Monday, August 15, 2011

Weekend Update: Bonus Edition

* And by bonus, I mean really long.

On Saturday, Hayley and I met at Notting Hill Gate to make our way to the Portobello market. We got there about midday, which may have been a slightly silly thing to do as it was absolutely packed. In the main stretch of the market on Portobello Road we couldn't even really see the stalls as the street was shoulder to shoulder full from one side to the other.

I saw the sign for a Hummingbird Bakery (which I felt like I'd heard of for some reason) so we fought our way into the shop and were not disappointed. I got a giant whoopie pie (which was like a massive ginger kiss) and Hayley got a red velvet cupcake.

We both got a takeaway glass of cold milk (which was cheaper than buying a bottle of water - crazy) and pushed our way through to a side street where we sat in the gutter to eat our treats. We are all class.

Some of the shops in Notting Hill clearly know their market, some had the Notting Hill movie poster hung in the window and one even had the exact same lettering from the movie poster as part of its signage.

The fringes of the market weren't quite as busy and some of the streets around the market have really lovely houses.

Palace or prison? You decide.

After the market Hayley and I walked through Kensington (which also seemed to have lots of nice houses and shops) to the Kensington Palace gardens. The grounds of Kensington Palace (home to Lady Di after she and Prince Charles separated) are being re-landscaped, but even still, it's not the most attractive of palaces.

Then Hayley headed home and I headed into town. Being a Saturday evening I felt like I should do something, so I decided to see if there were any tickets left to Blood Brothers. I thought about The Lion King, but I love the music of Blood Brothers (having played my step-Mum's tape of the 1988 cast recording many a time) and wanted to see a proper production of it (not that the Wairarapa College school production of it a few years ago wasn't excellent...). There were still tickets left for the back rows of the stalls so I got the second cheapest and then had about three hours to kill. With part of those three hours I decided to go to Liberty.

When I first came close to Liberty I walked straight past. I looked down into the street it's on, saw a giant white building that reminded me of the Globe, thought, 'That's quite a pub,' and kept walking. Then I realised I'd gone too far, consulted my Lonely Planet, and realised that giant white Tudor-like building was actually Liberty. For all its over-the-topness, I kind of loved it. It's insanely expensive but the building is quite funny in all its strange (and not original - it was built in the 1920s) Tudor splendour.

I especially loved the fabric and art and craft section - mostly because there was yarn!

After Liberty I head back towards the theatre, I was very proud of myself because this time I had managed to keep my sense of direction and was able to cut across a shorter way, which also meant I got to pass through Soho Sqaure. Consulting my Lonely Planet bible, I learned there was a highly recommended Hungarian restaurant called 'Gay Hussar' nearby, so having enough time, I popped in to see if there was a table. After much consultation with the bookings book, the waiter informed me he could fit me. I sat next to a Hungarian man and his American granddaughter, she kept complaining about how the English call things 'pudding' when they're not actual puddings, they're cake or pie or some other kind of dessert.

Sadly the light was too dim to take good photos, plus it's a pretty small place so my 'I'm just looking through my photos from the day, oh look at that I pushed the button and took a photo of my food' was a bit obvious and I got too self conscious after a photo of the cute plates and gave up. However, you can picture for yourself delicious venison ragout with red cabbage and 'tarhonya' (I still don't know what that is, it was kind of like couscous). The restaurant seemed very popular, everyone who came in after me had booked, but it wasn't that expensive. I feel like food over here generally isn't.

Then it was on to Blood Brothers. I'm so glad I decided to see it on the West End. It was amazing, the set was clever, it was surprisingly funny, the lead roles were great singers and I particularly liked the actors who played the two brothers. There was no one else sitting in my row (which was third from the back, the rest of the stalls and the upstairs were full) so I got to move along to where I could see best and sing along very quietly. I even cried at the end, despite knowing what happens. I didn't sob, however, unlike this woman sitting in front of me who obviously did not know the story. As we were walking out she was still collecting  herself and saying to her partner, 'It was just so sad. That poor mother.' I think one of the things I love most about it is that it has a really strong female lead; the woman who played the mother was really good, I thought her voice sounded a bit tired in one particular song but I think it's also a bit unfair when you know a recording of a show really well because you judge all the songs against it.

