Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you all had a great few days of Halloween celebrations! This year we had our Halloween party on the 26th and I’ve had the last week off to take part in all things autumnal!

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I loved my Pumpkin Patch which sat outside the front of the house!

We had a great time at the Halloween party – I normally make a real effort with my Halloween outfits but this year was a very straightforward outfit with some striking makeup instead! This crystal skull set is from The Gypsy Shrine – they have some amazing sets which are really easy to apply!

I have been so busy at work and planning other events over the past two months that I just didn’t get the chance to do anywhere near as much preparation for Halloween this year I’m afraid. I normally spend a couple of days preparing treats and decorations but it was very last minute this year!

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On the Sunday, hubby and I ventured out to see the new Halloween film at the cinema – we always try and go to the cinema to watch a horror film over the Halloween weekend. I really enjoyed the film but as I was sat there watching it I realised I had watched all the sequels but had never actually watched the 1978 original! It’s on Sky cinema at the moment so I have recorded it to watch it when we get the chance!

When we’d got home after scaring ourselves to death at the cinema, we tucked into all the amazing Halloween treats I’d been gathering over the last few weeks! As usual I’ve bought far too much and we had hardly any trick or treaters so we are going to be eating them until Christmas!

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How cool is the ghost and black slime pizza from Asda??
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These sweets get more and more gross every year!

On the Monday my Mum, my Sister and I went Pumpkin picking! I was just going to include the details in this blog but we had such a fantastic time that I thought it deserved its own blog so watch this space! It was well worth the visit and I think we may have created a new annual family tradition!

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On the Tuesday my Sister and I had a fantastic day in London! We’ve never been around Halloween before but we were pleased we did as it was a brilliant experience. Cafe’s and shops and florists were covered in autumnal and Halloween decor and they looked spectacular! Dominique Ansel’s, Peggy Porschen’s and Elan Cafe were all looking particularly autumnal and spooky!

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Our top prize for window displays went to this florists called Pullbrook and Gould. The photos really don’t do it justice, it must have taken them ages to create it and you can see how much time and effort has gone into it! Amazing!

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On Halloween my Mum, my Sister and I spent the day together (and admittedly started discussing our Christmas plans!) but spent a lot of the day munching on our Halloween chocolate whilst watching the new Netflix programme The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell – if you haven’t watched it yet, you really must!! The only way I can describe it is a cross between the film Labyrinth and a Nigella Lawson cookery programme! It is seriously corny, but seriously good, and a perfect programme to watch over the spooky period!

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After a day of errands on the Thursday, on the Friday we paid a visit to Puzzlewood! This was my Sisters choice as she said she has always wanted to visit, and to be honest I didn’t know much about the place – I just assumed it was a woodland trail! Well there is so much more to it than this! So I have written a separate blog all about it!

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So as you can see we have had a fun-filled week full of Halloween and autumn themed activities! It is such a shame when all the decorations have to come down again for another year. Plus as soon as they do it means I have to really start putting my Christmas plans into action!

 

Saint Aymes Cafe

Ok so this is my third instalment of my favourite London Cafes – I’m hoping you have already read my blog about Peggy Porschen’s and Dominique Ansel’s!

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Saint Aymes is another place I will always try and visit whenever I am in London. It is situated on Connaught Street which about a ten minute walk from Paddington Station. The outside is draped in beautiful wisteria, and inside is a bright and airy cafe adorned with multiple flower walls.

 

 

They are particularly well-known for their innovative Unicorn lattes! You can choose the latte in a colour of pink, blue or purple and it is topped with whipped cream and gorgeous multi coloured decoration.

 

 

The coffee which is added to the latte is served separately so you can add it when you have taken all those Instagram worthy shots!

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They also do a fantastic hot chocolate called Marie Antionette which is a pink coloured white hot chocolate adorned with whipped cream and crumbled oreo cookies.

 

They also serve delicious cappuccinos and the thing Saint Aymes is most well known for is their 24ct gold leaf decoration which is added to all of its drinks – can you think of anything more luxurious than that?? Check out this 24ct gold cappuccino!

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Saint Aymes have also recently installed a candy floss maker, so it is served fresh on request.

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Add to this a beautiful selection of cakes, biscuits and cupcakes and all in all you have a stunning and relaxing place which is well worth visiting!

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Peggy Porschen’s

If you follow any bloggers on Instagram then I am sure this beautiful pink coloured cake shop in Belgravia needs no introduction! The most popular bloggers with the highest followings have all queued up outside this Insta-worthy building with its beautiful flowered facade at some point!

I first visited in December 2017, so not all that long ago, and have been back a further three times since then. It is certainly one of my favourite London cafes so I will always try to visit whoever I am in the big city.

I looked back on all my visits to Peggy Porschen over the past six months and realised that I have been lucky enough to have visited at different points throughout the year which meant seeing beautiful new displays and seasonal menus each time I visited.

Valentines Day

The Valentine’s Day display was one of my favourites, the lovely big heart made of flowers over the door and the other lovely heart shaped displays inside looked really stunning.

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I had seen their Valentine Day collection of cupcakes on Instagram a few days before I visited and I’d already set my sights on their limited edition “Be Mine Peggy Loves Lulu” chocolate heaven cupcake in honour of Lulu Guinness! It did not disappoint!

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I wish I’d had room left over to try one of their strawberry and champagne fluttering hearts too….maybe next time!

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Easter

I didn’t arrive at Peggy Porschen’s until late when I went for my Easter visit, hence the poorly lit photos – sorry! Still, it looked lovely and Spring-like, and after a long, cold, dark Winter it was perfect to look at and start thinking about the warmer days which were on their way!

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As I arrived so late they had run out of some of the cupcakes I’d got my eye on but it wouldn’t be Easter without an Easter nest cake would it?!

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It was at Easter I also discovered Peggy Porschen’s beautifully decorated biscuits! Aren’t they stunning?

 

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And even better I can get these home in one piece, unlike the cupcakes (don’t risk buying them and then walk around London all day with them – trust me, I’m speaking from heart-breaking experience!) I also bought a couple for family and friends as Easter gifts which they loved!

Summer

The Summer theme was really the most impressive so far! Beautiful Wysteria and Roses and beehives everywhere! The pictures really don’t do it justice and it was the busiest I have ever seen it! At one stage there was a queue all the way up the road to be seated outside in front of this stunning display.

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I couldn’t wait to visit after I saw the amazing goodies they had as part of their summer collection but unfortunately they were completely out of stock of all the lovely bee-themed biscuits I’d got my eye on! I’m pleased they have been so popular but was gutted I didn’t get to try them!

I did, however, get my hands on the wonderful Beehive cupcake I’d wanted to try, and I really can hand on heart say that this is the best cupcake I have ever eaten. It was a chocolate cake with an organic blossom honey centre and is topped with a delicious honey meringue buttercream. I wish I could have bought a box of these to bring home with me but the cakes are so delicate, there was no way they would have survived the three hour coach journey home coupled with the crazy heatwave Britain has been experiencing! I hope I get the chance to go back again whilst this is still on the menu!

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Look at these other beautiful summery cupcakes they had on the menu whilst I was there; all made absolutely perfectly.

Christmas

After visiting for the first time last Christmas, Peggy Porschen’s has now become one of our must visit places when my Mum, my Sister and I visit London as part of our annual Christmas shopping trip.

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Peggy Porschen’s at Christmas is an absolute treasure trove of beautiful cakes, biscuits and even the most stunningly decorated gingerbread houses I have ever seen! It really was a Winter Wonderland and, seeing as Christmas is my favourite time of year, this has to be my favourite theme of all.

The Christmas cupcakes were stunning, my favourites were the Bejewelled Chocolate cupcake and the Jolly Gingerbread cupcakes. Unfortunately they didn’t look as stunning by the time I’d got them home after carrying them around in a box all day but they tasted delicious never the less!

