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TheLondoneer: Visit The Incredible Edible Gingerbread House @ The Brunswick Centre

From tomorrow, for just three days, a magical gingerbread house will be on show at the Brunswick Centre over in Bloomsbury in aid of the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.

For young visitors, there will be a trail leading them inside the Brunswick Centre where they will discover a giant edible gingerbread house. There’ll be giant gingerbread men, accordion players and storytellers to entertain the children and of course there will also be opportunities to eat yourself silly! Created by Alma-nac Collaborative Architecture, the gingerbread house will have three distinct types of tiles you can munch on – traditional gingerbread, vanilla and chocolate short pastry, while overhead meringue clouds will hang from the ceiling. There are other interesting things to discover, including some chocolate furniture and a gingerbread-making class led by Lily Vanilli, but I don’t want to completely spoil the surprise for kids who head along. Tickets to enter the gingerbread house will only be £2, with another £2 donation for any children taking part in the gingerbread-making sessions. Just remember that it’s all been set up to help this important children’s charity. Enjoy!

 

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TheLondoneer: ‘Set Sail’ Landing in Trafalgar Square On Thursday – ‘World Stage’ Tour

I’ve just heard about a rather fun new acoustic pop band, ‘Set Sail’. Consisting of 3 young Australians, this coming weekend they will be on the London leg of a 48 city, 5 continent trip which for obvious reasons they’ve dubbed the ‘World Stage’ tour.

[EDIT] I’ve been in touch with ‘Set Sail’ and they are now performing on Trafalgar Square at about 1pm on Thursday, and are hoping to do a complete set of material. If you pop over to their Facebook page or their YouTube channel you can see what they’ve been up to so far. There has been what looked like a great little impromptu performance in a Berlin park (which attracted some rather colourful dancers), they’ve had problems with overzealous police in Paris and they’ve even been entertaining other passengers on the flights they’ve been taking to reach all of the destinations on their tour

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Londoneer: The NME Small Venue Awards – Bush Hall for the London Prize

You might know that the NME have an annual award to celebrate live music venues across England. Several places in London are up for the award this year including the Bar Fly in Camden and the celebrated 100 Club on Oxford St. 

 
 

My vote will be going to Bush Hall however, the beautiful and intimate little venue on Uxbridge Road just down the street from Shepherds Bush Market tube station. It’s incredible inside – covered in elaborate plaster mouldings from floor to ceiling it’s like stepping back into the late 19th century. I’ve seen several bands there in the fairly recent past, most notably a manic performance by the wonderful Liam Finn in late 2009 which was breathtaking!

If you’re interested in supporting London’s smaller live music venues (and frankly there’s nothing like being up close and personal to your favourite artists in an intimate setting, compared to somewhere corporate and vast like the O2 for example) then please make your vote count. The competition closes on 10 June, so get online and pick your favourite venue on the NME website here.

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Londoneer: What’s Behind The Marble Arch?

I’m sure that most tourists who have visited London have taken the opportunity to go and see the Marble Arch, which sits at the end of Oxford St in London’s West End, next to Hyde Park. I imagine that most of them assume that it is just another of London’s war memorials (similar to the Arc De Triomphe in Paris), but its history is actually a lot more complex than it at first appears.

In actual fact, it’s not where it should be. It was initially designed as the gateway to the newly rebuilt Buckingham Palace by John Nash in 1828, so at that time it sat on The Mall, in approximately the same position as the large monument to Queen Victoria which now sits in front of the building. When further changes were made to the Palace in 1855 which added a fourth side facing out onto the Mall (in front of which you’ll regularly see the Changing of the Guard these days) it was moved piece by piece over to its present position. Of course it also gives its name to the local tube station which, if it had never been re-sited, would probably have been called Cumberland Gate station, or perhaps Edgware Road South?

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Londoneer: A Polish Discovery Around The Corner – Londek

Living in London I think it’s always important to keep your eyes wide open when you are wandering around, just in case you miss something. I learned my lesson earlier this evening when I discovered, next to the Polish delicatessen in Stratford which I have actually visited previously, a little Polish restaurant which I had no inkling was there, called ‘Londek’ (Londek is the cutesy way of referring to London in Polish as I understand it).

