Thursday, 31 August 2017

Days out in London north and south of the river - Sutton House and Dulwich Picture Gallery



When you live in a city like London (or anywhere for that matter) it's easy to become complacent and think that you have all the time in the world to see the sights, go to galleries, the theatre etc. And maybe you do, but it's only when you decide to do something that you realise how enriching it is to make the effort and how much is actually on your doorstep.


A week or so ago, my pal and I had two days free to play so we decided to take a walk to visit the National Trust's Sutton House, the oldest Tudor house in the East End of London a mere 15 minute walk from our respective front doors. Sutton House was built in 1535 by Ralph Sadleir a courtier of Henry VIII. It's an interesting place to visit but don't expect a fully renovated stately home. It has undergone various alterations in it's history and although it retains some of it's original features, it is a progression of various eras and supports community projects and exhibitions. It was occupied by squatters in the 1980's and there is a room that bears witness to this. 

Getting there .. no parking nearby, the closest station is Hackney Central and it is also served by various bus routes .. click on the link for more info.

* * *

On our second day off, we headed off to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London. Designed and built by Sir John Soane "it is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery: it was founded in 1811 when Sir Francis Bourgeois RA bequeathed his collection of old masters “for the inspection of the public”." 

I had been there before but quite a few years ago so was interested to go back again and see the water colours of John Singer Sargent. It's a wonderful collection of his work and booking is recommended as you may not get in if you just turn up. We were lucky as there was a slot within an hour of us arriving so we took the opportunity to have some lunch outdoors first as it was a beautiful day. 

Getting there .. free car parking, bus, rail and underground .. again, click the link for more specific info.

I hope this inspires you to check out galleries and historic venues in your neck of the woods. There's so much out there to see and learn about. Next stop for me, Tate Modern to see the Giacometti retrospective which finishes on September 10.

Both Sutton House and the Dulwich Picture Gallery are available for hire for weddings and other events.









Monday, 7 August 2017

Southport and The Open Championship, Royal Birkdale

In my day job role as a TV make up artist, I occasionally get to travel and I recently went up to Southport to work on an outside broadcast for The Open Golf championships at Royal Birkdale for Sky Sports. 

I don't know the area very well - the closest I had been before was to Liverpool and that too was for work. There is usually little time to see and do much outside of the working environment on these jobs although this time I was lucky enough to get an afternoon free on a beautiful sunny day to explore a little of the town and get a sense of it's Victorian heritage. There are many buildings still intact from days gone by - I felt as though I had stepped back in time.

"Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte lived in exile on Lord Street, the main thoroughfare of Southport, between 1846 and 1848, before returning to France to become President and subsequently Emperor of the French. During his reign, he caused much of the medieval centre of Paris to be replaced with broad tree-lined boulevards, covered walkways and arcades, just like Lord Street. On the strength of this coincidence, it has been suggested that the redevelopment may have been inspired by memories of Southport's town centre." Source Wikipedia

Having worked on The Open at Royal Troon last year, Royal Birkdale golf course was similar in that it was situated on the west coast with views of the seemingly endless beach and the sea. The Golf Club is over a hundred years old and has a beautiful Art Deco clubhouse built in 1935. Our studio was situated on the 18th fairway with gorgeous views of the 18th hole and the Clubhouse - the perfect location to witness the winner take his prize at the end of the championship.

Our first few days were occupied with set ups in the studio, The Open Zone and preview shows, finally kicking in the long hours on set from day 1-4 of the main event which started on air from 6am. Our call time was 3am for transport to the ground where we would grab a quick breakfast and head to the studio where make ups could be anytime from 4.30am.

Glamorous? It really isn't! However, the upside of early starts is getting to see the sunrise every day .. and we didn't have much rain to contend with either.

We were so lucky to have such a great team of people who all worked well together to create a fantastic job. Teamwork is everything in these situations and makes a huge difference.