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The Gingerbread Houses were the most beautiful (and the most expensive!) I had ever seen. I wish I’d had the courage to buy one but they were so stunning I don’t think I could have brought myself to break it up and eat it!

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So, hopefully you can see why it appears on many peoples bucket lists to visit when they are in London! If you can get there early first thing when it isn’t so busy, I’d highly recommend popping in – it looks far more beautiful in real life!

 

 

The Jack the Ripper Museum

I’ve spent a lot of time in London over the last couple of months on training courses so I’m always looking for things to do in the late afternoon and early evening to take full advantage whilst I am away from home!

During my last training course I was staying in the Whitechapel area and came across the Jack the Ripper Museum which was only a few minutes walk from my hotel. I am an absolute crime story fanatic and of course the Jack the Ripper story is one of the oldest and most famous unsolved crime stories so I knew I had to pay a visit. I did it just in time too, as it was closed towards the end of May for a refurbishment!

I am not sure whether I timed my visit perfectly or not as I was the only person in the museum the whole time I was there! At first I thought how fantastic, I can get up close to all the exhibits without having to wait, but as soon as I had been walking round the eerie and haunting exhibits for a few minutes I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea…..

In 1888, Jack the Ripper committed a series of murders in the east end of London which shocked the entire world. The Killings spawned hundreds of theories, with each one trying to solve the crimes which, to this day, remain a mystery.

The museum is at 12 Cable Street, and is set in a beautiful Victorian terraced house. It is set across the six floors of the museum and each floor has a different setting;

First Floor – The Murder scene in Mitre Square

This scene relates to the 30th September 1888, the most famous date in Ripper history. In here are two waxwork figures, one of Catherine Eddowes, the second woman who died on this date and Police Constable Watkins, who discovered her body. On one side of the room is a worker’s cart under a street light. These carts were used to move the bodies of the murdered women to the morgue.

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One of the morgues used to store Jack the Ripper’s victims was only a few streets away from the museum. On the wall there is a replica of original graffiti which was left at the murder scene.

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Second Floor – Ripper’s Sitting Room

This room is set up to show how Jack the Ripper may have lived during these times and where he may have planned his murder.

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In this room are newspaper clippings which were written in 1888 and chart the progress of the serial killer’s awful crimes.

Hanging over the fireplace is an original drawing by the person who was the prime suspect in the Jack the Ripper killings, Walter Sickert. To this date there is a debate on whether the subject of the drawing is sleeping or if something more sinister is actually going on…..

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On one of the tables are medical instruments, poison, drug bottles and a skull belonging to the killer.

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On the desk, medical books on surgery and dissection are displayed, along with a letter addressed “from Hell” which may have been written by the Ripper.

A Doctor’s bag which contains knives similar to those used to kill and mutilate the Ripper’s victims is on the floor by the desk.

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Third Floor – Police Station

In this room you will find all the evidence and the profiles of the suspects.

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A crime board shows the sites of all the murders and the evidence the police collected.

In the display case is the actual whistle Police Constable Watkins blew to call for help when he found Catherine Eddowes’ mutilated body in Mitre Square.

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Also here is Police Constable Watkins’ notebook, handcuffs and truncheon he was carrying that day.

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By the desk is a waxwork of Chief Inspector Abberline, the detective in charge of leading the hunt for the Ripper in 1888.

Fourth Floor – Victim’s Bedroom

Up a steep and eerie staircase you can find the fourth floor, which has been arranged as the victims bedrooms may have looked in these times. The walls up this staircase are not decorated in newspaper headings and stories like the others in the rest of the house.

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Jack the Ripper’s victims would have lived in rooms just like this one, in one of London’s most poverty stricken areas.

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A small metal bed with a straw mattress was all the comfort these women would have had. Gin was often the drink of choice in those days, with a bottle costing only a few pence.

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There are rare photos of the victims on the wall of this room, as haunting music quietly plays in the background.

In the display case in this room are some original Victorian bonnets. These would have been worn by women to cover their hair, which would have rarely been washed in those days.

Basement – The Mortuary

This room details the violence of Jack the Ripper’s crimes which still shock everyone today. Note, this room is deemed unsuitable for the under 16’s.

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On the walls of this room are original autopsy photos of the horrific murders which some people may find disturbing. I was really worried about going in here after I read this but most of the photos do not show much detail and, due to when they were taken, are not clear. Having said that, I am a true crime buff and have looked at lots of photos like this so I am quite immune to this type of thing, so please exercise caution if you do get to visit the museum.

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The body of Elizabeth Stride was taken to the parish mortuary of St George-in-the-East. The building, which is only moments from the museum, was once a chapel. On the far wall is a Victorian stained glass window from the mortuary.

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Next to the stained glass window are drawers that were used to store the bodies of the dead until they were collected for burial.

Some of the murdered women had no families to collect their remains. They were buried in mass paupers’ graves and their last resting place unmarked.

and of course, as with most museums, you exit through the;

Gift shop on the Ground Floor

In here you will find a large selection of gift, ceramics, prints and memorabilia which can only be found at the Jack the Ripper museum.

If you would like to read more about the museum or book tickets online you can find their website here.

If this is a case which particularly interests you, you can become a Ripperologist by joining through the museum’s website. The Jack the Ripper museum is the official home of the International Society of Ripperologists  and this worldwide community is dedicated to the study of the Whitechapel murders and in solving the ultimate question – who was Jack the Ripper?

Camden Market

 

God I love this place! I first visited in March 2017 and was absolutely blown away! I’ve been meaning to go back and then a local coach trip advertised a day trip here on the Sunday of the May day bank holiday so I booked it for me, hubby, my friend and her husband to spend the day here.

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As it was a Sunday (and a bank holiday) I knew it would be busy, but I had already earmarked the places I wanted to visit! There’s so much to see and do at Camden Market but here are just some of the highlights (obviously mainly food related!)

Oli Baba’s Halloumi Fries

This was one of the main reasons we first visited Camden Market, to sample these famous halloumi fries!

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The chunks of halloumi are deep fried and then coated in a delicious topping of pomegranate molasses, fresh mint, chilli flakes, za’atar yogurt, pomegranate seeds and sumac! Delicious! Hint: you get a LOT of halloumi per serving so if you want to try other food at the market, I suggest you share between at least two of you!

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The Mac Factory

THE best mac and cheese in London!

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The Mac Factory do six amazing flavours –

Nostalgic – a classic cheese blend.

La Med Babe – Basil Pesto, Baby Mozzarella Balls and Semi-dried tomato.

Super Mario – Sauteed Mushroom, Truffle Oil and garlic.

Posh Spice – Spicy chorizo, Caramelised onions and Harissa.

Hey Mac-Arena – Beef Chilli, Tortilla Crisps, Sour Cream and Jalapeño.

Mambo Italiano – Smoked Pancetta, Mushroom and Garlic.

I always have the Nostalgic flavour but my friend tried the Mambo Italiano and it looked amazing! This place is a must try!

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Highlander Game

Metre long Polish sausages. Not joking!

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A great idea but you won’t be able to eat anything else after trying one of these bad boys!

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La Churreria

I love, love, love churros and these churros are some of the best I’ve ever had! They are served warm with a variety of toppings – my favourites are the caramel sauce and mini marshmallows!

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Half Hitch Gin

If you like gin then this place is a must visit! I don’t drink gin but it smelt delicious and there are friendly staff there who will let you sample some before you buy! Small bottles are £10 each and the large bottles are £35 each, I bought a few bottles for gin loving family and friends!

 

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Chin Chin Labs Ice-cream

My favourite ice cream place! I have one of these nearly every time I go to London! My favourite is the killer cone – a red waffle cone filled with marshmallow fluff which is then toasted, with a scoop of your favourite ice-cream on top! Delicious!

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I’ve also had the amazing sticky toffee sponge cake topped with vanilla ice-cream and a lemon caramel tuile – highly recommended!

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and a limited edition red velvet cake with cream cheese ice-cream and cinnamon toast sprinkled on top! Amazing!

