The new Tate Modern opens in London

I’ve been watching the extension to the Tate Modern grow for the last 5 years, seeing the twisted pyramidal shape emerge as the exterior changed from a white cladding to a brick lattice which matches yet is different from the original Tate. They are both parts of an old power station site so, in a nod to its origins, the first Tate building is now called the Boiler House and the new Tate is the Switch House.
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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

What to do when it rains in London!

Yes it does rain in London and, despite the drought warnings we have been bombarded with lately, it has been raining for the last couple of weeks.  Gardeners and the people who run the water supply have been happy but the rest of us are looking forward to the sun shining again.  Luckily there are loads of things to do in London when the rain comes down and here I’ve listed just a few as a full list would go on for pages!


In bad weather (and good days too!) I usually head for a museum or art gallery – they are free, warm and dry and house some of the greatest treasures in the world. You can see the amazing Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles or gaze at the paintings by everyone from Rembrandt through Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet, to Jake and Dinos Chapman by dropping into the British Museum, The National Gallery and the Tate Modern.  If you are strong enough to face the queues, you can marvel at the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.

British Museum
National Gallery
Tate Modern

 

Natural History Museum

Travel by the underground and you’ll be sheltered from the weather and you can get around London easily and quickly. For those of you who love shopping, either head for a large department store such as Selfridges or Harrods and you’ll be there for hours, or disappear in one of the huge Westfield shopping centres in Shepherds Bush and Stratford and you can easily lose a whole day.

Westfield Shepherds Bush
Harrods

On a wet evening, you can’t beat a good play or film. London’s ‘theatreland’ will delight you with the stars (at the moment we have Danny Devito and Cate Blanchett on the stage and recently had Keira Knightley and Kevin Spacey), with great musicals like Billy Elliot and Phantom and newer ones like Sweeney Todd. The National Theatre will give you meatier fare, the off West End theatres like the Donmar Warehouse give you a smaller more intimate experience and don’t forget to check out the ballet and opera too!
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National Theatre

Last but by no means least are the thousands of pubs and restaurants which provide shelter from the rain and some of the top cuisines in the world and certainly the most variety.You have everything from Heston Blumenthal’s amazing Michelin starred Dinner,  Gordon Ramsay’s own top restaurant and Koffman and Ducasse through to cheap and cheerful pub food with lots of fish and chips on their menus. You can find just about any cuisine in the world and London’s food scene is immensely rich and varied so look beyond the chain restaurants and find something special and memorable. 


Hopefully these ideas will keep you dry when you visit London and you could be surprised by beautiful sunshine instead, in which case you’ll be able to find open air versions of almost everything on this list!

Bye for now.
Sue Hillman
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
Twitter: @itsyourlondon

The amazing London marathon and some star spotting!

The big event in London this week was really big – the London Marathon! But keep reading to the bottom to find out the star spotting….

The London Marathon claims to be the largest in the world with about 36,000 runners pounding the streets of London to conquer the 26.2 miles of agony. The elite man runner got round in just over 2 hours beating the course record but for the mere mortals it was 4 hours plus of pain and ecstasy on finishing. I found a great viewing spot on a bridge over the course to cheer them on and snap some of the fun sights. How people can run wearing the mad outfits is quite beyond me but it raises extra money for charity and that’s what drives most of the brave runners on. You could see the pain on their faces but many were cheery and smiling as they had one more mile to go to the finish outside of Buckingham Palace. Have a look at a small selection of photos: the runners flooding along the Embankment by Charing Cross; the rhino and lion; a tiger; Kate Middleton (!); a WaterAid toilet; pantomime dame (lots of men in dresses – any excuse!); the clown; the runaway bride; the chicken; and, the man with artificial legs who was an hour ahead of anyone else in these photos!

The Tate Modern has been showing the wonderful Sunflower Seeds installation by the artist Ai Weiwei but last week he was detained in his homeland by the Chinese authorities so I started the Twitter hashtag #releaseAiWeiwei and was really pleased to see that the Tate have taken it up on their building – or we just came up with the same slogan! Either way I hope it works..

