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Biking It Boris Style

Despite being subjected to the Ken ‘n’ Boris bashing column in the Evening Standard for at least a month now, I still have no idea who would be the best candidate for LDN’s twenteen years. In a bid to help me make my mind up, I decided to have a go on a Boris bike. Often hailed as one of the blonde one’s better inventions, the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme has seen an influx of around 6,000 bikes since its introduction in 2010. It’s also the reason behind many a hilarious image of a suited commuter wobbling his way into the City with an expression of unbridled terror on his expensive looking face.

First impressions: Chunky, blue and awesome.

Boris bikes

The bikes stop for a break.

On first sight, it’s easy to see why the bikes get their fair share of ridicule. They look chunky and cumbersome, like they’d be a pain to push around. They also have nerdy lights on the front which flare up when you brake. Don’t let these cringe worthy details put you off; despite being aesthetically unappealing, these features are what make the bikes so great. Yes, the frame may be less than elegant, but you’ll be grateful for its sturdiness when you’re feeling a bit unsteady in the saddle. There will, inevitably, come a time when the nerdy silver lights start to seem cool.

Park ‘n’ Ride: Hiring without the hassle.

Hiring a bike is a lot less of a hassle than you may have imagined. Instead of faffing around with an attendant or ticket booth, you just press a bunch of buttons on a machine and insert the relevant credit card. Simples! The instructions are pretty easy to follow, although the T&Cs go on for about 35 pages so I’d recommend skipping them if you’re in a rush. A 24 hour ‘access’ fee, which gives you a code allowing you to take a Boris bike from any parking facility in the city, costs just one pound. The first half an hour’s worth of riding is free, and after that you have to pay an extra charge. Certainly a much cheaper option than the tube, but undeniably more dangerous (and slightly sweatier).

Wheels appeal: Newbies on the road.

Now, I don’t know what it is, but bikes bring out the deeply buried tomboy in me. My extra X chromosome is drop-kicked out of the window as soon as I step in the saddle, replaced by an uncontrollable urge to skid, race and ‘holla.’ This is where Alex says in a smarmy tone that in fact I did none of these things, but the point still stands that I WOULD have engaged in all three of these activities if I was (a) drunk or (b) naturally wildly uninhibited.

Boris bikes

Alex navigates a bridge.

Anyway, back to the biking business. On the whole, I really liked these chunky contraptions. The brakes were smooth, the saddle was soft (never underestimate an uncomfortable saddle) and the height could be changed without having to fiddle about with an Allen key. Contrary to popular belief, you can actually go pretty fast on the things. Navigating hills is a bit of a nightmare, as there are only three gears, but in London this doesn’t present too much of a problem. Designed for hip city dwellers who wouldn’t be seen dead in a scruffy backpack, the bikes also have baskets which securely hold your handbag in place.

For cycling newbies like me, the bikes are a fantastic way to feel eco-friendly in what must be one of the world’s most polluted cities. What’s more, the mayor’s blue namesakes have made way for a sort of make-shift community of crap cyclists. You feel a strange sense of camaraderie when you see a fellow Boris biker wobble awkwardly by in their decidedly non-luminous clothing.  All in all, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme gets my stamp of approval. Whether I will be voting for Boris Johnson in the upcoming elections remains to be seen.

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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Travel

 

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In the Land of Sprouts & (very strong) Beer.

Day 2: Surrealism and posh shops

Statue

Frosty statue

My most vivid memory of today was of the teeth chattering cold. It was -8 degrees celsius, and I’m not too proud to say that it was almost unbearable. Today also happened to be the day that I decided to wear tights. Try to imagine how it feels to have just a tiny sliver of fabric separating your legs (or any part of your body, for that matter) from -8 degree cold. It wasn’t pleasant, I can say that much.

When we really couldn’t stand another moment in the frosty air, we ducked into the Avenue Louise arcade in the Upper Town. This lovely little shopping centre had an array of designer names under its belt (Gucci, Versace and so on). It was also, thankfully, nice and warm.

After getting lost attempting to find the Quartier Royale, we eventually found our bearings and stumbled across the Royal Palace and the Parc de Bruxelles (both of which were very regal and lovely). Unfortunately it was so cold that we weren’t willing to stand around and admire the view for that long.

