Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Imperial War Museum North

While in Manchester we noticed that the Imperial War Museum was not too far from our hotel so decided to take a trip down by the river and pay it a visit while also getting a chance to explore the quays.

The imperial war museum north is the newest of five branches and was open in 2002. It has very impressive, modern architecture but doesn’t have the stunning entrance of it’s London Counterpart.

As you enter the museum there is a large seating area, shop and café where you can get a bite to eat or just relax after walking around.

iwm2

The main exhibition space is upstairs and although everything is in one large space, it is split into mini exhibitions and goes through a timeline of conflicts in Britain and the commonwealth.

iwm5

iwm6

iwm10

iwm11

As well as life sized vehicles on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, the space is filled with memorabilia from the time, including posters, letters, clothes and weapons. There are also hands on activities designed specifically for kids. I really liked the idea of the trench stenches, although I wasn’t quite daring enough to have a sniff myself!

iwm9

iwm8

iwm12

iwm13

iwm14

Although there are little videos you can watch in different rooms, every hour there is an audio-visual cinematic display that takes over the whole space. It is a real immersive experience and you can either sit and watch it on the benches around the middle of the space or continue walking around while taking it in.

I find these performances really interesting as they are like watching documentaries and include recounts and stories of people that were around during that time in history. Each show is different so you don’t have to worry that you are listening to the same thing if you are still around when the next film starts.

iwm15

iwm16

iwm17

I really liked the Imperial War Museum North, although it is nowhere near as big as the London Imperial War Museum, I actually like that I was able to take it all in within a couple of hours rather than choosing certain sections to visit. There was also a really good exhibition in an adjacent room about the conflict in Syria but I think this is now finished and will be replaced in July with a different show.

The Imperial War Museum North is free to visit and it is situated in a lovely space around Salford Quays, about a 15 minute walk from Old Trafford football stadium.

Posted in Food, London, Travel, Uncategorized

The Royal Oak – Orpington

The Royal Oak is a typical country pub set on the outskirts of London in Orpington, still accessible with the Oyster card but definitely a feeling of being away from the big smoke.

The pub is described as ‘oozing rural charm and rustic character’ and I have to agree. We visited on a weekday evening and the restaurant was really busy with a relaxed cosy atmosphere. The mix of wooden and leather furniture and range of wall hangings all add to the traditional character and give it a very homely feeling. Although the restaurant is really large, the space is divided into different sections so it feels like you are in a smaller, more intimate setting.

RO7

RO8

RO5

On arrival we were shown to a small table for two in the window which was nice, although it only overlooked the entrance to the carpark so not much of a view. The staff were really friendly and chatty and we didn’t have to wait very long for our order to be taken.

The menu has a wide range of dishes. Starters include duo of pate, chargrilled lamb koftas and the soup of the day. The mains range from pizzas, steaks and burgers to seafood risotto and seared sea bass. There are lots of desserts including classics like Eton mess and sticky toffee pudding. Many of the dishes are also included in the set price menu where you can choose two dishes for £14.95 or three dishes for £18.95.

For starters we thought we would go back to the 70’s with the prawn cocktail, although it sounded a bit more upmarket as it was called a prawn and lobster cocktail served with a lobster mayonnaise and rustic bread!

RO2

For the mains, I went for Hunters chicken which is a large chargrilled chicken breast topped with smoked cheddar and streaky bacon, served with triple cooked chips and barbeque sauce. This dish also has a tasty accompaniment of Portobello mushrooms in a smoky tomato sauce which I didn’t think the dish actually needed as it had salad but was an added bonus.

The Mr went for the big 8oz steak which is expertly aged for a firm texture and rich flavour. Served with triple cooked chips, homemade onion rings and a thyme-roasted tomato, you can also choose whichever sauce you would like and he went for the peppercorn. I don’t think the picture actually does the steak justice, it was huge and the man was very impressed, he is even still gushing about it now and he is usually quite critical when it comes to food! If you do order a dish with chips you are asked if you would like them thick or thin cut which is a nice touch as many people do have a preference.