This morning, because there is no rest for those on holiday, I was up at 7.15am and off to Cambridge. My friend Greg, with whom I went to high school and Victoria University, is doing his PhD in Chemistry there and had agreed to show me around for the day.

The chapel of one of the Colleges

Yet again, giant old buildings on a scale that is hard to comprehend even when you're standing right in front of or inside them. I still don't quite understand how it all works, but all the students belong to a college and a lot of them live in the college or flats associated with them. Greg showed me around the three main colleges, although one is mostly closed for rennovation. Each college we saw has immaculately manicured lawns and some have amazing gardens.

Entrance to a college

A mere corner of a college

One of the 'smaller' dining halls

A cool clock, unlike a very expensive and strange beetle clock that one of the colleges commissioned, photos of which do not do justice to the horrificness of it. It's just so weird and disturbing, the beetle is crawling/moving on a giant gold shell and it's really hard to actually tell the time due to the system of seemingly meaningless blue lights.

Having a current student as a tour guide was great as it meant I could go into all the parts of the University open to the public for free, whereas for some parts tourists usually have to pay. Some areas, though, were strictly private.

One the places we visited during the day that I liked the most though was called Kettle's Yard, which describes itself as 'neither a gallery nor a museum' (although there is a separate gallery space).

In the 1950s an ex-Tate Gallery curator and his wife bought four cottages in Cambridge and rennovated and restored them to house all the art, sculptures, and furniture they had aquired over the years. While they lived there they opened the house once a week to visitors and in the 1970s they donated it as-is to the University of Cambridge. The house is beautiful. The rooms you first enter into are quite small, so you have to ring the bell outside and a minder will let you in when there's enough space. Upstairs though it's all open plan and you can look down into another big open plan downstairs section. The floors upstairs are a light coloured polished wood and downstairs they're big flagstone tiles, all the walls are whitewashed and there a lots of windows and sky lights, there are shelves and shelves of books, and beautifully arranged objects (like a whole lot of small round grey stones arranged into a spiral on a table). I want to live in a house exactly like it when I grow up. Unfortunately you can't take photos inside unless you pay but their website has a virtual tour. And here is a window from the outside looking in.

Right next door is a mysterious looking church, which, it turns out, the owners of Kettle's Yard also helped restore.

After touring around, we met up with another guy I went to school with and hadn't seen in about seven years. Turns out he's doing a PhD at Cambridge too - there must be something in the water at Wairarapa College. The college Greg belongs to has punts the students can use, so Greg, Matthew, his girlfriend, and I went for a punt along the river. Apparently an essential Cambridge experience. I was very jumpy to begin with, the punt was not very steady and parts of the river were packed with professional punters and tourists who had hired their own punts and were giving it a go. We crashed early on and I was sure we were going to tip over but Matt turned out to be an expert punter and Greg wasn't too bad either, Apparently the trick to learning to punt well is a lot of beer. At first I had been very reluctant to take the giant pole and try my hand at driving the punt, but when we got to a quieter part of the river I very unsteadily climbed up onto the platform.

As you can see by the look on my face, I was not a calm, graceful punter, however, I managed to do pretty well steering us and I didn't fall off, unlike another guy we saw. So it was actually a success. I was glad to get back into the passenger's seat though. There were swans on the river that we passed just gliding along at one point, but when we passed them again one was chasing another and, having never seen a swan at pace, I could not believe how fast it went. Matt was driving the punt by then and pushing us along at a pretty steady pace but the swan raced past us and out of sight at lightning speed. I would not want to be the subject of a swan chase.

After punting we went to roof top bar that not a lot of people seem to know about, because instead of paying three pound fifty to climb some spire for the view, we got a view, less tourists, and a seat for as long as we liked, all for the price of a gin and tonic.

The train home was a non-stop to King's Cross and it was incredibly fast, the one on the way out to Cambridge had been pretty quick, but this time we were hurtling along and back in London in 50 minutes. Pretty quick for a lovely day in heart of Cambridgeshire.


  1. I love this! I live in Cambridge and it's interesting to see an outsider's view.