Category Archives: England


Ghoulish Good Times: Halloween in London

coffin-girl

From hair-raising tours of the Tower of London to creepy cabaret, fiendish fancy dress parties, and a spook-“tea”cular twist on the UK’s classic culinary afternoon tradition, here’s a list of five fang-tastic places to get your ghoul on around London this autumn.  (more…)

Christie Country: Agatha Christie’s Legacy Lives on in Coastal England

Headed to the International Agatha Christie Festival in Devon this September 13-17? It would be a crime to miss these top attractions.

Exterior of Greenway, Agatha Christie's home in Devon, England. ©NTPL-Mark Passmore

Greenway ©NTPL-Mark Passmore

On an isolated promontory above the River Dart, a Georgian mansion hunkers down amid dense, tangled woods and gardens.

Tucked well away from any major road, it seems like the perfect place for a murder. In fact, it’s been the scene of several.

One man perished of hemlock poisoning in the garden. A girl was strangled in the boathouse, and a body was once concealed in a studded chest that dominates the hallway.

Black and white images of Agatha Christie © Agatha Christie Ltd.

Agatha Christie © Agatha Christie Ltd.

Fortunately, those dark deeds took place only in the fertile imagination of Agatha Christie, who featured her holiday home, Greenway, in Five Little Pigs, Dead Man’s Folly, and Ordeal by Innocence. The trunk was also a key element in her short story The Mystery of the Spanish Chest.

Located half an hour south of Torquay, the English Riviera town where “the Queen of Crime” was born on September 15, 1890, Greenway will look familiar to fans of the Hercule Poirot mysteries.

David Suchet, who played the brilliant, mustachioed Belgian detective for 13 seasons,  filmed one of his last episodes, “Dead Man’s Folly,” here in 2013.

Hercule Poirot, courtesy The National Trust.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot © National Trust.

But beyond the macabre thrill of finding yourself at a fictional murder scene, visitors to the home have a rare opportunity to read between the lines and ferret out fascinating clues about the famous—and famously shy—Dame Agatha. (more…)

Jane Austen’s Bath

200 Years After Jane Austen’s Death, Soak Up the Period Atmosphere in the Georgian City She Made Famous

Pultney Bridge, Jane Austen, Bath, England

Pultney Bridge, Bath

“’For six weeks, I allow Bath is pleasant enough; but beyond that, it is the most tiresome place in the world.’ You would be told so by people of all descriptions, who come regularly every winter, lengthen their six weeks into ten or twelve, and go away at last because they can afford to stay no longer.”

So Mr. Tilney wryly remarks to newly arrived country mouse Catherine Morland, Jane Austen’s young heroine in Northanger Abbey. Austen visited Bath in the late 1700s and lived here from 1801 and 1806, and she set much of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in this Georgian city 100 miles west of London.

Although this year marks 200 years since the author’s death, her descriptions of Bath at the dawn of the 19th century retain the acerbic sting of Austen’s wicked wit.

Bath Abbey, a landmark in Jane Austen's Bath, England

Bath Abbey

But with the passing centuries, Bath seems to have forgiven its adopted daughter for her droll jibes. In addition to establishing the Jane Austen Centre, Bath holds two annual events in her honour: the Jane Austen Festival Regency Costumed Summer Ball, and the Jane Austen Festival in September, which holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for gathering the most people in Regency dress (since the early 1800s, one would assume). This year, you can also participate in a bicentennial Grand Regency Ball, to be held September 16, 2017 in the Assembly Rooms, where Austen herself would have kicked up her heels back in the day. (more…)

Royal Ascot: What–and What NOT–to Wear

Designer Isabell Kristensen Reveals Royal Ascot Collection

Here’s what you need to know about Britain’s Runway Race Day

There are few occasions on the British social calendar more sartorially daunting than Royal Ascot. The Queen herself is in the habit of attending this legendary thoroughbred racing meet, scheduled for June 20-24 this year, and the bold and the beautiful have been flocking here for the big event for more than 300 years. (Well, not the same people, mind you, although a few attendees appear so well-preserved that you might wonder).

Queen Elizabeth II rides into Royal Ascot in a horse-drawn carriage.

Events kick off with the Queen’s procession from neighbouring Windsor. (Yes, she is the tiny regal canary in the yellow suit). Hey, it’s called “Royal” Ascot for a reason.

Rocking up in the proper attire is essential. In fact, Ascot has devoted an entire section on its website to the dress code, which varies according to where you sit.

Amy Laughinghouse in a feathered fascinator at Royal Ascot.

That peacock perched on my head is fine for most areas of Ascot, but it would never cut the Grey Poupon in the Royal Enclosure.

For the coveted Royal Enclosure, men must wear a top hat, and everything from the size of a lady’s headpiece to the width of her dress straps is specified down to the inch.

Exposed midriffs are verboten in the Royal, Queen Anne and Village Enclosures.

“Fancy dress” (as in costumes, not “fancy dresses”) are forbidden everywhere…and Daisy Duke cut-offs are, presumably, right out.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a bit of fun and stand out in the crowd.

If your feathered fascinator needs refreshing and last year’s dress is looking bedraggled, Danish-born designer Isabell Kristensen has the couture cure for what ails you.

Kristensen, whose clients include Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Katy Perry and Monaco’s Princess Charlene, recently debuted her 2017 Royal Ascot collection at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.

Here are a few of my favourite looks from Kristensen’s show.

models in champagne-colored fascinators at Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection runway show

Beautiful in beige. Or, given that we’re talking about Royal Ascot, perhaps we should call it “champagne.”

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UK Film Locations for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

UK Setting Steals the Show

Charlie Hunnam, starring in Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, pictured on location in Scotland.

Charlie Hunnam, starring in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, pictured on location in Scotland. © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

Wringing praise from critics for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has been as challenging as, well, wriggling that stubborn blade from a stone. But the mythical landscape, filmed entirely in the United Kingdom, proves to be just the ticket…or at least, worth the price of one.

Here’s a quick look at the highs and lows of a movie which, at times, can be as challenging as the terrain. (more…)

Grand Designs Live: Great Gadgets & DIY Inspiration

Kevin McCloud (far right) on stage at the Grand Designs Live Grand Theatre.

Kevin McCloud (far right) on stage at the Grand Designs Live Grand Theatre.

At least one night each week, you’ll find me on my sofa, bowl of popcorn in hand, feet propped on the coffee table, and eyes glued to the TV screen as one of my favourite dramas unfolds. At times, the tension is almost too much to bear. Will a family be torn asunder, a marriage destroyed, dreams shattered like a sheet of two-storey glass installed by a rickety crane while the rain blows sideways over a windy moor?

That’s right. This isn’t one of those dark, moody murder mysteries where corpses pile up like cords of wood. It’s Grand Designs, the long-running British home-building series, where cords of wood pile up like corpses.

This week at Grand Designs Live, fans of the show have an opportunity to meet Grand Designs’ host, architect Kevin McCloud, and some of the fearless folks who have dared to translate their castles in the air into genuine bricks and mortar (or occasionally, straw and daub).

Tom Raffield (right) and Kevin McCloud discuss how Tom and his partner Danielle transformed their cottage with their own bent-wood designs.

Tom Raffield (right) and Kevin McCloud discuss how Tom and his partner Danielle transformed their cottage with their own bent-wood designs.

The event runs through 7th May 2017 at London’s ExCeL Centre, and in October, it heads to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham—England, that is. (Sorry, Alabama). Click HERE for a special discount code, offering two tickets to the London show for £22.

For aspiring builders and renovators, Grand Designs Live offers a wealth of resources. You can attend design lectures, meet with architects to discuss your own plans, and chat with hundreds of vendors selling everything you ever needed for your abode, alongside loads of stuff you’ll never actually need but can’t live without once you’ve seen it.

There are acres of great home inventions to explore. Here are a handful that captured my imagination. (more…)

The English Cotswolds: Ready for their Close-Up

Broadway, English Cotswolds

Broadway Village

Honey-hued villages. Historic old mansions. Towering cathedral spires, and woolly white sheep grazing in green fields or upon snow-dusted slopes, a terrestrial reflection of cotton candy clouds suspended in a cerulean sky.

