Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, London

I’ve been wining and dining and even spa-ing in the County Hall Marriott Hotel for more years than I would like to mention so I was really looking forward to a return visit, especially as I was here to try out the new menu at Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar! County Hall has a prime site next to the London Eye and across from the Houses of Parliament and fascinating history as the former home of the Greater London Council and its leader Ken Livingstone before it was abolished in 1983. 17 years later he became the first Mayor of London but a new City Hall was built by Tower Bridge so this magnificent building could be taken on by the Marriott group who luckily kept many of the original features such as the wood panelled corridors and bar.

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Flying into London

As many of you will know I’ve been in Africa for 9 weeks working on a voluntary project in Ghana and then joining a tour of West Africa. It was an amazing adventure and I feel very happy that I played my part in building a primary school in a very hands-on way! Our tour took us on the roads less travelled in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia and Senegal and there are many stories to tell about these dusty red roads but they are for another time… Continue reading

How much can you squeeze into a day and a half in London?

As you’ll know from my bio I offer private tours of London for small groups and they all want to see loads of stuff in London without feeling like they have been rushed from one place to the next. So, I though I would share with you my most recent tour which lasted a day and a half so you can see just how much you can pack in without exhausting yourself!

My guests were staying in Earl’s Court so on day one we set off from there by tube to St Paul’s Cathedral which is an amazing church although I can never decide which is my favourite, here or Westminster Abbey. On the way we saw the blue trees, one of London’s temporary art moments which we kept bumping into during our travels.  My guests were an energetic pair and wanted to climb to the very top so 365 feet later we emerged onto the very small platform of the Golden Gallery and enjoyed the view. We also loved seeing the display of donkeys in the cathedral – a visual art exhibition of 25 life sized differently decorated donkeys called Caravan 2013 highlighting interfaith co-operation. St Paul’s is an enduring symbol of London and the blue trees and donkeys show how there is always something new to see even when you think you know a place!

View from the top of St Paul’s
Bright blue trees

 

Painted donkeys

We strolled over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and explored a couple of the permanent collections, catching some Rothkos and even a Monet before a much needed coffee with a view back over the Millennium Bridge.  The Turbine Hall is closed as the Tate builds a massive extension so it’s not as impressive as usual as I love the grand entrance into that massive space but it’s definitely still worth a visit. Outside the Tate is another temporary art installation, the Endless Stair, a wooden structure based on Escher’s work. It’s fun to run up and down the stairs and take photos from all angles!

 

A walk along the south bank of the Thames gives you a chance to enjoy part of the Thames Path, voted second in a poll of great city walks by Lonely Planet readers, so that’s a major endorsement. Our destination was the London Eye for a 35 minute ride of changing views and perspectives. It’s such a smooth operation as you get on and off without it missing a beat and my guests certainly thought it was worth the ride.


A stroll over Westminster Bridge gives great photo opportunities of Big Ben and from there we had a good look at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and I went through some of the stories associated with both buildings including setting the record straight on what exactly is Big Ben. Everything looks so much more impressive and huge close up so it’s always walking right up to these historic sights. 

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

We reckoned that was enough for one day, as the lights were coming up to display Big Ben beautifully, so we headed back to Earl’s Court for a  meal and a rest! 

Day two saw an early start to catch the 9.30 Thames Clipper boat from Embankment to the Tower of London. Passing the sights we had seen from the bank yesterday, we saw these from a different angle and sailed beyond, passing close up to HMS Belfast with its huge guns.  It’s best to arrive at the Tower by boat, just as people have for millennia, especially those entering through Traitors Gate which always gives me a bit of a shiver as once in you’d not be coming out again – alive!  We were lucky enough to watch a Tower Bridge lift from our vantage point on the massive defensive walls by the medieval palace. Some days there are several lifts but some days none at all so I was very pleased to show my guests another of London’s iconic sights.  Our lunch stop was the Dickens Inn where they serve a decent fish and chips among the boats in St Katherine’s Docks.

