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 near Windsor, and the bold and the beautiful have been flocking to 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).
Rocking up in the proper attire has always been essential. Men were required to wear a top hat in the coveted Royal Enclosure, exposed midriffs were verboten in the Royal, Queen Anne and Village Enclosures, and fancy dress” (as in costumes, not “fancy dresses”) were forbidden everywhere. Daisy Duke cut-offs were, presumably, right out.
So, while the dress code has traditionally varied according to where you were seated, 2020 is proving to be the great equaliser. Because this year we’ll all be sat at home, watching the horses haul Ascot on TV from the comfort of our settee.
“Fantastic,” you might think, breathing a sigh of relief as you unzip your jeans another inch, watching with morbid fascination as your muffin top expands like a marshmallow in the microwave. (I jest, of course. Clothes with zippers are like, sooooo 2019).
But not so fast! Organisers for Royal Ascot, which runs from June 16-20 this year, are encouraging sofa-bound spectators to celebrate in style to raise money for four frontline charities: the National Emergencies Trust, NHS Charities Together, the Care Workers’ Charity and the Berkshire Community Foundation. Suited-and-booted studs and coltish fashionistas can participate by ponying up £5 on the fundraising page and posting photos of their race day attire–complete with de rigeur headwear–accompanied by the hashtags #StyledWithThanks and #RoyalAscot.
It is, indisputably, a worthy cause, and super-fit Instagram influencers–those beautiful people who have spent the entirety of lockdown subsisting on wheatgrass fasts and perfecting yoga pretzel poses–will doubtless welcome an opportunity to giddy up in their glad rags for the greater good.
But many mere mortals, myself included, have looked upon the corona quarantine as an opportunity to let our hair down, quite literally, morphing into sofa-squatting Sasquatches with unsettling speed. We have learned that whisky works just as well as a medium for breakfast cereal when you can’t be arsed to stand in line for half an hour outside the grocery store to buy a pint of milk. In lieu of lifting weights at the gym, we hoist plates piled high with pasta. (One must somehow dispose of those 50 bags of stockpiled linguini languishing in the cupboard).
So we might bridle at the notion of exchanging our elastic waistbands for buttoned-up waistcoats, of abandoning baggy sweatshirts for unforgiving “bodcon” dresses that cling to our lumps and bumps like sausage skin–and then posting those pics for all the world to see on social media.
For me, the idea of simply strapping on a bra is a total ‘mare. My nags were first out of the gate in mid-March, and after a few months of free-range grazing (although not yet grazing my waistline, thank you very much), I’m not keen to wrangle them back into the stable.
Had I thought about it sooner, the most effective fundraiser I could have organised would have been to ask all my female friends to donate £5 for every hour that I wore a bra during lockdown, operating on the assumption that people will only give you money when they want to see you properly miserable. Applying this retrospectively, that would amount to a measly £20, but I would’ve gone all out (or rather, reined them both in), if I’d raised the stakes and asked folks to place an exotic wager on my daily double.
But despite the fact that I’m hardly at my jockey weight, I’ve got to face the facts. I need to get back in the saddle–or at least into undergarments. I’ll show you my Ascot if you show me yours.
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.
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,” while others insist that Chester deserves the dubious honour, 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, the city does seem to serve as a veritable primordial soup for spooks.
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 panting 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,” rather 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. Read on, and decide for yourself. (more…)
With the British pound currently beaten down due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, now is the time for penny pinchers to head to the UK capital. 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 more than a decade, one of the best (and most affordable) ways to acquaint yourself with the its iconic sites is by pounding the pavement along the Thames.
With 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…)
With glorious Glastonbury descending on the fields of Worthy Farm once again, here’s a photo essay of some of my favourite moments from previous Glastos. You’ll laugh (I hope). You’ll cry (probably not). But you will, undoubtedly, be very grateful that you have indoor plumbing.
For a taste of London’s famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show–without the tickets–head to The Egerton House Hotel. The well-heeled clientele of this intimate Knightsbridge townhouse will feel right at home in their wellies this May, thanks to a whimsical garden created by Jane Wadham, whose floral fancies are favoured by the likes of Victoria Beckham and the organisers of the Chelsea Flower Show. (more…)
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it,” Winston Churchill predicted.
