Tag Archives: Food and Drink

London’s Christmas Lights

London's Christmas Lights

You might have noticed that I haven’t called this post ‘Christmas Shopping in London’ and that’s because Easymalc don’t do shopping in London at Christmastime, in fact I don’t do Christmas shopping anywhere – and come to think of it, I don’t do shopping anywhere at any time.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, you may well wonder why I’m bothering to write anything at all about the subject, especially as I’m not a lover of the over-commercialisation of this time of the year either.

Well, the first reason is that whether I like it or not, the second week in November is when the Christmas lights start to be turned on in London, and the second reason is that Easymalc’s household has been having a family day out up in ‘The Smoke’ at Christmastime for a few years now, and both my wife and daughter have a different concept of wandering along Oxford street to me, and so I content myself with taking a few pictures of the lights and pop into a hostelry or two while they’re wasting their time in the shops.

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Trakai – Historic Town Built on Water

Trakai - Historic Town Built on Water

Today was going to be my third and final full day in Lithuania, and it looked as though the good weather was going to desert me. I had it in mind to go to Trakai, which is without doubt, one of Lithuania’s most popular tourist destinations, but I had my doubts as to how successful the day would be, especially as the holiday season was now in full swing.

I’m not one of those people who avoid such places (after all, they’re popular for a reason), but I’ll always try to time my visit accordingly. Today though, even if I could justify the effort in getting from Kaunas to Trakai, I was only ever going to be able to be there when it suited the public transport system, and not when it suited me.

After giving it some thought, I knew I would never have another chance to see the place that is so revered by the Lithuanian people, and so I decided to bite the bullet and catch the early fast train to Vilnius again – the same one as I took yesterday.

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The Sony Center

The Sony Center

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz must have been an architect’s dream. The square was divided up into four separate areas which were to be redeveloped by four different developers, one of which was the area now occupied by the Sony Center.

During the ‘Golden Twenties’, the site was occupied by ‘The Esplanade’, one of Berlin’s most prestigious hotels. Frequented by film stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo, the hotel was even used by Kaiser Wilhelm II who entertained guests in one of the hotel’s magnificent halls.

90% of the hotel was destroyed by allied bombing raids in the winter of 1944/45, with the Kaisersaal (as the hall became known) and the breakfast room the only rooms to survive. After restoration of what was left, it once again fell into disrepair following the building of the adjacent Berlin Wall.

After the Wall came down, what remained was listed as a historical monument, which created a problem for the architects of the new Sony Center. The outcome was that the Kaisersaal was moved 75 metres and incorporated into the new design behind a glass wall, and the breakfast room was dismantled piece by piece and re-created for the new Café Josty, the original being a popular Potsdamer Platz meeting place for artists in the early 20th century.

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The Grote Markt

The Grote Markt

If someone was to ask me what Belgium is famous for, I would have to include Moules et Frites, beer, and maybe chocolate, but I would also have to add town squares to the list. It may sound a bit odd to lump a town square with food and drink, but they go together like Laurel and Hardy or Starsky and Hutch. In fact, I can’t think of anything better than to sit in a Grand Square with a plate of Moules et Frites and a Belgian beer.

The Grand Place in Brussels is probably the best-known square, but Antwerp has a pretty good one too, but as we’re in Flanders we’d better call it the Grote Markt.

The square is triangular in shape, if that makes any sense, and is dominated by its wonderful 16thc City Hall. In front of it is the Brabo Fountain, a famous Antwerp symbol, which requires further explanation.

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Edinburgh at Christmastime

Edinburgh at Christmastime

Hogmanay in Edinburgh is world renowned, but Christmastime is pretty good too, and what’s more, by booking in advance, travel and accommodation costs are a fraction of the price that they are for the New Year celebrations.

The main Christmas market centres around East Princes Street Gardens and has everything you would expect – and more.

We enjoyed our visit here in 2015 so much that we’ve decided to come back again this year (2018).

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Watering Holes – A couple of gems around Princes Street

The Cafe Royal Circle Bar

Watering Holes - A couple of gems around Princes Street

Opposite the Balmoral Hotel and next to the National Archives of Scotland, is West Register Street where there are a couple of watering holes worth seeking out.

The Café Royal Circle Bar is well-known and wouldn’t look out of place on the Champs Elysées. Its famous Oyster Bar Restaurant attracts a clientele that prefers to indulge on oysters and a bottle of Dom Perignon rather than a pint of Belhaven and a packet of nuts.

Mind you, there’s nothing to stop anyone having oysters and champagne in the Circle Bar if they prefer.