This place is a gem, and serves food familiar to me from my many trips to Polish cities over the years – they serve various sorts of Pierogi (the Polish staple of boiled ravioli-style parcels stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables) as well as Gołąbki (pronounced ‘gowomki’ which is rolled cabbage leaves stuffed with mince and rice in a spicy tomato sauce) and Bigos (a spicy sauerkraut soup with with various meats). Apart from that they have a fantastic selection of specials almost as long as their normal menu and a wide selection of Polish cakes and pastries – ideal if you happen to be wandering by in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon (or at any time in my case!).

The big plus about this place is the price – the main courses are all about £5, including a side of vegetables, not very much more than what you’d pay anywhere in Poland for this kind of food. I’ll leave you with a little tip – if you happen by for a meal you must order a glass of their ‘kompot’ – a mixture of fruit juices that actually has whole berries floating in it – the acidity of the drink is great for cutting through those heavy Polish dishes 🙂

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Londoneer: HostelBookers Christmas Advent Calendar Competition

I do love finding out about fun competitions and this is a good one from HostelBookers, with the added bonus of having a seasonal Christmas theme 🙂

The company, who you may know offer a service for booking budget accommodation in London and elsewhere, are running a 24 day Christmas giveaway in the form of an advent calendar which runs all the way up to Christmas Eve. Prizes on offer include free stays in London youth hostels, an iPad, Sony digital cameras, shopping vouchers and more besides!

All you have to do to enter the competition is to look out for a daily question posted on the HostelBookers Facebook page and email your answer to [email protected] Each day over Advent there will be a different question that will test your knowledge of different Christmas traditions across the world. There’ll also be some photo competitions popping up on the site over the month, so keep your smartphone or camera close by so that you can get your entries in quickly. You can find out all of the details and enter the competitions on

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Londoneer: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

I was enjoying one of my regular visits to Belfast this weekend, and we took some time out earlier today to visit the transport section of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra, just a few miles northeast of Belfast City Centre.

Located a few minutes from the local railway station (which is incredibly run down – very uninviting when you consider that this is the gateway to Belfast’s largest museums and one of its premium 5 star hotels) the Transport Museum’s main building houses the Irish railway collection, where you’ll find huge steam trains and their carriages, along with mocked up platforms and tableaus (one of which includes nuns!) and even a reconstructed station tea room. A section of the building is also dedicated to other forms of public transport, including trams, trolleys and buses that have been lovingly restored and feature working vehicles from Belfast and further afield in Ireland. An adjoining annex explores the history of cars and motorcycles, with the centrepiece of course being the iconic DeLorean motorcar with its characteristic brushed steel frame and gullwing doors, which was manufactured in the early 80s at the Dunmurry car plant just on the outskirts of Belfast.

A walk down the hill through some pleasantly landscaped gardens, bursting with huge rhododendrons, brings you to the general transport galleries which focus on earlier forms of transport including carts, stage coaches and even shanks’ pony. Here you’ll also find the air transport gallery (complete with flight simulator) and a dedicated exhibition tracing the history of the White Star Line’s RMS Titanic, which like the DeLorean has local connections, having been built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard on the edge of Belfast’s city centre.

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On The Trail Of The Queen’s Silver Jubilee In London

As the 60th Anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation has been celebrated in the last few days, I thought it might be fun to wind the clock back to 1977, don our denim flares and our flowery shirts and take a look at what physical remnants of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee can be found in London…

Paul Fitzgerald’s 1977 official portrait of the Queen

Given how much London’s physical and cultural landscape can change in just a year or two, I think you’ll be surprised at exactly how much has survived the intervening three and a half decades, but lets start with the biggest of the tributes to Her Majesty – the Jubilee Line. Originally planned as the Fleet Line (named for the Thames tributary which gives Fleet Street it’s name) the name and colour change came as the result of an election pledge made by the Conservative members of the Great London Council. The line’s original battleship grey colour was swapped for a lighter silvery hue and two years after the Jubilee, on 30 April 1979, the line was formally opened by the Prince Of Wales.