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There are also so many other amazing food places to choose from while you are here;

We really wanted to try the Dutch pancakes but didn’t get the chance on this occasion! Definitely one for next time!

Moomin and Littlephant

Who knew you could still buy Moomin merchandise?? I remember watching the Moomin’s with my sisters when I was little! This shop was a real trip down memory lane!

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Make sure you check out the Stables Market – these old stables date back to 1894 and have some beautiful ornate designs above the shops.

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and here you will find shops selling everything from clothes to jewellery to confectionary to lanterns to cakes and fudge, and anything and everything you can imagine in between.

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Of course, no trip to Camden Market is complete without a visit to see the Amy Winehouse statue…it’s lovely how she stands there amongst the crowds in her home town.

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I highly recommend you pay a visit as soon as possible! I already can’t wait to go back again!

A trip to Kensington Palace

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I hadn’t ever thought about visiting Kensington Palace but when I told my Mum I wanted to visit London for the day and asked her what she fancied doing she said she had always wanted to visit! Even better, you can get Kensington Palace entry tickets by exchanging your Tesco Clubcard vouchers, bargain!

Kensington Palace is situated in Kensington Gardens and has been the residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th Century. It is currently the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, and Princess Eugenie.

Kensington Palace was built as a royal home for William III and Mary II at the end of the 17th Century. It has had many roles over the years, including a museum and a barracks for soldiers guarding the Great Exhibition. It used to be a small mansion known as Nottingham house. In 1689 the new monarchs, King William III and Queen Mary II, purchased Nottingham House for £20,000 and only weeks later, Sir Christopher Wren began work on transforming it into a royal palace. The new palace had a chapel, courtier accommodation, kitchens, stables, barracks and many grand rooms and state apartments. Queen Mary died in 1694 of smallpox in her bed chamber in the palace but had spent many years before designing and furnishing the palace.

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William didn’t make many alterations to the Palace, and his successor, Queen Anne, only reigned for a short time and so only added the orangery during her time. Anne left no heir and so the palace passed to her distant relative, George Ludwig.

The new King George liked Kensington Palace but found it to be in very poor condition and so plans were made to rebuild it on a much larger scale. A new set of State Apartments were built to replace the old Jacobean house in 1718 to 1722.

During the reign of King George II between 1727 and 1760, the Palace was used to its full potential as George and Queen Caroline enjoyed entertaining their guests in lavish ceremonies. Unfortunately, after Queen Caroline’s death in 1737, the King closed off half of the palace. King George died in his private apartments at Kensington Palace in October 1760.

George III showed little interest in Kensington Palace throughout his reign (1760-1820), but this did mean that the furnishings and paintings were left untouched in dark rooms for this time. The Palace eventually became home to George III’s two sons, Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. Prince Augustus was a book collector, and amassed over 50,000 volumes in his apartment! Prince Edward was the father of Queen Victoria, who was born in the palace in 1819. In June 1837 she was told of her accession to the throne, and held her first council in the Red Saloon.

Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice, later lived in the palace. Louise was a really gifted artist and left the legacy of the statue of the young Queen Victoria which sits at the east side of the palace.

A major restoration of the palace took place in 1898 under the orders of Queen Victoria and in 1912 the rooms were filled with display cases when the palace became home to the London Museum. A lot of damage was caused to the Palace by incendiary bombs during the Second World War.

In the 1960’s, Princess Margaret came to live at the Palace, and further members of the Royal Family began to arrive in the 1970’s and 1980’s, one of the most famous of these being Diana, Princess of Wales, who lived at Kensington Palace up to her death in 1997.

There are several tours you can take within Kensington Palace which are:

The Kings State Apartments

The Kings Staircase leads to the King’s State Apartments, and all visitors for the King would have climbed this staircase, (provided that their clothes and jewels were acceptable to the guards!) The staircase paintings were completed around 1726 by an artist called William Kent, who included a portrait of himself on the ceiling in a brown artists cap and holding a palette. Kent’s work was inspired by the work he had seen in Rome, where he trained to be an artist.

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The Presence Chamber was where the King would sit on his throne, under a crimson silk damask throne canopy, and important guests would be ushered in to bow to him.

The Privy Chamber was one of Queen Caroline’s favourite entertaining spaces. It has another amazing ceiling created by William Kent in 1723 and shows Mars, the Roman god of War, and Minerva the goddess of Wisdom, and surrounding them are the emblems representing the arts and sciences.

The Cupola Room was probably my favourite room of the Palace. This room was the first room decorated by William Kent. In this room he re-created in paint a baroque Roman palace but with the Star of the Order of the Garter as the ceiling’s centrepiece. George II and Queen Caroline hosted really lavish parties in this room.

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The strange object in the centre of this room is a clock and a music box as well as a piece of artwork, and was completed in 1743.

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The Kings Drawing Room would have been packed full of courtiers back in the day, who would have all attended the King’s parties seeking power and patronage.

On the ceiling William Kent has shown the powerful god Jupiter, who accidentally killed his lover Semele, and portraits of Venetian doges line the walls. Next door to this room was the King’s bedchamber, and halfway through the evening he would emerge to make his grand appearance.

The Council Chamber is located in one of Christopher Wren’s pavilions, built on the corners of the original Nottingham House and it has served William III, George I and George II as a meeting place for the Privy Council. The sort of court dress that would once have been worn in these state rooms is on display here.

Queen Caroline’s Closet is a small room which originally belonged to William III as his bedchamber. George I used this room to store books but these were removed after Queen Caroline made one of the most important art discoveries of the era. In 1727, she found hidden in a cabinet a portfolio containing many drawings made by Hans Holbein, the younger of Henry VIII and his courtiers. Caroline later made this room a gallery filled with 300 paintings, miniatures and embroideries.

The Kings Gallery was built for William III as an addition to Wren’s design in the new South front and was finished in around 1700. It was in here that William III played soldiers with his little nephew and intended heir, the Duke of Gloucester. After a riding accident at Hampton Court, it was here that the King caught the chill that led to his death on 8th March 1702.

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The gallery was transformed in 1725 by William Kent for George I. Red damask replaced the green velvet walls and the fine oak joinery was painted white and gilded. Kent and his assistants painted the seven large ceiling canvasses that show scenes from the life of Ulysses.

Queen’s State Apartments

The Queen’s State Apartments are deliberately plainer and lower-key than the Kings, both inside and out. Here you can learn more about the lives of Mary II, Queen Anne and the House of Stuart.

The Queen’s Staircase is a sharp contrast to the grand marble King’s staircase. These apartments were built for Queen Mary between 1689 and 1694.

The Queen’s Gallery was painted white and hung with full length portraits of Kings and Queens  of England. Later, Mary developed a passion for collecting treasures from India, China and Japan. She filled the gallery with artefacts such as Turkish carpets, embroidered hangings and lacquer furniture, alongside her collection of 150 pieces of oriental porcelain.

The Queen’s Closet was where a terrible argument took place between Queen Anne and her childhood friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.

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The Queen’s Eating Room has beautiful panelling which has survived from the 17th Century. In here, William and Mary would share simple private dinners of fish and beer. Mary would also use this room to make tea with the ladies of her household.

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The Queen’s Drawing Room used to be filled with Mary II’s porcelain. This room is the room which is claimed to have lost most of its original character, as it badly damaged by an incendiary bomb on 14th October 1940. Most of the panelling was destroyed which is why the walls are now wallpapered.

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The Queen’s Bedroom was used by Mary as her State bedroom when she and William first moved into the palace. Just as soon as Christopher Wren had finished work on the Queen’s Apartments, Mary had her rooms extended to provide her with more accommodation. This resulted in the Queen’s Gallery and a new private bedchamber being built.

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Victoria Revealed

We were very disappointed because this exhibition was closed when we visited, and it was one of the main exhibitions we wanted to see! We will definitely have to revisit to see this. In this exhibition you can visit the rooms Queen Victoria grew up in and learn more about her life right through from her childhood to her final years. In this section of the palace we would have been able to see:

The Stone Staircase where Princess Victoria first met her cousin and future husband, Prince Albert, for the first time in 1836.