It’s worth coming into this wonderful Victorian bar just to take a look at the décor alone. Apart from the magnificent bar, which is more elliptical than circular, there are some incredible Royal Doulton tiled murals of famous inventors and even some stained-glass windows that wouldn’t look out of place in St. Giles Cathedral were it not for the fact they represent outdoor pursuits rather than religious themes.

As you might have guessed, all this comes at a cost. It’s certainly not the cheapest bar in town but it has to be said that the range of cask beers is excellent as is the service, even when it’s busy, which it very often is.

If you can come here at a quieter time it will be easier to appreciate this fabulous building, but even though it does have something special about it, I feel more at home in the Guildford Arms next door.

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From Tiger Bay to Cardiff Bay

From Tiger Bay to Cardiff Bay

At the beginning of the 19th century the population of Cardiff was less than 2,000, but the lush green valleys to the north were about to change – and so was this small town at the mouth of the River Severn.

The reason for this dramatic change was all down to the increase in demand for coal which was needed to power the Industrial Revolution – and which the valleys of South Wales had plenty of.

The Glamorgan Canal, and then the Taff Valley Railway, enabled the Black Diamonds to be transported down the valleys to the coast where places like Newport, Barry, Penarth and Cardiff all vied for the lucrative export trade.

While everyone else was working down the coal mines, there was one man that was sitting on a gold mine, – namely the 2nd Marquis of Bute. He realised early on that there was going to be money made in the iron and coal industries of South Wales, and in 1839 he built the first of Cardiff’s docks at West Bute to handle the trade.

As the docks expanded, so did the appeal to come and work here: Butetown, as the area became known, attracted immigrant workers and seafarers from all corners of the globe, and it wasn’t long before the area became known for all the wrong reasons. Although several theories have been bandied about, it’s not really known for sure why the docks and Butetown became known as Tiger Bay – but the name stuck, and just like its feline counterpart, began to earn itself a fearsome reputation. If you wanted somewhere to go and get drunk, have a fight, or meet a prostitute – or all three – Tiger Bay was the place to come.

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The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

I can still remember seeing the joy on Ken Livingstone’s face when London won the selection to host the 2012 Olympic Games, so why wasn’t I jumping up and down for joy with him?

Call me an old cynic if you like, but the legacy of the 2004 Athens Games is a stark reminder of how emotions can change from joy to despair in such a relatively short space of time. The debt that Greece accrued for putting on the world’s greatest sports event was a heavy enough price to pay without the knowledge that the sporting venues quickly fell into disrepair as well.

I’m pretty sure that Ken wasn’t thinking about the sporting side of things when, as Mayor of London at the time, he put the bid in: in fact, I don’t think he even expected to win it. The reason behind his thinking was that the event would focus minds on giving a much-needed boost to rejuvenating a part of East London that was in desperate need of some extra cash, so I think his wide smile was for a different reason to those involved in sport.

I’m also pretty sure that the powers that be were only too aware of what happened in Athens and would have been determined that London’s legacy would be different.

With all this in mind a 500-acre site at Stratford was given the go-ahead as the home of the Olympic Park, the main venue for both the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics.

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Camden Market

Camden Market

Camden Market is the collective name given to several markets that operate in Camden Town, and is reported to be the fourth most popular attraction in London with around 250,000 visitors each week.

There are supposed to be six markets here altogether: The first one started out around 1900 in Inverness Street selling fruit and veg but by 2013 all the original stalls had vanished thanks to the influx of supermarkets. There are still some stalls here selling a few bits and pieces, but from my experience you shouldn’t feel cheated if you managed to miss it.

If you’ve arrived by tube at Camden Town Station Inverness St is over on the left-hand side of the street, but if you stay on the right-hand side you’ll see an emporium, for want of a better word, that advertises itself as Camden Market. My advice is don’t fall for it because a) it’s not the Camden Market people come here to see, and b) the merchandise is of dubious quality. The official name of this outlet is Buck Street Market.

Between the tube station and Buck St Market is the Electric Ballroom which has been a nightclub since the 1950’s but is open during the day on weekends as an extension to Buck St Market.

If you head up Camden High Street you’ll come to the Regents Canal and Camden Lock, but before we walk across the road to Camden Lock Market it’s worth mentioning that the modern development taking place down by the canalside used to be the former Canal Market which burned down in 2008. It re-opened in 2009 as Camden Lock Village but is now being developed as Hawley Wharf.

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Camden Town

Camden High Street

Camden Town

Not to be confused with the Borough of Camden, Camden Town is known for its markets, music venues and alternative cultures, it’s a place that attracts younger people with a zest for a more unorthodox style of living. If you’re into Punk, Goth. or Emo, then you’ve come to the right place.