 

 

 

One show worth seeing was E.O. Hoppe’s photographs at the National Portrait Gallery which was really interesting. From his studio portraits of the famous faces of his day to his realistic street photos of the poorer citizens, we saw a wonderful range of work in the 150 photos on display. The photo of the very small boy in a pearlie king outfit over his stripey jumper and worn out shoes was funny and very sad at the same time as his poverty was clear to see. In contrast celebrity and royal faces also graced the walls from a very young Margot Fonteyn to the future King George V and Queen Elizabeth

 

And finally, the star spotting which took place in the green room at recording of the Graham Norton TV show where I got to have my photo taken with one of my absolute favourites- David Tennant – and the rather lovely Josh Grobin who moved right up the favourite list. They were both completely charming and very handsome. Still recovering….

Bye for now,

 

Sue

 

Just one word – chocolate!

London was the best place enjoy National Chocolate Week 2010 and Vinopolis was chocolate central! They are normally the home of wine but for one week they were hosting Chocolate Unwrapped where the major chocolatiers were exhibiting and some giving talks. There were tasting opportunities at each stall and extraordinary choc sculptures of steam trains and even shoes! Some stalls were offering competitions and raffles and I won a signed copy of Working with Chocolate by Mark Tilling in an Action Against Hunger charity raffle so watch out for some splendid sweet making by yours truly! One of the talks was given by Paul A Young who was really entertaining and handed out tasters such as marmite truffles which were surprisingly good. His top tip was to put salt into your chocolate mix as it soops up the flavour – give it a go. Photos are of: Paul A Young himself; some of the sculptures; a beautiful displays of cacao pods; and, the finished product all lined up and ready to eat. All that chocolate before noon was a real challenge!

 

One other big excitement was our visit to Ai Wei Wei’s new exhibit at the Tate Modern where he has installed over 100 million painted porcelain sunflower seeds. Originally it was to be an interactive event with visitors walking in amongst the ‘seeds’ but it was decided that the resulting porcelain dust was too dangerous for us and now we can only watch from the sidelines and hold a single seed handed around. Rather sad for the artist I’m sure. It is a truly impressive sight and the accompanying film gives more insight into the work. It raises questions about mass productions, the ‘made in China’ label we are so familiar with and issues of individuality as each seed is different from the millions of others, each painted by hand. The seeds themselves hark back to the famines under Mao when sunflower seeds were the only food for many citizens. The photos give you the full view of the Turbine Hall with its grey carpet of seeds and a close up of the seeds themselves.

 

That’s all for this week’s blog as it’s late going to ‘press’ -sorry about that.

 

Bye for now,
Sue

London heatwave!

This was the week that summer hit London with full force with blue skies and temperatures reaching 30 degrees at Sunday’s peak. Perhaps not so high for some of you reading this but trust me, that’s really hot for London! Sunday was also famous for the debacle of the England football team but let’s not dwell on that…..

One highlight of this week for me was a drive through Richmond Park. This is less than 30 minutes from central London even with London’s busy traffic and is an amazing place to visit as it’s not only a huge and beautiful expanse of open land, but it’s so big you can drive through it. What makes it really special is the herds of deer you can easily see as you drive/walk/run/cycle you way around the park. They are so used to people and vehicles that you can get really close to these beautiful creatures and here are a couple of snaps so you can see them for yourselves.
Sunny days are always great down by the river Thames and I made a trip to the Tate Modern which not only has incredible art but also a couple of great balconies for photographers to indulge themselves with river views. I loved taking these of St Pauls and the famous ‘wobbly bridge’, and one across the maze of buildings in the city of London, old and new sitting next to each other.


Regents Park was the scene of last week’s Taste of London Festival where one section of the park was taken over by stalls and people but has returned to its usual calm untroubled state. We went for a walk through the park during the week and loved the riot of colourful flowers and decided that being a gardener in a royal park must be a wonderful a job. Here’s an example of their work:

 

 

Then it was back to the river where the pubs along the tow path have been packed out with people enjoying the summer weather and feeling like they are on holiday in the heat of the weekend. This one is in Chiswick – one of 3 in a short space of river bank.

 

The coming week will be all about Wimbledon now the football has lost its sparkle for the English and I hear the weather will hold so watch out for more sunny photos of London at its best!
Bye for now,
Sue

Sunshine and Rain

With a visit to the theatre on the sunniest afternoon of the year so far, an art exhibition at the Tate and a boat ride on the rainiest one, Somerset House in the sun, a Michelin star (well 2 stars actually) lunch, and a film preview, it’s been a good week.