The Red Saloon where Victoria held her first Privy Council on the morning she became Queen in June 1837.

On this tour you will also learn more about how Victoria and Albert fell in love and Victoria’s lonely family life growing up at Kensington Palace.

There is also a separate exhibition about Price Albert known as the Great Exhibition, which was in 1851 and would later be known as his greatest piece of work. It showcased technological and cultural achievements from over the world and attracted over six million visitors.

Modern Royals

This is a changing display – when we were here it was a beautiful Diana exhibition showcasing some of her most famous outfits. Well worth a visit and it slightly made up for the fact that the Victoria exhibition was closed.

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The first dress below was designed by Bruce Oldfield, who designed many dresses for the Princess. She wore it at the Courtauld institute of Art, Somerset House in 1990 and again at the Buckingham Palace state banquet in 1991.The Princess chose the second dress in the below picture for an official visit to Japan. The colour was chosen to complement the flowering cherry blossoms.

Diana chose to wear the Spencer Tiara, a sparkling family heirloom, on a state visit to India in 1992. This second dress was designed to complement it. The embroidery on the bodice of this dress was based on traditional Indian patterns.

The Princess wore this first dress when she danced with actor John Travolta at the White House. This second dress was embellished with falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia, when the Princess visited there. The high neckline and long sleeves also respected local customs.

The second dress below was worn by the Princess when she visited Brazil, shortly after their national football team lost to Argentina in the World Cup. Conscious of her hosts feelings, she instructed the designer, Catherine Walker, to avoid the blue and white colours of the Argentinian team when she designed the gown.

The second dress below was worn to the New York gala event before the Christie’s Auction.

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You can also visit the beautiful Palace Gardens, which were transformed in 2012. During the winter months, Queen Anne’s orange trees were protected from the cold inside her magnificent orangery, which was built for her between 1704 and 1705. In the summer months, they were transferred to the terrace outside. Anne also added fountains and an alcove with a garden seat to the south gardens. This still exists but was moved to nearby Lancaster Gate in the 1860’s. In 1705, 100 acres were added to the east side of the palace to form a paddock for royal deer and antelope.

The majority of the works done to the gardens were down to Queen Caroline. She extended the plantings, laid the Broad Walk and had the Round Pond dug in 1728. The Serpentine was formed as a boating lake by flooding several smaller ponds.

The Sunken Garden was laid out during the reign of Edward VII and opened in 1909, and is the most popular of the Palace gardens.

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The east and the south sides of the palace were laid out in 2012 with a new scheme designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, inspired by the old layouts of lawns, trees, borders and topiary of George II’s time.

Queen Victoria is present at the front of the Palace in the form of a statue, which was designed by her daughter Louise.

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Kensington Palace was a lovely day out in spite of the cold, wet weather! A place I will definitely have to visit again so I can see the gardens properly in the sunshine and hopefully finally get to see the Victoria exhibition when it re-opens, which should be any day now….

Happy Birthday to me!

It’s wrong to say Happy Birth”day” to me because in actual fact I have a Birth-week not a Birth”day”! I always pack my Birthday week full of fun and days out with family and friends and this year was no exception!

Here’s what I got up to during this AMAZING week!

On Monday, Mum and I caught the megabus to London! Yes it takes ages but it cost us only £8 each for a return from Gloucester to London! The coach stops at Victoria Coach Station which just so happens to be a five-minute walk away from one of my favourite bakery’s in London – Dominique Ansel’s! So, we popped in here for breakfast before starting our busy London adventure!

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I had an amazing turkey croque monsieur and one of their Blossoming hot chocolates, which I have wanted to try for ages!

I also had a delicious Cookie Shot, a shot glass sized cup made out of cookie and filled with delicious creamy vanilla milk! I bought a pack of six Cookie Shots to take home with me as well! The cakes in here are incredible – check out these lovely Blizzard Bear cakes!

After our lovely refreshment break we caught an Uber over to Kensington Palace. We had a lovely time here, so much so that I am writing a separate blog on this amazing place – the Diana Exhibition which is currently on was definitely an added bonus! Even better, we didn’t pay the entrance fee because we managed to pay for the tickets using our Tesco Clubcard vouchers!

After a few hours exploring Kensington Palace we moseyed on over to Cutter and Squidge for our Genie’s Cave afternoon tea! I really love attending these themed afternoon teas! I have been trying to get into the Tale as old as Time one for months but it is always fully booked. Then after going to the amazing Mad Hatter’s Tea Party afternoon tea in December last year I was on the hunt for something similar and came across the Genie’s Cave version! This was another brilliant experience with amazing food, so a a separate blog is to follow on this too! A word of warning though – the Genie’s Cave theme is due to end at the end of March so get booking if this is something you fancy!

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After stuffing our faces we wandered around and did the only thing we know best – bought more delicious treats to bring home with us! We visited Doughnut Time who sell THE BEST doughnuts ever! Move over KrispyKreme!

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After visiting all of our favourite food places we wandered slowly back over to Victoria Coach Station via Buckingham Palace to catch our coach home. What an amazing start to my Birthday week!

Tuesday was far less exciting but definitely a lovely day off – I basically got up at the normal time and got ready and then spent the morning in my local Starbucks catching up with writing my blogs and updating my Instagram and Twitter accounts. I managed to publish a blog every day in December for Blogmas, and over the Christmas holidays I had intended to get my blogs up to date and to have them scheduled several weeks in advance, but unfortunately this fell by the way-side and since mid-January I have been struggling to get my weekly weekend blog published. The week commencing 19th February I didn’t publish anything, which was the first time in a long time. I’ve found it especially hard to focus and get back into the blog writing since our lovely dog Skibba passed away last month as well. Anyway, today gave me a chance to catch up and draft as many blogs as possible, plus drink ridiculous amounts of my favourite coffee! A nice calm and relaxed morning!

After a few hours of getting square eyes I wandered over to the business park next door to have a look in some of the furniture stores to get some decorating ideas for our house. We’ve got the plasterer booked to plaster most of the upstairs and the dining room ceilings next week and after that we can get cracking with the decorating, so I need to start thinking about designs and colour schemes! I’m hoping by the time we have been in the house six months (beginning of June) I can write a blog about the progress we have made so far, but things are moving far slower than I had expected and the weeks and months just seem to be whizzing by!

Anyway, I came across some lovely dining room tables and chairs, bed frames and wallpaper and kitchens and nursery furniture so plenty of food for thought!

In the evening hubby and I went out for a lovely meal to Zizzi’s which is one of my favourite restaurants. Plus, we had £40 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers to spend in here, so it was practically a free meal which was brilliant!

On Wednesday, my Mum and I traveled over to the nearby town of Tewkesbury. I’ve always wanted to see Tewkesbury Abbey and, as it is not too far away, Tewkesbury seemed to be a lovely day out. It is a really beautiful building with lots of history so, you guessed it, a separate blog is to follow!

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After visiting the Abbey we grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant called Café E Vino. The lunch was delicious and they had plenty of vegetarian and vegan options which I thought was very impressive! I had a delicious meal of gnocchi in a gorgonzola and speck sauce – really tasty!

After a hearty lunch we wandered down to the waters edge to see the river, although we didn’t hang around for long as it was absolutely freezing and the water level was really high after the recent snowfall had melted.

After a lovely day we hopped in the car to go and collect my amazing Birthday cake from Claire’s Cakes Cheltenham! Isn’t it beautiful!?

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She has made several cakes for us over the years including an amazing Winter Wonderland cake, two amazing Game of Thrones themed cakes and a Harry Potter themed cake! This year’s cake was a Geode cake and as usual she has outdone herself and made a spectacular creation! Can’t wait for friends and family to see it tomorrow!

Thursday was my actual Birthday so my Sister and I started the day going to Hubble Bubble, one of our favourite coffee houses, for one of their famous freakshakes! We tried the Easter edition this time!