The bucolic beauty of the English Cotswolds are so improbably alluring at any time of year, they might have been built on a Hollywood backlot. It’s hardly surprising, then, that filmmakers flock to this photogenic swathe of twee stone towns. The region dips and rolls across south central England, encompassing Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire as it unfurls over 90 miles from south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.

Foxglove in the fields of Nether Westcote

Foxglove in the fields of Nether Westcote

COTSWOLDS FILM AND TELEVISION CREDITS

Oxford is the main setting for the British crime mystery drama “Inspector Morse,” and its two spin-off series, “Inspector Lewis” and “Endeavor.” The nearby village of Bampton doubled as Downton, where the Grantham family’s triumphs and tragedies played out over six seasons on “Downton Abbey,” and Winston Churchill’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, appeared in The Young Victoria and Disney’s 2015 remake of Cinderella. 

All Souls College in Oxford, England

All Souls College in Oxford, England

Chavenage House featured in “Poldark” as well as the superb “Wolf Hall,” which also guest-starred Berkeley Castle and Gloucester Cathedral.

Gloucester Cathedral. Courtesy Visit Britain.

Gloucester Cathedral. Courtesy Visit Britain.

In fact, Gloucester Cathedral has appeared in so many productions, including the Harry Potter franchise, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and “Sherlock,” that I expect it’s now demanding its own dressing room complete with an albino monkey named Gary, two dozen rare orchids gathered by Tibetan monks under the light of a blood moon, and a hypoallergenic solid-gold toilet that flushes pure Evian.

That list barely scratches the celluloid surface of the Cotswolds’ impressive reel of credits.

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Sweetheart Escapes at Europe’s Most Romantic Hotels

The roses are wilted. That decadent box of heart-shaped chocolates has morphed into a flabby albatross around your waist, and the giddy high of champagne has burst like a bubble, leaving only a hangover behind. How do you pump new life into a flaccid relationship after Valentine’s Day is done and Cupid has flown the coop? Read on for four prescriptions for passion that last a lot longer than Viagra.

Romantic sunset dinner for two at San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice

Romantic sunset dinner for two on a private island? That should do the trick. Courtesy San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice

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How To Save a Bundle in Great Britain

Travelers hoping to pinch pounds in Great Britain are in luck. With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit—the UK’s decision to leave the European Union—the pound has plummeted. Here are my top tips for squeezing the Queen’s sterling until it squeals.

Tourists gather in front of Buckingham Palace in London. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse.

Crowds gather at the gates of Buckingham Palace.

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Best London Walk: Time-Traveling Along the Thames

If you’re looking for an afternoon of cheap thrills in London, it’s as easy as a walk in the park…or, rather, beside the river. As I’ve discovered while entertaining visitors in the city I’ve called home for a decade, one of the best (and most affordable) ways to acquaint yourself with the capital’s iconic sites is by pounding the pavement along the Thames.

London Eye viewed across the ThamesWith this four mile, self-guided walking tour, you can experience 1,000 years of history, without the aid of Dr. Who’s TARDIS. You might opt to spring for admission to some of the sterling attractions along the way, but you aren’t obliged to burn a lot of cash…just calories. Read on to view the map and key stops along the way. (more…)

Ten Luxe Hotels Launching in 2017

With so many outstanding hotels opening around the world this year, the question travelers face may not be so much “where to go,” but rather, “where to stay.” We’ve compiled a list of ten of the hottest properties debuting in 2017.

Alila Fort Bishangarh

Alila Fort Bishangarh presides over the countryside in Jaipur, India. Courtesy Alila Fort Bishangarh

Courtesy Alila Fort Bishangarh

If you always imagined that you were a royal warlord in a past life—and frankly, who hasn’t entertained the notion—this is the place for you. The 59-suite Alila Fort Bishangarh, opening in Jaipur, India on February 28, is centered around a historic hilltop fortress with six-foot thick walls and views of the Rajasthani countryside. A new addition houses guest accommodations and lavish public spaces.

Rendering of the Heritage Suite at Alila Fort Bishangarh. Courtesy Alila Fort Bishangarh

Heritage Suite. Courtesy Alila Fort Bishangarh

Amenities include indoor and outdoor dining, a turret filled with cigars and cognacs, a pool, bar, lounge, library, fitness center, children’s club, expansive lawns and an organic garden, as well as a spa, where the pressing of the flesh is no doubt much more enjoyable than in the old days when this space served as the dungeon. Rates from $280.  (more…)

Brexit to Britain: Top London Hotels

Thanks to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union—a political exodus popularly dubbed “Brexit”–the pound sterling has plummeted. While that might be bad news for our British brethren, it’s sparked a “Brenaissance” for American tourists who want to make their dollars stretch further across the pond.

Hotel Cafe Royal, near Piccadilly Circus in London. CourtesyHotel Cafe Royal.

Hotel Cafe Royal, near Piccadilly Circus in London. CourtesyHotel Cafe Royal.

With a few more pounds in your pocket, you might consider checking into one of London’s hottest luxury hotels. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best, all of which have something new to offer, from recent renovations to restaurant debuts and the latest in technological innovations. (more…)

Feel Good Gifts from Around the Globe

This holiday season, forget elvish slave-labour. Consider planet-friendly presents that let you stuff those stockings with a clear conscience. Check out these shops for gifts that are as chic as they are eco-friendly.

NEW YORK, USA

Recycling old fabric into new fashions isn’t limited to tying on a tattered bed sheet and calling it a toga. At Geminola in New York’s trendy Greenwich Village, London transplant Lorraine Kirke is taking salvaged style to a whole new level.

Photo courtesy Geminola

Photo courtesy Geminola

Remember the scene from Gone With The Wind where Scarlett O’Hara, in the throws of poverty but eager to make a good impression, eyes her green velvet drapes and envisions a gorgeous new gown? Well, Geminola is a bit like that, but with a fizzy dose of Sarah Jessica Parker’s alter ego Carrie Bradshaw thrown in. (more…)

Europe’s Crackin’ Christmas Markets

Lose the “bah humbug” blues with a walk through these winter wonderlands

A Christmas market in Strasbourg, France. Credit Christophe Hamm, Greater Strasbourg Tourist Office.

A Christmas market in Strasbourg, France. Credit Christophe Hamm, Greater Strasbourg Tourist Office.

An evening spent mingling with the pink-cheeked crowds at festive fairs throughout Europe could transform the most curmudgeonly Scrooge and the greenest of Grinches into stocking-stuffing, carol-crooning converts.

Imagine rustic chalets overflowing with handicrafts that might have been fashioned by elves themselves; historic town squares illuminated by twinkling strands of lights; and local delicacies, from bratwurst to pastries, washed down with mugs of mulled wine.

Here’s a look at five of the best cities to stoke your holiday spirit.

Nutcrackers in Hamburg, Germany. Credit www.mediaserver.hamburg.de/C. Spahrbier

Holiday gifts in Hamburg, Germany. Credit www.mediaserver.hamburg.de/C. Spahrbier

London, England

While continental Christmas markets are typically twee, “Olde Worlde” affairs, London’s Winter Wonderland goes for the glitz. Set in the 350-acre Hyde Park, it’s a neon-drenched Las Vegas-style fever dream — the bizarrest of holiday bazaars. This year marks its 10th anniversary, and you better believe it’s bedazzling.

Crowds enter London's Hyde Park Winter Wonderland Christmas market beneath a lighted arcade.

Winter Wonderland: Bright enough to be seen from outer-space, because aliens need a little holiday cheer, too. Let’s just hope they don’t mistake this light-lined street for a landing strip.

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Royal Audience: Meet the Cast of the E! Hit TV Series “The Royals”

A suitably regal entrance for the cast of The Royals, on set in London.

A suitably regal entrance for the cast of The Royals, arriving on their London set

Two footmen in powdered white wigs and red and gold livery stand at attention beside a pair of French doors, through which Great Britain’s royal family is expected to enter at any moment to greet the press. But when those doors finally do open, it’s not Queen Elizabeth and her House of Windsor posse who parade through the regal portal. It’s the UK’s other royal family—Queen Helena, King Cyrus, Princess Eleanor, Prince Liam and their bodyguard, Jasper—stars of the E! hit television show “The Royals.”

The cast is here on an elaborate stage set near central London to promote the upcoming third series, which debuts on December 4. For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s like “Dynasty” meets Buckingham Palace, replete with scheming, bed-hopping, cheeky humor, gorgeous clothes…and Joan Collins, as an imperious matriarch.