 
Last year we won the BAFTA for best Sports Production - can we do it again?

Just some of the many people it takes to make this happen

Next year's The Open championship will be back in Scotland in Carnoustie 45 minutes away from St. Andrews. Tickets are already available!




Saturday, 8 July 2017

Greece is the Word .. Part 3 Agrari Beach, Mykonos

About half a mile away from Elia beach lies the beach of Agrari. It is possible to walk there from Elia but we didn't attempt it as it was a very hot day and the distant path looked quite rocky - there's no shelter along the way. The concierge at the hotel recommended we get there by cab so we took that option as there were four of us - costing us €10 apiece for each journey. The photo on the left shows our hotel complex in the distance to indicate how close it actually is.
 
The cab driver arrived to collect us and said he'd never driven there before so I used the Waze app on my phone and got us there in about 20 minutes. It was a very entertaining journey and he promised he would pick us up at 5pm for our return. True to his word he was there - the journey back shown here on the right. Seems ridiculous I know - if I go again, I'll try the walk!

 
It was a very peaceful setting with a small hotel to one side. It reminds me of what beaches used to be like in Greece before they were overly developed. No loud music, no crowds and people just relaxing in the shade of the sheltered area by the small beach bar or under umbrellas on the sun loungers. It's also a nudist beach FYI. If you're expecting fine white sand you would be disappointed. The sand in this region is quite coarse and sharp. On the plus side, the sea is crystal clear.


The short walk from where we were dropped off took us past the beach bar and then to the left. What appeared was a gorgeous, lush garden walk. I felt like I was in the south of France or somewhere similar. I've never associated this type of garden with Greece so it was lovely to see.


We went there specifically for lunch as we were informed that it was more typically Greek than most of the beach restaurants are now - a family business which had been there for years. They were right .. it was utterly charming, unfussy and offered all the usual Greek dishes you would expect to find. We had the moussaka - the last 3 portions of the day - which turned out to be quite fortuitous as they were rather large servings which we ended up sharing between us along with some vegetable balls and Greek salad. It was very reasonably priced too, almost half of what we paid for lunch at Elia beach. 

The wine list was limited and basic so we each opted for a half litre bottle of prosecco for €9 - a bargain. 

At the end of the meal as with most of the meals we had in Mykonos, they would bring a complimentary shot glass of Mastika. I grew to quite like this little tradition and have brought a bottle of the stuff home with me as yet unopened. I am reluctant to try it here as it may not have the same appeal as it had in lovely Mykonos.

That's it - another box ticked off the bucket list but this won't be my last visit there. Next year we have decided on another Greek Island - you'll have to wait and see which one it is!




Greece is the word ... Part 2 Mykonos town

We took a couple of trips into town to have a mooch around followed by dinner as our lovely little part of the island was a tad remote. As I mentioned in my Part 1 blog, our hotel ran a free shuttle service to and from the town each day. Every night the bus would fill to capacity with the journey lasting just under half an hour.

For the return journey there was no real system. We just waited at the designated pick up area and when the bus arrived it was every man/woman for themselves. Of course there was no need for this chaos as there were always 2 or 3 buses going back and they would never leave you stranded, but I guess it's the survival instinct of the human species kicking in. What's the rush? You're on holiday - just R E L A X.

I'm so glad I've developed the art of patience.

http://www.greeka.com/cyclades/mykonos/mykonos-villages/mykonos-town.htmMykonos Town with it's iconic windmills sitting on the hill as the sun goes down. All and sundry flock to the town at night as there are numerous restaurants, bars and shops down all the little winding cobbled streets. They gather in the waterside bars, jostling for position, smart phones and camera's poised at the ready for a chance to capture images of the sun as it sets over the horizon.
 
I love to take photos like everyone else but sometimes it's just nice to sit back and view the changing light without looking through a lens. We watched our first sunset from Scarpa, a waterside bar in Little Venice rammed with beautiful people. Very hip and cool and renown for it's great cocktails. 