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After our sugar overload we ventured into town for a bit of retail therapy,  coffee  and lunch. The centre of Gloucester isn’t great for shopping however Gloucester Quays Outlet Centre is only a short walk away so we spent most of our time here. I had planned for us to go to The Grill Shed for lunch but unfortunately I woke up this morning with a stinking cold so I didn’t feel up to having a big meal! We ended up having macaroni cheese in Costa instead which was just what we needed!

After our shopping trip I came home and prepared a little buffet for the family and friends who were popping over to visit me for my Birthday! It was really lovely to see everyone and catch up with them and after the buffet we all enjoyed a large slab of Birthday cake! My Mum and my Sister bought me some beautiful flowers and people came over with mounds of presents!

When everyone had gone I had the important task of opening all of my cards and gifts! I just hadn’t had the time so far! As usual, I’ve been absolutely spoilt! My Mum bought me the amazing shoes I included in my Valentine’s Day treats post (and believe me they look as good in real life as they did in that picture!)

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My Sister asked me if I wanted anything in particular but she knows me very well and is brilliant at present buying so I told her to surprise me! And she did! As well as my beautiful flowers she bought me a lovely pair of grey trainers, a keyring, a pen and a Columbo boxset! (I LOVE Columbo!!!)

Hubby asked me ages ago what I would like for my Birthday and I really couldn’t think of anything I wanted but as my Sister and I were walking through town today we walked past the Pandora shop to have a peep in the window. I’ve always wanted a Pandora bracelet and really love all the amazing charms you can get, but I have always worn gold jewellery, and all my existing jewellery is in gold! The gold bracelets and charms are available but are really, really expensive and I would never want to spend so much on a bracelet. Anyway, when we looked inside they were promoting the new Pandora Shine collection which is basically thick gold plated jewellery and obvious makes it far more affordable than the solid gold range, so it was as if it was meant to be!

So I had a beautiful gold Pandora bracelet and two charms from hubby in the end! I was so pleased to finally get one and he was pleased I had chosen something I really wanted for my Birthday! I’ve been very spoilt! I also had cash and vouchers from family and friends so I’ll take these with me when I’m working in London next week to see what lovely things I can find!

A perfect evening with family and friends – except the washing up afterwards of course!

The Friday was another brilliant day because I got to spend the day with my Sister and my Mum! It would have been nice to venture over to nearby Cheltenham as there’s plenty of places I would like to visit, but unfortunately my Birthday always lands in the middle of Race week at Cheltenham Racecourse, so Cheltenham and the surrounding areas are jam-packed with people! Even trying to get a restaurant reservation in Gloucester during this week is quite difficult so we thought it would be best to go a bit further afield and visit Blenheim Palace! It is only around an hour away from us and once again we were able to get our tickets using £8 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers! We’ve done extremely well over the years exchanging these vouchers for days out or restaurant vouchers!

Before we set off I wanted to treat my Mum and Sister to breakfast so I booked a table at one of our favourite restaurants for breakfast – Cote Brasserie. In fact, I’ve not been here for lunch or an evening meal, only for breakfast! I always have the Croque Monsieur – it is to die for!

After a hearty breakfast we set off for Blenheim Palace. I’ve wanted to visit here for a long, long time so I’m really pleased I finally got round to it! I definitely want to re-visit in December when they have the “Christmas at Blenheim Palace” theme going on. I can imagine the Palace will look even more beautiful at that time of the year!

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We spent a few hours here, there is plenty to do and see and to be honest I really underestimated how big this place is! I will have to come back soon to finish looking at the parts of it we hadn’t got around to.

As a special treat I booked for the three of us to  have Afternoon Tea in the Orangery which was really lovely and the food was delicious.

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We finally got home after sitting in traffic for ages and luckily I hadn’t made any plans for the evening, so this gave me the chance to have a sort through and edit all the photos I had taken this week (and to have a well earned rest and hot bath!)

On the Saturday night we went over to our friends house and they cooked us a delicious dinner, my friend also made me this beautiful cookie mermaid, rainbow and unicorn display! Isn’t it amazing? She’s so talented!

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She also bought me a mound of presents including some sparkly trainers, amazing cocktail liquors chocolates, keyrings and some amazing Pusheen slippers! I’ve been wearing them all weekend!

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Our friends only live about a 15 minute walk away so we walked home, and just in time really as shortly after we arrived home the “mini beast from the East” struck and it started heavily snowing again! I don’t ever remember there being snow around my Birthday before! Fingers crossed Spring will be here soon and we can start the Easter celebrations!

Another fantastic Birthday! I’m so grateful to have such great family and friends!

A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

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I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! I must admit I do struggle in the days after Christmas – I feel really down and depressed that it’s all over for another year! You look forward to it for so long and then it seems to come and go in the blink of an eye!

Anyway, if you have read my London at Christmas Time blog you’ll know that my Mum, my Sister and I go to London every December to check out all the festivities – this year we decided we wanted to do Afternoon Tea whilst we were there.

We looked at several Afternoon Tea options including Fortnum and Mason and the Ritz and tried really hard to get us into the Tale as old as time Beauty and the Beast themed Afternoon Tea at The Kensington but it was completely fully booked until the end of January!

I eventually came across this amazing Alice In Wonderland Mad Hatter’s Tea Party afternoon tea at the Sanderson Hotel. It looked perfect for what we wanted, and I managed to book it for a special price which included a free cocktail because we were visiting on a weekday!

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We booked for 1pm and the place was empty when we arrived which was really nice – I think we booked slightly early for afternoon tea but after getting up early to catch the coach to London I knew we would all be starving by 1pm!

We sat down and they gave us the selection of their lovely teas – you get a teapot of your selected tea each so we all chose a different one so we could try each others!

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Here was the selection –

White Rabbit – China white silver needles infused with white grapefruit, vanilla and almond white chrysanthemums.

Queen of Hearts – Red Rose congu infused with red rose petals and a hint of vanilla and chocolate.

Mad Hatter – Green tea infused with passion fruit, guava and mango.

Cheshire Cat – Marmalade orange oolong infused with chocolate and hugging orange.

Alice – China black tea infused with hints of blackcurrant, vanilla, caramel, citrus, bergamot, blue cornflowers and blue mallow flowers.

I choose White Rabbit, my Mum choose Alice and my Sister chose Queen of Hearts – all were very different but absolutely delicious! You can also buy the teas to take home with you as well if you choose!

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The cocktail arrived shortly afterwards and I was a bit worried because they said it was gin-based and I am not a fan of gin but the cocktail was also delicious – they said it was a Sanderson special so I didn’t get to find out the ingredients!

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Then the amazing food started coming out…. Here’s what was on the menu –

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Smoked salmon scotch quails egg with caviar and cream cheese

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Stack of King of Hearts ham and parmesan croque-monsieur

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Cornish crab bridge roll with dill, lemon, creme fraiche and avocado and White rabbit cucumber and cream cheese sandwich on pesto bread 

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Queen of Hearts rose and strawberry jammy dodger 

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Mocha chessboard gateau

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Tweedle Dee lemon curd financier 

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Mad March Hare vanilla pocket watch macaroon (my favourite!)

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Chocolate and Pistachio Blue Caterpillar 

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Wonderland Marshmallow Magic mushrooms

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Mad Hatters Lost Carrot and Fennel Meringue (hidden away in the “grass” in the teacup on the top – two little red shell shaped meringues – really cute!)

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Alices Cinnamon, apple and peach “Drink Me” potion

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And if that isn’t enough you also get Sanderson’s warm scones served with Cornish clotted cream and fruit preserve!

The staff asked us if we were celebrating a special occasion and we said we had decided to do it because it was my Sister’s Birthday the Friday before and it was my Mum’s Birthday the following Saturday, so they brought them out this beautiful slate with two delicious pieces of cake on and Happy Birthday written in icing! How lovely!

