Friday, 27 December 2013

Christmas & Boxing Day

Well, that's Christmas over for another year. 

Drove up to Carlisle from Gloucester with Marilyn on Christmas Eve to stop with Dad and Aunty Jean. A big storm had passed by the day before so we were expecting lots of disruption, but we made 90% of the journey in beautiful sunshine along quiet roads. Made it up in record timing, though the heavens opened as soon as we got to Cumbria.

Spent Christmas Day at my cousin Craig's. His partner Lynne puts on a huge spread and we ate and drank ourselves daft before snuggling down in front of the fire.

That's the best chair in the world. It's like curling up in a giant nest.

On Boxing Day we decided to walk off some of the excess food and alcohol at Ullswater. Heavy rains meant that the water was very high and you couldn't get far round.

(Panoramic. Click to enlarge.)

We also stopped off at the top of Aira Force, one of the Lake District's waterfalls, for a wander.

(Panoramic. Click to enlarge.)

Went for drinks at my other cousin Daren's last night, and the final of the trio, Shaun, popped round for tea this morning. 

Family loved, it's time to leave. Driving back down for a quiet New Year, just me, Marilyn and the local wine bar. Rather looking forward to it. Was going to go and see Paul in Alva but last time I ended up staying three months and right now I need to save all my pennies for the year ahead. Planning to renew my passport and head off adventuring. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Birthday Surprise Part II: Curious Winter Wonderland

Marilyn booked tickets for the Magical Ice Palace, an incredible land of snow and ice sculptures kept at a cool -8°


It was like stepping through the cupboard to Narnia. So beautiful, at once calling to mind images from The Night Circus and a documentary I recently saw on Ludwig II of Bavaria, Germany's Dream King, or Swan King. I think he would have loved this.

Which brings me to my next question...

When did Christmas become so German?

I'm not complaining, it's all very nice, but I must confess to being slightly confused by the matter. Over the past few years it seems that every major city in the United Kingdom has sprouted a bustling German market, selling gingerbread, kinderschokolade crepes and beer in steins so large you need two hands to lift them.

This makes Dad very happy, as he relives tales of umpa-ing at Munich beer festivals with my mother in his youth, and their mulled cider and wine (though shouldn't that be glühwein?) is second to none, but there is something rather disconcerting about the definition of Christmas equating to sitting in a beer hall with barmaids who don't smile, listening to a man with a Yamaha keyboard yodelling.

I'm just saying, it's slightly odd.

Moving on.

From Hyde Park we took a slow meander around Covent Garden (cue Santa's little gremlin, who appears to be levitating in mid-air, terrifying small children)...

 ... and stopped for coffee.

I have a heart in mine!

Then it was off to the Apollo for the main event of the weekend: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, adapted to stage.

It was absolutely outstanding. Seriously incredible adaptation of a much loved modern classic. Extremely innovative stage design and some very clever effects, which didn't detract from the power of the acting, only enhanced it. Well worth going to see.

[NEWS FLASH: Six days later the theatre collapsed!]

We stopped off at the Soho Theatre bar afterwards for a couple of rounds of well-earned drinks.

And became embroiled in a Santa rally as we left.

Just as we were trying to figure out where to eat, Marilyn spotted Jamie Oliver's Diner across the street. I didn't think we'd get in, but the wait was under ten minutes so we decided to see what it was like. I must say, I was impressed. Very nice food indeed, and a wonderful way to finish off the day. Two vegy burgers with shoestring fries, and a basket of monkfish. Perfect sized portions, and possibly the tastiest fish and chips I've ever had. An enjoyable celebrity dining experience.

From there we wended our way back to the hotel and rested our aching feet in front of the telly with a bottle of scotch and a box of baklava. Happy times had by all.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Birthday Surprise Part I: The Shard

Dad outside The Shard

This is a long and picture packed post. Marilyn organised a surprise weekend in London for Dad's birthday, and what a weekend!

We caught the train to Paddington early on Friday, dropped our bags off at a hotel in Vauxhall, then headed to the first surprise.

The Shard is currently the tallest building in the European Union, at 87 stories, stretching 306 metres (1,004 ft) high!

You have to take two lifts to get to the top, which travel at a smooth six metres per second (15 miles per hour). You sort of expect to pop out of the top like in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

The view from the top is incredible. St. Paul's Cathedral, once the largest building in London, looked little more than the size of a postage stamp.

London's Business Centre

Bridges, including the Harry Potter Bridge (second from top)
leading to St. Paul's on the right

Top floor of The Shard is open-air!

A Triskel of Trains

Tower Bridge and Thames

HMS Belfast, about the length of my finger!

Footprints on the escalator outside.

It was quite a grey day, and not long after London had been hit by historic, flight-grounding fog, but you could still see for miles, and they had special telescopic screens that allowed you to zoom in and displayed labels telling you what the main buildings were. Dad used to live in Crystal Palace, and the transmission station looked like the Eiffel Tower in the distance. I think there is something incredibly relaxing about seeing the world so small below.

Definitely worth a visit.

From there, we headed to Leicester Square in search of a film, as that's the cinema centre of London. It was also extremely festive.

Leicester Square

There wasn't much showing, so we took a little wander down to Piccadilly, past the iconic fountain of the Four Bronze Horses of Helios, which is beautiful in a sort of fearsome way.

Someone had decided to turn the central monument of Anteros into a giant snow globe! Genius.

There were also plenty of pretty lights.

Christmas lights in Chinatown

We found a quiet underground cinema nearby showing Philomena. I'd heard it was good, but this has to have been one of the best surprises of the weekend. I've never really been a massive fan of Steve Coogan, who is best known for his comic role as Alan Partridge, but as a straight actor he was absolutely brilliant. You expect great acting from Judi Dench, but he really played the backside off it. If you get a chance to see this film - do! It's sad, and funny, and just excellent. Have a large pack of tissues at the ready.

After that, we trundled up to Bond Street to one of our favourite London restaurants, Topkapi on Marylebone High Street. It was a bit more brightly lit than before, but they still sell delicious Turkish food and a wonderfully smooth red called Buzbağ - highly recommended.

Then it was a contented tube ride back to Vauxhall to sleep it off.

Read about Part II.