As one of World War II’s most revered victors, Sir Winston’s droll prophesy proved only partially true, for his story is still being written. In recent years, the cherub-cheeked Churchill has enjoyed a bit of a revival as screenwriters have added their two cents, scoring millions at the box office with two biopics: Churchill, starring Brian Cox, and Darkest Hour, for which Gary Oldman won a Best Actor Oscar statuette at the 2018 Academy Awards.
If these silver screen insights have sparked a desire to do a deep dive on the iconic UK statesman, there’s no better place to begin than England. 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 his legacy—and perhaps still catch an ethereal whiff of Sir Winston’s cigar.
Read on for the scoop on must-see Winston Churchill attractions around the UK. (more…)
You know it’s going to be a great evening when you walk into a room that’s glittering with more glassware than a Waterford Crystal showroom. This was the scene this week at Hispania, an elegant, two-story Spanish bar and restaurant just a short stumble from Bank tube station in London’s financial district.
Large round linen-draped tables were topped by a continuous ring of wineglasses—at least five per place-setting—as if the hosts expected a tangle of parched octopuses to rock up, eagerly grasping a glass with each tentacle. In fact, the group that actually filtered through Hispania’s doors–a gaggle of guzzling journos, me among them–would prove a far graver threat to the wine stocks before the night was done.
But a liberal appreciation of the libations was only to be expected, as this was a celebration, a christening for a very special new arrival. Tonight, the just-launched 2015 Vina Pomal Compromiso classic Rioja would be feted alongside a host of its brethren wines at a five-course feast prepared by Michelin starred chefs Mario Sandoval and Marcos Moran. (more…)
From hair-raising tours of haunted palaces to creepy cabaret, fiendish fancy dress parties, and a spook”tea”cular take on England’s decadent afternoon delight, here’s a list of fang-tastic places to get your ghoul on around London this autumn.
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.
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.
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…)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are cozied up in a second story window, holding hands and smiling as they gaze toward Windsor Castle. Passers-by in the street do a double-take when they spot the marvelous Ms. Markle and her dishy ginger biscuit, and a few even hazard a tentative, finger-fluttering wave. But the celebrity lovebirds don’t move a muscle.
The purportedly down-to-earth prince and his American actress fiancé aren’t being snooty. They simply can’t help their stiff demeanor and cardboard smiles, because, well, they are cardboard. The life-sized cutout, available on Amazon, is a fitting symbol of the larger-than-life wedding mania sweeping up royal watchers around the world.
Nowhere is that feeling more apparent than in Windsor, where Harry and Meghan will tie the knot on May 19 at St. George’s Chapel, located within the walled compound of Windsor Castle. Afterwards, the newlyweds will take a carriage ride through Windsor’s streets, which are expected to be flanked by more than 100,000 well-wishers on the day.
If your wedding invitation was lost in the mail, don’t fret. Spring is a fabulous time to visit Britain regardless, and we’ve got the lowdown on how to rock it like a royal at three of the best British blue-blood destinations. Tap it like it’s hot to read about each city below:
Windsor, whose pint-sized population of 30,000 belies its royal roots, is eager to roll out the red carpet for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s marriage on May 19. “It’s a celebration, and we’re keen to make sure that we put on a show for the people who are visiting,” says Rory Shanks, one of the owners of Heidi Bakery, which has developed three-tier wedding cupcakes in Harry and Meghan’s honor.
GET GEARED UP
Heidi sells its sugary confections at their café in Daniel, a century-old department store that holds the Queen’s Royal Warrant (basically, her stamp of approval) for supplying gifts. So presumably, given Daniel’s current range of wedding-related novelties, this is where the Queen would go to snag herself a Harry and Meghan fridge magnet and a Harry and Meghan dishcloth to dry her Harry and Meghan mug after enjoying a nice cuppa Harry and Meghan tea.
Then again, Liz could just pop into the Windsor Castle gift shop, which is hawking commemorative items emblazoned with the initials “H&M,” which should not, under any circumstances, be mistaken for representing the clothing shop H&M, purveyor of “distressed” (mauled by lions) denim short-shorts and other High Street fashions.
TOAST THE HAPPY COUPLE
Tie one on with a Windsor Knot. The Windsor and Eton Brewery originally produced this pale ale for Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011 and has rebranded their bottles for Harry and Meghan.
Alternatively, opt for a tot of Gin&’er, a ginger-infused gin that The Queen Charlotte pub in Windsor commissioned to celebrate redheaded (aka “ginger”) Harry getting hitched. The pub sent the first of 250 limited edition bottles to the prince himself, so if you wake up with a royal hangover, passed out in front of the “throne,” you’re probably in good company.
