Apsley House is the smart, columned building on the north side of Hyde Park Corner. It has been the home of the Wellington family since the 18th Century, and it is open to the public Wednesday to Sunday during the summer months. It is a stunning Grade 1 listed building, and many of the interiors are kept in the style of decoration that they would have had at the time they were built. It is unlikely that there is a better maintained aristocratic home in Central London.
The decoration is interesting, there is some of Roberts Adam’s 18th century classical interior design remaining. It was renovated in the early 19th Century when Wellington was living in Downing Street as Prime Minister. The Waterloo Gallery was added at this time to commemorate his victory over Napoleon, and to this day, there is a banquet held annually on 18th June to celebrate this.
There is also an amazing art collection, made up of gifts from grateful war allies, or items acquired as the spoils of war during the defeat of Napoleon. There are paintings by Titian, Van Dyke, Rubens, Goya and Velazquez and many others. You can even see the original painting that contained the image of Wellington, that was used on our old five pound note.
The are many other items of historical interest. It holds the oldest grand piano in England. There are two beautiful porcelain dinner services on display; The Waterloo Meissen Banquet service, painted with scenes of his greatest victories, and the Josephine Egyptian dessert service given by Napoleon to his wife as a divorce gift. Another highlight is the wonderful 3.5metre nude statue of “Napoleon as Mars the God of Peace” by Canova.
The property is run by English Heritage, so it is free to enter if you are a member, but chargeable otherwise. The entry fee includes a touchscreen audio tour, this is very informative and there are seats in some of the rooms, where you can sit and listen to descriptions of the paintings and decoration. The no photographs rule is disappointing. The pictures here are from the tiled passageways under Hyde Park Corner. The building is nice and cool on a warm summer day. It is also surprisingly quiet given its position, right in the centre of London.
If you are looking for a break from the more crowded tourist attractions in central London, Apsley House is well worth a visit.
St James’s Park is the most tourist friendly park in London. It is relatively small, 1Km at its longest edge. It is a pretty, tranquil, well maintained green area joining many of the most viewed attractions in London.
It has Buckingham Palace as the western side, the north border is the Mall, containing St James’s Palace and Clarence House, with Trafalgar Square on the North East corner. Horse Guards Parade is on the Eastern edge, where you can see the Changing of the Guard and the Trooping of the Colour. The South East corner has Westminster Square with the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Cathedral.
The park itself is beautiful too, with plenty of shade from sycamore trees lining Birdcage Walk, which used to be where James the first kept his exotic bird collection. The park still has pelicans which are descended from the ones given by Russia to Charles the second in 1664. You can watch them being fed every day at 2.30pm. There is plenty of other wildlife and you will need to protect your picnic from both squirrels and pigeons, who have become used to being fed by visitors to the park.
There is a beautiful ornamental lake, with two small islands. The lake can be crossed by a bridge. The Blue Bridge is its official name, but it is sometimes called by the more romantic name Bridge of Spies, the views from this bride are small but spectacular. Buckingham Palace is framed by trees looking west. Looking east, The London Eye is flanked by the turrets of the Old Admiralty building and could be mistaken for a scene from a Disney movie.
The gardens are always well maintained and the flower beds are full of flowers in season whatever time of year you visit, though they are at their most colourful in spring and summer. Pall Mall the wide road on the northern edge of the park gets its name from, Paille Maille, an early form of croquet, as it was originally laid as a lawn on which to play.
If you want to combine a day of iconic London attractions with a day in the park, St James’s Park is the one to choose!
The Bush Theatre has just had a big refurbishment. The first thing you notice when you arrive on a warm sunny evening is the new terrace and bar. It is the perfect place to meet people, as it catches the evening sun before the show begins. Inside, the bar area is sparse and pared back, there are not many places to sit here, but this is well designed to keep the area relatively clear, because as well as the terrace there is also the library room, a bright, airy seating area with books on the history of theatre on the walls.
The Bush has a tradition of putting on innovative and challenging new shows. There are now two theatre spaces, the main theatre holds 180 and the smaller studio 80. The main theatre is flexible with its set up and on the evening that I attended the stage was in the centre. It was set up as a house and we had to walk around the back of the house, past the back door and pink flamingo, to look in the front room. Every seat has an excellent view and your proximity to the performance makes you feel a part of the action.
