry after climbing the hill, there’s a lots of nice places to eat around there. We settled for Manna in Erskine Road because it offered a large selection of gluten free options. Here’s how to get there.

We didn’t eat in the end, but we had a lovely glass of wine (mine was a lovely, rich, Argentinian, red wine). They serve organic wines, free of synthetic chemicals and often hand harvested that are also vegan. They also have a large variety of delicious food, so I planned to go back there for a pleasant lunch or dinner as soon as I go back to London.

Primrose Hill is worth a visit if you want to have a stunning view, a romantic stroll or if you’re a simple bench warmer who needs quiet. Oh, if you go there, give my regards to “my” bench: if you listen carefully you can still hear my sighs.

TRACK OF THE DAY: Running up that Hill – Placebo (cover)

 

 

 

“I wonder how much of the day I spend just callin’ after you”- Harper Lee

Now I know: my worst enemy is memory. I’ve read three books in four days and they all were set in London, because I simply needed to go back there through the only mean I can afford: reading. But despite of the fact that the novels took place in the City, they were so different from the story I was trying to find in them. Maybe I should write it, my story, my London, my English love affair, but each time I try, thoughts and feelings want to come out all at once, leaving me speachless. And I’m sure there aren’t words able to describe what I feel and if they were, I’m sure they would contaminate what I’m trying to say. So, until I’m able to be totally sincere towards me at first, I will keep looking for my story in other people’s.

One of the books I read was “The ballad of Peckham Rye” by Muriel Sparks. The story revolves around the great influence the Scot charachter Douglas Dougall has on the people living in Peckham. He’s a sort of consciences shooker, we could say that he plays the role of the devil himself and acting this way he earns friends and opponents. He gets to convince a young electrician to refuse his wife to be at the altar, the words “No, to be quite frank, I won’t” and the whole situation becomes a ballad in the local pubs and gives the book its name.

It was a pleasant read, but it didn’t thrill me that much, expect from reminding me when I visited Peckham all alone, in a late evening, without my guardian angels.

The first thing that stroke me after going out from the Overground station, was the big variety of odours: Peckham Rye is a sort of huge open air market whose most of the businesses are run or frequented by members of the UK’s largest overseas Nigerian community. There were no tourists in sight, so I didn’t dare taking pictures, I simply enjoyed my stroll, having the impression to be in Lagos, rather than in London. It was pleasant, but also a bit uncomfortable, since it was dark, I was in an unknown borough with no reassuring Underground sign. Then I took a train at Peckham station, but until I landed safely at Victoria’s station, I wasn’t sure I was in the right direction.

So, when my friends want to pull my leg, they talk about my Peckham experience, but they also promised they will take me there again so I could see the street arts, the parks, the art galleries and, if in Summer, we will enjoy a film at the rooftop film club and have a drink at Frank’s Cafe.

TRACK OF THE DAY: Lost on you- LP

“And the city itself was just a glow on the dark earth”- Monica Ali

As I said before, I’ve just read “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali and I totally fell in love with it. I borrowed it from the library only because I liked the title (lately I’m only looking for novels set in London) and it was a positive surprise. It’s a choral novel even if the main point of view is Nazneen’s, a Bangladeshi woman relocated to London through an arranged marriage to a man nearly twice her age. The books tells her story, but also many other of the people of Bangladeshi origin she meets, with a look on what happens in her country of origin through what’s happening to her sister Hasina. The book is not properly set in Brick Lane, maybe “Mile End” would have been a better title, but if you’re familiar to that part of East London, there are many places that can be easily recognised. The plot is pleasant and interesting, characters are well depicted, the descriptions are vivid and the reader’s interest is always kept alive. I loved seeing the main character growth: at first she’s submitted to her husband, unhappy and prefer taking refuge into her past and happy childhood rather than taking pleasure in daily life. Then she learns English, she starts earning her own money, she gets a lover who helps her to see over the four walls of her apartment. In the end she realizes who she is and what she wants to be, so she gets rid both of her husband and lover and opens a sewing workshop with some friends of her and finally fullfill her desire to ice-skating even in a sari.

If you want to visit Brick Lane you have to hop off at Aldgate and walk for a 5 minutes. Besides of the street art, the first thing that strikes the attention is the Old Truman brewery once home to London’s largest brewery and now location to a hive of creative businesses like independent shops, galleries, markets (only at the weekends), bars and restaurants.

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If you keep walking along this long lane, you will find The cereal killer cafe that sells over 100 different types of cereal from around the world. You can eat there and they have vegan and gluten free options.