If Harry and Meghan’s OTT wedding has wetted your appetite for the red carpet treatment, read on to discover how to rock it like a royal in London.
STERLING SHOPPING SPREE (more…)
GO THE EXTRA MILE
The Royal Mile, which is actually 1.12 miles (based on the old “Scots’ mile”), is about as royal as miles come. The sloping backbone of the Scottish capital is bookended by Edinburgh Castle, crowning the imposing Castle Rock at the top of the road, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh) at the bottom.
The street in between is lined with higgledy piggledy, charming old stone buildings, most with shopfronts displaying cashmere, kilts, whisky, wine, Harris tweed and wee gifts. “Thistle Do Nicely” definitely wins for worst pun / best shop name.
CREATE YOUR OWN BESPOKE TIPPLE
Liz’s late mum, The Queen Mother, was known for knocking back her fair share of gin and tonic. The classic cocktail was actually invented by the British army in India as a tasty way to ward off malaria, thanks to the quinine in tonic water. Given that the Queen Mother lived to 101, there might be at least a little truth in G&T’s reputation as a healthy(ish) elixir.
However, you wouldn’t expect a royal to slip just any old hooch past their stiff upper lip. Surely, one would wish to create one’s own bespoke knee-wobbly, swiggly-giggly happy sauce, would one not? (more…)
Sure, it’s all heart-shaped chocolate boxes and perky red roses on Valentine’s Day. But how do you resuscitate romance after those blood red blooms have wilted and the giddy high of champagne bursts like a bubble, leaving only a hangover behind?
Read on for four prescriptions for passion that will help you pump new life into a flaccid relationship long after Cupid has flown the coop with his Valentine’s Day Viagra.
Guest Post by Colin McAlpin
In the eternal search for self improvement, COLIN McALPIN travels to a unique Scottish World Heritage Site.
You know you have arrived at somewhere very special when you are immediately confronted by a sign proclaiming The Institute for the Formation of Character. Is someone trying to tell me something?
Such is my introduction to the hidden Scottish gem that is New Lanark, one of the country’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites. New Lanark is actually a beautifully preserved small town that nestles in a valley through which flows the River Clyde, a mere quarter-mile from Lanark and 40 miles from Glasgow.
The Wolseley, the iconic London café by restauranteurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, has launched a mail order shop for gastronomic gifts. Spoil the extra-good girls and boys (or ladies and gents) on your holiday list with a Christmas Hamper packed with champagne, wine, Christmas puddings, biscuits and more (£350).
For the restrained teetotaler, options range from silver-plated teapots (£235) and tea strainers (£49) to a set of miniature tea tins for a suitably small price (£18.75).
Sometimes, though, it’s nice to be naughty. Who would say no to a box of Cognac chocolate truffles (£29.50)?
Claridge’s Hotel, a favourite of both crowned heads and Hollywood royalty, also debuted its first cookbook this autumn. The hotel’s executive chef Martyn Nail, together with food writer Meredith Erickson, share 160 years of Claridge’s most famous recipes and tips for entertaining.
The 260-page Claridge’s: The Cookbook includes chapters on subjects like Afternoon Tea, The Art of Carving, Cocktails, and—for the truly ambitious (i.e. masochistic) gourmand—How to Host a Dinner for 100. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to treat Santa to something posher than milk and chocolate chip cookies this year.
Available through Amazon for £10, or order a copy autographed by Chef Nail and packaged in a gift box directly from Claridge’s for £30.
“’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.
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…)
The man who holds Stirling holds Scotland. With this in mind, the Scots – under their legendary King Robert Bruce, he of the spider that inspired him never to give up – took on the English under King Edward II at the historic Battle of Bannockburn. Over two bloody days 700 years ago, Bruce routed them in what became known as the First War of Independence to establish Scotland as a nation.
Holding the charming city of Stirling – the site of the battle, 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh – became important to the Scots. Although created a city only in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, Stirling has for centuries played an important role in Scotland’s often turbulent history, and many of its historic sites and monuments – such as the imposing Stirling Castle and the national monument to William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace – bear witness. (more…)
I recently travelled with a woman who claimed she could pack for a week’s skiing holiday in a handbag. Not the skis themselves, mind you, but she insisted she could fit every other essential in one average-sized, over-the-shoulder satchel.