They have some great pricing offers, one clever one is the “Count me in” deal – where you pay £10 in advance for the show, but your seat is not allocated until the day of the performance. The front of house staff and the bar staff are friendly and helpful. The Bush Theatre is a lovely asset to the local area and I look forward to returning many times in the future.
Robots is an exhibition within the Science Museum. The Science Museum itself is wonderful. The building is beautiful, it has lots of fascinating things on display, and general admission is free. So it is certainly worth a visit even if are not considering a chargeable exhibition.
Robots begins with a brief history. It counts clocks, orreries and anatomical models as robots, which may not be in tune with how we would define a robot today. It soon moves on to items we are more likely to think of as robots, with famous examples from old film and TV; it has the one from the 1920s film metropolis. This section was surprisingly nostalgic and it was nice to see the development of the idea of a robot from the early 20th Century.
Finally we come to the newest, most interesting, and sometimes creepiest part of the show – the current, cutting edge, design in robots. The variation in looks, ability and use is amazing. There are robots here whose purpose is to play music, to act, to do repetitive tasks, to calm, to teach, and to learn. Some of these are quite cute, but there are others that are downright strange, and prove the point that there can be something particularly sinister about machines made in the human image. There are about a dozen of these new innovative robots on display and all are compelling in their own way. Some are interesting because the way that they interact and others because of the cleverness of their design.
Tickets are £13.50 for an adult and £40.50 for a family of four. This is without donation, I think it is cheeky to add a donation on automatically when charging for entry, either add it onto the price or leave the donation to our conscience. I enjoyed this exhibition, it took me about an hour to go through. Any longer than an hour and my attention begins to wander, so it was the perfect length.
Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World is the opening exhibit to the new Design Museum in High Street Kensington. It is actually 11 different installations exploring issues that define our world in the 21st Century. As you would imagine, with so many totally unconnected exhibits, some work better than others and some are more interesting than others.
I like the curious robot that comes and stares at you when you look at it. It feels quite aggressive and two separate parents who thought their child would love it, had to deal with them running away in tears after it came right up to their face.
The installation about Grindr and how it changed lives in the 21st Century is worthy, but it is also a bit dry and dull, which is not something I would have expected to report on an exhibit on that subject.
The Mongolian Yurt is nice, one can sit inside and watch a video about how the city of Ulaan Baator is growing very quickly. There is an installation about Death Masks. These death masks are pretty and quite creepy. They are made in plastic with a 3D printer. There are 5 different fictional people with 3 masks each, depicting different states, I don’t know why they have done it, but they are interesting to look at.
The video about dolphins and go seems plain weird, half of it is pictures of sea and boats from a dolphins point of view, and half is of a computer playing the game go. I may have got that wrong, I found it hard to understand, possibly because the point of it just went right over my head. The exhibit of videos playing in a corrugated shack about the Bolivian ghettos are thought provoking.
I like the 2 very different ones about recycling clothing. One was about recycling clothing in rural China and the other about a machine that sorts discarded clothes by colour.
My favourite is the living room furnished with an item from every country in the EU, the view from the “window” is quite chilling.
The price of entry to Fear and Love is £14, quite high considering the mixed standard of installations, but there is a free permanent exhibition on the third floor, which is excellent and certainly worth a visit. So, although there are things here that will make you stare and think Why?, there is also a wide variety of subjects on display and everyone is likely to have at least something that will delight them.
The Design Museum has a new building on Kensington High Street. The setting is lovely, right on the edge of Holland Park. The building itself is, as you would expect, beautifully designed. The interior is bright and spacious, filled with indirect light, the curves of the roof are attractive, the stairs and levels of the building are cleverly arranged to describe a pleasing combination of form and function, the atrium widening as it rises, with built in seating among the stairs on the lower levels and along the walls, further up.
I like the way, that even now, when it is open and in use, it still has the look and feel of the architect design drawings that would have been put on show at its conception. It will be very interesting to see how the building ages, I have great hopes that the clean lines of the wood, marble and glass will hold the elegance that it has now.
The free exhibition on the third floor is good too, larger and more interactive than it was in the old museum. It is still packed with examples of outstanding design and has many of the pieces that were on display in its old home on the South Bank. The exhibits include the design development of many common household items, for example clocks, phones and headphones from their earliest designs to current iterations.