Thankfully, the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique were nearby so we didn’t have to rely on another shopping arcade (or waffle house) for warmth. Brussels has such a huge collection of art that it has a grand total of three museums dedicated to it; together, these museums make up the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique.

After a bit of humming and harring we plumped for the Musée Magritte. Having forgotten to read the bit in the guide book about this particular museum, I wasn’t sure what we were letting ourselves in for.

Clint the Killer Dolphin

Clint the killer dolphin...

The museum turned out to be quite interesting.  Art’s not really my thing, but I could appreciate (and have a giggle at) the more bizarre paintings Magritte had to offer. My lasting memory of the museum, however, was the way we got there.

We were led into a lift by a guide who told us to turn our attention to a tall, column shaped gap in the wall. When we started moving, a painting of a woman’s feet came into view. The next painting was of her calves, and then there was one of her thighs. As a painting of a giant muff came into view, it took all the willpower in the world not to snigger. There was a painfully trendy French couple on the other side of the lift who clearly weren’t amused.

Of course, we also paid a visit to the Musee de Bande Desinee. Mostly this museum was dedicated to Belgian’s spunky blonde comic book hero, Tintin. There was, however, a whole host of other attractions including a room full of comic strips that had never quite made it to the shelves. One (see right) appeared to be about a killer dolphin named Clint.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Travel

 

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In The Land of Sprouts & (very strong) Beer.

Day 1: Let’s go get lost…

Here are just a few things I discovered on my first day in Brussels:

1. Ibis Hotels are like a much classier version of Travelodge. They do, however, lack the very British tradition of a ‘tea/coffee tray.’

2. Try as you might, it will be nigh impossible to find hair conditioner of any kind in a Belgian supermarket. The dubious ‘2 in 1’ variety exists but judging by the straw-like condition of my hair throughout the holiday, this was merely a marketing ploy.

3. Having a travel partner is both a blessing and a curse. Do not, under any circumstances, believe someone when they claim to have ‘pretty much memorised’ a street map off by heart. It’s probably a lie.

Tram mural

One of several murals dotted around the city

I didn’t write very much about Day 1 in my diary, it seems. This is probably because (a) I stupidly forgot to bring a pen and so didn’t have access to any writing materials until Day 2, and (b) because by the end of this day, penning my thoughts wasn’t a top priority.

About two minutes after dumping our bags in our swanky little Ibis room I managed to drag A (reluctantly, I might add) outside so we could get to work on this whole exploring business. After a short debate about where we should go, we decided to head for the Grand Place. It seemed to be a relatively short distance from the hotel and it was one of the main ‘attractions’ the guide book harped on about.

A’s unusually large coat pocket became the designated ‘guide book holder’ for the holiday (pockets that can actually CONTAIN things are a pretty alien concept to me as I’m not much of a trouser wearer). Anyway, as I was about to reach for the guide book to consult the map, A proudly declared that he had already ‘practically memorised it’ so there was no need to bring it out now. Naturally I felt quite cynical about such a grandiose claim but in the spirit of holiday spontaneity I decided to go with it.

An hour and a half later and we had walked off the map into what can only be described as uncharted tourist territory. We finally found out where on earth we were from a tram station map. Feeling more than a little disgruntled, we trudged back to the hotel to re-gather the troops before attempting to conquer the city again.

It’s safe to say that after this little episode, I spent the rest of the holiday clutching onto the guide book for dear life.

N.B We did get to Grand Place eventually, but by that time it was below zero and our holiday spirit had dwindled significantly…

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Travel

 

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Freud, a fox and a film called Bernie.

As it turns out, the father of psychoanalysis lived right here in Hampstead! For a year, anyway. For about £6 you can wander around Sigmund Freud’s former home, reading various plaques about the weird and wonderful dreams some of his patients had. The shop was full of books about some of Freud’s most famous cases as well as a few comedy trinkets such as ‘Freudian Slippers’ (why anyone would want a pair of beady eyes in glasses staring up at them from their feet I don’t know). On reading the back of one of the books I discovered that Freud was a big fan of cocaine, and he used to recommend the stuff to his patients. Needless to say, I think at least one of them died from an overdose. As we were on our way out, our eyes were drawn to a little fox in the garden that seemed totally non-plussed by our presence. He just sat there, basking in the sunshine like it was a completely normal thing for foxes to do. If I was in any way spiritual I might suggest that the fox was Freud re-incarnated.