The Tower of London from way up high

 

Tower Bridge lifts to let a sailing barge through

We hopped on the tube to Green Park to take through the greenery past many folk enjoying a rest on the deck chairs but we were on our way to our timed entry tickets for Buckingham Palace so no sitting for us. When the Queen goes on her summer holidays to Scotland, she allows her subjects, and other visitors, to have a look round the incredibly grand state rooms and galleries of fine paintings.  Each year there is a special exhibition and this year it is, of course, a celebration of the coronation which took place 60 years ago in 2013. As we’d visited the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, we could join up some of the dots having seen the coronation crown and film of the event itself. In the palace they have her coronation dresses and robes and the crown wore as she travelled to Westminster Abbey,  a beautiful sparkly piece which you can see on the Queen’s head on every UK stamp, though I have to admit I’d not noticed it before I went to this exhibition…..

Beautiful coronation robes

 

Sparkling crown

 A well deserved coffee was on offer at the cafe in the Buckingham Palace gardens where they dust the cappuccino with a chocolate crown and decorate the cakes with chocolate crowns – nice touch!  The exit is via the excellent shop and the extensive gardens. 

Fancy cakes and coffee at the Buckingham Palace cafe

To complete the London Transport experience for my guests, we grabbed ourselves a trip on a red double decker bus along Piccadilly, past the Ritz and along Pall Mall before hopping off to enjoy a wander through St James’s Park and Horse Guards Parade. There is always something happening on the streets of London and we were not disappointed as we bumped into the Round Britain Tour Cycle and saw one group whizz past us at speed while trying to grab their drinks!

Tour of Britain

A short walk up Whitehall took us to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson’s Column – I’d told my guests all about him when we saw his grave in the crypt of St Paul’s – and to climb on the lions for the essential photo. We enjoyed the temporary art work on the fourth plinth which is a massive blue cockerel, the same blue as the St Paul’s trees strangely enough. We had just enough energy to pop into the National Gallery to see the impressionist rooms and marvel at the exquisite work by Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas.

The brilliant blue cockerel

As Covent Garden with its plentiful bars and restaurants was just next door we headed up to the balcony bar at the Brasserie Blanc for a well earned glass of wine (or 2!) and a snack as the sun went down.   

Phew – I must admit it was tiring but we saw so much and didn’t have to rush around to fit it all in. My guests were full of energy and enthusiasm and really enjoyed their experience of London and the opportunity to some of the top sights that it has to offer with their own private tour from It’s Your London.

What would be your favourite day and a half in London?

Bye for now,
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

In praise of St Paul’s, one of London’s greatest buildings

St Paul’s Cathedral has been the scene of some great events in British history: the funeral of Winston Churchill, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth 11, the funeral of Wellington, the bombing of the blitz in the Second World War.

We watched the Diamond Jubilee service take place in St Paul’s last week so I thought it was time for another visit to this wonderful building and although I know it well, I was bowled over again as I explored it. There are no pictures allowed inside but the exterior is so grand, iconic and beautiful that it is hard to stop snapping!

 

The first thing I saw before  I entered the church was a great reminder of the Diamond Jubilee history of the church as there is a stone recording Queen Victoria’s visit in 1897.

 

There has been a church on this site since 604 and the current church was built following the destruction of the previous one in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is a masterpiece by Christopher Wren who was the architect for many post fire buildings. This one is an iconic part of the London skyline with its instantly recognisable dome. One of the amazing facts you find out on your visit is that the dome is actually 2 domes, one on top of the other, because the full dome would be too high to see properly when you are inside, so the smaller one inside brings the paintings within sight. Clever bloke that Wren! 

Make sure you allow plenty of time for your visit as you’ll want to spend time seeing the wonderful interior, the huge crypt with Wellington and Nelson’s tombs as well as plaques to a wide range of famous people. You get an audio guide as part of your entry fee so do use it to give you lots of good info as well as a guide through the various places to visit. 