Elizabeth Hurley stars as Queen Helena, Collins’ daughter and the mother of Alexandra Park’s Eleanor (a.k.a. Len), the rebel princess who never met a substance she wouldn’t drink or snort, and William Moseley’s Liam, a down-to-earth prince of the people. Jake Maskall is the deliciously devious King Cyrus, brother of Queen Helena’s late husband, King Simon. Tom Austen rounds out the main cast as the secretive Jasper, the hunk with the steely blue gaze who is keen to guard Len’s body in the most intimate way possible.

Tom Austen and Alexandra Parks, with Rocky Marshall as Agent James Hill on the set of The Royals. Courtesy E!

Tom Austen and Alexandra Park, with Rocky Marshall as Agent James Hill. Courtesy E!

Hurley takes the lead as they enter, working her way down a receiving line of reporters, with a beaming smile, a handshake (a familiarity which the “real” Queen Elizabeth would never permit), and a few friendly words. “Didn’t I meet you before on the red carpet?” she asks one journalist, leaving her slack-jawed with surprise. “Uh, no,” the woman stammers, both flattered and flustered. “That wasn’t me.”

While Hurley’s posh tones and impeccable elegance mirror that of her character, her manner is far from Queen Helena’s icy haughtiness. As I sit down for a chat with Hurley, who is pristine in a white knee-length lace dress, she’s quick to dish about some of her favorite moments on set, recalling one “killer line” from Season Two.  (more…)

Royal Tour: On Set with “The Royals” Creator Mark Schwahn

Most visitors to London make a beeline for Buckingham Palace, but down a non-descript road seven miles to the east, there lies another famous royal palace cleverly disguised within a handful of old warehouses squatting upon a gray asphalt lot. One can only conjecture about what intrigues take place at Queen Elizabeth’s gilded residences, but the treachery and sexual exploits that occur within these walls are laid bare every week for television audiences. I’m referring, of course, to the E! hit series “The Royals,” starring Elizabeth Hurley, which returns with its third season on December 4.

The Royals cast: William Moseley as Prince Liam, Elizabeth Hurley as Queen Helena, Tom Austen as bodyguard Jasper, and Alexandra Park as Princess Eleanor. Courtesy E!

Left to right: William Moseley as Prince Liam, Elizabeth Hurley as Queen Helena, Tom Austen as bodyguard Jasper, and Alexandra Park as Princess Eleanor. Courtesy E!

Show creator Mark Schwahn, clad in a gray T-shirt and slacks, brown suede jacket and lace-up boots, is leading a bevy of reporters on a behind-the-scenes tour of the set, which encompasses four sound stages. “We try to use as much of the lot as possible,” he explains, bounding down an alleyway that has featured in a paparazzi chase scene and as the exterior of both a pet clinic and London’s Natural History Museum. (more…)

Must-Do Activities in London This Coming Winter

Guest Post by Jean Thomson

Although it’s nice to stay at home and shut ourselves away during the coldest months of the year, you shouldn’t be discouraged from taking a winter break. After all, it’s a common holiday season for wanderlusters.

woman kisses snowman

Smooching a snowman in London’s Hyde Park. © Amy Laughinghouse.

London is one of the world’s iconic cities, with special offerings all year round. Here, we highlight the most popular activities in the UK capital this coming winter. (more…)

A Spirited Tour of Scary Ol’ England

For thrills and chills on Halloween, pack up your pumpkin and your Ghostbusters’ proton pack and check out this spirited trio of historic escapes.

York has been dubbed "Europe's most haunted city."

York has been dubbed Europe’s most haunted city.

There is a death match brewing between the English cities of Chester, Durham and York, the likes of which the (nether)world has never seen before. While most places try to tempt tourists by touting themselves as “lively” destinations, these three cities take pride in vying for the title of the most (un)dead.

The Ghost Research Foundation International once named York “Europe’s most haunted city,” but HauntedChester.com insists that Chester “can rightly and justly claim to be the most haunted city in England,” thanks to a series of turbulent and tragic events. (While “Chester: Famine, plague, war—and more!” is hardly the sort of tagline you’ll find on promotional t-shirts and bumper stickers, it would seem to serve as a veritable primordial soup for spooks).

A cross in Durham silhouetted by the sunset.

A cross in Durham silhouetted by the sunset.

But if you think Chester and York are swamped with specters, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. According to ParanormalDatabase.com, Durham has been besieged by dozens of phantoms, including a Pekinese, flying pitchforks, an impregnating chair, and the, um, “limbless worm.” (Is there any other kind?)

Aside from being “limbless,” this critter is described as “a long, hostile worm which inhabited an oak wood, attacking man and beast,” much like the killer rabbit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

I only hope that my tour of Chester, Durham and York will finally allow the whole matter to, er, rest in peace. (more…)

5 Festivals You Must Visit if You’re Travelling to the UK 

Guest Post by Drake Miller

If you’re travelling to the UK during the summer, you’ve got to try one of the countless festivals. You may spend some time in the country’s capital, London, or venture out into the countryside – but there’s no other experience quite like attending one of these great outdoor events.

The crowd goes wild for Muse, performing at Glastonbury Festival 2016. Photo by Amy Laughinghouse.

The crowd goes wild for Muse, performing at Glastonbury Festival 2016. Photo by Amy Laughinghouse.

There’s a festival to suit everyone, from the large headline acts that draw in the crowds at V Festival to much smaller events like Caught by the River, which mash together a love of music, literature and great food. Here are five of our favorites. (more…)

The Joy of Bees: London Installation Proves a Seductive Honey Trap

bee on a dandelionIt was a Thursday night in Soho, and a hip little townhouse on Greek Street was buzzing—literally. Just inside the door, approximately 20,000 bees (I tried to count but kept losing track at 19,933…ish) were flitting about inside a slab of glassed-in honeycomb. It looked like Bee-TV, or maybe one of those gumball machines where you put in a coin, and out pops some small sweet—although in this case, it would have been more of a trick than a treat.

hive of bees

Bee hive on display at “The Joy of Bees.” Do NOT break glass in case of emergency.

Welcome to The Joy of Bees, billed as “a gastronomic tasting and art installation exhibition” helping to raise awareness of the beleaguered pollinators that are dying by the millions across the globe. (more…)

London Cocktail Week…or Zombie Apocalypse?

It’s that time of year again. The dazed and confused wander London’s streets in rumpled, slept-in clothes, cradling their heads, clutching their stomachs, and uttering agonized groans. Are they extras auditioning for “The Walking Dead,” or…could it be…the actual ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?

No, my friends. It’s something far more dangerous. It’s London Cocktail Week.

drink-up_2451 Through the 9th of October, 250 bars around the city will be offering £5 cocktails to folks who have purchased a £10 wristband—and that’s not even counting all the free samples. If you’re familiar with the usual prices in London’s bars, you’ll recognize that’s a small price to pay for a very big hangover.

One of the key venues is Old Spitalfields Market, which has been transformed into a “Cocktail Village” with nearly 40 stands. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a village where I’d like to live FOREVER…which might not be that long, considering how quickly my liver would give out.

Here are a few of my favourite discoveries.

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Victoria’s Secret: Undressed for Success at London’s V&A

Louche lingerie. Naughty knickers. Silky slips. And bras? Your cup(s) runneth over. Have I got your attention? I thought so.

‘Tamila’ lingerie set from the Agent Provocateur Soirée collection, Spring/Summer 2015. Photographer: Sebastian Faena. Model: Eniko Mihalik

The V&A exhibition includes this ‘Tamila’ lingerie set from the Agent Provocateur 2015 Soirée collection. Photographer: Sebastian Faena. Model: Eniko Mihalik

These aren’t the sort of treasures you typically find in an esteemed public institution, but London’s Victoria and Albert museum is renowned for its sartorial showcases of wearable art. With well-received exhibitions of Hollywood costumes and last year’s cadre of haute couture fashions from Alexander McQueen under its belt, the design museum now dares to go (almost) bare with “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear.” (See what they did there?)

Cage crinoline, the ‘Princess Louise Jupon Patent, c. 1871. Credit Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cage crinoline, the ‘Princess Louise Jupon Patent, c. 1871. Credit Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This assemblage of unmentionables, on show until March 12, 2017, date from the 18th century to the present. It’s an eclectic collection ranging from the rather mundane, such as a package of Y-front men’s underwear and ladies’ panties emblazoned with the days of the week, to the decidedly more exotic.