 

The Tate Modern is showing an exhibition of the work of Van Doesburg and the International Avant Garde. I’d not heard of him but really enjoyed the wonderfully laid out exhibition. He started an influential magazine, De Stijl that became a movement and you can see Mondrian and the like in his work which is called ‘geometric abstraction’. We had lunch in the members’ room which has a wonderful view over the Thames but it was a rainy day so no good for photos. The Tate building itself is wonderful and worth a photo from a previous day. We took the boat to the Tate Britain which is a great ride and had a quick browse around the older Tate brother. What a treat to be able to visit 2 great museums in one day.

 

One of the big tickets in town for the theatre is Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance and we opted for a matinee for this 3 hours blockbuster and yes it was warm and sunny that day! It’s a powerful play about Johnny Byron (Rylance) who lives outside of mainstream society and the play takes swipes at both lives with wit, bravado and some menace. Worth the ticket and the 3 hours!

 

Somerset House was showing 100 years of world photography in aid of homeless charity Crisis. There were wonderful shots from famous photographers, including one from Malick Sidibe whose solo exhibition I’d seen the week before (strange coincidence) and some from people helped by the charity. The famous shots were of a previously homeless man and Prince William, taken by each other and the first shot of a royal taken by an ‘ordinary person’. The fountains were on full pelt in the fabulous courtyard and made for great fun for all ages.
Michelin stars this week were courtesy of The Ledbury, Notting Hill and very nice it was too. these lunch deals are affordable and the place was packed, including a large table of French people who were not on the 2/3 course lunch but the 5 or 6 by the look of it!
The film preview was a new film called Boogie Woogie, which is the name of a Mondrian painting in an odd coincidence having seen some of his work at the Tate early in the week! It’s all about the London art world and was enjoyable but a little bit too ‘in’ that world. Great cast from Gillian Anderson, through Akan Cummings, to Charlotte Rampling, Joanna Lumley, Christopher Lee and Stellan Skarsgard.

Just one more thing – there are dinosaurs in Oxford Street! Don’t believe me? This photo was taken from the bus just by Selfridges….
Bye for now,
Sue

The big freeze…

London is usually not too cold in winter and the last few year’s we’ve been spoilt with mild albeit often grey months. Then came the end of 2009 and the start of 2010 and we’ve had snow, freezing weather and ice, ice, ice! Central London, where I live, is always warmer so it’s not been too bad but further out there have been several inches of snow and very slippy pavements. Given that us Brits love to talk about the weather in normal times, this has taken over all conversation! So, as a picture tells a thousands words, here are a few photos of Notting Hill in the snow:

I’ve not stayed indoors too much and have 2 interesting art visits to report on. The Ed Ruscha exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank was a great exploration of the use of language and graphics. The show reviews his 50 years of painting and with a few short paragraphs of background to guide us through we really enjoyed the wit and visual inspiration. One of my favourite was the word faith written large in a typeface invented and used by the Vatican for catholic texts, simple but evocative.
Our second visit was to an installation in the Tate Modern to see Miraslaw Balka’s big black box. It’s a huge metal and girder structure which fills one end of the massive turbine hall. As you walk in it’s a bit like walking into the lowered ramp of a space ship and as you enter further all the light disappears, you grab the hand of the person with you, sticking the other hand out in front of you and proceed very slowly into the deep, deep black. Eventually you reach a soft velvety wall and you’ve made it to the end. Turning round you see that there is in fact plenty of light behind you and you can easily see where you are! It’s a brilliant way of experiencing a journey into darkness and the unknown. Sadly it’s references are to 20th century Polish history of the Holocaust and Ghettos not spaceships.
Bars and restaurants still needed visiting and my new favourite bar is downstairs at Hix in Soho. Hix is a owned and run by the chef Mark Hix who has the very successful Hix Oyster and Chop House in the City and his original venue in Dorset. It was the bar we were after however and it was great fun, admittedly probably not as busy as on a non snow evening (there I go again about the weather!). It was cool, comfy and a good range of people and although you have to buy some food due to something about a licence, the home made parsnip crisps were a revelation!
One other evening out was to a local pub. I’m always being asked about good pubs and they are hard to find so I am very happy to recommend The Churchill Arms in Kensington. It’s big but cosy, full but not crammed, has loads of decorations but looks fun not silly, has good cheap Thai food and was the first British pub to offer Thai food to its, no doubt, surprised punters!. It’s also very famous for it’s massive hanging baskets so watch out for a photo of that coming soon.
Bye for now.
Sue