RO3

RO4

After the meal we were both pretty full but there is an option on the dessert menu to get a smaller size dessert with a hot drink so I thought I would go for this. I chose the chocolate brownie and ice cream which was really delicious, unfortunately it was still too much for me to finish but I gave it a good try.

RO10

When we arrived at The Royal oak on a sunny day it was bustling with people, particularly outside, but by the time we were leaving it was fairly quiet with most of the customers in the bar area. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal and would definitely return if we happen to be passing.

RO9

It seems like the perfect place to while away a summers afternoon, indulging in a Sunday roast or even just grabbing a cold one to sit in the beer garden. We did ask if there were any cocktails available but they are more of a cask ale, craft beer and G+T supplier. They have a large offering of all sorts of Gin and Tonic in different flavours and even have an event at the end of the month ‘Come GIN with me’ where you can see what new gins have joined the menu. Other special days include a Fizz Friday and a Pie Wednesday.

If The Royal Oak looks like your type of hangout then check the website for menus, openings and to book a table.

*we were invited to The Royal Oak to try out the menu, all thoughts and opinions are my own

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Exploring the quays – Manchester

Last month I took a trip to Manchester to attend the BlogOnX blogging conference and after being a Man United fan for the best part of 30 years the trip was long overdue. I didn’t manage to catch a game while there but I was right next door in the plush Hotel Football having a blast with lots of other lovely bloggers.

During the trip we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel down the road from the stadium and decided to make a weekend of it as it was a bank holiday. With our train booked for Monday evening we decided to explore the local area before making our way back to the station.

SQ11

SQ12

SQ13

After passing the iconic Old Trafford and the canal that runs down the side of it we made our way towards the Salford Quays as we noticed that the Imperial War Museum North was situated next to the river.

When we reached the quays it reminded me a bit of the docklands in London with it’s swanky riverside apartments and lots of glass buildings. The Salford Quays are home to Media city UK, the Lowry shopping mall and a number of other attractions and restaurants.

SQ1

SQ3

SQ4

SQ2

SQ10

We thought it was rather quiet for such a glorious day by the river but after crossing the bridge we realised everyone was on the other side enjoying the sunshine and their lunch on the lush green and taking a dip in a part of the river that had been sectioned off for swimmers.

SQ5

SQ6

If I hadn’t been staying nearby I probably wouldn’t have thought to visit this part of the city and would have looked for attractions in the centre of town, but I’m glad I did as it was a lovely relaxing weekend without all the hustle and bustle of the crowds.

 

Posted in Food, London, Uncategorized

The Jam Tree restaurant – Clapham

Whenever I’m meeting friends for lunch or a night out we always seem to end up somewhere around Clapham Common. Not just because it is familiar to us (we all used to work together on the High St) but because it is filled with so many bars and eateries to choose from.

My first port of call when looking for a restaurant is my Tastecard, I mean half priced lunch always tastes better than full price doesn’t it? I noticed the Jam Tree on the list and had never tried it before so booked a table.

JT6

The Jam Tree is situated off the high street in Clapham old town. We booked for the afternoon on a weekday and I was surprised on turning up that we were actually the only people there. There were three of us and my friends gorgeous baby and we had such a lovely catch up without feeling that we had to rush in case someone else wanted the table, and nobody to judge me taking photos of my food!

The restaurant itself is really large and although it was empty, I imagine at weekends and in the evenings it is bustling with people as most places in Clapham are. As well as dining tables there is also comfy seating areas and even sofas with shelves full of board games so I’m sure some people spend a few hours chilling out with their mates in the evening in a relaxed atmosphere. Apparently there is also an enchanted garden out the back but it was pouring with rain when we visited so didn’t get a chance to look out there.

JT7

JT1

The menu consists of 5 starters and 12 main courses that range from sausage and mash to meat and two veg. We went for the crispy chicken burger, the double bacon cheese burger and mamas fried chicken. We were very tempted by the cocktails but stuck with the soft drinks as it was a bit early and we didn’t want to be a bad influence on the baby!