Imagine, for instance, strapping yourself into a 19th century steel crinoline resembling the skeleton of a starved and stunted dinosaur, or lubing up to squeeze into a red and black rubber ensemble of matching bra, corset, thong and stockings (below, second from right, released by House of Harlot in 2015). Neither would look out of place in the Marquis de Sade’s torture chamber.

Installation view of Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Installation view of Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Mud, Music and Mayhem at Glastonbury

With glorious Glastonbury descending on the fields of Worthy Farm once again, here’s a photo essay of some of my favourite moments from Glasto 2014. You’ll laugh (I hope). You’ll cry (probably not). But you will, undoubtedly, be very grateful that you have indoor plumbing.

The Pyramid Stage

The Pyramid Stage

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Beluga Vodka at Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel in London: A Superior Sipping Experience

Flash back to the last millennium. (Wow, that makes me feel old). I’m standing on an Atlanta street corner outside the Metroplex, a grimy mosh pit of a music venue that never aspired to a title as noble as “nightclub,” waiting to see a punk band with a rude name that I wouldn’t repeat in polite company…if I ever kept any.

I’m drinking clear rot-gut fluid—ostensibly vodka, which tastes as though it was brewed in the bathtub of a flophouse—out of a Coca-Cola can. Why? Well, I’m technically a wee bit underage to be seen drinking alcohol, and hiding the contraband liquor in a soda can seems somehow classier than slurping out of a bottle in a paper sack. Not that anyone else cuing at the Metroplex is terribly bothered about keeping up appearances. They’re more concerned about keeping up their spiky, gravity-defying mohawks in the Southern humidity.

I have no pictures of the Metroplex, but this pretty much sums up how you felt after a night out there.

I have no pictures of the Metroplex, but this pretty much sums up how you felt after a night at that infamous venue.

Fast forward to last Friday. Now I’m sitting beside a marble fireplace in the Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London. This Rocco Forte property is a paean of wood-paneled elegance, lit by flickering candles and bright laughter.

Donovan's Bar, courtesy Brown's Hotel

Donovan’s Bar, courtesy Brown’s Hotel

Beluga Gold Vodka at Brown's Hotel

Beluga Gold Vodka at Brown’s Hotel

Once again, I’m drinking vodka—but this time, it’s served in a respectable shot glass emblazoned with a sturgeon, and the fluid is so smooth, it slips past my lips and glides over my tongue like a warm, breathy whisper.

While the stuff I guzzled outside the Metroplex may well have been poured from a gasoline can, this nectar comes in a limited edition bottle with an embossed silver and gold label.

It’s sealed with wax and opened with a tiny, Barbie-sized hammer and brush, for heaven’s sake.

This, my friends, is Beluga Gold Line Vodka.

It’s made by the Mariinsk Distillery in Siberia, and it’s not even the same species as any vodka I’ve tasted before. It is, quite simply, dangerously delicious stuff.  (more…)

Explore the Real World of Downton Abbey in England

With the airing of Downton Abbey’s final episode, avid viewers may be feeling bereft. But take heart. You can still follow in the footsteps of your favorite footmen, comely maids and high-spirited heiresses when you head to England to tour this hit series’ most atmospheric film locations.

Downton Abbey cast (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for MASTERPIECE

(C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for MASTERPIECE

HIGHCLERE CASTLE

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London’s Dishoom Packs a Punch

Dishoom is, apparently, the Indian equivalent of “kapow”–and I can confirm that breakfast at the Bombay-inspired eatery certainly packs a punch. In fact, it’s so popular that, even on a cold winter’s day, crowds are lined up thirty deep outside the King’s Cross location in London, waiting for their chance to belly up to a heaping plate and bottomless tumbler of warm spiced chai.

Crowds gather outside the windows at Dishoom's King's Cross location.

Crowds gather outside the windows at Dishoom’s King’s Cross location.

Here’s a top tip, though. Make a reservation, and you can breeze past the crowds. Don’t forget to channel the graceful spirit of Princess Di, offering a bashful, apologetic smile as you sidestep the queue, which may collectively raise a frozen finger or two in what you could opt to interpret as a “salute” to your clever forethought.  (more…)

Chatting with CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg about Murder, Mystery and Whisky in London

Whether you want to know where to go to see Scotland Yard’s original evidence and artifacts from London’s most notorious crime scenes–or if you’re curious about the best Scottish single malts to whet your whistle with (something I’d never attempt to say after a wee dram or two)–check out my interview with the world’s most charming Travel Detective, Peter Greenberg.

Travel writer Amy Laughinghouse with "The Travel Detective," Peter Greenberg

We’re probably the only people ever to drink single malt out of plastic cups at the uber-elegant The Goring Hotel in London, where he recorded his show.

As always, he’s got a terrific line-up of guests, but if you only have 7 minutes, you can fast-forward to our chat (<–click here) which begins 1 hour, 13 minutes into his show.

To hear my first interview with Peter, where we discuss the words you should NEVER say in Britain, click here.

To learn more about “The Crime Museum Uncovered” exhibition at The Museum of London, click here.

If anyone out there was wondering, the website ABroadInBritain.com was already taken. D’oh! Guess I’m sticking with AmyLaughinghouse.com. There’s only one of those!

Maison Assouline: A London Bookstore…With a Bar (and a Sultan’s Den)

Dozens of hardback tomes, as big and sturdy as a fleet of family Bibles on steroids, line theatrically lit shelves. Banquette sofas fill one corner of the double-height room, which is cushioned underfoot by a plush Persian rug. A barman is slinging cocktails behind a polished mahogany bar, and on this particular night—a special event for the luxurious Aman resorts—waiters are circulating with bijoux nibbles.crowd of people viewed from above at Maison Assouline, 196A Piccadilly, London

And, oh yes, a nude, nubile nymph pores over the pages of a book in the midst of it all.  (more…)

Be Your Own James Bond In London, England

If you’ve ever dreamed of walking in the wingtips of the world’s sexiest super spy–or tottering along in the sky-high stilettos of a Bond babe–read on for a list of Great Britain’s most 007-worthy adventures. Whether you’re burning up the road in an Aston Martin—or burning big bucks on London’s aptly-named Bond Street–these top six tips will leave you feeling more stirred than shaken.

A Bond-babe would never be caught dead in my snazzy blue jumpsuit--but it's worth committing a fashion faux-pas to go up (and up..and UP) at the O2.

A Bond-babe would never be caught dead in my snazzy blue jumpsuit–but it’s worth committing a fashion faux-pas to go up (and up..and UP) at the O2.

Up at the O2 (more…)

Secrets of London’s Crime Museum: Rare Evidence Finally Revealed

A handgun used by notorious London gangster Ronald Kray is one of the items featured in the Museum of London's "The Crime Museum Uncovered" exhibition.

A handgun used by Ronald Kray is featured in new exhibit.

The Museum of London is giving amateur sleuths and clued-in fans of television mystery dramas an unprecedented opportunity to see how real British detectives have solved some of the UK’s most infamous crimes.

“The Crime Museum Uncovered” exhibition, which opened on October 9, features around 600 artifacts from notorious cases involving the likes of Jack the Ripper and London gangsters Ronald and Reggie Kray, portrayed by Tom Hardy in the new film Legend.

The objects are culled from the London Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum, founded in 1875 as an educational resource for the police. For more than a century, its contents have been shrouded in mystery, earning it the nickname “the Black Museum.” Access to this facility in New Scotland Yard is strictly controlled and typically reserved for members of law enforcement. Mere curiosity seekers need not apply.

images of display cases from Scotland Yard's Crime Museum

Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum © Museum of London

Now, for the first time, the Museum of London is shedding light on this collection, enabling the public to see how actual cases were investigated and examine damning evidence used to secure convictions.

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PerfectCellar.com: The Match.com of the Wine World

wine glass on grand piano

Making time to wine and dine: A PerfectCellar event in The Clock Tower at St. Pancras.

Here’s a common enough scenario. You’re searching for a soul mate–or hey, maybe just someone to share a Tinder moment with–so you turn to the Internet to  peruse your options.

