TheLondoneer: Testing Out TasterLab in London

For the last few days I’ve been looking over ‘TasterLab’, a site that gathers together interesting experiences that you can have in London for the first time to see whether they might become part of your regular lifestyle…

Most of the taster sessions on offer are free (or at least heavily discounted) and don’t carry any obligation to continue with the provider, and there are quite a varied set of things you can try out. Looking at some of the listings you can see whether kickboxing might be for you with a free session at the Epic Gym in West London, look into your diet with a nutritionist from UrBod at three central London locations, or investigate one of the new collaborative working spaces springing up in London, in this case through HubCulture in Soho who are giving away free day passes so that you can check out their facilities. If there is a downside, most of the tasters only have one provider  and there are some noticeable gaps: there’s nothing on art classes or photography for example. However, I’m told that a new version of the site is going up in June which will have lots more options,  and it certainly seems to be gaining popularity in its current form – they have more likes on Facebook than I do for one thing! TasterLab is worth checking out I think – it might be right up your street if you’re looking to fill some time with a new hobby or two……

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The Admiralty Citadel

Sitting amongst the grand offices in Whitehall, central London, you’ll find an ugly brute of a building, the Admiralty Citadel. Directly behind the old Admiralty on Whitehall, it was built as a shelter for military personnel so that they could continue working during sustained bombing during World War II (it’s roof is 20 foot thick reinforced concrete!).

On the fascia of the building you can still see loupes where machine guns could be set up, giving the occupants a 360 degree field of fire. This indicates the second use of the building – as a redoubt in case of invasion by Nazi forces. Mind you, how well they expected the building to survive sustained fire from tanks or artillery parked right outside is another matter altogether! That being said, its solid construction means that it still has its uses, and it remains as a working Ministry of Defence building to this day – one can only hope that they might offer guided tours as part of the Open House Weekend one of these days, because I’d give my right arm to have a look around inside!

I also took the opportunity to snap a few other things in the immediate vicinity which you can find here – but check out this fine couple for a start……

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Andaz Hotel Liverpool St

Today I’m going to tell you about the interesting evening I had last night, being shown around the boutique 5-star Andaz Hotel right next to Liverpool St station in central London.

Back in the late 19th century, this building started its life as the Great Eastern Hotel, built to support the expanding British rail network – it’s from the same era as the grand edifice that sits over Kings Cross St Pancras for example. A few years ago the hotel was purchased by the Hyatt group and given an extensive refurbishment – the result was the first of their new concept ‘Andaz’ hotels (Andaz, by the way means ‘style’ in both Hindi and Urdu). There are now four others in the group, all in the States – one in San Diego, one in West Hollywood and two in New York, on Wall St and 5th Avenue. In London they’ve taken great care to be true to the area – you’ll find work by East London artists throughout the hotel, such as this for example, which runs around the circular stairway at the hotel’s centre.

Anyway, on to my experience at the hotel. I always feel a tinge of trepidation when accepting invitations to tour hotels and the like, particularly classy establishments because I don’t feel that I can whole-heartedly recommend venues that I can neither afford to eat or even sleep in! For the most part that’s not a problem here, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Let me tell you first about Andaz’s distinguishing features…

For a start, the check-in experience here is rather unique. Walking in through the main doors you find yourself in a double-height reception area with subdued lighting and full of comfortable seats scattered around the space, but there’s no check-in desk in sight – the staff actually come over to you, netbooks in hand, to sort out all the details. An intriguing approach I’m sure you’ll agree! The surprises don’t end there either – while on the outside the hotel has that unmistakeable Victorian grandeur, on the inside it’s all very chic and modern. They’ve only retained the original features of the building where it actually adds to the experience – for example, the grand Italianate marble staircases remain as does the Masonic Temple on the building’s first floor (yes, where genuine Masons used to meet!). Most of the time this unique room hosts dinners and corporate events, but there are no weddings allowed in the space because of all of the Masonic symbolism. It’s all here – the astrological symbols, all-seeing eye, compasses and so on, and only intact because the room was forgotten, remaining hidden behind a boarded up doorway for many years… how spooky!

Elsewhere in the hotel you’ll also find a double-level atrium overlooked by some of the rooms and which has the hotel’s exposed industrial-style lifts in one corner, and a very funky open-plan ‘New York loft’-style space with a completely exposed kitchen at one end which …

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Coming To London? Consider Wimdu And ‘Travel Like A Local’

Are you considering a trip to London but aren’t keen on the costs of a hotel room or want a more personal experience of the UK’s capital?