Camden is named after Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden who took his title from Camden Place, his estate near Chislehurst in Kent (now part of the outer London Borough of Bromley).

Originally a part of the manor of Kentish Town, the Earl acquired the manor through marriage, and in 1791 started to change its appearance from a quiet, rural village on the road north out of London towards Hampstead, by granting leases for houses to be built.

Chalk Farm Road and Camden High Street are the main roads through Camden Town which still form part of that very same route, and at the Camden Town Tube Station junction is a pub called the World’s End, which was a rural hostelry as far back as 1690, but these days is an ideal place to go if you you’re looking to get a headache.

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The Borough of Camden

Camden High Street

The Borough of Camden

The Borough of Camden takes its name from Camden Town, which lies roughly half-way between Holborn in the south and Hampstead Heath in the north.

Places of interest within its boundaries include Camden Town, parts of Covent Garden, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the British Museum, the British Library, and Hampstead.

The southern part of the borough falls within Central London, and is where the major railway hub of Euston, King’s Cross, and St Pancras stations meet near the British Library.

When Britain’s first census was conducted in 1801 the total population for the parishes that make up today’s borough was 96,795. At its peak in 1891 it was 376,500, but demolition to build the railways, slum clearance, and the Blitz all resulted in a substantial fall in numbers to 161,100 by 1981. Since then there’s been a steady increase with the 2011 figures showing a population of 220,338.

The Borough of Camden, like many other places, has a disparity between districts like leafy Hampstead and grungy Camden Town, but on the whole, it has traditionally been a socialist part of London.

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The Southbank

The Queen's Walk near the National Theatre

The Southbank

The Southbank is not a defined area, but for this review it refers to the riverside area south of the river between Westminster Bridge and Lambeth’s border with Southwark at Bankside.

It may be difficult to imagine now, but this area known as Lambeth Marsh, was virtually undeveloped before the 19th century. The wet terrain was hardly a prime location for the type of development that had taken place across the other side of the river, but during the Victorian era, the shallow bank and mudflats became an asset for industries such as printing works, coal wharves, dye works and breweries, to name just a few.

The first half of the 20th century wasn’t kind to Lambeth with factories either in decline or being destroyed by WWII bombs, and so when it was suggested that a Festival of Britain would have its centrepiece here, things started to take a different direction.

The festival was supposed to be a national exhibition celebrating British achievements, but it was to become more than that. The ravages of WWII had left the country in need of a lift from austerity, and so entertainment and culture were deemed just as important as science and technology, and so various forms of entertainment were included when the festival opened on 4th May 1951.

The Southbank site was only ever going to be temporary and most of it was demolished after the festival was over five months later, but the Royal Festival Hall remained.

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Underneath the Arches

Underneath the Arches

Underneath the arches of the railway viaducts and in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral is Borough Market, one of London’s best loved food markets.

It’s both a wholesale and retail market and has in recent times become synonymous with speciality foods, both from the UK and continental Europe.

Southwark was the first of London’s 32 Boroughs, and in the early days was just known as The Borough, so it’s not difficult to see how the Borough Market got its name.

Apparently, there’s been a market at the southern end of London Bridge in various forms since 1014, which meant that there didn’t need to be any arm-twisting to celebrate its 1000th birthday in 2014. How the powers that be would have known it started up in 1014 precisely I’m not quite sure, but I’ll take their word for it.

It’s not difficult to see why a market was set up here in the first place though because it would have been an ideal location to sell goods to travellers making their way in and out of London over the bridge to and from the south.

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Bankside

Shakespeare's Globe

Bankside

The Bankside area of Southwark roughly equates with the riverside between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.

The distance between the two bridges is about a mile and there are not only plenty of things to see, but also a fair number of pubs to hold you up along the way, and if you stop at all of them you’ll need holding up yourself.

Next to Blackfriars Railway Bridge is the Founders Arms, which although modern is in a great location overlooking the river, but as this isn’t a pub crawl I’ll assume that you’ll want to move straight on to the first real point of interest which is the Tate Modern.

Housed inside the former Bankside Power Station, this gallery of modern art won’t appeal to everyone, and depending on your taste in art you can either spend the best part of a day in here or hardly any time at all. Either way, you should go in and take a look, not just because it’s free, but you can always take the lift up to the viewing level of the Blavatnik Building for great views over the City of London and beyond.

Outside the river entrance to the Tate Modern is the Millennium Bridge. No prizes for guessing where it got its name from, but you may be tempted across it because on the other side of the river is St Paul’s Cathedral, but as tempting as it may be, it’s best left for another time.