You quickly skim through descriptions provided by potential partners. “Likes puppies, sunsets, and long walks on the beach. Never clips toenails on public transportation. Master of the back massage. Mildly obsessed with feet. Afflicted by a paralyzing fear of clowns.”

Aside from a questionable foot fetish and the clown thing (although honestly, who doesn’t think they’re creepy), this could be promising, right? (Hey, it’s a Saturday night, you’re lonely, and you’ve just polished off your third G&T. It’s possible your standards are slipping slightly).

Anyway, you think you might give this one a shot. But let’s be honest. No way are you going to commit to a drink together until you sneak a peek at a photo.

Now, imagine choosing a wine like you might choose your next date. That, in essence, is the concept behind PerfectCellar.com. This boutique online service, which is the exclusive UK importer for 25 wine producers from around the world, understands that a juicy photo is the best way to whet one’s appetite.

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The UK’s UFO Hotspots

We’ve all heard about the Bermuda Triangle, that mysterious sliver of the north Atlantic that gobbles up airplanes and ships like so many bags of Doritos. Who among us hasn’t gripped their armrests just a little tighter when their plane passes through this treacherous territory, immortalized as alien stomping grounds in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

The best place to spot alien in a kilt is in a Scottish bar. They usually appear after about your fourth whisky.

The best place to spot alien in a kilt is in a Scottish bar. They usually appear after about your fourth whisky.

But sometimes, it seems, ET and his ilk like to exchange their Bermuda shorts for a kilt. Scotland’s Falkirk Triangle, which stretches from Stirling to Fife and the outskirts of Edinburgh, sees more otherworldly exploits than anywhere else on earth. (And seriously, what could be cuter than a little green dude sporting a tartan skirt?)

Aliens have also allegedly winged over the Broad Haven Triangle in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where a yellow UFO and a pointy-headed “humanoid” apparently dropped by in the 70s. A joy-riding spaceman…or Ziggy Stardust on tour?

If you’re up for some flying saucer-spotting, grab your binoculars and your aluminum foil hat and check out the UK’s top UFO hotspots. Read on for a round-up of where to go, with local hotels recommended by LateRooms.com.

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Notting Hill Carnival: London, England’s Most Outrageous Street Party

During the last weekend of every August, approximately one million punters rock up for Red Stripe and revelry at London’s Notting Hill Carnival. Originally introduced by Caribbean immigrants in the mid-60s, the event has evolved into one of Europe’s biggest street celebrations. Think of Mardi Gras…on steroids.

Comparing manicures?

Comparing manicures?

Picture parades of scantily clad dancers, undulating in sequins and feathers as they writhe and wiggle among the crowds or hover above the fray on elaborate floats, snaking through the streets of one of London’s buzziest multicultural neighbourhoods. Clouds of smoke rise up from BBQ stalls, perfuming the air with eau de jerk chicken and curried goat.

Gaz gets into the groove.

Gaz gets into the groove.

Giant speakers blast steal drums and reggae so loudly that the sound waves vibrate your very bones. Meanwhile, Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues Bandstand (the best free show you’ll ever see, or your money back) features live performances by costumed musicians on a set worthy of a West End theatre.

For the three years I lived in Notting Hill, I had a front-row seat for the carnival, taking in the action from atop the porch outside my window. (My rear windows overlooked the dumpsters of a Tesco loading dock, but I tend not to brag about that so much).

While some folks boarded up their shops and ground floor flats, fleeing the crowds, I locked and loaded my camera, knowing that many of the year’s most memorable moments were about to unfold in the neighbourhood I felt fortunate to call home.

Here are some of the strangest moments from Carnivals past.

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McQueen, the King of Controversial Couture, Lives on at the V&A in London

Model wearing a hat that looks like a flock of butterflies

This butterfly headdress, created by milliner Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, is now on show at the V&A. Credit: Model Alana Zimmer, © Anthea Simms

Banish the beige, drop the drab, and refuel your fashionista spirit with a visit to “Savage Beauty,” a retrospective of the late Alexander McQueen’s sartorial extremes on display at London’s V&A.

Claire Wilcox, the V&A’s senior Curator of Fashion, has considerably expanded upon the original exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the London show, which continues through August 2, 2015, Wilcox sourced 66 additional pieces and included a new section focusing on McQueen’s early collections.

The result is an extraordinary selection of 240 ensembles dating from 1992 to 2010, displayed over ten themed rooms.

Here are a few “do’s” and “don’t’s” to bear in mind if you’re planning a visit. (more…)

In the Kitchen with Wolfgang Puck

Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen at London's 45 Park Lane hotel.

In the kitchen at 45 Park Lane, home of Wolfgang Puck’s first European restaurant, CUT.

When I was invited to London’s 45 Park Lane hotel for a cooking lesson with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, I wondered if I should warn him about “the incident.” That is to say, the day I set my kitchen on fire. (I saw no point in muddying the waters by revealing the time I nearly blew my head off with a pressure cooker, too). (more…)

Scilly Escape: The Land that Crime Forgot in Cornwall, England

A bench on Tresco on the Isles of Scilly overlooks teal blue waters.Approaching my table at The Turk’s Head pub on St. Agnes with a glass of Cornish Rattler cider in hand (for who can resist a pint pulled from a tap shaped like the head of a snake–wearing sunglasses), I’m shocked to hear that the conversation has turned to talk of a murder here on the Isles of Scilly, a tranquil beach community off the southwestern coast of England.

Cornish Rattler on tap at the Turk's Head pub on St. Agnes, part of England's Isles of Scilly.What?” I am incredulous. “When did this happen?”

“1976,” replies Katharine Sawyer, an archeologist who leads guided walks around the islands.

Considering that the islands’  second most notorious incident in nearly four decades was the case of the Knicker Nicker—a man who was convicted of stealing ladies’ underwear in 2005—it’s hardly surprising to learn that the Scillies claim the lowest crime rate in the country.

When Police Sergeant Colin Taylor posted a Facebook advertisement for a new constable on the Isles of Scilly this past April, candidates from as far away as Thailand, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines threw their cap in the ring for “quite possibly the most enviable policing post in the UK or even the world.”

As Taylor explained, this “unique opportunity” requires the ability to “issue a parking ticket to your spouse so tactfully so as not find dinner in the dog thereafter” and “unflinching confidence to know what to do when you are alerted to an abandoned seal pup making its way up the main street.”A colorful boat on St. Mary's, England's Isles of Scilly

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London Fashion: Where Every “Don’t” is a “Do”

Growing up in the Southern United States, I learned the fundamental fashion rules from my mother. Never wear white after Labor Day. Always match your shoes and your handbag. There’s no such thing as a bow that’s “too big.” And do not, under any circumstances–not even on a triple dog dare–sport a duct-taped box on your head. (Like I said…the basics.)

But when I moved to London eight years ago, I found folks around every corner who not only broke the rules. They burned them, smashed them, and jumped up and down on them in Doc Martens that–get this–clashed with their handbag.

Girls in Doc Martens and funky shoes in London's Notting Hill

I have a couple of theories about Londoners’ funky fashion sense. One is that you’ve got to push the boundaries if you want to stand out in a city of more than eight million.

Curtain Road Rebecca_7019

She’s got a distinctive style, but her best accessory is her megawatt smile.

Another is that closets here are so small, you’re pretty much forced to mix and match the few items you own with maximum…let’s just call it “creativity.”

Or maybe it’s down to the city’s unofficial motto: “London: The City Too Busy To Do Laundry.” So just wear whatever smells least like stale sweat and spilled beer. Even if that means donning a sombrero and flippers.

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Truth and Spies: Tongue-loosening cocktails at The Stafford London

Eric Rychnausky, head mixologist at The Stafford London, divulges his secrets for a trio of truth serums created especially for the Spring.

Eric Rychnausky showcases three new cocktails in the wine cellar of The Stafford Hotel.

Eric Rychnausky in the wine cellar of The Stafford London.

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Meet Harry’s Potter’s Special Effects Wiz(ard) John Richardson

With 50 years experience in the film industry, John Richardson makes movie magic look as simple as a wave of the wand. He served as special effects supervisor on all eight Harry Potter films and also worked on such iconic film franchises as the James Bond movies, Superman, and Alien, for which he won an Academy Award in 1986.

