Kensington Palace, London W8. Part 2. Queen's State Apartments and King's State Apartments.

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Kensington Palace has been a place of residence of the British Royal family since 1689. It was bought as a completed building by William and Mary when they ascended to the throne.  Those parts not being lived in are open to the public. Currently they contain four exhibitions, one ticket allows entry to all four. Entrance to the Palace gardens, including the attractive sunken gardens is free and these are certainly worth the time it takes to walk round them on days when the weather is clement. The first two exhibitions are about Queen Victoria and Princess Diana’s dresses. They are both interesting in different ways, I have a blog post about them here: Kensington Palace, London W8. Part 1. Victoria Revealed & Diana, her fashion story.

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The next two exhibitions are The Queens’ State Apartments, which has the rooms decorated as they were in the 1690s, during the reign of William and Mary, and The King’s State Apartments, which has the rooms restored in the way they were in the early 1700s, during the reign of Georges I and II.

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These are arranged in reverse chronological order, entry is through the sumptuous King’s Grand Staircase. Decorated in the time of George II, this is broad and spacious,  we are overlooked by painted figures as we ascend. The staircase is certainly grand, immediately we can tell that we are in an era when conspicuous wealth was expected of the monarchy. The mural was painted by William Kent in 1724 and contains depictions of many actual members of the royal court at the time. Kent even included himself in the painting, he is the man wearing a brown turban and holding an artist’s palette, and the lady looking over his shoulder was reportedly his mistress.

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The rooms in the King’s State Apartments have many wonderful Georgian features. The fireplaces and ceilings are spectacular. One ceiling is decorated with shields representing the members of the Order of the Garter, with its insignia making the centrepiece. The King’s Gallery has a mantelpiece with a map of the British Isles and Western Europe. This is linked to a weather vane on the roof, so that King George could see how the wind was affecting his fleet. It is still working today. The drawing room has some interesting examples of gaming tables from the era and the best perspective of the gardens, down to the lake.

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The Queen’s State Apartments are 17th Century and this exhibition is more intimate, showing their bedrooms, their dining room and gives a little more of an insight into how they went about their, still opulent, daily lives. The furniture and delft is remarkable and the tapestries and bed coverings are extravagant. It is interesting to see the shortness of the four poster bed, it was thought at that time to be beneficial to health to sleep in a sitting position.

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The exhibitions also contain lovely examples of the fashions at the time, there are some wonderful farthingale supported embroidered skirts, which look spectacular but must have been completely impractical to wear.

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Between all four of the shows here, it would be difficult to do it justice in less than a couple of hours, there is almost too much to see in one visit. Perhaps it would be worth viewing the Palace on one day and the Gardens, Park and Orangery, which are free to enter, on another. This way you could spread the visit over a couple of days and only have to pay the, not inconsiderable, entry fee once. Kensington Palace and Gardens is one of the most historic visitor attractions in London, the exhibitions are well stocked and informative, although it is not cheap to visit, it should be among the sights that you consider when in London. It is free to enter with an Art Pass, if you have one of these you should not miss it, Kensington Palace is a highlight of their offer.

 

Kensington Palace, London W8. Part 1. Victoria Revealed & Diana, her fashion story.

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Kensington Palace has been a place of residence of the British Royal family since 1689. It was bought as a completed building by William and Mary when they ascended to the throne and it has been expended and improved since, by both Christopher Wren and by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Part of the palace is still used as living accommodation by the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex.

Those parts not being lived in are open to the public. Currently they contain four exhibitions, one ticket allows entry to all four. Entrance to the Palace gardens, including the attractive sunken gardens is free and these are certainly worth the time it takes to walk round them on days when the weather is clement.

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Victoria Revealed is an exhibition about the life of Queen Victoria. She was born in Kensington Palace and lived here until she became monarch in 1837. It consists of eight rooms detailing her life in, mainly chronological, order. It does contain some interesting personal items such as the dolls with which she played as a child. The portrait of her at the time of her coronation, shows why she was considered a beauty in her youth.

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It has the uniform that her husband Albert wore on their wedding day. This has embroidered messages, such as “dearly loved” and “Oh my Angel Albert”, on the cuffs collar and pockets. It also has a garter, tied visibly, just below the left knee. It also has the gilt bassinet which held many of her nine children, as babies.

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The rooms are relatively sparsely decorated, but have some nice busts and a few interesting paintings, including a couple of the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, in which it took place. The Great Exhibition was opened in in 1851 by Queen Victoria herself. In the gardens of the palace, stands “The Queen Victoria Statue” designed, in marble, by her own daughter Louise, who was a celebrated artist of the time.

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The presentation contains a moving memorial to Albert. Victoria was strongly affected by his death, she wore mourning clothes and withdrew from public life for many years after.  Victoria Revealed is a fascinating show, the items on display are sympathetically exhibited and give a nice insight into her personal life.

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Also on the first floor is “Diana, her fashion story”. This is a collection of Princess Diana’s most famous suits and dresses. There are about 20 of her outfits on show here, along with notes about the designers and details of the occasions on which she wore them. They are interesting in that they mark the fashions of the time as well as well as being beautifully designed. It is surprising how many of them are recognizable, it seems that time has proven that Diana really was a fashion icon of the 1980s and 90s.

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1

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Rich Mix is a flexible, interesting venue, very handily located less than 100metres from Shoreditch High Street Overground Station. It has a theatre space and a bar on the 4th floor, holding around 100 people comfortably. The ground floor has a licensed bar in a space suitable for theatre, dance or live music and this area can accommodate many more. The first floor is a mezzanine, looking down over the stage. There are three cinema screens on the floors in between and there is also an Indian restaurant/café on the premises.