JT4

JT2

JT3

The chicken burger was flavoured with a roast garlic and herb mayonnaise and red onion marmalade giving it a nice sweet taste and I was quite pleased with the portion size of the fries (although I don’t think my waistline agrees) I am usually a bit of a glutton and try out the desserts but I was quite satisfied after my lunch and gave the sweet treats a miss.

After service charge was added, the bill came in at under £40 with the Tastecard discount which we thought was very reasonable for a lovely afternoon. I’m quite intrigued to experience lunch in their enchanted garden and have yet to give their cocktails and dessert a try so may well be back at some point over summer!

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Crowne Plaza Hotel – Amsterdam

During our recent trip to Amsterdam, we chose to stay in the Crowne Plaza hotel which is situated quite close to Schiphol airport. We took advantage of the free shuttle bus service to the hotel rather than try to walk as the roads were really busy.

On arrival we had a bit of a wait in the lobby as there were a few people in front of us and although we had already paid before arrival we were asked to pay a city tax charge which came to around €8.00.

hotel1

The hotel room had the usual layout of a bedroom and bathroom, neutral décor in a brown and red colour palette and all the amenities we needed, including a comfy chair complete with some tourist magazines and a foot rest and a desk which I had no intention of sitting at. Although there were big windows, there wasn’t much of a view. We overlooked the car park and were mostly surrounded by roads but being five floors up it was probably better than some.

I do like when they leave something a little personal and on top of the huge bed (which we were most impressed with) was a little bottle of lavender sleep spray. There was also a huge dressing gown, but only one which was weird as there was two of us booked in the room!

hotel10

hotel11

hotel2

hotel3

The TV showed all the channels so we didn’t miss any of the soaps when we got back after a day of exploring, and tea, coffee and hot chocolate was available, although I’m not really a fan of those tiny milk pots and tend to use them all in one cup.

hotel4

The bathroom was pretty basic with a bath rather than a walk in shower but had everything we needed and was clean and fresh.

hotel7

 

There was a restaurant situated just off the lobby and room service available 24 hours but we found it to be quite expensive. On the first night after a busy day visiting Keukenhof gardens we were too tired to go out looking for food so chose to order a takeaway, which the hotel didn’t seem to have a problem with.

The following morning we went to the Royalflora auction in Aalsmeer and the staff were really helpful in giving us directions, although during our stay there were some bus strikes going on so we chose to book an Uber so we didn’t end up stranded in an unfamiliar city.

We didn’t actually spend much time in the hotel but there is a fitness and wellness centre and a shop to pick up all those souvenirs you forgot on your travels.

hotel13

It was a comfortable stay, nothing quirky or particularly special but all that we would expect from a large hotel group.

 

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Keukenhof gardens – Amsterdam

Keukenhof gardens are situated in Lisse, 30 minutes from Amsterdam airport (a bus service runs continuously during opening hours) and are open to the public annually so visitors can see the amazing flowers that have been grown across the 80 acres of land.

The beautiful spring gardens are open for 8 weeks each year between March and May. I visited at the very end of April and everything was in full bloom. It was a pretty miserable day, raining on and off throughout, but with it being spring you never can tell what the weather will be like! This however didn’t put anyone off visiting, it was heaving with people and the amazing displays certainly brightened up the day.

Keukenhof37

Keukenhof6

The history of Keukenhof

In the 15th century the Keukenhof estate was owned by Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria (Dutch – Jacoba Van Beieren.)  She decided to use the space to grow herbs and vegetables to take back to her castle which is where the name originates from: Kitchen garden.

The Countess lived a very eventful life. She was born in France in 1401 and between 1417 – 1433 became the ruler of Holland, Zeeland and Henegouwen. During her short life of 35 years she was married four times, spent a couple of years in prison, was exiled to England and after being forced to abdicate she withdrew from public life. She died of Tuberculosis not far from Keukenhof a few years later in 1436.

After the death of the countess, the land was passed through the hands of several wealthy merchant families and the design of the English landscape garden was created in 1857 and formed the basis of what the park is today.

Keukenhof3

Keukenhof36

In 2018 the park celebrated it’s 69th anniversary and went with the theme of ‘Romance in Flowers’ I thought this was pretty fitting with it being open right before a royal wedding and all.