Another well known place is the Beigel shop, open 24/7 whose menu is focused on beigels (not bagels, it keeps the yddish pronunciation) baked in the traditional Jewish style (it’s being boiled in water before baking, a step that produces its crisp crust and moist, chewy interior) with  a lot of tasty fillings. It also serves pastries, cakes and sweets as well as white, rye and black bread. It’s not expensive, but it has no gluten free option.

If you raise your eyes, once you pass under the railway bridge, you will see the 123 building that is a four-storey mini department store packed with recycled clothing.

And on the less known part of Brick lane, just crossed Bethnal Green Road, there’s Tatty Devine my favourite handmade jewellery shop, where you can find some original, playful, colourful, laser cut acrylic things. There’s another shop in Covent Garden, but I use to go there.

TRACK OF THE DAY: Brimful of Asha- Cornershop

“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint”- Banksy

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I’m currently reading “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali and this made me nostalgic of a place in London I love a lot because it’s peculiar and always new.

This first part is dedicated to Brick Lane’s street art and consider it as partial since graffitis change continuously and since I’d need an infinite post to show you everything. Let me say that you can look for online guides that tell you where Banksy’s art is located, I think there are also guided tours, but the best way to get in touch into Brick Lane’s street art is to wander and to explore back streets and side streets looking for hidden gems.

The aim of street art is striking people’s attention, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know a thing about paintings or tendencies, you just need your eyes, an open mind and eventually, a camera.

Those above are works by the Austrian street artist HNRX, who works with his own brand of comic-surrealism.

These are works from another well known artist, the Chilean Otto Shade, who has mainly two styles. The first, also you can see in the Love Is… graffiti, is a ribbon effect, often interlaced with words; in this street art the red meerkat is made of laces with the names of the cities. Another way of expressing his art is painting a silhouette in an orange/yellow circular shape on a black background as you can see above. These kinds of work have a strong political or social message.

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The former station of Shoreditch in Pedley street, is covered in a stunning Star Wars art by Jim Vision and other fantastic works by various artists.

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Here’s various works. In the centre there is Charlie Burn’s portrait by Ben Slow in Bacon street. On the top left, Bohk green figure with oxygen mask, that was in Pedley Street and has been replaced by a graffiti by Kaes. On the top right, the out of this world Fanakapan’s Helium elephants mural. Bottom left art from 2014 by Decolife and on the right, a cloud vomiting rainbows by Ronzo, located in Fashion street.

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Art in Brick Lane is not only graffiti and paintings, here’s some art in Ely’s yard, my friends were fascinated by the winged round green bomb on the white car.

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Walls are often covered in stickers with the most iconic people, characters or poignant messages.

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The mosaic mural artwork representing the range of religions in the community by children of local schools.

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More arts to make you eager to explore Brick Lane.

TRACK OF THE DAY:What the water gave me- Florence and the Machine

 

“You can learn a lot about a woman by getting smashed with her.”-Tom Waits

When in London I use to have an intense nightlife, pity I can’t drink too much since my hiatal hernia doesn’t allow me more than a two glasses on alcohol, the same amount I need to get very drunk.

One of the fanciest places I’ve ever been, is Sketch in Conduit street (a cross street of Regent’s street): an unique place where food, art and music meet. The location is magical: there’s an hopscotch at the entrance (I loved it since it recalled  me Cortàzar’s novel) and various artworks on the walls.

It has five different restaurants and bars:

-The Gallery, where you can have a classy afternoon tea as we did (they also have a gluten free menu) or a dinner; if you’re on a budget I suggest you to check the prices in advance: the food is lovely, but minimal and to me, a bit overpriced. The location, however, is incredible: the monochromatic pink interior contrasts with the witty David Shrigley’s artworks on the wall, since this place is a part of a of a long-term programme of artist-conceived restaurants. The Gallery’s walls host the largest group of original drawings David Shrigley has ever exhibited.

Then there are the three parts of Sketch where we haven’t been yet:

-The Lecture Room & Library that is a two Michelin starred gastronomic restaurant.

-The Parlour where you can have breakfast, afternoon teas and evening drinks.

-The East bar that is an evening bar where to have pre-dining drinks

This year we had an enchanting time at the Glade, drinking exquisite cocktails in this magic woodland bar. On the walls there is a fairy tales découpaged forest and the rattan furniture was maybe a little uncomfortable for my aching body, but absolutely perfect for the location. My cocktail was gorgeous and the company even better. I don’t like too much taking pictures when I’m in a bar or in a restaurant, so here’s only a small view of what Sketch is. If you’re interested you can visit its web site: https://sketch.london/what.php#gsc.tab=0

And here’s comes the reason why Sketch is so popular: its exclusive egg shaped toilets that complete this insane experience.

TRACK OF THE DAY: dRuNk-Zayn