My comrade had already proven her mysterious superpowers, having employed said sack for a trip we shared to Edinburgh.
Did she possess some sort of pret-a-portable TARDIS, equipped with entire wardrobes instead of zip pockets?
When she went camping, could she crawl in there to sleep at night?
Given that every handbag is legally obligated to devote at least half its capacity to crumpled receipts, wadded tissues and lint-covered breath mints, did the thing require its own household staff to tidy unfathomable mounds of discarded detritus?
As our train chugged back to London, I longed to ask her to turn her bag inside out so that I could explore its enigmatic dimensions. But somehow, it didn’t seem right to request that she dump her unmentionables on the tray table.
Nor did I wish to risk being sucked in by the gravitational pull of what I can only assume was her pocketbook’s fifth dimension.
What country produces the most whisky? (Hint: It’s not Scotland).
What are the risks involved in investing in whisky, aside from the possibility you’ll go on a bender and drink your portfolio?
What is the best way to store an unopened bottle of whisky, in the unlikely event that you possess the superhuman power to leave that golden nectar unmolested?
And, while we’re at it, what exactly is whisky—and how is it made?
In his new book, A Field Guide to Whisky, Hans Offringa—Patron of the Whisky Festival of Northern Netherlands, Honorary Scotsman, and Keeper of the Quaich (it’s a Scotch thing)—addresses all these issues, and hundreds of others besides.
Flip through his 320-page “expert compendium” of the world’s best-loved firewater, and you’ll be prepared for any whisky-related question a bearded, bespectacled quiz master would dare to throw your way. In fact, there’s an entire chapter devoted to trivia.
I’ve been a whisky lover ever since my first visit to Scotland nearly a decade ago, and I’m always fascinated by how much there is to learn. Now, I’ll be tossing around terms like “potcheen,” “lyne arm” and “boil ball” (which are apparently not plagues eradicated in the Middle Ages) with aplomb.
Here are a few things I’ve discovered, thanks to Offringa’s guide. (more…)
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…)
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).
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…)
Despite being officially dubbed one of the happiest places to live in the UK, the Isle of Harris off the northwest coast of Scotland is battling a serious buzz kill. That is to say, there are fewer and fewer people living there to enjoy all that happiness these days.
The population has halved over the last 50 years, shrinking to less than 2,000 residents. But…why?
Because, despite producing the renowned Harris Tweed, employment opportunities in the isolated Outer Hebrides are scarcer than the remaining hairs on Sean Connery’s head.
So, what are these industrious islanders doing to kick-start this party, y’all? Opening a distillery entirely staffed by locals and brewing some hooch, of course.
Naturally, you might assume that by hooch, I mean “Scotch,” this being Scotland and all. While that is indeed part of the long-term plan, Scotch whisky must age at least three years in oak barrels by law.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
It 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.
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…)
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.
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.
Louche lingerie. Naughty knickers. Silky slips. And bras? Your cup(s) runneth over. Have I got your attention? I thought so.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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…)
Tongues—and tails—are wagging over VisitScotland’s canny new campaign for an “ambassadog.” Does your rambling Rover have what it takes to be Scotland’s V.I.P. (Very Important Pooch)?
The lucky dog chosen for the role over all other competitors will be treated to a holiday around Scotland with his or her owner. Canine applicants must be “outgoing and sociable,” and the winner will have the opportunity to blog about the experience on www.visitscotland.com. So if your pup can type, he’ll probably win paws-down.
The position is open for all dogs from any region of Scotland, whether he’s a West Highland Tartan Terrier or a Loch Ness Labrador. To bone up on details, click here. The deadline is April 6, 2016.
May the best man…er, make that “man’s best friend”…win.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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!
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.
And, oh yes, a nude, nubile nymph pores over the pages of a book in the midst of it all. (more…)
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.
Up at the O2 (more…)
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.
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.
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.
For one week only, Londoners can travel to Berlin for the cost of an Overground ticket.
No, this isn’t one of those crazy flight deals on a “bargain” airline that makes its money back by charging for oxygen, seatbelts and toilet paper sold by the square inch.
Rather, there’s a new pop-up shop on Bethnal Green Road in Shoreditch showcasing nifty gifts and high-octane bottled libations made in Berlin. The store is open through Sunday, October 11, 2015…not-so-coincidentally coinciding with London’s “Cocktail Week.”