Benches and bridges

The gardens are huge (we did get lost on more than one occasion) with a large lake in the middle and rivers of water flowing throughout so you often have to walk over small bridges to get around and rest your feet every now and again. There are a total of 280 benches throughout the park and 32 bridges.

Keukenhof18

Keukenhof19

Keukenhof12

Trees and fountains

For some reason I assumed the gardens would be flat but it was full of rolling hills and enormous trees, even though there were loads of people, there were moments of tranquillity when you strolled through the trees and didn’t notice anybody else around. The calming sounds of the water created an oasis and the there was an array of fountains in different designs to admire. In total there are over 2500 trees in 87 varieties and 15 fountains.

Keukenhof39

Keukenhof11

Keukenhof15

Sculptures

It is not just the flowers that are on show in the gardens but also around a 100 art objects by different artists dotted about for you to spot on your walks. There is also a maze which we wanted to visit but after realising that the whole park is a bit of a maze we gave up looking for it.

Keukenhof35

Keukenhof40

Keukenhof27

Keukenhof42

Restaurants and shops

There are lots of buildings around the park, great to seek refuge when the rain gets too much! The indoor pavilions including Willem-Alexander, Beatrix, Juliana and Oranje Nassau house all sorts, from exhibitions to flower arrangement demonstrations and bulb growing information services as well as 7 souvenir shops and 6 restaurants. The restaurants seemed quite busy and we didn’t eat inside but if you were feeling peckish or just wanted a snack there are pop up eateries all over with everything from burgers to strawberries and cream.

Keukenhof55

Keukenhof47

Keukenhof45

Keukenhof44

Keukenhof43

Windmill

The windmill at Keukenhof is over a century old and was donated to the gardens by the Holland – America line in 1957. Situated at the end of the park, the windmill has great views of the tulip fields across the way. I thought there would be long queues to go up the windmill as there isn’t very much space up there but it moves really quickly as other than looking at the view there isn’t much else to do at the top.

Keukenhof48

Keukenhof59

Keukenhof49

Keukenhof61

Child friendly

I didn’t think of Keukenhof as somewhere to bring children as I thought it was just flowers on show and as much as they look pretty they don’t really capture the attention span of the smaller people for very long! I was surprised that on our walk around we came across a large play area, a zip wire, a Miffy house and even a small petting zoo with a variety of animals including pigs, goats and chickens.

Every year the gardens welcome more than a million visitors to Keukenhof and 75% of those are tourists from abroad. Every year the visitor numbers are growing with more people bringing their families and they were recently awarded the Certificate of Excellence from Trip advisor.

Tulips

Although there are lots of flowers on show, with over 7 million bulbs planted every year, the tulips are definitely the stars of the show with their variety of vibrant colours and the neat way they are all laid out.

Keukenhof31

The tulip is a Dutch icon but hasn’t always been that way. Here is a story of the journey of the tulip…

The tulip travelled far before arriving in the Netherlands. Tulips were originally found in the Tian Shan mountain region of the north-western Himalaya. Dozens of different types in all kinds of colours still grow there each spring. In the 11th Century the Seljuks, who lived there at that time, took the tulip with them to Turkey, where they drove out the Byzantines. The tulip became a cherished flower in Turkish culture, and is still so today. Sultans organised tulip parties each spring. And the most extraordinary tulips were illustrated in beautiful books. Tulips were also depicted on tiles and other household objects.

Dutch trading, including with the then Constantinople, increased towards the middle of the 16th Century. The tulip was a new flower to the Dutch. Botanists such as Dodeneus and Clusius managed to obtain tulip bulbs and by 1560 the first examples were flowering in Antwerp and Mechelen. Clusius was extremely interested in the tulip, wrote a lot about it and, via his network across Europe, maintained a lively barter trade including in tulips. When Carolus Clusius became Hortus Prefectus, or Director, of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden in 1593, the tulip was one of the things he took with him. This is how the tulip became established in our country.