A really lovely afternoon – the hotel is beautiful and the staff were amazing. I would definitely re-book to go back here again the next time we pay a visit to London!

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London at Christmas time

London is such a brilliant place to visit around Christmas time – not so much if you are one of those headless chickens running around trying to source last minute Christmas presents, but if you have Christmas all wrapped up and have the time (and patience!) to explore and see what this city has to offer during the festive season then you are in for a treat!

My Mum, my Sister and I go on a day trip to London every December, here’s some of the amazing things we have done over the last few years:

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

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This place is like marmite – I’ve spoken to people who absolutely love it here, and likewise, people who absolutely detest it! Winter Wonderland opened on 17th November this year and is open for six weeks until 1st January 2018.

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It is free to enter Winter Wonderland and inside you can find a wealth of things to do including –

Ice Skating

Winter Wonderland’s ice skating rink is the largest outdoor rink in the UK and is open from 10am to 10pm. Ice skating sessions run every hour on the hour and each session lasts for 50 minutes.  Adult prices start at £9.50 and child prices start at £7.50.

If you are unsteady on your feet you can also ask for the help of an Ice Guide – a trained ice skater who can escort you and your group on the ice – a really great idea but they don’t come cheap (£35 an hour on top of your skating ticket price!)

Magical Ice Kingdom

This has a different theme every year, the year we visited it was the theme Merlin and the knights of the round table and it was absolutely fantastic!

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Merlin
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One of the Knights of the round table
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The Sword in the Stone
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My favourite is this beautiful unicorn and her baby!
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And the grand finale was this absolutely incredible ice dragon with glowing eyes!!

Definitely well worth a look if you have the time! There were loads more characters to see and the pictures I have taken seriously do not do them any justice! This years theme is called Deep Sea Adventure and looks just as amazing! Adult Ticket prices start at £7.00 and child’s prices start at £5.00.

Bar Ice

You may have already seen my blog on the two Bar Ice bars you can find in London, if not you can read about this great experience here. One of the Bar Ice’s can be found at Winter Wonderland but obviously can get very busy so make sure you pre-book your tickets!

Plus loads more including the Giant Observation Wheel, The Sooty Christmas Show, Zippo’s Christmas Circus, Cirque Beserk, Cinderella on Ice and of course the stunning stalls selling everything from Mulled wine to Churros to Christmas Decorations to hats and scarves!

Outside of Hyde Park, we usually visit:

Oxford Street

My favourite shopping street! It is obviously very busy this time of year but do your best to stop along the way to check out the amazing Christmas decorations which line the streets! Regent Street always looks really pretty too!

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Oxford Street
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Regent Street Angels

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Department Store Windows

Have you ever watched the film “Mannequin”? It follows a guy who, with a lot of assistance from a mannequin which comes to life when no-one else is looking, is a Window Dresser, and together they design these amazing department store window displays which have people travelling from miles around to come and see.

Classic 80’s film and the department store windows this time of year always remind me of it!

Anyway, each year there is a bit of a battle between the different department stores to have the best dressed window displays. The ideas they come up with are amazing and must take them hours and hours to create. Here are some of the highlights we came across this year:

Harrods

A bit of an unusual one this year! An Instagram friend told me its because they were designed by Karl Lagerfeld and this seemed to make a lot of sense! I’m still unsure whether I like them or not….

Selfridges

I loved Selfridges windows this year! Really fun and eye-catching! Bouncing Santas, Robins and Christmas Puddings and a suit made of sprouts! What more could you want?? Oh yes, a “Nutcracker Queen” surrounded by her Nutcracker soldiers on the balcony above the escalators! That will do!

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Plus we loved the massive hare and fox which appeared in the H&M windows this year!

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Department Store Christmas departments

I don’t tend to do much shopping in the department stores, I’ve usually got everyone’s presents by now and the temptation is to spend far too much if I start wondering into areas like Saint Laurent or Alexander McQueen! What my sister and I do tend to do is head straight for the Christmas themed sections within the department stores to check out the decorations and displays! In some of the bigger department stores it really is like walking into a Winter Wonderland!

This year I encountered a life size singing Reindeer (only £4,500!) and a huge Nutcracker Doll (only £1,250!). Better start saving I think!

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Department Store Food halls

Harrods Food Hall at any time of the year is absolutely incredible but team it up with all the Christmas flavours and goodies they have to offer and I really am in heaven here!

Selfridges also has a great food hall but I do prefer Harrods. In actual fact I think that the food hall in Selfridges Birmingham is better than the Selfridges in London – far bigger and far easier to find everything!

Peggy Porschen Parlour

This year we also managed to visit the amazing Peggy Porschen Parlour in Victoria! It is one of the stunning places I have ever visited, the photos really don’t do it justice.

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The inside is just as beautiful as the outside, and each and every product sold here is crafted to perfection.

If you have the chance, check out the outstanding Gingerbread houses they sell – if I had bought one of these I really don’t think I could have brought myself to eat such an amazing creation!

I HIGHLY recommend you visit here if you get the chance! We are definitely re-visiting the next time we are in London!

So as you can see, we have some real adventures on our annual trips to London, which don’t always include Christmassy themed things (The British Museum and The Natural History Museum for example).

Our annual trip to London is one of the Christmas traditions I really look forward to and I hope carries on long into the future!

Icebar London

I’ve actually been to two Ice bars in London and had a really great time in both! The first one I went to was in Heddon Street, Mayfair and the second one was in Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park – they are most definitely an experience which gets you into the winter spirit!

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The Icebar temperature is -5 degrees celsius and everything inside is made out of crystal clear ice harvested from the frozen Torne River in Jukkasjärvi, Northern Sweden!

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You spend time in the Icebar in 40 minute time slots (believe me, people struggle to stay in here this long!) and you are given a thermal cape with a hood and gloves to wear to keep you toasty!

Once a year the bar is transformed with a new design and layout by a team of ice designers and sculptors!

During your visit you also get a cocktail as part of the entrance fee and it is even served in an ice glass for you! Click here for the latest cocktail list but be warned – they are strong! Helps keep you warm in the cold I suppose!

It’s cheaper if you pre-book online (£13.50 with your first cocktail for an off peak time) and cocktail refills start at £6.50 after that. Family days and times are also available which is a great idea.

The boys gave up after around 30 minutes but my sister and I managed the whole 40 minutes and were the last ones standing! Girl power!

Hyde Park Bar Ice

This one, believe it or not, is even colder at -10 degrees celsius! A complimentary drink is also included in the ticket price for Bar Ice, and as Bar Ice is part of Hyde Parks Winter Wonderland, the drinks are usually very festive flavoured!, and again come in a lovely ice glass.

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FFFFFFFFFreezing!!!!

Again you are provided with a winter cloak and gloves on arrival, however you are allocated a 20 minute session here and not 40 like at the Heddon Street Icebar. We didn’t even manage the whole 20 minutes in this one – it was VERY cold! Also found it was much darker in Bar Ice than Icebar, which made it difficult to take decent photos which was a shame.

Ticket prices here are similar – £14 off peak to £16 peak time (but of course you are only getting half the time – Christmas inflated prices eh??) and I would definitely pre-book before you go – it gets very busy!!

A very novel experience but definitely worth giving a go – the sculptures, tables, chairs and bar are all made of ice and are very fascinating to look it – if this doesn’t get you into the winter spirit then nothing will!!

A visit to Harry Potter Studios

The Harry Potter studio tour has a new feature for 2017 – the Forbidden Forest! I visited the studio originally a few years ago but after the latest additions and the amazing time I had the first time round I thought it would be worth paying it another visit sometime soon!

ALWAYS pre-book your studio tour tickets online. You need to select not only the appropriate date but also a time you will be arriving for the tour, and tickets do get pre-booked months in advance! Don’t worry if you are a little bit late – we go lost on the way and ended up being half an hour later than the time we had booked our tickets for but it was fine, the timings are purely to try and control the amount of people flowing through the studios. Be warned – tickets are expensive! Adult tickets are £39.00 each, child tickets are £31.00 each, and if you are taking a child under the age of 4, although tickets are free you do still need to pre-order them a ticket. Family ticket packages are available for £126.00 for 2 adult and 2 child tickets or 1 adult and three child tickets.