Seeing how we were halfway to the Heath, we thought we may as well walk there and enjoy the last of the sunshine. It annoys me when people who have never been to London assume that it’s just this roaring, polluted city. There are LOADS of green bits in London if you know where to look. Go to Hampstead Heath and you’ll be surrounded by trees and wild grass on all sides. Go to Mudchute Farm and you can chill with some sheep. Go to Richmond Park and you can catch a glimpse of wild deer. You can’t get much more ‘anti-city’ than that.

When evening came it was time to get our gladrags on and go to the BFI showing of a new Richard Linklater film called Bernie. I’m not sure if it’s going to get released later this year, so I won’t spoil it for you. Basically, the film is about a really nice guy (Jack Black) who makes a big impression on a small town in Texas for all the right (and a few wrong) reasons. It’s funny, it’s moving and it makes you question your thoughts on morality. It’s also a true story! Which always makes things more interesting, in my opinion.

So this weekend I didn’t get to tick anything off my ‘must-see’ list. I did, however, spot Simon Amstell in a coffee shop and Helena Boham Carter with her kids in tow as I was walking the dog. I also managed to lug myself out of bed at 7:30am on a Saturday to go for a 35 minute run with my Dad. For these reasons, I have had what you might call a ‘win’ of a weekend. It was relaxed, it was lazy and it was unplanned, but despite the sore calves and achy ribcage (apparantly I run like a cartoon character whose creator hasn’t quite got the hang of drawing realistic human running), I loved it. Now it’s time to get some Arkham City on the go and get rid of all the good work I did yesterday by eating far too much badly baked gingerbread. Hooray for weekends!

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in Travel

 

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Protesters, St. Paul’s and a hell of a lot of steps…

I think in total on Saturday we must’ve walked at least a thousand steps. There must be about 20 or 30 steps in every Underground station (and we went in and out of three stations that day due to various closures), and after trying our best to peek over the heads of the burly police officers to catch a glimpse of the protestors we walked up about 500 steps to the very top of St. Paul’s cathedral.

London’s most magnificent man-made structure wasn’t our original port of call. We had initially intended to visit Temple and Fleet Street (me being the budding journalist, and all), but the District line was closed and by the time we got to Bank we were distracted by the several police vans which were milling around. My instant reaction when I come across any sort of police vehicle is to shut up and back away slowly. The same can’t be said for A, whose eyes positively lit up at the prospect of a protesters/police clash. After several unsuccessful attempts to see what was going on, we abanadoned our watching post to have a wander around the area. The protesters were piling up outside a grotty newsagents, clicking away with their massive SLR cameras at some V.I.P or other who was giving a press inerview inside. On closer inspection, I could see a shock of bright blonde hair. I assumed it was a politician, but later discovered (thanks to the godsend that is BBC news.co.uk) that it was Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Eventually we got bored of trying to work out who the mysterious blonde man was and joined the crowd of American tourists queueing up to get into St. Paul’s Cathedral. It set us back £14.50 (despite being a bonafide employed person now, I still think that anything costing over a tenner is a tad pricey), but it was so, so worth it. The inside of the cathedral is indescribably beautiful – you can’t take photos, which is a bummer, but let’s just say it is breath-taking.

It’s around 250 steps to the Whispering Gallery, which is a circular walkway about halfway up St. Paul’s Cathedral. We didn’t realise at the time (a d’oh moment, if ever there was one), that the reason it’s called the Whispering Gallery is that if you whisper to someone through certain points in the wall they can hear you at the other end of the gallery.

If you walk another 200 or so steps you get to the first upper circle of St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are big pillars with bars in between them that spoil the view a bit, but it’s still a spectacular sight. You can see all the major landmarks of London from here – the Eye slightly to the right, the Millenium Bridge straight ahead… it beats a wind-blown view from the top of a tour bus any day.

We overheard a bored St. Paul’s guide telling a woman about the archway which the police were protecting from the protesters. The achway leads into Paternoster Square, which is where the crowds wanted to stage their Occupy London Stock Exchange protest. The guide told us that the archway was one of the places where traitors’ heads were stuck for all the world to see.