For the energetic there are the 3 galleries to climb up to.  The famous Whispering Gallery is 257 steps up and is a fun visit as if you stand on one side you can whisper something and another person across the dome can hear you. You’ll see lots of people trying. As well as this you get great views of the dome and down into the cathedral floor. For those with a head for heights and good legs there are 2 further galleries, both on the outside of the dome. The Stone Gallery is 121 steps up from the Whispering Gallery but the Golden Gallery right at the top is the one to go for if you are up to it – a further 152 steps and 365 feet above the floor of the cathedral! The view is 360 degrees and incredible –  down the river through Tower Bridge and to the nearly completed Shard tower, to the City across One New Change shopping centre’s roof, up river to the London Eye and curves of the river Thames. the ‘Wobbly bridge’ with the Tate Modern and the Globe theatre and way over in the distance to the Olympic park and the Orbit red tower.

Towards the Shard and Tower Bridge

 

The City and One New Change roof in the foreground

 

Upstream along the curve of the Thames

 

‘Wobbly bridge’, Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre

Hopefully you will want to visit St Paul’s Cathedral, or revisit it as a second viewing is well worth it.  I have one more photo before I sign off as I want to show you this wonderful building at night when it is magical.

Bye for now,
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

London’s largest roof top bar!

This week’s highlights were a massive bar opening, a black cab tour and nosing around some beautiful private gardens – the usual great mix!

The Trafalgar Hotel (on Trafalgar Square of course) have revamped their rooftop bar and it is now the largest in London so they threw a brilliant party to celebrate its opening. The weather was a worry as it had rained on and off during the day but we were lucky and the clouds held off raining but gave us dramatic skies. The views over Trafalgar Square and toward the London Eye and Houses of Parliament are exceptional and add to that a great bar, lots of heaters, big umbrellas, a covered area with a second bar, it all adds up to a great venue. We were treated to champagne all night and a special performance by the lovely Beverley Knight in the stage/DJ area. Ice sculptures, dancers and fire throwers all added to the party atmosphere. What a great night!
Photos are: the ice sculpture; Trafalgar Square view; the outside and mobile bar!; Houses of Parliament and Big Ben; the London Eye and a gathering storm; Nelson’s column almost at eye level; sunset over London; and, the lovely Beverley Knight – yes I was in the front of the crowd!

 

 

 

As a special treat for a great group of London bloggers, John the Cabby (as he’s known on twitter @Johnthecabby) took us round his tour of London for a couple of hours. It’s always fun travelling in a cab and John has his own commentary as we pass by the great sights of London. Given the combined knowledge in the cab (the other 4 are masterminds – Laura, Ian, Tom and Matt), John’s challenge was to find something new to us all. He really excelled and even found a doorway which he’d not seen before – the entrance to a 17th prison just by Parliament! Thanks John for a brilliant morning!

 

 

Photos: yours truly pretending to be a cabby; the real thing!; and, the plaque giving the details of our new find.

It was Open Garden Squares Weekend so we set off with our trusty Oyster card and a £7.50 ticket giving us entry to every garden and tried to work our way through a list of gardens not normally open to the public. We strolled around: the residents’ gardens by Regents Park with a famous underpass formerly used by posh nannies looking to get their charges to sleep; a tiny garden at the Academy Hotel; a Japanese roof top garden at the University of London; a strip of garden along a side street trying to make the most of a precious piece of inner city green; a perfect garden square in Bloomsbury; a tranquil oasis just by the Mall; the palatial lawns at Marlborough House (with a royal pet cemetery!) and, the spacious private gardens of Cadogan Place. The last one was our favourite and not just because they had a jazz band and were serving freshly made Pimms! We bare touched the surface of the list of 200+ gardens but felt we’d poked our noses into some new areas and seen loads of wonderful plants and expertly cared for gardens.

 

 

 

Photos are: The Academy Hotel garden; the Carlton House gardens; Marlborough House lawn and royal pet cemetery; and, the jazz tent at Cadogan Place.