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When you arrive at the studio you will be absolutely overwhelmed by the amount you will see – imagine how many props were used throughout the making of all the films and the majority of them are available for you to look at during the tour!

Just some of the highlights of the tour include:

The Great Hall

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Hagrids Hut

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The Wand Room

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Diagon Alley

Dumbledore’s Office

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Gryffindor Common Room

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The Knight Bus

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Privet Drive

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The Creature Effects Department – including Goblins and all time favourite Dobby the House Elf!

The Costumes Department – including Quidditch robes and Hogwarts Uniforms

The Forbidden Forest – new for 2017! Filled with 19 trees each with a diameter of over 12 feet, you can walk beneath the giant roots and can even control the weather whilst in the forest! Keep an eye out for Buckbeak and Aragog…

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You can also buy yourself a glass of Butterbeer! One of only three places in the world you can drink a real Butterbeer! An absolute must!

And finally, the Studio Shop! Normally I do battle my way through the gift shop of most places I visit and dart out the exit as quickly as possible, but I am such a big Harry Potter fan I couldn’t resist having a look! There are gifts galore in here – from T-shirts and Sweatshirts to wands and broomsticks to scarves and owls right up to a wide variety of sweets from Bertie Boots sweet shop!

Although a visit to the studio is expensive it really is a must for every Harry Potter fan! There is so much to see you could spend all day here! Highly recommended – I can’t wait for my next visit!

Keep a look out for special events such as Hogwarts in the Snow (from 18th November 2017 to 4th February 2018) where the Great Hall and Gryffindor Common Room are filled with Christmas trees and decorations, and the Dark Arts event (from Sunday 1st October to Sunday 12th November) where Diagon Alley becomes far spookier and the set is patrolled by the followers of he-who-shall-not-be-named!!

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A London Adventure – Day Four

I was so sad to leave after our final day in London but I think I need a holiday to get over this trip away!

Our first stop this morning was the London Eye. We only stopped to take a few photographs as all three of us are terrified of heights so it wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable experience actually going on it!

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After this we walked over to the London Dungeons. My sister has really been looking forward to visiting here as she loves her horrible history! We played an absolute blinder with these tickets as they cost £30 on the door but good old Tesco Clubcard saved the day again as we got an entrance ticket in exchange for £8 worth of Clubcard vouchers! Best deal of the trip I think!

When we got there and read all the warning signs about the dungeons (“not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition”etc) we all started to panic and wondered what on earth we had got ourselves into! In the dungeons you work your way through several different scenes from different eras such as Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel and Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Some parts of it were quite scary and several people jumped and screamed throughout but the actors were fantastic and it was a really good experience in which you learned a lot about the history of London (and some awful torture devices!!)

After a couple of hours at the London Dungeon (which was absolutely amazing!) we had lunch at All Bar One . The menu was lovely, they had tapas available, 3 dishes for £15 or 5 dishes for £25.

After a big lunch we went over to the London Eye Pier and caught the Thames River cruise. I think there are several companies that you can book river cruises through – we pre-booked our tickets with City Cruises. The thing I liked about City Cruises was that they say although you pre-book a ticket for a cruise at a particular time, if you miss the pre-booked time you can use your ticket for another time that day, which takes the pressure off if you are over-running at another place prior.

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We caught the cruise which went from the London Eye Pier to the Tower Pier. During the journey we passed:

  • The London Eye
  • The Golden Jubilee footbridge
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • BFI Southbank Theatre
  • Blackfriars Bridge
  • Millenium footbridge
  • Southwark Bridge
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • London Bridge
  • HMS Belfast
  • The Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge

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After our river cruise we arrived at the Tower Pier and walked to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

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After this we walked over to The Shard to have a couple of drinks in the cocktail bar – AquaShard. I thought it would be a lovely way to finish off our London visit and the views from the Shard are SPECTACULAR.

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If you are coming in for just drinks, you can’t reserve tables as they are on a first come first served basis but we had no problem getting a space in the early afternoon. Check out their wine, champagne and cocktail sample menu here.

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After a couple of very extravagant and very expensive cocktails we caught an Uber back to the hotel to collect our cases and wandered down to the Victoria Coach station to catch our coach home.

What an amazing trip! I think we did so well to fit so much in during such a short space of time! Of course there are still many other places I would like to come back and see but so pleased I got to see all these incredible places! I really do think that the key to such amazing visits is in the planning – if you group the places you want to visit and then plan your different days around a certain area, you really can pack loads and loads into your day!!

Off to plan my next city visit now – Prague in June for four days for our 8 year wedding anniversary!!

A London Adventure – Day Three

It’s a special day in London today as it is also my Birthday! What a brilliant way to spend it!

After another hearty Hutton’s Hotel breakfast we took a walk over to Westminster Abbey. We pre-booked entry tickets for the Abbey – prices are £20 per adult and £17 concession. Looking at the on the door prices and online prices it doesn’t look as if you save anything by pre-booking them online but we had so much to do today and by pre-booking them and being able to skip the queue it gained us a bit more time!

Westminster Abbey is beautiful – well worth a visit despite its quite expensive entrance fee. Guide books are £6 each if you want to buy one to remember your visit as you are not allowed to take photos inside the Abbey.

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After our Westminster Abbey visit we wandered around and took photos of:

Big Ben

Big Ben is actually the nickname for the largest of five bells (weighing 13.7 tonnes!) within the clock, although it is used to refer to both the clock and the bell tower. The tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower, renamed in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II – before that, it was simply known as the Clock Tower.

The Clock Tower stands at 315 feet (96m) tall, and the climb from the ground to the belfry is 334 steps. On 21 August 2017, a four year plan of renovation work will start on the tower.

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The Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and House of Lords, the two houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and is less famous than it’s attached tower – Big Ben!

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Horse Guards Parade

Horse Guards Parade is a large parade off Whitehall and is the site of the annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour, which commemorates the monarch’s official Birthday.

The parade ground is open on the west side, where it faces Horse Guards Road and St James’ Park. On the north side of it is the Old Admiralty and the Admiralty Citadel, on the east side there is William Kent’s Horse Guards – formerly the headquarters of the British Army  – and on the south side is the Admiralty Extension and the rear garden wall of 10 Downing Street.

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Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is a public square, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, Spain.

After all this walking it was time for the event we had planned a whole visit to London around – the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! The play is in two parts and is being shown at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We watched Part One at 2pm and then we went away and came back to watch Part Two at 7:30pm later in the evening.

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The first Part of the play was absolutely fantastic, we couldn’t wait to go back to watch the second part! I can’t say too much about it (as per a request by J.K Rowling herself) but I will say to any true Harry Potter fans – do all you can to get hold of these tickets, you wont be disappointed! The actors were brilliant and the special effects were out of this world – unlike anything I have ever seen on the stage!

During the gap between Part One and Part Two of the play we paid a quick visit the famous Snowflake for some ice cream. Way too many flavours to mention but amazing gelato and waffles, milkshakes, sundaes and desserts as well.

There are a few Snowflakes across London (including within the Selfridges food hall) so pop in to one if you get the chance. An alternative to Snowflake is Snog Frozen yogurt if you would prefer a lower fat alternative! I ended up having three scoops – one each of coffee, creme brûlée and stracciatella!

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We had an early dinner tonight before Part Two was due to start, we chose to go to Bella Italia (another one of my favourites) but the main reason for choosing it was because we managed to exchange £10 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers for £40 worth of Bella Italia vouchers to put towards our meal due to Clubcard Boost (thanks again Tescos!)

Part Two of the play started at 7:30pm and finished at around 10:15pm – Part Two was well worth the wait! The play is designed to be watched on two separate occasions but I don’t know how people who watch Part one go away and then come back days or weeks later to watch the second part! The suspense would have killed me I think! An incredible play which had me in tears by the end, highly recommended!