“We wanted to create a place where you can feel the spirit of Berlin,” explains Burkhard Kieker, CEO of VisitBerlin, who is heading up this European pop-up promotional tour for Germany’s capital. The tour began in Stockholm on 21 September and will up sticks next for Vienna, followed by Amsterdam and Paris.
Kieker attributes Berlin’s appeal to “the three T’s: talent, technology and tolerance. This is our recipe for success.”
So what happens when the best of Berlin—a city renowned for its liberality and creativity–meets achingly hip East London? Here some highlights from today’s grand opening.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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…)
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
Eric Rychnausky, head mixologist at The Stafford London, divulges his secrets for a trio of truth serums created especially for the Spring.
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.
For more on the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, click here.
Pack your trunks. Round up your rats, and get ready for a wand-waggling adventure aboard Harry Potter’s own Hogwarts Express, which has steamed onto a resurrected Platform 9 3/4 at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.
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 here.
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?
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.
Great news for thirsty Londoners. Every February, you can sample hundreds of beers from dozens of 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 DJ-spun tunes, nosh on street food like incendiary-sounding chorizo bombs, smoked BBQ and schnitzel, and check out the latest industry innovations.
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:
For more on London’s top five walking tours, check out my article on LonelyPlanet.com:
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?)
Here’s a taste of what’s brewing around the city. (more…)
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.
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…)
I’m cringing on the edge of a tiny wooden platform less than one meter square, contemplating a leap from the equivalent of a three-storey building.
I’m not suicidal, only slightly insane. In theory, you see, the cable that a fresh-faced young lad strapped to my harness will allow me to make a controlled, but nonetheless stomach-churning, descent into the abyss.
The “Skydive,” one of the most popular attractions at Landmark Forest Adventure Park in Carrbridge, Scotland, didn’t look so high from the ground.
But as I stand frozen to my perch, where I’m treated to a bird’s eye view of energy-sapping pursuits guaranteed to exhaust even the most hyperactive children and their parents (a rock-climbing pillar, water slides, mini-racetrack and the like), I’m beginning to regret the black pudding I had for breakfast.
Now I know what it feels like to be a penguin swaddled in a girdle…not that I had given it much thought before. But as I waddle into the cool shallows of Lamlash Bay on Scotland’s Isle of Arran, lumpily sheathed in neoprene and dragging my bright red kayak behind me, I feel as awkward as that klutzy, egg-shaped comic. I’m hoping that when I finally reach deeper waters and launch myself into my craft, I, like the stubby-legged polar bird, will take on some measure of aquatic grace—but in my heart, I know better.
Just as I feel a chilly trickle filling my rubber booties, my jovial guide, Bruce Jolliffe with the Arran Adventure Company, suggests we board our crimson kayaks, and soon we’re gliding across the gunmetal gray bay. Well, my companions may be “gliding,” but my idea of an upper-body workout is brushing my teeth (flossing, too, when I’m feeling particularly hale), and I soon start to feel the burn. (more…)
Heading to Reading Music Festival this August? Sure, there are plenty of amazing acts lined up—but sometimes the most amusing entertainment isn’t on the stage; it’s in the fields around you.
Here’s a peek at some of my favourite examples of Reading Festival freakiness from years past.
“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.
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…)
“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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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…)
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!
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
Whisky draws 1.3 million visitors and brings in £26 million to Scotland every year. “But above all,” says Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, “it allows people to see the world as a slightly kinder place, for at least an hour or two.”
Check out www.homecomingscotland.com/whiskymonth for details–and don’t forget to raise a wee dram “World Whisky Day,” May 17.
But why wait to get into the, er, spirit? Click http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=1825 to read about the Scotch Whisky Trail—and find out why every day is whisky day for me.
Greek fire was one of the most powerful and mysterious weapons of Byzantium, almost mythical in its power to subdue and overpower enemies of the empire. The recipe for this legendary liquid flame — a highly combustible compound that was hurled through the air and could not be quenched with water — has been lost in the ensuing centuries.
Pour a finger of Scotch, swirl the tumbler, and watch as light plays across the amber fluid like dancing flames encased in glass.
Inhale the heady fumes, which may fill your nostrils with the smoky perfume of peat.
Finally, take a sip. Careful now, because this is where whisky really earns its reputation, searing your throat and warming your belly, tracing a course through your body so intense that you would swear it left a mark on your flesh. (more…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
Down 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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
This is a story about public toilets. And food.
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.
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…)
Hotel 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.
The 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…)
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…)
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.
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…)