Recently, he paused for a chat on Platform 9 3/4, the latest Harry Potter set to be installed at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. The new addition, which features the original Hogwarts Express steam train, opens March 19.

Richardson talks about making wizards fly, the pitfalls of computer generated effects, and the one item he most wishes he could’ve taken home from the set. Watch our interview on YouTube here:

To see my interview with Mark Williams, who played Mr. Weasley, click here: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=4163

For more on the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, click here: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=770

All Aboard the Hogwarts Express! Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

Pack your trunks. Round up your rats, and get ready for a new wand-waggling adventure. On March 19, 2015, Harry Potter’s own Hogwarts Express steams onto a resurrected Platform 9 3/4 at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.

Mark Williams, also known as "Mr. Weasley," with the Hogwarts Express

Mark Williams, also known as “Mr. Weasley,” with the Hogwarts Express

I had a track-side chat with Mark Williams, a.k.a. Mr. Weasley, about movies, memories and magic.

For more info on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and “The Making of Harry Potter” experience, check out my story: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=770

Off To See The Wizard: Harry Potter London Studio Tour

A wee wizard & his brother, a mini-Aragog, strike a pose in Diagon Alley.

A wee wizard & his brother, a mini-Aragog, strike a pose in Diagon Alley.

LEAVESDEN, ENGLAND: I’m whizzing over the Thames, the wind in my face, so close that I can dip my hands in the water. Then suddenly, not of my own volition, I’m soaring heavenwards, only to rocket back down to earth moments later, dodging cars and buses on London’s busy streets. Oh, and did I mention, I’m riding a broom?

green screen broom ride at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London in Leavesden, England.

You can take home a video of you riding a Nimbus 2000 superimposed over London’s skyline.

Boarding a bucking Nimbus 2000 in front of a special effects green screen is just one of the hands (or in this case, bottoms) on attractions at the “Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter” experience in Leavesden, 20 miles northwest of London.

Unlike the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, the U.K. doesn’t feature theme park rides like roller coasters.

Instead, Leavesden offers a true behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Potter movies, which were primarily shot on a soundstage next door.

It embraces 170,000 square feet of space bursting with the actual sets, costumes, props and magical machines, including the original Hogwarts Express steam engine, parked alongside a recreated Platform 9 3/4.

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Craft Beer Rising Festival 2015: 22 February

This is your brain on beer.

If someone says “bottoms up,” and you don’t know whether to bend at the elbow or the waist, you’ve probably had enough.

Great news for thirsty Londoners. This Sunday, 22 February, you can sample more than 530 beers from 80 breweries at one location.

Okay, so it might be physically impossible (and certainly inadvisable) to try ALL of those beers, but the Craft Beer Rising Festival at the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch offers the opportunity to wobble among a wide variety of stalls serving up lip-smacking suds from as far away as Mexico and as close as London itself.

You can also groove to tunes in the Music Room, nosh on street food like incendiary-sounding chorizo bombs, smoked BBQ and schnitzel, and check out the latest industry innovations.

Tickets are available from £17, including a £5 beer token, a choice of glassware, and a token.

Here’s a taste of what’s brewing.

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Chatting with Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor of CBS News

My first meeting with Peter, March 2014

My first meeting with Peter, March 2014

It was an honor and a privilege (and a heck of a lot of fun) chatting with Peter Greenberg yesterday about my favorite walking tours of London.

This globe-trotting legend and his crew produce a Worldwide Podcast airing from a different location every weekend, in between Peter’s duties as Travel Editor of CBS News and his television appearances.

I’ll let you know when our most recent interview will air. In the meantime, you can check out my last chat with Peter, touching on everything from Scotch whisky to the “F” word. (That would be “fanny,” folks. Be forewarned; it means something very different in Britain than it does in the US!)

That interview starts at 38:30 here:

For more expert travel revelations from around the world, subscribe to Peter’s podcasts here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/travel-today-peter-greenberg/id519899844?mt=2 

For more on London’s top five walking tours, check out my article on LonelyPlanet.com:

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/great-britain/travel-tips-and-articles/exploring-londons-secrets-five-great-walking-tours

 

London’s New Twists on Afternoon Tea

From “Prêt-à-Portea” repasts offering catwalk-worthy cakes to, well, cakes with cats, London is reinventing this traditional culinary indulgence.

So forget stuffed shirts and raised pinkies. Today’s teas feature everything from fishnet stockings to whisky and gin. (And suddenly, your boyfriend is expressing an unprecedented interest in copping a cuppa, am I right?)

Is that gin in their cups? Hmmm...could be, if they're drinking Dukes' new "G & Tea." Courtesy Dukes St. James.

Is that gin in their cups? Hmmm…could be, if they’re drinking Dukes’ new “G & Tea.” Courtesy Dukes St. James.

Here’s a taste of what’s brewing around the city.  (more…)

On the Trail of Winston Churchill in England

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it,” Winston Churchill predicted.

This year, as England commemorates the 50th anniversary of his death, a host of new exhibitions prove his droll prophecy has held true.

Key sites around the country form what might be dubbed “the Churchill trail.” From his labyrinthine War Rooms to the baroque palace where he was born, visitors can take a closer look at the legacy of one of Great Britain’s most revered statesmen—and perhaps still catch an ethereal whiff of his cigar.  (more…)

Scotch & Smoked Salmon: A Match Made in…East London

Bogie and Bacall. Gin and tonic. Cuddly kittens and viral videos. There are some things that seemingly couldn’t—or at least, shouldn’t–exist without the other.

Add to the list one more match made in heaven…or, more specifically, in East London: Scotch and Scottish smoked salmon, as demonstrated by last night’s celebrated pairings of Glenfiddich and fruits of the sea at H. Forman & Son.

Credit Forman & Field and Glenfiddich

“The Double Scotch Hamper,” available from Forman & Field. Photo credit Forman & Field.

Located on the aptly named Fish Island in Stratford, H. Forman & Son features an on-site smokery, a restaurant and bar, art gallery, hospitality venue, and the Forman & Field artisan foodstuffs venture, delivering goodies right to your door.

According to London Mayor Boris Johnson, as renowned for his off-the-cuff quotes as his unruly thatch of hair, “Forman’s is not just a smokehouse. It’s a salmon theme park!” (Never change, Boris. Never change). (more…)

Reading the Riot Act: Reading Festival 22-24 August 2014

Heading to Reading for the music festival this weekend? Sure, there are plenty of amazing acts lined up, from Queens of the Stone Age to Vampire Weekend and the Arctic Monkeys. But sometimes the most amusing entertainment isn’t on the stage; it’s in the fields around you.

My Chemical Romance....viewed from outer space.

Here’s a peek at some of my favourite examples of Reading Festival freakiness.

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Beatles Fans Come Together in Liverpool, England

The Cavern Club Beatles play the band's greatest hits every Saturday night at Liverpool's Cavern Club.

The Cavern Club Beatles play the band’s greatest hits every Saturday night at Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

“So, are you a Beatles fan?” Normally, this would seem an easy enough question to answer. Sure, I like their music. Yes, I burned through a cassette tape of their greatest hits as a teenager, twisting and shouting as I tootled around town in my second-hand wheels. But when you’re talking to a man who carries a British Beatles Fan Club Card in his wallet, displayed with pride of place in the little plastic window typically reserved for a driver’s license, it comes across as rather a loaded question.

This is Liverpool, after all—the Beatles hometown, a Mecca for Fab Four aficionados—and I’d bet the contents of my own wallet (expired receipts, a few empty gum wrappers, and a video rental card for a chain that’s gone bust) that half the tourists in town are carrying similar Beatles-branded ID.

So if you say, “Yes, I’m a fan,” then you’d better be prepared to go toe-to-toe on band trivia. For instance, did you know that Paul McCartney used to play a right-handed guitar strung left-handed, because it was cheaper–or that George Harrison was actually born on February 24, 1943, NOT February 25, as noted on his birth certificate? Nope, me neither.

Watch where you walk in Liverpool, or you're likely to tread on a Beatle. This is John, or a close facsimile there-of.

Watch where you walk in Liverpool, or you’re likely to tread on a Beatle. You’ll find this statue of John (or a close facsimile there-of) on Mathew Street.

Beatlemania reaches epidemic levels in the city every August during International Beatleweek, when fans from across the universe—or at least around the world—come together for exhibitions, memorabilia sales, guest speakers and live music by Beatles tribute bands.