What really makes this venue, is the variety and diversity of the cultural events that are put on here. If you look at the programme for the coming month alone, there is theatre, dance, live bands, open mic nights, story-telling evenings, political events, family events, not to mention the films showing in the cinema, where it is one of the venues hosting the London Film Festival. It is also a venue for London Dance Umbrella Festival.

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There mezzanine doubles as an art gallery and currently hosts a multimedia exhibition: Black Pride.  Among upcoming exhibitions are “Hard to Read” bringing together art and poetry, and another depicting illustrations of Syrian refugees. There are weekend markets with different themes, one in December is specifically for independent potters and ceramicists.

An adaptable venue, embracing the local community, accommodating the art scene and enhancing London’s rich cultural diversity.

Motel One Manchester-Piccadilly, Manchester

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Motel One is about as handy as you can get if you arrive in Manchester by train. It is directly across the road from Piccadilly train station. The rooms are quite small, but they are cleverly laid out and well appointed. The windows are big, so even on a grey day the room feels bright. The bathrooms are new and modern and the shower is excellent. The bed is big and comfortable, all rooms have free wi-fi that is efficient, the code only works for 3 items though – so if you are as gadget fuelled as we are, you may have to sweet talk the reception staff into giving you more codes.  Motel One is German hotel brand and the TV comes with many European channels as standard.

The breakfast is good, but continental only, it is not included in the price and not particularly great value in a part of town that is full of great brunch venues. Head to Hilton Street which is less than a ten minute walk away and has a number of interesting cafes, including  The Pen and Pencil, 57 Hilton St, Manchester which we really liked.

Also, you need to be aware that, despite its name, Motel One, does not have a car park, so you are at the mercy of private car parks if you have driven to Manchester and parking in town is not cheap. Having said that, central Manchester is a great city to walk around and public transport is pretty good, so a car would not be essential for your time here.

The bar on the ground floor is decorated in a modern European style; flash furniture and muted colours, pleasant enough to sit and have a drink in while waiting for friends. The music is at a nice level for conversation and they have pleasant bar staff.

Overall, Motel One Piccadilly is a very good budget hotel, right in the heart of town and I will happily stay here again next time I come to Manchester.

The Bush Theatre, Shepherd's Bush, London.

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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.

The Design Museum, Kensington High Street, London

 

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1970s Olivetti Advertisement at the Design Museum

 
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.
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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.
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The Other Palace, Victoria, London, SW1

The Other Palace started life as St James Theatre in 2012 when it was the first newly built theatre in Central London for over 30 years. It was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Really Useful Group, last year and has been rebranded and it intended as a place to develop new musicals.

The opening season looks very promising.  The first show was  “The Wild Party” which was an auspicious start . This was my review of it. The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London.  Later in the year The National Youth Music Theatre will be bringing “Sunday in the Park with George”. A musical based on Fellini’s “La Strada” should be interesting too.
The complex itself, is a space containing two theatres, a restaurant upstairs and a ground floor bar. The building is glass fronted on the ground and first floor making the entrance, bar and restaurant feel bright and airy. The main theatre is relatively small, with around 300 capacity, nicely laid out, with every seat giving a good view of the stage. The studio is quite intimate, capacity around 100, it was laid out as a cabaret bar, but seating arrangements could be flexible. The cabaret tables and chairs worked perfectly for the show on at the time.
The upstairs restaurant, is modern and light. The setting is lovely. I have not eaten there since it has been rebranded as The Other Naughty Piglet but I have heard good things about, Naughty Piglets, their other restaurant, in Brixton.
The bar is set slightly lower than ground level, it catches the light well and it is a comfortable place to chat. It’s not huge, though, and does get crowded during the interval, this is a bar where it is definitely worth pre-ordering your interval drinks. The house white and house rose were both dry and good quality.
The Really Useful group have made a shrewd buy in this handily located theatre. It is  very close to Victoria Station and right across the road from Buckingham Palace.
I love the idea of it being a place to refine new work and I wish them every success in their endeavour.

BFI Imax, Waterloo, London.

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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.
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Natural History Museum, London


The Natural History Museum is holding a series of special events on Friday evenings throughout the summer. Each one is different but I suspect that all of them will be awesome! I went to the butterfly ball, which had a number of talks and exhibitions about moths and butterflies. The people involved clearly love what they do, they were interesting and entertaining, we got up close and personal with moths, butterflies, spiders, snakes…
It is a fantastic experience to be in the museum at night, great to be able to wander around the normal exhibits with a drink from the bar. It is a very relaxed way to view the museum … and there are no school parties to contend with.
The talks are wonderful, the general exhibition is amazing, but even if the whole place was empty the building itself is staggeringly beautiful. Think Hogwarts on steroids! It’s incredible that even with the brilliant things on show here, that the ceilings, arches and floors can contend for your attention.
As you can probably guess, I have been struggling for superlatives to describe my night.
Go for the event, go for the general exhibition or just go for the architecture!

 

Eltham Palace, London SE9.

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If you like historic buildings and Art Deco furniture and style, then you will not find anywhere better in London.
Many of the Kings of England lived here, including Henry VIII. It was lovingly redeveloped in the 1930s by Stephen Courtauld.  He restored the palace and added a new Art Deco house, decorated and furnished in the fashion of the time.
Currently it is in the care of by English Heritage. The circular entrance room is stunning and the art deco decoration and appliances are exquisite. The gardens are beautiful and have lovely views of the house and over London.
This is a fantastic day out within half an hour from central London.
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The photos are of the house from the garden and a marble bath in on of the en suite bathrooms.