If so, then Wimdu.com might be for you. Wimdu, whose motto is ‘Travel like a local’ is the alternative accommodation site which makes private apartments and rooms available for sale in London and elsewhere. Established in 2011 they have already helped 100,000 people to experience cities in a way that’s not normally accessible to visitors staying in cookie-cutter hotel rooms.

Travelling with Wimdu offers very good value for money – on average booking a room or apartment through their website is cheaper than staying at hotels of a similar quality.  You can also be assured that the property has been checked by Wimdu’s service team before it is listed on the site, and there’s also a ratings system for guests to leave feedback on their stay.

As part of the package Wimdu also offers peace of mind with a comprehensive insurance package which will insure you against damages up to £500,000, all included in the price. 

In London, the available accommodation includes rooms in Brick Lane, Chelsea, London Bridge and even along the Regent’s Canal in Tower Hamlets. Many home-owners offer their spare rooms through the service, so in addition to getting good accommodation you also get the inside track on the best places to go in the local area and advice and tips on getting around London – ideal for someone who has visited the capital before but now wants to go beyond the tourist traps of the West End and really discover what our great city is really about.

You can find out more about Wimdu’s service on their website here. It offers a great alternative to the traditional hotel stay.…

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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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The Affordable Art Fair

Thousands of pieces of original artwork of all kinds will be on display and available for purchase, ranging in price from £50 to £3000 (although what’s affordable about 3 grand I’m not quite sure!). There will also be lots of informative talks and hands-on demonstrations themed around the idea of ‘Park Life’, including mural painting, printing and lots of activities for kids. The Fair had 25,000 visitors last year and the organisers are hoping for even more this time around. Entry price is £12 to £15 per person on the door, but you can book more cheaply in advance by calling 0870 7772255 or by visiting their website here.…

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London’s Weekend Of Festivals – E17, SW8 & N1

This weekend marks one of your last opportunities to enjoy some community-organised music and merriment in London this year, but never fear – people in the East, the South and the North are all catered for with three festivals across the capital.

From Friday 6 September to Monday 9 September, over in E17 it’s the music-focused Stow Festival which takes place at pubs, bars and cafes across the area – most of the gigs are free! On Saturday afternoon you can also check out the Walthamstow Acoustic Massive who will be taking over the town square (that area between Natwest and BHS), and there’s a musical tour of Walthamstow taking place at 2pm. You can follow their Twitter feed to keep up to date.

On Saturday afternoon from 12 until about 5:30, SW8 gets in on the action with the Stockwell Festival, which takes place at Larkhall Park. There are three spots when you can enjoy live entertainment – the main Stockwell Stage, the Community Performance Quarter where you can learn some drumming and zumba, and the Cabaret Tent (which is over 18s only so expect things to get a tiny bit saucy – there’s a burlesque workshop if you’re brave enough). Again they also have a Twitter feed to follow.

On Sunday the third annual Cally Festival arrives at Caledonian Park in N1 (regular readers will remember that it hosted the remarkable BABEL late last Spring). Again split across three stages – the Main Stage, a Youth Stage (based in an old Airstream trailer) and Story Street, which is an area set aside specifically for kids, there’s something for everyone. The Cally Festival also involves a street market which will offer everything from gourmet food to garden plants.

Whatever the weather there’s no excuse not to get out and about this weekend, unless you live in West London that is – but you guys had the Notting Hill Carnival recently so it’s only fair that the other points of the compass get in on the act, right?…

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Cool Places To Buy Kitchenware & Kitchenalia In London

London is a hub for quirky, effervescent, unique shops, market stalls and charity outlets that sell a range of fantastic items for every room in the home.  One place that I like show my personality is in the kitchen, and for this reason I have become an expert of some of the more cool, and occasionally wacky, shops in which to find some fabulous kitchenware to really stamp originality on my home.

Palmers Green (North London) offers a superb selection of charity shops where, if you take your time and peruse carefully, you can pick up some unique items for your kitchen which are unlikely to be found in your friends’ kitchens! Likewise Portobello Rd has some marvellous second hand stores which can lead to amazing discoveries that can add character to your kitchen without breaking the bank.

An expert in this field, Vincent from leading design company Increation shares the fact that:

“One of my favourite’s stores is Divertimenti. It’s a pleasure to spend time browsing and cooks heaven.”