Bye for now , Sue

 

 

 

 

 

@ityourlondon

When London caught Royal Wedding fever!

This was the week when London caught Royal Wedding fever and I’m going to show you just how much we were taken over by it! The weather was beautiful, London looked amazing and we really got into the party spirit.

The first set of photos show you the streets and shops all decked out in bunting and flags. You can see Notting Hill streets, street stall,, even Ann Summers getting covered (just) in the flag, and the most over the top of them all – Regent Street – winning the prize for the most possible flags in one street award!

 


Finally the day of the wedding arrived. You had to get up in the middle of the night and ideally camp out for several days to get a spot on the route itself and I decided not to try this as being rather short of stature I’d probably not see very much . I was offered an exclusive ride on the London Eye to see the procession to the church so here’s a photo of the royal car passing Big Ben and a shot of the Mall as it looked the day before the big moment. From the Eye we walked through to Trafalgar Square to see the service on the giant screen where it was absolutely packed with people trying to catch a glimpse and be part of the party.
The next party was Hyde Park where, surrounded by thousands of Londoners and visitors, we saw the balcony moment, the WW2 fly past and then the band struck up and there was dancing and flag waving everywhere! Dressing up as well of course with knights and lots of brides. And finally the street party back in Notting Hill. What a day!
Good job we had a long weekend to recover!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bye for now.

 

Sue

 

Christmas is coming…..

Christmas is most definitely coming and it’s time to get out and attack that present list. London is looking beautiful with all the lights and decorated shop windows, so I’ll be posting a couple of photos each week in December and you can see for yourselves. Even better, why not squeeze in a visit to London or plan to come next year? On the left is the huge Santa’s Grotto at the massive Westfield shopping centre – shopping heaven or shopping hell, up to you! On the right is a very 60s style Carnaby Street, naturally, where peace and love are the festive theme and very much in keeping with the street’s history as the centre of groovy London.

 

 

It was World Aids Day on Tuesday and London did its bit to raise awareness with gatherings, pop up shops for fund raising, church services and the most visible sign was the London Eye which turned itself red and was a really spectacular sight. We all stopped, stared, thought about the message and took our photos.

One of the big exhibitions in town at the moment is Moctezuma Aztec Ruler at the British Museum. You can see amazing artefacts from his rule and find out his story especially the momentous year following the Spanish landing through to the defeat of his empire. I loved the turquoise mask and serpent and thought the historical explanations well written. The British Museum is one of the most beautiful buildings in London both outside and inside. The photo on the left shows the classic exterior and the other is of the amazing covered court with the historic library in the curved central building. There is so much to see in the museum that it would take a whole blog to do it any justice but its newest exhibit is a few pieces from the recent Anglo Saxon find in Staffordshire. There are gold fixings from swords dating back to the 600s AD with beautiful workmanship and inlaid garnets. It’s incredible to think someone found the full hoard of over 1500 pieces laying in the ground just a few months ago. I’m returning to the British Museum next week so will report on more of its wonderful exhibits .

 

My restaurant of the week is Polpo, a Venetian wine bar on the edge of Soho near Carnaby Street. It’s a busy place and they don’t take advance bookings so we had a quick drink nearby before claiming our table. They have a tapas style approach and I recommend their pork belly with mushrooms and radicchio and the wonderful roast rosemary potatoes, washed down with a good strong red wine. We stayed on beyond the lunchtime rush and it was lovely as the afternoon light faded outside, it’s cosy with a casual dining area and seating at the bar on stools. It has that classic ‘distressed’ look and is hugely popular.

Bar of the week was in the Courthouse Hotel, which lives up to its name and has many of its original features including 3 former cells in the bar area which you can sit in (with the door open!) complete with the cell toilet but for decorative purposes only now. Oscar Wilde and Mick Jaggar spent some time here but before the cells became part of the bar sadly for them!

Must be off shopping for presents….

Bye for now.
Sue