Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A first look at Christmas at Kew 2017

'Magical' is not a word I throw around lightly in regard to tourist attractions. Disneyland is magical, and... well actually, that's it. I don't think there's anywhere else I'd deem worthy of the term - except, now, Christmas at Kew.

The annual light festival is now in its 5th year, and I've been lucky enough to attend the press launch on three of those years (in case you haven't noticed, I have a thing about light festivals). This year is by far the best year to date, rendering my colleague Rob and I dazzled like little kids. I had hoped to have a video to show you (I'm high tech now y'know), but I'm having trouble with the files at the moment (alright, maybe not) so you'll have to make do with these photos, which don't go any way to doing it justice.

Enter through a twinkling arch, a temple illuminated in the trees over to one side. So far, so average. But the first big 'wow' moment comes courtesy of 'Moon Over The Vista', a sea of illuminated globes stretched out in front of the famous Palm House, which glow and change colour in time with the festive music.

You'll have to hang about for a while to see the full sequence, but it's worth it - if you can resist the lure of the nearby Christmas tree, which flashes to its own tune and, you'll realise if you look closely, is made up of hundreds of individual sledges. Nice touch.

Other highlights include a group of singing trees, whose lights flash in time with their humming, and a fire garden (a bit spooky - singing, rotating, firey Christmas trees against a backdrop of wintry tree silhouettes). Absolute highlight is the bridge going over the lake, which is animated in time with the lights on the islands, and in the water. The full sequence is 20 minutes or so, but you'll be so hypnotised that staying to watch it won't be a problem at all.

Of course, that now-famous light tunnel is back, drawing Instagrammers to it like moths to a flame:

I say the bridge is the highlight. It was, it was right up until Rob and I rounded the very last corner, chatting away, and we were stopped and silenced in our tracks - it was literally breathtaking. We froze for a couple of seconds before running straight towards it to get the best shot we could (ever the professional journalists). The Palm House is illuminated in a spectacular light show. In front of it, holograms dance on the lake - figures ice skating, a ghostly carousel, kids throwing snowballs, all set perfectly to music.

The layout is very cleverly planned - you can see enough of what's ahead to tempt you onwards, but you can only hear the music for the particular section you're standing in, which is crucial when it's as finely choreographed as it is.

Little disclaimer: I went on press night, which means it's less busy than any other night - although it seems far better organised than the shambolic Chiswick Lantern Festival, so you should be alright. However, Kew's set the bar high for Glow Wild at Wakehurst, the equivalent event at Kew's sister venue. I've got tickets for the opening weekend - watch this space.

Christmas at Kew 2017, 22 November- 1 January, book in advance.

Monday, 13 November 2017

I wrote a book

That's a blatant lie. I didn't write a book at all. But I did write some articles which made their way into a book, which has now been published. It's a proper book, with pages and page numbers and a cover and everything, so I'm basically classing myself as a published author now thank you very much *mic drop*

Oh, the book? It's good. It's called Londonist Mapped, and was put together by my lovely colleagues at Londonist in collaboration with the AA, because they like maps almost as much as we do. It's got all sorts of London geekery in it, and colourful, beautiful maps to go with each article. Where else could you learn about state banquets, atomic bombs, Sherlock Holmes, penicillin, tube pedantry, and the man who invented sunglasses, all in one book. Eh? Eh?

It's available now on Amazon, which is nice, but also in Real-Life Book Shops, like Waterstones:

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And Foyles:

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And Stanfords:

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So that's a bit exciting (especially Stanfords, because the cafe there does the best hot chocolate in London).

My colleague Will made a video to tell you all about it.

Pretty, isn't it? BUY IT. BUY IT HERE. Buy it for everyone you know this Christmas. And when you've got it in your hands (wash them first please, it's very pretty), open it (carefully!) and head straight to the back, where you'll see my name in black and white (among my colleagues, of course). Then pour yourself a cuppa and read the rest of it. It's a right treat.

Londonist Mapped, available now on Amazon, and in all good bookshops.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Afternoon tea review: Board games at One Warwick Park

Ok, I'll admit it; this afternoon tea thing is becoming a bit of an obsession now. But considering how much it normally costs, what's a girl to do when she sees one advertised for £16? Call up your partner in crime and get yourself booked in of course.

The tea in question was a board games themed afternoon tea at One Warwick Park in Tunbridge Wells, to celebrate the launch of the new Tunbridge Wells Monopoly. Although the £16 price sounded too good to be true, it was indeed correct (or you could pay £22 for prosecco or £25 for champagne, but #driving). 

The venue's a bit of an odd one, being split across two different buildings, but having arrived in the wrong one, a kind chap on reception escorted us to the right place, a light, airy and modern (and at 2pm on a Sunday, almost entirely empty) restaurant. 

Our food arrived almost immediately, a traditional afternoon tea stand with sandwiches on the bottom, scones on the middle and cakes on the top. The sandwiches were fine, the scones smaller than expected (which actually came as a relief when the inevitable afternoon tea fatigue set in). The jam was a highlight though, one of the sweetest, juiciest I've ever tasted.

On to the all-important cake layer, where our little grey cells were given as much of a workout as our jaws. This is where the board games theme came into play, and although some of it had been explained to us by the waitress, we'd forgotten by the time we'd worked our way up. 

The battenberg is clearly supposed to be a chess board, and the raspberry jelly cubes (thankfully not Turkish delight) were probably meant to be dice. We assigned the chocolate cups the roll of draughts pieces, leaving the macarons a mystery. Those iced biscuits had us puzzling for ages, turning them upside down to figure out if the writing said 'O U P' or 'D M O', neither of which meant anything to us. It was only hours later, back at home, that it clicked; OWP. One Warwick Park. Altogether, a solid selection of cakes, the standout being those chocolate tarts which were a lot richer than they looked.

Top points to One Warwick Park for service, cost and value. Although the board games afternoon tea was limited edition and has now finished, One Warwick Park offers a regular, permanent afternoon tea for the same price. Don't worry guys, it's on my list.

L'Amore restaurant, One Warwick Park hotel, 1 Warwick Park, Tunbridge Wells, TN2 5TA.

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