Check out the shop the next time you are in town and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

If money is no object then luxury stores such as Harrods and Liberty might have what you’re looking, as they juxtapose the traditional beside the unusual, creating ideas and must haves for all types of people.  My favourite purchase of late was a moustache corkscrew from Liberty which always raises an eyebrow at dinner parties!

If you find yourself in Islington make sure to pay a visit to the Gill Wing Cook Shop – the proprietor used to run the Cookshop at Harrods.  This delightful store offers possibly one of the best kitchenware range in the city and caters for all types and tastes.  The reason I am drawn here time and time again is because of the vast knowledge that the stop manager and assistants possess – no question goes unanswered and they really can help with any and all of your kitchenalia needs.

Covent Garden market still holds a host if unusual finds for the kitchen and taking a stroll up Kensington High street or Oxford Street will lead you to Urban Outfitters – true, they’re mainly a clothing retail outlet but on occasion they stock some fab kitsch items that can really brighten up a kitchen.

If you want to give your dinner parties a Japanese twist, head along to the Japan Centre on Regents Street where a fascinating choice of Miso bowls, chopsticks and Sukiyaki pans await you. Once you have all the utensils that you need to cook Japanese food, they can also supply some of the key ingredients to help you make a fabulous meal.

Finally, to really put a piece of London next to your breadbin you may want to consider a trip to the one of London’s major museums. Once you have finished marvelling at the beautiful works of art you can investigate the shop – you’ll be surprised at the number of …

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TheLondoneer: What’s In a Name?

Specifically Londonderry, which we visited on Tuesday. Republicans, some of whom who have scored out part of the name on many of the road signs heading out from Belfast, know it as “derry”.

As I’d only heard about the city as part of the history of the Troubles I had no concept of what this little place was going to present to us, and I have to say it was a total surprise, most of it pleasant.

I wasn’t aware, for example, that the city has an entirely intact city wall, completed in 1618 to protect the inhabitants from raiders, which is pierced by seven gates in all. Again, the influx of European money is clearly in evidence here as well, as the entire area around the old Guildhall is being refreshed to turn it into an Irish version of a traditional Italian piazza. Even without stepping inside, the Tower Museum is also a remarkable sight.

There’s also a small but perfectly formed Cathedral, dedicated to St Columb, which overlooks the part of the city that continues to show evidence of the Troubles, the Bogside. The problems in Northern Ireland are historically deemed to have stemmed from here after the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ which took place in the summer of 1969, and during which over 1000 people were injured – curb stones on the estate resolutely remain painted in red, white and blue to this day.

If you’re visiting Northern Ireland then the city really has to be on your itinerary but, given its tiny dimensions, an afternoon should give you enough time to see it all.…

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Dalston’s Secret Green Space – The Eastern Curve Garden

The garden is built over the route of the old railway line which used to link Dalston Junction with an old goods yard up until the 1960s, and this forgotten patch of land was then used for storage for many years. In 2009 architecture collective EXYZT acquired the site for the construction of the temporary ‘Dalston Mill’ (seen here on the Barbican’s page from that year) and in 2010 the garden appeared.

Today the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden features a popular open air cafe, raised beds for the growing of vegetables and flowers and lots of green space in which to relax – something that’s in short supply in the centre of Dalston. The most recent addition to the garden is the Pineapple House, a much-needed greenhouse to allow the green-fingered volunteers to propagate new plants before they’re introduced to the harsh Dalston climate! The garden plays host to lots of organised activities too, for both children and adults – see the events calendar for more details.

The garden is in a very unusual spot, hemmed in by buildings on two sides and a car park on the other – it’s a lovely little oasis of calm with a ‘secret garden’ quality to it, given that you enter via an anonymous door off the main road. In terms of its unique features, it can certainly lay claim to having the most unusual scarecrows in London and there’s also a rather unique take on the ‘firepit’ concept over on one side! The garden also features a couple of works by street art favourite, Stik, as well as some unusual stone heads that are dotted around here and there.

 
 

 
 

 
 

If you’re local, the voluntary group that runs the site is always looking for helpers, whether you’re comfortable pouring tea or handy with a trowel – you’ll find the sign-up form here.

In a rather troubling development, the Hackney Citizen reports that the future of the Eastern Curve Garden is currently in doubt, as there’s been a lot of new development in the immediate area in recent years and long-standing proposals call for the removal of the garden and its replacement by a shopping street. Let’s hope that local councillors see sense and leave it exactly as it is – this is a wonderful resource for locals and visitors alike. I imagine that it will be absolutely thronged with people this weekend if the warm weather arrives as promised…

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