It will also hold paid for exhibits, currently these are Love and Fear, and Imagine Moscow. However, the permanent exhibition is worth the trip even if you choose not to visit the chargeable offering. If you go on a fine day, Holland Park is a very pretty park to walk through too, it is well maintained and has nice ordered gardens.
The new Design Museum with regard to its building, setting and free exhibits has to be regarded as a complete success.
If you are going for a short getaway, this is the place to fly from. It is 20 minutes on public transport from London Bridge to the check-in desks, and it is even less from the city. Once you arrive, unless you are unlucky, it will be no more than 10 minutes from station to airside. This airport really shortens your travel time, important if you are only having a few days away.
When you check in, try to get a window seat because the views of London from take off are spectacular. The runway is straight in the direction of the city and the planes fly relatively low over town. This provides passengers with a better prospect of the London skyline than the London Eye, The Shard and the Skygarden combined. If you are lucky enough to have an evening flight arriving into the airport, on your return, you will have an added bonus of the approach into London’s glittering city lights and the glistening river Thames. The takeoff and landing views are worthy of being a London attraction all by themselves.
All in all, London City Airport provides a truly premium experience and should be considered, if you are visiting London and planning a short side trip away.
La Recoleta Cemetery is one of most amazing things to see, in one of the largest and most beautiful cities on the world. This cemetery occupies 14 acres of the most desirable real estate in a very fashionable area of downtown Buenos Aires. This cemetery is packed with streets of mausoleums honouring the great, the good and the dead of this fine city.
There are over 6000 monuments here, in the shape of chapels, pyramids, Greek temples. There are hundreds of statues, pillars, columns all commemorating in death, the achievements during the life of its inhabitants.
These shrines vary hugely in design, in shape and in beauty but the combined effect of seeing them all together is contemplative; mementos of a life now past.
Buenos Aires is a busy vibrant city and Cementerio de la Recoleta is a lovely step away from that bustle into a more introspective place, a welcome contrast and a place to gather your thoughts and fortify you, before continuing your adventures in the city.
The stained glass windows in the tombs, vaults and burial chambers are particularly striking and I loved the way it was possible to collect their reflection in the windows, looking in.
The building itself is quite cool. Its an eight storey, circular Perspex edifice with gigantic posters trailing the latest blockbuster alternating on the outside.
The sound is excellent, both in terms of volume and quality. You may want plugs if you have sensitive ears, they definitely have it turned up to 11, but the system is up to it and the quality is good even at that level.
The screen is vast, the largest is the UK, 540square metres of it. The 3D quality is fantastic for those films made for it, in fact, some specialist films can only be seen at their best in an IMAX cinema. However for normal 3D films the quality is only a little better than your normal multiplex. Actually to be accurate it is better in the centre of the screen but can seem a little blurred at the edges. However the experience is far more immersive because of the size of the screen.
It is not cheap, our tickets were over £20 each last time we went. The seats are not comfortable enough to sit through a full movie easily. There seem to be too few toilets for the size of the venue, each time we have gone the queues have been long before and after the film.
However having said this, it is a unique experience and it is worth going at least once to see either a made for IMAX film or a big 3D blockbuster.
The Royal Academy of Arts’ gallery is on Piccadilly, it is directly across the road from Fortnum & Mason.
The Academy was founded in 1768 by King George III. They have many varied exhibitions throughout the year. These include single artist exhibitions, for example, Hockney and Ai Wei Wei have been on so far this year. There are also themed shows containing many different artists. “Painting the Modern Garden” included works by Kandinsky, Monet and Matisse. Next years “Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932” will have Chagall, Rodchenko and Eisenstein among others.
The highlight of their year is the Summer Exhibition, on open submission exhibition, to showcase the talent of emerging and established artists. The first one was in 1769 and it has run every one of the 248 years since. This is a huge and wide ranging exhibition usually holding over 1000 pieces, of every shape, size and medium. Most of the works are for sale differing in price from a hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands.
The gallery is nominally free, but most of the exhibitions are charged, so choose what you wish to see.
The Summer Exhibition is good value, although I take off the voluntary donation and only buy one list of works for the whole party, the cost of these is automatically added unless you ask for them to be removed.
The Royal Academy is self funded so do as your conscience sees fit! Personally, I don’t feel too guilty as they charge 30% commission on any work sold.