The event of the Silver Jubilee itself was marked by over four thousand street parties in the capital on 6 June, and very soon afterwards one of the most well-known of the London tributes was unveiled by the Queen herself – the Jubilee Walkway. Unveiled on 9 June 1977 it connects just about all of central London’s tourist sites, with the route marked out by crowns set at intervals into the pavement – a popular way to take a walking tour of the centre of town, it has been added to in the intervening years. Several more miles of walking routes were added to mark both the Golden Jubilee and the recent Diamond Jubilee…

One of London’s most well-known engineering marvels also owes a debt of gratitude to the Silver Jubilee – painted up until that point in a rather drab greenish-blue, Tower Bridge owes its present patriotic red, white and blue colour scheme to the occasion. Just on the northern side of Tower Bridge is another tribute – the Coronarium Chapel. This multi-faith religious building can be found in the middle of St Katharine Docks, although time has definitely taken its toll here – for the last few years this unusual circular building has housed a branch of Starbucks. Ian Visits has written an interesting article on the sorry fate of this piece of 1970s architecture.

Of course the fine art world made a contribution to the Silver Jubilee, with the Queen’s only official portrait of that year being painted by celebrated Australian artist Paul Fitzgerald. This  beautiful work, which shows the Queen wearing a tiara and a blue cloak decorated with some of her regalia, can be found at London’s Commonwealth Institute which occupies Marlborough House on the Mall, just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.

With all of these very grand gestures it’s nice to find that a much more modest remnant of the Silver Jubilee in London remains – the Jubilee Gardens, which sit just behind the London Eye on the Southbank. Previously a large area of grass, they’ve recently had a makeover to mark the Diamond Jubilee – you’ll now find trees and hillocks breaking up the expanse of lawn.

The glass block which used to grace the Coronarium Chapel – reproduced from www.ianvisits.co.uk

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London Transport 150 At The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

Although it’s some time away, I thought it might be useful to fill you in on a steam-related event coming up in early August – a London Transport 150 event organised by the London Transport Museum and the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.

Of all the celebrations taking place as part of the network’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, this has to be the biggest in the calendar, taking place at the Quainton Road station in Aylesbury on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 August and the following Wednesday – if you’re wondering about the connection, Quainton Road was a Metropolitan Line station up until 1936 and has been .

The highlight of the weekend will be the opportunity to take trips on several vintage carriages pulled by Victorian steam trains. Vehicles that will be put to use include the now-restored Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the Metropolitan Jubilee Carriage 353 which was built in 1892 and fully restored last year, as well as the ‘Milk Van’ – this train transported milk from the dairies of Buckinghamshire and returned with a full load of horse manure!

There will lots of activities to keep the kids occupied, including trips on the 1km long miniature railway that the Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society (VAMES) operates, plus story-telling with Pluto (a puppet version of an early Underground train) and a Family Trail around the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre and Quainton Road station.

Amongst the classic vehicles on static display will be the Brill Tramway ‘tram’ from 1872 alongside a Metropolitan Railway Open Wagon which dates from the era when the Underground also carried freight, and a First Class dining carriage from 1901 which was used on services out of Euston, and then pressed into use as the equerries dining car on the Royal Train of all things.

Another rather special carriage to visit will be Queen Mary’s 1940 Royal Carriage which has particular significance in the context of the Second World War – it was used by Churchill and Eisenhower as a discreet place to meet to discuss war planning in the run up to D-Day. You’ll also be able to try your hand at being a postman with several Post Office carriages, which up until 2004 were used to sort mail throughout the night between large cities on the rail network.

Several documentary films will be screened throughout the London Transport 150 weekend, the most interesting being Sir John Betjemen’s 1973 ‘Metroland’ where he mused about the way that the Underground had spurned the development of London’s leafy suburbia. It’s really worth seeing – a very thoughtful snapshot of life in 1970s London.

Tickets for this event cost £10 in advance for adults and £7 for children (£9 concessions and senior citizens £9). If this sounds appealing I would get your tickets booked quickly – given the number of railway and transport fans around it’s bound to be wildly popular!

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A Preview Tour of Portsmouth’s Mary Rose Museum, Opening On 31 May

I’m rather ashamed to say that I’d never been to Portsmouth before, so the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum was a great excuse to head to the south coast on a day trip out of London. I found lots to see and do and plenty to appeal to all kinds of visitors, not just for lovers of naval history.

The train journey from London took about an hour and a half to Portsmouth Harbour station, where you arrive right in the heart of all the things that you would want to see – in fact you’re still in the station when you catch sight of the huge HMS Warrior. Britain’s first iron hulled ship, she is a warship that was launched in 1860 and was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet – the fastest ship of her day.