If you’ve got the Beatles’ bug, read on for a list of five fabulous attractions you can rock up to year round. (more…)

Wading Through England’s Lake District: Bring Your Hiking Boots—and Maybe Your Flippers

Grasmere viewed from Loughrigg Fell

Grasmere viewed from Loughrigg Fell

“Caution! Fast Rising Tides! Hidden Channels! Quicksand!” The simple white sign, with its bold black lettering, seems oddly out of place posted along the Victorian-era Promenade of Grange-Over-Sands, a sleepy seaside town on the southern border of England’s Lake District National Park. While the warnings might evoke the sinister setting of an Indiana Jones action flick, the broad paved path which skirts the grassy marshland of Morecambe Bay would appear to provide the perfect family day out.

Sheep on the marshes

Sheep on the marshes

There’s a little girl with blonde pigtails wobbling along on her Pepto-pink bike, pint-sized roller-bladers as padded against bumps and bruises as the Michelin Man, and proud parents pushing prams plumped with mewling babies. With all the lolling-tongued canines straining at their leashes, there might, admittedly, be a slight risk of stepping in a steaming pile of unpleasantness—although with plaques threatening £1000 fines for “non-removal” of dog droppings (illustrated by a stooping stick figure with a shovel poised beneath his pup’s pert behind), I would wager that is unlikely.

Yet as I discover on a seven-day walking tour with English Lakeland Ramblers, during which we’ll meander nearly 40 miles on foot through the southern part of the rural county of Cumbria, the Lake District isn’t as blissfully serene as it might seem on its surface. (more…)

Cheese-Rolling Competition in Gloucestershire, England. That’s just crackers!

Every May, thousands of spectators gather alongside a steep and daunting slope in Gloucestershire, England to watch competitors from across the globe battle to become the big cheese. Or rather, to try to win it.

Spin the wheel...

Spin the wheel…

In an event dating back to the 1800s, hapless participants, outfitted in everything from Spiderman suits to Borat-style “mankinis,” run and tumble head-over-heels down the 650-foot-long Cooper’s Hill after an 8-pound wheel of Double Gloucestershire. The first to reach the bottom takes home the cheese. Runners-up (or rather, other rollers-down) go home with bruised pride—and the occasional broken bone.

This year’s event, held on May 26, drew an estimated 5,000 people, with some hailing from as far away as Australia. There were four downhill races, interspersed with presumably less perilous uphill races for children.

There has been no “official” event since 2009, due to health and safety concerns (high-cholesterol and lactose-intolerance being the least of them.) But that hasn’t deterred dairy-devils from turning up to spin the wheel.

In 2013, when police ordered the usual supplier to withhold her cheese, a plastic version was drafted as a substitute, and races commenced as usual at midday.

In Britain, that’s just how rebels roll.

For photos and a detailed account of this year’s winners, visit www.cheese-rolling.co.uk/index1.htm.

Tourism info: www.visitbritain.com, www.visitengland.com.

Get Wet and Wild on London’s River Thames

It’s a blazing, blue sky day in London, and I’m hanging on for dear life inside a speedboat that’s whipping the Thames into a rabid froth. If both my hands weren’t locked in a death grip on the metal bar in front of me, I could easily dip my fingers into the water, which spritzes me and my fellow passengers like a well-shaken bottle of celebratory champagne.

Photos courtesy London Rib Voyages

Photos courtesy London RIB Voyages

This certainly isn’t your typical pleasure cruise. It’s the Thames as only London RIB Voyages offers it up—a wet and wild white-knuckle tour that tackles the river at 35 miles per hour, leaving passengers as giddy as kids on a roller coaster. (more…)

London’s Fortnum & Mason Meets Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes

If you’ve ever considered swallowing the worm in the bottom of a tequila bottle or smacked your lips while watching “Fear Factor” contestants gobbling African cave-dwelling spiders alive, then Fortnum & Mason has a special section just for you.Scorpion vodka2_4059 (1)

This iconic British department store, founded in 1707, is renowned for its elegant food halls. It was the birthplace of the legendary Scotch egg (a hard-boiled egg swathed in sausage and bread crumbs), and during the Crimean War, Queen Victoria supplied Florence Nightingale’s hospitals with the store’s beef tea–no doubt inspiring many a wounded hero to get back on his feet, if only to escape another cuppa bovine brew. It also claims the distinction of being the first store in Britain to stock tins of baked beans, which have since become the culinary wind beneath the wings of the empire, as it were.

These days, Fortnum & Mason is perhaps best known for its gorgeous food hampers, which range from £27.50 for two quarter-bottles of champagne to £1,000 for the colossal St. James Hamper, containing a right royal spread including caviar, foie gras, and a magnum of vintage champagne.

However, in one quiet back corner, next to rows of colourfully-packaged kitchen cupboard staples like edible rose petals and dill pollen, you’ll find Fortnum & Mason’s own little shop of horrors.shelves_4069

It’s like Harry Potter’s Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes come to life. But instead of the Weasley twins’ Puking Pastilles and Nosebleed Nougat, displays include dubious delicacies like Edible Toffee Scorpion Candy and Thai Curry Crickets.

Here’s a look at some of the best…er, at least the most unusual foodie fare Fortnum & Mason has on offer. (more…)

A Southern Belle in Britain: Life Lessons in London

In 2007, I kissed my grits good-bye. My husband had received a job offer in Great Britain, and after giving this international upheaval careful consideration (possibly the longest 10 seconds of my life), we made a tearful decision to leave our home in the warm and sunny South. Cheerio, Atlanta. ‘Ello, London town!

Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Do you speak English?

Okay, so nobody in London actually says “Cheerio,” unless, perhaps, they’re asking for the breakfast cereal. And that’s just one of the linguistic surprises we’ve encountered.

Vocabulary quiz: Is this man wearing pants? (Yes, but NOT trousers). Is his outfit pants? (Debatable. I say it's fabulous).

Vocabulary quiz: Is this man wearing pants? (Yes, but NOT trousers). Is his outfit pants? (Debatable. I say it’s fabulous).

You might think we share the same tongue with our British brethren, but the first time you utter the words “fanny pack,” you will realize, to your shock and horror, that you are indeed VERY much mistaken. (Suffice it to say, a purse worn around the waist is called a “bum bag,” and let’s just leave it at that).

Except you should also know that pants are called trousers, underwear are called pants, and if something is deemed unsatisfactory, then it’s also called “pants” (pronounced with a sneering curl of the lip).

Presumably, when the elastic finally goes on the “pants” you’ve owned since the last millennium, they are “pants pants!” Confused? Me too. (more…)

Paul A Young’s chocolate tea promises to be a sweet success at London’s Grosvenor House

"Everything on the menu, I absolutely adore," Paul A Young insists.

“Everything on the menu, I absolutely adore,” Young insists.

There are few things in this world which chocolate can not improve, and those which it can not are probably not worth eating. Pigs’ feet, for example, would not be any more edible dipped in chocolate. Ditto for chicken livers, ox tongue, and jellied moose nose. (Yes, apparently, that IS a “thing.”)

While cucumbers would never have made the list of my top five “Fear Factor” foods, I would have thought them equally impervious to the embellishments of any incarnation of the cocoa bean. But then again, I’m not visionary chocolatier Paul A Young, who has been lauded five years running by the Academy of Chocolate. (Sorry to disappoint, but no, you can’t earn a degree at the academy by eating bonbons. I checked).

Young’s chocolate and cucumber sandwiches were among a host of delicious revelations revealed today at a preview tasting of Young’s new “Chocolate Inspired Afternoon Tea,” which officially launches 14 April at Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott Hotel on London’s Park Lane.

Chocolate and Cucumber Sandwich. The proof is in the pudding.

Chocolate and Cucumber Sandwich. The proof is in the pudding.

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It’s all about ME…ME London hotel, that is

If 007 were looking for a sultry lair where he could hole up with one of his sexy Bond babes, he could hardly hope for a more sensuous escape than ME London. Domino would certainly appreciate the black-and-white colour scheme of the 157-room hotel, tucked into the elbow-shaped intersection where Aldwych meets the Strand.

All photos courtesy ME London

All photos courtesy ME London

From the moment you enter the Marconi Lounge lobby, with it’s bed-sized curvilinear sofas, hula-hoop-style lighting fixtures and forest of floor-to-ceiling chrome poles, you feel as though you’re stepping onto one of the super-spy’s futuristic movie sets.

