Tag Archives: Entertainment

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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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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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

To conclude my tour of Edinburgh Castle it seems appropriate somehow to finish with the magnificent Military Tattoo.

As its name suggests, the event is based around the Scottish armed forces, but don’t let that put you off because it’s more to do with kilts and bagpipes than warfare. That said, there is also a solemn side to the proceedings, especially towards the end when recognition of those who have lost their lives in combat are remembered.

For the most part though, it’s an extravaganza of music and dancing, and not just from Scotland either. In fact, it involves more international participants than you might have imagined.

The first Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle took place in 1950 and has grown from strength to strength ever since. The spectacle has become extremely popular and consequently in order to get a good seat, or even any seat, it’s best to book well in advance. This also applies to hotels as well at this time of the year, as it coincides with the Edinburgh Festival.

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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 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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County Hall and the London Eye

County Hall and the London Eye

Next to the London Eye on the Lambeth side of Westminster Bridge is the former County Hall, which in my view, is the best-looking building along the South Bank section of the Queen’s Walk.

Work started on the colonnaded building in 1910 to house the offices of the London County Council (LCC) which was formed in 1888. Unfortunately, WWI held things up and it wasn’t finished until 1922. The adjacent north and south blocks were added in the 1930s and the whole complex is now a Grade II listed building.

1965 saw the LCC give way to the newly formed Greater London Council (GLC) which during the 1980s came into conflict with Margaret Thatcher, the incumbent conservative Prime Minister.

During this period the GLC was a Labour controlled council led by the controversial Ken Livingstone. ‘Red Ken’ as he was dubbed by the press, took the opportunity of the location of County Hall to get under the government’s skin. Situated just across the river from Parliament, the GLC raised large banners highlighting the unemployment figures for all to see.

Margaret Thatcher’s response was to add to the unemployment figures by abolishing the GLC, and Red Ken found himself looking for another job.

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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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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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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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Leicester Square

Leicester Square

 

Located slap bang in the middle of Theatreland, Leicester Square is often associated with the stage, but it’s the big screen that’s had the most influence.
Apart from being one of the venues for hosting the London Film Festival, it’s also the place to come if you want to see a film premiere.

There are several cinemas in and around the square, the most obvious being the black polished granite Odeon Cinema which has the largest single screen in the UK and more than sixteen hundred seats.

The cinema influence isn’t quite as strong as it once was though as things are constantly changing, but Leicester Square is still undeniably one of the main entertainment hubs in London. Casinos have a strong presence and if you want cut price theatre tickets the TKTS booth is the best place to come.

Talking of the theatre you can’t fail to notice the water feature surrounding a large statue of William Shakespeare which has been the centrepiece of the square since 1874. Nearby is a much smaller bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin portraying his film character of ’The Tramp’, which seems even more appropriate somehow.

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Theatreland

Her Majesty's Theatre. Haymarket

Theatreland

 

Theatregoers are totally spoilt for choice in London with around 40 theatres in the West End alone, most of them concentrated in what is now called ‘Theatreland’.

Theatreland covers a large part of the West End, and some people might argue that it is the West End. Wikipedia defines the area it covers as stretching from Kingsway in the east to Regent St in the west and from Oxford St in the north to The Strand in the south.

Some people think of Leicester Square as the epicentre of Theatreland but in actual fact it’s really the centre of ‘Cinemaland’ where many film premieres take place.

When I think of Theatreland I tend to think of the area around Shaftesbury Avenue which isn’t far from Leicester Square anyway.

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Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus

 

“It’s like Piccadilly Circus round here” is a phrase often used when somewhere is chaotically busy, just like the road junction was until the layout was changed in the 1980s.

Up until that point the famous Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain was the central point of the Circus (circle or roundabout) where Regent St, Piccadilly, Coventry St and Shaftesbury Avenue all converged. Not only was it traffic mayhem, it was also (and still is) a meeting point.

It’s also where London’s shopping and entertainment districts meet, and in my own mind, I think of Piccadilly Circus as the centre of the West End.

The Circus was built in 1819 to connect Piccadilly with John Nash’s Regent St, but when Shaftesbury Avenue was constructed in 1886 it lost its circular shape, and now that the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain has been moved from its central position to improve traffic flow, it looks quite a bit different from its original creation.

The fountain, commemorating the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, was erected in 1893, and for years I was one of many who believed that the statue on top was that of Eros, the Greek God of Love, but in actual fact it’s his brother Anteros. If the sculptor, Sir Alfred Gilbert, had created the first Greek God, Chaos, on the top it might have been less confusing and more appropriate somehow.

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The West End

Piccadilly Circus

The West End

 

“The West End” or “Up West” are phrases that are commonly heard around London, but there are no official geographical boundaries to determine exactly where it is, and so there will be many different interpretations as to what actually constitutes the area known as the West End – and this is mine.