After our sunset drinks, we strolled a few minutes away for dinner at Kalita restaurant which was recommended by friends who visit the island every year. The food was very good, although one of our party sent her wine back as it wasn't quite right. They did however replace it with no fuss .. as they should.

Another recommendation was Funky Kitchen which we tried on a subsequent evening. The food was fabulous as were the cocktails. It happened to be the hottest day (37C) and the night wasn't much cooler - there wasn't a breath of air. The waiter came with the cocktail menu as we sat down and presented us all with a hand fan to cool off. A nice touch and very welcomed! I think the temperature cooled to 32C by the time we left!

It's unusual to eat early in Greece so it's always best to make reservations (although not essential) at most of the good restaurants as they fill up pretty quickly.

Massimo Listri and Marc Sijan
It's lovely to wander through the town browsing the shops and taking in the atmosphere. We were lucky enough to stumble across a wonderful little art gallery called Rarity. There were some fabulous works of art on display including Julian Opie, Massimo Listri and Hyperrealism sculptors Carole Feuerman and Marc Sijan amongst many others. If you like art this gallery is certainly worth a visit.

Many of the major high end retail brands are here too catering to a slightly more affluent cliental. (The super yachts in the harbour are a bit of a give away.)
 
There are little chapels around almost every bend, beautifully maintained and quaint. I never thought to go in and have a look - maybe that wasn't an option as the doors always seemed to be closed. Maybe next time.

Mykonos Town really comes alive after dark with it's clubs and bars hubbub and music filling the air. It's a very vibrant, busy place. Seemingly it's not very user friendly everywhere for anyone with mobility issues so I do wonder how they would get on.


Up next .. Part 3 Agrari Beach



 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Greece is the word .. Mykonos is the place .. Part 1 The hotel and Elia Beach

Flying over Mykonos
Every year for the past five years, my girlfriends and I have taken a week out of our busy schedules to enjoy a vacation on a mutually agreed designated island, preferably within a four hour flying radius of London.

We started off year one in 2013 with a Greek Island - Crete, back again to another Greek Island in 2014, beautiful Santorini, then Tenerife in the Canary Islands 2015 and last year to the magical island of Ibiza in the Balearics. It was whilst we were in Ibiza that we decided that Mykonos would be our choice for this year. It's a very popular destination generally and one of my bucket list picks from way back. We're so 'on it' now that we've got a shortlist of islands to visit and next year we already think we know where we'll go.

We built our own package 6 months in advance via Alpharooms which was considerably cheaper than going directly through any of the tour operators or the hotel directly and got a really good all round deal including flights with EasyJet from London Gatwick. Our total package cost included flights, hotel with breakfast and airport transfers in Mykonos.

We stayed at The Royal Myconian Hotel Resort - a beautiful luxurious hotel with a high-end feel overlooking Elia beach and the Aegean Sea. It's not far from Mykonos town but about a 20 minute drive due to the hilly terrain. The hotel offers a regular transfer service each day free of charge and buses run hourly right up until midnight. There's also a heliport nearby for those wanting a quick entry or exit!

The buildings in Mykonos are built in a traditional style. They are all painted white giving it a very cool, clean, pristine look which contrasts beautifully with the blues of the sea and sky and the vibrant pink bougainvillea flowers which grow prolifically in this Mediterranean climate. We did not see a single cloud in the whole time we were there so felt very lucky to have enjoyed such an amazing few days relaxing by the salt water pool. (The previous week it had rained!) I have to say it's probably the nicest pool I have ever experienced on holiday. It's quite deep and a decent size so it's perfect for people who really want a good swim and plenty of room to do it without others getting in the way. It's also refreshingly cool and a great relief from the heat of the summer sun.