The stairs leading to the very top of St. Paul’s are SCARY. Now I don’t have acrophobia (fear of heights – I had to look that one up!), but I’ll shamefully admit I was clinging on for dear life. It’s a small spiral staircase, the kind with lots of tiny gaps in it which let you see just how far away you are from the ground. Not nice. The view is breath-taking though, and the sense of achievement you feel from climbing such a ridiculous amount of stairs makes it worth all the trembling legs in the world.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Travel

 

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Last weekend in London: Batman, BAFTAs and tons of effing ice-cream!

If you didn’t get the reference in the title, take a look at this fabulous video –

Now you should understand. If you didn’t laugh just a little bit you probably don’t have a soul.

Anyway, this post isn’t about tons of f***ing sequins. It’s about last Friday. Me, J and A (as they shall be known in this blog) got ourselves some tickets to the Q+A sesh with the developers of the hotly anticipated Batman: Arkham City game. Despite being a relatively small gathering that cost a mere £5 (it’s pretty much a miracle to find anything in London that costs so little), it took place in the BAFTA building.

Now, you wouldn’t think it, but the BAFTA building is one of the most inconspicious buildings I’ve ever come across. It’s stuck right in the middle of a street like it’s just a grotty old chippy shop; there’s no grandeur about the outside of it, no fanfare alerting you to the fact that it’s probably had about a million British greats gracing its floors. Nope, it just looks like a regular building. Inside however, you’re immediately greeted by a massive BAFTA face that’s stuck on the wall.

We downed a couple of glasses of complimentary wine and then got ushered into a very posh looking little theatre. There was a 20 minute demo of the game (which looked AMAZING, will definitely be buying that one), which was characterised by various shouts of ‘URRRRRGH YES’ by the commentator on the stage as Batman kicked the crap out of yet another clown-faced guard. Found myself getting a bit distracted when people asked techy questions; I appreciate the fact that it took a lot of time and effort on the programmers’ part, but personally I was more interested in what the artists had to say.

On leaving the BAFTA building we went in hunt of the ambrosia that is frozen yoghurt. I knew there was a SNOG nearby but without an A-Z to hand we ended up just wandering aimlessly for a bit in Chinatown. Not that that was a bad thing; the little lanterns and lights lining the main street are really lovely at night. Failing to find a frozen yoghurt shop, we decided to make a pit stop at Rendezvous, the old fashioned ice-cream parlour in Leicester Square. To say the ice-cream they serve is ‘heavenly’ is an understatement and a half. A and I shared a Penelope sundae and J had one to herself (she’s a skinny, so she’s allowed). I had to teeter back to the table with these two massive ice-creams in tow. They cost a pricey £10.95 each, but they were well worth it, trust me. Just look at the photo and you’ll start to understand!

This weekend we’re doing a 24 hr gaming marathon for the charity Sick Kids in Edinburgh. We’ve just bought a hideous amount of frozen food, chocolate, energy drinks and, of course, Haribo. If you’re reading this, and you find it in your heart to spare just a teeny bit of cash to the cause, you can do so here:

http://www.justgiving.com/2sages1leudar

’til next time!

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Food, Travel

 

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London living!

Seeing as I am, for the forseeable future, based in the big LDN, I think it’s high time that I start making the most of it. Starting with this post, this blog will now be about my life in London! Being the overly optimistic touristy-type of person I am, I’ve made a list of the places I really want to visit while I’m here.

Wish list (in no particular order)

  1. Sherlock Holmes Museum (Baker St)
  2. Pollock’s Toy Museum (Goodge St)
  3. Charles Dickens Museum (Russell Square)
  4. Temple
  5. Fleet Street (former journalistic haven, yes please!)
  6. Leadenhall Market (Monument)
  7. Canary Wharf and the Lotus Floating Chinese Restaurant (supposedly you can get dim sum for £2 – £3.50)
  8. Tate Modern (Southwark)
  9. Old Operating Theatre (looks kind of creepy, but fascinating all the same)
  10. Kensington Palace
  11. Freud Museum
  12. High Tea of Highgate
  13. Cutty Sark
  14. Richmond Park
  15. Carnaby Street

I’m sure there’ll be more to come, but that’s my wish list for now. Will be crossing them out as I go! My progress might be a bit slow as I’m currently holding down an (ace) full-time job that takes up most of my time.

Over and out!

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Travel

 

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