Exiting the station, you can choose to turn right to the Gun Wharf or left to the Historic Dockyards. I started with the right side of the station as my eye was taken by the striking white Spinnaker Tower rising 170 metres above the harbour. Entry costs £8.55, which gives you access to 3 different levels with the top one taking you to 110 metres and a lovely looking cafe on the middle level. The views are really wonderful out to sea, over old Portsmouth and across the Historic Dockyards including a glimpse of HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum. On the first level there is plenty of panorama information if you are new to the area and audio guides for each vista. One added bit of fun is the glass floor on the top level for the very brave to stand on!

 
 

 
 

 
 

Passing the cafes on the water front and the handsome yachts in the marina, I walked through old Portsmouth to the Round Tower. This landmark fortification has watched over Portsmouth Harbour since the early 1400s and is close to the site of the sinking of the Mary Rose herself. I was keen to see the Square Tower, the cathedral and the D-Day Museum but was running short of time so had to head off to the Historic Dockyards.

The Mary Rose Museum opens tomorrow, 31st May and is an amazing museum which is well worth a day trip out from London on its own. It sits in the heart of the Historic Dockyards which is packed full of other museums and displays of naval goods – on the way to see the Mary Rose you even pass HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship during his victorious battle at Trafalgar, which sadly cost his life. It’s a wonderful ship and I’ll have to visit again to have enough time to do justice to a tour of this beautiful ship.

 
 

 
 

 
 

I was getting excited as I approached the Mary Rose Museum, as I remembered the news of this Tudor warship from Henry V111’s fleet being raised from the sea floor back in 1982. Since then she has been undergoing intensive restoration ready for display alongside the thousands of artefacts found in and around the vessel.

She was built here in the historic dockyards and sank in the harbour entrance on 19th July 1545 in full view of Henry during a battle against the French. Mary Rose is the only sixteenth century warship on display anywhere, and has been an extraordinary gift for historians as everything about her can be dated to the exact day and the artefacts are not simply ‘tudor’ but from 19th July 1545. She is so well-preserved because she rolled over on her side as she sank, so half the ship settled into the mud which covered and protected her timbers and her contents.

In the museum you will learn all about the ship and her history and the incredible restoration process, but what you really want to see is the ship and that soon happens. As restoration is still continuing the remaining half of the ship is in an air sealed room as they carry on the careful drying of timbers that have been in preservatives for decades. Excitement builds as you get to see the original ship through a series of windows to one side of the walkways and on the other you see, laid out as they would have been on the decks, the guns , ropes and artefacts. The ship is huge and the items are so well-preserved it is hard to believe it is all real after nearly 468 years below the waves. There are 3 decks worth of ship and, although it still had machinery and drying equipment on it, the timbers are absolutely wonderful to see and our group stopped and stared for some time at each window. I was amazed by the size of the ship – I apologise that the photos do not do it justice as you can’t easily capture it top to bottom, but hopefully they will give you an idea of its scale.

 
 

 
 

 
 

There were over 19,000 artefacts in the ship and they are displayed in an interesting way – by cabin and by owner. You can see for example, the cook’s knives and utensils – one of the few people whose names we know, he was called Ny Coep and you can see his chart of the weekly rations and learn about what they ate and drank – there does seem to have been a lot of beer! The carpenter’s chest of tools is also there as are officers’ personal effects and musical instruments. Displays of bows and arrows, bowls and many wooden chests with their contents give an insight into everyday life on board, including the many nit combs as it was none to clean below decks! It is extraordinary to see shoes and so many items made of wood, particularly the large chests, which were preserved by the mud and are rarely in existence from this age are they normally decay in the air and water. Even the skeleton of the ship’s dog has been preserved…

 
 

 
 

 
 

We finally tore ourselves away and passed through the excellent shop offering all kinds of mementos, from models to soft toy dogs and specially commissioned English Mary Rose wine. Once outside we saw the wooden exterior of the museum, looking like a boat itself and there was also another special treat – the sight of the enormous and famous Ark Royal aircraft carrier just a few days before she headed off to a scrap yard!

 
 

 
 

 
 

I just had time for one more stop at the Gunwharf outlet shopping centre just around the corner – it’s full of great bargains with over ninety designer shops offering everything from Nike, to M&S, to Adidas, Calvin Klein, Gap, White Stuff, Hobbs etc.

A quick dash back to the railway station and I was back home in London in time for a late dinner. It’s a great day out and there’s plenty to see for more than one day in Portsmouth, but if you just have the one then make sure you that see the Mary Rose museum and go up the Spinnaker at the very least…