Next to the pool is a bar which you can swim to on one side or sit on bar stools on the dry side. A resident DJ pumps out an eclectic mix of tunes all day which seemed to suit all tastes and was never too loud. The poolside area is large enough so that you can distance yourself if you want to. There is also a pool café which is actually more of a restaurant and the food was fresh and delicious. Service is also offered around the pool itself.

For those who prefer to be beside the sea, the beach is a short walk away and the hotel offers a free shuttle service as the road is very steep. There is a private section of beach which is set aside for hotel residents and the beach loungers are free to use. Further down the beach towards Agrari the hire charge is €30 per day! Nearby is the Elia Beach restaurant which is a hive of activity during the day. The food is fab and the atmosphere casual, trendy and buzzy. We tried lunch and dinner there and the vibe is quite different and quieter at night. The evenings are not so crowded and it's a wonderful setting to see people vacating the beach (on foot or by boat), the light change and the sun go down over the hills.

The hotel restaurant had a varied menu with Greek and international dishes, all very good, so we ate there a few times in between trips into town or to the beach. It can be quite windy at times and the outdoor bit of the restaurant has tall clear glass panels to break the gusts. When it's not so breezy it's nice to sit beside the lower panels and see the wonderful view with real clarity.

The swimming pool below slowly lights up at night until it is a sea of stars and looks beautiful in the spectacular post sunset evening light.

If you fancy a tipple after dinner the terrace bar another level up is open until 2.30am for drinks, tea and coffee.


Next up .. Part 2 Mykonos Town




Thursday, 1 June 2017

Introducing HQ beach bags!!

Detail blue/orange
I recently said there was something new and exciting for Holiday Queen and I'm pleased to announce that I now have a small collection of neoprene beach bags and pouches for sale.

I think I'm pretty qualified to know what to take to the beach and finding a bag that works for me has been an ongoing search. I have had some lovely bags in the past .. baskets, canvas even leather and they have been fine up to a point. Baskets look great but are hard to pack, leather can be heavy and cotton canvas, well it's been alright but not quite sturdy enough and fiddly when you're rummaging around looking for your lotion, phone, camera etc.

In Sublime's window
I needed a new bag for my next beach holiday and started by trawling the internet. I couldn't quite find the right thing and in a bolt from the blue I decided I was going to make my own. I didn't have a clue where to start. A few baby steps later and there I was sitting at my friend's sewing machine knocking up my first bag. It kind of steam rollered from there and here I am introducing my product to you. 

Neoprene is lightweight, waterproof, sand resistant and wont rub and damage your skin or clothing. If you place the bag on wet sand, your things will stay dry inside, and the pouches keep everything organised the way you want it.

If you like what you see, you can buy the bags and pouches from my Holiday Queen facebook page. I shall be introducing new products as I go along so keep in touch for further updates.

If you live in East London, they are also available from Sublime shop in Victoria Park and Clerkenwell.

Thanks so much to the lovely Kirsty Gallacher for modelling both sizes of bags - orange/blue large and yellow/black medium








Monday, 22 May 2017

Almost time to hit the beach again!

HQ has had a busy month since the trip to Dubai ... it's now only just over a month till the next holiday with the girls to Mykonos island in the Mediterranean Sea.

As a child I travelled to many places with my family but I had no appreciation for it - it was just another place to play as far as I was concerned. It must have made a subliminal impression on me though. As a young adult I yearned to travel and I created a bucket list in my mind of all the places I wanted to go (without the family) and the Greek Islands were high on my list. I have since visited many of them but never Mykonos so I am really excited to finally be going.

The day job has taken up a big chunk of my time and it has flown by. In between it and my few days off, I have been quietly working on a new project specially for the Holiday Queen brand and all will be revealed very soon! I am so thrilled and can't wait to share it with you.


