Five ideas to beat the January blues

It’s January, and like many we’re feeling a little worn down by the freezing temperatures, lack of available funds and propensity for interesting places to be closed for refurbishment. However, we’ve got some great plans for summer lining up already, as well as a few weekend distractions, so we thought we’d share with you some of our favourite ideas and tips to break up your week.

1. Booking tickets – a long way in advance

I was clearly feeling uncharacteristically organised in October, so I put the day that the Royal Opera House winter season opened in my diary, and when that day came I logged on at 9am and speedily booked some opera and ballet tickets for January. At £17 each, they didn’t break the bank, but were a welcome treat on the first day back after the Christmas break and then again in mid-January once we were feeling very fed up. Not only were they a spend we couldn’t have justified in January, but all but the most pricey tickets sell out pretty much the same day at the ROH. [You could also check out the Friday Rush at 1pm every Friday, where the ROH sell last-minute tickets for a variety of prices.]

2. Borrow a doggy

This isn’t a sponsored post, but we’re feeling a lot of love for BorrowMyDoggy… You do have to pay to sign up (£10 for borrowers), but you get matched with dogs in your area who might need occasional walking or looking after. Win – you get to hang out with a dog and you’re helping out someone in your community! Disclaimer: we haven’t tried it out ourselves yet, but have friends who love it.

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A touristy wander around Central London

Often, we like to bring you beautiful hidden gems, quirky finds or recommend places you might never have thought of to experience. Today, though, we found some photos from a late summer outing which made us so happy, we wanted to share them – it was a lovely Sunday day out, but probably somewhere you already recognise!

We first saw this amazing bakery at the food market next to the Royal Festival Hall:

Shoux Stoppers

And then strolled along the South Bank, past those iconic lamp posts with some familiar sights in the distance – the London Eye defined very nicely against the blue sky.

View from Westminster Bridge

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Hidden treasures in North London – discovering Hampstead Pergola

As you know by now, we love nothing more than a saunter around Hampstead Heath. It’s green, it’s walkable, and most importantly [for some] has a large collection of dogs to swoon over. We love Kenwood House and have a few favourite routes we explore. However, lately we made an exciting new discovery, thanks to a tip off from a podcasting friend (check out her brilliantly-engaging podcast, Uncatalogued, if you love museums and want to know more about the fascinating people who bring them to life). This discovery was Hampstead Pergola, described as “essentially, a raised walkway” near the Golders Hill Park part of the Heath. But what a raised walkway it is…

In 1904, Lord Leverhulme bought a large house in this area, named ‘The Hill’. With an interest in landscape gardening, he bought up the surrounding land and aimed to built his Pergola, for parties, summer evenings, and as a vantage point for enjoyment of the stunning gardens surrounding it. The architect he enlisted was the renowned Thomas Mawson, and he cleverly utilised the leftover materials from the nearby building of the Hampstead extension of the Northern line to cut transport costs. The Pergola was completed in 1906, after just a year in construction, and Lord Leverhulme expanded it twice more, in 1911 and 1925.

Hampstead Pergola

The house, visible to a degree through the Pergola’s framing, is still privately owned and now split into a number of apartments.

Hampstead Pergola

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Lumiere London – the city in a new light

Although one of us is currently incapacitated, having [very annoyingly] broken his foot slipping in a tube station (don’t worry, our love for public transport hasn’t abated too much), we wanted to see what we could catch of the first Lumiere festival to come to London, as I remember them being such a success up in Durham a few years ago. We headed out for the evening, but our first stop was the Benjamin Franklin House near Trafalgar Square, the only house still standing that Franklin lived in. He came to London intending to lodge here for a few short months but stayed for 16 years, even remaining while his wife died at home. The house remains in a fairly faithful state, although it was since used by Charing Cross station as a small hotel, but it has no original furniture. Rather than fill the house with replicas, the team have decided to approach this in an unconventional way, using image projection, recorded speech and an actress to take us through the story. Ultimately, we thought this was very successful (although rarely have I read more divisive opinions on Trip Advisor!). The actress herself was completely engaged and spoke clearly – had she been anything less than perfect the tour would have suffered (on which note, she did rather need a new costume…). The tour was informative, and we learned a great deal about the man himself and his rich and varied life. In the face of presumably limited resource, we thought this was an ingenious way to bring the house to life.

Benjamin Franklin House

We then wandered up to Trafalgar Square itself, to see the Lumiere installations everyone has heard so much about. On which note, first of all, out heartfelt congratulations to the Lumiere PR and marketing team – with so much going on in London, this was the thing everyone was talking about. Unfortunately, though, this did mean that a) we couldn’t see anything, really and b) so popular were some of the installations that they had to be turned off to deal with the crowds. Our first stop was the National Gallery, which itself was looking beautiful as always…

National Portrait Gallery

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Trip up North – Leeds Art Gallery

We love you, Yorkshire! The time between Christmas and New Year was perfect for a few days exploring the North of England (while trying to stay out of the floods), where one of us comes from. Leeds Art Gallery was one of our stops, home at the time to the British Art Show, which meant it was almost completely full of contemporary installations. We did put in an [early] appearance in the creative children’s section, as you may be able to tell…

Letters at Leeds Art Gallery

And made sure we took a look at the one room which remains constant amid the changing exhibitions; home to Renaissance and Victorian works by a range of artists, The Temptation of Sir Percival was one which caught our eye. Painted by Arthur Hacker in 1894, it depicts Percival, one of the Round Table knights, being tempted in his piety by a beautiful, predatory maiden. Excalibur of course features in the painting, as the counterfoil to her advances, and we particularly liked the use of colour and emotion in a classical scene.

Painting at Leeds Art Gallery

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Wintering at Winterville

Have you been to Winterville? We couldn’t face the Winter Wonderland crowds so thought we’d see if this was quieter, more interesting and just as festive!

So it was quieter. Almost too much quieter [it was a little bit creepy]. There were a lot of rides, and I’m a bit rubbish with rides [disappointingly], but they were fun to watch… And there were some indoor sections which were pretty amazingly decorated. Our favourite was a bar/café/stalls section (we really wish we’d seen the band playing!):

Stage at Winterville

We did have much mulled wine, which was very good.

Bar at Winterville

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Return to Kenwood House

OK, so we’ve been to Kenwood House before. But with such a beautiful place nearby, it’s difficult not to… While last time was a fleeting visit on the blog, this trip we decided to look at things a little more closely.

Remodelled by Robert Adam in 1770 (you know by now how much we love good old Adam!), Kenwood sits in 74 acres next to Hampstead Heath, with views across to the City of London. The house is run by English Heritage but remains free entry to the public, thanks to the Iveagh Bequest. This was a gift of art from the 1st Earl of Iveagh in 1920, and comprises internationally-significant Old Master and British paintings by artists including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Reynolds. Indeed, it is the finest collection of Old Master paintings given to the British nation in the 20th century.

Kenwood House

There is also a fine collection of furniture in the house, either designed by Adam or brought in sympathetically. We liked this tiny lion:

Table at Kenwood House

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