Overall what an amazing Birthday! Definitely one which will be remembered for years to come!

A London Adventure – Day Two

We got up early this morning as we had a busy day ahead, the Hutton’s Hotel cooked breakfast this morning was brilliant, we had a choice of eggs (scrambled or fried), sausages, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, cheese, fruit, cornflakes, muesli, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and orange juice – just what we needed to start us off for day two!

First thing this morning we walked over to Harrods to visit the food hall – I have been several times before but the items you find in there still never cease to amaze me! There are cakes and pastries and bread and biscuits and macarons…. the list goes on.

Whilst we were there I bought a (very expensive!) bumper sized pack of La Duree macarons as they are my absolute favourite and all other macarons I have tried just do not compare to these! You can order them online however be aware because they are fresh and very fragile, shipping is expensive so bumps the price up even more!

I also bought some amazing Unicorn cupcakes! How cute are these??

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After spending way too much time (and money!) in the Harrods food hall, we wandered down to the Science Museum. The museum opens at 10am and closes at 6pm and is free entry. We spent a couple of hours here, the museum is not as big as we had imagined but is full of really interesting sections such as the energy hall, exploring space, agriculture and atmosphere. We didn’t spend as long here as we thought we would and in all honesty we didn’t enjoy it as much as previous visits we had paid to the Natural History Museum and the British Museum, but I have friends who have been here and have really enjoyed it. The other thing to bear in mind, if you go during the week, the museum will be chokka with school kids which makes it difficult getting close to some of the exhibits!

After over-working our brains at the science museum for a few hours, we caught an Uber over to the place I have really been looking forward to during our visit – Camden Market!

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There really are so many amazing places to visit and eat at that we couldn’t possibly visit (and eat at!) them all, but here are a few of the places you can try:

Chin Chin Nitro Icecream – AMAZING ice cream which is frozen using liquid nitrogen. We had cream cheese flavoured ice cream on top of a warm red velvet cake with cinnamon crunch toast – it was the best ice cream I have EVER had! Follow them on Instagram @ChinChinIceCream.

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La Churrerialdn – I have always loved churros so this was one of the must visit places on my list! We bought 6 large warm churros rings with caramel sauce and tiny marshmallow sprinkles – delicious! Follow them on Instagram @lachurrerialdn.

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The Mac Factory – THE BEST mac and cheese I have ever tried!! All three of us had the “Nostalgic” which consisted of a blend of mature cheddar and mozzarella with a thyme and parmesan crumble topping. There are also lots of other choices including the “Super Mario” which includes sautéed portobello mushrooms, truffle oil and wild garlic and the “Lobster Mac” which includes lobster poached in a garlic and parsley butter with a lemon garnish. Yum! More info is available on their website.

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Hallumi Fries – One of the main reasons we visited Camden Market is to sample these amazing things!! I spotted them ages ago on Instagram and have been looking forward to trying them ever since! £5 a box is well worth it – pieces of hallumi are deep fried and then covered in za’atar yogurt, pomegranate molasses, mint, sumac, turkish chilli and pomegranate seeds. Incredible.

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Half Hitch Gin – I am not a gin drinker but my Mum and sister love it so they bought a bottle each. Although I didn’t try any, the small of it was delicious! The key botanicals for Half Hitch Gin is black tea, bergamot, wood, hay and pepper. For more information, visit their webpage here where you can also order bottles online.

South East Cakery – Award winning brownie bars including Oreo and Honeycomb, I settled for the Salted Caramel version! I took mine away for later but you can have them made up then and there to include whipped cream, salted caramel popcorn and pretzels too!

Also well worth a visit whilst you are here – the statue in tribute to the amazing Amy Winehouse. The statue is a really beautiful tribute to her as she stands amongst the market crowds.

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I ate way, way too much today! I’m glad we did so much walking around London to burn off some of the calories!

Later in the evening we visited the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to go and watch Thriller Live – what an amazing show! Every singer and dancer and musician was outstanding and we were lucky enough to get seats only 5 rows back!

What a brilliant day and evening! Roll on day three!

A London Adventure – Day One

I’ve been wanting to visit London properly for years but it’s one of those places that you put to the bottom of the list because in the back of your mind you think to yourself that you can visit any time because it’s only a couple of hours away, so the more exotic locations usually win the “where should we go this year?” argument!

I’m visiting London with my sister and Mum so we needed to book a triple room for the occasion (much more difficult to find than I expected!) but we eventually settled on The Hutton’s hotel in Victoria, as we were travelling by coach and the hotel is only a few minutes walk from Victoria Coach Station. When we booked we also managed to get a  cooked breakfast included in our stay so thought we did quite well! For the triple room we paid around £390 for 3 nights so it worked out to be £130 per person in the end.

Once we arrived we travelled over to St Paul’s Cathedral. We bought tickets online as they were slightly cheaper (£16 instead of £18). Pre-booking the tickets online also provide you with fast track entry to the Cathedral and as we were fitting so much into such a short space of time, any time spent not waiting in huge queues is a bonus!

The Cathedral is a really beautiful place, but I was most disappointed that you aren’t allowed to take photos inside! As you aren’t allowed to take photos,  I’d recommend getting a guide book to remember your visit, they are £4.50 each. Book your entry tickets to the Cathedral here.

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After our visit to the Cathedral we caught an Uber to Brick Lane to visit the Cereal Killer Cafe. What an amazing place! I highly recommend paying a visit! LOADS of cereals to choose from with a huge variety of milks and toppings to have with them. They also have a selection of pop tarts and hot drinks. Make sure you also try the cereal cocktails they have on offer!

While we were there we had Unicorn Poop cereal (£4.90 a bowl) and a Salted Caramel malt shake! The friendly staff will help you if you don’t know where to start and can recommend cereals, milks and toppings which compliment each other. AMAZING!

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We then walked to the famous bagel shops Beigel bake (159 Brick Lane) and Beigel Shop (155 Brick Lane). I’ve heard great reviews about both of these places but my main reason for visiting was because I have been trying to track down some world famous rainbow bagels for ages and I had heard that I could find them here! The bagels did not disappoint – my Mum and sister had a lovely smoked salmon bagel and I left with a bag of 6 rainbow bagels for me and my friends (only 50p each!).

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Next was the Tower of London! You can book Tower of London tickets online here, but to be honest you don’t save much (£25.00 on the door vs £23.10 online). We found the best deal was to spend our Tesco club card vouchers and, due to Clubcard Boost, in exchange for £2.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers we got £10.00 back to spend on entry fees at the Tower of London! We paid for the vast majority of our entrance fee costs using Tesco Clubcard vouchers so only had to pay a couple of pounds to make up the difference! Bargain! You can read more about Clubcard Boost here.

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The Tower of London was fantastic and well worth a visit! You could easily spend a day here, there is so much to see. The Crown Jewels are incredible, we went round three times so we could keep looking at them over and over again, and the views of Tower Bridge and The Shard are spectacular on a clear day. I highly recommend waiting for one of the tours which run approximately half hourly – your Yeoman Warder guide is full of amazing facts and information and makes your visit to the tower far more enjoyable.

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After a  few hours at the Tower of London, we crossed Tower Bridge for our next stop – Southwark Cathedral. The Cathedral is a beautiful building, you don’t need tickets to get in and tours of the Cathedral start from £3.00. By the time we arrived, the Cathedral was closed so we didn’t get to go in which was a shame.

We then wandered over to see Shakespeare’s Globe (my sister is a big Shakespeare fan!) and had a well deserved drink in the bar. We didn’t have tickets to tonights show and we were disappointed we couldn’t go into the theatre, but the views of the Thames and the London skyline from here are absolutely stunning, especially at night when everything is lit up!

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Finally we caught an Uber back to the hotel, ordered a takeaway and collapsed in bed! What an amazing day full of spectacular things! Looking forward to day two of our London adventure!