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Soon, We’ll All Be Drinking Sea & T

When my diminutive bottle of Dà Mhìle seaweed gin arrived this week in the post, I wasn’t sure what to expect of it. I know that it’s organic, that it’s made from seaweed gathered on the beach at New Quay in Ceredigion, Wales, and that this boutique brand officially launches on 1st March. Seaweed Gin_3647

Yes, yes, yes…but would I actually like it?

So for two days, it has sat on my kitchen shelves amongst the half-filled (okay, mostly empty) bottles of whisky, cachaca, elderflower liqueur, absinth, rum, Campari, more gin, and Harvey’s Bristol Cream of questionable origin. (For the life of me, I don’t remember where the sherry came from, but there it sits, gathering dust and daring me to pour it down the kitchen sink).

But now it’s Friday, and I’m feeling that familiar weekend recklessness coming on.

Time to pop the cork—or rather, unscrew the little gold cap—on my mysterious sample of gin. Dà Mhìle has been drafted for active duty. (more…)

Noshing in London’s Notting Hill: A mix of native tongues yields exotic ethnic fare

If you think that “British cuisine” is an oxymoron, think again. There may have been a time when the Brits’ four basic food groups were “fish, chips, boiled and fried,” but an influx of immigrants has introduced English taste buds to a rich variety of food from around the world.

A trio of tykes enjoy street food along Notting Hill's Portobello Road.

A trio of tykes enjoy street food along Notting Hill’s Portobello Road.

Ethnic minorities comprise approximately 30 percent of London’s population, and Notting Hill is one of the metropolis’ most popular melting pots. In this funky multicultural community, you can practically circumnavigate the globe in terms of cuisine without walking more than 20 minutes in any direction. Read on for details about some of the best foodie offerings in this hip west end neighbourhood. (more…)

For Cheap, Cheeky Bunks, Check Out Buzzing Generator London

guy with guitar_2983Down a narrow alleyway about a ten minute walk from London’s Kings Cross station, it’s all kicking off inside a former police station. A young man strums a guitar just inside the entrance, while another shaggy-haired fellow tickles the ivories of a white piano emblazoned with a rainbow-hued outline of the city’s iconic skyline. Across the room, two 20-something girls giggle inside a photo booth, and a DJ will be spinning tunes later inside a red Routemaster bus that seems to have burst through the corner of the bar.

bus_2964

Nobody spins their wheels while the DJ is spinning tunes from his booth inside Generator London’s Routemaster bar bus.

Welcome to Generator London, one of the UK capital’s hottest hipster hangouts. But it’s not a club. It’s a new generation of hostel. (more…)

Unexpected Pairings for the Palate: G&C, anyone?

Okay, children of the 80s. Does anyone out there remember those old Reeses Peanut Butter cup commercials featuring improbable mishaps between slippery chocolate bars and peanut butter jars?

“Hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” the offended parties exclaim after colliding on a random street corner, tumbling down a flight of stairs, or bumping into a robot on a space ship’s elevator. (Indeed, it beggars belief, but I’ve got YouTube to back me up here).

The only thing more unlikely than any of these pratfalls actually occurring—while one party is nose deep in a tub of peanut butter, no less—is that anyone could ever have doubted that the culinary union of these two delicacies would result in gastronomic bliss.

Dodd's Gin & Rococos' white cardamom chocolate

Dodd’s Gin & Rococos’ white cardamom chocolate

The notion of mixing chocolate with gin, however, requires considerably more imagination. Yet a G&C (gin and chocolate, that is) may be equally destined to become a classic, as I recently discovered. (more…)

Need a bigger boat? P&O’s Got You Covered with Cool Britannia.

Artist's rendition of the Britannia's atrium, courtesy P&O Cruises.

Artist’s rendition of the Britannia’s atrium, courtesy P&O Cruises.

Given the United Kingdom’s biblical rainfall recently, this week’s preview of P&O Cruises’ extravagant new “ark” couldn’t be more timely. Of course, Noah never dreamed of the luxury awaiting passengers aboard Britannia, the largest ship built for the British cruise market. 

Although the ship’s maiden voyage isn’t scheduled until March 14, 2015, P&O offered a glimpse of on-board life at the Britannia launch party, held on Wednesday night at Foreman’s riverside restaurant in East London.

Limber-limbed performers set the stage for Britannia's launch gala this week.

Limber-limbed performers set the stage for Britannia’s launch gala this week.

With a length of 1,082 feet and a capacity of 3,647 passengers, Britannia’s got a big ol’ bow, oh yeah.

As you might imagine, squeezing the 141,000 ton boat into the River Lea would’ve been akin to stuffing an elephant into a kangaroo’s pouch—awkward, and incredibly painful for all involved. So guests were greeted instead by a dazzling recreation of the ship’s key public spaces. (more…)

The Attendant, London: You’ve Really Got to Go

This is a story about public toilets. And food.

At The Attendant, regularity is rewarded.

At The Attendant, regularity is rewarded.

Right. Is anyone still with me here? Because I promise, it’s not as unsavory as it sounds. In fact, it’s both sweet and savory–and a downright terrific spot for a cup of coffee.

Attendant ws1_2878

I’m referring to “The Attendant.”

It may seem a bit potty, but this pocket-sized bistro, serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, is tucked into a renovated gents’ restroom under the streets of London’s borough of Westminster. (more…)

Lanes of London: Embracing Culinary Diversity

Lanes of London - Banquettes seatingHotel restaurants often fall into one of two categories: break-the-bank celebrity chef affairs, reserved for expense account dinners and special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, celebrating your new multi-million-pound winning lottery ticket), or dreary courts-of-last-resort, when the thought of wading out into the rain after a transatlantic flight is only slightly less appealing than facing whatever warmed-over goulash is on the (sticky, plasticized) menu.

Lanes of London ExteriorThe new Lanes of London, which opened last month in the 5-star London Marriott Hotel Park Lane, is neither of the above–and thank heavens for that. Not only are the prices reasonable, but the atmosphere of low-key sophistication is inviting enough to tempt clientele beyond the captive audience of the hotel, especially given its location across from Hyde Park, around the corner from Oxford Circus Tube station. (more…)

Cornwall: A Walk on the Wild Side of England

Bedruthan Steps

Bedruthan Steps

GOING COASTAL

A fierce wind is wailing in my ears, buffeting me back from Cornwall’s cliff tops and a deadly drop to the sea with all the force of a nightclub bouncer. Still I lurch stubbornly (stupidly) onward along the muddy path toward my goal, the slope-shouldered stone giants known as the Bedruthan Steps, hunkered menacingly on the beach below. 

England may be better known for the gently undulating hills of its more civilized interior, but here on the isle’s extreme western edge, nature is altogether more wild and unpredictable. With 300 miles of the South West Coast Path hugging Cornwall’s wave-lashed shore, it’s heaven for surfers and a haven for hikers. (more…)

Serenity Now! Cruising Europe on a Luxury Liner

Crystal Serenity, viewed from a hillside in Lisbon.

Crystal Serenity, viewed from a hillside in Lisbon.

I’m sitting beside a pool in the Bay of Biscay, sipping a gin and tonic as a Thai band plays a vigorous rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump.” A life-sized Barbie in a black-fringed thong bikini has just lowered herself into the water, no doubt inducing heart palpitations and several cases of whiplash among the men relaxing on the Lido Deck loungers around me.

That might seem like sufficient excitement for one afternoon, but all eyes are directed upwards when a crimson-coloured helicopter appears overhead, dangling two black-clad men from cables. For a moment, I wonder whether our ship—Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity—is being commandeered by airborne pirates. But no, these two naval ninjas are deposited aboard the bridge to navigate our vessel up-river to Bordeaux.

You never know what you might see on the Crystal Serenity's Lido Deck--from Barbie in a fringed bikini to Lisbon's stunning skyline.

You never know what you might see on the Crystal Serenity’s Lido Deck–from Barbie in a fringed bikini to Lisbon’s stunning skyline.

If anyone feared that our days at sea might be, well, a bit too serene, we’ve just discovered that shipboard life is full of the unexpected. Perhaps they should consider rechristening the boat the Crystal Surprise. (more…)