The purpose of my trip was to take photos for my project on the production of flowers and after seeing the gardens online I was eager to see it in person and so glad that I made the effort! Although it was just a flying visit I also managed to see the auction rooms at Aalsmeer Royalflora and the press photo exhibition in the city centre so it was quite a productive trip. (I still want to go back and see so much more!)

If you think you may want to visit Keukenhof when it reopens next Spring, it will be open from March 21st – May 19th with the annual flower parade taking place on April 13th. For opening times and prices see the official site closer to the time.

Posted in London, Photography, Uncategorized

A floral perspective – Photography book

I am just getting my head around the fact that I am no longer a photography student and thinking about what my next steps in life are, does it mean I am now a professional photographer?

Well I am the owner of a new photography book! When I say photography book I don’t mean that it is available to buy in a store near you…not yet anyway. This is a book that I created for my final degree show to display alongside a couple of prints that I took on my recent trip to Holland’s Keukenhof gardens and Aalsmeer auction market.

The book is a collection of still life images, some of which I shared on a previous post and are of one of my favourite subjects…flowers!

book2

book3

book5

book7

book6

book4

The photos are accompanied by simple definitions of parts of a flower to get the viewer thinking about the flower as a whole and seeing them in a different perspective.

I have only included a few of the pages so if you want to see the full thing you will just have to visit our degree show which will be shown at the Free Range festival, at the Truman Brewery, in Bethnal green between 22nd and 25th of June. There will be loads of work on show from graduates across the country and it is a free event so you don’t want to miss out!

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

World Press Photo – Dam Square

I am a bit of a sucker for a photography exhibition so while recently in Holland working on my own photography project, I had to take the opportunity to visit the World Press Photo exhibition in the stunning setting of De Nieuwe Kerk in Dam Square.

World Press Photo is an international press photo contest featuring over 160 photos by 42 press photographers, many of which were taken at events that shook the world and featured heavily on the news but also some that documented incidents that I hadn’t previously read about.

As the walls were not suitable for displaying the large scale images, they were mostly hung from wires attached to the ceiling or on wooden display units on the floor.

Press11

Press9

Press8

Press6

Press17

Press20

One of the images that stood out to me was Earth Kiln (below) by Li Huaifeng. It is of two brothers that live in a cave that has been cut out of a hillside in central China. As well as the interesting story, the photograph has an artistic effect and I actually thought it was a painting.

Press12

As well as photos there was  also a digital storytelling contest with some really interesting documentary films on show. One of the films I found captivating was 30 videos all edited together to create a 10 minute timeline mapping the Las Vegas massacre.

Press13

I was really impressed with the work on show and glad I made the effort to travel into Amsterdam city centre to pay it a visit. If you happen to be in the area up to 22nd of July and you are a fan of photography then you may want to check it out! Tickets cost €11.00 and entry is free for under 11s. There are also concessions available.

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Aalsmeer flower auction – Holland

 

I recently took a trip to Holland (the hub of the flower industry) to work on my photography project, looking into the production and importation of flowers, and was pointed in the direction of Aalsmeer by the lovely Catie who lives not too far away.

Aalsmeer (also known as Royal Flora Holland) is the largest trade centre for flowers in the world, described as a portal to a world full of scent and bloom, it is open to the public on certain days so they can take a look at the amount of work that goes into ensuring fresh flowers are available in your local supermarket whenever you feel like purchasing them.

A statement from Royal Flora…

FloraHolland is a cooperative venture belonging to the growers of flowers and plants. They bring their supply together to perform a single international trade platform, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. The members/growers are the owners of this company. We are also a ‘Royal’ firm and have been ever since our centenary in 2011 when FloraHolland was presented with the royal title.

On arriving at FloraHolland we were met with coach loads of tourists queueing at the door which I was quite surprised about because compared to other flower attractions in Holland, particularly Keukenhof, this was not advertised anywhere. As you enter the reception area you can purchase tickets priced at 7.50 euros and receive a map, although this isn’t really needed as the route is very straight forward.