Historically speaking, anywhere west of the City of London was the West End, but these days the area is somewhat more defined. Wikipedia suggests that it covers an area from Temple, Holborn and Bloomsbury in the east, Regent’s Park to the north, Paddington, Hyde Park and Knightsbridge to the west and Victoria and Westminster to the south.

From a visitor’s point of view though I would argue that the area is even more compact than that. I would include the entertainment areas of Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Chinatown and Soho, the shopping areas around Oxford St, Regent St and Bond St and also the focal points of Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square – in other words the favourite spots for eating, drinking, shopping, and going to the theatre or cinema.

This list of course is subjective, but hopefully will give first time visitors to London an idea on what the West End is all about, and if there are any Londoners out there (or anyone else for that matter) who would like to add to the debate on what the West End means to them then please feel free to add your comments. I look forward to reading them.

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City and Borough of Westminster

Piccadilly Circus

City and Borough of Westminster

 

London has 31 Boroughs, 1 City (The City of London), and Westminster, which is both a Borough and a City.

Whereas the City of London became the legal and financial powerhouse of London, Westminster became the religious, royal and political centre.

This is the home of Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament, but it’s also the place to come for entertainment, shopping and culture in places like Piccadilly Circus, Oxford St and Trafalgar Square. I guarantee that you’ll run out of time – or steam – or both, before you’ve even scratched the surface. Continue reading

The Minack Theatre

The Minack Theatre

In 1929 some amateur Porthcurno drama enthusiasts put on a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a local field. It turned out to be a great success and a couple of years later they wanted to try again with The Tempest.

Obviously, a field wasn’t the best venue for a drama company to perform, but one of the production team was a lady called Rowena Cade who lived in Minack House at Minack Point.

Minack is Cornish for ‘Rocky Place’, and this indomitable lady, along with her gardener Billy Rawlings, set about transforming the rocks below her garden into an open-air amphitheatre right on the edge of the cliffs.

During the winter of 1931/32 they moved granite boulders and earth to create a stage and terraces. What’s even more remarkable is that the steps, walkways, seats and pillars were all made out of concrete made with sand from the beach below. Why I say ‘remarkable’ is because anybody who has ever walked up or down the cliff from Minack to the beach will know how steep a climb it is – and yet this lady did this day in and day out carrying buckets of sand to create this quite unbelievable place – and in August 1932 The Tempest was performed at the Minack.

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Truro’s City of Lights

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Truro's City of Lights

 

November can be one of the most miserable months of the year but around the third week into the month Truro’s ‘City of Lights’ festival lifts the gloom with a parade of glowing lanterns made out of tissue and withies.

Usually coinciding with the switch-on of the Christmas lights this small city comes alive with dance and music from local groups and bands. It’s a real community spirit with many schools taking part, not just from Truro but also from many villages around. Hundreds of school kids bring their lanterns and join up with the professionals who make some much larger creations.

This procession is not a competition to see who can build the biggest and best lanterns – just a simple and effective way for people of all ages to take part in the build up to the festive season – and leave the gloom behind. Wonderful!

http://www.cityoflights.org.uk/

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Paignton Seafront

Paignton Beach with the tide in

Paignton Seafront

I’m not somebody who likes to lie around on the beach much these days, but for families, Paignton seafront has all the ingredients to make a perfect holiday.

The sunny, south facing beach has sand that’s perfect for making sandcastles, and its Blue Flag status makes the sea perfectly safe for even the tiniest of tots to paddle and swim in.

If the youngsters get tired of playing on the beach, then there’s always the 780 ft long Pier to wander along. It first opened in 1879 and was initially used as a place for music and dancing, but those days have long gone, and instead there are now video games, rides, and money-grabbing slot machines. The Pier never fails to attract holidaymakers in large numbers, and it never fails to amaze me how so many people enjoy losing their hard-earned cash to those coin- pushers and cranes that seem to have the ability to pick up the object that is of absolute no use at all, and yet that £10 note you like the look of always seems to be a bit too heavy to deliver all the way to your pocket.

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The Harbour and Princess Gardens

The Inner Harbour

The Harbour and Princess Gardens

Unsurprisingly, the harbour area is the main attraction in Torquay, and comprises of an Inner and Outer Harbour.

The Inner Harbour is the main focal point and is surrounded on three sides by shops, bars and restaurants of varying degrees of quality. Thanks to the pedestrian Millennium Footbridge that connects the South Pier with the Old Fish Quay, it’s possible to complete a circuit without re-tracing your steps, and underneath the bridge is a cill which allows water to remain inside the harbour regardless of the state of the tide.

During the day, seagulls permitting, wandering around the harbour makes for a pleasant pastime, and there is also the opportunity to catch the ferry over to Brixham if you fancy a different harbour to wander around.

If you’ve brought Aunt Maud with you, it’s probably best to pack her off back to the hotel before the clubbing crowd turn up, especially on weekend nights during the summer. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I would be joining them, but these days, like Aunt Maud, I find myself going home around the same time as I used to be going out.

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