Please check back soon for details and follow my Instagram account @holidayqueenuk or Facebook page Holiday Queen


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Arabian days and nights in April

A few years ago I had no interest in visiting Dubai. Everything I had heard about it sounded a bit too ostentatious and fake .. a Las Vegas style oasis in the desert (without the gambling of course) with access to every conceivable thing on the planet. It's amazing how wrong one can be and goes to prove that you have to see for yourself! Yes, granted you can do almost anything there including snow skiing (indoors of course). It may not be everyone's cup of tea but it is so much more than that for me. I've heard that some people assume because it's a relatively new city that it's an unreal lifestyle, but life here is like any other city in the world and it seems to work quite nicely.

Every time I visit I learn more about it and like it even more. It is a vibrant city with good roads, a metro and a new tram system making everything easily accessible. Cabs are relatively cheap too. 

As a woman, you can safely travel to Dubai alone. If you have any doubts, read this link from Lonely Planet .. it should put your mind at ease. It's also a popular destination for families with children because it's safe and there's plenty to do as many hotels have kids clubs - just be aware that high summer will be too hot! There are a multitude of places to eat so there's something for everyone.

I spent 5 full days here this time and stayed at an apartment in the Marina with stunning views from the 33rd floor. There is a mosque nearby and 5 times a day you can hear the call to prayer. It's a surprisingly beautiful sound filling the air above the din of traffic and the hum of the city. It's a reminder of where you are.


A few minutes walk away from the Marina is JBR - Jumeirah Beach Residence. It's a busy area with shops and restaurants with many overlooking the beach. There's so much on offer so check the link for an up to date itinerary.
Food market in City Walk





I've been to Dubai a few times so did not feel the need to visit the big shopping malls again, but instead went to the new Dubai City Walk. It's a new development with shops, restaurants, a cinema, kids activities and entertainment and near to the also new Box Park. It's a little different in appearance to the Box Park that we know in London. This one is spread out in separate units along the main road and includes a cinema (shown left) - it reminded me a little of Los Angeles.


The temperature can be quite high at this time of year. Most days were over 35C and one day at 39C so my friends and I decided to do a little boat trip around the Marina. The boats were air conditioned and it was a lovely way to pass an hour or so outdoors with great views of the surrounding buildings and moorings. There are so many different options though and I'll leave you with Trip Advisor's recommendations so you can get an idea of what's on offer.

For views of the city day or night, the most popular place is the Burj Khalifa which I had the pleasure of going to on my first visit to Dubai. There are also a few roof top bars to see the cityscape. One such place I went to this time was 40 Kong on the 40th floor of the H Hotel. They serve delicious food and cocktails in a stylish outdoor setting with cool sounds from a resident DJ.


Another great restaurant find was Tom & Serg where we went for a late breakfast on Saturday. There is often a queue but we were lucky to get a table straight away. The place has an industrial feel with the bustle indicative of a successful business. The food was amazing and the coffee outstanding. I had Turkish eggs - poached free range eggs, almond dukkha butter, smoked chilli flakes, confit peppers, cherry tomatoes, sumac yoghurt and toasted sour dough bread. Simply yummy!! If I lived here I know it would become a favourite haunt. 

Artwork by Ben Eine

Something else I noticed on my trip this time - the addition of street art appearing by notable artists. If you love art as I do it's great to see these murals popping up in various locations around Dubai.

I'm already looking forward to my next trip. There's so much more to discover and experience. If you're travelling to the far east or Australia it's well worth a stopover for a couple of days to break up your journey and grab a little taste of the Middle East.


Other foodie places we liked -

Catch 22 - Seafood and burgers - The Beach Mall, JBR

Eggspectation - Breakfast, lunch and dinner - The Beach, JBR

Al Hamidieh - Middle Eastern - Dubai Marina

QD's - bbq, pizza, shisha - Dubai Creek (views of downtown including Burj Khalifa)

Serendipity - Dubai City Walk (a favourite in New York City)


All photos of my travels, work and play are on Instagram @holidayqueenuk 

HQ flew with British Airways