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Covent Garden

A Couple of Pearly Kings

Covent Garden

 

Lying on the eastern side of the West End, Covent Garden is a popular destination for tourists and includes the former fruit and vegetable Market, the Opera House, and the area around Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard.

There are no official boundaries to Covent Garden but a map I picked up at the market shows it covering an area from Charing Cross Rd in the west to Kingsway in the east, and from The Strand/Aldwych in the south to Shaftesbury Avenue/High Holborn in the north.
Running straight through the middle from St. Martin’s Lane to Drury Lane is Long Acre which separates the Market and Opera House to the south from the Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard area to the north.
Shelton St which runs parallel with Long Acre south of the Seven Dials is the boundary line between Westminster and Camden.

Originally open fields and then at the centre of Anglo Saxon Lundenwic, the area became the garden of Westminster Abbey and co(n)vent by the beginning of the 13th century.
Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries led to the estate being handed to the Earls of Bedford and a change in the layout to include a fashionable square with a small fruit and vegetable market.

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Chinatown

The Eastern Gateway to Gerrard St

Chinatown

 

London’s Chinatown is located right in the heart of the West End, and as you might expect, it’s a bustling area of restaurants, food stores, and Chinese culture.
Centred on Gerrard St, the area is quite compact, hemmed in between Charing Cross Road, Shaftesbury Avenue, Wardour St, and Leicester Square.

It wasn’t until after WWII that the area started to become a Chinese Quarter, and even then it didn’t really get established until the 1970s. Being a part of Soho, the area already had a colourful history, but London’s Chinese community, who had traditionally worked in the docks at Limehouse, found themselves bombed out by the Luftwaffe, and then locked out by the Dockers unions after the end of hostilities.

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Soho

Soho Square

Soho

 

Soho’s chequered history has been at the cutting edge of film, theatre, music and other forms of entertainment including the sex industry for as long as I can remember, but gentrification in recent times has seen it become less edgy and more mainstream.

Instead of sleazy clip joints and prostitutes you’re more likely to see fashionable restaurants and blue plaques marking a place of interest, but at least visitors can now check out the area’s fascinating history without the hassle of being coerced into a strip club or worse.

Historically, Soho runs roughly from the north side of Leicester Square up to Oxford St, and from Charing Cross Rd in the east to Regent St in the west. These days though Chinatown (which is the area south of Shaftesbury Avenue), is treated as a separate locality, although it’s still an essential part of Soho.

I said that the area has been gentrified in recent times, but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s become completely sanitized. It’s still a red light district and the gay community has a strong presence around Old Compton St where the Admiral Duncan pub was the scene of a homophobic attack in 1999 which killed three and left thirty injured.

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Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

Metaphorically speaking, Leadenhall Market links Roman London with the Modern City of London, and the reason, is that its location on the site of the old Roman Forum and Basilica is slap bang in the middle of the modern Financial District.

It’s also appropriate that there’s a market here because in Roman times the Forum was their marketplace, and the one in Londinium was the largest north of the Alps, but we know very little of what happened after the Romans left.

What we do know though is that by the 14th century there was a manor house at Leadenhall, and the area around it became known as the place to come to buy poultry. That trade was still in evidence when Dick Whittington, the former mayor of London, came to own the lease of the manor house in 1408, and when he bought the land around it three years later, it was the best place to come, not just to buy poultry, but also meat, game, and fish.

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The Haunch of Venison

The Haunch of Venison

The Haunch of Venison is reputed to be 700 years old, and without doubt the most well-known pub in Salisbury.

In my experience pubs that have this sort of reputation can often be a let-down, but not this one.

The minute I walked in here I knew I was going to like it. It’s got all the credentials for being a great historical pub, with old oak beams, wood panelled walls, a good-looking bar – and most of all a friendly welcome.

 

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Picturesque Polperro

Picturesque Polperro

If someone unfamiliar with Cornwall were to ask me to take them to a picturesque Cornish fishing village, I would have to take them to Polperro. It has everything you would expect – from a lovely harbour, narrow streets with quaint cottages, coastal walks and some great pubs to finish off with; what more could you ask for?

The only problem is that I’m not the only one who thinks it has everything, and so if you choose to come at the same time as everyone else then Polperro might not live up to expectations. I know this applies to any popular destination, but if you can come on a pleasant day out of season (preferably with an overnight stop) then you will be rewarded with a much better experience.

You can reach Polperro from Looe by a bus service that suits the company more than it does the passengers (remember everything down here operates on Cornish Mean Time), but if you have your own transport you will have to park at the top of the village near the Crumplehorn Inn where the local highwayman used to masquerade as the car park attendant. These days he’s been replaced by his metal mickey equivalent whose advanced technology doesn’t seem to stretch as far as being able to dish out any change.

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