Aalsmeer1

Aalsmeer4

Aalsmeer12

Aalsmeer7

You are basically on a viewing platform above the market floor in the form of a bridge which you walk the length of the building and back again on the opposite side. It is quite a surreal experience to just be watching normal people go about their daily work and you do wonder if they are aware, or care, that people are watching and taking photos of them. At the same time, for the sheer size of the place, I did feel like I was at one of the wonders of the world and really intrigued by the whole process.

Aalsmeer11

Aalsmeer10

Aalsmeer8

Aalsmeer16

Along the journey we came across a room that is used for research purposes and was filled with flowers. A guy saw us taking photos outside and asked if we would like to have a look around inside, which we were privileged to do so as it is not open to the public. He explained that they are sent new crops of flowers that haven’t as yet been grown for sale and they test them to see how they react to certain lights and temperatures and give them a value depending on their life span and quality.

Aalsmeer13

Aalsmeer20

As you reach the other end of the bridge you can see the auctions taking place through the windows, unfortunately they were not in full swing when we arrived but there were still a few people bidding on flowers so we got to observe the process.

Aalsmeer2

After we had watched the bidding and had a bite to eat in the small café we made our way back down the other side of the bridge. As we reached the end of the viewing platform, there was a room that looked like a museum that gave out some information about the history of FloraHolland through videos and photographs and some statistics on the industry via posters.

Aalsmeer21

Aalsmeer23

Aalsmeer24

Aalsmeer25

If you are a fan of flowers then this is a great place to visit, it is different to other attractions as all the behind the scenes action is the actual show. There is nothing fancy or put on about it and it is a bit dated but I found it to be a real spectacle and so glad I visited. I also purchased some tulip bulbs from the gift shop so I can think of my trip when they grow in the garden.

Aalsmeer26

 

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Currently reading

It seems like forever since I last posted a currently reading post and I must admit I am behind with the amount of books I have wanted to read so far this year (I think I am currently on 10) but I have a new pile to get stuck into and hopefully with the sun making an appearance I can spend some time in the garden getting my tan on and catching up!

This month I have a mix, I cant resist a bit of a thriller but have also added a true story and something a bit more light hearted.

The loving husband – When Fran wakes one night to find her husband Nathan missing, she makes a devastating discovery. Questions about their relationship start to mount and Fran’s life begins to spiral out of control.

I am already three quarters of the way through this and enjoying it. It is quite creepy particularly reading it at night time with a quiet house as I usually do! Although I have nearly finished it, I’m still not sure where the story is going which is always a good sign.

It started with a tweet – When Daisy’s social media obsession causes her to make a catastrophic mistake at work, her sister Rosie suggests a digital detox at a remote cottage but will the hunk next door be enough of a distraction to survive without her phone?

I imagine this story is something we can all relate to, I know I could probably do with a digital detox but it is hard to imagine life with our online world nowadays! I love that fellow blogger Louise Pentland’s review is on the front cover and she says it’s “The perfect laugh-out-loud love story”

Secret child – The inspiring story of a boy born in 1950’s Dublin and raised as a secret child in a home for unmarried mothers as his own mother was so determined to keep him, he was hidden from the world including the rest of her family.

I do love a true story, particularly those based in a different era as it gives a great idea of what the time was actually like. Looking forward to reading this one!

In a cottage in a wood – Neve comes across a stranger named Isabelle on a bridge, who hands her something before jumping to her death in the Thames below. A couple of weeks later she finds out that a charming cottage has been left to her by Isabelle, is this a solution to her problems in London or the beginning of her worst nightmare?

I really like the sound of this book it seems quite dark and I imagine it will be a gripping read, I think I’ll read it in the day rather than at night though!

As well as these I have also been downloading books onto my Kindle and have realised that with my Prime subscription I can borrow up to 10 books/magazines from a selection so have a long list waiting for me. I am currently making my way through these two…

From my last list of books my favourites were Behind Her Eyes which I thoroughly recommend just for the unexpected ending and When I was Invisible because I love the way Dorothy Koomson writes. I was expecting a lot from Truly Madly Guilty as it was praised by so many people but I was left disappointed. It was a good book but I felt it dragged a bit and with six main characters I had to keep going back to remind myself of who was who.

Hopefully I will get through these quicker than the last, what have you got on your reading pile at the moment?